There was once, not so long a time ago, a gentleman who was very rich. He had houses in the city and estates in the country, lavish apartments tucked away in more countries than even his accountant was aware of, and even a castle crumbling away in a far-off land he no longer cared to visit. He had all the finest things, attended all the right gatherings and hosted nearly as many himself, a figure of respect and admiration wherever he went. His sole quirk was a penchant for powder blue suits, which unsettled a great many.
"How does he manage to make that look dashing?" the mayor's daughter would complain, staring across the ballroom in mingled hunger and consternation. "It should be impossible." Or--
"How many different plaids is that?" the niece of the venture capitalist would ask in despair, feeling terribly plain even in the season's newest fashion. Or--
"Goodness," the foreign heiress would sigh, fanning herself a little as she admired the set of broad shoulders beneath a layer of pale blue fabric. "His poor wife--"
"Or husband," the son of the bank director was always quick to point out, for they lived in enlightened times.
"--will have quite the cross to bear if she cares at all about being outshone."
And so for all his wealth and all his accomplishments, Hannibal remained alone.
"What I don't understand," he grumbled to Bedelia, his psychiatrist and the closest thing he had to a confidant, "is why they assume I want to marry in the first place."
"Must I quote Austen to you?" Bedelia asked, only slightly arch.
"I'd prefer you didn't," Hannibal said primly, and yet he took her meaning at once. He'd thought to make himself unassailable, above reproach, and yet he'd only managed to make himself a target. It was just that the hunters pursuing him weren't the ones he'd expected to have to evade.
"Oh, Hannibal," sighed Mrs. Komeda, who was possessed of three lovely daughters, one lovely son, and a much younger brother who considered himself a catch. "You used to throw the most delightful dinner parties."
"And I will again," Hannibal promised, smiling with his mask and not his eyes, and certainly not his teeth. "When the inspiration strikes."
"It's a dinner party, not a unicorn," Mrs. Komeda drawled, her wry smirk a challenge. Though no one else dared poke the blue-suited lion in its den, every eye had turned their way, the hushed talk of the glittering throng no longer of the exquisite music they'd just partaken of but of the empty place at Hannibal's side.
"Have you considered," asked Bedelia when he complained of the heavy-handed hint the next afternoon, "that a unicorn might be exactly what you're after?"
"What would I want with a unicorn?" Hannibal scoffed. "I'm a chef, not an alchemist."
Bedelia fluttered her lashes prettily, her smile pulling tight, which typically meant she felt he was being unreasonably obtuse. "Then it hardly matters who you invite, does it? Host the party, Hannibal. Throw your doors wide to the throng. People love to peek behind the curtain, and a man like you should have nothing to hide."
Taking her advice for the warning it was, Hannibal went home to plan out a menu.
For the next fortnight, the party was all Baltimore could talk about. Speculation on the courses and the décor ran rampant, and those who had been fortunate enough to obtain an invitation in the past thrilled the rest of the town with tales of fantastical centerpieces and dainty appetizers that could hardly be pronounced, much less described. Each day, parents keen to secure such an advantageous match for their children--and reluctantly but with mounting curiosity the children themselves--rushed to check the post to see if an invitation, hand-written by Dr. Lecter himself, had arrived. Great was the rejoicing when the longed-for envelope appeared, and great was the lamentation when a family was passed by.
In only one household was this pattern reversed.
On the evening of the party, the streets surrounding Hannibal's spacious home were flooded by a river of sports cars and limousines, each more expensive than the last. The brightest stars of society, all dressed in their very finest, poured through his doors in a cloud of excited babble and clashing perfumes, oblivious to the pains their host took not to touch them, lest their scents linger. They exclaimed to themselves and each other over the art, the furnishings, the delightful buffet and the overwhelming air of taste and money, and cast hateful glances at anyone who held Hannibal's attention too long.
Maybe, young people whispered amongst themselves, it wouldn't be so bad to be outshone by a peacock of a husband when that husband was so clearly capable of feathering the nest.
When Hannibal began to have serious thoughts of locking all the doors and butchering the majority of the guest list, he looked around for a distraction and quickly lit upon the perfect thing.
The man standing by the wall was a collection of contrasts: the blue of his eyes and the black of his curls, his nervous thinness and the callused strength of his hands. Neither Hannibal's age nor as disturbingly young as certain of his guests, he seemed both determined to go unnoticed and determined to stay.
The look he gave Hannibal when Hannibal installed himself on the gentleman's left was polite, but only just. Certainly it could never have been mistaken for welcoming.
"Good evening," Hannibal said, intrigued by the ingratiating smile that had yet to appear. "I hope you're enjoying yourself, Mr....?"
"Graham," the gentleman said, tightening his hand on the tumbler held before him like a shield. "Will Graham. And I'm enjoying the whiskey; does that count?"
On the one hand, Hannibal was a trifle chagrined, even offended, that one of his guests might be wishing himself elsewhere. On the other hand, considering that Hannibal was wishing the majority of his guests elsewhere, he chose instead to see in Will a kindred spirit.
"Not a fan of parties? I suppose your parents insisted?"
"That'd be difficult," Will admitted, "considering. I'm here for my sister--who, and let me just make this plain, is completely off-limits," Will said firmly, lifting his eyes with what appeared to be genuine effort to spear Hannibal through.
Now, Hannibal had spoken with many young ladies that evening, but only one stood out in any meaningful way. "The young lady with the interest in hunting?" Hannibal asked, just to be certain. The two did bear some resemblance to each other, and it should have come as no surprise that the only interesting people he'd spoken with all night would be related, but-- "She's young enough to be my daughter."
"And she has no interest in becoming your wife, don't worry," Will replied, a faint smile tugging at one corner of his mouth at Hannibal's palpable air of disgust. "That's not what we're here for."
In the face of such ominous wording, a lesser man might have quailed, but Hannibal had dealt with many threats in his day, both obvious and subtle. "And why are you here?"
"Blackmail," Will said frankly, and they spent a brief second blinking at each other foolishly as the word echoed between them. "Oh--no, I mean--not you, me. Sorry. I meant I'm the one being blackmailed--not that you seem like a bad guy, but Abigail, she's got these crazy Cinderella notions stuck in her head, and I keep telling her that story usually ends in blood and mutilation, but, uh...."
Will's eyes skittered away as he took a healthy gulp of his drink, as if the whiskey might explain away the flush that stained his cheeks. It shouldn't have been charming--Hannibal had always prided himself on his poise and admired it in others--but Will's awkward honesty was refreshing in its novelty.
"A common theme in many of the old stories. One could almost say it's the price of a fairytale wedding."
Glass paused halfway to his lips, Will glanced over and surprised him with a huff of laughter instead of a snort of derision. "I have a feeling that says something about your opinion of marriage. Not a fan of weddings?"
There was something sharp in the question he turned back on Hannibal, sharp as the eyes that had struggled to meet his but held them with the promise of swift retribution should it be required. A tale of glass slippers was the wrong theme for him entirely; Will would walk from a prince's ballroom and never look back. A man so unimpressed by the sheer theater of one of Hannibal's parties would never stoop to slicing away pieces of himself for mere status and fortune.
But for the people he loved--his sister, for example--how far would he go to reshape himself for them?
"I can honestly say I've given weddings as little thought as possible...until tonight," Hannibal replied, watching curiously as Will's sly smile froze and dropped away.
"Look, if I'm supposed to read something into that--"
"Well, that's too bad, because I don't actually find you that interesting."
"You don't even know me," Will protested, exasperated.
Hannibal looked him up and down, though in truth he didn't need to. He'd already seen all he needed to see. "I know you have a sister who cares about you, whose happiness means more to you than your own comfort. You don't come from money, but you've done well for yourself; you're proud of the one, not ashamed of the other," he continued on smoothly before the flash of ire in Will's eyes could spark into a confrontation. "You don't enjoy social situations, have a tendency to speak your mind, and," he added, almost as an afterthought, "you haven't said one word about my suit."
"It's a nice suit," Will said, deadpan.
Hannibal inclined his head. "Thank you."
"I have no idea how you make it work."
"But," Hannibal said with a slow, faint smile, "that doesn't trouble you, does it?"
A muscle in Will's cheek twitched as he frowned, perplexed. "Why would it? You've always worn suits. Everybody knows that. It's who you are."
"And that's exactly why I hope you'll do me the honor of becoming my husband."
By then the guests around them had started to realize something momentous was happening, so when Hannibal made his proposal, it fell into a waiting hush even Will couldn't ignore. He glanced around nervously, feeling the weight of a hundred pairs of incredulous eyes upon him, which should have made him bolt for the hills. It should have been a joke, but Hannibal--a man who'd all but likened marriage to a mutilation--wasn't laughing.
"I have six dogs," Will said, throwing the warning down like a challenge.
It shouldn't have been attractive, the way Hannibal's eyes brightened at that, but nothing else about the situation made sense either.
"I love dogs," Hannibal promised.
Will narrowed his eyes. "Prove it."
In the days and weeks that led up to their marriage, Will came to realize that Hannibal was, in fact, a liar. He did not love dogs. He adored dogs, and cats, and sheep, and horses, and deer, and on their third date Will broke down and brought him to a petting zoo and was nearly eloped with on the spot.
"Hannibal, why was there an ordained minister in the crowd?"
"Everyone has hobbies, Will."
Abigail had bounced back and forth between being deliriously happy for him and utterly suspicious of Hannibal's motives--which, honestly, made two of them--but soon enough she became Hannibal's staunchest supporter, countering Will's fears with rational arguments whenever he began to doubt his sanity and prodding him to hurry up and marry the poor man whenever he was in danger of dragging his feet.
"Come on, put a ring on it or put him out of his misery."
"And who's going to put me out of my misery?"
"Not me. You guys are cute. Plus I'll be at college soon, and then I won't have to worry about hearing my brother's sex noises."
Will also learned to smile as he ate his words, because Hannibal turned out to be fascinating. He had an Old World sense of decorum and little patience for the rude, but Will's blunt honesty was more than tolerated; it was encouraged. A man of culture himself, Hannibal never made Will feel like a backwards country bumpkin, merely brought culture to him and laid it at his feet like the product of a successful hunt if Will showed the slightest bit of interest. An artist, musician, composer, chef, surgeon, psychiatrist, and surprisingly proficient fighter, he was a true Renaissance man. In short, he was too good to be true.
"Still sure you want someone with seven dogs moving in?" Will asked out of the corner of his mouth as he grimaced at the wedding photographer.
Hannibal held his smile, leaning in to murmur for Will's ears alone: "I thought it was six?"
"Dog tax," Will replied sweetly, "for making me dress up in this monkey suit."
"You look exquisite," Hannibal said, looking at him with such devotion Will could almost, almost believe there was nothing more to it than that.
The thing was, Will had a gift. It was a human gift, for faeriekind mostly have no use for humans, but it had the same edged nature as the faerie gifts of old: a fine, sharp tool pointed on both ends. Will's gift was for seeing the truth of people, their actions and desires and dreams, and while Hannibal's love burned bright and strong, there was always a wall waiting just behind it. Something hidden. Something secret.
Trust he told himself as Hannibal led him up to the bedroom and proceeded to worship him with every means at his disposal. It would take time and trust to learn how their pieces fit without losing any along the way.
"At least we got the wedding without the blood," Will said with a chuckle some breathless time later, sprawled boneless on an extravagance of silk sheets while Hannibal drew meaningless patterns across his skin.
"Mm. I suppose it helps that your sister has no interest in standing in your shoes."
"My sister would've marched me down the aisle in a headlock," Will agreed, stretching languorously under Hannibal's hands. "So what's your feeling on marriage now?"
"Altered," Hannibal answered quickly, bending to press a line of kisses along Will's throat, "irrevocably."
The first month of their conjoined lives was an idyll of predictable hours. They woke to lazy kisses which led them inevitably to the shower, in which they made themselves presentable--eventually. Hannibal cooked breakfast; Will fed the dogs. They parted for work and came together again as if they'd been parted for days. On the weekends Abigail was home, they very nearly managed to keep their hands from one another for whole hours at a time.
And then one day Hannibal announced he had business he needed to attend to which would require him to travel, and that he would be gone for about a week.
"Now?" Will asked, sitting up straighter at the breakfast table, the perfectly poached egg Hannibal had just placed before him forgotten. "I mean--I'd go with you, but the case...I think we're close to cracking it, but--"
"The timing's unfortunate," Hannibal agreed, "but your work is more important than my desire to have you with me always."
Will shouldn't laugh--couldn't laugh--but the tragic look Hannibal liked to give him every time one of them so much as went to fetch the mail never failed to make him smile. "If we catch this guy, maybe I can come join you...?"
"I have every faith in your abilities," Hannibal said, brushing a fleeting caress across the back of Will's wrist before clearing his throat. "Now. While I'm away...."
Will had always suspected Hannibal's beautiful lifestyle wasn't achieved without effort, but he hadn't expected a list.
"The cleaning service comes Monday and Wednesdays--"
"Leave a tip in an envelope on the little table, I know."
"--and the numbers for my attorney and insurance agent are on the Rolodex in the study should you need them."
"Well, let's hope--"
"You'll also find the titles to the vehicles and several properties in the safe--"
"--as well as half a million in cash in mixed denominations in case of emergency."
"Of course," Hannibal said, his face perfectly composed. "I want to make sure you always have the things you need."
"Um...okay?" Will tried not to squirm under Hannibal's intent stare. It almost sounded like he was giving Will permission to run off to Cuba with his secret lover, except Hannibal knew him better than that. Finding a secret lover would mean he had to be sociable. He was also quite satisfied with the lover he currently had.
Hannibal nodded once, and only then did his manner turn hesitant. "There is one thing. The little room off the kitchen...."
"Where you keep the wine?"
"Among other things, yes. I usually keep it locked, and I'll leave you the key, of course, but I would ask that it remain undisturbed. You should find everything you need in the kitchen cupboards; I know you're not terribly fond of wine yourself."
"Well, it's going to put a crimp in that enormous party I meant to throw once you cleared out, but sure," Will teased, grinning to keep the confusion off his face. Hannibal never did anything without a purpose, a plan, so why did he seem to be setting Will up with everything he'd need to run?
Hannibal wondered that himself in the week he stayed away, giving Will all the time he needed to indulge his curiosity. He had meant to stretch the game out longer, draw Will slowly but steadily to a place where he might at least tolerate Hannibal's interests, but ironically, his heart just wasn't in it. Likely Will would have assumed Hannibal had fled after leaving him to discover the truth alone, but nothing could be further from the truth.
If he returned to find the police waiting, he would go with them. If Will decided he wanted to see Hannibal again, he would always know where to find him. But if Will were the one to flee instead....
Hannibal tightened his hands on the wheel, barely seeing the road before him.
There were only two outcomes he would find unacceptable: Will's absence, though Hannibal had practically left the door open for him, and a lie. A lie above all would be intolerable. It would be quite pointless, as well; the charmed key he'd left behind would show Will's guilt like a bloody handprint on a bare wall.
He drove slowly up to the house, surprised at the lack of suspicious vehicles, or SWAT teams, or knights, though to be fair, the last were rarely called out for anything but a dragon these days. Well then, he told himself, obviously the house would be empty--but the front door opened before he quite came to a stop, and there was Will, standing in the doorway. Hannibal's heart grew cold, even as lead filled his stomach. It would be the lie, then.
Only as he approached the door, suitcase in one hand and garment bag in the other, he noticed Will was...scowling?
It wasn't an unfamiliar look; Will had spent much of the first weeks of their engagement with a permanent frown, but this--the folded arms, the level stare--was different. Already feeling slightly off-kilter, when Will held up the key ring he'd left behind, the unblemished key to his private sanctuary picked out from the rest, he was too stunned to react when Will smacked it against the center of his chest and held it there.
"You need to clean your man cave," Will said firmly, watching unamused as Hannibal merely blinked at him.
Will shook his head. "I don't know what you've got in there, but the dogs have been going nuts trying to get in for days. Had to close off the kitchen every morning before I went in to work or Dusty would've chewed right through the door. Sorry about the scratches, by the way."
"And...you didn't go inside?" Hannibal asked, distractedly wondering if there'd been a problem with the freezer, or if the floor drains had backed up, or--why on earth had Will not looked? It was his job to look, and Hannibal had been behaving suspiciously enough for any three criminals.
Will arched a brow and gave him a look. It was a look Bedelia would have recognized instantly, though it came with decidedly less fluttering of lashes. "After you asked me not to?"
"Anyway, forget that," Will said dismissively, even as his expression hardened with real displeasure. "Look. I'm not going to remind you that you're the one who chased me, but the next time you decide to test whether I'm going to take the money and my choice of beachfront houses--"
"Beachfront, Hannibal! Half of them had private docks!"
"There was a fucking boat!" Will snarled at him, free hand curling into fist at his side as the other pressed the keys more firmly into Hannibal's chest. "Did you seriously think I wouldn't check the safe after dropping enough hints to brain a--"
Hannibal dropped his suitcase. The garment bag followed, shocking Will silent even before Hannibal reached up to cup his face with both hands. He wanted to kiss Will senseless, would have let him unlock the bone cage of his ribs with Hannibal's own keys if he chose to at that moment: Will was exquisite in his fury.
"Run away with me," he said instead, stepping closer until they were toe to toe, Will's hand trapped between them. "Now, tonight. We can hire someone to take care of the dogs--"
"We're already married, Hannibal," Will interrupted, a reluctant smile pulling at one corner of his mouth. "It's a little too late to elope."
"A proper honeymoon, then. We never made the time."
Will shook his head. "And people say I have trust issues," he grumbled, but it wasn't a no.
"Florence is beautiful this time of year," Hannibal murmured, closing the last few inches between them. "Say yes."
Technically Will's reply was: "Drama queen," but Hannibal was an excellent translator.
And he was...content, he realized with no small amount of startlement. He still had Will at his side, and now he knew he could keep him, because Will would be respectful, and he could be careful, and it would be enough. It wasn't the happily-ever-after he'd allowed himself to dream of in moments of weakness, but their wedding had gone unchristened by knives or blood, so perhaps hoping for a fairytale ending was expecting too much.
The chaos of sirens and SWAT teams and even a confused pair of knights came two weeks later than Hannibal expected, but they didn't surround the Lecter home, and they didn't come for him. He didn't even hear about the commotion until his phone rang an hour after Will had left to go pick up the dogs from the woman he'd hired to sit them while they were away.
"Is everything all right?" Hannibal asked, because Will was self-sufficient to a degree that would drive a fairy godmother to drink and had never asked for anything in Hannibal's recollection.
"I'm at the vet," Will said flatly, ice in his tone. "Some asshole poisoned our dogs."
Francis Dolarhyde, Hannibal learned after a few discreet calls, was a troubled soul who'd rejected one tabloid name to adopt another: the Great Red Dragon. Having already killed a handful of women, he'd set his sights on their dog-sitter and her young son. He'd quickly discovered he'd bitten off more than he could chew with Molly and fled the scene, but not before he'd incapacitated Will's dogs, believing them to be hers.
Will was ominously silent when he returned home, so Hannibal held his tongue as well and merely helped his husband bring their tired, still-weak dogs inside.
Hannibal's first impulse was a chivalrous one, except that Francis was not actually a dragon, and therefore Will might react unpredictably to being offered the man's head. Uncertain what else to do, Hannibal fixed Will a drink and tried to look supportive.
Slumped on the loveseat in the sitting room, elbows braced on his knees, Will took the offered tumbler without looking at it, both hands wrapping around the thick glass until his knuckles stood out white. If he looked magnificent angry, in his quiet, arrested rage he was transcendent.
Hannibal was all the more taken aback when Will finally spoke.
"I think you should leave," Will said quietly.
Hannibal's heart stuttered painfully in his chest. "Will? I don't--"
"I know you can't be forced to testify against me," Will said, "but if you don't know anything in the first place, it won't matter what they ask."
For a moment Hannibal was struck speechless. "What are you going to do?" he asked, mouth dry, heart speeding as it only did in Will's presence.
Will looked up slowly, but his eyes were clear and sure. "I'm going to murder that man," he said without hesitation, "and feed him his own heart if I don't eat it myself."
Dropping to his knees, Hannibal pried the glass from Will's grip, took him by the hands, and raised each in turn to his lips. "My love," he said, "let me show you the little room where I keep the wine. And other things."
And they lived happily ever after.