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An American Empath In London

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When Will sat down, winded from his run through the airport terminal, someone was already in the window seat next to his. Will registered a brown tartan suit, matching waistcoat, paisley tie—snappy dresser—but he didn’t look any higher than the striped shirt collar. Eye contact was even less desirable on an airplane.

He loosened his own tie and leaned against the head rest. He was pretty sure his tie didn’t go with his shirt, or even clash in an interesting way. It was a wonder he was even wearing a shirt, to be honest; the call from Jack had woken him up from the first decent sleep he’d had in months. The sleep had been courtesy of half a bottle of Jim Beam…which didn’t help the state of his head, either.

‘Get to Dulles,’ Jack had said on the phone, with his customary olde-worlde charm. ‘You’re booked on a flight to London in an hour. Rathbone from Scotland Yard will meet you on the other side.’

‘London?’ Will had managed to say through a mouth fuzzed with sleep and bourbon. Winston jumped up on the bed and stuck a wet nose under his chin.

‘England. You’ve heard of it? I’m lending you to them for a week. They’ve got what looks like wolf attacks in London, killing Tory politicians. Don’t make the joke, I’ve heard them all already. Just get dressed and get on the plane. You’ll need a passport.’

‘Jack, I’ll never get to Dulles on—‘

But Jack had already hung up. Thank God Will had been able to get hold of someone to look after the dogs.

Now, he ran his hand through his hair and then rasped it on the beard stubble on his chin. Miraculously, the FBI had sprung for a first class ticket, which meant that at least he had some personal space. The man sitting next to him exuded a faint scent of cologne, or perhaps expensive soap. Will knew that he himself smelled of Beam, sweat and dog. At least there was enough room between them so that the other passenger wouldn’t be too offended.

‘Would you like a mint?’ asked a cultured, accented voice. A well-manicured hand held out a small tin of sweets, nestled in tissue and powdered sugar.

Will opened his mouth to refuse, and then realized his fellow passenger was probably offering out of self-defense. ‘Thanks,’ he said, not looking up, and took a mint. His eyes widened in surprise as soon as he popped it into his mouth. He’d been expecting a Tic-Tac; this was a chip of ice-pure glacier, impossibly clean and sharp-tasting. It chased away the sour taste of bourbon, aspirin and annoyance.

‘Good,’ he said, almost involuntarily.

‘Isn’t it?’ said his companion, a touch of humour in his voice. Again involuntarily, Will glanced at his face. He had hair carefully combed back from his face, high cheekbones, a full, sculpted mouth, and quite extraordinarily piercing eyes.

Will looked away immediately, but not before those eyes had not only met his gaze, but looked straight through him and pinned him open like a specimen on a tray awaiting dissection.

Desire clenched like a fist in Will’s gut, as surprising and about as welcome as a sucker punch. Will grimaced and leaned away from his companion, closing his eyes and feigning sleep. With any luck, real sleep would come soon enough, and he could sleep through the entire flight and not have to deal with any more conversation. Or with how irrationally attractive he found this stranger.

What was this, anyway? He didn’t need sex to complicate things. His life was complicated enough already, with Jack Crawford calling him up at all hours and sending him off to solve what sounded like The Hound of the Baskervilles.

He thought about fishing. And didn’t fall asleep as the plane taxied and took off.

‘You should have a glass of champagne,’ commented the voice. ‘It’s not as horrible as you would expect from airline champagne, and it would calm your nerves.’

Will realized his hands were clenched on the arm rests. ‘I’m not nervous of flying,’ he said without opening his eyes.

‘No, you’re not. When you’re flying, everything is out of your control. If anything goes wrong, it won’t be your fault, and you won’t be able to do anything about it. You find flying quite relaxing, normally. No, what you’re nervous about is what awaits you when you land.’

At this, Will did open his eyes.

‘Pardon me?’ he said.

‘Have a glass of champagne,’ said the man, passing one to him.

He took it. He tried hard not to notice the other man’s fingers briefly brushing his.

‘I think it’s more pleasant to know one’s travelling companions by name,’ said the man. ‘I’m Dr Hannibal Lecter.’

‘Will Graham,’ said Will, seeing no way out of it. Hannibal? Who named their kid Hannibal?

He took a gulp of the champagne. It didn’t really calm his nerves.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr Graham,’ said Dr Lecter. ‘Is it your first time flying to London?’

‘ Yes. Listen, I’m not really in the mood for—’

‘For conversation. Yes. No offense taken. Unless of course you’d like to talk about what you’re worried about will happen after we land.’

‘Dr Lecter, I—’

He held up a hand. ‘I apologise. It’s a professional hazard. When I see anxiety, it’s my instinct to try to help.’

‘Please tell me you’re not a psychologist.’

‘I’m a psychiatrist.’

Will grimaced. Did they grow on trees, or did they actually follow him around? ‘Don’t psychoanalyse me. You wouldn’t like me when I’m psychoanalysed.’

Dr Lecter inclined his head. ‘What do you do for a living, Will?’

‘I’m a lecturer.’

‘And you’re going to London to…lecture?’

‘Something like that.’

As soon as he finished his champagne, a flight attendant appeared to refill his glass. ‘I see why they call it first class,’ Will said. He felt much more off-balance than he should, after only one glass of champagne. Maybe the alcohol had revived the bourbon still crawling through his bloodstream.

‘You don’t usually travel this way?’

‘It’s usually cattle class and rented cars. I was shocked when I saw the ticket.’

‘Perhaps you are more valued than you believe you are.’

Will made an indistinct noise. He wasn’t sure himself what it meant. Valued? As the FBI’s tame empath, lent out to Scotland Yard like a spare bloodhound?

Looks like wolf attacks…

Jack would have sent the files to his laptop. He should have downloaded them before he’d got on board, but he’d been running for the plane. He should be thankful he couldn’t see what he was heading towards, but the thing was: imagination was always much worse.

Much, much worse.

Except when it wasn’t.

And more and more, reality was becoming as frightening as the worst that he could imagine.

Teeth in skin, shredded and raw, the soft intimate insides of a person spread on the grey London street like an obscene secret, eyes unseeing and open in fear as something unnatural lopes away, dripping blood, into the fog…

‘Would you like some lunch?’ A pleasant female voice interrupted his thoughts, and he realized he’d been staring at his companion’s tartan-clad knee for some time now. His knee, and his thigh, long and muscular underneath the fine material.

‘No thank you,’ said that companion, smoothly and cordially. ‘Neither of us would.’

Will watched the flight attendant move on to the next seat. ‘Actually,’ he said, ‘I’m pretty hungry. I didn’t manage breakfast.’

‘Good. Then you’ll appreciate this.’ Dr Lecter bent and retrieved a wicker basket from beneath the seat in front of him.

‘You brought a picnic?’

‘I’m very careful about what I put into my body. Airline champagne may be just about acceptable, but I don’t trust the food.’ He opened the hamper and unpacked several white cardboard boxes, stacking them on his tray table. ‘Luckily for you, I have enough to share. Prosciutto and figs?’

The scent was incredible. Despite himself, Will’s mouth watered. ‘I couldn’t possibly—’

‘I insist. You seem to me like a man who could use a taste or two of luxury.’ Dr Lecter produced a linen napkin and placed a curl of pink meat on it, a soft ripe purple fig. ‘I apologise for the lack of crockery and cutlery. Security is rather sensitive about bringing sharp objects on a plane.’ His lip twitched.

‘That’s…fine. Thank you.’

‘It’s my pleasure, Will.’

The ham was salty and tender, melting in his mouth; the fig juicy and sweet. Will didn’t protest when Hannibal replenished his napkin with more food. He was suddenly ravenous. Beside him, the other man took measured bites. He closed his eyes with each taste, savouring it, chewing slowly and thoroughly, wiping his fingers between bites on his own napkin. Once he licked his lips and Will caught himself staring at the tip of his tongue, moistening the sculpted mouth. He quickly looked back at the food on his table.

‘So,’ said Hannibal eventually, ‘if you’re not lecturing, what does bring you to London?’

‘I honestly have no idea.’

‘And the surprise is what makes you anxious?’

‘What I’m anxious about is not being surprised whatsoever. What I’m anxious about is seeing exactly what I expect to see.’

‘Your imaginings must be both vivid and dark, if you have such a visceral reaction to them.’

‘Visceral.’ Will let out a hollow laugh. ‘From the guts. An apt word.’

Hannibal raised an eyebrow slightly, but made no comment. ‘A piece of cheese, perhaps?’

‘Do you do this all the time? Feed strangers picnics on planes?’

‘No. I do not.’

‘Why are you doing it now then?’

Hannibal passed him a slice of cheese, wrapped in a fresh green leaf: white, soft, silky.

‘I find you interesting,’ he said.

The weight of his gaze was almost more than Will could bear.

‘I don’t,’ said Will. ‘Find you that interesting.’

‘You will. Another fig?’

The fig’s velvet skin yielded like flesh between his teeth, the seeds bursting. Will felt Hannibal watching him eat it. His attention was complete, as if he were savouring him as he’d savoured the food. His gaze…burned.

Was he trying to seduce Will?

Will swallowed hastily. ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘That was delicious. I’m really tired, so…’

He closed his eyes, folded his arms across his chest, reclined his seat. Thought about fishing. Cold water, flowing water, the bobbing of the lure, the flight of the line. Thought about fixing engines, the soporific scent of diesel. Thought about walking in the woods, twigs crunching underfoot, the dogs bounding through the snow.

He still tasted Hannibal’s figs, like honey. He felt the warmth of his leg, inches from his own. He smelled the subtle scent of his cologne. What wood was it? Pine? Sandalwood? Cedar? Something similar to what he breathed in the night in Wolf Trap, but more exotic, more elusive, almost intoxicating…

That gaze: intelligent, amused, penetrating. Strangely alluring. Will hadn’t had so much eye contact in months. Maybe years. That gaze was like a touch. An evocative caress. A small careful lick, from a savouring tongue.

Will felt himself hardening. Don’t think about that mouth on your dick. But of course he thought of it. Damn his too-imaginative brain.

He crossed his legs, trying to redirect his thoughts to shoveling up dog shit, and his foot kicked something. Cold splashed into his lap and he bolted upright to see a fellow passenger with an empty champagne glass in his hand. The contents were quickly soaking into the crotch of Will’s trousers.

‘You kicked me,’ accused the passenger, a disheveled man with a comb-over, a wrinkled suit and the bleary eyes of a drunk. ‘You spilled my drink.’

‘I’m sor—’ Will began but Hannibal interrupted him, addressing the other man.

‘You were barely able to stand upright,’ Dr Lecter told him. ‘I’m surprised the flight attendants served you. It’s no way to behave on a flight, or indeed at all.’

The drunk man gazed from Will to Hannibal and back again. ‘Need your boyfriend to stick up for you?’ he sneered at Will.

‘I—’

‘Pardon me sir, but I need you to return to your seat.’ A flight attendant appeared at the man’s side and smoothly diverted him. ‘Sir, I’m so sorry,’ she said over her shoulder to Will as she led the other man away. ‘I’ll have my colleague bring you a towel right away.’

‘No need,’ said Will. ‘I’ll clean it up myself.’ He unbuckled his seat belt and headed for the lavatory. There was a large wet, cold stain on the front of his trousers; he tried to hold his hands in front of him discreetly. Unfortunately the spilled drink seemed to have had no effect whatsoever on his embarrassing state of arousal. In fact, if anything, the authority in Hannibal’s response, the assumption by the drunken man that Hannibal and Will were a couple, had made it even worse.

Could he see it? The drunk? Could he see, somehow, the inappropriate and unwelcome thoughts that Will was having about his seatmate?

In the lavatory, Will splashed cold water on his face, dampened his curly hair and pushed it back from his face. No. No one could read his thoughts. That was his own particular specialty, and he’d learned the painful way that he was pretty much unique.

Because that was the reason for the bourbon self-pity party last night, wasn’t it? Loneliness, and the fact that he couldn’t stop himself from looking at horror?

‘Get a grip on yourself, Graham,’ he muttered to himself.

‘Alternatively,’ said a cultured voice behind him, ‘you could allow me.’

Will spun around in the tight confines of the lavatory. How had Hannibal Lecter got in here without him hearing? Without him seeing, in the mirror?

He heard and saw him now. All six feet of impeccably groomed, broad-shouldered, self-composed man. And felt him, in a way he hadn’t quite yet: the heat, the power of him, the control he had over his every tiny movement.

‘You—can I have a little privacy?’ he stammered, feeling himself stiffen even more.

‘You left the door unlocked,’ Hannibal commented. ‘I chose to take it as an invitation. Or have I misread the situation?’

Will opened his mouth to deny it, but he was caught in that gaze again. ‘I…’ he said, and he swallowed, his heart pounding loudly enough to be audible in the small space. ‘No. You haven’t misread it.’

Without breaking eye contact, Hannibal locked the door behind him. And then he closed the tiny distance between them and captured Will’s mouth in a savage kiss.

It was brutal, that kiss. Brutal and bruising and passionate and it belied the controlled, polite creature of taste who Will had met before. Hannibal’s teeth clashed against Will’s, his tongue delved deep into Will’s mouth, and Will found himself clutching Hannibal’s arms through the material of his suit, found himself leaning into the other man and kissing him back, just as hard, just as hungrily. He tasted of figs and champagne and clean mint and that wood, that wood he couldn’t identify, something old and elemental and sexy as hell.

Hannibal fisted his hand in Will’s hair and tilted his head back so he could nip at his throat. His body pressed Will backwards; the ledge of the sink dug into Will buttocks and in front, Hannibal’s hips ground against his. He was as turned on as Will was. His hard cock pressed through his clothes against Will’s crotch and Will groaned aloud, the sound shocking and guttural in the enclosed space. He reached for it, stroked it through Hannibal’s trousers, felt it hard and throbbing and Hannibal pulled back his head from Will for a moment to look into his face and smile.

That smile held desire and more than a little bit of triumph.

‘Do you find me interesting now?’ Hannibal asked. But before Will could answer him, he had sat on the closed toilet seat lid, and was unfastening Will’s belt with agile fingers.

‘I…what are you doing?’ Will whispered.

‘It’s self-evident, is it not?’ Hannibal undid Will’s trousers, unzipped his fly. Pushed his plaid boxer shorts down to draw out his erection, which was most definitely very erect. Will shuddered at the touch of Hannibal’s fingers on his heated flesh, but he withdrew as much as he could, pressing back against the sink.

‘There’s a planeful of people outside,’ he protested.

‘And does that not make it even more exciting, Will Graham?’

‘I—’

‘Don’t you crave for these private spaces in a crowd? These inviolable secrets of your innermost self?’

How does he know this stuff? ‘I crave—’

‘You crave this,’ replied Hannibal, and he took Will’s cock into his mouth.

Will stifled a shout.

Hannibal’s lips, oh dear Jesus, his lips and his tongue, that heat. It was hotter in his mouth than in a devil’s, and Hannibal’s mouth was skilled, sucking and licking and biting and gliding wetly over Will’s cock, touching every single nerve ending and sliding up, and then down.

But the thing that got him, the thing that nearly undid him, was the sight of Hannibal savouring him. Eyes closed, eyebrows raised, face beatific, as if Will Graham’s cock was the most delicious thing in the history of delicious things.

Will swallowed a ragged moan and he buried his hands in Hannibal’s hair, disheveling the perfectly-combed locks. He didn’t guide Hannibal, just held him, allowed him to do as he wanted, felt the other man’s head moving, back and forth, up and down. Hannibal made a sound of appreciation deep in his throat and it travelled up the length of Will’s dick, up his spine, making him dizzy and breathless.

It didn’t last long. It lasted forever. Hannibal sucked and licked, swirling his tongue around the head of his erection, grazing his teeth along the sensitive length, cradling his balls in one hand, and Will failed to breathe. He bit his own lip hard enough to draw blood, tilted his head back, gave himself up to the sensation and lost himself in something that wasn’t about death, wasn’t about being someone else. Was instead about being himself, right now, in the present, alive.

He came more violently than he had ever done in his life. Hannibal Lecter swallowed every drop.

Then he released Will’s cock, lingeringly, with a small, almost tender kiss on the end. He carefully tucked him back into his shorts, refastened his trousers, as Will stood there, trembling, trying to calm himself, trying to believe what he had just allowed to happen. What he had just done.

Finally Hannibal stood. Straightened his barely-ruffled clothing.

‘I think that will help your anxiety,’ Hannibal said.

There was something behind the doctor’s smile, something…wolfish. Something hungry. Something Will itched to understand.

Will grabbed his face and kissed him again to try to comprehend it. He tasted his own come on Hannibal’s lips. It was exquisite.

This was a man who understood the power of control, who found control in giving pleasure. What would he be like if he lost control?

Will could see it, behind his eyelids, in the place where he imagined. In the place where he truly lived.

He drew away and stared at Hannibal, astonished. Hannibal’s lips were reddened and there was a glow in his eyes. He nodded slightly, then glanced in the mirror and smoothed his hair back with his hand. He turned, unlocked the door, and was gone.

Will returned to his seat several minutes later, after he’d regained some measure of his composure. He had to pass the drunken businessman on his way back, who glared at him and snorted. ‘Mile high club, huh?’ he said, too loudly. Will ignored him and kept walking.

When he sat down, Hannibal was reading a hardback book, as if nothing had happened. But he had a faint flush on his cheekbones.

‘I apologise,’ he said quietly to Will. ‘I detest discourtesy. You should not have had to hear that.’

‘I’ve heard worse,’ said Will. ‘Much worse.’ He lowered his voice. ‘Hannibal…’

Hannibal raised his finger to his lips. ‘Relax, now. Try to sleep. We still have an hour and a half before we land.’

He went back to his book, but his land lay beside Will’s on their shared arm rest. They touched only along the length of their little fingers, so slight that no one would notice. But it was warm, and exciting, and somehow comforting, and Will drifted off, into a silent dream where the forest was watching him, surrounding him with that scent of mysterious wood and time.

He woke refreshed as they were touching down at Heathrow. His first thought was to glance over at Hannibal.

‘I don’t recommend the coffee,’ he said. ‘Are you feeling better? Ready for what’s awaiting you?’

Will thought of Rathbone. Of a wolflike being stalking London, scattering blood. Now it felt like a puzzle, not a horror. Or at least, a horror that he could solve. ‘Yes. Yes, I think I am.’

‘I’m very glad.’

The seatbelt sign turned off and Hannibal stood, collecting his hamper and a carefully-folded overcoat from the locker overhead. Will took down the carry-on bag he’d packed hastily and with probably not enough underwear, and the two of them walked off the plane together. Side by side through the glossy terminal, their strides matching.

At passport control, they paused before they parted to go into separate queues. Will swallowed. ‘Well, Dr Lecter, it was certainly unexpected, meeting you.’

‘Come see me,’ said Hannibal. ‘I’m staying at Claridge’s. We could have dinner, or go to the theatre.’

‘Or do something else to relieve my anxiety?’ He could barely believe he was saying it.

Hannibal smiled slightly. ‘Perhaps. Yes. Or you could do something for me. I have a suspicion you may be able to.’

He passed Will a card, heavy and textured, cream-coloured. Dr Hannibal Lecter it said, in copperplate engraving. An address in Baltimore, a mobile phone number.

‘Did you get teased at school?’ Will asked, turning over the card in his fingers. ‘For your name?’

‘Never more than once.’ Hannibal smiled, wider this time, and this smile was another revelation. ‘I’m free tomorrow evening. My phone will work in this country. Call me, if you like.’

He said it lightly but Will didn’t miss the command beneath the seemingly casual request. Their eyes met again, and once again Will forgot how to breathe.

Someone passed them in a fug of alcoholic fumes and Hannibal straightened, his nostrils flaring in distaste. It was the drunk man from the plane, his passport in hand, carry-on bag following him like an obedient pet.

‘You’ll excuse me,’ Hannibal said to Will. ‘I have some business to take care of. Au revoir.’

And he was gone, following the rude man silently, his shoulders straight, his posture perfect, not a wrinkle on him.

Will joined the non-EU line with his fellow sleepy countrymen and women, surrounded by American accents and barely-masked yawns. He looked for Hannibal, but he couldn’t see him.

Outside customs, Rathbone had an ill-fiittng grey suit and a nose too noble for his face. ‘Graham?’ he said when Will approached, despite the fact that he was holding a placard saying GRAHAM. ‘Welcome to London. I hope you had a good flight.’

Will Graham nodded. In his pocket, he turned over the rectangle of cardboard like a problem. Or a promise.