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Dread and Hunger

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Chapter 5: Pinot Noir 2

            Hannibal’s house was a little under an hour away from DC, a fact that he’d politely neglected to mention until Will saw them leave the city. He’d thought about protesting since Hannibal would have to drive him back, but once again, the idea of someone else handling things, even for a moment, seemed relaxing in an almost drug-inducing way. He really needed to find a way to destress.

            He really needed to find a way to get the Chesapeake Ripper to stop sending him letters without dying in the process.

            He played classical music, and Will reveled in it, the soft notes lulling and relaxing. He leaned back against the leather of the chair, eyes closed.

            “Do you always ride your bike?” Hannibal had asked, helping him load it into the vehicle.

            “I have a three-generation Subaru, but it’s parked in the garage of the complex. Way past its prime until it snows or I’m desperate.”

            After that, a lull in conversation that didn’t seem forced or uncomfortable. Maybe that’s why he’d agreed? In all of his time serving Hannibal, not every moment had been exhausted with words. In at least two years, he could maybe fill a few chapters of a book with what’d been exchanged between them. Not having to fill the silence was nice.

            In the farthest corner of his mind, he hoped Hannibal followed him to the next gig he got, but he wasn’t going to bet on it.

            Dr. Lecter’s house was a modest Tudor style with a wraparound driveway. The entry was deep, rich tones, and following him towards the kitchen, Will stopped several times to admire the oil paintings on the wall. There were several sculptures of stags, elk, and all manner of woodsy things, a mild cross between a cultured and sophisticated art aficionado and a poised lumberjack. The air held the same scent as Hannibal did –something electric and oaky, an expensive cologne but a nice one none-the-less

            The kitchen was granite, steel, and taupe, everything cleaned and in its own meticulous place. Hannibal instantly began the preparations to cook, leaving Will to hover by the chopping table, fingers passing over the wood idly.

            “I appreciate you being so willing to travel for your meal,” Hannibal said, gathering his ingredients. "I’ve been smoking liver on wood chips all day, and I supposed correctly that I’d made too much.

            “Smoked liver?”

            “Are you not a fan of liver?” Hannibal looked back from the pantry he was stepping into, poised to turn around.

            “I’ve never had it,” he said, and Hannibal disappeared into the pantry. He came back with a bottle of red wine, and he made quick work of uncorking it and letting it breathe.

            “Then I am glad to be your first experience,” he said, and maybe it was the way he peered over at Will while he poured two glasses of wine, or maybe it was the way his lip curled, but Will decided that he was definitely hoping Hannibal decided to follow him to his next job, whatever that may be. It was a dangerous sort of thought, indeed.

            He tried to help, but Hannibal deposited him on a stool to watch as he worked, insisting that it was his treat. His skill with the blade as he diced, chopped, and minced was phenomenal, and by the time he finished, Will’s mouth was watering at the smells. He was escorted to a cobalt blue dining room with fresh herbs and plants growing along one of the walls, and he couldn’t help but gape, the fireplace lit to a sharp crackle of ambience that made him tap fingertips along his thigh absentmindedly, leisurely.

            “Stuffed roast heart, deviled kidneys, and smoked liver with fresh greens,” Hannibal said, setting the plate in front of him. Will stared down at it, then to the large wine glass presented. “I thought this particular pinot noir would lend itself to the meal.”

            “It smells amazing,” Will said, leaning in. He noted Hannibal watching him intently. “Do you often use a lot of meat in your meals?”

            “This is no herbivore’s dinner, Will. Tonight, this is an ode to the carnivores.”

            “I don’t even know how you made all of this,” Will said with a short laugh, “and I watched the entire thing.”

            “Cooking is my pleasure, and I’m always happy to share with friends.” Friends. At some point, the descriptor had shifted from acquaintances to friends.

            “Thank you,” he said, and Hannibal nodded.

            “I do hope you like it. I’m rather particular about what I eat, which is why I don’t often eat out. I prepare almost all of my meals, if I can help it.”

            “If I could cook like this, I would too,” Will agreed. He cut the smoked liver, taking a small bite. The flavor was rich, heady and delicious, and he nodded in appreciation, taking a sip of wine after. “I’ve decided that I’m a fan of liver.”

            “It was from a particularly stout pig, so I’m glad it appeals to you.” Hannibal watched him take a few more bites before he began to eat, cutting his food with delicate precision. A small smirk graced his mouth, something self-satisfying and secret. He ate European style, tines down, and Will found himself mimicking the action, small bites with small cuts.

            “I confess that I have a question for you,” Hannibal said, glancing up at him. Will managed to return the stare, although he had to take a full gulp of his drink after.

            “Okay.”

            “When you speak with people, does the degree of your unease determine whether or not you begin to mimic their speech patterns, or is it through a natural course of time?”

            “What do you mean?” Will asked uneasily.

            “When I spoke with you about your secret admirer, the more uneasy you became, the more your words and flow of conversation matched mine. When a woman at the table near mine continued to engage with you flirtatiously, you matched her tone and influx, although the words differed as you ultimately rejected her advances. I was curious if your melding of yourself with another was a direct correlation to stress or not.”

            “I try not to,” Will admitted after a moment. He took another sip of wine to steady himself. “Someone once accused me of making fun of them.”

            “Yes, I noticed when you attempted to force yourself to speak another way. You do realize it, although you can’t entirely help it.” Hannibal held the glass poised in the air, allowing the muted light to strike the color, rendering the rich plum a glowing red.

            “Just how much do you notice about me?” Will asked. It was a dangerous question; he wanted an honest answer as much as he wanted Hannibal to change the subject.

            “Perhaps too much,” Hannibal admitted after a moment.

            “It doesn’t bother you to say it, though.”

            “Does it bother you?” Hannibal asked, looking at him. “At times it does, that much I know.”

            “Is this where you tell me that you can’t help it?” Will’s lip quirked, and Hannibal laughed lightly. It was a clipped sort of sound, something that seemed to hold back so much more.

            “I certainly can help myself. I choose not to.” At Will’s shocked laugh, he continued, “In reality, small talk is what creates bridges between people, the repetitious connection that they use as stepping stones to the more in-depth discussions that ultimately create lasting relationships. I have never been adept at the inanities of it. Why use such faux manners of speech when you can leap directly to the heart of your intended discussion?”

            “No, you go right for the ‘How was lab, Will? I noticed you wore the same trousers as your last shift, and you’d mentioned having to be there for a fifteen hour time period.’”

            “You remember that?” Hannibal asked, surprised. “That was a conversation from some time ago.”

            “…I remember a lot of things,” Will said reluctantly. He focused on his food, not wanting to admit that he remembered most of their conversations. Eidetic memory was sometimes a curse.

            “You are not so good at small talk either,” Hannibal noted, and Will felt his gaze burning on him. He studiously refused to look up.

            “I’m not,” Will agreed after he swallowed a mouthful of food.

            “And yet something broaching deeper, darker waters leaves you drumming your fingers and glancing about for an exit, an almost panicked expression in your eyes.”

            “I guess that’s why I keep getting fired,” Will replied dryly.

            “Someone of your personality doesn’t belong in customer service –at least, not in this country. Americans expect a cashier to stand for eight hours in one place, scanning items, and at the mention of a chair, they have such a panic at the presumed laziness. They expect a retail employee to run about grabbing items that they could retrieve themselves, bending their back to make a simple sale, and they expect you to both serve drinks and become friends with every single person that walks through the door, no matter how disrespectful or rude they are.”

            “I think you just endeared yourself to every millennial that ever had to work in customer service,” Will said.

            “I have a rather low tolerance for the rude,” Hannibal informed him, cutting into a kidney with enthusiasm. “They have a certain sort of…taste about them.”

            “You’d really love the FBI agent that I spoke with, then,” said Will thoughtfully, then stopped. The thought of the Chesapeake Ripper soured the meal, tainted it with the blood and blasé manner in which he dealt life and death.

            “When he accused you of being the Chesapeake Ripper?” Hannibal inquired.

            “…Yeah.” He didn’t want to mention the second meeting, the third death. The way he’d woken up that night, bathed in sweat and terror as he stared into the faceless man’s empty eye sockets, blood dripping steadily onto his lips. Nightmares came with the territory of seeing so much more than he’d ever wanted to, left him convulsing with tremors as he fought to get control of himself. Normally, two fingers of whiskey did the trick, followed by background noise of Netflix, but that was on a good day. Days where the only face he could see was the one representing his secret admirer were not good days.

            “How is your secret admirer, by the way?” Hannibal asked.

            “Still a secret,” Will murmured.

            After dinner, Hannibal made two Old Fashioned's, cutting the rinds with skilled precision. He deposited Will in a comfortable leather chair before the fireplace in his study, and he lifted his glass in cheers, taking a sip. Will smiled a little, buzzed from the wine before dinner and the wine during, turning his drink around in his hand so that he could watch the firelight through it.

            “Do you bring all of your patients to your house for a drink?” he joked lightly.

            “Do you consider yourself my patient?” Hannibal wondered. He stood by the fireplace, watching Will with the firelight silhouetting his back, streaks of gold and russet red flickering along his shoulders.

            “I don’t know what I’d call us,” he said, taking a long drink. He got a third of it down and nodded appreciatively at the taste, the citrus undertone sharp on his tongue.

            “Because we haven’t had enough small talk, or because you are evasive of anything more?”

            “Because I’m pretty sure you’re at least ten years older than I am,” said Will, glancing from his drink to Hannibal.

            “Is age so terrifying a thing for you?”

            “I’ve heard enough from friends to learn from their mishaps rather than make the same disastrous mistakes. Age difference…doesn’t really work out in the younger person’s favor. It’s messy.” Were they really having this conversation? Was Will really being so bold? It was the alcohol; Hannibal had a rather good collection of it.

            “It doesn’t have to be. The first step to dooming a situation is declaring it as doomed in the first place.” Hannibal sipped his drink, studying Will. Be it the firelight or the shadows it cast on his face, but there was a hungry, primal edge to him, finely honed and delicious. Will took another long drink, pressing his back to the chair. His eyes fell to Hannibal’s dress shoes, gaze fastened to the way the tweed slacks fell at just the right angle against them. The man was as meticulous as Will was rumpled.

            “And what would you call the ‘it’ that does or does not have to be doomed?”

            “Whatever you’d like it to be, Will,” Hannibal said lightly. “Labels were created to give comfort to those that are unsure of themselves or their existence and place in this world. I harbor no such reservations of who I am or where I stand.”

            The fire popped cheerfully behind him, and Will glanced to it before his eyes flickered up towards Hannibal’s face, holding his impassive stare. The silence surrounded them, curling like a well-snapped whip, and Will stood and finished his drink, the alcohol warm in his stomach. Call it liquid courage, call it the heady sense of recklessness, but he crossed the room at a slow, leisurely pace and stopped just before Hannibal, the tips of his shoes a whisper from what had to be Italian leather.

            “I have a habit of ruining the foundations of something that could be a good thing,” he revealed, voice dropping.

            “Previous friends and lovers alike destroyed with their perceptions of your apathy when in reality you merely lacked the ability to convey affection in a way they’d understand,” Hannibal noted, and Will nodded slowly, gaze fastened to his lips.

            “Their faces connected to faces of others I’d rather forget.”

            “No stable barriers in the bone arena of your skull?” Hannibal murmured, matching his tone.

            “None.”

            “Associations that follow you well away from the physical connection, aligning themselves with your true feelings until you can’t determine what is yours and what belongs to someone else?”

            “It disgusts me,” Will said, and Hannibal’s head dipped down, the slightest of space left between them.

            “Shocked at your feelings, horrified at the associations. How could you see such ghastly things and understand them so intimately?” The heat burned off of Hannibal, and it seared Will, made his breath catch at the sudden need that gripped him. He wanted to touch, to take.

            “How do you see me?” Will wondered.

            “I imagine your peers have handled you as fine china, brought out only for special occasions and held with care. Used gently, hand washed and returned to the curio to collect dust until the next parlor trick.” The hand not currently occupied with a drink lifted and glided just along Will’s jaw, sliding into his curls. Will’s eyes flickered closed, opened lazily.

            “I want to know what you think, though.”

            “You are the mongoose I want under the house for when the snakes slither by,” said Hannibal. Will laughed a little, teeth bared.

            “Not the most romantic thing I’ve heard.”

            “You’re not here for romance,” Hannibal said huskily.

            “What am I here for?” Will challenged.

            “You’re here because you can’t quiet your mind, and for just the briefest of moments, you’d like someone else to take control. You’d like to turn off the mirrors that reflect the world around you and amplify within your head until you can’t see reality anymore.”

            Will balked under the words said with such poise, such ease. Was his mind stripped bare so quickly? Was he so easily reduced to a summary, a psyche-eval? Hannibal tilted his head back and finished his drink, the space between them distorted by the glass and the amber liquid within. He took both glasses and disappeared from the room, leaving Will before the fire with mercury sizzling in his veins.

            Will heard his steps as he returned, but he made no move to turn and acknowledge him. He didn’t have to. Hannibal walked closer, and his body ghosted behind Will’s, almost there but not quite. If Will leaned back, he’d be pressed against him, and he knew without having to know that it would be the sort of invitation to forget everything for a short while, let someone else take command and see all of the ugly things inside without fear or reluctance. He tucked his hands into his pockets, and he swallowed heavily, a breath away from leaning back, a breath away from falling forward.

            “I think,” Hannibal said, voice caressing his ear, “that I should return you to your home.”

            “Did I scare you, Dr. Lecter?”

            “On the contrary, I think you scared yourself.” Hannibal’s hand lifted to his shoulder, squeezed gently and slid along his shirt, pausing just over the space the Chesapeake Ripper had made his horrendous suck mark. He touch lingered, then lifted, and he headed towards the door. “I’ll get my keys.”

            The ride back was quiet. Be it the elevated pulse that refused to calm no matter how long he sat, or the heat from the alcohol that lurked just under his skin, but the ride was faster, and with directions from Will, Hannibal pulled into a parking space at his apartment complex. He put the car in park and looked to Will, expression veiled in the darkness of the vehicle.

            “Thanks,” Will said, getting out of the car. Hannibal helped him get his bike out of the back, the awkward maneuvering causing hands to fumble and bump into one another before he stood straight, the bent and structured metal the best sort of barrier he could have at the moment. Hannibal closed the trunk and studied him, eyes unnervingly steady.

            “Do try to get a good night’s rest, Will,” he said. “If I’ve made you uncomfortable-”

            “You haven’t,” Will assured him quickly.

            “I was thinking about your loss of sleep, and I have an idea, if you’d like to hear it.” Will wheeled his bike up to the sidewalk, and he paused, looking to Hannibal poised at the driver’s side door of the car.

            “I would.”

            “You use a particular aftershave with a pungent smell. Sometimes smells leave us with something, an after-effect of headaches, dizziness, associations of circumstances.”

            “What’s my aftershave have to do my dreams?” Will wondered, confused.

            “It smells like something with a ship on the bottle. If you’re having bad dreams, I’d recommend changing the aftershave.”

            He got into his car and drove away, leaving Will puzzled, a little drunk, and more than a little confused.

            He told himself he was confused due to the mention of his aftershave and not because he’d been a breath away from sleeping with an older man.