Chapter 1: Professor Graham's office
Hannibal was Will’s most intriguing student and he wasn’t even Will’s student. Only a sophomore and yet he regularly attended Will’s graduate lectures. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about him was how intrigued Hannibal was - with nearly everything. Especially anything that had to do with Will.
It started innocently enough. Chatting after lectures. Then Hannibal began showing up on his path from the car park to the office, sometimes on the trail around the lake where he ran. Cheerful smiles were soon accompanied by unsolicited cups of coffee and bottles of water. Hannibal was always wearing a trim fitting blazer and tie. Better quality than anything Will could afford on his professor’s salary.
Now Hannibal was in his office. Will couldn’t even recall what the pretext had been. He was too busy studying Hannibal wander around as if he was in a museum, but one where he could touch and smell everything. Which he did. Everything.
Perched on an arm of the threadbare sofa, Will held a folder of papers in his lap. Observing openly. Thinking Hannibal couldn’t possibly be aware. He was so far away.
Strolling past the bookshelves, Hannibal idly ran his fingers over the spines, nodding or humming at anything that caught his interest. Titles with dogeared pages. Those that seemed like they’d never been touched. The call numbers of a few library books never returned. A forgotten cup of coffee long since dried up. He smiled as his eyes bumped into a fishing hook with feathers and what looked like fur bound with silky thread.
Will was so transfixed he was almost surprised when Hannibal spoke.
“Did you make this?”
Will managed a nod.
Hannibal turned his back again, more animated as he continued exploring like an archaeologist spurred on by a valuable find.
“Tell me, Professor Graham. Do you prefer the company of men or women - or don’t you know yet?”
Will was grateful that Hannibal couldn’t see the lump in his throat or how his hands twitched for a drink.
“And before you say it, I know it’s a blunt question,” Hannibal added in an equally flat tone as he pulled a book from the shelf and began flipping through pages.
Will bit his tongue. A bit surprised at how surprised he wasn’t. If it had been anyone else, he’d be sputtering by now. But Hannibal was … Hannibal. His mind filtered through possible answers - half truths, deflection, evasion.
“I guess I don’t know yet.” It was the truth.
Hannibal’s shoulder blades flexed as he placed the book back on the shelf. “That’s a reasonable answer.”
Will laughed before he could stop himself, disarmed by Hannibal's shameless precociousness.
“And what about you?”
He hadn’t planned to say it. The words just fell out of his mouth. Still, he made no effort to pull them back. Not even when Hannibal turned to meet his eyes.
“I enjoy my own company.”
Hannibal’s smile was as unreadable as a sphinx.
Will pulled the folder further into his lap, exhaling a sigh. “That doesn’t seem like much of a long term strategy.”
“No. It doesn’t.” Hannibal’s tone was tinged with emotion. Just barely. A confession perched on his tongue. Watching Will’s face, the temperature changed. He realized he didn’t need to say another word.
Chapter 2: Chess
Will must have walked the path by Denby Hall at least a hundred times. Through the overhang of the weeping willows, bypassing the quaint gaming tables, he never once stopped for a match. Until the day that he did.
“I’ve only got about a half an hour,” he warned, setting the scuffed leather bag by his chair. Somewhat surprised when Hannibal didn’t bother to watch him loosen his tie. Maybe even a little disappointed.
Engrossed in setting up his personal chess set, Hannibal gave Will the top of his head as he spoke. “That’s fine. I’m sure it’ll be plenty of time.”
When he finally did look up, Hannibal had another one of those unreadable smiles. Innocent maybe, or was it coy. Will wasn’t quite sure. All he knew was that Hannibal seemed more down-to-business than usual.
“Age before beauty,” Hannibal offered in a conversational tone.
At least that was enough to make Will smile. “Of course.”
If Hannibal picked up on the veiled compliment, he didn’t let on. Again, Will found himself a bit let down.
“Do you play here often?”
He winced inwardly at his own awkward attempt at small talk, but Hannibal simply nodded, mapping out strategy as Will made his opening move. Not lifting his eyes again until he’d pushed one of his own pawns forward. Quiet. Waiting.
The game continued like this for about ten minutes. Will searching Hannibal’s face for some kind of recognition. Getting nowhere. Hannibal seemingly absorbed in the battle taking shape on the board.
Just as Hannibal moved to take his knight, Will felt their legs touch. His tongue slipped between his lips, not quite sure whether the rosiness on Hannibal’s cheeks had been there all along. If this was a tease, it was the most patient one ever.
Thinking he just might have knocked Hannibal off his game, Will chose a bold move next.
For the first time, Hannibal frowned. He shifted uncomfortably, crossing his arms as he rocked back in his chair.
Something felt off. There was no swell of satisfaction like Will thought there would be. His suspicion mounted when he noticed the chess team crest on Hannibal’s sweater, just inside his jacket. Was Hannibal letting him win? Unlikely. Something else was rotten in Denmark.
“How many moves back did you know you had me?”
“Four,” Hannibal answered flatly, closing in on Will’s queen.
Will’s lips curved in a wide smile. He shook his head as he reached down for his bag. “Well, it’s been fun.”
“Are you going?”
Will was as much surprised by the look of genuine disappointment on Hannibal’s face as he was by the question.
“You’ve won. Quite handily too. Well done, Hannibal.”
“Don’t go.” Hannibal had to stop himself from grabbing the professor’s wrist. “If you’re having fun, why leave now?”
A breath huffed from Will’s nose. Once he got past being amused, he had to admit it was a good question.
“Okay, then.” Will tugged his tie down further, flicking a button open at his neck. “Here I go.”
This time, Hannibal grinned openly as he watched.
Will drew his hand back as his bishop came to its new home. “Further into your trap?”
A playful glance melted into Hannibal’s tone. “Maybe.”
Chapter 3: Once upon a drive
To say that Hannibal was beside himself would be an understatement. When Professor Graham mentioned a Cambridge guest lecture on the same day as a chess tournament it had to be more than luck.
No appeal to the metaphysical implications was necessary. Will agreed that driving together only made sense. Hannibal kept his emotions in check, smooth as glass on the surface while he beamed underneath.
With plenty of time to rehearse on the trip east, Hannibal proved to be an excellent sounding board. Will had no idea when the sophomore had managed to read up on cause of death in the early twentieth century, but he was glad for the annotations in his notes.
It was during the drive back that things went sideways. Of all the times for a flat tire. Of all the times not to have a spare.
The small talk ran out quickly as they waited for a mechanic, leaving both of them looking at their hands and out the windows. Hannibal turned on the radio. A soft, classical station. Will's mood shifted visibly. Uneasy at first. And then something that could only be called wistful.
Without a word, Hannibal stepped out of the car and crossed in front of the headlights. Heart in his throat, Will watched Hannibal open the door and extend a hand.
"Will you dance with me?"
"Here? In the road?"
Hannibal took Will’s hand, guiding him into the headlights. "Here. In the road."
Fixed on the gentle smile, Will swallowed when his hand met the dip of Hannibal’s back. Before he knew what was happening, Hannibal's head was on his shoulder. His eyes closed. A picture of pure contentment.
Despite himself, Will couldn't help thinking about how good Hannibal smelled. How long could they stay like this? How long had it been? He found himself wanting to see Hannibal's face. So peaceful he dared not disturb him. What pretext would he have anyway. Just when he managed to push the thought aside, Hannibal looked up. The moon was bright in his eyes. Will stared openly, falling into them.
"Did you want to ask me something?"
Will's eyes sparkled back, his voice soft. "No."
"Do you want to kiss me?"
Will smiled almost as if he’d been waiting for the question, nodding. "Yes."
Hannibal's lips were softer than Will imagined, if that was possible. The lightest touch curled his toes. He stopped there, afraid he might not be able to otherwise. Hannibal chased after his mouth, coaxing with little nudges of his nose. His eyes fluttered as he memorized Will's expression.
Will's resistance was slipping away. He knew it. He wasn't holding Hannibal anywhere near close enough.
"I'm going to kiss you now. For real." Was it aloud or in his head? By the look on Hannibal's face it didn't matter. A swell of emotion pushed from Will’s lungs. He couldn’t breathe, couldn't think. All he could do was feel.
Lips pressed together, sliding in earnest.
Hannibal saw the whole thing as it was happening. He felt it. Every little detail. Will's corduroy jacket. The smell of the field. Fireflies that flit through the light. Static on the radio. Dirt sticking to their shoes. Almost on tiptoes, Will’s curls glanced across his cheek.
So soft. Hannibal’s hair when Will's fingers first sunk in. The sweetness of the little noise he made.
It was a dance they'd both imagined a hundred times. Only it was happening, and whatever fantasies they had were gone, eclipsed by the sound of hearts and breath.
Hannibal said I love you endlessly in his head. Will felt it. He knew somewhere inside he should be questioning this. But all he wanted to do was keep kissing.
The sound of tires rolling over gravel took them both by surprise. “Thank you for the dance, Hannibal,” Will finally managed as their brows met. Hannibal stared at Will’s lips before looking up. Never before so speechless. Knowing it may never happen again. His arms wrapped tight as he nuzzled into the warmth of Will's chest one last time. Allowing a swell of tears to fall back, he exhaled a shaky sigh.
The tables and chairs were piled with heavy robes. Students were still stumbling in. Will watched through a sea of white button downs and black ribbons. By the fourth drink his smile was no longer hidden.
What a sight it was. The sphinx-like Hannibal Lecter grinning as he tossed back one pint after another. Bangs tangled over bright eyes. The carnation on his jacket long since wilted.
There were high fives and rough slaps on the back. All well-deserved. He had said his congratulations over an hour ago. Despite promising to make himself scarce, he got as far as the bar before deciding to stay. He told himself it was pride. Of course he wanted to see Hannibal enjoying the accolades. Letting loose for once. He was an exceptional student. They were friends.
Nearly midnight, Will looked up from his watch to see another student tugging Hannibal towards a dark corner. The boy was handsome in a rather obvious way. Fair, blue-eyed. A scant impression. He was more focused on Hannibal.
Was he actually blushing?
The whiskey burned like acid down Will’s throat. He felt hollow. Throwing down a handful of cash, he left by a patio exit. It was late anyway. The dogs would be waiting for their walk.
_ _ _
Hannibal leaned over the brass rail, chasing the bartender with an earnest look. “Where’s Will - I mean, Professor Graham?”
The man shrugged, barely casting a glance from the cash register.
Perched on tiptoes, Hannibal scanned the crowd for a tan corduroy jacket.
“You’re coming back aren’t you?”
Turning toward the voice, Hannibal’s face fell. Fair, blue-eyed Ethan blinked coyly, his cheeks ruddy with drink.
_ _ _
It rained that night. A mist blanketed the streets. Here and there, the lights of still crowded bars created pockets of life.
Hands stuffed in his pockets, Hannibal made his way. Puddles wicked up his cuffs from the cobblestones. He had only been there once to return a book of poetry but he had the route memorized.
He rapped sharp on the door. “Will!” A light bloomed in a second floor window. Shoulders raised against the wind, he bounced on the balls of his feet.
Will wasn’t wearing his glasses. A flannel robe hung loose over his thin t-shirt and jogger bottoms.
Will kept his tone even. “It was late.”
Hannibal slouched in the doorway. The walk had given him a certain momentum, but standing upright was still a challenge. Offering a lazy smile, he pulled at the sash of Will’s robe. “It’s late now.”
Will shoved his hand away. “You’re drunk, Hannibal.”
“That’s not why you’re upset.”
“Really?” Will’s tone sharpened.
Hannibal nodded, leaning close. “It’s because of Ethan.”
Before Will stopped sputtering, Hannibal’s lips were on his. His muscles tensed. He wasn’t going to give in. Hannibal was a student. It was wrong. It was …
It took only a second of dropping his guard. Will felt the reins slip. His lips slid wide over Hannibal’s mouth. It was even better than he imagined it would be. Ripe and decadent as forbidden fruit. The sound of his heart grew loud. He was sure Hannibal could hear it. He wanted more. He wanted to admit the jealousy. To claim what was his.
Hannibal pressed against him. Making the most beautiful sounds. It would be so easy.
A sharp shock of arousal knocked the breath from his lungs. Will’s head fell. His curls clinging to Hannibal’s damp brow. He stared speechless at kiss swollen lips. A knot in his throat.
“You should go.”
Hannibal’s eyes found his. The look burned a hole in his heart. His voice was achingly frail. “Okay.”
The apology perched on Will’s tongue died with a shake of Hannibal’s head. Bit by bit, Hannibal pulled away. A swallow marred the long line of his throat. He slipped the black ribbon from around his collar and pressed it into Will’s hand. “Goodnight, Will.”
Will watched him turn. A great weight sank in his chest. He struggled to make himself form the words.
This chapter was inspired by the Hannibal Cre-Ate-Ive's #DrunkenKissesChallenge.
Chapter 5: Tiny Epiphanies
Professor Graham bumps into Hannibal working at a coffee shop on a particularly stressful day.
Mid-semester hell was in full swing. When Will wasn’t poring over exams, he was attending to a parade of advisees. A part of the job he thought he would love. Until he realized what it felt like to deliver realistic expectations to one fresh face after another.
When did he get so grumpy.
When did he get so old.
Even the walk to the coffee shop felt labored.
Caffeine would help. As would something more than aspirin in his stomach.
“Professor Graham? You look awful.”
One minute he was thumbing through his wallet. And the next -
It was the first time Will had seen him without his usual uniform of blazer and pressed slacks.
Not that he could see everything over the counter. But more than enough.
In just a few seconds, he managed to take in the curve at the join of Hannibal’s shoulders where the t-shirt draped loose. The heft of his biceps, no doubt from rowing. (He might have seen him on the Cherwell once or twice during his morning run. Purely by coincidence.) A peek of denim at his hips behind a canvas apron.
And then there was that face. A portrait of quiet earnestness.
Whenever Hannibal looked at him, Will saw it. A focus that said nothing else mattered at that moment.
Headier than any whiskey.
He didn’t realize he was staring until his bag started to slide off his shoulder. A tug pulled it back into place.
“I didn’t know you worked here.”
Hannibal gave one of his unreadable smiles. Cryptic enough to suggest a modicum of embarrassment or plans to infiltrate from within.
“You don’t look well.” A hint of pain rippled over Hannibal’s brow. Empathy more than sympathy.
Will schooled his expression into something more casual.
“Midterms. Nothing some coffee won’t fix.”
Hannibal wasn’t buying it. He made a quick survey of the shop, spying an open table in a corner.
“I can bring you the coffee. Go grab that table.”
Will hadn’t planned on staying. He hadn’t planned on running into Hannibal either. Or following his directive like a well-trained pet.
He told himself it was exhaustion.
It couldn’t possibly be that he liked the idea of Hannibal taking care of him.
From the corner of his eye, Will saw the bow of Hannibal’s apron, loose ends cascading over his ass. He forced himself to turn away just as Hannibal bent down into a cooler.
There are all kinds of escape when one is under stress. Fantasy is perfectly normal.
At least he wasn’t thinking about grading anymore.
He kept his eyes fixed out the window as footsteps approached. Some lame caricature of deep thought, staring into middle distance. For a minute, he wished he hadn’t given up smoking.
“Coffee,” Hannibal narrated, setting the cup down. “Water. And something for your stomach.”
Will blinked at the plate. No one had made him cinnamon toast since he was a child.
It’s funny how a little thing like that can leave you speechless. Life is spent looking for grand truths. When really it’s the details that matter. Tiny epiphanies. Moments when you forget to feel bad. A smell. A melody.
The sun lighting on a young man’s face, proud of a job well-done.
Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art.
Hannibal stood poised but expectant.
“Can I get you anything else?”
A hundred thoughts raced through Will’s mind, but only two words pressed to get out.
Chapter 6: Wreckage
A short follow up to One Black Ribbon
“Have you lost weight?”
Hannibal strolled around the office like he always did. “Is this really what we’re going to talk about?”
The doctor gave a weary look. “It’s your hour. What would you like to talk about?”
Idly inspecting a bookshelf, Hannibal gave him his back. “What do you talk to your other patients about?”
“You’re hardly my average patient, Hannibal.”
From the window, Hannibal watched a couple holding hands. “I suppose not.”
“I haven’t seen you on the river.”
Hannibal bristled. “I quit the club.”
“I thought you liked rowing.”
A cup of tea grew cold next to the sofa where Hannibal took a seat. “I’ve got other things.”
“Things that don’t involve socializing.”
Regarding him cooly, Hannibal lobbed back, “Some do.”
Doctor Michaels pressed. “You’re withdrawing.”
A lump jabbed in his throat. “Some people are more introverted than others.”
The doctor leaned back. “True.”
“Perhaps you needn’t worry then.”
“Is that what I’m doing? Worrying?”
Hannibal’s shield fell. He felt wounded. Foolish. “You’re doing your job.”
“I’m trying to help you. I do worry about you, Hannibal.”
His chest tightened. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine.”
He could feel his heart thump. Fight or flight. “I will be.”
“Will you tell me what it is?”
And just like that, Hannibal saw him. That look when he pulled away. One kiss. One stupid drunken kiss. His eyes dropped to his hands.
It had felt so right. It wasn’t just him. Will wanted it too. He could feel it. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“When you’re ready -”
Tears threatened to fall any second. Hannibal hefted his bag as he stood. “I think we’re done for today.”
The warmth in his voice only made the ache worse. He wasn’t Will. “I’ll see you next week.”
Chapter 7: Wreckage, Part 2
Another follow up to One Black Ribbon
Will stayed inside the whole weekend. He barely ate, failed at throwing himself into his work. Self-rebuke would have to do.
The voice followed him from room to room. Why had he let it get this far? What was he thinking?
Are you that vain? So desperate you’d lead on a child?
It couldn’t be. That wasn’t him. This wasn’t him. This whole mess. He wasn’t the one who pushed. He hadn’t done anything wrong.
You kissed him back.
It was instinct.
You liked it.
You wanted more.
He bent over the sink, steeling himself for a look in the mirror. He’d just have to meet the problem head on. It couldn’t happen again. No matter how cruel, he’d just have to tell Hannibal once and for all. There’s no us. There never will be.
His bed should have been a sanctuary, but -
Just for tonight.
Will curled around his pillow, clutching the black ribbon.
I love you, Will.
No. No one loves me …