Actions

Work Header

Salome

Work Text:

Will isn’t late.

Hannibal had prepared for the fact that he might be, given his lack of enthusiasm about attending the opera tonight. But he hears Will’s station wagon pull into his driveway at seven o’clock precisely, and the doorbell chimes a moment after. Will always surprises him.

Will is lost in his own mind when Hannibal opens the front door, staring into the glassy sheets of rain that started sometime in the last few minutes. Water droplets cling to his hair and are flecked liberally across his glasses when he turns.

“Not ideal weather for a night out,” Will says in lieu of a greeting, his lips twisting into the approximation of a smile Hannibal has seen many times — usually in their sessions when he broaches a subject Will doesn’t want to discuss. Will has skipped right past traditional greetings, his words hovering somewhere between familiarity and rudeness. Of course, his particular brand of rudeness has always delighted Hannibal. His answering smile is the genuine article.

“On the contrary,” he replies, matching Will’s tendency to cut through preliminaries. “Moody weather is the ideal for operas, particularly those of an Expressionist bent. It blurs the lines between belief and reality. Good evening, Will.”

Will nods and attempts to shake the lingering water from his long wool coat before he steps inside. Hannibal is almost certain it’s the nicest article of clothing he owns, even if it is only department store quality and tragically untailored. But he suspects that Will’s clothes would look slightly ill-fitting even if he had them tailored exquisitely. His discomfort in his own skin wouldn’t allow even the most beautiful suit to fall and breathe as it should.

But it doesn’t matter; Will looks more than presentable, despite the fact that his removal of a damp scarf reveals a semi-casual suit like the ones he lectures in at the FBI Academy. In fact, Hannibal’s positive that he’s seen this particular combination of plaid shirt, brown suit jacket, and dark tie at one of his lectures in the past.

He glances down at his own attire for the evening, a deep blue three-piece suit he usually reserves for professional situations. He’d decided to forego black tie this evening, a concession to the fact that he is certain Will has never owned a tux in his life.

He can't remember the last time he dressed to match someone else. The fact that it isn’t unpleasant is something of a surprise.

“Are you ready?” Will asks, his tone brusque, but not sharp or impatient. Just to the point, as always. He hunches forward to clean his glasses against his shirt. His hair, Hannibal notes, is still speckled with water, and the moisture is coaxing the natural curls out of the orderly way he’s brushed it.

“I’ll get my coat,” he answers, and retrieves a single umbrella from the coat closet along with it.

===

Will isn't enthusiastic about classical music in general or the opera in particular, but he doesn’t protest when Hannibal accompanies the soft patter of rain against his Bentley’s windows with the local classical station. A swelling chorus of strings blurs with the tap of the rain — it’s Barber, if he’s not mistaken. This is a familiar pattern between the two of them. Hannibal picks the music and keeps the volume low; Will doesn’t object.

Will never protests Mahler or Chopin or Mozart during their dinners or post-therapy talks. Hannibal watches the rhythmic swipe of the windshield wipers, pulsing just ahead of the beat emanating from the speakers, and wonders, just for a moment, what Will would object to.

He tolerates, at least. And that's tantamount to preference for Will, who, Hannibal knows, prefers silence to music overall.

Tolerance is usually about as much as Hannibal can hope for when it comes to his musical preferences. The harpsichord and theremin, his instruments of choice, are rarefied instruments, and well off the beaten paths of musical taste. But then, Hannibal has always preferred playing and listening to music as a solitary activity. Alana is the rare exception to his usual practice; she actively enjoys many types of music, from classical to experimental.

And yet Hannibal has no particular wish to attend an opera in her company.

He has, however, been cajoling Will in that direction for the past few days. He glances at Will’s hands curled loosely in his lap; the skin of his knuckles is scabbed and healing now. It had been broken and bandaged in gauze the day he’d asked him to attend tonight’s performance of Salome. Will’s face now is almost as blank as the moment he’d agreed.

He’s been carrying a peculiar energy with him ever since he was released from the BSHCI. At first, Hannibal could identify it very definitely as righteous anger and dangerous intent. But now…

Now he glances at Will’s face, peppered with the sliding shadows of raindrops and only half-illuminated by the flash of streetlights, and he can’t trace the tension between his brows to its source. Now he tugs at that strings of Will’s mind and can’t see every connection. It’s perplexing, slightly troubling, and quite possibly the most thrilling experience Hannibal can recall. But Will is physically relaxed, and one of the threads of his hidden thoughts is clearly something friendly toward Hannibal, so he resolves to continue pondering the situation in the future and simply enjoy it for tonight.

A few minutes’ drive carries them from the neatly trimmed greenery of the suburbs to the narrow one-way streets of downtown Baltimore, glazed with rain and shining gold and red in the parade of headlights and brake lights. The Lyric Opera House is a beacon on the street where it resides, its sign glowing a brilliant white above the warmer light of two stories’ worth of windows below.

Hannibal pulls into the Opera’s parking deck and finds his reserved parking space on the first level, directly beside the exit that will lead them to the entrance proper. Will raises an eyebrow at the sign affixed to the concrete wall in front of them. Reserved for Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

“I would ask how much you have to donate annually to get this kind of treatment,” he starts as he unbuckles his seatbelt and reaches for the door handle. His voice echoes when he climbs from the car. “But I’m not sure I want to know.”

Hannibal smiles at Will’s sharp humor, feeling a surprising burst of relief that it isn’t the barbed and accusatory variety he’s grown so used to in the past weeks. Humor for enjoyment rather than as a brand of defense is a step in the right direction for Will — and for him.

“An investigator of your caliber can deduce the truth easily enough, I’m sure,” he replies, allowing a smile to spread over his face as he gathers his black umbrella from the floorboard. “But perhaps you’re right. Stay blind, Will.”

Will snorts and doesn’t look at him as he rounds the front of the car, pushing his hands deep into his pockets. Hannibal turns to lead the way out of the parking garage, but Will matches pace with him.

“I donate obscene amounts of money to the local opera company to save myself a little walking,” he says in a monotone. “This is my design.” His lips twist into the first genuine smile he’s displayed tonight and Hannibal almost pauses to savor it. But Will’s enjoyment of moments is directly proportional to how much he is being stared at, so he refrains, with some little difficulty. He can’t entirely repress his smile.

“I was motivated more by my love for the arts than by a dislike of walking,” he reproves lightly. He toys with the idea of an admission, decides in favor of it. “And by the prospect of a private box.”

“Is that all?” Will snorts again, using the question as a comment. “Well at least I know we didn’t get the cheap seats.” The rain shimmers when they emerge into the chill of the wind outside. The entrance is just ahead and around the corner, but there is no cover from the persistent drizzle.

Will’s lingering grin drops from his face when Hannibal opens the umbrella and gestures for him to share it, but he doesn’t object. Not verbally, at any rate. Hannibal feels his reluctance in the stiff set of his shoulder where it presses against his. He wonders whether it’s leftover distrust or resentment.

Or whether the Abigail wound has begun to ooze again.

He doesn’t indulge much in regret, so it’s all the sharper when it strikes him like a knife forced through skin and bone. He thinks of Abigail, resting safely in his home, likely reading one of the books he’d brought her, waiting for him to tell her how the evening went. She is always eager to hear about Will; it’s been so long since she’s seen him.

It won’t be much longer now until such underhanded dealings are unnecessary between the three of them. Until they can be together and speak openly about all that has happened.

For the space of their march to the door, it seems like strangely cold comfort.

Will breaks away from him at the door. Water pools in slow-spreading stains against the sidewalk when Hannibal shakes the rain from the umbrella and leaves it with the doorman along with his coat.

===

The lobby is almost as long and as high as the auditorium beyond it, although it’s considerably more shallow. The air is a little too warm, given the convergence of the laboring climate control and the ambient body heat of several hundred patrons scattered around the various bars, sofas, and armchairs. There is a great deal of money apparent in the suits and gowns around him, if not much taste. The air is thick with clashing colognes and perfumes, some cheap and some lavishly expensive, and Hannibal works to tune out the dizzying combination. It isn’t difficult to locate Will even in the cacophony of sensation. With his dark, simple clothes, his unruly hair, and his grim aura, Will pierces the cloud of perfume and jewels like a stone sinking through crystalline water.

Will has gone distant again. He's curling in on himself, closing the doors to shut out everyone and everything, all with no physical indication aside from the hunch of his shoulders and the fact that he is staring resolutely out the ten-foot window beside him. Even the happily milling crowd has left an empty semicircle around him, as though repulsed by barriers unseen.

He wonders if Will is aware of how powerfully he projects his moods, how instinctively people respond to them. How much he stands out in this or any crowd, not because he is broken, as he suspects, but because he is so completely more.

Hannibal crosses the barrier.

“Would you like a drink?” he asks, speaking quietly, just a gentle tap against the ice that has frozen solid around Will in the last few moments. “Some champagne, perhaps?”

Will rouses himself from whatever he sees in the rain outside, blinking rapidly before pushing his glasses higher to squint at the nearest bar. His eyes wander speculatively across the colorful array of bottles behind a smartly-dressed bartender, but his expression turns sour when they finally wander to the price list.

“I’m fine,” he mutters, and while his attempt at maintaining a neutral tone and expression might be passable to strangers, Hannibal is acutely aware that he is prevaricating with a vengeance. For just a moment, he remembers Will before the encephalitis and the BSHCI. He remembers gradual trust and genuine smiles and open confessions. He remembers when Will felt safe enough to tell him the truth.

Regret slashes at him again, brief and blinding as the flash of the society photographers’ cameras in one corner of the cavernous lobby.

It passes.

Every step of this journey has been necessary, and Will is well along the road of discovery. Soon, their road will be entirely the same. He will see those smiles again. And they will be all the more beautiful for being founded on so much more than ignorance.

Still, he is grateful for the interruption when an usher bobs up beside them, brandishing a gleaming tray and two flutes of champagne.

“For you, Dr. Lecter,” the young man says, smiling politely. Hannibal recognizes the youth — Robert, if he is not mistaken — as someone who had been hired just a few months ago. He has been an excellent addition to the Lyric Opera staff. Hannibal takes the offered glass with a smile. “And for your companion,” Robert continues, extending the tray in Will’s direction.

Will’s eyebrows have all but disappeared into his increasingly curly hairline at the designation companion, but he accepts the glass without a fuss. “Thank you,” he says evenly. Robert nods and disappears into the sparkling crowd.

Will studies the flute of bubbling champagne as though it’s a piece of evidence that defies categorization. “Let me guess,” he says at last. “Another perk of the obscene donations.” Hannibal is relieved by the life seeping back into his tone.

“You may draw your own conclusions,” he returns, lifting his glass in a brief mock toast. Will drinks with him when he lifts the flute to his lips. He can’t be completely certain — Will is a persistent enigma — but he feels sure Will is bemoaning the relatively low alcohol percentage of champagne when he fixes the bubbles with a sharp stare as he lowers his glass.

“So,” Will starts, sounding a little distant, still, but rapidly returning to himself and to Hannibal. “What are we seeing?”

Salome,” Hannibal replies, gesturing to the bright banner hanging from the balcony overhead. It’s a sensual and harrowing image the artist has chosen: a nearly nude woman clutching a severed head. The title appears in flowing letters, smooth and red enough that it isn’t quite clear whether they are formed from a flowing veil or a long, fluid trail of blood.

Will’s eyebrows have nearly disappeared again. “That looks…interesting,” he declares at last, looking to his champagne as though it will offer answers to the questions marching across his face. Hannibal preempts them.

“You are familiar with the story?”

“The Biblical account,” Will nods.

“Ah,” Hannibal comments, pausing to sip at his champagne. “This is slightly different. And a definite improvement, dramatically speaking. Based on the play by Oscar Wilde. It was originally penned in French, but there have been many English translations. I prefer the original French myself, although the German libretto has a satisfying edge. Perhaps you’ve read it?”

Will just blinks at him in answer.

“In that case, I couldn’t possibly spoil the ending,” Hannibal demurs, smiling into his glass.

“Hannibal, there you are!”

Will’s grimace surfaces alongside Hannibal’s most charming smile. “Good evening,” he greets warmly, turning to nod at the older woman who, unlike most of the room, is exquisitely — if provocatively — dressed. Her plunging neckline and elegant opera gloves are accentuated by precisely the right amount of jewelry and her perfume is understated and delicious. Gail Komeda has chatted amiably with Hannibal before and after performances for many years, and he has always enjoyed the diversion. Her mind isn’t as sharp as he would like, but taste and social grace are such a rare combination that he is more than satisfied with her presence in his social circle.

Her smile sharpens when her eyes fall on Will, who has edged back a step and become absorbed in contemplating his champagne. Hannibal is suddenly aware that he is being used as a human shield and is inexplicably delighted by the fact.

“Hannibal,” she chides, “Aren’t you going to introduce your friend?”

“Yes, of course,” he replies instantly, turning back to place a hand on Will’s shoulder. Will steps forward, looking hunted behind a brightly false smile. “This is Will Graham. He is a newcomer to the world of opera. You must help me convert him.”

Will’s gaze flashes darkly in his direction before he reaches out to shake her hand. “Nice to meet you —“ he trails off, and retracts his hand too quickly when it is released.

“Mrs. Komeda,” she supplies, eyeing him with an open mixture of appreciation and curiosity. Will retreats half a step, and Hannibal plants himself just slightly between the two of them. If Will’s social discomfort has the pleasing side effect of keeping him cemented at Hannibal’s side, he certainly won’t discourage it.

“She never offers her first name to new acquaintances,” he explains to Will, smiling in her direction. “A true adherent to old social mores.”

“I’m no Victorian,” she objects coyly, and Hannibal thinks that she is absolutely correct. Her sharply bobbed hair is much more reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties. “What is it that you’re always saying, Hannibal? The importance of maintaining a little mystery. Speaking of which,” she pauses and regards Will again. In his periphery, Will looks as though he’s trying not to fidget. “In all the years I’ve known you, I can’t recall you ever attending an opera with…” she pauses, her silk-gloved fingers twisting as if to grasp for the perfect word. “…a companion.”

She’s fishing for gossip and confessions. In anyone else, it would have been invasive and supremely rude. But it is Mrs. Komeda, and he is enjoying the hint of a blush that has suddenly flooded Will’s cheeks, so he merely smiles.

“I believe you are correct,” he answers, knowing very well it’s no answer at all. Her gaze darkens in a way that is distinctly reminiscent of a shark scenting blood.

The game is interrupted when a chime sounds from the balcony above and the ushers pull open the auditorium doors. Mrs. Komeda looks extremely disappointed.

“We’re not finished with this conversation, young man,” she chides Hannibal, but her tone is affectionate. “Enjoy the performance. I’ll be looking forward to your thoughts. It was lovely to meet you, Mr. Graham,” she offers in Will’s direction, still broadcasting her curiosity quite clearly. “I look forward to hearing all about you after the performance.” She adjusts her gloves and pauses, shaking her head at Hannibal minutely. “And to think of all the time I wasted trying to convince you to take out my niece.” She turns to join the flow of the crowd.

“I didn’t realize I’d be meeting your social brigade,” Will mutters behind him, looking as though he’s been soundly kicked in the ribs. “I guess we’ll be the subject of gossip now. Under different circumstances I would apologize for that…but this one’s on you.” He punctuates his remark with a long pull of champagne. His face has gone sharp and cool again, but his sarcastic smile relaxes Hannibal’s concern that perhaps he had pushed Will a little too far. It is always difficult to smoothly navigate Will’s boundaries.

“Shall we?” Hannibal lifts his glass toward the curving staircase leading away from the lobby and up into the private boxes. Will sighs and precedes him, trailing inevitability like a cloak.

Across the lobby, Hannibal spots Sophie Komeda chatting with her aunt. She looks as vapid and over-coiffed as ever, and he can smell her insipid perfume even from this distance. Her eyes catch his as he follows Will. He smiles fleetingly and relishes her start of surprise when he shepherds Will up the stairs with a hand at the small of his back, just for fun.

===

Hannibal’s box is an opera box in name only; the auditorium was built long after the golden age of opera, and is designed to support many types of performance. The balcony seats are arranged in rising tiers, but the private boxes branch out along the walls toward the stage, organized into groups of five or six armchairs divided from each other by waist-high partitions. Hannibal misses the grandeur of Old World opera houses whenever he sets foot in American auditoriums. The velvet darkness and curtained privacy of a proper opera box is an ideal he can’t help but wish for. Particularly now, with Will sitting beside him, looking uncomfortable at being so exposed to the eyes of everyone who cares to glance in their direction. Privacy and isolation would have been ideal for Will’s first exposure to opera.

Perhaps one day he will be able to take Will and Abigail to a European performance. The thought makes the current imperfections of the experience more bearable.

Mrs. Komeda’s gossip has traveled with all the speed of a wildfire, Hannibal concludes, judging by the rapid shift of eyes in their direction. Fortunately Will is engrossed in studying the darkened set waiting onstage: the grated cistern that will serve as John the Baptist’s prison, the lavish thrones for Herod and Herodias, the wide space for Salome’s infamous Dance of the Seven Veils, and a large silver mirror hanging above to stand in for the moon. Hannibal studies the expressions of everyone who is studying Will.

There is a range of approval and disapproval, but Hannibal is almost certain that the most prevalent reaction is admiration. Will is oblivious to his looks, but the impertinently staring masses are not.

Hannibal wonders whether it's true ignorance on his part, or complete indifference, or perhaps a mental block related to old trauma. He turns the fascinating concept over in his mind and resolves to ask about it in their next session to satisfy his sudden curiosity. Will needs to get past whatever it is, and be more comfortable in his own skin.

Besides, he really has no basis for insecurity.

Will sits back slowly and scans the auditorium without really seeing it, oblivious to the appreciative looks being cast his way. His eyes focus at last on Hannibal’s program.

“I should have grabbed one of those,” he says with a self-deprecating snort. “I’m going to be lost enough as it is.”

“Take mine,” Hannibal offers immediately, extending the glossy paper that bears the same daring artwork as the banner in the lobby. It’s a great pity that it’s also marred by ads.

“Don’t you need it?” Will asks, but accepts it anyway.

“No,” Hannibal answers. “I am very familiar with the opera. And even if I wasn’t, I speak German well enough to follow along.”

“Of course you do,” Will mutters with a slightly bitter laugh that Hannibal doesn’t quite understand. But Will offers no explanation as he thumbs past the cast list and settles on the printed libretto and the English translation beside it.

“The translation will be projected above the stage,” Hannibal says.

“Thank goodness for that. We can’t all speak every language known to man.”

The orchestra in the pit before the stage begins to tune, filling the auditorium with its warm, multi-colored unison. Hannibal closes his eyes to savor the perfect timbres. He feels Will’s eyes on his face as the auditorium lights grow dim.

===

The orchestra glitters and rages in turn for the first few scenes of the one-act opera, and Hannibal is absolutely transported by the high caliber cast the standing opera company has imported from New York. The soprano performing the role of Salome is particularly transfixing, her voice carrying the tremulous moments of passion and the convulsions of Salome’s inner landscape with remarkable skill. He finds himself increasingly eager to see her version of the grand final scene.

Will seems absorbed despite himself, his eyes flicking between the action onstage and the translation projected in large letters against a screen dangling from the rafters. Hannibal watches his eyebrows knit together the first time John the Baptist is called Jochanaan.

“A quirk of the translation,” he leans close to whisper to him. It’s shockingly rude to talk during an operatic performance, but there are several empty seats between himself and the next patron; he isn’t disturbing anyone. In any case, he thinks it might be worth a little rudeness to ensure Will’s enjoyment of this experience.

Will nods, his eyes fastened to the baritone playing Jokanaan as he emerges from his subterranean cell, singing with passionate fervor about the Savior to come after him.

His fervor turns to righteous anger as Salome accosts him with her lustful propositions and declarations of love.

Lass mich deinen Mund küssen, Jochanaan, she sings far below. The projector reads, Let me kiss your mouth!

Jokanaan rebuffs her in disgust, descending back into his cell, his voice lingering after he disappears. You are accursed!

Will’s profile is gilded with the mock moonlight of the stage when Hannibal glances at him. For one strange, flickering moment, he sees Will’s face crisscrossed in prison bars as it had been months previously, his expression twisted into a disgusted sneer. The light from friendship won’t reach us for a million years.

On the stage below, Salome collapses beside the cistern in a spasm of grief. It is her first experience of desire, and it has broken her, body and soul.

===

The scenes pass rapidly, and Hannibal feels his heart rate rise ever so slightly as the time nears for Salome’s passionate final scene. Beside him, Will blinks in surprise when she begins the lengthy Dance of the Seven Veils at King Herod’s request. His jaw goes slack with astonishment as she sheds layer after layer, as sensual and provocative as Strauss’ scoring. It’s a rather tame take on the dance in Hannibal’s view. The finest performance he ever saw was in Florence, in years long past, when the soprano had ended the dance entirely nude. This production is far less daring, if still quite effective.

Salome demands the head of Jokanaan in return for her titillating dance, and Herod begs her to reconsider. There is a gleam in her eyes that mirrors the stark shine of the moon when she replies. Gib mir den Kopf des Jochanaan! she insists. Give me the head of Jokanaan!

Will’s fingers are gripping his armrests tightly and his brows are clenched together. There is a deadly silence before the executioner emerges from the cistern, carrying the severed head on a silver platter. The stage blood is shockingly bright against the gleaming metal. It drips copiously across the gauzy remainder of Salome’s gown when she lifts the head and cradles it to herself, dribbling a gory trail behind her as she crosses the stage. It is, Hannibal thinks, a reasonably realistic portrayal of a decapitation.

She begins to sing, high and almost tender, triumphing over Jokanaan and lavishing his head with affection all at once. Hannibal is so absorbed that he doesn’t realize the projector has gone dark until Will fumbles for his program and tries hopelessly to find the correct scene.

It is an unfortunate technical glitch, and one that is absolutely unacceptable at this most critical of moments. He lays a hand against Will’s arm and leans close. “Allow me,” he says firmly, and begins to translate swiftly and quietly after each phrase.

“You looked on the face of God, Jokanaan, but me you have never seen. If you had looked at me, you’d have fallen in love,” he whispers, close against Will’s ear to be heard over the passionate pulse of the orchestra.

Salome is struck through with sorrow and ecstasy, brilliant vacillations like fabric shifting its color depending on the light. Will can’t look away from the blood on her dress, her hands, her face, as Hannibal continues.

“I’m thirsting to drink your beauty. I hunger to taste your flesh. No wine nor fruit could banish all my fevered longing. What shall I do now, Jokanaan? All the rivers, all the surging waters cannot quench the fire of my desire and longing. Oh, but why did you not look at me? If you’d but once looked at me you would have fallen in love. I know for sure you would have fallen in love.”

The soprano’s voice drops so deep that it’s almost jarring after the previous soaring heights. “The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.”

Herod rages and the stage is plunged into partial darkness as he sweeps offstage, his servants dousing the lights at his command. Only the moon shines now, its pale light illuminating Salome and the head she still clutches as she stares into its sightless eyes. The pools of shadow and the drifting haze of her gown obscure her motion when she leans down to kiss the lifeless lips.

“Now I have kissed your mouth at last, Jokanaan,” he translates as she rejoices, her joy edged with the sheen of madness. “There was a bitter lingering taste upon your lips. Could it be blood I taste? No! For perhaps it’s the taste of love…”

Her final words blossom into a beautiful, decadent love theme, buoyed up by the romantic swell of the orchestra. Hannibal has to speak almost loudly to be heard over it. “But what of that? What of that? For I have kissed your mouth at last, Jokanaan. Yes, now I have kissed your mouth.”

The moment of joy is shattered abruptly when Herod returns, horror apparent in the way he is frozen at the bloody, abominable sight before him. His finger stabs in Salome’s direction as he bellows to his guards. Man töte dieses Weib!

“Kill that woman,” he whispers, but his words are drowned out by the ferocious cacophony of the orchestra, all pounding drums and stabbing horns and winds as she is killed at the height of her ecstasy by shields and spears. The stage is plunged into sudden and absolute darkness.

When the lights go up again, the audience is already on its feet. Shouts of bravo echo from every side, and Hannibal joins in when the soprano glides to the center of the stage to take her bow.

Will sits in a daze for a few moments before rising to join the applause. When Hannibal turns to look at him, Will’s face is unreadable. He raises his voice to be heard above the ovation engulfing them.

“Did you enjoy it, Will?”

“Did I enjoy a pageant of love and death?” Will returns, distantly acerbic as he stares at the trail of faux blood across the stage. “I’m not sure ‘enjoy’ is the word. Nothing very joyful about loving someone to death.”

“Ecstasy can be found in the strangest of places,” Hannibal comments as the applause resurges for the first curtain call. “Madness, obsession, even death. Perhaps you can relate to that?” he asks, edging toward his psychiatrist’s tone.

Will's eyes burn even before they meet his own, reflecting the pale, relentless light of the false moon glowing above the stage. For one breathless, heady moment, Hannibal wonders if he's going to try to kill him again.

It would be quite a way to go, at a fiery performance of Salome, with Will's hands wrapped around his throat. It wouldn't be so bad, he thinks. He might even enjoy it. Will certainly would.

But the fire smolders out and Will drops back into his chair. He takes a long sip of his neglected champagne.

“Yes,” he says at last. “I can relate to that.”

===

Will extends the program in his direction as they file out of the auditorium with the rest of the packed crowds. It’s crumpled and bent at the edges where Will has worried it compulsively between his fingers. Always so uneasy.

“I think I ruined it,” he says, somewhere between apologetic and irritable.

“Keep it. A souvenir of your first opera. Hopefully it will not be the last.”

Will nods uncertainly, glancing at the image of Salome and the tag line printed in blazing red beneath it. Passion consumes.

Hannibal considers asking Will about all-consuming passions as they leave, but decides against it in the space of a few steps. This is neither the time nor the place. And Will’s fluctuating attitude has a hair trigger tonight. As much as he loves to experiment with the pull strength of Will’s triggers, he thinks he’s had enough for one evening. He adds the question to the list he is mentally compiling for their next therapy session.

Do you have an all-consuming passion in your life, Will?

He considers what Will’s answer might be as they weave through the press of elegant concert-goers and descend the stairs. He is delighted to realize that he isn’t entirely sure. Will has never been easy to predict. He looks forward to the surprise.

And to the revelations to come.

For a moment, Hannibal delights in knowing what Will's passion will be before the man himself does, silently reveling in the thought of how his face will change when he sees Abigail alive. He imagines Will's eyes burning, still, but the flames consuming a new fuel. He will burn, not for revenge or reckonings or death, but for life. Their life, together. A secret smile passes over his face before he tucks it away.

Will eyes the bottles behind the nearest bar with longing as Hannibal steps up beside him. Mrs. Komeda has emerged across the lobby, and he can see her sharp eyes looking for them both. A blast of cold air snakes through the open doorways as the glittering crowd begins to trickle out. Will’s longing look only intensifies when he directs it at the glass doors.

Hannibal looks at Mrs. Komeda, smiling and waving at him now, and back at Will, who appears tired but not unhappy. He wonders how long it will be before Will trades his studied neutrality for active happiness.

It’s a process he would like to expedite, starting tonight.

“Ready to go?” he asks, waving at an usher he recognizes and gesturing toward the nearby rack of coats. The usher rushes away to retrieve theirs.

Will blinks at him in surprise. “Don’t you have social obligations to attend to?”

“They can wait,” Hannibal answers simply. “You cannot.”

Tension flickers across Will’s face, but his shoulders drop, as though he’s been relieved of a heavy burden. “Thanks,” he says, and his voice is flat but genuine.

Hannibal rests a hand on Will’s shoulder and leaves it in place until the usher returns with their coats. It’s the first time since he washed and bandaged Will’s bloodied knuckles that he hasn’t flinched from physical contact.

The sudden ease between Will and himself is spellbinding as they step out into the chilly, rain-cleansed air. The sidewalks are slick and puddled, but the rain has stopped and the night is quiet. The stars have emerged overhead, their white light putting the Lyric Opera’s glowing sign to shame.

Will looks calm and unburdened beside him.

Salome is considered a tragedy,” Hannibal says into the comfortable silence. “I prefer to think of it as a grand romance.”

Will snorts. “I’m not sure kissing a severed head and being crushed to death is a romantic ending.”

“Not conventionally, perhaps. But Salome knew love for the first time, and consummated it in grand fashion. Her joy overflowed even in death.”

Will pauses for a moment, his breath swirling in a white cloud of vapor as he looks at the stars. “So you don’t think she felt the shields and the spears?”

“I think she was ecstatic to the end. And that is no tragedy.”

“But getting exactly what you want can be,” Will rejoins quietly, and pulls his eyes from the stars to stare at the sidewalk as he strides ahead.

Hannibal follows him.

Will is not as well-versed in classic literature as he could be, and Hannibal wonders whether he is aware that death and love go hand in hand in the grandest love stories. It is a well-worn path for the imagination of human beings; who would not wish to die in the throes of their greatest passion? It would be a marvelous, matchless way to go.

He finds himself mentally tracing the lines of Salome’s grandest musical moments, and listens to the voice of the soprano echo through the vaults of the Norman Chapel in his mind. One moment rises above them all, nearly glowing in the lights that pool around the skull graven in the floor.

Gib mir den Kopf des Jochanaan!

So passionate and certain of what she wanted. So undeterred by reason or decency or morality. Neither fear nor compassion could stay her.

Give me the head of Jokanaan…

His eyes trace Will’s footsteps and the ripples shivering around each one. Ever so gently, in the sudden quiet of his mind, he amends Salome’s original sentiment.

Give me Will Graham’s heart.