Hannibal opened his eyes in the dark of his own bedroom. The ormolu clock on the dresser ticked with soft precision. He inhaled deeply, but his room smelled as it should: clean linen, faint traces of cedar from his closet, earth and a fresh, green scent from the potted plant by the window. Still, something had awoken him.
He heard three quick taps, a minute pause between the first and second, as if the knocker had thought better of his decision to seek entry, but was now committed. That was Will's knock.
He got out of bed and wrapped himself in his robe. The taps came again as he descended the stairs. They were more audible now, but no more urgent. He opened the front door. Will looked past him, eyes blank and unaware. He wore striped boxers and a T-shirt with a hole in the shoulder. He was shivering. His car was parked in Hannibal's driveway, but the door was still open, the motor still running.
Hannibal stepped aside. "Come in, Will," he said. Will drifted past him and stopped in the foyer. His bare toes curled against the cold tile. Hannibal removed his robe and draped it around Will's shoulders. "Stay there. Wait for me a moment."
He shut off Will's car and locked it. When he returned, Will was standing exactly where he had left him. Hannibal guided Will's arms through the sleeves of the robe and tied it around his waist. "Come this way," he said.
Under the kitchen halogens, Will looked paler, his eyes more shadowed. Hannibal gave him something to bank the fire of his fever, and Will swallowed the pills dry without hesitation.
Light glinted off his stainless steel kettle as he filled it at the sink. His own face was reflected in it, somewhat worn, more troubled than he had thought himself before he saw the evidence of it. The pills had been an unthinking response, built on years of medical practice. He would have done better to let Will's fire continue to consume him. He would do better now to wake Will and ask him how he came here, wind him tighter in the guise of consoling him.
"Sit," he said, and Will sat, docile, hands in his lap. Hannibal regarded him. He had feelings for Will, in a strictly literal sense of the phrase. He felt for Will the entire emotional spectrum available to him, and which feeling predominated varied with Will's proximity, the weather, Hannibal's mood, when he had last eaten: a full and ever-shifting range of determining stimuli.
At this precise moment, his felt possessive, which was common enough, but the protective thread that ran through it was new. Will Graham did not often strike him as someone who needed protection.
To live with Will's gift required strength; to use it as he did required fortitude, great determination, and a clear sense of self. It was a sense that Hannibal was gradually eroding, but he didn't think he would be entirely successful. In the times when Will knew nothing else, he knew who he was.
Now, of course, he knew nothing: not even dreams.
Hannibal set the kettle aside. "Follow me," he said to Will, and led him into the master bathroom. He was curious see how long Will could remain suspended between sleep and waking, but also unfortunately aware of the now-dry sweat that permeated Will's shirt and hair and of the chill that still clung to him from his journey.
"Undress," he said, and turned away to start the bath. When the water had climbed a third of the way up the white porcelain, Hannibal turned back to Will. He was naked. Hannibal looked him over and found more muscle than he had expected, but his natural concavities were too pronounced, ribs like bars under his skin, shoulders habitually stooped.
The urge to take apart was familiar to Hannibal. The urge to repair, outside of a clinical setting, was both unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It called a certain sharpness to his voice when he told Will to get into the tub.
Will obeyed. His arms floated to the surface, and his fingers unfurled like flowers in the sun. Hannibal cupped the back of his head and lowered him until his hair spread out in a dark halo. The water's meniscus crept over his chin, his lips, his open eyes. Hannibal wondered if he would drown without ever waking. The thought was disquieting. He raised Will up and reached for the shampoo.
When his hair was clean and he was warmed through, Hannibal paused. It was tempting to wash the rest of his body. It would suit Hannibal's current sense of possession. He allowed himself to imagine his hands moving over Will's wet, warm skin. For the rest of their acquaintance, he would know that there was no part Will's body he had not touched.
It was a pleasant thought, but too risky.
"Get out now, please," Hannibal said.
Will rose and stood, dripping, on the bathmat until Hannibal wrapped him in a towel. He approached with another for Will's hair and saw a flicker of awareness in his eyes.
Hannibal paused with the towel half-lifted. "How long have you been awake?" he asked.
"Since you started washing my hair," Will said, voice rusty.
"You didn't say anything."
Will gave him a crooked and uncomfortable smile. "It was nice. I didn't have to think."
"We can continue in that vein if you like," Hannibal said carefully.
Will nodded and closed his eyes. Hannibal reached up to rub the towel over his wet hair. When it was no longer dripping, he left him with a towel around his shoulders and went to fetch him something to wear to bed.
He hesitated for nearly fifteen seconds between the look of fine cotton on Will's skin, vivid in his mind's eye, and the practicality of T-shirt and sweatpants. For him, that was an eternity. This was not the time for aesthetic appreciation and still less for seduction. And yet, upon his return to the bathroom, he bore white cotton pajamas with blue piping and a luster to the fabric that approached silk. He told himself it wasn't important, but he knew better. Every decision was important.
He handed them to Will. "Put these on."
Will hesitated. "I sweat," he said. "A lot. Nightmares. These are too nice." The sentence was cracked and awkward, but there was no blush. He was annoyed by his body's foibles, but not ashamed.
"You're asleep," Hannibal reminded him. "I don't make it a habit to argue with sleeping men in my bathroom. Put them on, please."
This time, Will obeyed. Hannibal helped him into the robe and got him a pair of fleece-lined slippers. Will looked ready to baulk again at that. Hannibal could almost see the words forming in his mouth: too nice. In the end, he put them on without complaint and followed Hannibal down to the kitchen.
Hannibal set the kettle to boil for tea. "Sit," he told Will, and Will sat. He spread his hands flat on Hannibal's stainless steel countertop.
There was an arid quality to the silence between them, as if it wanted to soak up words. That was usually Will's role. Hannibal prompted, and Will filled the air with sharp gusts and cracks of thunder, a small release for the storm inside him. With Will abstaining, the void tugged at Hannibal's sleeve, hungry.
"Tea," he said, assembling three matte black tins on the counter. He took down a glass mug and wrapped a napkin around its indented waist. "Chamomile, valerian, and St. John's wort. All said to be useful in preparing the mind for rest." He took down a mason jar filled with a honey so dark that its gold approached amber. "Red bamboo honey, from a local farm. Bamboo is not involved in the process at all, but Japanese knotweed honey would not sound so enticing nor so exotic." He dropped a spoonful into the mug.
The kettle boiled, and he poured water into the prepared teapot. "That must steep," he said, and turned to Will, who tracked the motion of his hands with calm eyes.
Hannibal cut him a thin slice of bread and spread it with sweet butter, sprinkled it with black salt. The plate he chose was white china with a black edge, like the announcement of a death in the family.
He wondered if he were showing off now. He was monstrously proud of his culinary skills, but if he were subconsciously trying to impress Will, then his subconscious was not as intelligent as he would prefer to believe. Will was happy enough to eat his cooking, but he had no reverence for it.
"Eat," he said. And, as Will did, "Rye sourdough. The starter was a gift from a friend, many years ago. I sometimes wonder if I will find anyone to gift it to. When the time comes." He caught Will's faint frown. "It is a living thing, older than I am. It must be fed and cared for if it is to survive."
The memory of a recent kill forced itself to the front of his mind. The thing was done, the stage set. Hannibal let the dog out when he left. A hungry dog that ate its master's flesh was likely to be put down. A dog that barked outside the door to alert neighbors to a problem was likely to be adopted. Both actions were neutral for the dog. Only the lens of human perception lent them weight.
Hannibal's choice to let it out was neutral: he did not care about the dog's fate, and the dog's presence or absence in the house would not give the FBI any more or less information about him. But Will, inevitably, would care about the dog. Hannibal knew that, and that particular perception lent unwanted weight to his action.
He removed the filter from the teapot and discarded the used leaves. He filled Will's mug and stirred in the honey. "Take this," he said. "Be careful, it's hot."
A twist of bitter humor passed over Will's face at the warning. Hannibal could read his thoughts clearly: old enough to know that recently boiled water is hot, where's that warning when I really get burned? Will breathed in steam and sipped at the pale liquid. His face smoothed out.
Hannibal was struck in that moment by the swift and crackling desire to give Will something of himself, some part that no one else had. He discarded it instantly, but it led him to a more instructive question. What gift would Will want of him?
As soon as the thought formed, he knew the answer. Will had what he most wanted tonight: safe harbor. Hannibal had become the eye of Will's storm.
It was a shock that set Hannibal immediately in motion. He emptied the teapot, rinsed it, and dried it inside and out to prevent the bloom of rust on its black cast iron. Bread and butter put away, empty plate into the dishwasher. Every move was automatic as he set the kitchen to rights.
"What's wrong?" Will asked softly.
"Is something wrong?"
"You went all…internal. You don't really do that."
"I was thinking of mistakes I have made."
The real problem was that he wasn't entirely convinced that this was a mistake. Hesitation, mental conflict: these were not things he allowed into his life, and yet here he was, undoing his own good work and enjoying the unraveling. Saving dogs. Picturing a split off portion of his sourdough starter in Will's fridge, where it would no doubt rot unless Hannibal came to tend it. Absurd.
"Have you made many?" Will asked.
"No. And so those that I have made stand out all the more clearly."
Will nodded as if he perfectly understood, which he very likely did. Hannibal breathed deep and recalled himself to the present. At some point during tonight's farce he had tied an apron on over his pajamas. He took it off now and leaned against the counter opposite Will, forearms braced on the cold surface.
"My first thought was to have you settled in bed before you woke up," he said. "I think that was the better plan if the alternative is to be psychoanalyzed in my own kitchen by my own patient."
"I'm not your patient," Will said. There was a snappish edge to his voice, and suddenly they were perilously close to a fight.
Hannibal didn't do that. It was an unacceptable loss of control. But he wanted it. He wanted it now, with Will. He wanted the raised voices, the base insults, the low catharsis. That, or he wanted to snap Will's neck. Or he wanted something else entirely. There were too many possibilities, and they were all dangerous.
His best weapon against Will was always the truth no one else would speak. He called up a disarming smile. "No. Which is just as well. I don't have many patients who would feel comfortable allowing me to wash their hair."
Will ducked his head, anger shifting to embarrassment. "Yeah. Thanks for not freaking out about that. I guess I should've-- I know I should've said something."
"I think we were equally culpable."
Hannibal usually checked his less socially acceptable urges better than that. Then again, so did Will. It was strange for Hannibal's desires to dovetail so neatly with anyone else's.
"I was cold," Will said. "I was still cold when I woke up. I must've been an ice cube when you let me in."
"You were cold, but not dangerously so." He tapped his fingers on the countertop and looked down to see his hand reflected there, a distant shadow reaching for him. "I admit, I was curious to see what you might sleep through."
"There's an experiment no one's tried to run on me before. Going to write a paper, Dr. Lecter?"
"Would you let me write a paper on you? What if I said I thought your abilities should be studied?"
Will flushed. He wove his fingers together behind his neck, which bent his head so far that only his damp curls were visible. "Maybe. Probably," he muttered.
The rush Hannibal got from that was inappropriate by any definition, even his own. "I wouldn't," he said.
"Write a paper. Even if you offered."
"I think even Alana would if I offered. How come you're so special?"
Hannibal leaned down until he caught the glint of Will's eyes, watching him. "I don't find you that interesting," he said.
Will's laughter was a small, but genuine, explosion. He pressed a fist against his lips until the blood ebbed from them and left them pale, but Hannibal could still see his smile.
Hannibal smiled back at him, more pleased than he wanted to be. "I believe that is a good note to end this night on. Come to bed."
"I should go."
"What will you do if you go home?"
Will glanced at him and then looked down at his own reflection in the countertop. "Drink coffee. Wait for sunrise."
"Suppose you try to sleep here first. If it doesn't work, my coffee is better than yours."
"You have a guest room?"
"I do. But you won't be sleeping in it."
"In case I try to drive home in my sleep."
"Exactly so. If you get up, the movement of the bed will wake me. I assure you, it's more than big enough for both of us."
Hannibal could simply hide his car keys. He didn't mention that. Neither did Will.
Will stood and looked down at his feet. "I shouldn't."
"Don't you think this was much easier when you were pretending to be asleep?"
"Yeah," Will sighed. "It really was."
Hannibal put a hand on his elbow and pressed him in the direction of the stairs. "This way, please," he said, and they climbed up together. Hannibal straightened the sheets while Will removed his robe and slippers. Will got in on his side and scooted over toward the wall. Hannibal slid in beside him and switched off the light.
They breathed in the dark, slightly out of sync. Will's breaths were quicker, shallow, hard on the intake. Hannibal's were deep and steady. There was a slight movement beside him, and Will's hand closed on the sleeve of his pajamas.
"Just in case," Will said.
Hannibal's breathing quickened as Will's smoothed out. They met somewhere in the middle.