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Grace Café

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So soft and so tragic as a slaughterhouse

He became distinctly aware that his feet hurt. And that he was cold. There were hands, unwelcome on his shoulders; warmer than his skin, calling to him, coaxing him out of his mind. His voice felt fragile and sore and shaken, rising up out his throat.

“Where am I?”

“Wolf Trap.” He was well-dressed. His coat was nice, Will noted, the thought coming dull through the haze of his brain as the stranger's face was drawn into focus. He had - high cheekbones, he was older - ten years, maybe more? His hair was going grey in places. “What’s your name?”

“Will Graham.” Answering a question like that was easy.

“My name is Hannibal Lecter. You seem to have wandered far from home.” There was a long pause. Hannibal’s hands left his shoulders. A moment later they were replaced by something heavier, warmer; that nice coat. It smelled strong. A finer cologne than Will’s. The intimacy of the gesture was disquieting, yet Will couldn’t turn away the warmth. His fingers drew inwards and found purchase on the lining. “Will you come with me, Will? I have a first aid kit in my car.”

Will finally brought himself forth enough to look at Hannibal, though not his eyes. “First aid kit?”

“Your feet are bleeding.”

"Huh." Certainly explained why they hurt so much.

He found himself in moments perched on the edge of an open trunk, Hannibal's coat still wrapped around him. His knees were very cold, he thought, and he turned his head towards the inside of the car. He could feel warm air blowing through the vents, and watched Hannibal opening the glovebox, producing a first aid kid.

He lifted his feet into the trunk on Hannibal’s quiet instruction, shuffling back comfortably until they were exposed to the yellow light. They were bloody and dirty, torn by rocks, and there was a thick thorn embedded deep in the arch of his foot. Will grimaced. He hadn't even realised.

“Do you mind?” Hannibal said, and he gestured to Will’s feet.

Will was tired enough that he didn’t really see an option. He wanted the pain to ebb away. He wanted to go home and sleep. He wanted a world free of nightmares.

He shook his head mutely and Hannibal took Will’s foot between his hands, long fingers curving against his heel, two pinching the thorn in his skin. Pulling it out wasn’t the worst part; it was the air that hit it afterwards, sharp and cold, made him wince - the way that blood flowed freely until Hannibal pressed a sterile pad to it.

Will was distinctly reminded of the times that he’d taken thorns from the paws of his dogs, utilising the same kind of delicate care in order to not scare his wounded animals.

“I presume you were sleepwalking,” Hannibal said. Will can feel the pressure of his fingers on the arch. “Is that a habit of yours?”

“I don’t know,” Will admitted. He stared at his foot, held delicately in Hannibal's hands. He could feel his own discomfort, but it was distant. It felt far away, as though he were in the driving seat of a car - this car - and his fear was on foot, trying to catch up. He didn’t know if it was because he was still drowsy and out of sorts or - or what. He felt not quite present in himself. 

He glanced around the trunk. The odds of someone finding him out here were suddenly highlighted as remote.  ”What were you doing out here? What… time is it, anyway?” 

“Just past three in the morning.” Hannibal was moving on, suddenly - he wiped dirt and blood from between Will’s first and second toes, making him jump. “And I suffer from similar sleeping preclusions to yourself. I find empty stretches of land to be comforting.” 

Will nodded numbly. Yes, he could relate to that.

Hannibal leaned into his line of vision and asked, mouth somber, “Where do you live?”

In the next second Will found himself waking up safe and alone, wrapped in a nest of sheets and surrounded by dogs. Their weight was warm and near tempted him to succumb back to sleep, but as he closed his eyes, Hannibal's face - distorted by the night time and smudged memory - came to mind. He couldn't settle.

One of the dogs licked Will's chin. He wrapped an arm around it and huffed, a reluctant chiding. Usually they didn't sleep on the bed - usually he didn't let them - but he felt a distant memory of summoning one of them from their basket, to be a warm weight of safety, and how they had all one by one followed during the night.

A panic sparked low in Will's chest as he scrambled to recall the date. Lately, things - simple things - were getting harder to recall. Cases were taking their toll, he thought. He had nothing to hold onto.

In the end, he reaches for his phone to pull up the day - and it's a Wednesday. He wasn't late for anything. With a groan, he buried his face into the pillow. He had two lectures at Quantico that afternoon, but his phone had also told him that it was barely eight in the morning. That means, he thinks, that he got at least four hours of sleep -

and that was more than most nights. 

"Maybe I should let you sleep on the bed more often," he told his dogs, voice thick with sleepy amusement, and then realised three of them were sleeping on his legs and he couldn't free himself from under them. "...Maybe not."

It took some time to extract himself from the puppy pile - and once he found himself with a large mug of coffee and two aspirin at hand, Will stood by his kitchen window (the early light streamed through, light scattering through thin clouds) and closed his eyes. Hannibal's face still lurked behind his eyelids.

When he opened his eyes, he realised that Hannibal's coat was still in his possession, too - and he crossed back out to the front room curiously. Sure enough, there it was, draped over his desk chair.

Will was starting to get the feeling in his stomach that a social obligation was coming up. Perhaps if there was nothing of worth in the pockets then Will wouldn't have to take the jacket back - perhaps he can hang it up with his own coats like a reminder of the occasional kindness of strangers and nothing more.

So of course it entirely unsurprised Will to find a wallet on his first look into the pockets.

He pulled open the front door and let the dogs run free outside.

According to an elegantly designed little stack of business cards tucked into another coat pocket (in their own silver case), Hannibal was the owner of a coffee house in Baltimore called Grace Café. Will wondered only for a moment what he was doing so far out in Wolf Trap before he took up the hour's drive - with Hannibal's coat neatly folded on the driver's seat beside him.

He'd put the wallet and card holder back in the pocket that he found it, but tucked one of Hannibal's business cards into his own.

Grace Café - whose name was in hand-painted script above the door - was a well lit, comfortable place, with a large bay window that showed off glass displays filled with rows of sweet and savoury snacks and pastries. Behind the glass and the counter, a man cut ingredients and mixed drinks in front of the customers, and a teenage girl worked the cash register beside him.

It took Will a moment to realise that the man was Hannibal. He looked different in daylight. His hair wasn't so plain as he remembered; Hannibal could have been brown-haired or blonde once, but the grey had taken most of it. He was tidy, even fashionable, wearing a fitted white shirt and a white apron around his hips. He moved and spoke with apparent ease.

He was handsome. A handsome older man who owned and ran a café. Will found himself wondering if that made him some kind of eligible bachelor - provided, of course, that Hannibal was a bachelor. And Will, with his creases and purple hollows under his eyes, felt so alarmingly opposite to him.

He decided to stop watching through the window and quietly patted a little dust off of Hannibal's jacket before pushing open the door. He waited in line politely behind the rest of the customers, glancing about, feet fidgeting on the floor. The fresh, warm smells helped him be still.

Hannibal disappeared from behind the counter without seeing him. Will's anxious fidgeting started up again - the line was cutting shorter and shorter. He hoped Hannibal would come back before he had to talk to anyone else.

His wishes went unfulfilled, as they normally did - but the girl behind the counter was bright-eyed and seemed kind, a yellow-and-blue floral scarf knotted around her throat. She looked him in the eye and Will was given pause; there was a familiarity that he couldn't place, but it was gone when she spoke. "What can I get you?"

"Just a coffee," he said, nudging coins towards her. She didn't seem to notice his lingering look - she just passed him his change and wandered off with a smile to make his drink.

He was glad when Hannibal reappeared just as she was sliding the coffee across the countertop. "Will," he remarked, seeming at once surprised and not at all. He wiped his hands off on his apron and came out from behind the counter as Will picked up his coffee. "I wasn't expecting to see you here." 

"You left some things at my house. Uh. Last night." Will lifted the arm that had Hannibal's coat draped over, and Hannibal's mouth went wide in a smile. It was only when he noticed Hannibal's teenaged colleague watching them that renewed discomfort washed over Will.

Hannibal, apparently having had 'saviour' built into his system, turned to her and said, "Abigail, pay attention to our customers. I'll back with you in a moment."

He gestured down three steps, further into the café. Will was surprised by the size of the place - and the rich decoration, with curtains and tablecloths dipped at the ends in a red that somehow didn't call blood to mind. Will was by no means an expert, but it was a beautiful place. 

The room was crowded. If Will were fond of places with people in, he might have called it pleasantly crowded, since it wasn't overly oppressive - there were just enough people for Will to tell that Hannibal's business was flourishing. Hannibal lead the way and Will followed, into a corner of plush chairs and a low coffee table that he gratefully placed his drink down on. 

"I take it you found my wallet," Hannibal said.

"And your business cards. It's in your coat," Will answered. 

Hannibal chuckled. It was a short noise. "I gathered that you were not the sort to steal, Will, don't worry." 

Will thought about that. "Did you leave your coat with me on purpose?"

"Yes," Hannibal replied, and he took a seat in one of the chairs. Will sat opposite him, gently folding the coat and putting it over the arm of another empty chair as he did. "Though perhaps not for the reason that you're thinking. You had been outside a long time. You were tired, and I didn't want to intrude on your home, nor make you remove the coat when it was the only thing keeping you warm." Hannibal linked his fingers tidily in his lap. "I honestly forgot that my wallet was in there until I was far from yours."

"I was pretty surprised when I read your card and it said you were out here in Baltimore." Will had seen the row of windows the floor above the café; he made an assumption that Hannibal lived above his business. "What were you doing out in Wolf Trap?"

"I told you. I find my sleep troubled."

"It's an hour and across state lines. Seems pretty far to go just to take your mind off sleeping problems." Will paused, realising how he sounded. This wasn't an FBI investigation. He reeled himself back in and muttered, "Sorry" and brought his coffee cup to his mouth.

Hannibal tilted his head. He didn't seem offended. "I drive until I no longer feel the urge to drive. And then I stop driving. It's preferable to unconsciously wandering in the cold. I would suggest you try it but I fear you might be the sort to fall asleep at the wheel, the monotony of the open road being numbing rather than comforting."

Will sat back, eyebrows pulling together. "Are you a therapist or a café owner?"

"Can I be both?"

"I think you need different licenses."

That made Hannibal chuckle again. Will found himself smiling in kind - and this time, he paid attention to the coffee as he drank down a mouthful. It was rich and smooth and strong and Will found himself in need of sugar, but it wasn't bitter enough to be off putting.

Will's eyes roamed and saw Abigail at the top of the café over his cup. "Is she your daughter?"

He didn't know what really compelled him to ask. There was a sense there, and perhaps it just seemed wasteful not to, now that they were here and sitting. Will's ear strained for Hannibal's accent, eager to hear more.

"Not quite. I adopted Abigail last year. The law calls me her guardian, but she doesn't view me as her father." That was a sadder story than Will had anticipated, although there was no sorrow in Hannibal's eyes, and he amended, "I simply can't take the place of what she lost."

Will glanced sidelong at Hannibal. "Do you tell every customer about that?"

"Only the ones that ask," Hannibal shrugged, "and at this point I figure I owe you openness in exchange for having spent the majority of the small hours escorting you through Wolf Trap's back woods whilst you were in your underwear."

Will wasn't sure what to say to that. Hannibal supplied conversation. "Did you sleep well after I took you home? No more night time wanderlust?"

Will nodded. Hannibal smiled graciously. "As it happens, I did as well. It seems we helped each other."

"You can't have slept for long," Will murmured. "Between seeing me home and the drive back."

"I have long found myself used to long hours with little rest. Perhaps a contributor to my recent problems." Hannibal's gaze was pulled from Will, and he looked to Abigail behind the counter, who was writing down orders and sticking them up against the back wall. Food orders, Will figured. "I'm afraid that my protégé needs me." He looked back to Will, and Will caught his eyes without meaning to. It felt like a silent command compelled him to keep the gaze, and Hannibal earnestly told him, "It was good to meet you outside of the darkness, Will Graham."

Will could only nod numbly.

"Do you want something to eat?" 

It took a moment for the words to reach his ears. Will jerked robotically and then shook his head, lifting his coffee and saying, "I'll just - go after I've had this." 

Hannibal nodded slowly, rising from his seat and brushing out creases in his apron. He picked up his coat. "Thank you for returning my coat. And wallet. I would have been most inconvenienced without it." He left a long pause and lingered, long enough that Will was prompted to look up at him, at which point Hannibal said, "I hope you come back soon."

Will nodded. The coffee was good. Abigail said bye to him as he left, which seemed unusual. Hannibal was intriguing but his many words were like spiders, creeping into the recesses of Will's mind and making sense. It made Will have no intention of going back - to see him or for anything else.

That was the worst thing: that they made sense. Will drove to Quantico for his afternoon lectures and stared at the road, and he imagined it was dark and he was seeking night time relief. He imagined his eyes slipping shut with each white or yellow line that passed under his wheels.

And Will had a vivid imagination.

He didn't go back to Grace Café for a month, not until he woke up in a field with mud in his mouth. The grass was cold against his cheek and he was damp and he started shivering as soon as his body registered that it was outside, and all Will could imagine was coffee, warm and too strong, and Hannibal's piercing attitude to re-arrange the thoughts in his mind until he was at some point of ease.

"May I ask your line of work?"

Will stared at the pitch black coffee as it was poured between two glass cups. "I work at Quantico." A beat. "At the FBI academy. I teach - forensic science, criminal profiling..." 

"Quantico," Hannibal echoed. "Are you forced to confront gruesome pictures that you present to your students? Ones that perhaps follow you home."

A shake of the head. "Pictures don't bother me." That was the truth. Pictures were removed from reality. It was harder to step into the shoes of a culprit on ink-and-paper, and it was even harder to step into a digital footprint. Will hesitated, though, and admitted, "I occasionally go out in the field."

Hannibal offered a cup out to Will. "It must be grim. Do the things you see there follow you?"

Will took the cup and inhaled coffee. Behind his eyes rose fungi and rotted skin, a man without lips gasping for air and grasping for life. A girl gored and cut open, her organs placed back inside her, apologetically tucked into bed for her parents to find. "I don't know if they follow me so much as they are always with me."

"So they are consistently present. Do you see your work now?"

Will opened his eyes and drifted away, to the seats that feel familiar, plush and deep. Hannibal followed. "Not my work," Will said. "A farmer's work."

When he was comfortable, and coffee was warming his belly, he asked, "Where did the name 'Grace Café' come from?" Will's eyes lolled about the café and watched Abigail serving little platters of delicately piled food to a pair of women sat opposite each other. "I would've thought that... it would've been a name, or..." He trailed off. 

"It is a part of my name," Hannibal answered, "which means 'grace of Ba'al'." Hannibal offered Will the slightest of sardonic smiles. "Hannibal's Café did not quite have the same ring to my ear."

Will snorted and drank his coffee. "Can't have them thinking they'll be fed by a Carthaginian general."

"Will you let me feed you today, Will?" Out of the corner of his eye, Will watched Hannibal shift, smoothing a fold in his apron. Hannibal's apron always seemed to be unusually clean. "Something light but filling, I think. Good rustic bread, toasted, with a spiced liver pâté. On the house."

Now that he thought about it, he was hungry. Will couldn't remember the last time he ate. Yesterday, surely, but what time - that was all a blur. Events slid together pierced only by death and reenactments of atrocities... and by Hannibal, to whom Will said, "That sounds good."

Hannibal smiled and Will smiled back.

Hannibal, of course, had a shop to run. He served Will one meticulously stacked plate of bread, with a side salad and a round dish filled with pâté, and Will had just enough time to ask what kind of liver it was before the man was back to work.

"Duck," Hannibal said, refilling Will's coffee cup before walking away.

Will ate his fill faster than he expected and picked at leftover salad leaves between sips of coffee. He found himself watching Hannibal with unexpected interest - Hannibal's presence drew natural attention, the well dressed handsome man making coffee that smelt like heaven and food that was all home-made.

The way he bustled around Abigail was... sweet, a father without being a father. He heard Abigail call him Hannibal and watched how in quiet conversation he doted on her, ending their exchange with a press of his lips to her forehead.

Abigail wrinkled her nose and laughed. She still wore a scarf. Today it was brown and green, summer leaves outlined in gold.

Will ordered more coffee and called in absent to his lectures for the day. He felt calmer in his corner of the café than he had in some time, even without Hannibal beside him giving voice to Will's feelings. He drank, and relaxed, and with each blink, horror lurked less behind his eyelids. There was an ease to being here.

As minutes crept by, Will caught himself wondering what Hannibal was like outside the Grace Café, if his personal meals were as laboured and artistic as the things he made for his customers. He wondered if Abigail was a good daughter, if they fought, if Hannibal was strict or kind. He imagined that Hannibal might be both. That he would give as much as he could give and hold back when he had to.

He wondered with his over-active imagination and found himself slipping into scenarios that weren't meant to cross his mind. Scenarios that weren't his, that didn't belong to him. Long nights where he slept well, where he was caught sleep walking before he could even reach the bedroom door, where he never woke up with dirt in his mouth and thorns in his feet. The bed sheets were heavy and smooth and not his.

Will imagined attending dinner with Hannibal and Abigail. In his mind, Hannibal reached across the table and touched Will's wrist, and later in evenings he was there to wipe away the terrors of empathy. 

Will left the café when Hannibal wasn't looking.

He came to the Grace Café of his own volition on the next Saturday, an afternoon visit born of free will rather than sleepwalking and compulsions. It was packed, wall to wall, and Will felt ridiculous in his disappointment when he saw that his favoured seat in the corner was taken.

He asked Abigail for a coffee to go, and shifted unhappily on his feet, looking around the café in search of Hannibal even as he handed over the money in correct change.

"He's not here, by the way."

Will turned sharply back to her, frowning. "Hm?"

"Hannibal," Abigail supplied, pouring fresh coffee into a thick paper cup. "He had to go out." 

Will's frown got deeper. For several reasons. "Are you here alone?"

Abigail gave him a distasteful look. Will stared at the paisley scarf she was wearing. "I can handle it. The food's just better when it's him." She pressed a lid onto Will's coffee cup and slipped it into a cardboard sleeve. "You can wait for him to get back but he might be a couple of hours."

Abigail put the coffee down in front of him, but held onto it. "Or," she said, bright eyed and playing innocent, "I could give you his number so that you stop hanging around for an excuse to talk to him." 

"I'm not," Will started, and then stopped as Abigail produced a marker from thin air and wrote a cellphone number on the side of his cup.

Abigail smiled broadly and went on to serve the next customer.

Will waited until he was back at home in the evening to call Hannibal.

He'd honestly thought about not calling at all, about forgetting foolish endeavours of - of whatever it was that he wanted from Hannibal.

It just seemed like such a waste not to.

Will had fully prepared himself for no small amount of societal awkwardness when he called, for explaining himself and the fact that Abigail had offered up Hannibal's number, which meant that he was completely knocked back when Hannibal answered the phone with, "Good evening, Will."

"What?" Will pulled the phone from his ear and looked at it incredulously, as though he could somehow see Hannibal down the line, and then pressed it back again. "How did you know - ?"

"Abigail took the liberty of informing me that she gave you my number. I'm sorry that I wasn't there to see you this afternoon. Did you find yourself wandering the night again?"

Will sank back in his chair, staring at his long empty coffee cup where it rested on the desk in front of him. "No," he said, and reached out to turn it so that he could see Hannibal's number in Abigail's scribbled handwriting. "I just..."

He was going to say that he just wanted to see Hannibal.

"I just felt like stopping by," he amended.

"Stopping by an hour from your own home?" Hannibal sounded amused.

It took a moment to realise that Hannibal was teasing him, harking back to Will's momentary game of twenty questions when they first met. "As it happens," he murmured, and smiled.

There was a long silence that passed, but it was not uncomfortable. Will could hear a noise that sounded like the knocking of pans. "Are you cooking?" He asked.

"A sausage and mussel paella," Hannibal answered, "I've rather made too much for just myself and Abigail. There will be plenty leftover." There was another long pause, this time because Will wasn't sure what to say. "With that in mind, would you be opposed to coming into the city tomorrow for lunch?"

A dog curled up under Will's feet. Hannibal added, "Some Sundays I don't open shop. Tomorrow is one of those Sundays. It would give an opportunity for a conversation uninterrupted by my duties in the café."

"That'd be nice," Will admitted. Nicer than he dared to admit. Watching Hannibal was one thing, speaking to him was another entirely, and Will couldn't deny that he'd thought about what it would be like to see Hannibal in a more personal setting. "What time?"

"How does one o'clock sound?"

"It sounds good. Great." 

"Then I will see you at one. If you'll excuse me, I need both hands for serving dinner." 

"Uh - of course."

"Goodnight, Will." 

Hannibal's flat above the café was as beautifully decorated as the café itself. It was bigger than it looked from outside, too. Will got the briefest of tours on the way through to Hannibal’s combined kitchen-dining room - a glimpse of a lounge room, a place that looked like it was more frequently inhabited by Abigail than by Hannibal, and of a large, immersive study that looked like Abigail had never been in there at all.

The table in the kitchen-diner was laid out for just two people. That gave Will pause and he quietly pushed his hands into his jacket pockets, seeking something to grasp onto and settling for curling his fists up. “No Abigail?”

“Abigail has taken advantage of her day off and gone out with friends her own age,” Hannibal said, and he went behind the countertop and turned on the stove where a pot with a lid on was already sat. “Today’s adventure is yours and mine. What do you prefer to drink?”

Will looked down at his shoes and then back up, watching Hannibal as he took glasses down from a cupboard. “What do you have?” Will had expected Abigail would be here, for some reason. The idea that he was alone with Hannibal wasn’t exactly disquieting - but it made Will nervous, more thanks to the thoughts that ran around his own mind than anything else.

“A selection of wine, fruit juices, and a couple of bottles of beer.” Hannibal lifted the lid from the pot and took a wooden spoon from row of kitchen utensils, falling silent to stir the food. “Myself, I will be drinking a rosé wine to match our meal.”

Will found himself entirely unsurprised that Hannibal would have a range of things to offer. “I’ll just have what you’re having, then.”

Hannibal smiled. “An excellent choice.” 

Will snorted and stepped closer to the counter, resting his fingers on the marble surface and watching as Hannibal poured out the wine and then went back to reheating the paella. Looking at how much was in the pan, Will couldn’t help but ask, “Did you deliberately make too much so that I would come over for lunch?”

“No,” Hannibal said, and Will felt foolish until he added, “I was going to ask you to come over regardless of whether I simply had to warm up leftovers or create a three course meal from scratch.” 

Will felt a very different kind of foolish then. He lifted a hand and rubbed the back of his neck and reached for his wine glass, distracting himself with a mouthful of crisp, cold alcohol. 

Lunch was served in curved, shallow dishes, and it was as good at Will expected. He was quickly coming to realise that there wasn’t a thing Hannibal did that he didn’t do well - his business flourished, his food was delicious, his choice of wine was probably exquisite but Will wasn’t familiar enough with that sort of thing to know.

The comfortable silence of eating was broken first by Hannibal.

“Before this lunch progresses much further,” he said, “I have a question for you, Will.”

Will swallowed his mouthful of paella and gently rested his fork down. “What is it?”

Hannibal sipped his wine and then asked, “Is this a lunch between friends or would you prefer for things to be of a different nature?”

Will stared at him, forgetting his aversion to eye contact in favour of his sheer disbelief. “Are you asking if I think this is a date?” He found himself gesturing with his hands and made himself stop. “Is this a date?”

“I’m asking if you’d like it to be,” Hannibal answered, smooth and impassive, and Will realised that there was no wrong answer. Hannibal was giving him a genuine choice, and Will felt suddenly vindicated, guilt and nerves over his recent thoughts and active imagination dropping out of him - of course only to be replaced by a different ball of nerves, coiling and twisting in his belly.

“I think I would,” he managed.

Hannibal smiled once more and picked back up his own fork. “I should have made our meal from scratch.”

As always, Will found himself smiling back. It hurt his face to smile so much when he was so used to pain and grimaces. He wondered if he would ever get used to it - or if he’d even be given the chance to.

Quashing his thoughts, Will resumed eating, and after another mouthful he had to ask, “Where did you learn to cook?” 

“I taught myself. Cooking was always a hobby of mine. I never took it seriously as work until I opened the café two years ago.” Hannibal shifted in his seat, looking across the table at Will between eating.

Hannibal grew only more curious the more that Will learned about him. He leaned back in his seat, brow furrowed. “What did you do before that? If cooking was only ever a hobby - ?”

“I was an emergency room surgeon and then I became a full-time psychiatrist.”

All at once, Hannibal made both more and less sense. "That explains why you're so good at getting inside my head." Will stared into his paella as he ate it. "You gave up a presumably long medical career, preceded by years of medical training, to become a café owner?"

"Some bad memories are potent enough to pervert an entire lifetime," Hannibal acknowledged, and Will's mouth twisted a little. Hannibal blinked at him. "You should know that."

Will couldn't argue with that. He nodded. His mind searched for appropriate conversations, for things less heavy and painful, but Hannibal took control of the flow as he often did. "Do you struggle with letting people inside your head, Will?"

"Yes." Will stopped, fork midway between plate and mouth, and added, "Although more often I struggle with getting them out of there."

"Your work in the field for the FBI. I take it they bring you out to profile killers." 

"Yes. I - I can... step into their shoes." 

"Killers leave big shoes to fill." Hannibal seemed thoughtful for a moment, and then he said, "You can empathise with killers, can you not? Perhaps too well."

Will wrinkled his nose and clarified, "I can empathise with anyone."

"You aren't paid to empathise with anyone. They pay you to empathise with the ghosts of killers at crime scenes. Ghosts that haunt you, which makes me wonder, is it the crimes or the criminals that you - as you said stay - present with you...?" 

Will eyed Hannibal. "I don't think you're supposed to psychoanalyse on the first date."

"I would apologise, but I've already seen you in your underwear. We aren't doing things in the conventional order."

Will had to admit that he had a point. "Don't apologise," he said. After a heavy pause he confessed that, "It helps. The way you talk things through. The way you... are inside my mind. You make things make sense." He huffed out an only slightly bitter laugh. "I should be paying you for such good therapy." 

Hannibal stood up then, and Will was surprised that between talking, they'd both managed to polish off their platefuls of food. Hannibal took both their plates and Will pushed his chair back to join him in the small kitchen space, where he said, "It's both. The murders and the murderers. I see what they did behind my eyes and behind that I feel how and why they did it."

Hannibal looked at him. "You have an extraordinary mind, Will. I only hope that your work doesn't cause you to harm it." He stepped up to the sink, putting plates, cutlery, pans and assorted unwashed utensils in before turning the water on and rolling up his sleeves. "Would you care to help me clean up?"

"Of course." Will stepped up beside him.

"Would you like to wash or dry?"

"Wash," Will chose. "There's less chance of me dropping and breaking things then." Hannibal chuckled and shut off the tap, stepping aside and sweeping his arm out for Will to take his place.

The water was just hot enough to make Will’s fingers tingle. He took the cloth and sponge and wiped dishes and cutlery clean, and as he placed them on the drying rack, Hannibal would take them and wipe them over with a dry cloth and stack them back in his cupboards or in his drawers.

It became something of an absent minded task, Will distracted by watching bone and muscle move beneath the skin of Hannibal’s hands, and that of course lead right to Will thoughtlessly slicing his palm against a sharp vegetable knife at the bottom of the sink. He hissed and drew his hands out of the water as soap and heat began to sting, and before he could turn Hannibal was there, taking his injured hand and drying it with a soft cloth.

“I wasn’t paying enough attention.” Will fidgeted, wincing and embarrassed at both his injury and the fact that yet again Hannibal was tending to him like an injured animal. He’d never meant to let Hannibal look after his feet when he had his trip through the woods, in all honesty, but he’d been so addled that it hadn’t crossed his mind to make him stop. 

This time, though, he could withdraw his hand from between Hannibal’s and apologise and look after himself. He could.

Despite his embarrassment, he didn’t. He just watched as Hannibal pulled the cloth away spotted with blood and water. Hannibal said, “It was my fault. There should never be sharp knives in water where you can’t see them.”

Will wanted to insist that it was his own fault for being too distracted - because it was - but something in Hannibal’s expression made him stop. Hannibal leaned away, opening a drawer and pulling out a small first aid kit, keeping Will’s hand held gently in his own the whole time, even as he flipped it open to produce an antiseptic wipe and a long blue bandaid.

Hannibal let go for long enough to open both the wipe and the bandaid. He applied them one after the other, drawing the wipe across the cut with enough pressure to make sure that it was clean, and when it was dry he deftly put the bandage over it.

Will felt a little like a child, up until Hannibal turned his hand over, grasping it still, and kissed his knuckles. Will inhaled sharply, and as soon as Hannibal lowered his hand, he stepped forward to close the gap and kissed Hannibal before he could decide not to.

It was a good kiss. It had the potential to be a great kiss. Hannibal’s hand came up to cup his neck and Will dared to thread his own hand in Hannibal’s short hair; his other hand remained grasped by Hannibal’s, and in the kiss he forgot everything about embarrassment or nerves or pain and surrendered to the way that Hannibal’s mouth felt against his.

The only thing that stopped it being a great kiss was the way that Will’s phone began to ring from his back pocket, and the only person who cared enough to call Will on a Sunday was Jack Crawford. Will was tempted to ignore the call. He very nearly did when Hannibal’s tongue teased, just the littlest bit, but then Hannibal was the first to pull away and say, “I think you should answer that.” 

Will managed to at least stop himself from chasing Hannibal’s mouth. “I’d really rather not,” he said, and then sighed, stepping away from Hannibal and answering his phone.

Sure enough, Jack’s voice echoed down the line without so much as a hello. “Will, we need you to come in. This could be another Ripper kill.”

Will’s blood chilled. He glanced at Hannibal, and stepped further away reluctantly as he asked, “Where do I need to be?”

“A church in Downtown Baltimore.” Will grimaced. At least it was convenient. “Katz should be texting you the address right around now.”

His phone bleeped against his ear. That would be it. “I’ll be there soon.”

“See you in an hour.” 

“Sooner than that,” Will corrected, looking over his shoulder to where Hannibal was stood by the sink with an inscrutable expression and folded arms. “I’m already in Baltimore.”

“Gotcha.” Jack hung up.

“Duty calls?” Hannibal inquired.

Will nodded, and then he walked back to Hannibal to kiss him again, sharper and harder than before, and when he pulled his mouth away he didn’t move away, instead nudging his nose against Hannibal’s and murmuring, “You know - if - next time you find yourself driving at night - you could drive to my door.”

“I will have to do that.” Hannibal sealed the matter with another kiss, and then Will left.