Will derived no small amount of satisfaction from being difficult.
Hannibal knew this. He had known it since the moment he’d met Will, who’d wasted no time sneering at Hannibal’s attempts at friendship. He knew it even better now, after Will had rejected every one of Hannibal’s possible safe houses and meticulously planned escape strategies.
“Yeah,” he’d said sarcastically, speaking slowly and overenunciating like Hannibal was a child. “France, Greece, Argentina—I know I’d never think to look for you in any of those places. What a brilliant idea. Why don’t we just go to Florence again?”
Hannibal did not say that Will knew him far, far better than the likes of Jack Crawford and the FBI ever would, or that he had traveled to Florence specifically to be found. “What would you suggest instead?”
That was how they’d ended up in Iceland, farther from Reykjavik—which Hannibal had visited and enjoyed in the past, even if he hadn’t purchased property there—and in a more modestly sized home than he would have preferred.
“This is where I’m comfortable,” Will had said. “You can still decorate with all the antlers and awkward artwork you want, but if we’re going to live together, then something has to be mine.”
And how could Hannibal argue with that? He had whittled away three years in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for an opportunity such as this. To throw it away for a less rural atmosphere and five bedrooms instead of three would have been unforgivable.
But he did insist on updating the kitchen appliances and remodeling the basement to better suit their unique needs. He’d promised himself it would be one year at the very least before he broached the subject of hunting—more time for Will to warm to him, as he’d used to, and more time as well for the FBI to grow lax in their search—but that didn’t mean Hannibal couldn’t prepare for it now.
Will accepted Hannibal’s renovations with an occasional wrinkled nose or a “What the hell is that for?” For the most part, though, he stayed out of it—figuratively in the case of the kitchen, and very literally in the case of the basement.
So when Hannibal was confirming measurements one morning and heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, then smelled Will’s new aftershave—more pleasant than the last by far, but still not what Hannibal would have chosen for him—he abandoned his work immediately and hurried to meet Will.
Will didn’t seem injured or upset, however. He seemed, if anything, amused. A mischievous mirth shone in his face, and Hannibal began to suspect that he had come down here to be difficult in one way or another.
“Hey,” Will said, stopping on the bottom step. “I was just thinking. It’s December.”
Hannibal was perfectly aware of the date but said only, “It is.”
“Which means Christmas is coming up.”
Ah, Hannibal thought. The traditional gift exchange. He was strangely touched by the idea that Will might want to do such a thing, and captivated by the image that struck him then of Will tearing open some wrapped trinket that Hannibal had bought him. “Yes. I suppose it is.”
“We should get a tree,” said Will.
Hannibal could have physically recoiled from the suggestion, but he kept himself still, his expression placid. “Should we? And why is that?”
With a shrug, Will descended the final step. Hannibal smelled him even more strongly and didn’t miss the way that Will looked him over. Hannibal had been forgoing his usual style of dress lately, after discovering a matter of weeks ago that Will responded more favorably to him in casual clothing.
Will’s glances never lingered, never lasted more than a fraction of a second, but there was an added intensity to them that Hannibal felt like a hot brand against his skin. It made the jeans and offensively basic button-down shirts almost tolerable.
It made him forget, momentarily, what Will was responding to when he said, “Because it’s what people do. And I want to.” He cocked his head with a smile. Despite his beard, which was growing thicker now to hide the scar on his cheek, he looked boyish, guileless, when he smiled up at Hannibal like that. “Come on. It’s our first Christmas together. Don’t you want to celebrate?”
Oh. The ache in Hannibal’s chest bloomed so sweetly. You manipulative boy. No one had ever played Hannibal so blatantly and effortlessly.
His warmth died in the next moment, though, when he considered the last “first Christmas together” that Will had likely celebrated. Hannibal didn’t doubt that it had been terribly traditional and quaint—the tree and the stockings, baked goods, the fiction of a fat man in red sneaking down the chimney at night—and that Will had eaten it up, starved for the illusion of domestic bliss. He probably remembered it all fondly.
He still wore his wedding ring, after all. Hannibal could hardly look at it without violence rising in him like a great beast on its hind legs.
“I assume,” Hannibal said, “you’re not referring to an artificial tree.”
Will’s lip turned down. “Of course not.”
Of course not. Hannibal thought of the smell and allergens, the shedding pine needles, the fire hazard, and the hassle of transporting and hauling the thing into the house.
He imagined the sort of gaudy decorations Will might pick out: the assortment of multicolored lights, drapings of garland, and mismatched ornaments.
He envisioned how very, very badly even the most tasteful of Christmas trees would clash with the décor.
Then he said, “All right.”
Will hadn’t been expecting that. His stunned-blank expression said as much. Possibly he hadn’t even been serious, but had simply wanted to see how Hannibal would respond. Hannibal should have expected that; he should have agreed immediately, or behaved like he had already had the same idea, just to fluster Will further.
“Do you have a place in mind?” Hannibal asked. “I confess I have limited experience acquiring Christmas trees.”
“Uh.” Will blinked. “Not really. But I can look into it.”
He turned to climb the stairs back to the ground floor, but Hannibal stopped him. “Just the tree, then, or do you have interest in other decorations as well? A wreath, perhaps? Something for the mantel?”
“Maybe,” Will said, glancing over his shoulder. That mirth was back, that smile too. “Do you think they have those inflatable yard decorations here? Or is that just an American thing?”
That, Hannibal was confident, was not seriously meant. “I’m sure we can find something, even if we have to import it.”
“You’d do it, too, wouldn’t you? I thought you’d at least try to fight me on it, to cling to your sensibilities, but you’d do it just to make a point.”
There was no point in having so-called sensibilities now. Hannibal had no reputation here, nor was he especially fussed with building one. He had a home, some degree of freedom from the consequences of his crimes, and he had Will. Everything else seemed unimportant.
“Perhaps a reindeer motif,” Hannibal said. “I do have a soft spot for antlers.”
Will laughed as he clomped back up the stairs. It was a full laugh, not the grim chuckling that he was so fond of.
Hannibal fought a ridiculously uncharacteristic grin as he returned to his measuring.
Will wanted to cut down his own tree, and Hannibal found he didn’t have a problem with that. So during the next weekend, they climbed into a pickup truck rented for the occasion and drove to Holmsheidi.
Will brought an axe with him, rather than a hand saw as Hannibal had expected, and thus Hannibal was treated to nearly an hour of watching him stalk through the forest of pine trees with an intimidating weapon at his side. With his beard and the red plaid shirt peeking out of his black coat, Will resembled a stereotypical lumberjack and exuded a gruff, menacing masculinity that Hannibal was more than content to follow and admire.
That Will eschewed all offers of assistance and scrutinized each tree they passed with a laser-like focus only added to the effect.
Hannibal couldn’t wait to hunt with him, to bask in the full glory of his savage bloodthirst.
“Do these seem small to you?” Will asked.
Hannibal scanned their surroundings. None of the trees were shorter than seven feet, which he didn’t consider small in any sense of the word.
“Not that,” said Will, although Hannibal hadn’t spoken. “I mean—” He extended his arms, indicating what Hannibal assumed was width. “They’re all kind of thin. Scrawny.”
“Are they?” Hannibal still didn’t see it. All the trees here seemed healthy, well-grown. “Size isn’t necessarily a sign of strength or appeal. In fact, I would think something lean and compact would be more desirable.”
Will came to a dead stop and shot Hannibal a curious look. “Was that…supposed to be a comment about me?”
That hadn’t been Hannibal’s intention at all, but it pleased him that Will thought so, that Will sought deeper significance in Hannibal’s trivial statements. He wasn’t even insulted that Will would think him capable of such a clumsy metaphor.
“I wasn’t suggesting anything about your height, if that’s what you mean,” Hannibal said.
“No, I was thinking more about my desirability.” Will said it lightly, teasingly, and he was turning and wandering off before Hannibal could even begin to process it.
Hannibal stared dumbly after him for a moment, then hastened to pretend he hadn’t been.
It was cold out and cloudy, and as Will continued to turn his nose up at one tree after another, Hannibal started to wish he’d thought to bring a hat. Then Will stopped suddenly.
“What about this one?” he said. “Lean and compact enough for you?”
The tree’s appearance wasn’t terribly different from any of the others, yet Hannibal could see why it had stood out to Will. It was beautifully shaped, coming to a perfect point at the top, but its branches had a wildness to them. Some drooped, some stuck out straight, and others curved slightly upward or sideways. It was unpredictable and uncontainable—so very like Will.
“Yes,” Hannibal said. “I think it will do nicely. Shall I hold it while you chop?”
He would like that, he thought. That way, he could feel the strength in every swing of Will’s axe: the wood quivering in his grasp as if in fear.
“And risk me missing and hitting your legs instead?” Will shook his head. “Just stay out of the way.”
Hannibal had more faith than that in Will’s aim, but he didn’t argue and stood obediently aside.
It didn’t take long, and with Will in his winter coat, Hannibal couldn’t watch the play of his muscles as he worked. Nothing hid Will’s face, though, so Hannibal watched that instead—how he gritted his teeth when he drew back the axe, how he curled his lips into a snarl when he swung, how he began to pant toward the end when the tree was on the cusp of tipping.
When it was felled, Hannibal took the lead, bearing most of its weight himself as they carried it to be paid for, hauled it to the truck, and secured it in the back.
Hannibal drove them back to the house. Although Will gazed out the windshield the entire time, he was focused on Hannibal. Hannibal could feel it as surely as he could feel the growing warmth from the truck’s heater.
“Enjoyed that, did you?” Will said. It was the same light, teasing tone from before.
Hannibal kept his eyes on the road. “In what sense?”
“I almost went for a hand saw. But I thought you’d appreciate the axe more.” Will rolled his head toward Hannibal, lips quirked in a half smile. “I was right.”
It took all of Hannibal’s control not to shudder at the sharp, sudden sense of being seen. He permitted himself only a slightly deeper breath than usual and thought, Beautiful, manipulative boy.
Aloud, he said, “Oh? Since when do you put thought into what I will and will not appreciate?”
“I’m not sure. It was probably around the same time I finally realized I like being the object of your appreciation.”
Hannibal had known, of course, that he would give himself away eventually, with a look or a word or a simple wisp of emotion picked up by Will’s empathy. He thought he would be chagrined or indignant when it happened, but he felt only relief and amusement—and a burning curiosity to see what Will would do with this new knowledge.
“I see,” Hannibal said. “Then I appreciate your honesty.”
Will’s only response was a snort before he returned to staring out the windshield. The rest of the drive passed in silence.
The tree shed a trail of needles as it was moved from the truck bed to the stand in the living room. Hannibal vacuumed it up while Will fussed with the branches.
The lights, ornaments, all of it Will had bought along with the stand days ago, and Hannibal had thus far avoided pawing at the shopping bags. He’d expected to see them soon enough, for the decorating to start as soon as the tree was up, but Will seemed content—for the moment, at least—to let it remain bare.
He sat on the sofa, head tipped back against the leather. Hannibal joined him, and together they sat in silence, considering the tree. Perhaps Will was envisioning it fully decorated, plotting his design. Perhaps his thoughts were elsewhere—on the actions that had brought him here, his future with Hannibal, or his memories of his pretty, boring wife and boring stepson.
Hannibal was momentarily tempted to slip into his memory palace, to ensure this scene found its home there or to recall the last time he and Will had jointly considered a scene in such comfortable silence.
But he had avoided his memory palace of late, thoroughly conscious of the dangers of neglecting reality in favor of lingering too long in one’s own mind.
Will’s voice, low and with an intimacy that made Hannibal shiver, broke the quiet. “Christmas never meant much to me.”
“Nor to me,” Hannibal admitted.
“Really? You didn’t do holiday parties back in Baltimore?”
Hannibal had not. It had never occurred to him to desire to. “Everyone throws their own parties during the winter holidays. I left them to it.”
Will snickered and cast Hannibal a glance that was as much fond as mocking. “So it was too easy of an occasion? Not special enough?”
“I didn’t want an event of mine to become lost in the shuffle.”
“Because that would happen,” Will said dryly. “I seem to remember hearing that invitations to your parties were in high demand. You wouldn’t get lost in anything. You’d outshine everyone else.”
It was such blatant flattery, but Hannibal wasn’t unaffected. If he were the type to blush, he suspected he would be. “In high demand, you say, and yet you rejected every invitation I sent you.”
“You sound pleased by that.”
He was pleased. He was pleased that Will had proved so difficult to calm and coax, that Will had resisted him so long and rejected him in so many ways. Will had taught Hannibal a painful lesson not to underestimate him or take him for granted. Hannibal would never forget it—certainly not now that Will was beside him, now that Will had seen him and understood.
Will shifted, scooting ever slightly nearer, and Hannibal smelled him anew. His aftershave smelled of ginger and leather, and his shampoo was cheap and faintly citrusy. Hannibal smelled his sweat, his morning coffee, the croque monsieur Hannibal had made for lunch, and the cold pine scent from the Christmas tree forest.
And beneath all of that, Hannibal smelled Will’s natural human musk, a scent that had never failed to make Hannibal ache like an open wound.
“Should I be concerned,” Will said, “that you’re sniffing me again?”
Hannibal smiled. “No. I am simply appreciating your scent.”
“I guess you like this aftershave better than the last.”
“It’s certainly an improvement, however slight.”
Hannibal could have said more—that something more subtle and earthy would suit Will better, that despite his comments on the issue he had never found Will’s aftershave overly offensive—but he did not. There was a fine line between allowing oneself to be seen, and stripping oneself bare and lining up for the slaughter. In the quiet intimacy of the moment, Hannibal felt suddenly more aware of that line than usual.
“When will we decorate it?” he said instead, with a nod toward the tree.
“Tomorrow, I thought.” Will paused and arched his eyebrows. “‘We’? Somehow I thought you wouldn’t be interested in helping. You didn’t even care enough to go shopping with me.”
“I was preoccupied, as I explained then. I take choosing freezers for the basement very seriously.”
And in truth, Hannibal didn’t care about the tree or what it looked like when it was finished. He cared only that Will was satisfied with the process and the results. If Will wanted to turn their home into a garish display of red and green where good taste ventured only to die, well, it was only for a month.
“It’ll go faster with you helping,” Will said. He gave Hannibal a sly, flirty glance. “And I’m anxious to see what you think about some of the things I picked out.”
Hannibal curled his lip in a moue of distaste, for Will’s amusement rather than in genuine reaction. Then he peered at the tree across the room, with its wild branches and lean shape, and said only, “I’ll look forward to it.”
The next morning Hannibal dressed in dark, slim-fitting jeans and, on a whim, rolled his shirtsleeves neatly up to his biceps.
The whim was rewarded tenfold when Will, traipsing into the kitchen twenty minutes later, froze the moment he saw Hannibal whisking eggs near the stove. Hannibal lifted his head, keen to catalogue every detail of Will’s reaction, but they were lost to him almost immediately.
Will had shaved. Not fully, never fully, but enough that Hannibal could admire clearly the skin beneath the stubble and the still-pink scar on his cheek that was no longer hidden. Hannibal hadn’t touched it since the stitches had come out and the wound had healed, but he wanted to now with a fierceness that was brutal in its strength.
Hannibal recovered first and took note of how riveted Will seemed by the sight of his forearms and how his lips were parted, giving Hannibal a glimpse of his tongue held between his front teeth like it needed to be caged.
It occurred to Hannibal, for the time beyond a fanciful daydream, that perhaps Will’s flirtations of late were motivated by something other than a desire to manipulate.
Perhaps Will’s tendencies to be difficult were merely clumsy attempts at reaching for Hannibal to see if Hannibal reached back.
Will recovered as well and approached to lean his elbows on the counter. “I have a food request.”
“Good morning to you as well.” Hannibal returned to his preparations. “I hope that your request involves eggs.”
“Not a breakfast request. For later. I want chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate. Is that…something you could do?”
It sounded like too much chocolate to Hannibal: an exceedingly poor pairing. “Of course I could. Are you sure you wouldn’t want something tart instead? A dessert with citrus or—”
“I’m sure. I don’t mean I want to eat them together or anything.”
In that case, it became an issue of simplicity, of the utter lack of challenge the request represented. Although, Hannibal reflected, perhaps that would be a challenge in and of itself: to make such dull, uninspired fare extraordinary.
“I can start the cookies after lunch,” he said, and tried not to react to Will’s wide, warm smile.
Hannibal couldn’t recall the last time he’d baked cookies. It must have been fifteen years at least and very possibly longer.
It wasn’t difficult, especially something so basic as chocolate chip. He cut the bar of artisanal Swiss chocolate by hand and mixed ginger, cloves, and other spices to the dough for additional flavor.
As he baked them, he heard Will in the living room, rummaging through bags and boxes, no doubt getting the decorations in order.
In all Hannibal’s imaginings of Will traveling the world at his side, somehow he had never imagined a scene like this. The comfort, the domesticity, the quaintness—he couldn’t have envisioned it, nor could he have fathomed the quiet pleasure he would receive from it.
He and Will had been a family before, of course, but now, finally, they were making a home.
When all the batches of cookies were baked and cooling on racks on the counter, Hannibal left them to join Will in the living room. He was sitting, cross-legged, on the rug, attaching wire hooks to the ornaments one by one.
The ornaments were far simpler than Hannibal had anticipated. Will had chosen a variety of shapes, from round to icicle, but in color they were only clear, white, and silver. There was no garland, no kitsch, nothing too terribly loud and overstated.
Will smiled when Hannibal lowered himself to the floor beside him to help.
“Cookies smell good,” he said, scooting the box of hooks so Hannibal could reach them more easily. “I, uh, admit that’s mostly what I had in mind. The smell. Something about the scent of chocolate chip cookies in a house just seems…homey.”
And Will had never had that, Hannibal thought. Or at least he hadn’t before his marriage, before his poor, aborted attempt at playing family. Growing up with only a father who cycled through jobs and locations, who drank more than he ought, Will had had no one to fill the home with warmth or sweetness.
“Forgive me,” Hannibal said. “I should have brought you one. It’s my understanding they’re best just out of the oven.”
“Your understanding? Not a fan of them yourself, I take it.”
“There are other foods I’d rather indulge in. Sugar has never been my weakness.”
The grin Will gave him was almost coquettish. Hannibal admired the way it stretched his scar and made his teeth gleam in the light. “No, it certainly isn’t. Your vices are much more rare.”
“So rare as to be raw and bloody, one might say.”
It wasn’t Hannibal’s best joke, but Will chuckled all the same as he rolled a newly hooked ornament to join the rest of the pile. Hannibal gestured at him to wait a moment, stood, and returned to the kitchen, where he selected a cookie from the batch.
He was quite pleased with the texture. It was soft but not crumbly. He believed—hoped—it would melt in the mouth.
The chunks of chocolate were still warm and left smears on his fingers as he carried the cookie to the living room. Will didn’t hesitate to accept it and bring it to his lips.
His lashes fluttered at the first bite, such a visceral sign of enjoyment that Hannibal felt an answering flutter of emotion in his chest.
“You skimped a little on the sugar,” Will said. “But the spices more than make up for it. Is that…cinnamon?”
“Among others.” Hannibal lowered himself again to the floor and began to clean the chocolate off his fingers with his mouth.
Will watched, eyes dark and intent. Hannibal assumed it must be his tongue that Will was fixated on, but when Hannibal dropped his hand to his side, Will followed its path just as intently.
My forearms again, Hannibal thought. Or perhaps my wrists. He clenched his hand into a fist, flexing his muscles, and thrilled at Will’s very visible gulp.
“What is it about my arms, Will?” Hannibal asked, genuinely curious. “Is it the fact that your scars are there?”
Will’s lips thinned. “They’re not my scars. But no. Or not only that, anyway.”
They were his scars. He didn’t need to have put them there himself for that to be true. Hannibal would have been much, much angrier about them if Will hadn’t been the one at fault, if they hadn’t been undeniable proof of the power that Will was capable of wielding.
“Mostly,” Will said, “it’s just aesthetics. Or the implicit strength, maybe.”
Hannibal could have fluttered his own lashes at that. The confirmation that Will found any part of him physically attractive, that he was drawn to the strength in Hannibal’s arms, was intoxicating.
Before he could respond, Will asked, “Can I have another cookie?”
Hannibal was momentarily bereft, resentful of the distraction, but he pulled himself together. “I made them for you. You can have as many as you like. Shall I get it for you?”
“No. I got it.”
Knees cracking, Will stood and left the room. Hannibal picked up another ornament, another hook, and discovered that his supposedly strong hands were trembling finely.
Beautiful, manipulative, vexing boy, he thought. What you do to me.
The string of lights that Will wound through the tree’s branches made up for the unobtrusive ornaments. They were bright and multicolored, could be set to stand solid or blink in various rhythms, and he had bought enough of them that, when he finished, not an inch of the tree was not lit with color. There appeared almost more bulbs and wires than needles.
Will seemed delighted, beaming at it like a proud parent.
He even shuffled across the room to admire it from a distance, and the sight of him looking back reminded Hannibal of what he had said, years ago, about his little house in Wolf Trap being like a boat on the sea.
He’s drawn to light, Hannibal thought. He feels at home in the darkness when he can still see a hint of light from afar.
He wondered what the lit tree would look like through the living room window, if Will would feel comforted by this house in the way that he had his old one.
“I’m not sure I want to know what you’re thinking,” Will said, returning to Hannibal’s side. “You look intense.”
Hannibal shook his head. “It’s nothing of consequence. Should we put on music?”
“I’m not big on Christmas music. And I bet you’re not either.” Will glanced at the collection of ornaments on the rug. “Let’s just…put these on, I guess?”
They worked well together in this as they did all other things. Hannibal wasn’t certain if it was he who came up with the pattern that ensured even distribution of the different types of ornaments, if it was Will, or if it was a subconsciously concerted effort. However it began, they both fell into it without comment.
They said little at all, in fact, aside from once when a branch proved too weak to hold the silver ball Hannibal wanted to hang on it.
Hannibal made a noise of annoyance when the ornament tumbled to the floor, and Will chuckled at him and said, “Try hanging it from the lights instead.”
But with the way Will had nestled the lights into the branches, the ornament didn’t look right. Hannibal adjusted and readjusted it, his frown growing deeper, until Will took over and fussed until they were both satisfied.
It was tedious work. It was pointless work. Yet completing it soothed Hannibal the way that cooking a favorite recipe did, or playing a song he knew by heart on the harpsichord.
The fully decorated tree was nothing like what Hannibal would have done on his own, but neither was it hideous. He would be content to leave it like this for the next few weeks.
He would be content to do the same again next year, if that was what Will wanted.
After dinner, Hannibal made two mugs of hot cocoa and carried them, still steaming, to the living room where Will had settled on the sofa as he had the previous night.
“This’ll be the first hot chocolate I’ve had that didn’t start as a powder,” Will said, accepting his drink. “At least I’m assuming you didn’t use a store-bought mix.”
Hannibal answered without words: a disapproving expression that made Will snicker.
“Thought so.” Will sipped gingerly, wrinkling his nose at the heat, and Hannibal couldn’t help but watch him intently and delight in his heartfelt “Mm. That’s good. Did you spike it with something?”
“A touch of Italian liqueur.”
“Just as a warning, I might start requesting this every night.”
Hannibal wouldn’t mind. He’d be happy to make something Will enjoyed so much, even if it was too rich for his own tastes. “I didn’t realize you had such a sweet tooth.”
“I don’t, usually,” Will said. “Just something about this week.”
Hannibal sympathized. He had long since accepted that Will made him impulsive and sentimental, but lately he had been outright soppy. Tonight, especially. As they shared the sofa, drinking their hot cocoa, Hannibal felt as though he was glowing, pleasure sparking just under his skin.
It worsened as the minutes ticked by and Will shifted, gradually and purposefully, closer and closer. Soon he was inches away from leaning into Hannibal’s side, and all Hannibal could smell, see, sense was Will. Like water lapping at a shoreline, Will weakened him, eroded him, and took all of Hannibal for himself.
Hannibal froze, breath caught in his chest, when Will’s head tipped suddenly and rested against Hannibal’s shoulder. That one touch, the solid weight against him, lit him brighter than the Christmas tree across the room.
Will licked his lips. The wet swipe of his tongue echoed in Hannibal’s ear. “Tell me I’m not making this up,” Will said. “Tell me I haven’t been imagining this.”
Hannibal didn’t dare look at him, unsure what he would do if he did. “You have a powerful imagination, Will. Has it ever steered you wrong?”
“It’s steered me wrong lots of times. That’s not what I’m asking.”
Something in Hannibal’s mind howled when Will broke away from him, but it was only to deposit his mug on the end table next to him. He held out his hand, a silent offer to do the same for Hannibal, and Hannibal passed his over without a word.
He felt reluctance, he realized. He’d become accustomed to his own longing, to the tension between them, to the resignation that nothing would ever come of it.
And as soon as he realized it, he recognized how ludicrous it was. Why tarry on the cusp of greatness when forging forward promised such rewards?
He was brought up short a moment later, at the sight of Will twisting his wedding ring around his finger. Then Will stopped twisting and started wiggling, and the ring slipped free.
It hit the rug with barely a sound, but Hannibal felt the drop like a gunshot all the same.
“I’ll do whatever you want with it,” Will said. “I should’ve gotten rid of it months ago, when I realized I was never going back. Look, I know—”
Hannibal couldn’t have stopped to let him finish if he’d wanted to. He lunged with a viciousness that likely would have frightened anyone but Will, who grabbed at Hannibal’s jaw with equal passion and met Hannibal’s mouth with his own.
Will tasted of chocolate, of course, and liqueur and cinnamon and cloves. Hannibal decided then that Will would only ever taste of things that Hannibal had made or given or somehow caused.
As their bodies melted together, Hannibal’s hands roamed. He clutched Will’s biceps, his shoulders, his neck. At the latter, while Hannibal’s fingers curled to dig softly into the meat of Will’s throat, Will moaned and broke away.
His eyes were half-lidded but keen, fixed on Hannibal’s lips like he was spellbound. His face was flushed, and the red—heightened by the glow of the tree lights—on his pale skin was so alluring Hannibal had to touch. He kept one hand on Will’s throat and stroked Will’s cheek with the other.
To his embarrassment, his fingers moved in clumsy twitches rather than the smooth, seductive glide he’d intended.
“You look like you want to eat me,” Will murmured.
“Figuratively. Purely figuratively.”
Hannibal had scarcely crushed their mouths together again before Will was pulling away again, this time with a chuckle.
“That’s probably the biggest lie you’ve ever told me,” Will said. “If I gave you permission to cook up one of my kidneys right now, you’d be ecstatic.”
It wasn’t entirely true, but neither was it wholly inaccurate. Still, Hannibal said, “Are you offering?” and trusted Will to hear the tease for what it was.
“I don’t put out organs on the first date.”
Will’s amusement rang in every word, just as it beamed in his expression. Hannibal had always been strangely enchanted by Will’s happiness, just as much as his suffering, but to see it now was indescribable. In all his self-indulgent daydreams, Will came to him full of anger or anguish or self-pity—he never responded to Hannibal’s overtures with anything resembling joy.
I would wreck the world for you, Hannibal thought. I would kneel down at the gates of heaven if it meant that I could hoist you into paradise.
This time Will was the one to haul Hannibal toward him, and they kissed with a mutual desperation that made Hannibal want to weep. His hands continued wandering, rough with greed, until he was tearing at Will’s shirt, popping the buttons open until he had bared Will’s collarbone for his teeth.
“Fuck,” Will gasped, arching into Hannibal’s bite. “God. Hannibal.”
Will’s hands became just as gluttonous for bare skin as Hannibal’s. Hannibal felt them, hard and frantic, on his nape and then down the back of his own button-down shirt. Will scratched at his spine, his shoulder blades, as they moved together, squirming and tugging until their bodies were flush from ankles to lips.
By the time that Hannibal had grown satisfied with the string of purpling bruises he’d left along Will’s clavicles, Will was under him on the sofa, his legs wrapped around Hannibal’s waist. His moans were low and beautiful, so much so that Hannibal was helpless but to echo every one and hope he could capture even a fraction of their loveliness.
And when Hannibal found the knife scar on Will’s shoulder with his tongue, when he licked it and nipped it and dug his teeth in as though he would rip it off completely, Will trembled and wailed and clawed Hannibal’s back so hard that the skin burned as it broke.
“Please,” Will said. “Hannibal. Stop for a second. Just—”
Hannibal snarled but obeyed, and even sat back on his heels when Will planted a palm in the center of his chest and pushed. Hannibal felt the distance between them like a taut piano wire cutting into his flesh.
“Not here,” said Will. He was flushed deeper now, the top of his shirt hanging open and his chest marked so perfectly. “Let’s move this to a bedroom.”
Hannibal let out another, angrier snarl. “No.”
“Really? You want to do this on your swanky leather couch?”
“I don’t particularly care where I have you, so long as I do.”
Hannibal tried to pin him, but Will ducked under his arms and rolled off the sofa to evade him. The instinct to growl and follow, like a lion deprived of its meal, was undeniable, and Hannibal didn’t question it. He chased Will to the staircase and up the steps and into Will’s bedroom, where Will hit the light switch and threw himself on the bed before Hannibal could tackle him there.
He was chuckling, breathlessly, as Hannibal climbed atop him and weighted him into the mattress. Hannibal grinned down at him, flashing his teeth, but Will was more interested in wriggling, ensuring that their covered groins met and rubbed.
“You’re so hard,” Will said. “Of course you’d get turned on by a chase, you monster.”
As if Hannibal hadn’t been turned on long, long before that. “Says the monster in the same predicament.”
Hannibal tore the rest of Will’s shirt open. Although he’d been expecting Will’s belly scar, had seen it several times and knew its appearance well enough to have recreated it in a handful of sketches, somehow that didn’t prepare him for the sight of it now, under these circumstances.
It was exquisite, like a pale rope tied so tightly around Will’s waist that it had sunk into his flesh. As Hannibal gazed at it, he recalled with perfect clarity the scent of Will’s gushing blood in the air, the warmth and slickness of it on his hands, the pitiful sobbing sounds that Will had made in his ear.
He was transfixed only momentarily by the memory, but in that brief distraction, Will bucked him off and reversed their positions.
The ceiling lamp was just above the bed, beyond Will’s head, and its light made a brilliant halo around him. He might have looked angelic if not for the darkness on his face and the voracious lust in his eyes.
“Will,” Hannibal said, sounding like he had been the one gutted.
“You had your fun. It’s my turn for a bit.”
A fair point—and, after all, Hannibal was curious to know what Will would do. He made himself pliable and let Will unbutton his shirt and slip it over his shoulders, then lifted so that it could be removed completely and Will could roam Hannibal’s torso as Hannibal had roamed his.
Will’s touch was as rough, as greedy as Hannibal’s. He parted Hannibal’s chest hair with his nails, leaving swollen red trails on the skin underneath. He pinched and twisted Hannibal’s nipples, making them stiff and sore. He surrounded the bullet wound in Hannibal’s side with his teeth and bit and sucked until Hannibal keened and arched.
He took Hannibal’s hand in his and raised it from the bed, brought it to his lips, and kissed the wrist with such ardor that Hannibal shuddered beneath him. He answered Hannibal’s moan with a bite and a vicious scrape of his teeth up the length of Hannibal’s forearm.
“Will,” Hannibal said—stupidly, but he couldn’t help himself. “Will.”
Will lowered Hannibal’s arm to the mattress above his head and pinned his other arm beside it. He curled his fingers around Hannibal’s wrists so firmly that Hannibal didn’t doubt he would have bruises later.
“Do you want to chain me?” Hannibal asked.
“Do we even have chains?”
They didn’t. They had rope, but it was too far away. Rope and— “I have ties, a few scarves. You can have as many as you need.”
“Hm. No. Too soft.”
Will bent forward and returned his lips and teeth to Hannibal’s forearms. The position brought his chest to Hannibal’s face, and Hannibal nuzzled it as Will hurt and marked him further.
“I’ll find you a set of cuffs,” Hannibal promised. “Thick metal cuffs with a heavy metal chain to keep me restrained. I’ll be sure to struggle for you, so that my wrists are bloody and raw.”
Will made a soft, sweetly wounded noise and abandoned Hannibal’s arms to press his open mouth against Hannibal’s. Their teeth and tongues clashed, and their moans became one between them as Will rocked his hips into Hannibal’s, grinding their erections together.
“Touch me,” Will said. “God, I want you.”
Such magnificent words. They crackled through Hannibal’s body, and he burned with them. He claimed every inch of Will’s skin he could reach, finally tore Will’s shirt off entirely, and fit his hand down the back of Will’s jeans, inside his briefs. His buttocks were so supple and moldable, the cleft between them so hot.
Will jerked away, ignoring Hannibal’s growl. “Hang on. I got stuff.”
Stretching, he threw open the drawer of his bedside table and retrieved a bottle of lubricant and a box of condoms. The end of Hannibal’s growl petered into a choked groan, which made Will smirk.
“When?” Hannibal demanded.
“When I bought the decorations. I told you I wanted to see what you thought of the things I picked out.”
Will had planned this, prepared for it. While Hannibal digested that, Will unbuttoned his own jeans and started to shimmy them off, taking care not to disturb Hannibal’s hand frozen on his ass.
Suddenly, Hannibal had to ask, “Have you done this before?”
“What, sex with a man? Once.”
Hannibal snarled although he knew it was irrational. What did it matter what either of them had or hadn’t done before now? “Did you enjoy it?”
With his jeans partway off and Hannibal finally letting go of his ass to help, Will started on Hannibal’s zip. “Uh. No, not especially.”
That was a reason to snarl, but this time Hannibal held it back and kept his tone calm, unconcerned. “That’s unfortunate. Out of curiosity…you don’t happen to recall his name, do you?”
Will let out a huff of laughter and looked down at Hannibal with bright, gleaming eyes. “I didn’t enjoy it because I was preoccupied with you for most of it.”
Hannibal stared dumbly. It felt like his heart was in his throat, beating eagerly for Will to claim it as his own. “You wanted me that much?”
“More like I was that confused about you.” Will grimaced. “I think I freaked him out pretty bad. I told him the wound on my forehead was from someone trying to saw open my skull, and then I kept asking him to touch the scar where you gutted me.”
Hannibal sat up and yanked Will toward him, leaving only enough space between them for Hannibal’s palm to rest against Will’s belly and stroke along the scar. Will wrapped his arms around Hannibal’s shoulders, and his hand searched Hannibal’s back until it covered Mason Verger’s brand.
Although as healed as it could be, the mark was still sensitive, a little uncomfortable, and Hannibal sucked in a breath and shivered.
Hannibal had never known another body as intimately as Will’s, and no one had or would ever know his like Will did. They had owned each other, Hannibal knew, long before they’d gotten to this point.
“In your one encounter with a man,” Hannibal said, “who penetrated whom? Assuming penetration was involved at all.”
“I, uh.” Will licked his lips, that wet sound echoing in Hannibal’s ear as it had done earlier. “I fucked him.”
Hannibal moaned as much at the shameless vulgarity as the image, and the moment that Will drew out of their embrace, Hannibal kissed him. Even as Will continued undressing them both, fumbling and increasingly awkward, Hannibal refused to let their mouths part.
Will managed eventually, however, clever boy that he was, and only then did Hannibal ease back to take in the sight of him. His body was smooth and lean, scarred of course but all the more perfect because of it. His cock was a vision, standing long and proud with its circumcised head already wet.
“I am going to suck you,” Hannibal told him. “And you are going to lie on your back and let me. Then I am going to sit astride you and take you inside me. How does that sound?”
Will’s cock answered for him, giving a weak throb while a drop of clearish white beaded out of the slit. A verbal “No complaints here” followed, but Hannibal hardly heard it, already too intent on spreading Will out on the bed and chasing that drop with his tongue.
“Ohh,” Will said at Hannibal’s first languid lick. He raked his hands through Hannibal’s hair but didn’t attempt to guide or control. Hannibal rewarded him with another, rougher lick and closed his mouth over the tip. “Fuck.”
Hannibal echoed the swear in his own mind. He had never been fond of the taste of come or precome, found it too bitter and the texture unpleasant, but he couldn’t be anything less than infatuated by Will’s. A man’s diet determined his taste, and Hannibal determined Will’s diet—this was his work, his creation.
He swallowed Will down, sucking tenderly, and gripped Will’s buttocks to keep him in place. He let one hand venture again to Will’s cleft, this time dipping in slightly, and he pressed his fingertips against Will’s tight hole.
With a whimpery cry, Will bowed his lower back and spread his legs wide, not only accepting Hannibal’s touch but inviting more.
Hannibal wouldn’t penetrate him—not now, with his fingers dry and Will inexperienced—but he had no qualms about circling, rubbing, putting the slightest hint of pressure on Will’s wrinkled rim. And as he did, he took Will’s cock so deep down his throat that his nose was buried in Will’s wiry, musky pubic hair.
“Hannibal,” said Will, squirming. “Oh, god, your mouth.”
Yes, Hannibal thought, blissful. Mine.
Suddenly impatient, he drew back, laid one final kiss to the tip, and reached for the bottle of lubricant.
He didn’t bother with stretching or slicking himself. He simply dribbled a modest amount of lubricant over Will’s cock, straddled Will, and got them into position.
“Whoa,” Will said. “Wait. Don’t forget—”
Hannibal bared his teeth and shut Will up with a solid squeeze of his hand around the base of Will’s cock. “I have no interest in condoms. We are past the point of ‘safety,’ and I want to feel every ounce of fluid that leaks from you into me. I want you to leave me such a mess that I stain the seat of every pair of pants I wear for a week. Do you understand, Will?”
Will’s “Yes” was trembling and weak, perhaps because as he was speaking it Hannibal pressed the head of Will’s cock to his entrance and bore down until it slipped inside.
The stretch stung badly, especially as it had been so long since Hannibal had used his body this way, but he craved the pain. He wanted to feel as ravaged as possible when Will finished with him.
Besides, the slack-jawed rapture on Will’s face more than made up for the discomfort. Hannibal would be snug and hot around him. Will would lose himself completely in the pleasure.
As though he could read Hannibal’s mind, Will gazed up at him and gasped, “You’re so tight. It feels so good.”
It felt better when Hannibal rose onto his knees and started to ride Will’s cock with everything he had. Will’s open-mouthed moans, his mindless cries of “Hannibal,” said as much. He clutched Hannibal’s hips, digging his nails in, and rocked to meet Hannibal’s thrusts.
Hannibal had paid little attention to his own erection thus far, more interested in Will’s, and he only began to notice it now because it was flagging. He knew it was a normal reaction even if it seemed ludicrous for his cock to be going soft when his pleasure was practically a living thing, twisting and rising inside him.
Will seemed to notice just as Hannibal did. With a grunt, he snatched up the bottle Hannibal had abandoned on the mattress, squirted a small amount in his hand, and then began to stroke Hannibal back to hardness.
At the firm, slick grip, Hannibal lost himself for a moment, concentrating more on rutting into Will’s fist than bouncing on his cock.
“That’s it,” Will murmured. “My turn again. Look at me, Hannibal.”
Hannibal hadn’t realized that he wasn’t, but indeed he was staring dazedly into nothing. He snapped his gaze to Will’s and trembled at the emotion there. It was dangerous and predatory, hungry and possessive.
“Sorry in advance if this hurts,” Will said. He surged upward, grabbed Hannibal with both hands, and threw him onto his back on the bed.
It did hurt, and it rudely unseated Hannibal from Will’s cock. But how could he complain when the result was Will coming to loom over him, bend Hannibal’s knees to his chest, and ram himself into Hannibal’s hole with enough force that Hannibal couldn’t hold in his shout?
“There we go,” said Will, grinning wildly. “Much better.”
He grabbed Hannibal’s jaw, two fingers pressing against Hannibal’s lips, and on an impulse Hannibal opened his mouth, sucked them in, and bit at the knuckles. Will’s eyes narrowed, his teeth grit, and his next thrust rattled loose another shout from Hannibal.
“You want to be better than him, right?” Will said. “That’s what this is about? I fucked him, so you want me to fuck you so you can write over everything he and I did. Here it is. He wanted me to hold him down and fuck him hard and mean, and I couldn’t. He wasn’t you.”
Will ripped his fingers out of Hannibal’s mouth and pinned him down by the throat. He pounded into Hannibal fast enough that Hannibal couldn’t finish one cry before he was letting out another. He felt skewered, owned. Will was barely glancing off his prostate, Hannibal’s slick cock had nothing to rub against but his own belly, yet he thought he had never been nearer to euphoria than this moment.
“No one is.” Will’s voice cracked. “I can’t be myself with anyone else. Just you. Is that what you want?”
“Yes,” Hannibal said. “Yes. Will, harder—”
Will laid his body against Hannibal’s. They wrapped their arms around each other, panted into each other’s mouths between sloppy kisses, and Will jackhammered into Hannibal hard enough that the headboard cracked against the wall like thunder.
“Fuck!” Will bit down on Hannibal’s bottom lip. “Oh, god, that’s good.”
“Come in me,” Hannibal pleaded. “Give it all to me.”
The first surge of warm come was so intensely, primitively satisfying that Hannibal thought it would be all he needed. But it wasn’t until Will kept fucking him through it, driving his come deeper and deeper, that Hannibal’s body gave in and followed.
He kept rolling his hips against Will’s even after Will had gone still and soft, and he likely would have continued if Will hadn’t grunted, “Hannibal, fuck, enough. That’s all I’ve got,” and withdrew.
He’d certainly left a mess. Immediately it began dribbling out onto the bed. Even if it were his room, his sheets, Hannibal wouldn’t have minded.
His skin was a different matter, although he wasn’t quite ready to rinse everything off in the shower yet.
“A damp cloth wouldn’t go amiss,” he told Will, then simply lay there, amused, when Will rushed out of the room without a word to retrieve one.
When he was alone, Hannibal turned his head to the side and inhaled deeply. The duvet smelled of Will, primarily, but now him as well. It was an exhilarating scent, a perfect pairing. He was still breathing it in when Will returned.
“Come on,” Will said, “the aftershave isn’t that bad, is it?”
“Perhaps you’ll get something new this year for Christmas.” Hannibal paused, thinking. “Are we exchanging gifts? We haven’t discussed it.”
“We’re going to have to, apparently. How else am I going to get better aftershave?”
Will swiped the wet washcloth over Hannibal’s stomach. He smeared rather than cleaned the drying ejaculate, though, so with an exaggerated grimace, Hannibal took over.
“I…kind of already got you something,” Will said, ducking slightly as though embarrassed.
Hannibal was intrigued. He envisioned anything from a new set of kitchen knives to a hideously patterned sweater. “Did you? What is it?”
“A McDonald’s gift card.” Will gave him a stern look. “I’m not going to tell you. It’ll ruin the surprise. You’re going to have to wait until Christmas.”
Now that the deed was done, Hannibal had thought he might be able to recover himself: at least pick up the tatters of his veil if not piece them back together again. Instead, he felt even more fractured and vulnerable.
It was heartbreakingly intimate—Will’s come still warm inside him and dribbles of it leaking free now and again, Will curling up at Hannibal’s side and pressing his lips again and again to Hannibal’s hairline, cheek, chin, and mouth like he couldn’t bring himself to stop.
Maybe he won’t, Hannibal thought, kissing him back. Maybe he will never stop.
“This gift of yours,” he said. “It’s something reindeer related, isn’t it?”
Will laughed. Such a lovely, intoxicating sound made even more so by the fact that Hannibal could feel the vibrations of it against his bare skin. “It’s not, actually. Although now I might have to get you something…”