Hannibal was Will’s most intriguing student and he wasn’t even Will’s student. Only a sophomore and yet he regularly attended Will’s graduate lectures. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about him was how intrigued Hannibal was - with nearly everything. Especially anything that had to do with Will.
It started innocently enough. Chatting after lectures. Then Hannibal began showing up on his path from the car park to the office, sometimes on the trail around the lake where he ran. Cheerful smiles were soon accompanied by unsolicited cups of coffee and bottles of water. Hannibal was always wearing a trim fitting blazer and tie. Better quality than anything Will could afford on his professor’s salary.
Now Hannibal was in his office. Will couldn’t even recall what the pretext had been. He was too busy studying Hannibal wander around as if he was in a museum, but one where he could touch and smell everything. Which he did. Everything.
Perched on an arm of the threadbare sofa, Will held a folder of papers in his lap. Observing openly. Thinking Hannibal couldn’t possibly be aware. He was so far away.
Strolling past the bookshelves, Hannibal idly ran his fingers over the spines, nodding or humming at anything that caught his interest. Titles with dogeared pages. Those that seemed like they’d never been touched. The call numbers of a few library books never returned. A forgotten cup of coffee long since dried up. He smiled as his eyes bumped into a fishing hook with feathers and what looked like fur bound with silky thread.
Will was so transfixed he was almost surprised when Hannibal spoke.
“Did you make this?”
Will managed a nod.
Hannibal turned his back again, more animated as he continued exploring like an archaeologist spurred on by a valuable find.
“Tell me, Professor Graham. Do you prefer the company of men or women - or don’t you know yet?”
Will was grateful that Hannibal couldn’t see the lump in his throat or how his hands twitched for a drink.
“And before you say it, I know it’s a blunt question,” Hannibal added in an equally flat tone as he pulled a book from the shelf and began flipping through pages.
Will bit his tongue. A bit surprised at how surprised he wasn’t. If it had been anyone else, he’d be sputtering by now. But Hannibal was … Hannibal. His mind filtered through possible answers - half truths, deflection, evasion.
“I guess I don’t know yet.” It was the truth.
Hannibal’s shoulder blades flexed as he placed the book back on the shelf. “That’s a reasonable answer.”
Will laughed before he could stop himself, disarmed by Hannibal's shameless precociousness.
“And what about you?”
He hadn’t planned to say it. The words just fell out of his mouth. Still, he made no effort to pull them back. Not even when Hannibal turned to meet his eyes.
“I enjoy my own company.”
Hannibal’s smile was as unreadable as a sphinx.
Will pulled the folder further into his lap, exhaling a sigh. “That doesn’t seem like much of a long term strategy.”
“No. It doesn’t.” Hannibal’s tone was tinged with emotion. Just barely. A confession perched on his tongue. Watching Will’s face, the temperature changed. He realized he didn’t need to say another word.