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Pour Some Sugar On Me

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The summer of 1989 in Baltimore was proving to be relatively cool, which was perfectly fine by Will Graham, who was painting houses to earn the money for his upcoming sophomore year at Johns Hopkins. In reality, he only needed about $2000 to make up the difference between his scholarships and the tuition, but he was hoping to save up a little more for a new car for the new semester. And at $300 a pop plus the cost of materials—a real steal, compared to the professional painters—Will only needed to convince a dozen or so people that he wasn’t a complete dipstick.

His primary strategy wasn’t to put ads in the paper, because every additional cost felt like a car driving away without him. He was not an economics major, to say the least.

Instead, Will walked the streets of Baltimore, wearing his paint-stained white overalls, cut off and tattered above the knee, with nothing underneath. A mess of dark, wild curls and a pair of battered white Chucks made up the top and bottom of the ensemble, and he carried his Walkman in an old paint that habitually bounced against his thigh and had finally left a bruise behind. His tan was developing nicely out of a peeling sunburn across his bare shoulders, and the freckles across his nose and cheeks were darker than they’d ever been.

When he saw a house that might be in need of a paint job, Will would make a stop, ring the doorbell and wait for someone to answer. Then he’d give his spiel:

“Hi, my name is Will Graham. I go to Johns Hopkins for psychology, and I’m trying to raise money for the fall’s tuition. I’m painting houses around Baltimore, and I was wondering if you’d be interested in hiring me to paint yours. I charge $300 plus the cost of materials, and I work fast. I also do trim, shutters, fences, mailboxes, sheds, doors, or anything else that needs painted, really. I’ve never been arrested, I don’t do drugs, and I’m perfectly sane.”

Or, rather, he’d start in on his spiel, but usually the door was slammed in his face before he even got to his price. Actually, he didn’t think he’d ever made it to the end before the homeowners interrupted him. And it was probably a good thing, because the one thing Will had learned in his first year of college was that he was, in all likelihood, not perfectly sane. And he would feel bad about lying. At least all the rest was true.

But he’d had enough luck to paint five houses so far, and it was only just coming up on the Fourth of July, so he figured he was right on track for a degree and a wicked new—again, to him, although he dreamt of painting enough houses to buy new off a dealer lot—Starion. Maybe an ‘82. Or, at the very least, some sensible Oldsmobile or Pontiac.

Bobbing his head to Bon Jovi, Will turned onto the next street on his planned route for the day. He was in a wealthy area, and if he had been an economics major, he probably would’ve raised his asking price a little, but he’d already painted a hasty $300 around the outside of his paint can handbag, and that’s how it was going to stay. But the point remained that it was a nice neighborhood, with several residents out gardening or otherwise wasting away their Wednesday afternoons.

He hummed along with the music coming from his headset as he came to a large two-story made mostly of pale brick but with a clapboard garage added on. The off-cream (a nice way to say gross and yellowed) paint was beginning to peel off in strips, and Will decided it was a perfect candidate.

Going up to the house’s front door, Will prepared his speech in his head, putting on a bright smile, as charming as he could possibly manage. One day, he figured, he’d be too tired, too jaded, too old to fake it, but until then, it couldn’t hurt to try. He rang the doorbell and waited exactly ten seconds before trying again with a series of firm knocks.

“Hold your goddamn horses, will you?” The voice was female, gnarled by cigarettes or time, and followed by footsteps that got louder before the door cracked open, revealing the voice’s owner. She was old, with her purpling hair still in curlers, and her teeth were so white and perfect they must have been dentures as she said, “What do you want, sugar?”

Will took a deep breath and opened his mouth, but before he could so much as say where he went to school, the old bat said, “If you ain’t here to sell booze or bibles, I ain’t interested!”

“No, ma’am, no booze or bi—”

The door slammed in his face with enough force that the breeze made him blink back the sudden watering in his eyes. Well, par for the course, he supposed, although he did wonder if she was the sort to take in the Jehovah’s Witnesses for cookies and coffee laced with good brandy.

As Will turned and retreated down the walkway back to the sidewalk, a man in the neighbor’s garden waved him down. He was handsome, even squinting against the sun, and Will felt a sudden attraction, the kind he hadn’t felt since he snuck into that Phi Gamma Delta party before finals.

Will pulled his headset down around his neck and bit his lip, heading toward the man. “Hi,” he said as he got close enough to see the dark tuft of chest hair peeking up through the open button of the man’s dress shirt. With a flirty if inexperienced wink, Will said, “I’m not selling bibles, I promise.”

“I hadn’t guessed you were,” the man said, wiping his hands together to brush away a bit of loose soil. His accent was strange, vaguely European, and tinged with an understated amusement that made Will flush and look down at the ground between them.

Beside the man was a neat flowerbed and a pile of excised weeds, and he was wearing a pair of grass-stained white sneakers that were so atrociously unfashionable and clashed with the rest of the man’s clothes so badly that Will had to laugh. If he’d had started to think the man was washed up eurotrash like the type his friends talked about meeting in the clubs, the shoes destroyed that fantasy. When he looked back up to the man, still trying to stifle a giggle, the man raised a brow and said, “What are you selling, then?”

Will reached up to scratch the back of his head, feeling halfway awkward and halfway coy, and said, “You want the whole spiel?”

“Will it cost me?”

Grinning, Will shook his head. “Only if you hire me.” When the man gave him an expectant look, Will took a deep breath and began his speech. To his surprise and pleasure, he got to finish it this time.

“Perfectly sane?” The man laughed, pulling a rag from his pocket to wipe his hands clean properly. “Perhaps you ought to let me determine that.”

A bit saucier than he necessarily intended, Will cocked a hip to the side, just quick enough for his paint can to slam against his bruise, and said, “Oh, yeah? And why’s that?”

The man offered a hand as he said, “My name is Dr. Hannibal Lecter. I’m a psychiatrist.”

“But are you a psychiatrist who needs anything painted?” Will asked as he took the man’s hand and gave it a firm shake. He couldn’t help but savor the thrill that ran up his arm and down his back like a shiver, just like he couldn’t help imagining what all that glorious chest hair would feel like under his fingers.

Hannibal’s laugh was brighter than Will expected, and he took a moment to consider before saying, “I suppose the trim could use a fresh coat.” He gestured to his house, a beautiful building done mostly in blonde brick but with a terra cotta trim around the windows and gables. It would take a ladder, maybe a gallon of paint tops, and a smaller paintbrush than Will liked, but it would be a quick job. And quite frankly, Will was suddenly more interested in being around Dr. Hannibal Lecter than earning his tuition money.

“I can probably manage that,” Will said, accentuating his Louisiana drawl that had, over the past year, mostly faded. Of course, it came back out when he was drunk, or when he wanted to put on the charm. In New Orleans he sounded like a backwater hick, but in Baltimore? He could be a Southern belle, an ingenue worthy of his one required literature class, which he took last semester and passed only because he gave the professor heart eyes and made one insightful comment about King Lear. He couldn’t remember what he’d said, and he didn’t figure it mattered.

Hannibal raised a brow as his crooked grin grew into a smirk, and he said, “Well then, I suppose I ought to hire you, shouldn’t I?”

Nodding, Will reached out for another handshake, eager to feel the electric pleasure of Hannibal’s touch. “You absolutely should,” he said, biting his lip before adding, voice low and confident over the unfamiliar name, “Dr. Lecter.”

The flash across Hannibal’s eyes was intense, darker than Will expected, and gone before he could decide what exactly it meant. But Hannibal’s hand tightened around Will’s, and he pumped their handshake once more as he said, “Tomorrow? I have an appointment in the morning, but around ten o’clock could work.”

“I’ll be here,” Will said immediately, even though he was disappointed at the loss of contact as Hannibal dropped his hand and reached up to shield his eyes from the sun. “Do you have extra paint, or do you need me to buy some?”

Hannibal considered it for a moment then shook his head. “Not enough for the entire house, but you’re welcome to what’s left in the can.”

“Oh, that’s just fine!” Will shifted his own paint can bag from one hand to the other, saying, “My best friend works at a Sherwin-Williams, and she’s totally awesome with color matching. I’ll grab a gallon tonight. It should only be ten, fifteen bucks, max.”

Reaching into his pocket, Hannibal said, “No best friend discount?” His voice was serious, but the quirk of his lips was telling enough, and Will couldn’t help his giggle as he shook his head. In all reality, Bev probably would give him a discount if he asked, but it wasn’t his money, so why did he care? But even as Hannibal pulled a crisp Jackson from his wallet, offering it out like a handshake, Will thought he might ask this time.

Will shoved the cash into the chest pocket of his overalls with a wink, saying, “You got a ladder? Maybe a boombox?”

That earned him a stern look, and he could almost imagine how deliciously grumpy Hannibal would look if Will started blasting some Metallica through the otherwise quiet and proper neighborhood. It just made him want to do it even more.

“A ladder, yes. Come see it, make sure it’s big enough for you.”

Will licked his lips. “I’m sure it’s big enough, Dr. Lecter.”

The stern look wavered briefly but returned, now accompanied by a low scowl, although not a particularly convincing one. Hannibal turned and headed off toward the side of the house, and Will followed him around to a small detached garage. The door was open, and Will could see two very nice cars inside, and his stomach clenched in envy. They weren’t the sharp, edgy cars he had his eye on. Instead, they were a hundred times more expensive, more elegant, more grown up. One was vintage, the other newer. Both so nice he didn’t even recognize the badges just above the license plates.

Hannibal walked down the side of one car to the back corner of the garage, where he found a paint can and brought it back out to hand to Will. It was heavier than his makeshift purse, and it banged against his bruise with more bite, sending pleasant shivers down his back.

Gesturing to an extension ladder mounted on the wall, well above the soft roof of the low-riding, rounded vintage car, Hannibal said, “Will that work, Will?”

“Oh yeah,” Will said, shifting from one foot to the other and trying not to imagine how fantastic it would feel to cruise down the streets of Baltimore in that killer car. Was it a convertible? Will thought it must be. As long as it had an FM radio, he was happy. Except, he reminded himself with a bite to his tongue, that car wasn’t his, and there was no way Hannibal would let him—a virtual stranger, and a college kid at that—drive it. That beautiful hunk of metal was probably insured for more than Will’s life was worth.

“Will?”

Snapping back to the moment, Will flushed hard and said, “Sorry. Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll just get that paint for you and be back in the morning.”

Hannibal’s eyes narrowed slightly, observing him carefully, and a slow smile grew across his lips again. “Do you prefer payment by cash or check?”

“Either is good,” Will said, suddenly wanting to make his escape before he said something dumb. Or, he supposed, dumber than he already had. The last thing he wanted to do was embarrass himself or make Hannibal think he was an awkward, useless kid. “Whatever works for you.”

The way Hannibal reached up to pull the garage door closed behind him made the open collar of his shirt gape, showing Will almost the full expanse of the man’s hairy chest. Arousal pulled in his gut, and Will really hoped Hannibal wasn’t a mind reader, because all he could think about then was running his hands across that chest, brushing over those nipples, burying his nose in that armpit.

Will’s blush felt impossibly hot, and he ducked his head down, letting his curls obscure his face so Hannibal couldn't see him.

“Very well,” Hannibal said, and Will could hear the smile in his voice even though he was too shy to look up to confirm it. A hand brushed across his back as Hannibal led them back to the front of the house, where now Will had to hide his arousal from the whole neighborhood. “I look forward to seeing you tomorrow, Will.”

Will returned the pleasantry too quickly to be polite, saying, “Later!” He risked one last glance up at Hannibal before he darted off down the sidewalk the way he’d come. Hannibal was grinning as he watched Will go, and when Will pulled his headset back on, Jon Bon Jovi was shouting about bad medicine.

***

Bev’s work apron was as paint-splattered as Will’s overalls were, although she was wearing a bright green windbreaker underneath, where he only had bare, tanned skin. He swung the nearly empty can of terracotta paint up on the counter and then reached up to scratch his shoulder under the strap of his overalls. He hissed as his skin burned white hot under his fingernails.

“What did I tell you about sunscreen, hon?” Bev chided with a grin as she pulled a paint can opener from her pocket and began prying the lid off as dried flakes of reddish paint covered the paint store’s counter.

Will laughed, saying, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll get more tonight.”

As Bev set the lid aside, she grabbed a blank sample card and used the end of her opener to dab color across the card. She’d done it so many times it was second nature, and as she worked, she said, “So, what’s this? Number six?”

“Halfway there,” Will said, leaning against the counter and considering just how much he wanted to tell Bev about Hannibal. Part of him wanted to keep the doctor a secret just for himself, but the giddy desire to share won out, and he said, “Bev, this guy is so hot. Like, full on professor fantasy fine. You remember old man Peters?”

“Intro to Lit Peters? Gave you an A even though you wrote the final hungover Peters? Keeps a Polaroid of his five cats at his desk Peters? That Peters?”

Grinning, Will nodded, running a hand through his tangled curls. “Think Peters, but European, five inches taller, ten years younger, and with a body like a god. Also probably no cats.”

Bev snorted. “So not Peters at all!”

“Come on, Peters was hot.”

Waving the sample card in the air to speed the drying of the paint, Bev rolled her eyes and said, “Whatever you say, Mr. Joan Jett. Johnny?” She tested the terracotta smudge, and as soon as it was dry, she rounded the counter and went to the wall of paint chips. Will came up behind her, resting his chin on her shoulder as she began pulling a handful of possible matches from the wall. As she grabbed a promising looking color, she said, “Alright, tell me about him, why don’t you? What’s his name?”

“Hannibal,” Will said, and Bev immediately turned to him, raising an eyebrow. She was a double major, chemistry and history—a combo she hated explaining to all the customers that pretended to be interested—and Will didn’t like the look in her eyes then as she stared at him like he was an idiot. “What?” he asked, a little more defensively than he should’ve.

Bev frowned at him, somewhere between incredulous and exasperated, and she said, “That guy wigged out the Romans. It’s fuckin’ hard to wig out the Romans.”

Will snorted, softly punching Bev in the shoulder. “Fuck off.”

She cackled, darting back to her counter, where she laid out all the paint chips and began the careful process of elimination that left her with three options that all looked exactly the same to Will. But that was why he left the color matching to Bev. Her tongue peeked out from her mouth in concentration, and she pulled a lamp from under the counter, plugging it in and staring at the colors under the artificial daylight. That immediately ruled one of the chips out, and then it was a careful study of luster and whatever else she looked for in paint. Will didn’t know. He just slathered it on.

“He’s rich, too,” Will said, staring absently at a wall of rollers and paintbrushes. “Like, more money than the Romans rich.”

“Doubtful!”

She was probably right, Will had to admit. “God, I wish you could meet him. Or see him from afar, stalker to the max. He was wearing these awful yard shoes, totally like a dad. If he wasn’t so goddamn sexy, it’d be embarrassing.”

“You’ve lost it, haven’t you?” Bev joked as she finally decided on one chip. Reading the color code, she said, “Just a gallon?” Will nodded. “Cool, be right back.”

Then she disappeared into the back, and Will wandered aimlessly around the store, finally stopping at the display of paintbrushes. He grabbed a stiff new half-inch brush and tested it in the palm of his hand, enjoying the bite of natural bristles. The bell on the door rang, and Will jumped, turning to watch a middle-aged woman come in with a swatch of fabric in her hand.

“Excuse me, young man, do you work here? I’m looking for an ivory that matches this.”

He shook his head, glancing down at himself and wondering what the woman must think of him. “No, ma’am, sorry. You’ll want Bev. She should be right out,” he said, grabbing a second paintbrush from the wall for good measure. The woman hummed and went to browse the shades of off-white that lined nearly half of one wall. Will didn’t think it was possible for there to be that many shades of the same damn color, but if he ever said as much, Bev would have his head and then some.

When Bev emerged from the back, walking off-kilter from the weight of the gallon of paint in one hand, Will went back to the counter and set the brushes down, saying, “I’ve only got a twenty right now.”

“Mr. Money Bags couldn’t give you more?” she teased, setting the paint can on the counter with a dull clunk. Will glared at her, and she stuck her tongue out at him, saying, “Fine, fine. You’re lucky I like you.” She rang him up quickly, tapping into her register and conveniently forgetting to charge him for both brushes, and said, “If it doesn’t work out between you and Professor Hannibal, I expect the extra five bucks, got it? And a pitch perfect rendition of Bad Reputation!”

Will snorted and nodded, tucking the paintbrushes into his empty paint can and grabbing the new, full one off the counter. “For sure.” Glancing over his shoulder and finding the woman with a handful of ivory chips immediately behind him, Will gave Bev a quick grin and said, “Right. Wish me luck. Later!”

He was out of the paint store before the woman behind him could finish explaining that the fabric swatch she had was for the upholstery of her dining room chairs and—

***

When Will showed up at Hannibal’s house the next morning, just after ten o’clock, the extension ladder was waiting for him, leaning up against the portico. He left his things on the porch and jogged around the side of the house, hoping the garage door would be open so he could tell if Hannibal was in or not, but there was no such luck. Sighing, Will went back to the front of the house, and startled when he saw Hannibal waiting for him at the front door.

“I see you’re set for the sun,” Hannibal said, holding up Will’s new tube of sunscreen. He peered out from under the portico’s roof at the sky, which was perfectly blue in every direction, with barely a handful of whispy clouds to the north.

The sun was already bright enough to make Will squint, and he knew that if he wasn’t careful, he’d be burnt in a minute. So, for once, he’d taken Bev’s advice and already lathered the white mess everywhere he could reach. He’d gotten his arms and shoulders, neck and chest—all the parts visible under his white overalls—and had even rubbed a thin layer on his face, hoping to avoid the whitish film that covered the rest of him. His freckles still peeked through, and Will wasn’t opposed to getting a few more, although he definitely didn’t want a peeling nose for the next week.

There was just one place he hadn’t managed to slather with the cream. Biting his lip, Will reached out and held onto the column of the portico, swinging around it to jump up onto the porch and saying, “Can you help me get my back?”

Hannibal’s eyes twinkled, and he gestured for Will to turn around, which he did immediately while reaching up to corral his wild curls out of the way.

Even though he was expecting Hannibal’s hands at his skin, Will couldn’t help the startled shiver that ran up his spine as Hannibal began slowly rubbing sunscreen across his back. He could feel Hannibal carefully slip under the straps of his overalls, making sure to cover every inch of him bared to the sun. Swallowing back a gasp as Hannibal’s fingers wandered just under the panel of fabric that came halfway up his back, Will pressed into the touch.

As soon as he did, Hannibal pulled away, his voice somewhat lower as he said, “All done.” Will turned to face him, trying to ignore the blush rising at his own cheeks, and he noticed with a low jolt of pleasure that Hannibal’s eyes traced studiously up his body just as the man said, “Will you be needing help with the ladder?”

“I’m strong,” Will said, raising his arm to flex a bicep like the jocks did in high school—like some of the frat guys did when drunk at their parties. “I’ve got it.” He gave Hannibal a quick wink before he could help himself. Halfway embarrassed at his own bold flirtation, Will quickly grabbed the ladder and carried it down to the front yard. He set the ladder’s feet in the grass and carefully rested the top of it against the house. Raising the rungs one at a time until the ladder reached up to the trim around the house’s gable, Will stepped up on the first rung and gave a good jump, using his weight to plant the feet in the soft grass. He glanced over at Hannibal, who was frowning slightly, and wondered just how much trouble he’d be in for destroying a bit of the lush lawn.

Jogging back to the porch to grab his supplies, Will said, “It’ll grow back, don’t worry.” He squatted down at the paint can to pry up its lid, carefully setting it aside so none of the dark paint would stain the concrete of the porch. Glancing up at Hannibal, who loomed over him still, Will said, “You don’t have to supervise, you know. I’ll scream if I need help.”

“What if I’d like to watch?” Hannibal asked, a small smirk pulling at his mouth.

Will bit his lip as he tucked his paintbrushes into the chest pocket of his overalls and shoved his Walkman into a hip pocket, pulling the headset around his neck. “Might make me more likely to fall,” he said, standing tall with the full paint can bumping against the eternal bruise at his thigh. “Distractions are dangerous.”

“Then I’ll just make sure you get up the first time. Then I’ll let you work in peace.”

A look that Will might have called playful crossed Hannibal’s face then—except, he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen a playful look so lacking in innocence. Will searched his eyes for a moment before relenting, saying, “Alright, you hold the ladder while I go up and hang the paint can.”

Hannibal gestured for Will to lead the way, and as he did, Will wondered if he’d have to pay Bev back if he ended up in the hospital with a broken back. Maybe Hannibal’s insurance would pay for Johns Hopkins.

At the ladder, Will glanced down and noticed that Hannibal was wearing proper shoes this time, glossy oxblood wingtips that probably cost more than Will’s dream car. There was some strange pleasure in seeing how the heels of his fancy shoes sank into the earth, covering the soles in rich soil. Forcing himself to look away from Hannibal’s shoes and up the length of the ladder, Will said, “Hold both sides firm. If I start to look wobbly, just brace against the brick, won’t hurt anything.”

“Understood,” Hannibal said, reaching his arms around Will to hold onto the ladder. Will jumped, not expecting the warmth against his back, but he said nothing, just sucked in a deep breath, adjusted his grip on the paint can’s handle, and started his ascent.

It was slow going, because Will knew that it was legitimately dangerous if he made a wrong step or trusted a weak rung. He tested each one as he went up, and by the time he was at the top, his shoulder ached from carrying the weight of the paint without a chance to rest. But once he was finally staring at the roof of Hannibal’s house, he wrapped an arm around the ladder and began hooking the can to a rung so it hung just behind the ladder, close enough to reach but not far enough to one side or the other to send the whole thing careening off balance.

Once he was set, he glanced over his shoulder, down at Hannibal far below, who stared up at him with his mouth slightly open.

“Hey! McFly!” Will called out, grinning as he gave a little shimmy on the ladder, which Hannibal immediately braced against. “I’m good up here if you want to space out somewhere else.”

Hannibal gave Will a dangerous look, jolting the ladder in return, which made Will cling to the top rung, giggling against the way the his stomach clenched. He tossed his spotter a playful glare, and Hannibal said, his smile clear in his voice, which boomed up to Will with ease, “Sorry, I was distracted.”

“By what!”

Reaching into his chest pocket for a paintbrush, Will tried to ignore the fluttering in his chest as Hannibal called up to him, “The view. It’s lovely.”

He blushed hard, hoping it couldn’t been seen from his height, and Will shook his head with a little happy scoff, saying, “Kick rocks, old man, I have work to do!” And with that, he pulled his headset on, pressed play on the mixtape Bev had made for him, and dipped the paintbrush into the can, trying to focus on repainting the trim rather than the man who had hired him to do it. When that didn’t quite work, he started humming along to the Pet Shop Boys instead.

***

It was mid-afternoon, with the sun broiling down from directly overhead, when Hannibal interrupted Will by rapping on the ladder and waiting until Will pulled off his headset before saying, “Would you like something to drink?”

Will quickly descended the ladder, which he had since retracted to get the trim around the second floor windows, and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, a little disgusted by how much sweat was dripping off him. He ran a hand through his hair, and his curls stuck back against his scalp, out of the way but less than cute. As he jumped down to the ground, his white Converse sinking into the green grass—soon they’d be like Hannibal’s yard shoes, Will thought—Will turned to Hannibal and said, “What’re you offering?”

“Water, coffee, tea, lemonade, Coke. I would offer a beer, but I doubt you’re allowed to have one.”

Will rolled his eyes, saying, “Oh, bite me.” And then he had to glance away, lest Hannibal notice how his pupils dilated as he imagined that very thing. He tried to push the thought away and said, “I’ll take a lemonade, thanks.”

“Certainly,” Hannibal said, brushing a hand across Will’s side as he ducked back into the house. Will came to sit at the edge of the porch, spreading out as much as he could to cool off. He leaned back, bracing his palms against the bite of the concrete, and let his knees fall open as he toed at a slug crawling across the second step. When Hannibal returned, the draft of cool air from inside made Will shiver, and he glanced over his shoulder at the man who carried two tall, sweating glasses of cloudy lemonade.

Will took the glass offered to him and made room for Hannibal to sit beside him, but the man didn’t, apparently preferring to stand nearby, hovering over him instead.

Sipping the lemonade, Will hummed appreciatively, saying, “Delicious. Homemade?”

“Of course.” Hannibal swirled his own glass, letting the ice cubes clink together. “I’m most at home in the kitchen.” That surprised Will somewhat, and he couldn’t quite stop the way his eyebrows jumped up. Hannibal laughed, saying, “Like psychiatry, cooking is both an art and a science.”

Will took another swallow of the sweet beverage, almost choking on a stray bit of pulp. He coughed a few times, and once he had his breath back, he said, “Sorry. Went down the wrong way.”

Hannibal smiled softly at him, and Will suddenly wondered how old he was. At least thirty, maybe closer to forty. Starting to get the wrinkles around his eyes that made him look more distinguished than tired, starting to get a fine dusting of gray hairs at his temples, mixing in with the sandy brown. He could definitely be a professor, Will decided then, and it only made his gut clench in arousal. That was a fantasy he’d had ever since he sat in his first class freshman year, and as nice as Peters had been, he’d been too awkward for Will to actually consider making a move.

And now he was glad he’d waited, because Dr. Lecter was a hundred times more attractive in every way, even if he wasn’t technically a professor.

“So, Will,” Hannibal said as he swallowed a sip of his own lemonade, “tell me about school.”

It was as if he’d managed to read Will’s mind, and Will glanced away to hide his grin before saying, “I’ll be a sophomore if I can afford to go. I’m planning to take one course on deviant behaviors and another on personality. Then stats and a history class, I guess.” A history class with Bev, thank god, although the one she’d chosen. Something about warfare strategy and tactics—she’d explained the difference to him a hundred times, and he still couldn’t remember.

Hannibal nodded, seeming to consider it. “And what career path are you interested in?”

Will hated that question. It was loaded and everyone over the age of twenty-five asked it as soon as he told them he was a psych major. Shrugging, he said, “Always liked the idea of law enforcement.”

“Oh?”

“It’s practical, productive for society, if it’s done right. Seems challenging, engaging.”

Hannibal leaned back against the column of his portico, saying, “Do you want to be engaged, Will?”

The lilt to his voice made Will bite his lip. There were two distinct ways he could take that. Responding to one would keep them on a boring conversation that Will had no interest in having. Responding to the other was risky in another way. But a risk he was willing to take, Will decided as he grinned and said, “To the right person, yes. But I’ve been told I’m picky.”

“And are you?”

When Will looked up at Hannibal, there was a distinct heat in those dark eyes, and he let his legs stretch out a bit further, until the cutoff edge of his overalls pulled up to reveal the majority of his pale inner thighs. Will was pleasantly surprised—although maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised—to see Hannibal’s eyes flick down to drag along the length of his body.

“Maybe,” Will said, rolling an ankle aimlessly. He took another sip of lemonade and gave another moan as the sweet drink slid down his throat. “I just know what I want.”

Hannibal was quiet for a moment as he finished his own beverage, leaving just the half-melted ice cubes behind. When he spoke, his voice was heady, caught on a tension that Will could only describe as intrigued, and he said, “Would you want to stay for dinner, Will?”

Will took his time, hoping not to seem too eager, before saying, “Sure. People keep telling me I should charge more than I do. Maybe cash plus a meal.” He managed to bite back his grin until he saw the way Hannibal’s posture changed, loosening up just slightly. Then Will smiled brightly.

“I’ll start cooking, then.”

Finishing his lemonade in one last long swig, Will jumped to his feet and handed the empty glass to Hannibal, saying, “And I’ll finish painting.” Fingers brushed his as Hannibal took the glass and smiled, giving Will a short nod before opening the door again and disappearing inside.

The cool air that hit him in a draft from inside the house didn’t do much to calm the heat building in Will’s gut.

***

By the time Will finished repainting the trim around the portico, the spot he’d saved for last, the sun was beginning to set, making the whole sky glow pink and gold. He snapped the lid back onto the paint can, happy to have nearly a quart left to give back to Hannibal for later touch ups. His two paintbrushes were both starting to dry in the grass, which was a bit messier than Will would’ve liked, although he’d managed to only splatter himself three or four times.

Terracotta looked nice against the white of his overalls and Converse, blending into the rainbow of other colors. And where it splashed against his skin, he looked tanner, freckled all over rather than just across his cheeks and nose.

He knocked on the front door, around the fresh coat of paint that defined its edges, and when Hannibal opened the door, wearing an apron around his waist and with his sleeves rolled up around muscular forearms, Will had to gather himself long enough to say, “I’m ready if you are.” His voice faltered anyway, and the look Hannibal gave him in response was nothing short of fond. Will wasn’t sure anyone—except maybe Bev—had ever been fond of him.

It felt really nice, he decided. Like warm sunlight without the risk of a burn.

“Please, come in,” Hannibal said, stepping aside to let Will into his home. Will was used to working on exteriors, and the idea of being invited inside sparked something in him that he couldn’t quite explain. But he ducked his head as he stepped in, delighting in the cool wash of air that wrapped around him. Hannibal led him through a series of expertly decorated rooms to a sitting room, where he said, “Make yourself at home, Will. Dinner should be ready shortly.”

Will paused, looking over all the beautiful upholstery and expensive rugs. Then he glanced down at himself, covered in paint that might have still been a bit wet, not to mention a downright disgusting amount of sweat from a day of physical labor under the sun, and he gave Hannibal a sheepish smile. “I’d hate to make a mess of your furniture.”

A warm flash crossed Hannibal’s eyes, and he said, “You’re welcome to go naked, if you like.”

Blushing deeply, Will tried and failed to stifle an incredulous giggle. He ran a hand through his hair, getting trapped in tangles and stray, crunchy curls, and found himself suddenly shyer than he’d ever been with Hannibal before. “Right,” he murmured, staring down at his shoes. He pressed at the bruise at his thigh, hidden under the material of his cutoff overalls, hoping it would help him collect himself. It didn’t help much, and when Will forced himself to meet Hannibal’s eyes again, his voice wavered as he said, “Do you maybe have some clothes I could borrow?”

“If you’d prefer,” Hannibal said immediately, and Will was grateful he hadn’t been made fun of instead. Turning on his heel, Hannibal said, “Come on, let’s find you something comfortable.”

Will let out a low breath as he followed after the man, focusing at the way his broad shoulders seemed perfectly relaxed despite the tension in his lower back. Hannibal led him to what Will imagined was the master bedroom, which was as immaculately designed as the rest of the house he’d seen so far. Elegant in every way, expensive, grown up. Like out of one of those home decor magazines that Bev kept on the counter at the Sherwin-Williams, just so clueless customers could point to what they wanted.

Going to a beautiful mahogany dresser against the wall, Hannibal began digging through a stack of garments before pulling out a plain v-necked undershirt and a pair of soft athletic shorts. He handed them to Will, saying, “They might be a bit large for you.”

That was an understatement, Will realized as he held the shirt up to his chest. He knew Hannibal was bigger than him, both taller and broader, but he hadn’t thought he was that much smaller than the other man. Suddenly Will wished he’d spent a little more time with the frat guys and the jocks at the gym. Or, at least, more time actually working out instead of just ogling.

Hannibal excused himself, telling Will to leave his dirty clothes in the hamper in the master bathroom and then head back to the living room once he was dressed. Will nodded absently, barely registering what he was being told. He was too engrossed in how the undershirt smelled.

Fresh, woody, cologned. Like Hannibal.

He wasted no time in toeing off his shoes and stripping out of his overalls, careful not to let them hit the floor, and pulling the shirt over his head. He wandered into the bathroom to find the hamper but was distracted by the enormous shower and soaking bath beside it. Immediately imagining sitting in the bath with Hannibal behind him, leaning his head back onto the older man’s shoulder, Will choked on his own breath. He needed to stop that, or else he wouldn’t be able to make it through dinner. But it was so difficult to stop so long as he could stare at the tub. He tore his eyes away and forced himself out of the bathroom before he found it impossible to leave.

Tugging on the shorts, Will grabbed his shoes, which he carried with him back to the living room. He set them on what seemed like a safe spot near the doorway, where nothing too fancy could get destroyed by touching them. It may have been a worthless courtesy, since everything in the house seemed wildly expensive, as if luxury had been the point of its construction.

As he settled onto a tufted chaise lounge, Will sucked in a deep breath through his nose, delighting in the rich scent of roasting meat. He couldn’t tell exactly what was cooking, but whatever it was, it was a million times better than campus food. That much Will knew for certain.

It hit him then that, if he ate whatever Hannibal served him, he wouldn’t be able to go back to the blissful ignorance of the past. He’d probably crave it forever, like the unfed addictions of the folks in all the case studies he read in his textbooks.

***

Hannibal came into the living room some twenty minutes later, carrying two wine glasses. He offered one to Will, who had curled up and made himself very comfortable. “How much do you know about Pinot Noirs, Will?” he asked as Will took the glass from him and swirled it curiously.

In truth, Will didn’t know much. Or anything, really. He usually drank Miller Lites, or maybe a Corona if he was feeling fancy. The frat parties he’d been to usually skipped the wine and went straight to vodka or rum.

But as he sniffed the wine, the way he’d seen people do on TV, Will sat up straight and shrugged, saying, “Spicy.”

Hannibal laughed, wafting up from his own glass. “A bit, yes.”

As Will stood up, trying not to feel so self conscious about wearing Hannibal’s oversized clothes, he took a sip of the wine and swallowed back a grimace as the alcohol bit at the back of his throat. He took another sip to cover, and found that one a bit softer. Darting his tongue out to catch a stray drop of wine at the corner of his lips, Will looked up at Hannibal through his eyelashes and said, “Is it time to eat?”

“Yes,” Hannibal said simply, although the colors of his voice, the way his accent twisted slightly, were more complex. “Follow me.”

He led them to a large dining room, unlike anything Will had ever seen, with an entire wall done in blue painted clapboard. The table was set for a banquet, with a large bouquet of flowers at the center. Will recognized some of them from Hannibal’s garden out front. They were beautiful, colorful in a way paint could only approximate. Will leaned over the table to take a whiff of the flowers, and they smelled even better than the wine.

Hannibal’s hand brushed across his lower back, and Will nearly lost his balance, flailing a little before saving his dignity and his glass of wine by bracing against the back of a chair. A bit flustered, Will shot a look at Hannibal, who only pulled out one of the chairs near the end of the table, smiled warmly, and said, “Please, sit.”

Will slid into the offered chair and buried his nose in his glass of wine as Hannibal disappeared through a door just behind him. He stared at the clapboard wall, squinting in the relatively dim light to see whether it needed repainting.

Before he could decide, Hannibal returned carrying two large and elaborately plated dishes. The first one he set on the table held a whole fish, brown skin catching the light from the chandelier so it almost looked like it was made of a hundred little diamonds. Deep slices cut through the fish, and Hannibal had tucked sprigs of herbs into the pockets created. Lemon slices dotted the length of the fish and formed a bed under it. Will could smell the citrus over everything else, and it made his mouth water.

The next dish was simpler, although looked equally as delicious. A dozen spears of roasted asparagus laid in a perfect row, drizzled with a dark red sauce that Hannibal announced as, “Sherry vinegar and tarragon vinaigrette, also good over the black sea bass.”

Hannibal stood beside Will as he reached for serving tongs and carefully set a fillet of the fish on the plate in front of him. Three spears of asparagus came after, and Will glanced up at Hannibal, saying, sounding a bit shy, “Smells awesome.”

If anything, it was that Will had suddenly realized that he was in over his head. This wasn’t just flirting with an older man anymore. That was comfortable, easy, even fun. No, now Hannibal was courting him. And Will didn’t know what to do with that. Except, he figured, take it in stride. Rolling his shoulders and taking a deep breath, Will tried to ignore the pleasant thrill that surged through him and collected between his hips.

His professors in the fall would have a field day with him, he thought then with an uneasy amusement.

“I don’t imagine you often eat a homecooked meal often, do you?” Hannibal asked as he served himself. Will wordlessly shook his head, and as Hannibal took his seat across from Will, he said, “Where is home for you, Will?”

Staring at the food on his plate and brushing his fingers against the cool silverware beside his plate, Will shrugged and said, “Louisiana.” Trying to let go of the tension that had accumulated in his shoulders, he exaggerated his accent and said, “Couldn’t you tell?” The heat in Hannibal’s eyes made Will smile finally, and he gnawed at his lip to keep himself from beaming. “I don’t miss it, though. Some bad memories.” His smile faltered slightly. Just a flicker, not pronounced enough to dampen the mood entirely. “But might have to go back if school falls through, you know?”

There was a quiet moment in which Hannibal seemed to appraise him, judge him without asking any probing questions. It was probably his inclination to ask questions, Will knew. Psychiatrists did that. But instead, the man just gave a tiny nod.

“Please, eat,” Hannibal said, gesturing at Will’s plate. As Will carefully loaded up a forkful of flaking fish, very aware of Hannibal’s eyes on him, he wondered if he was supposed to try to look sexy while eating. It would probably just look awkward, Will thought, and then Hannibal would see him for what he was: a twenty-year-old kid who was completely out of his depth and barely treading to keep his head above the water. But as Will took his first bite, Hannibal didn’t seem to notice that—or if he did, he did a very good job of hiding it. Reaching across the table and pulling a hidden envelope from behind the bouquet at the middle of the table, Hannibal said, “I believe I also owe you this.”

He slid the envelope across the table as Will chewed, gave an appreciative hum, swallowed, and finally said, a little awed, “That’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted.” He prioritized taking a second bite over taking the envelope, but when he did, he opened it and frowned. “Hannibal,” he murmured, glancing over at the older man, “this is too much. I only charge $300.”

“You have a brilliant mind, Will,” Hannibal said, smiling softly as he cut a bitesize piece of asparagus for himself. “I hate the thought that you might not continue your studies, especially if it would result in you leaving Baltimore. Please, it’s the least I can do for all the hard work you’ve done today.”

Will frowned, thumbing through the bills and counting out almost three times as much as he’d expected. Not quite enough to mean that he wouldn’t have to paint anything else for the rest of the summer, and certainly not enough to buy a car, but enough to be too much. Shaking his head, Will pulled out three hundred-dollar bills and left the rest in the envelope, pushing it back over the table at Hannibal and saying, “I’d rather earn it, thanks.”

A shimmer of consideration lingered in Hannibal’s eyes for a brief eternity before he nodded and said, “That’s very admirable, Will.”

They ate in relative silence for several minutes, with only the clinking of silverware and Will’s tiny, occasional moans of pleasure. He sipped his wine, eyeing the blue wall behind Hannibal, and finally said, “Do you think that wall needs a fresh coat?”

After Hannibal glanced over his shoulder, following Will’s gaze, he set his silverware down and dabbed at his lips with a stiff cloth napkin. “You think I should hire you to paint inside?” he asked, his voice perfectly blank. “After the mess you made of my grass? Not to mention yourself.”

Will flushed, staring steadfastly down at his plate and feeling a sudden embarrassment. He’d dared to turn down Hannibal’s generous payment and then ask to be hired again, when his first job apparently hadn’t been up to Hannibal’s standards? Had Hannibal been paying to get rid of him, and he hadn’t recognized it until now? Will stammered a little over his words, unable to meet Hannibal’s eyes over the table, but before he could say anything meaningful, Hannibal reached across the table to lay his hand over Will’s. When Will’s head jerked up, Hannibal’s eyes were much more tender, nearly worried, than Will could’ve ever expected.

“I’m joking, Will.”

As if he’d flipped a switch, Will perked up, his mouth opening and closing without words making their way out. He glared at Hannibal and then starting laughing, chagrined and thrown off balance like a poorly planted ladder. He freed his hand from under Hannibal’s, briefly regretting the loss of the touch, and he said, “I’ll have you know, old man, I like making messes.” Warmth flooded through him, and he winked as he added, “And I’m very good at cleaning up after myself!”

Something that looked like relief softened Hannibal’s lips, and they pulled up into a wry smirk. “Are you, now?”

“Absolutely,” Will insisted, grinning. “Especially if you have a tarp I can borrow.” He leaned back in his chair, cradling his glass of wine close to his chest except to use it to gesture to the envelope on the table as he said, “I’d love to earn that, if you’ll let me prove myself. And if you happen to have any other walls that need a fresh coat, I’ve got my eye on a new Starion.”

Hannibal laughed, saying, “I’m certain I have a tarp or two lying around, and they’re yours if you like.” He paused, staring so intently at him that Will thought he might melt, and after a moment said, “You can prove yourself once we’re done.”

“Done with what?” Will asked immediately, trying not to waver under the heat of Hannibal’s gaze. Nearly hotter than the sun, Will thought. He felt himself pinking as if sunburnt, and he bit his lip as Hannibal winked, pushed his chair away from the table, and stood, leaving his napkin neatly folded on the table beside his plate.

Will watched as the man rounded the table and came to stand just behind him. Hannibal rested his hands on Will’s shoulders, bending over to press a very gentle kiss at the hinge of Will’s jaw, sending a shiver through Will’s entire body. Hannibal’s voice was as spiced as their wine as he said, “Come with me, Will.” He took Will by the arm, which proved helpful, because as Will stood, his legs quivered a bit. When he gave Hannibal a curious look, the man only said, “There’s somewhere else that needs painting.”

***

As Hannibal led the way back to his bedroom, Will was acutely aware that he was about to cross a line with Hannibal that they could never retreat from. And yet, despite the uncertainty that hummed in his chest, he had no interest in turning back. His core clenched, arousal pooling between his hips, and Will tried not to think about the fact that, despite several instances of fooling around with frat guys, he was still a virgin in the way that mattered for most people. For the time being.

It excited him as much as it scared him.

Hannibal’s hand was warm around his, and as they crossed the threshold into the bedroom—in an audible pattern of wingtips clicking against the floor and Will’s bare feet padding across it—Hannibal turned to Will, reached up to cup his jaw, and said, his voice nothing more than a low murmur, “You’re stunning, Will. Never forget that.”

Will had read about swooning—both in literature and psychology textbooks—but had never come so close to experiencing it as he did then. Leaning into the warm touch at his cheek and resting his palms against Hannibal’s chest, Will swallowed heavily and said, “I’ve never done this.”

“That’s okay,” Hannibal said softly, brushing his thumb across Will’s cheek. “I’ll teach you.”

A low moan escaped Will’s lips before he could bite it back, and when Hannibal bent to kiss him, he couldn’t help but imagine they were hiding away in Hannibal’s office at Johns Hopkins, breaking all sorts of rules and not caring a bit about it.

Hannibal’s lips were warm, firm enough to guide Will through his nerves. He’d kissed plenty of people, even very attractive ones that made his chest tingle and his cock twitch like Hannibal did, but never had he kissed someone who was so clearly more experienced than him, so clearly more mature, so clearly more…everything. Hannibal was out of Will’s league in every way, but there he was, slowly teasing Will’s lips with his tongue. Will pressed up into the kiss, lazily wrapping an arm around Hannibal’s neck, and tried to relax into the kiss despite the anticipation buzzing through his entire body.

The hand at Will’s face dropped to rest against his hip, gently at first and then pulling him closer to Hannibal, until the warm press of their bodies distracted Will from the uncertainty that lurked in the back of his mind.

Pulling away to suck in a shuddering breath, Will stared at the lips that had just been on his and felt a hot blush spread across his cheeks. Then he looked up to Hannibal’s eyes and found the man studying him like a precious jewel or a favorite pet. Will couldn’t help his smile, half shy and half smug, which only earned him a soft hum and another kiss, this one even deeper than the first, all as Hannibal carefully guided them toward the bed that dominated the room.

“Oh!” Will murmured as the back of his legs hit the edge of the bed. He started to topple back, but the arms around him made his fall controlled and his landing pillow-soft. Hannibal followed after him, coming to hover over Will with a practiced ease without breaking their kiss. That was a new one in Will’s book. Everyone else he’d kissed like this had been just as awkward and false-confident as he was. But Hannibal made it seem effortless, and it sent a warm shiver down Will’s spine to know he was being taught by a true master.

He carded his fingers through Hannibal’s hair, arching up into the kiss as long as he could before his muscles began to complain. When he relaxed back against the bed, Hannibal pulled back and gave him an impossibly soft smile before murmuring, “We’ll go as slowly as you need.”

Will licked his lips and nodded silently, still running his fingers through the man’s soft hair, even as Hannibal slowly moved down the bed, dragging his hands over Will’s body as he went. His fingers slid up under the loose undershirt, carefully pulling the material up over Will’s head. Once Hannibal had set the shirt aside, he caressed down the length of Will’s chest again, skin to skin this time, and paused at his nipples to rub them each in tiny circles. A few flecks of terracotta paint splattered across his chest, where his overalls didn’t quite cover him, and Hannibal bent down to kiss at the painted freckles, and then the real ones that dappled Will’s shoulders and collarbones.

Sucking in a shallow gasp, Will pressed his chest up into the contact. No one had ever bothered to touch him there. He looked up at Hannibal, who held his gaze as he ran his palms down Will’s sides, over his ticklish flanks, and hooked his thumbs under the waistband of the athletic shorts he’d let Will wear. Not for long, Will thought with a pleasant thrill as he raised his hips to help slide the shorts off.

Then he was naked under Hannibal’s warmth, and Will felt his blush deepen. He reached out to tuck a stray strand of Hannibal’s hair back into its mussed style as he said, “You’re totally handsome. Don’t think I’ve told you yet.”

Hannibal’s laugh was just a series of huffing breaths that were warm over Will’s bare stomach, and he bent to press a kiss just beside Will’s navel. “No duh?” he asked, resting his chin on Will’s hip to smirk up at him.

“Oh my god!” Will yelped, laughing and wriggling away from the hands at his sides. “Don’t say that, you sound like such a dweeb!” But he couldn’t help his bright smile or the way his arousal swirled between his hips. He kept laughing as he replayed the endearing, embarrassing moment over and over in his head. It was so perfect for the man who wore those awful dad shoes, so sweet and counter to the man that was otherwise the picture of mature elegance.

But the laughing stopped, caught and strangled in his throat, when Hannibal swallowed him down. Then Will could only gasp out a surprised moan as his hands reflexively went to run through the man’s hair again, not guiding him but just following the motion.

Once he caught his breath, Will looked down his belly at the image that immediately seared itself into his memory. Hannibal’s lips wrapped around him, leaving a glossy sheen behind as he pulled back to swirl his tongue around the head of his cock. Hannibal repeated Will’s moan, and the vibrations were nearly enough to send Will over the edge right then, but he bit his lip hard to keep control a moment longer.

He didn’t last long. After a few more slow strokes, with Hannibal’s tongue cupping the underside of his shaft like they were made for each other and his cheeks hollowing out on the upstrokes, Hannibal slid one hand down between Will’s thighs and brushed a fingertip over Will’s entrance. As soon as added the slightest pressure, Will’s hips jerked up and he grabbed Hannibal's hair tight. His orgasm was a sort of shiver, a stuttering moan, and Will came down Hannibal’s throat before he could so much as warn the man it was coming.

“Oh my god, I’m sorry,” he muttered, blushing furiously, as Hannibal sat back on his heels and used the side of his wrist to wipe at his lips. Embarrassment flooded Will’s every nook and cranny, and he felt like a stupid little kid again. He covered his scrunched up face with both hands and let out a low, pained groan.

Gentle hands wrapped around his wrists and pulled his hands away from his face, and when Will managed to open his eyes, Hannibal was smiling down at him, his eyes bright. “It’s alright,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”

The reassurance did nothing for Will’s intense blush. “Can’t even last two minutes,” he grumbled. “I’m such a loser.”

“You’re not,” Hannibal said, brushing his thumb over the inside of Will’s wrist. “You’re young. It’s natural.” He bent to press a kiss to the corner of Will’s lips, not insistent in the least, although Will couldn’t help but return it despite his burning humiliation. When Hannibal pulled away, he released Will’s hands and said, “We can go back to dinner, if you like.”

The only thing more mortifying than coming as fast as he did was coming as fast as he did and not returning the favor, so Will shook his head and said, “No, let me make it up to you.”

“You don’t have to if you—”

“I want to.” The determination in Will’s voice surprised even himself, but the way Hannibal’s eyes dilated made it worth everything. He pulled Hannibal in for another kiss, and once their lips were slotted together, Will started blindly unbuttoning Hannibal’s shirt, starting at the collar and yanking it out from the waistband of his trousers the further down he got.

Using the lesson from earlier, Will brushed his fingers through Hannibal’s chest hair and over his nipples, which pebbled in response. The man moaned into his mouth, and that was exactly the sort of encouragement Will needed. He moved down to fiddle with the button of Hannibal’s trousers, and after a bit of inexperienced effort, he managed to slide the material down over Hannibal’s narrow hips. Hannibal sat back to shrug out of his shirt and kick off his trousers, making quick work of his underwear as well, and then they were equally bared to each other. Hannibal was hard, and Will was quickly becoming hard again himself. He suddenly felt a bit more confident.

He reached down to wrap his hand around Hannibal’s cock, feeling a flutter in his chest as he realized the man was larger than any of the frat boys he’d ever fooled around with. He paused in admiration long enough for Hannibal to frown slightly and ask, “Are you alright, Will?”

“Just thinking,” Will said, giving him a tiny smile. “Never made it to third base while sober.”

The frown deepened. “Third base?”

Will laughed—giggled, really—and shook his head, not wanting to explain it and ruin the moment. So he used his free hand to tug Hannibal down for yet another kiss while the hand around his cock started to work him in steady strokes. Will didn’t know how Hannibal liked it, but he knew how he liked it when he jerked himself off, so he did that, with little twists of his wrist on the downstroke.

Hannibal hummed into the kiss. “Where did you learn that?” The question was muffled against Will’s lips, as if Hannibal didn’t want to pull away long enough to ask properly.

Biting back a smug grin, Will returned the murmur. “Scientific experimentation.” He brushed his thumb over the head of Hannibal’s cock, circling around the slit there, which was his own most sensitive spot. The man’s hips thrust into his hand, a tiny twitch that was probably involuntary, and Will smiled against Hannibal’s lips as he said, trying not to feel so shy as he said, “I want you in me.”

Hannibal did pull away then, giving Will a warm, curious look that thrilled him.

“I’m sure,” Will said, preempting the question he could almost taste in the lingering phantoms of their kiss.

Nodding, Hannibal said, “Alright, I’ll be right back.”

As he started to move off Will, Will reached out to stop him. He sounded a bit desperate as he asked, “Where are you going?”

“We need a condom and lubricant, or I’ll hurt you.” He was so matter-of-fact about it that Will’s blush returned twice as hot when he let Hannibal go. The man rolled off the bed with an endless grace and disappeared into the master bathroom. Will took the moment alone to suck in a few deep breaths and try to calm himself. He was already painfully hard again, and he didn’t doubt for a moment that he’d come again. He just hoped he’d last a little longer this time.

When he heard a cabinet close in the bathroom, Will gathered all his courage, telling himself not to chicken out now. But he wasn’t sure he’d be able to last any longer if he had to watch Hannibal’s face as the man fucked him—the mere thought of it made Will’s cock twitch in anticipation—so Will rolled over onto his front, pressing his ass up into the air and burying his face into a pillow that smelled intensely of Hannibal.

He heard the shocked little intake of air from the bathroom door, and he was glad he didn’t have to see the way he imagined Hannibal’s face looked then as Will offered himself up to be taken.

A hand brushed up the length of his back as the edge of the bed sank and the warmth of Hannibal’s body settled behind him. Will rolled his back up into the touch and arched as the hand dragged down to his ass. A thumb dipped between his asscheeks, and as soon as it passed over his entrance, Will sucked in a shuddering breath and held it until his lungs burned and he felt a bit lightheaded.

“Relax,” Hannibal said, and Will consciously let out the breath, sinking into the bed and pushing his hips up into Hannibal’s hand. “That’s very good, Will. Keep breathing.”

Will did as he was told, slowly becoming more comfortable with the pressure at his entrance. He rolled his hips experimentally and was rewarded with a low, huffing laugh, a pleased sound that made Will a bit smug.

All of his smugness disappeared into a helpless gasp as Hannibal exchanged his thumb for a very cold, wet fingertip that he pressed into Will’s tight hole. Will instinctively clenched against the invasion, a breath caught in his throat. “Breathe,” Hannibal reminded him, using his free hand to massage Will’s lower back. “It’ll warm up soon. Try to relax or it’ll hurt more.”

Easy for him to say, Will thought as he measured his breaths and forced himself to relax every muscle of his body. As soon as he did, the finger in him sank deeper, and he immediately tightened up around it again before starting the whole conscious process again. But Hannibal was right, the coldness had gone, leaving behind only the hot burn of his body stretching around Hannibal’s finger. And then, after he’d gotten used to the first finger but before he could even say as much, Hannibal started to add a second, and Will thought he might split apart.

But as he kept breathing, carefully willing his body to accept the fingers pressing into him, Will felt the discomfort fade into something much more pleasant, and he let out a little moan that was muffled in Hannibal’s pillow. The fingers slowly began to scissor inside him, opening him up with a practiced, careful touch that was as gentle as the hand rubbing in circles at the small of his back.

Letting out a long breath, Will finally pressed up onto his hands enough to look over his shoulder at Hannibal, whose concentration made him look so deliciously professorial. He wasn’t even looking at Will’s face, instead focused on his entrance, and Will had to hum to get his attention before raising an eyebrow and saying, “You’re good at that.”

“You make it easy.” Hannibal’s smile was crooked, and Will suddenly felt like the most important thing on the entire planet. He pushed back against the fingers, taking them even deeper, and bit back a moan as Hannibal said, “Ready?”

Swallowing heavily, Will tried to crane his neck to see Hannibal’s cock, which bobbed just behind him, already covered by a slick condom. He nodded, offering Hannibal a hesitant smile that grew steadier as he reached down between his legs to give his own cock a firm stroke. “Any day now, old man.”

Hannibal shook his head, but the crows feet around his eyes couldn’t hide his smile. He pulled his fingers out of Will and carefully lined himself up at Will’s entrance. The blunt head of his cock felt enormous, much bigger than his fingers, and Will tried to focus on his breathing, tried to relax, tried to clear his mind of everything that wasn’t Hannibal. And then, in one long, slow push, Hannibal seated himself in Will, whose moan was a mere grumble deep in his throat, and bent over his back to press a kiss to the freckles on his shoulder.

It felt trite to Will to think that nothing had ever felt like that before, but it was true. Half discomfort at the strange intrusion, half intense pleasure at being filled, at being so close to Hannibal he could nearly feel his heartbeat. Maybe it was his own heartbeat, Will realized with such a thrill that he couldn’t help but throw his head back to search for Hannibal’s lips.

The kiss came and was broken a breath later as Hannibal pulled his hips back. He thrust back in before Will could complain, sharp enough that it ripped the air from his lungs along with a keening cry.

An arm wrapped around his waist and covered Will’s hand at his own cock, slowly guiding his strokes in time with the thrusts of Hannibal’s hips. After a moment, Will let Hannibal take over, bracing himself against the bed with both hands before he could collapse into a puddle of sensation. The warmth of Hannibal’s breath at his back was like nothing Will had ever experienced, sending heat down through every inch of him and urging him on.

He pressed his hips back to meet the next thrust, and the slap of skin against skin seemed to echo through the room, followed by something that neared a growl. Will responded with a wanton moan and a few desperate pleas of, “God yes, more!” Rolling his hips against Hannibal’s the next time the man was buried inside him, he let out a breathless, “Harder!” The grip on Will’s cock tightened, losing its rhythm momentarily.

Will tried to give as good as he got, clenching around Hannibal on the upstrokes and ramming back into him on the downstrokes. On one thrust, he arched his back just so, and the head of Hannibal’s cock brushed something inside him that wrought a desperate scream of pure pleasure from his lips. The next time he hit that same spot, Hannibal caught his moan in a bruising kiss that forced Will to twist his neck until it ached.

“So good,” Hannibal murmured, masked in a low moan, as Will ground back into his hips, and it was enough to send Will into a sort of lightheaded, hot frenzy. He fucked into the hand around his cock, simultaneously fucking himself on Hannibal’s cock, until his moans faltered and he came in a violent spurt all over the bed’s luxurious sheets and the fingers wrapped around him. It took a few more jarred, arrhythmic thrusts before his body got the memo, and in that time, as he pulsed uncontrollably around Hannibal, a heavy warmth laid over his back and the huff of breath from Hannibal’s grunt hit the shell of his ear.

He’d half expected it to feel weird afterward, with the heat of Hannibal’s cock and climax inside him or with the sweat sticking them together or with the ache in every muscle from the unfamiliar exertion, but Will was drifting off on a pleasant cloud, content in a way he never had been.

They laid there for what could have been an eternity, but was probably no more than a few minutes, just long enough to catch their breath and ride out the last waves of their orgasms.

When Hannibal finally pulled out and rolled off him, Will found himself laughing quietly. He pushed up onto his elbows to watch as Hannibal pinched off the filled condom and tied a neat knot in the latex. “You’re one hell of a teacher, old man,” he said, unable to help his infectious, nearly smug grin.

“Well,” Hannibal said with a raised brow as he stood and wandered back toward the bathroom, “you’ve just earned an A-plus.”

Laughing even harder, mostly to keep himself from falling asleep in his exhausted bliss, Will rolled over onto his back. The aches followed him, deep enough he was certain he’d be feeling it the next day, and when Hannibal returned, holding a damp hand towel and looking nothing short of delectable, Will licked his lips and said, “If only every exam asked me to come so hard I forget my name. Even twice!”

Hannibal laughed at that, kneeling over Will to drag the towel down his body to wipe away the mess. “Ah, yes,” he said with a wink and a kiss to Will’s stomach, “the benefits of being young.” A hand slipped under Will’s thigh, pulling it up long enough for Hannibal to gently clean around his entrance, where lube still made him feel deliciously slick and wet. When Hannibal was done, he folded the towel and set it aside, saying with a bit of a smirk, “I had intended to show you the ceiling, but you were rather intent on the pillow, weren’t you?”

Will’s blush was back instantly, and he bit his lip as he looked up at the ceiling, which was painted a beautiful, dusky blue. It looked fresh enough, and since it was interior, it likely could’ve gone another few years before needing a touch up, but that wasn’t going to stop Will for a moment. “I think Bev can probably find a match,” he offered. He found some of his earlier confidence again, and it pulled into a suggestive grin. “But maybe I ought to take a closer look.”

“Perhaps after we finish our dinner,” Hannibal said, pressing a chaste kiss to the corner of Will’s lips. “Old men like me need a bit of time.”

“How old are you, anyway?” Will asked suddenly.

A doubtful look crossed Hannibal’s eyes as he said, “Thirty-seven. Is that an issue?”

Shaking his head, Will said, “Not for me. Does it bother you I’m only twenty?”

Hannibal kissed him instead of responding in words, and Will didn’t hesitate to arch up into the man, running his fingers through the thick chest hair that was already starting to turn him on again. Before he could let himself get too hard again, Will relaxed back down onto the bed, pulling out of the kiss to say, “Dinner?”

“Of course. I hope it hasn’t gone completely cold.”

***

Their dinner had, of course, gone completely cold. It was a testament to Hannibal’s skill as a chef, Will decided, that it tasted delicious anyway as he took a cautious nibble of an asparagus spear. He was naked still, they both were, and it made their meal a bit more thrilling, if not warm.

“I mean it,” Will said as he pushed a lemon slice across his plate, not exactly planning to eat it but loving the slimy little trail it left behind, “you should be a professor. You’d be awesome. I’d take your class.”

Hannibal shook his head fondly as he sipped his wine. “Scandalous.” His voice was flat but droll, and something about the way his eyes seemed to twinkle in the low light of the dining room made Will’s stomach flutter.

“Kick-ass, I think you mean.”

Humming, Hannibal said, “I could think of other things I’d rather do to your ass.”

No matter how much the older man returned his flirtatious banter, Will couldn’t quite get used to hearing that sort of thing in Hannibal’s accent. He blushed and stared down at his plate, trying not to feel so awkward and young. So virginal, he thought with a wry little snort. Not anymore. He couldn’t help but imagine what Bev would say once he told her. She’d probably scream, then wait a week before giving him a new mixtape full of things like “Need You Tonight” and “Sledgehammer” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and all the other ridiculous songs she could think of. Then she’d cackle at his blush and demand all the dirty details. He’d give in to the gossip eventually, he knew. Maybe he’d be over his own embarrassment by then.

“I prepared dessert, if you aren’t stuffed yet,” Hannibal said, and Will was impossibly thankful for not having to respond to the last comment, although this one wasn’t much less suggestive.

He laughed quietly, cutting his last spear of asparagus into half a dozen little pieces, not very hungry for vegetables anymore. Not very hungry at all, really, with that low, syrupy bliss still curling in his stomach. It was sweet enough to outweigh the nerves, mostly. At least, it was when he turned off his more intellectual brain. Nothing like a case study in cognitive dissonance, he thought with a grin before saying, “I’ve already had my dessert, haven’t I?”

Hannibal studied him, looking halfway curious and halfway indecent, like he was imagining Will’s body covered in sweet creams and fruits. It suited the older man, Will thought. Made him look a bit lecherous. Not enough to be a creepy dinosaur cruising outside the bars on campus, but enough for Will. He returned Hannibal’s crooked half-smile and leaned back in his chair to display his chest and stomach over the table.

“I’m not your mother,” Hannibal finally said, eyes burning into Will’s with a sort of amusement that made him seem young and mischievous. “I won’t say you can’t have dessert twice.” His gaze danced down Will’s body, so hot he could almost feel it ghosting across one nipple and down to his navel. “What troublemaker needs permission to make trouble?”

Humming to mask the moan that threatened in the back of his throat, Will cocked his head to the side and returned that heady stare with as much intensity as he could manage. “Does that mean I get to call you Daddy?”

It was apparently not what Hannibal was expecting to hear, because the shock across his face was stark, openmouthed, unmistakable. And nothing short of delicious. Will reveled in the way he’d unsettled Hannibal, even as the older man pulled himself together. No matter how tightly he clenched that sharp jaw, no matter how much he squeezed his shoulders back and took steady breaths that made his chest rise and fall, light catching in the carefully groomed brush of hair there, Will could still see the way Hannibal’s eyes went dark, dilated against any voluntary decision.

Clearing his throat, Hannibal tried valiantly to sound casual as he said, “Chocolate mousse and strawberries, then?”

“Sounds yummy.” With great delight, Will watched as Hannibal gave a short nod and stood from his chair, reaching across the table to collect their dinner plates. The older man’s cock was getting hard again. Not quite hard enough to do anything meaningful, but a swollen chub like the kind frat boys got when they got drunk and started grinding on hot girls—or, on occasion, when they were very drunk, grinding on Will. The frat boys didn’t do it for him anymore. Not the way Hannibal’s naked body and half-hard cock did.

“Just a minute, then.”

Taking a risk as Hannibal turned to return to the kitchen, Will stared at his muscular back and said, with a teasing edge, “Thanks, Daddy.”

Everything about the way the muscles of Hannibal’s body from shoulder to ass to calves tensed up, the way his steps faltered, the way he glanced over his shoulder just as he crossed the threshold and disappeared into the kitchen—everything about it made Will shiver. He was getting hard again, too.

He relaxed into a slump in his chair, taking a few deep breaths to calm his racing heart. Almost involuntarily, Will’s hand found his cock, and he started stroking himself in lazy drags, closing his eyes and imagining all the ways he could bring that beautiful, stunned look back to Hannibal’s face. It came up on him all at once, not half as intense as his earlier two orgasms, but enough to make the muscles in his abdomen ripple under his skin. When was the last time he’d come three times in less than as many hours? Never, Will thought, or at least never that he could remember. And he would remember something like that, the same was he was sure he’d remember this.

His own hot come painted his chest, and Will felt flushed with a strange sort of non-embarrassment. Like he should be embarrassed, but he wasn’t. Shameless, maybe.

Using his napkin to wipe himself down, Will glanced up to the doorway to find Hannibal there, staring at him and holding two small glasses of a rich-looking chocolate confection, each topped with a careful arrangement of sliced strawberries. When the man spoke, his voice was heavily accented and dark. “Couldn’t wait?”

“Sorry,” Will murmured, not feeling sorry at all and just barely keeping himself from tacking on a brattish Daddy. He bit his lip and let his eyes rake over that body that was quickly becoming familiar to him as Hannibal stepped up to the table and served their desserts. His erection was larger now, and Will wondered how much Hannibal had seen. If he liked the show. Clearly he had, at least in the most animal way, but Will wanted more. Wanted the man to crave him, wanted the man to ask for more, wanted the man to risk everything for him.

More than ever, Will wished Hannibal was a professor at Johns Hopkins.

As if he could read Will’s mind—and maybe he could, Will thought with a thrill—Hannibal said, “If this were a classroom, I’d suspect you of cheating.” It wasn’t an accusation, although the tone of his voice was counter to the playfulness that Will knew hid under the comment.

What a fun game, he thought as he took his small dessert spoon and scooped up a heaping bite of mousse. He licked the spoon slowly, eyes locked on Hannibal’s, nothing short of a taunt or an invitation. When he swallowed it down, Will licked his lips and said, “You jealous, old man?” As soon as he said it, he wished he’d said Daddy or Professor or Hannibal, because the glint in the man’s eyes then wasn’t as sweet as Will wanted. It was harder, more serious, and all the shame came back at once, making Will feel like a kid again. He tore his stare away, focusing on the chocolate and strawberries and how fantastically delicious it was, even a bit bitter, a bit tart.

“I meant it, about the ceiling,” Hannibal said after a long moment. Will was already halfway through his dessert, starting to feel a bit sick, but the new, safe topic was better than the tense silence. “You’re welcome to do the dining room, too, if you like.” When Will glanced up through his eyelashes, Hannibal gestured to the wall behind himself.

Nodding, Will swallowed down the last strawberry. “Awesome, thanks. I’d like to.” To see Hannibal again, of course, and for the money, of course, but also for some other reason Will couldn’t quite verbalize. It felt like a risk, and a shiver ran through him.

“If you’re cold, you can use the shower,” Hannibal offered, giving Will a soft smile. “Might do well to clean you up properly anyway. You’ve still got some paint—” He gestured at the terracotta freckles that were starting to flake away from Will’s chest, shoulders, and arms.

Will couldn’t help his laugh, and as soon as it came out, he felt better. Like vomiting after a crazy party, it helped his stomach sit better. “No shit, Sherlock,” he said with a grin. “And it’s not just paint…”

How strange it felt then, to have all the tension dissolve into nothing with barely a few words between them. It was so easy, so natural, and unlike any relationship Will’d ever had, except maybe for Bev. They almost never fought, but when they did, all it took was one little joke, one crack or one well-timed song on the radio, and then all was well again. No white flags necessary, no apologies, no awkward posturing. Just the implicit understanding that everything’s copacetic.

Hannibal raised a brow and hummed curiously. “Then I believe a shower is in order.”

Batting his eyelashes and feeling like every bit of the confident, coquettish hussy he’d always loved in the movies, or maybe a bit like Dorothy in Blue Velvet, Will ran a hand down his bare chest and stomach and said, “If only there were someone to help wash my back.”

Hannibal’s sharp laugh warmed Will from the inside, and all the pretense fell away until it was just the two of them, naked across the table from one another. Will stood first and Hannibal followed, coming around to settle a hand at the small of Will’s back as he pressed a kiss on his shoulder. “Come on, then, before we get even filthier.”

It almost sounded like a suggestion, and one Will was more than happy to oblige.

***

Will’s second venture into Hannibal’s master bathroom immediately brought back the image that distracted him the last time: sitting in the large soaking tub with Hannibal behind him. Except now Will could feel the warmth of a chest and stomach against his back—the same heavy heat that blanketed him in the bed he just passed with little more than a knowing, bitten-lip glance at the doctor beside him.

It was some slight disappointment, then, even though he knew what they were coming for, that Hannibal went instead for the large shower, stepping in past the floor-to-ceiling glass panel to turn on the water.

The room began to steam up almost immediately, obscuring the strongly veined green marble tiles of the shower behind a translucent veil that smelled of the same woody cologne as the undershirt Will borrowed. It could have been smoke from a terrible fire and Will would have still sucked it in like he did now, in drags so deep he almost choked. Bev choked on her cigarettes sometimes, and it was with an easy sort of acceptance that Will realized this was shaping up to be its own sort of addiction. The scent, yes, but mostly Hannibal.

Hands brushed across his back, warm and wet and firm, and then Hannibal was behind him, massaging out the knots in Will’s shoulders as steam curled around them, hot enough to cook them alive if they weren’t careful.

“You’re quiet. What are you thinking, Will?” Hannibal murmured in Will’s ear, his voice soft and his breath—somehow even warmer than the steam—sending shivers down Will’s spine.

Will gave a soft hum, letting his head fall back so he could look up at Hannibal’s face with a twinkle of mischief. “Just that my professors would find a fantastic case study in me.” He didn’t elaborate but instead pushed up to press his lips against Hannibal’s jaw, delighting in the slight scrape of fresh stubble that would be scraped off again in the morning. A bit of a shame, really.

The glower that crossed over Hannibal’s features looked forced and devoid of any real disapproval, and Will couldn’t help but steal another kiss before pulling away from Hannibal and daring to wander into the shower. He sucked in a breath between clenched teeth as the scalding water hit his skin and groaned as the pain faded to a deliciously hot pleasure. Like other things, Will thought with a grin that was lost in the steam.

“You’d better impress your professors, then, or they’ll think you a lost cause,” Hannibal said as he followed Will in, immediately wrapping his arms around Will’s waist. “Perhaps it’s time for a pop quiz?” Before Will could respond or do anything but push closer to the older man, Hannibal said, “First stage of Freud’s psychosexual development?”

Will glared at him, scrunching up his nose and huffing. But it was an easy enough question—he had taken an intro to psych class already—so he gave into the quiz he didn’t ask for and said, “Oral.”

His reward was a kiss that ended up with their heads under the shower head, hot water filling their mouths whenever they pulled away long enough to breathe. Will opened his eyes and blinked against the stream of water coming over his eyebrows and through his eyelashes only to find Hannibal staring at him already. A strand of wheaten hair fell across the doctor’s face and was immediately plastered there by the water, making the man look like something of a drenched Cabbage Patch doll. A giggle bubbled up in Will’s throat, and then it was full-blown laughter, so contagious that it took them several minutes to contain themselves.

Will rested his forehead on Hannibal’s shoulder, and once he’d managed to catch his breath, he pulled away, grinning a bit devilishly, and said, “What about a pop quiz for you, old man?”

“I’m not even forty.”

“So of course you’ll know the answer to this.” Will winked and grabbed a bottle of shampoo from ledge recessed into the wall. As he squeezed a small lake into his cupped hand, he said, “Who played the Joker in the Batman movie that just came out?”

“Jack Nicholson.” Hannibal stole some of the shampoo out of Will’s hand for himself. “Perhaps we ought to get a little more advanced?”

“Hit me with your best shot,” Will said with a smirk.

“Are you old enough to remember that song?” Hannibal raised a teasing eyebrow. Will rolled his eyes just as Hannibal said, “Define positive reinforcement.”

“It’s this.” When Hannibal gave him a flat look, Will pouted and said, “Okay, fine. It’s using a reward to encourage desirable behavior.” Hannibal hummed and ran his fingers through Will’s curls, massaging his scalp in small, firm circles. A shiver ran through Will despite the heat of the shower, and he let out a tiny moan as he pressed into the touch. It struck him then that no one had ever washed his hair for him that he could remember. It was a decidedly intimate moment, and yet it felt natural to him.

Will’s eyes fluttered closed, and then there were lips on his. Gentle and sweet still with the last traces of chocolate mousse. Resting his hands on the man’s chest, Will found himself running his fingers through the hair there, lathering it up with the leftover shampoo. He pushed Hannibal away long enough to ask his next question. “Drummer for Poison?”

“Not a clue. Is he attractive?”

“He’s got a lot of hair...but it’s not like there’s any competition here.” Will bit his lip as he stared up into Hannibal’s dark eyes, looking for a flicker of amusement and instead finding something much softer. Fonder. Swallowing heavily, Will felt like he was in over his head again, like the water might start rising and drown him.

Shaking his head and thankfully releasing the disembodied pressure that seemed to clamp down around Will’s throat like a stranglehold, Hannibal said, “How does obedience differ from conformity?”

“Uh, hold on, I know this.” But before Will could say anything else, Hannibal pushed him back, pinning him against the veined green tiles of the shower. It was wickedly cold despite the steam around them, and it yanked the breath from Will’s lungs, leaving him panting as Hannibal kissed him again, harder this time than before. The man’s tongue slipped between Will’s lips, and his hands settled at Will’s hips, pressing him against the wall hard enough to bruise.

Breaking the kiss just long enough to nuzzle his nose into the soft spot under Will’s ear, Hannibal said, “Think quickly, Will.” His voice, nothing but a low murmur, sparked something deep in Will’s core, an arousal that simultaneously flared up into his chest and down between his hips.

A shuddering breath was all Will could manage as he stared out through the spray of water from the shower head over Hannibal’s shoulder. The rest of the world—all of reality as he knew it—ceased to exist beyond the steam. All there was left besides the two of them was a green marble shower that smelled like oak moss and cedarwood and the wet heat that Will didn’t think he could ever bring himself to leave.

He nearly forgot the question he was meant to be answering until Hannibal nipped at his ear and reminded him. “Time’s nearly up, Mr. Graham. A failure to answer constitutes an automatic failure in my class.”

“Obedience requires an authority figure,” Will managed to say, pulling the detail out of the deep recesses of his brain, back where he hid all the other information from his first psych class at Johns Hopkins. Hannibal’s hum that followed seemed to prod for more, and Will stifled a groan—half aroused, half annoyed—before elaborating. Only a bit. Just enough. “You obey a demand, not a request.”

“Do you?”

A spark of amusement flashed across Hannibal’s, and Will rolled his eyes. “I win. Sucks to be you, doesn’t it, Dr. Dexter?” Dragging his hands up from Hannibal’s chest to the man’s face, Will cocked his head to the side and raised an eyebrow in a playful tease.

“I’ll give you the battle but not—”

“Are you going to kiss me again or not?” Will bit his lip as soon as he said it, a bit scared still by his own boldness. But it was a winning gambit, because then Hannibal was kissing him again, and Will couldn’t help but melt into it. He’d never kissed anyone like this, as much as this, as deeply as this. And he didn’t want to stop anytime soon.

So it was somewhat disappointing when Hannibal pulled away only a few moments later to reach for a bar of soap and a loofah. Will pouted, snatching the loofah away from Hannibal and lathering it up himself. The look that earned him was dark but without any real heat, and Will laughed as he raised one arm to scrub away whatever dried on sweat and paint still remained.

“Like I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” Hannibal said, reclaiming the loofah and turning Will around so he could wash across his back, taking special care to leave nothing but soft skin and a dapping of freckles behind, “I’ll give you the battle but not the war.” When he bent to press a kiss to Will’s shoulder, Will couldn’t help but suck in a little gasp and reach out to brace himself against the tiles to let his head hang between his shoulders.

“If that makes you feel better about losing.”

Hannibal’s laugh, deep and quiet, and his fingers tracing down his spine sent a shiver through Will’s body. He glanced over his shoulder to find Hannibal smiling at him with that same too-fond look in his eyes. Except this time, for some reason Will couldn’t quite pinpoint, there was no uncomfortable urge to look away, even as Hannibal said, “Perhaps you’d like a tutor? For the psychology parts, of course, although I imagine I could use a tutor for the pop culture myself.”

Will couldn’t mask his surprise on his face or in his voice as he said, “A tutor?” He felt a bit stupid then, just repeating what Hannibal had said, so he swallowed a gulp of hot water before saying, “Those are usually expensive, aren’t they? And not to mention, I’m already pretty busy.”

“Well, you’ll have to stop painting for strangers. It’ll cut into your study time.”

Shaking his head, Will snorted and crossed his arms over his chest, shivering as the hot water finally began to run cold. “Didn’t you hear what I just said? I already can’t afford school, I can’t afford a car, and I definitely can’t afford to stop working.”

Hannibal reached past him to turn the water off, and as soon as he did, the chill set in and the steam began to fade.“You don’t need to worry about it, Will. About school or anything. I’ll even buy you whatever car you like when you get an A in all your classes. Until then, I’m happy to drive you.”

“No,” Will said, a frown starting to bloom across his face. “I already told you, I’m not interested in your charity. I’d rather earn it.”

“Then earn it.” There was a challenge in Hannibal’s voice, and Will followed the man’s eyes as they flicked down between them, down to where the doctor’s cock was starting to stir again despite the cold. “Now will you stay the night or should I find something for you to wear?”

Gritting his teeth and glaring at Hannibal for what felt like a brief eternity, Will said, “I’m not your whore.”

“I haven’t said you are, Will.” The soft understanding in Hannibal’s eyes was irritating in a way Will couldn’t quite name. The closest he could get, as his mind argued with the arousal pooling in his body, was to call it paternalistic. Fatherly. Demanding obedience. And yet, no matter how it rankled against Will’s gut instinct, he couldn’t find it in himself to detest it completely. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more comforting the weight of the demands felt. Hannibal kept going: “All I’d like is to help relieve your stress however I can, and that happens to be financial in nature. It’s certainly not with the intention to commodify your company, Will. You are worth more than money.”

Will felt tired suddenly, as if considering the deal—weighing its benefits and consequences the way any good economics student would, even though he had been otherwise hopeless in his one intro to micro class—was draining the energy out of him as quickly as the steam of the shower had dissolved into perfect clarity.

Swallowing heavily, Will put the true issue aside for the night and said, “I’ll stay.” Hannibal’s lips pulled into a small smile, and Will forced himself to smile back before reaching out to drag his hands down Hannibal’s sides and hips as he went to his knees in front of the man.

When Hannibal turned the tap back on, it was scalding hot again. For a few moments,  between the cock in his mouth, the hands pulling at his hair, and the water coursing down his face, Will couldn’t breathe.

***

The last time Will woke up in a bedroom that wasn’t his or Bev’s was about six months ago, the morning (afternoon, really) after a particularly wild party at a frat house on campus. That time, he’d woken up staring at the naked chest of a girl with puke dried on her chin, and he’d woken up with a terrible ache in his back, regretting everything that had led him up to that moment.

This time, there was no naked girl, no stench of stale vomit, and no regrets. There was an ache, however, although a bit lower than the last time, concentrated in his lower back and ass. A good ache, though. The sort of ache that instantly ripped him from his hazy half-sleep.

Rolling over, Will expected to run into another body behind him, the way he remembered falling asleep, with Hannibal’s chin tucked over his shoulder and an arm around his waist. He was alone, though the doctor’s scent still lingered on the pillows. New sheets, just before they’d fallen asleep, and already so comfortably worn in that Will never wanted to get up. He buried his face in Hannibal’s pillow and breathed in deeply, knowing that he was getting too invested too quickly and not caring just yet. Maybe after a coffee.

As soon as he sprawled across the bed, content just to lay there for another five minutes or an hour, Will suddenly caught a whiff of bacon so good that laziness no longer seemed quite as promising.

He rolled out of bed and didn’t even look for any clothes before wandering through the house to the kitchen—half by memory and half by the intoxicating scent of breakfast—where Hannibal stood at the stove with his back to Will. And what a lovely back, Will thought as he lingered for a moment in the doorway to admire the way Hannibal’s immaculately pressed shirt pulled over his muscled shoulders.

“Did you sleep well?” Hannibal asked without any other indication that he’d noticed Will’s appearance.

Will’s laugh was breathy and low, and as he came up behind Hannibal, he reached out to brush his fingertips across that back in a too-gentle parody of a massage. Pressing his lips to Hannibal’s nape, just behind his ear, Will whispered, “Like a baby.” He almost thought he could feel a shiver through Hannibal’s body. “What about you, old man?”

After taking a pan off the stove and setting it aside, Hannibal turned to wrap his arms loosely around Will’s waist. “It’s been a while since I had someone fit so well next to me.”

A warm blush rose up Will’s neck, and he swallowed heavily before saying, “For real?”

“Yes,” the doctor said simply, the intensity in his eyes almost too much for Will to take so early in the morning. “And I hope it’s something I can get used to.” There was a moment of silence, in which Will was trying desperately to find some clever quip that would lighten the implication of what Hannibal said. But he couldn’t find anything that didn’t sound completely dumb, and in the end it didn’t matter because Hannibal broke the silence first as he said, “Now that you’ve slept on it, perhaps you’ve reconsidered my offer.”

In reality, he hadn’t thought much about it, because whenever he thought about it, he still felt a little sick. It was still that way now as Will’s stomach dropped and he suddenly wasn’t very hungry anymore, even as his mouth still watered from the smell of the bacon. A tight frown pulled at his mouth, and he had to look away to say, “I’m not going to be your whore, Hannibal. And I don’t want to feel like I’m taking advantage of you or your generosity.”

“You wouldn’t be. On either count.”

Will still wasn’t convinced, and he pulled himself out of Hannibal’s arms only to wrap his own arms around himself, feeling too naked now. Something about power and control, he knew one of his old professors would’ve said. Coercion, obedience. It was a very fine line to cross, Will knew, before it would be abuse. If there was anything he’d learned so far, it was that everything helpful was so very close to being harmful. It didn’t take much for the scales to tip.

“My support, financial or otherwise,” Hannibal said, his voice softer now, “is in no way tied to our physical relationship. I’ll pay you for painting, I’ll pay you for good grades, I’ll pay you for whatever work you may do for me, and I will do so at a rate we can both agree to, but I will not pay you for sex.”

Finally managing to meet Hannibal’s eyes again, Will sighed and said, “Can we eat before I have to make any potentially life-altering decisions?”

Hannibal laughed, reaching out to cup Will’s jaw in one hand. “Yes, of course,” he said before pressing a gentle kiss to the corner of Will’s mouth. “Go set the table.” And then he turned back to the stove, and some of the tension seemed to melt away in an instant. Will took the tiny reprieve to do as he was told, taking the small stack of chin and silverware off the counter nearby and carrying it into the dining room.

Less than ten minutes later, Hannibal brought a steaming dish to the table, announcing it as, “Ham quiche with gruyere and spinach,” which was a very simple description of something that looked like an impossibly delicate dish that Will couldn’t ever hope to recreate even if he had all the ingredients.

Next came a small plate of perfectly crisp bacon and a bowl of fruit salad that looked nothing like what the dining hall on campus called fruit salad. Hannibal’s version was bright in color and didn’t look like it’d been sitting in syrup for the last five years. And then there came a pot of coffee that smelled so beautifully strong that it raised the hairs at the back of Will’s neck.

“Thanks for cooking,” Will said as Hannibal served the quiche. “Looks amazing.”

As Hannibal took his seat and gestured for Will to take the first bite, he said, “There’s nothing more fulfilling than feeding those we care about.”

That struck Will a little strange, and he couldn’t help but frown as he stabbed a fresh strawberry and ate it. Once he swallowed, he cocked his head slightly to the side. “You’ve known me all of three days. How can you care about me?” He paused for a moment to bite his lip before saying, “We barely know each other, Hannibal. How can I agree to something like this if I don’t know anything about you except how well you fuck and how well you cook and how much money you want to throw at me?”

“I admire your caution, Will,” Hannibal said after a piece of quiche. “But frankly, where is there for us to start except at the beginning?”

Will stared at the man for a moment, trying to read behind those dark eyes, trying to think of anything except the phantom memories of those hands across his body. “Exactly. But being a kept man—with whatever that entails—is hardly the beginning.” He took a sip of his coffee, delighting in the heat as it ran down his throat and settled deep in his belly, well beyond what his anatomy allowed.

“Then were ought we pick up?”

“Why do I have to be the one to make a suggestion?”

A small smile pulled at Hannibal’s lips, like he was secretly pleased with Will’s reluctance, with Will’s nerve. “Very well,” he said after popping a blackberry into his mouth. “I’ll write up the terms, which you may modify as you like until we can come to an agreement. If a contract removes some of the risk for you, then a contract we will have.”

“Don’t call it a contract. That makes it feel like business.” Which, of course, Will realized, was what this whole arrangement was shaping up to be. A business transaction, where one party pays the other for trivial accomplishments. And where the parties have sex on the side. He slouched back in his seat, feeling like a strange sort of hypocrite. After a moment, he sighed and said, “We start with a trial period. This semester. After finals are over, we’ll do this again and decide if it’s working, or if...”

In the silence, during which Will couldn’t bring himself to say anything about a potential relationship—less business and more emotion—Hannibal nodded. “I’ll be sure to include an expiration date in the draft. Is there anything else?”

Will shook his head. “Not yet.”

Smiling more brightly now, Hannibal said, “I’ll send it to you by certified mail within the week. Until then, how about we get to know each other better? Who’s your favorite band?”

“That’s impossible!” Will pouted playfully as he sipped his coffee. “But probably a tie between Poison and Def Leppard. Still can’t believe you don’t know about Rikki Rockett, you clueless old man.”

“Who?”

***

How many pages?” Bev asked, her jaw halfway to the counter at the Sherwin-Williams. She had two gallons of blue in front of her, as close as she could manage to match the clapboards in Hannibal’s dining room.

“Eleven.”

Bev’s scoff turned into an incredulous laugh. It was a good thing, Will thought then, that they were alone and not bothering any little old ladies looking for the perfect ivory. “Holy fuck, homeboy.” She shook her head as she wiped her hands on her paint-stained apron. Then she reached out for the stack of legal papers in Will’s hands. When he handed them over to her, she flipped through them and her eyes grew wider with each page. “Christ, Will, this guy’s hardcore. You read this shit? Twenty hours of tutoring a week, tuition paid, partial rent or option to move in...”

Nodding, Will reached up to run a hand through his curls and ended up scratching the back of his neck, feeling more awkward than he thought he would have when he first got the envelope in the mail that morning. “I know,” he said after a moment, “it’s a lot, for sure.”

“You down with it?”

Will shrugged. “Don’t know. Still not sure how I feel about, uh,” he paused long enough to feel even more uncomfortable before he finally spit it out, “basically being his whore.”

Immediately Bev looked up at him, her expression somewhere between confused and exasperated. “What do you mean, whore?” she asked, cocking her head to the side as she put the draft down. “Will, this is the opportunity of a lifetime! You’ve got a wannabe sugar daddy begging to throw cash at you and you don’t know? Have you lost it?”

“That’s my point, Bev!”

She rolled her eyes harder than Will thought he’d ever seen her roll her eyes before, and as she came around the counter, he was halfway concerned she was about to flick him in the forehead like he was an idiot. Maybe he was. But instead, she just grabbed both of his shoulders and gave him a sharp shake.

“Alright, how about this,” she said. “Would you fuck him for free?”

Will blushed fiercely, and his voice was a little hoarse as he said, “I mean, that’s what I’ve been doing.”

“Then you’re not a whore!”

How strange it was to hear the same logic he’d been telling himself for the past almost week coming from his best friend’s lips. Even stranger that it suddenly felt more convincing than any time he’d said it to himself. Something about external validation and other things he’d probably need a tutor to remember.

Sighing and feeling most of the awkwardness dissolve into a strange sort of anticipation, Will offered Bev a little smile as he said, “Worst case, it’s only a semester, right? And there’s an exit clause just in case.” That wasn’t to say all of his reservations were suddenly resolved. Quite the opposite, in fact, but now he was pretty sure he’d feel more stupid if he didn’t give it a chance than if he did and it failed miserably.

“And a fucking car as a reward for an A! Jesus, why can’t I find guys like this?”

Will laughed, pulling Bev into a tight hug and not even caring if the wet paint on her apron got on his shirt. “Thanks, Bev,” he murmured, barely more than a whisper.

When she pulled away, she slapped him on the ass and gave him an exaggerated wink. Gesturing to the two gallons of paint on the counter, she said, “You owe me twenty-five bucks, Mr. Sugar Baby. Lord knows you can afford it now.”

“Well, not yet! I haven’t signed anything yet.”

Bev grabbed his wrist and skipped back to the counter, where she’d left the papers and the paint. Digging a pen out of a cluttered drawer, she said, “What are you waiting for?” She shoved the pen into his chest and shuffled through the papers until she found the last one, with two lines set beneath the last of the terms. Hannibal’s name was typed beneath one line and Will’s was under the other, and there was nothing to do except sign his life away. Sign his semester away. Something like that. For some reason it felt more monumental than it really should have.

And yet, despite the lingering anxiety, Will’s hand didn’t shake as he scrawled his signature across the line.

***

Will could hear Def Leppard loud and clear, even though he had his headset slung around his neck. He rounded the corner onto Hannibal’s street just as the second chorus hit. Humming along and occasionally popping in to sing, Will made it up to the blonde brick house as he sang, “I’m hot, I’m sticky sweet—”

“Is that so?”

Will jumped as Hannibal appeared from behind a bush, wearing those same awful white sneakers, which were now somehow even more grass-stained and grody. There was a thin sheen of sweat across his brow, and his dark eyes looked like honey where they caught the sunlight.

Trying to calm his beating heart, Will said, just loud enough over the music, “How am I supposed to finish school if you give me a heart attack now?”

Hannibal laughed and set aside a pair of gardening shears to wipe his hands on a rag he pulled from his pocket. When he got close enough, Will set down the two gallons of paint he was carrying and, after a quick glance around the street to make sure they were alone, pressed a quick kiss to the corner of Hannibal’s mouth before taking an exaggerated sniff and saying, “Someone needs a shower.” He offered a teasing wink and a crooked grin. “And maybe someone to get your back.”

“Good afternoon, Will,” Hannibal said, running his hands down Will’s bare arms and looking him up and down. The white cut-off overalls were back and dirtier than ever, even after a few runs through Hannibal’s very powerful washing machine. They were simply too far gone, it seemed. Hannibal had even offered to buy Will another pair, but Will was rather fond of the mess. They matched his Converse, which were almost as bad as Hannibal’s gardening shoes.

Reaching into the chest pocket of the overalls, Will pulled out a stack of folded papers and carefully unfolded them, pressing them against his chest to smooth out the creases. The papers were covered in red ink where Will had made minor modifications to Hannibal’s draft, and in the paper clip that held the stack together was an attachment that hadn’t come in the envelope Hannibal had sent. It was a magazine clipping, all glossy paper and vibrant inks, of a bright red Mitsubishi Starion.

As he handed the papers over, Will smiled at Hannibal and said, “I’ll start painting the dining room while you make these edits.”

With one brow raised, Hannibal took the papers and glanced down at them, then to the paint cans, and finally back up to Will. “All your concerns have been addressed?”

“No,” Will said, a bit more brightly than he necessarily intended, “but it’s a beginning.”

Hannibal nodded once and stared at the photo of the Starion for a long moment before refolding the papers and slipping them into his pocket. “Are you sure that’s the one you’d like?” he asked, a slight tease hiding in the quirk of his lips. It made Will want to kiss him again, made Will want to do things he couldn’t even tell Bev about. In that moment, Hannibal looked a bit younger, and Will desperately wanted to trust the warm rush of hope that swelled in his chest. Perhaps Hannibal noticed, because he smiled wider as he said, “Not a DeLorean?”

“You’ve done your homework,” Will said wryly. He reached into his pocket to pull out his Walkman and pause the new mixtape before pulling the cassette out and pressing it into Hannibal’s chest. “But you’ve got some more studying to do, Professor Lecter, if you want an A.”

And before Hannibal could say anything or do anything other than catch the cassette before it fell, Will picked up his paint cans, turned and went to let himself into the house, grinning to himself the whole way. He could feel Hannibal’s eyes on him the entire time, and as a strange confidence filled him, Will felt a little bit older, a little bit more powerful, and a little bit more certain, like the first stroke with a new brush.