Don’t you love the smell of the air just before it snows? That crisp, cold, sharp smell you can feel it in your lungs. My father said he could smell snow. I feel the same. I smelt it last night. Then this morning - that crisp fresh layer of white was waiting for me. I still get a giddy, sightly childish feeling of glee to be the first to leave a footprint on a freshly blank snow canvas. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the heat, snow still feels like a novelty to me.
I find snow an inconvenience if I am honest. However, after your passionate description I found myself stood outside breathing it in this morning. As beautiful as it does look, my shoes, however, are not a fan. Italian leather and Baltimore snow are not a happy marriage. I suppose I should be less vain…
You need more practical shoes. I am guessing if you are the type to import italian brogues then you are not the type to own boots. I have several good, old pairs of boots. The kind that look as if they were never new, they are so worn that they were clearly created that way. Creases in the leather, stains, mud and a staleness to them that means they absolutely must be kept in a well ventilated area.
You underestimate the olfactory experience of opening a thick cardboard shoebox filled with the best italian leather a man can buy. The smell of craftsmanship, experience and love. Each shoe a loving passionate gift to the owner. A gift that lasts forever but looks as if it has just been born. Shoes we can agree are important. I know we are keeping this free of personal details but this train of thought has made me wonder if my italian brogues and your boots have ever made a footprint in the snow at the same place?
We agreed no personal details. Stop fishing. I will give you one detail because I have brought it up. I fish. I love to fish, wade into the quiet of the stream, nothing but you and nature. It’s been a long time since I have had any time to go. I miss it. When I am surrounded by noise and rushing and people I close my eyes and think of a stream on a perfect day. It is usually fall, the trees are a loud array of colours against a perfect blue sky, the water is clear and rushing around my legs. Never fails to calm me.
I have many places in my mind I retreat to when overwhelmed. I like to think of it as my mind palace filled with rooms of my favourite places around the world. Italian churches, gardens and piazza’s. I wander through them and remember my youth, that feeling of potential, a life about to be lived, choices still laid out in front of you, a path not yet trod. I think we all need these places sometimes to remind ourselves we are alive, we have a history.
Ahh yes the naivety of youth. I miss it.
Will drives into work as usual. It is a beautiful day, clear blue sky with shining white snow. He parks in his space and gets out of his car. Its early and the city is still waking up. As he nears the back door the smell of freshly baked croissants hits him and he smiles. Bev will have been there since the early hours, baking. It is one of his favourite smells.
He opens the door to his small coffee shop and takes in a deep breath of that wonderful aroma..
“Hey Bev!” He calls over the loud music playing from the kitchen. Winston huffs at him and goes to his basket behind the counter. He knows having a dog in a coffee shop is seen as unhygienic by some but he really doesn’t care and a lot of the customers come in just for the dog. Not that Winston cares; he tends to sleep most of the day.
Making his way into the kitchen he sees Bev dancing like a madwoman while brushing egg across croissants. He laughs and goes up behind her grabbing her around the hips he spins her around taking one of her hands in his and raising it up he starts to dance with her. She laughs and lets him lead her around for a bit then reaches for the remote and turns the music down. “What has gotten into you?!”
“What do you mean?” Will removes his arm from her waist and then gently kisses her hand before letting it go.
Bev eyes him suspiciously as she feels the warmth of his demeanour, it’s nice to see him like this with such a wide smile. “You are very happy this morning.”
Will shrugs his shoulders as he moves closer to the croissants. “I can be happy.”
Will laughs again and turns to face her “yes, yes Bev I can.” He leans down and breathes in a whiff of the fresh dough mingled with a sweetness. “These smell amazing!”
“Apricot jam filled.” Bev explains.
“Delicious.” Will says as he bends down to take a another closer sniff.
Bev looks at him and shakes her head. “Seriously what has gotten into you?”
“Nothing. It just smells really good in here, can’t I appreciate my olfactory senses?” He inwardly grins at his use of the word ‘olfactory’, remembering the email he had received earlier imagining brand new shoes next to his old beaten up boots.
“Your what?” Bev is wondering when Will began using such large words.
“Nothing, it doesn’t matter.” Will laughs. “Coffee?”
“Fine don’t tell me!” Bev gives up. “Yes to coffee.”
Will smiles, then goes back to the counter and starts the filter coffee as he busies himself getting the rest of the cafe ready. It is a small coffee shop with green tiles on the walls and a black and white tiled floor. Wooden chairs and old leather armchairs, nothing really matches but it all has a lived-in look to it. He and his father made the counter together before they opened, many years ago. Every morning he polishes it thinking of his fathers rough hands as they sanded down the wood. They opened this shop together after they moved from New Orleans, his father had been injured on duty and decided they needed a change. Will never knew his mother it was always just them against the world.
Sweeping the floor he can smell the coffee brewing now as it mixes with the freshly baked croissants and furniture polish. It is the smell that tells him he is home. He loves this shop it is his whole life. He has very little staff: Bev who comes in early every morning to bake all their breads, cakes and pastries. She was the first person Will and his father hired and she was there for Will after he died. They are now far more like brother and sister than employer and employee.
He has two baristas, Jimmy and Brian, who are a well oiled if not loud machine. He hired them just after his father died and they too soon became family. This little shop and the people in it are everything to Will. He feels close to his father when he is here, he can still see him sat in one of the armchairs shouting orders at Will. There is a picture of them behind the counter, taken on the day they opened. He misses his Father everyday but being here makes that ache a little more bearable.
Will shouts to Bev that the coffee is done and leaves a mug for her before pouring himself one and sitting down at one of the tables with the specials blackboard. Bev comes out of the kitchen and pours her coffee before joining him. She sits down and yawns.
She sips her coffee and hums approvingly “New blend?”
“Yeah, thought I’d try something new.”
Bev looks skeptical. “You? Trying something new? Graham, you have been using the same blend since you opened.”
“It is the same, just with an added spice. Thought it might be nice.”
“Hey I am not complaining, it’s good! I am just surprised that’s all. Are you sure you are okay?”
“I am fine.”
“That’s what I mean. Where is the cloud of grumpiness? You actually seem fine.” Will smiles and Bev laughs. “Spill, spill it all now!”
“Oh god, okay fine. It’s nothing really, you will laugh.”
“Promise I won’t.”
Will takes a deep breath “Okay so the other day I drank a bit too much bourbon and ended up going into one of those chat rooms.”
Bev raises an eyebrow as she was not even sure Will owned a computer, let alone had internet where he lives out in the middle of nowhere. “What chat room?”
“It was just an over thirties thing - it was silly. I don’t know why I did it. I was just feeling melancholy and I don’t know, I just clicked on it and found myself talking to someone.”
“We don’t exchange personal details so I don’t even know his real name. He lives in Baltimore but other than that I don’t know anything about him.”
Bev’s mind begins to race she is so surprised at this, never thinking Will would be the type of person to enter a chat room. Then she thinks about how happy he has been these past few weeks and this morning. He has been so lonely since his father died and perhaps this could be a way for him to start to find his way to some happiness. “What do you talk about?”
“Everything and nothing. We mostly exchange emails about music, books, the weather, the smell of old boots and new shoes...”
“He could be anyone! You realise this? He could be someone you know, or a really old, smelly fat guy! He could be that murderer? The serial killer that they think killed that guy a few weeks ago!”
“I highly doubt that. Plus that guy he killed, that lawyer, he came in here once and he was so rude. I have no doubt he had it coming.”
“Killing someone because they are rude is not an acceptable reason Will. If it was, then everyone in the world would be fair game.”
Will shrugs his shoulders; the guy was clearly an ass so he can’t say he felt that bad about his death, and if he was honest, he found a slight sense of satisfaction at the rather sadistic way he died. He suffered before the end. Will shakes the thought away. “He is not a serial killer. I would know. The odds are insane that he would be and I don’t care what he looks like. It’s a silly thing and really not a big deal.”
“Well, the smile on your face would tell different.”
“It’s just nice to talk to someone.”
“I am just saying be careful - they could be a criminal”
“He knows nothing specific about my life. If he is a serial killer he has no way to find me. Anyway, come on, we need to sort out the menu for today.” Will starts to clean the blackboard so they can write the new specials up.
Bev sighs and decides to leave it for now, she suddenly remembers about the meeting. “Oh, before we start - are you going to that merchants thing tomorrow?”
“I forgot about that. Ugh I hate those things.” Will grimaces, he really hates having to be social at those things.
“I know, but you should go. I will come with you if you want. It’s important you make better relationships, especially with all the big chains moving into the area - we need to stick together!”
“Aren’t the big chains a part of the association?”
“Yes, but so are the small businesses. You should do some networking.”
“That’s settled, we are going. I will pick you up after closing tomorrow.”
Will sighs defeated. “Fine. Now what bread do we have today?”
“The plans are coming along nicely, Sir; the electrician is finishing up tomorrow, so the plasterer can complete and then we can start putting in all the equipment, and the furniture is arriving early next week. So far, we are on schedule.” Lass checks the list again even though she knows it all off by heart, she looks up at Hannibal who is clearly not listening.
“Is it supposed to snow this week?”
“Sir?” He has been off these last few weeks, these non-sequitur questions becoming more frequent. He seems to be a in a better mood than usual. Jack has noticed it too - he mentioned it to her last night when they were reviewing the plans.
“Is it forecast to snow?” Hannibal repeats. He hopes it snows. “Some people say they can smell it before it snows.”
“Yes Sir, my mother used to say the same thing. I would not rely on it.” Her mother always insisted she could smell snow with varying results as Lass remembers; she generally tends to rely more on science than on her nose. She is practical, it’s what makes her so good at her job. “I can check the forecast, but even if it does it should not interfere with the schedule.”
“The electricians? Will they be done in time for the plasterer to get in before the end of the week?”
Lass sighs “Yes, Sir.”
“Something wrong Lass?”
“No, Sir, it’s just I already mentioned this. Are you alright?” She knows Jack has been worried about his odd behaviour too, it’s not necessarily bad, just strange. Lass wonders if he has met someone, she even hopes so - he needs balance in his life; he works too hard.
“Apologies Lass, I have been distracted.” He knows he has, the words of those emails tend to run around in his head for days. “I have every faith in you and your abilities.” He is being sincere, Lass is the best project manager he has ever encountered and he would be lost without her. The whole company would be lost without her. “I think we should announce.”
“Sir? Do you think that is such a good idea? You know that there will be a mixed reaction to us in this area, there could be protests.” She knows they have to at some point but was hoping to avoid it for as long as possible.
“Yes, we are evil incarnate. Corporate America giving people cheap coffee and free wifi and a place to meet and work for no extra charge. We are the devil I know.” Hannibal is used to this attitude; the larger they get the more protests they receive when they open. It never lasts though as people realise they are not what they think. Hannibal makes sure they offer a wide range of interesting and unusual blends from all over the world. He considers himself a connoisseur and this is reflected in their coffees. People appreciate quality and choice. “We should embrace it, people will hate us but then they will love us, Lass, you know how this works. Big sign right out front BURIAL GROUNDS OPENING SOON.”
He is grinning now and Lass thinks this is definitely the first time she has ever seen him do anything that could be described as a ‘grin’. “Okay, Sir. We don’t have too much competition in the area just a small artisanal bakery and coffee shop around the corner.”
“Oh yes the small green place what is it called?”
“Ahh yes.Graham’s.” He ponders it for a while, then comes back to himself. “Big sign Lass, big sign.”
“As you wish, Sir.” Lass makes a note of it. “Oh, and Sir, you have the Merchants Association meeting tomorrow if you are still planning on attending?”
“Oh, I hate those things.” There goes the grin , Lass thinks. “Yes I should probably show my face.”
“I will get Tier to organise a car, Sir.”
“Thank you, Lass. What would I do without you.” Be completely lost, she fondly thinks as she walks away to carry on doing the hundred things on her list.
Bev sees it early in the morning, they have obviously been constructing it through the night. BURIAL GROUNDS - COFFEE TO DIE FOR - COMING SOON. Will is not going to be happy. This really is the last thing they need. This whole neighbourhood is going to the dogs , she thinks. Will has been in such a good mood lately as well, this person whoever it is that he is talking to has really lifted his spirits. This will definitely dampen them.
She opens the back door to the bakery, turns on the lights and goes to the kitchen. Nothing to be done about it now, might as well take out her frustrations on some dough.
“Have you seen it?” Bev asks the moment she sees Will.
“There is a massive sign.”
“Burial Grounds. They are opening a block away.”
“Screw them, Bev. People will always want quality when it comes to coffee and baked goods, they don't want some cheap underpriced swill. They won’t affect us.”
Bev stops and looks at Will with a look of disbelief. “People won’t want cheap coffee?”
Will meets her gaze resolutely. “No. Our customers will not be seduced by shiny offers and clever sounding names.”
“You know their coffee is not all bad and they have a large selection.” Bev says softly she is worried and she knows underneath the bravado Will is too.
“Quality Bev, quality over quantity.” Will waves a hand dismissively.
Bev returns to her dough. “If you say so. Anyway we can find more out about it at this meeting tonight.”
“It will be fine Bev I promise.” Will says as he carries on setting up and cleaning but he knows he doesn’t sound entirely convincing.
Later on, Jimmy and Brian appear - they have also seen the sign. “The audacity. I mean, to just put up a massive sign like that. So tacky!” Brian laments.
“I know. I have no idea how they managed to get permission to build in this area. That building has been vacant for years. I remember reading it was stuck in some kind of legal battle that wouldn’t be resolved for years.” Jimmy then sees Will and frowns “I am so sorry Will.”
Will rolls his eyes. “Everyone needs to calm down. This will not affect us. We are a quality bakery and cafe, our customers have been loyal to us for years.”
“You have more in faith in people than me.” Brian says.
“Have you ever been in one? A Burial Grounds?” Jimmy asks.
“No I haven’t but I know we have a good thing going here.” Will believes in this place and he believes that his customers appreciate what they do here.
“They have every coffee under the sun, they import from all over the world and they have specialist bakeries with recipes from everywhere. It’s all about choice, but at cheap prices.”
“As I said to Bev, it’s quality over quantity. We have the best coffee and the best baker. No competition.” Will carries on adding the specials to the blackboard and tries not to think about how worried everyone seems to be. Maybe they should diversify, add some new blends.
The smell of baking is truly one of life’s pleasures isn’t it? It is instantly comforting,like a universal constant. The smell of freshly baking bread makes everyone think of home.
Sense memory is indeed a powerful thing. It can be a transporting influence. I find the nose of a good bordeaux to be very inspiring. Such a complex thing, wine. You can smell and taste all the stages this liquid has gone through in order to exist. As you consume it you are consuming history, it is a very powerful thing.
I haven’t tasted much wine in my life. More of a beer and bourbon man myself.
Perhaps one day I can change that…
Hannibal decides to check out the competition. Not that he considers this small bakery much of a threat, but he is intrigued nonetheless. He has walked passed it a few times and pondered going in but he has always been running late. Today he has some time at lunch so decides to make his way down there. Jack is with him, they have a meeting later and this Merchants Association gathering this evening.
“Why are you going here?” Jack asks as he surveys the small rather dingey looking outside of ‘Graham’s’.
“I just wanted to check it out.” Hannibal replies as he opens the door and they both go inside.
The inside is small but quaint, the floor is black and white tiles, the walls are painted a dark green and there are black and white pictures on the walls mostly of landscapes, some fisherman, also some groups of policemen which Hannibal finds odd but does not comment on. Jack, being ex-law enforcement, is intrigued and takes a moment to look at them while Hannibal makes his way to the counter to order. He looks up at the menu. They have one standard blend and one special which appears to be the standard blend with some spice added. Not very inspiring.
The cakes, baked goods, bread and sandwiches, however, look delicious and Hannibal is impressed. There are two men behind the counter who are very lively and seem to know every customer who orders. They are efficient and fast despite the chattiness.
“What can I get you?” The younger of the two with a head of dark hair asks him, noting the suit with what Hannibal takes as admiration.
“I will have a cappuccino, my friend will have a latte and I will take two of the special subs of the day to take away please. Oh, and two of those apricot croissants.”
“As you wish, Sir. Name?”
Hannibal thinks about this and decides to use Jack, since he has a fairly recognisable name and they might twig who he is. “Jack.”
“Okay, Jack, that will be twenty two dollars.”
Hannibal is surprised at how expensive it is but only raises an eyebrow and hands whose name tag says ‘Brian’ twenty five dollars. “Keep the change.”
“Wait at the end.” Brian says as he nods his thanks, Hannibal moves for the next customer. As he waits, he sees a dog basket behind the counter with a large fluffy dog is sleeping in it. That cannot be hygienic , Hannibal thinks woefully. He looks above the dog basket and its sleeping owner and sees a picture of a young man and what looks like his father stood in front of the shop. Wide smiles, arms around each other. They are both good looking men, the older one has deep lines on his face, the type that tell a story. The younger man, who looks like him and so Hannibal assumes is his son, has a fresh face and an open smile.
The other barista appears with Hannibal’s order “Jack?” he asks.
Hannibal realises he means him and smiles “Yes, sorry, miles away. Is this picture of the owner?”
The young man in the photo, now a little older with a beard, appears as soon as Hannibal utters the question. “Here he is now.” Jimmy says as he bags the food for Hannibal.
“This is an interesting place you have here.” Hannibal says to the man who looks Hannibal up and down with a less than impressed reaction.
“Thanks.” Will says he does not recognise this man, they do not get many suits in here.
Will smiles “Yeah I know, but trust me he goes nowhere near the kitchen. Bev would have him in the sandwiches.”
Hannibal laughs “Is this picture of you?”
“Yes, myself and my father. We opened it together. He was a cop, hence all the old pictures. He passed away a few years ago.”
“I am sorry to hear that. He looked like an interesting man.”
“One way to describe him.” Will smiles as he looks at the picture, the smile not quite getting rid of the melancholy in his eyes.
“Here you go, Jack. Enjoy.” Jimmy says and hands him his order.
“Nice to meet you Mr Graham.” Hannibal says.
“You too, Jack,” he says and carries on behind the counter to help Brian with some other orders.
Jack appears then. “Is the owner an ex cop?”
“The father was, yes. The son runs it now.”
“That explains it.” Jack sees the food Hannibal has ordered and hums his approval. “Looks good.”
“Yeah.” Hannibal thinks it does indeed look good as his eyes drift to Mr Graham.
Jack laughs. “Come on, we have a meeting this afternoon.”
“Yes of course.”
Bev drags him to the merchants gathering which is in one of the restaurants on the same street as the cafe. Inside the restaurant has been cleared of ordinary tables there is a large buffet table one end and an open bar at the other end of the room. There are high tables for people to stand by dotted around the room as people mingle and talk. Bev and Will end up talking to the owner of a clothes shop down the way from him. Bev seems overly enamoured with him and Will decides that he needs another drink and maybe food. He wanders over to the buffet table where the very well dressed man with ridiculous cheekbones he met earlier today appears, only to asses the table with a look of utter disapproval on his face. The disdain is so apparent that Will laughs as he looks at the meagre spread of soggy looking sandwiches.
At the sound of Will’s laugh the man looks up and manages with lightning speed to rearrange his face into a more neutral expression. “It really doesn't look inspiring does it? However, the bar at these things is alright, as long as you don’t drink wine. It was Jack wasn't it?”
Hannibal laughs and Will finds himself smiling. “Well remembered,” Hannibal says, deciding against correcting him at this moment. “None of this looks at all edible, unlike your food which was delicious by the way. I was debating the bar but I fear you have confirmed my suspicions regarding the wine.”
Will notices the accent, soft and lilting. “Glad you enjoyed it. I cannot speak of the wine from personal experience but my friend” he gestures to Bev “says to avoid it. I am a bourbon man myself.”
Hannibal smiles, having noticed the drawl. “You sound like a man of experience regarding the subject.”
Will raises an eyebrow. “Not many people hear the drawl anymore.”
“I am more observant than most.”
“What about you? That is an accent you don’t hear often.”
Hannibal smiles. “Yes, true, there are not many Lithuanians in Baltimore.”
“Wow, Lithuania. So how did you end up here?”
“That is a very long story. Short version is I wanted a better life, more opportunities here. What made you leave the warmth of Louisiana?”
“My father. He got injured at work and we moved here.”
“Ahh, I see. Bit of a change of pace from being a cop.”
“Yeah, he needed it. So you own one of the businesses?”
“Yes. Just opening.”
Will looks again and takes in the expensive suit and haircut. The most well dressed man here, the most wealthy. “Oh. You are the owner of Burial Grounds.”
“Yes. Hannibal Lecter.” He holds out his hand for Will to take, who instead looks at it like it might bite him.
“Not Jack.” Will’s voice has become flat and monotone, that drawl that Hannibal was enjoying seemingly disappearing.
Hannibal retracts his hand as Will is clearly not going to shake it. “No, Jack is my business partner. My apologies, it just seemed easier to give his name.”
Will huffs an unimpressed laugh, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Checking out the competition.”
Hannibal sighs at the change in demeanour and body language. “I meant no harm.”
Will throws his head back in disbelief and Hannibal tries not to notice the long, pale stretch of skin on Will's neck. “Of course, you were just scoping out the small business you will probably put out of business.” Will’s tone is dripping in vitriol now.
Hannibal sighs again and tries to sound reasonable. “It’s not personal, Mr Graham, it’s just business.”
Will is overcome with anger and the desire to hit this man. “Not personal!” Will is almost shouting now.
“No, I am sorry but it is personal. It is personal for most of the people here.” Will’s voice is getting louder and a few people turn and look over but he pays them no mind. “These are people whose businesses are more than just companies and bottom lines, they are the heart and soul of their owners. They are a legacy handed down through families, the culmination of blood, sweat and tears!”
Hannibal narrows his eyes; he really does detest this small minded attitude. Just because he has achieved success, it does not make him heartless. He has worked just as hard, if not harder than anyone else here and made his business from nothing. He is a self-made man and does not appreciate being told by this small minded small business owner that he does not know what it’s like to struggle. He has single handedly created jobs for hundreds of people.
Hannibal’s tone is cold when he says this as he eyes Will with anger. “You know nothing about me Mr Graham. I have worked very hard to create the business I have, I employ many people and care about every one of them. It did not happen overnight.”
“I am sure selling your soul can take it out of you.” The sarcasm in Will’s voice causes Hannibal to narrow his eyes even more.
“Have you ever actually been inside a Burial Grounds?” Hannibal asks knowing the answer.
“No.” Will removes one of his hands from his pockets and runs it through his hair in frustration. Hannibal attempts not to notice how thick Will’s hair is.
“So this opinion you have of my establishments is based on what exactly?”
“I don’t need to go inside one. I know the type.” Will waves his hand dismissively.
“The type?” Hannibal is verging on furious now.
“Soulless, tacky and uninspired.” Will says as he looks directly into Hannibal’s eyes.
“Excuse me?” The challenge in Will’s eyes gives Hannibal a strange feeling he puts down to anger.
“You are a chain. You design everything to be the same. Chains are soulless and all about the bottom line. All you care about it how you look from the outside and how much you can mark down your coffee.”
“I actually spend a lot of time sourcing our blends. I personally oversee every shop myself.” Hannibal’s tone is dangerously even now as he attempts to restrain the anger he is feeling.
“I am sure every blend is ethically sourced too.” Will throws his head back again and laughs a hollow laugh.
Hannibal watches that neck again and narrows his eyes. “Yes, I insist upon it.”
Will crosses his arms across his chest as a smirk appears on his face. “I am sure you do.”
“Mr Graham,” Hannibal says taking in the challenging pose Will is now striking, “what exactly are you implying?”
“Just that I am sure that your idea of what is ethically sourced and mine are vastly different.”
“Why, because I own a larger company so simply must have less than scrupulous business practices? I could not possibly have achieved this success through hard work and ethical practices.”
“You said it.”
“As I said before, Mr Graham, you know very little about me and are making some rather daring assumptions about my character. I have no intention of putting you out of business I cannot help if it is an inevitable consequence of the market. As I said; it’s business it’s not personal.”
“Maybe for you, though that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s not personal.” Will cannot look at the man a moment longer, so he turns around and leaves.
Do you ever experience such irritation at the universe’s unending ability to laugh at you?
I have most assuredly experienced the universe laughing at me. Is there anything I can help with?
I just encountered someone so utterly unreasonable and arrogant it took all of my restraint to not hit him. Is there anything more annoying than realising you have not managed to come up with an appropriately barbed response to someone?
There really is nothing more awful than rudeness. I am often left utterly dumbfounded by the human race’s ability for crassness. The thought that someone may have been rude to you is quite abhorrent to me. I am so sorry you had to experience that. I, too, recently encountered a person so stubborn willed it was really quite infuriating.
Would you give me advice? Do we give each other advice? I know we are keeping things non personal but right now I am at sea. I miss my father - not that he would have known what to do, but I miss the sound of him swearing and the sound of his laugh.
Instant message from Achilles652:
I hoped you would be online? What trouble do you have? Can I help?
Will looks at the instant message box and feels a burning panic as well as excitement.
Instant message from Patroclus112:
It’s my business. It's in trouble.
Instant message from Achilles652:
You are in luck. I am very successful and good at business. You have to be harsh, you have to fight, you can’t let things get personal.
Will sighs at reading those words.
Instant message from Patroclus112:
I am so fed up with those words. It is personal to me. This is about more than just business to me.
Instant message from Achilles652:
So fight. Fight back. Play them at their own game. Think like Machiavelli.
Instant message from Patroclus112:
Instant message from Achilles652:
Yes, think Xiang Yu. It’s kill or be killed out there.
Instant message from Patroclus112:
Kill or be killed.
Later on, while drinking chateau margaux and listening to some music, Hannibal realises he could have handled the Mr Graham situation better. It is so unlike anyone to get him to lose his temper like that. With the rude he usually just walks away and plans some kind of revenge tactic later on. He has always thought revenge is a dish best served cold. He is never openly rude, he never allows himself to be provoked, but there was something about that Mr Graham that just got under his skin.
Sighing he takes another sip of his wine and looks at his tablet sitting there on the couch next to him. He presses the home button to wake it and he sees he has a message. A nice distraction provided by a similar mind is exactly what he needs. This person he has been emailing is the perfect balm to his mood. Hannibal stumbled into this chat room a little by accident. He may have been researching a particularly rude supplier and the whole rabbit hole of internet stalking resulted in clicking on this chat. But then he started to talk to this man and all thoughts of pursuit and revenge were put on the back burner.
They know nothing personal about each other and yet, because of this, he feels an intimacy with this person. It is nice to throw all societal norms out the window and start in the middle as if they have known each other for years. It feels as if they have been having this long conversation for years and years. Hannibal is beginning to forget what life was like before this man.
He opens up the message and reads it.
Do you want to meet?
Does he want to meet this person? What would that mean if they met? Would it burst this bubble they are in? He finds once the thought has taken root it is hard to exorcise.
Yes, lets meet. Why not? We have been talking for so long I feel as if I have known you for years, and it is strange that I do not know your face. Shall we do it the old fashioned way with a book and a rose? No photos beforehand.
Yes I think we should do this the old fashioned way, especially as we both seem uneasy when it comes to technology. Or that is what we tell the other one.
Date, time, book?
Entirely in your hands.
Will finds himself sat in a bar with a tumbler of medium priced bourbon and a copy of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ with a red carnation inside. He is trying not to drink too quickly, to not get up and walk out. He attempts to shut down all the images he has floating in front of his mind of all the people who could walk through that door. Is it someone he knows? Is it someone who is really old? Or really young? Will takes a deep breath and adjusts the book once more. He takes a sip of his bourbon and tries to calm down. He checks his watch, still ten minutes to go.
He is sat facing the door and everytime it opens his heart leaps up in his chest. He did not expect to feel this way. This was supposed to be casual, this was supposed to just be friendship. He should not be feeling like a nervous teenager right now. Breathe, he thinks to himself.
Hannibal has changed his suit three times. He never changes his suit. He always knows exactly what to wear for whatever occasion. He prides himself on knowing exactly what to wear. He should not be this nervous, this is casual, a friendship, nothing more. He could be anyone, he could be someone he already knows. It could be a supplier playing a joke. He could be really old, really young. He could be a terrible dresser. He could be a vegan. Hannibal is not sure he could ever be ‘friends’ with a vegan.
Jack Crawford is with him. They had a meeting before and Jack could tell Hannibal was nervous about something and would not leave him alone until he confessed his evening plans.
“I will go in and check him out first,” Jack says, putting a comforting hand on Hannibal’s shoulder. “Make sure they are not crazy looking.”
Hannibal smirks. “How would you measure that exactly?”
“There are many tells people have you just have to know how to read them. You forget, back in my cop days I had the best gut on the force.”
Hannibal laughs. “You were only on the force for five years.”
“Five more years than you.”
“True. Okay. He will have a book and a flower.”
Jack smiles. “Classic. Okay, I am going in.” Jack grabs his shoulder once more and then goes up the stairs to the bar and opens the door. He goes inside. Hannibal watches him disappear and suddenly feels like he can’t breathe. After what feels like an eternity Jack comes back out again with an unreadable expression on his face.
“Well, okay. That guy you met at the Merchants Association meeting? The one who owns the coffee shop?”
“Yes?” Hannibal is getting impatient now. He can see Jack is finding something amusing which is usually a bad sign.
Jack is trying not to grin; this is just too perfect, too perfect. “You said he was handsome yes?”
“Objectively yes. Why?” Hannibal thinks of Will Graham and his fiery blue eyes and slight drawl to his voice.
Jack is smiling now, as if he cannot contain it any longer. “That’s good, because this guy looks a lot like him.”
“Jack.” Hannibal’s tone is filled with warning as the penny is beginning to drop.
Jack’s smile turns to a grin as he says, “It is him.”
“No.” Please no. “You are wrong.” He has to be wrong. “It can’t be.” This cannot be happening. Hannibal had thought of a million possibilities but this one had never occurred to him. He feels off balance and he hates that feeling more than anything else. He has always prided himself on being unflappable.
Jack puts both of his hands on Hannibal’s shoulders and looks him in the eye. “Trust me. It is.”
He looks at Jack and can see he is telling the truth and enjoying this far too much. “It really can’t be.”
“Hannibal. It is.” Jack has now grabbed both of Hannibal’s shoulders as Hannibal looks at him and knows it is the truth.
“Fuck.” Hannibal says and Jack almost laughs at the sound of Hannibal swearing. The amount of times he has actually heard him swear he can count on one hand.
“This could be an opportunity.” Jack thinks, it could be perhaps a way to get this Mr Graham on their side.
“How?” Hannibal knows there is no way someone as stubborn as Will Graham would ever allow Hannibal to win him over. Not about his business anyway.
Jack removes his hands from Hannibal’s shoulders as he can see Hannibal is close to implosion. “Mend some bridges?”
Hannibal rolls his eyes “Will Graham is stubborn, rude and obnoxious.”
Yet you have taken the time to find out his first name, Jack thinks with a smirk. “How long have you been talking to him? He hasn’t been rude or obnoxious for all that time. You caught him on a bad day and, to be fair, you are probably going to put him out of business.”
Hannibal frowns because it is a foregone conclusion that Burial Grounds will put Graham’s out of business. “That makes this so much better.”
“Okay, yes, not the greatest point. Still, maybe you should give him a chance?” You clearly like him, Jack thinks.
“He did not give me one.” Hannibal mutters angrily. In fact all Mr Graham did was jump to a million conclusions about him . However, Hannibal did feel bad at how he left things...
“You said he was handsome.” Jack says evenly remembering the way Hannibal was ogling the man when they went into his cafe.
Hannibal does not deny it; Will Graham is objectively rather beautiful, but that is irrelevant right now. “What does that have to do with it?”
Jack rolls his eyes. “Nothing, I’m just saying.”
“I cannot go in there.” But he wants to, he has an urge to go in there, and he knows he will.
“Can’t or won’t?” Hannibal gives Jack his best withering look and Jack backs off holding his hand in the air. “Whatever you want to do.”
“I cannot believe this.”
Jack decides he has probably done enough.“I will leave you to it. Let me know what happens.” With that, Jack leaves, a large smile on his face.
Hannibal begins to pace up and down. He never paces. He checks his watch; he is officially five minutes late now. He is never late. He thinks about Mr Graham - yes, he was objectively handsome but that really has no bearing on this situation. He was also rude, sullen and obstinate. Then he thinks how he handled it, how he had wished he had handled it better. This is an opportunity. He doesn’t have to tell Mr Graham who he is. He could just go in and happen to meet him there. It could be a coincidence. He stops pacing and looks at the door to the bar.
Will checks his watch again. Officially five minutes late. That doesn’t mean anything. He could just be running late. People run late all the time. It doesn’t mean anything. He goes to take a sip from his bourbon again and realises it is all gone. He doesn’t even need to flag the bartender down, he has clocked Will as the nervous drinker he is fast filling his glass up again. Will nods his thanks and adjusts the book again.
In the time it has taken Will to do this he has taken his eye off the door and so does not see Hannibal enter. Hannibal is grateful for this as the sight of a slightly nervous Mr Graham in this very flattering light, hair freshly washed, curls on his face, eyes so blue it makes him think of stormy oceans really does take Hannibal’s breath away for a moment.
Hannibal pretends he hasn’t seen him, sits down in the chair next to him and then lets their eyes meet. “Ahh, Mr Graham how fortunate to run into you here.”
He looks at all the expressions currently running across Will’s face. Surprise, definitely surprise, not revulsion or disgust, something else which is quickly hidden, then frustration. Definitely frustration, verging on anger.
“Fortunate is not a word I would use.” More like typical, completely typical, Will thinks, of course I cannot catch a break.
Hannibal eyes the book and flower and raises an eyebrow. “Expecting someone?”
“Yes, as it happens they should be here any minute, so I would appreciate it if you vacated that seat.” Will realises he now cannot see the door because of where Hannibal has sat himself and feels even more irritated.
Hannibal smiles smoothly. “I shall of course do so but first let me at least apologize for provoking you at our last meeting, I should have been more sensitive to your position.”
Will looks at Hannibal with what is definitely anger now. “Sensitive? My position?”
“Yes. I should have listened to your point of view.” Hannibal is actually attempting to be sincere, knowing that Mr Graham is in fact Patroclus112 causes Hannibal to feel a sympathy that he did not have before.
Will sighs with annoyance, he really does not need this right now, his anxiety and nerves are up with all the waiting let alone bumping into someone he would really rather not see. “I am sorry Mr Lecter but this is really not the time or place to have this conversation, and as I stated at the time I doubt you would be able to understand where I am coming from.”
Hannibal takes a deep breath and tries not to let that barb get to him. “Please, call me Hannibal.”
“Fine, Hannibal. I do not think this is the time or place to have this conversation.” Please leave, Will thinks.
“Would there be a better time?” Hannibal says with what he hopes is a sincere smile.
Will fixes Hannibal with his best withering stare, which he has been told by Bev does cut to the bone. “I doubt it.”
“Will you at least tell me your first name?”
“You mean you have not sleuthed it out already? I would imagine with all the contacts you have that would be relatively easy information to come by.”
Hannibal has in fact found out Will’s name; it was the first thing he did after their meeting. “I would prefer you to tell me.”
“Know your enemy?” Of course he would want to know as much about Will as possible, information is power after all.
“No.” Hannibal sighs, he is so stubborn. “You are not my enemy and I certainly hope that you do not view me as yours.”
“I wouldn’t imagine such a small fish as myself wouldn’t make your enemies list, Mr Lecter, but as you are a direct threat to my livelihood, I am afraid you have made mine.” Will is thinking about punching Hannibal now but thinks that if this guy does ever turn up, starting a bar fight might not be the best first impression Will could make. No matter how justified he might be in doing so. “Now please if you could leave me be.”
Hannibal looks at Will. “Mr Graham, please be reasonable. I only ask your name.”
Will’s withering stare is just not working, much to his ever increasing annoyance. “Wouldn’t that make it too personal?”
Hannibal feels stung by his own words at their last meeting which now ring in his head. “Perhaps, but it is a risk I am willing to take.”
Will tries reason instead. “If I tell you will you leave?”
“It is likely.”
“Fine. It’s Will.” Now please leave, Will thinks.
“Thank you, Will. I shall leave you to it.” Hannibal briefly thinks about offering a hand but then decides Will may bite it off.
“I appreciate it.” Will looks relieved which makes Hannibal feel strangely a little upset.
Hannibal stands up and turns to leave. He stops and turns to face Will Graham. “I am not who you think I am.”
Will looks at him, eyes strong and fierce. “Why does it matter? If it’s only business, Mr Lecter, nothing personal.”
“He didn’t show?” Bev says, as she rather aggressively kneads some dough.
“Nope.” Will sighs. He feels hollow and resigned to his fate. Then he thinks he should probably try to be less dramatic.
“Did he say why?” Bev is now even more aggressively kneading the dough as Will frowns at her.
“No, I have heard nothing from him since.” He had gone back home and emailed him asking why he didn’t show and explaining that the man he may have seen him with was someone of no importance. Will winces at the memory of the awkward conversation he ended up having with Hannibal. Not how he had hoped his evening would go. “Instead I had a humiliating encounter with Hannibal Lecter, of all people.”
Bev stops kneading and looks up shocked. “He was there.”
“Yes, in all his usual arrogant manner.” Hannibal’s smug but objectively beautiful face floats across Will’s mind.
Bev sucks in a breath at the idea and then returns to the dough which Will is pretty sure is being kneaded to death at this point. “Well I hope you told him to fuck off.”
Will laughs. Hearing Bev swear is always a wonderful experience. There is something about the ways she says the word fuck that makes it so much more amazing than it has an any right to be.
“Not in so many words, but I was rude.” Will feels a little bad at how rude he was, he has no idea why. This man is nothing but competition, he should not feel any kind of remorse. If anything, he could have been much ruder. Still, there is a part of him that regrets it, a part he tries to ignore.
“Good.” Bev says, satisfied with Will’s explanation as she imagines the dough to be Hannibal Lecter’s head.
Will thinks of the look on Hannibal’s face before he finally left the bar and finds he does not feel as satisfied as perhaps he should, or thought he would. “Yeah.”
Bev looks up again and, upon seeing the rather sad look on Will’s face, frowns in sympathy. “Will, there could be a million reasons why the guy didn’t show.”
It takes a moment for Will to realise what Bev is referring too, distracted as he was by thoughts of Hannibal Lecter. “Yeah, he probably took one look at me and ran.”
Bev rolls her eyes. “No, that is not the reason.” He really does not see how attractive he is, Bev thinks and sighs. “Maybe he was in an accident?”
Will barks a laugh. “That’s cheery!”
“Well maybe he fell or got hit by a car. It could happen.”
Will contemplates this for a moment and decides this train of thought is much better than his current thoughts of self loathing. “Then he got amnesia and forgot me, and who he is.”
Bev smiles. “Yeah, maybe he got mugged and stabbed in an alleyway , and now he is in a coma in a hospital somewhere.”
“Maybe he died.”
“See? Many reasons.”
Will smiles and appreciates Bev’s macabre attempt to cheer him up.
After closing, Will calls a staff meeting with all of them and they sit around one of larger tables in the cafe as Will double checks the books again, even though he knows what they will say.
*We are down almost forty percent.” Will takes off his glasses and flings them on the paperwork as he rubs his eyes.He feels tired.
“Burial Grounds has only been open a week!” Jimmy laments.
Bev grimaces and looks at Will. “So you are worried.”
“Yeah, I have to admit I am. I did some research on the effect the other chain cafes have had on local businesses, and it’s not good.”
“Okay, so we just need to think of a strategy.” Bev says resolutely.
“Yeah.” Kill or be killed, Will thinks and then shakes his head. He needs to distract himself from the rather horrible feeling of being stood up, to stop dwelling on words from someone who rejected him.
“So we pull together, all of us, and we use the local businesses and merchants association. We should go to the press.” Bev looks at Brian as she remembers that awful redhead he used to see. “Don’t you know someone who works in the press? A blogger or someone?”
Brian looks like a deer caught in headlights and Jimmy rolls his eyes. “No Bev, please no.”
Jimmy sighs. “As much of a pariah as she is, she could be useful,Brian. Her blog gets thousands of hits a day.”
“She won’t be interested.” Brian says with hope.
“You just have to sell it to her. Who doesn’t love a story about evil corporate America trying to screw the little guy?” Will says with a layer of irony to his tone which makes Jimmy grimace.
“She will want something in return.” Brian complains.
“I am sure you can convince her, tell her Will will do an interview.” Bev smiles.
“Oh god. Yeah, okay.” Will says and dreads it already.
“Brian, sometimes you just have take one for the team.” Jimmy takes his hand soothingly. Both Bev and Will laugh but it rings hollow as they both know they are probably screwed.
Lass carefully approaches Hannibal. He has lost his good mood these last few days and has gone back to his old self. She finds she is sad; as strange as a happy Hannibal was, the return to form is upsetting. She has more bad news for him too. The backlash has started - a popular local blogger has published an interview with Mr Graham of Graham’s, the rather unimaginatively named competition.
She has read it and it is far from flattering. Mr Graham holds no punches, especially in regards to Hannibal’s character. It made her angry when she read it, this man has no idea how hard Hannibal works, how many jobs he has created for people, how much of himself he puts into his business. Mr Graham has made Hannibal out to be some cartoon villain, and it angers her. Now she has to go in there and tell Hannibal about it, and she really doesn’t want to.
“Sir.” Her voice is even, as if she is approaching a wild animal.
“Yes, Lass, what it is?”
Lass sighs. He is rarely short with her, this does not bode well, “I am afraid I have some bad news.”
Hannibal fixes her with one of his glares, but she holds her own. She has been under them before, so she squares her shoulders and breathes deeply. “There has been some bad press.”
“A blogger by the name of Freddie Lounds.” Lass says and hands Hannibal her tablet where she has pre-loaded the article.
“She called me, we had a long conversation where I explained everything.”
Lass had wondered at this, as Hannibal was quoted in the article. She was hoping it was made up and they could sue. Clearly, this is not Miss Lounds’ first rodeo. “Yes, she mentions that.”
Hannibal narrows his eyes and begins to read the article. “Where is the rest of it?”
“The rest of my interview! We spoke for forty five minutes and this is all she used, one line taken entirely out of context.” He had spoken extensively about their charitable works and ethical business practices. The only line she included was his answer to the question How do you feel about the fact that you are putting local small business out of business? to which he responded with It’s not personal, it’s business. That he stands by; he is, after all, only giving people what they want. If they wanted small and independent, then they would not choose his establishment over the smaller ones. He cannot help what people want.
“But you did say it?” Lass knows he said it. He always says it, at this point it is verging on a catchphrase.
“Well yes but there was more, I spoke about all the good we do, the community outreach. This is not what I said. I see she has quoted Mr Graham’s vitriol verbatim.” There is an extensive interview with Mr Graham where he calls Hannibal and Burial Grounds nothing short of the devil. It makes Hannibal want to bury his head in his hands and scream. If only he didn’t feel such inconvenient affection for Will.
Lass notices a strange look go across Hannibal’s face and wonders at it. He does not seem mad more disappointed and maybe a little sad. Strange, she thinks. “Yes, she has given him considerably more, it is true.”
Hannibal sighs. “Well, he is very articulate, even in his vitriol I suppose.”
That is a strange thing to say. Usually he would be all fight and attack, this defeatism is most unlike him. “Yes, Sir.”
“Is this a particularly popular blog?” When Freddie had called him, she had been flattering him, appealing to his ego - he should really have seen through it. He blames it on being distracted.
Lass realises that he may not have been out the front of the building this morning. He came in early, through the back, so he has not seen them. “Have you been outside the front of the store this morning?”
“Well, yes, it is. We have protesters.” She watches his reaction and cannot tell if he is upset or if that is a slight flicker of pleased.
“Of course we do.” Hannibal says in a resigned tone, but part of him does actually feel happy for Will that his little plan has worked.
Bev is singing when Will comes in. He can hear her voice echo from the kitchen and he smiles. He can smell her baking as well, and it comforts him. He will miss this if they close. The early mornings, the feeling of being awake before the rest of the world, coming in and smelling whatever wonderful treats Bev has up her sleeve today. The routine and structure to his days.
Will makes his way to the kitchen as Winston finds his basket behind the counter. “Hey Bev, you are in a good mood this morning.”
She turns and smiles “I am! Have you seen the article?”
“The one Brian’s friend wrote? No. I didn’t know it was out, that was quick.” He had not enjoyed doing that interview; as nice as Freddie had been, he felt a little dirty afterwards, all her questions were so leading. He had said some quite harsh things about Hannibal, but then, as the man had said, it isn’t personal it’s business.
Bev goes to the sink to wash the flour off her hands, dries them and then picks up her tablet. She finds the article and hands it to Will. “We live in an instant news age, Will. It’s good though, I heard that people are planning a picket of Burial Grounds today.”
Will raises his eyebrows at that. “Really? Hmm.”
“It’s a good thing, Will.”
He looks down at the article, with the rather melodramatic headline ‘Burial grounds buries local business’ and frowns. She has quoted all the things he said with none of the questions to give them context. The result being that he comes across as a bitter, rage fueled, ranting crazy person. Not exactly what he was hoping for.
“I come across like a madman.”
Bev sighs. “No, you don’t, just passionate.”
“Hmmm, I see she got a quote from Mr Lecter.” His classic quote. Will feels sick.
“Yeah, it makes him look like the arrogant douche he is.” Bev grins widely.
Will has an odd feeling at hearing someone insult Hannibal, as if it is okay when he does it but not when someone else does. He shakes his head to dispel it. “Well, let’s hope it helps.”
Will comes home from work, so tired he feels it in his bones. He takes Winston for a walk and looks up at the night sky - the same stars he always looks at, the same sky he and Winston walk under every night. His mind wanders to Achilles652. He misses those emails more than he would ever admit to anyone, he feels a void in his life that he realises was always there, but is suddenly made so much bigger by his absence. The thought that he might lose his business now too, the one thing that has given his life meaning, makes him feel as if someone has punched him in the stomach.
He thinks back to when he and his father first moved here. Will had enrolled in university and got his degree while helping his father in his spare time. He had finished and promised to help his father while he thought about applying for his masters. The plan was he would take a year off and save money, look into funding assistance. . It was something he always thought he would go back to. Then his father got ill and everything changed; Will nursed him through it all and worked at the shop, keeping it going even when his father was fading.
Now he realises he hit pause on his life all those years ago and has never thought to hit play again. He has been existing in limbo. This may give him a way out and a part of him feels a certain sense of relief and perhaps excitement. However, it is all tainted with a large amount of fear and guilt. When he had someone to talk to about all of this, it felt less terrifying. He is alone again now, and it feels so much more alone than it did before.
Shaking himself out of his revelry he makes his way back inside with Winston in tow who goes to his basket and curls up with a soft snore. Will smiles at him and is glad he at least he has Winston. Sighing, he goes to his computer and turns it on, not sure what he expects to find, and so is shocked when he sees the red email notification. He opens it. His heart feels like it has leapt up into his mouth when he sees who it is from. He thinks about deleting it. The mouse hovers over the trash icon for some time before he makes the decision to open it.
I cannot tell you why I was not there. I can only apologise from the bottom of my heart for leaving you alone in that bar. I wanted to be there, I wanted us to meet more than anything and I know I do not deserve your forgiveness but I ask for it nonetheless. I have found the absence of your emails in my life a hole which I am still falling into. I hope that you can find it in you to throw me a rope. I am sorry that instead of a friend you ended up in the company of an enemy. It makes me wish I could have been there to help you.
Will stares at the screen. His eyes re-read it over and over. This is insanity. He should delete this email and never go on the internet ever again. The last email Will had sent told Achilles652 who he had seen instead of him. Will had wondered if that was the reason he had bailed, he saw him with this other man and jumped to conclusions. This was clearly not the case. Will did give him that out as an excuse and he appreciates that he didn’t take it. However he has still not explained himself and that irks Will. Why has he changed his mind and contacted Will? Has he decided that actually no, he can’t do better? Is this just part of an elaborate game?
However, Will has also missed their emails. The words which seem to be on permanent repeat in his head. Maybe he could do this, keep it casual. They do not need to meet. They do not need to be anything more to each other than what amounts to penpals.
I was just outside staring at the night sky thinking about you, about these exchanges we have and how much I have missed them. It was with more joy than I would want to admit that I read your email. I am feeling melancholy at the moment, just as I was the night we first started speaking. Perhaps responding to this is a mistake but I cannot seem to stop myself. Just so you know, I took your advice. I hope it works. I miss my father more in all this, I wonder what he would have thought. I have had many distractions but I have missed your words too. Whatever kept you from that bar I am also sorry for it.
Thank you for responding. I hope my advice works for you. I am glad you are fighting. You should never go down quietly, or at all if you can help it.
I am sorry you miss your father. I did not know mine well, he died when I was young.
My father was larger than life. He could drink anyone under the table. He had skin like leather from too much time in the sun, he had lines around his eyes as deep as crevasses and he always laughed with his entire body. I miss him. I miss our conversations the most. We worked together and I miss closing up at the end of the day, listening to blues on a record player, and his voice so deep and velvety singing along. I still hear it sometimes.
We are always haunted by the ghosts of the ones we love who have left us. I feel my sister often, hear her laugh in the sound of other children playing. I used to see her smile on every face I saw. It is less now but it still catches me unawares sometimes. Sneaks up on me on a summer’s day. Loss is something you never fill, just learn a new shape to live in.
I am losing the legacy we created together and it makes me feel broken.
None of it works. Burial Grounds is a roaring success and within a month Graham’s is out of business. Will locks up one final time with the sounds of his father singing in his ears. It wafts through the air like the smell of coffee and Bev’s baking. It makes him miss his father more than he thought possible. He takes the bell from the door before locking up for the last time. He looks at the sign they painted together and his heart feels broken.
Walking around the corner, he sees Burial Grounds open, lights warm and inviting, he hears the sounds of soft jazz music through the opening door as a customer leaves. He sighs and clutches the bell to his chest before making his way across the street to the cafe. Opening the door, the smell of coffee hits him and almost makes him weep. He can smell food as well, it is comforting and that just makes him feel worse somehow.
Looking around at the walls filled with pictures of the old neighbourhood he wants to throw up. He can see people sat at laptops typing away, he can also see groups of people smiling and laughing, there is music and he recognises a local jazz band playing. The atmosphere was not what he was expecting. There are two floors of seating, it is a big space but doesn’t feel it making it seem cozy. There are tables advertising book signings by local writers. He looks behind the counter, and the list of blends and choice of drinks looks endless. He looks at the display counter and there are what look like french patisserie glistening temptingly from behind the polished glass. There are hand written signs in script placed by each one.
He goes to the counter and orders a coffee, just a plain black one, house blend, nothing fancy, insisting on it being in a ceramic mug and not one of the fancy glass and metal ones they usually have. The server looks vaguely disgusted as he hands it to him. Will takes the mug upstairs to explore further. He takes his time and finds a place to sit in the corner in a large wingback chair. He sips the coffee and it tastes good, but that too just makes him feel worse.
He listens for a while to students talking about politics and two old friends gossiping, a husband and wife catching up after a day apart. He listens to the noise and conversations of the world and sighs. He sips his coffee and wonders if this is what people want? No matter what he did, he would have ended up out of business, out of date. He feels empty and hollowed out and he has no idea what he is going to do next.
I am so lost. I am ill, as if my body is in grieving as much as my mind. I think the last time I was this ill it was just after my father died. In some ways I feel like I am losing him all over again. I know this is illogical but god, I miss him.
You will find your way again, I am sure. I am sorry you miss your Father, he was obviously very important to you. I am sure he would want you to take care of yourself, as do I. Take some time to yourself; it is important sometimes in life to take the chance given to us. You have been given the opportunity to rest, so rest. Your body will thank you.
I am looking at the clouds as they race through the sky. They are moving so fast and I feel stuck to the spot like concrete. A fixed point in time, unable to move. I cannot see my future. My past weighs me down, it holds me in an iron embrace. I feel regret. I wonder if he would be proud of me still?
You must never be defined by your past. Your present is who you are, your past is a hollow echo of a shadow. You are here, now and you must allow yourself to feel this, but also allow yourself to heal. Of course he would be proud. You know he would.
Will is not paying attention. He feels dreadful, he has a head cold that is kicking his ass. He can barely breathe and his nose has been rubbed red raw from all the tissues. He is pale and sickly looking, wrapped up in many layers but still shivering. He came to the supermarket to buy supplies so he can go home and hole himself up in a cocoon with his dog. Finally, he is at the end of the queue and the cashier has added up all his goods. He hands her his card.
“Cash only line.” The woman says this with barely contained contempt. She takes one look at his sickly fevered complection and a shiver of revulsion runs down her spine.
“Shit, sorry. I didn’t realise. I only have my card.”
“There is a sign, right there,” the woman says and points up to the large sign hanging above the checkout.
“Yeah, sorry. I missed it.”
“Come on man, it’s cash only!” The burly man behind him groans and Will turns to face him as the rest of the queue realise that Will is holding them all up.
“There is a sign!”
“Please can you make an exception?” Will pleads but the woman’s face remains unchanged.
“Excuse me, do you need some money?” That voice, he would recognise it anywhere. Of course, Will thinks, of course it would be you at this moment, here, now when I look disgusting and I am humiliated.
Will turns arounds to face the smooth expression of Hannibal Lecter staring back at him. “No, I do not need any money.”
“So you have cash?” the woman asks sarcastically.
“Please, allow me.” Hannibal smoothly gives the woman cash for Will’s shopping and then proceeds to pick up his bags and carry them for him out of the shop. Will hopes for death but it doesn’t come so instead he follows Hannibal his head hung low.
Hannibal stops outside of the shop and inspects the contents of Will’s shopping with a look of disapproval on his face. “I will pay you back.” Will says and attempts to get his bags back.
“There is no need, but if you insist. Please, allow me to carry these to your car.”
Will looks up at him and sighs. “Fine.” He makes his way to his car and Hannibal follows. Once the bags are loaded inside, Will closes the trunk of the car. “Thanks.”
“It is no problem. Are you sure you are feeling well enough to drive?”
Will fixes Hannibal with a look that makes Hannibal smile at the complete disgust he has managed to muster, even in his weakened state. “Yes. I am fine.”
Will looks at Hannibal. He cannot decide what he is up to.
“I am more than happy to drive you home. You look most unwell.”
“Why would you want to do that?” Will is feeling more horrendous the longer he stands here and also more frustrated. He just wants to get home and crawl into a hole, alone. The last thing he needs is the confusing presence of Hannibal Lecter.
Hannibal attempts to sounds neutral to not spook Will too much, as if he talking to a horse that is about to bolt. “Because I can see you are unwell and you need someone to take care of you. I assume you live alone?”
Is this guy for real? Will thinks, offended. “Why would you assume that?”
Hannibal just seems to be pissing Will off, which is genuinely not his intent. “I meant no offence. I do not see a ring and you have not mentioned a partner.”
Will looks at Hannibal with blurry eyes and wonders when Hannibal has been that observant of him. “We have had very few conversations.”
Will grimaces, but decides he has no energy to lie. “Yes I live alone, apart from Winston of course.”
“So will you allow me?”
Is he serious? Why would I let him do that? Why would he offer? If he felt that bad, he would not have driven me out of business! Will huffs and then curtly replies, “To drive me home? No.”
Hannibal tries a different tact. “Could I suggest you come to my house? I do not live far, allow me to make you dinner.”
“Why would I do that?” Will is starting to feel his temperature rise and a cold sweat break out on his forehead. He really is too ill for this.
“As I have said before, Mr Graham, I am not your enemy.” Hannibal gauges Will’s reaction to that and it is not good. He is so stubborn. “I would like to help you.”
Will looks at him and suddenly feels bone tired, his vision is blurry. Everything begins to spin and Will can feel his legs weaken as they go from under him. He just has time to see Hannibal step towards him and the last thing he remembers is the feeling of being caught in very strong arms.
Will wakes up and has no idea where he is. He realises he is in a bed. He realises he is wearing hospital pyjamas. He realises he is not in his house. Then he remembers. He remembers passing out in the parking lot of the market. He remembers Hannibal Lecter was there, he caught him. Oh god, he thinks, he took me to the hospital. Will’s eyes adjust to his surroundings as he begins to hear the beeping of the monitors.
He attempts to sit up but finds it difficult. Eventually he manages it and that is when he realises he is not alone. Hannibal Lecter is dozing in the chair by his bed. Will’s heart stops as he looks at the man, his face is relaxed and his breathing steady. Like this he looks almost soft, his hair is falling slightly in his face, he has removed his coat and is just wearing a beige sweater with a white shirt underneath. He looks so informal. Will spends more time than he wants to admit to himself staring at the man.
Eventually, Will coughs loudly which then turns into a fit. Hannibal is woken up by this cacophony and instantly springs into action, pouring Will some water from a little brown plastic jug. He passes it to him and Will gratefully takes it and drinks. Hannibal waits until Will has stopped coughing and then takes the cup from him, refilling it. He places it on the small table next to the bed.
“I am glad you are awake.” Hannibal says in a very soft voice that Will tries to ignore.
“Yeah. How did I get here?” Will’s voice is gravelly and sore, he rubs at his neck and Hannibal watches his hand against that pale stretch of skin again.
Hannibal smiles. “I brought you in my car, you passed out in the parking lot. I have called Miss Katz. I got her number from your phone. I hope you don’t mind. She has picked up your car and took it back to her house with your dog, Winston.”
Will looks at Hannibal incredulous. “You called Bev.” Will cannot imagine this conversation.
“Yes she was at first quite unhelpful, but once I convinced her of your situation, she was more than happy to help.”
“I can imagine.” Will watches as Hannibal retakes his seat. “You didn’t have to stay.”
“I wanted to make sure you were okay, and also inform you I had contacted Bev.”
“Okay. Thank you.” You can leave now, Will thinks.
“It is the least I could do. I should inform the doctors you are awake.” Hannibal stands up smoothly and makes his way outside. Just before he gets to the door, he stops and turns “I really am glad you are awake.”
Before Will can respond, he has left and Will suddenly feels bereft.
Hannibal comes by the next day, with some kind of ridiculous chicken broth which smells amazing. Will makes a comment about it being chicken soup which, admittedly, falls quite flat, but Will finds himself smiling at Hannibal’s slightly hurt reaction, and Will cannot deny that it tastes amazing.
“You didn’t have to come back.” Why did you? Will thinks but doesn’t say.
“I wanted to check on you, and hospital food is usually far from nourishing.”
“Do you have a lot of experience with hospital food?”
“Some. I was a doctor in a different life.”
“A surgeon. It was the reason I ended up in this country. My family died when I was young, an aunt took pity on me and helped me make the money to study overseas. It was one of the greatest moments of my life when I could pay her back for her kindness.”
Will looks at Hannibal and thinks perhaps he has misjudged this man, that he is more than the sum of his parts. “So you really are a self-made man.”
“What made you stop being a surgeon?”
“I lost one too many patients. I met Jack Crawford, who had just left the police force and was starting a property developing business. He mentored me and we have been partners ever since. You could say I transferred my passion for anatomy into the culinary arts.”
“Huh.” Will is surprised by this, but then he notices Hannibal’s hands and can see them as a surgeon’s.
“What about you? What do you plan to do now?”
“Now that you have run me out of business?”
Hannibal frowns. “I am sorry about that.”
“Well, I suppose there is nothing to be done about it now.”
“I am sorry that we got off on the wrong foot though. I never meant to upset you.”
Will looks at Hannibal and can see he actually means that. “I should probably apologize too. I could have handled it better.”
“We both could have. Perhaps, a clean slate is needed.”
Will looks at this improbable man and smiles as he puts down his spoon and holds his hand out to Hannibal. “Hi, I’m Will. Nice to meet you.”
Hannibal laughs, takes Will’s hand and shakes it. “Hannibal. It’s nice to meet you, too.”
“Thank you for the soup, Hannibal.”
Hannibal cannot help but smile widely at Will calling him by his first name.
Will is allowed home after a week and Hannibal is the one who drives him there. Hannibal has been by the hospital every day, and it’s both strange and not how they have become friends. Will feels as if they have known each other a lot longer than they actually have, after such a short space of time. Hannibal takes him home and meets Winston who instantly adores him as he has cleverly brought sausage in his pocket for him.
“Cupboard love!” Will laughs as Winston takes the sausage gratefully and rubs up against Hannibal’s legs. “Sorry about the dog hair.”
“It is fine,” Hannibal says. He reaches down and pets Winston as Will looks on, surprised.
They make their way inside, Hannibal carrying Will’s bag. Hannibal notices the collection of old worn out boots on the porch and smiles. He gets Will settled in his lounge and then makes them both tea. Hannibal takes a seat opposite Will and Winston settles beside Hannibal’s feet.
“Traitor,” Will laughs. “You know you don’t have to stay I am feeling much better. Don’t you have a coffee empire to run? You have spent a lot of time with me lately.”
Hannibal smiles. “Perks of being my own boss.”
“We have vastly different experiences of being your own boss! Don’t you have a personal life to get back to at least?” Hannibal hasn’t mentioned a partner, but Will assumes he must have someone, or many someones, in his life.
“My life has been mostly work for a while now, not much time for anything else. What about you? The person you were meeting that night I bumped into you?”
Will laughs. “They never showed.”
“Oh, I am sorry. Who were they?” Hannibal lies smoothly.
“You will laugh.” Will has no idea why he is telling Hannibal this. He seems to have an effect on Will that makes it easy to just tell him things. Must be the doctor in him. Either that, or the amazing food has made Will more pliant.
The food is working , thinks Hannibal, pleased with himself, for making Will open up to him. “I would never judge you.”
Will takes a deep breath and then quickly lets it out. “I met them online.”
“Online?” Hannibal pretends to be surprised.
“You know, on the internet. In a chat room.” Why am I telling him this? Its humiliating! Will thinks.
“So you don’t know who they are.” It’s me, my love, it’s me. “Do you know their name at least?”
Will sighs. “Just the username.”
Hannibal pauses, pretending to digest this information. “Well, what reason did they give for not turning up?”
Will looks away and sips his tea. “They didn’t really, they just apologised.”
Hannibal pretends to be shocked. “That is impolite.”
“I am sure there was a reason.” Now that he says it out loud, it does sound bad, and Will frowns.
“Have they asked to meet again?”
“No.” Will’s tone is neutral, but Hannibal can tell he has started to question what reason would be a good enough explanation for standing him up and then not responding when he emailed them to check if they were okay.
“You are not thinking about still talking to them are you? I would think after such despicable behaviour, you would just cut them out.” The thought of Will actually doing this makes Hannibal feel nauseated.
Will sighs again. Talking about this out loud really does make it sounds bad. “Well, I haven’t contacted them since I have been in hospital.”
“Surely you do not have plans to continue?” Hannibal hopes he is planting the seeds of need and doubt in Will it is a careful balancing act. “They sound unforgivably rude to me for standing you up like that.”
“I am trying to keep an open mind, we have a connection.”
Hannibal pretends to look unconvinced, but inwardly is very excited. “Can’t be much of a connection if they can’t even tell you why they didn’t meet you. I would be very wary of them if I were you.”
“You don’t know them,” Will says, feeling defensive. Who is Hannibal to judge, he doesn’t know the connection he shares with this person, and what is wrong with wanting to feel that again?
“Just my opinion.” Hannibal does feel unforgivably rude for treating Will that way. He wishes he could just come clean and tell him, but he knows he has to time it just right, otherwise Will is going to run and never look back. Hannibal cannot lose Will from his life, the idea is more terrifying to him than he would ever admit to himself.
“ I can look after myself,” Will counters, and Hannibal smirks, “Usually.”
“I just would not want you to get hurt.” This is true, he doesn’t want to hurt Will.He needs to be carefully handled, like delicate china.
“Thank you for your concern.” Will feels like he is being patronised at this point and wishes he could just change the subject.
Hannibal senses Will is getting irritated, time to leave , he thinks. “I should leave you to getting settled. Is there anything you need? I was going to come by tomorrow with some more groceries for you.”
“You don’t have to.” Will is really unsure as to what Hannibal’s motives are in all this. Probably guilt, he thinks.
“Nonsense. I would like to cook for you.” It is all he wants to do, he wants to cook for and take care of Will forever. He just hopes there will come a day when he lets him.
“Okay.” Will has no idea why he is agreeing to this. He is finding it hard to say no to Hannibal’s easy company.
“You stay here. I shall see myself out. There is some dinner in the fridge for you that just needs to be heated up.”
Will smiles at that. He has never had anyone look after him before, and it is a strange feeling. “Thank you Hannibal.”
“My pleasure, Will.”
I am sorry for the silence this week, I have been unwell. Things are improving now though. I can feel the weather changing too, I can smell spring on the cusp in the air. There is lingering freshness that is full of promise. You must think my constant smelling of the air strange…
I hope that you are feeling better. I am sorry to hear you have been unwell. I hope someone is taking care of you. To the contrary, I find your seasonal olfactory musings most interesting. I find myself smelling the roses a bit more as it were.
I am being taken care of yes. Do you find that people can surprise you? It is so rare for me. I find that when it happens it is almost unsettling.
Most people I find are most predictable, very rarely surprising or at all interesting. People are creatures of habits after all. Predictable and unchanging. Perhaps one day I will be surprised by them but I find most of them sadly disappointing.
You should give people a chance I have recently and it’s been an interesting experience.
Hannibal comes by the next day and cooks him lunch. The food is amazing. Will has managed to clear some space on his small dining room table for them to eat at. They sit opposite each other and Will thinks he prefers this more casual side of Hannibal dressed in slacks, a shirt and a sweater.
“Where did you learn to cook?” Will asks. “You are ridiculously good at it.”
Hannibal smiles at the compliment. “It has always been an interest of mine. I have endeavoured to be the best of whatever I put my hand to.” Including the throat of the lawyer who was involved with the planning permissions of Burial Grounds, the flesh of whom is in this soup. Of course the legal issues weren’t the only reason Hannibal killed him, he was incredibly rude as well as inconvenient.
Will laughs. “Overachiever?”
“Yes, guilty as charged I am afraid. I think when you grow up with little, you learn to strive for more.”
Wil stops eating and looks at Hannibal. “You were poor as a child?”
“That surprises you?”
“Yes, you look as if you were born this way.”
Hannibal smirks. “I came from a very wealthy family, it is true, but I also came from a country ripped apart by war. We may have had a title but that does not always save you from the savage reality of conflict.”
“That is how you lost your family?”
“Yes. My parents died first, then the rest followed. I was very young, an orphan for a time before my uncle found me and took me in. I owe them much.”
“I am sorry.”
Hannibal waves his hand in dismissal. “No need, that part of my life is behind me. I do understand the need for legacy though, Will, and I am sorry that I did not show more sympathy towards you. I think I have become so accustomed to building up walls around me that it is hard for me to look over them, or through.”
Will takes pause at that. He understands walls and realises that perhaps he has been guilty of the same. “I would imagine that is what has made you so successful.”
Hannibal takes a moment before responding. “Yes, it has, but I wonder if it has also prevented me from making any meaningful connections in my life.”
They make eye contact for a moment before Will looks away and continues eating his food. “I know what you mean. I think since my father died, I have been so focused on making the café a success that everything else fell by the wayside.”
“Perhaps that is what drew you to this online relationship. As a chance to have a connection but with less of a risk.”
“Did you study psychology when you were a doctor?”
Hannibal smirks again. “Guilty as charged.”
“Let’s not open that can of worms.” Will laughs but is impressed at Hannibal’s ability for insight and his sincerity. Will often feels he is alone in his ability to read people. Although when it comes to Hannibal his usual ease of understanding people fails him.
Hannibal holds his hands up “I withdraw the comment. I hope this means you will still allow me to come by tomorrow? If you are feeling up for it, we could walk Winston, you could show me where you fish?”
Will looks at this unfathomable man sat in front of him and wonders how this has happened. He is the first real connection Will has had outside of his work and he realises that Hannibal is right; he has been hiding since his father died. “Sure,” he hears himself say, as he watches the smile grow on Hannibal’s face, finding a similar one appearing on his own.
I have had time to read for the first time in as long as I can remember. I have rediscovered old treasured books I have not read for many years. Stories feel like old friends, don’t they? Old travelling companions that you haven’t seen for years, but the moment you meet it’s like you were never apart.
I could not agree more. The written word is a magical thing. Stories help us feel a part of the world, they connect us all together through the universal human experience. I feel the same way about music, it can access emotions we did not know we had. Sometimes I listen to a piece of music and feel overcome with emotion that I cannot name, and all I can do is ride the wave.
I can see that. I cannot hear Van Morrison without hearing my father singing over it with his raspy voice, and tears inevitably spring to my eyes with a sense of both profound sadness and happiness.
Art is what connects us as a species. We are reaching out to each other for similar experiences. After all, what is life if you cannot turn to someone and share it with them?
Life is meant to be shared? I am not sure if I have the ability anymore to share my life. I have become a singular hermit these past few years... which is probably why I ended up in a chat room.
Whatever the reason, I am glad that you did.
“How are you feeling?” Hannibal asks as he watches Will throw a tennis ball for Winston. It is a clear, cold, blue sky day, the snow is melting and there is colour beginning to show underneath. Will is taking Hannibal to the stream he fishes in.
“Better, thank you.More myself.”
“I am happy to hear it. Have you been in contact with your online friend?” Hannibal of course knows the answer to this, having replied to his email last night. He is still reasonably sure that Will does not know it is him. He watches Will’s reaction to this question; there is just the ghost of a smile which warms Hannibal’s heart.
“I am not sure I could be as forgiving as you in regards to his behaviour.” Hannibal watches as Winston returns the ball and walks backwards expectantly until Will throws it again.He smiles at the bond between dog and his master.
“I guess I am a forgiving person.”
Hannibal smiles. “Yes, yes, you are. A fact I am very grateful for.”
Will laughs at that. “Yes, I suppose you would be.”
“It is good to see you smile though, so for that I should be grateful to them, whoever they are.”
Will looks at Hannibal’s profile as they walk through the woods in the dappled sunlight.He cannot read him, which is unusual as Will can usually read a person straight away and is very rarely wrong. Bev says he has a sixth sense; Will just thinks it’s observation skills passed down from his cop father. When it comes to Hannibal though, Will is at sea - he just doesn’t know what he is thinking.
“ your cooking has helped, too.”
Hannibal smiles and bows his head. “Glad to hear it. Have you thought more about what you might do now?”
Will sighs and throws the ball again for a very excited Winston, who barks as the ball arches in the air, landing a long way from them. Hannibal can’t help but notice Will has a good throwing arm.
“I am not sure. I have a bit of time before things get desperate from the shop sale. I think I will take a time out and have a break. I haven’t had a break in a very long time.”
“That sounds like a good idea to me. Did you have any dreams when you were younger? Anything you thought of doing?”
Will smiles as he thinks about his youth in New Orleans with his father, and stealing his father's badge just to stare at it. “I guess I always thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps and become a cop, but I am too old now.”
“Never too old to follow your dreams.”
“ that’s easy for you to say. I mean, you went from surgeon to business mogul. Is there anything you are not good at?”
Hannibal smiles. “Many things.”
Will laughs. That was the least convincing thing he has ever heard. “Modesty, apparently!”
“I have learnt that to get ahead you need a certain amount of self-assurance, that is all. I know my limits, trust me. Perhaps there is something you could do that is in the field of law enforcement.”
Will is starting to think that Hannibal can read his mind. “Actually, I was thinking about going back to school, maybe doing something in forensics.”
Hannibal nods. “Interesting field.”
“I did a bachelor’s degree many years ago, so I was thinking of going for my masters and seeing where that leads me.”
“Jack was a cop. I am sure he still has contacts if you need any. I can ask him.”
“Thank you. I am still looking into possibilities.”
“I think it sounds like a wonderful idea.”
Will smiles as they round the corner and the stream comes into view. “Here we are. Be careful on this bit of track, it can be a bit boggy.”
Just as Will finishes this statement, Hannibal who is distracted by imagining Will stood in this rather beautiful stream wind in his hair, does not see Winston returning the ball to Will with his usual enthusiasm. Will watches in slow motion as Hannibal’s legs are taken out from under him by the barreling Winston, followed by Hannibal wobbling and gasping, and then falling down, landing on his ass, right in a boggy bit.
Time freezes as Hannibal attempts to regains some kind of dignity, and Will offers a hand. “Are you alright?” He is stifling a laugh which Hannibal is trying to ignore. He takes Will’s hand and is helped up to a standing position. He looks down at his trousers, now covered in mud, and frowns.
“Yes, I believe I am uninjured. However, the same cannot be said about my trousers.”
Will looks at Hannibal, stood there in his expensive clothes, always so put together and perfect, not a hair out of place, with his trousers now stained and dripping wet in mud and can no longer hold back the laugh that is bubbling out him. Hannibal watches as Will is practically bent over in hysterical laughter. Usually, the sound of such enthusiastic laughter would be music to Hannibal’s ears but as he is the reason it mostly causes him to frown deeper which has the adverse effect of making Will laugh more. Winston is running around them, barking as if in unison with his master in finding it amusing.
Hannibal is trying to brush off some of the mud but is only making it worse. Will is finding it hard to breathe through his laughter and eventually starts coughing, which worries Hannibal and he forgets his embarrassment and puts his hand on Will’s shoulders to steady him. “Breathe, Will.”
Will is now coughing and hacking away, his face is turning red. Hannibal firmly grips Will’s shoulders in his hands. “Will, relax, take a deep breath.”
The coughing continues a few moments longer until Will manages to take some air into his lungs and stops.
“Are you okay?”
Will smiles, but looks pale and exhausted. “Yes,” his voice is a whisper. “Sorry, bit too much excitement.”
“Would you like to sit and rest for a while?”
“No, we should get back. You are soaked, I don’t want you getting ill as well. I will be okay.”
Will has to stop a few times to cough again, but eventually they make it back to the house. Hannibal’s trousers have dried but he is still very muddy. He removes his shoes outside on the porch, helping Will do the same. He gets Will inside and puts him in bed which is downstairs anyway, as he apparently sleeps with Winston in the back room. “You can borrow some trousers from me,” Will says, as Hannibal helps to prop him up in the bed and lays a blanket over his legs. “You can put yours in the wash.”
Hannibal thinks about this and realises he should probably take Will up on this offer as his legs are freezing and Will is right - the last thing he needs is to get ill as well. “Let me get you some water and then I will take you up on that.” Hannibal goes to the kitchen and fetches Will a glass of water. “When I am done I will make some tea.”
“Sounds good. Washing machine is in the kitchen annex, you will see it. Pants are in the second drawer down, sorry, they may be a bit small for you.”
“I am sure I can find something. Is there anything else you need?”
Will drinks his water and smiles. “No, honestly, I will be fine, just sort yourself out. I just need a minute.”
“Stay there and rest, Will. I won’t be long.”
Hannibal makes his way back into the kitchen, takes off his trousers which are caked in mud and places them in the washer. He adds detergent and puts the machine on. He then takes off his coat and hangs it up on the pegs. Making his way in just his shirt, sweater, underwear and socks he goes back into the bedroom to retrieve some pants to change into. He looks in the drawer Will mentioned and then turns to Will. “Which would be close to fitting me do you think?” Will is staring at Hannibal with a look of amusement and possibly a glint of something else. . His eyes seemingly have gotten stuck on Hannibal’s socks. “Something wrong?”
“No,” Will mutters, jolted out of his revelry. “I should have realised you would be the type of person to wear those. What are they even called?”
Hannibal looks down at his feet and realises what Will is fascinated by. “Sock garters. What do you mean by type of person?”
“You don’t meet many people who would even know what they are, let alone wear them.”
Hannibal frowns again; he really is not making the best impression today. “ I suppose I am not like most people.”
“I didn’t mean it in a bad way. I just… I have never seen them before, that’s all.” Hannibal could swear if Will wasn’t so ill he would look as if he is blushing right now. As it is, he is probably just a little flushed from the fresh air, exertion and coughing. “Try the blue ones on the top, they should fit you, they are long on me.”
“Thank you” Hannibal takes them out and then closes the drawer. Will watches with certain amount of rapt attention as Hannibal pulls on his pants. They fit him but are a little tight and a little short. Will swallows as he tries not to think about what Hannibal looks like right now, in his bedroom, wearing his pants, and with the knowledge of the sock garters under the fabric. “Let me make us tea.” Will definitely does not watch Hannibal’s ass, which is rather well defined in those tight trousers, as he leaves the room to go into the kitchen.
While Hannibal is making tea. Will can hear him pottering around out there and is oddly comforted. He finds himself smiling as the image of those sock garters float in front of his mind. He thinks about the walk they shared before it all went pear shaped, the easy company and conversation. Will hasn’t had much time to think about Hannibal’s motives since he got back from the hospital and his usual self-doubt and negative thoughts are starting to creep in again, but Hannibal returns with two steaming mugs of tea before they take him over completely.
Walking over to Will, he hands him the mug, which Will gratefully accepts. Hannibal stands awkwardly next to Will as they both realise there are no seats in here. Will laughs, “Just lie on the bed next to me, promise I won’t bite.”
Hannibal smiles and places his mug on the bedside table next to Will so he can climb on the bed, Will helps him prop up some pillows and shares the blanket so it extends over Hannibal’s legs, too. Will hands him his mug of tea and they both quietly sip at the hot liquid, warmth spreading through their bodies.
Will starts to smile as he replays the last few hours in his mind; Hannibal falling, the sight of him covered in mud, the way Hannibal’s hands felt on his shoulders when he was coughing, his legs and, of course, the sock garters. Hannibal notices Will’s smile and feels a warmth spread through him, which cannot only be attributed to the tea. Eventually, Will breaks the silence. “Thank you.”
Hannibal turns his head to look at Will, who is not looking at him but still smiling. “For what?”
“I don’t think I have laughed that much in months. Also, thank you for the tea, but mostly for the company.” Will finds he means this more than he expected. He has lived such a simple life for so long, a life filled with distraction and limited connections. He has been hiding out here since his father died, ignoring how lonely he had become.
Hannibal takes these words in, and feels a part of him that he did not realise was so empty being filled. He has been so focused on work and expanding the business that he has not had a personal life, right now lying on this bed with this rather scruffy man he is realising how lonely he has been. He thinks about coming clean and telling Will everything. Something stops him though, so instead he sips his tea and quietly says, “It is my pleasure.”
I hope you are feeling better. The weather is improving and the sun has been shining. I think of you when I smell the air now and wonder at what olfactory experience you may be having. I have a very good sense of smell myself, but yours I think senses the world in a different way and I find I am little jealous…
I have managed to get out a little, yes. I have a dog so this means I often have no choice if I want any peace. This change of season gives the air a freshness to it that is a mix of the lingering cold and promising warmth to come. A slight mustiness, a heaviness that makes you think of warm evenings. I find myself thinking more and more of new beginnings. I suppose it is only natural when such a life change has been forced on me.
Life changes can be cathartic if we embrace them . I know you are still coming to terms with everything but perhaps this will lead you down a path you did not expect. We should embrace the bumps in the road as much as the smoothness - it is what makes life interesting. There is much poetry and hope in change, even more so when it’s unexpected.
All this talk of change and hope has made me think perhaps we should meet? Try again?
Hannibal has turned up at Will’s again with yet more spectacular food. Will could probably cook for himself now, but he cannot turn down such wonderful offerings. He is trying not to think about the ease in which Hannibal has managed to make these visits seem normal. He is also trying not to think about whether Hannibal is wearing sock garters. The sight of those strong legs with those leather garters has been haunting Will ever since he saw them. Will catches himself staring at Hannibal’s feet as he brings over their lunch and shakes his head. Hannibal notices this and smirks, placing a plate of food in front of Will.
“This smells divine,” Will exclaims and it really does. He also enjoys the way Hannibal lights up at Will’s praise.
“Thank you. It should help your recovery.”
Hannibal places his own plate down and then sits down opposite Will. “You really don’t need to do this, I am doing much better.” Will says but doesn’t really mean it. Part of him hopes Hannibal will bring him food for an infinite amount of time.
“Nonsense, it is my pleasure.” They eat in silence for a moment as Hannibal enjoys the noises of approval Will is making and the way his Adam’s apple bobs up and down when he swallows.
“ Did you ask him?” The last time they spoke, Will had expressed that he might ask his online penpal to meet again. Hannibal’s heart still skipped a beat when he opened the message when he got home though.
“Yes, I thought I should take the plunge.” Will had ummed and ahhed over it for hours, but then just gave in and did it. This cannot go on - he needs to know. He will risk one more humiliation.
“Has he responded?” Hannibal asks.
Will pauses a moment before answering. “Yes.” A part of him was worried it might change the friendship he has with Hannibal. He dismissed it though; after all; Hannibal and him are just friends. Technically, Achilles652 is just a friend, too. Can’t have too many friends.
“ I am surprised you even asked him.” Hannibal is doing his best jealous impression. He hoped perhaps Will would break the online relationship off, realising he had a better thing going in real life. He worries about how he will react when he realises it is Hannibal. He feels nervous and a little fearful, emotions he is not used to. The thought of not having Will or Patroclus112 in his life is more than a little unsettling.
Will can sense a little jealousy from Hannibal now; he is hiding it well, but it’s there. Now they have spent more time together, Will has become more attuned to Hannibal. He is sure there is a slight clenching of his jaw and narrowing of his eyes. As soon as it is there, it’s gone again, and that smooth neutral expression has taken its place once more. Will smiles. “It feels like it’s time.”
Hannibal decides to play the devil's advocate. “What if he stands you up again?”
“I don’t know.” Will doesn’t want to think about that, he just wants to know who he is talking to. If no one turns up he knows he will not give this guy another chance. He will just draw a line under the whole humiliating experience.
Hannibal can see the resolve in Will’s face despite his answer. He knows this is the last chance Achilles652 will get and, by extension, Hannibal. Fear coils in his stomach once more. “I hope it works out.”
“Really?” Will is surprised by that, he was hoping for perhaps a bit more resistance from Hannibal. He reminds himself they are just friends. Hannibal is probably only spending time with him out of guilt, maybe he wants Will to move on so he can pass the responsibility to someone else. Will inwardly grimaces at the thought.
“Yes, Will. I want you to be happy, after all.” Hannibal can see a thought has crossed Will’s mind and he wonders at what it is. He hopes that Will doesn’t think he is here due to pity or guilt. “So when are you meeting him?”
“That soon?” Hannibal is almost breathless with anticipation at this point and is doing his best to hide it.
“Yeah.” Will feels those nerves again in his stomach and prays to any god that might be listening that it works out and that he is not left on his own again. Then he realises that he will not be alone this time, that maybe he will still have Hannibal. It is an oddly comforting thought.
“ I hope it goes as you want it to.”
Will is nervous. He changes three times, which is insane as he realises that basically all his plaid shirts are the same. He looks at Winston who is, in turn, looking at him like he is crazy. “Yeah, I know, buddy.” He looks at himself one last time in the mirror, frowning. It will just have to do. He is wearing his smartest slacks, one of his best plaid shirts and a tie that he found at the back of his wardrobe that he forgot he even owned. He has his only sports jacket on which is tweed and a little mothballed. He thinks he looks like an awkward professor.
He checks his phone; there are texts from Bev wishing him good luck and to keep her informed of what happens. This is worse than last time, if he is stood up twice he is not sure his ego could recover. If he doesn’t turn up, at least Will knows this guy is not interested, and he can just cut the relationship off and vow never to enter another chat room in his life.
They are meeting at a restaurant in town, a small french place. It takes Will longer than he thought to find it and so he is late. He decides that's okay; after all, he was stood up last time. Probably a good thing to be late - if he isn’t there, Will can just leave.
The maitre’d looks at Will as if he is lost and tries to convince him he is in the wrong place. Especially as it appears the place has been hired out completely by someone which makes Will start to think he is in the wrong place. Then he hears that voice.
“Will.” Hannibal appears behind the maitre’d who he ushers away with just a look, and so Will finds himself stood facing Hannibal alone in an intimate candle-lit restaurant. “I am so glad you came.”
Will looks at Hannibal and he feels something in the pit of his stomach which he tries to ignore. He cannot seem to figure out what emotion he feels right now so he just stares at Hannibal as he tries to figure it out. He thinks briefly this is a joke, but then Hannibal seems to know what he is thinking and takes a step closer to him, taking his hand gently in his. “It was me. The whole time. It was me.”
Will sees it now; Hannibal going into the bar and seeing Will there, realising it was him, and knowing the reaction he would have got if he had told Will then and there. Will is still trying to figure out how he feels about this. He takes a deep breath and realises that the one overwhelming emotion he feels is - relief.
“I wanted it to be you,” he manages to say, as he meets Hannibal’s eyes.
“Yes.” Will is smiling, and this floods Hannibal with relief.
“I am sorry I did not come clean earlier.”
“I understand why. I was not at my most reasonable.” Will looks away briefly and realises they are truly alone in this restaurant. “Have you hired this place out just for us?”
Hannibal nods. “I wanted us to have some privacy .I didn’t want you to feel overwhelmed.”
Will laughs. “It is too late for that. I feel considerably overwhelmed.”
“Please, come and sit down.” Hannibal takes Will’s hand and leads him over to the table that is set in the centre of the restaurant. It is a small table with an arrangement of seasonal flowers in the middle, a candle burning, the low light creating an intimate feeling in the empty space. There is an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne cooling and two flutes on the table, waiting.
Hannibal lets go of Will’s hand and pulls out the chair for him so he can sit down, he then makes his way over to the champagne which is already open and pours them both a glass. Will watches Hannibal’s hands as he does this, so elegant and powerful. Hannibal hands him one glass before he sits down and raises his own. “To finally being honest,” Hannibal says, and Will smiles and clinks the glass.
“This is really surreal.” Will sips the champagne, feeling it calm him somewhat, but he is still processing all of this.
“I am sorry about the way I did this. I am sorry I made you think I had stood you up; that was rude of me and I usually cannot abide rudeness.” It has weighed heavy on Hannibal since and he hates to think he has been rude.
Will smiles. “I forgive you.”
“You must have been so shocked when you saw me sat at that bar.” Something akin to how he feels right now, he is sure. Although he had hoped, he had dared to hope that this feeling he had that it was somehow Hannibal he had been talking to was true.
“I was shocked yes. I must confess that it was Jack who saw you, I rather cowardly sent him in first.”
Will laughs. “I see. Still, it does explain why you would not leave and insisted on talking to me. I thought you were just being really annoying.”
“Well I was indeed being annoying as you put it but I wanted to talk to you, knowing who you were.”
“Why did you reach out again?”
“I missed reading your words and I was unsure if I could successfully infiltrate myself into your life.”
“You make it sound like a mission.”
“It was in a way. You are not an easy person to get to know.”
Will pauses. “The grocery store - that wasn’t a coincidence?”
“Not entirely. I may have done some research into where you may be more likely to shop. Of course, you falling into my arms like that was most unexpected.”
Will cringes at the memory. “Never tell me how you found that information out. Oh god, I just realised I never paid you back! Or thanked you!”
Hannibal smiles; he had not forgotten and in anyone else he would have thought this unforgivably rude, but Will had a Get Out of Rolodex Free Card. “You owe me nothing, Will, not after everything. It was the least I could do and I was glad to be there to catch you.”
Will rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I have a feeling you enjoyed that more than you should have.”
“I would say we are even then.” Hannibal sips his champagne and Will looks quizzical. “That in exchange for your amusement at my fall and subsequent reveal of my wearing sock garters.”
At the mention of them, Will blushes. “Are you wearing them now?”
Hannibal grins. “Yes.” Interesting, he thinks. “I have taken the liberty of pre-ordering the menu and the wine, if you can be persuaded. However there are other options..”
“Of course you have.” Will smiles though and is charmed by the effort to which Hannibal has gone. “Yes, when in Rome and all that. You know I don’t need all of this.”
“That’s why I wanted to do this for you. I know that, I know you do not expect this from me and you don’t need it. You are one of the few people in my life that expect nothing from me, and it has the odd effect of making me want to spoil you.”
Will laughs. “I get that, people expecting things from you. It must be hard for you to know if people like you for you or for the lifestyle you could provide.”
“It is, yes. I think that is why I liked our emails so much - you didn’t know me. When you did know me you hated me for my money, so now I suppose I know you like me for me.”
“I can say the same. You have seen me at my worst and you are still here.”
“I have no plans to go anywhere.”
The maitre’d appears from nowhere with their first course and wine. Hannibal explains the wine and food as Will just listens to the lilt of his voice. Hannibal enjoys Will’s enjoyment of everything more than he has ever enjoyed anything in his life. He realises he could watch Will consume food forever.
The meal goes far too quickly and before they realise it, the maitre’d is bringing desert, and Will really does not want this bubble to end. “I have really enjoyed this, Hannibal. Thank you.”
“I always enjoy your company. It is nice to have cleared the air between us.”
Will smarts slightly at that. Was that all this was; a way to come clean so he could move on? “Consider the air cleared.” Will says as he bites into the chocolate desert which tastes more bitter than he was expecting.
Hannibal senses this change in mood and frowns “I didn’t mean that was the only reason I did this.”
“Why did you do this? Go to all this trouble?”
“As I said, it is nice to spoil you.”
Will puts his spoon down and leans back in his chair observing Hannibal. “Seriously, what do you want from all this?”
“Whatever you are willing to give.”
“Yes, if that is all you want.”
“Is that all you want?”
Hannibal sighs and looks up, realising that Will does not see what Hannibal sees when he looks at him. He does not see the potential for greatness, that sharp intelligence wasted on a small coffee shop, the empathy he is only just becoming aware he has, and the power it could bring him. The wonderful way his mind works, the way he speaks, the way he moves. There is not a part of Will Graham that Hannibal does not want to intricately get to know and devour. He wants to spend the rest of his life solving the puzzle of who Will Graham is. Show him everything that Hannibal sees.
“I want you. I want you in any and all forms you can give me. The thought of not having you in my life leaves me breathless with despair. I would happily and gratefully take anything you would be willing to give me. Be that friendship or something more.”
Will looks at Hannibal after he has said all this and is stunned into silence for a moment. All these years of self-inflicted loneliness come crashing down on him in a wave and he knows that he wants to allow Hannibal in. There is a part of him that cannot believe a man like this would ever be interested in him, they are so different, but then again, he knows from those emails that they aren’t in fact that different. They are two halves of a whole.
Will stands up and walks over to Hannibal, who is watching every move he makes, as he holds out his hand for him to take. Hannibal puts his hand in Will’s and allows himself to be pulled to standing. They are suddenly standing very close and Hannibal is wondering if he is ever going to remember how to breathe. Will smiles and leans in, pressing his lips against Hannibal’s. He kisses him slowly as their hands remain entwined.
Hannibal eventually breaks the kiss and breathlessly speaks, “Stay? Stay with me tonight? Call Bev, tell her to check on Winston and stay with me.”
Will smiles broad and open, and Hannibal feels the chasm he didn’t know was there fill up with something as delicate and thin but oh so beautiful as hope, as Will utters the words, “Where else would I go?"