The eyes of the gathered patrons shine as brightly as the jewels around them, the chatter of excitement reverberating against the frescoed ceiling. Despite the private nature of the event, the space is filled with people, all eager to catch a glimpse of the unveiled treasures.
Bedelia’s keen eyes survey the room, assessing the gathering, more interested in people than the jewels they are eyeing. The exclusive auction brought together the most driven aficionados of sparkling objects, all eager to expand their collections. Polished stones arranged into superb pieces of jewellery gleam underneath well-lit display cases, with sombre looking custodians keeping to the shadows, the white of their shirts being the only visible spot. The guests circulate among the displays, almost restless in their anticipation, possessive stares wanting to take in all the glamour and somehow secure its future possession by sight alone.
Several women pass by Bedelia’s line of vision, many of them dripping in jewels, a display almost as ostentatious as the collection at hand. Her eyebrow arches as she appraises their unnecessary flaunt. Bedelia feels dressed modest by comparison, her navy dress adorned by a simple pair of diamond earrings. And of course, her wedding ring flickering vividly under the elaborate lighting and drawing attention of the women walking by. A smirk slips over her lips as she considers all the stares, then shifts her attention beyond, to the illuminated cases. It is a singular assortment, yet Bedelia does not find herself interested in any purchase. But she knows how much Hannibal enjoys such events, the more exclusive the better. There is an undeniable pleasure he takes in each invitation painstakingly addressed to Count and Countess Lecter, like tiny tokens communicating his bliss to the world. She cannot help but admit that she delights in their outings as well.
Now, his arm encircles her waist, fingers caressing the side of her waist in a silent expression of glee as another person passes by them, giving Bedelia a lingering stare. She knows he relishes the attention, particularly the one directed at her.
“It is quite a collection,” he says quietly, lips hovering close to her temples.
“And some interesting jewels on display too,” she retorts, making him chuckle, the hand on her waist pressing firmer in its adoration.
“We should inspect them then,” the hand puts the gentlest of pressure on her side as he takes a step forward, ready to mingle with the rest of the patrons.
She follows his lead, allowing him to guide her, enjoying the ever-comforting feel of his arm around her back. She finds genuine pleasure in them walking together so closely, the destination being irrelevant. They advance seamlessly among the crowd, their feline like movements effortless, easily manoeuvring their path. Several people turn their heads to look at them as they pass by, the jewels on show momentarily forgotten in light of a more exquisite sight of a mysterious couple. Bedelia’s eyes meet their gazes, taking pleasure in their obvious admiration, but swiftly move to the displays behind them. They proceed slowly, giving her plenty of time to appraise each piece.
“Has anything caught your eye?” the low hum reverberates softly in her ears. She turns her head to look at Hannibal; his gaze focuses on her, more preoccupied with her reaction than the range on show.
The corner of her lips lifts in appreciation of his attentiveness, never faltering. She gives the enfolding selection one more throughout glance. The pieces are beautiful in their way, but nothing holds her interest. She has never been one for an extensive jewellery collection. But that has not stopped Hannibal. They pause in front of the case displaying a pair of sapphire earrings, not particularly impressive design, Bedelia evaluates the set while her mind recalls the stunning pair Hannibal gifted her with a while back, purposely cut and polished to match the colour of her eyes.
“I have plenty of jewellery as it is, wouldn’t you agree?” she replies and reaches her hand out to stroke his cheek, eliciting an instant smile on his lips.
“For you, it is never enough,” he responds eagerly.
“Are you suggesting that I need shiny stones to look presentable?” she retorts, a playful gleam in her eyes, making the sapphires pale by comparison.
“I would never,” he responds with pretended hurt, his eyes flickering in tempo with hers, taking pleasure in her tease. His lips quiver with curbed desire and she knows he would kiss her if it weren’t for the public surroundings. Bedelia smiles gently, his restraint and consideration for her proclivities settling with warmth in her chest.
They continue to peruse the rest of the soon to be auctioned valuables, finally making their way to the far corner of the room, where a large portion of guests have gathered around a single display case. Once again, they skilfully steer their way between the guests, with Hannibal’s hand still firm in its protectiveness on the small of her back, and promptly find themselves at the very front, eyes falling on the item in place. Bedelia’s head inclines ever so slightly with piqued interest of seeing an item worthy of attention. It is a tiara of brilliant cut diamonds, with several rubies to match, set in a white gold frame, arranged into sprays of flowers blooming and leaves sprouting around the circular form. The floral patterns makes the tiara appear very unusual, yet still regal in its core.
“Do you like it?” Hannibal murmurs into her temple anew, the fingers stroking the side of her waist in a hidden caress.
“It is stunning-” she begins while her thoughts settle.
“But?” he senses her hesitancy immediately.
“It is a bit too much, don’t you think?” she carries on, tilting her head up to look at him, “I am not royalty, I am not required to parade in extravagant jewellery.”
“It is not too much. And you are royalty,” another heartfelt admission vibrating with warmth on her skin, a done sale in his mind, no doubt.
But it is not a prospect that needs any of her further attention.
“I am afraid someone has already claimed the price,” her head now notions to the sign in the lower corner of the case indicating that the item has been bespoken for.
That would explain the interest of all gathered guests; no object is more desired than the one that cannot be obtained. Hannibal inclines his head, eyebrow rising in a sign of silent defeat, but otherwise appearing perfectly at peace with the loss of his chance. Bedelia narrows her eyes, but the survey of his unusual indifference is interrupted by a sound of man’s voice calling for everyone’s attention.
“Signore e signori, welcome,” the man’s heavily accented voice rings across the room, “I hope your evaluation of the catalogue was sufficient.” A murmur of agreement surges through the otherwise silent audience. “The auction will begin shortly,” he finishes his short introduction by nodding his head and leaves the room to an accompaniment of now loud chatter of excitement.
Hannibal gives Bedelia a knowing glance, the hand on her back pressing gently anew, and they both make their way to the adjoining room, moving smoothly among the wave of guests.
Rows of chairs lined with red velvet delineate the centre of the much smaller room, with a podium erected at its top. They take their seats and wait for all the guests to gather, Bedelia once again enjoying her opportunity to study the participants. She can sense Hannibal’s eyes on her, appreciating her curiosity in turn.
As promised, the anticipated purpose of the evening begins without delay with the first item being presented, a diamond necklace from nineteenth century France, and the biding opens. Numerous hands lift and the price alongside them; the piece proves to be very sought after. Bedelia glances at Hannibal sitting poised by her side, hands resting idly on his thigh. Ever one for a challenge, she expects to note a shift of his hand as he raises it up to join the bid any minute now, but none comes. She marvels at his unusual control but despite the interesting origin, the item itself is rather unremarkable. Perhaps he is saving his swift response and ample account for a better object. Or perhaps he has listened to her objections after all. Momentary silence falls, then the thud of a hammer and a round of applause signify the end of the first bid, the happy new owner beaming brightly at the other contenders.
Another item is presented promptly, this time it is a bracelet with equally impressive number of diamonds, and the process starts anew, eager participants offering large sums without hesitation. Once again, Hannibal opts not to engage. Bedelia’s eyebrow rises in keen inquiry, but she says nothing, still enjoying the auction as a spectator.
As another sell is made and the auction carries on, the hand on Hannibal’s lap moves at last but only to reach out and take hers. He squeezes it softly in the usual reassurance of his presence by her side and Bedelia responds in same. Despite not engaging in the bidding, he appears to be enjoying himself as much as she does.
Finally, the hammer falls on the last item and the auction comes to a close. The guest vacate their seats, seeking new refreshments, as the wave of waiters flows into the room, and the chatter returns afresh, louder this time, as excited new owners are ready to flaunt their yet to have objects. Bedelia and Hannibal remain seated.
“What is the matter?” he asks and turns his head to look at her, sensing her surveying gaze.
“Nothing is the matter. I am simply marvelling at your restraint this evening,” she responds with an amused lift of her lips.
“You made it clear you were not interested in any of the pieces on auction,” he states factually, “And you were correct in assessing their insignificant quality.”
The smile on her lips becomes more prominent in its growing delight.
“That has never stopped you before,” she retorts.
“It has not when your enjoyment is at stake,” he takes her hand and brings it to his lips, sealing his declaration with a soft kiss against her skin, “But it is not the case now.”
His motifs as much a mystery as they were before, Bedelia gives him one last scrutinising stare before they too leave their seats, following the lead of others and securing two glasses of champagne from the tray of the nearest waiter.
They take one sip before a short, balding man approaches them, his round stature tilting from side to side as he walks.
“Count, how wonderful that you could make it,” the man offers an eager hand, beaming at Hannibal.
Hannibal smiles, returning the gesture.
“This is Signor Manfredi, the director of the auction house,” he provides an introduction while the man already extends his hand towards Bedelia.
“Contessa, what an absolute pleasure,” the man nods his head, placing a kiss on her hand, “I hope you are both having an enjoyable evening.”
“Yes, we do, thank you,” Bedelia inclines her head, somehow intrigued by the man’s overjoyed reception. Surely, the buyers are deserving it more.
“Was everything to your liking?” he now addresses Hannibal in the same diligent tone.
“Everything was perfect,” Hannibal’s reassurance makes the man beam brighter, the lights of the chandeliers dancing happily on his high forehead.
“I am delighted to hear that,” he states proudly, “I am afraid more duties call. It really was a delight to meet you, Contessa,” he bows his head in a goodbye and leaves as swiftly as his stature allows him to.
Bedelia’s eyes follow his departure until he stops and engages in a conversation with another patron. She then looks up at Hannibal, brow furrowing in silent scrutiny of any hidden purpose, but he just smiles with his usual affection, taking another mouthful of the champagne.
“Hmm, an excellent vintage, wouldn’t you agree?” he twirls the glass in appreciation.
The frown disappears and she savours her own drink. He is right, it is an excellent vintage.
A week after their return home from Milan, an appearance of a delivery man interrupts an otherwise quiet morning. There is a significant spring in Hannibal’s step as he deals with the arrival, checking the small package with diligence and signing the numerous receipts with a flourish of his hand. Bedelia makes nothing of it; judging by the caution, it must surely be another rare book to add to his collection. And Hannibal does not offer any explanation, simply bidding the man goodbye and swiftly making his way to the library, further securing her reasoning and making her soon put the happening out of her mind.
It is not until later that day when she is proven wrong.
After a long horse ride, Bedelia returns to the castle and makes her way to their bedroom, wanting to change her attire and refresh herself. She stops immediately upon entering the room, finding an unexpected offering waiting for her on the vanity. Her eyes fall on a black box adorned with a red ribbon placed with care in its middle.
It was not a rare book after all.
Smiling to herself, she takes a step closer, hand already reaching out for the box. There is always an undeniable thrill when it comes to Hannibal’s unique gifts and Bedelia cannot deny the excitement stirring in her mind as her fingers undo the ribbon. Setting the red strip aside, she lifts the cover and gasps.
Cushioned in fabric of black velvet is the tiara they were admiring during the auction.
Bedelia’s eyes study the piece attentively. It looks even more beautiful up closely, the intricate floral patterns twisting and dazzling with perfectly set stones, the rubies like specks of blood, immortalised in gold.
“It seems I have overestimated your restraint ,” she says without turning, sensing Hannibal’s silent presence behind her.
“You have not,” he responds, making her head turn.
“Oh really?” her eyes narrow with amused rebuke, opening the box wider, letting the light pouring through the window reflect on the tiara and putting a visible spot on his excuse.
“It is not what you think,” he presses on.
“What is it then?” she rejoins, enjoying their verbal game as always.
“This tiara belonged to my family, on my mother’s side,” Hannibal explains simply, making Bedelia’s hilarity vanish like a burst bubble, suddenly inappropriate.
Her mind becomes attentive at once, the air in the room becoming denser and more solemn.
"My mother always talked about it and how it was lost during the war. She had never seen it herself, but her grandmother used to tell her the story in great detail. It was almost like the last lost treasure of the Sforza family.”
Bedelia’s eyes gaze at the box in her hand, the tiara now shining with secretive glimmer of all the years imprinted on its stones.
“At times, I had doubted its presence. It appeared to be one of those family legends people enjoy dwelling on, a phantom relic of a former glory,” he recalls. “My father had always wanted to find it for my mother, but he never got the chance,” his eyes turn glossy with the memories, “I have employed several researchers who have confirmed its existence but found it rather unlikely to be recovered. But I have persisted. And it was finally located in the archives of an old auction house in Milan. You can call it chance or fate,” he finishes, smiling at his own whimsical remark.
Bedelia smiles back, knowing well he leaves nothing to either of them.
“The collection was acquired by Signor Manfredi and I made sure the tiara was not lost again or sold to anyone else,” he beams, proud of his achievement.
Bedelia’s fingers begin to trace the lines of the tiara, each flower and leave feeling alive under her fingertips after being dormant for so many decades.
“I could not recover my mother’s ring for you,” Hannibal glances at her moving hand where the exact replica of the ring sits ever comfortably on her finger, “But I could secure the tiara.”
Bedelia’s cheeks feel suddenly warm, she is unsure of what to say. She thought it is just a beautiful trinket, but instead she is holding a fragment of his history in her hand.
“Why did we attend the auction if it had been yours already?” she asks instead, puzzled by the elaborate spectacle.
“I wanted to make sure it is safe. Signor Manfredi insisted on putting it on display nonetheless,” Hannibal explains, “Such find gives his auction house a great renown. Even if it were not for sale.”
Bedelia hums in agreement of the reasoning, the man’s considerate attention back at the auction now clear.
“It is a miracle it is still intact,” Hannibal carries on, watching her fingers trace the diamond foliage, “Floral tiaras were usually broken down and sold as brooches.”
“It is stunning,” she says truthfully. Despite any objections she might have about how suiting the piece is for her, she cannot deny its beauty.
“You do not need to wear it,” he says, almost shy, as though seeing her thoughts reflected on her face, “Or it can be worn as a necklace, if you wish to. I merely wanted you to have it. I could not have imagined anyone more befitting of a tiara.”
There is a clench in her chest as she considers his offering and the lengths he went to retrieve this piece of his family’s history. For her.
“I adore it, Hannibal,” she looks up from the gift and smiles at him softly, her eyes filled with affection. He appears so endearing in his unusual timidity. “I just need to acquire a worthy outfit,” she glances at the tiara, her fingers grazing the edges one last time, before she sets the box on her vanity.
When she looks back up, Hannibal is beaming brightly at her, his eyes flickering with a new purpose.
“We will see to it,” he takes a step closer and leans forward to place a kiss on her lips, a final seal to his gift of reverence.
Much later, Bedelia undresses in her spacious walk-in wardrobe, ready to wind down after a day of unexpected treats. She hangs her dress away and drapes a silk robe over her lingerie clad figure. A fragrant bath seems like a perfect finish to her day, she contemplates before stepping back into their bedroom. She is set to make her way to the bathroom, but instead she stops, her eyes immediately drawn to the box on her vanity. Hannibal offered to put the tiara away in the safe for her, but she declined, for some reason not ready to part with it yet.
Bath forgotten, she walks towards her vanity and sits in front of her mirror. Her eager fingers reach out anew, opening the box and admiring the exquisite gift.
More than a gift.
She chuckles quietly, watching the diamonds glisten merrily, inviting in its brilliance. It should all seem strange to her, the glamour and the indulgence. Taking the barrette out of her hair, she lets it fall on her shoulders while contemplating how her life has unfolded. She remembers a young girl with her ponytail pulled back firmly who had not considered being anyone else but a doctor. Loosening the twisted locks with her fingers, Bedelia looks in the mirror, expecting to find someone she does not recognise, but it is quite the opposite. She smiles at her own reflection, the elegance of their bedroom serving as a worthy backdrop. Framed by the gently cascading waves of her hair, it is the face she knows better than ever; she has never been more herself.
She takes the tiara out of the box and places it on her head. It is lighter than expected, the initial coolness of the gold subsiding instantly as the piece settles in its place. It sits perfectly, like she knew it would. The stones twinkle jubilantly as if in delight of finally being in their rightful place. The radiance of the rubies matches the hue of her lace, the florals harmonising with the garden flourishing on the bottom of her satin robe.
“That is the most perfect attire,” Hannibal speaks, appearing as silently as before in the threshold of the room.
Bedelia’s head turns, eyes falling at awestruck Hannibal, his gaze burning as he takes in every speck of her appearance, so apparent in his adoration.
“I am not wearing much,” she responds, lips curling in delectation, unable to deny the pleasure his gaze elicits.
“I know,” he takes a few steps in, still staring at her fervently.
“I do not think a tiara is deemed appropriate to be worn with scanty lingerie,” she teases him purposely, pretending to feel self-conscious about her state of dishabille. In truth, she has never felt more brazen.
“I think it is the only thing you should be wearing from now on,” he states firmly, making her smile swell.
“Are you sure you want to see me wearing this attire out in public?” she stands from her chair, letting her robe open more, hips swaying from side to side, as she walks slowly towards him.
Hannibal’s mouth twists as he suppresses a prod of instinctive jealousy; he would never interfere with her choice of outfits, even in hypothetical exaggeration.
“The tiara is meant for your enjoyment, no public displays needed,” he says instead, smiling back at her.
Bedelia smirks in appreciation of his swift recovery. She steps closer still, standing in front of him, basking in the increasing warmth of lust radiating from his body.
“Only my enjoyment?” she tilts her head with kittenish amusement.
Her hands move to rest on his chest, fingers tracing the edges of the unbuttoned collar of his shirt. She feels his pulse quickening as his eyes widen, the flush of his skin made more prominent by the white of his shirt. Hannibal grins in admitted defeat. His hand reaches out to adjust an unruly strand of her hair, slipping it between his fingers and escorting it back to its rightful spot next to her temple, as if he were putting a finishing touch to an elegant, evening attire. But this is a far more sublime ensemble in his eyes. His gaze falls on the tiara sitting comfortably on her head, the shine of the diamonds reflected in his lucent eyes.
“Perhaps not yours alone,” he admits, letting his hand move to her shoulder, fingers slowly peeling the robe away from her skin, “But we should ensure your enjoyment.”
He takes a step forward, his other hand wrapping around her waist and pulling her closer. Bedelia’s smile lights up brilliantly as he cups her cheek with utmost tenderness, lips raining kisses on her jawline. Each press is gentle and worshipping, like offerings at the altar of her glory. Bedelia’s arms coil around his neck as she pulls him closer, demanding more praise and he complies at once, his lips finding hers in exaltation of a deep kiss.
Hannibal moves, steering them towards their bed, his strong arms firmly encasing her frame, ready to sweep her away in his embrace in a blink of an eye. Mouths press together in an incessant caress, Bedelia’s steps come to a stop as her legs meet the edge of the bed. She expects Hannibal to nudge her forward, all eager to pull him down in her embrace, but to her surprise, their lips part and Hannibal steps forward, sitting down on the bed and leaving her standing in front of him.
Surprised but not displeased; Bedelia smiles anew as she finds herself towering over him, a perspective she enjoys tremendously. Hannibal looks up at her with continuous ardent devotion and his hands move up from her back to her shoulders. The familiar attentive touch slowly traces her collarbones, igniting her body and awaking the buds of pleasure beneath her skin, before sliding his thumbs under the straps of her brassiere and pulling it down in the same unhurried manner. Bedelia sighs quietly as the lace barrier is removed from her breasts, leaping free in their increased sensitivity and in great want of his attention. And Hannibal does not need any encouragement; his hands travel down, kneading the mounds, fingers pressing her straining nipples, soon to be joined by his eager mouth. He kisses and sucks, not leaving any spot unattended, taking his time and ensuring her delight as promised. Bedelia moans, her chest pushing forward to his lips, her stance shaky as lust burgeons within her.
As his mouth carries on with adoration of her breasts, Hannibal’s hands continue their way as well, fingers pursuing the delicate lines of her body, drawing out more flushes of pleasure, until they rest on her hips. The caresses pause as he looks up at her, as though in search of permission and it spurs Bedelia’s arousal to a point of deluge. She gently nudges her hips forward and Hannibal wastes no time in removing the last piece of lace clinging to her soaked core. His hands graze her legs as he does so, making her even more unsteady.
Her breaths ragged and her body tense, Bedelia leans forward, placing her hands on his chest and pushing him to lie down on a bed, ready to claim more of him. Hannibal gives in with a smile, arms falling away from her body to rest by his head as he watches her hands slip underneath him shirt, grazing his taunt chest, before undoing the fabric with haste, fingers pulling sharply at the buttons. She is ready to settle herself astride his hips, but Hannibal’s arms reach out anew, hands resting on her hips, pressing gently and urging her to move further still. Smiling impishly, Bedelia shifts forward until her legs settle on both sides of his head. Hannibal lets out a low groan of delight as she hovers above him. His eyes dark with want, he revels in the sight of her sex, swollen and dripping, like a flower in full bloom. It is the rarest of blossoms, yet it flourishes for him constantly. The tongue flicks over his lips in anticipation of his favourite delicacy and Bedelia cannot wait any longer, pressing her hips down. With another groan stifled, Hannibal sinks his tongue and mouth in her folds, making her groan and sway, her balance wavering. Her head tilts back in delectation, the tiara resting contentedly in its spot, the stones undoubtedly glistening in tempo with her moving body. She rocks back and forth as he licks her folds, mouth tasting her with glee.
A long moan resonates in Bedelia’s throat as she gives into the sensual gratification, feeling regal in her fulfilment, knowing this is exactly where she belongs. Her thighs clasping tighter around his face, she pulls at his hair, steadying herself and urging him on. She hears muffled growls that vibrate against her skin in added enjoyment and Hannibal’s mouth moves harder and faster against her. Pleasure takes over her in a rush as her body trembles; she feels Hannibal’s hands holding her thighs firmly in place as he fervently drinks her in. Fiery stars set off before her eyes dazzling like diamonds. It is a beginning of many; she knows they will both see whole galaxies by the end of the evening.
The light of the day slowly retreats from the sky, enveloping the bedroom in a dusky glow. Bedelia sighs contentedly, savouring the slowly advancing darkness, cushioned in Hannibal’s embrace. The open window invites the aroma of the late blooming flowers, soaking up the gathered heat, just like their warm bodies pressing together. Her fingertips stroke his chest, enjoying the fold of the warmth around them. She nuzzles closer into her favourite spot on his shoulder and senses Hannibal’s head move to the side ever so slightly as the edge of the tiara prods into his neck. Bedelia reaches her hand out to remove the troublesome accessory; it has already played its role, after all.
“Leave it on,” he murmurs, his hand intercepting hers and bringing it to his lips.
“I cannot wear it all the time, Hannibal,” she responds, sighing anew as his mouth presses kisses on her fingers.
His lips stretch in a smile against her skin.
“You are always wearing it in my eyes.”