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Six Ugly Sweaters

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          When Will broke through the waves and saw Hannibal floating 20 feet away, limply rolling along with the sea, he’d thought about just letting them both drift away. He thought about the simplicity of death as he swam one-armed toward Hannibal, dragging the doctor from the waves. He thought about how righteous it would be if they both were found dead on the beach while he counted in his head to make sure the chest compressions were effective.

          Then, Hannibal opened his eyes, coughing up water, and Will couldn’t remember what he had been thinking about.

          Over a year later, Will still couldn’t quite remember why death had seemed like such a good choice. Recovering from the fall had taken a few months. Will bore a new mark on his face, one that still ached when he smiled too hard. His shoulder had been broken as well, and he now understood why his father’s football injury always flared up just before a storm.

          Hannibal, who had taken the brunt of the impact, was longer to recover. He still walked with a small limp, after his knee and femur snapped on the waves, but Will saw small improvements to the surety of his steps almost every day. He figured he had about another six months before Hannibal was back to mint condition. He looked forward to it.

          While they waited for wounds both visible and not to heal, they had settled into what Hannibal had insisted was a small log cabin in the Llao Llao Peninsula of Patagonia. The house did, indeed, feature wood walls, but was closer to a palatial lakeside estate than a cabin. Will, it only has four bedrooms, Hannibal had said, as if there was an international agreement that only five bedrooms or more constituted a mansion. Will decided not to argue.

          He hadn’t been in the mood to argue in quite some time, actually.

          The not-mansion featured a hot house, and Will had almost cried when he saw Hannibal leave their home for the first time since he was given a cane, limping toward the little greenhouse that Will had stocked with fertilizer and seeds. They had fresh herbs now, and Hannibal had high hopes for heirloom tomatoes in a few weeks.

          Will had found that both docks on the property – and honestly who needed two docks? - held boats stocked with fishing equipment. Will always took the smaller boat out, thinking he needed the peace and solitude fishing always brought him. But lately, he’d realized the best part of his day was coming home. The smile Will earned when he presented Hannibal with rainbow or brook trout was becoming his only real motivation for leaving the doctor's side. 

          They spent most nights in one of two sitting rooms that looked out over Nahuel Huapi Lake. Sometimes, if Hannibal’s leg wasn’t too stiff, they’d walk around the acres surrounding the house, looking for the maras that kept eating blooms from the flowerbed Will had planted outside Hannibal’s greenhouse.

          Overall, Will had to admit, for perhaps the first time in years, life beat the hell out of death.

          There was just one thing that would make his new Patagonian life perfect: fewer bedrooms in the cabin. In fact, it had been Will’s goal for about eight months to make the cabin a one-bedroom home by the new year.

          He’d started slow, turning one of the bedrooms into a library. Hannibal had smiled when Will brought home wood and described grand plans for shelving. The next bedroom had become a sketch room/lure workshop. When Hannibal asked why those activities couldn’t be accomplished in one of the sitting rooms or the new library, Will had mumbled something about needing good light and possibly damaging the books. Hannibal had let it go with a small quirk to his lips.

          Now, with Christmas coming, Will had decided to go shopping for the one gift that would finally get Hannibal out of his bedroom and into Will’s. He had a plan, one that involved a tatty piece of plastic mistletoe ordered online and a speech that Will seemingly revised every day. He didn’t really believe that Hannibal would reject the proposition, but he also didn’t want those smug Lecter eyes settling on him with an I knew you couldn’t live without me look. It was true, but that didn’t make it less infuriating.

          So, six days before Christmas, Will was running his speech in his head for the three millionth time when he stopped dead in his tracks.

          Hannibal Lecter, who had once threatened to burn a polyblend t-shirt off Will’s person if he didn’t change before heading to town, was wearing what must have been the ugliest Christmas sweater known to man. The pine green monstrosity featured snowflakes and a wiener dog, festooned with antlers and bright red nose. Below the dog, in cheery white lettering, the sweater read dachshund through the snow!

          “Will?”

          Will blinked, still trying to understand what he was looking at.

          “Will?”

          “The fuck are you wearing?” He really hadn’t meant that to come out, but well…there it was.

          “A sweater, it was rather chilly this morning.” Hannibal smoothed the front of the sweater down, as if wrinkles were the problem with this seasonal atrocity.

          “Did you lose a bet?”

          “No.”

          “Is my encephalitis back?”

          Hannibal sniffed the air dramatically before smiling. “I don’t believe so.”

          “You’re wearing a dog sweater.”

          “Spotted that, did you?”

          “You’re wearing it on purpose?”

          “Are you finally developing a sartorial sense, or are you simply angry I didn’t procure one for you?”

          “Who are you and what have you done to the man who once gave me a 50-minute lecture on merino wool?”

          “It’s nearly Christmas, Will, try to have some holiday spirit,” Hannibal chided, setting a cup of coffee, complete with a cinnamon stick, on the counter.

          Will squinted, giving Hannibal his best I’m Watching You expression before grabbing his coffee and backing out of the kitchen.


 

          It took two more days for Will to figure out what the hell Hannibal was up to. He had come downstairs each morning to find Hannibal in new and increasingly horrific dog-themed holiday sweater. The first featured a black German Shepherd in a Santa hat with Feliz Navi-DOG written in garish script above it. The next was a corgi in an elf suit that read Santa’s Little Pupper.

          Will hadn’t commented, content to just lift an eyebrow at this latest development.

          Hannibal was trying to woo him, with the ugliest fucking dog sweaters he’d ever seen. It was sweet, especially since he was very sure Hannibal got hives even thinking about the synthetic fibers that made up the sweaters.

          On the fourth day, when Hannibal wore a red sweater with a Great Dane on it emblazoned with Santa Paws, Will broke.

          “How many more do you have?” Will plucked at the wool on Hannibal’s stomach, eyes widening when the action made the Great Dane’s hat light up.

          “Two.” Hannibal glanced down and belatedly Will realized he was still gripping Hannibal’s sweater. “Unless you’d like me to return them.”

          Will wanted to suggest taking off the sweater, and maybe his pants, but decided to let this little game play out. It would be a shame to ruin such a hideous seduction plan with sex. Instead, Will smiled, tugging at the sweater and watching it light up again. “Nope, just can’t wait to see the rest.”


 

          Will had started to get into the game with the next sweater. Hannibal had worn a sweater with a brindle mutt on it the other day, with Happy Howl-idays stitched into it that had actually made noise when you pressed the dog’s nose. Will had chased Hannibal around the house for nearly an hour, bopping the man on the chest and hooting with laughter.

          But his favorite sweater had been the one Hannibal had been wearing Christmas Eve. A Jack Russel ripping up presents was on the doctor’s chest, with Christmas is Merrier with a Terrier! under the image. The sweater had reminded him of the time that Buster decided that Walter and Molly’s popcorn decorations were meant for him, and had pulled the entire tree down and halfway across the living room.

          Will told Hannibal the story as they sat in front of the fireplace. The doctor had laughed, loud and surprised as Will described the tiny dog dragging the tree under the dinner table, desperately munching on as much strung popcorn as he could before it was wrestled from his jaws. Will had felt Hannibal’s fingers in his hair halfway through the story and paused, only to lean into the touch when uncertainty flashed in the doctor’s eyes.

          The story ended, but Hannibal didn’t stop stroking Will’s hair. They dozed by the fire, Will’s head resting on the scratchy red wool. His last conscious thought before he let himself drift off was that he’d ask Hannibal to wear that stupid sweater every Christmas Eve for the rest of their lives.

          On Christmas morning, Will felt a jolt of disappointment when Hannibal appeared in the kitchen wearing a plain red sweater. He fiddled with his own shirt – the nice green button-down Hannibal had bought him – to keep from sulking.

          “Is there something wrong?” Hannibal asked, smiling innocently.

          Will pointed to Hannibal’s chest. “There’s no dog.”

          “I think six is enough for now, don’t you?” Hannibal’s eyes seemed to dance in a way that made Will’s stomach flip. “Shall we have breakfast or open presents?”

          “You pick.” Will stroked the present he’d tucked into his pocket. He’d tried wrapping it, but nothing seemed to suit it.

          “I think presents first, more festive that way.” Hannibal made a sweeping gesture to the sitting room. Will followed him, noticing that Hannibal favored his right leg less and less. He smiled and resisted the urge to mention it.

          Will allowed Hannibal to direct him to a seat and deposit a large bundle on his lap. It was, he noted, wrapped in festive doggy paper. Of course. Laying his hands on the package, he paused. It was…squishy? Will squeezed it, listening to the paper crinkle. “Clothes? Did you get me more cashmere? Because the last time you got so pissed when I did the laundry-”

          Hannibal raised a hand, “Let’s not bring up the shrunken sweater incident, shall we? It’s Christmas.”

          Will rolled his eyes. “So? What is it?”

          Hannibal raised a brow. “If only there were a way for you to determine what was inside.”

          With a huff, Will tore into the paper. He blinked when the terrier sweater stared back up at him. He lifted it only to find the Great Dane and the rest of Hannibal’s hideous dog sweaters beneath it. With a huge grin Will glanced up. “I know you think this is some hilarious gag gift – but the joke’s on you. I’m gonna wear these all year.”

          Will held up the sweater with the mutt on it, pressing the button so it howled. “This one I’m wearing to the opera next month.”

          Hannibal’s smile grew. “I anticipated that.”

          The doctor held out another smaller package, it looked like he’d wrapped a piece of paper. Will laughed. “So, what? You’re shipping me back to Jack with ugly sweaters? I hope you sprung for first class.”

          Hannibal said nothing, and Will felt his stomach began to flutter. He tore open the package to find a picture of six dogs – a dachshund, a German Shepherd, a corgi, a Great Dane, a scruffy brindle mutt, and a Jack Russell – all festooned with bows on their collars. In looping red cursive above the dogs was written Season’s Greetings. Will scrunched his brow. “You got me a greeting Card?”

          Hannibal sighed. “You did work for the FBI at one point, did you not?”

          Will shook his head. “Huh?”

          “I’m starting to think it wasn’t my skill that allowed me to hunt freely for years, but gross incompetence.”

          Will opened his mouth to argue, but froze.

          The picture.

          The dogs all sat calmly, except for the terrier who was running out of frame, in front of a little hot house that looked familiar. A hot house that was growing Hannibal’s heirloom tomatoes at this very moment.

          Will dropped the picture. “NO. You- you wouldn’t.”

          Hannibal merely raised his brows.

          Will leaped from the sofa, sweaters falling around his feet as he ran to the back door. There, he found six dogs, wandering the yard, each outfitted with a bow and a dog-sized version of their sweaters. Will reeled around to gape at Hannibal, who was leaning in the doorway, smiling at Will’s expression. When Will shook his head, still wide-eyed, Hannibal stood, adopting a stern countenance. “I meant it, Will. Six is quite enough for now. And I’m aware of your predilections so I will be holding a roll-call every night to ensure you don’t attempt to sneak another dog into-”

          The kiss was nothing like Will had pictured it. It was always sexier, more seductive, and fraught with tension in his head. And for some reason he always heard string music in the background as well. This was more a smashing together of mouths, made worse by the fact that he couldn’t stop himself from smiling. The scar on his cheek ached as he pulled Hannibal closer, pressing his smile against his cannibal’s lips.

          When Hannibal’s arms finally wrapped around Will, the empath remembered what to do with his mouth, fitting himself against Hannibal as his heart pounded. They pulled apart. Hannibal looked drunk, eyes soft and a big goofy grin on his face. “Merry Christmas, Will.”

          Will wrapped his arms around Hannibal and kissed him again, softly, with all the devotion he could manage. “I’m going to go outside and play with my dogs for a couple hours, name them, get to know them, and tire them out. Then, I’m going to drag you to my bed and do the most depraved, filthy shit to you I can think of.”

          Hannibal’s smile grew toothy. “What an excellent Christmas present I have to unwrap.”

          Will cocked his head. “That’s not your present.”

          “Got me socks as well, did you?”

          Will rolled his eyes. “It’s not nearly as good as yours, I admit.”

          Hannibal traced a soft finger along Will’s jaw. “I never meant it to be a competition, Will.”

          “Good.” Smiling, Will dug into his pocket, producing a simple gold wedding band. He flicked it in the air, huffing a laugh when Hannibal’s hand shot out to catch it. Will walked into the yard as Hannibal inspected the ring. He knew Hannibal had found the inscription, Every Day, Forever, when he heard a slight gasp behind him.

          There was a bucket of tennis balls sitting on the patio table. Will had planned on putting them on the ground to throw, but was thwarted when three of his dogs decided to bowl him over as they welcomed him to the pack. The next few minutes were a blur of fur and excited barks. Will wasn’t surprised when he spotted a glint of gold in his peripheral vision as Hannibal reached into the furry fray to rescue his husband.