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.
Will sets two plates down without fanfare. He’s nursing his own glass of wine, which he brings to the table when he takes his seat, adjacent to Hannibal.
Hannibal looks down at the plate before him. His whole roast fish is perfectly browned with a crispy skin studded with shards of cracked pepper. There’s a bright green salad on the side, along with a small pile of pasta. It’s honestly beautiful, and he wonders why he’s surprised.
Will tucks into his meal without reservation, and Hannibal does the same, following his host’s lead. The flesh of the fish parts neatly beneath the tines of his fork, succulent and tender in his mouth. It’s bright with the flavor of lemon and garlic, and Hannibal closes his eyes and chews, savoring the delicate flavor. When he opens them again, Will is watching him. There’s something dark and unfathomable in his gaze, and Hannibal wants to press himself close to it.
“What is this?” He asks instead.
“Blue catfish and buttered noodles.” Will quirks his mouth in a wry smile. “I know it’s not very fancy, but my dad used to make noodles like this a lot when I was a kid. It’s quick and cheap. Sometimes I still like eating it.”
“Comfort food,” Hannibal says. “Food associations can be very powerful. They can take us back to other times—simpler times, for some.”
“There wasn’t anything simple about it, but I suppose I wasn’t chasing after killers then. I guess that’s something.”
“Did you feel like your mind was more wholly your own then?”
They fall into familiar patterns of conversation, call and answer—the same and yet distinct from their therapy sessions, tinted with the plain, nostalgic meal before them. It’s entirely aesthetically appropriate, and Hannibal quietly approves of Will’s culinary choices.
Will spears a bite of salad and pops it into his mouth before answering with a shrug. “Not really. The who’s and why’s have changed, but I don’t know that my mind’s ever wholly been my own. Pretty sure it doesn’t work that way.”
“It does for most people, but not for you.”
Will makes a noncommittal noise in response, clearly beginning to grow uncomfortable with their line of discussion. Hannibal lets it drop, unbothered. The fish really is quite good.
They lapse into a more comfortable silence. Hannibal enjoys his food, and Will seems to enjoy watching Hannibal.
After the meal is over, they linger at the table, taking in the animal pleasure of resting with full bellies. Will refills each of their glasses one last time with the remnants of the bottle of wine.
“Did you catch the fish?” Hannibal asks.
“Yeah, a couple days ago. It’s actually lucky you came over. I hadn’t had a chance to do anything with it since I’ve been running around for Jack, and I was worried it would go to waste.”
“In that case, I’m happy to be of assistance.”
Will finishes his wine before Hannibal does—Hannibal has the sneaking suspicion that Will had given him the lion’s share, judging from the pleasant lassitude and warmth spreading throughout his body—and he rises to clear away the dishes. Hannibal stands as well, thinking to make himself useful before heading out for the night.
“No, sit,” Will says. “I’ve got it.”
Something is pricking at the edges of Hannibal’s awareness, slightly muddled and dampened by the wine. He smiles faintly. “Looking after me, Will?”
“Someone’s got to,” Will says, and the words make Hannibal feel even warmer than the wine.
It doesn’t take Will long to clean up. Two trips, and the table’s been cleared. Hannibal doesn’t insult his host by asking if Will’s sure he wouldn’t like help, but he doesn’t imagine Will’s done much more than set the dishes to soak.
“It’ll keep until morning,” Will says, perhaps reading the assumption on Hannibal’s face. “I just had to get the plates off the table. Some of the dogs are less well-mannered than others.” He gives his pack, all of whom are lying quietly on the floor, a pointed look, and Hannibal idly wonders which dogs he means.
There are two clean tumblers in Will’s hand that weren’t there before. “Whiskey?”
Hannibal shakes his head with some measure of regret. “I probably shouldn’t have any more if I’m driving.”
“Stay the night,” Will says easily.
Hannibal could point out that Will only has one bed, and it’s covered in dog hair. He doesn’t. He meets Will’s gaze, and Will lets him look, calm and steady and composed.
“You always find ways to surprise me,” Hannibal says, accepting the glass of bourbon that Will offers.
Will’s only response is a small smile. “Do you mind sitting in front of the fire? The dogs might come over to investigate, but they should leave us alone once they get bored.”
Hannibal doesn’t mind, and they take their drinks with them, settling themselves on the ground with some small amount of groaning. Neither of them are particularly young. The rug provides some insulation from the cold radiating from the floorboards, and the heat from the flames feels divine as it licks across his face and hands. The dogs come over to sniff them, as promised, seemingly more interested in Hannibal than Will. He lifts his glass away from one particularly inquisitive dog who seems determined to stick his nose in Hannibal’s beverage.
“Rudy, no.” Then to Hannibal, “You can just shove them away if they’re bothering you. They don’t mind.”
“I find I don’t either,” Hannibal says. The dog from earlier, the tawny one who’d jumped up to greet him on the porch, settles heavily against his side with a huff. She yawns and tucks her nose beneath her tail, and Hannibal’s fingers find their way into her coarse fur. He strokes down the length of her back and feels gratified when she rolls a little to give him better access to her side.
“Huh,” Will says.
“Nothing. It’s just—I didn’t take you for a dog person, is all.”
“I’m not, particularly. I don’t dislike them, but pet ownership has never been a concept that particularly appealed.”
“Is it the mess or the dependence that bothers you?”
Hannibal takes another sip. The whiskey is not ideal, but nor is it terrible. It’s sweet on the tongue with a finish of spiced honey and rye that’s pleasant enough. He shakes his head. “Not dependence. Responsibility for another creature’s wellbeing.”
“You were a doctor,” Will points out.
Hannibal lets his head tip against his shoulder, feeling buoyant and easy. “Not the same thing.”
“Shorts bursts of care are more achievable than the same sustained over a period of time.”
“More likely, yes.”
“You don’t trust yourself to care for an animal, or—you trust yourself to do the opposite.”
Hannibal sits up and looks at Will—really looks. “Are you insinuating something, Will?”
Will drains the last of his whiskey and stands up to grab the bottle, refilling his drink and topping off Hannibal’s without waiting for permission. The tension holds and does not shatter.
Will waves it away with a languid flick of his hand. “Nothing I didn’t already know—nothing you don’t already know. Psychopathy is common among surgeons.”
Hannibal goes very still. His hand tightens in Leila’s fur, and she grumbles in her sleep. He makes a conscious effort to loosen his grip. He considers how long it would take Will to get to either his gun, the door, or the phone. He considers that he could snap Will’s neck before then.
“Relax,” Will says, laying a light hand on Hannibal’s arm. The touch is electric, and Hannibal stares at it. “It’s fine. Your secret’s safe with me.”
Wild hope flutters in Hannibal’s chest, reckless and all-consuming.
“Most psychopaths are non-offending,” Will continues. He snorts. “Just look at Freddie Lounds.”
The hope gutters and dies. He should be relieved; he should be more careful. He suddenly, desperately wants to be seen.
You’re so close, he wants to say. How can you be as blind as the rest of them? You can’t.
He affects a grimace instead. “Not a very flattering comparison.”
“Yeah, well. What can I say? You and Freddie just so happen to belong to the same exclusive club.”
Will laughs at the put out look on Hannibal’s face—one he didn’t have to try particularly hard for—and the disappointment that plagues him lifts, just a little.
Will empties his glass a final time and sets it down on the carpet beside him. “Well, I’m beat. I’m going to get some sleep, but you can stay up, if you want. The light won’t bother me.”
It’s an offer, and Hannibal declines.
He nods toward Leila, sleeping beside him. “I think I might keep her company for a while longer, if it’s all the same to you.”
Will nods. “Be careful. Her gas is something else.” He rifles through one of his dresser drawers and returns with a pair of worn, charcoal sweatpants. The fabric is so old it’s worn thin in places. “I think this will fit you. Sorry, I don’t have any shirts in your size.”
Hannibal takes the proffered piece of clothing, brushing his fingers against Will’s in the process. Will doesn’t pull back. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it,” Will says. He walks over to the other end of the small living room and stripes down to his t-shirt and boxers. Hannibal watches openly from the floor, admiring the lines of Will’s back, his thighs.
Will pauses where he’s pulling the covers back from the bed. “Yeah?”
Hannibal swallows. “You can turn out the lights.”
A flicker of something passes over Will’s face. There’s a click as a lamp is put out. The orange glow from the fire seems to grow more vivid, spilling out of the fireplace in long tendrils.
“Goodnight, Hannibal,” Will says from somewhere behind him in the dark.
It’s strange to be handed something he wants on a silver platter, only to turn it down. Hannibal is surprised with himself. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t take what he wants—why he shouldn’t let himself have. Abstention has never appealed to him, in theory or in practice.
Hannibal is more surprised by his own apprehension—this is a different Will, predatory with something murky lurking in the depths. He wants to excavate it, taste it. There is a certain sweet thrill in being hunted, one that he hadn’t thought to want.
He glances at the bed behind him, dark where the light of the fire doesn’t touch it. Will is a dark mass atop it, still and quiet. Hannibal doesn’t know if he’s sleeping or if perhaps he’s lying awake, waiting to see what Hannibal will do next.
Hannibal finds that he’s disinclined to hurry. He drains the last of his drink slowly, lingering until the flames begin to burn low, giving way to banked coals. He toys with the rim of his glass before finally picking it up along with its abandoned mate. He rises, and Leila snorts when jostled. She gets up and resettles herself a short distance away with a reproachful look, deciding that Hannibal is more trouble than he’s worth. He mentally praises her clear-eyed assessment.
Hannibal pads through the unfamiliar house on silent feet, moving slowly to avoid knocking into things in the dark. He sets their glasses on the counter with a soft click before glancing toward the bed one more time. He is aware that he’s delaying the inevitable, goaded in part by the desire to prolong the sweet anticipation, and in part by an apprehension he can’t name.
He delays it a while longer, opening the door to the front porch, which creaks on its hinges. He doesn’t bother taking his jacket, choosing instead to let the stinging chill worm its way through the thin fabric of his shirt sleeves. The wind numbs his fingers and cheeks in no time, and Hannibal gazes out across the silent field. There’s a road in the distance, he knows, and yet no streetlamps to mark its place. Somewhere an animal yips.
Eventually, the possibility of frostbite becomes a very real consideration, as numbness tips over into pain. Hannibal opens the front door again, more quietly this time. A few dogs raise their heads to look in his direction, but none bother to stir themselves from where they lie. He doesn’t lock the door behind him, considering it a small concession to fate.
Will’s breathing is deep and even when Hannibal draws close enough to hear it. There’s a kind of animal comfort in the restful presence of another that even he is not immune to—the soothing effect on his limbic system bidding his heart to slow and his own breathing to draw even with Will’s. Hannibal stands by the side of the side of the bed, unknotting his tie and undoing the buttons of his waistcoat. He strips off his clothes with deliberate motions, neither hurrying or tarrying. He slides on the sweatpants Will had given him, and he’s surprised to find that it’s a comfortable fit.
Will doesn’t stir as Hannibal pulls back the covers and slides into bed. Even so, Hannibal isn’t terribly surprised when he speaks.
“I thought you’d left,” Will says softly.
“I considered it.”
“Why didn’t you?”
Hannibal closes his eyes. “I didn’t want to.”
Will reaches out to touch. His hand finds Hannibal’s chest in the dark, palm coming to rest over Hannibal’s heart, skin to blood-hot skin.
“Fast,” Will murmurs. “Like a rabbit’s.” He slides closer to Hannibal, so that Hannibal can feel the heat radiating off his body, all the places where bare skin comes perilously close, threatening to touch. “You’re running. Running from this. Why?”
Hannibal opens his mouth, and no sound comes out. He’s aware, suddenly, that he isn’t the only predator in the room. It’s an awareness that won’t be denied. It lights his blood on fire and fills him with want.
“You would have me lay myself bare,” Hannibal says. “Expose my beating heart to the light so you can sink your fingers into it.”
Will shakes his head. Hannibal hears it as the soft rustle of curls on cotton in the dark.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You want to know that you could,” Hannibal says.
Will has no answer for that, and that’s how they both know that it’s true. They stare into each other’s eyes unseeing, a veil of cloistering dark between them. They’re both breathing hard. Hannibal has no doubt that if he shifted his hips forward, he would find that Will is just as hard as he is. He doesn’t. He wants to see how Will’s plan plays out. He wants to surrender.
The moment stretches until it breaks.
“Roll over,” Will says at last.
Hannibal only hesitates for a moment before complying. He thinks briefly, illogically, that Will might kill him.
Nothing happens for long moments. He can feel Will’s eyes on him, trailing down the exposed flesh of his back. He imagines a knife. Imagines his wrists wrenched behind his back for a pair of handcuffs, ready to be delivered to Jack Crawford. His breath quickens.
What he gets is Will smoothing a firm hand between his shoulder blades. There’s a rustle of bedclothes and a weight settling atop his ass. Will seats himself astride, his knees framing Hannibal’s hips. He leans forward, and Hannibal gets a whiff of him, heady and strong—the faint artificial scent of soap layered beneath the sweat of the day. A low moan escapes him, and he can’t resist pressing his hips more firmly against the mattress.
Hannibal thinks Will might put his mouth on him, but he doesn’t. Instead, he sets both hands on Hannibal’s shoulders, soothing and steady, and begins to knead the muscles there. The comparative innocence of the touch isn’t enough to dampen the resultant pleasure, which begins at the points where Will touches him and radiates throughout his body. He makes another noise, louder this time, and Will hums in approval.
“When’s the last time someone touched you, Hannibal?”
Hannibal groans softly under his hands. “More recently than someone’s touched you, I’d wager.”
He hears rather than sees Will’s smile. “Someone who’s touched you without wanting something in return.”
Hannibal is silent. He lets himself be lulled as Will kneads the muscles in his back—firm, not shy or hesitant at all.
“My sister,” he says at last.
The statement hangs heavy in the air between them, devastating in its honesty. Will’s hands grow still where they rest on the small of his back.
After a pregnant pause, they begin to move again. Will digs his thumb into a spot that makes Hannibal arch off the bed. He doesn’t ask about Mischa—not her name, nor the reason Hannibal has never spoken of her before—and Hannibal doesn’t offer. Will may draw his own conclusions.
It goes on long enough that Hannibal loses track of time—loses himself to long, sweeping strokes that carry him out of the halls in his mind where Mischa waits. Time is endless and irrelevant beneath Will’s capable hands. In the heavy night around them.
“There was nothing wrong with your car,” Hannibal says quietly. He doesn’t phrase it as a question. He doesn’t need to.
“What gave me away?”
Will’s hands still abruptly. The pressure is removed from Hannibal’s hips as Will slides off him. He rolls over, sitting up on his elbows to watch Will’s face. He can see the ghostly outlines of it, the shapes in the dark, now that his eyes have adjusted to the low light. Seven beasts breathe quietly in the corners of the room—silent, watchful witnesses to their becoming.
“What do you want?” Hannibal asks. He reaches out to touch, unavoidably aware that it is the first time he has done so. He strokes a hand down the side of Will’s cheek. The texture is soft and rough, the stubble coarse beneath his palm.
Will makes a small noise and presses his hand over Hannibal’s, holding it in place against the fine bones of his face. He turns his head and brushes a lingering kiss to Hannibal’s palm, and it sears him through and through.
“You,” Will says.
The sound that leaves Hannibal’s mouth is barely human. He yanks Will forward, crushing their mouths together artlessly.
Will makes a low, satisfied sound and winds his arms around Hannibal, tugging him closer. They both gasp as their bodies make contact, skin pressed to sensitive skin. Will teases Hannibal’s lips with his teeth, biting down just hard enough to make him gasp. He takes the opportunity to lick into Hannibal’s mouth, pressing his tongue in and invading his senses. It should be appalling, but Hannibal groans and presses himself closer.
He draws Will out from where he’s straining at his boxer shorts, wrapping a firm hand around the hot length of him. He swallows the sounds Will makes as he strokes him, until Will pulls away to pant against his skin.
“Right there, right there. Fuck.”
Will clings to him, working his own hand into Hannibal borrowed sweatpants, shoving them low around his hips. Hannibal gasps as Will takes him in hand, at the shocking contact of it. They bite at each other’s lips and stroke each other to a messy, perfect finish.
Hannibal pulls back to watch as Will comes, memorizing the way the light curves over his cheek, fathomless eyes grown dark and unfocused with pleasure. His own orgasm hits like a surprise, breaking like a wave as Will’s hand moves quick and sure, as he worries the skin of Hannibal’s neck between his teeth.
Will wipes his hand on the sheets, after. Hannibal thinks of washing up but can’t quite bring himself to move. The thought of navigating the mass of dogs on Will’s floor is infinitely less desirable than staying right here and perhaps never moving again. The sound of their ragged breath softens and slows, little by little.
“You knew,” Hannibal says. “For how long?”
Will shrugs. Presses his smile into Hannibal’s shoulder. “Longer than you.”
“Then surely you know you didn’t need to do all this just to have me.”
Will shakes his head. “It wasn’t about that.”
“No. Don’t you get it? I want to take care of you. I want to—to be there for you when you’re unwell. When you’re—wherever it is you go, in your head.”
Hannibal wishes he could see Will’s face.
“Why?” He asks.
“You know why.”
He might. He can dare to dream. He reaches out for Will on impulse. By instinct. He cups Will’s neck in his hand and draws Will down to his chest, and Will lets himself be led. Hannibal cards his fingers through Will’s hair and murmurs endearments against it—some of them Will can understand, some he surely won’t. It hardly matters.
“Matai mane iš dalies,” he says to the crown of Will’s head. “Vieną dieną mane pamatysite visiškai.”
Will nuzzles closer, and all is well.
Matai mane iš dalies. Vieną dieną mane pamatysite visiškai. - You see me in part. One day you'll see me completely.
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