Hannibal has just settled down to bed, a book propped up against his bent knees, the hour ticking past the hour of eleven to midnight, when he becomes aware of a second presence. It is not in the room, but his home shifts like a man loosening his belt after a large meal, expanding to accommodate the second creature within it.
His lips purse, and he shuts his book, and rises from bed. As he approaches the stairs, soft music swells up from the floor below. He recognizes it as 'The Invisible City of Kitezh Suite' – a long piece, full of languid melodies interspersed with dynamic slides between suspense and vibrancy. The flute has just begun her song as he pads down to the stairs, and approaches his study, through which he can see a sliver of orange flames, soft and welcoming, and the first wisp of cigar smoke.
He opens the door, eyes alighting on the familiar shape of a man, leaning over the fire and staring into it, one arm braced at the edge of the mantle. The hand attached to that arm holds a glass of whiskey, four fingers deep. Though the room is hazy with smoke, Hannibal sees no cigar or cigarette around.
He breathes in, the muscles beneath his shoulder blades tightening around his spine as he shivers. The man turns, and fixes Hannibal with a wide, warm smile, showing neat, white teeth, his face covered by a thin beard and framed in thick, dark curls. His beauty rivals that of the prettiest art in Rome.
Of course, that's by design – the Devil is always beautiful.
Hannibal returns his smile, and goes to the little tray beside the window, where he keeps port and brandy, always ready. He pours himself a drink as the man prowls away from the fire, and takes a seat in one of Hannibal's high-backed, thickly-padded chairs. He sits with his knees spread, fingers wide-splayed along the armrests, and lifts the whiskey to his mouth.
He doesn't drink; merely rests his lips against the rim, breathing it in, his eyes sharp on Hannibal's face as Hannibal replaces the cap on the brandy bottle and joins him, sitting opposite, the fire casting half of each of their faces into shadow.
They sit, for a moment, merely watching each other. Eons, the vast void of space, stretches between them, coalesces, tightens and tenses and waits to lunge.
Hannibal smiles, and takes a drink. The burn of the brandy coats his tongue like wax, so he can withstand the fire. "Our appointment isn't until tomorrow night, Will."
For that, he receives a tilt to Will's smile, sliding up and down like the inevitable fall. "I thought your home was always open to friends," he says, and Hannibal concedes to that with a demure nod. Will drinks, and lets his glass rest against the chair. He has no ice in his glass, which is new – usually Will aches for anything cold.
"I thought your kind weren't allowed to peer into the future," he replies. His voice is soft, like the whisper of air through catacombs, and yet Hannibal feels warm. His shoulders tense again, his fingers flex. He sighs into his glass.
"My kind," he repeats, and shakes his head with a smile.
Will laughs, and tips his head back, blowing out his breath to the ceiling. Hannibal's house groans again, stuffed too full, with two powerful beings inside it. There's no room for it to stretch, here, but Hannibal can feel the ache in the rafters and floorboards, the way the walls buckle out and the roof rises like it's taking a breath.
Hannibal closes his eyes as, for a moment, the music swells, and then grows quiet again.
"Jack Crawford thinks you can help me," Will says, and Hannibal opens his eyes again and fixes them on Will. His brows rise. "He thinks I'm crawling too deep into the darkness, and you can pull me out towards the light."
They share a smile.
"Are you still under the delusion that you are the Devil incarnate?" Hannibal asks, cradling his glass with both hands, and crossing one leg over the other. His bare foot tilts up, toes curling in the heat of the fire as it crackles and pops between them.
Will presses his lips together, and his eyes follow the line of Hannibal's leg, to the fire. He watches it, his eyes darkening, pupils flaring wide despite the relative brightness. He doesn't like it that Hannibal calls his disorder a 'delusion'.
"You don't believe me," he says.
"I believe that you believe you are," Hannibal replies kindly. Will merely nods. "Though I must ask, if that is the case, why are you here? Why do you not go back down to your kingdom, but instead integrate yourself with the souls you will one day torture for eternity?"
"Maybe I like watching the pre-party," Will says, and looks to him again. He smiles, in a way that sets deep dimples into his cheeks. "Surely you can sympathize with the desire to watch the cows when they're happy in the field, before they're led to the slaughter."
"And yet here you are, picking out the diseased members of the herd," Hannibal murmurs. Will huffs, and takes another drink, showing the long line of his neck. Hannibal swallows, and looks down at his glass. "Do you look at it as some kind of atonement?"
Will laughs, and rubs his mouth with the back of his hand. "No."
"Let's call it…marinating the meat for the roast."
Hannibal eyes him, for long enough that Will's smile fades, and he sighs again.
"I can't go home."
Hannibal tilts his head, and Will winces into his next drink. He finishes it, and Hannibal sets his drink to one side, standing and taking the glass from Will, and goes to the tray to refill it. Once he learned Will's poison of choice, he always made sure it was well-stocked.
He pauses, when he hears Will stand, and Will approaches him. He flattens his hands around Hannibal's shoulder blades with a quiet sigh, saddle of his thumbs cupping the bone. The muscles beneath his fingers twitch, and flex.
"Will you show me your wings?" Will breathes, warm and whiskey-laced.
Hannibal sighs, and caps the bottle, turning and pressing the refilled glass into Will's hands. "I'm not an angel, Will," he says. Will's eyes flash with something dark, impatience and displeasure making his upper lip curl.
He takes his drink and swallows it all, setting it down forcefully on the tray. Hannibal's lips purse, and he moves past Will, retrieving his own. "You've started smoking again."
"Old habit," Will replies. "I miss the smog."
He sighs. "I want to help you, Will, but I can't if you continue to cling to this fantasy."
"It's not -." Will brings himself up short, huffing in aggravation. Hannibal finishes his drink, and returns to the tray, setting his empty glass beside Will's. They stand facing each other, much closer now, and Will's fingers curl, his eyes rake down to Hannibal's chest, to his feet, then back up. His brow furrows, and he worries his lower lip between his teeth.
"Tell me what you're thinking," Hannibal coaxes.
Will swallows, and looks away. "I've never seen a soul like yours," he breathes. Hannibal blinks, tilting his head. "Everyone sins. Everyone – it's pretty impossible not to, nowadays. And I can read people, can look at them and see exactly what makes them tick, what I could do or promise them to get them to do exactly what I want."
Hannibal knows this, or at least the broad strokes – it's why he was tasked with monitoring Will's psychology and mindset, while he works for Agent Crawford.
"But I can't tell what you want," Will finishes, and shakes his head. "I look at you and I see nothing."
Hannibal smiles. "Perhaps I have the soul of a man perfectly content with his lot in life."
Will's upper lip twitches.
"I wish I knew what that was like."
"What you crave is connection," Hannibal says, and turns away to retake his seat. Will follows, as if strung along on a leash, and returns to his chair. He sits more primly, now, knees together, back straight. He rubs over his neck and sits forward, elbows to his knees. "I imagine being the Devil and seeing everyone as cattle can become very lonely."
Will's eyes darken, and sharpen, sliding to the fire. "I miss my brothers and sisters," he says. Hannibal presses his lips together – Will is an only child, he read that in Will's file, but he knows when Will mentions siblings, he is not speaking in the conventional sense. "I even miss my Father, though our relationship is…rocky, at best." His laugh, this time, is short and bitter.
Hannibal gives him a kind smile. "It's a trick of nature to love one's parents, even if it feels like obligation more than anything else." Will huffs, and rubs his hands together, fingers sliding from his wrists to his palms. "Believers say that when one wants to talk to God, you need merely call for Him, and He will answer."
Will grins. "They."
Hannibal tilts his head.
"God prefers to go by 'They', nowadays," Will says, and sits back, gesturing vaguely to the ceiling. "They're a sucker for umbrella terms."
Hannibal smiles. "They, then," he corrects. Who is he to question God's preferred pronouns? Will lifts his eyes, sighing, and closes them, tilting his head back to rest against the chair. He looks exhausted, and Hannibal imagines he hasn't been sleeping well at all. He would think the Devil sleeps like a baby, given the state of the world.
Will doesn't reply, and so Hannibal brushes his hands down his thighs, and pushes himself to his feet. "It's late," he says gently, and Will opens his eyes, blinks at the clock. He flushes, and nods, standing as well. "You are more than welcome to stay in the guest room tonight."
"I'm fine to drive," Will replies. Hannibal's brows lift, for he just now witnessed Will drink a lot of whiskey, but he seems alert, and he's a stubborn and willful man. He would protest, but his house feels close to bursting from Will's presence, and needs to exhale.
He walks Will to the door, and settles a hand between his shoulder blades, feels Will tense and shiver and subtly arch into his touch like a needy cat. "Please text me when you're home safe," he says, firm enough that he knows he will be obeyed. Will nods, biting his lower lip, and shrugs on his coat when Hannibal hands it to him. "I'll see you this evening."
Will smiles at him, and nods, and Hannibal watches him go to his car, get in, and drive away, before he shuts and locks the door. Not that locking his door has ever stopped Will entering when he pleases.
He sighs, running a hand through his hair, and returns to the study to fetch and wash their glasses. With a wave of his hand, the fire flickers and dies, though he keeps the music on as he enters the kitchen. His home creaks in relief, settling, and in the empty space left by Will's presence, Hannibal sighs, and relaxes.
His wings have certainly seen better days – they're almost grey, lackluster and losing their natural shine, and ache from lack of use. He shakes them out as he washes the dishes, letting them hang at a comfortable position so the longest feathers barely touch the floor.
By the time the dishes are done, Hannibal's home has settled back to its normal state, panting from strain, and it becomes uncomfortable to keep his wings unfurled. He rolls his shoulders, letting them settle out of sight again, and sighs. He turns off the music and returns to bed.
The house of God is not a grand temple, not an awe-inspiring Cathedral. It is also not a hovel, or a slum, or a cave in the middle of a mountain.
It is, rather, a little white house in the middle of an open field. God does not currently reside there – They are very busy with matters in Heaven, and only come down occasionally to check the mail and read the paper. Right now, it's being leased by the Devil.
Will Graham sits on his porch, his feet propped up against the railing, one hand idly petting through the thick, shaggy scruff of Winston, his latest stray. Winston is a normal dog – Will's current pack on Earth only has one Hellhound and she's not allowed on hallowed ground, so she stays out in the forest most nights – but he's a smart, calm creature. He only cares about things like a good meal and a warm hearth and the occasional kind hand and word of praise.
Will tilts his head back, sighing, and closes his eyes. He blows a smoke ring to the sky, and opens his eyes to watch it dissipate in the light breeze.
Whoever owned this house before him – God isn't picky about Their tenants – had a cross carved into one of the beams on the porch, so that nothing could enter the house without passing beneath it. This is the only place where literal demons can't bother Will, which just leaves him with the ones in his head.
He eyes the cross, and imagines Jesus strung up on it. "You had it easy, hot-shot," he mutters, and takes another drag from his cigarette.
At least God's only begotten son had a purpose in life. He was born knowing exactly what he had to do, who he had to meet and what he had to say, even if it ended in his rather theatrical death. Kind of over the top, in Will's opinion, and that's saying something.
Will doesn't know his purpose. He can't even remember a time when he thought he had a direction in life. This time around, he became too human, and it turns out humans are very fragile, and very breakable, and maybe it's his own damn fault because he spends most of his days tired and trying to get drunk.
Then, Jack Crawford strolled into his lecture hall, and it all went downhill from there. Strange; Will imagined the lowest circle of Hell was rock bottom, but apparently there are new kinds of misery humans have invented that Hell couldn't even dream of.
Jack reminds Will of someone. Someone he doesn't quite remember, but likes to think he was close to, back in the old days. He pretends to be Will's father, he doesn't want to be Will's friend, but he's a solid kind of man, the kind of man made of stone and steel, who does not break and does not falter. Will envies him that kind of conviction – envies more than it's not born of faith, but righteous justice.
And then came Hannibal. Will has yet to meet another angel on Earth, though to call himself still an angel doesn't sound quite right anymore. He doesn't know why Hannibal is lying to him, but he must be – he must be something. He's not a normal man, he can't possibly be, with a soul like that. Will looks at him and sees nothing but flat, sleek metal, like the surface of a mirror; something shiny and reflective and ultimately hiding what prowls beneath.
He ignores the thought, buries it in another drag of a cigarette, that maybe he's lost so much of his original self that he's wrong, and he's just projecting.
No, Hannibal is something. Angel, demon, God Themself, Will doesn't know.
He sighs, and stubs the cigarette out, wincing at the lingering taste in his mouth. He straightens, and rolls his shoulders, reaching behind himself to knead at the sore and tense muscle. Strange, how he can feel like his wings are still there, years after they were ripped from his back.
Winston's ears perk up, and he lets out a low whine, and Will looks out to see the red eyes of his Hellhound gazing back at them. She's perched by the mailbox, over-large jaws parted, dripping black saliva. She barks, a deep, rumbling sound, when Will looks at her.
Will smiles, and pats Winston's head, bidding him go back inside. He rises, and walks to the mailbox, opening it and taking it out. His Hellhound barks again, and rises, trotting away into the darkness. The letters are a mix of things – bills, spam, human correspondence he pays little attention to. But there is a single card, bordered with gold, that catches his eye.
Elliot Buddish, it reads, in a font like a typewriter.
Will frowns, and checks the back of the card, but there's nothing else on it. A moment later, the card begins to smoke, and curl as flames lick at the corners. He huffs, and drops it, stamping it out with his bare foot as the card crinkles and becomes ash.
He lifts his eyes skyward. It's a cloudless night, and the stars wink at him. "Thanks for the heads up," he mutters, and tucks the rest of the mail beneath his arm. He whistles for Buster, who is still out and about, the only dog who has a big enough Napoleon complex not to show fear around his Hellhound. Buster yips at him, and runs inside, and Will sighs, and closes the door.
The silence stretches on, long, longer still, as Hannibal simply sits, considering his glass of wine. This house is not as old as his; much more limber and spry, and easily accommodates his presence with the healthy metabolism of a teenager. It feeds on him, makes his shoulders feel loose and relaxed, his head light.
Across from him, Bedelia tilts her head, her hair falling in artful golden waves down one side of her neck. She fixes him with a placid smile, but her eyes are sharp and dark. "You're not normally this quiet," she says.
Hannibal nods in agreement, and sips his wine.
"I have a lot on my mind," he concedes.
"Well, that's what this hour is for. We can talk about whatever you wish to talk about."
Hannibal nods again, and lifts his eyes to the drawn curtains behind her shoulder. They are a light blue, embroidered with white and gold, and they are drawn back, leaving only thin white drapes that allow a little relief from the sunlight.
"I feel…something," he says. "A change in the air, gathering like storm clouds. I think Will feels it too."
Her eyes flash at the mention of Will, and though she schools her expression, Hannibal knows she is both intrigued and weary of how much he becomes their topic of conversation. "Will is the patient of yours that thinks he's the Devil?" she asks, like she doesn't already know. Still, Hannibal nods, and she smiles at him, genteel and flat as a statue. "Your attention to him has only grown more intense since you first started working with him."
"I see myself in Will," Hannibal admits. They are more alike than she could possibly fathom. "A…madness. I want to contain it, like an oil spill."
"Oil is valuable," she says, straightening in her seat. "What value does Will Graham's madness hold for you?"
"The opportunity to sate my curiosity, I suppose," he replies. "He told me he can read the souls of people, but cannot read mine. That I am hidden from him."
She tilts her head again. "Was this during a session?" she asks, prepared to scold him for breaching doctor-patient confidentiality, Hannibal is sure.
He smiles, and sips his wine. "No. Will visited my home last night."
She hums, at that, and lifts her chin. "I'm surprised," she says, and Hannibal meets her eyes. "You don't often tolerate mice scurrying around you." She pauses, and adds; "Getting underfoot."
"I think he is more like me than even he knows," Hannibal murmurs. "But it's delicate."
"Delicate," she repeats. "Does it bother you, that Will is going around claiming your title?"
Hannibal laughs. "Do you think I am the Devil, Bedelia?" he asks, teasing and light. But the look on her face tells him she does – or perhaps not the Devil himself, but something monstrous all the same. "I don't think the true Devil would care if someone else was doing his work any more than Santa resents jolly men dressing up at the mall."
"There's something to be said for reputation," Bedelia replies coolly. "Will works for the FBI, yes?" He nods. "The Devil doesn't seem the kind of creature prone to catching criminals. Helping innocents."
"I asked him the same thing. He said he liked watching the pre-party." She hums.
"Regardless of what he thinks he is, or what you are, I would advise not to let yourself be consumed with your…curiosity." Hannibal blinks at her. "If your instinct with Will Graham is to take a step forward, I advise you to take a step back. For his sake, and yours."
She smiles. "If he is the Devil, Hannibal, then it doesn't end well for you, no matter how deep your friendship goes – Evil cannot be befriended. If he isn't, then he is just a very sick man, and you would do well not to get too…attached, to someone with such a disorganized psyche." Hannibal doesn't answer, merely takes another drink.
"You speak as if it's already too late," he says, more lightly than he feels. She merely smiles.
They do not speak further on Will Graham, and when Hannibal leaves, her house exhales behind him, with the contented belly-pat of the recently well-fed.