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Break This Bread

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Will had never thought particularly hard about bread. It was good for sandwiches, for making something quick and easy he could eat on his lunch break at the academy, or later, during any spare moment he could find while working a case for Jack. He didn’t have a preferred brand or type. He was fine with whatever was on sale at Giant that week—Wonderbread, Great Value, whatever else was cheap and hadn’t started to mold. He wasn’t picky.

He ate bread, but he wouldn’t say he cared about it. Then he moved in with Molly.

Molly with her sweet laugh and sweeter smiles. Molly, who’d bump her hip against his when they were cooking a meal together, working side by side in the kitchen. Cooking was weird for him. It often led down dark roads, into the parts of his mind that stayed shut behind locked doors for a reason.

Molly called it being down in the dumps when he got like that. It was such a cute, harmless way to characterize something that had always been so deeply harmful. He loved it. He loved her.

Molly with her soft sweaters and long, fragrant hair. Molly who was so easy to love, without a deep well of inner darkness, with no sharp edge in sight.

Molly who made bread every week.

She was busy, the way single moms are busy. Taking Wally to school, picking him up after baseball practice, stopping by Wegmans on the way home from work, showing up to dates with Will flushed and a little out of breath, like she hadn’t had a second to sit down all day. Good busy. Happy busy.

But still she made bread, in this little white bread machine full of dings and dents that rattled on the counter as it kneaded the dough, starting and stopping like a mechanical lullaby. The scent of warm, fresh bread would fill the house, sweet and earthy, and inevitably he and Wally would be lured into the kitchen.

They’d stand around like Will’s own dogs waiting for dinner, eyeing the countdown timer and cracking jokes. It made it easy. They didn’t have to look at each other—Will still hated eye contact, and Wally was wary the way all kids are wary of mom’s new boyfriend—but it was okay, because there was the bread machine to look at.

Then the timer would buzz, and Molly would come into the kitchen, laughing as she swatted them on the arms.

“You two,” she’d huff when they inevitably devoured a sizeable chunk of the new loaf between them—she’d have to make more sooner than she’d planned—but she gave them both hot, steaming slices with a happy smile on her face. They spread salted butter on the dense, chewy bread and stood around the kitchen leaning on counters and tables, quiet and content, chewing, senses wholly absorbed in bread.

Will loved it. He loved her. He let himself be drawn in, let their quiet brand of domesticity wrap itself around him like a warm blanket.

And then.

Well, nothing good can last forever. That’s just how it works.

He thinks about them sometimes, still. When he’s passes a Salvation Army Santa ringing a bell out in front of the grocery store. When he catches a whiff of familiar shampoo. Whenever Hannibal bakes bread.

It isn’t something Hannibal’s done before, not since they started living together. Their lives have been a blur for months between healing from their injuries and shuffling around the country, trying to stay ahead of the FBI. They’ve had other things on their minds. They’ve eaten well—Will doesn’t think Hannibal would willingly eat any other way—but their meals have been simple. Stripped down. Ironically, they’ve been more to Will’s taste than Hannibal’s, and he’s appreciated the lack of ostentation.

Bread really isn’t any different when Hannibal makes it. It isn’t fancy or weird. It’s just… bread. That doesn’t mean he wants to eat it.

He steps out of the shower to the smell of a loaf baking in the oven, warm and fragrant and jerking on his heartstrings. He’s immediately assailed by a sense memory so strong that it nearly bowls him over.

He doesn’t eat dinner that night, doesn’t even come to the table. He pretends to be sick.

Hannibal frowns and studies him. He doesn’t believe Will (as well he shouldn’t; they’ve moved beyond such blatant lies at this point, and it would be almost insulting if Hannibal couldn’t tell).  

An incisive word hovers at the tip of Hannibal’s tongue, so near Will can almost hear its echo in his mind, but whatever it is, Hannibal swallows it back down.

“I’ll bring you some peppermint tea,” he says instead.

“Yeah,” Will swallows. “Thanks.” His throat feels full of glass.

It happens once, twice more before Hannibal just stops baking bread. He’s obviously made some assumption about it that deters him from trying again. Will wonders if he’s made the right one, but of course he doesn’t ask.

* * *

This is the longest they’ve stayed in one place since they killed Dolarhyde and Will burned his old life to the ground. They’ve begun, for lack of a better word, nesting.

Hannibal has started filling their three bedroom home with furniture from god only knows where—somewhere without price tags, probably. Their new house isn’t a clone of Hannibal’s home in Baltimore. Where the decor there was gothic and nearly dour, Hannibal’s choices here are lighter. Airier. Less of an aesthetic that screams I dismember people in the basement, although he still does. He seems to have had his fill of announcing it, of basking in his own cleverness and taunting the world with what’s hiding in plain sight, right beneath their noses.

Still with the antlers, too. There’s an antler chandelier hanging above the dining room table that gives Will the creeps, but he hasn’t said a word about it. He’s simply started to fill the house with things of his own. A painting of a house that looks a lot like the one he’d owned back in Wolf Trap. A sturdy table made of a dark, handsome wood for tying flies, set up in the spare bedroom he’d claimed as his own. A lamp to go with it, simple and clean, one he can swing near to his hands for a better look. He has to squint harder than he used to to see the tiny, intricate knots while crafting lures, but he refuses to buy reading glasses when better light will do.

He’s gotten most of his things from Goodwill, partially because old habits die hard—he’s never seen the point of buying something new when something used will do just as well; it seems a waste—and partially to nettle Hannibal.

The way Hannibal’s mouth turns down when he sees that Will’s brought something home from the thrift store feels like scoring some kind of cosmic point. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t absolve him for running away with a serial killing cannibal, but Will takes what he can get. He leaves the stickers on things sometimes, brightly colored and obnoxious, proclaiming to the world that this particular chair had only been $7.99.

“It was half-off,” Will tells Hannibal, not because Hannibal cares, but because it makes the frown on his face deepen, and Will thinks it’s funny.

“That’s nice,” Hannibal says, in a tone of voice that suggests he doesn’t think it’s nice at all.

Will likes walking around the secondhand stores because no one there pays him any attention. Everyone’s too busy trying to find bargains of their own, and it feels… familiar. Normal. It becomes a habit, driving into town once a week to have coffee at a local diner before seeing if there are any good deals to be had.

After a month of this, he finds a bread machine. Not just any bread machine— Molly’s bread machine. The same brand, the same slightly-battered white steel casing, although this one is dented in a different spot. There’s a scratch running alongside it’s lid that makes his heart ache.

Will picks it up and carries it around the store, telling himself he won’t necessarily buy it. It’s sitting in the passenger seat beside him before he knows it, and he sneaks glances at it the whole way home.

Hannibal doesn’t say anything about it at first. He purses his lips and frowns in the appliance’s general direction while Will makes a racket getting it set up. He plunks it down on the counter, shoving the coffee maker aside to make room before plugging it in.

Its tiny screen lights up with a cheery beep, and Will grins.

“Will,” Hannibal says delicately. “What is that?”

“It’s a bread machine,” Will says.

“Why is it in our kitchen?”

“It was $12.99 on sale.”

* * *

By the time Will comes back into the kitchen the next morning, the bread machine is conspicuously absent. The whole kitchen smells of yeast and warm dough, and there are two perfect loaves of French bread sitting on the counter. Will shoves them aside, finds the bread machine where it’s been shoved all the way in the back of the least convenient cabinet, and plugs it in.

He starts taking out flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. He sniffs the milk in the fridge and decides it’s probably fine, then thinks he should probably get powdered milk from the store the next time he goes into town. He wonders if Hannibal would buy it if he added it to their list. Molly always used powdered milk.

He’s digging through the kitchen cabinets looking for measuring spoons when Hannibal walks into the kitchen looking sleep-rumpled and bleary. The sight of him softens something in Will, makes him reach out to loop an arm around Hannibal’s waist. Will nuzzles his nose into Hannibal’s neck while he grinds coffee and flicks on the electric kettle.

“Morning,” Will murmurs into his skin.

“Good morning,” Hannibal says. Will can hear the smile in his voice. “What’s all this?”

“I’m making bread,” Will says. “Do we have measuring spoons?”

Hannibal opens a drawer—the one drawer Will hadn’t looked in—and fishes them out. “You know I just made bread last night.”

Hannibal looks pointedly at the beautiful loaves Will’s so carelessly shoved aside.

“You did,” Will agrees. “But I don’t want that bread. I want to make some.”

He lets go of Hannibal and goes back to what he was doing, measuring a half tablespoon of yeast before rolling the bag up and putting it back in the freezer, beside the flank from that investment banker they’d killed two months ago. Will can feel Hannibal watching him, and he doggedly ignores it as he measures 11 ounces of water into a measuring cup.

When the French press is done steeping, Will leans out of the way so Hannibal can reach forward and grab it. He leaves a cup for Will and takes his own mug into the dining room with a small sigh.

Will waits by the bread machine as it does its work, half feeling like he’s guarding it. He doesn’t actually think Hannibal would throw it out—Hannibal will murder someone in cold blood, but wasting food is inexcusable—but he has the ridiculous compulsion to be near it. The kitchen fills with the familiar scent of baking bread, and as the timer counts down to zero, Will waits alone.

The bread tastes just as good when there’s no one there to share it with, but he still imagines he feels the ghosts of his ex-family, the vacuum their absence created. He spreads the dense, chewy bread with the artisanal butter they bought at the farmer’s market and wishes it were plain old salted butter from Walmart.

* * *

There’s something true about Will now that wasn’t before: he is weird about bread.

Hannibal makes a wide array of breads, buttery brioche, oily focaccia, sweetbreads and loaves of sandwich bread that look just like the loaves Will’s breach machine spits out, only prettier. Hannibal is doing it for him; Will knows he is. That doesn’t mean he has to be grateful. That doesn’t mean he can’t needle Hannibal relentlessly.

“You sure like making bread,” Will says around the time the twelfth loaf of bread shows up in their house, fresh out of the oven.

“Not as much as you do, evidently.”

Will shrugs. He walks around Hannibal and his latest creation and takes a glass out of the cabinet, fills it at the tap and drains it.

“It smells good,” Will says, because it’s true. Because that’s something he can do—compliment Hannibal on his bread even when he has no intention of eating it. He can’t tell if the impulse is kindness or cruelty. He’s not sure if it matters.

He fills his glass again and drops a few ice cubes in it. He takes it and drinks it out on the porch. The sliding door slamming shut behind him almost feels like peace.

* * *

“Is there a reason you won’t eat the bread I make?” Hannibal asks, when he finally reaches the limit of his ability to enjoy the dance they’ve been doing for weeks.

The fact that Hannibal brought it up at all also feels like a victory.

Will shrugs. He is viciously honest: “I don’t feel like it.”

“But there is a reason.”

Will shrugs again.

They’re sitting on the deck watching the sunset together. It’s peaceful and quiet. A dog barks down the street. The air is chilly with the rapid onset of autumn, and leaves tumble across the lawn.

“It doesn’t belong to you,” Will says at last. “All the rest of me does, but that part doesn’t.”

“Are there still boundaries between us, Will?”

He takes a swig of his beer. “Not nearly enough. But some.”

“I don’t accept that.”

“And I still won’t eat your bread.”

I eat your meat, he could say. Isn’t that enough?

He could, but he doesn’t. It hangs unsaid between them regardless, heavy as a shroud.

* * *

It’s Sunday. Sunday is bread day. It’s the day when Will pulls the bread machine out from the cabinet where it usually lives—near the front, where it’s easily accessible. The day he wakes up before Hannibal, extricating himself from grasping limbs and creeping into the kitchen on light feet.

It’s the day he uses the electric coffee maker and pours himself a cup of coffee, splashes water on his face and measures out the ingredients for the same type of bread he’s been eating for years. Flour, sugar, salt, yeast, powdered milk, 11 ounces of water.

It’s the day he sits in the kitchen, thumbing through news articles on his phone as the fragrant scent of hearth and home gradually permeates the house. The day he waits for the timer on the little screen to count all the way down to zero.

It’s the day he thinks of Molly. The day he thinks of Wally. Hands warm and damp from hot slices of bread and crumb-lined kisses. Things that have melted away into the aether, that he won’t have again.

It’s the day Hannibal enters the kitchen a little after dawn, warm and strong and smelling like soap. The day he folds his arms around Will from behind and presses a kiss to hair that’s gotten too long.

It’s the day Hannibal cuts himself a slice of Will’s bread and sits across from him, feet just barely touching under the table.