The secret to a perfect risotto is to simmer the rice for just the right amount of time: too soon and its hard and unyielding to the touch, too long and its lost it’s delicate constituency.
Hannibal’s dripping wet on her doorstep, crazed but oddly supplicant. He’s leaving the country and as far as Bedelia can surmise from his scattered references, most, if not all of Hannibal’s once-colleagues are now dishes waiting to be served.
There’s a moment just after he asks her to come with him that feels frozen in her mind. It is omnipresent – a whisper in her mind for years before reality brought it into full voice, and now a shout that will continue to echo through her for annums to come.
What would he do if she refused? How quickly could he move in for the kill?
A part of her tells her she should find out. He’s already weakened. She knows that part of him underestimates her; her death is not a sure consequence of refusal.
But he is a flame she has orbited for years already and she’s tired of fearing feeling the burns.
“I will come with you Hannibal,” she starts, with her peculiarly enunciated consonants, over-careful and over-articulated, “but, I am not Will Graham.”
It’s the most honest moment of their relationship to date.
His responding smile curdles and quickens her blood in equal measure.
Warm the broth in a saucepan over low heat. It should be just barely steaming by the time you start the risotto.
Silk satin smoothes down her frame in watercolor fabric, kissing the tops of her calves.
“Raccourci, un peu,” the tailor mutters to himself, sliding the white fabric chalk in swift motions near the hem of the pencil skirt.
She can feel his eyes on her, watching the muscles of her legs tense a fraction as they balance on new Louboutin’s, red soles barely scuffed. With most men, this would a reliable sign of attraction, but Hannibal watches people the way collectors appraise antiques.
“What do you think, dear?” They’re playing a married couple to avoid attracting any unwanted attention. Bedelia turns her head ever-so-slightly to have a better view for cataloguing his response.
Hannibal’s eyes take their time traveling up and down her sleek form.
“You look stunning,” he says, his voice smoother than the silk.
Bedelia purses her lips in faux-concern. “You don’t think – a little shorter perhaps?”
The tailor steps back as her hands slowly slide up and down her thighs before shimmying the fabric up, too high, and then letting it down an inch at a time, examining the effect in the three-paneled mirror as though considering each length
When she looks up from her reflection to see his reaction in the glass, she realizes he’s gone from his voyeuristic perch and stepped up behind her silently.
His hands replace hers on the fabric, large and warm and solid. Even with the small tailor’s stool elevating her, she barely matches his height.
His hands are deceptively gentle as he smoothes the fabric gracefully over her skin.
“Just here, I think.” He lets the fabric rest, his hands still resting just below the bone of her hips.
“Comme ca, s’il vous plait.”
The tailor rolls his eyes out of their view. The fabric can’t have moved more than a millimeter from his previous mark.
They leave the shop an hour later, each fitting more heated than the last.
Their trip to a local restaurant is mostly slient. It’s only once they’ve ordered their evening meal that Hannibal speaks.
“I’ve been thinking,” Hannibal begins, uncharacteristically uncertain, “For our ruse to be most efficacious, we must follow it through, as it were.”
Never one to rush, she casts an appraising glance over his face. “It was my understanding, that such declarations were meant to be made on one’s knees, Hannibal.”
The corners of Hannibal’s eye’s tense infinitesimally – his only tell of amusement.
“Is that a yes, Doctor?”
It’s almost certainly another test, but as much as he will learn from her reply, for the first time, the test itself can tell her just as much about him.
Build the soffrito, the flavor base of your risotto. Add the garlic and other spices, and cook until fragrant. Sauté until the onion is translucent and beginning to break down.
They say their vows before they ever touch – but even courthouse ceremonies are sealed with a kiss.
Bedelia spends the entirety of the ceremony pre-occupied with his mouth. She can’t help but conjure everything that previously touched those lips. Has he ever tasted a person raw? She knows he must have. Raw liver or steak tartare, served to high society, seasoned to perfection.
She thinks of the veal he made for her. It’s the only meat he’s prepared that she’d ever eaten – but, unlike the rest of his dinner guests, she knew what it was when she ate it.
Up to a point it was self-defense – with Hannibal nearly every move can be justified as such. But she’s moved beyond the ability to rationalize her behavior to any true moral standard. Her actions have left the self-defensive and wandered into curiosity, piqued by the scent and texture and taste of woody, smoked umami caressing her tongue over cold silver.
She wonders what he would eat of her first: her lungs rapidly expanding and contracting, her liver sifting through Italy’s abundant wine, her heart beating slow but hard enough to shake her ribs with each beat.
She watches his eyes flick, mesmerized as her tongue sweeps between her lips. The light in the courthouse casts his face part in shadow, making his eyes seem shaded, dark and recessed.
Dimly, she registers the pause in the official’s voice and smiles. Not so deep as to be confused with genuine emotion, but enough that Hannibal will notice.
She moves toward him, but slowly, until she, head tilted back to meet his eyes, can make out every rough-hewn pore marring his face as his mouth stretches to a smirk.
She kisses him, hand on the back of his neck to pull him down to her heel-augmented height, her mouth opening just enough to take an edge of his lip between her teeth and bite, hard, until their kiss is salt and iron.
To his credit he doesn’t react when they pull apart – nor would she have expected him to – beyond a millimeter raise in his eyebrows and a miniscule tense of his orbicularis oculi.
She smiles, his blood obscured by the red pigment already coating her lips.
This time he pulls her in, hand woven through her hair, and they kiss until the blood and Givenchy are so mixed that one could not tell who was wearing which.
Pour the rice into the soffrito and stir until every grain is coated with fat. Continue stirring the rice until the edges have turned translucent but the center is still opaque.
He can smell her, sharp and salty with top notes of lime and lobelia and a woody base. Her hand stretches out in front of him to fill his wine glass and when her hand passes his face, the scent is overwhelming. Not the scent of her, sweat and perfume and laundered clothing, but the scent of her, deeper and darker, just on her fore and middle fingers.
And with just that scent he can conjure the rest. Pristine blond waves losing their perfect curl across the silk satin pillow, one hand bringing the tips of her breasts together to pinch and pull, the other buried in her cunt, two fingers desperately mimicking what she doesn’t have, back arching to feel it deeper.
“It may be a more fragrant bouquet than you tend to favor, but I think you’ll like it.”
Bedelia’s smile distorts behind the rim of her swirling wine glass.
“It’s a thrill,” She continues, letting the consonants resonate, unfazed by his confusion, “to watch such a refined palette.”
He could kill her right now. He could have her and kill her and feel that vivacity pour out until his hands are stained red with it.
He lifts the glass to his lips inhaling the bouquet.
She’s right, the texture and taste are not usually his favorites, but he finds them intoxicating.
Deglazing the pan at this point isn't strictly necessary, but a splash of white wine will add another layer of flavor. Use a 1/2 cup or so of wine, and simmer until the wine has completely reduced and the pan is nearly dry.
There’s meat in their icebox that she never bought. Ever since they began this charade Bedelia has been a determined pescatarian, hardly a hardship here with Italy’s fresh catches.
She takes it out. It feels bizarrely supple in her hand, smooth plastic covering, cold but yielding. She removes it from it’s plastic wrap and sits it on their marble cutting board, dark purple liver on white and beige marble.
There’s an iridescence to the flesh, a green-red shimmer on the surface where the sunlight hits it.
She moves as if in a trance. Surgeon-precision minces the liver into small cubes. Thud. The meat grinder settles onto the counter. The squelching noise nearly turns her stomach, but she can’t take her eyes away from her creation. Red tomato juice sticks her fingers together. Sharp slices of onion and garlic sting her eyes. Fresh steam fills the air.
Hannibal’s key scrapes in the lock as she places the finishing touches on the meal, basil leaves, wide and supple.
She hears the rush of his jacket zipper, and the gentle thud of his leather briefcase.
“I thought it’d be nice to give you a break.” She says, dropping a wifely kiss on his cheek as he stands impassive, unmoved from the doorway to the kitchen.
Hannibal’s eyes search her face for clues – he finds none.
“Perhaps you would be so kind as to serve as sommelier?”
“A good sommelier pairs the wine with the dish. What have you made, Bedelia?” His question hovers in the air like a discordant note.
“It’s a surprise.”
Da Vinci could have studied her smile for the Mona Lisa.
Out of curiosity more than obedience he fetches a bottle and follows her to the dining table. It’s probably the most banal dish ever served on their regal dining table: spaghetti and meatballs.
They both sit like chess masters preparing for battle fought with thick cream napkins and sterling silver.
She waits to eat, wanting to watch his first bite unadulterated.
He carefully cuts a meatball with the side of his fork, before sweeping a few strands into an easy swirl. There’s a moment’s hesitation before he tastes the first bite. She could always count on poisoning never being her end – Hannibal wouldn’t want to spoil the meat – but he has no such assurance. He eats regardless. This is hardly the first chance Bedelia has had to try and see him dead.
“Well-seasoned.” Hannibal remarks, person suit opaque.
Bedelia half smiles as she takes her first bite. There’s a richness to the texture that beef never achieves.
Hannibal’s eyes watch her mouth with rapt attention. She can sense the fury bubbling under the surface. He must think it remarkably rude for her to have ground up one of his prize cuts for such a pedestrian dish.
“Delicious,” she says, touching her napkin to the edge of her mouth.
Begin incrementally adding the warmbroth one ladle at a time. Wait to add another ladle until the liquid has been almost completely absorbed by the rice.
Her heart is beating a timpanic iamb, so hard she half expects she would find her chest visibly shaking if she looked down.
Some part of her knows it’s absurd to prevoke him like this. Worse than absurd – it’s simply suicidal.
But the rhythm of adrenaline is even more spectacular than the vibrato of Puccini’s arias, whose intermission she now enjoys.
The bubbles in her champagne flute kiss the tip of her nose as she gazes with bedroom eyes at the stranger across from her.
She chose her target carefully. She’d be watching at every social gathering for weeks now to find just the perfect candidate. The man standing in front of her looked impeccable in his tuxedo, but that wasn’t why she chose him. He wasn’t at the opera alone, and in fact, judging by the ring on his finger, he was there with his wife.
His marriage certainly wasn’t stopping him from flirting shamelessly with her. It also hadn’t stopped him from calling his wife any number of rude terms. And there were good odds that it also hadn’t stopped him from reaching his hands around his wife’s neck with enough force to cause the bruises that were ill-concealed beneath his wife’s Versace dress.
Bedelia can sense Hannibal returning with the flutes of champagne that he left to procure before her current companion whisked one into her hand. Above her companion’s shoulder she can see Hannibal’s reflection, face grotesque in the distortion of the vast silver vase. Their eyes meet in silent electricity.
Her companion leans in and whispers in her ear, accent faux-strengthened in an attempt to seduce. His hand brushes along her arm, pretending to steady himself. She can feel the warmth of his touch cool goose bumps across her back.
He’s invited her to meet him at a café after the show. He must know she’s there with someone – he’s not foolish – but he sets the time suitably late, a rendez-vous for after she’s seen to her current beaux.
She lets her smile say everything as she walks away. Her voice would shake if she tried to use it.
She heads back towards their now empty box and can feel Hannibal follow heavily behind her.
He is smoldering, like dying embers met with a fresh burst of oxygen. She can tell by his approach that he means to intimidate her. His body is broad, as though his shoulders have widened and his spine lengthened with anger. Even angry, his precision is formidable. It’s only because of how well she knows him that she can pick up the signs.
He’s not more than a foot away, when she stops him. He meant to close her into the corner of the box, out of sight, but she doesn’t let him. She pulls him in. One hand fondling his lapel with more force than would be polite. He’s inches away when she lets her head fall back and wraps one leg around his hip to pull him flush against her. His mouth skips her lips and bends to her neck, biting too hard before kissing, and then moving to her chest, pushing the deep v of the dress aside so that he can reach a breast through the sheer lace.
He steps back, face rouged from exertion, breathing harder than she’s ever seen. He runs his hands down his suit jacket as though smoothing it into place, even though it never moved from it’s precise positioning. His person suit may have slipped but never his Armani.
Their eyes meet and she can feel power of the gaze wash over her like a rip current.
The sharp ostinato of stiletto heels on marble breaks the moment.
They both take their seats again, hands clasped, in preparation for the next act.
This gradual addition of liquid is key to getting the rice to release its starch and create its own delicious sauce, so don't rush this step. Ideally, you want to use just enough broth to cook the rice and no more.
It’s past midnight when Hannibal returns that night. Bedelia is in the kitchen when she hears the key scraping in the lock. Her hand shakes as she refills her glass with pinot noir.
He hasn’t bothered to clean himself beyond a rudimentary cleanse of his hands. Hannibal removes his coat to show his white tuxedo shirt covered in unmistakeable burgundy stains. She can almost smell the iron.
She’s removed her gown from the night. In its place is a white kimono, jewel-toned embroidery winding around her body.
She settles her glass on the counter before catching Hannibal’s gaze.
He moves methodically towards her, stopping just before they would touch. In her bare feet, he towers over her. She’s barely eye level with his pulsing carotid artery.
He makes no move towards her but she can sense him, his tension vibrating like a tuning fork, echoing through the room.
Bedelia takes his hand in hers. They’re so close that there’s barely space to raise it to her eye level. One hand strokes down his sleeve until she can feel the sticky-dry blood coat the tips of her fingers.
“This is quite rude of you, Hannibal.” She looks to his eyes to watch as her whip strikes flesh, sharp enough to cut.
His hand is as limp in hers as a marionette. She raises his own bloodstained fingers to his mouth, pressing them until he opens and begins to lick them clean.
She turns to his shirt, fingers working briskly down the buttons. Her white silk sleeves drag behind in her wake, edges stained red, like new embroidery stitches spidering a web.
When the shirt is free, Hannibal takes Bedelia’s hands in his and licking them clean as he did his own. His mouth turns to her sleeves, soft and wet, licking away what blood he can, until the pink-brown color is almost unnoticeable.
His lips cover the silk is whisper-soft kisses as if he can’t help himself. Bedelia steps back, disorienting him, until he realizes that she’s walking towards the bedroom.
Upon consideration, it would be rude to fuck in the kitchen.
Silk rustles against silk as she lets the kimono slide off her shoulders to her hands, folded over and deposited on the dresser.
Her hair falls next, small pins slid with dainty precision until each wave loosens down her bare back.
Even now he is measured in his movements – careful, precise, steady. But his predatory glare has taken on a crazed calm that she’s never seen before. It’s as if he’s free – not free to kill, but free to surrender.
His kisses are soft – deceptively gentle like his charming façade. Her hands go to his belt – for this they must be on equal footing.
But she doesn’t want to waste time with feather kisses – not when Hannibal is hard and in her hand. She squeezes, almost too hard, until she has his attention, his eyes, locked onto hers as she tilts her head up. She runs the edge of her nails around and down his length.
His face twists in shock, bliss and fury warring. She can sense his muscles tense – pushing forward but holding him back.
Her nails dig in, sharp enough to hurt but not to draw blood – the effect is immediate, he recoils before pushing back, hard – hard enough to knock Bedelia’s small frame back onto the bed.
The last time Bedelia felt this alive, she was watching her patient choke on his own tongue. Life never feels stronger than when you’re close to death.
He climbs above her until his body pins hers immobile. One hand goes to her face, feeling her lips before sliding down to her neck, slender and fragile in his large hand.
His lips descend to her breasts, kissing and sucking softly as his hand begins to tense, just enough to have her gasping for a breath that won’t come.
His hand eases and he hears her gasp for breath as his teeth work her nipple back and forth.
Her body arches towards his, legs wrapping around him, grinding up. His hand tenses around her neck again as he grinds down the friction frustration and bliss in equal servings.
When he releases her again, she speaks, words falling in between gasps, “Did you know,” gasp, “Hannibal?” Gasp, “when you,” gasp, “asked me?”
Her words shock him like ice water. She pushes him, rolling them with surprising strength until she is seated astride him.
Her hand reaches for him, stroking too slowly to do anything but tease.
It’s his turn to gasp for air now, short and involuntary.
“I knew,” gasp, “when you didn’t run.”
Her muscles tense as she rises up and lowers herself down.
If you run your spatula through the risotto, the risotto should flow slowly to fill in the space. As the Italians say, risotto should be like "la onda," a wave that slowly rolls to shore.