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Reindeer Games

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Baltimore’s evening forecast called for snow. Hannibal’s six o’clock patient had called to invoke the severe weather exception in his twenty-four hour cancellation policy, and Hannibal had hoped that Franklyn might do the same. But his most devoted patient kept to his regular appointment time, albeit with a nervous laugh and a remark about Hannibal helping him if he should happen to get stranded on the icy road home. Hannibal’s thin smile didn’t seem to reassure him.

Franklyn left as the first drifting snowflakes caught the last rays of the setting sun. There was still no word from Will. He was always the last appointment of Hannibal’s day, an arrangement both intentional and fortunate. They rarely kept their conversations within the one-hour allotment.

Hannibal turned his back on the desk where the silent phone waited. Watched as snow dusted the pavement and finally began to stick in earnest. He’d need to leave himself to avoid the possibility of being temporarily snowed in at his office. He listened to the quiet tick of the clock instead.

When it chimed out half past seven, there was a knock on his door.

“Probably should have canceled,” Will said in lieu of a greeting, brushing snow from his shoulders. Several large flakes were trapped in his hair. “But I thought you might change your mind about not charging me if I violated the cancellation policy.” He flashed a smile that burned out too quickly, dissolving into weariness. “I hate driving in this weather.”

Hannibal tempered the surge of pleasure he felt over Will’s appearance, funneling it into a subdued smile. “I imagine you didn’t encounter snow very much in your youth,” he said, standing aside to allow Will into the office. Will shrugged out of his damp coat — not insulated enough for this weather, Hannibal noted with a faint frown — and hung it on the coat rack.

“Try not at all. Louisiana isn’t famous for its blizzards.” Will dropped into his customary chair, sinking back enough to lean his neck and shoulders against the backrest. “What about you, Doctor? Did you grow up with snow?”

Will’s question stirred phantom echoes of bone-deep cold and screams carried by frigid winds — but Hannibal had a great deal of practice with curating his memories. He closed a few doors in his mind and offered a smile once the screaming had stopped.

“Too much,” he assented calmly. “I was only too glad to settle myself where snow is a rarity.”

“Not rare enough,” Will grunted, eyes drifting to the window. “How many inches are we expecting?”

Three to five, according to the latest reports.

“I’m not quite sure,” Hannibal said, a technical truth. “But since you are here, we should put your time to good use.”

Will pushed himself into a more upright position and nodded. His eyes roamed the office as they often did, examining the paintings, sketches, and furniture in turn. His gaze fixed on one of Hannibal’s particular favorite decorative accents: a bronze stag statue resting on a table against the wall.

“The dogs were restless today,” Will started distantly. “They could smell the storm coming.”

Hannibal listened carefully to Will’s meandering tale, nudging his narrative occasionally to open up lines of discussion, all equally fascinating. He glanced at the windows every so often and was immensely satisfied with the thickening fall of snow.

===

Many of Hannibal’s patients had a tendency to talk beyond the length of their session. Hannibal often had to cast pointed looks at his watch or even politely remind them that he did have other patients waiting. He kept careful track of the time, priding himself on a punctual and efficient schedule.

The clock struck nine as Will spoke and Hannibal didn’t pay it any heed.

“That case was the tamest I’ve worked in a long time,” Will said, stepping beyond the circle formed by the chairs and the chaise lounge. He had paced the entire length of the office during their discussion, leaning against Hannibal’s desk, eyeing the framed art, tapping the rungs of the ladder that led to the encircling catwalk overhead. He finally came to rest in front of the windows, glancing through them for the first time since he’d arrived. “Oh, hell.”

Hannibal had a look of mild surprise pre-arranged and ready for display. He unveiled it as he stood and moved to stand beside Will. A thick layer of fluffy snow coated Will’s station wagon. The parking lot and the street beyond were completely covered, the snow sparkling faintly under the streetlights.

“Not ideal for the drive back,” Hannibal observed.

“Yeah,” Will replied, although it was difficult to pick the word out of the despairing laugh that accompanied it. “95 will be hell in this. Tell me there’s a hotel within walking distance.” He sighed heavily and scrubbed his hands over his face before Hannibal could answer. “Dogs are fed,” Will muttered to himself. It sounded as though he was trying to be reassuring. “They’ll be alright for the night.”

“I’m certain they will be,” Hannibal agreed.

“What about you? How does the Bentley handle the snow?” Will asked, cocking a sarcastic eyebrow.

“I think I’ll spend the night here and attempt the drive during daylight hours. The roads will be more negotiable once the temperature rises.” Hannibal paused a moment, gauging Will’s receptiveness. “You should stay, as well.”

Will’s laugh was uncomfortable, but Hannibal thought he heard an undercurrent of relief. “It’s been a long time since anyone invited me to a sleepover,” he muttered, exhaustion in his tone. He glanced at Hannibal warily. “You’re sure it’s not too much trouble? I can walk to the nearest hotel. I wouldn’t wish my company on anyone tonight.”

“Fortunately for you,” Hannibal replied smoothly, “I would.”

===

“How—where—“ Will paused, evidently struggling to express the incredulity painted openly on his face. He made a helpless sort of gesture at the food Hannibal had arranged on his sketching table in front of the fireplace. A white linen cloth was the best he had for a table setting, but fortunately he’d had his usual assortment of cheeses, grapes, and bread on hand. He settled a bottle each of olive oil and vinegar on the table, retreating back to his liquor cabinet for a bottle of wine.

He poured a glass, holding it out to Will.

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“You just had all this here?” Will asked. He looked nearly as lost as the moment he’d stared out the window to discover a thick blanket of snow.

Hannibal placed the wineglass on the linen tablecloth. “Perhaps something stronger,” he mused.

“Whiskey?” asked Will. Hannibal smiled at the hopeful tone in his voice.

===

Will enjoyed the whiskey so thoroughly that Hannibal eventually joined him in drinking some. It had an excellent, full-bodied flavor that carried a hint of the casks where it had aged for decades.

“This is incredible,” was Will’s only comment for quite some time as he alternated his rather intense concentration between his glass and their impromptu meal.

Hannibal wondered what Will would say if he had any idea of the price of the whiskey he was enjoying so thoroughly. Probably best not to tell him.

Hannibal felt warm and loose after indulging in the drinks and pulling a chair close to the fireplace to tend to the fire. The flames danced and blurred in his vision. Will was slightly flushed when he pulled up a chair beside him, finishing the last of the cheese and the last of his drink in quick succession.

Unbidden, Hannibal’s mind conjured one of Franklyn’s inane tangents about his fondness for cheese — and his crestfallen face if he’d ever realized that he’d been in such close proximity to fine cheese without being offered some. Hannibal shook off the thought and flashed an irritated glance at his empty glass. He didn’t usually indulge excessively in spirits or in unproductive thoughts — and the one had a tendency to precede the other. He suppressed a sigh and settled back into his chair, closing his eyes and smiling as he decided very definitely to refer Franklyn to another psychiatrist at the earliest opportunity.

The clink of glass roused him. Will was pouring them both another round.

===

“I don’t guess you have an extra toothbrush lying around?” Will asked, his words only slightly slurred. Impressive, given how much whiskey had disappeared from the bottle between them.

“I have more than that,” Hannibal answered, pursing his lips at the amount of effort required to shape his English into something clear and intelligible. He stood, ignoring the sway of the floor under his feet. “Follow me.”

The storage closet was small and entirely too cluttered for Hannibal’s taste. He’d neglected to clean it after his secretary’s departure. She’d had a tendency toward both clutter and sentiment and the closet’s collection of holiday decorations was a testament to both. Hannibal leaned in to retrieve a bag of toiletries he kept on hand for legitimate emergencies. He had other supplies for the illegitimate ones.

Will didn’t look at the bag when Hannibal offered it to him.

“You decorate your office for Christmas?” he asked, nodding at the wreaths and garlands bristling from between the shelves.

“My secretary insisted on decorating the foyer and her own office. She's gone now, but her legacy remains,” Hannibal replied, moving to shut the door. Will’s hand caught the doorknob.

“I can help you put them up,” he said, shrugging unevenly. “Might as well make myself useful, since we're stuck here.”

Hannibal cast a doubtful look at the coiled strings of lights and the ribbon-bedecked wreaths. It wasn’t to his taste at all. But Will looked as keen as a hunting hound catching a scent, something like memory swirling behind his slightly glassy eyes. Perhaps they could keep the decorating to the waiting room, as his secretary had once done.

“If you wish,” Hannibal replied, and was gratified at Will’s sudden smile.

===

Will was standing on the leather sofa in the waiting area, fastening and draping garlands between the corners of the small, square room. Hannibal wondered distantly why he wasn’t incensed over such treatment of his furniture. At least Will had removed his shoes first.

“Can you hand me those lights?” Will asked, twisting around to point vaguely. Hannibal uncoiled the cord and handed him one end. It was a string of small round bulbs in alternating red and white. Will arranged the lights around the single window and stepped back to examine his work.

“You didn’t pick these out,” Will decided, shaking his head once and walking through the open door into the office. Hannibal examined the glimmering lights and the hanging evergreen garlands, glanced at the red-ribboned wreath on the door. None of it looked particularly out of place in the elegant but sterile space of the waiting room. He blinked and followed Will with a question.

“How could you tell?”

Will looked pointedly at the rich colors of the office, the grand columns, antique furniture, the harpsichord in one corner. His eyes lingered again on the statue of the stag. “Just a hunch,” he said dryly. His lips tugged up at one corner, a smile that was equal parts amusement and sarcasm. Hannibal quickly catalogued the expression — it would be ideal for a portrait. Perhaps he could ask Will to sit for him, now—

The overhead lights flickered once. Twice.

The office was plunged into darkness as the faint background hum of the electricity went as silent as the drifting snow beyond the windows. Will’s profile was faintly illuminated by the glow of the fireplace.

“Well that figures,” Will grunted. “As soon as we put up the lights. Do you believe in Murphy's Law, Doctor?”

Hannibal moved to put more wood on the fire. “I believe in preparing for any eventuality,” he said, stirring at the smoldering logs to coax more heat from them. He felt Will standing behind him even before he heard his sigh.

“You have the weirdest ways of saying, ‘yes.’"

===

Will was a little the worse for wear after hours of determined drinking — or perhaps the better. Hannibal hadn't quite decided yet. His drunken giggle was amusing. It was less endearing when he aimed it at Hannibal.

“I love your books,” Will said from his cross-legged pose near the hearth. There was a hurricane of books plucked from all corners of the room spread around him. “You have all the stuff I would expect—“ he paused to indicate a pile of psychiatric journals. “—and plenty of things I wouldn’t expect at all.” He held up a biography of Elizabeth Taylor, lips twitching. “Are we a fan, Doctor?” The drunken giggle made another appearance. “Oh, oh, my favorite,” Will continued with barely a pause. He held up one of Hannibal’s French cookbooks. “I’ve never seen so many books with the word gastronomique in the title.” Another fit of laughter.

Hannibal raised an eyebrow. If it had been anyone else sitting by his fireplace systematically mocking his admittedly eclectic collection of books, he would have turned his thoughts to an impromptu barbecue made all the more interesting by the challenge of utilizing only his small fireplace. As it was, the firelight caressed Will’s skin softly, outlining his features in warm, golden light — and Hannibal lost his train of thought. He blamed the whiskey still clouding his higher brain function.

Will’s laughter turned into silent contemplation of the fire. Hannibal wondered what profound subject had turned him so quiet.

“Too bad you don’t have marshmallows,” Will said. “I could really go for some s’mores.”

It took every ounce of control Hannibal possessed not to wince. Will shot him a knowing, if slightly bleary, look.

“What, no gourmet s’more recipes in the gastronomique collection?” He grinned.

Hannibal’s hazy thoughts drifted to the horrifying thought of Will cheerfully desecrating the fireplace with processed marshmallows. He'd be able to smell burnt preservatives for weeks. The Will in his imagination was very like the loose, relaxed Will of this present moment of reality. He’d kiss either of those Wills, he thought to himself, even if the experience was tainted by the flavor of charred and preservative-poisoned gelatin.

Hannibal blinked. Now there was an interesting revelation. A desire to kiss Will — he hadn’t been aware of that before.

Will’s face was still painted with firelight when he pushed the books aside and maneuvered himself to lean against an armchair rather than sit in it. His gaze was far too perceptive for the amount of alcohol circulating in his blood.

“Do you want to kiss me?” Will asked bluntly, words slurring. “Sometimes you look like you do.” He regarded the fire, adding quietly, “Not sure how I feel about that.”

Hannibal felt his heart rate increase just a fraction — how curious. He wondered what he ought to say. Wondered what he wanted to say.

“I think I have marshmallows in the car,” Will interrupted before Hannibal could decide. His face scrunched with the effort of thinking. “And some more whiskey, too.”

“Were you en route to a drunken bonfire?” Hannibal asked mildly, wondering at the strange sensation tugging at his chest. It felt almost like regret.

Will laughed. So many laughs tonight. “Oh no. My weekly grocery run.”

Hannibal felt the blood freeze in his veins. For just a moment, he found himself lost in an elaborate fantasy of seizing chloroform from the cabinet and knocking Will out with it. Dragging him to the house on the bluff, placing him in a locked room, and feeding him properly. He blinked and shook off the unproductive thought.

He sincerely hoped Will would forget about the marshmallows.

Will stared at the catwalk over their heads. “If I slept up there, it would be like bunk beds,” he said thoughtfully. His grin was slow and sleepy. “What do you say, Doctor? Bottom or top?”

He was asleep against the chair before Hannibal could reply.

Hannibal studied him in a silence broken only by the pop and crackle of the fire and by Will’s steady breaths. In the firelight, he looked younger, softer, less afraid. More like the boy he was, once upon a time. Hannibal found himself wondering about that boy.

Will would have been small, he was sure. An undernourished thing in every way. Quiet and controlled, with a mop of wild hair. He wondered if he kept old photo albums in Wolf Trap — surely somewhere. He longed to see the pictures. He longed for many things all at once. The sensation was so unfamiliar that it took him a moment to place it: the desire to know someone else's life and see the world through their eyes.

===

Will left mid-morning, with painkillers courtesy of Hannibal and a blurry memory courtesy of the whiskey. His smile was the usual guarded variety when he left. Hannibal stored all the other smiles away in his memory palace. An entire spectrum of openness and color. He tidied the office and drove home, ignoring both the ache in his head and the vast emptiness of his house.

Franklyn called to schedule an emergency appointment. His anxiety levels had skyrocketed due to an encounter with black ice and a near-miss with a car accident. Hannibal restrained his sigh as he chose a time from his calendar.

He drove through slush-covered streets and found Franklyn waiting by the locked door to his practice. Very early, as usual. Hannibal aired out a few polite remarks of greeting, and let his overeager patient inside.

“You decorated,” Franklyn exclaimed upon entering the waiting room. “It’s nice. Very elegant. Very you.”

Hannibal gritted his teeth behind his smile and led the way into his office. He could still smell a trace of the whiskey, along with the ashes of the fire.

“No decorations in here, huh?” Franklyn asked, studying the room with his darting, nervous gaze. “You could really do some amazing things with the columns. I could help, if you wanted. I’m great with Christmas decorations, you should see my house—“

Hannibal missed the last part of that statement in his effort not to shudder. He turned to gesture to Franklyn’s usual seat, but Franklyn wasn’t looking at him.

“Very nice, Dr. Lecter,” Franklyn said. The grin in his voice was wide. “Minimalist. Absurdist. Beautiful.”

Hannibal followed his gaze to the bronze stag — and the single red glass bulb resting on its nose.

Will.

He wondered how he’d missed it before. It looked ridiculous, garish, entirely out of place. He ought to remove it immediately and return it to the unfortunate string of lights it had undoubtedly been plucked from. But for reasons completely beyond his understanding, Hannibal didn’t reach for it. Instead, he felt his lips twitch into a smile that he only narrowly managed to control.

He cleared his throat and gestured Franklyn to his seat.

“I can’t claim responsibility for that decorative flourish,” he said, watching confusion play openly across Franklyn’s face.

“Then who—?” Franklyn asked.

Hannibal took secret delight in being able to accurately say, “The man I'm seeing has strange aesthetic values, I'm afraid.”

And if Franklyn's eyes went wide in disbelief because he interpreted "seeing" as romantic rather than clinical, Hannibal found that he couldn't be bothered to correct him.