The sun was well up by the time Hannibal got back, soaked in sweat, irritated at the wet heat of summer and his own poor performance. Three years ago, he could have covered this distance in half the time—could have chased a man down, flat out, and hardly been out of breath.
Three years ago, well.
He made himself stop on the gravel drive and take a deep breath. He was just disappointed, that was all, though he really could hardly have expected anything else, when he had spent those three years idle, and as he got older he would slow down anyway.
And here he was, standing outside on what promised to be another lovely summer day; standing outside, furthermore, a sprawling, elegant stucco house with wide windows and doors that he had all the keys to, in Argentina, where nobody was likely to take them from him; standing outside, best of all, a sprawling, elegant stucco house that contained, somewhere in its rooms, Will Graham.
Hannibal resumed his walk to the front door, the wet summer air pleasant and his lackluster performance fixable, with some effort and dedication. He was well enough now to get back in shape—something resembling his old speed and strength was not unobtainable. Fishing out the key to open the front door, he idly contemplated whether Will (Will) would be offended if he drew up a regimen for them both. Exercise released endorphins in the brain—perhaps some work would cheer him up. He had two left feet, dear Will did, or at least he did without a knife in his bloodied hand; he would need constant supervision, which Hannibal was only too willing to provide.
He would leave that bit out, he decided, shutting the door quietly behind him and dropping the key in its bowl, but he would bring up the benefits of exercise, perhaps gently insist that Will pick something to do, whatever he liked. It would help if he got out of the house once in a while, but that was not, after all, necessary—there were countless things he could do inside if that was what he preferred.
Will had stayed half-drowned for longer than Hannibal liked. He lay awake at night and worried about him, a new experience that he did not enjoy. Will was listless; he did not eat like he should, not even when, in desperation, Hannibal had cooked entirely vegetarian meals for a month; he spent his time drifting around the house like a ghost, albeit a ghost that expressed a marked preference for rooms that also had Hannibal in them.
The most he had done, in the three months that they had been here, was to go around and take down all of the mirrors in the house except for the one in what amounted to Hannibal’s bathroom. What he had done with them, Hannibal still was not sure—perhaps Will had gone outside after all, he amended, if only to disappear the mirrors somewhere he was sure they would stay buried. Hannibal had not replaced them or spent much time, truth be told, looking for the originals, because he would not inflict that pain on Will again.
Will’s misery and bitter self-loathing knotted up in the scar tissue on his cheek, layers and layers of tight red skin. It was impossible to look at one without seeing the other. Hannibal had imagined more than once, in those sleepless hours, just touching it, just trying to show him how beautiful it could be, just pressing his lips to the raised skin and weaving love and joy there instead.
He indulged himself by imagining it again: his lips on Will’s skin, Will’s breath catching against his ear, Will’s hands pulling him close.
Well, perhaps one day—
But he would not press the issue, would confine kissing Will strictly to his mind palace; Will had not asked, gave no indication that he wanted it. Hannibal would limit his efforts, today, to coaxing Will out of his bedroom, feeding him a wholesome breakfast, and bringing up the benefits of an exercise regimen.
Hannibal was satisfied with this plan. The bad mood from earlier had dissipated and he let himself linger on the anticipation of seeing Will again—the first time today and certainly the anticipation of which already made it better.
He took a shower first, in part to draw out the moment, though it was still fairly early, and then got dressed. The heat kept him from the three-piece suits he had enjoyed in Baltimore—there were still some in the back of his closet, which would have felt empty without them—and instead he had procured more casual clothes made from lighter fabrics.
His choices had made Will smile when he first saw them, just with one side of his mouth. The expression slipped into Hannibal’s chest and lifted his heart on a bubble.
“The colors,” Will explained, when he asked. “You’re like a peacock.”
“They made me wear the same color every day for three years,” he replied, pretending to be indignant.
That got him another half-smile before Will retreated back to his own room, returned to the gloom that weighed down his shoulders.
Hannibal picked out one of his loudest shirts and debated whether to wake Will with breakfast or by asking him to help. No, he had waited long enough—a polite request to scramble some eggs would do. So he went down to Will’s room straightaway and knocked.
“Will?” he called. “Are you awake?”
Will did not respond.
“I would like your help making breakfast this morning.”
When Will still said nothing, Hannibal, impatient, opened the door, and discovered that this was because Will was not there.
He had flung the sheets back and the closet door was ajar. The window was still shut tight. The adjoining bathroom, mirror-less, was empty too.
The library, then—Will liked the library—perhaps Hannibal simply had not heard him wandering the house when he came back. But when he got there, he found it empty too.
His heart rate was elevated and his hand clenched the doorjamb so hard that his fingers ached. He consciously pried them from the wood and went to search the other rooms in the house. He was just overreacting. Most likely, Will just had a nightmare and wandered to take his mind off it.
But Will was not anywhere.
Hannibal found himself back in the kitchen. His chest hurt. He had trouble breathing.
Will had left, then.
He had waited until Hannibal left the house, gone for longer than a trip to the market, and he left. He was gone. He had left Hannibal and he was never coming back.
The house felt unbearably empty with him gone. Hannibal felt unbearably empty, his organs carved out, packed and gone with Will. He stared blankly at the oven. If he moved, he would shatter, he was sure of it, but he wanted to sit down, had to sit down. He realized eventually that there were tears in his eyes.
This house, this empty house—he wanted to leave, he wanted to go somewhere else, anywhere else, just so he did not have to face the screaming open spaces. He went out onto the patio, numb, without any real objective except to get out get out get out.
Will sat on one of the lounge chairs by the pool, Hannibal’s iPad propped up on his knees. He was wearing a pair of light slacks. His feet were bare. The sun caught in his hair, a glowing ring snagged in his dark curls.
“Do you know, I’d almost forgotten how much I despise Freddie Lounds,” he said, flicking a digital page with emphasis. “She still won’t shut up about us. Half the time it’s stories about our doomed love and the other half of the time it’s wild speculation that we’re alive somewhere in Hong Kong.” He looked up then, his lip quirked—he was still trying not to move the right side of his face too much—and saw Hannibal’s face. The tiny smile vanished.
Hannibal had no idea what his expression was; he stood frozen, his insides still missing; he wondered whether he was dreaming, if all of this was just that, and he would wake up to his alarm and go for a run.
Will dropped the iPad onto the chair and got up, slowly, like he thought that Hannibal might bolt, not realizing that Hannibal’s feet were nailed to the patio tiles. He studied his face and then tipped his head slightly to look straight into his eyes before Hannibal could flinch away or hide.
He didn’t say anything; he just looked down for a moment and then stepped closer, quick and sure, right into Hannibal’s side, where he could wrap his arms around him and press his face into his chest. His fingers curled into Hannibal’s shirt.
“I’m sorry,” Will whispered. “I’m sorry that I was so—I’ve decided that I don’t want to be. Anymore. I thought I’d try out here and use some Freddie to burn it out of me. I wasn’t going anywhere.” His grip tightened. “I’m tired of going without you.”
Hannibal registered that his heart was thumping again, hard and hurting. He could move his arms and he let them go where they wanted to be. He held Will tight, the whole of him, his breath moving in his lungs, the shifting muscles in his back. His cheek rested against Will’s hair, clean and light from a shower; closed his eyes and breathed him in.
“I thought—” his mouth said.
“I know.” Will sighed, a quick gust of air, and said, “Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. I’m not very—I’m not good at being clear. But when we fell, we were either going to live together or we were going to die together. I couldn’t bear it anymore. Being separate from you.”
Will pushed away from him, but just to look up at him. Their eyes met. “We can’t survive separation,” he said. “So that’s my solution. Just never separate.”
Hannibal studied his face, his blue eyes, looking for the hint of the lie, the indecision. Will watched him do it and, very deliberately, smiled. The scar twisted the right side of his face; Will no doubt thought of it as a grimace, a leer, but it only, as Hannibal had always suspected, made him more beautiful—a creature no longer entirely human, something that had become more.
He found that he could not speak; something welled up in his chest and stopped up his throat. He pulled Will close again and Will let him.
“Will you help me cook breakfast?” he asked finally into Will’s hair.
“Okay,” Will said.
“Will you consider an exercise regimen? Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that make us happier. It might help you feel better.”
Will huffed a laugh against his chest. “Okay. What do you have in mind?”
Hannibal, who had expected more resistance, foundered a moment and then said: “We will discuss it over breakfast.”
Will laughed at him in earnest and pulled away, though he didn’t go far. His eyes were clearer than they had been in some time, unclouded by salt water. Without that film, he looked—if Hannibal was willing to indulge in optimism, which he was, optimism being one of his failings where Will Graham was concerned—almost fond. Almost like they were very good friends who discussed things over breakfast all the time.
Hannibal liked this thought very much, but past experience and the associated small dart of pain kept him from accepting it entirely as fact. Still, it was a start. It was enough to go on. He could work with that. “I was thinking a simple protein scramble,” he said.
Will obviously caught the reference, but he only said, “Good, because I don’t think I can do anything more complicated than scrambled eggs.”
“Nonsense,” Hannibal said firmly. “I will teach you.”
Watching Will hold a knife was distracting, even if it was only to cut up red and green peppers. His fingers curled around the handle, tendons working lightly beneath his skin. He was a natural with a knife; Hannibal, who had always suspected this, felt a surge of pride.
He turned back to the sizzling sausages (entirely pork) to hide the smile that he couldn’t seem to banish. There would be other mornings—other days to see Will in their kitchen, a multitude of times to surreptitiously stock up a complete picture of the light pouring through the windows, the cutting board on the counter, Will’s lovely hands holding a keen, bright edge.
“I never understood why you didn’t kill her,” Will said abruptly.
Hannibal quickly reviewed the last few minutes, trying to find what he’d missed while he was mentally composing A Portrait of Will Graham With a Knife. “Who?” he said, voice neutral.
“Freddie Lounds.” Will’s face was turned away from him, revealing only the cut of his cheekbone, but his quick, efficient slices at one of the tomatoes gave a hint of his agitation. “She’s obnoxious, she’s a liar—she fits your victim profile to a T.”
Hannibal waited a moment, and then asked, still poking at the sausages, “Were you hoping that I would kill her?”
Will’s glare raised his heart rate without his permission. Two minutes ago, Hannibal wouldn’t have told himself that he missed it.
“She—” Will said, and then stopped. He finished stroking the knife through the tomato, thin red juice staining the cutting board, his fingers. He gathered up the diced tomatoes in his palms and dropped them into the bowl, wet red on top of the peppers. Then he picked up another one and cut it firmly in half.
Hannibal had the impression that he was thinking, considering something. He turned away from the sausages immediately, because watching Will spin inwards into his mind was incredible, a rush not unlike adrenaline, and he would never pass up the opportunity to observe. There: his head dipping slightly, his thumb rubbing softly over the red skin of the tomato. Though he couldn’t see, Hannibal knew that he would recede behind his eyes, wandering in the wilds within his skull.
Will made several more deliberate cuts. He said, “She called me a murderer. She thought that I had it in me, that just because I hadn’t yet didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to. You liked reading that, didn’t you? You liked the confirmation. Unhinged Will Graham, thinking like murderers because he is one.” He didn’t sound bitter, just distant. “I suppose that she was telling the truth after all.”
Miss Lounds had called Will other things—had called them other things—that Hannibal, that optimism flaring, hoped were true. But now was not the time for that.
“She is grating,” he agreed, still watching Will avidly, “but Miss Lounds has a very deep streak of honesty. She simply chooses to tell the truth in the most offensive way she can.”
Will snorted. He scooped up the tomato’s remains and put them in the bowl too. He deliberately grabbed one of the pristinely white towels and wiped his hands on it, twisting them in the fabric. “You just like hearing her say we were meant for each other,” he said. He met Hannibal’s eyes and arched one eyebrow, playful and baiting, his curls spilling over his forehead.
In lieu of an answer, Hannibal smiled and turned back to the sausages.
Will’s newfound confidence most likely would not withstand contact with the outside world. Not just yet, anyway; Hannibal was working on that. To ease the transition, he had Will swim laps in the pool while he waited for the stationary bike to arrive.
“You’re taking this seriously,” Will commented dryly, looking up at Hannibal from the edge of the pool. His hair was longer than it had been in the Atlantic those months ago, but even though it dripped in his eyes, he didn’t push his bangs back with his hand.
“There is no reason why we cannot be in the best shape possible,” Hannibal said, choosing to ignore the sight of Will Graham’s wet shoulders. “I missed this,” he added, letting his eyes dip, “in the institution.”
Will sighed. “Well, by all means, feel free to run wild in the woods, if that’s what you want.”
“I never ‘ran wild’,” Hannibal protested.
Will grinned at him, teeth white against his dark beard. “Didn’t you?” he asked, and prevented Hannibal from having the last word by ducking back under the water and swimming to the far side of the pool.
Will lived in the water, coming out of the frigid Atlantic and sliding into warm Southern waters. Hannibal remembered lures and dozens and dozens of rods, ice fishing and fly fishing and deep-sea fishing. Maybe Will was the fisherman, calculating and removed—maybe he was the lure, serrated blades and lovely features. Maybe he was the deep-sea predator under a ship’s slipstream, waiting.
Hannibal ran and ran and ran. In the early morning light, he thought of Will and he moved faster, ran harder, took flight over rocks and brush and fallen leaves. He let himself imagine some faceless somebody running ahead, scrambling, falling, failing to outrun the things chasing him. Himself, and Will.
Sometimes, now, at night, Will would follow him into the study. He called it the library. “Did you just buy ten copies of your favorite books and send them to all your safe houses?” he asked after the onset of his renewed interest in life. “This one was in your office library in Baltimore. That set over there”—he pointed—“were at your house. How did Jack not track you through the shipping manifests?”
“It was more complex than that,” Hannibal began stiffly, his pen pausing over the page of his notebook, but Will just snorted, grabbed one of the books off its shelf, and slumped in one of the armchairs to read.
“I’ve already read most of these,” Will added, turning a page. This was probably true, since one of the few places Will went while he continued drowning had been the library. “Buy more of your favorites and have them sent here.”
Hannibal liked the casual assumption in that order. He liked that, despite the offhandedness of the request, Will had thought about it, had considered what to say. He liked that Will was testing boundaries. “I will make a list and leave it here on my desk. Please add some of your own choices. I would like to read them.”
“You do realize that most of my books were about the ocean, fishing, or dogs,” Will said lightly. He was holding the book in such a way that Hannibal could only see his hair and the white scar across his forehead.
“If you like them, I will like them,” Hannibal said loyally.
“Please,” Will said. “Don’t lie to me, Hannibal.” His voice was light, not offended, but the warning was clear.
Hannibal recalculated and ultimately settled on the truth. “I will enjoy your choices,” he said firmly, “because I will be able to understand you a little more with each one.”
“People are going to say that you’re obsessed.”
Hannibal smirked. “They don’t already?”
Will laughed just like he always did: like it was startled out of him, involuntary as hiccups. He’d lowered his book and Hannibal could see his face. It was always a treat and he savored the sight like one.
“How do you know what books I own?” Hannibal asked, watching every twitch in his face.
Will rested his head against the back of the chair and just looked at him for a minute. He didn’t shy from eye contact. “After you left, I spent a lot of time sitting in your house,” he said. “Committing it to memory. It’s all there, in my memory palace. You want the list? I know every book you had in your house.”
There was some satisfaction to this, imagining Will lingering in his old house, listening to echoes of conversations that no longer were, but the dart of pain soured it. Hannibal could not forget the hurt, the emptiness of those days in Italy without Will, who had not wanted him. Bedelia had been the best he could do, but she was a poor substitute, and he remembered his heart lifting, traitorously, hidden, whenever he saw a tousled head of dark curls.
“Why didn’t you come with me, when I asked?” He didn’t intend for the hurt to seep into his voice; it happened without his permission.
Will flinched away from eye contact now, busying himself with carefully closing the cover of the book, smoothing it with his hands. If he had a shell, he’d be curling back inside it. “I didn’t know what I wanted,” he said finally, so quiet. “I think I thought that maybe if everything kept going the way it had been, then I could keep you and Jack and never…”
Hannibal tasted bitterness in the back of his mouth. He didn’t say anything.
“This—” Will waved his hand between them. “We’re an undertow. I can’t get close without getting dragged under.”
The doubt and the hurt came back in force now. He had thought that—especially after that day on the patio—but he supposed Will had only meant that he tolerated and endured.
“I guess that means it was meant to be.” Will’s voice was low and rough. He wasn’t looking at Hannibal. There was pink in his cheeks, just the smallest brush.
Will was shy. He danced around it, he always did, his emotions difficult to express in their depth, their complexity. He always took the long route; Hannibal had forgotten. He got caught between the rush of hearing Will say what he had known for years, and lingering suspicion, because Will had said before what Hannibal had known for years and then betrayed him.
“You resisted,” he noted, in the calm, inscrutable tone he used to employ in therapy sessions.
Will visibly stopped himself from making a snide retort; he sucked in a quick breath to respond and then slowly settled back into his chair, one eyebrow letting Hannibal know that he had been spotted.
Dr. Lecter, Will said coldly in his memory, and Hannibal was suddenly glad that Will had restrained himself.
“I didn’t want to be a monster,” Will said simply.
“Then we are both monsters.”
“Ohhhhh,” Will drawled, “I don’t think there’s much debate about that.” He smiled slightly as he said it, and there wasn’t as much self-loathing in there as Hannibal would have expected.
“Humans perceive anything or anyone that does not fit in with their preconceived societal norms as monstrous,” Hannibal said. “We are outside of what they consider to be normal.”
“We adhere to the norms of our society.” Will’s head tilted down and the light picked out the fine lines of his face, his long eyelashes. “It isn’t abnormal between us.”
“We are our own society,” Hannibal said, both because it was true and because he liked the sound of it. The warmth of those words soothed the leftover hurt from years ago.
“You and me, Dr. Lecter,” Will said with teeth. He eyed Hannibal thoughtfully, clearly observing his internal back-and-forth between you and me and Dr. Lecter. He said: “I will kill you if you leave me.”
Hannibal’s heart leapt. “What a coincidence,” he said, calm, though a smile flickered around the corners of his mouth. “I was going to say the same thing.”
Will picked up his book again, satisfied. “I’ll put some things on your list,” he said, finding his place.
“Be sure you do.” Hannibal went back to his journal, smooth curves of ink on creamy pages, and finally let himself smile for a bare handful of seconds.
Hannibal drove into town for groceries twice a week—fruit and vegetables wouldn’t stay fresh much longer than that, and he had lived without them for too long to endure any more days without them. Will did not come.
To the people in town, Hannibal was an eccentric foreign professor, here on sabbatical to work on his thesis. His unseen friend (here Hannibal detected many raised eyebrows—the townspeople had little doubt about the truth of their relationship; Hannibal did not attempt to disabuse them of their assumptions because he liked the idea of people referring to them, when they weren’t around, as lovers) was, according to Hannibal, a writer contemplating his magnum opus. He explained to more than one curious face that Will’s work required great concentration, but most people seemed to accept that writers were reclusive folk and only hoped for Will’s appearance, rather than expected it.
The women at their stalls asked about Will all the time, even though they had never met him. “And your friend,” one of them said now, putting emphasis on the last word and giving Hannibal an indulgent look that said she was only pretending because he was, “how is his work going?”
“It goes,” Hannibal said, smiling faintly, as though he was amused by Will’s (nonexistent) manuscript. “He is a bit of a perfectionist, I confess. He asked me to tell you that he loves your plums.” He gestured at the four fruits that he had already set aside to purchase. Will hadn’t, of course, said any such thing, but Hannibal inferred it from the way that the plums invariably vanished from the fruit bowl before he could get his own hands on any.
She flapped her hands, waving away the compliment, but he could tell that she was pleased.
After he paid, she added another plum to his small pile in the basket on his arm. “For your friend,” she said, “if he likes them so much. No, no payment! A gift.”
Hannibal went away satisfied with his ability to cultivate unknowing acquaintances. None of the people here in town suspected him of the least wrongdoing—well, aside from his assumed relationship with Will.
“Well, I’ll be damned, someone else from the western world,” said someone loudly, in an English accent, unfortunately distracting him from what, exactly, the villagers thought he got up to with good Will.
Rude, Hannibal thought, and turned.
The man turned out to be not quite as tall as Hannibal, with wheat-colored hair and blue eyes. Hannibal estimated that he was in his mid-forties, but he retained an aura of boyish enthusiasm; he grinned at Hannibal like they were old friends. “I say, do you live around here?” he asked, indicating the basket.
There were several large villas scattered around the village, but Hannibal had taken great care to shop at unlikely times of the day—very early in the morning, for instance—so as to avoid meeting any of them. He put on a polite smile. “Yes, we’re just up over the hill,” he said.
“‘We’?” the man asked, still smiling. “Oh! Paul McKinnon.” He stuck out one hand.
Hannibal shook it. Paul McKinnon would look good spitted like a pig, he decided. A bit simplistic, but then Jack might notice anything out of the ordinary, even in Argentina. Maybe McKinnon would be best served with a poker to the back of the skull. “Mikhail Lindberg,” he said. “I’m here with a friend.”
“Oh, no, I’ve heard of you!” McKinnon said, again at the top of his lungs. “You and your boyfriend—what’s his name—he writes or something, what?”
“Literary fiction,” Hannibal confirmed.
“Ah, well, even the best of us fall down sometimes,” McKinnon said wisely. “Never read the stuff if I can help it, ‘s all just drivel that looks good on your shelf. But then, I’m not much of a reader!” He laughed heartily. It reminded Hannibal of a donkey.
Hannibal kept his face gentle and indulged himself in a fantasy of what McKinnon’s face would look like if he strangled him.
“I say, it’s nice to see a familiar face,” McKinnon went on. “Though the ladies here are very lovely, very lovely indeed!” He winked conspiratorially.
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to insinuate that you would!” McKinnon roared. “No, no, I expect your young man—all the same, sir, there are some beauties here in town, that’s all I’m saying.” He nodded in a meaningful sort of way and opened his mouth again, probably to continue in a similar vein, but Hannibal interrupted him.
“I apologize, Mr. McKinnon, but I’m supposed to be home by—”
“No need, no need!” McKinnon waved his hands in Hannibal’s general direction. “Understood, sir! Yes, the ex-wife was keen on timeliness as well—not to suggest that you’re on the rocks, oh no! I’m certain your, ah, well, I’m certain he isn’t like Janet, no, she was quite—”
Hannibal shook his hand goodbye to shut him up. Apparently he had forgotten, cloistered here mostly alone with Will, how irritating and dull the rest of humanity could be. “Perhaps another time,” he said politely, already thinking longingly of his recipe cards—but then, Will probably wouldn’t approve. Maybe he should rescind the invitation.
“Yes, yes.” McKinnon beamed and, at long last, went away again, wandering through the stalls with his hands shoved in his pockets. He looked like he ought to be on his way to a rugby game, except that his hair was starting to thin up top.
Hannibal created and discarded three plans for McKinnon on the drive home. Each time, the anticipation crashed up against immovable uncertainty: what would Will want? He had helped kill the Dragon, his radiance engulfing Dolarhyde’s little spark, but the Dragon was a whole different order of thing than McKinnon. Hannibal, who had spent a lot of time thinking about the potentiality of Will’s victims, had often concluded that Will might only slay monsters. But that had been before the Dragon, before it’s beautiful, before the crush of the ocean.
How unpredictable dear Will could be. How he kicked up the beat of Hannibal’s heart.
When he parked the car, Hannibal decided to do what he did best: wait and see. Perhaps he would never see McKinnon again. Perhaps, if he did show up, Will would never see him. Perhaps he would, and decide to let McKinnon live. Perhaps—
Perhaps he wouldn’t.
Whatever Will’s decision, Hannibal could easily content himself anticipating it.
One of Hannibal’s most treasured daydreams about the possibility of a life with Will was teaching him to cook. He had pictured it in his house in Baltimore; in his weaker moments in Florence, after leaving his broken heart, he had imagined Will in his kitchen there; at the BSHCI, he had discarded conventional space and returned them to his aunt’s house in Paris, his first apartment in Florence, other kitchens that existed only in his mind palace. These dreams had, in a way, made the three years missing Will longer, but sometimes he needed them to breathe.
He was very conscious, these days, of how perfectly happy he was. He had never wanted something so much and then been allowed to have it.
Today Will was at the stove, a spatula held loosely in his hand. He seemed to have recognized Hannibal’s desire for formal dinners, because lately he had begun arriving in slacks and button-down shirts again. He rolled the sleeves up, because he was still Will, but Hannibal was very fond of his forearms and saw no reason to protest. The sight of him in an apron did strange things to Hannibal’s chest.
“How am I supposed to flip these, again?” Will asked. He made a couple of feints at the pan with his spatula, like the crepes might turn themselves over if he scared them.
“I’ll show you,” Hannibal said, amused. “You can do the next one.”
Will handed him the spatula; their fingers brushed. He didn’t move away, hovering by Hannibal’s shoulder, warm and compact. He’d used Hannibal’s shampoo—his shower, and wasn’t that a kick of heat to the gut. Hannibal inhaled as discreetly as he could, memorizing the scent of his shampoo against Will’s skin.
“Like this,” he said, and, with several quick movements, had the thin pancake flipped onto its back.
Will chewed on his lip. “I’m not—”
“You can,” Hannibal insisted. “It takes practice. My aunt’s chef in Paris taught me how, and I ruined a great many batches before I could do it right.”
“Somehow I just can’t imagine that.” Will snorted and looked up at him. “Weren’t you just born a gourmet chef? You’re ruining my vision of tiny Hannibal Lecter whipping up three-course meals in that goddamn castle of yours.”
The reference to Lecter Manor was a deliberate jab, but Hannibal was so delighted in general with the barbs in Will’s speech that he didn’t mind. “I am sorry to disappoint you,” he said, smiling. He gave the spatula back to Will. “Here. You get it onto the plate when it’s ready.”
Will grimaced, rubbed at the corner of his jaw. He’d let his beard grow thicker; Hannibal knew it was in an attempt to hide the scar, which was still red and would always be knotted. He supposed that it was less noticeable now than it had been, though the beard grew strangely around it.
He’d been in Hannibal’s bathroom, using his shampoo—he’d combed his hair so it curled gently to the side, teasing the long scar on his forehead—his beard was trimmed and neat. He’d used the mirror, then. Hannibal was very proud of him.
“It might be done,” Will said, squinting at the crepe doubtfully.
Hannibal fought the urge to laugh. “I would agree,” he said.
“There’s something you do with your wrist,” Will said, demonstrating against thin air. He looked up at Hannibal again, through his lashes, his eyebrows tilted just so. “Show me again.”
Hannibal quirked a brow at him to say I know what you’re doing. “You won’t learn unless—”
Will sighed and stepped in front of him. He grabbed Hannibal’s hand and set it against his wrist. “Show me,” he demanded.
The bones in his wrist shifted in Hannibal’s grip, and the long line of his spine nearly touched Hannibal’s chest. If he leaned forward, even just slightly, he could bury his face in his dark, curly hair. It was a mark of Hannibal’s iron control that he didn’t pull Will close, that he didn’t touch him in any other way than the hand on his wrist, the way Will had said it was all right.
He got a better grip on Will’s wrist, curling his fingers up against the back of his hand, holding him steady. Will inhaled.
“Like this,” Hannibal said into his ear—two could play at this game—and tilted Will’s hand to get the spatula under the little pancake, flipped it onto the plate waiting on the counter next to the pan. He drew in one last, soft breath, so close to Will’s skin, and then stepped away, letting him go.
“Yeah, okay,” Will said. He grabbed the batter and actually did a fairly good job of swirling it onto the pan in a thin layer. He smiled over his shoulder at Hannibal, the scar tissue straining. His eyes were warm. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome, Will, of course.” This was, Hannibal felt, far superior to any of his imagined versions of this scene, because he hadn’t thought to include Will’s hair smelling like his shampoo, and nearly holding Will in his arms had been reserved for the most wild dreams, because it had seemed like such a distant possibility.
He thought, suddenly, of how he had been before he knew Will. He’d thought that he was happy, that he’d lived as interesting a life as anyone could hope for, but he hadn’t even known to wish for this.
All of that waiting had been worth it.
“I should be thanking you,” Hannibal said before he could talk himself out of it.
Will glanced up again. His eyes flickered over his face. He took him in within an instant, in that wonderful way he had, knowing and understanding where no one else had ever known or understood. He smiled fast, like he couldn’t help it, and looked away. “Please don’t,” he murmured. He stared fixedly at the pan and took a stab at flipping it himself, trying to move his wrist like Hannibal did. “Then I’d have to thank you for… seeing me, and liking what you saw, and I don’t know how to do that.”
“How could I not?” Hannibal couldn’t take his eyes off him. “From the moment I saw you…” He had to stop and swallow, seeing it again in front of his eyes: this man that Jack Crawford had told him about, with a body that matched his beautiful mind, and the hook in Hannibal’s gut that he had taken as fascination and that he realized, later, was how it felt to fall in love.
Will twisted around to face him, his forehead crinkling. He said, “That long?”
Hannibal could not reply. He knew the answer was written on his face.
“But I was so rude to you,” Will said. He was frowning; Hannibal was reasonably sure it was directed at himself. “I shouted at you. I was so angry that Jack brought someone in to study me.”
“I don’t blame you,” Hannibal said, smiling reminiscently. “I didn’t blame you then, either. But I would not give up the opportunity to see you again.”
“You killed Cassie Boyle for me.”
“Yes. I hoped you were as good as Jack thought you were. And you were, you are.” He caught Will’s eyes, held them, let his adoration show. “I’ve never known anyone like you. How could I want to change that? I just wanted you to be yourself.”
Will looked through him for the lie. He wouldn’t find one, because Hannibal would never lie about this. His face didn’t change, and yet it did.
Hannibal approached this time and carefully folded him into his arms. Will let him. He dropped the spatula on the counter and curled his fingers around the seam of Hannibal’s apron, resting his head against his heart. He fit perfectly. Hannibal rubbed his palm up his back.
Will turned his head so his nose pressed against Hannibal’s pulse. “I don’t want to change you either,” he said very quietly, just into the space between them. For Hannibal’s ears only. “You are yourself. I wouldn’t ask you to be something other any more than I would ask a wolf to not be a wolf. That would change its true nature. It wouldn’t be beautiful.”
He closed his eyes and rested his cheek against Will’s hair, his curls mashed into his skin. Hannibal tilted his head and pressed his lips against the raised scar on his forehead. He wanted to say so many things that they crowded each other out in his throat. “Will,” he began, strangled.
“Oh shit,” Will said, and suddenly he was gone, his warmth leeching away from Hannibal’s chest. Hannibal blinked at the air, shocked into stillness, and when he remembered to look, he found Will scraping at the pan, trying to peel the blackened, burned remains of the crepe from the bottom.
They ended up eating what they had, finishing it off with the remaining plums. The silence was companionable, but Hannibal kept thinking of his lips on Will’s skin, Will calling him beautiful, and he knew that Will was thinking about the same things too.
Hannibal had changed the days he went to town for groceries in the hope of avoiding Paul McKinnon, and so far he had been successful. His resolution to let Will decide what would happen had not been tested. He drove back to the house a couple of weeks after the incident in the kitchen, therefore, with no small amount of satisfaction—satisfaction that vanished when he saw a sleek grey Mercedes in their drive, one that had obviously been driven by someone with no regard for either its pedigree or its paint job.
He found the knife that he’d hidden in the lining of the driver’s seat and slipped it into the basket, beneath the loaf of bread. It never hurt to be careful.
He could hear voices in the kitchen—well, more accurately, McKinnon’s loud description of an African safari he had been on last year, and light, interested hums that must belong to Will, though they didn’t sound like him at all. Hannibal walked in, smiling, and asked, “Do we have company?”
They were standing on either side of the island. Will had plied McKinnon with what was either cranberry juice or wine and some eggs and toast, arranged on a plate. McKinnon, whose mouth was partly full, nevertheless opened it to say something.
Will beat him to it. “Karl!” he exclaimed, his whole body lighting up, and he danced—actually danced—across the room to press up against Hannibal’s side. He slid an arm around Hannibal’s waist and kissed his cheek. His lips were very soft; the contrast with his beard sent a bolt of longing down Hannibal’s spine. “This is Paul McKinnon. He says he ran into you the other day in town?” His voice was light and breathy, like Will and not. He kept his hand against Hannibal’s hip.
Hannibal seized the opportunity and kissed Will’s forehead. “I see you found us all right,” he said to McKinnon.
“Yeah, I drove around a little bit,” McKinnon said, going for offhand. “You said ‘over the hill’ so I had a rough idea where you might be at.”
“He thought you’d be here at this time of day,” Will said, smiling at Hannibal. “Just came up and knocked on the door.” Real Will looked through his eyes, and his expression made Hannibal shiver.
“What a surprise.” Reluctantly, Hannibal untangled himself from Will and brought the basket to the counter.
“Your house is very charming,” McKinnon said as Hannibal unloaded the groceries. “Will showed me around a little. Very lovely, very lovely. I must say,” he said to Will, “do you have any copies of your books? I haven’t heard of any of them.”
Will sighed and rolled his eyes. “They’ve never sold very well.”
“The themes go over the heads of the general populace,” Hannibal said, putting the vegetables into the fridge. “Will doesn’t write books for popular appeal.”
“We must have some lying around here somewhere,” Will said, still in that light voice. It was vaguely similar, Hannibal realized, to the fussy, pitchy way he spoke when he was anxious or upset. He hadn’t done that around Hannibal in a while. “I don’t like seeing them when I’m writing. It’s like static, they disrupt the creative process.”
McKinnon made an impressed noise through a mouthful of eggs.
“I think we might have some somewhere in the attic,” Hannibal said, touching Will’s spine as he went by with the fruit.
Will hummed in acknowledgement, both of the information and the touch, or at least that was the impression he gave. “I’ll get him to find them before the next time you come over,” he told McKinnon. “Okay?”
“Should we make a proper dinner party of it?” Hannibal asked Will.
“You really think I’d deny you the chance to show off your cooking?” Will demanded. “He’s amazing,” he said to McKinnon, indicating Hannibal. “You should see the presentation. I’ve eaten fancier things at his table than I have at any restaurant in my life.”
“That’s because you don’t know how to choose restaurants, darling,” Hannibal murmured, giving in to the temptation to press his lips to his hair.
Will smiled at him. “That’s what I have you for.”
McKinnon was watching them avidly. “Oh, I’d be honored,” he said quickly when they turned to him. “That sounds incredible.”
“It’s certainly better than my eggs,” Will said, pulling a face at McKinnon’s plate.
“Nonsense,” McKinnon exclaimed. “They’re perfect!”
“Well, call if I’ve managed to poison you. Karl’s pretty good at that kind of thing.” Will turned back to Hannibal. The monster in his eyes was stirring. “Figure out a date, all right? I’m going back to work.” He kissed Hannibal’s cheek again and left the room with that quick, light step.
Hannibal’s pulse quickened. He smiled at McKinnon. “I have my orders,” he said wryly, and McKinnon guffawed. Orders to what? He could hardly wait to find out.
“‘Darling’?” Will said when Hannibal had finally gotten rid of McKinnon and come back to the library. He raised one eyebrow, dangerous and alluring, and they were in the asylum all over again: Please?
Hannibal smirked. “You liked it.”
Will considered. He didn’t deny it, but his eyes went distant.
Will didn’t touch Hannibal again in the week and a half leading up to McKinnon’s return. He kept his distance—physically, at least. He watched Hannibal a lot. Sometimes he was in his eyes; sometimes he wasn’t.
Hannibal respected the space between them, even though Will was apparently still using his shower, if the scent of his shampoo and his continued state of brushed hair and trimmed hair were anything to go by. But he wouldn’t push. He was happier than had ever been before, just having Will in the same house every day, his incredible mind working in close proximity to Hannibal all the time. He would be more than content if that’s all it ever was.
He suspected that Will was thinking about McKinnon as well as Hannibal. He didn’t say anything about him, and Hannibal didn’t ask, but Will had promised to find some books that didn’t exist, and Hannibal, in a fit of optimism, couldn’t see how Will could talk his way out of that one—McKinnon’s continued existence seemed, to Hannibal’s delight, doubtful.
Just in case Will actually intended to kill McKinnon, Hannibal did some research. Did McKinnon have any destructive habits that could be blamed for his premature death? Did he have any friends or acquaintances in the area that might put up a fuss? Most importantly, would anyone come looking for McKinnon if he disappeared?
Paul McKinnon was from Somerset, though he hadn’t lived in the United Kingdom for some time. He had suffered through a nasty divorce two years ago (he cheated on her, if Hannibal had to guess, often and repeatedly) and lost most of his assets; he moved to Argentina because you could live relatively well on much less money than in first world countries. He lived alone and took frequent trips to Buenos Aires, which seemed, as best as Hannibal could work out, to be primarily for gambling and temporary companionship.
In the back of his mind, Hannibal was aware that a typical person would probably feel sorry for McKinnon: lonely, poorer than he was used to, homesick for familiar accents. As it was, Hannibal felt vague contempt. McKinnon was loud, rude, dismissive of the general experience of living in Argentina, and, apparently, prone to driving up to other people’s homes with no warning and expecting to be entertained. What was worse, he had done that to Will, who was still somewhere in the process of shedding his cocoon, and who certainly didn’t deserve a surprise visit from a mundane, irritating man.
Hannibal shut the laptop abruptly and sat back in his chair. No, he had made his decision—abide with Will’s, whatever that turned out to be. If he had been back in Baltimore, on his own, he would have gotten a card out of McKinnon and put him on the waiting list and then, in a few years, come to collect. But he was not back in Baltimore, he was not on his own, and he was desperately curious about what Will would do.
“Hannibal,” Will called now from somewhere in the hallway.
When Will appeared, he had a big cardboard box in his arms. His smile was small but present. “The delivery guy caught me outside,” he said, setting the box down carefully on the desk. “I think it’s some of those books you ordered. Apparently they got here from”—he checked the shipping label—”Norway.”
“They are in English,” Hannibal assured him. He tilted the box towards him gently, careful not to let their hands touch. “I believe these are some of your books. I put off mine for a later date.”
“Jack’s probably watching your titles like a hawk,” Will muttered.
“You think he believes we’re alive?” Hannibal asked, curious.
Will shrugged. “I think he’s probably afraid to believe we’re dead. He knows you well enough to doubt that something as ordinary as a fall could kill you.” He came around the desk and pulled out the drawer almost into Hannibal’s stomach, looking for some scissors. “And if you lived, you’d save me, so. We’re like a bad penny. Always turning up together when he wants it least.” He made a small noise of triumph and went back to the box.
Hannibal glowed. Will had a habit of triggering uncontrollable smiles, though he did his best to obscure this one a little by spinning the desk chair and getting up, because he didn’t want to make Will uncomfortable.
Will knew, of course, but he didn’t mention it. He cut through the tape and said, “I alphabetized my books at home. First by author, then by title within that.”
“Your books were something you could control when the rest of your life was uncontrollable.”
“I am aware of my own neuroses, thanks.” Will didn’t sound upset about it. He pulled out some of the books and dropped them on the desk.
Feeling helpful, Hannibal stepped up to take the books, but Will stopped him, pressing the flat of the scissors against his forearm. Hannibal paused, waiting. His heartbeat kicked up.
“What are you expecting to happen?” He lifted his eyes to meet Hannibal’s, his head still tilted down, and the monster stirred again in the depths—waiting, waiting. Gathering itself.
“I expect that you will make a decision.”
Will’s eyebrows rose. “You’re leaving it up to me?”
“I am curious about what you will do.” He let some of his eagerness, his delighted anticipation slip into his voice. “I understand myself and my whims, but you—you always surprise me.”
“You would kill him.” It wasn’t a question.
“Naturally,” Hannibal said calmly. “He has done more than enough to deserve it. But if you choose to let him live,” he added, nodding courteously, “then I will be more than content to let him go.”
Will watched him for a long moment without speaking. It was power, what Hannibal offered him: power over McKinnon’s future, power over the Devil himself. Power, control, when he had so often had neither—Hannibal could see the edges of how it tempted him. Will and the monster inside.
Both of them turned the scissors, tilting the blades towards Hannibal’s stomach. Will was good with knives; scissors wouldn’t be much of a stretch. Will smiled, a real one, and dropped the scissors back onto the table.
“Help me put the books away,” he said, and Hannibal did.
Now, when he ran in the brush, Paul McKinnon stumbled and tripped and fled before him. Beside him, almost close enough to touch, another monster kept pace.
Hannibal spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen. It had been a long time since he could fully immerse himself in cooking, unsupervised by anyone except Will, who came in to assist when he called for him. He saw tousled, snippy Will, complaining again about Freddie Lounds; recently-out-of-the-pool Will, his shirt pulled on hastily, feet bare; composed, put-together Will, apron on and sleeves rolled up, holding a knife. When Hannibal passed close behind this last Will, ostensibly because he’d forgotten something in the refrigerator, he could smell his own shampoo again.
He left Will in charge of watching things simmer while he went to change, selecting a charcoal grey jacket and light sweater to complement Will’s white shirt and dark pants. He looked longingly at the remaining three-piece suits, but the evening was too hot and he didn’t want to ruin one, depending on Will’s choice.
Still, despite that slight disappointment, Hannibal was pleased when he looked himself over in the mirror. With hard work, he looked like he had before he spent three years in the government’s tender care—aside from more silver in his hair, but that was all right. The silver was a testament to his skill at surviving (and thriving) for this long.
Will smiled at him when he came back in, a quirk at one side of his mouth. His white shirt was a nice contrast against his dark hair. “I miss the suits,” he said, reading Hannibal’s mind. “If we go somewhere colder, will you wear them again?”
“Of course,” Hannibal said, perfectly happy.
“I can’t believe you stopped yourself from wearing that coral pink thing.” Will eyed his subdued colors with obvious amusement.
“There is a time and a place,” Hannibal said with dignity, and when Will barked his startled laugh, the doorbell rang.
Hannibal watched, delighted, as Will pulled another skin out of nowhere, sliding it across his shoulders. He suddenly seemed lighter, like he might float instead of walk, and his hands hung differently from his wrists. His eyes were bigger than they had been a second before. He was Will and not Will: this Will was small and helpless, and Hannibal could only spot the seams in his new skin because he knew where to look.
Will flitted up to him—flitted, like some little bird—and draped his arms across his shoulders, liquid and loose instead of his usual tense twitchiness. His eyes were Hannibal’s Will’s, though, clever and far, far too sharp. “Do you like it, darling?” he cooed.
“You are incredible,” Hannibal told him honestly. He rested his hand on Will’s hip for a moment, now that Will had opened that game up again, and then said, “It would be rude to keep our guest waiting.”
“And we can’t have that.” Will unwound himself and skipped off, looking even younger than he usually did, and Hannibal thought, again, of how lucky he was.
Will had kept a good watch on the food while he had been gone; Hannibal was adjusting the temperature on the burners when Will came back with McKinnon, who was wearing an awful Hawaiian shirt and carrying a merlot that wouldn’t suit dinner.
“Mr. McKinnon,” Hannibal said, extending a hand.
“Paul, please,” McKinnon enthused. He stuck out the bottle. “I brought some wine. To repay you for your hospitality last time!” He winked at Will, who fluttered and took the bottle.
“Well, you didn’t have to!” he said. He looked at Hannibal in a way that somehow conveyed pleased surprise and a certain nervousness, the kind that people would expect from someone who hid in his house to write books. Hannibal had mastered commanding pleasantness, a poise that demanded admiration and trust, but Will’s malleability far surpassed him. He was awed, excited, deliriously happy to see Will in action.
Will and his monster observed this and said, “Should I take it to the wine cellar?”
“Please,” Hannibal said. He smiled at McKinnon as Will departed, his hips swaying in a way that they normally didn’t. He didn’t feel more disposed towards this man, but he was very pleased by the opportunity he presented. “Thank you very much for coming. I’m glad to finally have an excuse to get him away from the computer.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble, no trouble at all,” McKinnon said. He was clearly pleased. “Everyone needs a chance to get out once in a while, what? Your boy looks like he could use some fresh air. He shouldn’t be so self-conscious.” He looked around the kitchen, oblivious to the number of sins he was racking up. “I must say, he wasn’t kidding about your cooking. This looks damned complicated, man.”
“Isn’t he just brilliant?” Will said, coming back into the room and saving Hannibal from having to answer. He slipped next to him and touched the small of his back with the tips of his fingers. “I keep telling him he should give lessons.”
“Well, I think that would be interesting, very interesting indeed,” McKinnon said immediately.
“How much longer?” Will asked. His eyes were big and blue and the real Will and his monster were laughing. “Will it spoil dinner if I get us some drinks?”
“I should hope not. The appetizer is nearly ready anyway.” Hannibal checked under the covered dish. “Meet us in the dining room.”
McKinnon had barely gotten settled when Hannibal finished arranging the plates and Will came back with glasses of white wine—he had spent most of his trip to the table making appreciative noises at the stark, modern art on the walls and the detailed carvings on the furniture. Hannibal had to remind himself more than once of his desire to let Will see his decision through, whatever that decision was.
Will was worth the wait. He was always worth the wait.
“Oh, this looks lovely!” McKinnon exclaimed. Behind his back, Will dropped his act enough to raise his eyes skyward. It took all of Hannibal’s self-control not to laugh.
“Tell him what it is, I know you want to,” Will said, gliding around to his seat; McKinnon didn’t seem to hear the bite under the teasing.
The discussion of the food occupied McKinnon through both the appetizer and the soup courses. He had a lot of questions, and just as many interruptions, mostly anecdotes that had only vaguely something to do with the food or the preparation technique. Hannibal answered politely, and, though he hadn’t needed to use it in many years, he had mastered the art of looking interested when he was, in fact, bored out of his skull. That had been a useful talent when he was a psychiatrist.
Will didn’t contribute much. He deployed a range of interested noises and intrigued expressions. His eyes flickered between them; McKinnon was too busy talking to see the monster peeking out, but Hannibal did, and excitement swelled in his belly.
“Not to change the subject,” McKinnon said, changing the subject, when Hannibal came back with the main course, “but I have been wondering: how did you two meet?”
Will snorted. “We met through work, if you can believe that,” he told McKinnon. “A colleague introduced us.”
“Not anything all that exciting, to tell you the truth,” Hannibal lied.
“Oh, I disagree,” McKinnon said enthusiastically. He took a bite of thinly-sliced steak and chewed loudly. “Love stories are always exciting. This is excellent, by the way.”
“He spent all afternoon on it,” Will said. He tipped back the last of his wine and stood up. “Anybody else want more?”
“Just bring up the bottle, that would be best,” Hannibal told him.
They were silent for a moment as Hannibal pretended to be busy eating. Then McKinnon said, in a low voice, “I was just wondering because, ah—” He waved his hand around the right side of his face. “What happened, anyway? Car wreck? It’s just—well, you know—pity, what a pity. Still, he has you, eh? Charming fellow.”
Hannibal’s hand twitched over his knife. It would be easy, so easy. He flexed his fingers and said coldly, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh, I meant no offense!” McKinnon said quickly. “But you know me—blunt—well, he shouldn’t feel like he needs to hole up in here all the time, that’s what I was saying.”
“I think I’m losing my mind,” Will said from inside the kitchen. He came back into the dining room, smiling, the bottle of wine in his hand. He was handsome and far more valuable than McKinnon could ever be, and Hannibal treasured every scar on his body. They were marks of his survival. They were signals of his experiences. That, and Hannibal had been directly or indirectly involved in all but one of them, and they were precious milestones in their relationship. “I swear I left this at the bar but it turns out I put it back in the cellar. Had to search everywhere for it.” He set the bottle on the table.
“Happens to me all the time!” McKinnon said. He smiled widely, in a clear attempt to show Hannibal that he quite liked Will and had never looked askance at his face.
Will smiled back, puzzled, and turned to Hannibal, who was having a very difficult time not putting his knife through McKinnon’s hand. “Anything else I can get while I’m up?”
Hannibal shook his head. He didn’t trust himself to speak. He hadn’t had to hide in so long that it seemed he had lost the knack of it.
“Well, that reminds me,” Will said, touching his shoulder. “I have a present for you. Give me a second to go get it.”
“Oho, a present!” McKinnon said loudly, craning over his shoulder in an attempt to watch Will go. “Is it your birthday? You should have told me it was your birthday.”
Hannibal smiled tightly. “It is not my birthday.”
“Well, good thing, because I didn’t get you a present.” He winked lewdly.
He had promised. He had promised Will that he would get to choose—
Will strode back into the room, fast and sure, grabbed the top of McKinnon’s left ear firmly, and cut it off in a slice of silver.
McKinnon howled in shock—the pain hardly seemed to have registered—and reeled off his chair, clawing at the table to stay upright. Scarlet blood ran down his neck and stained his shirt. “What the fuck!” he roared. He put his hand against his head. “What the fucking fuck!”
Hannibal and Will watched him. Will held the knife in one hand and McKinnon’s ear in the other. It was oozing blood, staining his fingers red.
“My fucking ear!” McKinnon screamed.
“Is this my present?” Hannibal asked. Delight and astonishment surged in his chest—he had hoped, he had been optimistic, and he was still surprised when he got what he wanted, because he could never quite guess, never quite estimate what Will would do.
“I told you that I didn’t want you to change,” Will said in his normal voice, still watching McKinnon gape at his bloody palm. He turned the ear over in his fingers. “He doesn’t have anyone, they won’t notice. Nobody will care.”
McKinnon was now scrambling away from them, towards the door.
Hannibal said, “Will.”
Will caught his eyes: the monster victorious. “Run, rabbit, run,” he said as McKinnon finally hit the door and went staggering out into the backyard.
Hannibal was up and out of his seat, the thrill of the hunt rolling in his veins, multiplied tenfold with the knowledge that Will was behind him, Will was with him. McKinnon was a mewling pup—easily caught, easily ended, but the rush was still there, and later, later, later.
McKinnon hadn’t gotten far. He was still negotiating the patio. He’d knocked one of the small tables sprawling in his haste to get away, tangling his foot in its legs. When he saw Hannibal coming, he yelped and screamed, “Help, help!” He got his leg free and made a go for the brush.
Hannibal’s muscles surged—he was faster than McKinnon, much faster, and he took the other route around the pool, his breathing easy and smooth. McKinnon was panicking. He ran serpentine for a few steps, not on purpose, and then spun around and ran back towards the house, trying to keep the pool between him and Hannibal.
Will stood silhouetted in the doorway, the knife hanging loosely by his side. Hannibal saw the moment that McKinnon decided Will would be the easier target; he put his head down and charged, roaring like a bull. Hannibal slowed to watch.
Yes, Will was good with a knife.
He couldn’t see as clearly as he’d have liked, given the shadows, but it looked like Will stabbed him several times, fast. McKinnon grunted and tried to hit him, clawing at his arm. Will staggered and pushed him, hard, before Hannibal could get there, propelling McKinnon back across the tiles and straight into the pool.
McKinnon thrashed to the surface. The pool had lights, and under their bright beams, the blue water was laced with red. Will dropped to his knees, the knife clattering to the ground beside him, and tangled both hands in McKinnon’s yellow hair, shoving his head back under the water.
He was flailing, desperately clawing for the surface, scratching at Will’s hands and wrists. Hannibal came down beside him and caught one of McKinnon’s hands. Efficiently, he dislocated his thumb and several fingers. Will leaned harder on his head, his eyes burning blue.
McKinnon’s struggles weakened. The water weighed him down. Hannibal said, “Will, let me.”
Will looked desperately at his face and made a low, animal sound. He let go.
McKinnon surfaced, choking weakly. Hannibal seized the corner of his shirt and hauled him back up onto the patio. He was coughing and gasping like a fish, his face red and his eyes bugging.
“You have been unspeakably rude,” Hannibal told him, though he doubted that McKinnon could understand him. “It would be reckless to display you, but I expect that I will be able to find some decent cuts on you. I am optimistic.” Then he gouged out McKinnon’s eyes and snapped his neck.
Everything was quiet for a moment except for the occasional bubble of air from McKinnon’s lungs.
Will started to laugh, a full, real laugh, not gasping, not startled. He pushed his wet hair off his forehead and kept laughing, his eyes squeezed shut. His hands were mostly cleaned of blood, from the pool water, but his white shirt was stained and there was blood around his mouth.
“Did he get you?” Hannibal asked, rough. He wanted to touch Will but wasn’t sure that he was allowed. Wasn’t even quite sure that he could, with his radiance so bright.
Will shook his head. He swallowed, sucked in a couple of breaths, and laughed again. “No,” he said. “No, a little. The blood is—it’s—” He rubbed his forehead and grinned at Hannibal, bright and wild. His teeth were bloody. “I ate the ear. Chewed it up.”
Hannibal stared at him. He leaned forward on his knees, his breath seizing, and cradled Will’s face in shaking hands. He searched his eyes—lovely, monstrous Will, blood on his teeth and an ear in his stomach. He didn’t think he could speak.
“No tubes required,” Will said. He held Hannibal’s palm to his cheek, leaned into the touch. “I’ll remember this time.”
“I love you,” Hannibal blurted out.
“I know,” Will said, almost laughing again: “Hannibal, I know.” He leaned forward. Their noses bumped. And then they were kissing.
Will’s mouth tasted like the main course, like blood, like the wet heat of his tongue. His lips were soft and his beard was rough, and he gasped and shuddered and clutched at Hannibal’s shirt. Hannibal pulled him closer, half to steady Will and half to steady himself, and Will kept going, crawled against his chest and wound his free arm around his shoulders.
And just like that, Hannibal stopped shaking. Holding and being held—here he was, living his wildest dream, Will’s curls between his fingers and the rest of him cradled in his arm, slipping air from the small space between their lips. Will’s fingertips pressed in pulses against his shoulder blade.
“I wasn’t sure—” Hannibal said.
“Obviously,” Will said. He pushed their mouths together again. He knotted his fingers in Hannibal’s hair, like he’d seized McKinnon’s scalp, but he just used his grip to move Hannibal’s head where he wanted it, slotting them more firmly together.
“You were testing me,” Hannibal managed to say, mostly into Will’s mouth.
Will grinned against his cheek. “You passed, if that makes you feel any better.”
If passing meant getting Will in his lap, wrapped around his shoulders, then Hannibal was delighted. He had never kissed someone when he was in love with them before, and it was better than he had expected. He caught Will’s lips again. The taste of blood was gone, swiped away by his tongue.
“Ears don’t taste very good,” Will said finally.
Hannibal glanced over at the body. “The rest of him will taste better.”
“Yeah, because you’ll be cooking it.”
He smiled up at him. “Would you like to learn how to butcher him?”
Will blinked. He looked startled. “Won’t I ruin the meat?”
“Not if you’re careful.”
Will tilted his head and studied him, the monster and Will, the both of them pulsing at his edges. His hair was drying into a fluff. “Okay,” he said. He put Hannibal’s hand on his wrist. “Show me.”
The sausages sizzled in the pan, carefully sized and seasoned. Hannibal diced the tomatoes and the peppers with the same knife that Will had used on McKinnon. It lent the proceedings that one last jot of poetic justice.
Right on schedule, Will wandered into the kitchen, his hair sticking up and his eyes still a little bleary. “I thought I smelled something,” he said. He looped his arms around Hannibal’s waist and pressed his scarred cheek against his shoulder. “Protein scramble again?”
“This was our first meal together,” Hannibal explained, shifting McKinnon’s lungs around in the pan.
He felt Will smile into his shirt. “I don’t think I realized how much of a romantic you are.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” He hadn’t told his face to smile, but it was there anyway.
“It’s just.” Will sighed. “It’s just that I’m not used to it. People remembering the first thing we ate together because they liked me that much the first time they met me.”
Hannibal set down the spatula and turned in his arms, catching Will’s hands when he tried to pull away. “I told you before that I loved you from the first time I saw you. I admit,” he said, looking down at his shoes, “that it took me some time to realize that. You scared me sometimes, when I realized how you could change me. How I wanted to let you change me.”
“Hannibal—” Will whispered.
He let go of his hand to touch his cheek, resting his fingertips against twisted, raised skin.
“We killed him together,” Hannibal said. “We slew the Dragon. It was beautiful. This, too.” He rubbed the scar, leaned in and kissed it. “It’s beautiful.” He pulled him close, his strength and his cunning, his bladed tongue and soft mouth, the monster and Will. “You’re beautiful.”
Slowly, Will returned the embrace. He leaned his head against Hannibal’s heart and breathed there, listening.