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A Remedy for Love

Chapter Text

There is no remedy for love but to love more.
(Thoreau)

*

Will stepped into the echoing men’s room of the Lyric Opera House. Hannibal waited for him next to the sinks, hands clasped behind his back. Apart from him, the room was empty. The music followed them in, muffled but rising.

"I didn't think you were serious," Will said.

"La Bohème is not my favorite opera. And I believe the experiment is worth undertaking."

"I'm not sure—" Will stopped and swallowed. One touch was all it took to convince him, just Hannibal’s hand in the center of his chest. "I got my test results back."

"Did you," Hannibal murmured. "And you are aware of mine. Is that a request, then?"

"You said—"

"That I would be able to smell it on you."

Will nodded quickly. He let Hannibal take his hips, maneuver him back into the largest stall, and shut the door behind them.

"Are you sure?" Hannibal asked softly. "A condom might be wise under the circumstances. You'll be such a mess without it."

"I want … I'm sure."

"Do you want them to know?" Hannibal pressed him up against the wall and held him there, hands on his shoulders, cheek against his, hot breath on the side of his neck. "How deep does this vein of exhibitionism run?"

"It's not – I'm not. God." Will ducked his head and ground his forehead into Hannibal's shoulder. "I don't really want them to know, but …"

"But you like the idea of it." Hannibal turned him, and Will braced his hands against the wall while Hannibal unfastened his pants. "The more thoroughly they see you as my possession, the better you like it."

Will didn’t deny it.

Hannibal slid two fingers over his hole. His breath faltered at the first slick touch. "Will—"

Will pushed back and took his fingers in, body already stretched and aching for it. He'd done it after his shower, before the tuxedo, one foot up on the edge of the bathtub.

Hannibal’s free hand tightened on his hip. "You said you didn’t think I was serious."

Will looked back at him. "I never know with you. I wanted to be ready. Just in case."

Hannibal’s touch left him, and he heard the sound of a zipper. Seconds later, Hannibal laid a hand against his back to steady him as he pressed his cock into Will's body. Will groaned, accustomed to Hannibal’s bedroom or his own house in the middle of nowhere. It echoed off the tiles, and he shut his mouth with a snap.

"I'd rather hear you," Hannibal said.

"Would you rather have everyone else hear me too?"

Hannibal bent over him and nuzzled along his neck. "I can think of worse things."

"I thought you'd be—" He stopped with a gasp as Hannibal drew back and then slammed into him. "Fuck. More possessive. Or at least more worried about getting thrown out."

"What fun is there in having something if you can't show it off?" Hannibal murmured in his ear. He straightened and held Will’s hips tightly. "Brace yourself against the wall."

He barely gave Will enough time to obey before he was thrusting in with enough force to make Will’s feet slide on the floor and his hands skid on the cool tile. One thrust after another, jarring, deep, pulling noises from Will that half shamed and half excited him.

He bit his knuckles and closed his eyes, forearm and temple pushed against the wall. "Am I really something for you to show off?"

"You are the loveliest thing I own."

"Oh, God. Hannibal—"

Outside, a clear soprano voice soared above the swelling music. Hannibal pulled him upright against his chest and spoke into his ear, just above a whisper, words wound through the notes. "Dressed just as I please, letting me do as I like with your body. In a few minutes, we’ll join the throng for intermission and you will smell of sex and my semen on your skin."

Will moaned and wrapped a hand around his cock as his pants slid further down his thighs. "You have to fuck me again when we get home. You have to."

Hannibal worked his hips in short thrusts, grinding into Will’s body. "Will you need it? Even after this?"

"Yes, fuck, need it. I need you, please, Hannibal—"

"If I stopped right now, you’d still feel it at work tomorrow."

"You’d better not."

"You want more?"

"I always want more of you." That was the truth, even when they spent the afternoon together in bed, drowning in each other’s touch. Even when he felt saturated by Hannibal’s presence and attention to the point of intoxication. He was used to craving solitude. This was new. He thought it must be new for Hannibal too.

"Then you shall have it. Anything you want, Will. Anything it's in my power to give you."

It made Will grope for his hand and moan through his teeth at the same time. A perilous combination of tenderness and arousal filled his chest. He knew Hannibal meant it. Anything. "Just you," he said.

Hannibal wrapped his arms around his chest and stomach and fucked him as slowly as if they were alone in bed with the whole night ahead of them. Murmured words in his ear, soft touches, gentle kisses pressed along the line of his throat.

When Will came, it was the inevitable spilling over of a dam rather than burst concrete and destruction. Hannibal held him on the edge for so long that he was useless afterward, nearly shaking as Hannibal finished inside him.

They swayed together. Will left it entirely up to Hannibal to get them reasonably clean and presentable. When they were zipped up and tucked in and Hannibal had made an attempt to tame Will’s hair, they still lingered. Hannibal stroked over his cheek, clean-shaven again tonight, and kissed him. Will pressed close. He spread out his hands at Hannibal's waist and felt the rise and fall of his breath, expansion and contraction, still a little fast.

"May I ask a favor?" Hannibal said. 

"You picked a good time for it." 

"It's a big favor." He bent his head to Will’s neck. His teeth scraped across Will's skin.

Will shivered. "Your odds are pretty good. What is it?"

"Let me pack for you when we go to Venice."

"What?"

Hannibal kept up his attentions to Will’s neck, soft kisses and little nips. "Not your personal items, of course, but the clothes. Let me choose. Or buy what you need while we’re there."

Will stared at the wall opposite. A dozen replies crowded into his head at once. 

Hannibal pulled back to look at him. "If you're hesitating because it would make you uncomfortable, then of course you must say no. But if it's because you think you shouldn’t—" 

"Yes," Will said. "Yes, okay. Do it." 

Hannibal pressed a hard, swift kiss to his mouth. "Thank you, Will."

"You’re not supposed to thank me for letting you buy me stuff."

"But I am grateful." Hannibal lifted his head to listen to the music. "Intermission will be soon."

"Do you regret missing it?"

"I find it difficult to regret anything that I do with you."

"That's a yes. How much on a scale of one to ten?"

"Five. Perhaps six. I think you would've liked this one."

"I’ve seen Rent."

Hannibal blinked slowly at him, eyes an indefinable fraction wider than they had been a second ago. "I hardly know what part of that statement to address first. Did you enjoy it?"

"Not really. I don't like musicals."

They stepped out of the men's room just as a wash of applause signaled the end of the first half.

"Under what circumstances did you see it?"

"I had a date, believe it or not. She wanted to go. I got tickets."

"I trust the association didn't last long."

Will bit his lip against a grin. "You are such a snob."

"You admitted you didn’t like it."

"I’m not sold on opera either. Not that much difference really. They’ve both got people standing around on stage in fancy costumes singing for no reason."

"You’re only saying that to irritate me."

“I’m saying it because it’s true. Irritating you is just a bonus.”

They made their way to the lounge, Hannibal’s hand a light and constant presence on Will’s back. He’d gotten used to it, as he’d gotten used to Hannibal, to the point where the absence of either sometimes struck him at odd times. Alone in the shower in the morning. In class. Walking the dogs in boot-sucking mud that Hannibal would not appreciate, no matter what he said about his willingness to try.

The bartender in the lounge had their drinks ready. Scotch for Will, champagne for Hannibal. It gave Will a lurking feeling of unease, as did most of the luxuries Hannibal took for granted.

Hannibal raised his glass casually for a toast and then raised his eyebrows as Will looked away without responding. "Is there a problem?"

"Just more used to being at the other end of the social ladder.”

“Even now? You’re not a child living on the edges of poverty anymore. You’re a professional at the top of your field.”

"As far as anyone here knows, I’m just the guy you’re fucking."

"Will." Hannibal drew his name into a sigh.

Will glanced at him, not quite smiling. "That was the face I was going for when I called your operas musicals."

"Appalling," Hannibal murmured.

"Your eyebrow twitches. Just a little. The left one."

"Appalling child."

"That’s what you get for—" He stopped short.

"For spoiling you so dreadfully?" Hannibal said. He pulled Will in closer, hand at his waist. "I can’t bring myself to regret it."

Will looked down at his drink and leaned into Hannibal’s body. "Hasn’t been very long yet."

"No, it hasn’t. I have a great deal of work still to do."

Will couldn’t answer that. He was saved from having to try by the vibration of his phone in his pocket. He took it out and straightened, pulling away from Hannibal. "I’ll be back in a second."

"Must you?"

"It’s Jack." Will took the call as he made his way out of the lounge and into the hall outside, where it was marginally quieter.

"Where are you?" Jack said.

"Out. What’s going on?"

Jack paused, maybe adjusting to the idea of Will having a life. It’d been an adjustment for Will too. "We have a body. Organs missing. Zeller thinks it’s the Ripper."

"You don’t sound sure."

"We usually find his fresh. This isn’t fresh. How soon can you get here?"

Will entertained a brief fantasy of telling Jack he couldn’t, that he had plans for the evening that didn’t include mutilation and missing organs. And then he got the address and hung up.

In the lounge, he found Hannibal chatting to an older woman and a man with a red walrus mustache. He put a hand on Hannibal’s shoulder to get his attention.

Hannibal slid an arm around his waist to catch him close while he finished his sentence and then turned toward him. "You’re going to tell me you must leave."

"Yeah. I’m sorry."

"If you must, you must." Hannibal pulled the valet ticket from his pocket and handed it to him. "Take the car. I can get a taxi home."

"I can get a cab."

"And leave yourself stranded at whatever ungodly site Jack’s called you out to? No, you must take the car."

"Are you sure?"

"Just be sure you bring it back afterward," Hannibal said, and his tone left no doubt that it wasn’t the car that Hannibal wanted to see at his house before the night was over.

Will swallowed. "I don’t know how late I’ll be."

"Never mind. You have a key. Wake me when you get in."

It felt incredibly strange, even daring, to be doing this little relationship dance in front of other people. Their audience seemed to be both entertained and faintly scandalized.

"Okay," Will said. "Thanks. It’ll be a lot easier this way."

"It’s only sensible." Hannibal leaned in for a kiss.

Will expected something brief and perfunctory. Instead, Hannibal reeled him in still closer and teased Will’s mouth open with his tongue, hand at the center of his back to keep their bodies pressed together. Will clutched at him for balance. His flare of irritation was immediately overwhelmed by heat, and he let Hannibal kiss him until he had nearly forgotten their audience, the opera, and even the body waiting for him.

Hannibal stroked his knuckles across Will’s cheek as they parted. Will knew he was blushing and tried to summon up at least enough irritation to call Hannibal on his behavior, but – but he was leaning in for another kiss instead, dizzy and happy and all too aware that he’d have to snap himself out of it much too soon.

Hannibal did it for him. "Go on," he said, with one more kiss to the corner of Will’s mouth. "I’ll see you at home."

Will went, the back of his neck burning and half the people in the room staring and his heart so light he felt it might float up out of his chest.

*

The body had been left in a small house in a Hagerstown suburb, brick with white trim, surrounded by scraggly evergreen bushes. Beverly met him at the tape and stared.

"Will Middle Name Graham, did you seriously just rock up to a crime scene in a Bentley and a tux?"

"I was at the opera," Will said.

Her mouth was actually hanging open. She closed it and then opened it again immediately. "Are you fucking with me? If this is a prank, A-plus, good job."

"Hannibal—"

"Oh, Hannibal," she said, as if that explained everything. "But still. Wow. Look at you."

"Rather not." He was pretty sure he could feel dried semen on the inside of one thigh. With Hannibal, in his glittering world, that might’ve been exciting. Okay, definitely would’ve been. Standing next to Hannibal and feeling it, knowing Hannibal could smell it, knowing they’d do it all over again when they got back to his place.

At a crime scene, it was just itchy.

"Well, come look at the body then."

"Is there a third option?"

She gave him a wincing sort of smile but led him inside anyway, where the reason for the wince became immediately apparent. The smell was worse than usual.

The living room furniture had been shoved against the walls, a rug bunched up on top of the leather sofa. The wooden floorboards had been pried up.

The body lay between the joists, dismembered and arranged more or less in order. The abdominal cavity was an empty hole. Everything else had been covered in flowers. Dead, shriveled roses and daisies and peonies filled every inch of space between the joists from wall to wall.

"Where’s the head?" Will asked.

Beverly pointed. "The wife said it was under her favorite chair."

The head stared straight up, resting on a bed of rose petals. Maggots crawled in the eye sockets and around the lips.

"Is she a suspect?" Will asked.

Jack came to stand beside him. "She’s in the clear. She’s been in China for a month on business. Says she came back to an unholy stench and bulging floorboards."

Zeller popped up from behind the sofa. "And when she got someone to pull them up, there was hubby. He’s been down there about a week. He was supposed to be on a hunting trip."

Will looked over the scene. He walked from one side of the room to the other to check all the angles, but he kept coming back to the head.

In the background, he was aware of Jack clearing people away, of Price’s voice talking about mold growing where the blood had soaked into the wood, and then he was alone.

He watched the killer dismember the body on a plastic sheet and tuck him into the floorboards. Sleeping underneath the family home. The head placed just so, smiling up at the memory of love. When he returned to the present, he felt Jack standing just behind him, drawing breath to speak.

"Okay, who brought the Bentley?" Zeller said.

Jack let out his breath in a sigh. Beverly pointed at Will.

"It’s not mine," Will said.

"It’s amazing," Zeller said, which was the most enthusiastic Will had ever heard him be about anything that didn’t involve human remains. "Is that the Arnage?"

"I … have no idea."

"But where—"

"The case," Jack said. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Will?"

"If it’s the Ripper, it’s atypical."

"What are you talking about?" Zeller started ticking points off on his fingers. "The mutilation, presentation—"

"How were the organs removed?" Will said.

Zeller’s mouth twisted. "Forcefully."

"And the Ripper is usually all about care and precision."

"The cuts are precise. He might’ve ripped the organs out, but he jointed that guy like a pro."

Will squatted down next to the head. It was the head that bothered him, more than the flowers. It had the Ripper’s touch of whimsy.

Jack looked around at them. "Consensus?"

Will shrugged. "If it happens again, just like this, it’s not the Ripper. Otherwise maybe."

"Totally the Ripper," Zeller said. "We’re due. It’s been two years."

"So we’ve got a yes and a maybe," Jack sighed. "Anyone else want to weigh in?"

"I don’t think it is," Beverly said. Everyone turned to look at her. She held up one of the hands. "There’s blood under the thumbnail. It could be his own blood, but it looks like he left defensive wounds on the killer."

"So it can’t be the Ripper’s blood?" Zeller said. "He’s human. He’ll make a mistake sooner or later."

"He hasn’t so far. They never get a chance to fight back. Anyway, we won’t know until we get all this to the lab. And Will probably wants to get back to his date."

Will’s first impulse was to deny it, but there wasn’t anything else to call it. And he did want to get back. "I should return the car at least," he said.

Jack’s sigh came from the bottom of his soul. "Right. Let’s get packed up and move out."

*

Will reached Hannibal’s house shortly after one in the morning. He’d meant to leave the keys on the hall table and take his own car home but, when he let himself in, he saw Hannibal leaning in the foyer doorway.

"How was it?" Hannibal asked.

"Pretty bad. I’m gonna head home. Take a shower."

Hannibal moved forward and slid his arms around Will’s waist. "Shower here," he said.

Will pressed a kiss to his temple, and Hannibal leaned into him, warm and relaxed. The thought of the drive home was suddenly less appealing. "Were you asleep?"

"I heard the car."

"If it ever gets stolen, I have a suspect for you."

"Oh?"

Will told him about Zeller. Hannibal smiled into his neck and rested his chin on Will’s shoulder. "I’ll keep it in mind," he said. "Meanwhile, come to bed."

"I have to be at work early tomorrow."

"You have clothes here."

Will touched Hannibal’s hair and let the fine strands of it run through his fingers. He’d meant to spend the night anyway. The dogs were taken care of. He wanted to stay. He wanted to wake up with Hannibal. He didn’t want to be alone with the persistent memories of the crime scene. "Not sure I’m up to anything but sleep."

"I hadn’t thought of anything but sleep," Hannibal said.

"I won’t be a lot of fun."

"Fun isn’t a word I typically associate with you."

Will shook his head, too tired to laugh. "Okay. As long as you’re prepared."

He locked the door, and they walked up the stairs together. Hannibal held onto his hand all the way. Will nudged him over to the bed and waited until he was under the covers before heading for the bathroom.

He showered off the smell of death as quickly as he could manage, brushed his teeth, and watched himself in the mirror as the tension and adrenaline of the crime scene receded. At home, he would have ridden it all night long.

He found clean boxers in the drawer Hannibal had insisted on giving over to him, pulled them on, and got in bed.

Hannibal slid over to lie along his side, warm and heavy and solid. "What was it like?" he said.

"You sure you want to hear this?"

"You’ve never hesitated to tell me before."

Will turned to look at him. "You didn’t ask when we were in bed before. I don’t want to give you nightmares."

"You don’t need to worry about me. Haven’t I told you that before?"

"I do anyway." Will kissed him and then gave him a brief summary.

"Death just under her feet. We walk on the roof of Hell, gazing at flowers," Hannibal said.

"What’s that?"

"It’s a haiku by Kobayashi Issa. He lost three children to illness, quite young. A man who knew suffering."

Will nodded. That seemed about right. A sense of melancholy had hung in the air along with the smell. "Jack wants to know if it’s the Ripper."

"Do you believe it is?"

"No. Not really."

"Why not?"

"It’s the flower choices. Roses and daisies. Too common for him. And he doesn’t usually take all the organs. And it just … feels wrong. But none of that’s going to be good enough for Jack." Hannibal made an irritated noise in the back of his throat, and Will smiled. "What?"

"He will want you to stay."

"If it’s the Ripper, definitely." Jack would want him to stay either way, but he also understood the concept of non-refundable plane tickets. The trip to Venice was coming up more quickly than seemed possible.

"I’m aware it’s selfish of me, but I don’t wish to postpone our trip," Hannibal said.

"I’d like to say we don’t have to, but if it is him …"

Hannibal kissed his shoulder. "Yes. Of course."

They fell into silence. Will watched the shadowed ceiling and listened to Hannibal breathe until his eyes closed on their own.

*

Hannibal lay awake in the dark, fuming, though with perfectly regulated breath and heartbeat. He had deliberately passed up victims, and now some upstart flamboyant fool with no sense of measure or dignity had jeopardized their trip.

Of course Will would stay if he thought it was the Ripper. Jack would hardly have to ask. It was not to be borne.

If they wanted another body to prove it wasn’t him, then they would have one.

Chapter Text

They found the second body at a legion hall in Crystal City, Virginia.

Beverly met Will outside again. "Aw. No tux? I forgot to say, what with all the distraction and maggots, but you really clean up well." She peered at him. "Although that is a nicer than usual suit. Something you want to confess?"

"I’m not sure what you have in mind," Will said.

"Does he just tell you what to wear every morning?"

"I don’t have that many clothes at his house. And he has—"

"Ideas about that kind of thing. Yeah, you said. It’s cute. You must really like him."

Will didn’t respond. Probably the answer was obvious.

They crossed a parking lot and entered the building. Stacks of folding chairs leaned against one wall. The floor was cement with a drain in the middle, like someone’s garage. A rust-red line led from the bottom of the stage to the drain. The stage had been partially dismantled.

"Second verse, same as the first," Zeller said.

"The smell’s not as bad," Beverly said.

"The space is bigger. And this one’s fresher."

Will moved forward until he could see the body. The flowers this time were nearly pristine: pink carnations and baby’s breath. Beverly and Zeller’s voices faded as they moved off, leaving him alone. He closed his eyes. In his mind, he took a step back.

"Will?" someone said. Not Beverly and not Jack and therefore probably not important.

A hand gripped his upper arm. "Will Graham? What the hell are you doing here?"

Will opened his eyes and yanked himself free. The man who had grabbed him still stood too close. He was tall, clean cut, with a blue suit and red tie. As Will stepped back, the man looked past him to the stage and all color fled from his face. He turned his back on the body.

"Do I know you?" Will said.

The man swallowed hard and glanced sideways at him. "It is you, isn’t it? Hannibal Lecter’s goddamn high school teacher?"

Will blinked, and memories of the opera poured across the front of his mind. "Mark Carson."

"I work for—"

"Senator Deering. I remember. Sir, this is a federal crime scene." Will looked around and saw Jack striding toward them, parting forensic techs like the Red Sea.

"Mr. Carson," Jack said. "I believe I asked you to follow Agent Horne—"

"Agent Crawford, what is this man doing here?"

Jack glanced at Will and back to Carson. "What’s the problem?"

"I had to make about fifty fucking calls to get past the yellow tape. I thought I was going to have to call the senator out of her dinner at the White House."

"Proper clearance—" Jack started.

"Screw proper clearance. The senator was supposed to speak here tomorrow. I have every right to know what the hell’s going on and you still left me cooling my heels in the snow for an hour, but you let a fucking high school teacher just wander in to gawk?"

Jack clasped his hands behind his back. His voice was slow and calm. "Will Graham teaches criminal behavioral psychology and forensic science at the FBI Academy in Quantico. He also consults with the BAU on our more esoteric cases. If you want to have an argument about who belongs here more, I’m afraid he’s going to win."

Carson turned to stare at Will again. "You teach at fucking Quantico? Since when?"

"For about a decade," Will said.

"Unbelievable. You and Lecter both. Un-fucking-believable."

Jack leaned toward Carson and spoke quietly. "We’ve been asked to accommodate your presence here, and we are, but there are limits to my patience and you are stepping on them."

"Screw your patience," Carson snapped. "You think I’ve got time for this? I got pulled out of a meeting two hours ago and so far I haven’t heard word one about the security situation."

"I’ve spoken to the senator’s security detail. We do not currently believe that there is any threat to the senator’s life or any political motivation behind this death, but if you’d like to follow Agent Horne, I’m sure she can answer any other questions you might have."

Carson looked like he had more to say, but Jack’s face changed his mind. He swung around and followed Agent Horne off toward a side room, muttering about unfair treatment and incompetency the whole way.

Jack eyed Will.

"Hannibal introduced him to me," Will said. "He made some assumptions."

Jack watched him a second longer and then visibly shook off all interest in the conversation. "Right. What do you think of the body?"

"The Ripper doesn’t repeat himself."

"I hear a but."

Will crossed his arms and stared at the pile of limbs and flowers. "Does this seemed staged to you?"

Jack looked at Will and then, pointedly, at the stage.

“Yeah, that’s my point. This isn’t a warning about what’s right under our feet. This is performative." And that was the Ripper, through and through.

"You’re basing all that on the location?" Jack said.

"Not just that. Carnations and baby’s breath. Grocery store flowers. It’s like a parody of the first one."

"That’s what you said about Garret Jacob Hobbs’ copycat."

Will shook his head, still looking at the body. That had been contempt for the victim. This was more like contempt for the killer. "Are all the organs gone?" he asked.

"Yes. We found the first guy’s in a dumpster two miles from his house. We’ll see if any of these show up nearby."

Will nodded.

"Verdict for now?"

"I don’t know," Will said.

"That’s not good enough."

"It’ll have to be."

"I don’t want to see you letting personal distractions get in the way of your work, Will."

Will had known this was coming. He turned toward Jack and forced himself to make eye contact, to stand up straight, to give out the correct physical cues despite the sour taste of resentment that rose to the back of his throat.

"You won’t. My personal life is not up for debate, Jack."

Jack watched him for a moment and then nodded. "Glad to hear it," he said.

Agent Horne waved a despairing hand from across the room. Jack sighed and started toward her.

*

Half an hour later, Will left the crime scene and checked his watch: just after eight. It’d be late when he got home. Maybe McDonald’s on the way. Except that he was already reaching for his phone and scrolling through for Hannibal’s number. He hesitated with his thumb over the call button. It had only been two days. Maybe it was too soon.

The phone rang before he could make up his mind. He answered it. "Hello?"

"Have you eaten?" Hannibal asked.

"I was just thinking about McDonald’s."

"I wish I believed you were only saying that to gain an invitation to dinner."

"I’m an hour away."

"It will be ready when you get here," Hannibal said simply.

Will spent the drive to Baltimore caught between bloody flashes from the crime scene and the memory of the warmth in Hannibal’s voice. He tried to focus on the one and forget the other. The closer he got, the easier it became.

Hannibal’s house glowed with light, and the scent of cooking reached him as soon as he opened the front door. The tension in his chest eased. He was smiling by the time Hannibal kissed him hello.

They had some kind of French stew with carrots and potatoes and kidneys. Hannibal served it with black rye toast and sauteed chanterelles.

"One must take care in choosing organ meat," Hannibal said. "The kidneys and liver in particular. More than anything, they reflect the life of the animal."

"This one had a good life?"

"A healthy one, at least. And one that ended at its appointed time, neither too early nor too late."

"Just in time for you to eat it?"

Hannibal looked steadily across the table at him. "Indeed. And you."

"It’s good. Thank you."

"You’re very welcome. I’m glad you were able to come tonight." Hannibal paused. "Will you stay?"

Will looked down at his plate and chased the last mushroom around with his fork. "I’d like to. I shouldn’t even really be here now though. The dogs."

"Of course you must see to them."

"You—" Will paused and put his fork down, picked it up, called himself an idiot. "You could come with me. If you wanted to."

"I do. Very much."

*

They took separate cars, and they would go their separate ways in the morning but, for now, Hannibal sat on Will’s couch, dressed down in pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, and Will wanted to keep him there forever. He stood in the kitchen making coffee they were unlikely to drink, watching Hannibal besieged by dogs.

None of the dogs were ill-mannered enough to jump up, on him or on the couch, without permission, but they all knew Hannibal by now, and they liked him. At least, they liked his treats. Hannibal had a quiet semicircle of admirers staring up at him from the floor.

"I didn’t bring them anything," Hannibal said.

"Tell them that."

Hannibal hesitated for a second. "I didn’t bring you anything tonight," he said to the dogs. Three heads cocked to the right as they listened. Buster sat up and begged. "I’m not certain they believe me."

Will poured coffee and then came to let the dogs out for a last run before bed. They raced out into the night, Hannibal and his lack of sausage forgotten. Will sat on the couch and let Hannibal pull him close with an arm around his shoulders. Will bent to get his shoes off and tucked his feet up beside him.

"You spoil them too," he said.

"And I have nothing for you tonight either. Disgraceful."

"You gave me dinner." Will bit his lip and then said it anyway, almost with a straight face: "And I can think of something else you’ve got that I wouldn’t mind having."

"Appalling," Hannibal murmured and kissed the top of his head.

Will leaned harder against him. The coffee warmed his hands. He let his eyes close.

"I wanted to speak to you about that, in fact," Hannibal said.

"Hm?"

"It doesn’t have to be as one-sided as it has been. If you would prefer a more even arrangement—"

"Are you offering to let me top?"

"Do you deliberately find the least elegant way to phrase these things?"

"Only with you, I promise."

Hannibal sighed, but Will could hear the smile in it. "It’s more efficient, I suppose. Yes, that is what I’m doing."

"I would’ve said if I wanted that." Will raised his head enough to see Hannibal’s face, not that it was much help. "What about you? Would you have said something? Or is this you saying something?"

"I’m quite happy with things as they are."

"And so am I. So we’re fine." Will took a sip of his coffee and stretched over to set it down on the side table. "I’m wearing those briefs you got me."

"Which pair?"

"The black and gold ones. Surprisingly comfortable."

"You’re wearing more than that." Hannibal circled the collar of Will’s shirt with one finger, and Will shivered a little. "I believe I promised to buy you something more appropriate for work."

"These are fine."

"I think we can do better. You deserve it."

It still produced a hot spike in the pit of his stomach when Hannibal talked like that. And he was probably blushing. And undoubtedly it showed, so Hannibal could see the effect of his words, and the circle of desire closed and built upon itself.

"You never told me what they thought of your tuxedo at the crime scene," Hannibal said. And that just made it worse.

Will rubbed his palms over his thighs. "I don’t know how I feel about bringing work into this – this."

"Why don’t you consider it while you see to the dogs. You can join me in bed when you’re done."

Barefoot on the porch, Will watched his dogs race from shadow to shadow. Their eyes caught occasionally in the light from the sallow moon or the porch as they stopped to watch him and then tore off again. Work and sex were bad associations in any job. Worse in his. But the temptation to let Hannibal say anything he wanted, make any insinuation, tell Will what people thought when they looked at him—

He palmed his cock briefly through his pants and then took his hand away, feeling obscurely guilty about doing it in front of the dogs. Which was idiotic, considering what they’d already done in front of the dogs and would shortly be doing again.

He whistled for them. "Come on, guys. Inside, time for bed."

He counted them as they came in the door and then had to spend an extra minute or two calling Buster, who had got his nose into something he liked even better than Hannibal’s treats. Finally, with everyone safely curled up by the fireplace, he locked the door and checked the windows one last time.

"Are we safe for the night?" Hannibal asked. He lay stretched out on the bed, head pillowed on his arm.

"Safe as we ever are."

"Does it feel safer watching your ship from a distance than living inside it?"

"Nothing’s going to happen to it if I’m out there."

"Do you carry danger with you then?"

Will undressed and threw his shirt and socks into the hamper. And then he had to pull the shirt out and look at the label, because half the stuff Hannibal had bought him was dry clean only.

"Contagion, maybe," he said. This one could go in the washing machine. Hannibal probably sent his out. "Do you even own an iron?"

Hannibal’s laughter was loud enough to startle both Will and the dogs. They turned to stare at him as one. Hannibal held up a hand in apology.

"I’m sorry," he said, eyes still creased at the corners. "You always surprise me."

"I always amuse you." Will climbed onto the bed and pushed him onto his back to sit astride his hips.

"Often that as well, but a large part of the amusement is surprise." He reached up to touch Will’s cheek. "I have never known anyone remotely like you."

"I get that a lot," Will said, but he was leaning into the touch, eyes falling closed. He didn’t think there was anyone else like Hannibal. Couldn’t be.

Hannibal’s other hand drifted down his body to cup his cock through the black cotton of the briefs. The gold waistband rode low on his hips. Will had felt more than a little ridiculous putting them on in the morning. Even more ridiculous in the men’s room, but the odds of anyone checking out his underwear at a urinal were reassuringly low.

Hannibal squeezed lightly, and Will’s mind was jerked back to the present. Hannibal was looking up at him, once again with amusement.

"Bored already, Will?"

"Just thinking. About wearing these."

Hannibal slipped his fingers under the elastic at Will’s hip. "What else would you wear if I gave it to you, I wonder."

"Please don’t get too creative. There’s enough rumors about me at Quantico."

"The evil ogre who eats trainees. Is there any truth to it?"

"The harder I am on them, the better off they’ll be later."

"And I suppose these wouldn’t help your authority." Hannibal tugged them down over his hips and freed his cock. He curled his hand in a loose fist around it, looking up at Will.

"That purple suit you wanted to buy me wouldn’t help my authority. Pretty sure none of them want to know about my underwear." Hannibal rubbed a thumb over the head, and Will shifted on top of him, fully hard, thinking of the stall in the men’s room at the opera, of Hannibal’s cock inside him.

"And the tuxedo? Have you considered whether you wish to combine work and fantasy?"

"What about your fantasies? We don’t talk about those much."

"I was pleased when Agent Katz walked in on us in your classroom."

"You didn’t back off. At all."

"I like people to know you’re mine."

Will closed his eyes, and his hips gave an involuntary jerk against Hannibal’s hand. "God. Okay. Can we move this along? I want you inside me about five minutes ago."

Hannibal pressed the lube into his hand. "I’d like to watch if that’s all right. I feel I missed something when you prepared yourself before the opera."

Will knelt up and got out of the underwear. He turned to face away from Hannibal, to let him see everything. Hannibal palmed his ass and squeezed hard and held his cheeks apart. Will gritted his teeth at the exposure. His cock jerked against his stomach.

"Did you think of me at your crime scene?" Hannibal asked. "Could you still feel what I’d done to you?"

Will’s breath shook. He pressed in with two fingers, too much lube. It didn’t matter. They could be messy. This wasn’t the opera. It wasn’t even Hannibal’s vast bed and grand rooms where he always felt both constrained and oddly liberated. He was more himself here. Sometimes he thought Hannibal was too.

"Will?" Hannibal squeezed his hip and traced the rim of his hole with one finger.

"Wasn’t – wasn’t thinking about it. Too many severed limbs."

"Is there a limit?" Hannibal sounded amused.

"Anything more than two. Or any major – fuck – organ removal – okay, now." He twisted round to look at him. "How do you want me?"

"How do you want me to have you?"

"Hands and knees and just, God, as hard as you can. I really – I need it."

Hannibal pushed him forward onto his knees and knelt behind him. His teeth scraped at Will’s spine, and then he was pushing in all at once, no waiting, no stopping. As soon as he was in, he pulled back and started to thrust.

It was exactly what Will had asked for, hard and fast and relentless. It drove everything from his head but the feel of Hannibal filling him up and the rough quality of Hannibal’s breath behind him. Hannibal held his hips tight and squeezed, fingers pressing deep into Will’s skin.

"Would you want to fuck me at Quantico?" Will heard himself say.

Hannibal’s answer was a low, almost pained sound. The next thrust was harder, and the one after that harder still. They rocked Will’s body, and Hannibal shoved him down with a hand in the middle of his back so that his hips tipped up and let Hannibal slide in deeper.

"Oh, God," Will said. He spread his legs and pressed his cheek to the sheets. "Guess that’s a yes. In my office?"

No response except for Hannibal’s steady brutal thrusts.

"Classroom?"

Hannibal stifled a moan against Will’s back. He sucked the skin there, open-mouthed, tongue sliding across the ridge of his vertebrae.

"We could do it," Will said. He didn’t know if he meant it not, but he’d say anything to get that noise from Hannibal again. "Have to be careful about the time. Other people have keys, but like I said most people don’t—" He broke off as Hannibal found his angle and hit his prostate hard enough to cross his eyes. "Fucking – Jesus – Hannibal—"

No stopping, no slowing. Exactly what Will had asked for, because Hannibal always gave him what he asked for. It made Will burn with gratitude. It made him want to do the same in return.

"I’d let you," he said, and he meant it. "Over my desk with the door open if you want. I’d let you do anything to me."

Hannibal pushed him flat on the bed and finished inside him with a few more wild thrusts. With barely any delay, he had Will over on his back, his mouth on him, three fingers inside him and using him just as hard as he had been with his cock.

Will grabbed hold of the sheets for some tie to reality. Hannibal sucked hard and twisted his fingers, and Will came with a jolt of pleasure that pulled every muscle taut and left him boneless in the aftermath.

"Oh my God," he said to the ceiling.

Hannibal stretched out next to him and put his head on Will’s chest. "So you said. Several times."

"Yeah, but. Really."

"You said a few other things as well. Did you mean any of them?"

"We can’t do it with the door open."

"But the rest of it?"

"I’ll probably regret this. But yeah."

Hannibal tilted his head up and kissed Will’s neck and then moved closer so he could do it again and again. Long, wet, sucking kisses that would end in marks just barely concealed by Will’s collar.

Will cupped a hand against the back of his head to keep him there. He let Hannibal’s hair slide through his fingers and felt the warmth of his skin and the smooth curve of his skull.

I love you, he thought, and tried to remember if he’d ever said it out loud, to anyone. He thought of Garret Jacob Hobbs and the way the bullets had punched into his body, of Hannibal standing in the doorway just behind him. Following him inside despite the gunfire. I’d kill for you. That seemed easier, both to think and to say.

Hannibal was working his way up Will’s neck with single-minded attention, high enough now that his attentions would show. Will really didn’t want to stop him.

"You want to just get me a collar?" he said. "If found, please return to Hannibal Lecter?"

"Not amusing," Hannibal said, but he wasn’t listening to himself any more than he was listening to Will.

"Sorry. Count Hannibal Lecter, MD … am I missing anything?"

"The eighth."

"There were seven Hannibals before you?"

"Beginning with Hannibal the Grim in the thirteen hundreds, yes."

"Wow."

Hannibal looked up at him. "Don’t."

"Don’t what?"

"Do you think I don’t know that tone by now? You’re trying to think of something to irritate me."

Will yawned. "You’re safe. I’m too tired."

"Wow," Hannibal repeated, mocking, under his breath.

Will turned over to muffle his laughter in the sheets and was glad he had when it turned to overtired giggles. Wow indeed.

Hannibal smoothed a hand down his back, and then the bed shifted as he got up. Will heard water running in the bathroom. Hannibal returned with a damp cloth cold enough to make Will jump when it hit his back with a splat.

"Hey!"

The dogs all perked up their ears for a second and then settled back down. Hannibal raised his eyebrows at him. Will ignored the look and cleaned himself up. The cloth lost its icy chill toward the end, but he was still happy enough to get under the covers and pull the blankets up to his chin.

Hannibal kissed him as he slid under the sheets. Will pulled him close and leaned into the kiss. "Am I forgiven then?" Hannibal asked.

"You’re fantastic," Will said, and then buried his face in Hannibal’s neck. Not what he’d meant to say at all. He really was tired. Now that he was starting to relax, the headache that had nagged him all day was back and pulsing just behind his eyes.

Hannibal made a quiet sound of amusement. "I won’t hold you responsible for that," he said.

"Thanks."

"Close your eyes. Rest."

Will did, slumping down against his side. Hannibal got his book from the bedside table. "What are you reading?" Will asked.

"Flaubert’s letters from Egypt."

Will hesitated, but only for a second. He knew Hannibal wouldn’t say no. "Would you read me one?"

"Of course."

Will closed his eyes and listened to Hannibal’s smooth voice. Flaubert was French and, of course, Hannibal wasn’t reading them in translation. Will understood two words out of ten, but he didn’t mind. He was asleep before Hannibal turned the page.

Chapter Text

Beverly came into Will’s classroom against the flood tide of escaping students and sat herself on the edge of his desk. "Take me to lunch," she said.

"Okay."

She studied him. "Would you say okay like that, with no explanation, to anyone who waltzed in here demanding to be fed?"

"If you’re desperate enough to end up here, it’s the least I can do."

"Wow, self-esteem issues, hi there."

"It’s not like that." Will stuffed his laptop and the rest of his books into his bag and slung it over his shoulder. "I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all."

"You still have them."

He smiled at her back as she strode ahead of him down the hall. "I know."

She drove them to a nearby town and parked in a dubiously legal spot in an alley behind the restaurant. They circled around the block. A blue and gold sign hung over the door: The Hat and Hippo. Will expected a hippo wearing a hat, but the image was instead of a small hippo standing on the brim of a black trilby.

"This place is good?" Will said.

"Did you get all food snobby hanging out with Hannibal?"

"Don’t think so," Will said, though that wasn’t entirely true. Hannibal really did spoil him, with food more than anything else. The thought made his face heat a little, but that could be put down to the temperature difference as they moved inside out of the cold.

They ordered burgers and fries and fried zucchini, and Will looked at Beverly while they waited.

"What?" she said.

"What are we doing here?"

"We can’t have a friendly lunch?"

"We can, but we don’t."

Her Coke arrived. She shot the straw wrapper at him. Will crumpled it up and flicked it back at her. She chewed on the end of her straw. "I wanted a distraction," she said. "My little sister got kicked out of Dartmouth. She’s at my apartment right now, sleeping on my sofa and eating everything in my fridge and probably either crying or watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Or both."

"What happened?"

"She got caught dealing coke."

Will winced. "Ouch."

"It gets worse. She doesn’t even think it’s her fault. She thinks they’re being too hard on her and it was only a little and everyone does it and hey, what’s the big deal? Meanwhile, my baby sister’s going to be a felon, she might get jail time if the judge is feeling cranky, and she hasn’t even told our parents. Because that’s my job, apparently."

"That is worse."

"So you see why I wanted lunch."

"It’s a good meal to have when the world’s going to hell."

She smiled a little. "Especially with fries and cheesecake. So tell me about your life, because I feel like it’s going a lot better than mine."

Will poked at the ice in his own glass with the end of the straw. He hadn’t talked about Hannibal to anyone. Who would he talk to, besides Hannibal? And Hannibal thought enough of himself as it was. He found he didn’t mind the idea of it, but: "Don’t know where to start," he said.

"How about the opera?"

"He likes it. I don’t hate it, so I go with him sometimes." He paused. "Most of the time."

"In that tux. Goddamn."

"It’s all right, I guess." Hannibal had replaced the one he’d ruined so quickly that Will suspected he’d ordered two to start with. He hoped Hannibal’s tailor never found out what had happened to the first one. His mind gave him a brief flash of Hannibal on all fours over him, cutting cloth away from his body and looking at him with naked hunger.

"You’re blushing," Beverly said.

"It’s warm in here."

She chewed on her straw again and then fell on her fries when the food arrived. She pointed one at him. "He bought it for you. Or at least picked it out. But I think he paid for it too."

"Evidence?"

"You didn’t pick it out yourself. That’s pretty obvious. If he picked it out knowing you were going to pay for it, he wouldn’t have gone with that one. I don’t know that much about men’s fashion, but I’m sure there are tuxes that look decent and don’t cost a month’s rent. Which that one totally did."

Will kept his eyes on his plate. Nothing to say to that unless he wanted to lie outright, and he didn’t. He shrugged instead.

"You let him?"

"He wanted to. It’s not like I’ll ever wear it for anything else."

"If he’s making you feel uncomfortable—"

"He’s not," Will said quickly.

She studied him. "Okay. I am though. Making you feel uncomfortable."

"Most people do."

"Hannibal doesn’t."

"No. He never has."

"Well, good."

An awkward silence descended as they ate, but Will was a lifetime veteran of awkward silences. It didn’t bother him much, clearly not as much as it bothered Beverly. He saw her start to speak twice and both times shut her mouth and concentrate on her food again.

"Spit it out," he said.

"I’m trying to be polite."

"Doesn’t suit you."

She snorted and showed him her middle finger. "Fine. The shirt from before and the tux, and there’s other stuff, isn’t there? Does he have some kind of weird clothes fetish and, if so, why are you indulging it?"

This time it was Will who opened his mouth and closed it again. Finally, he said, "I’m not sure how to answer that. I wouldn’t call it a fetish."

"But a thing."

"I think you could call it a thing."

"That you put up with."

Will glanced around the restaurant for distraction and considered a tactical retreat to the men’s room. He had a feeling she’d just pick up the topic again as soon as he got out. "I don’t mind," he said.

"You seem like you’d mind, honestly. I mean—" She waved a fry around. "You know what I mean."

"We’ve talked about it. It makes him happy."

She stared.

"What?" he said.

"I don’t know. I’m trying to picture you having relationship talks with anyone and it’s sort of hurting my head."

"It usually hurts mine too."

"Not with him?" Beverly said.

Will shook his head. None of their conversations bore the anger or the desperate silences he’d gotten used to in past relationships.

"Marry him immediately."

Will had no reply for that and took a bite of his burger instead. Unfortunately, Beverly was an FBI agent.

"Wow," she said.

He kept chewing.

"You would, wouldn’t you?"

He swallowed. "Shut up."

"Are you waiting for him to ask? Because (a) you are both guys, don’t know if you noticed, so this could be a decade long standoff if neither of you makes a move and—"

"I met him two months ago."

"My parents met two weeks before my dad proposed. Forty years later, still going strong. Of course, they’re both going to keel over dead when they hear about Rachel, so that’ll be over soon."

"Are you going to tell them?"

She sighed. "Probably. I should make her do it, but it’s more trouble than it’s worth. She’s so sure she hasn’t done anything wrong. And from what I can see there’s no way to plead not guilty, and that’s what she wants to do, even though she admits she did it. She just thinks it shouldn’t matter or something? I don’t know what’s going on in her head."

"Make her call them."

"You sound pretty definite about that."

"I hear the full weight of parental disapproval is a good motivator."

"You hear?"

"My dad wasn’t around much. But if they’re going to keel over, they should do it on the phone with her, not you."

"Hm. That does seem fair," she said.

*

After lunch, they walked along the town’s main street. The sidewalks had been apathetically shoveled. Icy patches glinted in the sun and occasionally made them clutch at each other or nearby lamp posts.

"My dad’s birthday’s coming up too," Beverly said. "Nice present."

"He’ll get over it."

"You don’t know my dad."

"I know his daughter."

Beverly looked pleased and punched his shoulder.

On the next block, she pulled him into an antique store to look at an old radio in the window. "It’ll only take a second. He loves these things. There are so many radio parts in his office since he retired, it’s like he’s some weird audiophile dragon hoarding dials and vacuum tubes."

He left her talking to the owner and wandered deeper into the store. One whole wall at the back was given over to antique microscopes, binoculars, telescopes, and anything that used a lens. One telescope caught his eye.

The case was leather and brass with a design stamped on it of narwhals and polar bears and icebergs. The tag said it had supposedly been in use aboard the San Ysidro at the battle of Cape St. Vincent in 1797, which struck Will as quite a claim to make with no apparent proof. Not that it mattered. He set it back down. He didn’t need a telescope at all, and he certainly didn’t need one from the Napoleonic Wars.

He hadn’t needed a tuxedo either. Or the leather coat. Or the shoes. Or The Fly-Fisher’s Entomology. Hannibal had bought them for him anyway, and Hannibal would buy this for him too. Hannibal would be happy to buy it for him. Pleased that he’d asked. Would take him home afterward and—

Will walked deliberately away from the display. Those were not thoughts to be having when he was out to lunch with a coworker.

He made his way to the front of the store to see if she was done yet, but she and the owner were still bent over the radio and gesturing at some part of its insides that were coming out the back. Will couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or not. He leaned against the counter and looked down through the glass at a collection of embroidered gloves, small beaded pouches, old coins, rings, and knives.

Most of the rings were meant for men, relatively plain, with thick bands. The jewels, if any, were set flush to the metal. Like the bone inlay on his own. He twisted it around his finger and skimmed a nail over the smooth, white rectangles.

He could get one for Hannibal. It wouldn’t mean anything except what they decided it meant. The one Hannibal had bought for him was – well, it wasn’t a commitment. But it didn’t have to be. Hannibal had already committed himself. For the rest of his life, he’d said. Will tapped the glass with his index finger. The gold one was nice, but that was maybe too much. Too something. Probably too obvious.

"What are you staring at?" Beverly hung over his shoulder, and her eyes widened when she saw the rings. They widened more when she finally registered the one on his finger. "Did he – are you—?"

"It’s just a ring," Will said.

"And if you were getting one for him, is that all it would be?"

"Are you getting the radio?"

"Yeah. Rachel can split it with me. She’s probably got plenty of cash. From being a fucking drug dealer. Are you going to …?"

"Not today. I’m not sure he’d like these anyway."

Now that the idea had come to him, he had one in mind.

*

When Will got home that night, he headed for the kitchen without doing more than letting the dogs out to sniff in the yard. Half of them tried to follow him back in. Home meant games and food and a long walk in the fields in that invariable order, but none of them would complain about food first. He ignored the hopeful tail wagging and shooed them all out.

The drawer next to the stove was his junk drawer, full of candle ends and batteries, mystery keys and bits of wire, anything lacking a proper home. That included a zip-top bag containing his father’s birth certificate and wedding ring.

Five years ago, a woman named Lucy Barnes had called to tell him that Beau Graham was dead. She’d cried on the phone. Will hadn’t. He’d gone down to Georgia for the funeral and hadn’t cried there either. He’d met Lucy and her kids, and come away with the feeling that his father had died years ago, maybe when Will had left home. The man Lucy Barnes talked about was a different person than the one who lived in Will’s memory.

He’d tried wearing the ring himself at first, hoping for some sort of integration between past and present, but it was just a little too big and kept threatening to slide off. He didn’t think it would be too big for Hannibal.

He looked down at the ring on his own finger. It fit him perfectly. Except for showers and a few situations involving fish guts, he hadn’t taken it off, hadn’t used the chain Hannibal had given him at all. He liked seeing it on his hand.

His father’s ring was silver, tarnished and battered. Through the crinkled plastic, it looked like a piece of junk. He took it out and held it in his palm. He could buy Hannibal something nicer. But something nicer wouldn’t be this.

Later, while the dogs ate, he polished it until it gleamed. Nothing to be done about the dents, but they made it seem a good match to the one on his own finger, rough and unrefined. Hannibal wouldn’t care what it looked like if Will told him where it came from. But that would be – the word that came to mind was impossible.

He’d find someone to inscribe it. He’d give it to Hannibal without explanation. They would each have one, and it wouldn’t have to mean anything.

*

Hannibal ground sausage and packed it into carefully washed casing. The FBI had found most of his latest victim’s internal organs in a dumpster close to the legion hall where Hannibal had left them. It matched the first killing as closely as possible, but he had taken one or two things. It had seemed such a pity to waste them.

The sausage filling was, unfortunately, only a mixture of goose and pheasant, but at least the casing was more suitable for a special occasion. He had a premonition that this dinner would bring something unexpected. Will had sounded uncertain on the phone when he invited himself over, a throwback to their early acquaintance that continued to hold a peculiar charm for Hannibal.

A car pulled up outside, and Will let himself in without knocking. He had a key now. Access to everything in Hannibal’s life except the basement. He wasn’t the sort to go poking into places he hadn’t been invited. Will was loathe enough to occupy the spaces into which Hannibal had explicitly welcomed him.

"In the kitchen," Hannibal called.

"I knew that." Will leaned in the doorway, warmth in his eyes and hands in his pockets.

There was something else in his pocket too, a small box of some sort. Interesting. Hannibal ignored it. Rushing Will into anything never yielded the desired result, and Hannibal had learned patience many years ago, stalking a killer through the forests around his family’s home. Everything became a hunt when viewed from the correct perspective.

"Will you observe or participate tonight?" Hannibal asked.

"What can I do?"

"The herbs." Hannibal nodded to them, set out on a cutting board along with a knife. He would normally have chopped them as he prepared his other ingredients, but he had left them for Will, who was unable to sit still when there was work of any sort to be done.

Will washed his hands with dish soap at the kitchen sink, despite the lavender and shea butter hand soap that sat next to it. Will had never used it and in fact never even seemed to see it. He took up the knife and scraped the edge briefly over his thumb. Hannibal imagined he had picked up the habit from testing his hunting knife or perhaps the knife he used to gut his fish. It gave Hannibal a low thrill in his stomach every time. Will did an appalling job of mincing the herbs, but Hannibal would have put up with worse to see that.

"What are we eating?" Will asked.

"Saucisse minuit. A goose and pheasant sausage with a red wine reduction, to which you will be contributing the thyme."

"And the garlic?"

"And the garlic." Hannibal resisted the urge to tell him that it had to be minced finely. Chunks would not do, but they could be corrected more easily than the loss of Will’s growing comfort in his home. And perhaps more pleasantly.

When Will had finished the thyme and started on the garlic, Hannibal stood behind him and put his hand over Will’s on the knife. He guided his movements, the rock of the blade, and rested his lips briefly over the throb of blood in Will’s neck.

"You could’ve just told me I was doing it wrong," Will said, but he was smiling.

"And where would the fun be in that?"

"This is more fun?"

"Isn’t it?" Hannibal slid an arm around his waist and breathed in the scent of his hair and skin. More and more often now, Will smelled only of his dogs, of engine oil, of the peculiar miasma of the autopsy lab. Less and less of the acidic tang of fear. Now, though, something else hung under all the familiar scents: something warm and very sweet. Hannibal didn’t recognize it. For a moment, he let himself imagine that it was love.

"You have to stop sniffing me when I haven’t had a chance to shower. I know I smell like dead bodies."

"The scent of organic decay seldom bothers me. The chemicals are occasionally trying but, in this case, worth it."

"Worth it for what? The dogs and my lunch underneath?"

Hannibal didn’t bother to answer. He rested his forehead on Will’s shoulder and sank into the rhythm of the knife as Will’s muscles moved against him. He would sink into Will’s body if he could, and not only sexually. Sometimes he thought of what he could make from Will’s bones and muscles, a bulwark to surround him so that they might never be parted.

"I got you something," Will said. He had stopped chopping, and his shoulders had gone stiff.

This was not the time. He should not associate the creation of a meal with this sort of tension. "Wait until dinner," Hannibal said. He kissed Will’s neck and straightened up. "I must see to the sausage."

"Okay." Will sounded relieved. "Do I get leftovers for the dogs?"

"If you like, though you may want them for yourself."

Hannibal finished the meal with Will sitting on his kitchen counter and watching him with an open adoration of which he was certainly unaware. Hannibal, on the other hand, was so aware of it that he nearly burned the reduction.

*

Hannibal had lit the candles in the dining room before Will’s arrival and let them burn so that the white wax had rolled down silver and crystal candlesticks in rivulets of bone. Will took the first few bites in silence and chewed the third with his eyes closed. Hannibal smiled to himself, more than satisfied.

"You know this is wasted on me," Will said.

"I enjoy cooking for you more than I have for anyone else in my life."

"Shouldn’t say things like that." Will was smiling at him, the easy unclouded look that he wore more and more often in Hannibal’s presence. "It’ll go to my head."

"It should. I don’t say it lightly. I hope that at least you will take it to heart."

Will paused to savor his next bite. He laid his fork down. "You said to wait until dinner."

"Or longer if that would make you more comfortable."

"I think it’d just make me more nervous." Will set a small box on the table next to Hannibal’s plate.

Hannibal took it. He thought he knew what he would find inside. The box was worn velvet and had a faintly domed lid. He looked at the ring on Will’s finger. Will looked down at his plate.

The ring inside the box gleamed dully. Hannibal took it out and held it up so that the light glanced off the edges of the engraving that ran around the inside.

uscimmo a riveder le stelle

We went out to see the stars.

Will cleared his throat. "It’s—"

"Dante. Of course." He had given Will the first line of the Divine Comedy, and Will had given him the last, the emergence from Hell, the clear view of the heavens.

"It – it seemed appropriate."

It seemed more than that to Hannibal. Will had promised to know him. To keep trying until he did. This was the same sentiment, the terror and beauty of Will Graham in solid form. Hannibal touched the dented circle with a fingertip. "Will you put it on me?"

Will took Hannibal’s offered hand. After a pulse of silence, he went down on one knee to slide the ring onto Hannibal’s finger. Hannibal’s hand tightened involuntarily around his.

Neither of them moved. Hannibal’s blood echoed in his ears, loud and quick and rising like a tide. "Will," he said. His voice was unaccountably rough.

"Don’t," Will said quietly. "You don’t have to say anything. Please don’t."

Hannibal slid a hand into his hair and kissed him. Tasted him: wine and salt and blood and silver. He bent lower, mouth on Will’s throat. He could feel the shift of muscles and tendons, their movement limited by his own teeth sunk into Will’s skin. Will bent his head back with a shaky inhale and grasped Hannibal’s shoulder. The other hand landed on his thigh, nails digging in. Hannibal moved up to his mouth again, blind, chasing after his breath.

"Hannibal—" Will swayed closer and so did Hannibal until they were balanced against each other, Hannibal on the verge of falling out of his chair, Will’s grip the only thing keeping him upright, both of them overcommitted.

"Do you want to go upstairs?" Will said in his ear.

Hannibal took a slow breath and sat back in stages, steadying Will as he did. Will looked up at him, eyes full of reflected candle flame.

With previous lovers, Hannibal might have agreed to let their meal die on the table. He had always been careful to appear no more and no less than the facade he presented to the world, his extremes filed down and polished to a socially acceptable shine. Not with Will.

"After dinner," he said.

Will kissed his hand. "Should’ve known. I guess I did know."

"Do you mind?"

"No." Will returned to his chair and shook out his napkin, replacing it in his lap. "I like eating with you. It’s – it’s not just the food. I know that."

A smile hovered at the edges of Will’s mouth. Hannibal found himself wondering how the understanding in his eyes would taste if he ate them. He looked down at his own plate. The reduction glowed with the ruby tint of fresh blood.

He glanced up again, watching the fork pass between Will’s lips, the hint of tongue, the roll of his throat. He took in the subvocal sounds of pleasure, loud at the silent table. As always, he found it captivating. Difficult not to stare.

After a minute or two, Will shifted in his seat. His shoulders tensed in subconscious premonition of flight. Though he moved with confidence in the bedroom, Will often held himself like prey when he was aroused and felt he shouldn’t be.

“It’s not just the food you enjoy,” Hannibal said.

Will’s lower lip disappeared briefly into his mouth and came back wet and shining. "I like the way you watch me."

"You didn’t always."

"It used to feel like being hunted."

"And now?" Hannibal asked.

"Now I know why it feels that way." He paused. "Is this about aesthetic pleasure too?"

"A cathedral is designed with aesthetic principles in mind, but the goal is not merely to please the eye."

Will looked down at his plate, a flush creeping up his neck. "Are you done eating yet?"

Hannibal set his fork down.

They cleared the table in silence and washed the dishes side by side. Hannibal watched the water flow over his hands and the silver band on his finger. It looked like a piece of solidified water, and it was water that filled Will’s soul. He had a piece of that now, always with him, his to keep. A gift.

They switched off the lights and went up together. Will undressed completely and stood like a statue in the moonlight. He was half hard already and he stroked himself once, twice, hand loosely curled around his cock. He lay down on the bed.

"What do you want?" Hannibal asked.

"Just watch me," Will said, color in his face and neck and spreading down his chest. "Like you were before. Is that okay?"

Hannibal pulled a chair up beside the bed and sat down. "Like this?"

"Yeah. That’s – that’s good. Nobody’s ever looked at me like you do." Will’s hand was moving faster. He rolled onto his back.

"Good."

"What would you do if someone—" Will stopped himself, lip caught between his teeth, hand paused in its feverish motion.

Hannibal could not force himself to be anything less than honest. "I would want to destroy them."

Will’s breath left him with a low, shaky sound. He started stroking himself again, hard and quick. Hannibal was afraid he would ask for details, afraid of what he might say if Will did, but he didn’t.

When Will spoke again, his voice was much softer, more hesitant. "Would you get me something?"

"Anything in the world."

A shiver ran down Will’s body, and his eyes closed for a moment. "There’s a telescope, an antique. I saw it in a store a few days ago. I—" He bit his lip again. Clear fluid dripped from the head of his cock down over his fingers. "I want it. Will you buy it for me?"

"Of course, Will. It’s yours. We’ll go tomorrow if you like." Hannibal leaned forward and stroked a hand down his thigh. "You should have it. You should have the things you want."

Will breathed in sharply. His hand moved faster, a blur in the dim light, and then he was coming. Pale streaks painted his stomach and chest. He dropped his head back against the pillows to milk out the last few drops. Hannibal slid onto the bed beside him and kissed him and drew him close. Will’s callused hands slid under his shirt, fingers pressing into his skin and holding tight.

"Thank you," Will said softly.

"You don’t need to thank me."

"I want to. I don’t want to be ungrateful."

"Do you want to feel yourself in my debt?"

The noise that escaped Will’s mouth was almost a whimper, and he pressed still closer. "God, don’t."

"Thank you for the ring."

"You don’t have to wear it if you don’t like it."

"Don’t be absurd."

Will’s laughter was warm against his neck. "Yeah. Okay. Sorry."

"What shop is it?"

"What?"

"The telescope," Hannibal said.

"You don’t really have to—"

"Will."

"It’s called Golden Age Antiques."

"Will you come with me or shall I go on my own?"

"I’ll come," Will said quickly.

Hannibal smiled and kissed his hair. "What will they think of you, coming back with an older man to buy you gifts?"

He felt Will’s quick breath and his nails pressing hard into Hannibal’s skin.

"You’re not that much older than I am."

"Enough, I think. Shall I take you out to dinner afterward?"

Will hesitated and then nodded. "And then back to my house?"

"And what will we do there?" The answer was entirely muffled against Hannibal’s skin. "I’m sorry, Will. What was that?"

Will ducked his head down still further, and Hannibal touched his cheek to feel the heat there, to feel the way Will trembled just a little as the idea subsumed him.

"And then I’ll pay you back for my gift," Will said.

Chapter Text

Will struggled up from his dreams, lured by the smell of coffee and bacon. His head still ached, but he didn’t feel as strangely overheated as he had the night before. Maybe it had just been Hannibal. He pried one eye open and saw the bacon first and Hannibal second, watching him across a breakfast tray. "Morning," Will said.

"It is."

"Is it a good one?"

"You’re right to be cautious. Freezing rain, school delays, a major accident on the beltway."

"Why aren’t you out there suffering? Don’t you have to work?"

"Don’t you?"

"No classes. There’s an all-day training exercise."

"And I will have to work later, but my first patient canceled due to the weather."

Will pulled him down for a kiss. "So we’re stuck here together."

"For the moment."

They ate side by side, Will leaning against Hannibal and looking over his shoulder to read on his tablet until Hannibal switched from the news sites to Tattlecrime. "Do you have to?" Will said.

"She is thorough. Far more so than any of the other articles that cover these crimes."

"You don’t need to read this stuff at all. Why would you?" Will asked.

"I prefer to be current in these matters. Especially since I met you."

Will sighed. "Don’t blame this on me."

"It’s not a matter of blame. You must know I had some interest in it before we met. It’s only that it had no personal relevancy for me then."

"Whereas now sometimes I get you personally involved."

Hannibal set the tablet down and put an arm around Will’s shoulders. "It’s not a matter for blame," he said again, more firmly. "I spoke to Mrs. Komeda at the opera that you left so abruptly. Do you remember her?"

"Vaguely. You know a lot of women that age who like to wear beads and flirt with you. They sort of blur together after a while."

"She has more right than most. We were together at one point."

Will glanced at him. "Really? When?"

"Years ago. It ended amicably."

Will tried to find something to say in reply that wouldn’t make him sound jealous and failed utterly. He took another bite of toast instead and leaned more heavily against Hannibal’s side.

"You have no reason for concern," Hannibal said, amused.

"I know that. Shut up. So what did you talk to her about?"

"She wants me to have a dinner party. I used to host them fairly regularly."

"But not anymore?"

"Not in the past year or two. I’ve fallen out of the habit."

"So what did you tell her?"

"I told her I’d consider it." He paused. "I’d want you to attend."

"Oh, God. Really?"

"You don’t want to?"

"Hannibal."

Hannibal leaned his head against Will’s. "Yes. I thought that might be your response."

"I don’t ask you to go ice fishing with me."

"I would."

"But you’d hate it, so I don’t ask. Have your party and leave me out of it."

"You won’t even consider it? It wouldn’t be so different from the opera."

Will did consider it then, letting Hannibal dress him up and show him off to his more intimate acquaintances, sitting at Hannibal’s table as his – consort was the first word that came to mind. His other half.

"I told her it would have to wait until after our trip in any case," Hannibal said. "Perhaps you’ll think about it in the meantime.”

"You really wouldn’t have it if I didn’t want to go?"

"Perhaps eventually. But I prefer your company to theirs."

Will smiled into his coffee cup. "I’ll think about it."

"Shall we buy your telescope today?"

Will had almost forgotten he’d asked for it. He had to stifle the urge to tell Hannibal, again, that he didn’t have to get it for him, not really. "If – if you want to."

"Of course I do. We’ll go this evening. I’ll pick you up after I’m done with my patients."

*

The owner of Golden Age Antiques waved cheerfully at Will when they entered. Beverly, as usual, had made an impression. "How’s your wife liking the radio?" he asked.

"We’re just friends," Will said. "It was for her father. I don’t think she’s given it to him yet."

Hannibal gave the man a small smile and rested his hand at the small of Will’s back. "There’s a telescope Will was interested in. The one with the tooled leather case, supposedly used aboard the San Ysidro."

Will hoped to God Beverly wouldn’t drag him back here for any reason. Hannibal wasn’t usually this obvious. Well, no. He was. But it felt much safer when work was a remote memory. Hannibal’s sphere seemed a whole other world, with different rules and the possibility of being someone entirely new. It was the clash of that persona and his everyday self that made him want to sink through the floor.

"Supposedly’s the word," the owner said with barely a pause. "It’s a good story, but I’ve got no provenance. Hold on, I’ll get it."

"You’re tense," Hannibal said when the owner had gone.

"It’s weird doing this somewhere – this might’ve been a bad idea."

"Shall we go?"

Will swallowed and looked toward the back of the store. He still wanted the telescope. He still wanted Hannibal to buy it for him. He shook his head.

Hannibal slid an arm around his waist and tipped his chin up with one finger for a kiss. Will let himself melt into it as he had at the opera, as he had a hundred times before. Hannibal made it easy.

"Is there anything else you want?" Hannibal asked softly.

"I don’t need anything."

"I’m aware there’s nothing you need, Will. If there were, I wouldn’t make you ask. You’d have it at once."

The words and the matter-of-fact tone lodged in Will’s chest and left him staring mutely at Hannibal until he managed to duck his head and stare at the floor instead. He shoved his hands in his pockets and dug his thumb into the edge of Hannibal’s ring until it hurt.

"You mean that, don’t you?" he said.

"Of course I do." Hannibal touched his wrist and looked about to speak again when the owner returned, holding up the telescope with a cheerful smile.

"Here we are. Took a minute to find it. It’s in pretty good shape. Still usable. There’s no proof of its history or I’d have it priced higher. The time period’s about right but, apart from that, I can’t say."

"What do you think, Will?" Hannibal said. "Do you still want it, Battle of Cape St. Vincent or no?"

Will nodded, not ready to speak. Hannibal’s words were still banging around inside his head like a struck bell. You’d have it at once. His lungs ached like he’d been holding his breath for too long. Maybe years. Maybe since he was four, which was the first time he could remember his father telling him that they didn’t have enough money to eat that day.

"Then you shall have it."

The chime on the door jingled as Hannibal laid his credit card on the counter. A gust of cold air followed. Will glanced over his shoulder at the newcomer and felt the tension in him wind even tighter.

"Well, look who it is," Mark Carson said.

Hannibal gave him a brief nod. "Mr. Carson."

Carson loosened his scarf and sniffed. "Nice to see you, Hannibal. And you, Agent Graham."

"I’m not an agent," Will managed, though his voice wasn’t as strong as he would’ve liked. "I’m just a teacher."

"Sure. At Quantico, not some inner city drone factory." He glanced at Hannibal. "I guess you knew."

"Of course."

"Of course. Thanks for letting me make a fool of myself."

"You did that on your own," Will said.

Carson’s mouth twisted. “I knew what Hannibal was getting out of this, but I wondered about you. His dick can’t be that great, but I guess his contacts make up for it if you’re climbing the Bureau ladder."

That left Will momentarily speechless. Even his most hostile colleagues had never implied he hadn’t gotten where he was on his own merits.

"You’re embarrassing yourself, Mr. Carson," Hannibal said.

"Your boy already did that for me. Senator Deering read me the riot act for making her look bad in front of the FBI. Your boss called her," he added to Will. "Thanks for that, too."

Will shrugged. Carson had behaved like an ass, and Jack hadn’t wanted him at the scene in the first place. The call wasn’t a surprise.

"This is neither the time nor the place for this conversation," Hannibal said.

"I agree," Carson said. "Maybe we can chat about it next time I see you at the goddamn opera. I bet everyone there would find it as amusing as I did. Until then, if you’ve got any more complaints, be a man and call me direct."

He shoved his card at Will, but it was Hannibal who took it.

"I think it would be best if you left now, Mr. Carson.” Hannibal spoke the words quietly, politely, and without any inflection at all. They filled the room with a cold silence that hung in the air after they faded.

It even stopped Carson. For a second, it seemed like he’d pull himself together and start again but, in the end, he walked out without another word.

Hannibal tucked the card into his pocket.

The silence remained for a moment, thick and chilling, and then Hannibal turned a bland smile on the owner. "I apologize. I hope I haven’t cost you a sale."

"I wouldn’t worry if he never came back, to be honest. He’s in here every couple of months looking for junk to pass off as expensive gifts. I’m not guessing on that. He brags about it."

"I can’t say I’m surprised. Good day." Hannibal took the proffered bag with the telescope. He thanked the owner and guided Will out onto the street.

The cold air started Will’s mind and lungs working again. He took a deep breath.

"Are you well?" Hannibal asked.

Will glanced over at the stiff, dark line of his body, stark against the snow-covered cars that lined the street. "I deal with assholes all the time. Nobody’s ever accused me of sleeping my way to the top before. That’s a new one. But it’s not a big deal. You didn’t have to get involved.”

"Your body language said otherwise. And your scent. You smelled of fear."

Will felt his shoulders hunch and tighten all over again. "It wasn’t him. Or it mostly wasn’t him."

"Then it was what I said earlier. You must know I meant it." Hannibal paused and touched Will lightly between his shoulder blades. "You couldn’t think I would ever leave you in need."

Will pulled away from his hand. "We’ve known each other for two months, Hannibal. You can’t make promises like that.”

“I can. I have.”

“Then you shouldn’t. You can’t expect me to depend on you for—” Anything. Everything. He didn’t know how he wanted that sentence to end. “It’s unrealistic. It’s crazy.”

“I don’t see it that way.”

Will’s hands tightened into fists inside the leather gloves Hannibal had given him. “This isn’t a fairy tale. What’s next? Do you want to go find a mud puddle so you can lay your cloak across it for me?"

Hannibal looked at him for a moment as they came to a halt at the intersection. He took off his coat and tossed it across the filthy slush and ice in the gutter.

Will stared at him, breath stopped in his throat. Hannibal’s face was blank and remote. That same chilling silence hung around him.

Will bent slowly and picked up the coat. He brushed the snow and slush off it as well as he could. He stood looking down at dirty ice crystals on the dark brown wool for what felt like a very long time. The walk signal came on, ticked over into flashing red, and stopped again.

"I apologize," Hannibal said finally. "That was not well done of me."

The corner of Will’s mouth pulled up in an unwilling smile. "As far as losing your temper goes, I’ve seen worse."

He offered Hannibal his coat back. Hannibal took it, though he didn’t put it on. He didn’t seem to feel the cold.

"Do you still want to go out to dinner?" Hannibal asked.

"No. Let’s go home," Will said. "My house. Will you cook for me?"

"Yes, of course."

*

They made the drive in silence. Will listened to the hum of the road and, in his mind, the soft noise of Hannibal’s coat hitting the slush. He couldn’t get away from it.

When they got back to the house, he caught Hannibal’s arm as he reached into the back seat for the bag that held the telescope. "Don’t. Just leave it. I’ll take it back—" He couldn’t take it back. He hadn’t paid for it.

Hannibal was looking at him with more understanding than Will really wanted at the moment. "It was a difficult afternoon."

Will rubbed hard at his eyes. "You could say that."

"If you want me to return it, of course I will. But let’s look at it after dinner. All right?"

Will nodded quickly. He knew he should apologize, but he couldn’t get the words out.

Hannibal carried the bag into the house and set it on the table. He started going through Will’s cupboards while Will hung his coat up to dry and took the dogs outside. He found a couple of sticks and threw them into the dark. Sometimes the dogs came back with the ones he’d thrown and sometimes they found their own. Either way it kept the game going until the world felt more like a rational place again.

He sat on the porch steps and handed out ear scratches and tummy rubs and let Buster lick his face until he couldn’t take it anymore. "I swear I’m getting you one of those dog toothbrushes," Will told him. "You stink."

Buster panted happily and ran off to find another stick.

"We’re done with the sticks!" Will called after him.

Winston cocked his head curiously. Understandable. Will knew perfectly well they were never done with the sticks. But eventually the cold got to Will and to the smaller dogs, and they could all smell dinner cooking. Will let them inside and went into the kitchen to push his cold nose against Hannibal’s neck.

"How are you?" Hannibal asked.

"Better."

"I’m glad." He paused, knife hovering over the cutting board. "I never meant to imply that you’re incapable of fighting your own battles. Only that perhaps I feel you shouldn’t have to. At least not when—" Hannibal stopped short, unusual for him, but Will understood.

"When we’re doing that," he said.

"Yes. I feel protective of you. More than usual."

"What you said before, about the things I need …"

"You can’t believe I would ever let you go hungry."

Will knew he should say that relationships ended, that he wasn’t Hannibal’s responsibility, any number of sensible, rational things. He didn’t. "So what’s for dinner?" he asked.

Hannibal hadn’t had much to work with. Will ate enough meals at Hannibal’s house now that his own cupboards were even more bare than usual. They had leftover saucisse minuit with spinach and blue cheese. Will teased him about the lack of inedible garnishes, and Hannibal threatened to use Will’s fishing flies.

"They would make nicely thematic hors d’oeuvres as well, for a certain type of party. Providing one’s guests remembered to avoid the hook."

"The type of party you’re going to have when we get back?" Will said.

"Perhaps. Food should be occasionally dangerous, don’t you think?"

"I really don’t. And I’m not eating anything off fish hooks."

“Perhaps the desserts, on second thought.”

"You’re going to get sued."

"They wouldn’t dare. They’d never be invited back." Hannibal stood to clear the table. "Will you get the telescope while I see to the kitchen?"

Will started to argue – he could help clean up – but Hannibal obviously knew he could, and that wasn’t what he’d asked. "Sure."

They settled on the couch together when the kitchen was clean, and Will pulled the telescope free from its tissue paper and ribbon wrapping. The leather was dark brown and very soft, well cared for despite its age. He unbuttoned the catch that held the case closed and drew out the telescope itself.

It expanded from about six inches to as long as his arm. The glass was still reasonably clear. Aiming it out the window, he could see well across the road and into the field. "The moon’s out tonight," he said. "Most of the time anyway. We should be able to see something between the clouds."

"On the porch?"

"Let’s go up on the roof."

They climbed the stairs with a couple of blankets, a thermos of coffee, and all the dogs, who stared longingly out the window at them.

"It’s not that great, but it’ll make some difference," Will said. He found the right focus and passed it over to Hannibal, who looked through it for a long time without speaking.

"It does make a difference," he said finally. "There is more surface detail than I expected."

"Haven’t you ever seen the moon through a telescope before?"

"Never."

"They’ve got a big one at the observatory that they let people look through on lecture nights. We should go some time."

Hannibal looked at him, clearly amused.

"What?" Will said.

"Do you attend these lectures often?"

"I don’t know. A few times a year. Why’s that funny? I go out. Sometimes."

"I’m sure that’s true."

Will flipped him off, not that Hannibal saw it. He was still looking at the moon as he spoke. "When I first came to live with my relatives in France, I slept poorly. Or not at all. My aunt took me out on the battlements to look at the stars. Often we would stay there until morning."

Will considered and discarded a couple of responses to that. Hannibal lowered the telescope and looked at him, expectant.

"Battlements?"

Hannibal smiled. "It was quite a small castle. Very drafty."

"Right." Will had a thousand other questions, but they could wait. He’d have Hannibal to himself for over a month. The thought prompted him to return Hannibal’s smile. He took the telescope back and looked up at the moon himself.

They stayed out on the roof, huddled under the blankets, long after the clouds rolled in. Hannibal had shifted to sit with Will between his legs and leaning back against his chest. Will had his eyes closed and the telescope hanging loosely in his hands.

"Are you keeping it then?" Hannibal asked.

"Yeah. Sorry about before."

"There’s no need to apologize." Hannibal kissed his neck and pulled his collar aside to lay his mouth over the marks he’d left. They were long gone, but he seemed to remember the placement of each one. "I prefer purity of emotion to control. Even the emotions you believe you have no right to express."

"You’re encouraging me to act like a spoiled brat?" Just saying the words twisted Will’s stomach up, warm and almost painful at the same time, desire and revulsion woven together.

"Absolutely."

Hannibal’s teeth scraped along the line of his throat, and Will’s hands loosened a little too much. The telescope escaped and rolled toward the edge of the roof. He scrambled after it and caught it just in time. He looked back over his shoulder and grinned at Hannibal, who had one hand clamped hard around his ankle.

"I’m fine," he said.

"Come back here and put that away."

"Okay, now you really sound like my dad."

Hannibal’s ring glinted in the light from the house, and Will flushed a little in the dark. He crawled back up the slight incline and into Hannibal’s arms.

The telescope didn’t want to go back in the case.

"Hold this. I think it’s jamming on something."

Hannibal took the telescope while Will reached down into the case with two fingers and felt for the obstruction. He found the edge of a curled up sheet of paper, dry and almost crumbling at the edges. It took some time, but he worked it free.

"What is it?" Hannibal asked.

"Don’t know. Let’s go inside."

They climbed in through the window, the dogs overjoyed to have them back, and took paper, telescope, and case downstairs into the light. The paper wanted to curl up on itself and would not lie completely flat without starting to crack. It had gone yellow at the edges, and the ink had faded to brown.

The sketch across the top was of a garland of bones topped by a smiling skull. A few words were traced out underneath in careful calligraphy. Under that, the bulk of the text sat in three paragraphs, words jammed up together, scribbling in the margins, ink blotches everywhere.

"Latin?" Will said.

"Yes. The top is clear enough. 'We bones, lying here bare, await yours.' The rest of it …" Hannibal leaned close to the paper and frowned. "I’m afraid I can’t make most of it out."

“It is kind of a mess.” Will leaned closer, but the letters were smudged and cramped. It reminded him of his own scribbled student notes from college.

"Shall I take it with me?” Hannibal asked. “I’m sure I can manage a translation given more time and better light."

"No, it’s okay. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t think it’s worth anything, do you? Should we give it back to the antique guy?"

"It’s yours, just like the telescope. He should have checked the case." Hannibal paused. "But no, I doubt it has much value. It’s certainly not by any major artist of the time."

"How do you know?"

"The drawing would be better."

Will laughed quietly. "Yeah, okay. The guy’s dead, don’t make fun of his art."

But he was glad it was unlikely to have any value. He liked it, both the drawing, though it was a little awkward, and the sentiment. He traced the outline of the skull with one finger and then let the paper roll itself back up.

Chapter Text

Will took the telescope case to work with him the next day. Gentle coaxing eventually got the sketch to lie flat in the copy machine. He tucked the original back into the case and folded the copy to stick it in his shirt pocket. He was hoping to have some time between the autopsy and his class to look for the inscription online.

When he got to the lab, Price was humming ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ under his breath as he arranged organs on an autopsy table. Will paused in the doorway to shake out two aspirin, his second dose of the day, and swallow them down. His head ached with a persistent heat and tightness, and he had a feeling the next twenty minutes weren’t going to help.

"Stop," Zeller said. "Unless he has five golden rings in his stomach, you have no excuse for this."

"I’m getting in the holiday spirit."

"It’s November."

"Thanksgiving is a holiday,” Price said.

"It’s a holiday you spend with a bottle of gin and a TV dinner."

"You say that like it’s a bad thing. I invited you last year."

Zeller sighed. "Yeah. I should’ve taken you up on it."

Beverly drifted over. "Does he have twelve kidneys?"

"He actually only has one," Price said. "Any word on his medical records? Was it removed? It’s a mess in there.”

"Not removed. He had his tonsils out, but that’s it. Otherwise intact."

"So either the killer took it, which is a deviation from the first, or – what? A dog? How tight was the bag sealed?" Zeller asked.

"Could’ve been a dog. It wasn’t sealed at all, not even twisted shut."

"It was the killer," Will said.

"You have no way of knowing that," Zeller said. "Come on."

"A hungry dog who only eats one kidney? Come on."

"He’s got a point," Beverly said.

Zeller snapped off his gloves and crossed his arms over his chest. "So are we back to the Ripper? I thought you said it wasn’t him."

"The first one wasn’t."

"Oh, so this is another killer who also likes burying people under the floorboards and covering them in flowers."

Will ignored him and looked at the collection of human fragments on the table. The severed limbs lay next to the empty torso. Price had arranged the organs along the body’s right side.

"Who was he?" Will asked.

"Robert Tyler, 31, accountant," Beverly said. She handed him the file.

Will dug in his pocket for his glasses as he reached to take it. He managed to drop the file, his glasses, and the copy of the sketch on the floor. He got to the glasses and the file before Beverly did, but she got the sketch.

"What’s this?" she said. "Is it for a case?"

Will shook his head, file open in his hands and pulling at him. Something was not right. "What about the first guy? What do we know about him?"

Beverly poked him. "What is this from?"

"I don’t know. I found it."

"What, like on the street?"

"Inside a telescope case."

"If it’s a treasure map, I want in," Price said.

"It’s in Latin," Will said. Robert Tyler, 31, accountant, seemed like kind of a prick. Two ex-wives, three kids, dinged for non-payment of child support on multiple occasions, investigated ten years ago for insider trading and misuse of client funds, but never charged.

Will looked up to ask for the file on the first victim. Price, Zeller, and Beverly were all bent over the sketch. Price had it pinned down on a table and was peering at it through the large, lighted magnifying glass he used to examine prints. Will frowned at them. "I’m pretty sure it’s not a treasure map," he said.

"It is if you consider bones a treasure, which I do," Price said. "It’s about an ossuary in Paris. I think. It may or may not be under a church." He squinted at the paper. "Depending on what word that is. What word do you think that is?" He and Zeller jostled each other, each trying to peer through the magnifying glass.

"Is that a note telling you all to get back to work?" Jack said from the doorway.

Beverly grinned at him. "How’d you know?"

She passed the copy back to Will, who folded it up again and stuffed it into the inside pocket of his jacket, where, hopefully, it would stay. Jack had the file on the first victim, Samuel Keats, 26, graphic designer and part time waiter at a diner not far from his house.

"He saw the first one at the diner," Will said. "He ate there. Probably still does. He followed him home. The second one was killed somewhere else, transported, and literally staged."

"So he got more ambitious with the second one," Zeller said.

"Maybe."

Jack looked between them. "I would like more than a maybe," he said. "One killer? Two killers?"

"Red killer, blue killer," Price said under his breath.

"This one has a little car, this one has a little—"

"What is wrong with you people today?" Jack said. "Go. Leave. Eat something, take a walk. Come back in half an hour and be ready to get some actual work done."

They went. Will left the files with Beverly, but the details followed him for the rest of the day.

*

Hannibal tipped the delivery man and carried his dry cleaning up to the bedroom. He stripped away the plastic and laid it all out on the bed. Most of it was for Will. Most, but not all.

Among the suits and newly pressed shirts lay his own coat, the one he had thrown into the gutter for Will to walk across. Will had picked it up promptly. The slush hadn’t been given a chance to soak in. Hannibal could have let it dry and brushed it off with much the same result that dry cleaning had achieved.

He’d wanted it out of the house. He still wanted it out of the house. It was a tangible reminder of his slip in control, one more in a long string of ill conceived words and gestures like pearls. It wasn’t that he was incapable of control where Will was concerned. It was worse than that. Will made him want to cast off wisdom and discipline altogether.

He had thrown more than the coat at Will’s feet, and Will had seen that. Sooner or later, Will would see everything.

Hannibal folded the coat up in his arms, took it out to the garage, and placed it into a trash bin. With the lid set neatly in place, he walked back up the stairs. He forced the incident from his mind and returned to his room and the present moment.

He’d bought the purple suit that Will had earlier rejected on the grounds that he would have nowhere to wear it unless they went to a poetry reading or a garden party. Hannibal thought he might feel more accommodating in a country where no one knew him. He was willing, even happy, to be molded, as long as his professional life remained inviolate. Hannibal could use that to his advantage. With the separation so sharp, one so unpleasant and the other as pleasing as Hannibal could make it, Will would find it more and more difficult to go back. He would want to stay. Hannibal wanted him to stay.

He looked down and found his hands clenched around a pale lavender shirt, putting in wrinkles recently removed by the press. He released it and spread it out on the bed to be smoothed again.

He’d bought Will a dark brown leather bag and a matching garment bag, each with his initials in gold on the inside of the handle. He packed shirts and socks and underwear methodically. He wondered what Will would choose to bring in the way of personal effects. If he would bring the telescope.

Mark Carson’s card sat on Hannibal’s dresser. He had not yet added it to his rolodex. To do so seemed improper. It would put Carson on an equal footing with every other animal in there, when he stood out in Hannibal’s mind as if outlined in fire.

He should be put away with all the rest to wait his turn. Killing him now would be reckless. And it would ruin their trip. Will would certainly insist on staying for the investigation. Guilt would drive him to avenge a man he loathed simply because he was not sorry to see him dead.

Worse, Hannibal knew Carson socially, which was not true of any of his previous targets. Given a year or two, he might be able to distance himself sufficiently from Carson and his social circles. Right now, especially after the encounter at the antique store, he was much too close.

Killing Carson was not an option. It would not be prudent. It would be foolish. Despite his recent actions, Hannibal was not foolish.

He rolled another pair of socks together and let himself imagine it. Not now, but someday. Perhaps next fall or the year after. Something elaborate. And beforehand, dinner for one. Carson’s tongue cooked and diced and forced down his throat. That would do for a start.

*

Will’s phone rang the night before the flight was scheduled.

"Are we going?" Hannibal asked.

"Yeah, we’re going."

"It’s not the Ripper then?"

Will rubbed at his eyes. He saw the details of both victims floating in front of him, eyes open or shut. "The first one definitely isn’t. And I don’t know why the Ripper would copy someone else’s work."

"Jack doesn’t like ambiguity."

"Yeah, I noticed. He’s been pressing me to be definite. This morning I told him I’m definitely leaving tomorrow. It didn’t go over well."

"I’m glad nonetheless. I’ll pick you up."

"Sure you don’t want me to meet you there?"

"It would be best if I drove. I’ve made arrangements for the car."

"Arrangements that aren’t long-term parking?"

"You’ll see. Are you packed?"

"Sort of." Will looked around at his computer, toiletries, and books scattered across the bed. "No."

"You remember you agreed to let me bring your clothes."

"Everything?"

"Everything. You’ll have everything you need."

Will closed his eyes. He wanted to ask Hannibal to say it again. "I didn’t get a converter for my phone charger, but I guess they’ll have them at the airport."

"It would be simpler to get you a new phone to use while you’re there."

"In what world is that simpler?"

"Mine. Don’t worry so much, Will. Anything can be replaced. Or sent for. Just tell me and let me take care of it."

"You’re dangerous," Will told him.

"Am I?"

"It’d be too easy to get used to this."

"I hope you will."

*

The next morning, Will left his house with one small bag. He’d hired someone to stay with the dogs, and Alana had promised to come by and make sure they were doing okay.

Hannibal drove, and Will found out what he’d meant about making arrangements for the car. They didn’t go to long term parking. They didn’t leave from Dulles at all. Hannibal took them to a small airfield and out onto the tarmac where a private jet waited.

"This is for us?" Will said. He knew he was staring. He couldn’t help it.

"It is."

"Is it yours?"

"Only chartered. Even first class for this long a flight is an experience I don’t particularly enjoy."

"So you chartered a private jet."

Hannibal raised his eyebrows in question. "Yes?"

A man in a black uniform came to carry their bags onto the plane. Will watched him climb the stairs. A wet wind blew, and the gray sky overhead was streaked with the bright flags of dawn. "How many of those bags were mine?" he asked.

"Two."

"Is it – did you get all new stuff?"

"Mostly. I’m sure we can find more in Venice."

Will leaned against his shoulder, and Hannibal rested a hand on his back. "I still don’t know how to feel about this," Will said.

"You find it easier than you used to."

"It’s almost too easy. I don’t think you know—" He turned to see Hannibal’s face in the growing light. "It feels like falling. In one of those dreams where you fall forever."

"Should I offer to catch you?"

Will shook his head. "You don’t want to catch me. You want me to hit bottom."

"Only figuratively, I assure you."

They climbed the stairs together, and, if the words private jet were replaying in a frantic cadence at the back of Will’s mind, he managed to keep most of the disbelief off his face.

Hannibal read on his tablet until they were up in the clouds while Will looked out the window at the shrinking world beneath them. Acid guilt pooled in his stomach, but it was his first real vacation in ten years. The first time he’d taken more than a sick day since his father’s funeral. The BAU could live without his input until he got back.

Maybe they could live without his input for longer than that. He closed his eyes, tipped his head back against the seat, and let himself imagine it. Going back to teaching and only teaching. No more gory crime scenes that seemed clean and pure compared to the minds that had created them. But maybe Jack was right. Maybe it was too late to go back.

Hannibal put a hand on his knee. "You don’t look like a man destined for a holiday in Italy."

"What do I look like?"

"Someone on his way to the gallows."

"I was thinking about work. I left my phone and computer behind. Jack’s got no way to get in touch with me."

"Would it be terrible to say that I’m glad to hear it?" Hannibal asked.

"It definitely wouldn’t be surprising. Pretty sure you’ve expressed that sentiment before. You act like Jack’s a bad influence."

"He doesn’t treat you with as much care as I would prefer."

Will opened his eyes and rolled his head to the side to look at him. "That’s new."

"What?"

"You saying what you mean, especially about Jack. You ask me leading questions and you make suggestions, but you don’t directly criticize him. I assume because you know I’d feel obliged to defend him."

"I think at this point, as you said, I’ve made my feelings clear enough that you will see the sentiment behind my suggestions in any case. The time for subtlety is gone."

"Direct frontal attack?"

"Not attack. It’s simply easier to be honest with you and let you make your own decisions."

"I think that’s the most manipulative thing you’ve ever said to me."

Hannibal smiled at him, warm and slow and oddly delighted. "Are you angry with me?"

"No. This will be easier."

"I’m pleased to hear it," Hannibal said.

"You like Jack though."

"I do. He’s a good man and a good friend. To me. And I understand why he drives you as he does. As I imagine you do."

"Yeah," Will said.

"That doesn’t mean I think it’s right."

Will leaned against his shoulder. After a second, Hannibal pushed up the armrest between them to pull him closer. Will closed his eyes. A month ago, he would’ve resented Hannibal’s concern.

"Can we go to Paris too?" He asked the question without thought and stiffened as his brain caught up with his mouth. "I don’t – shit. Forget I said that. I didn’t mean it."

"Of course you did. And of course we can. Is there anything in particular you want to see?"

Will glanced at him. "Price said that sketch from the telescope case was from an ossuary in Paris."

"Have you located it?"

"I haven’t had any time to look."

"You will have time now. And if you can’t find it, there are other things in Paris I can show you."

"The house where you grew up?" Will said.

"I only lived there for a short time, but yes, if you like. My boarding school would be more relevant, if you want to see that sort of thing. But that wasn’t what I was thinking of."

"What were you thinking of?"

"A church outside of the city. The church of St. Gens, a little-known medieval saint with a fairly dull history," Hannibal said.

"What did he do?"

"He brought rain back to a small village and lived as a hermit because he found other people distressing."

"You making fun of me?" Will asked.

Hannibal made an amused sound and pressed a kiss to Will’s temple. "Not at all. It’s not St. Gens who interests me anyway. It’s the statue in his church."

"Not a statue of him?"

"No. An unknown man. Unknown now, at least. He must have been prominent in his day to have the money to commission such a thing. It’s eight feet tall and quite dominates the church, though it stands off to one side, away from the altar."

"What’s so remarkable about this mystery man?" Will asked.

"He commissioned a statue of his own rotting corpse. Marble flesh peeling off his bones, most of his skull exposed. His intestines spilling from his abdominal cavity. He has taken his heart from his chest and is holding it high above his head."

"Offering it to God," Will said softly. He could see it with startling clarity, like a crime scene.

"Yes. For all the good it did him."

"Maybe that was what got him into Heaven. You don’t know."

"You don’t believe in Heaven."

"Doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not real. Maybe we’ll show up at the gates and be cast down into Hell."

"I would prefer that," Hannibal said.

Will smiled out the window at the clouds. "Yeah, that doesn’t really surprise me."

*

The apartment in Venice was so much like the image Will had of it in his mind that it felt like walking into a dream. The sleek kitchen, the wooden floors, the library with books in five languages, the bedroom with its pale curtains and floor-to-ceiling windows all curled together in his mind and gave birth to a sense of combined unreality and homecoming.

He looked out the bedroom window. Sunset light reflected along the length of the canal and turned the water to blood. He put his palm against the glass. The translucent curtains moved against his skin.

Hannibal set a hand at his waist and kissed his neck. "Shall we go out?"

"Not yet."

"What do you want?"

"No one’s ever asked me what I want as much as you do," Will said.

"You tend not to volunteer the information, and I want to know."

"I want a shower."

Hannibal let out an amused breath. "Go on then. I’ll get us something for dinner."

Will showered in a marble cavern with a shower head that mimicked rain. He stood directly under it and let it flow over him, face tipped up and eyes closed. His head still ached. His dreams last night had been tangled, hot, and dark. He’d woken to find himself standing up next to the bed with Winston whining at him. The last time he’d had issues with sleepwalking, he’d still been working homicide. Maybe he really did need a rest.

The door opened briefly. "A robe for you," Hannibal said. "I’ll leave something for you to wear on the bed."

Will thought briefly of pointing out that he could dress himself. He didn’t even want to make the token protest right now. "Thanks," he said.

When he got out, he found thick white towels on a heated rack and a dark gray robe hanging from the back of the door. He dried off and slipped it on. It was the softest thing he’d ever worn, and he stood still for a minute with his arms wrapped around himself in wonder.

It only came halfway to his knees, but it was thick enough to keep him warm as he wandered the room. Hannibal had unpacked before he went out. The bags sat empty in the closet. Will sorted through the things he assumed were meant for him. There were a lot of blues and grays, plenty of suits, not too many ties. Hannibal had gone ahead and bought the entire purple outfit that Will had refused to take seriously as a suggestion. He rolled his eyes, but he knew there was at least a fair chance he’d wear it if Hannibal asked him to.

But not right now. Hannibal had laid out loose blue pajama pants for him and nothing else. Will pulled them on. He kept the robe on and stretched out on the bed. Outside, he could hear the water underneath their window, the sound of children playing, pop music drifting in from somewhere.

No phone. No computer. No work. The negative space those three things left in his life encompassed almost the whole of it. He watched the reflected water-light on the ceiling and tried to imagine how he would fill his days if he were here on his own.

The front door opened and closed. "Will?"

"Bedroom."

He heard Hannibal set something down in the kitchen, the sound of the fridge opening, clinks and rustles as Hannibal put things away. And then footsteps. Hannibal came to stand by the edge of the bed. He looked Will over from top to bottom and back again, gaze slow and heating Will’s skin lightly with its passage.

"Dinner time?" Will asked.

"Not quite yet. The fish is marinating."

"Lie down with me?"

Hannibal took his shoes and suit jacket off and lay down next to him. He stretched out an arm. Will turned onto his side and laid his head on Hannibal’s chest.

"Do you like the apartment?" Hannibal asked.

"It’s exactly what I wanted."

Hannibal’s arm tightened around him. "I’m glad."

"What do you do at home when you’re not working?"

"Read or play the harpsichord. Compose. Consider the next recipe I want to try. The next meal I wish to prepare. Research for my next article. And you?"

"I do other things, but somehow they all end up being about work. Or … rotating around work. Filling up the leftover spaces."

"It’s the way our lives are designed. We derive value from our accomplishments and, since the mind is never satisfied, no accomplishment is enough. We always return to the well. For most of us, the well is our work."

"But not for you," Will said.

"Some of my other pursuits satisfy me more than psychiatry does, yes. Although it is challenging in its own way."

"Teaching is challenging."

"And working with Jack?"

Will closed his eyes and then forced them open again so that he would stay here, in this room, with Hannibal, and not fade into the past. "It’s too easy. Seeing what they do and why. It’s easier than not doing it."

"It holds no challenge for you."

"The challenge is finding my way back afterward."

"Do you fear you won’t?"

"Sometimes." He looked around the room and then at Hannibal’s face, his soft expression, watching, always watching. "I’m a little afraid I won’t find my way back from this."

For once, Hannibal was the first to look away. "I don’t want you to."

"I know."

Hannibal stroked down his back and up again, down and up, until he was almost petting him through the soft fabric.

Will stretched out under his hands. "Is this why you bought the robe?"

"Do you like it?"

"I do," Will admitted. "It’s like wearing a blanket."

"Cashmere suits you."

Will settled closer. He laid a hand over Hannibal’s heart. "I have no idea what that means when it comes to bathrobes, but okay."

"I think, in this case, it means that you are warm and comfortable and that I enjoy seeing you look at home in finer things."

Will rubbed the cuff of the cashmere robe between his fingers. A gust of wind sent the curtains streaming inward, and something splashed into the canal below. They were both quiet, listening to the outside world settle back into its rhythm.

Chapter Text

Rain drummed on the windows, heavy and insistent. It invaded Hannibal’s dreams. Water rose up around his ankles as he stood in the Church of St. Gens on a small back road far outside Paris. He looked up at the stone figure offering his heart to God. What God would do with it, he did not understand. You couldn’t cook a stone heart. The water rose, and the heart began to beat.

Hannibal woke abruptly and found Will tapping out a rhythm on his ribcage. Hannibal caught his wrist in a tight grip. He was used to sleeping with Will. It wasn’t surprising that he hadn’t woken immediately. It was not an indication of dulled instincts or anything more sinister.

Will, who would have every right to be startled, to pull away, just waited until Hannibal released him. "Morning," he said.

"Is that a statement of fact or a greeting?"

Will leaned over and kissed him. He’d brushed his teeth, which meant he’d left the bed and come back and waited until he was bored enough to wake Hannibal on purpose, and Hannibal had slept through all of it, and – and he tasted of cinnamon from using Hannibal’s toothpaste. The edges of his teeth were sharp against Hannibal’s tongue.

Will moved to kneel over him on all fours, head bent so as not to break the kiss. His lips were very soft, slippery and warm. Hannibal moved his hands down Will’s back to cup his ass.

Will made a pleased noise and lowered himself down on top of him. "Both," he said.

"Hm?"

"Greeting and statement of fact. Answer to any potential questions about the time of day. Whether it’s good or not depends."

"On?"

Will kissed his neck. "Whether you like rain."

Hannibal tipped his head back onto the pillows and spread his legs so that Will fit between them. "The rain doesn’t seem terribly relevant at the moment."

"It will be when I drag you out to breakfast in it."

"I have more than enough for breakfast here."

Will looked down at him with a considering expression. "But I want to go out."

"Then we’ll go out," Hannibal said.

His reward for such easy capitulation was more kisses, more of Will’s soft mouth and careful hands. They fit together at every bend and angle of their bodies. Will had said he was afraid he might not come back from this, and Hannibal suddenly knew that feeling with worrying precision.

"Coffee," Will said. "Espresso?"

Hannibal blinked up at the too-close blur of his face and licked his lips. "What?"

Will sat back on his hips and looked at him, eyes warm and fond. "You’re not usually this slow in the morning."

"You don’t normally wake me like this."

"We never have this much time. We could do this all day," Will said.

"Not if you want to trudge through the rain to get food that will be inferior to what I can make here."

"Good point. Get up." Will slid off the bed and pulled on his robe.

Hannibal eyed the vanishing line of his thigh with regret. "I suppose I have only myself to blame for that."

"You have only yourself to blame for all of this." Will opened the closet. "Did you really think I’d need this many shoes?"

"I might have overestimated, especially since the water will be high enough today that we will both need rubber boots."

Will glanced back at him, eyebrows raised. "You in galoshes. Okay, I’m looking forward to that. Are they color coordinated? Am I supposed to pick clothes to match?"

"They’re gray. Insofar as rubber boots can go with anything, the color shouldn’t be an issue. You may choose what you like." Hannibal crossed the room to stand behind Will and set his hands at his waist. "Or you could let me choose for you as I did last night."

Will leaned back against him. "You liked that."

"So did you, I think."

"You’re showing me how you see me. And how you’d like to see me. It’s illuminating," Will said.

"Only that?"

Will ducked his head a little, but his reflection in the window met Hannibal’s eyes. "Not only that. I like the way you see me."

"Then let me choose, at least today. I have a specific image I wish to show you."

"Okay." Will turned and kissed him quickly, off-center and cinnamon-sharp. "Have fun. I’m going to shower."

*

Will stood in the shower, wrapped in steam. He tried to imagine what specific image Hannibal was creating for him. Finer things, he’d said. More cashmere, maybe. The sort of expensive casual clothes that Will had resisted at home. His cock stirred a little. He didn’t think he’d mind it here.

When he got out of the shower, Hannibal was waiting for him with a straight razor in his hand. Will raised his eyebrows. "Part of the image?"

"Do you object?"

"I’ve seen you shave. You don’t shave with that thing."

"I bought it for you." Hannibal flicked it open.

"I don’t know how to use it," Will said.

"I didn’t intend for you to do it yourself."

Will watched the slide of light up and down the blade as Hannibal turned his wrist. He could imagine the feel of it, the quiet edge against his skin. He wet his lips. "How do you want – where should I sit?"

"On the counter, please."

Will’s towel slipped as he lifted himself up. Hannibal didn’t give him time to readjust it before he stepped between his legs. He laid a hand on Will’s bared thigh and kissed him, Will’s lower lip between his, warm breath sliding into Will’s mouth. "You’ll have to be still," he said.

Will nodded, eyes half-closed. Hannibal stroked shaving cream over his skin with one hand while the other kept a light grip on his throat. The first touch of the blade was like ice. Will squeezed Hannibal’s body between his thighs.

"Have you let anyone else do this for you?" Hannibal asked.

"For some reason, I haven’t gotten a lot of offers."

"Your defensive fortifications are impressive."

Will let himself smile as Hannibal lifted the blade from his skin. "Not impressive enough, apparently."

"Perhaps the right siege weapon was required."

Will watched foam swirl away down the drain and then blinked. "Did you just make a dick joke?"

Hannibal sent the razor blade sliding down Will’s cheek again like a kiss. "Would I do that?"

"I think you’d do anything for me." Will said it without thinking. The razor touched his upper lip and shut his mouth before he could qualify it or take it back. He felt suspended in the steamy air, caught between Hannibal’s blade and his silence.

Hannibal held the razor at the curve of Will’s mouth. He was looking past Will into the mirror. At his own reflection, Will suspected. Gauging his own response from the outside. "Do you think so?" he said finally. It sounded like an honest question.

The razor moved, and Will breathed again. "You’ve done a lot already," he said.

"Perhaps I have. This began primarily as self-indulgence on my part, but I think you see the opportunity it presents as well."

"To be someone else," Will said. "Anyone else."

"At least to see the world from behind different walls. A change of scenery. You deserve it, you know."

"I deserve a different view from my cell?"

Hannibal slowly carved away the last stripe of foam under Will’s chin. "You deserve to be spoiled."

The words felt like revenge, sharper than the razor, teetering on the edge of slicing him open as Hannibal always did. Will’s cock started to harden, displayed by the gap in his towel. He had the most absurd urge to cover himself. From his tiny, satisfied smile, Hannibal knew it.

"There." Hannibal rinsed the razor clean and wiped the remnants of foam from Will’s face with a damp washcloth.

Will grabbed the lapels of his robe and hauled him in for a kiss, teeth on his lip, tongue pushing into his mouth. He hitched his legs up around Hannibal’s waist to hold him there. Hannibal cupped his face with both hands and slid the rough stubble of his cheek along Will’s smooth one. Will’s breath left him with a high, thin sound.

Hannibal bit softly at his earlobe before he spoke. "I’ve left clothes for you on the bed. Get dressed. You wanted breakfast, and then we’re going shopping."

Will clutched at him, breath uneven. "For what?"

"For a phone, of course. Since you left yours behind. Something with a little more style than your current model, I think."

He stepped back, and Will slid immediately off the counter to follow him, to press up against him and walk him back against the wall and kiss him again. Hannibal pulled at the towel until it fell away. He palmed Will’s ass with both hands and squeezed hard before he pushed Will back.

Will resisted for a second and then realized what he was doing, how he was behaving, how close he was to just begging for it. He looked down at their bare feet on the bottle-green tile, breath hitching in his chest. Part of him wanted to beg. To let himself be that shameless.

"Later," Hannibal said gently. "We have all day."

Will nodded and slipped out the door.

In the cooler air of the bedroom, he pulled on his robe and stretched the sleeves down to cover his hands. He’d get dressed. They’d go out and eat. Fresh air and coffee. He forced himself through a couple of slow breaths and willed his erection to die down. Later. Right.

He surveyed the clothes Hannibal had left out for him: pale blue pants and a white shirt, white underwear with a silver waistband that seemed to be the mirror version of the black and gold ones. Fancier than what he would’ve worn at home, but at least there was no tie.

He pulled on the underwear, pulled up the pants, and paused. They fit nearly as tightly as the briefs. He had to arrange his dick to fit before he could zip up, and the hard line it made showed too clearly. When he looked in the mirror, he took a step back: flushed from the shower and from arousal, lips red, face smooth, damp hair trailing down over his forehead. The clothes displayed his body more blatantly than anything Hannibal had given him so far. He’d felt less naked when he’d stepped out of the shower.

He was still staring when Hannibal emerged from the bathroom in a towel and walked over to stand behind him. His expression was one of solemn pleasure. "Very nice," he said.

"Are they really supposed to fit like this?"

"They most certainly are." Hannibal helped him out of the robe and held up the shirt.

Will slid his arms into it. Hannibal tucked his chin over Will’s shoulder and spread his hands over his stomach, pulling him close. He smelled good, damp and sweet from the shower, and his wet hair brushed Will’s neck.

"I don’t need a phone," Will said. "If I did, I would’ve brought mine."

"Or perhaps you hoped I would make good on my promise to buy you one."

Will wanted to deny it immediately, but he couldn’t. "You don’t have to. You never have to."

"I know that, Will."

"I didn’t expect—"

Hannibal just waited, watching him in the mirror.

"I did expect it," Will said quietly. "I knew you would."

Hannibal folded his arms around him. "Yes. And there is nothing wrong in that."

"Greedy," Will suggested.

"Not as greedy as I could wish, but it’s a start."

Will laughed, a slightly choked sound, shocked and not shocked at all.

*

The rain was light enough that keeping under awnings and archways was easier than carrying an umbrella. Water from the canals lapped over the pavements in a thin sheen. Hannibal led them to a pasticceria in a small square nearby and ordered for both of them. They drank their espresso at the bar and took the bag of pastries back out into the street.

Rain collected in Will’s hair like glass beads. It dampened his shirt so that the cotton clung to his skin, just short of translucent. Hannibal caught himself staring again and again, but Will didn’t notice. He only had eyes for the city.

He ate as they walked, licking sugar crystals off of his fingers, watching their reflections shatter with each footstep. He wasn’t quite smiling, but he seemed always just on the edge of it.

"You like it here," Hannibal said.

"I love it. Let’s stay."

"All right."

Will glanced at him. "You’re not joking, are you. You’d move here with me."

"Yes. Why not?"

"Your life? Your friends, your job?"

"I would miss Alana and Jack and few others, yes. I can do my work anywhere. I don’t know that I’d see patients here, but I could still write articles. And there’s no reason we couldn’t go back from time to time." In some ways, it would be much easier. With Will out of Jack’s sphere of influence, he might give up law enforcement altogether. If he didn’t, consulting work would be necessarily limited in scope. The Chesapeake Ripper would cease to exist, and Hannibal could be more cautious with his activities in Italy. Perhaps keep them out of Venice entirely.

Will said nothing, which was a good start. No immediate refusal or dismissal. He was thinking about it.

Buildings pressed close on either side. They crossed canals as thin as green snakes and some wide enough that when they stopped in the middle and looked down, their reflections hung in open water, disconnected from the rest of the world.

*

The electronics store sat under an arched colonnade at the edge of a small square. The architecture of the building remained intact on the outside, and only inside did it open into wide, white spaces with phones and tablets set up on pedestals in such a way as to suggest they were actually modern art.

Will only had a cell phone at all because Jack had insisted. He’d bought a Blackberry because it had been the last phone in the store with a physical keyboard. No physical keyboards here.

Hannibal had an arm curled around his waist and his eyes fixed on the iPhone display. He was talking to one of the salespeople, a young woman with a bright smile and short red hair. She’d started off in English, clearly pegging them as tourists, and done a rapid, blinking readjustment when Hannibal had launched into his questions and explanations in fluid Italian.

Will leaned into his side and let it wash over him. He knew about ten words of Italian, and one of them was pizza. Hannibal’s fingers moved at his waist, stroking lightly through the thin fabric of the shirt. It had proved, once buttoned, nearly as tight as the pants, stretched across his chest, leaving him conscious of every move he made. And every touch Hannibal brushed across his side or hip. Or lower.

Hannibal’s hand settled over the curve of his ass, just cupping it, proprietary. Will shifted, torn between nerves, arousal, and irritation. Hannibal gave him an indulgent smile that made his face heat. "What color would you like, Will?"

"Is that the only decision I’m making?"

"Yes."

They looked at each other. Will looked away first. Honestly, he’d assumed that Hannibal would make this choice as well. His BlackBerry was a dark, dull gray. It fit into his life and would never cause comment. The iPhone came in gray as well.

"Will?"

He glanced up at Hannibal and then over at the saleswoman, both of them waiting for his answer. He saw himself through her eyes for a moment, in his thin white shirt and tight pants with an older man’s hand on his ass. Pretty enough for someone to spend money on. The opportunity to be someone else.

"The gold. Please." He smiled up at Hannibal the way he had sometimes at the opera, like no one else mattered. Hannibal’s face softened minutely as it always did, and he gave Will a little squeeze.

"Of course." He conveyed Will’s choice to the saleswoman. When she had gone to get it, Hannibal turned his attention back on Will like a spotlight.

Will tried to drop his gaze to somewhere safer, like his shoes, but that just bared the back of his neck for a graze of Hannibal’s lips and the ensuing prickle of nerves and warmth that marched down Will’s spine.

"A bold choice for you."

"That’s the point, isn’t it? I can get a case for it when we go home. It won’t show."

"If you want a case, I will buy it for you," Hannibal murmured. "But you might also consider that there is no reason to hide it."

Will couldn’t imagine any of the women he knew in the Bureau with a phone that flashy, let alone the men. On the other hand, it was just a phone, not a Lamborghini. Hannibal would buy him a Lamborghini if he wanted one. He’d probably take him to the dealership right now, sign the papers, and have it shipped home.

Will took a hard breath and shook his head. He felt dizzy. "Maybe you’re right. Can we get out of here?"

"As soon as I pay." Hannibal was watching him curiously, hand still on his ass, thumb now hooked into the waistband of his pants.

"What?" Will said.

"Did you know you left your wallet at the apartment?"

Will stared at him. He hadn’t known. He made an abortive move to pat his back pockets, but one was covered by the wide spread of Hannibal’s hand, and the other was empty. It had to be empty. He wasn’t even sure his wallet would’ve fit. If it had, he would’ve been able to feel it every time he moved.

"Are you all right?" Hannibal asked him. His face was calm, eyes steady, and Will made himself focus on that until the jump of his heart calmed.

"I’m okay," he said. It came out uncertain. Hannibal responded with a nuzzling brush of lips to his temple. People must be staring now if they hadn’t been before. Will couldn’t have felt more naked with his skin peeled back.

Hannibal gave him that assessing, considering look he had, head tilted and expression blank. And then he pulled out his wallet. "You should have something, just in case," he said. He peeled two hundred euro bills off a folded stack and passed them over.

Will’s breath left him like a punch to the gut. His hand didn’t feel entirely steady as he took the bills. He folded them twice and tucked them into his back pocket. Like an allowance. Like – he didn’t even know what this was like anymore. Or he knew exactly what it was like and didn’t want to put a name to it.

"Say thank you, Will. Don’t be rude," Hannibal told him softly.

That was a straight bolt of heat to his cock, and Will barely got the words out at all. "Thank you," he said, strangled and rough.

The saleswoman came back just then. Will had no idea what he must look like, but it was enough to make her eyes widen before she shifted her attention to Hannibal. She returned his credit card to him along with an electronic pad to sign. When the transaction was complete and Hannibal had the shopping bag in hand, he guided Will out the door and into the blessedly cool air of the street.

Will didn’t reach for the bag. He knew by now that Hannibal would give it to him when he wanted him to have it and not before. He concentrated on slowing his breathing, calming his heart, and willing his erection to ease. He didn’t put his jacket back on. He was too warm to need it, and it was more useful held in front of him.

They walked along the canal. The water slopped up over the sides. In places it got deep enough to cover their feet, and Will felt he must be sinking along with the city. He stopped, and Hannibal stopped beside him. The rain was spotting down on their hair and making rings on the surface of the green-brown water.

"At least tell me it gets to you too," Will said.

"Would you find it insulting if I told you that I often find it more intense than the sex we have?"

Will breathed out a laugh. "No. It doesn’t really surprise me that you’d rather mindfuck me than actually fuck me."

"Do you object?"

Will shook his head slowly. The damp and the thick salt wind off the lagoon had steadied him. "Is this the image you wanted to show me?"

"It’s one of many. Do you like it?"

Will didn’t have an answer for him, at least not one he wanted to share out loud. Not yet. They made their way toward the Piazza San Marco, and the water rose.

Chapter Text

Wooden planks stretched across the Piazza San Marco. Will had pulled ahead when it came in sight and now stood at the edge, water slopping over his rubber boots, one hand held up to shade his eyes as he looked out toward the lagoon.

Hannibal paused where he was to take him in. Both his shirt and his trousers were faintly damp with the light rain. They clung to every sharp curve and hard angle. Hannibal wanted to kiss him, to draw him, to take him to bed. To buy him something even more absurd than the phone and see Will’s hands and mouth tremble as he accepted.

"Are you coming?" Will called.

Hannibal started forward again and waved him on.

Will walked out onto the duckboards and stopped in the middle, staring out again at the open water. A woman approached from the other side of the square, in her seventies or eighties, tall and bone thin and walking a dog at least half her size. With a mud-colored coat, droopy ears, and an oddly bent tail, the creature wouldn’t have looked out of place among Will’s pack.

Of course, Will held out his hand to it. The dog stopped to sniff him, and Will and the woman exchanged a few unheard words. While they were speaking, the dog pricked up its ears and swiveled its head toward the basilica. Neither Will nor the woman noticed.

Hannibal scanned the water. Far off, he could see something floating on the surface, dark and compact. Perhaps a dead rat. The dog let out a trumpeting bark and launched itself into the water.

The woman was yanked forward and would’ve gone in as well if Will hadn’t caught her. She held onto his arm and shouted, but the dog affected not to hear her. It carried on, paddling through the murky water.

"He’s usually such a good dog," the woman was saying when Hannibal reached them. She spoke in English with a light Italian accent – and a voice Hannibal recognized at once. "He doesn’t even chase the pigeons."

She and Will stood side by side, watching the dog recede into the distance.

"I’ll get him," Will said. "Be back in a minute." He stepped off into the water, soaking himself to the knee and thoroughly ruining his trousers. Hannibal sighed inwardly, but he hadn’t really expected anything else.

With every misfortune came opportunity. "Dr. Alunni," he said. "It’s good to see you again. Do you remember me?"

She turned to him and held her hands up in astonishment before clasping his shoulders and drawing him close to kiss both his cheeks. "Hannibal Lecter. I suppose you’re a doctor now? My God, it’s like seeing a ghost."

"I am. I went from your school to Johns Hopkins in America. A medical degree and more recently one in psychiatry."

"Psychiatry! What nonsense. Did you hurt your hands?" She took them and turned them over, looking for damage. "Tell me you haven’t given up art at least?"

"Never. I still draw. And I play."

"Oh, what? Something with strings, surely. I can’t see you with a flute."

"The harpsichord. And the theremin."

She blinked. "Well. The second is unexpected. The first seems very like you."

Will scooped the dog up as they watched, likely ruining his shirt as well. Hannibal allowed himself a small outward sigh this time.

Dr. Alunni nodded to Will. "Is he yours? Your paramour?"

"He is." Hannibal lifted a hand to Will, who waved awkwardly back, arms full of wet dog.

"More than that, I see." Dr. Alunni was looking at the ring on Hannibal’s finger.

"Not yet," Hannibal said. "Soon, I hope."

She smiled at Will, who staggered slightly as the water pulled at him and the dog licked his face with enthusiasm. "It’s not the best sort of weather for romance. Or perhaps it is if you prefer the indoor sort."

"He likes the rain," Hannibal said.

"You’re in a bad way, aren’t you?"

"I suppose I am."

"Meet you on the other side," Will called. "I don’t want to try climbing back up on that while I’ve got him. What’s his name?"

"Ramses," Dr. Alunni called back. "And what is yours?"

"Let’s not shout at each other," Hannibal said.

Will nodded and started slogging toward the far side of the square.

Dr. Alunni paused. "It’s funny. I was thinking of you today and here you are."

"Like a bad penny," Hannibal said solemnly. "Why were you thinking of me?"

"Someone told me about a load of madmen who stand around in someone’s garden listening to the Divine Comedy in installments. I thought of you reciting Dante to the bodies in the dissection lab."

"It was the least I could do after all they did for me." He paused. "Is it here in the city?"

She laughed. "Out on Torcello, tomorrow night. But for Heaven’s sake, don’t inflict that on your young man."

"He might enjoy it. If he doesn’t, he will enjoy laughing at me."

Her face softened, and she clasped his arm briefly. "Are you happy, Hannibal?"

"I believe I am, yes."

"Good. One grows old and becomes too aware of those who burned brightly in one’s life and then vanished entirely. I like to know how stories end, don’t you?" She didn’t wait for a reply, but strode off, boots thudding solidly on the worn wood.

They reconvened on the far side for introductions with Ramses sitting on Will’s foot and looking up at him in mute worship.

"Will Graham, Dr. Agnese Alunni. She was my anatomy teacher before I transferred to Johns Hopkins."

"I haven’t seen him since he was twenty, nor he me since I was too young to think about. I’m astonished we knew each other."

"I’m astonished you remember me," Hannibal said.

"No, you’re not. You always had a good sense of the impression you made. And you," she said, rounding on Will. "Savior of old women and disobedient dogs, how did you come to know him?"

"We met through a friend," Will said with more tact than he normally possessed. "And we’ve worked together."

"Law enforcement," she said.

Will’s lips parted, and his eyebrows rose a little. "How did you know?"

"My husband was a policeman. You all have a way of watching people, as if you’re waiting for us to do our worst and you plan to be ready."

"It’s a hard habit to break."

"So Jean Marc told me, repeatedly." She smiled. "I would suggest lunch, but I have Ramses, and you need to dry off. Hannibal, paper. I know you have some, you always do."

He provided a notebook and pen, and she wrote down her address and telephone number. "I’m having a party this Friday. I certainly hope you’ll both come, but I’ll insist on lunch at the very least. Take your young man home, Hannibal. He’s starting to go blue."

She kissed them both on the cheek, took Ramses by his sodden leash, and marched off. Will looked after her with a faintly puzzled expression.

"Picture her thirty years ago," Hannibal said. "She had more energy than the entire student body put together, especially given the amount of sleep most of us got. Her exams caused the faint of heart to weep with terror."

"I can imagine. Your young man?"

"She called you my paramour while you were too far off to hear. Is that better or worse?"

"They’re both pretty good, actually." He leaned on Hannibal to take his boots off one by one and dump water out of them. "How did she know?"

"I suppose it was the way I look at you."

Will smiled at him for that, soft and warm. He stole a kiss before he pulled back, which he never did in public. It left Hannibal with the absurd desire to touch his own mouth, as if he might feel the impression lingering there.

*

Hannibal stood in the bedroom doorway. Will had taken off his soaked trousers almost the moment they’d got back to the apartment but postponed a shower in favor of setting up his new phone while Hannibal started lunch.

He was stretched out on his stomach in white underwear and his white shirt. He had a frown on his face as he poked at the screen, elbows planted under him, toes curled into the pillow.

Hannibal sat on the edge of the bed and swept a hand down his back. "How do you like it so far?"

"How do you make the icons stop jittering while you’re trying to move them?"

"You don’t, I’m afraid."

Will made a noise of frustration and pushed the phone away to the end of the bed. Hannibal smiled at the lack of care. It pleased him unreasonably that Will should be learning to treat these gifts as if they were his right.

"I’d like to take you out tomorrow night," he said.

"Where?"

"An event that Dr. Alunni mentioned to me. I think I can safely say it will be a once in a lifetime experience."

Will eyed him. "So was getting stabbed. I hope."

"You will find this more pleasant than getting stabbed. I hope," he added.

"I don’t get any hints?"

"Do you remember telling me that you would have nowhere to wear the purple suit unless I took you to a garden party or a poetry reading?"

Will put on an expression of dismay, no doubt partly genuine. "Huh. Dante seems too obvious. And who throws a garden party after dark?"

"Despite your wide experience of garden parties, it has been known to happen."

"No comment on Dante?"

"No comment," Hannibal said. He slid his fingers through Will’s hair, still damp from the persistent rain, and drew them down his neck and along his spine. Will’s eyes sank half closed and he arched into the touch.

"Thank you," Will said. "The phone’s ridiculous, but thank you."

"I considered ordering one online for you so that it would be here when we arrived. I’m glad I didn’t."

"Yeah. So am I." Will ducked his head and inched closer, upper body draped across Hannibal’s lap. Hannibal took the hint and put his hands on him, on his neck and in his hair, stroking up under his shirt. Tight muscles slackened under his touch, and Will let out a soft sigh.

"Are you sure you don’t want to just do this for the rest of the day?" he mumbled. He stretched his legs out, toes pointed for a moment and then feet flexing back.

"You should shower. Lunch is almost ready."

The noise Will made sounded like agreement, but he didn’t move, and Hannibal liked having Will spread out and languid under his hands at least as much as Will liked being there. He slipped his fingers under the silver waistband of Will’s underwear and brushed them between his cheeks. Will bent his head in response, face hidden against Hannibal’s thigh. His back arched again, and his hips tipped up in invitation.

"You said later. You promised," Will said.

"So demanding."

"You like it. You push me into it every chance you get."

"The loss of control is pleasing on you. Turn over."

Will did, resting his head in Hannibal’s lap and looking up at him. His eyes slid closed as Hannibal pressed a hand over his cock through the tight cotton briefs.

"You like these, I think," Hannibal said.

Will swallowed, and Hannibal watched his throat work. "I don’t hate them," Will said.

Hannibal rubbed slowly between his legs, long strokes of his palm, feeling Will start to harden from his touch. He thought of the swimwear he had briefly considered for their trip before he had decided to forgo hotels and swimming pools for the intimacy of sharing their own space. Much of it had been more revealing than the underwear.

"Next winter, I’ll take you to the Caribbean," he said.

Will’s eyes opened at that. His lips parted in what was sure to be a protest. Hannibal watched him catch it between his teeth and worry at it. He unbuttoned Will’s shirt.

"Where?" Will said finally.

"Saba perhaps. Or St. Bart’s." Hannibal took the bottle of lubricant from the bedside table and set it down next to him.

Will looked at it rather than at him when he spoke again. "Have you been there?"

"Once or twice. Not for many years." He laid his hand over Will’s cock and squeezed lightly, pleased at the shift of Will’s hips. "There is always Florence, if you prefer Italy again. Or Istanbul. Rio. Would you like to choose?"

He squeezed again and stroked, and Will’s eyes fluttered closed. He eased his legs apart to give Hannibal more room. "That’s a long way away," he said.

"Approximately twelve months, I understand."

Will opened his eyes enough to shoot him an annoyed look. "You know what I mean."

"Do you mean that you will have grown tired of me by then and that therefore we should not make plans so far in the future?"

"No. But—"

"Then you fear it will be the other way around. What did I say to you?"

"For the rest of your life," Will said quietly. "In whatever capacity I deem acceptable."

"Yes. You believed me when I said it and you still do, so drop this pretense, please." He dragged his fingers over the outline of Will’s cock and inhaled the scent of his arousal, the warmth of it, the darker notes, the sweat on his skin and the lingering odor of the water he had waded through.

Will pressed his heels into the bed and reached back to hold onto Hannibal’s thigh. "Haven’t you teased me enough today?"

"Have I?" He thumbed slow circles over the head of Will’s cock until it dampened the front of his briefs and then leaned over and put his mouth there, opened wide, tongue dragging over the fabric for the faint taste.

Will arched up and put his hands in Hannibal’s hair to hold him. "The Caribbean," he said, soft and breathless. "Can we stay by the ocean?"

Hannibal licked at him again and felt his cock jerk. He smiled. "We can stay anywhere you like, Will."

Will pulled at him and propped himself up until they could kiss. He snaked an arm around Hannibal’s waist and tumbled him onto the bed, on his back, Will kneeling over him and sinking down against his body. Not for a moment did Hannibal have to fight his instincts: no part of him interpreted the sudden movement as a threat.

Will melted over him with a sigh. He took Hannibal’s body between his legs and framed his face with both hands. His kisses never lost their quality of exploration, each touch of lips and tongue poised to discover something new, a hard hungry press one moment, barely there the next.

It made Hannibal clutch at him, hands drifting down to his ass as much because he knew it amused Will as to please himself. Will smiled against his mouth and rocked his hips down. He let out an almost pained breath at the friction.

"Take your pants off."

"I had planned to. You’re making it difficult."

Will ground his hips down again. His fingertips dug into Hannibal’s shoulders. "You should’ve thought ahead."

"It would only take a moment."

"But I don’t want to stop." Will licked behind his ear, teeth on his earlobe, hand up under his shirt. "The rest of your life is a long time."

"Not long enough," Hannibal said.

Will’s response was little more than joy and disbelief breathed out against Hannibal’s neck. Hannibal set a foot against the bed and rolled them over. He pulled Will’s underwear down until his cock sprang free and smacked against his stomach. Will reached for him, but Hannibal had to taste it first, to lick all along it and at the ticklish crease of Will’s thigh until Will pulled him up by his hair to kiss him again.

"Pants," Will said. He didn’t wait for a reply but pulled at Hannibal’s zipper himself. He got the fastenings undone and the trousers and underwear pushed down and pulled Hannibal on top of him with a soft groan and a bite to the side of his neck.

Hannibal reached for the bottle and coated his hand, their cocks, probably the front of his trousers too. It was difficult to be accurate when Will had his teeth on him, even as gentle as he was. Little scraping kisses with an edge that left Hannibal in need he had never known before Will.

He put his hand around them both, but Will pulled it away and just moved against him, cocks sliding together, slick and hot. Hannibal put his nose to Will’s throat and held him down against the bed, hands tight on his wrists. Will laughed at him, a bright sound, free of care. Hannibal could feel it in his teeth as they closed briefly over Will’s throat.

"I thought you were tired of being teased," Hannibal said.

Will shifted under him. The head of his cock dragged across Hannibal’s stomach. "I’m tired of being the only one suffering."

"You weren’t."

"Then I’m tired of being the only one with a visible hard on in public while you give me fucking pocket money." The nip to Hannibal’s lower lip was a little more serious.

"Do you still have it?"

Will went still for a moment.

Hannibal smiled. "Two hundred euros, Will. Did you leave it in your trousers and toss them on the floor? Did you think of it at all?"

"I didn’t—" Will made a soft noise of frustration, and Hannibal could feel his cock pulse.

"Perhaps you simply assumed that I would give you more."

Will wrapped his legs around Hannibal’s waist. "Fuck me."

"You sound serious."

"I almost – I wanted it so much this morning—" He stopped, looking up at Hannibal with an uncertainty he rarely showed in the bedroom. "Would you have done it if I begged?"

"Yes," Hannibal said without thought or hesitation.

"Then do it now. Please." Will closed his eyes and took a long breath. "Please."

Hannibal undressed with more speed than grace, but Will didn’t laugh, didn’t even smile. Only watched him, hard cock curved across his stomach while Hannibal stretched him barely enough before settling into place between his legs.

Will caught at his hips as he pushed in. "Oh," he said, wonder and satisfaction tied up together in his voice. "Yeah, that’s – that’s what I wanted."

"Anything," Hannibal told him.

They moved together, Will with his legs hooked over Hannibal’s to keep him close, Hannibal with his arms under Will’s shoulders. Kisses between silent breaths. Will wrapped his arms around Hannibal and left scratches on his back when he came, hard exhales against Hannibal’s neck, welts stinging his skin.

Hannibal pressed him down and jerked his hips forward. It felt like falling even before he tipped over the edge.

He sank down slowly on top of Will, too heavily, but Will didn’t protest. He only stroked Hannibal’s back where he’d scratched him and kissed the crown of his head. "We’re both going to need a shower after that," he said.

"You first. My scallops are marinating. I will need to take them out soon."

"How soon?"

"A few more minutes."

*

Eventually, they moved from the bed. Will went to shower and Hannibal rescued his scallops. He was standing at the stove when Will came skidding into the kitchen with his robe clutched around him and a wild expression on his face.

"Will?"

"Are you okay? I heard—"

"What?"

Will stared at him. "I heard you. I know I did."

"What did you hear?"

"You were calling for me. You sounded scared."

Hannibal turned off the burner and approached him cautiously. "I said nothing, I promise you."

Will laid a hand on his chest, as if checking to make sure he was real. "I heard you."

"What did I say?"

"You called my name."

This close, Hannibal could smell his fear and the heavy scent that lay underneath it, that fevered sweetness from before, but stronger now, a cloud around him. He touched his wrist to Will’s forehead.

Will pulled back. "I’m not sick."

"You’re warm. It may only be from the shower. How do you feel otherwise?"

"Just a headache."

It wasn’t the first time he’d mentioned that recently. Persistent headache, fever, auditory hallucinations. Hannibal might have put it down to stress if not for the scent.

"Perhaps you heard something from the street. Through an air vent."

"Maybe." He looked like he knew it wasn’t true.

"Is it the first time something like this has happened?" Hannibal asked.

Will folded his arms around himself. "I’ve seen Garret Jacob Hobbs since – since I told you about it. Sometimes he talks to me."

"What does he say?"

"He asks me if I can … see."

"See what?"

"I don’t know," Will said, certainly lying.

Hannibal pulled him into his arms and kissed him. Will leaned into his body heavily, hands spread wide on his back. "The echoes of your work," Hannibal said. "They will fade as you allow yourself time to recover."

"You’re sure you’re okay? Nothing happened?"

"I’m quite well," Hannibal told him. "Go and finish your shower. Lunch will be ready soon.”

Will searched his face for a few seconds. He nodded and went back to the bedroom.

Hannibal started the butter poached asparagus and considered how this might be turned to his advantage. A dozen scenarios came to him in the space of a few seconds. None of them seemed to be quite what he wanted, and he didn’t understand why.

Chapter Text

The first thing Will saw the next morning was the purple suit hanging on the back of the closet door. The curtains streamed out from the windows in a damp, chill wind that rocked the suit gently from side to side. The hanger scraped against the wood with a noise like a cricket. He wrapped himself up in his robe and shuffled out of the bedroom.

Hannibal was reading on the brown velvet sofa in the library. Will sat down next to him and tipped over against his side with a yawn. "I’m still not wearing that," he said.

Hannibal put a hand on his thigh and squeezed lightly as he moved it upward, pushing the robe aside. "No?"

"No." He tried to sound like he meant it.

"Even though I’ve found the perfect occasion for it? We’re lucky we arrived when we did. The event we’re attending only takes place once a month, under the new moon."

"Not the full moon?"

"They prefer the dark."

Will squinted up at him. "If anyone at this thing is wearing a cape or tells me they don’t drink … wine, my respect for you is going to nosedive."

"There is very little danger of either of those things." Hannibal kissed his temple. "If you hate it, we’ll leave."

"I guess it’s not going to kill me."

"I don’t think you’ll find it that different from our nights at the opera."

Will put his ear to Hannibal’s chest, listening for the beat of his heart, just audible over the rain on the windows. "The opera’s going to be different when we get back. Carson’s going to tell them I’m not – what they thought."

"It’s likely, yes. Will you miss that version of yourself?"

"Will you?"

Hannibal smoothed Will’s hair back from his face. "Will I miss you clinging to my arm and looking at me with stars in your eyes?"

"I wasn’t that bad."

"You were, I’m afraid. It was quite a performance."

It hadn’t been much of a performance at all, and he was sure Hannibal knew that. Hannibal pulled at the tie of Will’s robe and slid a hand inside, which distracted Will from the protest he’d almost convinced himself to make. "Cold. Quit that."

Hannibal wound both arms around him and pulled Will nearly into his lap. His stubble tickled Will’s neck. Will squirmed and fought down laughter.

"You feel warm enough to me," Hannibal said.

"Well, with you all over me—"

A second later, he was on his back on the sofa with Hannibal all over him and looking pleased with himself.

"Funny," Will said.

"Are you still cold?"

"Not cold. Just suffocating."

Hannibal lay on him more heavily for a second and turned them so that Will was tucked in between his body and the back of the sofa. He pulled a blanket over both of them. "And now?"

Will gave in and smiled up at him. "This is pretty good."

"Then will you be still and let me finish my reading?"

"I could go shower. I only came to complain about the suit. Mission accomplished."

"No," Hannibal said. He leaned into Will, holding him in place with the bulk of his body. "Stay here."

"Okay."

"Good." Hannibal picked up his tablet again and switched it on.

Will couldn’t see what he was reading, only the reflected light on his face. He settled down and folded himself up to fit more comfortably into the small space he’d been given. It lit a warmth inside him that had nothing to do with the blanket or Hannibal’s body heat, and he lay still, trying to categorize it. Contentment, but not only that. A sense of belonging, of being sure for once that he was where he was supposed to be.

Hannibal looked at him over the top of the tablet. "Do you want to know how your case is going?"

Will stared at him. He’d forgotten the case. He’d forgotten the job. Even now, the expected rush of guilt didn’t come. Home seemed like another world. "Is there another body?" he said.

"No. The bulk of the article is padding. The FBI continues to investigate, et cetera."

Will frowned. "What are you reading?" He tipped the top of the screen toward him and saw Tattlecrime’s layout. "Hannibal, come on. You’re giving her ad revenue."

"I already have, so I might as well finish reading, don’t you think?"

Will didn’t think, but Hannibal was absorbed again already and would not be distracted. Will watched the avid concentration in his eyes and the faint crease between his brows, the way the rest of the world had ceased to exist for him.

Moments like this made him consider Hannibal’s childhood with relief. The loss of his family, the hunt for their killer, the consumption. Without all of that, Will would’ve been left looking for another explanation for this fierce interest, and he would have been afraid of what he might find.

*

Will let Hannibal shave him again before they went out. Hannibal lingered over the curve of his jaw. He tipped Will’s chin up to bare his neck and watched his pulse jump. He thought this was a ritual he could easily become accustomed to.

Afterward, Will put on the purple suit without complaint or prompting, lavender shirt, silver tie and all. Hannibal looked him over with pleasure.

Will pulled at his cuffs. "Okay?"

"Is that an honest question or do you only want me to tell you how handsome you are?"

Hannibal watched him struggle to find an answer, lips parted, gaze quickly dropped to the floor.

"Maybe both," Will said finally. "Is that bad?"

"It’s not bad at all." Hannibal took his hand and kissed it. "The color suits you. You are astonishingly lovely as always."

Will didn’t answer, but the look he gave Hannibal was enough: shy and quiet, laced with embarrassed pleasure. He turned away to hide his blush and collect his coat.

They got a water taxi just as the sun was sinking toward the western horizon and glided out across dark, choppy water. Will spent most of the ride looking out the window. The islands slid past them, barely visible once the sun had set.

Some considerable time later, the water taxi left them at Torcello along the main canal. The path that ran beside it was deserted. They might have been the only people on the island.

"Pretty out of the way party," Will said. "Where are we going? Someone’s house?"

"You will see. Patience."

The sun had set. The wind off the sea had picked up gradually throughout the day. It cut in and out now as they moved between buildings. It blew so hard as they crossed the Devil’s Bridge that it staggered both of them momentarily.

Will paused there, staring out over the water. Hannibal took his arm to urge him along.

"This is all Gothic as hell," Will said.

"You are the one standing at the peak of the Devil’s Bridge with your cloak flapping about you."

"It’s a coat and it’s not long enough to flap. Why’s it the Devil’s Bridge?"

"Who knows? There are so many of them."

"The Devil’s everywhere," Will said quietly.

Hannibal nodded to a pair of votive candles perched on the fence posts of a private garden. "Our destination."

Somewhere, at the cathedral perhaps or rolling out from Burano across the water, a bell began to toll. They slipped through the gate and joined a small throng of silent and soberly dressed people under the trees. Wind had stripped the branches, and the leaves lay rotting underfoot, sending up the rich scent of incipient earth.

A handful of lanterns hung high in the trees. Their pale flames did little to light the scene. The people blended together into a dark and moving mass of which Will and Hannibal became a part. Had there been any moon, the clouds would have blotted it out. Old stone faces hung from the crumbling walls, some leering and some screaming, some with their mouths shattered or their features worn away entirely.

No one spoke. A sharp crack of wood on stone echoed around the garden. Hannibal could feel Will stiffen beside him. A voice in the dark began to speak of the approach to the city of Dis, but Hannibal’s thoughts were of the words inscribed on Will’s ring: Midway through the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood.

And here they were, a gathering of more or less damned souls in the dark wood together with the words and a damp wind eating away at their sense of comfort. All around him he heard the shift of people seeking more stable ground as their shoes sunk into the leaves and soft earth.

It pleased him just as much as he had imagined it would from the moment Dr. Alunni mentioned it to him, and he hoped that Will would appreciate the symbolism even if he was irritated by the pretension. For the moment, Will stood silent beside him, leaning into Hannibal’s shoulder, hands in his pockets against the chill. Hannibal clasped his hands behind his back and left his body behind as he committed this place and this moment to a forest grove in the gardens of his memory palace.

Old pines grew there, side by side with lemon and olive trees, simultaneously in fruit and in bloom. The familiar words darkened the air. The lemons hung above him like golden moons. He breathed in, and the scents unfurled: lemon and pine, earth and the pale green smell of the olive blossoms. He wrapped the tree trunks in poetry and stored words among the leaves.

Slowly, he became aware of an absence in his garden. No undercurrent of dog or formaldehyde or the cold ozone scent of fear, no rush of the stale classroom or socks gone a day too long without washing or that new, sweet heat of fever.

Hannibal opened his eyes and looked down at his own hand, only a shadow in the flickering lantern light. He had reached for Will in some attempt to store him away among the olives and the lemons, but Will was gone. The space beside Hannibal was empty. Only footprints in the soft earth remained.

Hannibal blinked down at the impressions his weight had left and then looked around him. It was a fruitless exercise in the dark, surrounded on all sides by the faceless bodies of the damned. Hannibal thought of Will’s auditory hallucination yesterday. Had he heard something else? Will’s instinct was always to shrink away from the light in moments of crisis.

Hannibal crossed the grass and the wet leaves to the wall with its broken stone faces. He walked away from the gate, toward the back corner of the garden. His eyes moved left and right, sweeping the ground for any movement or shadow. He grew more accustomed to the dark. Shapes emerged, despite the moonless dark, crumbling statuary and an old stone oil press.

He reached that and stood upon it, closed his eyes, and scented the air. The sweet scent of fever came thick into his nose like blood spreading through water. Will was closer than he had thought. A moment’s search showed him crouched behind the stone oil press. He was on his knees, bent over, hands pressed to his ears.

Hannibal studied him. His posture suggested both distress and a desire for secrecy: the impulse to hide pain lest it be used against him. Hannibal could remember hiding in just this way as a child, both before and after his family was murdered. Before: behind curtains and under beds. After: tucked into the limbs of a tree or in caves that stank of predators stronger than himself.

He would not have thanked anyone for offered comfort then, but he still found himself with his hand outstretched toward Will’s hunched back before he had decided what the most effective course of action might be.

"Will," he said softly. "Where are you?"

Will said nothing. He cringed away from Hannibal’s touch. Hannibal pulled one hand away from his ear. It took some force to do it. "Where are you?" he asked again.

"In the woods," Will said. He took a shuddering breath.

"Do you know these woods?"

"They’re – it’s out back of the trailer park. Where we lived. Me and my dad."

"What do you see in the woods?"

Will shook his head. "It’s not real. I mean it’s not real now. I know it’s not. I know where I am."

"Where are you?"

"Some pretentious asshole’s garden," Will muttered.

Hannibal had to smile. "Yes. Can you sit up?"

Will let Hannibal help him up off his knees to sit on the side of the oil press. He set a hand on the small stone wheel that ran around the inner groove to crush the olives. He pushed at it. It rolled an inch or two and then settled back where it had been.

Hannibal sat next to him and waited. In the distance, he could still hear the reading of Dante, the low tone and the sonorous roll of the speaker’s voice, but they were too far away now to distinguish the words.

Finally, Will edged closer and braced his shoulder against Hannibal’s. Hannibal closed his eyes. The relief he felt, both at the touch and the presence where there had been absence, was a shock. He felt it on his skin, electric and uncomfortable. He wanted to shrug it off, but he could not. Instead, he put his arm around Will, though he knew it was inadvisable to make him feel trapped at this stage. He kept the grip loose. The tension in Will’s body eased.

*

Will let himself sag more fully against Hannibal’s side. Part of him still wanted to pull away, farther than a few inches, farther than a foot or two. He wanted to be up and gone. It was the impulse that had yanked him away from Hannibal’s side in the first place. But that was only part of him. The other part wanted to crawl inside Hannibal’s coat, put his hands under his shirt, touch him skin to skin, hold and be held in return.

"I heard something," Will said.

"What did you hear?"

Will blinked into the almost perfect dark of the trees. "Someone calling me."

"Was it me again?" Hannibal asked.

"I don’t know."

It had been a child. He’d followed it into the trees. Into the woods. And he’d come out into a clearing behind the trailer park where they’d lived when he was seven. He could see the beige trailer with the faded red stripes down the side, the logo painted in fat 1970s cursive, the weeds out back where no one kept their patch of lawn mowed.

The woods beyond had been a scraggly strip of forest no more than a few hundred yards thick, sandwiched between the trailer park and the interstate where the semis roared past all night long.

At first, he’d thought the voice calling him had been himself as a child. It had led him deeper into the trees, away from the trailer, away from light and safety. He had followed with dragging steps, only half aware of the physical trees around him, of the statues and the scent of decay.

In his mind, it was spring. The Louisiana heat hadn’t kicked in for the summer yet. That was why no one had smelled the body. Will found him in his mind just as he’d found him when he was seven, an old man with a rough beard and rough clothes, belly distended by rot.

Hannibal gripped the back of his neck hard. Will flinched from both the memory and the touch.

"Breathe," Hannibal told him.

Will tried. It came in fits and gasps, every inhalation a fight. "I’m okay," he said.

"Like your dogs, you crawl off alone to die," Hannibal said. "I don’t care for the tactic any more than you do."

"Instinct," Will said.

"If our instincts ruled us, we would create no art but the scrawl of our enemies’ blood in the dirt."

Will turned to him and slid his arms under Hannibal’s coat to hold onto him. Hannibal’s arms came around him, tight and desperate.

"I didn’t mean to worry you,” Will said.

"Shall we leave?"

"No. Can we stay here? Just for a minute. Then we can go back and listen to the rest."

"Do you want to?" Hannibal asked.

Will nodded against his shoulder. "I liked it. Perfect social event for me, right? You can’t see anyone and nobody talks to you."

He spoke lightly, but Hannibal must have been able to feel the tremors still running through him. He stroked Will’s back and up into his hair, fingertips rubbing at the base of his skull.

"Will you tell me what happened?" Hannibal asked.

"It doesn’t matter. I’m fine, right? Stress. Like you said."

Hannibal seemed to accept that – he should; it was his own damn diagnosis – and said nothing in reply. He tucked Will’s head under his chin and kissed his temple.

Will swallowed hard. With the option of escape gone, all he wanted was to be closer. Closer than was physically possible. He imagined Hannibal’s body swelling like the corpse in the woods, not with rot but with Will inside him, safe under his skin. It sent a shudder through him that was only half revulsion.

Hannibal stroked his hair. "Who called to you?" he asked. "Whom did you feel compelled to follow?"

"I don’t know," Will said again, but he thought he did now. The voice returned to him with piercing clarity. It had been Hannibal calling to him across the years, lost and alone as he hunted his prey in the dark woods.

After a few minutes, they returned to the gathered crowd under the trees. Will didn’t understand the Italian, but he liked the sound of it, the quiet expectation of the people in the dark, Hannibal’s attentive energy beside him. Hannibal kept an arm around his waist for the rest of the night as if he might wander off again. Will tried to find it irritating instead of comforting and failed.

Afterward, the guests left in ones and twos and threes. None of them spoke. They might all have been ghosts, wraiths, or memories. By the time Will and Hannibal crossed the Devil’s Bridge again, they were alone. Everyone else had faded into the surrounding streets.

Will stood at the peak of the bridge and looked down into perfectly black water. Hannibal was still there at his side, still with an arm around his waist, firmer now. "I’m not going to jump," Will said. "Promise."

Hannibal was silent for a second or two. "I was discomfited when I discovered that you had gone."

Will glanced at him and then down at their reflection in the dark water. "Unusual for you."

"Yes. I am accustomed to being alone."

"Even when you’re with people."

"Perhaps especially then," Hannibal said.

"Sometimes I try to tell you stuff when you’re not there. I’m reading at home or in my office and I look up and …" Will shrugged.

"I have done the same," Hannibal said. "But this was – this was distressing."

"I’m sorry."

"I’m not trying to inspire guilt."

"You just need me to know."

"Yes," Hannibal said.

Will leaned into him and kissed him. Their lips brushed together, warm and soft, momentarily clinging. "Thanks for telling me then."

Hannibal turned toward him and pulled Will’s body flush against his with a hand at the center of his back. He deepened the kiss, made it hard and bruising, licked into Will’s mouth. It felt like an attempt at what Will had wanted earlier himself: to be closer than they could be, to merge beyond the ability to part.

Will’s promise to know Hannibal came back to him, whispering at the edge of his mind. He got closer to that knowledge every day, but he still didn’t know what he’d find when he got there.

Chapter Text

The night of Dr. Alunni’s party, Will examined the suit Hannibal had laid out for him. It wasn’t much better than the purple one: royal blue and faintly shimmery, dark blue shirt, silver-green tie with an intricate pattern of overlapping swirls.

"I’m going to look like a Bond villain," Will said. "Or a peacock."

"You will look lovely. You always do."

Hannibal wore black: suit, tie, and shirt; unrelieved, sinister, and funeral. Will tried not to stare too obviously or touch him too much. Despite his best intentions, he found himself with a hand on the knot of the silk tie, black paisley on black, pulling Hannibal in for kiss after kiss.

"This isn’t your usual thing," Will said.

"You like it."

"Is that why you picked it?"

"No," Hannibal said. "I picked it so that you will stand out next to me. As you should."

"I don’t think I’ll be the one standing out."

"That’s because you have no idea what you look like." Hannibal brushed a kiss over the sensitive spot behind Will’s ear. "Vibrant and fresh and alive."

"And what are you? The shadow of death?"

Something flickered across Hannibal’s face, too quickly gone to catch. "Something of the sort, yes."

"Some people might prefer that."

"There are always those who are drawn to the contemplation of mortality. Speaking of which, if you brought that sketch from the telescope case, you might show it to Dr. Alunni. She’s made a study of various ossuaries across Europe."

"Is she drawn to the contemplation of mortality?"

"It’s a common affliction in our field."

"Mine too." But it wasn’t a reminder of death he saw when he looked at Hannibal. Something about the stark black and simple cut brought him forward, ahead of his clothes for once. It was like seeing him naked.

*

Hannibal and Will took a water taxi to Dr. Alunni’s house. It was a far shorter trip than the one to Torcello had been, just across the water from the Piazza San Marco. They stepped from the boat onto worn stone stairs constantly licked by the rising water and gone green with algae at the base.

Dr. Alunni greeted them at the door and showed them into a parlor with a blown glass chandelier sprawling across half the ceiling and a floor of black and white tile. Art covered the balding wallpaper, everything packed in side by side with no apparent theme other than the doctor’s personal taste.

"You’ll have to play for us later," she told Hannibal. "But I’ll give you some time to enjoy yourselves first. Please excuse me, I think I hear Ramses trying to eat something he shouldn’t."

In the distance, Will could hear the cracking, crunching scrape of teeth on bones. He’d been afraid he was the only one who could.

The beginning of the evening was familiar from their nights at the opera, and Will found an odd peace in it, intensified by the language barrier. A few of the other guests spoke English, but Italian and French were more common, and Hannibal tended to get pinned down by the odd ones out: the one man who spoke only German and rudimentary Italian, and the woman from Japan, who spoke any number of languages, judging by the shifts in their conversation, but no French or Italian at all.

Will didn’t mind. Hannibal had taken his hand early in the evening, so apparently they weren’t hiding anything, and he was happy to lean into him and be carried along. It gave him a chance to look at the art, which ranged from children’s drawings of frogs, to ink sketches and caricatures, to vast, wall-dominating oil paintings.

"I’ve had a long time to collect them," Dr. Alunni said, appearing at his side. "Would you like to see the ones Hannibal did?"

Will nodded, and she drew him away. Hannibal looked after them but remained caught by the German man who was explaining something to him with a serious expression.

"What are they talking about?" Will asked.

She frowned. "He’s not translating for you? He had better manners when I knew him."

"I don’t really—" Care. "Mind," he said.

"Well, I can’t say you’re missing much. It was mostly about fish restaurants from what I caught. Here we are. He sold these by the dozen from some gallery on Rue Amelot. I can’t recall the name now. The proprietor made him deliver them after hours so his customers wouldn’t see how young the artist was."

The drawing was of a woman with one foot raised, face obscured in cross-hatched pen and ink shadow, sketchy, loose-lined and emotive. Will felt like he’d seen it before. "Is this a copy of something?"

"Rodin. He did a lot of those, and Degas. And, more rarely, his own adaptations." She nodded to another drawing, a man facing away from the viewer. The shadow of a skull fell across his bent back. "He paid his way through medical school with them and the work he did for me."

"What did he do for you?"

"He worked in the anatomy lab with the new bodies we got in, preparing for my lectures. Injecting dyes to highlight the sections I’d be talking about, removing unnecessary tissue, that sort of thing. Easily the best assistant I ever had."

Will frowned at the drawings. "I assumed his family put him through school."

"They did for a time, I believe. Until his uncle disappeared."

"Disappeared?"

She gave him a sharp glance. "He didn’t tell you?"

"He doesn’t talk a lot about his past."

“It seems some days I can do nothing but. You’ll have to ask him about it. There was a police investigation, but I don’t know what the final outcome was.”

"Did they find a body?"

Dr. Alunni looked amused. "You are a policeman through and through. No, they didn’t find a body as far as I know, but Hannibal gave me to understand that he was presumed dead. I’m sorry for the tragedy, of course, but glad for the beauty it produced."

She tapped the frame of one drawing, a skull with teeth sitting loose and crooked in its jaw and forget-me-nots growing through its empty eye sockets. The sight of it jolted Will’s memory, and he pulled the photocopy of the ossuary sketch from his pocket. "He said I should show this to you. That you might have some idea what it says?"

She pulled a pair of gold-rimmed glasses from her pocket and looked it over. "I hope you didn’t pay much for this. It’s eighteenth century trash."

"I didn’t pay for it at all. Found it in a telescope case. I’m just curious."

"Well … there’s a lot of florid prose about the majesty of death and the eternal sleep, but what it comes down to is a tourist account of a visit to the Church of Chrysanthus and Daria in Paris, underneath which you will find …" She squinted. "A towering mass of putrid bones. Sounds charming, doesn’t it? As far as I’m aware there is no such church in Paris. I wonder if he was making it up."

She handed the paper back to him, and Will folded it up to stick it in his pocket. "I’ll look into it. Thanks. No one else has been able to make much of it."

"I have decades of experience in decoding poor handwriting and nonsensical prose. I’m glad it was good for something." She looked past him. "I think he’s come to reclaim you."

Hannibal stood by Will’s shoulder and looked over his own drawings. "You kept them. I thought the anatomy sketches I did for you were better."

"Oh, I have those too. I just thought Will would appreciate these and the story that went with them." She patted his arm and slid away to speak to another guest.

Will glanced at him. "I didn’t ask her anything. She volunteered."

"What did she volunteer precisely?"

"She said your uncle disappeared. And you started paying your way through school with these afterward."

"Yes," Hannibal said. "Most of the money was entailed to the estate and held in trust until I was twenty-one. My aunt and I had very little to live on. I wished to spare her the expense."

"They’re good," Will said.

"I’m glad you like them." Hannibal examined the drawings again. "But all I see in them is their faults, I’m afraid. Come, let’s look at something better."

He took Will’s arm and guided him into the next room. Will was caught immediately by the painting on the wall over the fireplace. A young woman lay stretched out on a divan, eating grapes, but from the waist down she was rotting away. Worms ate at her feet while she smiled. Will took a step back.

"Painted by an ancestor of hers," Hannibal said. "There are a number of them on the same theme. The contemplation of death in life."

Will looked away, but his eyes kept coming back to it on their own. He saw the young woman dismembered and packed down under the floor, her sweet smile directed upward as unsuspecting guests walked across her grave. Flowers in her mouth.

Hannibal was talking about the brushwork. Will felt sweat form and chill on his skin. He took a long drink of champagne. It was only the heat and the press of people around them. He only needed a second to himself. When Hannibal turned away to speak to the German man again, Will slipped out into the garden.

He’d expected the fresh air to help, but he only felt sicker. Trees and hedges threw the whole space into primeval darkness. The glow from inside the house cast just enough light to generate long, distorted shadows. He closed his eyes. He could feel worms in his own feet, chewing through his flesh.

He should go back in. Tell Hannibal. Maybe he could do something. Running off on his own hadn’t helped last time. He turned back toward the door and saw Garret Jacob Hobbs rotting from the waist down and offering Will his still-beating heart. His mouth was bloody, and he was smiling.

Will’s own heart thudded once. He stood rooted to the spot. Hobbs took a step toward him. Will turned and fled into the trees.

Branches and leafless vines caught at his hair and clothes. Mud sucked at his feet. He skidded on an oil slick of rotting leaves. The garden could not stretch so far or be so dark and wild. Like the worms, like Hobbs, the dark wood must exist only in his head, but in this moment it filled his whole world.

He heard water running ahead of him. The trees opened up into a small clearing. Moonlight fell down on him, though the sky had been heavy with clouds earlier in the evening, rain spitting on them all the way across the water. Will saw an abandoned campfire. He saw frayed, bloodstained ropes hanging from the tree branch above him.

He saw, more clearly than anything in the present, the drawing Hannibal had done for him of the body of the deer that was a man, of the moonlight shining off its dead eyes and off the wet rocks in the stream. The rocks winked at him with silver highlights, and Will could almost see the pencil marks.

The stag’s heart – the heart of the man who had murdered Hannibal’s family – lay on a flat stone in the center of the stream. It was surrounded by a wreath of antlers. He heard Garret Jacob Hobbs asking his incessant question and he heard Hannibal calling to him for help, voice young and desperate.

Will whirled around, looking for him, and slipped in the thick mud. He fell, crawled to the edge of the water, looked upstream and then down. He saw nothing. After a second, he staggered to his feet and started slogging across to the other side.

Hannibal would be there. Just out of reach. He always seemed just out of reach in a way that Will had never been able to place, but now he would find him. Know him.

The voice fell silent as Will stood in the middle of the wet rocks with water up to his knees. It started to pull at his flesh. Pain gripped him, a tearing sensation. He looked down and saw pieces of himself being washed away by the current, worms crawling in the rotten meat of his calves and thighs.

"Will!"

That was Hannibal’s voice too, but not lost and young and in need. Will turned toward the sound, seeking him, but he couldn’t move. His bones were being tumbled by the rapids and ground to splinters.

Hannibal stood on the bank. He held out his hand. "Will, come here. Come to me."

"I can’t."

"You can. Just one step at a time. Come now."

Will looked at his outstretched hand and saw Hannibal’s beating heart in the palm. He saw the gaping vacuum in his chest. He took a step back and fell.

Rocks struck his hip and elbow and back. The pain jolted him back to something closer to reality. The water lost its moonlit sheen. Hannibal’s hand was empty, and he was wading out into the water, grasping Will’s arms and pulling him upright.

"I saw – Hannibal, I—"

Hannibal got Will’s arm over his shoulders and dragged him back to shore. Will was more or less convinced that his legs were still attached to his body, but getting them to work was something else. Hannibal pulled Will’s soaked suit jacket off of him and replaced it with his own coat. Will pulled it closer and buried his face in the collar to breathe in the familiar scent of him.

Hannibal was pulling him back toward the party, but Will resisted, couldn’t do it, not yet. They compromised on a rock near the tree where Hannibal had hung his victim. No. It was just a tree. There was no campfire, no heart, no crown of antlers.

Will took a long shuddering breath. "I’m okay. Sorry."

Hannibal put his arms around him and pulled him close. Will fell into him and closed his eyes.

*

Hannibal could feel Will shaking against him. Some of it was undoubtedly from the cold water and the cold night, and he would have to get him somewhere warm soon. But not all of it. He had never seen Will so frightened. "What did you see?"

Will shook his head.

"I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s happening."

"You said it was stress. You said it would stop."

Hannibal could smell the fear, but also the sweet, heavy bloom of fever, stronger than before. "Please, Will. Tell me."

It took Will a minute or two before he could speak without gasping for air between his body’s involuntary shudders. "I heard you again. You as a child. And I saw – I saw everything. The campfire. The rocks. The blood. His heart laid out on a stone for sacrifice."

Hannibal stroked his hair and rearranged the coat closer about his shoulders. He should dismiss what Will had seen and let the rot and the doubt grow inside him. That would be sensible. That would be safe. It would be better for both of them.

"Did you look for me?" Hannibal asked.

"You were on the other side of the stream. I was trying to get to you." Will gripped Hannibal’s shirt, hands white with cold and tension. "I couldn’t find you. I couldn’t save you."

Hannibal watched the flow of water over black rocks. He could see Will with his hand outstretched in the dark wood, a ghost image laid over the remembered past. "No one could have. You wouldn’t have heard me. I never cried out. I never made a sound."

"I would’ve heard you anyway. I can hear you now."

And Hannibal could hear him, smell him, taste him on the cold, wet air. He pressed his face to Will’s damp curls and felt the pull of something inside him, like an overstretched muscle in his chest. "Can you see me?"

Will groped for his hand and gripped it tight. "I will. I promise."

Hannibal knew he would. Will didn’t know how to give up, and Hannibal had already drawn him too close. The ground was beginning to crumble under their weight.

Will’s shivers grew more violent as the cold caught up with him and sank into his bones. Hannibal knew that feeling intimately. Blood on his hands and face, he had stood up to his waist in snowmelt that night until the water had washed away more than remained of him.

"I’m scared," Will said, so quietly that Hannibal barely heard him, even as close as they were.

Hannibal threw his fate to the winds and the ice cold water. "We’ll take you to the hospital in the morning," he said. He pressed a kiss to Will’s forehead, and his lips were as cold as Will’s skin. "I don’t believe your affliction is purely mental."

Will looked up at him, and Hannibal could see the moonlight in his eyes, though he knew no moon shone above them. "I’m not going crazy?" Will said.

"You are as sane as I am."

Will’s breath shuddered out of him in something close to a sob. Hannibal pulled him to his feet, and this time Will let himself be guided toward the house. Hannibal felt as if he had run after Will for miles, but the journey back couldn’t have been more than a few yards. He glanced behind them and saw the weed-choked fish pond that had, moments ago, been the clear stream of his childhood.

He turned away and pulled open the door to the kitchen, shepherding Will inside and out of the past.

Dr. Alunni paused in pouring blood orange juice into a pitcher of prosecco. "Good God," she said. "What’s happened to you two?"

"I’m afraid we stumbled into your water feature in the dark. I think we’d better head back."

"I think you’d better head straight upstairs and change. The last room on the left. My husband’s clothes are still there. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them, so you’ll do me a favor if you take some of them away with you. He was about your size. Go, get warm. I’m beginning to think the two of you shouldn’t be allowed out on your own."

Will offered her a wan smile. "Thanks," he said.

"Here," she said, and pressed a couple of small pastries into his hand, still warm from the oven. "All right. Now." She shooed them away.

They climbed the stairs, worn wood in need of a polish, but under that something to be treasured. The entire house was a masterpiece, one of the few properties that had survived intact from the sixteenth century, now updated with plumbing and electricity that sat uneasily alongside more gracious architectural features.

The room they had been directed to had a vaulted ceiling, a stiff wooden bed with a headboard that nearly scraped the ceiling molding, and another of the paintings of decay that Will had stared at downstairs. Hannibal watched him carefully as he walked over to it.

"What do you see in it?" Hannibal asked.

"Love," Will said. "He’s in love with the idea of death. And he’s afraid of it."

"Love and fear are closely aligned. We’ve spoken before of the human proclivity to be attracted to what we perceive as forbidden." Hannibal took dry clothes from the closet. They smelled of lavender, and they were an old man’s clothes, high waisted trousers and baggy sweaters. Will would probably like them better than Hannibal’s own choices.

Will rested his fingertips on the gilt frame of the painting. "It’s not forbidden. It’s inevitable. He knew it was waiting for him. Like the killer back home. What did you say? We walk on the roof of Hell."

"The pretense of safety in the midst of destruction."

Will nodded. "It’s always just under your feet."

"And this painter chooses to acknowledge that."

"More than acknowledge. He liked it."

"An uncommon attitude,” Hannibal said.

"You’re the one who said some people fall in love with the reminder of their own mortality."

"Did I say that?"

He toweled off Will’s hair for him until Will made an impatient noise and took the towel from him to finish the job himself. After that it was fairly simple to prompt him into getting out of his wet clothes and into the dry ones that had lately belonged to a dead man. Something about that brought a small smile to Hannibal’s face.

"What?" Will asked.

"All this talk of mortality and look who has loaned you his shroud."

Will made a brief sound of amusement. "Not just me. Your pants are soaking too."

"I can wait until we get back."

"No way. If I’m going around in a dead man’s shoes, so are you."

Hannibal gave in gracefully and pulled on an unfortunate pair of black trousers, too faded and too deeply pleated to match what he was wearing in the least. They sat together on the end of the bed. Hannibal wrapped Will in a blanket and in his arms and felt Will’s shivers ease.

His head dropped to Hannibal’s shoulder in exhaustion. "I’m sorry," he said.

"There’s nothing to be sorry for."

"I wrecked your evening. That’s something."

Hannibal bent enough to kiss him and stayed there to speak against his mouth. "No. I have no regrets about tonight.”

Chapter Text

The first Will knew of the next day was the scent of coffee and Hannibal’s touch on his back. He’d turned over in his sleep, face in the pillow, drool sliding uncomfortably from the corner of his dry mouth. He wiped at it and groaned. "Don’t kiss me," he said. "I’m disgusting."

"That’s never stopped me before."

Will made a face at that and then a worse one when he turned over and saw Hannibal’s cheerfully amused expression. He took the coffee and waved him away, but Hannibal didn’t go.

He sat on the edge of the bed and laid a hand on Will’s forehead. "You’re warm. I thought you felt warm in the night. Were you running a fever before we left?"

"Don’t know. I don’t own a thermometer."

"And somehow I didn’t think to bring mine with me. Well, we’ll know soon enough." Hannibal looked at him, head tilted slightly to one side. "Will you do something for me?"

"Probably."

Hannibal handed him a notebook and a jet black fountain pen. "Draw me a clock."

"What for?"

"An exercise."

Will shrugged. "Okay. What time is it?"

"The time doesn’t matter."

Will drew it, put the hands at nine o’clock, and passed it back. Hannibal looked it over. He leaned close and inhaled against the crook of Will’s neck.

"That tickles," Will said.

"I can smell it on you."

"What? Do I—" Will froze, news stories about cancer-sniffing dogs coming back to him. "Do I have a brain tumor? You can smell what on me?"

"No, cancer smells entirely different. Encephalitis, I think."

"You can smell encephalitis? Is that – is that it? The hallucinations, everything?"

"Hallucinations, fever." He tapped the paper. "Hemispatial neglect. And yes. I’ve smelt something on you for some time, but I don’t have enough experience with encephalitis to identify it purely from the scent. I’ve treated patients for it in the past, rarely, but they tend to object if I smell them."

He leaned in again and nuzzled Will’s neck, a light, ticklish touch, until Will laughed and pushed him away. Their eyes met. Will’s throat tightened. "That’s it?" he said. "I’m going to be okay?"

Hannibal’s eyes held an almost fevered sincerity. "I wouldn’t let any harm come to you, Will."

*

Hannibal took him to the Ospedale dell’Angelo in Mestre. Will wished he hadn’t eaten. Tension had turned breakfast into a sick knot in his stomach. He’d never liked hospitals, and the fact that he didn’t understand a word anyone said didn’t help. With Hannibal there, even when they spoke English they tended to lapse into medical jargon and Will was left to drift in a sea of doubt.

By noon, he’d seen four doctors and had been sent by the most recent one for an MRI. He got into the hospital gown and was putting in the ear plugs when the nurse reminded him that he’d need to remove his ring. He looked down at the band of beaten metal. He’d barely taken it off since Hannibal gave it to him. Twisting it now, at first he wasn’t certain it would come off at all. When he did work it over his knuckle, it was a strain to drop it into the plastic tray she held out.

She gave him a kind smile. "Only for a short time."

Will put in the earplugs and let himself be fed into the machine. The last thing he was saw was Hannibal watching him through the observation room window, and Hannibal was waiting for him when he emerged.

"How was it?"

"Loud," Will said.

Hannibal took his hand and slid the ring back onto his finger.

The day had been composed of a series of long, anxious waits. The longest one yet followed the MRI. He and Hannibal got coffee from a vending machine. Will viewed it with suspicion, but it turned out to be shockingly good. Will sipped it and picked apart some kind of dry pastry Hannibal had bought for him.

"We should go home," he said.

"Should we?"

"I’m pretty sure Italy is outside my insurance network."

"You can’t believe that’s a consideration."

"This is different," Will said. "This isn’t suits or watches or fancy overcoats."

"It is different, yes. Didn’t I tell you that I wouldn’t make you ask for the things you need? You certainly need this, and I will see that you have it."

Will clutched his coffee cup hard enough to crease it at the rim. He stared down at his own unsettled reflection. "If we go home, you won’t have to."

"Do you think that is what I would prefer? I want to take care of you, Will."

Will could hear a faint ringing in his ears that might have been an echo of the MRI.

Hannibal touched his wrist. "You don’t need to decide now. We don’t even have a diagnosis yet."

"We have your diagnosis."

"I wouldn’t wish to be overconfident."

"That’s a first."

Hannibal only watched him, fingers stroking over the inside of his wrist. Sunlight glinted off both their rings.

Later that day, the neurologist showed them images of Will’s brain on fire and confirmed Hannibal’s guess. They wanted to admit him, at least overnight, but Will refused. He wanted to go back to the apartment. He needed space, and he needed to think.

In the end, the neurologist gave in. Will was sent home with medication and instructions to return at the end of the week for another MRI. He didn’t say he might not be in Italy by then. Every time he put serious thought into leaving, his mind shied away from what waited for him at home. His life.

*

The next morning, the sun threw trapezoids of white across the worn wood floors in their bedroom. Will watched their minute progress over the course of ten minutes and the swirl of illuminated dust particles. His fever was down. His headache had eased for the first time in a month.

Hannibal came up behind him and put his hands on Will’s waist. "How do you feel?"

"Buoyant. Lifted up. I didn’t even notice how much it hurt. I guess I got used to it."

"I should have realized sooner."

"It’s not your fault." Will leaned back against him. "Thanks for staying with me at the hospital."

"I wouldn’t think of leaving you."

Hannibal laced their fingers together so that their rings lay side by side. Will tried to imagine introducing Hannibal to his father, or explaining why he gave him the ring, where they were in their relationship, how he could be so sure of someone he’d known for so short a time.

"I don’t want to go home," Will said. In the quiet of the morning, it was hard to imagine ever leaving.

"Then we won’t," Hannibal said.

"That easy?"

"Isn’t it?"

Hannibal always made it seem easy. Maybe it was. Will leaned back against him and yawned. "I wasn’t this tired before."

"You had a long and difficult day yesterday and a worse night before that. I believe you mentioned something about spending a day in bed. Perhaps this is the time to try it."

Hannibal slid his lips down Will’s neck in a feather touch of warmth. He unbuttoned Will’s shirt from behind, and Will let him ease it off his shoulders and kiss down between his shoulder blades.

"Pajamas," Hannibal said.

"What for?" Will stepped away to take off the rest of his clothes and then sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. It was going to be a wrench to go home, to sleep apart, at least sometimes. He didn’t want to think about it.

Hannibal provided him with an excellent distraction, undressing himself and walking over to the bed, nudging Will under the covers, climbing in beside him. He held out one arm, and Will lay on his side against Hannibal’s chest, held there securely.

"This is what I was thinking of when I asked if you’d take me here," Will said.

"We do this at home."

"Not just us in bed. The light, the water, the voices outside. And the fact that no one’s going to call me out to look at dismembered bodies. You don’t have to work. I don’t have to deal with terrible grammatical constructions in student papers. Just this."

"Us."

"Yes."

He felt a waiting silence from Hannibal, the sense that there was something he wanted to say, something he was unsure how to say, which wasn’t like him at all. Will nudged him with his elbow. "Just spit it out. Don’t worry about being polite."

"I would like a fuller account of what you saw in Dr. Alunni’s garden that night. You were more distressed than I have ever seen you."

Will turned further toward him until his eyes were shielded from the light by Hannibal’s body and he lived and breathed in the tiny space between Hannibal’s neck and the pillow.

"You pulled your heart out of your chest and offered it to me," he said.

"Was it made from stone?"

"No. It was bleeding. It was beating in your hand. I could see the hole in your chest."

"I’m glad," Hannibal said.

"You’re glad?"

"What use does anyone have for a stone heart?"

"It’d last longer," Will said.

"It might last forever, but to what purpose?" Hannibal turned toward him so that they lay face to face, foreheads touching. "You haven’t answered my question. Were you so afraid to take my heart?"

"This conversation is getting uncomfortably metaphorical."

"It wasn’t metaphorical at the time. Did you take it? My literal bloody heart in your hand?"

"No. It didn’t feel like something I should have," Will said.

"And now we return inevitably to metaphor. But you have more than that of me already. I have never told anyone else of the man I hunted."

"You didn’t tell me. I took it from you."

"It’s not theft," Hannibal said.

"Did you want me to know? Did you want me to know that you ate him afterward?" Will closed his eyes. "You roasted his heart on a stick over the fire, and the blood dripped down and sizzled on the coals. I can smell it."

"You promised to see me. Do you think I’ll let you go back on your word?"

"I want to see you. When I’m with you, it’s all I want."

"It’s inevitable. We grow closer every day," Hannibal said. He laid a hand on Will’s chest and rubbed his thumb over the bone of his sternum.

Will looked up at him. "Are you okay with that?"

"Do you think I shouldn’t be?"

"The night you took me to listen to Dante, I – I heard you then, too. You as a child."

"In the forest?"

"In a forest, but not yours." Will swallowed. He wanted to turn his face away, but Hannibal held him tight. No room to move. Maybe it was better that way. "I found a dead body when I was kid. In the woods behind this trailer park where we lived for a while. I heard you there, calling me back."

"A human body?"

Will nodded. "Hard to tell how he died. Probably the cold. He wasn’t exactly fresh when I found him. "

"You didn’t tell anyone."

"I was scared at first. I ran away. But I came back the next day. And the next." Will couldn’t bear Hannibal’s eyes on his face anymore, and he ducked his head and wormed closer. "It was … peaceful. Sitting with him."

"He was undemanding company."

Will shifted closer still. A second or two passed as he breathed against Hannibal’s skin. "Jeffrey Dahmer found a dead deer in the woods when he was a teenager. He lay down with it. Lay down with death and was comforted."

Hannibal’s fingers slid through his hair. "Did you lie down with death, Will?"

"No. But I sat with him. I watched him decay. I never told anyone. I never – I should’ve. Someone must’ve been looking for him, but I didn’t want them to take him away, and—"

"And you grew up with that weight and then you read about Jeffrey Dahmer and his love of death. What did that make you think of yourself?"

Will could only shake his head and squeeze his eyes shut and hide, though hiding from Hannibal never did him any good.

"What did you think you would grow into?" Hannibal stroked his cheek and put a hand under Will’s chin, forcing his head up. "Are you still afraid of what you might become?"

Will couldn’t meet his eyes. "All the time. But I can cope with that. I’m used to it."

"Then it’s me you’re worried about," Hannibal said. "I shouldn’t offer you my heart. Literally or metaphorically."

Will nodded. He watched the shape of Hannibal’s mouth and the flex of his throat.

"You’re wrong to worry," Hannibal said. "I think the little boy who watched so carefully over the dead is the best keeper my heart could desire."

Will had no answer for that. He gripped Hannibal’s shoulders and pulled him in tight, extinguishing all space between them. He could feel tears at the back of his throat and the pulse of Hannibal’s heart against his own chest.

Hannibal held him just as tightly or more so, a crushing, desperate strength. "Leave the BAU," he said, voice harsh and oddly strained. "Don’t work for Jack anymore. Stay with me. Be with me."

Will wavered and wanted, duty on one side of the scale and everything else on the other.

*

They slept and ate and slept and ate. While Hannibal cooked, Will searched idly for the Church of Chrysanthus and Daria online and eventually found it had been leveled by bombs during World War II and later built over with suburban housing. He noted the street address anyway. It wouldn’t hurt to drive by.

Hannibal brought their meals to bed, and they got crumbs in the sheets, drops of pomegranate juice, sticky pink on white, and the sun shone all day. By the late afternoon, it had shifted to hit the wall across from their building and reflect off the windows. It hit their floor in shards of orange and gold.

Will lay behind Hannibal with an arm over his waist, kissing the back of his neck now and then. Sinking his fingers into the slight bulge of Hannibal’s stomach, until Hannibal let out an irritated breath and caught his hand.

"Sorry," Will said, smiling.

"You’re not."

"Not at all." He pressed forward and slid a hand down Hannibal’s hip and thigh. Hannibal leaned back into him, ass pressed into the hollow of Will’s hips. Will shifted and rocked once against him. "Do you remember me saying that if I wanted to fuck you I’d let you know?"

"I do. Are you letting me know?"

"Is it okay?"

Hannibal reached across to the bedside table for the lube and handed it over. He made to roll onto his stomach, but Will caught him by the waist and held them together.

"Like this. This is good."

Hannibal made a noise of agreement, soft and sleepy. Will kissed his neck and reached around to touch his cock before he did anything else. He slicked his hand and stroked slowly, steadily, until he heard Hannibal’s breath quicken. He kissed his shoulders and felt the shift of bones under his lips, the wide angles of Hannibal’s back flexing against his chest. Hannibal’s soft sigh as he grew harder in Will’s hands.

Hannibal’s hips hitched forward a little, and Will let him thrust, circled his fingers tight and kept them there, unmoving, letting Hannibal do what he wanted. He was beautiful to watch, the way his muscles moved, the sidelong view of his face with its sharp features and broad, soft mouth.

Will pulled on his shoulder until Hannibal turned his head enough to kiss him, long searching kisses, though they knew each other’s mouths as well as they knew anything. Will touched Hannibal’s teeth with his tongue and licked and sucked at his lower lip. He slicked two fingers and slid them between Hannibal’s cheeks, working slowly. It was more work than he’d expected, but maybe he should’ve expected.

"It’s been a very long time," Hannibal said.

"We don’t have to. I mean it."

"I want to."

Will added more lube and kissed his neck and kept working him open. Hannibal tipped his head back onto Will’s shoulder, abandoned himself to it, sought after Will’s mouth with closed eyes.

The sun lost its reflected angle and plunged the room into shadow. Will could smell the thick scent of sex in the air, Hannibal’s shampoo, the clean linen of freshly changed sheets that would soon need to be changed again. He thrust carefully with two fingers, twisted, and pressed deeper. He mouthed at Hannibal’s jawline and down his neck and sucked harder than he should.

Hannibal didn’t stop him. He had abandoned himself to it, to Will, and he only arched and gasped and let Will play with him. Will lost himself in the sounds Hannibal made, lost track of their purpose, and touched him, and curled around him, wanted to live against his skin.

His own straining cock rubbed against Hannibal’s hip, and Hannibal groaned and pressed into the contact.

"Will, enough. Enough."

"You sure? I think I could do this all night."

"I don’t have your patience."

Will smiled and pulled out his fingers. He shifted down until their bodies lined up and held his cock as he pressed in. Hannibal groaned again, low and rough. He rolled forward, almost onto his stomach, and pulled Will after him.

Will fucked him in time with his breath. One long stroke in, exhale, and out. He opened his mouth on the back of Hannibal’s neck to taste him. Touch, taste, sight, smell. Hannibal’s small sounds of pleasure, gasps and weighted breaths, and the small choked noise he made when Will found the right angle inside him.

That undid Will and he moved faster, held Hannibal tight and fucked him and stroked him. His own pleasure seemed a distant and secondary thing compared with Hannibal underneath him, moving to the rhythm of his body.

Hannibal gripped his arm as he came, nails sinking into skin, Will’s name on his lips. He shuddered through it, breath shaky. Will moved faster listening to him, aching to join him. He heard the wet sounds of penetration and the slap of their skin coming together. Hannibal dug his nails in harder, and Will tipped over the edge. The world blurred for a moment, and his hips worked hard, drawing it out, and then they were both quiet together in the calm that followed.

Neither of them spoke as they cleaned up. Hannibal came back to bed and drew Will into his arms.

*

They went out late that night and ate polenta and calamari, fresh pasta and whole fried shrimp and prosecco at one of the fish restaurants the German man from the party had recommended. They said nothing on the walk over and next to nothing during the meal itself. Noise and laughter surrounded them, families out to dinner and lovers lost in each other, a constellation of humanity that touched neither of them.

Hannibal watched Will unceasingly. He couldn’t stop. Will watched him just as closely. They moved as shadows together, filling up one another’s spaces and blocking out the light.

The rain had returned. In the street after dinner it fell like tapping fingers, reminding them constantly of its presence but doing little more than dampening their hair and shoulders. The streets were relatively empty. Hannibal took Will’s hand.

He liked the way the ring felt when he slid his thumb against it, over and over, as if he might polish it to a brighter shine. He thought of Will’s repeated promise to know him, to see him, to keep trying until he did. Hannibal wondered what river bottom the metal band and shards of bone would find then, tossed away and sunk in mud like a lost reliquary.

"Would it be too cliche to ask what you’re thinking about?" Will said.

"I was thinking of you."

"That’s a pat answer."

"But true, I’m afraid. Were you hoping for something more exciting?"

"I wasn’t hoping for anything in particular," Will said.

"Do you ever?"

A group of men came around a corner, loud, drunk, and laughing. Will dropped his hand like it had burned him. Probably for the best. Hannibal didn’t want to have to hurt anyone tonight. The desire to punish those who deserved it seemed very far away. "I was wondering if you’d like to leave for Paris soon," he said. "We could go after your MRI on Friday if the results are what they should be."

"What if they’re not?"

"Then we will reassess. But I believe you are improving already. What do you think?"

"I do feel better. Clearer. The pills must be doing something. What’s the weather like in Paris this time of year?" Will tipped his face up to the rain with the ghost of a smile. "I’m used to this now. Not sure I’m in the mood for sun."

"I think I can promise you gray skies and near constant precipitation of one sort or another. It will likely be colder."

The drunken group split around them and flowed past without jostling them, even with a few good natured greetings. Will took Hannibal’s arm once they were gone.

"Going to buy me another overcoat?"

"I suppose you have ideological objections to fur."

"Yes," Will said slowly. "I do. But even if I didn’t, I don’t think the Dr. Zhivago look is my style."

"Something else then. Is that a yes to Paris?"

"Sure, if you want. Where are we staying?"

"I have an apartment there."

Will glanced at him. "You go back that often? You haven’t – and this is the point where I’m reminded that we’ve only known each other for a few months. You could go back every year for all I know. You could spend half your time there."

"I could, but I don’t. It’s a relatively new purchase."

More weighted silence from Will, and then he came out with it: "You didn’t get it for me, did you?"

Hannibal smiled in the dark. "In a manner of speaking. That doesn’t mean the responsibility is yours, Will. Don’t worry. How shall we travel? Plane or train?"

"Train."

"Very well. I’ll make the arrangements."

Silence descended along with a thicker curtain of rain. They ducked under an arch to watch it fall. Will held a hand out into it and tasted the water on his fingers when he drew it back.

Hannibal watched him and pictured another life. One where Will never truly knew him, but also never cast his ring into the unrecoverable depths. What would it be like to let the world pass by unpunished? What if he had this instead?

If Will left the BAU, if he stopped working on the Chesapeake Ripper case, if. So much uncertainty when it came to Will, always. If Hannibal stopped. Never reshaped the world in that way. Never again tasted what he was owed.

"Is this going to last forever?" Will said softly.

Hannibal watched him while Will watched the rain. "Yes. Forever."

Chapter Text

Hannibal’s Paris apartment was nothing like his place in Baltimore. Will wandered through it while Hannibal cooked dinner the first night. Wood or tile covered most of the floors, but the bedrooms had carpeting, not particularly well laid, wrinkles in the corners. A stain in one closet. Dust on the windowsills, though the kitchen had been thoroughly cleaned. The sheets on the bed were fresh. Will found the packaging in a trash can in the bathroom. The curtains didn’t quite fit the windows.

Will returned to sit on the kitchen counter and watch Hannibal hover over a pan of trout. "You’ve never been here before," he said.

"I said it was a recent purchase."

"Yeah, but … you’ve literally never seen it before. You didn’t even walk through it once before you bought it."

"I saw pictures."

"Online?"

"Yes. And a few that the estate agent emailed to me."

"Guess they missed a few spots."

"I was aware of its flaws. The structure is sound. I do wish there had been enough time to have some changes made before we arrived, but one can’t have everything."

"Is that the first time you’ve ever said that?"

Hannibal gave him a level look.

Will grinned at him. "Maybe that’s not fair. Dr. Alunni said you put yourself through school with those drawings."

"The scholarship and the work I did for her paid for the bulk of my schooling. The reproductions allowed me some discretionary spending, that’s all."

Will leaned forward, chin on his fist. "Your past just keeps unfolding. I’d ask about skeletons in the closet, but since you’ve never seen your own apartment before, I guess they wouldn’t be yours."

"It wasn’t relevant to any of our discussions." Hannibal paused, sliding the fish onto a plate and turning up the heat to reduce the sauce. "You can ask me whatever you want to know. Assuming that I’m free to do the same."

"Quid pro quo. As usual. Have we just been playing truth or dare this whole time?"

"Truth or truth. A far more dangerous game. Here." Hannibal held out a spoon to him with his hand cupped beneath it to catch the drips.

Will slurped at it. "It’s good. What is it?"

"What do you taste?"

"Butter. Pepper. Tomatoes. Maybe saffron?"

"Very good," Hannibal said.

"You don’t have to sound so surprised about it."

Hannibal leaned in and kissed him, teeth gentle on his lower lip, tongue slipping in to brush against his. "I’m not surprised," he murmured. "Not truly. You’ve come a very long way in your appreciation of the finer things in life. Whether you care to admit it or not."

Will licked his lips. He could still taste the saffron. He swallowed once more and looked down. "Have you ever been in love?"

There was a moment of silence. "Do you mean before you?"

Hannibal turned away to reach for the pepper mill and now stood still with it in his hand. Will stared at the taut line of his back. It took him a second before he could answer. "Yeah. Before – before me."

"I was thirteen when I came to live with my uncle and his wife." Hannibal paused. "My aunt. I thought her the most beautiful woman in the world. I believe I loved her."

Will didn’t know if he should ask, but Hannibal seemed to be waiting for it. "Did you tell her?"

"I did. I was eighteen when my uncle disappeared and she not even ten years older. We had a rapport. We shared more, arguably, than she had with her husband. I made advances, which she rejected. At the time, I could not understand why."

"I’m sorry."

Hannibal looked back at him briefly. "That it didn’t work out? Are you really?"

"I’m sorry you got hurt," Will said.

That set Hannibal back in motion. He ground pepper as if gently wringing someone’s neck.

"Is there anything you want to ask me? I feel like I owe you now," Will said.

Hannibal turned to him. "When you said you didn’t find me that interesting—"

"Seriously?"

"—Was that the truth or would you have said it to anyone?"

"Is that really still bothering you?"

"I wouldn’t say it ever bothered me. I knew you’d come around eventually," Hannibal said.

"Right. I would’ve said it to anyone, and it was true. Are you surprised? All you’d done was pick my brain apart in front of Jack."

"Accurately." Hannibal scraped a wooden spoon around the sides of the pan.

"Accurately," Will admitted. "But you could’ve got that much from my file. It didn’t mean anything. And understanding without empathy is worse than no understanding at all."

"Do you believe I understand you?"

"Aren’t we playing truth or truth? It’s my turn."

"So it is," Hannibal said, though he didn’t sound pleased about it.

Will wanted to ask about the ring, but then Hannibal might ask about his. "How did you learn to cook?"

"Dissecting cadavers in medical school put me in mind of my family’s murderer."

"Butchery."

"Yes. I bought a whole suckling pig from the butcher and took it home. The concepts we had learned in school were easily applied to meat. It grew from there. I did a great deal of reading to improve my technique, but the base was a knowledge of anatomy. Often pigs are not so different from people."

"Okay. Yes, I believe you understand me. You can have that for free. What’s the next one?"

"You know what it is or you wouldn’t ask in that particularly grating tone," Hannibal said.

"Do I think empathy accompanies your understanding."

Will got no response. Hannibal was pouring the sauce over the trout. He kept his back to Will.

"Are you asking because you want my opinion or because you want your own opinion confirmed?" Will said.

"Or denied."

"Or denied. What do you think? Do you believe you have empathy for me?"

"It’s still my turn."

Will studied the line of his back. He slid down off the counter to stand behind him. "I think you have as much as you’re capable of."

"That’s an ambiguous answer."

"Coming from you, it’s an ambiguous question. No one’s ever going to feel what I feel. I wouldn’t want them to. But you said it yourself: you feel your own emotions when they’re convenient. Empathy is a choice for you. More than for most people."

"But you believe I have some."

"I know you do."

Hannibal set their plates on the table. For once, there was no discourse on the food. Will sat opposite him and watched him eat. His movements were sharper and more precise than usual. "How do you know?" Hannibal said.

"I can see it. Not all the time. Not when other people might expect it, but it’s there."

"Not when other people might expect it?"

"Not in the hospital. I was miserable, and you knew that, but you didn’t feel it. It didn’t bother you." Will shrugged. "Probably a good thing. You would’ve made a lousy surgeon if you winced every time you made a cut."

"Surgery isn’t analogous to your situation in the hospital."

"No, but you got stuff done. I got out of there faster. I wouldn’t want you suffering along with me anyway."

"And you aren’t troubled by this?"

"It’s just the way you are."

Hannibal did look at him then, an unimpressed expression. "I don’t expect platitudes from you."

"It’s not – it’s the literal truth. You know I’m not normal either. Living on the thin end of the bell curve doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Or me."

"Do you truly believe that?"

Will dragged his fork through the sauce on his plate. "You don’t think there’s anything wrong with me."

"Of course I don’t."

"So I’ll believe you, and you’ll believe me, and we’ll be fine. I don’t want you to hurt for me, Hannibal. I just want you to be there."

Hannibal watched him for a few long seconds with his fork halfway to his mouth. He nodded. "I will be," he said.

*

They stood in a waiting room at Hannibal’s old medical school. It was paneled in shining wood from the 18th century and filled with gray and brown 1950s office chairs.

"Are you sure they’ll let us in?" Will asked.

"Dr. Alunni said she would call ahead for us and arrange it. The students will be home for Christmas, so we won’t be interrupting their studies. I see no reason why not."

"Is it the same as when you went here?"

"From what I’ve seen so far, yes. No one has changed the chairs in this room since I was a student, and I imagine they will still be here when they are genuine antiques."

A tall man came in and nodded to them. He had hollows to his cheeks that Will’s mind insisted on categorizing as cadaverous. When he had shown them into the gross anatomy lab, he left them, though he would’ve looked at home on one of the slabs.

"Through here," Hannibal said. "The older facilities are still in use, but the students prefer the front room. It has better ventilation."

"Remind me why I wanted to come see more corpses than I usually do at work."

"You said you wanted to visit my school."

"I don’t remember specifying the dissection lab."

Hannibal gave him an amused look and gestured him through a door into a smaller room. "Most of the bodies will be safely stored away. And this is where I spent the majority of my time."

This room contained fewer tables, and the plumbing looked older. The faucets arched up high before they descended, and the taps were porcelain-coated crosses. Hannibal switched on the lights, first overhead and then at the back of the room.

They flickered to life one by one, and Will saw the tanks. He stared. Huge glass vats, specimen jars that reached nearly to the ceiling, each one occupied. Will approached as if magnetically pulled.

He expected the bodies inside to be wrinkled and waterlogged, though he knew better. They weren’t. Their skin was smooth except in the places where it was sloughing off from age or rough handling. All color had been leached from them by the preserving agent. White skin and white hair and peacefully closed eyes. Will put a hand to the glass and quickly took it away.

"There are no security measures," Hannibal said. "You may touch if you want to."

"You’d think there would be," Will said quietly. "Don’t the students ever mess with them?"

"The bodies they work on are far easier targets. And there is a certain respect for these. Most of them have been here since before the war."

"World War II?"

"Yes. They were mainly criminals or unfortunates with no family to claim them. They had no money to pay for interment, and so they came to us. And here they are still."

Hannibal had come to stand beside him. Will could see light reflected from the liquid in the vats wavering across his face like the light off the canal water in Venice. He laid a hand on the glass again, and the other on Hannibal’s sleeve.

"You sat with them," he said.

"Yes. Often. They were my most constant companions as I worked." He paused. "The dead were often easier company than the living for me as well."

"And you were worried about your empathy for me."

"I wasn’t worried."

"You were or you wouldn’t have asked. You hate being unsure about anything."

Hannibal didn’t answer. They watched the bodies in silence. Will found himself searching for signs of life. He wondered if Hannibal had done the same.

"They’re beautiful," Will said.

"Yes."

One of them had long hair that hung suspended and still around his face, shielding his features. Will stepped forward, almost with his nose to the glass, trying to see past that curtain.

Hannibal stood behind him. He put a hand on Will’s back, palm flat against his spine in an echo of Will’s hand on the tank. "I want to ask you something," he said.

"What?"

"Will you—" Hannibal said, and stopped as if the words had been cut off by force. He sounded choked.

Will turned to face him. He wore no expression at all, but his throat worked, tendons standing out from the faintly creased skin of his neck.

"We’ve spoken of this before," Hannibal said after a moment’s pause. "Or at least around it. I had never thought of – never before I met you. I’m not saying this well." He looked so confused by his own lack of eloquence that Will had to smile.

"Yes," Will said.

"Yes what?"

"If this is a proposal, the answer is yes."

Hannibal closed his eyes for a moment and then took Will’s hand and kissed the back, his knuckles, his wrist. He stepped in close to him with a sigh and kissed his neck. The press of his body bore Will back against the tank. The dead looked over his shoulder as Hannibal cupped his face and kissed his mouth.

"Yes," Hannibal said. "Yes. Thank you."

"Did you plan this? Is that why you brought me here?"

"It seemed appropriate."

Will couldn’t stop smiling. "You made a pretty bad job of it if you had it all planned."

"You said yes anyway."

"You had to know I would."

"I was sure you would. Up until the moment I asked." He pressed Will’s fingers against his own pulse point. Will could feel how fast his heart was going. "You wondered why I bought the apartment. There is a residency requirement before one can be married in France."

Will stared, mouth open. "Here? Really? But how? Don’t I need – I don’t even know what I need. There must be a lot of paperwork."

"Yes."

"Even more in a foreign country."

"Yes. I have acquired it." Hannibal paused. "And removed various other obstacles."

“Like the fact that we haven’t actually been living here?”

“Like that, yes.”

"Should I just not ask how?"

"That would probably be better."

Will wavered, but he could be outraged over possible bribery of government officials and a gross invasion of his privacy later. Probably would be. Right now, he felt so light he had to look down and check that his feet were solidly on the ground, that he wasn’t floating up like the body in the tank behind him.

He pulled Hannibal close again, close and tight, until they might be one person, or some manufactured amalgam, stitched together like the Fiji mermaid. He could feel Hannibal’s long inhale against his neck. He could smell Hannibal too, the subtle notes of his aftershave and shampoo and the coffee they’d had, but he wondered what it was like to know someone’s moods by their scent.

"Can you smell happiness?" he asked.

Hannibal nosed under his jaw and breathed in again. "Yes. I think I can."

"You never have before?"

"It is a faint scent. Perhaps I’ve never been close enough before to catch it."

"Is it good?" Will asked.

"Yes. It’s good."

Hannibal’s arms around him were almost painfully tight, but Will knew he was holding him just as hard. His ribs ached. It wasn’t all from the pressure. He felt his heart had expanded past the confines of his body. He leaned his head back against the glass and let Hannibal lick and suck under his jaw, high up, a line of bruises that would certainly show.

"When?" he said.

"Tomorrow if you like. Everything is ready."

Today, Will thought. But no, he really had to tell Hannibal about the ring before the ceremony. It would be all right to tell him now. It wouldn’t even be strange.

"Tomorrow’s good for me," he said.

*

"Roasted duck with a cinnamon and orange reduction, potatoes cooked in duck fat, red cabbage with apples."

"I watched you making it," Will said.

"I don’t believe you were paying attention."

Will’s smile felt like the goofiest expression he’d ever worn. "I was paying attention to you."

"And now please pay attention to your food."

"I’ll do my best. No promises."

The food was good, as always, if not quite as enticing as Hannibal in his apron with his shirtsleeves rolled up below his elbows.

"Will."

Will looked deliberately down at his plate. "I’m eating. It’s delicious. I’m not thinking about licking your arms later because that would be strange. I need to tell you something."

Hannibal impaled a bite of potato on his fork. "Confessions before marriage. Congenital insanity? Possible familial relationship?"

"Shut up. It’s about the ring."

Hannibal looked down at his hand. "I had wondered why you chose it."

"I didn’t. Exactly." Will felt himself flush.

Hannibal waited.

"My dad did. It was his – his wedding ring."

Hannibal reached for his hand in silence, and Will took it. They sat quietly, joined across the small table.

"I should’ve told you," Will said. "But it would’ve – it would’ve seemed weird. I don’t know. Would it?"

"Perhaps. But I’ll have to forgive you, since I didn’t tell you about your ring either."

"What about it?"

"Give me back my hand for a moment. I need to show you something." Will did, and Hannibal turned his hand to show the side. "Do you see the scar? It’s faint now. The surgery was performed many years ago."

Will leaned down to look more closely, and he could barely see it even then. Just a thin white sliver, easy to miss. "What happened?"

"I was born with six fingers on that hand. It might have made playing certain compositions easier, but I didn’t play before I had it removed, and so I’ll never know for certain."

"When did you have it done?"

"Before I left France. I wouldn’t say I wanted to fit in. That would have been impossible. But this was one thing I could easily change. And it was interesting to watch the surgery as well. The surgeon gave me the finger in a jar afterward."

"What did you – oh." Will looked down at the ring on his finger, at the small slivers of bone. "Oh," he said again, more softly.

"Yes. You can see why I didn’t tell you at first."

"We’re ridiculous."

"A bit, yes."

Will touched the band and the bone. "More than a bit."

"Finish your dinner."

They ate, but Will couldn’t finish. He kept looking over at Hannibal and getting lost in the sight of him. Lost in thoughts of the future.

"Do you ever think about getting old?" he asked.

"Not often. The future doesn’t trouble me."

"You’ll have to teach me that trick sometime. I always assumed I’d die alone. Probably in that house in Wolf Trap. I’d be retired, so no one would call."

"The dogs would eat your body," Hannibal said, and then froze for a split second and glanced at him.

Will smiled. "Thought of that, too, don’t worry. I wouldn’t have them by then. Or else I’d have to have someone checking on me. They could eat me for a while, but eventually they’d turn on each other. I wouldn’t want that."

Hannibal’s face did something small and complicated and tight. He reached for Will’s hand again and didn’t surrender it for the rest of the meal.

Chapter Text

Will woke up with Hannibal next to him in bed, staring at his tablet.

"If that’s TattleCrime again," Will muttered. He pushed himself up onto an elbow. It was. He squinted at the bright screen and frowned.

Hannibal looked down at him, expression softly amused. "Do you feel neglected, Will?"

"I don’t want Freddie Lounds in bed with us."

"A dreadful thought. I presume you don’t want to hear about your case either?"

Will hesitated. "Did they catch the guy?"

"Not yet, no."

"Then no. There’s nothing I can do from here." That wasn’t quite true. He could think about it. He could relive the two crime scenes. He wavered, mind sliding back under the floorboards until Hannibal squeezed his shoulder.

"There is nothing you should do except enjoy your holiday while it lasts. Shall I show you something else?"

Will leaned against his side, still mostly horizontal. "Like what?"

Hannibal opened another tab in the tablet’s browser. It looked like a scanned newspaper. The text was in French, but Will could read the name under the photo at least: Robert Lecter. He seemed vaguely familiar, though he didn’t really look like Hannibal at all. His face was broader, nose flatter, hair much lighter and longer, brushing the tops of his shoulders.

"Your uncle?"

"Yes," Hannibal said. He switched to another tab, another news story, another photograph.

The caption was: Murasaki Lecter, 26. He glanced at Hannibal’s face, hoping for a hint of what he was feeling. Will had seen him more animated while writing his grocery list. "What happened?"

"She drowned," Hannibal said.

Will put an arm over his stomach and his head on Hannibal’s shoulder. "How?"

"The verdict was accidental death. I disagreed, but my opinion was discounted. And then I was an orphan again, for the second time. I left for Baltimore not long afterward."

Will looked at Murasaki’s face. She was smiling in the photo. She looked happy. "She’s beautiful."

Hannibal rested his cheek on the top of Will’s head and held him more tightly. "Yes. She is." He set the tablet aside. "I thought it was fair to tell you before the ceremony. Now you know everything."

Will raised his eyebrows. "Everything?"

"The outline of my past, at least. You can interrogate me further if you wish, but not now. I need to cook. And we’re going out after breakfast.”

"Where?"

"Shopping."

"Again?" Will said.

"I promised you a coat. And since the ceremony will be held outside, you’ll need it."

Will blinked. "We’re not just signing papers at City Hall?"

"We will need to do that first, but I have something more planned for this evening. And it makes a good excuse to take you shopping again. I think we both enjoyed it in Venice."

Will felt a little warm just at the memory. "Maybe."

"Was it better not knowing the language? Being completely dependent on me?"

"It’s not like—"

Hannibal raised his eyebrows.

Will passed a hand over his mouth and dug his nails into the back of his neck. It was exactly like that, and they both knew it. He nodded.

Hannibal gave him a slow smile. He tipped Will’s chin up and kissed him. "Good."

He went to shower, and Will stayed in bed, drifting. Eventually, he dozed. In his dreams, Hannibal was walking up the aisle of a church to meet him. Will’s parents stood on one side with grave dirt on their clothes. Hannibal’s aunt and uncle stood on the other, both bled pale and colorless and dripping.

Near the door, a rotting marble statue offered up its heart. The floorboards had been removed, and Hannibal was wading through flowers.

*

Hannibal parked their rented car on a side street lined with shops. They stepped through a black door and were greeted by a man with a dark suit and a solemn expression. He looked like an undertaker Will had known in New Orleans.

Hannibal said something to him in French about coats. The man gave him a shallow bow and led them into a side room. Three rolling metal racks stood in the middle of a pale wood floor, spotlit so that the corners of the room were crowded with shadow. The racks held five or six coats each. Will wondered how it would go over if he pointed out that Sears had a bigger selection. Exasperated irritation was one of his favorite Hannibal expressions.

But Hannibal was looking through the coats so seriously, and probably Will could refrain from being an asshole on their wedding day. Anyway, he could try.

"What are you smiling at?" Hannibal asked.

"You," Will said, and laughed a little. "I’m suddenly seeing where all the cliches come from."

"They wouldn’t be repeated so often if they didn’t hold some truth."

"They never have before. Not for me."

"The universality of human experience exists in both joy and sadness. I think you are familiar enough with one of those," Hannibal said.

"’All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’"

"I don’t think even Tolstoy believed that. Most people are no more unique in their suffering than in their joy."

"Are you unique in your suffering?" Will asked.

"I try not to suffer. Here, come and put this on."

Hannibal held up a coat for him, dove gray wool with brown leather trim at the collar. Will turned and let Hannibal help him into it – and close it around him from behind and nose at his neck like a dog. Will half expected his nose to be wet and cold.

He hunched his neck to the side. "Quit smelling me, it tickles."

"But I enjoy it," Hannibal said, but the subsequent slide of his lips down Will’s neck was firm and not ticklish at all.

"That guy’s not going to leave us alone for long."

"Then my time to maneuver you into a compromising position is woefully short and I should hurry."

Will made a noise of protest with no force behind it. His eyes had fallen shut. Hannibal had a hand on his stomach to keep their bodies pressed flush.

"Do you like this one?" Hannibal asked.

"It’s nice. Soft. The dogs would destroy it in about five minutes."

"If you leave it out for them to roll on, certainly."

"Not exactly practical for walking in the fields."

"I like buying you impractical things," Hannibal said.

"I guess I could wear it to work."

"Would you?"

"I might," Will said quietly. He kept his eyes closed, listening to the sounds from the street and Hannibal’s soft breath. "They’re going to notice. Beverly already has."

"Does that excite you?"

"I don’t know if excite is the right word. It’s – it’s something."

"Perhaps it is the feeling that you belong to someone."

"Do you belong to me too?"

"Of course," Hannibal said. "You have changed me more than you know."

"Do you regret that?"

"Sometimes. But not enough to wish to reverse time and begin again. Shall I get you this one?"

Will nodded.

"And what else?"

"What do you mean what else?"

Hannibal let out an amused breath against his neck. "You saw something else when we first came in. What was it?"

Will twisted around to face him, ready to protest, and stopped. He glanced at the third rack.

Hannibal took his elbow and urged him closer. "Well?"

Will touched the sleeve of a brown leather motorcycle jacket. "I just noticed it, that’s all. Looks like the one I wanted from the thrift store when I was seventeen. Except that one was forty bucks and this is probably – doesn’t matter. I didn’t need it then and I definitely don’t need it now."

Hannibal took it off the hanger and held it out to him. "Try it on."

Will didn’t protest, even though he knew how this would end, even though he knew how unlikely he was ever to wear it at home. He pulled it on. It was warm, the leather soft and supple. It would match the gloves Hannibal had given him.

Hannibal smoothed his hands down over Will’s chest. "I wish I had been there to give it to you when you were seventeen."

"No offense, but I probably would’ve thought you were creepy as hell."

Hannibal laughed softly. "No doubt. But I can buy it for you now, and I will, on one condition."

"Condition?"

"You should have a motorcycle to go with it."

Will fell back half a step. "That’s – you can’t," he said, and he could hear the words from a distance. He’d said them so many times before. Every time Hannibal took this to the next level, Will protested, and he always gave in.

Hannibal was waiting patiently for him to give in again.

Will still wanted to protest, but only enough so that Hannibal could ignore him, or convince him, and that piece of self knowledge heated his face and neck as badly as the first shopping trip they’d taken together, with Hannibal’s wandering hands and avid gaze.

"Is this going to be as much fun for you when I’m not all—" He waved a hand at himself.

"You’re not as easily flustered as you were," Hannibal said. "But I only have to work a little harder. Private jets and motorcycles instead of leather gloves."

"And when that doesn’t work anymore?"

"Then you’ll be demanding and impatient, and you’ll catch yourself and apologize sweetly, and I look forward to that as well."

"Sweetly? You think that’s going to happen?"

Hannibal pulled him close, fingers hooked into the pockets of the jacket. "It already has, I’m afraid. Piece by piece, you drop your formidable armor and expose yourself to me."

"You’re doing the same thing."

Hannibal touched his cheek, face solemn. "Yes. I don’t seem to have a choice."

"Do you want one?"

"I should. But no, I don’t."

There were too many unspoken words in the air between them, too much of their respective pasts waiting just outside of conscious thought. "What kind of motorcycle?" Will said.

"Whatever you want."

"I don’t know much about them."

"Even though you wanted the jacket when you were a boy?"

"Doesn’t everyone want a motorcycle jacket when they’re seventeen? Did you?"

"I had one. And the motorcycle to go with it."

The mental image was so strong that Will had to blink a couple of times before he could see the shop around them again. "You should get one for yourself then. I don’t even know how to ride."

"I’ll teach you. We have almost two weeks before we go back. That’s plenty of time to see some of France besides Paris."

"For our … honeymoon." Will said it slowly. It wasn’t a word he’d ever considered in relation to his own life before. He’d occasionally thought of marriage in a vague, unformed way, as something people did and that he might potentially do, but he’d never gotten further than that.

"Yes," Hannibal said. "Although only if you want to spend a fair amount of time being wet and cold in between hotels."

"It’s been working for me so far."

"Italian. The motorcycle. Or else Triumph."

"What if I want a Harley?" Will asked.

"Then we have found the limits of my indulgence."

Will laughed, and Hannibal was so clearly serious that it made him laugh harder. He was still smiling when they walked out of the store wearing his new leather jacket. Hannibal carried the bags. One contained the overcoat, and the other held a leather jacket for himself, dark blue, with brass zippers.

"You can pick," Will said. "How are you going to get it home?"

"Money," Hannibal said simply.

Will shook his head. He still couldn’t really grasp what it must be like to have that much. "Sometimes I worry you’re bankrupting yourself on me."

"What if I did?"

"You’d have to come and live with me, I guess. And I’d buy you new shoes once a year, and you’d have to start sewing the buttons back on your own shirts."

"There’s no reason not to send them out to be mended."

"It took me literally two minutes.”

"I have better things to do with my time," Hannibal said.

"You used to be a surgeon. You’d think you’d know how to tie a knot."

"I can tie any number of knots. I don’t choose to waste them on my shirts."

Will glanced at him sideways. "Any number of knots?"

"Would you like a demonstration?"

"Maybe. Not tonight though."

"Something to keep in mind for the future."

"You could keep in mind how many I know too," Will said.

"A great many?"

"Fishing. Sailing. Big knot activities, generally speaking."

"Can you sail?" Hannibal asked.

"Anything with boats. Before I joined the police, I almost crewed on a yacht heading around Cape Horn."

"Why almost?"

"The guy took his son’s friend instead."

"Shortsighted of him."

Will shrugged.

Hannibal looked at him speculatively. "Would you like to sail around Cape Horn?"

"It’s a little late now," Will said automatically, and then stopped because it wasn’t. He started to tell Hannibal not to buy him a yacht and stopped again. "With you?" he said.

"With me."

"I think we should try something a little easier first."

Hannibal blinked at him, slow and pleased. "Anything you like."

*

That afternoon, they sat in a waiting room with two other couples. The floors were scuffed tile. The chairs were the same style as the 50s office chairs from the medical school, but orange and considerably grubbier. Hannibal still wouldn’t tell him anything about the ceremony he had planned for the evening, but they’d have the legalities taken care of before they left the building.

Will sat on the edge of his seat. Hannibal sat back in his chair and read a French magazine he’d picked up from a table until Will took it away from him.

"If you’re not nervous, you can at least watch me being nervous. I’m pretty sure you’re obligated not to ignore me right now."

"I’m not ignoring you. I can’t think of anything to ease your tension."

Something about the pitch of his voice caught Will’s attention, and he pressed his fingers against Hannibal’s pulse as he had in the room with the tanks. It wasn’t as fast, but it wasn’t slow either. "You can’t think of anything because you’re just as bad as I am."

"I’ll be glad to have it over with."

"You’re lucky I know what you mean by that."

Hannibal took his hand. "I know I am."

A woman with a tight perm and a blue suit called their names. She showed them into a small room where they stood in front of a desk. Either the room was much too warm, or Will’s nerves were really getting to him. His palm was sweaty as he clutched Hannibal’s hand. Amazingly, Hannibal was just as badly off, though his face was still and calm.

The woman checked over the papers Hannibal had brought and tapped them into a neat stack. They signed a document. She signed it as well, stamped it, and handed them a copy. She read a short ceremony, first in French and then, grudgingly, in English. She congratulated them and unbent enough to smile and pat Will’s shoulder.

"Is that it?" Will said.

Hannibal took his arm and led him out of the room. "It’s done. Until death do us part."

Will reached for the certificate. "Can I see that?" Hannibal handed it over, and Will stared at it. "Will you teach me French? The only words I can read on this are ‘the’ and ‘a.’"

"I will."

"And Lithuanian?"

"If you wish. That will take some time."

"We’ve got time." He looked down at the piece of paper in his hands, the paper that meant they had the rest of their lives. He felt dizzy.

Hannibal put a hand on his back and guided him gently out of the building. The cold air knocked him back into the real world but, in the real world, he was still in Paris with the man he’d just married.

Chapter Text

The garden Hannibal had chosen for the ceremony was attached to a 17th century manor house outside of Paris. It was open to the public for tours and often rented out for weddings, although not usually at night, in the dark days of December, with a fitful rain spitting down.

Will was a pale ghost wrapped in the gray coat, a crown of raindrops in his hair. Hannibal led him through the trees, past a tangle of rose and wisteria vines, now barren and naked in the cold. Overhead, black branches knit together to blot out a black sky. Hannibal could hear running water in the distance.

Will walked with his arm through Hannibal’s, close to his side. Hannibal felt the shape of him there as a right and correct thing. A thing that ought always to be. They crossed a wooden bridge that spanned a dry stream bed. A dozen ferns grew among the stones, brown and curled in on themselves against the cold. A light shone in the distance.

"Is that it?" Will said.

"Wait and see."

The path split off and changed to paving stones, slippery with wear and moss. It ended under a copper beech, sheltered from the rain. Lanterns hung from the branches and flickered with flame and shadow.

Will looked around, warm light on his face and shining from his eyes. "Just us?" he said.

"Who else?"

Will took his hand. He touched Hannibal’s ring lightly with one finger. "So now what? We already did the rings. I don’t want to take mine off."

"Neither do I. That leaves us with our vows, I believe."

"I guess I should start. Since you proposed."

"If you would."

Will looked down for a few seconds. He folded Hannibal’s hand between both of his. Hannibal heard his soft breath over the sound of water and the rush of cold wind through the treetops.

"Okay," Will said. "You asked me to be yours. To leave the BAU. It’s a fair thing to ask. There’s nothing left of me when I’m working those cases. And – and I guess I can’t wreck myself working for Jack if I’m going to keep my other promise. I’ll be here for you. Even if this doesn’t work out. I think it will, but even if it doesn’t. If you need me, I’ll be there. I promise. No matter what."

Hannibal looked down at his hand pressed between Will’s, caught and held. Encased. He’d had a speech prepared. Once again, his words deserted him.

"I want to be with you forever," he said. For a moment, he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to say anything else. That alone seemed to fill his mind until there was no room for other things. He thought again of Will throwing his ring, a literal piece of him, into dark water. The sundering split, the blood and thunder, the madness. He could avoid all of it with one simple promise. "I won’t do anything that would tear us apart," he said. "I will stay with you. I’ll give you anything you need. I’ll be what you need."

"You are what I need," Will said.

They kissed under the beech tree in the light of a dozen flames. The branches above them dripped onto their hair and coats. For a bleached moment, they saw each other in a flash of lighting, and then they ran for the car together, hand in hand, as the rain came down.

Will was laughing. Hannibal thought he knew how it felt to have his heart torn from his chest.

He climbed into the car and started the engine. Will adjusted the heat and held his hands up in front of the vents to warm them. "You were right," he said. "That was better than the civil ceremony."

"Perhaps we should’ve had witnesses."

"No. It was better with just the two of us," Will said.

"There is no one to hold us accountable."

"When is there ever?"

Hannibal nodded. He aimed the car back toward Paris. Their wedding night. He’d planned nothing for that. The ceremony had been the limit of what he could envision. He was stepping forward into darkness.

"Are you hungry?" he asked.

"No. I don’t know. I probably will be, but everything’s … I can’t feel anything but amazed right now."

"Yes. I feel the same."

"This is why people have parties I guess. To give them a chance to get used to it."

"Would that help?" Hannibal asked.

"Well, if two dozen people congratulate you on getting married it has to seem more real, right? I don’t think I even know two dozen people."

"I do."

Will glanced at him. "Are you going to want to do something when we get back?"

"Not particularly. I could, of course. A reception? A dinner party? Some sort of celebration. An excuse to have you by my side and claim you publicly."

"You do that already."

"Now I have the weight of the law behind me."

"If found please return to," Will murmured.

Hannibal reached over and traced his thumb around the side of Will’s neck. "Don’t think I’m not tempted."

"Are you – are we going to change our names?"

Hannibal caught his wide-eyed look and smiled. "Only if you want to."

"I never thought about it. Ever." He looked behind him, back toward the garden. "We didn’t even take pictures."

"Did you want pictures?"

"Not really. But it’s what people do."

"But you and I, we don’t need them, do we? Could you ever forget that?"

Will shook his head.

"No. And if you do, I’ll draw it for you. Maybe I’ll draw it for you anyway."

Will smiled. "I’d like that. Oh, hey, what was that street?"

"The Rue Gentil-Bernard. Why?"

"That’s the street, turn around."

"It’s not way the back."

"I know it’s not the way back, turn around."

Hannibal pulled over to the side of the road. "If it’s not the way back, what is it the way to?"

"The ossuary. I did some searching online after Dr. Alunni gave me the name of the church. It was bombed out in World War II, but I got a street address."

"There will be nothing there."

"I know. They built houses on top of it. I just want to see where it was. It’ll only take a minute."

Hannibal did a U-turn in the middle of the empty street and turned right onto Gentil-Bernard. Will counted down street numbers. The townhouse at the end of the street looked like any of the others in the neighborhood except that it was cordoned off with yellow caution tape. Will leaned across Hannibal to stare at it.

After a second, he got out of the car and started across the street. Hannibal rolled down the window. "Will—"

"I’m just going to ask that guy if he knows anything about it. Thirty seconds."

There was a man smoking on the front steps, hunched over his knees with a magazine clutched in one hand. Hannibal watched the conversation, conducted mainly with hand gestures, and then got out of the car with a sigh.

Will grabbed his sleeve and pulled him forward. "I think he’s saying it’s still here. Ask him?"

Hannibal listened to a jumbled story interspersed with streams of smoke and complaints about the man’s employers. "The crypt was presumed to have been destroyed along with the church. The bones were never removed. Recently, the homeowners had some plumbing issues and dug up a dozen human skulls. They called the police. The police called a museum curator, the archbishop of Paris got involved, and now the family is staying with relatives pending a decision about the bones. This gentleman was hired as security."

"It’s all still there?"

"Yes. Do you want to see it?”

"He’ll let us in?"

Hannibal was already passing the man two folded fifty euro notes, which should be more than enough. He looked bored enough to let them in for free.

They stepped into an ordinary suburban home. Pictures of two dark-haired children smiled at them from the walls. The kitchen light hummed. The security guard had taken possession of an armchair in the living room. His lunch box, thermos, and portable radio sat next to it. The stillness of the place reminded Hannibal strongly of the Hobbs house when they’d gone back with Abigail.

The man led them to a staircase and gestured down. He handed over a flashlight. Hannibal had thought he might have to offer more money to keep him upstairs, but evidently he didn’t want to go down among the bones.

Will descended step by step as if in a trance. Hannibal recalled his reaction to the painting of decay in Dr. Alunni’s house. He’d been ill then, but he could not truly be said to be well now, only on the road to recovery. Hannibal flicked on the light at the top of the stairs and kept close behind him.

They stepped into the basement, which was sparsely furnished: a sagging couch, a desk with a computer, a dart board. In the center of this shabby comfort, a hole gaped with ragged concrete edges. Hannibal switched on the flashlight and aimed it down just as Will sat at the edge of the hole and let himself fall through into the dark.

Hannibal’s hand closed on the empty air where he had been. "Are you all right?" he called.

"I’m fine. Come down," Will said.

"You had no way to know how deep it was."

"Couldn’t have been that deep. It was a crypt. They’re not known for their high ceilings." He paused. "I might’ve just stepped on someone’s skull."

Hannibal sat at the edge and felt for a ladder. He found one on the far right and let himself down into the abyss. He pointed the flashlight toward Will’s voice.

Will was standing in a sea of skulls. The basement excavation had dislodged a wall of them, and they had rolled down onto the floor. The other walls were still intact. Hundreds, maybe thousands of empty eye sockets watched them. Will knelt and picked one up. He held it cupped in both hands. The jaw was missing.

"My aunt would have loathed this place," Hannibal said. "I took her to see the specimens at the anatomy lab once. It was not a happy trip for either of us."

"Did you take her for the same reason you took me?" Will held his wrist and used it to aim the flashlight in a sweep around the room.

"In a sense, yes. The same underlying motivation." Hannibal was briefly silent under the weight of memory: his uncle’s pale face behind the glass of the tank, Murasaki’s quickly muffled scream. He had truly believed she would be pleased. He had been so young. "No one can be fully aware of another human being unless we love them. I wanted her to know me."

"Did she?"

"No," Hannibal said after too long a pause. "In the end, she chose not to."

He felt some disquieting shift in the air between them, a subterranean chill rising to prick the hair on the back of his neck. Will turned from his examination of the room to focus on Hannibal’s face. He stared, silent and expressionless, for so long that Hannibal reeled mentally in unaccustomed doubt.

"What did you show her?" Will asked.

"Only what I showed you."

Will’s fingers had gone white from pressure against dry bone. "Only what you showed me."

"Will—" Hannibal reached for him, but Will held the skull up between them like a talisman. Hannibal closed his hand over and tried to take it, but it was no good. They’d break it between them before he got it free. “Will. Let it go. Anyone would think you were in love with death."

"But I am, aren’t I?" Will said, very soft. "Hannibal. What did you show her?"

It was clear from the pain in his eyes that he already knew. Hannibal took a moment in the dark halls of his mind to fix this clearly in his memory. The last second. He used to think it would taste like triumph. "He was different then. Fresher. She knew him at once."

"I didn’t – even after you showed me his picture – I didn’t know," Will said. He wasn’t looking at Hannibal anymore. He spoke to the skull in his hands.

"You weren’t meant to."

"But you had to show me."

"Yes.”

Will looked up at him. When he spoke, his voice was small and almost lost among the bones. “Why? Why did you have to do that?”

Hannibal laid a hand carefully over his on the skull. Will gripped it hard, nails digging in. "I didn’t intend to hurt you," Hannibal said.

Will shook him off like someone else might shake off a spider crawling his skin. He stepped away. "Go. I can give you a head start."

"Will—" Hannibal’s throat ached, an alien feeling. He didn’t have physical responses to his emotions.

"You have to go. Please."

"I can’t leave you here."

"Why not? You worked hard enough to get me here."

"It’s raining."

Will laughed, a choked, painful sound. "I can take a taxi. I don’t need you to take care of me. I never needed you. I just wanted—" He crouched down among the skulls, arms around his knees. Silence for a few seconds, and then a shaking breath. "I’ll be fine, Hannibal. You can go. You don’t have to worry about me."

Hannibal stood for a few seconds, torn in a way he was never torn, wanting to touch, wanting things he couldn’t name. "I’ll leave you the flashlight." He set it down by Will’s feet.

Will said nothing, didn’t look at him or even acknowledge that he’d spoken.

Hannibal turned and went to the ladder and climbed it. The security guard spoke to him. Hannibal walked past him without answering, outside into the rain. He got in the car. He drove.

It wasn’t until he reached their apartment that some amount of logic and thought came back to him. He could have killed the guard.

He could have killed Will.

He could have lain down there with him. Stayed with him. Always. We bones lying here bare await yours. But Will had asked him to go, and he had gone.

He stepped out of the car and unlocked the door. He packed a bag. He looked at the ring on his finger.

Will would want it back. It had been his father’s. If he wanted Hannibal to go, then surely he would want the ring back.

Hannibal pulled at it. For a moment, he thought it wouldn’t come off. He’d never tried to remove it before. Perhaps it couldn’t be done. He pulled harder. It popped over his knuckle and came free. Hannibal set it on the kitchen table.

It gleamed the flat gray of rainclouds. He touched the inscription inside once with the tip of his finger and then he walked away.

Chapter Text

Will crouched in the dark. His chest hurt like someone had punched him there. His throat and eyes stung. His knees ached. He settled onto the floor and held the skull in his lap. He closed his eyes.

Robert Lecter hung suspended in the tank, long hair waving like seaweed. Will snapped his eyes open again. He’d already seen too much, and his mind was making connections he wished he could reject. Robert Lecter hadn’t been the first, and he definitely hadn’t been the last.

Hannibal had left him the flashlight. Its glow lit the skull’s empty eyes and skimmed over the tarnished brown contour of a cheekbone. He set the skull carefully down with its siblings. One had cracked under his foot already, and he didn’t want to break another.

He sat with his legs crossed and put his face in his hands. There was nothing in his head, no shred of clarity, nothing to hold onto.

He told himself to get up, to get a taxi, to go back to the apartment. At least there he could have a drink. Or five. He stayed where he was. He knew he must be stiff and cold, but he didn’t feel it anymore.

After some unknown amount of time, footsteps came creaking down the basement stairs. When a light appeared at the mouth of the crypt, he looked up, but it was only the security guard.

The guard spoke to him, at first impatiently and then more gently. Finally, he descended the ladder and pulled at Will’s shoulder.

"Doctor?" he said carefully.

Will shook his head.

The guard crouched down and tried to meet his eyes. He was worried, scared even, at being left with an unstable man in a pit of bones. Of course he was. Will responded to that finally. He tried to get up and nearly fell. His bones ached. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there.

The guard helped him to the ladder and stood at the bottom until he was up. They walked up the stairs. The guard gave him coffee from his thermos and talked and talked. Will didn’t understand a word of it. He wasn’t sure he would have even in English.

"Taxi?" the guard said, finally.

Will nodded.

There was a moment, as he climbed into the cab, when he wasn’t sure he knew the address for the apartment. Hannibal had always driven, always made sure they got home. But he had seen it written down at some point, and the memory came back to him, blue ink on white paper, Hannibal’s flowing script.

He got home. Back to the apartment. He paid the taxi driver. When he got inside, the first thing he saw was his father’s ring lying on the table. Will stared down at it for a few seconds and then turned away.

Moving blindly through the apartment, he stopped in the bedroom doorway. He’d changed the sheets that morning, thinking of their wedding night. The ridiculous phone Hannibal had bought for him buzzed on the bedside table. He grabbed for it and found only an automated text message about a winter storm.

At the very least, Hannibal had murdered Cassie Boyle and Marissa Schurr, and he was afraid it was more than that. Much more. The murder just before they’d left had felt like the Chesapeake Ripper for a reason.

He had to call Jack. There was no urgency behind the thought. He knew there should be, but all he could feel was a cold ache, as if he’d been cored like an apple and there was nothing left in him to care about the Ripper killings or anything else.

He wanted a drink. Did they even have anything but wine? They. Did he have anything but wine?

He should call Jack.

He set his phone back on the table and went to the kitchen. A search revealed no whiskey, nothing hard, nothing to get efficiently drunk on, so he settled for inefficient: two bottles of something that Hannibal had been saving for tonight.

He opened them both, took them into the bedroom, and sat propped up against the headboard with the first bottle held between his legs. He rubbed at the curve of the neck with fingers tingling toward numbness. At least in the morning he’d have a hangover. He’d feel something. That would be better than this.

He wondered if Hannibal had taken his cell phone with him. Couldn’t have. That would be stupid, and Hannibal wasn’t stupid.

Will drank straight from the bottle. It tasted thin and acidic. Knowing Hannibal, it was the best. Maybe anything would taste like shit right now. He drank more, chugged it until there was a good chance he’d puke it back up and have to start over.

It felt dangerous to sit alone and still. Like he might never move again. He didn’t want to move. He didn’t want to call Jack. He didn’t want to do anything.

After too long spent staring at the wall with his mind blank, he fell asleep sitting up against the headboard. Twice in the night, he woke to some distant sound, but it was the wind shuddering against the windows or horns outside in the street. He heard Hannibal calling to him for help, but that was only in his dreams.

*

Will didn’t remember finishing it, but the first bottle was empty by morning, the second more than half gone. His head pounded. Should’ve gone out to buy whiskey. Red wine gave him the worst hangovers.

But he’d been right: it was better to feel something than nothing. Even his dry heaves over the toilet were a relief in comparison to the numb distance of the night before. He sank down to the tile floor and rested his forehead on the cool porcelain of the toilet bowl. When he was sure he was done, he sat on the edge of the bed and dialed Jack’s number.

"You sound like shit, Will."

"Hungover."

"Glad you’re having a good time over there," Jack said sourly.

Unexpected tears started to Will’s eyes. He blinked hard. "The case," he said. "The second one was the Ripper. Not the first. The second victim was the first killer." Staged. That was exactly Hannibal’s appalling sense of humor.

Jack was silent for a second. “The Ripper’s due for another active period, but why this man? Why now?”

Because if Will had stayed for the case, it would’ve ruined their trip. “He felt the killer was infringing on his territory."

"Are you sure about this? When are you coming home?"

He had to tell him about Hannibal. Had to.

"I don’t know if I am." Will hung up.

The phone rang again two seconds later. Will ignored it. He lay down on the bed. Eventually, he turned off the phone.

Food, he told himself. This was not the end of the world, not the end of his life. He still needed to eat. Drink some water. At the very least, brush his teeth.

That last did eventually get him up and into the bathroom again. He brushed his teeth twice – with Hannibal’s cinnamon toothpaste – and then stuck his head under the faucet. Cold water poured over his face. He stuck out his tongue and drank like a dog.

There was a bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. He took some and swallowed his pills for the encephalitis as well and then stripped off his clothes. His suit. Hannibal had laid it out for him on the bed not even twenty four hours ago. He left it on the bathroom floor kicked into a corner. He’d meant to shower but crawled back between the sheets instead.

His chest hurt. His stomach hurt. That might be the wine. His head was definitely the wine. It throbbed. He curled up on his side and looked at the far wall. It was a pale, almost mint green. Hannibal hated it, had said he’d have it repainted. He’d looked so surprised when Will had suggested they could paint it themselves, like that had never occurred to him as a possibility.

Will turned away from the green wall and closed his eyes. Twelve hours ago, Hannibal had been here in this bed, beside him. Had shown him Robert Lecter’s photo. Now you know everything. And, at some level, he had.

He thought of his dream, of Robert and Murasaki, both drowned. He wondered what had really happened to Murasaki. Hannibal had said he didn’t believe it was an accident. Maybe he knew it wasn’t. Maybe she hadn’t been able to live with what Hannibal had done.

Will reached for his phone again and switched it on. It beeped with a voicemail from Jack, unsurprising, and 14 texts from Beverly. Will frowned and looked at the first one, the second, the third. Apparently she’d talked to Jack.

Another one came in while he was reading through the tenth. His finger hovered over the power button. He called her instead.

"What the hell do you mean you might not come back," Beverly said when she picked up.

"I wasn’t serious," Will said.

She paused. "He said you’d been drinking. You don’t sound like you’ve been drinking. You sound like you’ve been crying."

"I’m fine. You don’t need to worry."

"What happened? Did Hannibal do something?"

Will had no idea how to answer that.

"Did he hurt you?" Beverly asked.

That was enough to make Will’s chest seize with pain again. Almost like a cramp. "Not – not on purpose," he said.

"What does that mean, not on purpose?" Suddenly calm. Cop voice.

Will closed his eyes. He had to either tell her or lie convincingly, and he wasn’t sure he could do either right now. Shouldn’t have called. Shouldn’t have left the crypt. He wished he were still there, in the dark, with the undemanding dead for company.

"Will? Are you still there? Talk to me, okay?"

"What do you do when – when someone you love does something you wish they hadn’t?" He swallowed. "Something you can’t – he didn’t do anything to me."

"I guess you’re not going to tell me what he did."

"Not right now. No."

Beverly was quiet for a few seconds. "Feelings don’t change just because someone does something bad. I still love my sister. I wish she hadn’t been dealing fucking coke, but I still love her. I guess either you keep loving them and get past it somehow or you cut them out of your life and wait till it stops hurting."

"It’s different with family though. Isn’t it?"

She sighed. "I don’t know. It’s harder with family, because you didn’t pick them in the first place, and you’re sort of stuck with them. You can cut them off, but they’ll still be there, no matter what you do. With people you pick, it’s all on you. You end up thinking you made a mistake, that it’s your fault. It’s not your fault."

It was though. He’d been almost willfully blind.

"Do you need anything?" Beverly said. "Can I – I don’t know. What can I do?"

"Nothing. I’m okay."

"You are such a fucking liar."

He breathed out something like laughter. "I’ll be fine. I’m always fine."

"Yeah. That sucks, doesn’t it?"

"What?"

"I’m always fine too. I can always get through it. Don’t you ever wish you could – I don’t know. Not? Just be a mess and let someone else deal with it?"

"There isn’t anyone else," he said.

"No, there never is."

Will could hear Zeller yelling at Price about something for a second before the click of a closing door silenced them. "I should eat something," he said. "I had wine for dinner last night."

"Okay. Go. Call me tonight or I’m going to send the French cops after you. At least text."

"I will. Don’t worry."

"I’m going to worry. I’m going to sit here and look for tiny fibers on this guy’s Hawaiian shirt and worry. That’s how I’m going to spend my day."

He smiled and wiped at his eyes. "Don’t put that on me. That’s your choice."

"Yes, it is. Talk to you later."

They hung up. Will sat at the kitchen table in his boxers for a long time. Eventually, he ate two slices of toast without incident, despite the churning in his stomach.

He had to tell Jack.

He wasn’t going to tell Jack. That was bad, but he couldn’t seem to do anything to change it. He could go home. He probably should go home. The thought of full price airfare for same day travel across the Atlantic made him wince, but it was, in the end, money he had. He didn’t need Hannibal to pay for him. He didn’t need Hannibal at all.

He made coffee, sat at the table, and drank cup after cup.

After about an hour of over-caffeinated fidgeting, he made himself think about it. About Hannibal. About the Chesapeake Ripper.

The latest one – they’d thought he was the latest – had been cut up like the Wound Man. Hannibal had done it while his victim was alive. He always did it while they were alive. He liked to watch them.

Will took a sip of his coffee. It burned going down.

Nine that they knew about, but it wouldn’t only be nine. Will had seen the files. The first victim of the Chesapeake Ripper was not a first kill. Well, of course. Will already knew about Hannibal’s first. He’d seen it. He’d lived it.

So that was ten. Robert Lecter made it eleven. Plus the most recent killer buried under the stage. It reeked of the Ripper’s disdain. Contempt. The sense that his victim had brought it on himself. Twelve.

Will closed his eyes. Cassie Boyle and Marissa Schurr, right after he’d met Hannibal. Fourteen. Disdain and contempt and more than that. They had been for Will. To show him what he was missing.

With the sickening feeling of another pit of bones opening beneath his feet, he remembered the organs. The missing kidney from the latest killer. Kidney stew at Hannibal’s table. They’d always wondered what he did with the trophies he took.

That had to be the worst of it. At least this made sense. His time with Hannibal had always seemed like a dream, nothing that could really be part of his life. Now he was back in the real world.

As inevitably as the image of Cassie Boyle covered in crows, he remembered Hannibal lit up with joy when they cooked together. Uncertain the first time Will had touched him. The awe on his face during their night ceremony in the rain when Will had promised to be his. When Hannibal had promised to be what he needed.

That stuck in Will’s mind and repeated on a loop while his coffee went cold. What he needed.

Fast forward. He replayed the scene in the crypt, step by excruciating step. Hannibal had left him there. Will had asked him to leave, and he’d gone.

Hannibal could have killed him. Easily. A broken neck. Over quickly. He could have kept his life in Baltimore. Instead he’d left Will alive and was now on the run, though he must have realized by now that there was no pursuit.

So Will was something to him. Something more than a diversion. But he’d known that. It was in Hannibal’s every action and look and breath, in his coat thrown down across the slush, in the ring made from his own body.

Will surfaced from his thoughts to look at the ring. At some point he’d put his father’s ring next to it on his middle finger. Will was something to him, but not enough. He’d left the ring behind.

Will put his mug down. He went into the bathroom to brush his teeth again, showered, and stared at himself in the mirror. He wasn’t going to tell Jack, but he had to do something.

He pulled on clothes, all things Hannibal had chosen for him, and Hannibal’s beige sweater. He had a bad moment pulling it on when he wondered if Hannibal had left it behind because he knew Will liked it.

The rain was changing to snow. Night had fallen. Will called Beverly as promised and hunted through the apartment for Hannibal’s tablet as they spoke.

"What are you going to do?" she said.

"I’m going to church."

"I didn’t know you were religious."

"I’m not."

The tablet lay partially hidden under a newspaper on the sofa. Will turned it on and looked up the Church of St. Gens, north of Paris. At least seeing the statue might rid him of the persistent image of Hannibal kneeling with his heart in his outstretched hand.

*

Will rented a car. He had directions on Hannibal’s tablet. The rental clerk looked at him with concern and warned him about the weather, but Will was used to winter storms in the north east. He didn’t think Paris could be any worse. Part of him didn’t care if was.

He wasn’t speaking to that part of his mind any more than he was speaking to the part that wanted to believe Hannibal would be waiting for him when he got to the church. He wouldn’t.

Hannibal wasn’t stupid. He’d left the country by morning, probably Africa, maybe Morocco. That would be Will’s first choice from here, if he were suddenly on the run. It wasn’t going to happen. Will just needed somewhere to go and something to do. He’d had all he could stomach of feeling sorry for himself.

The snow was still mostly rain, shading into sleet. It made the highway slippery, but nothing too bad. He would have preferred more of a fight. He was in the mood for one.

The Church of St. Gens blended into the dusk. Time and pollution had turned its stones dark gray. The steeple stood up with a carved stone cross on top, but that was the extent of the decoration. Copper-banded wooden doors met at the top in an arch. It was about the size of Will’s house at home, maybe a little taller at the peak of the roof.

He tried the door. It swung open with a soft whine, and he stepped inside.

A priest was sweeping the aisle between the pews. He spun around and dropped the broom, which clattered to the floor. Will held out his hands to show he was harmless. The priest laughed and said something in French, part of which was an apology. Will apologized as well and then apologized again, because that was about all the French he could remember.

"Oh, good," the priest said in English. "I can practice on you. We don’t get tourists out here. Maybe five or six a year. Not a popular saint. I think you came for the statue?"

"Sort of. I – I had a friend who thought I should see it."

"Ah. So you came for your friend."

The priest pushed his glasses up with one finger and gestured for Will to follow him. They walked up the length of the church. It was all bare stone and waxed wood. The candelabra, in some dull metal, listed slightly to one side.

The statue stood in an alcove near the altar. It was as tall as Hannibal had said, bigger than life, the heart immense, veined, almost pulsing.

"I’m sorry for your loss," the priest said.

Will couldn’t make himself correct him. He just nodded.

"You’re American?"

"Yeah."

"You’ve come a long way." The priest paused. "We do close soon. I’m sorry."

Will shut his eyes for a second. He saw the bloody hole in Hannibal’s chest. "I’ll go," he said. "It’s okay. I don’t know what I thought I’d find."

"Peace? One should be able to hope for peace in a house of God."

"Definitely wasn’t expecting that."

The priest hesitated. "I do have to go. My mother expects me, and she’ll be worried in this weather. Suppose I leave the keys with you?"

Will tore his eyes away from the statue and frowned at him.

"It’s not as if we have anything to steal." He gave Will a quick smile. "Apart from the statue. I think it would not fit in your car."

Will looked around at the stone walls and flickering candlelight. If he left, he’d have to go back to Paris, back to Hannibal’s apartment. "Are you sure it’s okay?"

"Lock up when you go and leave the keys under the mat outside. Yes?"

"Thank you," Will said.

The priest gave him the keys and left him. After a few minutes, Will heard his car start and pull away. Alone, he searched for a plaque near the statue, but there was nothing. No explanation for this huge stone man rotting in a tiny church, unobserved by the world. Cautious, Will laid a hand on his shredded flesh. With the help of a pew dragged close, he touched the heart. It was very cold.

He climbed down and pushed the pew back into place. Candles burned on a rack, only four lit. He lit another for his father, who had at least believed in God, even if he hadn’t been Catholic. After that, he sat down on the front row pew and listened to the wind slap against the one tiny stained glass window over the door. There was nothing left to do except pretend he wasn’t waiting.

After a few minutes of blank mind and blank staring, he wondered what Hannibal would’ve done if he hadn’t told him to leave. After that, he tried not to think at all. As time passed and the candles flickered, melted wax threatening to rise up and extinguish the flames it sustained, his eyes grew heavy.

He should – what? Pray? He was in a church. But he had no idea what to pray for or who might answer. Eventually he slumped down against the hard wood and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

The creak of the door and a knife of cold wind pulled Will out of sleep. He knew who it was. "You did come," he said.

Hannibal walked up the aisle, shoes tapping softly on the stone floor. "You haven’t called Jack. Or are they keeping the search out of the media? That would be quite an undertaking."

"I told Jack about the other killer. That the Ripper took him out. I didn’t tell him about you."

"Why not?"

"I don’t know. I couldn’t," Will said.

"You’re wearing the ring. I thought you would throw it away. Perhaps in the Seine. I imagined it at the bottom of a river."

"I should. You threw yours away."

"Never," Hannibal said with unexpected force. "Will. Never. It was your father’s. How could I keep it?"

"How could you murder fourteen people?"

Hannibal said nothing. Will said nothing.

Hannibal sat down beside him. "You know about the others then."

"I’d guess fourteen is lowballing it. But if you mean the copycat killings, yeah, I know."

"How?"

"Does it matter? Because I know you. Because I’m not stupid. You were the man on the phone. You warned Hobbs we were coming. I guess I should make it fifteen. Abigail’s mother would be alive if you hadn’t called him."

"But I didn’t kill her."

"Are you really going to argue over one life?"

"One life I did not take," Hannibal said in that precise, overly enunciated voice he got when Will was irritating him.

Will closed his eyes and bent his head. He wasn’t going to cry again. He was done with that. "Why did you come?"

"Why did you? Did you expect to find me here?"

"I came to see the statue."

Hannibal rose and crossed the floor to stand in front of it. Will followed more slowly.

"And now that you have seen it?" Hannibal asked.

"What would you have done if I hadn’t told you to leave?"

"I don’t know. I thought afterward that I should have killed you."

"I wondered why you didn’t."

"It seems to be too late for that."

Will dug his nails hard into the heel of his hand. "Too late? What, you wanted to do it sooner? Maybe before you gave me the ring? Or even earlier? The night you took me to dinner and said you wanted me for the rest of your life? You could’ve done it after you drove me home. Let the dogs eat my body. Unless you wanted it for yourself.”

No expression on Hannibal’s face. His eyes were as clear and steady as always. "You know about that too."

"I know you. Finally. I promised, didn’t I?"

"We both keep our promises."

All Will could hear was Hannibal promising to be what he needed, and the memory of that lie made it hard to breathe. He put a hand to his chest, digging his knuckles into bone. "I’m leaving."

Hannibal caught his shoulder as he turned away. Will planted a hand on his chest and shoved hard. Hannibal staggered. He caught at the statue for balance.

It rocked on its pedestal with a grinding noise of stone, once, twice. It started to settle back on its base, but then the balance tipped, weighed forward by the outstretched heart. It fell too slowly. Will felt the stone eyes focus on him just before it hit the ground with a crash that filled the church. The arm and the heart broke off on impact and skidded against the wall. Marble shards flew up like a spray of water.

One of them cut Hannibal’s face. Blood slid down his cheek to his mouth where he licked it away. He reached for Will again and then stopped. He held his hand open at his side like he didn’t know what to do with it. He was breathing through his teeth. "Don’t go," he said.

"Are you going to stop me?"

They stared at each other. Marble grit crunched under Will’s feet as he shifted. He could smell hot wax from the candles. The reflected flames glowed on the statue’s broken skin. He didn’t know what he’d do if Hannibal let him go.

Hannibal lunged for him. Will was rocked back by relief more than by the force of his body. He blocked the hand that grabbed for him, pulled Hannibal closer by the front of his shirt, and slammed a fist into his jaw. It hurt, and he was glad. It should hurt both of them.

Hannibal caught Will’s arm when he came in for another blow and swung him around into the wall. It knocked the breath from Will’s lungs and then Hannibal had him pinned down. Will got a leg up and kneed him in the balls. Hannibal rolled off of him and away, and Will followed. He landed another blow to his stomach before Hannibal caught him in the nose, and then a palm smashed into his neck and Will couldn’t breathe.

He had tears in his eyes and panic growing in his chest before he managed to get any air. He coughed hard, bent over his knees, aware of Hannibal in the same position a few feet away.

Hannibal looked up, panting. Blood slid over his jaw. "What will you do if you win?" he asked.

"Take your heart as a trophy," Will said. "Isn’t that what you’d do?"

He launched himself forward, and Hannibal was there to catch him in a grip so tight that air was a precious commodity again, squeezing hard around his ribs. Will was too close for a decent punch. He hit Hannibal in the neck, but the blow skidded up and bounced off his skull. Will twisted hard and threw all his weight backward.

They fell to the ground, Hannibal on top of him again. Will rolled them over, hit his stomach, punched his jaw again. His hands were battered and aching. Hannibal seized his shoulders and twisted to the side. Will went over, and over, stunned by the force of the wall slamming into his back.

Hannibal had a knife in his hand. Will recognized it as the chef’s knife from the apartment. They both stood their ground, swaying, breathing hard.

"Is that for me?" Will asked.

Hannibal looked down at the knife in his hand, a small line between his eyes.

Will jumped him and rolled him across the hard floor and the marble shrapnel until he had him wedged against the statue’s length, pinned down with the weight of his body.

Hannibal was still clutching the knife, but he hadn’t tried to use it. "What do you want of me, Will? What do you need?"

Will was groping above him for a weapon. His hand closed around the statue’s stone heart. "An excuse."

Hannibal brought the knife up. Will brought the heart down, and he was faster. Hannibal fell back, unconscious and limp against the marble body behind him. There was blood on the heart and blood on the side of Hannibal’s head, though it had been a glancing blow. Will groped for a pulse at his neck and found it steady and strong.

He lay back on the floor, gasping. He felt for Hannibal’s pulse again, this time at his wrist, and held on.

Time passed. He didn’t know how long. He watched the slow drift of dust down from the ceiling. Eventually, Hannibal stirred, though he didn’t try to pull free of Will’s grasp.

"I’m all right," Hannibal said, but the words slurred together.

"I’m not."

Hannibal made a small noise of pain as he turned his head toward Will and got his eyes open. "Did I hurt you?"

Will almost laughed. He rolled onto his side and pushed himself into a sitting position. When he touched his face, his hand came away wet with blood from his nose. Everything ached.

Hannibal grasped the statue and used the projection of a rib to haul himself upright. He crossed his legs and sat with the stone heart in his lap, hand curved over it. His thumb rubbed along a vein for a few quiet seconds. "I planned to stop killing," he said.

Will closed his eyes. "I don’t believe you."

"I don’t know that I believe myself. But I meant to try. You don’t need to take my heart as a trophy."

"Don’t say it."

"You know me, Will. For better or for worse. Don’t suggest that I don’t have one to give. Or that it’s not yours already."

Will slid his hands up into his hair and tightened them into fists. He pulled until it hurt.

Hannibal took one wrist and pulled his hand down. He touched the dull silver band on Will’s middle finger. "May I have it back? Please?"

Will tried to imagine what his father would say. Is he a decent man? No, not at all. Will had always tried to be, but most days he fell short of the mark, too. Hannibal still wanted him.

The ring came off easily. He took Hannibal’s hand and looked over his bruised knuckles. One had been scraped bloody on Will’s teeth. He slid the ring onto Hannibal’s finger. "Don’t leave it behind again. Even if you go. Take it with you."

"Do you want me to go?" Hannibal asked.

"What if I don’t?"

Hannibal didn’t answer for a few seconds. He curled one finger around Will’s thumb and held it loosely. "Then perhaps we should go back to Paris."

Will opened his mouth to agree and then he looked past Hannibal at the statue. For the first time, he felt the enormity of its destruction. "We can’t just leave."

"It can be restored," Hannibal said. "The major breaks are clean. I will arrange it."

"They still might want to press charges. Shit. They should." Will touched the rough end of the broken arm.

"I’m sure they’d rather have a donation. Perhaps a new roof."

Will looked at him. "Don’t you care about this either?"

"On the contrary. I like it better now." Hannibal slid his hand along the statue’s arm and down its rotting chest. "I wondered what use God would have for a stone heart."

"He couldn’t eat it," Will said. "What am I supposed to do with you?"

Hannibal raised his eyes from the empty chest cavity to Will’s face. "Do you love me?"

"Does it matter?"

Hannibal blinked slowly at him. "You’re the only person I know who would think to ask that question. It matters to you. Doesn’t it?"

Will swallowed around the near constant ache of grief in his throat. "Why would you stop?"

"You have disowned the parts of yourself that you judge unworthy. I didn’t want to suffer the same fate."

"I might disown them, but they’re still there. You’re still here."

"For how long?"

Will planted his hands on the floor and pushed himself to his feet. His back and sides ached. He could feel the bruises forming.

"Where are you going?" Hannibal asked.

"To check the snow, that’s all." He limped to the door with a sharp pain in his left hip. Probably from when Hannibal had thrown him into the wall. He pulled the door open and looked outside. A skim of snow covered the ground and the road, and it drifted down in tiny biting flakes. The roads would only get worse. They couldn’t stay in the church all night.

He pushed the door shut against the wind. "Do you have a concussion? Would you know if you had a concussion?"

"Mild, perhaps. Nothing to worry about."

"Should I look at your pupils or something?"

"If it were that bad, there would be more obvious symptoms. You don’t need to worry about me, Will."

"I do though. I worry about you."

Hannibal set the heart aside and stretched out a hand to him. Will took it and sat beside him again. He let Hannibal put an arm around his waist. They leaned into each other.

"We should go," Will said.

Hannibal let out a soft breath and rested his head momentarily against Will’s. "I’ll write a note for the priest." He took out a notebook and pen.

"What does love mean to you?" Will asked.

Hannibal paused, pen suspended above the paper. He was quiet for a long time, a minute or even two of complete silence with the snow ticking against the stained glass. "The memory of my sister. The scent of your happiness."

*

Will drove them back to Paris. The back roads around the church were slick as ice, and the highways weren’t that much better. His eyes ached from staring out into the narrow field of the headlights.

They supported each other on the way up the stairs. Will jammed the key in the lock and let them inside. "I need to look at your head," he said.

"If you insist, Dr. Graham."

"Shut up. I just want to see if it’s bleeding. And you could put ice on it, couldn’t you? We should’ve stopped for some."

"I have a headache, that’s all. Pain seldom troubles me much."

"They say most of our perception of pain is the fear of it," Will said.

"After the past twenty four hours, I believe I can say for certain that it’s true. Take your shirt off. I want to look at your ribs."

They went into the bathroom. Hannibal surveyed the brown and white tile with the same expression of mild distaste that he always got whenever Will had seen him in there. He was the same person. Had always been the same person. Will had fallen in love with the Chesapeake Ripper. Hannibal had never pretended to be someone else. He just hadn’t killed in front of him.

Will took off his shirt and sat on the counter to let Hannibal prod his ribs. "It hurts, in case you were wondering."

"But there’s no sharper pain? Take a deep breath for me."

Will breathed in and out. Hannibal pressed his hand to his side and watched the expansion of his rib cage. Will saw Cassie Boyle mounted on a stag’s head with her lungs ripped out. He put a hand over his mouth and bent over his knees.

"What is it?" Hannibal asked. He ducked down to see Will’s face and touched his cheek. "Will?"

"You."

Hannibal straightened back up slowly. "Shall I leave you to clean up?"

Will grabbed his sleeve, still struggling with nausea and a chill that spread out from his heart. "What did you do with her lungs? How did you cook them?"

Hannibal paused. "Lung and loin bourguignon. One begins with bacon and shallots and then adds flour to make a roux."

He continued in a measured voice until he had talked Will through the whole recipe. Until he had described the preparation of the lungs, the expulsion of air, the trimming away of connective tissue. The scent when they went into the pan.

"Now do you want me to go?" Hannibal asked.

Will shook his head. It took him a few seconds, but he straightened up, shed the rest of his clothes, and got into the shower. Hannibal stood watching him from the outside of the frosted glass until Will beckoned to him.

"You fed them to me," Will said as Hannibal cleaned blood from his face.

"Yes."

"Often?"

"Most meals that we ate at my house."

Will looked at the lump on the side of Hannibal’s head. A little blood, not much. He washed it away and then washed his hair for him.

"Were you ever going to tell me any of it?" Will asked.

"Perhaps someday, far in the future. Understanding aids digestion of even the most unpleasant discoveries."

Will was torn between smiling and punching him again. "You have a fucking terrible sense of humor."

"Most people don’t seem to notice."

Hannibal put a hand on the back of his neck and drew him close. Will fell into him and held on. He still didn’t know what to do, but giving Hannibal up seemed more impossible by the second.

"Do you hate me?" Hannibal asked.

"I don’t know," Will said. "I’m tired."

"I can sleep in the guest room."

"If you think I’m letting you out of my sight for more than five seconds, you’re crazier than I think you are."

"I thought you might prefer a locked door between us."

"You’re not going to kill me," Will said.

"Why not? It would be the wisest course of action for me."

"Assuming your main objective is to stay out of prison, yeah."

Hannibal was quiet while they dried off and put on their pajamas. They got into bed on opposite sides. Will switched off the light.

"What did you make from Marissa Schurr?" he asked.

"I’ll tell you in the morning if you still want to know," Hannibal said softly. "Don’t think about it now. Let me tell you something else."

"Like what?"

Hannibal told him about Sainte Chapelle, the little church composed almost entirely of soaring arches and stained glass windows. "When you walk in, you see the light on the floor, the light on your skin, splinters of blue and red and green. Like standing inside a kaleidoscope. We’ll see it tomorrow if you wish. I’d like to take you to the opera. I’d like … what would you want to see?"

Will turned his head away and pretended to be asleep.

*

He was woken by the buzz of his phone, and he groped for it as he sat up.

"Hello?"

"Mr. Graham? This is Father Jean Baptiste. I got your note, about the accident. I hope your friend’s all right?"

Will looked at Hannibal, who blinked up at him in sleepy innocence that Will would not have bought even without the recent revelations. He should’ve read the note himself.

"He’s okay I think. Maybe a mild concussion. I couldn’t get him to see a doctor."

The priest hesitated. "Is it improper to ask, was he the one who told you of the church to begin with?"

"Yeah. It was him. I thought – I didn’t think I’d ever see him again."

"It’s a blessing when friendships can be renewed."

"Sometimes. Yes. I’m sorry," Will said. "More sorry than I can say. We should have called the police, but—"

"No, no! Your friend explained everything. It’s unfortunate, of course, but not a matter for the police."

He really should’ve read that note.

"And I’ll have to discuss it with my superior, but I’m sure his donation and the generous offer to fund the restoration will be accepted."

Will agreed that it probably would and hung up. "What did you tell him?" he asked Hannibal.

"That I had recently undergone heart surgery and had a spell of dizziness in the church upon seeing you so unexpectedly. I caught at the statue for balance and, since they had not secured it, I was nearly crushed under its weight."

Will sat up and bent over his knees, rubbing at his face. "Well, that’s about ten percent true."

"I did feel dizzy when I saw you."

"You were expecting me."

"I was expecting you in the same way that you were expecting me: without hope."

Will nodded. That summed it up pretty well.

"Do you want to hear about Marissa Schurr?"

Will rested his forehead on his knees. He didn’t feel as strong as he had last night, or maybe just less inclined to punish himself. "No."

"Shall I make us breakfast?"

"Yeah."

They ate omelets with pale gold mushrooms and cheese and drank coffee and said nothing. Afterward, they stood side by side at the sink, washing plates, as they had done so often.

"You were going to stop," Will said cautiously.

"I was going to try." Hannibal handed him the pan to dry. "I would still try."

"Because – why?"

"Because it is the only future I see for us. I once saw another, but it is surprisingly easy to see what one wants to see when in the grip of strong emotion. Easier than I would have thought."

Will dried dishes in silence. They sat down at the table again with more coffee. Will couldn’t look at him. His face was too familiar, too much associated with comfort and kindness and hope. "Just – just go back home and live like – like this never happened? Like I don’t know what you’ve done?"

"You still cared for me when I had taken one life. How is this different? Surely it’s a matter of scale."

"The fact that you don’t know that is sort of the problem."

More silence. Will rested his head in his hands.

"You took me as I am," Hannibal said. "You knew, at least, what I was capable of, if not all that I had done. I am not the problem. You’re worried about what you will become if you accept this, or you’re worried about what you already are."

Beverly was right. His feelings hadn’t changed. He didn’t think they would, even if he never saw Hannibal again. So what was he that he could love someone like this?

"Would you like to know the future I first saw for us?" Hannibal asked.

Will shrugged.

"I see in you much of what you see in yourself, the parts that frighten you. The darkness. I had hoped to bring that to the front. To release your guilt and dread, to ease your transformation."

"Into what?"

"I suppose you will put it bluntly if I don’t. I wanted you to kill with me."

Will looked up at him between his fingers. "And you don’t think it would’ve worked?"

"Not so cleanly as I had envisioned. You walk on the edge of destruction, but you will never fall to one side or the other. You live perpetually in the liminal spaces of the mind."

"So you decided, what? That if I wouldn’t change, you would?"

"A change in behavior is not a change in essence. But since you seem unable to believe me, I propose a trade."

"What?"

"I’ll stop if you do." Hannibal looked at him, steady and calm, with only a faint tension around his eyes to betray him.

"You mean working for Jack. I already found the Chesapeake Ripper. What does it matter now?"

"Regardless of my motivations, every argument I’ve made against your work with the BAU is still valid. It is bad for you. You said so yourself."

It was on the tip of Will’s tongue to tell Hannibal he couldn’t possibly care about that, but he kept his mouth shut. Hannibal did care. If he didn’t, if he didn’t have some strong attachment to Will and interest in his well being, Will would be dead in a room full of bones.

"Let’s go out," he said. "Show me that church you were talking about."

*

They stood in the colored light of Sainte Chapelle and looked up at its windows. Even with the rain outside, they shone. The vaulted ceiling, dark blue like the night sky, was covered in golden stars.

"It was built to house Christ’s crown of thorns," Hannibal said.

"Is it still here?"

"The relics were moved to Notre Dame during the revolution. Many were sold off or lost, including, I believe, the crown. For the best, perhaps. Faith is difficult to maintain in the face of modern authentication methods."

"It’s not like you to support anyone’s illusions."

"A life lived alone is a life of certainty. It requires no faith and no compromise."

They walked from Sainte Chapelle to Notre Dame in a gray drizzle and at last bought an umbrella when it picked up enough to flatten Will’s hair against his skull. The snow had melted hours ago. The only remaining traces of it were the gutters swimming in brown slush.

"Do you want to go in?" Hannibal asked.

Will shook his head. They stood outside, coats buttoned up to their necks. People gave them a wide berth. Both of them were bruised, and Will had split Hannibal’s lip open against his teeth so badly that it kept reopening. He’d been licking blood from his mouth on and off all morning.

Will looked up at the building. He’d seen pictures of it often enough for it to be familiar, but its presence in the gloom and rain of a bleak winter’s day set another image over it, a wholly new one. He saw his memories of it and he saw it as it was, and the two visions merged into a complete whole.

He glanced at Hannibal, who was watching him and not the cathedral. "Let’s get coffee," Will said.

They sat in a cafe, mainly deserted on this bleak weekday afternoon. Hannibal ordered firmly for both of them. Instead of coffee, Will got vegetable soup and an excessively long section of baguette. He didn’t expect to finish either, but he did, despite the ache in his jaw.

Hannibal dabbed his bloody lip with a napkin. The waiter brought him ice without being asked, along with a handful of tissues and a disapproving look. It made Will smile, though the expression died soon enough.

"What happened to your aunt?" he asked.

"I believe she killed herself."

"After you took her to see what you’d done to her husband."

Hannibal folded his hands on the table. "Yes. He had intended to divorce her. In part because he already suspected there was something between us. She would have been left with nothing. I wanted to give her everything."

Will looked past him out the window. "You didn’t give her what she wanted. You gave her what you wanted her to have."

A horn blared in the street outside. Hannibal started to reach for him and then pressed his palm to the table. "Yes. I saw only the mirrors of my own mind, turned inward and reflecting my own desires. Nothing else was real."

"And now?" Will said.

"I cannot claim to see the world as it is. Who among us can claim complete objectivity? But I see you," Hannibal said.

Will broke the remaining inch of his baguette into progressively smaller bits. "You make me happy," he said.

"I did."

"You still do."

"You’re not happy now."

"I want to go home. I want to see my dogs. I can’t imagine being without you. That’s a stupid thing to say. I can imagine it fine." He looked down at his hands.

"I can imagine it as well," Hannibal said softly. "All right. We’ll go home."

"When?"

"Tomorrow."

Will nodded. They went back to the apartment to pack.

Chapter Text

The night he got home, Will slept on the floor with his dogs. He’d done it before once or twice after the worst of his nightmares. The past few weeks held the same visual quality in his mind as his nightmares did, frayed and vignetted at the edges with darkness that might conceal anything.

He woke with a dry mouth, one leg completely asleep from having Winston draped over it, and Buster licking enthusiastically at his ear. He groaned, still stiff from the fight and the plane, wondering if Hannibal had been wrong about his ribs and if he should get an X-ray. He pulled his shirt up and found the bruises had darkened to an intense purple.

The phone rang, the same ridiculous iPhone Hannibal had bought him in Venice. He’d left it on the foot of the bed, and he crawled over to answer it.

"Will," Jack said when he picked up. "I hear you’re back finally."

"Yeah."

"I’ve got something I want you to look at."

Jack launched immediately into the details. They passed over Will’s head as he thought. His promise, Hannibal’s promise. His nightmares. The dissolution of his mind into other people’s nightmares.

"I’m not coming, Jack," he said. "You’ll have to find someone else. I’m done."

He hung up and switched off the phone before Jack could call back. He got his stuff together and spent the next few hours ice fishing in case Jack decided to press his case in person. They’d have to talk sooner or later, but Will wasn’t up to it today.

The still air, the solitude, and the complete lack of any disturbance (including fish, not a single bite) calmed his mind. He didn’t think about Hannibal. He didn’t think about anything.

When he got home, he found the Bentley parked in his drive. At least it wasn’t Jack. Hannibal still had his key. He was in Will’s kitchen, cooking. It smelled good, but then it always had.

"What are you making?" Will asked.

"A Thai curry with butternut squash. And tofu."

Will’s mouth twitched, though it shouldn’t be funny. None of this should be funny. He stood behind Hannibal at the stove. "That’s nice of you," he said.

"It seemed the wise thing to do."

"I’m not asking you to turn vegetarian."

"I’m glad. All the same, for our first meal at home …" He trailed off, unusual for him. Hannibal generally knew how his sentences ended before he started them.

"Thanks. It smells good."

They ate at the kitchen table and drank Thai coffee instead of wine.

"Jack called today," Will said.

"Yes, I’m aware. He called me after he called you and demanded to know if I was responsible."

"What did you tell him?"

"What he already knows. That the work was detrimental to your health. That you will be better off without it. That you make your own decisions, regardless of what I might or might not want for you, and that I’m glad you’ve chosen not to continue."

"And what did he say?"

"I’m sure you can guess."

Will could. Guilt churned in his stomach. He finished chewing, swallowed, and set the fork down. Hannibal looked at him.

"He’s right though," Will said. "People will die."

"Perhaps you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that it’s unlikely you would save as many lives working with Jack as you will by forcing me to keep my promise to you."

"You’d pit your body count against every case I’d work for the rest of my life?"

"The rest of your life might be shorter than you imagine. It’s a dangerous profession, especially for you. But yes, I think I can comfortably say that."

Horrifyingly, that did actually help. Will pushed squash around his plate and took another bite. "How many?" he said.

"Between forty four and forty six. There are two whose fates were in doubt, and I never found out whether they survived."

"It really doesn’t bother you at all?"

"No. On the contrary, I have always found it satisfying," Hannibal said.

"But you’ll still give it up."

"I will if you will."

Will stretched out his hand across the table. Hannibal took it with an inquiring expression, and Will shook it once. "Deal," he said.

They ate the rest of the meal in silence. Will was submerged in his own thoughts, drowning in something that wasn’t quite regret but still held the flavor of it, bitter on the back of his tongue.

"Do you want me to go?" Hannibal asked.

"You could help me clean up, at least."

Hannibal did. They stood next to each other at the sink. Hannibal washed, and Will dried. Sometimes their arms brushed. Will drew away from the contact, though he wanted it badly.

"Would you have preferred to live in ignorance your whole life?" Hannibal asked.

"I don’t think I could have. I would’ve figured it out eventually."

"But if you could?"

Will dried the last glass and reached past Hannibal to put it away. "No. I’d rather know the truth." He glanced at him. "Why? Is there something else?"

"Nothing that falls outside the general outline of what you already know. Only details that you may find unpleasant."

"That I may find unpleasant? You think there’s any chance I won’t?"

Hannibal took the towel from Will and dried his hands. "You may find them more unpleasant than I am prepared for."

Will looked at him for a second. "Then I guess you’d better tell me the worst of it. Come on." He took Hannibal’s arm and drew him over to the couch, where they sat side by side, still without touching.

Hannibal folded his hands in his lap and directed his gaze at the opposite wall. "I don’t know what you would consider the worst of it."

"You’ve got a fair idea of my criteria."

"Perhaps the worst was my enjoyment then. The satisfaction. The sense of restoring order to the world."

"The world has no order."

Hannibal looked away toward the dark window. "So you’ve said. Chaos and entropy. The inevitable progression of time. Is that all we can hope for?"

"It’s all we have. Killing people doesn’t change that."

"Perhaps not, but the possibility is always with me."

"Until now," Will said.

"Until now."

"Still worth it?"

Hannibal nodded slowly.

"Did you enjoy feeding them to me?"

"Yes," Hannibal said, somewhere between apologetic and reverent. "You understood what I was offering you. With your heart if not with your mind."

"How much do you have left?"

Hannibal turned to look at him. "What?"

"I assume you froze some of it."

"Yes."

"Can’t let it go to waste. Then it’s just murder."

Hannibal reached for his hand and stopped himself halfway. His eyes were bright. He said nothing.

"You should go home," Will said. "Tomorrow night. Cook for me."

"Do you have any requests?"

"No. Anything you want."

*

Will got in his car the next night with less trepidation than he’d feared. It wasn’t as if this was the first time, but he’d expected more of a physical reaction at the thought of what he’d be eating. Nausea, disgust. He felt none of that. He was hungry.

When he let himself in, Hannibal called to him from the kitchen. Will stood in the doorway to watch the familiar figure he made, apron tied firmly, sleeves rolled up, moving from stove to sink to fridge without pause or any sign of rush. He’d seen it a hundred times. Even now, it soothed him. He sank into the chair in the corner.

"Good evening," Hannibal said.

"Hi. What are we eating?"

"Slow cooked and brine-cured heart with parsley and pickled cherries. Liver with bacon, caramelized onions, and sherry. A gratin of potatoes and sweet potatoes. Blood orange meringues for dessert."

"Are they made from real blood?"

"I don’t usually take blood."

"It was a joke."

Hannibal gave him a sidelong look, but said nothing. He added sherry to the pan.

"Anything I can do?" Will asked.

Hannibal stood clutching the neck of the sherry bottle. For a long time he didn’t answer, and Will could see his throat work. "You could slice the heart if you wish," he said finally. "It’s in the refrigerator and will be served cold."

Will took out the heart. He set it on the cutting board. It still felt remarkably raw to him.

"Across the grain," Hannibal said. "On the diagonal."

Will sliced it as instructed, neither thick nor thin since Hannibal hadn’t specified. He didn’t usually get anything more complicated to do in the kitchen than chopping herbs, and even then Hannibal tended to hover. The symbolism must’ve been too good to pass up, even at the expense of inaccurately sliced meat.

"Is this really worth it for you?" he asked, meaning not just the heart but the whole situation, their uneasy deal, Hannibal’s unwilling sacrifice of his control over the world around him.

"I very much want to kill Mark Carson," Hannibal said.

Will paused in transferring the heart slices to a prepared platter. "I’d rather you didn’t."

"He hurt you."

Will was clutching the knife too tightly. He set it down and flexed his hand. "If you killed him, it would hurt me worse than anything he said to me."

"I’m aware. It doesn’t stop me from wanting to do it. To punish him."

"You want to punish him for yourself, not for me. It’s selfish."

"Perhaps. The desire remains."

"Are you going to?" Will asked.

"No. I promised you I wouldn’t."

"They say compromise is important in a successful marriage," Will said.

"Is that what we have? A successful marriage?"

Will scattered the cherries around the heart. One of them burst between his fingers and stained his skin red. His motion came to a halt and he stood looking down, seeing nothing. "I miss you," he said.

Hannibal came to him and put a tentative hand on his shoulder. Will turned toward him and held on, no doubt staining his shirt. Hannibal didn’t seem to care. He cupped the back of Will’s head and sighed against his temple.

"What can I do?" Hannibal said. "I want you back. I want things as they were."

"Can’t go back. That’s not the way time works."

"Then what’s the use of it?" Hannibal’s hand tightened in his hair. "I am not always careful. I have broken things in the past, things I wished to restore and could not. Time seems to me a circular, malleable thing. It must be. Nothing is eternal and so it must come around again to the beginning. But I only see it marching straight ahead."

"We’re not broken. Just a little cracked."

"What can I do?" Hannibal said again.

"You don’t have to do anything. Just be here. That’s all I need."

Hannibal let out a slow breath against his hair. "I will. I already promised you I would."

*

After dinner, they took their meringues into the study and ate them in front of the fire. They were a soft pink, stained red by firelight, crisp and melting on the tongue.

Will tried to think back to how they would have passed the time before, but what he’d said to Hannibal was perfectly true: there was no going back. It was forward or nothing. He didn’t know how to take the first step.

Hannibal rose at last and came to stand in front of Will’s chair. He offered him his hand. Will let himself be pulled up, and Hannibal kissed him. It was soft and slow. Will tilted his head so that they fit together more easily. Hannibal teased his tongue between Will’s lips. Within seconds, Will was holding on hard to his shoulders and Hannibal’s hand was wound in his hair.

"Upstairs?" Hannibal said, but Will pulled him down to the rug in front of the hearth. He spread his legs, and Hannibal lay between them, and it felt like the first night they’d kissed, everything unhurried and perfectly in synch. Will could have wept with relief.

He passed his hands over Hannibal’s back through the crisp white cotton of his shirt. Over Hannibal’s shoulder, he could see where he’d stained it with cherry juice, a small smear about the color of the meringues. Hannibal pulled his head back and kissed his throat with as much hunger as ever.

His teeth dug in high up on the side where it would certainly show. Will didn’t stop him, just twisted a leg over his and grabbed at his shirt and kept him close. He could feel Hannibal’s cock hard against his thigh and pressed against it.

"I kind of like you this desperate for me," Will said.

"I’m always this desperate for you."

"Shouldn’t admit things like that."

"You know already. You know me," Hannibal said.

That was true, finally, and it made Will smile with an odd lightening of his heart. "Took me long enough."

"My walls are very high, my defenses calculated to keep the world at bay. Much like yours."

More alike than not, Will thought. The darkness that had haunted him all his life seemed to have a purpose after all, and it wasn’t the one he had always feared.

He tugged at Hannibal’s hair until he could get him to leave his neck alone and kiss him again. And kiss him. Hannibal stopped holding himself up and settled down over Will’s body, too heavy. Will didn’t mind, despite the ache of his bruises.

They sank into each other. Will pushed Hannibal’s shirt up in the back and worked a hand down the back of his pants. Hannibal unbuttoned Will’s shirt so slowly, so carefully, spacing each button out with long presses of their lips together and tongues sliding wetly against each other.

It wasn’t even one Hannibal had bought for him, but rather one he might have been forgiven for ripping down the front – at least, Will would’ve forgiven him. He only continued his careful progress until he could spread both sides open and let his hands slide over Will’s chest and stomach, apparently determined to touch every inch of skin.

The kisses grew rougher. Hannibal’s teeth scraped at Will’s lower lip. Will tightened his hand in Hannibal’s hair and pulled his head back to kiss his neck, open-mouthed and lingering, breathing him in, wishing he could get as much information from scent as Hannibal could.

He wondered if he’d smelled of anger all this time and if he still did. The thought made him rougher, and he ran his nails across Hannibal’s scalp and down the back of his neck. Hannibal’s hips jerked against his.

They rolled onto their sides, reached for each other’s pants at the same time, got them open and down just enough, around their thighs. Hannibal pulled him close with feverish force. His skin was hot all over, his eyes shut. They ground against each other. Will got a hand around them and thrust into it.

Hannibal’s fingers skidded over his back and dug in under his shoulder blade. "Will, ah—"

"Yes," Will said in his ear, could say nothing else with the bright edge of orgasm just out of reach. "Yes, yes—"

Will came first with his hand gripping Hannibal’s hair so tight it must hurt and still grinding his hips forward even after he’d coated his hand and Hannibal’s cock with white streaks. Hannibal shuddered against him and then rolled on top of him again. He fucked himself into Will’s hand and pressed his face to Will’s neck, and Will heard his low moan a second before his body went tight with his release.

Will moved his hands slowly on Hannibal’s sides. His ribs were slick with sweat. The expansion and contraction slowed gradually. Hannibal slid down until he was breathing into the hollow of Will’s throat.

The fire crackled and snapped and faded from a blaze to the dull heat of coals. Hannibal lifted his head again to kiss Will, worrying his lower lip lazily with his teeth. "Are you staying the night?"

"Can I?" Will said.

"If it were up to me, you would never leave."

It took them a few kisses and sliding, easy touches to sit up and more to part entirely. They climbed the stairs together, fingers entwined at an awkward angle, rings knocking against one another.

In bed, Will lay in the dark and looked up at the ceiling. "Never leave, huh?"

"I wouldn’t force you."

Will looked over at him. "You wouldn’t, or you know you couldn’t?"

"Both."

Will turned toward him. He put an arm over Hannibal’s chest and his head on his shoulder. It felt no different than it ever had. Better, maybe, for going without. He tried to imagine readjusting to being alone again, really alone, with Hannibal gone for good. The thought made him press himself close and hold on.

Hannibal’s arms came around him, and he kissed Will’s forehead. "What’s wrong?"

"Things could’ve gone so much worse than they did."

"Yes."

"Buy me a house," Will said softly. "Somewhere we can live together, where we won’t be apart."

Hannibal’s grip tightened, almost crushing for a moment. "Yes," he said. "Yes, of course. Anything you want."

Chapter Text

Beverly showed up after Will’s first class and sat on the edge of his desk.

"So were you just going to disappear and never talk to any of us ever again?" she asked.

Will kept packing up his things while he considered that, but really he didn’t need the time. The answer was definitely yes. He just hadn’t thought anyone would care that much, and there was no way to say that without sounding sorry for himself, even though he wasn’t. He was just used to fading out of people’s lives with very little fuss made on either side.

Beverly poked him hard in the side, and he jumped.

"Ow," he said.

"Answer the question. I have rubber hoses somewhere."

"Maybe," he said. "I take it that’s not acceptable."

"No, it’s not acceptable. You can pay for lunch to make up for thinking it might be."

He stuffed the last of his folders into his bag. "Okay. Where?"

They went back to the place with the hippo on the sign, which was fine. Will hadn’t had fries since they’d been there the last time. Hannibal had a wide repertoire, but it didn’t generally include anything you’d find on a fast food menu. Will wondered what would happen if he asked for fries, and if he’d ever be able to enjoy normal ones again after he’d tasted Hannibal’s.

They ordered onion rings to start. "It’s a dual fried food day," Beverly said.

"Any particular reason?"

"My sister’s staying with me indefinitely. She’s doing her community service here."

"No time though?"

"No time. Thank God. Well. I don’t know if it’s good or not, but I think the judge scared her enough. The judge and our mom. She’s doing her service with an addiction recovery program. She came home crying the first night, which I’m taking as a good sign."

"What’s she going to do afterward?"

"She’s talking about social work right now, but it’s only been a week, so who knows. But on to more important topics, like why you thought you could dump me and what the hell happened in Italy."

"I didn’t think that."

"Jack’s mad at you."

"I know," Will said.

"The next big one we get, he’ll be breathing down your neck again."

"I know."

"You’re still going to tell him no?"

Will nodded.

"Good. It was great having your help, but you looked like it was doing bad things to you."

"It was."

She eyed him over the mound of whipped cream on top of her chocolate milkshake. "So you’re leaving the BAU. You are, however, stuck with me."

Will tried not to smile. "Yeah, I get that now."

"So what happened with Hannibal? Or are you not going to tell me?"

"I found out some things about his past. That I didn’t really want to know. Things he’d done."

"Illegal things?"

He’d known they’d get to this part eventually, and he’d known he’d have to lie. It was still harder than he wanted it to be. "Nothing prosecutable," he said, because it might actually be true now. As far as he was aware, there was no evidence left linking Hannibal to any of the Ripper killings. They’d eaten the last of it over the weekend.

"But still bad. And you’re not going to tell me what."

He shook his head. "Can’t. It wouldn’t be right. It’s his past. But I’m glad I know now. I just wish he’d told me before – well. No, I guess I don’t. If he’d told me before we got married, I might not have gone through with it."

She stared at him. She’d been sucking on the milkshake straw, and now it fell from her mouth and settled back into the glass. "Married."

"Yeah."

"Married?"

"That’s what I said."

"But—" She held her hands out to the sides and raised her eyebrows high up toward her hairline. "Married! You got married in Italy?”

"In Paris."

“You got married in Paris!"

"I don’t think FBI agents are supposed to be this easily shocked," Will said.

"You, Will Antisocial Graham, got married in Paris without even telling anyone! Of course I’m shocked. But you’re not sorry? Even though he did whatever he did?"

"No. Not sorry. I don’t think I was ever sorry, even when I first found out."

"I guess you two will be okay then. So what was it like? Who was there? Does he have family over there or something?"

Will shook his head. "It was just us. First the registry office and then just … us. Vows. You know."

"I don’t know because you haven’t told me."

He shrugged, oddly uncomfortable with the idea of telling anyone. Weddings were supposed to be public events, but exposing any part of his life to the light of public scrutiny didn’t tend to work out well for him. "He had it all planned out."

Beverly just looked at him.

"At night. In the garden of some old house. Lanterns and … I don’t know. Stuff. In the trees. Just the two of us."

"That is disgustingly romantic. Wow. I’m impressed."

"It was good," Will said, but quietly, inevitably remembering what had come afterward. It made him want to find Hannibal immediately and make sure he was still there, still the person Will knew.

She reached across the table and squeezed his hand once. "It sounds good. I’m glad. Are you going to tell people?"

"I told you. Told the dogs. I guess I should tell Alana. That’s about it."

"Can I tell people?"

"Sure."

"You don’t want to keep it quiet at work or anything?"

"It’s fine."

They finished eating. He paid, as instructed. "Next week?" Beverly said. "We could go somewhere else. Or do something else. I don’t know. What do you do when you’re not looking morose at crime scenes?"

"How do you feel about ice fishing?"

Astonishingly, she looked intrigued instead of horrified. "You do that? I’ve never been fishing at all. Is it hard?"

"Not hard. It’s cold, that’s all."

"I have long underwear."

"Saturday?"

"Dead bodies permitting, I’m in."

"Great. I’ll pick you up at six."

"Ice fishing at night?"

"Six in the morning."

And then she did look horrified, but nodded anyway. "Okay. You’re a freak of nature, but I’ll try it at least once."

They said their goodbyes, and Will got in his car. He wondered all the way home what had possessed him to ask. The point of fishing was that it was a solitary activity. But he didn’t regret it.

*

Will had looked at exactly two houses before he’d found the one in Wolf Trap, the first he’d ever owned. He hadn’t realized how exhausting and frankly depressing house hunting could be.

Hannibal led him through the latest prospect, an incredibly bland two story on an acre of land outside of Baltimore, convenient for neither of them in terms of commute and painted an unfortunate shade of brown.

"Let’s just go," Will said.

"A great deal can be done with remodeling. My own house wasn’t remotely as it is now when I bought it."

"It should at least be in a decent location."

"Finding somewhere close to either my office or Quantico with the necessary amount of land for the dogs is not a simple task."

"Okay, but not this. Do we really have to see the whole thing? This is the fifth one today, and they were all shit." He hunched his shoulders at Hannibal’s bland look and muttered an apology. "Maybe this wasn’t a good idea."

"It was your idea."

"All the more reason to assume it might not be so great."

Hannibal paused on the stairs and looked at him. "Are you certain you will be satisfied with anything that is not your own house?"

Will looked down. He hadn’t thought about it that way. Hannibal might have a point. "I want us to live together," he said.

"I could move in with you."

"You’d hate it. Or you’d change it so much that I’d hate it. We need a new place."

"We could build one."

Will glanced up at him. "Where?"

"I’ve seen a few plots of land available. The commute wouldn’t be any better for either of us, but your drive to work was never short to begin with, and I suppose I can adjust. Or move my office perhaps."

"It’d take a while," Will said cautiously.

"It would. Does that matter?"

"No. Not as long as we get there eventually."

"Good. Think about what you’d like. I have an architect in mind."

They left the unfortunately brown house and told the real estate agent they were done for the day. Hannibal talked about the architect, and Will stared out the window and wondered how it would feel to live in a place that no one else had touched, that had only their own memories. No one else’s bodies hidden under the floorboards.

*

Hannibal set his rolodex down next to the fireplace and fetched a stool from the kitchen to sit on. He waited until the larger logs had been taken fully by the flame. It pained him to feed the cards into it. They were the work of years, a careful record kept, peace of mind achieved through the contemplation of future victories.

They were also temptation. Will felt it too, he knew. The lure that called him back to work with the BAU was strong, but he resisted. As long as he resisted, Hannibal would resist too. If Will broke his word, he would have only himself to blame.

The cards curled and shriveled in the fire, eaten up into black slivers and then disintegrating into ash. He’d had recipes picked out for many of them. All the meat was gone now. The thought of never tasting it again pained him, a sense of spiritual loss, of something integral gone from his life.

He sought back through the years for something to compare it to and found nothing. At least, nothing in his adult life. He watched the light of the fire flicker over his hands and saw the house ablaze, his parents cut limb from limb, Mischa’s bright hair on a carpet of mouldering leaves.

He had not thought it would be so difficult a thing to give up. He altered his behaviors regularly, based on context, social situation, outward cues. This was only another alteration. A habit to drop. Something that he enjoyed, not something that should be so vital to him.

He heard the front door open with relief and listened to Will stomping snow off his boots on the hall carpet, which would certainly have to be cleaned after his repeated abuse, if not replaced entirely. Will’s boots hit the floor with two muffled thuds and the coat closet opened and closed. Footsteps headed toward the kitchen. Will always expected to find him in the kitchen.

"I’m in here," he called, and Will altered course, arriving at the door as Hannibal dropped the last card into the fire.

"What are you doing?"

"Removing temptation."

Will sat on the floor beside him. He looked at the empty rolodex and the card in the fire. "Making a list and checking it twice?"

"No one on this list was particularly nice."

"They weren’t nice to you. Doesn’t mean they weren’t nice to other people."

Hannibal dug one knuckle into the side of his jaw. He didn’t want to say anything that would re-open the rift between them.

Will put a hand on his knee. "Hey. Okay?"

"I do not regret what I’ve done, and nothing you can say will change that."

"I’m not trying to make you regret it. I’m just … looking at the wider picture. Sometimes people are assholes and sometimes they just act like assholes because they’re having a bad day."

"I could not have less sympathy for any of them."

"Yeah. That’s not really a surprise."

Hannibal still had Mark Carson’s card. He’d never put it in the rolodex. It sat upstairs in a box on his dresser where he’d left it when he was packing for Venice.

Will took his hand and unfolded the fist he’d made. "You’re worried," he said.

"I did not expect this to appear as a such a monumental task. It should be simpler not to do it." Will was quiet for a while. Hannibal could almost feel the shape of his words, tried out and discarded. "This is not the time for tact," he said.

"And I don’t have much anyway. Okay. You’re a serial killer. I guess you’ve read as much of the psychology behind that as I have. Maybe more."

"Most of it doesn’t apply to me," Hannibal said.

"Some of it doesn’t apply to you. You’re still using it to satisfy a need. A need that nothing else will touch. In that sense, it’s an addiction, and I wouldn’t expect it to be easy to stop."

"Will it be easy for you to stop?"

"Except for Jack, yeah, I think it will. What you said helped. Thanks." Will rested his chin on Hannibal’s thigh.

Hannibal put a hand on the back of his neck and ran his nails up lightly into his hair. Will sighed and leaned into him more heavily. Hannibal remembered Mischa crawling onto his bed after nightmares and sleeping curled up in a little ball without waking him. He would find her in the morning, tiny and often shivering because she wouldn’t take the blanket for herself. He’d thought he could protect her always.

"May I take you to New York this weekend?" he asked.

"What for?"

"To hear Lenora Park in Carmen."

Will was quiet for a minute. "Is this so I don’t have to go back to the opera here? Because I’ll be fine. Doesn’t matter what they say."

"It matters to me. We’ll return in time. For now, let me do this."

"I don’t need you to protect me."

"But I want to."

Will turned his head and looked up at him, and there was the expression Hannibal had been missing from him. That odd blend of trust, fear, and desperate gratitude. He touched Will’s lips lightly and traced the line of his jaw.

"Are you sure?" Will said.

"Very sure. I would like nothing better."

"Okay. Yeah, we can go." He smiled a little. "You can pack for me if you want."

"I do."

The doorbell rang, and they both looked away, the moment broken. Hannibal rose and went to answer it.

He found a small delivery man and a large wooden crate on his doorstep. "Dr. Hannibal Lecter?" Hannibal agreed that he was. "Sign for this, sir?"

He signed. The crate was brought inside, and the man departed. He looked it over until he found the customs label, which was in Italian and listed the contents only as ‘art.’

"What is it?" Will asked.

"It’s from Dr. Alunni. I believe it may be the painting in her late husband’s bedroom, Young Man Consumed by Worms. I had expressed my admiration for it shortly before she expressed her intention to send us a wedding gift."

Will raised his eyebrows. "That’s … nice of her."

"Will it distress you? We don’t have to hang it."

"No, it’s fine. I did like it. I would’ve been fine with the one downstairs at the party if it hadn’t started moving. Let’s see it."

They unboxed it, with the assistance of a hammer and crowbar from the basement. The interior of the crate was well packed with straw, shreds of cardboard, and styrofoam. When they had removed all of that, they were left with a much smaller and slimmer parcel.

They pulled it out, and Will pulled off the paper while Hannibal picked up pieces of straw. Will started laughing.

"I don’t remember it being so amusing," Hannibal said, turning.

"It’s not the painting. No young man, no worms. It’s your stuff."

Will held up one of Hannibal’s own drawings from his long ago student days. Pen and ink with watercolor wash. Dreadful proportions, poor use of color, but Will was smiling like he’d never gotten a better gift. Hannibal didn’t have the heart to point out its faults.

"So I see."

"Don’t look so grim. Here, there’s a letter for you."

He read it over. "She says that growing old inclines her to distribute her collection to people who would value it. She’s aware that no one is likely to want her ancestor’s paintings, but she thought you might want mine."

"I do," Will said. He sat cross-legged on the floor with Hannibal’s childish efforts spread out around him in a circle. "I’d take Young Man Devoured by Worms though, if she can’t find anyone else who really likes it. But these are great."

"I’ll write and tell her so. I think she’s unlikely to find anyone else who appreciates those paintings in the same way you do."

"They should probably be in a museum," Will said, clearly distracted, holding one of Hannibal’s anatomy sketches up close to his face.

"I have better work now," Hannibal said.

Will grinned up at him, bright and happy. "I’ll hang them somewhere you won’t have to look at them, promise."

"You truly like them?"

"Of course I like them. They’re yours." He spoke casually, attention devoted to the drawings once again, simply and obviously sincere.

"Then you must have them," Hannibal said softly. He stepped close to look over Will’s shoulder. "Hang them wherever you like."

Will leaned back against his legs, sorting through the pieces of his past one by one. He paused, fingers sliding over a charcoal sketch of a night sky bright with stars. He tipped his head back to look up at Hannibal. "Thank you," he said.