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Far from the Tree

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It’s been years since Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter have been presumed dead. Save for a handful of late night docu-drama specials, they’ve all but completely dropped out of the news cycle. It’s given them some degree of freedom—enough to move around their tiny town in Provence without looking over their shoulders, enough to be friendly with their neighbors. Enough for Will to tentatively reach out to his father with a burner phone and the number for a landline he’s sure has been disconnected, the one he knows by heart.

His dad picks up on the fifth ring.

“Hello?” His voice is gruff and suspicious, stained with years of nicotine and booze.

He sounds exactly the same, and Will wasn’t expecting to cry today. He had a list of things he wanted to say, and now he can’t think of any of them. He leans his head against the smooth paint of their kitchen wall and listens to his father breathing.

“Hello?” his dad says again, irritated now. “How many times have I told you not to call this number? If you call one more time, I really am going to get that restraining order. I told you last time—”

“Dad?”

He hears his father’s indrawn breath.

“Willy?” Nobody moves. He wonders if his dad’s hung up. “Is that you?”

He remembers how to breathe again.

“Yeah, Dad, it’s me.”

“Well I’ll be damned.”

It’s just so him that Will can’t help the sob of laughter that claws its way out of his throat. It’s as good an icebreaker as any.

“How are you?” Will asks.

“Same old. Business hasn’t been good this year, but I make it by.”

Will bites his tongue against the urge to tell his father that he shouldn’t be working at his age. His dad wouldn’t thank him for it, and anyway, he’s pretty sure Bill Graham will stop working when he’s dead.

“Fish aren’t biting?”

“Not so much. It’s so goddamn hot that even the fish are getting lazy.” There’s a long pause. “I’d be better if my son weren’t a fugitive.”

There it is. He’d have had to be a moron not to expect it, but it was a nice fantasy—that they could just shoot the shit and talk about fishing.

Will thinks about saying sorry. He doesn’t, because he isn’t.

“Are people bothering you?” he asks instead. “Who’re you threatening to get a restraining order against?”

“Some reporter who keeps calling the house. Persistent thing. Most of ‘em gave up, two, maybe three years ago. Joannie? Jackie?”

“Freddie?”

His dad grunts. “Probably. Name sounds right.”

Will told himself he wouldn’t, but he apologizes anyway. “I’m sorry, Dad. I didn’t mean for you to get dragged into any of this.”

“Stop that. I’m a grown man. I can take care of myself.

The silence stretches out, grows long and awkward.

”Willy?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m glad to hear you’re not dead.”

* * *

He doesn’t exactly plan it, never does, but he calls his dad again, and then again. There’s no order to it. No Sunday morning phone calls, no first of the month routine. It’s just, sometimes he picks up the phone. It’s always Will reaching out—with a different number every time, there’s no way for his dad to reach him anyway—but his dad always picks up.

They don’t talk about much. Never anything important. They talk about the fish and the neighbor whose tree keeps growing over the fence. They talk about the weather, summer turning into fall.

“Where are you living these days, Willy?”

It’s the closest they’ve come to talking about the elephant in the room since his dad called him a fugitive.

“I can’t tell you that,” Will says with some guilt, some regret—nothing he isn’t used to.

“Right, right. Of course.”

He can imagine his dad standing at the corded landline, yellowed plastic receiver cradled in one hand with the other shoved into his pocket. He imagines the familiar tang of stale tobacco and brine.

“I could show you.”

There’s silence on the other end. Will wonders if his dad’s phone is wired. If Jack Crawford or some other suit is sitting at the kitchen table he dimly remembers from childhood, the one pitted with scars and coffee rings, motioning for Bill to keep him on the line.

The imagining evaporates. Will knows there isn’t anyone else there without being able to say how he knows. Knows that the only two people who know these conversations even exist are he and his dad, and Hannibal who somehow always knows when to excuse himself from the room.

“How would we do that, supposing I was interested?” his dad asks.

Will pretends his heart isn’t hammering in his chest, and they work out a plan.

* * *

Will doesn’t meet his dad at the airport, and his dad doesn’t ask him to. Neither of them talk about the reason Will can’t pick him up, the reason Will stays away from populated areas with a strong police presence. They don’t talk about anything at all. His dad just tosses his duffel bag in the back before sliding into the passenger seat, when Will pulls up in front of the cafe where he’s waiting outside, looking entirely incongruous in his Crocs and threadbare t-shirt proclaiming Big Bass Fishing.

They don’t hug. They’ve never really been huggers.

Will checks behind him before pulling out on the narrow road, back onto the equally narrow street of Rue de la Couronne. He’s never quite gotten the hang of driving in France and tells himself that’s why he’s white-knuckling the steering wheel—not because his dad is sitting stone-faced beside him, looking like the ghost of Will Grahams past. He thinks of turning on the radio, but his dad beats him to it. The CD Will had been listening to starts up instead, and his dad smiles when he recognizes the opening of an AC/DC song.

“Glad to see you’ve still got good taste in music, at least,” he says, and Will smiles.

“Did you hear about their reunion tour?”

“Eh,” Dad waves off the news with a callused hand. “They’re too old now. Wouldn’t be the same.”

Hannibal would have something to say to that, Will thinks. Teacups and time and the rules of disorder. None of it would make a lick of sense to his dad, though (“Gee, dad, not only did I run off with a serial killing cannibal—he’s also legally insane, in case you hadn’t seen the trial”), so Will keeps it to himself. He cranks up the car radio and lets wailing guitar riffs fill up the streets of Provence.

* * *

His dad notices the scar for the first time when they get out of the car, after Will offers to take his bag and his dad loudly harrumphs, complaining that he isn’t an old man.

“What happened to your face?” he asks, gripping Will’s jaw in strong fingers and turning his cheek toward the light for a better look.

Will tamps down on the urge to brush his fingers over the scar tissue on his cheek, or else jerk his head away.

“Got into a fight,” he says.

“With him?”

It’s the first time either of them have mentioned Hannibal, and it makes Will’s breath catch in his throat. He wasn’t sure they would. Hannibal had agreed to give them space, and it’s possible this whole trip could have gone by without mentioning him at all. Pretending.

Will isn’t sure if he wanted that. He isn’t sure if he wants this either.

Yes, Will could say. We took down a dragon together. It was the most beautiful moment of my life.

No, he could say. He gave me other scars, belly, head, and heart, but not this one.

Of course, because he’s a part of everything I do now.

But that’s nothing his dad would understand, and they’re too personal anyway. Too private.

So Will just says, “No, he’s not like that.”

Will’s dad studies his face for a while more, looking for the lie. Will feels about fourteen again, waiting to get scolded for breaking the neighbor’s windshield, and he can’t meet his father’s eyes, but he does let him look.

“Fine,” his dad says at last, satisfied. “Good.”

Good lives in a different stratosphere, and they both know it, but they don’t say anything more about it.

His dad follows him up the walk into the house he shares with Hannibal. Will is hyperaware of every minute detail of everything around them—the fussy rosebushes, the grand, ostentatious foyer, the utter lack of muddy boots or fishing tackle anywhere (it’s all upstairs, in the room Will claimed as a workshop).

He feels like he’s been caught out at playing house, utterly self-conscious about every aspect of the decor that screams Hannibal (all of it—Will had left the decorating and furniture-buying to him because he honestly doesn’t care). Hannibal had been courteous in his choices, selecting pieces that they’d both be happy to live with, designing the house around Will’s comfort as well as his own—but what had seemed comfortable and homey when it’s just the two of them alone suddenly seems like a bad pantomime.

As if the house without Hannibal is too big for him, like one of the hand-me-down coats Will got from the local church every year as a boy, kind-faced nuns in habits handing out clothes from boxes. Like he’s still that kid from the wrong side of the tracks, putting on airs and playing at being something he’s not.

This would be better, he thinks, if they had something else to look at. Anything. Rolling hills, a picturesque ocean, the field behind his house in Wolf Trap. Hell, a boat motor.

Will wishes for just a minute that he’d allowed Hannibal to throw the big, elaborate dinner he’d surely planned. Then there might be skulls on the table and bird claws reaching up from the hors d’oeuvres, but at least it would be something to talk about. The truth is he’d been embarrassed. He’d imagined his dad—whiskey neat, Bud from a can, hot dogs on Tuesday dad—encountering one of Hannibal’s dinners, and the thought gave him hives.

So there had been I think it’s better if we spend the day alone—it’ll be easier on everyone, and Hannibal, asshole that he is, had agreed. He’d kissed Will goodbye before Will left to pick his dad up, then made himself scarce; if he’s still in the house, he’s keeping quiet as the dead. Will knows without looking that Hannibal isn’t in the house.

Hannibal is giving them privacy, may wonders never cease. He’d passed up an opportunity to peer intently into Will’s past, to trace the threads that turned Willy Graham, aspiring cop, into this.

And now he and his dad are staring awkwardly at the dining room table, and Will has no idea what to say.

His dad breaks the silence first.

“Nice place you have,” he says, in a tone of voice that gives nothing away. Will can’t tell if he’s being judged or if he only feels like he is.

* * *

Dinner is fish fry and hush puppies, plus a green salad he whips up out of odds and ends in the refrigerator. He smiles at the container of lime vinaigrette that wasn’t there this morning, labeled in Hannibal’s neat hand, and he uses it to dress the salad.

They sit down at one end of the dining table, alone. The size of it suddenly seems ridiculous for two people. His dad must be thinking the same thing.

He eyes the empty place settings. “Boyfriend not coming to dinner? I’m starting to think you live alone.”

Will smiles, letting himself be ribbed by the gentle teasing. It feels strangely like a performance: the happy father and son, and no, of course one’s not an alcoholic; of course one didn’t turn to a life of crime.

They’re trying, and that seems like the point. They’re both trying.

Will takes a bite of his food. The fish is flaky and fresh. He’d just caught it the other day, but it isn’t as good as what Hannibal would have made.

“He’s giving us space,” Will says.

His dad’s mouth turns down at the corners, the way it did when he was disappointed with Will as a child—which is to say not often, but often enough.

“I asked him to,” he clarifies.

“Hm,” his father says. He takes a bite of his own food, cutting open the fish fillet with a fork, to a billow of fragrant steam. “You still fish?”

“Yes, sir.”

His dad sighs. “Willy, don’t call me sir. You’re a man grown.”

Will doesn’t say anything to that. He asks about his dad’s business. Learns that some young protege is watching it while Bill is out of town and feels an irrational stab of jealousy.

“Food’s good,” his dad says.

Will thinks the hush puppies are a little overdone.

* * *

Will is only a little surprised to find Hannibal waiting in bed by the time he gets upstairs, having made sure his dad knows where to find extra towels and blankets. It’s not like it gets cold in autumn, but old habits die hard. Some part of him remembers tucking his dad in, passed out after a few too many. Remembers it still.

Maybe it’s the part that unclenches when he sees Hannibal propped against their pillows, wearing the reading glasses Will had bought him. He’s engrossed in whatever he’s reading, enough that Will has the chance to study his face for a minute, tracking the play of light over his high cheekbones, the soft slope of his mouth.

Hannibal looks up and smiles, closing the book and setting it on the nightstand. He carefully folds his reading glasses and sets them back in their case. Will shucks his clothes quickly and gets into bed with a sigh, letting the last bit of tension bleed out of him. Hannibal’s arms fold around him, and Will settles into the embrace, squirming around to get comfortable.

“Did you have a pleasant afternoon with your father?” Hannibal asks.

“I did. It was good to see him. I wasn’t expecting that. It was… weirdly normal.”

“You weren’t expecting normal.”

“How could I be?” He twists around to look at Hannibal. “Nothing about us is normal.”

“No? We live a quiet life in the French countryside. You fish and make small talk with the neighbors. I draw, cook, and compose. We have a standing brunch date on Sundays, weather permitting. I’d say that’s a life perfectly within the realm of normality.”

“We’re international fugitives who eat people.”

“Does the one negate the other?”

Hannibal nuzzles the soft skin behind his ear, licking lightly along his earlobe, distracting him. Will allows it for a moment, closing his eyes with a soft sigh and reveling in the sensation.

“Mm, don’t,” he says at last, pulling away.

“No?” Hannibal nips lightly at his neck, undeterred.

“Not tonight. I can’t, with my dad right down the hall. Sorry,” he adds, sheepish.

It’s stupid that this is where he draws the line—that he’ll be party to serial murder and literal cannibalism, but he’s squeamish about fucking with his dad asleep down the hall. He knows it’s stupid, but he’s wound tight as a spring, and that’s just the way it is.

Hannibal, it seems, isn’t in the mood to take no for an answer. He worries at Will’s neck in a way Will is concerned will bruise—a hickey is the last thing he wants to explain—and Hannibal’s hand is wandering lower to cup the burgeoning flesh of his cock, which is interested despite everything.

Will feels himself hardening in Hannibal’s hand. He shoves him away, more purposeful this time. “Hannibal, quit it. I said no.”

“I heard you,” Hannibal says. He shifts so he’s lying on top of Will, so that Will can feel the press of his erection through the thin cotton of his pajama pants. He grinds himself against Will, and Will hisses at the friction.

Hannibal bends to kiss him, and Will bites him savagely on the mouth. Hannibal groans and grinds down harder. His body is hot everywhere it touches, so much heat between them, and Will grabs at his ass, kneading the flesh beneath his fingers. Hannibal shoves his tongue down Will’s throat, and Will moans around it, yanking Hannibal harder against him.

He’s panting when Hannibal pulls back, staring down at him with glittering, predatory eyes.

“Get off me,” Will grits out.

“No.”

Will could knee him in the balls. He still has Abel Gideon rattling around in his head—a voice telling him to go for the eyes. He could bite him, dislocate his fingers—there are a million ways to hurt a person, a million more to kill them.

But he doesn’t want to kill Hannibal. Not really, not anymore.

So Hannibal climbs slowly down his body, trailing fingers over his ribs, the little pad of fat over his stomach, the wiry hair that ends in a thatch around his cock, and Will does not make him hurt in one of the many ways he surely could.

Hannibal cups Will’s balls in his hand, cradling them before sliding his hand up the shaft of Will’s cock. He presses a teasing kiss to the tip. His lips come away wet with precome, and Will’s cock jerks a little at the sight. Hannibal licks over the head, dipping his tongue in the slit to taste him.

Then he swallows Will down with ruthless efficiency, a cat grown bored of playing with its food, and Will yells.

“Fuck,” he gasps, even as his hands grip at Hannibal’s hair, mussing it, pulling. He twists, trying to get away.

Hannibal blithely ignores him, pinning Will by the hips. He licks and sucks like a starving dog. Like he’s going to devour him. It’s too much and not enough, and a frustrated orgasm is simmering somewhere just out of reach.

There’s a moment where enough might actually be an option, a moment when Will bucks up into Hannibal’s mouth, seeking hot, wet friction—Hannibal is a bastard, so of course that’s the moment he pulls off, lips red and wet and swollen from sucking cock. Will seriously reconsiders his decision not to murder him.

“Just a moment,” Hannibal says, polite as anything.

Hannibal leans over him, keeping Will pinned under his body while he reaches over to open the bedside drawer. Will’s expecting the bottle of lube he draws out. He isn’t expecting the gleam of a knife blade, or the heft of its handle as it’s pressed into his hand.

“What?” he asks dumbly.

“You asked me to stop,” Hannibal says. He folds his hand over Will’s, using it to close Will’s fingers around the knife. He presses a chaste kiss to the corner of Will’s lips. “You know how to make me stop.”

“Fuck you. You really think it’s a good idea to give me a knife while we do this?”

We, he notices. Not you. Even in this he’s complicit.

Hannibal smiles down at him, eyes lidded, beatific and indulgent. “I think it’s an excellent idea.”

He slides down Will’s body and sucks the tip of his cock back into his mouth, holding it there while he opens the lube to slick his fingers. He smears cold gel over Will’s asshole, messy and crude. Will doesn’t have the chance to get another word in edgewise before Hannibal is pressing two fingers in, too fast for comfort. His hand tightens around the knife reflexively as Hannibal drags his fingers back out and pushes them back in.

The squelch of lube is porn star filthy, and Hannibal uses his free hand to push Will’s thighs further apart, mouthing aimlessly at the head of his cock. He works Will open, pushing past the resistance his body gives, every inch of stop and no and don’t do that.

Hannibal’s fingers find his prostate with the ease of long practice, and pleasure coils around the steady burn of penetration. He spreads his legs to give Hannibal more room, biting his lip to keep from crying out as Hannibal hits that spot inside him over and over. His cock is drooling clear fluid where it’s laying neglected on his belly, and Will staunchly refuses to do anything about it while Hannibal pulls his fingers out and replaces them with his cock.

He thrusts into Will with one long, fluid stroke that pushes a grunt out of him. Will expects that Hannibal will fuck him fast and hard, show him who’s boss—and then he remembers who he’s dealing with. Hannibal isn’t a boorish, ham-fisted frat bro, and this isn’t a date rape. Hannibal moves torturously slowly, drawing every ounce of pleasure from his body.

“Fuck you,” Will says.

Hannibal bares his teeth in a grin, and Will digs his heels into the meat of Hannibal’s ass, goading him forward.

"Are you done yet?” Will taunts. “I wanted to finish the last chapter of that book before bed."

It’s a plainly transparent attempt at manipulation, made even less convincing by Will’s shuddery, shocky breaths, and Hannibal sidesteps it easily. He fucks Will long and slow, wringing shuddering, soft sighs from him without his say-so.

He finds Hannibal in bed that night like a port in a storm, knocking down every last hiding place, every boundary between them. He constructs forts and Hannibal kicks them down, and all is as it should be.

* * *

Breakfast the next morning is weird. It would have been weird no matter what. Seeing Hannibal and his dad sitting at the same table feels a little like running into a teacher in the grocery store, an unsettling sensation of something out of place. It’s even weirder because there’s an ache in his ass every time he shifts, a reminder of what he and Hannibal had done last night, as if Hannibal’s pleased smile across the counter wasn’t enough.

They’re sitting at the smaller table in the kitchen, at least. Will doesn’t know if he’d have been able to survive another round of watching his dad eat across a dining room table that suddenly seems too big, too fancy. Too much like playing pretend. Later, he’ll have to—there’s no way Hannibal is serving dinner anywhere but the dining table—but later he’ll have a few glasses of wine in him, and the vivid image of Hannibal’s fingers dipping into his body will have begun to fade away.

Hannibal saves the three of them from uncomfortable silence, setting dishes in front of them with his usual flair.

“Eggs cooked in the French style, over a bain-marie, with pain perdu in custard, topped with fresh berries.”

It looks like scrambled eggs, bacon, and French toast to Will, which means it looks like that to his dad too. Will picks up his fork and nudges the edge of his pile of steaming, fluffy eggs and very pointedly does not shift in his seat.

His dad eyes the meat dubiously. “What kind of bacon did you say this was?”

“Ah, forgive me, I didn’t. That is applewood smoked bacon procured from a very fine butcher shop in town. Their cuts are always impeccable. They’re the only butcher I trust, besides myself.” He says it without batting an eye, and Will’s eyebrows shoot up into his hairline.

His dad looks to Will, skeptical, who nods. At that, Bill shrugs and tucks into his meal. A smile flickers at the corner of Hannibal’s mouth as he watches the older man eat.

“So, Hannibal,” his dad says. “What kind of name is that?”

Will looks sidelong at his dad, and then at Hannibal. He’s reasonably certain Hannibal has no intention of murdering his father, but then, at one point he was pretty sure Hannibal had no intention of cutting off their daughter’s ear and shoving it down his throat.

“It’s the latinized version of a Carthaginian name, most notably given to Hannibal Barca, a general who struck fear into the heart of ancient Rome. It’s said the Roman senators would cry ‘Hannibal ante portas!’ at his approach.”

“Huh. Neat. You know there's that comedian named Hannibal something. Hannibal Buress, I think?"

Will snickers into his coffee.

But Hannibal simply inclines his head, interested. It happens like this sometimes, that Will steps outside himself to see Hannibal as others do. Less, now that they’ve begun to twine in on each other like a stand of trees, but it does happen. Right now, Will can see exactly what Hannibal’s fancy high society friends must have seen in him forever ago; it’s intoxicating, to have the full wattage of Hannibal’s attention turned on you. Dizzying, even. Will himself has never been immune.

“Fascinating,” Hannibal says. “I shall endeavor to look him up.”

“You like comedy?” Will asks. He can’t help needling. He’d bet money that Hannibal can’t name a single comedian outside of Charlie Chaplin.

“Comedy can be a balm for despair, a tool for political agitation. I respect its artistry, even if I don’t see the appeal myself.”

He doesn’t have anything to say to that. It’s too early. His eyes are still burning in his skull.

“Willy here’s never much cared for comedy,” his dad says.

“I never thought it was funny.”

He still doesn’t.

* * *

They decide to spend the day outdoors, sightseeing. Will is glad for it, for the opportunity to get some fresh air into his lungs. The air in the house has started to grow stifling, no matter how many windows he throws open. Hannibal accompanies them, and they take his car.

“You don’t have dogs,” his dad says. Will blinks as he tries to parse the non sequitur. “You always had dogs, didn’t you?”

“Not that you ever met them,” Will mutters.

Hannibal locks eyes with him in the rearview mirror. Rudeness, he knows, still isn’t one of Hannibal’s favorite things. His dad doesn’t react at all. Doesn’t scold or cuss or raise his voice—doesn’t even turn to look, and part of Will wishes that he would.

“Seemed impractical, to get dogs when we moved,” Will says. He looks out the window, watching trees and streets roll by under the 52. “At first it was impossible, and now it’s just—” He shrugs. “No dogs.”

“Oh,” his dad says. He opens his mouth—Will can see it in the passenger side window. For a second Will thinks he might say more, but he doesn’t. He nods tersely and watches the scenery roll by, same as Will. They pass a shopping center.

Hannibal reaches over and turns on the radio, one hand on the wheel, eyes fixed firmly on the road. Something light and classical fills the car. The sky is heavy and dark overhead, the kind of grey that looks cold. Will wonders if it’ll rain.

* * *

They drive down to Cassis, passing a rash of parking garages on the way into town. The last time they were here, it was summer and the place was crawling with tourists. Now it seems like nothing so much as a sleepy fishing village. Pastel houses jut out at odd angles, reaching up toward the sky. Will feels the first drizzle of rain as he gets out of the car, slamming the door behind him.

“Have you ever been to France before, Mr. Graham?” Hannibal asks.

Will gives him a sharp look. Hannibal knows there’s no way Bill Graham, who could barely buy food to feed his son, let alone a Greyhound ticket out of state, has ever traveled abroad. Hannibal ignores the daggers Will glares at him, and his dad answers earnestly. He doesn’t know Hannibal well enough to see his prodding for what it is.

“Nah. Never did much traveling.” He glances out at the sailboats lined up in the harbor. “But fishing is fishing no matter where you go. The fishing’s good enough in Louisiana—don’t need to pay extra to come catch French fish. They all eat the same.”

Hannibal beams at him. “Quite right.”

If Will rolls his eyes any harder, they might actually fall out of his skull.

“There’s a saying in this part of Provence, ‘Who has seen Paris and not Cassis, has not seen anything.’ At the very least, Mr. Graham, we will send you home having seen something.”

Their conversation patters on, and Will lets it go, lets it slip around him like the current. They keep a steady pace, and Will lets himself fall behind, watching. Observing. It’s raining a little harder now, but not hard enough to turn them back inside. He tips his face up and lets the icy drops cool his face where they land, eyes, nose, cheeks. A droplet lands on the center of his lip, and Will licks it off.

“Do you fish, Hannibal?” Will’s dad asks.

“Will is the fisherman in our relationship,” Hannibal says, and Will would have to be blind to miss the way his face softens at the edges—his eyes, his mouth. He reaches for Will’s hand, and Will allows it. He allows the soft squeeze. “I’m afraid he’s caught me quite thoroughly.”

“Catch and release,” Will says.

“Not this time, I hope.” Hannibal’s words are quiet. Soft-bellied and tender, too viscerally fragile for this world.

Will’s dad clears his throat, and Hannibal and Will turn together, like one terrible beast. Will drops his hand.

“Are you boys hungry?” his dad asks.

“Yeah, I could eat,” Will says. His stomach growls, and he realizes that he really could.

“Then eat we shall,” Hannibal says.

The restaurant they pick is a little seaside cafe that opens up onto the pier. Small tables and chairs stud the walkway, covered with deep red tablecloths that flutter in the breeze. Hannibal walks in and speaks with a host, and they’re seated in short order, outside where they can watch the ships bob in the harbor. Will watches the occasional family wander by.

If he looks closely, he can pick out which ones are on vacation, which ones live here. They all have one thing in common, and it’s that they look so uncomplicatedly happy together. A child giggles as she swings between the arms of her parents, taking enormous leaps between them as they swing her from one footing to the next.

He wonders if the three of them look so happy—what people think when they see them, if they think anything at all. He wonders if they see a happy couple showing their visiting relative around the countryside. He wonders if that’s what they are.

His dad frowns at the menu, which is somehow all in French—leave it to Hannibal to choose the one seaside restaurant in a tourist town without an English translation on the menu. Will flicks his eyes over his own menu summarily. His French isn’t perfect, but it’s passable; enough to get by. Enough that he isn’t lost on his own, without Hannibal—that was important to him.

“Can I make a suggestion?” Hannibal asks Will’s father, leaning in. “Cassis is renowned for their bouillabaisse.”

Will doesn’t miss the slight curl of his dad’s mouth, the approval there. “That sounds fine,” he says. He orders it when the waiter comes by, and Will orders the same. So does Hannibal, and a bottle of white for the table.

The sun comes out while they wait for their food, and Hannibal starts discussing the differences between traditional and southern American bouillabaisse to a rapt audience. His dad has opinions about fish. Will props his chin on his hand, happy to leave them to it.

When the stew comes, Will is hungrier than he thought. The wine has already brought a flush to his cheeks, and the seafood soup smells like heaven itself. He misses the andouille sausage and the spice, but the mussels are fresh, and the broth is hot and fragrant as it slides down his throat, warming him from the inside out.

* * *

Dinner is a sedate affair, by Hannibal’s standards. After the rain clears, they manage to get enough sun that they’re all feeling sun-bleached and tired by the time the last dish is cleared away. Will helps Hannibal load the dishwasher, and by the time they’ve finished, his dad is nowhere to be found.

He finds his dad on the back porch, sitting on the outdoor sofa with his feet propped up on the coffee table. It’s such an incongruous sight—his dad lounging on Hannibal’s expensive furniture, treating it like the beat up furniture back home—that Will has the fleeting impression that he might be dreaming.

He takes the empty cushion next to his dad and hands over one of the tumblers he’s carrying.

“I always want to put my feet on that thing,” he says.

His dad eyes him. “That boyfriend of yours is awful fussy, isn’t he?”

Will shrugs. He takes a sip of his scotch and laughs. It’s been so long since anyone’s complained about anything normal about Hannibal within earshot.

“He’s not so bad once you get to know him.”

“Must be. You’ve taken quite a shine to him.” His dad takes a sip of his own drink and grunts his approval. “That’s good.”

“Macallan 18. There are perks to having a fussy boyfriend.”

They drink in silence for a while, listening to the hum of cicadas in the dark. The porch light casts a warm glow all around them, their little house. Will thinks of it like a ship on the sea, for the first time in many years.

“How long are you staying?” Will asks. He hadn’t bought a return ticket—in case the trip went well or in case it went poorly, he couldn’t say.

“Thought I might stay through the weekend—if that’s alright with you. With both of you,” he amends.

“Yeah, of course it’s alright. You can stay as long as you like.”

Will can’t help feeling a stab of disappointment that his dad is leaving again so soon. He thinks about asking him to extend his trip, but that way lies disappointment.

He says nothing. He drinks his scotch.

“You should watch it with that stuff, you know,” his dad says, gesturing to the drink in Will’s hand. “The men in our family were always drunks. Your fancy boyfriend’s not going to like you so much if you turn into a sloppy alcoholic like your old man. Your mother sure didn’t.”

“Is that why she left you?”

“One reason of many.”

The cicadas chirp. They sit there until the lights of the house go dark, leaving them sitting in flickering porch light.

“Thanks,” Will says. “For coming.”

“Don’t mention it, kiddo.”

* * *

They say goodbye in Aix-en-Provence, while Hannibal waits with the car. It’s harder than Will thought.

“Willy,” his dad says, voice heavy, and Will waits for it—to be disowned, denounced for any one of a hundred crimes, both real and imagined. You killed a man in cold blood or You’re letting a cold-blooded man fuck you— really, either would do. But all his dad says is, “You know you picked a weirdo, right?”

That startles a short, sharp bark of laughter out of him. “That’s the understatement of the year.”

His dad smiles crookedly and looks pointedly at the people around them. “Discretion being the better part of valor and all that.”

Will laughs again. “Yeah, point taken.”

The smile falls off his dad’s face and leaves something else in its place—something uncomfortable and raw, sad at the edges.

“Are you happy, Willy?”

“I—” The words get stuck in his throat.

Is he? He’s a lot of things. He’s a murderer, a fugitive. A cannibal. He’s his father’s only son.

“Yeah. Yeah, Dad. I’m happy.”

His dad clasps his shoulder and squeezes it tight. “Good. Good, I’m real glad to hear that.”

The cab pulls up along the curb. It’s double-parked in rush hour traffic, and the driver looks annoyed with the delay.

“You take care of yourself,” his dad says. “Take care of both of you.”

“I will,” Will says. “I promise.”

His dad nods. He takes a last long look at Will, like he’s committing him to memory.

He isn’t Hannibal. There are no ornate declarations here, no obscure references or poetic proclamations.

“Good,” his dad says again. “Well, I’ll be seeing you.”

Will helps him get his bags into the trunk of the cab, then closes the backseat door behind him. He watches the taxi pull away into traffic, stares at it until it’s nothing more than a speck on the horizon.