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Consenting to Dream

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When he drove to Hannibal's house the next day to return the scarf, he wore his own as a sort of demonstration. Not silk and cashmere, maybe a little faded, but perfectly adequate.

Folded on his passenger's seat, the soft gray plaid shot through with blood red looked as out of place as it no doubt looked on him. He picked it up and went to knock on the door.

Hannibal was drying his hands when he answered, white apron tied over dark pants. He smiled when he saw Will and stood back to let him in. "You have excellent timing," he said. "Lunch is almost ready."

"Oh, no, I just--" He held out the scarf. "I came to return this."

But somehow, he was inside, and Hannibal had shut the door behind him.

"Not at all. It's a gift. In fact, I'd meant to bring you these as well." He picked up a pair of gloves from the little table under the mirror and tossed them to Will. "Please, excuse me for not taking your coat. The beef is at a critical stage."

Will stood with the scarf and gloves clutched to his chest for a moment while Hannibal disappeared into the kitchen. He sorted himself out, took his jacket off, and hung it up. The gloves were brown leather, lined with something light and warm. He hesitated, but it couldn't hurt just to try them on.

They fit perfectly. The leather was so soft that, after a guilty glance toward the kitchen, he let himself press a hand to his neck and feel it there, on more sensitive skin. He took them off again quickly and set them on the table, along with the scarf and just a bit of regret.

Hannibal stood over a cast iron wok in the kitchen. The room was filled with the scent of fresh ginger and garlic and the sizzle of high-heat cooking. Will had meant to say he really couldn't stay. Instead, he asked if there was anything he could do.

"You may pour yourself a glass of wine and tell me how your class went." Hannibal nodded to the open bottle on the counter.

"The gloves," Will said, as he poured. "I can't."

"You don't like them?"

Will resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "You know it's not that."

"Yes, I do." Hannibal spooned the stir fry onto plates already dotted with three colors of rice molded into squares. "It is, however, the only excuse I will accept, since otherwise you are depriving yourself solely in an attempt to conform to social standards. I wouldn't have expected it of you."

"Maybe my Wonder Bread background is showing, but all I can think when I look at those gloves is that they must've cost about a hundred bucks."

"More, in fact. Is that a problem?"

"Yeah, it's a problem."

"Why?"

Will fiddled with his wine glass and scuffed his foot lightly over a depression in the slate floor. "Why do you want to give them to me?" he said.

"Is there an answer that would satisfy you?"

"The truth would be a good start."

"The truth is that it would please me to give them to you."

"And now we're back to why."

Hannibal picked up the plates and led him into the dining room. "Do you suspect me of some nefarious motive?"

"I don't suspect you of anything. I just don't get it."

Hannibal didn't speak for the space of two or three bites. "Aesthetic pleasure," he said, at last.

Will glanced up from his plate. "Yours or mine?"

Hannibal smiled very slightly. "Why not both?"

Will let it go after that. It seemed dangerous to keep pressing.

He drove home with both scarf and gloves on the seat beside him. When he took the dogs out that afternoon, he put them on and flushed just a little, alone in the cold, at the thought of the aesthetic pleasure Hannibal might get if he were there. He must've meant something else, but no matter how Will twisted it in his head, he couldn't see what.

He threw sticks for the dogs and tried not to worry about scratches in the leather.