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La Maison Rouge

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Looking Will in the eyes gives Hannibal a tranquility that he usually only knows in the privacy of his kitchen. It is a peace that is both warm and sterile, that belies comfort and familiarity.

Hannibal enjoys his creature comforts. He wants to sew this feeling into his blankets, fill his pillowcases with its beating tendrils. He wants to sleep in it. In all likelihood, this is not the same as wanting to sleep with Will.

He wonders about the similarities, though, on those rare instances when Will looks back. If simply to gaze upon Will is peace, then having his gaze returned is the peace that precedes a storm: they are the both of them simmering, and not a soul between them—the FBI, these killers, those people—not one stands a chance.

 

-

 

What keeps Hannibal's desire outpacing his hunger is the fact that Will still seldom looks back, even when it's just the two of them in all the spaces they are beginning to share comfortably.

And those spaces are many. They are the theaters of crime scenes, the basements of research centers, Hannibal's office. Will's home, too, on the odd morning.

Will accepts invasions of the home more readily than eye contact, which he likely construes as an intrusion of another kind. Hannibal comes by with brown paper bags in the gaps between their appointments, and soon enough Will has stopped questioning the professional ethics of his psychiatrist letting himself in.

As the months pass, Hannibal develops a familiarity with the layout of Will's kitchen that the homeowner himself can't hope to match. He scrapes rust off Will's skillets, brushes the dust off his cutting boards. Eventually the bags are weighed down by raw fixings instead of leftovers. And here, in a kitchen as dissimilar to his own as Earth is to Mars, Hannibal begins to cook.

 

-

 

He mostly cooks breakfast, the most important meal of the day and also the most furtive time to serve cubed human thighs in delicate quiches lorraine.

The first few times he does this, Will gawps at him unattractively in the doorway, the underarms of his thin gray shirts still damp with nightmare sweat. He stammers, mostly platitudes that cannot be heard over the sizzle of the pan. Sunlight is only just beginning to trickle in through the shut blinds. The dogs are sleepy-eyed but curious, and Hannibal ignores them politely, though occasionally cuts of meat will slip from the knife and the dogs will know no better than to snatch them up.

"You, uh," Will says, aghast, "you don't really have to do this."

"I know," Hannibal says.

"Seriously," Will pleads.

Hannibal's silences have as much gravity as his words, however, and in this initial discomfort Will settles for tidying up his small weekly messes—as if he worries that once Hannibal is finished with his work in the kitchen, he will turn around and find work everywhere, every nook and cranny a place in need of an opulent touch.

Instead, when Hannibal is done cooking, he sets the table and beckons. He folds the napkins into French pleats, puts between them an ill-tended flower from the yard, and like that, voilà, they are dining, they are a world away. He watches Will's jaw work gratefully through the sinew of a young communications intern and feels, in his heart, the first stirrings of romance.

 

-

 

The important thing is that Will never turns him away at the door.

At first Hannibal knows that this is the lone courtesy of a man who lingers strictly on the fringes of polite society. Will is rude, exacting, but he's not rude enough.

But soon, and not at all surprisingly, it does become about the food. Hannibal knows his way around more than a croissant or a croquant: he has an arched wrist like a maître d', he makes rosettes out of paper napkins, he polishes Will's discount cutlery to a mirror sheen.

"You don't have to do that, either," Will says when Hannibal does it the first time, jerking towards him with a frenetic urgency that suggests Hannibal is performing a criminal act. "I—jeez, you come in here dressed like that and then you make like a butler—"

"Nonsense," Hannibal says smoothly, clinking mugs together, his shirtsleeves folded up to his elbows. "A meal is itself an artwork, Will, and small embellishments such as these are therefore the frame in which you ultimately set your masterpiece."

Will clutches his hair. "It's eight in the morning," he says. "You're making scrambled eggs, not painting the Sistine Chapel."

"Perico. Perhaps with cachitos on the side. I do always bring ham."

"Doctor."

"Forgive me," Hannibal says, unable to keep the smile off his face as he dries a butter knife with a dishtowel. "I have a compulsive need to inflict my personal pleasures on my friends."

"Yeah, well," Will says, and Hannibal nearly breathes in the drop in his voice, the way he has to fight not to mutter. "It's—not that I don't appreciate it."

Hannibal slides his gaze to his companion, then, and for a rare moment their eyes meet. Color flickers up the side of Will's neck like a blunt scratch from a heavy claw, and his shoulders lock in place.

Then, suddenly, he smirks. Nervous, but happy. Whatever the distractions that blind him when he looks in the eyes of others, he cannot find them in Hannibal's.

The realization is so unexpected a delight that Hannibal finds himself twisting his napkin around his fingers while they eat, unthinking, as though he is pulling the ribbon loose from a particularly exquisite gift.

 

-

 

Then comes a morning where Hannibal has made the meal, set the table, and is in the middle of setting his folded apron back in his bag when Will juts a finger at it and says, "You know—"

He cuts himself off, looks dismayed, and raises his coffee to his lips. He gestures at the apron again, haltingly. "You can leave it," he mumbles against the rim of the mug, "here, like, under the sink or something. One less thing to pack."

Hannibal pauses. "Really."

"Yeah, I can throw it in with my laundry." Will raises his eyebrows. "Unless it's the only one you've got, which somehow I doubt."

Hannibal nearly shudders to think the dogs might get to it, the way they've gotten to all of Will's blankets and rugs. But then he looks around and sees the house for a moment as a living, breathing space: his clothes beneath the sink, his growing outfit of spices in the pantry, his meat in the freezer, all of them foreign in a body that is steadily losing the ability to expel them.

He has to smile. "If you insist," he says.

"Well, I wouldn't exactly say I'm insisting," Will mutters, glancing up. Their eyes meet again over the top of the coffee cup.

Hannibal breaks the spell with a wink. Will makes an exasperated burbling sound into his coffee, but something flickers over his face, this little ripple of self-disgust, and Hannibal has to fight the urge to pursue it with his tongue.

 

-

 

Hannibal is more than a good cook. He's a chef, and to call him less would be an understatement so criminal he's killed someone over it.

He makes deviled kidneys on toast one morning, when Will's class is cancelled, light trickling through the blinds and spilling sunbeams over his knuckles as he sorts through the cutlets. He's typically very particular when it comes to kidneys: ideally vegetarians, non-drinkers, and never a smoker under any circumstances. By those provisions, today's kidneys are exceptional.

He coats them in flour and drops more butter in the skillet. The whoosh of steam makes Will jolt a little in the corner of Hannibal's eye.

He turns around while the butter melts, padding flour off of his hands and leaning against the counters. "English breakfast," he says. "Usually cooked with lamb kidneys."

"Usually?" Will asks. His feet are propped up on the adjacent chair. He has a dog in his lap. He keeps very clean toenails.

"Usually." Hannibal turns back to the stove and tosses the slices onto the pan. The air crackles. "Veal today. You're terribly spoiled, Professor Graham."

"You really shouldn't have," Will says softly.

It only takes one or two minutes for the kidneys to fry, but during that period Hannibal becomes acutely aware of the fact that Will is watching him. He knows his delight with the quality of the meat is apparent; he knows he can't help the visible flourish with which he cuts the baguette. He also knows that Will has probably correctly deduced that the layman is never afforded the chance to watch him cook at all, and so Will in all likelihood feels as though he is seeing love given kinetic form, a private performance in what happens to be an open theater.

He watches Will in his peripheral vision as he sets down the toast, dusting the tops of the dishes with parsley. Will's eyes are on Hannibal's forearms, on his folded sleeves. Then Will looks up at him. He smiles.

"Thank you," Will says.

"My pleasure," Hannibal says, toweling his hands clean and beckoning for Will to take the first bite.

He does, murmuring his satisfaction around a full mouth. The kidneys are still a little bloody inside, leaving dark streaks that sluice across his lower lip. He sets the toast down to dab at his mouth with a napkin, and then the bites that follow are more measured, concentrated.

Hannibal loosens the knot of his apron and sits down. "There's a little Madeira in it," he says. "You may keep the bottle, if you find yourself so inclined."

"If I start liking everything you like, I'll find myself bankrupt within a week."

"I am known to spare few expenses for pleasure."

Will reaches for a second piece, and when he bites into it his eyes flutter shut, as though he's been stolen briefly into another world.

Hannibal takes this opportunity to reach across the table and pocket the used napkin. Some pleasures, he reflects, cost literally nothing at all.

 

-

 

They never, ever talk about their meals together during their sessions. Hannibal doesn't care much in any case, but it keeps a more polished veneer of distant professionalism over their relationship. Jack Crawford has even asked Will if he's tried any of Hannibal's absolutely miraculous cooking—his pork loins are out of this world—and, looking away, his body straining thoughtlessly towards Hannibal but his feet stock-still, Will said no. Not really, no.

The lies that govern the shape of the space between them are dense and delicate as a forest. They discuss cases during their sessions; they socialize like adults over breakfast. Will has grown to like the sound of Hannibal's knock in the morning, beyond any specter of doubt. And Hannibal has always known how to play a long game.

 

-

 

Of course, you can tend a forest with all the love of a god, but it only takes a fire.

One morning, Will finds himself churlish, stuttering and noncommittal as Hannibal empties today's tall brown bag on the counter. No matter: Will has as much agitation in his body as he does water, and anyway he usually softens by the time the coffee is stirred and the napkins folded.

He still watches Hannibal cook, and cook Hannibal does. He chops up a sourdough baguette, languid and precise, and lines gleaming red tomatoes at his elbow. He gets oil on his fingers and flicks it carelessly onto the burner. Fire lashes against the ceiling, a tower bright and loud.

Hannibal has always come alive over open flame, and he knows quite well how to smother it with a pan, but Will jumps out of his seat anyway. "Holy—"

"Easy, Will," Hannibal murmurs, because it's gone just as quickly, and he's feeding more oil to the pan as the crackling subsides. "No need to fear."

But Will's had enough, apparently, because he strides over and reaches towards Hannibal's hip to turn off the burners. Hannibal, who has never been one for being interrupted, turns to look at him.

"Sorry," Will says. "That is...well, forgive me for worrying you'll burn off more than your eyebrows."

Hannibal stares.

"Really. That wasn't a joke about your face," Will says, but there's a smirk stretching the corners of his eyes.

It would be effortless, to turn the stove back on and dash his head against the pan. Hannibal has just sharpened the knives. And the dogs are almost certainly hungry.

He leans down instead. Will's eyes are perfectly reflective, the veins brightly pronounced from sleeplessness. His expression is guarded. Perhaps waiting.

Hannibal drapes his arm loosely over Will's shoulders, as if to avoid getting canola oil and hollandaise sauce on his shirt. His eyes are open up until the very moment when he crushes their mouths together.

The taste of Will's staggered gasp makes him ravenous past the salvation of any breakfast. He chases it single-mindedly, licking gracelessly into Will's mouth, backing Will into a counter and lapping up the taste of coffee from between Will's teeth.

But Will reciprocates even less kindly, were it even possible, nipping his tongue and savagely biting at his jaw, his neck, the corners of his lips. He flings his arms around Hannibal's shoulders, clutching and tearing at the back of his collar and trying to clamber up his body as though the ground itself is rejecting him.

Hannibal nearly has to drag him to the bedroom, because by all appearances Will wants to claw the suit right off of him more than he wants to leave the kitchen. True enough, once he's set Will down on the bed and stopped to undo his tie, he's dismayed to feel frayed threads at the back of his neck. The discovery almost takes him entirely out of the moment, but then Will is rearing up, pulling his tie loose with shaking hands, his eyes at once cold and wild—and Hannibal remembers his purpose, remembers to be indulgent.

He opens Will up with his fingers and tongue and eats him out, languid, savoring every nuanced taste. Above him Will's knees are spread, his nipples are hard through the thin cotton of his T-shirt, and he has his fist jammed into his mouth to keep from shouting. He looks rather like a lavish dessert.

And when he comes—well, Hannibal has never been one to allow a metaphor to overstay its welcome, but when it comes to dessert he's also never said no to a cherry on top.

 

-

 

Hannibal leaves him a half-dressed wreck in his room. He goes back to the kitchen, washes his hands, and turns the stove on to finish the tomatoes Benedict.

When Will comes back out, the table is set. Hannibal is seated motionless over another steaming cup of coffee. He glances up and smiles, beckoning to the seat across from him.

"Sex and breakfast," Will mutters. Hannibal is delighted to realize his nervous voice is the same as his voice choked raw from orgasm. "You certainly are from the old school."

"Nonsense," Hannibal says, setting down his cup. "I only hate to leave any work unfinished."

Will tears a piece of bacon off of his breakfast and lets a passing retriever nip it from his fingers. "I'm not sure we would be permitted to continue our therapy sessions such as they were."

"Perhaps my ethics were remiss well before I ever darkened your bedroom doorway, Will."

Will looks up.

"...I can't say for certain," Hannibal confesses.

He glances into the distance, perhaps in search of what a better man would have done. This is another one of his indulgences. There is no room for better men between them. He will crowd them all out.

"Still. We are adults. Whatever the true capacity in which you need me... I won't let you down, Will."

"...thank you," Will says. "Really. I. Thanks."

His eyes truly are lovely. Hannibal wants to fall asleep with one in each hand.