In the walls of our hearts and brains, danger waits. There are holes in the floor of the mind.
Hannibal has filled his life with beautiful things, pleasures tactile, auditory, and gustatory. His home and office are lined with paintings and sculptures, books filled with his favorite passages of literature. Strains of music lilt through his home as he cooks things to tease the palate and nose, working beauty from the basest of materials. He lives in a suitably interesting city, filled with culture and art, and frequently visits the most exquisite places in the world—sites rich with history, dense in color and sound. The echoes of time ring through those halls, and Hannibal sometimes fancies that he can step into the slipstream, slide into the current and feel it move around him.
He has oriented his life this way for as long as it has been his to direct. On a day to day basis, it’s entirely adequate.
He does none of these things with the intention of distracting himself. The necessity of distraction, of escapism, implies there is something from which one must escape. He is not running. He runs from no one, least of all himself.
And yet there are rooms in his mind where he must not go. Doors that are closed on purpose, cordoned off with velvet ropes and papered over with everything he has become.
* * *
“Are you happy?” Will asks him one day, in one of their therapy sessions.
Hannibal blinks once, slowly. He shuffles the paper on his desk back into perfect, neat order with all of their corners aligned. He is stalling while he parses the question.
It’s not that the question is inappropriate. He and Will have known each other for a few short weeks, but they’re making their way toward the sort of relationship that can support such personal inquiries. He desires to be Will’s friend, not just his therapist. As far as he can tell, Will is open to the same.
So not inappropriate, but the question is unexpected.. Throughout their acquaintance, Will has never asked Hannibal any personal questions that weren’t motivated by deflection. Will has no reservations about prying into Hannibal’s own past and mind (which Hannibal appreciates and encourages), but he has yet to ask for the simple desire of knowledge. He has yet to ask when not simply turning Hannibal’s own questions back on him.
He does now, though. Or, Hannibal thinks he does. He can detect no ulterior motives. Then again, Will remains at least partially inscrutable to Hannibal—he can see the shape of Will’s mind and desires, but not the particulars. He can see the part but not the whole. It’s an addictive kind of uncertainty. Will Graham keeps him on his toes as few people do, or indeed ever have.
He’s gone too long without speaking, lost in thought, which is a kind of answer in itself.
“I haven’t given it much thought,” Hannibal says.
“No? Most people give it a lot of thought. Most people think of little else.”
“Most people chase pleasure. That isn’t the same as considering their happiness.”
“So now that you’ve considered it?” Will asks.
“I’m content,” Hannibal says. “I want for nothing. I have a job that suits me well. I have friends and social connections that I enjoy. I have hobbies and interests that keep me occupied.”
“Content is an interesting word,” Will says.
Will quirks a half-smile in Hannibal’s direction. “It’s not the same as happy.”
* * *
Hannibal finds that he can’t get the conversation out of his head. It rings out within the confines of his skull, loud and discordant. It’s unruly and refuses to be neatly corralled into one of the rooms of his memory palace. He resents it, even as it grows, infiltrating his peace of mind and worming itself into the cracks.
Am I happy?
Certainly he’s not sad, nor angry. He feels no regret, no remorse or shame.
Not the same as happy, Will’s voice seems to say.
Hannibal cuts the next carrot with perhaps a bit too much force. A chunk goes rocketing off the cutting board, and falls to the ground. He does not slice his hand with the knife when it slips, but it’s a near thing.
Hannibal looks at the carrot on the ground, vibrant orange against the dark tile. Inexplicably he thinks, Will’s dogs would eat that. Maybe the fluffy brown one that’s always underfoot.
The feeling does not hit him like a ton of bricks. It isn’t sudden and swift. The feeling, when it arrives, is something akin to realizing he has left the faucet running in the other room. It’s looking down to realize he is already submerged to his ankles, and the water is rising.
I love Will Graham.
* * *
His revelation keeps overnight and is not accompanied by particularly pleasant feelings. It’s high tide in his mind. Perilous eddies dance around him, threatening to sweep him out to sea. They won’t, of course. Hannibal has weathered far more than a recalcitrant mind. And yet the undercurrent calls, beckoning him to wade in deep. To give in and float.
Hannibal chooses his least comfortable suit, one made of heavy wool that’s been starched a bit too liberally in the jacket. He pulls it around himself like armor, meant to rein himself in as much as keep others out. He considers his reflection as he shaves his face clean, patting the dregs of the shaving cream away with a warm towel. He neatens his hair and takes one last look at himself.
This is the image he projects to the world. To a world that sees only what he wants them to see. He hangs up the towel and turns out the light.
* * *
The world sees only what they want to see—what Hannibal wants them to see, but the same cannot be said of Will Graham. He sees, if not everything, then much. Too much, probably. More than he fully comprehends. Hannibal can see it sometimes, a niggling suspicion tugging at the edges of Will’s awareness. As if he would see if only he could connect a few more dots.
It’s incredible that Hannibal wants him to. It’s folly.
It’s unfair, especially considering Will is playing with the deck stacked heavily against him. The fevered scent that rises off of him when he stands close to Hannibal is unmistakable now. Hannibal is more interested in the fact that Will stands close at all, and that’s almost galling. The interesting illness is only an afterthought.
He’s seeing Will today, in his uncomfortable suit that bids him sit straighter. That taps his awareness and holds it fixed. Nothing is unusual about the appointment. Will tells him about killers—this one, they’re calling the angel maker.
Hannibal turns his head and is caught by the reflections in the window—his and Will’s, limned by the glow of the fire. His attention is snared and pulled until he’s somewhere else entirely. The snow is bitter and cold as it whips around him, stinging his face and hands. His shoes are soaked through, and he cannot feel his toes. There’s blood on the snow. He tips his head.
An incongruous voice. Hannibal blinks and abruptly returns to the crackling fire. The warm room.
“I apologize,” he says smoothly. “I’m afraid I was lost in thought.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Will asks.
Hannibal blinks, taken aback. He recovers swiftly. “No, Will. This is your hour.”
He wonders if Will might push—Hannibal will resent it if he does, but Will lets the topic drop. Their discussion turns back to the angel maker neatly, deftly. Hannibal’s lapse is not commented upon.
“Who prays over us when we sleep?” Hannibal finds himself asking before their hour is over. He does not know where that question came from.
Their remaining time runs out quickly, the minutes slipping through his fingers like sand. He’s very careful not to get lost again, staying attentive and alert the whole time. Staying present.
Hannibal would not have called an end to their session. He would have pretended it escaped his notice, content to allow Will to stay for as long as he liked, but Will has been watching the clock. At eight o’clock precisely, Will exhales a long sigh. He stands and twists his neck this way and that, working out the stiffness Hannibal can only assume has begun to set in.
“Would you care to stay for a drink?” Hannibal asks, already rising to fetch two glasses. It’s presumptuous. Hopeful.
“Ah, no thanks. I should get home to my dogs. It’s supposed to be a bad one, and storms freak them out.”
Hannibal inclines his head politely, ignoring the wave of disappointment that bubbles to the surface. He shows Will out and does not stand in the doorway to watch him go. He’s just poured himself a glass of red and sat down to organize his notes when he looks up to the sound of the door opening.
“Will,” Hannibal says, surprised. He was not expecting to see Will again until their appointment next week.
“Hey, uh. I’m sorry to ask you this, but would you mind giving me a ride home?” The words come quickly, like they’re all crowding each other trying to make their way out of his mouth at once. The effect shouldn’t be as endearing as it is. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but my car won’t start and I really do need to get back to my dogs.”
“Of course,” Hannibal says.
He rises, wine considered and dismissed. He should at least throw it away and rinse the glass. It will sour, and his office will smell noticeably of vinegar if he leaves it sitting on his desk over the weekend. It’s not a concern that seems particularly important right now.
“Were you in the middle of something?” Will asks. He gestures haphazardly at Hannibal’s desk. “I can wait, if you are.”
Hannibal cocks his head. “I thought you urgently needed to return to your dogs.”
“I do, but you’re the one doing me a favor. I don’t want to impose. I mean, any more than I already am.”
“It’s fine,” Hannibal says, already reaching for his coat. He’s surprised to find that he means it. He gives Will a rueful smile. “I’m afraid I don’t actually have any pressing business to finish tonight. I was merely looking for something to occupy my time, and work was near at hand.”
“Mm,” Will hums in agreement.
“You sound surprised.” Hannibal locks his office door behind him while Will waits, hands already in his pockets in anticipation of the cold that will greet them outside. His cheeks are still flushed, rosy and alive from his brief trip to his car.
“I am, a little. I assumed you of all people would have something to do on a Friday night.”
Hannibal inclines his head, allowing Will to lead the way to the parking lot. “I have had offers. None I’m inclined to entertain.”
Will doesn’t comment. He waits beside the passenger side door, looking uncomfortable as Hannibal unlocks the car and slides into the driver’s seat. The car’s interior is chilly, not much better than the outside for the time being, but Hannibal takes off his coat in anticipation of the long drive ahead of them. The Bentley’s heater is quite good, and he knows it will be warm momentarily. Will keeps his coat on, and Hannibal says nothing of it.
They drive in silence. Hannibal often listens to WBJC, the local classical station, but he doesn’t care for the DJ who chooses the selections at this hour. The steady, quiet sound of Will’s breath layered atop the hum of the road is quite satisfying all on its own. He turns onto the I-95, unasked. He’s only driven to Will’s house a handful of times, but he remembers the way, and Will doesn’t offer directions.
They speak occasionally, of nothing of particular import. Mostly they’re silent. Hannibal feels his mind grow still as he takes in the road before him, the presence of Will beside him. He sketches this moment in his mind, to preserve it there. The dripping tide in the far reaches of his memory palace doesn’t cease, but it does grow quieter.
* * *
The drive to Wolf Trap feels shorter than he remembers. It seems to Hannibal that no time at all has passed before he’s pulling up to Will’s driveway. It’s dark already, a moonless night, and Will’s house looms formless and silent before them.
Hannibal puts the car into park and lets the engine idle.
“Thanks,” Will says. “For the ride. I really appreciate it.”
“It was no trouble at all.”
Will has not gotten out of the car. He has yet to open his door. He hesitates; it’s curious.
“Do you want to come inside?” Will asks. “I was going to cook. You’re welcome to stay.”
Hannibal categorizes the emotions that arrive, one right after the other. Surprise. Vague suspicion. Pleasure. “Thank you. I’d like that.”
Hannibal leaves his coat in the car, less from trust in Will’s heating system (he’s seen the space heater) and more out of a desire to save it from Will’s pack of dogs and all their attendant fur and slobber—dogs who tumble out of the house as soon as Will opens the door, eager to greet their master in a flurry of wagging tails and lolling tongues. They pay Hannibal no mind, and he’s content to leave them to their joyous reunion.
Seeing Will here affords Hannibal the rare opportunity to witness him wholly in his element. He seems almost a different person with his dogs. He crouches down to their level and lets them lick his face—something Hannibal finds unpleasant and mildly disgusting, but which makes Will laugh, open and unguarded in a way that fills Hannibal with a feeling both familiar and incongruous. It feels like hearing a favored aria expertly performed—a welling sweetness so rich it’s nearly pain.
His reverie is interrupted by the feeling of something wet pressed against his fingers. One of the larger dogs has broken away from the pack and is currently engaged in sniffing his hand. Seeing that it’s caught his attention, the dog seems to take his acknowledgment as a form of permission. It rears up on its hind legs and puts its paws on Hannibal’s front. He frowns and takes a step back. The dog lands on all fours once more and jumps back up, undeterred.
Will looks up and sees this performance.
“Leila, no! Down.” He snaps his fingers, and the dog removes its paws from the front of Hannibal’s very expensive suit. “Sorry. She knows better, but she forgets. I haven’t had as long to train her as the others.”
“A new addition to your pack?”
Will smiles, not the same happy, open grin he gives to his dogs, but something light and unburdened all the same. “You could say that. I found her down by the grocery store a few weeks ago.”
Hannibal wonders what he would have to do to get that sort of smile from Will. Surely it can’t be that difficult if animals can achieve it.
Will opens the door, and his pack tumbles back in. He lingers in the doorway, waiting for Hannibal.
* * *
Will’s house looks much the same as it did the last time Hannibal was here. There’s a comfortable amount of clutter, books packed onto shelves or else left stacked on counters. There are papers haphazardly resting on the table—his students’ papers, by the looks of it. Will hangs up his coat on a rack by the door.
“Sorry about the mess,” Will says. “I don’t usually have people over.”
“It doesn’t bother me.”
Will rubs his hands together. The house isn’t too terribly cold, but it isn’t wholly comfortable either. Hannibal expects Will to turn on the space heater, but he instead picks it up and sets it in a corner, out of the way.
“I was thinking a fire might be nice,” Will says.
“I can take care of the fire while you start dinner, if you like.”
He expects Will to hesitate—Hannibal certainly would, were he in Will’s position. It’s indecorous to allow guests to work for their supper, but Will doesn’t care about such things.
“Sure,” Will says. “That sounds great, thanks. There’s firewood on the back porch.” Now he does hesitate. “You know how to start a fire?”
Hannibal makes a small, offended sound. “Of course.”
Will laughs a little, and Hannibal realizes he was teasing. His mouth smiles of its own accord, and he realizes he might like being teased.
He finds the firewood exactly as described, in a little open shed against the side of the porch. He selects a few promising logs and brings them inside. He can hear Will in the kitchen, the gentle clatter of drawers being opened and closed. He busies himself with the fire, stacking the logs he’d selected in the fireplace, casting around for matches. He finds them and lights one, using it to check the draft, which is favorable.
He finds kindling in a pile of old newspapers. He pulls the top one off the stack, whose headline describes a live production of A Christmas Story. There’s a picture of a bespectacled child in a pink rabbit suit smiling in front of a Christmas tree.
He takes the paper into the kitchen, although he’s positive it’s of no use to Will, or anyone else, for that matter. It gives him an excuse to watch Will for a moment, unobserved. Will’s kitchen is cluttered but clean. There’s an abundance of items on the countertops that nevertheless doesn’t manage to hide the fact that everything has been scrubbed until it shines. There’s a pot of water on the stove, simply steaming, not yet boiling. Will is seasoning two handsomely sized fish, rubbing olive oil and sea salt along their silvery skins. Hannibal watches him for as long as he dares before making his presence known.
“May I use this as kindling?” He asks.
Will turns to look at him, hands slick with oil and coated in spice. “Hm? Yeah, sure.”
He’s struck, all at once, by how beautiful Will is. By how much he wants to fold this moment up and keep it forever.
* * *
Once the fire is crackling and the oven has had time to spread its heat throughout the house, Hannibal is actually quite warm. He considers taking off his jacket but decides against it, although its constricting embrace is beginning to feel more troublesome and less comforting by the minute. Will had procured a bottle of white wine from somewhere, had sat Hannibal down and poured him a glass, and now he’s listening to the sounds of Will cooking in the kitchen. The scent of roasting flesh has become unmistakable, enhanced with garlic and citrus. The wine is dry and tart, and the cumulative effect is nothing short of soporific.
Will pokes his head out of the kitchen. “I hope you’re hungry. I might’ve made a little too much food. I’m not really used to cooking for two.”
“Famished,” Hannibal says. “It’s novel, having someone else cook for me.”
Will wanders into the living room with a towel slung carelessly over his shoulder. He’s shed his own jacket and tie, and his sleeves are rolled up to his elbows. The top two buttons of his shirt are undone, revealing the pale gleam of a clavicle beneath.
“Always the host and never the guest.” Will smiles, a little crooked. He refills Hannibal’s glass, unasked. “No, I expect they wouldn’t cook for you. Hannibal Lecter, master chef. I imagine everyone is too afraid of having their food judged and found wanting, or else they’re sure you could do a better job yourself.”
“I probably could.”
“Modest,” Will teases.
“False modesty is vulgar. I don’t mind it, you know. I enjoy entertaining. I enjoy cooking for my friends.”
“You do,” Will says. “But you enjoy this too.”
Hannibal swirls the wine in his glass, interested despite himself. It’s fascinating to have Will’s considerable empathy turned on him alone. “And what is this?”
“Being cared for. Looked after. Catered to.”
The moment stretches out between them. Hannibal licks his lips, opens his mouth to say—
A timer beeps in the kitchen.
“I should get that.”
Will abandons their conversation for the fish in the oven, and Hannibal watches him go. He sips his wine and wonders what exactly this is. He’s left with the curious impression that he’s missed something.