“You have a cat,” Will said.
Hannibal looked up, his knife barely pausing for breath. “Yes. Her name is Francesca.”
“Her name is—?”
“It suits her, don’t you think?”
Will stared—at Hannibal, at the cat, and back. He: amused and imperial. She: supine and disinterested.
“Yeah,” Will said. “I guess it does.”
She was settled in the armchair near the door to the garden, her creamy fur a shock against the blue blanket she was busily kneading. Will edged a step closer, took in her charcoal-tipped ears and the dark rings around her tail, like a raccoon’s.
“She’s a pretty little thing,” he said, not quite daring to pet her.
Hannibal tossed something green at the stove. “She’s been in and out of my plants for several weeks now. I had assumed she belonged to one of my neighbors, but her bedraggled appearance, coupled with the increased frequency of her visits, suggested otherwise.”
Will got this image of Hannibal standing at his kitchen door, looking out at the garden and catching the cat staring back. “Did you feed her?”
That earned him a look. “No. I did not. The disemboweled birds she left in the tarragon appeared to be providing nourishment enough.”
In his head, Will could see Hannibal plucking one winged corpse after another from his herbs, brushing dirt and feathers from his gloves and feeling . . . disgust, yes, but something else, too. Something akin to admiration. Hannibal was charmed by this creature, somehow.
Will grinned. Did his damndest not to laugh. “Uh huh. So what changed?”
“Monday night, when I returned home from work, she was sitting on my doorstep.” He gave the pan an artful nudge. “She appeared to be waiting for me.”
Straight face, Will thought. Straight fucking face. “And you just let her in?”
Hannibal lifted his eyebrows. “Will. It was very cold.”
That did it. Will’s face cracked open wide and he laughed, long and loud. “Sure,” he managed. “Of course it was.”
“As a guest, I assure you that she was quite polite.”
Will leaned a hip against the island, still grinning. “How’s that?”
“There was,” Hannibal said, reaching for the pepper grinder, “a small rabbit beside her on the porch.”
“Dead, I presume.”
“Quite. It was rather neatly gutted, but otherwise intact.”
A flash of Hannibal carrying the thing it by its ears, arranging it on clean newspaper. Picking up a knife. “Did you eat it?”
“No. But I cooked it for her. Seared it with a pat of butter and a touch of salt.”
“You cooked,” Will said, “for a cat.”
Hannibal smiled at him, his face lit up by a sudden splash of flame. “She’d done the difficult work, Will. I merely elevated its aftermath into something more palatable.”
Will’s face went hot. Too close to the stove, probably. He reached for his wine glass, for something that tasted like teasing. “Well. She’s going to shed everywhere, a longhaired cat like that. Are you sure you’re up to chasing dust bunnies around your kitchen, Doctor?”
“I have acquired a brush,” Hannibal said, “of which she seems very fond. And some additional attention to housework to accommodate her nature requires no great sacrifice on my part.”
The cat seemed to know they were talking about her, because she leapt down from the chair with a squawk and made a beeline for the back door.
“Ah. Est-il temps, petite?”
“What?” Will said, but Hannibal was already moving. He wiped his hands on his apron and strode over to the door.
“Now,” he said, finger raised, and damn if the cat didn’t give him her full attention. “You may go for your evening adventures. But you understand, yes, that you will not be allowed back in until after our dinner is complete.”
Will was gaping. It didn’t matter. Neither of them was looking at him.
“Understand?” Hannibal said again. “Vous allez nous laisser?”
Francesca made a little sound, a peep buried in fluff, and it must have been the right one because Hannibal’s mouth lifted and he reached for the doorknob with one hand, for the cat with the other. She turned her face to his palm and Will could hear her purring, a boat’s motor on idle as Hannibal scratched her ears, his expression fond. An indulgent father, Will thought, spoiling a child.
Hannibal pulled the door open, let winter sneak its fingers inside. “Geras medžioklė,” he said. One last pat. “Now, go. Our supper is getting cold. And yours may be getting away.”
The cat flew out, her tail held high, and Hannibal shut the door firmly after. Reached for his apron strings.
“Geras medžioklė?” Will said.
Hannibal glided back behind the island and started shuffling plates. “It means ‘good hunting.’”
“Ah, no,” Hannibal said, just a touch of reproach. “Lithuanian. My mother used to say it, before she saw my father and I out to shoot grouse. It seems an appropriate valedication for Francesca’s forays as well.”
Will saw a solemn-faced kid, fair hair hidden under a woolen cap. Eyes already inscruitable. A child unfamiliar with indulgence. A man who’d made up for lost time.
A platter outstretched. Hannibal expectant.
“Sorry, I was—sorry.” He took the plate, watched Hannibal lift another. His hair, Will saw, had gone astray from the wind, gray strands drifting over his eyebrow. A shade of the boy there, somewhere.
Hannibal nodded towards the dining room. “Shall we?”
“Um,” Will said, the heat in his face again. Must’ve been the wine. Reds always did that to him, no matter how fancy the bottle. “Yeah. After you.”
Dinner passed, as it often did, in the firefly glow of conversation, of Hannibal talking and Will drifting easily in the doctor’s discursive wake. Will ate and let Hannibal pour and it was nice not to have to try, for a little while. Talking to other people usually drained him, tapped straight into his marrow and wrung his energy out, drop by drop. But with Hannibal, there were no expectations, no social nicities to remember. Will could just be, in the presence of good food and wine, of someone he liked, and that felt like a gift.
For dessert, Hannibal had made little orange blossom cakes. They smelled sharp and sweet. The perfect antidote to the damp November air.
“May I ask,” Hannibal said, tucking Will’s plate before him, “why you find Francesca’s presence in my home so amusing?”
“You don’t strike me as a pet person, is all. They’re—messy. Not easily regulated.”
“And I prefer my life to be regulated. Orderly. Is that it?”
Hannibal let that sit for the length of a bite, then two. “There is something to be said for the predictable, yes. For being the arbiter in one’s own life as to what constitutes predictable, that is. But I also see the benefit in unexpected alterations to one’s routine. Orderly can be shorthand for stale, can it not?”
Will grinned. “Have you told Francesca that? That she’s an unexpected alteration? Makes her sound like a rogue pair of trousers or something.”
“No,” Hannibal said, reaching for his wine glass. “I have not. In so many words.”
There was a softness in his voice, a blown sugar that Will hadn’t heard before. He remembered Hannibal’s face at the door, his fingers in Francesca’s fur. “Oh,” Will said. “You didn’t expect to be kind to her. To like her. She’s made you surprise yourself, huh?”
“It would seem so.”
Will speared the last of his cake. “Well, I think it’s great. Serendipity, even, that you found each other.”
Hannibal’s lips curved. “She is a remarkable creature.”
“No wonder you like her,” the wine said from Will’s mouth. “Birds of a feather, you two.” The words caught up to him like a firetruck and he blushed, red roses from his throat to his forehead. What the hell was he talking about?
Hannibal was staring at him. Sharp and sweet. The smell of orange blossoms, the heat of the wine. A warmth in Will’s chest, a sudden splash that spread like spilled coffee.
Then Hannibal touched his wrist, a brush of his thumb on bare skin. “Come,” he said. “It’s time for tea.” He cocked his head. “Ah. And we shall see what Francesca has brought us. She is anxious to rejoin us, I think.”
Affection, Will told himself on the drive home, replaying the moment in his head. He screened it on the windshield, in the bathroom mirror, in the soft dark behind his eyes. That’s what it was. It’d been a long time since he’d enjoyed anyone’s company, longer still since anyone had sought out his own. No wonder it felt so strange.
He liked Hannibal. Hannibal liked him. Simple as that.
The next week, their hour ran fast. One minute, Will was settling in, still shaking off the cold, and the next, it seemed, the session was over. Except.
“Are you certain it would not be a burden?” Hannibal asked for the third time. At least. “I don’t want to place any additional pressure upon your time.”
Will tried not to roll his eyes. “Hannibal. Honestly, I don’t mind. Anyway, you looked after my dogs last month. At the very least, I owe you for that.”
Hannibal’s face creased. “You owe me nothing in return for a kindness.”
Will laughed, scrubbed his hands over his eyes and leaned back. “Please tell me you’re being deliberately obtuse. Otherwise, I might have to question our friendship. Or at least take you off my Christmas card list.”
A smile chased its tail around Hannibal’s mouth. “Perhaps a little, yes.” He stood, tugged at his waistcoat and shot his cuffs, his eyes still settled on Will. “I’m—let us say, I am unused to asking for assistance in this way. For a favor. So I appreciate it. Thank you.”
“Yeah, sure,” Will said. “My pleasure. What, ah. What kind of conference is it?”
Hannibal drifted over to his desk. “A very dull one, first and foremost.” He shifted papers around for a moment. “Have you ever been in a room with two thousand psychiatrists, Will?”
Rows and rows of Chiltons stacked into a ballroom. Flashbacks from graduate school. Will’s face twisted. “Not in years. Never again, if I can help it.”
“This is just such a gathering, I fear. Repeated in a half dozen variations, over the course of three days, in a hotel of very questionable quality. Ah.” Hannibal lifted an envelope, robin’s egg blue. “I, for one, do not recommend it.”
Will got to his feet, stretched his arms over his head. “I’m guessing you have to go to this, huh?”
“It is a professional obligation, yes. I can think of no other reason to justify time spent in Texas.” He held out the envelope. “Pertinent information. The name of her vet, her dietary requirements, the list of rooms in which she is not allowed, etcetera.”
Will took it. The damn thing felt like a novella. “You’re only gonna be gone for the weekend, you know,” he said. “She’s gonna be fine.” She’s a cat, he wanted to say, but the look on Hannibal’s face, worry waltzing over annoyance, made him think better. “Look, you want me to call you? Or text you, or whatever, and let you know she’s ok?”
“Yes,” Hannibal said immediately. “Please. I would like that.”
When he got home, Will sat on his bed and opened the envelope. Inside, three pages of neatly scripted information and reminders, a copy of Hannibal’s itinerary, and a key on a soft leather fob.
Will stuck the papers in his briefcase and reached for his keyring. When he was done, Hannibal’s fob hung next to his Giant grocery card, an image that struck him as amusing, if not verging on the absurd.
He pulled out his phone and snapped a picture. Sent it to Hannibal before he could think about it.
You sure this is such a good idea? he typed.
He sat staring at the screen for a minute. Winston wandered over and stuck his nose between Will’s knees, hinting.
Will scratched his ears. “Yep. I know, buddy. I’m coming.”
The phone chimed.
An incongruous pairing, perhaps, Hannibal had written. But I have the utmost faith in your abilities.
Thanks. I think.
Then he typed:
Have a safe flight.
I shall do my best. Good night.
He got up and let the dogs out into the yard. Stood on the porch watching them chase each other in and out of the shadows, weighing his keys in his hand, the leather fob pressed into his palm.
After class on Friday, Will tossed his crap in his bag and ducked into the hallway, hoping to beat the weekend flood off the base.
There were two agents in cheap suits in the elevator who stopped talking the second they saw his face.
Will watched the numbers roll down and pretended he couldn’t hear them making eyes at each other, couldn’t feel the we really need to touch each other vibe that filled the car like bad cigars.
Affair, he thought. Long standing. Agent Red Tie is married. Purple Tie is not. I have interrupted their favorite part of the week: the impromptu if not terribly cliché game of making out between floors.
The air got close, way the fuck too, and when they hit B1 at last, Will bolted so fast he nearly clotheslined Beverly Katz.
“Oh god,” he said. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”
She caught his shoulders and shook him a little, laughing. “Hey, I’m good. Where’s the fire?”
“Baltimore,” Will said without thinking. “Got an errand to run.”
“All the way up there? That sucks.”
“No, it’s—I’m doing someone a favor. A friend. It’s not a big deal.”
Beverly’s eyes narrowed, still playful. But curious. “Since when do you have friends?”
“Wait.” She stared at him, and for a second he sympathized with every corpse she’d ever dissected. “Is ‘friend’ Will Graham-speak for ‘significant other’”?
“What?” Will said. “No. It’s just Hannibal. I mean, Dr. Lecter. He’s at a conference this weekend, so I’m keeping an eye on his cat.”
“You’re watching his cat,” Beverly repeated.
“You, who live way the fuck out on 66, are driving up 95 during rush hour all the way to Baltimore. To feed Dr. Lecter’s cat.”
Will flushed. “Yes. He’s watched my dogs before. And I’m taking 270.”
Beverly crossed her arms, grinning. “You do realize,” she said, drawing out the words like taffy, “that there are people who do that. Look after animals for a living. They’re called pet sitters. Pretty sure they have them in Baltimore.”
“Yeah, well. He asked me to do it. His choice, not mine.”
“Yeah, exactly. And his house. I don’t think he’d trust a lot of people to be in it when he’s not around. I can understand that.”
He looked up and Beverly was biting her lip, hard. “Uh huh,” she got out. “So he trusts you. I get that.”
Will jammed his hand in his coat and yanked out his keys. “Right. Ok. I’ve got a ways to go, like you said, so I’m gonna—”
He could feel Beverly’s eyes on his face, searchlights sweeping the water. “This is a thing,” she said after a minute. “You get that, right? This is definitely a thing.”
The smell of orange blossoms. A splash of red wine. The curve of Hannibal’s smile.
“What is?” Will got out. “What thing?”
Beverly stepped out of his way, still grinning like a motherfucker, but now there was something behind it. Something Will couldn’t quite read. “You’re a smart guy,” she said. “Trust me. You’ll figure it out.”
95 was a slow crawl uphill in the mud. 270 wasn’t much better.
The traffic guy on WTOP gave up a shrug. “What can I say, folks? No major accidents to report out there. Heavy volume and rain just don’t mix.”
Will flipped it off and drove the rest of the way to the sound of the wipers. He herded his mind towards the report he still owed Crawford. His lecture plans for Monday. The biography of Teddy Roosevelt he’d finished the night before, the one with the really dissatisfying and frankly misguided interpretation of the Anthracite Coal Strike, but Beverly’s words—the look on her face—kept sneaking back in.
“A thing?” he said to the steering wheel. “Come on. What does that even mean?”
In Hannibal’s kitchen, he hit the lights and blinked back at the chrome. It was cool and still. Calm. The scent of cilantro lingered in the eaves.
For a moment, he saw Hannibal at the counter, his apron ivory pristine, his hair in his eyes.
A hand extended. Hannibal expectant.
And Will, he—
Something rammed into his ankle.
“Hey,” he said the angry snowball at his feet. She glared blue daggers and bonked him again. “Okay, Francesca. I’m coming.”
He pulled the container marked “Friday” from the fridge and followed the neatly printed instructions taped to the lid: Warm over low heat for 5-7 minutes. Let cool 3 minutes before serving. Please use the small pot on the stove.
She retreated to the armchair while he cooked, feigning disinterest.
“You’re not fooling anybody,” he told her. “Just so you know.”
It smelled good, whatever it was—meaty and rich. Francesca finished it off in six bites and then nosed the bowl aside, searching for scraps.
“It’s official,” Will said, thinking of the peanut butter and jelly waiting for him at home. “You’re eating better than me tonight.”
He cleaned her litter box in the mudroom and took out the trash. Washed his hands, her bowl, the small pot, and by then she’d disappeared, slipped into the recesses of Hannibal’s house.
The top part of the house was closed off, so Will knew her options were limited. Still. He didn’t want to leave without seeing her, without reassuring himself that she was ok.
The door to the dining room was latched—the first room on the kitty no-fly list—but the den just off it was open. It was chilly without the gas fireplace going, and Will was seriously tempted to hit the switch and settle in for a while to watch the flames. Hannibal, he thought, wouldn’t mind.
But Francesca wasn’t there. No excuse to linger, so. He kept looking.
He found her in the library, stretched across the divan under the picture window, half in and half out of a blanket, completely and utterly asleep. And somehow, she still managed to look pleased with the world around her; every paw arranged to say, yes, this is my rightful place.
Will reached for his phone.
All well. Francesca fed. She put herself to bed.
He snapped a photo, impulsive. Patted Francesca’s head and headed back towards the kitchen.
The phone dinged while he was pulling on his jacket.
She appears unconcerned by my absence.
Will leaned against the armchair.
I’m a poor substitute, i assure you. Barely said 2 words to me. Kind of ate and ran.
I fear she can be quite rude, when the mood strikes her. But I’m certain she is appreciative of your efforts. As am I.
Did you find your dinner?
my dinner? no. what?
The phone rang just as he hit send.
“Will,” Hannibal said. “Forgive me. I wanted to surprise you.”
There was music behind him, the low rumble of people talking. Silverware and glass.
“There’s dinner for you in the refrigerator. On the second shelf from the bottom.”
Will got up. Made no effort to smother his grin. “Really?”
“It was a vanity on my part,” Hannibal said in his ear, a little sheepish. “My not telling you it was there. I rather wanted you to discover it on your own.”
“Didn’t even occur to me to look.”
“Yes. I can see how it wouldn’t.”
The container had a note taped to it. Will, it said. Friday. And there were two more stacked behind, a neat row of glass, each one marked with his name.
Will stood up, clutching Friday to his chest. “Hannibal. This is—you didn’t have to do this.”
“I know. It was my pleasure. Something to get me through each interminable evening: the image of you eating in my kitchen.”
That warm feeling again, like bourbon down the back of his throat. “I, ah. Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.”
“Is it—is it ok if I take this one home? It’s kinda late. Promise I’ll wash it before I bring it back.”
He could hear Hannibal’s smile. “Just this once, I think, I can allow it.”
The next morning, Saturday, he ate Hannibal’s dinner for breakfast: a smooth beef broth with thick, tender noodles and spice that warmed him from the inside out. Pho, Will thought, licking the last drops from the spoon, ignoring Peach’s pleas for a taste. Just the thing for a cold winter’s night.
He had a flash of Hannibal at the stove, wooden spoon weaving ingredients together, just for him.
His phone lit up while he was scrubbing out the Tupperware.
It was a picture of a bearded man slumped over a coffee cup, dead to the world. A message:
This is the kindest reception one could give the plenary speaker.
Will wiped his hands on his t-shirt and typed:
Short of throwing vegetables, you mean?
Hardly. I would never treat produce that way.
you’re worse than my students. Stop texting and listen to the lecture.
Consider me chastised, Professor.
Will chuckled and set the phone back on the windowsill. He looked out over the waterlogged grass, at the last of the leaves beaming brown in the sunlight. Tried to imagine what Hannibal’s face would look like, contrite. Found he couldn’t, quite.
“You?” he said to the Hannibal smirking in his head. “Hardly.”
He marked papers all morning, which was terrible. Took the dogs to the creek, which was not, even when Hal found a dead squirrel and fished it out for everybody to share.
A pleasant sort of weekend routine.
He drove to Hannibal’s while it was still light, and there, too, it felt familiar: the temporary peace of the kitchen, the angry feline, her food. But this time, he heated their suppers simultaneously—hers, that meaty thing again; his, some kind of ragout—and sat on a stool at the island, after, taking his time with each bite.
He took out the trash and came back to Francesca sitting in the sink amongst the dirty dishes, lapping up the last of Will’s dinner.
He sent Hannibal a photo, then a message:
when the human’s away…
Hannibal’s response was immediate.
Your permissiveness is appalling. She knows better than that. As should you.
I thought cats didn’t like water. I turned the faucet on her head and she didn’t move
Relax I made her get out. I’ll wipe down the sink.
Do not let walk her on my counters, please.
Will laughed. Francesca looked up from the armchair where she’d retreated, disgruntled and damp. She stuck her tongue out at him and turned back to her bath.
I’ll do the best I can.
So what are you not paying attention to right now?
We are on a coffee break. Although they have run out of coffee.
I’ll tell your samovar that you miss it, Will wrote, then thought better of it and pressed call instead.
“So,” he said, no preamble. “Is it as bad as you thought?”
“Would it surprise you if I said it was worse?”
Will laughed. “Kind of.”
“Last night, there was a band,” Hannibal said. “This is what they claimed to be. The wine has been, at its best, vinegar in the guise of chardonnay. And my colleagues are doing their best to illustrate, once again, why psychiatrists make very poor public speakers.”
Will could picture it: music that made your ears burn, endless attempts at erudition, everyone trying to out backslap the other. He shuddered.
“God, why aren’t you stone cold drunk by now? Or hiding in your room or something?”
“Is that what you’d be doing?”
“Hell no. I wouldn’t be there in the first place.”
Hannibal laughed and Will found himself leaning into the phone, chasing the sound. “I have no excuse not to participate. So I must be seen to be sociable. Perhaps if I had friends here, it would be different.”
Will frowned. “There’s nobody you know there?”
“There are many people I know. But an acquaintance is not the same as a friend.”
“Oh,” Will said. “No. I guess not.”
Hannibal cleared his throat. “I went for a walk this morning.”
“Outside of the hotel? That was brave.”
“On my walk,” Hannibal said, as if he hadn’t heard, “I passed a church. One that began its life as a mission, it seems, before this place was claimed by the United States.”
Will wasn’t sure where this was going. “Ok,” he said.
“It was very early, and there were few people about. The church seemed to be caught in something, in a light, in a space outside of time.” Hannibal’s voice dropped. “I did not expect to see beauty here, Will, to sense its presence in any way. And when I did, this morning, my first thought was to tell you. No. My first thought was of you.” A sound, something rueful. “That must seem very strange.”
It was a question, Will realized. A gesture of vulnerability carefully crafted to give Will an out, if he wanted it. An out from—
There was quiet for a moment, the steady rush of Hannibal’s breath, and for the first time, in that loop of silence, Will could hear what Hannibal was saying, loud and clear.
Something to get me through each interminable evening: the image of you eating in my kitchen.
Hannibal’s thumb on his wrist. His house key in Will’s pocket.
His own face, burning not in the wake of fire or wine, but because of—
His words came back to him, wearing Beverly Katz’s voice: Please tell me you’re being deliberately obtuse.
Oh. Oh shit.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice suddenly too loud in Hannibal’s big, empty house. “I’m here. Sorry, I was—”
Hannibal made an impatient noise. “Ah. One of my colleagues is gesturing rather boorishly in my direction. I must go.”
“Yeah,” Will said again. Automatic. “I understand.”
He stood there for a moment, in the cool of Hannibal’s kitchen, and covered his eyes. Did his best not to grin like an idiot.
Ok, he thought. So. This is a thing.
It didn’t change anything, Will told himself. Not really. Figuring out that this was—that it might be—a thing. Hard to tell how much of one, anyway, with Hannibal in another state, for godsakes. At least until this evening.
He switched off his alarm and lay back in the sheets.
He’d never thought about it before, how many of his conversations with Hannibal were, in essence, unspoken—the turn of a head, the lift of an eyebrow, a look that from anyone else would have read like pity, but from Hannibal felt like understanding.
Maybe it’d had just gotten easier to hear—how Hannibal felt about him, how he seemed to feel about Hannibal—with the doctor 1000 miles away.
“This is ridiculous,” Will told the ceiling, the dogs, the windswept copy of the Sunday Post he plucked off the porch. “Honestly. God.”
Other people, he thought, stabbing his Cheerios, sent Hallmark cards or singing telegrams or those weird centerpieces made out of fruit. They bought roses or candy hearts or stuffed bears that sang when you squeezed them.
Hannibal—didn’t do any of that. He made Will dinner. Plied him with wine and an analytical ear. Entrusted Will with his house. His cat.
And Will, he trusted Hannibal to listen. He could unfold the horrors of other people’s minds right under Hannibal’s nose because he knew, dead certain to rights, that Hannibal would never flinch, would never look at Will and see something wrong.
Will was pretty sure they didn’t make cards for that.
The stupid smile that had first sprouted the night before came back with a vengeance. He creeped himself out brushing his teeth.
“Ok, seriously,” he said, “stop,” but the grin didn’t go anywhere. And neither did the zero G feeling inside his gut, that swoop of certainty that should’ve scared him, but instead felt really, really good.
So he spit out the toothpaste, pulled on his boots, and took the pack out for a long run.
When they got back, Will tugged the blue envelope out of his bag and double-checked Hannibal’s itinerary. Reached for his phone.
Have an early class tomorrow, he typed. Heading up now to feed Francesca. See you regular time on Wednesday?
He admired his handiwork for a moment. Amazing how easy it was to lie in a text. No context clues, no body language, no tone of voice or facial twitch. Just letters on a screen, words cast into electrons.
He peeled out of his clothes and climbed in the shower. When he emerged, there were three messages waiting:
Of course. I look forward to it.
To seeing you, Will translated.
It will be good to talk to you.
I’ve missed you.
There are some things we should discuss.
I showed you my hand yesterday, we didn’t get to talk about it, and now I’m worried that you might have freaked out.
Will grinned and tossed the phone on the bed. Opened the dresser and rooted around for his nicest jeans, the dark ones that looked like spilled ink.
“What you don’t know, Dr. Lecter,” he said, “won’t hurt you.”
Hannibal was due at BWI at 6:15, and accounting for deplaning-baggage-taxi, Will figured, he’d be in his driveway by 7.30, tops.
Plenty of time.
He fed Francesca first, made a point of eating what Hannibal had left for him: a sweet yellow curry that tasted like spring.
Only when the kitchen was set back to rights did he let himself think about what he was going to do. About what might be about to happen.
Francesca made a nest in the armchair and burrowed down deep, one eye fixed on Will’s face. Knowing.
“Relax,” he told her. “This has nothing to do with you.”
He checked his watch. Ten minutes to six. Ok, maybe he’d come up a little early.
This had all seemed so straight forward, so fucking logical, even, in the fields, running in circles with the dogs and staring up at the sky.
Now, with Hannibal all around but still absent, it felt kind of intimidating.
Will had never really been a grand gesture guy, even in relationships that all parties had agreed they were actually having. Whatever this was with Hannibal, there had been no negotiations, no clear outline of terms, so Will was—
He shot a hand through his hair. He was leaping into unknown territory, basically. With a blindfold. Backwards. And at night.
Which was why he ended up in the den, squinting into the flames and sucking up three fingers of Hannibal’s best scotch.
“Courage,” he told himself. “Right.”
It did help, though, the sweet turn of the booze in his blood. Made everything seem less distinct. Pleasantly fuzzy and less potentially humiliating, because there’d be no way for Hannibal to misconstrue this message. None at all.
About 7, he bottled the scotch and turned up the fireplace. Kept one ear peeled for Hannibal’s cab.
Francesca wandered in and commandeered one of the chairs by the fire. Will scratched her ears, the soft fur under her chin, and she looked up at him, baleful. “Yeah,” he said. “I know. He’ll be here soon.”
He took off his glasses and laid them on the mantle. He peeled off his sweater and tossed it at the window seat. Shivered a little in his Henley. Reached for his boots.
When he was done, he settled down by the fire to wait.
He didn’t hear the cab pull up, but Francesca did. She leapt up and zoomed into the hall, chirping like crazy.
The door opened. The light in the hallway clicked on.
“Comment vas-tu, eh?” he heard Hannibal say. “Bonsoir, petite. Yes, yes, bonsoir.”
Will took a deep breath. Pulled off his shirt.
“As-tu été bonne, cherie? Ah, qu'es-tu fait?” Hannibal’s footsteps stopped. “Hello?” he called. His voice like a razor now. “Is someone there?”
“Hannibal,” Will said, somehow. “In here.”
Hannibal ducked into the doorway, his face open and curious. “Will? Is that you?”
Will stood up. Let himself be framed by the flames. “Yeah,” he said. “Hi.”
The floorboards were cold under his feet, his chest was covered in goosebumps, and he still had his jeans on, at least, but the way Hannibal was looking at him, he might as well have been bare.
“Oh,” Hannibal said, with a reverence headier than any wine. “Oh, Will.”
Will ran a hand over his face and stretched the other into the void. “Jesus, will you just—Hannibal. Get over here. Please?”
Hannibal took two steps and grabbed him. His palms slid up Will’s arms, across his shoulders, down his back. And again.
Will wound his hands in the collar of Hannibal’s blazer. “So I read this right, huh?”
“This?” Hannibal said, the word hot in Will’s hair, his thumbs turning over Will’s spine.
Will pressed his face to Hannibal’s shoulder and laughed, got a mouthful of tweed for his trouble. “Ok. I’m gonna take that as a yes.”
Hannibal wrapped an arm around Will’s waist, worked the other between them and ran his fingers over Will’s stomach, his ribs. “Beautiful,” he said. “So lovely, širdelė.”
“I thought,” Will said, “oh, I thought—you said we needed to talk.”
Hannibal kissed the top of his head. “Did I?”
“Yes. You said there were some things we needed to discuss.”
“Mmmm.” His lips fell to Will’s temple, his cheek. “For three days, I’ve thought of nothing more than you alone in my house, in my kitchen. And now I come home to find you like this”—he clawed gently at the small of Will’s back—“undressed and waiting for me, so. Perhaps you might indulge me and save your words for a little while.”
Will lifted his chin. “Oh dear,” he murmured against Hannibal’s mouth. “Dr. Lecter, did I distract you?”
“You know very well that you did.”
An offer extended. Hannibal breathless.
“Show me,” Will said. “Show me how.”