Will hurtled into wakefulness with a vague and unsettling sense that he was falling. The room was dark and unfamiliar. He was curled up on a lumpy couch, his shoes haphazardly placed off to the side. Panic reared its ugly head. He had woken up in a state much like this twice before. Neither occasion had led to anything good.
He didn’t remember much from yesterday night, save for ambiguous blurs of booze and blaring dance lights. Who had he gone home with? His head throbbed.
He reached for the concealed knife in his boot, prepared to kill his way out if he had to. The house remained silent.
Just get back to Hannibal , he thought, and everything will make sense again .
Except would it? Even alcohol-induced-comas couldn’t wipe the memory of his last encounter with Hannibal from his mind.
The slow rising sun refracted off the glass chambers of his mind. His fragile contribution to the mental palace he shared with Hannibal. The scene diffracted across the walls, transparent to him now.
The moment he had kissed Hannibal, love had not exactly been at the forefront of the gesture—he could admit that to himself. Instead, he had felt an intense sort of desperation to be drowned. To have what he had done to Klauss wiped out from his mind by Hannibal’s mouth on his. To have Hannibal’s arms around him like safe harbour while they suffocated together.
He had wanted to use Hannibal as nothing more than a safety blanket because the reality was that yesterday, he had talked a man into sucicide, using his empathy as nothing more than a knife to render all the tender places. The reality was that it had been easy. The target was already suicidal, Will reminded himself. But he had the recurring feeling that he could persuade anyone into doing anything he wanted now. Some line, some barrier, some limit in his own mind had been struck. The reality was that he had the capacity—the penchant—for manipulation. Another stain marking him as something less than human.
There was a rattle from another room. Will carefully tucked the knife in the waist of his pants near the small of his back. Surprise was every assassin’s most important tool, and Will knew how to use it well. Whoever had taken him was obviously incompetent. He hadn’t been shackled or locked in, and they had obviously not searched him well enough.
He stood quietly, not bothering with his shoes. Too noisy. The room spun out of control. This is why Hannibal insisted on a limited alcohol intake—wine with meals and after missions only. Too late now.
He should probably scope out the apartment first. Identify the number of targets and possible escape routes. That’s what Hannibal would do…
But he wasn’t Hannibal. He wasn’t even really on an assignment right now. He crept his way to the kitchen and peered cautiously inside. He paused.
An Asian lady bustled about, making coffee and breakfast.
Will vaguely remembered her from last night.
“You can come in, Will. You don’t have to lurk in the doorway like that.”
He had divulged his real name to her then. There could be no margin for error in this.
Will stepped into the kitchen silently. Her story spiralled into existence and slipped through the air on glossy raven wings. A body of observations and undeniable truths. Will did not resist it this time.
Innocent. She was innocent. Harmless. Kind. Graceful in a way few people were anymore. Had a penchant for doing the right thing. She had taken him to her home from the bar to protect him. To let him sleep it off. Will couldn’t kill her.
“How are you feeling? You went at it pretty hard last night.” The almost over-familiar way she spoke to him was vaguely unnerving. How much had he told her about himself?
“I’m sorry, who are you again?”
The lady huffed in amusement. “Black-out drunk? Wouldn’t have thunk it. I’m Beverly Katz.”
Memories soared into being. Will almost winced from embarrassment. “Nice to meet you sober, Beverly,” he finally said, carefully reaching his hand out for a handshake.
One firm shake. “Pleasure’s all mine. Now, do you want to help me with breakfast?”
The chocolate chip pancakes were drenched in maple syrup. The generous pat of butter on top was already dissolved into a creamy swirl.
“Whipped cream?” Jimmy Price, one of Beverly’s roommates offered.
Will accepted the Reddi wip wordlessly and created a generous spiral. Hannibal would have a heart attack if he could see what Will was about to eat. He passed the cream on to Brian Zeller, Beverly’s other roommate, who nodded in thanks.
Will took a bite. It was bliss—dissolving into pure processed sugar in his mouth. He closed his eyes, savoring the taste. From there, breakfast progressed silently, the faint murmur of small talk almost soothing background noise. Will could feel their curiosity on the edges of his consciousness. They wanted to know about him, but they were polite enough not to ask. He didn’t offer up anything either. However much he liked Beverly, he knew he couldn’t trust them.
Before Will left, Beverly pulled him aside.
“Now, I don’t mean to be intrusive, but some of the things you said last night were a little worrying. Are you okay, Will? Do you need any help?”
Will instantly felt the tension creep up his lower spine.
“I’m fine, Beverly.”
She looked right into his eyes for a moment too long.
“That’s great, Will. But, just in case you ever need someone, you can reach me at this number,” she said, handing him a slip of paper with a number scribbled across in dark ink.
Will didn’t have to ask why she was being so nice to him. He knew why. For some reason, Beverly had decided that she liked Will, and this was her way of showing it. She wanted friendship, but Will wasn’t really suited for that. Hannibal, and maybe like one other person, were the only ones it had ever worked out with.
They would be leaving for Prague in a few days, and this meeting would become inconsequential. “Thank you,” he said anyway. Will placed the slip in his pocket carefully, planning to pitch it somewhere before Hannibal could see it.
“Take care, Will.”
“You too, Beverly. Thank you.”
Will sauntered into their hotel room almost sheepishly. His curls were in disarray and his clothing was disheveled. The air smelled like strangers and artificial maple syrup. He looked like he had had quite a night.
Hannibal’s possessiveness almost boiled over, but he didn’t allow it to show. He didn’t allow the words to leave his tongue: Where did you go? I was worried . He calmed himself by scenting the air more thoroughly. Will hadn’t done anything too untoward last night. Hannibal only smelled the faint bitter traces of alcohol. But still, he had to be punished somehow.
“I will give you half an hour for your morning ablutions, Will. Then, we will be heading out to spar.”
Will’s shoulders drooped, no doubt anticipating the pain he would suffer jostling with his hangover.
“Additionally, I think it would be good to practice your Italian today. Non voglio sentire nessun inglese. ”
“ Come vuoi ,” Will conceded, sighing.
There was something deeply satisfying about sparring with Will. Despite the routine they had formed over the years (they sparred for a few hours a few times a week), they always managed to surprise each other. Additionally, something primitive inside Hannibal resonated with both the intermingling of their scents that came from wrestling on the mat as well as the chance to pin his beloved down just the way he wanted him.
Will squirmed against his hold, gasping for breath. His hair was mussed up and his cheeks were flushed pink from the exertion. Hannibal got caught a moment too long admiring the view, and before he knew it, he was flat on his back, Will straddling his pelvis. Will moved quickly to secure his limbs with one hand, moving the forearm of his other to push against Hannibal’s sternum, threatening the throat and airways.
“Arrenditi ,” Will demanded, baring his teeth. He was exquisite.
“Mai ,” Hannibal replied, bucking his hips up to unseat Will. When that didn’t work, he switched to wiggling them back and forth.
Will burst into laughter, loosening the hold. “Oh my god. Stop shimmying, Hannibal. I feel like I’m on one of those mechanical bulls in a fairground.”
Hannibal quickly twisted them over as Will’s grip loosened. He pinned Will more gently, remaining on his side next to his beloved rather than straddling him.
“Just as I planned, darling .”
Will laughed harder. His head tilted back exposing the long creamy stretch of his neck. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed, and Hannibal ached with want.
“This doesn’t count ,” Will argued, out-of-breath.
“Of course it does, caro. Now are you ready to go again?”
Will nodded. Hannibal stood up first, reaching down to lift his partner up. As Will stood, his curls brushed across Hannibal’s nose. He no longer smelled of anything but sweat and the unique scent that was Will: a wild grove by the sea, rain clinging to the pines like glass pearls—the faintest after-trace of orange in the sultry wind. They moved to opposite ends of the mat to start a new match.
After they had worn each other out, they went back to the hotel room to shower, then left for the restaurant.
They had just been seated on the terrace when Bedelia called.
It was notably out of the ordinary. Typically, after Will completed the last kill in his cycle, they had about 6 weeks off. The time was useful for traveling, relaxing, practicing old skills, and learning new ones. Hannibal already had their agenda for Prague planned.
He rose from the table, moving away. Will looked terribly curious, but the rules of their society meant Hannibal wouldn’t be able to share certain details of their call with him. Including the identity of the caller.
He pressed the green button, bringing the phone to his ear.
“Bedelia. What a pleasant surprise.”
“Hannibal. Your stay in Baltimore has been extended. There’s another mission for Will. You will receive the details in about a week.”
“Hasn’t he reached the end of this cycle?” Hannibal questioned mildly.
“There’s a loose end to tie up, and you both are already there. Don’t worry—your time off won’t be cut short.”
“Understood. I’ll tell Will.”
“Yes, and give him our regards for his last assignment. It was impressive,” Bedelia admitted begrudgingly.
“I will. Have a pleasant day.”
Bedelia hung up without responding.
Hannibal made his way back to Will. He took his seat and waited for the inevitable. He didn’t have to wait long.
“Well? ” Will said, shooting him an impatient look.
“Patience, Will. Shouldn’t we dine in peace first? ”
He got a withering glare in response.
Hannibal capitulated. He always did when it came to Will. “ We have to stay in Baltimore for at least another week. Possibly more. You have another mission to do here. ”
Will’s face fell as the waiter arrived with his sleek black notepad. Hannibal made Will order for them in Italian.
The waiter soon departed, leaving them a bread basket.
“I need to tell you something, Hannibal ,” Will confided, buttering a slice of bread with graceful strokes of his knife.
Hannibal tilted his head to indicate he was listening.
“I… have ties in Baltimore. I was a student here for a number of years and I interned at Quantico for several summers. I was set on becoming an FBI agent before we met ,” Will explained, the barest tang of nervousness rising to the surface.
Hannibal allowed the silence to linger a beat longer. He observed the growing tension in Will’s expression almost fondly.
“ Will, I knew some of this when I took you under my wing. Our society has a thorough screening procedure. We will work together to ensure you don’t get tangled up with any aspect of your past. ”
“Okay. But what if I run into someone I know? ”
“Then we shall concoct a story together when the time comes. A tale to explain your 7 year journey back to Baltimore. ”
“I can’t think of anything anyone will buy. ”
“I can. Fret not, Will. We will be ready when the time comes. ”
Will gave him a very dubious look, but their attention was soon turned away when the food arrived.
“This conversation is not over ,” Will insisted, waving his pasta fork menacingly.
“I know, caro .”
“Will, let’s move on now .” Hannibal entreated. This was the fifth dog Will had stopped to pet. Unfortunately, this particular owner was quite enchanted with Will, and hadn’t given him the polite throat clear and casual dismissal after the standard minute. It had been fifteen minutes now, and Will’s Burberry trousers were being inundated with dog slobber and hair. Hannibal would have to send it for dry cleaning immediately. Worse, the dog owner seemed to believe that Will’s continued presence was a sign that Will was flirting back with him.
“And this is?” the man asked, finally turning to Hannibal.
“Hans. He is a very good friend of mine.” Will said, casually reaching for Hannibal’s outstretched hand to lift himself up.
The man looked back and forth between him and Will carefully, noting their still connected hands.
“Oh. I see. Well, I must be on my way now. Always a pleasure to meet a fellow canine-lover.”
“Yes,” Will agreed with a smile. “Goodbye, Buttercup,” Will crooned, leaning down to give the puppy one last caress. It licked his forehead adoringly, making Will laugh. He stood back up dusting off his pants (spreading more hair around in the process) and turned to Hannibal.
Hannibal quickly ushered him onwards (before he decided to say goodbye to Buttercup for the fourth time, only to start another conversation), noting with no meager sum of vindication the crestfallen look on the owner’s face when Will did not acknowledge him.
“This is not the way to the hotel ,” Will commented, transitioning back to Italian.
“Since we are staying here for a week, I thought it would be more comfortable for us to stay in a house. ”
“Did you rent one just for this week? ” Will asked surprised.
“No. You are not the only one with ties in Baltimore, Will. I own a home here. ”
“You’ve lived in the city before? ” Will asked suspiciously.
“I have not stayed here for many years,” Hannibal quickly explained. “I’ve had some hired help reopen the house this morning and make it suitable for us. They transferred the luggage while we were dining. ”
“Very efficient ,” Will conceded, looking slightly uncertain.
He would change his mind soon enough. Hannibal knew enough about Will’s aesthetic preferences and tastes (as much as he pretended not to have them) to know Will would love his old home. Hannibal had not let the place go; renovating it every so often and keeping it up to date so it would be the perfect safe house if he and Will needed to lay low for a while.
“We’re almost there. As long as we have no more… distractions, we should arrive in another five or so minutes.”
Will raised one of his eyebrows into a sinful arch, and Hannibal’s heart stuttered. “ If there is a dog, I am petting it. I’m on vacation until my mission arrives, Hannibal, and up till then, all the dogs in the world are mine. ”
“I’d love to see you explain that to their owners, mažas vilkas,” Hannibal said, recovering.
“They don’t need to know. It’s just between you, me, and the dogs, Hannibal. ”
“How careless, making me your confidant,” Hannibal teased.
Will laughed. “ How is it careless? You’re not telling anybody any time soon. ”
“Oh, why not? ”
Will smiled impishly. “ You like making me happy and dogs make me very very happy .”
Hannibal could say nothing in reply to that for it was absolutely true. Fortunately, they arrived at the house in that very moment.
“Here’s your key, Will.”
Will nodded in thanks, stringing the loop around his neck and tucking it under his shirt.
They moved forward as Hannibal reached to unlock the door.
They were greeted by a cabinet of teacups alongside the wall. Will stepped over the threshold in awe.
“This is where you kept them all?” he asked, hushed.
“Yes. Every single one.”
Will smiled, bright and eager as the sun. “Not quite. Where did you say the bags were?”
“Upstairs, second door to your left. Next to the master bedroom.”
Will rushed up the stairs. He was back momentarily, sleek wooden box in hand. “From France,” he explained, passing it over to Hannibal.
Hannibal carefully lifted the lid and picked up the gorgeous black and gold teacup. He noted the intricate gold filigree approvingly. “Beautiful.”
Hannibal reverently opened the glass door of the cabinet and placed the teacup alongside the rest. An array of designs from many different countries gleaned in the refracted light of the glass door. The tradition started many years ago after a conversation about teacups and time. Will gifted Hannibal one from every place they went to. Hannibal knew it was a sign of his affection and friendship.
He never actually used them as they were only meant for one, and he never took tea without Will.
Surprisingly (or not, considering who it was), Will rapidly fell in love with Hannibal’s house. Will was used to staying in apartments, pent suites, and hotel rooms. But this was a home. Theirs for now. Something in him pinked at the thought.
There was a peculiar, almost pleasant feeling Will often had around Hannibal. A feeling of all time slipping seamlessly away from the clock and recircling to tick around his friend. A feeling of falling so completely into sync that he and Hannibal breathed in time with each other and fell asleep at the same moment. Hannibal’s house magnified this feeling several times over. The place could have easily fit in their memory palace, and Will wondered if it had been a source of inspiration.
Their rhythm was set. They had connecting master suites and shared a bathroom. Will made coffee while Hannibal cooked breakfast. They read aloud the interesting bits from the morning paper to each other, eventually completing the crossword together. Hannibal’s formidable library had new shelves for Will’s poetry books. Sometimes, they sat next to each other on the sofa and just read for hours, completely silent. In the evening, they shared drinks before the fireplace and spoke late into the night.
Will couldn’t imagine needing anybody else for the rest of his life, and the feeling was so terrifying, he immediately shut it away. It was beyond love—it could not be spoken of at all. What we feel most has no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds .
This routine carried on for four days before Hannibal spontaneously decided that sparring on the mats in the exercise room every day was not enough. He was planning something, Will knew.
“It’s a private gym. Very well-maintained with a large variety of fitness options. I have signed us both up.”
“Let me guess, we’re going there right now.”
“You realize we only have a few more days in Baltimore? A monthly subscription is just wasteful,” Will criticized.
“I do not trust anywhere else.”
Will rolled his eyes.
They arrived early. There were very few patrons there at 5 AM on the weekend, or maybe there was just few patrons in general. Will followed Hannibal wordlessly, not noting where they were going until the pungent aroma of chlorine flooded his nostrils.
Hannibal carefully avoided eye contact.
“Will you try, Will? It has been two years, Brangusis.”
“No. I will not.”
“I brought your swimsuit.”
Will scoffed. “I don’t care. I’m going to go find something else to do.” He spun around petulantly and began walking away. Hannibal dragged him back before he could go too far.
“You expressed a desire to go to Prague, William. Was it wrong for me to think you want to move on now?”
“No. It was not wrong.”
“Then isn’t it time you swam again?”
Will remained silent.
“Will?” Hannibal prodded.
“I’ll tell you what, Hannibal. There’s a yoga class that starts in 10 minutes. I’ll go for that and after it ends, I’ll go into the hot tub with you.”
Hannibal was not completely pleased but it was a start. He released Will.
“That sounds like a marvelous idea. I will do my laps until then.”
Will gave him a stony glare as he left for Vinyasa Flow.
In the early years, in the time before Prague, they had gone swimming in the sea often. It was their favorite activity, snorkeling or diving together and watching life move below. Hannibal was good—it was his favorite way to exercise. But Will—Will had the sea in his veins. He was a selkie in the water—it parted around him, cradled him like he was their child.
Prague had taken the pleasure of water from Will, but Hannibal would give it all back.
Aversion therapy seemed the best course. What would be a pleasant association to create with water? Hannibal stilled as a rather sensual thought drifted across his mind. He and Will were not in that kind of relationship unfortunately. He would have to come up with a different association.