The first time he’d recalled it was after he, as Will had so eloquently put it, ‘rubber stamped’ him.
“I'm not sure therapy will work on you. Stealing into other minds has taught you how to fortify your own,” Hannibal had said, and it seemed that was the correct choice of words. Will had softened tremendously, the slightest smile tugging the corner of his lips up. He nodded, folding his arms over his chest.
“That’s what I said.” Will brought his hand to his hair, running his fingers through dark curls.
“And yet, he still insists I see you.” Hannibal paused, tilting his head back to meet Will’s eyes from where he stood on the balcony. “It would hardly be useful to treat you like a patient. If Jack Crawford really wants you in my office on a weekly basis, then I suppose we should get good at conversation.”
“That's all it is?” Will mused, running his fingers down the spine of a leather book that had caught his eye. It was worn, well-loved. There were hairline cracks running vertical down the spine from where pages had been held open and studied. There wasn’t a speck of dust on it, not that he had expected that. From the short time he had known Hannibal thus far, he couldn’t imagine he’d allow a single speck of dust to appear within his home.
“Well, you would clearly not be my patient, that is. At this point in time, you’re much more akin to a colleague.”
“A colleague protected by HIPPA.”
“I suppose that’s a way to put it. Speaking about one’s problems is a surefire way to aid in their processing, so due to that pesky little policy, I welcome you to speak about whatever you wish with me. Just conversation.”
Will waited a beat, using his forefinger to hook over the headband of the book. He pulled it out, running his hand over the cover. It was in a language he didn’t recognize—if he had to guess, it was probably Hannibal’s native language. He’d have to bring that up, at some point. “Just conversation.”
Hannibal had easily caught the faint drawl that had colored Will’s words. It was brief, and it was subtle, but he heard it. He said nothing, nor did he indicate he’d noticed anything new.
The next time had been as he talked Will down from a panic attack. He was unsure what had been its onset, but he hadn't hesitated to politely drop his conversation with Agent Crawford when Will had texted him to indicate his current situation.
The door to his classroom was slightly ajar when he arrived, but he still took the courtesy to knock. Three sharp raps with the knuckle of his middle finger, then silence. When that silence persisted, he called gently, “Will? It’s me.”
“Come in.” Will’s voice was weak, wavered slightly as it hit his ears. It was only then he obliged, stepping inside and making sure to close the door all the way. Will was slumped in his plush rolling chair, facing the side of the room, rather than his desk. His hips sat at the front of his chair, with his shoulders resting towards the center of the backrest. He’d discarded his glasses on his desk, all in favor of slowly rubbing his face. His breathing was quick, and labored, and worrying.
Hannibal draped his coat over one of the lecture desks, clasping his hands behind his back. “Are you comfortable with me approaching your desk?”
A quick, sharp nod, with an equally measured intake of breath, was his only answer. Hannibal took calm, long strides over, making a point to keep himself welcoming, non-threatening. He didn’t let his shadow cover the light, and rounded the corner to stand before Will. “How are you feeling, at this moment?”
“Like I’m drowning,” Will managed, through hyperventilation. “Like there’s too much pressure and I can’t catch my breath.”
“Let’s try to measure your breathing, first. Attempt to slow it down manually. Hyperventilation builds up carbon dioxide in the blood, which can trigger the body’s survival response.”
Will nodded, short and choppy, as he forced himself to take a purposeful breath. He held it for a few seconds before letting it out, but it wasn’t as slow as Hannibal would have liked. “Slow,” Hannibal eased. “May I touch you?”
It took a moment for him to even register the question, but he would respond, “Yeah.” Breathy, desperate, and horrid on his ears. The doctor reached out, gently resting his hand on the back of Will’s neck. He rubbed his thumb along the exposed skin in slow, deliberate motions, attempting to urge him into a steady pattern of breathing, a steady pulse of his heart.
It had taken thirty-eight minutes to bring Will down from the adrenal high that had been pumping him into panic. He let his eyes slip closed, leaning back into Hannibal’s grasp. “How are you feeling?” Hannibal repeated.
“Better,” he whispered. “Feeling better.”
“Would you care to share with me what caused this reaction?” He asked gently.
“Um… ugh. Brian and Jimmy started arguing. It got really loud. Everything got really loud.”
“I suppose with someone so sensitive to others’ emotions, that would be more than enough to send you spiraling. What’s important, though, is that you’re recovering.”
“Mhm,” he let out a shaky sigh. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be apologetic. I’m always happy to help you, Will,” he cooed.
“Yeah? Well, it did, it helped a lot.” There it was again, that slight dip in cadence that he’d only heard once before. Hannibal smiled, nodding shortly.
He’d begun to really listen for it since then. It could have been a miscalculation on his part the first time, but that sort of thing didn’t happen multiple times by accident, especially not in specific situations.
He finally brought it up as Will had stolen him away from a dinner party. Well—he hadn’t ‘stolen him away’ as much as he had retreated to Hannibal’s study to get away from the party, catching his host’s attention as he slipped from the crowd. Hannibal knew Will, he knew this amount of noise must be driving him insane. No, it was only when another guest decided to follow behind him, that he truly got interested.
Hannibal had keen hearing, though it wasn’t a skill he showed off particularly often. He wandered closer to the door which led to the study, even as he kept conversation with the other guests.
It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Will. For the most part, he did. However, they had never really discussed what he had found out, so the boundaries of what Will could and could not say about Hannibal’s more private matters had not been set. There was also a part of him that worried Will would spin around to one Agent Crawford and spill new evidence to him, and that was something he needed to avoid at all costs.
Hannibal had counted on Will staying oblivious to his crimes, but he got too close, too emotionally invested, and much too vulnerable, too quickly. Will was a smart man, and it didn’t take much more than a careless nuance during dinner to get himself dug into a deep hole.
So, yes, he was eavesdropping. It was horribly rude, and he knew it, but he had to cover his own back in favor of being polite. He swirled his glass below his nose, inhaling deeply. This wine had been a gift from Bedelia, who knew his tastes better than almost anyone. He could smell the hickory and violets that had been slowly introduced to the grapes over the years, the tannin that had been carefully kept to a specific range.
He took a sidelong glance to the barely open door, noting who had followed Will in. One Madame Olivia Augustin, whom he’d met after a spectacular showing of Orfeo ed Euridice. He didn’t particularly care for her, but she had a wonderful taste in theater, so he had learned to enjoy her presence as a repeated offense in operatic afterparties.
“Stealing liquor, are we?” She asked, voice smooth and disarming. “I doubt Doctor Lecter would take too kindly to that.” If he strained, he could hear the brief pause, then resumption, of Will grabbing a bottle of brandy from his liquor cabinet. He laughed, if not simply to be polite, before setting it on the counter.
“Hannibal knows my distaste for wine. I’m sure he won’t mind,” he returned. “Will Graham.”
“Olivia Augustin. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she introduced, voice saccharine and deliberately interested. “How did you and Doctor Lecter meet?”
There was something to be said about the dichotomy of their address of the host. Will, who had rightfully earned a certain comfort around him, had since been permitted to address him by his first name. Whether Olivia knew it or not, she would find her head on a stake if she ever dared to do the same.
“I’m his…” Will paused, and Hannibal could practically see the furrow of his brow in his mind’s eye. “I’m his coworker, we’ll say.”
“You seem hesitant to instate that title,” she mused.
“I met him through work, that much I can say. I’m a special agent and professor of the FBI, and I worked with him to profile and catch the Minnesota Shrike.” Olivia blinked once, twice, before sighing in recognition.
“You’re Special Agent Graham. Yes, I’ve heard of you.”
“Through TattleCrime?” Will sighed, uncorking the brandy he’d since retrieved.
“Unfortunately. I understand the writer is rather… unsavory.”
“I can confidently say I’m no friend of hers. She seems intent on painting me in a bad light, lately.” he poured himself a glass, and Hannibal could tell, it was generous. “Freddie Lounds is talented in her own right, but I can’t say she makes my life better in any caliber.” Will had learned to pick up the vernacular of the typical guests about his parties, and could effectively mimic it without trying that hard.
“But you’re a friend of Doctor Lecter’s.”
“You… could say that,” he laughed awkwardly.
“You two obviously have a closeness, if you’re so comfortable raiding his liquor cabinet.”
“I have a confidence he won’t mind,” Will murmured. He took a sip of his newly poured drink, taking down half of the glass in one foul swoop.
There was a beat of silence, no doubt caused by Will’s inability to keep such an intellectually slow conversation going, before Olivia spoke again. “Are you married, Agent Graham?”
Will got caught in a stunned silence for a moment. “You’re very forward, Olivia.”
“Forward,” she hummed, sitting on the back of one of the sofas. “I prefer the term, confident.”
Will laughed awkwardly, finishing off his drink. “Um, no. I’m not married.” before Olivia could pry further, “I find my thoughts a touch too unsavory to toss myself into your average dating pool.”
“Oh, hogwash. I’m sure you’re plenty normal.”
“Mm. I’ll politely disagree to that.”
Hannibal really did only intend to intervene in the event of Will spilling too much for his taste. However, he could feel the incessant tug of envy pull at his throat, a deadly sin he himself found unspeakably ugly. He was quite aware of his growing possessiveness over Will, but it was never truly a problem, to him. He wouldn’t let that jaundiced eye of his gaze for much longer.
The doctor slipped through the open door, quietly closing it behind him. “Will,” he greeted, “I’d wondered where you’d gone off to.” his voice was fond, a smile on his face. That could not be said for his brief, “Madame Augustin.”
“Hey,” Will returned, his shoulders relaxing. “Sorry, you know I’ll need harder liquor for a crowd like this.”
“Naturally,” Hannibal chuckled. “I—”
“Do you find yourself anxious around large crowds?” Olivia interrupted. As soon as she spoke, Hannibal and Will met eyes, and they both knew what the simple action had decided.
“Anxious is generous. I just don’t like people.”
“A charming man like you?” She flirted, leaning forward. The action didn’t escape Hannibal’s observation. “I would hardly believe it.”
“Believe it,” Will gritted. “There’s a reason I spend the majority of my time with dead bodies or dogs.”
Hannibal could sense Will’s growing annoyance, and a sadistic part of him found itself curious to see what his snapping point was. It won out, in the end, all the more reason to kill Olivia.
“Perhaps you should bring effort into socializing more. I’m sure you could enjoy it.”
“In nearly four decades, I can confidently say I’ve sampled and rejected most forms of socialization.”
“And what forms have you accepted?” She grinned.
“Conversations much more intellectually stimulating than this one.” Will’s voice was sharp, patience all but lost. Olivia jumped slightly at his tone, sitting up some. There was a moment of silence.
Hannibal cleared his throat, rolling his shoulders back. “Will, if I could borrow you for a moment.”
“A moment,” Will muttered. He poured himself another glass of liquor, replacing the bottle and carefully closing the cabinet. He took a sip before approaching Hannibal, giving not so much as a nod to Olivia.
Hannibal placed his hand on the small of Will’s back, guiding him away from the study, away from the party entirely, back to the kitchen. “It seems you’ve met Olivia,” He sighed, sliding the door shut.
“And it seems you’ve made a decision on her fate.”
“I find interruptions, as well as clearly unwanted flirtation, unspeakably rude.” he clasped his hands behind his back. “And I find that sort of acrimony worthy of my culinary skill.”
“Pretty fancy way to say you’re gonna eat’er.” Will sat back on the kitchen island, taking back the rest of his drink.
Hannibal found a smile creeping onto his face, chuckling softly. “Do you know something I’ve noticed, lately?”
“You allow your accent to slip when encountering newfound comfort.”
He was ecstatic to see the rosy flush rise on Will’s face as the profiler decided to play dumb. “Accent?”
“You speak so often of growing up on the glades of the Great Lakes, but the timbre you so desperately try to hide suggests somewhere south of Virginia.” he paused, allowing his hands to sit in front of him, now. “Might I inquire as to why?”
Will stared for a moment, taking another sip of his drink. He eventually let out a frustrated sigh, looking away. “Not many people I’ve had to interact with in my professional life take too kindly to a southern hick.”
“Is that so?” Hannibal smiled faintly. “I’d hardly label you as such. You live a rather rustic life outside of work, sure, but you adapt quite well to whatever culture you decide to immerse yourself in. In any case, your place of origin has nothing to do with your ability to do your job.”
“I find I get much more respect while imitating a Delaware accent.”
“Where are you from, Will?”
Will looked down, swirling his glass. “Mississippi. Biloxi”
“On the gulf,” Hannibal observed.
“Where I first learned to work with boats.” He looked away, sighing a bit. “Got a complex in high school. When we moved to Illinois, I got made fun of for it every other conversation. I’m sure it was all poking good fun, but it got to me, after a while. By the time I got to college, I was masking it entirely, and I never heard anything about it again. Lost contact with my dad, only time I absolutely can’t hide it is when I talk to someone else from the Sipp.”
“I must say, I find it rather endearing.” He tilted his head slightly, “You should have told me where you were from. There’s certainly quite a few nostalgic dishes I could serve you.”
“I never quite took you as a ‘biscuits and catfish’ type person, Doctor Lecter.” There it was, the return of obeisant respect that hadn’t been present in his absence.
“I find all culinary cultures worthy of respect, even if I don’t personally enjoy them.” He offered a charming smile, all but enamoured by the man before him.
Will coughed awkwardly, looking away. “So, you gonna kill Olivia?” he asked bluntly, though quiet enough that it didn’t matter.
“Would you like me to?” he reveled in the brief, indecisive silence that followed the question. “I see.”
Will kept his eyes trained on the window overlooking the counter, his adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. “I want to see how you do it.”
Hannibal couldn’t hide the absolute joy blooming into a smile from anyone, especially not Will. He smiled faintly, reaching to brush a stray curl from Will’s face. “Well then,” he began, “You may find Mississippi style barbecue on my table sooner than you think.”