The funerals are comforting in their sameness, like listening to a favorite song. The composition never changes, although the notes sometimes do. Little warbling imperfections that make these repeat performances worth the effort. On any given day, the widow will cry more or less while the children stand red-eyed and sniffling, sometimes in twos and sometimes in threes, and sometimes not at all.
Funerals are variations on a theme, differing by degree of ostentation and taste, but death is always the same.
It’s closed casket today. They usually are. Hannibal doesn’t often leave much for the mortician to work with, although he’s been pleasantly surprised a few times. There was a woman back in Odenton who was so clever with her hands. She’d made the corpse of a particularly unpleasant investment banker look positively vibrant in death. Almost as if he was sleeping, with rouged cheeks and eyelids and lips sewed shut. She’d done marvelous work hiding the seamline where he’d split the man’s skull to a symphony of screams.
It was actually quite an improvement on how he’d looked in life, and Hannibal made sure she was tipped well. He sent a thank you note.
The casket is tasteful, a deep cherry wood that gleams as Hannibal steps forward to pay his respects. There’s a blonde woman who has had too much cosmetic surgery crying beside it. She sobs into a handkerchief and sways, and the young man beside her steadies her before she can lose her balance. The air around her is cloying, heavy with the scent of vodka inadequately covered by perfume, and she grips Hannibal’s hand too tightly when he offers it.
He can’t help his momentary twitch of annoyance when he pulls his hand back sodden.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he says, and she only cries harder.
She nods, seemingly unable to speak, still leaning heavily on the man beside her who looks miserable himself.
Hannibal takes his seat.
* * *
Hannibal always sits in the front row.
He likes to have a good seat for the proceedings, and it makes him look as though he’s supposed to be there. It’s rare that anyone asks who he is or how he knew the deceased. Everyone at a funeral is too preoccupied with their own grief, the specter of loss in the room, to question a polite, well-dressed man. If asked, he says he’s a cousin. An uncle. A friend of the family. He tells stories to amuse himself, sometimes pulled from his own life with the departed’s name ad-libbed in, sometimes tales made up wholesale.
As a general rule, Hannibal doesn’t hide, but if he were going to, he would hide in plain sight. He is used to being the one thing that is not like the others, in the foyers of funeral parlors and everywhere else. It’s possible that’s why he notices the other thing that doesn’t belong.
Or it’s possible the man is just beautiful. Hannibal has always appreciated beautiful things.
The man is wearing blue today, a deep midnight blue so dark as to be nearly black. It would have clashed with the cherry casket at the last funeral, but it looks stunning against the glossy black this family has chosen.
He’s standing at the end of a neat row of surviving family members in tasteful, well-pressed clothing, so that Hannibal has to shake seven hands before arriving at the one he really wants. The man’s hands are clammy, damp in a way that should be off-putting but is instead captivating.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Hannibal says.
Hannibal holds on for a little too long. The man won’t meet his eyes, but Hannibal looks long enough to watch a steady trickle of tears drip down his cheeks. They get caught in the tangle of his beard, and Hannibal surprises himself by wondering what it would taste like, the rasp of stubble spiced with salt and grief.
Hannibal lets go and takes his seat, holding his hand in his lap and feeling the damp of another man’s perspiration drying in the air conditioned room.
He’s careful not to touch anything else, and he licks it as soon as he gets home, closing his eyes and letting his tongue curl around his fingers. He wonders what color the man’s eyes are.
* * *
Hannibal expects he has seen the last of the young man with curly dark hair and wet cheeks. He has been lucky twice; he does not expect to get lucky a third time.
And yet that doesn’t stop him from choosing his clothing with a little more care, nor from spending just a few more moments adjusting his hair before driving to the March Funeral Home.
He parks in the back and arrives ten minutes before the memorial service begins, when most people have already taken their seats inside. He manages to keep from wrinkling his nose at the chapel’s interior, but just barely. It’s kitschy and aseptic, the result one might get if they crossed a hospital with a chain restaurant, and equally unattractive.
Hannibal is rarely caught off guard, but he’s genuinely surprised when he almost collides with the same man from the last two funerals in the lobby.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” the man mutters, and it’s something like a joke, except for the fact that he looks plainly miserable.
Today he smells like artificial mint with an undertone of something acrid and sour beneath.
“Are you ill?” Hannibal asks. It wasn’t what he’d planned to say, but he finds himself concerned despite himself.
“What?” The man looks down, clearly worried he’s accidentally vomited on his suit.
“There’s nothing on your clothing. I have an unusually keen sense of smell.”
“Oh.” The man’s face does something interesting. His eyebrows lift and furrow together all at once, so he looks both confused and annoyed. A second ticks by where he seems to be wondering what to do with Hannibal, and then he seems to come to a decision. He deflates and suddenly looks considerably more tired and considerably less prickly. He sighs and rubs a hand over his face. “I get sick sometimes, at these things. Not sick sick, just—nauseous.”
“Ah,” Hannibal says. He coughs politely. “And how do you know the family?”
The man looks at Hannibal incredulous for a moment, until he realizes Hannibal is joking. “Cousin,” he says with a straight face. “How about you?”
“Uncle,” Hannibal says.
They start grinning at the same time, unlikely co-conspirators playing different but similar games. The man looks younger when he smiles, and it occurs to Hannibal that he would like to see a lot more of that particular expression on this man’s face.
As though he’d heard Hannibal’s thoughts, the man lets his smile fall. “Well,” he starts uncertainly. “I should get inside.”
It would be polite to avoid staring at him as he goes, but Hannibal thinks perhaps he has earned the right to this little bit of rudeness. It's such a small thing.
* * *
Funerals are all the same, and that used to be Hannibal’s favorite part. Up until today, he had found the routine of death and the memorialization of death comforting. Up until today.
Today, he can’t help watching the man standing at the end of the receiving line. His eyes are red-rimmed and leaking—they’ve grown worse since Hannibal spoke to him in the lobby—and there’s a tremor to his hands when he reaches out to clasp them around friends’ and relatives’ as they offer their condolences. It would be imperceptible to anyone who isn’t looking for it.
Of course Hannibal is rapt.
He finds himself annoyed by the priest, who stumbles over the words to Psalm 23. The whole proceeding seems to drag on and on. Hannibal wants to know the man’s name. He wonders if his stomach still hurts.
He contents himself with watching the man surreptitiously, out of the corner of his eye. Hannibal has broken with tradition and selected a seat in the third row, where he can watch uninterrupted. Where he can see him crying during a eulogy that Hannibal finds bland and uninspiring.
Hannibal is positively murderous when the woman sitting next to the dark-haired man leans forward to blow her nose, obscuring his pain from view. He has to remind himself that a second death in the family in as many months would look terribly suspicious.
At last the odious funeral ends. The attendees rise and filter out, doubtless in a hurry to eat the chemical-laden doughnuts and burnt coffee waiting in the lobby. The man stays. He sits motionless in the pew, with his head bowed and his face in his hands. Hannibal rises from his own seat and settles in gently beside him, and he still doesn’t stir. He seems lost in his own world, adrift at sea.
Hannibal lifts and arm and settles it around the man’s bent back. It’s an imposition, and a guess. Mostly it’s much too hard to resist. The man beside him doesn’t speak or acknowledge him, but he does lean into Hannibal’s touch, just a little.
They stay like that for a long while.
The two of them are the only ones left in the chapel, save the priest who botched the sermon, who clearly wants to leave. He circles them fretfully, hoping to catch their eye so he can politely ask them to join the rest of the mourners in the lobby. Hannibal reads it in the purse of his lips and the impatient tap of his foot. He has no intention of allowing this priest to do any such thing.
He has no compunctions about killing a man of God, and he will do so if this man gets it in his head to interrupt them. The priest takes one look at the expression on Hannibal’s face and thinks better of whatever it is he was about to say.
“I’ll give you two a moment,” he says instead.
“Thank you,” Hannibal says.
The priest leaves, and they’re alone now. With his arm draped over the man beside him, Hannibal can feel him shaking with the force of his emotions—silent, wracking sobs. It’s utterly fascinating. Hannibal doesn’t interrupt, doesn’t try to offer comfort. He simply waits until he’s done.
At last the man sits up, and Hannibal lets his hand fall. His face is blotchy and red, and his eyes are swollen. The effect should be marring on his lovely face, but somehow it enhances it instead. Hannibal offers his handkerchief, and it warms him when the man takes it without hesitation.
“Thanks,” he says. Then, “I’m Will.”
“Will.” Hannibal savors the taste of it. “I’m Hannibal.”
“Nice to meet you, Hannibal. You come to funerals often?” Now that the storm has passed, Will defaults to sharp-tongued humor. The contrast is delightful, like so much else about him.
“Yes,” Hannibal says simply. “And you?”
Will snorts. “You already know that or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“I would certainly have a conversation with you here or anywhere else, regardless of our mutual hobbies.”
Hannibal catches Will eyeing his suit, sees him mentally calculating how much it must have cost. “Yeah, sure.” He passes back Hannibal’s handkerchief, now wet, with a grimace. “Ugh, sorry.”
“It’s quite all right,” Hannibal says, folding it and tucking it neatly back into his breast pocket. And then, “Have lunch with me.”
“Have lunch with me,” Hannibal repeats. “You lost your breakfast, and you’re dehydrated.”
“Wow, bring up the time a guy puked before asking him out on a date.” He squints. “Is this a date?”
“It can be.”
Will blows out a breath. “You know what? Sure, what the hell.”
Hannibal grins, and it’s all sharp teeth.
In the end, he manages to convince Will to ride with him, although it takes some effort. Hannibal wants every scrap of time this strange and interesting person will allow, and driving in separate cars is hardly conducive to that.
“It will be easier to find parking,” he suggests.
“I’ve got to get home to feed my dogs tonight—”
“I’ll drive you back to your car,” Hannibal cuts in smoothly. “It’s just lunch.”
He smiles in a way he knows is disarming.
Will gives him a look, and Hannibal has the queer sensation that Will can see straight through him. He thinks Will is going to insist on turning him down, but he only sighs. “Yeah, okay.” And almost as an afterthought, as though his manners were rusty from disuse, “Thanks.”
* * *
They’ve been driving for a while when Will says, “I suppose you have questions. About what I do.”
“None that I can’t keep to myself,” Hannibal says, keeping his eyes on the road. “Your business is your own. I want your company, not your secrets.”
Will wasn’t expecting that, he can tell. He falls silent for several minutes. “People get weird about what I do, is all. It’s not a secret. I’m a professional mourner.”
Hannibal takes it in stride. It’s not expected, but it’s not unexpected either. There are only a few reasons a man would habitually find himself at funerals, and Will doesn’t strike him as a serial killer.
“A profession with a long and illustrious history. In ancient Egypt, the chief mourners would impersonate the gods, as if the divine itself cried for the dead. Some cultures raised lamenting the dead to an art form,” Hannibal says. “The wailing women in the Bible were likely professional mourners.”
“Yeah, well. That’s a long time past. Now I’m just some weirdo whose job is to cry for strangers.”
“You must be an excellent actor."
Will makes a noncommittal grunt. It’s not an encouraging sound, but he also hasn’t told Hannibal to stop, so Hannibal pushes further.
“But it’s not all acting, is it? What happened in the chapel, after the service, that wasn’t a performance just for my benefit. There was no one else there.”
Will sighs, and Hannibal waits to see what he’ll do. It’s clearly not something he wants to talk about, and Will strikes him as a private man. He thinks perhaps he’s pushed too far when Will answers.
“It… affects me,” Will says, choosing his words with care. “None of it is acting. I really feel it. All of it, every time.” He rubs at his forehead as though fending off a headache, a habitual gesture. “I got dragged to shrinks for it when I was a kid. One of them called it an empathy disorder.”
Hannibal considers this.
“Our mirror neurons help us socialize. An abundance of them leftover in adulthood might lead to such a thing. Does it trouble you?”
“Sometimes? Whatever else it is, it’s a living. The families pay well, and I can go to sleep at night feeling like I’ve done some good. Righted some cosmic wrongs in the world maybe, I don’t know.”
“Is that important to you? Helping people?”
Will hunches further down in his seat, making himself smaller in an unconscious effort to hide from Hannibal’s scrutiny. He wonders if Will even knows he’s doing it.
Then he goes on the offensive, and it makes Hannibal smile. “What are you, some kind of shrink?”
“Yes,” he says. “Does that bother you?”
“As long as you don’t psychoanalyze me, you can be whatever you want,” Will says, shifting to look out the window.
He’s done with their conversation, and Hannibal lets it drop. They ride in silence for a time, and it’s not uncomfortable. The hum of the road beneath them is soothing, and Will’s head is sagging when Hannibal looks over.
“You look exhausted,” Hannibal says. “I don’t mind if you want to rest your eyes. I’ll wake you when we arrive.”
“Thanks,” Will says, easier this time.
Anyone else, Hannibal thinks, might have refused. Will simply leans his head against the passenger window and lets his eyes slip shut. Lets a perfect stranger take him somewhere without asking the destination, content to fall asleep beside a man who might be a serial killer. Who is a serial killer. His face looks drawn and tense, even in sleep, and Hannibal can’t help but study him at every red light.
He thinks Will’s throat looks very fragile and has the strange sensation of wanting to be worthy of his trust.
* * *
Hannibal would love to take Will somewhere elegant. He can imagine Will in any number of beautiful, expensive settings, wearing better-fitted suits and the same sharp smile. For today, he takes Will to a small, unassuming cafe in Hampden. The decor there is rustic and understated, the shop itself little more than a hole in the wall, but the food is deceptively good, and he thinks Will will like it.
The car comes to a stop, and Hannibal wakes Will with a gentle touch on the shoulder. Will startles upright with his fists raised. It takes him only seconds to register his surroundings, where he is and who he’s with, but in the meantime he looks positively feral. The sight makes Hannibal’s breath catch in his throat.
And then the gorgeous violence is gone just as quickly as it arrived, as Will lowers his fists and blinks.
He scratches the back of his neck sheepishly. “Jesus Christ, sorry. God, I’m sorry. I should have warned you. I have nightmares.”
Nightmares are a new and interesting thing about Will Graham.
“No, not as much anymore. Often enough that I’m still not the best sleeping partner.” He chuckles, and it’s positively humorless. “Look at me, almost managing to sock my date in the face before we’ve even arrived.”
“Technically, we have arrived,” Hannibal says primly. “And you didn’t hit me, though even if you had, it would have been an accident. It’s fine.”
Will opens his mouth, clearly about to protest, but he shuts it again. “Okay.” He changes gears, and it’s fascinating to watch him chase the traces of turmoil from his face for Hannibal's benefit. “So where are we eating?”
* * *
Hannibal was right. Will seems right at home in the place he’s chosen. He enjoys the little cafe far more than he’d have enjoyed something upscale and pricey, and Hannibal enjoys his pleasure at it. He looks incongruous wearing his funeral suit in the well-lit, white-walled cafe—a slice of death amongst suburbia—and the sight makes Hannibal smile.
In the bright light of day, away from the funeral parlor’s gloom, Hannibal can see Will more clearly. There are bruise-dark smudges beneath his eyes, evidence of sleepless nights that make Hannibal consider that Will might be lying about the frequency of his nightmares. He’s too thin, and his suit jacket hangs from his shoulders awkwardly, as if he’s lost weight.
Hannibal wonders if the weight loss is recent. He wants to know why.
He isn’t hungry, but orders something anyway to put Will at ease. When their food comes, he mostly pushes his breakfast scramble around the plate, mostly watching Will. Will, who hardly seems to notice as he eats his own food with gusto and allows himself to be swept up in a debate about the merits (or lack thereof) of psychology.
The food seems to do him good, seems to ground him more firmly in the land of the living, and Hannibal thinks of Persephone and pomegranates, of all things. He’s heartened to learn that Will Graham is capable of relaxing.
Lunch drags on, bleeds into coffee and then drinks as the sun splashes orange across the sky and finally ducks below the skyline. Hannibal had other plans for today, but he finds he doesn’t mind breaking them. This is the most entertaining thing he’s done in ages. Will’s mind is fascinating, and he smiles into his glass as his dining partner passionately defends the work of Carl Jung.
He wonders if Will would continue to grow more relaxed as the day wore on. If by nightfall he would be easy in his skin, quick to smile, with fewer sharp edges. He’s surprised to learn that he’d like to find out.
“Oh crap.” Hannibal’s snapped out of his reverie as Will finally notices the clock on the far end of the wall, the empty cafe where chairs are piled atop tables, and a tired-looking teenager mopping the floor. “I didn’t realize it’d gotten so late.”
“I fear time flies when enjoying good company,” Hannibal says. He glances around as if noticing his surroundings for the first time, though he’d known exactly how much time had passed. He simply hadn’t cared. “If you’d like to continue this conversation, you’re welcome to come back to my house.”
“No,” Will says, and winces at his own abruptness. “I mean, it’s not you. No, but only because I need to get home to feed my dogs. I’ve already left alone them for longer than I should.”
Hannibal nods, tamping down an irrational flare of jealousy toward dogs. “Not a problem. I’ll drive you to your car.”
“Thank you,” Will says. “For the offer, and for this. I had a really great day. Maybe next time?”
Hannibal’s heart beats a little faster at the mention of next time, but he simply says, “Of course.”
He holds the door for Will, and they walk back to the car. Will shivers against the cold, and Hannibal thinks that he’d like to offer his coat if Will was likely to accept such a thing.
He isn’t, so Hannibal doesn’t.
* * *
If after that Hannibal alters his pattern a little—if he starts choosing victims with more care, selecting those with families who could afford Will Graham’s services; if he never kills far from home—well. Surely that’s understandable.
He sees Will. Again, and then again. They don’t make formal plans, don’t schedule their dates in advance. They could, Hannibal supposes. He could ask Will to meet him for dinner, take him to the opera, take him home after, and Will would probably say yes. But it seems as though it would strip their arrangement of some of its magic, rub the shine off.
And he wouldn’t get to see Will’s beautiful grief, which would be a terrible loss.
So they meet at funerals, a standing weekly date. Hannibal sits in the front row, and Will slips in wordlessly beside him. They don’t talk until it’s over, until they’re sitting in Hannibal’s car, but sometimes Will reaches out, crosses the inches of slick, polished wood between them and takes his hand. It’s foolish, maybe. Two men are more likely to attract attention than one, but the cloud of funerary sorrow protects them both for now.
After, they have lunch.
Will grows less prickly with each meeting, unfurling like a flower in the sun. Hannibal learns that he’s brilliant. That he has a sharp sense of humor when he means to. That he has a taste for simple pleasures—fishing and mechanical tinkering—but he can and does enjoy the small indulgences he allows himself. Hannibal wants to indulge him in everything. He gets away with what he can: twenty-one year old whiskey, long rides in a fast car, a pair of understated cufflinks that cost considerably more than Will guesses, although Will already assumes they’re too expensive.
“For your next engagement,” Hannibal says when Will opens the box (plain, unwrapped. Will wouldn’t have abided wrapping, or any suggestion of a fuss).
Will opens his mouth to object. “Hannibal, I can’t—”
“Please,” Hannibal says. He rarely says please. “I would like to see you in them.”
Will swallows. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
He holds out his arms—first one, and then the other—and allows Hannibal to fasten the links on his jacket cuffs. They look as good as he’d imagined.
Hannibal indulges himself once more, bringing Will’s hand up to his face when he’s finished the second cufflink. Will lets himself be drawn, and Hannibal turns his wrist over. He runs his fingers over the tendons there, light enough to tickle, and he holds Will tight enough to keep him from snatching his hand back at the sudden sensation. Will is looking at him with dark eyes, and Hannibal watches as he brings Will’s wrist to his nose to sniff at the delicate pulse point. He smells warm and alive, but beneath that is the lingering scent of embalming fluid and tears that tends to cling to funeral homes.
Will Graham always smells at least half like death.
“What a beautiful contradiction you are,” Hannibal says, and he can hear Will’s sharp intake of breath.
He makes a strangled sound and yanks his wrist back, and when he leans in to kiss Hannibal, it feels like victory.
* * *
It’s comfortable and heady, what they have. It feels like intoxication, and Hannibal hasn’t been this careless in years. Or it’s possible he has never been this careless.
Will Graham has become his favorite pastime. It’s insidious, the way it happens. Will has slotted himself so deftly into the spaces in Hannibal’s life that it feels like slipping under the bathwater after having taken sleeping pills. Quiet and deadly, with no pain at all.
Hannibal has gradually begun orienting his life around their meetings, and so he doesn’t know what to do when the bottom drops out.
It’s a funeral like any other, an evening service in a small, quiet chapel. There are few people in attendance. Hannibal could count them on two hands.
Will is standing beside a simple, homely casket, alone beside an elderly man—a quick flick through the program says this is the brother of the deceased, the man’s only living relative.
His hands are cool and dry as crepe paper when Hannibal takes them, and as wrinkled. His face, too. It’s worn and aged, carved with hard lines by a harder life. He meets Hannibal’s eyes with the hunted, resigned anguish of someone who has nothing left to live for, when Hannibal gives his condolences.
Hannibal is not blind to the nuances of human suffering. He sees its many shades on the faces of his victims. He has seen this look before and often found it curious. Life is such a precious thing; he doesn’t understand the ones that want to die. He never thanks them for it, for rising to meet the knife, for sighing just do it then. If anything it confuses him. A person should want to live.
So he sees the look on the man’s face, and he understands what it means, even if he doesn’t understand the sentiment behind it, but Hannibal gives it no further consideration. The living mourn their dead. All is as it should be.
He takes Will’s hand, and it’s motionless and cold. When he tells Will he’s sorry for his loss, the words don’t seem to register.
Hannibal frowns as he takes his seat, resisting the urge to wave his hand in front of Will’s face. There’s a vacancy to it he doesn’t like, and through the service he tries but does not succeed in warming Will’s frigid fingers. It’s as though death has come to live in the marrow of his bones. Hannibal thinks of other cold, other winters, unending and filled with hunger.
He doesn’t like this particular sorrow on Will at all. He thinks he should have meant it when he said I’m sorry for your loss.
* * *
As soon as the service ends, Will is off like a shot. He shoulders his way through the crowd, thin as it is. Hannibal makes apologies for the both of them, as though they’re one unit. When he finally makes his way through the tearful mourners, he finds Will outside panting and leaning against the car. His car, he notes with some satisfaction.
Will is sick in the bushes, and Hannibal waits patiently until he’s finished. He opens the passenger door for Will, who gets in without a word. Hannibal does not ask if he wants to talk about it. He just drives. The air is filled with the saccharine smell of the gum Will is chewing.
Will doesn’t look at him, but Hannibal can’t help stealing glances whenever he can get away with it without crashing the car and killing them both.
“Is it always so hard to shake it off?” he asks at last.
“No,” is all Will says. He looks out the window. His fingers tap restless patterns on the knee of his pants.
Hannibal thinks Will is done talking. He’s considering the merits of turning on the radio or letting silence reign, deliberating which Will would prefer, when Will speaks again.
“I did it for free,” he says, apropos of nothing. “Jacob Patterson, my brother—” He closes his eyes. “His brother—he couldn’t afford me. He couldn’t afford a lot of things, but he—”
“He was all he had,” Will says, and his voice cracks on it. “Everyone else is dead. His brother is it for him. Was it. Fuck. Why did you have to kill that one?”
The statement, plaintive and accusatory, chills him from head to toe as if ice water was thrown on him. The fact that he’s currently driving is probably all that saves Will from Hannibal’s first and worst impulse, which is to snap his neck.
As it is, he takes one deliberate, slow breath. He forces his hands to slacken where they’re now clawing the steering wheel.
No, he thinks. No, as though he could bend reality to his will. And then, this is all wrong.
It was not supposed to end like this. It was never supposed to end at all. For one bright, hopeful instant, he defies the God of church collapses to try to take this from him. He would hold on to the last.
But self-delusion is not a habit of his, and there’s no such thing as love that isn’t pricked by death. He will miss Will, he thinks as he makes a decision and flicks on his turn signal. He makes a left at the next stoplight.
“I was thinking of taking you to Florence,” Hannibal says lightly, while he decides where to leave Will’s body. “It’s beautiful in the summer. I think you would have liked it.”
“Past tense,” Will murmurs as he stares out the window. He watches the streetlights go past. “Is this the end of the line then, doctor?”
Hannibal does grip the steering wheel tighter then. He turns left again. They’re not going to the Charleston as promised, and he knows Will must know. Will is terribly clever—it’s one of the things Hannibal has adored about him. He was foolish to think that cleverness might not be put to this particular use.
“No,” Hannibal lies, and Will sighs, world-weary and tired.
“Please don’t lie to me, Hannibal. Give me that, at least.”
Hannibal allows himself to close his eyes for one solitary moment, waiting for the light to change. He attempts to let go. To cut himself free of all his attachments to this bright and strange creature. He’s only marginally successful. “Yes,” he says at last. “I’m afraid this is indeed the end of the line.”
He hazards a glance over in time to see Will nod, resigned. He closes his eyes and rests his head against the window, like he had that first time in Hannibal’s car.
The sight suddenly makes Hannibal irrationally, incandescently angry.
A person should want to live. Especially a person as singular as this.
* * *
Hannibal takes Will to his house and tells himself it’s because it will be easier to butcher his body there. He wants to take his time with Will. Will deserves better than some rushed hack job in a back alley somewhere.
It’s all true, but his motivation lies more in the simple fact that in the long weeks of their acquaintance, Will has never been to Hannibal’s house. He has always loved to cook for friends, but somehow Will has never neatly slotted into the role of friend. He is something entirely other, something unable to be categorized.
In truth, he can’t bear the thought of Will dying without ever having seen his home. Without ever having the chance to prepare a meal for him.
“Wow,” Will says when they arrive. “Some house you’ve got.”
“Thank you,” Hannibal says, taking Will’s coat and hanging it up. He hesitates before saying what he wants to say, suddenly aware that even under the circumstances—perhaps because of the circumstances—rejection might very well kill him. He asks it anyway.
“Will you allow me to cook for you?”
Will blinks, caught off guard, but he processes it quickly and takes it in stride. “Yes,” he says. “I’d like that.”
Hannibal smiles, and it reaches his eyes. “Good.”
They drift into the kitchen, and he opens a bottle of Cabernet Franc. “It’s short notice, or I’d have something prepared. I’d planned for us to eat out tonight, but fortunately I have some pork loin marinating. It shouldn’t take more than an hour.”
“That’s fine,” Will says. “I don’t have anywhere to be. I asked a friend to feed my dogs tonight.”
The words fall between them, implications stretching out. The kitchen is silent save the slow drip of water in the sink.
“Listen, my dogs…” Will starts, but does not finish.
“I’ll take care of them,” Hannibal says immediately. “I’ll make sure they’re fine. I promise.”
Will visibly relaxes at that, and he takes another drink of his wine. “Good. I—that’s good. Thanks.”
It’s patently absurd that Will is thanking him at this moment in time.
It’s absurd and downright offensive that Will apparently cares more for his dogs than his own life and well-being. Hannibal is offended on Will’s behalf.
He doesn’t know how to say that, or even if he should, so once the fate of Will’s dogs is settled, they don’t speak of it again. They pretend this is something other than a last supper, that Hannibal isn’t going to kill him before the dishes are dry.
He plans what he will wear to Will’s funeral. He’ll pay for it, of course. Will should have something nice.
He has to steady himself against the kitchen counter when he realizes that Will will have no need of a professional mourner. Hannibal will fill the role nicely. The thought is somehow terribly funny while not being funny at all. An empath mourned by a psychopath, may wonders never cease.
Hannibal drizzles olive oil into the hot pan and waits for it to thin and glisten before adding the slices of white, dripping meat. The loin sizzles as it hits the pan, filling the kitchen with a warm, comforting aroma. Will watches with one hand in his pocket, while the other swirls the wine.
Hannibal doesn’t even try to pretend that he’s not watching every move he makes. He savors all of it, filing it into a room that sprung up in his mind palace when he wasn’t paying attention. It looks like a funeral parlor, and it’s filled with Will, all the little details of him.
* * *
Dinner is a surprisingly lively affair. Hannibal breathes a sigh of relief that it isn’t funerary or somber at all. He’d thought it might be for several reasons, not the least of which is the borrowed sadness that clings to Will like an ill-fitting cloak. Hannibal wishes to strip it off him. It stings that he’s unlikely to get the chance.
This funeral had been hard on Will, harder than most, and while Hannibal was not given to regret or feelings of remorse, he allows that if time would reverse itself, if the teacup came back together, he would perhaps choose a different victim this time. He doesn’t like seeing Will buried under the weight of so much sorrow, and none of it his own. Will’s mind is hallowed ground.
But the food and wine seem to put Will to rights, and Hannibal likes to hope that perhaps the company helps as well. Once he’s eaten, he seems better. More alive. He’s no longer acting like a puppet with cut strings, a grey, sallow imitation of his usual self.
After dinner, Hannibal offers him an digestif. It occurs to him that he’s stalling, but he has the luxury of telling himself that he’s only being polite. After all, Will enjoys whiskey, and it would be a shame for him to die without tasting the Hibiki 30-year that Hannibal had purchased with him in mind.
He pours with a generous hand, and they move their conversation to Hannibal’s study. Hannibal lights a fire and sits in one of the chairs before it, and Will walks the room. Even now, it’s a sight to see him taking it in for the first time. He walks slowly, glass in hand, allowing his eyes to linger over everything. He takes sips of amber liquid now and then, and pauses to run his hands over things here and there. Hannibal’s books, his sculptures, the ebony keys of his harpsichord. His fingers shape a chord, and it feels the air, low and dour.
“Do you play?” Hannibal asks.
“No,” Will says. “Not really. I picked up a little when I was a kid, but I can’t play much more than Chopsticks. You?”
“When I can find the time,” Hannibal says. “Sometimes I enjoy composing.”
Will’s lips quirk up in a half-smile. “I’d have liked to hear that.”
Hannibal would offer to play him something now, but he can see it’s not the time. And besides, he’s enjoying their conversation altogether too much.
He will kill Will tonight, but they can at least have this—a final, civilized evening sharing each other’s company. If this is to be his last conversation with Will Graham, Hannibal will take as much as he can have. He's a man of many sins, but no one could rightly accuse him of avarice. Until he met Will. He is desperately, unrepentantly greedy of Will’s time.
Will sits down in the chair opposite him when he’s seen all there is to see, and they linger over their drinks. Hannibal pours them both another, and time wears on. It gets late, later than he can truly justify staying up. All good things must come to an end, and they can put off the inevitable no longer. Hannibal supposes it falls to him to begin.
“You know I killed that man,” he says, swirling the dregs of whiskey in his cup.
“Henry Patterson,” Will says absently. He shakes his head. “I know you killed all of them, and probably more besides. They don’t all get funerals, do they?”
“No, they don’t,” Hannibal agrees. “Although lately they have.”
They stare into the fire.
“This isn’t new, Hannibal. I’ve known. I’ve always known.”
Something shrieks and beats in Hannibal’s chest—hope is the thing with feathers they say. They neglected to mention that it has claws and teeth too. A bird, hope, fragile and terrible.
“How long?” Hannibal asks, and he can’t help sounding a bit breathless.
“Since the beginning.” Will says. He takes a grateful swallow of his whiskey. “I never told you what I did before, did I?”
Hannibal shakes his head. “Tell me now.”
“I was a profiler, a special agent for the FBI. I consulted on cases.” There’s that ragged, sharp-edged laugh again, the one that sounds like it’s clawing its way out of Will’s throat. “Well, I did.”
“What happened?” Hannibal asks, although he can guess. He can see the shape of it in his mind’s eye. A man of Will’s gifts would be a valuable asset as a profiler. He would also chip like fine china, gradually grinding to beautiful dust beneath the weight of so many killers’ minds.
Will must read it on his face. He nods. “You’re right. What you’re thinking—it’s right. I cracked up. Couldn’t hack it.”
Hannibal doesn’t often fall into the trap of attempting to console Will, of soothing his fears about the way he is made, but tonight he does. He doesn’t need to keep Will’s good graces, after all. Not for very much longer. He may as well say as he pleases, and it pleases him to defend Will, even against the accusations he makes of himself.
“Any man with your particular neurological architecture would—”
Will shakes his head sharply, cutting him off. “No. Don’t do that. I don’t want pity from you. I never have, and you are certainly not going to start now. Consider it a dying wish.”
Hannibal can do nothing but nod. It’s fair.
Will continues, “I shot a man, Garret Jacob Hobbs.”
“The Minnesota Shrike.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. I shot and killed him, and they sent me for a psych eval.”
“Which you didn’t pass.”
Will gave him a wry look. “In your professional opinion, would I pass a psych eval?”
“No,” Hannibal says. “But I would have passed you all the same.”
Will considers this. “Then maybe it’s a shame we didn’t meet earlier. Could be we’d have gotten a happier ending.”
“I would still be what I am, Will,” Hannibal says gently.
Will shrugs and tosses back the last of his whiskey. “Then maybe it’s a good thing I’m not a cop.”
Hannibal licks his lips. “Why didn’t you call the police? Your old contacts at the FBI? You might’ve gotten your job back. Why didn’t you turn me in?”
Will sets his glass down, and Hannibal tenses as he gets up and crosses the room.
“I didn’t want my old job back. The job was crap. It was bad for me, and it gave me nightmares.”
“You don’t like what you do now.”
“I don’t,” Will agrees. “I actually kind of hate it.” He settles himself in Hannibal’s lap, legs parted wide to accommodate the bulk of the chair as he brings his face close to Hannibal’s. “But given a choice between having sad, normal people who miss their loved ones, or vicious killers knocking around in my head, I’ll take the former.”
Hannibal holds his breath. Or he forgets how to breathe; it’s hard to tell.
“I don’t want you knocking around in my head either. But in my bed? I could get used to that.”
They crash their lips together and drown.
For all the talk of beds, they don’t make it anywhere near one. They touch and sigh crushed together in the armchair that’s too small for the both of them, sliding their lips together in a heated frenzy. It feels like a stay of execution. For all intents and purposes, it is.
Will draws his legs up so he’s kneeling on either side of Hannibal’s thighs, so he can press closer while they try to memorize the inside of each other’s mouths with teeth and tongues. Hannibal runs his hands over Will’s face, his back and neck and shoulders, then knots both hands in his hair and pulls. Will makes the most delicious sound, a groan strangled and limned in pain, so he does it again harder, and Will snarls and bites down on his lip hard enough to draw blood.
It’s love, and it’s a fight, which means that it’s perfect.
He shoves Will off the chair, onto the floor, and Will stares up at him bloody-mouthed and dazed in the second before Hannibal joins him.
“You are so beautiful,” Hannibal says, and Will bites him again, gentler this time, sucking delicate bruises along the curve of his jaw.
“So are you,” he says when he pulls back. “Tell me what you would have done with my body.”
A thrill runs down Hannibal’s spine, and he wonders at his good fortune.
He undoes the buttons of Will’s shirt in a neat little row and parts the fabric so he can kiss his way down Will’s chest, talking between kisses. “I would have butchered you in the basement. Separated your limbs at the joints, cleaned out your thoracic and abdominal cavities.” He pauses to take a nipple into his mouth, to roll it on his tongue, delighting in the way it makes Will arch off the carpet. (“Hannibal, fuck.” ) “I would have made consommé with your bones and eaten your heart rare and warm.”
Will groans like it’s the best pillow talk he’s ever heard, and maybe it is. Maybe, Hannibal thinks, he doesn’t know Will Graham quite so well at all.
He undoes the fastenings on Will’s pants and drags them down his thighs. Something in his heart clenches when Will lifts his hips to help. The sight of this man laid trusting and bare before him nearly undoes him.
“Yes,” Will hisses. “What we ate tonight—ah—was it?” His voice hitches as he tries again. “Did I go to their funeral?”
“Yes,” Hannibal says, biting at the tender insides of Will’s thighs and relishing every hiss of pain, every sigh that follows as he soothes the sting with gentle licks. “Does that bother you?”
“Not as much as it should.”
Hannibal takes the heavy, solid weight of Will’s cock in his hand. It’s red and leaking, and he sticks out his tongue to taste. But before he can manage, he’s yanked back by a cruel grip in his hair.
“Would you have shared me?” Will asks, pulling Hannibal’s head up sharply. His eyes are dark and fathomless. In this moment, Will looks dangerous and impossibly lovely, and Hannibal thinks it’s possible he’s never loved anything more. “Would you have cooked me and fed me to other guests?” Will punctuates his words with another harsh jerk. “Other men you met at funerals?”
“Never,” Hannibal breathes, and it sounds like a promise because it is. “I’d never have shared you with a soul. I would have savored every last bit of you myself.”
I love you.
Will loosens his grip on Hannibal’s hair and sighs. The dark, dangerous thing that had surfaced in his eyes is gone now, a million miles away as he runs a gentle hand over the side of Hannibal’s face.
“Good,” he says, and Hannibal can’t believe he’s real.
He grabs Will by the hips and swallows him down.
* * *
They do make it to the bed eventually. It takes a few tries.
After, Will turns to him glorious and rumpled, cheeks flushed and throat bruised. He looks brilliantly alive.
“Earlier, you said they’ve all gotten funerals lately. What did you mean?”
“If you figured out that I am the Chesapeake Ripper from seeing me at a funeral, then I don’t believe you need me to answer that question,” Hannibal says, but he can’t resist leaning in to capture Will’s lower lip between his teeth. He doesn’t bite down, just nibbles and sucks until he can draw another delightful sound from Will.
Will pulls back, and Hannibal lets go reluctantly.
“Indulge me,” Will says, leaning up on one elbow.
“Always,” Hannibal replies. “More than you know. But if you’re going to make me say it, then I mean I started crafting scenarios that might bring us together.”
Will grins. “You mean you started killing people whose families would be sure to hire me. You know some people just schedule dates, Hannibal. I have a phone.”
Hannibal takes the teasing in the good-natured spirit it was intended.
“Are you sorry I did it?” he asks.
Will seems to think about it, but not very hard and not very long.
“No,” he says at last. “I don’t know what that says about me—and I don’t want to know,” he says when Hannibal opens his mouth. “But this?” He sweeps his hand, and it means this bed and it means this night and it means us, “This is the nicest thing I’ve had in years. Maybe ever. So no, I don’t think I can be sorry about that. I’m not that selfless. I’m not that good.”
“You are,” Hannibal says. “That and more.”
Will looks like he might protest, so Hannibal tugs him closer. Will goes, loose-limbed and willing. Now it’s Hannibal’s turn to shut his mouth with a kiss. They kiss for slow, dragging minutes, while time goes syrupy and eternity loops back around. By the time they part for air, Will’s lips are swollen and his eyes are soft, and he’s utterly forgotten what he was going to say, which suits Hannibal just fine.
Will leans back so his head is pillowed on Hannibal’s chest, and Hannibal’s hand instinctively comes up to stroke through his hair. Will sighs contentedly, and Hannibal rubs their legs together under the covers, just for the simple, tactile pleasure of touch. He looks down and sees that Will’s eyes have closed.
They stay like that for a long time. Will is so still Hannibal thinks he might have fallen back asleep, so he’s startled when Will speaks.
“And another thing,” he says.
“Hm?” Hannibal keeps carding his fingers through Will’s hair, feeling the curls slip through his fingers like silk.
Will tilts his head up and grins. “I made a killing on all those funerals. Whatever else you are, you’re great for business.”
Hannibal chuckles, and the motion shakes Will too. He bends to press an upside down kiss to Will’s mouth, feeling happy and light and free.