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The little wooden church feels like a boat rocking on a sea of grass when Will pushes inside. It's not his home parish, but he likes to come here when he needs to get out of the city, to listen to the sound of gulls and the horns of the freighters on the river. And to confess.

Sliding into the booth now, Will crosses himself and mutters a prayer under his breath. The wooden sides feel like they're pushing in on him. He adjusts his clothes and tries to remind himself he'll have to get used to it, sooner or later.

"Forgive me Father," he murmurs. "For I have sinned. It has been three weeks since my last confession."

He hears breath in the cubicle. "And what is it you wish to atone for?"

"I've had...doubts, Father."

"Doubts about your belief?"

"My belief...my place in this world..."

He shivers faintly at the admittance. "I'm to be ordained soon, and I don't think I deserve to wear His uniform."

"That is common, my son."

"To doubt?" Will repeats, voice splitting with incredulity.

"To feel undeserving."

"The true sin is that I keep hoping He will show me a reason to believe," Will continues softly. His eyes track the movements of a fly on the screen, jittering along its surface. "I walk the streets and I see people suffering. People dying, being exploited. One of our own parishioners was found, recently, murdered – I’m going to her funeral this afternoon. I’ll listen to them singing hymns in His honor, so He might take her into His arms, when she should have been here, still living. She was devout. A cross hung above her bed. She was attacked in her home, butchered, and He did nothing."

"My child," the priest sighs. "That is not His way."

"What is his way?" Will swallows the majority of the spite he wants to inject into the question.

"He acts through us, you know this."

"Does that mean through us, he murders middle-aged widows?"

"Son," the father says reproachfully. "You say you come to confess, but I sense it is not truly forgiveness you seek, but vindication."

"Maybe I just want comfort."

"How should I comfort you? His ways can seem ruthless to us, but they are not for us to understand - our job is merely to have faith in Him."

Then Will is not doing his job, he thinks. He feels feeble, insubstantial, in the wake of His simple ask: Faith.

"Tell me what to do," Will murmurs.

"Find your faith, child. Return to His service, and let Him show you His Plan."

"Find my faith," Will repeats.

"Yes, by any means necessary. Sometimes skeptics are His most valuable assets."

Will pinches the bridge of his nose and exhales. "By any means necessary," he repeats.

"I believe that is in your best interest, and that of your relationship with God."

"Thank you, Father," Will murmurs. He makes the mark of the cross again before awaiting his penance. "I am sorry for these sins and the sins of my past."

Falling into familiar response, the priest assigns him his penance. They recite their respective prayers, and Will pushes back out of the booth.

He blinks a bit at the lazy swirls of dusty sunlight in the nave of the church, casting a look back at the forlorn figure of Jesus hanging over the altar, face so sweetly forgiving. Will looks away again quickly: he’s not sure he deserves it.

Outside, the heat shimmers on the dust road, the white gleam of the graveyard like a great set of teeth across the road. Will breathes in the scent of close air and walks slowly back toward his car. He looks back to the little white church, the marshy land beyond alive with the sound of birdsong. A flash of gray shows the path of a heron, and he watches it for a moment, wishing he could feel the peace he'd been hoping for. Praying for.

No one had answered. No one has for a long time. He's not sure what exactly pushed him over the edge, he just knows he's dangling. Like a bobbing cork in the water, no fish to snatch his hook.

He sighs and lets himself back into his truck. The road back to the city is quiet, sun dappled. He doesn't want to go back, but the funeral of his murdered parishioner awaits, in the small church she favored in town, where Will must shake a hundred hands and offer meaningless words on her being in His graces now, under His protection. Must stand at an open grave and watch that dark wood box be lowered into the ground and pretend it is His will.

And then, he will go back to his dormitory and study His word, and try to understand His teachings. A whitewashed room within the seminary, Will has never quite been able to shake the feeling of stepping back in time when he enters. It leaves him feeling unmoored. Seldom a feat for an orphan, either.

The thought rankles as he struggles to remember to stop at a red light, the car behind him honking. He's distracted. He's still thinking about "by any means necessary."  He wishes he could go down to the lake, get his boat, set sail and never return. Sail away from murder, and atonement, and obligation. Maybe he needs to spend less time thinking about His word. Maybe he needs to get out more. Out into the world. Out into the humid, sinful depths of the city.

The light turns green. Will puts the car back into drive, and speeds away.

 

*

 

Someone is singing from a balcony near the Cathedral, and the words strike Hannibal's ears pleasantly as he turns down an alley toward Royal Street, a smart cloth cooler bag tucked under his arm.

The hazy sunlit streets are abustle with noise and life, and he weaves in and out of the throngs, peering up the faces of the tall patchwork collections of shops and eateries and whimsical tourist attractions. He pauses to admire the window of one of his favorite galleries, recently redone with a rather decent Paul Klee. It's not his favorite style, but the owner has impeccable design sense. A quick peek inside won't do any harm.

He secures his shopping bag and pushes open the door. The museum stillness of the place pleases him; the scent of subtle incense and varnish. His own shop has a similar aroma, though the scent of old paper tends to pervade. Glue, wax, leather.

The shopkeeper's desk is tucked in the far corner, though still with a view of the door. Hannibal's shop is not laid out so differently, though certainly costumed uniquely. He lifts a hand in greeting when the shopkeeper looks up, her skin so dark it gleams, her silvering braids immaculately coiled.

"Hello, cher," she purrs, "buying today?"

"Not today, Monique. I merely wished to compliment the new window display."

"Compliment accepted. How's trade?"

"Much as usual. I thought today merited a walk for lunch."

"Good to get out in the sun. Spooky fella like you gotta see it every now and then, huh Doctor?"

"I hope you're not suggesting vampiric origins, Monique."

"Of course not." She winks.

Hannibal allows the informality, because Monique is seventy-five if she is a day. She has a still elegance to her. He enjoys coming in here, and she knows it. Likewise, she's perused his wares many a time. Just as he's doing now, circling the freestanding gallery walls.

Despite not intending to purchase, he's caught by a piece - a small study of Caravaggio's David with the head of Goliath, rendered somewhat more romantically, David's face soft and sympathetic.

"This is lovely," he says.

"Isn't it?" She smiles softly. "Local artist. Lots of potential."

"Agreed. Is it a young artist?"

"She is."

"How much?" Hannibal asks.

"Three hundred."

"Bill me," he says promptly. "You can have it delivered?"

"Of course. Tomorrow."

"Wonderful. I'm glad I stopped in."

"As am I, cher. You have a beautiful day."

"As always, you as well, Monique." Hannibal inclines his head to her. She returns the gesture, and Hannibal makes his exit, satisfaction leavening his step. Unexpected pleasures are the best kind.

There's another waiting for him at the shop. He turns the corner onto his own quiet street and sees a figure waiting outside his door. A young man, his head down, narrow shoulders framed in dark, sensible wool and shirt collar. When Hannibal gets closer, he sees a clerical collar. He pauses, immediately intrigued.

"Pardon me," he murmurs. "Have you been waiting long?"

The young cleric turns, visibly startled, from where he'd been peering into the draped windows. "Apologies." He keeps his head down, not in deference but something altogether more asocial, Hannibal expects. "I was waiting - just interested."

"Well. Let me unlock and then you're free to browse." Sadly, Hannibal fears he'll need to relegate his lunch to the refrigerator for a time.

The young cleric looks to the bag on his shoulder, and bites his lip. "I've interrupted your lunch. What time do you reopen? I'll come back."

Hannibal gestures to the sign on the door. "Five minutes from now. You don't need to leave."

"I don't want to rush you..."

"Don't worry in the slightest, Father."

He looks a little embarrassed by that. "I'm only a seminarian yet, there's no need - it's Will."

"Will," he repeats smoothly. "I'm Hannibal Lecter, and this is my shop. Please come in."

Will glances up at the shop sign, swinging at a right angle from the store front, swayed gently by the wind. It is subtly decorated with the Lecter family crest and the establishment date. But he doesn't comment, just steps in through the open door.

"One moment, please." Hannibal moves into the back and quickly slots his lunch into the fridge, peering at the security camera monitor for a moment to watch his new customer with intrigue. The priest - no, the seminarian - just stands for a moment, taking in the shelves of books. Hannibal examines his elfin profile for a moment before he steps back out onto the floor. "Thank you. How can I help you?"

"I suppose you hear 'just browsing' pretty often," his customer replies.

"On the contrary, I generally entertain a more experienced customer, who knows what they are looking for, though it’s a pleasure to get the opportunity to advise."

"I see," Will murmurs. "Well, I’m not sure what I'm looking for, but I read that yours is the best collection in the city when it comes to rare books."

"How gratifying to hear. Could I steer you in any specific direction?"

"Uh." He sucks his teeth, eyes darting about the bookcases. "Well. It's a little awkward."

"The erotic photography can mostly be found online," Hannibal says dryly. "For anything else...I'm happy to help."

"I'm not looking for antique pornography," the boy says, voice bone dry. Still, he seems reluctant to actually tell Hannibal what it is he seeks.

Hannibal cocks his head delicately to the side. He looks at the collar again, at the base of the stranger's pale throat. He's lovely, pure Louisiana Catholic, wearing it like a lead jacket, heavy and uncomfortable. His eyes are shaded by long, dark lashes, his energy strangely furtive. Hannibal can't help but think of him as a boy, despite knowing that he's in his mid- to late twenties at least. With his chin dipped and his curls a little ruffled where the wind has been at him, he reminds Hannibal of his newly acquired David.

"All right," he murmurs. "I'll let you look."

"Thank you," he says quietly.

Hannibal retreats to the antique desk in the corner. Even so, he can't stop watching the seminarian. He steps around the shop in small, planned arcs, occasionally touching a leather spine. His hands are delicate but not, Hannibal notices, scholar's hands. He smells faintly of salt and spice, and the sweet, vegetal hum of grass from outside the city. The faint rime of pollen on his coat shimmers when he pauses in a sunbeam. He's golden when he turns his face to the warmth of it as if caressed by the hand of God. Hannibal lets the vision thrill him.

"Is this your first time in the Quarter?" he asks mildly.

The boy Will laughs softly. "No. I go to school here. And I lived here when I was younger."

"Your accent isn't strong," Hannibal apologizes.

"Spent some time up North too," he answers absently. "You're European?"

"Yes, I grew up there," Hannibal replies.

"What brought you to New Orleans?"

"An invitation from an old acquaintance," Hannibal tells him. "The previous owner of this shop, as it happens."

"You inherited it?"

"In a manner of speaking, I purchased it from the estate."

"Doesn't sound like it is in a manner of speaking," the boy points out, dryly.

"Well, it was specified in the will that no other offers be considered before mine." Hannibal coughs lightly. "In any case, I have been here for upwards of ten years now."

"Who will get it in your will?" he asks.

Hannibal laughs, unexpectedly delighted by the bluntness. "I suppose I haven't decided yet, though I hope the moment of necessity isn't very soon."

No verbal response, just a nod as he pulls another book off the shelf. This one holds his interest for a few moments longer. Hannibal notes the title.

"You're after occult history."

"I suppose I am."

"Unusual, given your designation?"

"Is that a question or a statement?"

"Both, I think."

"I suppose it is unusual," the boy agrees. "I have been advised by my priest to uh, look upon God's work. Figured I'd start here."

"For contrast?" Hannibal asks dryly.

"For - tangibility."

"I see. And how will occult history provide that, do you think?"

"Not quite sure yet."

"Do you have any other...options?" Hannibal asks.

"Short of writing God a stern letter, I suspect not."

"I'd be delighted to hear if you got a reply."

"Well, He hasn't responded to any of my voicemails, so I won't hold my breath."

Hannibal allows his amusement to show, but only just. "You can't find proof in his many miracles? You're after evidence of his failures?"

"I'm after something I can believe," Will whispers. "Besides, he's a father, I'm bound to find something."

He says it easily enough, already half turning away. Hannibal can't help but smile. He's fascinated. "You're looking at the building blocks of divinity. Every aspect of His power?"

"Starting in the basement," the boy murmurs.

"If you can't find proof of His power, find that of His counterpart?"

"Hard to imagine you'd disapprove." He gets a flash of ocean-colored eyes.

"Quite the opposite. How are you to understand the light if you're not willing to examine the dark underbelly?"

"Exactly," Will murmurs. "Do you have any recommendations to that end?"

Hannibal nods, reaching to pull a couple of volumes off the shelf. "Of course. There are several fascinating tomes by the likes of Aleister Crowley, you might find any of these at least illuminating in the theological sense."

"Thank you," Will murmurs, accepting the books.

"It's quite all right. I trade special editions; you might be shocked by the price. Perhaps simpler copies might be purchased elsewhere."

The boy bristles somewhat at that. "I'll take these, thanks."

"Very well," Hannibal murmurs.

He selects the three Crowley volumes he has in stock, wrapping each carefully in crisp, acid free tissue. Will watches him silently.

“You might also be interested in a copy of LaVey’s Satanic Bible, if you’re starting in the basement, though we’re out of stock currently,” Hannibal adds eventually, “Crowley’s influences are not wholly in the realms of Catholic understanding.”

“All right,” Will nods. “You could order me a copy?”

“Of course. If you’d like to make a note of your postal address and I’ll make the order this afternoon.”

“I’ll pay for it with these.”

“Perfect.”

Will scrawls down his address on the card Hannibal hands him and returns it and the pen.

"Thank you.  It can be lonely, a crisis of faith," Hannibal puts in gently. "If you should like to talk about it at any time, my door is always open." He includes a card in the package, and rings it up.

"Thank you," the young man tells him. "Lecter, is it-?"

"Yes, Hannibal Lecter. Pleased to meet you."

"Will Graham." He offers a hand to shake, nearly reluctantly it seems, avoiding Hannibal's gaze. Interesting, for a divinity student. "Thank you for your help."

"Delighted," Hannibal answers. He means it. This has been truly unexpected.

"Do you take cash?" asks Will Graham. He checks his watch, and seems suddenly more dower still, brow settling in a fretful manner. Hannibal wonders what he’s late for.

"Of course." Hannibal accepts the wad of crisp notes, and writes him out a crisp receipt.

"Thanks again," Will murmurs. He takes the pristine black paper bag Hannibal hands him with a nod. And then he leaves, and Hannibal is left looking after him in the quiet of his shop.

Strange. It's not the first time a priest has visited him, but it's the first time one has so cynically discussed his calling. Especially not the young ones. With a smile, Hannibal indulges himself by watching the young man cross the busy street, head down and curls glossy in the bright sunlight. People do a double take when they see him. He's beautiful, and the collar lends him romance and tragedy - all attractive things in a city as drawn to poetry as this one.

Hannibal cannot claim to be immune. He thinks of his little Caravaggio study waiting to be delivered, and the symmetry pleases him. Two such lovely creatures in the same day, what luck. With a warmth suffused in his core, he goes to lock the door so that be might continue his lunch break. The delay was entirely worth it.

 

*

 

The sun is losing its sting slightly by the time Will's rushing takes him to Jackson Square, overlooked by the elegant face of the cathedral. He ignores the bustle of tourists and ducks inside the church. A profusion of gold, the icons' faces all turned toward Will as he enters, almost expectant. It's cool, dark. A momentary reprieve.

It's a stark contrast to the modest little gathering he'd attended yesterday for his parishioner, no children's paintings on the walls, no fold out chairs and gum-stained carpets. St. Louis instead hosts a tranquil, shadowy minimalism, and a hush that's nearly undisturbed by the tour happening further down the way. It's somehow a different world from the funeral service he'd attended the day before, no one looking to speak to him, no one to interfere with Will making his way down the left-hand side of the nave, where the Madonna statue stands, haloed in sunlight.

He pauses to look at her face. He does not feel the compulsion to pray he once might have. She just looks sorrowful, and tired. Forgiving. He bows his head, and then continues to the gardens.

More statuary here, and another expanse of greenery. Will lets the dipping sun warm him again. It's quieter here, and he sets his parcel at his feet and closes his eyes. His mind meanders, as he did here, mentally retracing his steps to the bookstore with no discernible name - just a family crest.

To Hannibal Lecter, the bookseller. Sharp and neat and fastidious, hair slick and eyes piercing mahogany red. Mid- to late thirties, perhaps, the decade between his age and Will's own making itself known mostly through poise and tailoring and a few faint lines around the eyes. He was nothing like what Will had expected, and neither was his shop. Elegant, with molded archways at the top of each of the bookcases, spotless, elegant glass cabinets filled with particularly delicate specimens. None of the obvious cashing-in on the sacred Voodoo culture of the city - hell, Will wouldn't have known he had specialized in occultism if he hadn't read about the place. Late-night internet trawling after the funeral had led him searching out different facets of religion, different branches, and the word had cropped up again and again - Satanism. The Occult. Will has always had a veracious appetite for reading, but it had never occurred to him until now that Religion is a lot like politics - every religious figure has something new to offer. 

He hadn't been able to bring himself to ask what had drawn Hannibal to this particular vocation, even from behind the safety of the collar. He hardly seems the type - though Will has known for a long time now that 'seeming the type' doesn't often feature in on it. Will simply...wants to know, to understand. He had felt strangely propelled to the man behind the counter, as if he emitted a low current. At the same time, his low-timbered voice was restful.

His fascination with Will was evident too, but that wasn't news. Everyone is fascinated by Will - for a moment or two. Still, it's not hard for Will to admit to himself that it's mutual, for once. He's the first person in a very long time who Will has felt was actually listening to him when he spoke. He'd looked at him so attentively: Will had felt it the whole time he'd been in the store. Felt his attention like dark velvet. Begging to be touched again and again. It was unexpected and distracting.

It's enough to make him wary. So too is his urge to return for more conversation. Things seldom seize Will's singular focus, or else nothing has since he decided to take the faith. It's even rarer when people do. The curious juxtaposition of the two weighs on him, as if he bore two brass scales across his shoulders.

He lets it bend his back as he sits. Looks at the ground; the shadow of the pillar slowly crawling across the grass and stone. It's getting late; he should go home. He has studying to do.

"Graham!" a voice falls from the entrance to the garden.

He raises his head, nearly reluctant to be pulled away from the exotic bookseller. When he sees who is approaching him, he has to restrain himself from grimacing.

"You've found a way to travel on consecrated ground, Freddie," he observes.

The petite redhead picks her way across the garden toward him, curls swaying. She laughs lightly, although he's sure they both know he's not really joking.

"I'm resourceful," she agrees finally. "Thought I recognized you as I was walking by," she adds. "What are you doing, job interview or something?"

"If you can't intuit what a trainee priest is doing in a churchyard, I don't know what to say."

"This is you we're talking about," she quips.

"I'm about to perform an exorcism." Will bares his teeth.

"How enthralling, can I photograph it?"

Will curls his lip. "What do you want?"

"Just to say hello, of course."

"Emphasis on the 'hell'."

"I'm pretty sure they can put you in priest jail for that kind of talk."

"Demon begone," he mutters. Hopefully, she doesn't hear that part. It's not his finest work. "What do you want?"

"Just wanted to let you know that I'm still accepting interviews for my website," she says sweetly.

"Christ, I've been trying to forget. I'm not doing an interview for you."

"That's a shame. I'd have thought you'd want to share your unique perspective."

He’s not precisely sure what she means by that.

"You mean you want an opportunity to try and make me smack talk the church. No thanks."

"Such a shame," Freddie repeats, ironically shameless.

"I'm sure I'll find another tempting opportunity for professional suicide elsewhere." He smiles, extremely fake.

"You know where to find me otherwise," Freddie bats her lashes.

"That I do."

He watches her go with a sigh: shame to think Hell has so many vacant spots. She's an unrepentant sinner, that one. Not that he's much better. He's trying very hard on the repentance piece.

Sighing, he leans back on his bench and looks up at the sky. He'll just have to try harder when there are...extra irritations. Maintaining calm and overcoming petty problems has never been a problem for Will - until he met Freddie Lounds. She's more than a petty problem, she's a thorn in his side, and she has been ever since he'd found himself in the same Philosophy of Religion class as her.

Last semester she had pointedly asked him in a class debate why he thought the Catholic Church condemned homosexuality, and wouldn't that make it difficult for LGBT+ people who wished to enter the seminary? Do you think there are gay priests right now who haven't come out for fear of dismissal?

It had rendered Will speechless with fury: this was not simply a topic of debate she thought he could weigh in on as a training priest, it had motive. A suggestion from a classmate about his sexuality was enough to put him through an enquiry. Everything that comes out of Freddie's mouth sounds like a tabloid headline. And he still doesn't know how she knew.

He's not the only beneficiary of the Freddie Lounds treatment, either, but it's hard not to take it personally. She'll probably make a fantastic journalist one day. Doesn't mean he has to like it. And it's a small city.

With a sigh, he gets up: time to go. He hugs the package of books to his chest as he walks back to his dormitory.

 

Still thinking idly of the bookseller when he gets back to his room, Will unwraps the first book, and settles down on his bed to read. The Book of Lies makes him blush, makes him angry, makes him... interested despite himself. It's nearly hypnotic, deeply profoundly worshipful in its own way. He reads until the light goes dim, and he finally needs to shift to turn on a lamp. Difficult both to stop reading, and to continue.

He sets the book aside and presses his fingers to his eyelids. He's entirely missed dinner; he realizes with a glance at the clock. Not that this is an unusual occurrence. Everything feels dim and soft-edged now, like an often-handled photograph. He should probably just go to bed. He turns off the light, and his mind whirls. He can't stop thinking about what he's read.

When he closes his eyes, he sees high arched bookcases, and a man in a beautifully cut burgundy suit. He's back in the quiet of Lecter's shop, with the scent of citrus polish and old books. He examines titles from the shelves with wandering fingers as Hannibal reads aloud from the Book of Lies. It sounds better in the smooth accented voice. Rhythmic and soft; easy to drift to sleep to.

 

 Will's patience for his normal routine lasts all of a week, which is coincidentally how long it takes him to finish his three new books. As soon as he has a free afternoon, he makes his way not to the little church out of town, but down into the bustling city, to the elegant but understated rare and occult bookstore.

He goes late in the afternoon this time, not over the lunch hour. He doesn't want to disturb Hannibal Lecter's break again. He'd like to speak with the man some more.

Pushing into the library hush of the cool inside feels like turning off the sound on the outside world.

 He shivers as it slips over his shoulders. No sign of Hannibal Lecter. Will hangs back, wary of startling him. He studies the titles on a nearby shelf instead. Finally, he hears a whisper of movement.

"Ah. Mister Graham."

Will turns. Hannibal Lecter has emerged from an unobtrusive door in the rear of the shop. "Good afternoon," he greets, quietly.

"How lovely to see you again," Lecter murmurs.

Will's face colors. Lovely? "Is that so."

"Indeed. Did you receive your copy of the Satanic Bible?”

“I did, thank you.” It had arrived in the post two days after Will’s first visit, though he hasn’t quite had the courage to open it yet.

“And how have you found your purchases?" He's inspecting Will's form almost as if expecting him to have brought books back with him.

"Intriguing, if not illuminating. I wondered if you had any more recommendations."

"I'm sure I have many, though I'd hardly wish to introduce you to a rare book habit at this point in your education. I wonder if I could be so bold -" he pauses.

Will tilts his head.

"I have a rather large personal collection as well,” Hannibal continues, “which I'm happy to loan to friends."

"Friends." Will repeats it carefully. "Is that a pending offer?"

"If you're amenable, of course. I rather enjoyed our discussion the last time you visited."

"Sounds like you have rather low standards."

He thinks that Lecter is perhaps offended by that statement. "On the contrary. I have a good eye, and exquisite taste." He motions to his shop. "Do you not agree?"

Will dips his eyes. "Books aren't people."

"It's multidisciplinary," Hannibal replies. "And I would argue books are people, bound in paper and leather: the results of our consciousnesses compressed into readable prose."

"Those Crowley ones were," Will mutters the admission.

That makes Hannibal smile. "I would very much appreciate hearing your thoughts, Will."

"I'm sure it's nothing I could enlighten you on."

"On the contrary, each work speaks to each reader." His eyes flick up to Will's collar. "I'm sure that some of it spoke to you more than others."

"You think I found profundity in pure drug-addled fiction?" Will returns.

"Is that not what some of the most influential books in the Western world are?"

"You'd know better than I."

A quirked eyebrow at that. "You're either calling me well-read or drug-addled, Mister Graham."

"Then I suppose you ought to make up your mind how rude you think I actually am." He's not entirely sure how he meant it himself. This is New Orleans, after all, and Will knows enough about rich people – Hannibal’s kind of people – to recognize an appetite for hedonism when he sees one.

"Not as rude as you'd like to be," Hannibal intuits.

"I'm a good li'l Southern boy," Will drawls softly.

"I'm sure that's true. So good, God whispers in your ear." He presents a placid expression to Will's frown.

"My turn to make up my mind about how rude you are now, I suppose."

"I'm hoping my invitation upstairs for a drink might sway you one way or another."

"Now? Aren't you still open?"

"It's near enough to closing time for my purposes."

My purposes. Will tilts his head, and suppresses a shiver. He can feel his fascination rising.

Hannibal's smile grows as he sees the temptation take root in Will. Smoothly, he comes to the door, close to Will, and turns the catch on the door. "Come upstairs, Will."

Soundlessly, Will follows him. They go through the mysterious rear door of the shop, into a small and breathtaking courtyard, and up a set of iron stairs to a balcony. Will lingers for a moment, looking at the plants; the small ornamental pond filled with idling koi. Lanterns and wall crests and butterflies. Hannibal unlocks the door at the top, but waits.

"Exquisite taste," Will mutters, and hurries to catch up.

The first and second impression of the shop and courtyard are borne out by the apartment above. It's the most beautiful place Will has ever seen. Like a jewel box, a perfect setting. Almost instinctively, Will feels uncomfortable and out of place. But Hannibal Lecter moves serenely through the front room to a bar cart.

Will looks up at the high ceilings and detailed molding on the windows. This place has the same feeling as a church. It smells faintly of the same wood polish as downstairs, and also of a fascinating blend of spices. It's high and long, an L-shaped corner of the building, with a wrap-around balcony and the antique features of the property maintained. Will can't help looking at the art on the walls, framed by the light from the many tall windows and French doors perfectly. It's mostly traditional, real antiques or excellent reproductions. Richly colored and textured, stranded somewhere between intensely modern and baroque.

"You have a beautiful home," Will murmurs.

"Thank you, Will."

What's more, it's an expensive one. The rare book business probably doesn't pay for this, even at the prices Will has seen. Hannibal Lecter is independently wealthy, by one means or another. Makes a poor divinity student feel quite out of place, honestly. He feels a creeping instance of resentment rising in him, and checks it viciously. He's prayed about that many times.

"Here you are." Hannibal is bringing him a drink, something short and dark. "Whiskey," he murmurs. "I took a guess."

Will takes it, the foreign, prickling feeling of doing something he shouldn't tugging at his sleeves. "Thank you."

"My pleasure. Would you like to sit?"

"Sure." He goes where Hannibal gestures, sitting on the long, silk-upholstered sofa. Hannibal simply studies him for a moment, before returning to the cart for his own drink.

"I think it's safe to hazard you like the look of me," Will surmises. "Can I ask why?" He takes the moment to study Hannibal's back, broad and powerful under his tailored coat.

"I am a connoisseur of rare things, Will," he says simply, turning with his drink.

"And that's me somehow?"

"A seminarian in an occult bookstore? Certainly." He gives Will this little not-quite-a-smile.

"A seminarian who isn't sure if he believes in God," Will confirms.

"As you say," Hannibal demurs. "And has your reading given you anything more to think about?"

"It's certainly made me consider seeing God both in the base and the divine."

"You haven't always?"

"Not really how we're taught back home. 'God is love'." He recalls the words in the voice of the Sister at his first school.

"Love can be base, though I suppose not in a priest's view."

"Depends on what kind of behavior you view as base. Any loving act is something other, in my book."

"Any loving act?" Hannibal repeats.

"I have a feeling you're trying to make a point."

"Do you? How astute."

"Go ahead, Doctor Lecter."

"I hesitate to presume."

"I doubt it." Will raises his eyebrows expectantly.

"Some forms of love, I believe, are frowned upon in God's eyes."

"God's, or man's?"

"I was hoping you'd enlighten me."

"Man's," Will murmurs. "Nothing the bible about God or Jesus' word on homosexuality, and that's only really an argument that comes into play if you're the kind of guy who reads instruction manuals for every new appliance you buy."

He has a feeling he's being goaded. A potential argument piled on him at every opportunity, it seems. Is he that easy to read? Or is there something different about this man?

"The Bible is a manual," Hannibal repeats, sounding amused.

"Stop baiting me," Will sighs.

"It's not for reasons you think. What made you question your belief?"

"It wasn't just one thing."

"What was it?" Hannibal repeats, patiently.

"I do a lot of work in the community," Will murmurs. "Some terrible things happened. It just made me... it was the last straw."

"Tell me what happened."

"In a word? Murder. She was sweet, loving, motherly. She didn't deserve that kind of end."

"Did you find her?"

Will nods. "I do community aid with the church. Her niece hadn't heard from her, asked me to go check on her," he whispers.

"You think that God facilitating a murder calls His existence into question? Isn't dying the very act that brings good people into His arms?"

"Not like this," Will retorts.

"You don't think God designed some of us to be conduits for evil?"

"Don't start talking to me about balance," Will snips.

"I'm not, the world is not balanced," Hannibal sips his drink, crossing his legs elegantly. "Rather the opposite. What I'm suggesting is something you may find... incendiary."

"Please," Will says flatly, taking a sip of his drink, "elaborate."

"God made us in His image. Have you considered that means that in turn, some of His facets contain depravity? Savagery?"

"Have I considered that God is cruel? Base?"

"You've read the Old Testament, I assume."

Will just gives him a look.

"Cruel," Hannibal concludes, "savage. Not the acts of a loving god. He asked impossible things of people. Unkind things."

"You think the New Testament got it wrong?"

"Plagues and floods... not very good PR."

"You're still making it sound like you believe," Will points out.

"I do," Hannibal smiles. "I think God's terrific. I think He is a more old-fashioned deity than the world would have us believe. Most Ancient civilizations believed that gods required blood."

"I know," Will murmurs.

"What do you think, Will?" Hannibal reposes himself, and takes another elegant sip of his drink. "Do you think your god requires blood?"

"Not the one I thought I knew."

"Perhaps it's time to get reacquainted with Him."

"And you mean to assist," Will whispers.

"Should you require assistance."

Will leans back against the back of the sofa, glass cradled against his chest. "What's your recommendation for my next move?"

He knows it, of course. He can see it writ on Lecter's face like calligraphy, pleasing and artful. But he wants to hear him say it. Wants to hear the way he says it.

"I recommend you accept yourself," Hannibal says softly, "accept the way He made you." Even in that velvety tone, it sounds like nothing but a command.

"What if He made me wrong," Will mutters, "in His eyes?"

"But what if He made you absolutely perfect?" He tilts his head. "The Bible was written by man, Will. You said so yourself."

"I know," Will whispers. He feels desperate suddenly not to be so plainly known. "What about you? Did He make you perfect?"

"I'm not sure I ought to answer that."

"I think you'd like to."

"Then I think you anticipate what my answer would be."

"I want to hear it from you."

Hannibal Lecter smiles like the Mona Lisa. "I rather think He did."

Will bites his lip. The words ignite something in him, despite his desire to sneer. "No urges toward self-improvement, Mr. Lecter?"

"Occasionally. Mostly, I focus on self-indulgence."

"That's clear enough."

The smile widens. "Not a proponent?"

"What do you think?"

"I think you'd like to be," Hannibal echoes. "I think you've never had the chance, and you're about to take the choice away from yourself again, and I think that's a shame."

Will looks at his drink, and sets it down with a sigh. "I think I've taken up enough of your time, and I should go before I..." before he can't. He can feel how very close he is to that turning point.

Hannibal tilts his head. "As you please."

Will chuckles. "When do I ever do that?"

"It seems you're not about to start."

Will sighs. "It does, doesn't it?"

A little hint of regret in Hannibal's eyes at that. "Thank you for joining me."

"Thank you for the invitation."

"Any time." He stands, ostensibly to walk Will out, though Will hazards spending those few extra minutes is motivation enough.

He leads Will back down into the jewel of a courtyard, and over to a side gate. They linger for a moment, Will's face feeling unpleasantly warm at their proximity.

"Come back again soon, Will," Hannibal murmurs.

"Thank you." Will looks at the floor but makes himself shake his hand. "Have a nice evening."

"You as well."

Difficult to make himself walk out into the orange light of the sunset-flooded street. The scents and sounds of the Quarter surround him. The street is getting busy with the evening crowd, the sound of jazz and laughter resounding from restaurants and galleries. He feels so out of place. Like he's made a mistake. He stops a block or so along and leans against a barred gate.

Even his body is telling him he's made a mistake. His heart pounds in his chest. He feels light-headed. He never even asked about more books. His face burns at the realization. He had been thoroughly and completely distracted. He's not even sure he finished his drink. He's not sure he even took more than one mouthful. He feels like Rip Van Winkle. For a moment, he simply breathes, and then he's turning back before he knows it's happening, feet carrying him.

There's a doorbell tucked beside the garden gate, and he presses it before he can think twice. The intercom crackles beside the buzzer.

"Did you forget something, Will?"

"Yes," Will replies. He scrambles for something else. "Books. Please."

"Of course," Hannibal's voice is warm. The lock clicks.

Will knows the word to describe his passage back to the door of Hannibal's luxury loft is 'hurried'. He's breathing slightly hard when he reaches the door. Hannibal is waiting, his eyes bright.

"Come in," he purrs.

Will steps inside, and holds his ground when Hannibal steps close, feeling the way their eyes glance off once another's features like the patter of raindrops on cheeks, eyes, lips. He still can't breathe.

"What did you really come back for, Will?"

"I-I... didn’t finish my drink-"

A faint pursing of lips at that. "You came for your drink. What would you assign as penitence for a lie, Will?"

"What would you?"

"I admire a well-crafted lie. I'd just prefer the truth."

Will takes a breath, feeling himself searching for excuses but - he knows what he came back for. They both do. With his heart in his throat, he closes that narrow space between them.

"I came back for this," he hisses, surging up to find his lips.

The kiss feels frantic, uncontrolled, and Will is electrified by the feeling of it. It travels down his arms and legs to each extremity as a shiver. Hannibal's hands come up to his arms, framing and steering. He pulls Will in, and he's so unexpectedly warm. When Will breaks it off, Hannibal coaxes him gently back in. Will's still shaking, but he doesn't resist.

The hand passing through his curls startles a soft moan out of him. He doesn't think anyone has ever touched him like this, even for a second. He's being petted, pure and simple. Kissed deep and indulgent, first slides of their lips and then the soft pass of his tongue. No, Will has never been touched like this.

He lets out a shaky, embarrassing noise and shies for a moment. Hannibal lets him pull back but not away. He pivots them neatly to press against the wall by the door. Will's face burns, his neck and chest too, and his knuckles are white in the expensive fabric of Hannibal's jacket.

"What did you come back for," Hannibal whispers into his ear, "did you come to accept yourself, sweet boy?" His voice lilts over the endearment.

Will moans. He can only shiver and accept it as Hannibal's lips drift down his throat. His hands drift too. Down Will's body, careful, reverent. "Is that what you want, Will?"

It's exactly what he wants, and that's the problem.

"I shouldn't," he grits, as good as an admittance.

"Will you?" Hannibal murmurs.

"I already did."

"Sinned in your heart?" Hannibal whispers. It sounds lurid and filthy even in his perfectly polite voice.

Will can't shake the feeling of being mocked, and he stiffens slightly. But the warm lips have found his throat again. His eyes flicker closed.

"Come back to the couch," Hannibal invites.

Will can hardly find words, so he just nods, letting Hannibal steer him. The silk slides so perfectly under his body, as Hannibal presses him into the cradle of the arm and claims his mouth again.

The contact of their bodies is almost magnetized. Will can't stop himself, he has to touch, up under the hem of Hannibal's suit jacket to the crisp, warm cotton of his shirt underneath. Hannibal makes a pleased little sound at the exploration.

"I should stop," Will says, faintly, "I'm not meant to-"

"Don't stop," Hannibal murmurs. He cups Will's cheeks gently in warm hands. "You believe God is cruel, making you want that which you cannot have. I believe He wanted you to have it." He kisses Will again, a slow thing that goes straight to his core. "Whose belief do you wish to acknowledge, Will?"

"Yours," Will admits, because telling the truth is something he can do.

"Then take what you want."

"I- I don't know how."

"Start by touching," Hannibal murmurs.

"I am, I am-"

He spreads his palms over Hannibal's broad back. He pulls him down to kiss him again. They are briefly tangled together in Hannibal's suit coat before Will tugs it down his arms and off. Hannibal smiles softly, touching the collar at the base of Will's throat, pausing when he flinches.

"Will?"

"I should take it off." He brings a hand up, self-conscious, and starts to unbutton it.

Hannibal doesn't take his eyes off of him. But he helps, fingers delicately exploring the newly exposed tile of skin when Will sets the white collar aside. Then his lips join them.

Will lets him undo the buttons of his shirt, his breaths quickening. Where he used to be tanned from life on the boats, now his own skin looks even paler against the black material, and Hannibal seems entranced by him.

It’s mutual. Will has to pull him in and kiss him again, partially as a balm to his own nerves. He's never wanted anything like this. He's never given himself anything like this. It's a deep pull, like gravity, or drowning. To the bottom of some dark ocean where the water is the same color as Hannibal's eyes. He floats there in absolute stillness. Hannibal seals their lips to give him oxygen. Will breathes him in and feels him fills his lungs and veins.

When they part, it's for Hannibal to slide down his chest and kiss the pale skin of his belly. Will makes a soft, helpless noise. Hannibal's stubble gently scrapes against the soft skin there. It's so...carnal. Will feels wild and out of himself, yet he can't think how to move, so he just arches up.

It's an almost uneasy intensity, the need. He feels it gather in his core, his extremities. Just seeing Hannibal, feeling the moment he runs his fingers questioningly over his zipper, makes him hold his breath.

"Say yes," Hannibal murmurs again.

Will takes another shaky breath. He thinks of his own plain longing; the reflection of it in Hannibal's dark eyes. "Y-yes, I-"

He doesn't know this man at all. But he knows that he wants him more than he could ever have expected. He's not sure he didn't from the moment he saw him. And his words turn to a pleading whine as Hannibal slides down his zipper.

"You're sure?" he asks Will, very gently now.

"I'm sure," Will whispers, feeling the words settle over his skin like cobwebs.

Bowing his head as if in prayer, Hannibal rewards him with a soft kiss to each hand. Will touches his hair with them like he could transmit those sweet kisses back through skin. The silvering strands are soft, with faint evidence of pomade. Hannibal ducks his head again in approval of the exploration.

"Would you be more comfortable in the bedroom?" he whispers.

This would feel more deliberate in the bedroom, Will knows. It would feel safer, too.

"Please."

With a little nod, Hannibal rises, and gently hands Will to his feet. They stand chest to chest, and Will is so conscious of how they look together; how emotionally intimate just this instance of contact seems. More so, he suspects, for someone with his unique perspectives.

They connect in another soft kiss, like magnets clicking. Hannibal doesn't even stop kissing him, just backs him into a nearby door. Down a short corridor, and into the bedroom beyond.

Will wants to stop, to look around, but how could he focus for even a moment on anything but Hannibal? He can't, even as he's towed to the bed by his hands.

Hannibal presses him to the mattress and works on the fastenings of his clothing. When Will is just in his shorts, he starts to undo Hannibal's shirt in turn, intensely focused.

Hannibal's wardrobe is pure decadence. Even the buttons on his shirt aren't simple plastic, the fine fabric of his trousers structured and cool. Will gives in to the urge to stroke them with his fingers.

Hannibal's gaze follows them, expression curious, but he lets Will do his bit of exploration. Beneath the shirt, he's compact and muscled. He's also dusted with hair, which begs a touch, or more than one.

Will is completely absorbed in looking. Then he leans in to set his lips to the same warm skin, feeling Hannibal's fingers comb into his curls gently. He just touches. Will's cheeks are burning, and for a moment he just turns his temple against Hannibal's shoulder and breathes hard.

Hannibal's hand settles over his pulse, an anchor.

"Will," he whispers, "are you thinking about God?"

"No," Will murmurs. "You."

"I think I'm flattered." He tugs Will's head up and kisses him again, harder.

It's gently demanding, and Will can't help but respond. He feels so full of longing. Like he's about to spill over. It's nearly too much. He has to pull back again and breathe.

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"I'm - I'm just..."

"Overwhelmed? Will... let me take care of you."

"How?" Will whispers.

"Lie back, Will. Up against the pillows."

He warily does as he's asked, and like this he's caught by the ceiling above Hannibal, the chandelier and molding. It's antique and pristine and beautiful. Will's eyes are caught by the shards of refracted light that dance across the ceiling, the sunlight outside hitting the crystal. Rainbows everywhere.

Hannibal's lips are on his throat again. They taste his pulse again. Will shivers, his own fingertips walking down Hannibal's spine, the press of their bare chests electric, the rasp of their skin as Hannibal shifts, and Will can't help holding his breath. Hannibal's is still tasting, down to Will's chest and belly. It nearly tickles.

He shivers. Hannibal's lips open, pressing soft kisses over the damp skin. He's skimming lower. Will's stomach jumps a bit. He watches as Hannibal lips at the waistband of his sensible white shorts. Then he rubs his cheek against the stretched fabric. Will's groan escapes before he can hold it back. He cuts it off into a choked whine, but Hannibal still hums in response.

"Good," he soothes, kissing again.

Will can feel his lips catch on a damp spot on the fabric. He flushes unconsciously at the thought. His entire body feels fevered.

Hannibal watches him as he curls fingers into his waistband. Will doesn't stop him, and he folds them down, inhaling faintly.

"Oh, Will."

"Hannibal," Will pleads. He's shockingly hard just from this, blushed and urgent.

Hannibal doesn't move with any haste, just a sense of assurance. He brushes a finger up the underside of Will's cock, feather-light. "Beautiful."

"H-ha-"

"Yes?"

"Please don't tease me," he whispers.

"No? Would you prefer to be overwhelmed, all at once?"

Will thinks he might, at this point. He bites his lip and closes his eyes: the sensation of being bared to the sharp jaws of some great predator is rising in him, some long lost instinct. His heart pounds but his skin sings.

Hannibal leans down once more and laps at the base of his cock. It's gentle but undeniable. Will tenses as he feels his attentions creep up the length of him, tingling and intense, until finally Hannibal guides him into his mouth with a sigh.

Will makes a high, lost noise. It's so good, more intimate than he could have imagined. He's shaken to his core by it. No thoughts of God now, no thoughts of anything but the realization of knowing what Hannibal's palate feels like; knowing the absolute delight of it.

Hannibal seems delighted in turn. His mouth feels nothing short of reverent. Will takes a few shaky breaths and tries to breathe through the overwhelming goodness of it. Hannibal is clearly being gentle, but he’s still thorough.

Will's skin sings with every brush of lips and tongue. His stomach trembles, heels sliding uselessly against the sheets. Hannibal smoothly lifts them and hooks them over his shoulders, eliciting another cry when he slides Will deeper into the back of his throat.

"Hannibal," Will chokes, but the hands on his hips urge him to move. He feels nearly hysterical at the sheer competence of it. How fast it gets him harder, gets him absolutely leaking into Hannibal’s mouth. It's unequivocally plain to Will that he's not the one being given anything - Hannibal is taking it, controlling it. Controlling his pleasure.

He gives into the urge to roll his hips, just hesitantly at first, the anchoring of his knees making it shockingly easy. Hannibal doesn't protest one bit, doesn’t struggle. His low moan vibrates around Will, making his knuckles whiten in the sheets above his head.

Will thrusts up again. Just a shallow rock, but Hannibal's hands slide under his hips and he hums again in approval. Will's head swims.

"Hannibal," he pleads quietly. For what, he's not sure. Just more. More of everything he can get.

He's already so close. He'd be mortified by that if it wasn't understandable. But Hannibal clearly gets what he wants, and what he apparently wants is for Will to lose his mind.

He's not far from it. Hissing his name again helplessly, Will rocks and gasps. He's so close - he's sure Hannibal can tell. He hasn't let up, not for breath, not for anything.

Will arches his back at another onslaught of suction. He tries to stutter out a warning, but the pins-and-needles rush of pressure closes a hand around him and squeezes. He gasps and clenches the sheets in his fists.

"Hannibal-" he gasps, but it's rushing out of him, every muscle clamping down.

He shakes helplessly as he comes. He can feel Hannibal's throat constrict on his swallow. Will thinks he whites out for a moment. Nothing exists for those seconds except Hannibal's mouth. It feels good. And then, it's too much, and he shies with a soft groan.

Hannibal's hands gentle and he lifts himself off. He's breathless, the barest hint of color pricking his cheeks. The shadows in the hoods of his eyes deepen as he dips his head to press a kiss to Will's trembling belly.

Will reaches for him. Pulls him up silently into a near-bruising kiss. There are definitely teeth involved. Hannibal moans enticingly when Will snatches his lower lip between his incisors and holds on.

Will can feel he's hard. His hands fumble, clench on Hannibal’s shoulders just to keep him close. "What do you want me to do?" Will mutters against his mouth.

"Whatever you like, Will," Hannibal murmurs.

"I don't - I don't know what I'd like."

"Then please, explore."

It's not as terrifying as it sounds. Will nods shakily, kissing him again. This time, he lets his hands travel farther. Grasps gently at the hot line of him through his shorts to feel. He's so hard – bigger than Will expected. Will yearns to see.

"Can I-?"

"Explore," Hannibal murmurs again. He lets Will tip him to his back and slide a hand into his shorts. The feel of his skin, how hard and hot, has him breathless. He’s so beautifully formed, elegant even like this, knees spread and Will draped against his side.

"Ohhh," Will breathes slowly.

A cat-like smile curls Hannibal's mouth. "That's perfect, Will."

Will presses his forehead against Hannibal's cheek and watches his own hand. Strokes Hannibal in firm up-downs, the underwear bunching against Will's knuckles, and listens to Hannibal's breaths. Hears how they twist and catch with certain motions. It's hypnotic, addictive, the way he feels; how he arches into Will's hand with a soft moan. Will thinks he might do anything for another.

"Hannibal," he whispers, turning his face up to kiss him as he quickens the motions of his hands.

Hannibal kisses him back. "Are you - content with your exploration?"

"Sounds like you're not," Will laughs.

"On the contrary," Hannibal murmurs. He guides Will down for another kiss. His hand cradles the back of Will's head. Arches up into another pass of his hand with a soft groan of approval. "It's good, Will," he assures.

Looking back down at his handful of Hannibal, and the way the lines of him are soft and hard at once, Will contemplates how he would taste. He wants to, and that quickly turns into being unable to stop himself, his supporting arm extending as he sits up; bows down over Hannibal.

He sees a breath swell Hannibal's ribs. Feels the depress again under his shoulder as he tentatively lips at the head of his cock. It's warm and the skin is velvety soft, just damp. The taste sharp and clean when he sucks experimentally.

"Oh," he breathes out.

Hannibal's hand settles gently on the back of his head, and Will lets himself sink down again with a soft groan. Oh, this is so good. He couldn't have imagined. Somewhere between overwhelming and satisfying, letting Hannibal slide deeper into the back of his throat until it flickers. Even that feels good, the undeniable fullness. His jaw aches, and he's at an awkward angle, but he still wants more.

Hannibal simply holds still and pets his hair, enduring Will's clumsy sucks with soft hums of pleasure and guiding movements, his hand stroking over Will's cheek.

"Beautiful," he praises softly.

Will shivers, swallowing automatically. He has to back off; breathe a moment, and he savors the pass of Hannibal's fingers through his hair.

"Take your time," Hannibal urges.

Will just sighs, head swimming. He can't resist licking at the heated skin even as he catches his breath.

"Use your hand," Hannibal suggests, perhaps with a hint of urgency.

Will does as he's bid. He adds a ring of pressure around the base, stroking rhythmically up as he lips at the crown. He sees the way Hannibal's stomach muscles tense. He must be close. The thought flushes Will with pleasure and a certain amount of pride, and he takes him back into his mouth and sucks.

It's quick after that. Hannibal's hand tightens in his hair, his breaths coming quicker. His hips push into Will's circled hand. Will feels drunk on the accomplishment of stoking need in him. It makes him groan softly.

"Will..." Hannibal purrs it, stroking through his curls again.

Will sucks harder, testing the limits of his inexperienced throat. He wants to hear his name again in that voice, that tone. He wants to hear nothing else.

His hand strokes faster in tandem with his mouth, everything a little easier now. Hannibal's body feels like a well of endless delight. He's gasping now, plush lips parted to reveal sharp teeth. Will can't help but notice the smile there, indulged and satisfied by Will's efforts. He craves another taste of it. But the current taste in his mouth occupies him wholly for the moment. He swirls his tongue to try to satisfy his craving another way. Feels the corresponding shudder and keeps it up, working Hannibal's length almost entirely with his hand, slick and smooth. Suddenly, the taste is sharper, thicker, and Hannibal gasps his name again.

Will can feel him jerk and spill in the next breath. He keeps his mouth around him and concentrates on every twitch and pulse, riding on the uncertainty of not knowing if he'll get another opportunity to see this. The flood of warmth and taste, that's a new experience too.

As much as he can't recommend the flavor, Will is instantly addicted. Addicted to the way Hannibal feels, and his soft, startled moan, and the shudder of his body, and the gentle pulse and release of his muscles. Nearly out of control, for just a moment, though his hand stays gentle and soothing in Will's hair.

Will just lets his eyes close. He releases Hannibal from his lips and swallows, leaning down to press a kiss to the appetizing tan of Hannibal's belly. That's soft, and warm. And when he pulls Will up, and wipes his mouth and kisses him, that's soft and warm too. Will lets himself be held.

Hands gentle, Hannibal strokes his hair back; kisses him again. Something rings tangible in it, something about the way he tastes. Something about the strength in his limbs. He wants Will to stay close. He can feel it.

Will really has no desire to move. Their chests are flush, bodies aligned, still tangled together, sharing breath.

"I've never... I've never..." Will sighs; kisses him again.

"I know," Hannibal murmurs. "Lovely boy."

Will can't shake it, the strange feeling that this elegant stranger somehow has power over him. No feeling of having anything taken from him - on the contrary, he feels warmed and filled. He suspects that might be more than metaphorical if he gave Hannibal the opportunity. Now, though, he sweetly kisses Will, and pulls the soft throw from the end of the bed up over them, wrapping Will in his arms.

"This was a pleasant surprise," he observes.

It was a revelation, but Will doesn't quite have his voice back yet. He just tucks his face into Hannibal's neck, and breathes. His eyes are stinging, suddenly, his chest tight. He feels shaky and chilled even in the warmth of Hannibal's arms while he cradles him like something precious.

"It's all right," he whispers, cupping his cheek, thumb stroking. "It's okay, Will."

"How can you say that?"

"Because it's true."

"Is it?"

"Look at me, Will." His voice is gentle but it's no less than an order. Blinking furiously, he looks up, and meets Hannibal's even, calm gaze. "You are meant to be here with me," he murmurs in a steady, clear voice.

Will wipes his eyes fast. "How do you know?"

"I have faith," Hannibal replies. "In myself.  I have faith He did not make you this way to hurt you."

Will closes his eyes and lets him kiss him again, helplessly grateful. His doubts are stones in his pockets, but Hannibal still seems strong enough to hold him.

"Will anyone miss you?" Hannibal continues. "Can you stay?"

Will snorts. "No, no one will miss me."

"Good." No compunction in his self-indulgence, as ever. "Sleep a while, I'll make us dinner when we wake up."

It's undeniably an order. Will finds he's happy to obey.

 

Sleep comes easily, the post-orgasmic haze taking Will down. When he wakes, he's warm, slotted against Hannibal's soft body. Cradled, in fact, in its protective curve. He breathes slowly, and concentrates on the way his expanding back meets Hannibal's expanding chest. The silky touch of skin on skin. Their bones straining to interlock through the webbing of their flesh. What would it be like, he wonders hazily, to be a marionette with such a confident operator?

Slowly, Hannibal shifts behind him, kissing the back of his neck gently. Will makes a soft noise.

"Sleep well?" Hannibal's breath heats the back of his neck.

"Yeah," he murmurs. As much as he wars with it, he can't help arching into the touch of his hands. They skim up the delicate skin of his ribs.

"You're still here," Hannibal observes, sounding pleased.

"You expected me to run off."

"I considered it a possibility."

Another kiss. Will sighs, and twists in his arms. He receives the next one on yearning lips. Pressing in close, he winds his arms around Hannibal carefully.

It feels just as good as he expected it to. Too good, if he's honest. His heart thumps in his chest. He has to ease back and breathe.

Hannibal just watches him with liquid eyes.

"If you'd run," he murmurs, "where would you have gone?"

"Home?" he offers weakly, casting his eyes down. And then he revises it, and offers, honestly, "Church, maybe."

"Oh, Will." He strokes down his cheek. "Did you stay because you were worried you wouldn't be welcome in church?"

He stayed because he was worried he'd walk in and feel nothing. "I thought I'd feel guilty.”

"And you don't?"

Will shakes his head. "I don't. I should."

"Why should you?" Hannibal cups his cheek gently. "You've taken no vows, Will."

"It's sort of a given."

"Is it?" Hannibal's lips are suddenly very close.

"Supposedly. I joined the program with the intent to take vows."

"Of course."

Will sighs and kisses him helplessly. When he's this close to Hannibal, he simply doesn't want anything else. Hannibal is soothing him with almost hypnotic motions, petting down his spine and over his waist. And it's working. Will wants to simply melt into him.

"Hungry?" he asks Will softly, when they've come up for air.

Will nods. "Starving."

"I'll feed you. The bathroom is through there, if you wanted to freshen up."

"Thanks," Will murmurs, but he doesn't move right away. Hannibal still strokes down his flank, eyes flicking over his face. He kisses Will again, just lightly.

"What is it?"

"Just...soaking it in I guess."

"Let's stay a while longer, then." He gathers Will close.

Will wants to mistrust the contact, and the intent behind it - but it's hard. Hannibal's motivations are nebulous to him, he can't quite pin down which is driving this course of action. Just that it's as assured as anything else Hannibal has done. And that he seems pleased.

"Just how often does this happen to you?" Will mutters.

"You mean, when was the last time I seduced a seminarian?"

"Well, was there a last time?"

"No," Hannibal says, simply. "No, this is an entirely new experience, lovely Will."

Will sighs, not sure why he's relieved. He just knows he is.

"Food," Hannibal repeats softly.

"Yeah," Will murmurs.

"Perfect. I'll get dressed."

Will slips into the bathroom while he does. It's easy enough to figure out the shower, and when he's cleaned up, he goes back into the bedroom and pulls on his clothes, wincing a bit at the clerical collar in his shirt pocket. He ignores it.

In the kitchen, he finds Hannibal wearing a robe, looking like he's still somehow washed up - another bathroom he supposes. He gives Will a bright smile when he enters.

"Do you eat meat?" he asks.

"I do," Will confirms. "Whatever we could trap or shoot when I was growing up, to be honest."

"What's the first thing you shot?" Hannibal asks, eyes on the motions of his knife.

Will snorts softly. "Squirrel, probably. Maybe rabbit. I was always better at fishing."

"You don't remember?"

Will exhales. "Rabbit. I was eight. Thought I'd miss, I was shaking so hard."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"My pa was proud of me," Will murmurs.

"That's a no."

"I told you. I'm a fisherman."

"You prefer gutting to shooting."

"It's cleaner," Will murmurs. "Less violent, in a way."

"Do you think God our Father isn't the most violent of all?"

"Sometimes. You think God hunts?"

"Do you think he has to?"

"More likely it's for sport, right?"

“Perhaps so.”

Hannibal turns, touches Will's cheek. It's too difficult not to lean into it. He takes two steps closer as well. Hannibal kisses him, as if to positively reinforce it, and Will lets himself be drawn in, pressed against the warm curve of a body again.

"What're you making?" he whispers.

"Pepper-crusted flank steaks," Hannibal replies. "With fresh sautéed vegetables."

"Sounds delicious," Will admits.

"It will be," Hannibal replies. He kisses the top of Will's head. "Would you care to sous-chef?"

"If you tell me what you need," Will replies.

"Just these, peeling and dicing." He gestures to a colander of washed vegetables.

"Good, I can handle that," Will grins.

"I'm sure you can handle anything." Hannibal hands him a knife, handle first, like he's bestowing a gift.

Their gazes hold for a moment, some unknowable tension rising. Will pushes down the swell of want and takes the knife. He's always better when there's work to be done.

He peels and chops steadily. Hannibal moves around him in a sort of ballet. Movements refined, contained. It feels like Will has always been here to be his pivot.

"Hannibal," he murmurs, the familiarity of it startlingly intimate even now, "can I ask you something that veers toward sounding... juvenile?"

"You've piqued my curiosity," Hannibal replies.

"Did you... plan this?" Will asks.

"Dinner?" Hannibal clarifies.

"Not dinner."

"How could I have known you'd come back, Will?"

"I don't know. You could have planned it anyway."

"Everything but your reaction," Hannibal murmurs. "I hadn't dared hope you would be so receptive so soon."

Will laughs. "I think you dare quite a bit."

"What would be the point in under-reaching?" He says it completely reasonably.

Will laughs before he can stop it. "What, indeed."

"Does that cheapen the experience, Will, that I desired you?"

"Wh-why would you ask that?"

"Curiosity. Your every move is dictated by divinity, I wondered if earthly, human wants felt paltry."

Will isn't sure how to answer. He grits his teeth. "You think that's how it felt to me? Paltry?"

"I don't know how it felt to you, Will," Hannibal murmurs.

"It felt - it felt real."

"So very real," Hannibal agrees.

Will sighs at the knife in his hand. "Not entirely sure how to go back."

"Do you want that, Will?"

He thinks about it, and everything looks as though a lens has been clicked over it. Things haven't been so clear in a long time.

"Not really," he whispers. It hits him like a juggernaut. "Oh, God, I don't want to go back at all."

Visible curiosity at that. Hannibal tilts his head.

Perhaps to avoid his gaze, Will closes his eyes, stifling a dizzy laugh. "Suppose I'd have to change my major."

"Will..." maybe an edge of uncertainty now, concern. "Do you think you cannot be a priest now you've touched a man?"

"More like I don't know if I can give it up, now."

That seems to surprise him even more, but Will senses pleasure beneath it. "You don't wish to hide yourself."

"I've spent my whole life hiding," Will sighs. "And I - I've been asking, I've been hoping He would show me a way to cope with it, but instead I found you."

He meets Hannibal's eyes, suppressing his disquiet. Maybe it's too forward, too intimate, but Hannibal only looks warm and pleased. Slowly, he puts down his knife and holds his hands out for Will.

Will steps forward, just a single step. It's Hannibal that gently pulls him into his arms.

"You found me," he agrees softly. "You may do what you wish with me."

Will sighs, shivering at the closeness, feeling stiff and uncertain but - hungry. Not for the lovely dinner they're preparing, either. He leans in to kiss Hannibal again.

Hannibal yields sweetly to it, letting Will crowd him this time. His hands slide under Will's shirt gently. Will is happy to let him touch; to be drawn into another immersive round of kisses. He was completely serious. He's still terrified but he knows: it isn't enough, anymore, to go without this. It feels clear to him in a way it never has before. He was trying to deny a part of him through righteousness. Through someone else's vision of his future. Now, he can see unencumbered.

Hannibal's hands are warm on his shoulders as he gently eases him back. Their eyes meet.

"Can I stay?" Will whispers.

"Please stay," Hannibal murmurs. "I'd be delighted if you stayed."

He doesn't stop touching. Will doesn't want him to.

"Dinner will spoil," he murmurs anyway.

"I haven't started cooking it yet."

"Dinner... can go in the fridge?" Will tries again.

"Excellent idea." Hannibal kisses him again.

Will shivers, and presses up against him. The pure muscle of him feels solid and satisfying under Will's hands; the grate of their hips and bellies together as they settle. Hannibal kisses his jaw, teasingly.

"Perhaps I should put the food away."

"Yeah," Will says, face heating, "please."

"Don't go anywhere," Hannibal teases softly.

He leaves Will hovering while he covers the various components with glass lids and slides the boards into the fridge. Finally, he washes his hands before turning to Will, linking their fingers and leading him back to the bedroom.

There's no hesitation after that. Will starts to undress him again, marveling at the sight of him, silvering hair and broad shoulders without his shirt. It occurs to Will that he doesn't know much about him, outside of this. Maybe that's half the attraction. He doesn't feel compelled to ask, particularly. So he just continues to undress him, letting his slacks drop to the floor. It's certainly enough of a distraction.

When Hannibal kneels back onto the bed, he pulls Will with him.

"I very much like having you here," he murmurs.

"Yeah?" Will hates the little flare of self-consciousness.

"Very much."

Letting his own trousers drop, Will steps out of them, pressing close and kissing him gratefully. Hannibal is so warm, like a furnace nearly. He's guiding Will against him, pulling their hips together so they grind. It feels sinfully good. Will didn't ever really know what other people meant when they said they couldn't live without sex - not before today. It’s not really about the act but the divinity of connection; trust and drugging touch. He can't catch his breath, can't form a thought that isn't this and more.

He doesn't want to think. He wants to give, and take, and feel. He rolls his hips harder for the drag of skin. Hannibal hisses softly against his lips, and Will grasps helplessly at his back.

"I want more," he breathes, "can I have more?"

"Of course you can have more." Hannibal cups his face, smiling. "What can I give you?"

"Show me something new."

"Is there anything you don't want?"

"I don't know," Will breathes. He bites his lip. "I don't think so."

"If you change your mind, just tell me," Hannibal murmurs.

"I will. You'll tell me what to do, right?"

"If you like."

"I would, obviously."

"Good."

Will shivers, unsteadily letting Hannibal bear him down onto the sheets once more, arching. The sensation is amazing. Will is concentrating on it a little more, less mindless than before. He's cataloguing which areas feel best.

Hannibal's hands skating over his chest make him shiver. Fingers finding his nipples make him moan.

"Oh, sweet," Hannibal murmurs, kissing his shoulder.

"Hannibal," he whispers insistently.

"Will?" He bows his head to cover one with his mouth gently.

"Why does that feel so good?"

A soft hum at that as he sucks, making Will tense and shudder. "Our bodies are replete with erogenous zones," Hannibal murmurs. "Both common and individual."

Will's face heats, both at the words - he knows that, after all - and the tone of Hannibal's voice, which is distinctly more electrifying than it has any right to be. It feels like its own caress.

"But I've never felt like this when anyone else touched me..." His experience is admittedly limited.

"Did you let yourself?" Hannibal murmurs.

"I'm letting myself now."

"Good," Hannibal whispers. He dips his head again and bites, and Will gasps.

"Again."

Hannibal sinks his teeth in deeper around his mouthful, a constellation of tiny cuts on Will's chest. He startles at the force of it, but his cock still twitches against his hip in the confines of his shorts. He gasps, high and desperate.

Hannibal hums with pleasure and leans to bite again. He goes for the thin skin atop his ribs this time. Will jerks; he thinks there might be blood, but he doesn't want Hannibal to stop. His tongue soothes over the abused skin and his hand finds the ridge of Will's cock and presses.

"Oh, Will," he sighs, giving him a few shaping squeezes through the cotton.

"Hannibal?" he breathes.

Hannibal raises his eyes, lips trailing down the flat plain of his belly.

"You're tasting me," Will observes, voice barely audible.

"Would you like me to stop?"

"No, I want you to do more."

A spark of amusement at that. "Very well."

He bites his hip next, delicate but deep. Will keens with each press of teeth. He feels so desperate for this exclusive brand of Hannibal's attention. He'd never have even suspected he'd want this. The idea of his body, pierced with teeth, pierced at all, should unnerve him. But it's all he can think about. That, and the next sensitive spot Hannibal's mouth will find.

"Hannibal," he whispers, arching beneath him. His tongue is trailing a line of heat up Will's inner thigh. Will takes his hum as answer. "Come here?"

"Of course," Hannibal murmurs. He gives Will a smile he could only rightly describe as 'devilish'. Will has to urge him with grasping hands to come back up.

They twist over, lips reconnecting helplessly. Will moans again at the slow, treacly warmth of it. Hannibal's hands guide his thighs so he's straddling his hips, their bodies rocking together, everything a hot, sharp drag. He's too busy rolling his hips to think about moving. He wants more, a thought that stalls him in his tracks while he weighs it.

"Show me something else," he gasps.

"What do you want me to show you, beautiful boy?"

"I think... you want to be inside me as much... as I want you to be," he says between breaths.

The words have an obvious effect on Hannibal. He grasps Will's hips like he's steeling his self control.

"I don’t want to overwhelm you..."

"I need overwhelming, I think," Will rasps.

"Is that so?"

“I think so."

Hannibal assesses, and then nods. "If you're sure, I'll need some things."

Will makes a soft noise of surrender. "Does that mean I have to move?"

"Yes, love."

Reluctantly, Will does, watching Hannibal rise and move to collect his supplies. He huddles against the headboard, feeling his pulse pounding in his veins.

"Will?" Hannibal comes back to the mattress with a folded towel with a few things on top of it. "Are you all right?"

"Come back to me," Will murmurs.

Hannibal does, setting his wares down on the tossed dark coverlet as he kneels between Will's thighs and pulls him into another kiss. Will keens, and clings, and tries not to be embarrassed about it. Their foreheads stay pressed together when their lips part, and Hannibal whispers his name, soothing down his flanks with his hands.

"I will take you apart, and put you back together again," he whispers. "I promise."

Will has never been given such clarity before; such devotion. It's enough to make him feel drunk and overwhelmed, and he winds his arms around Hannibal's neck again and kisses him once more.

Hannibal only gives him more devotion. His hands keep moving, and he holds Will gently when he breaks away to kiss Hannibal's throat. Will presses his tongue against the warm skin, tasting Hannibal's soft moan where it vibrates softly through his lips. It emboldens him to nip at the smooth skin.

It earns him another shiver, and a sigh. "Fierce boy."

He shifts then, coaxing Will onto his side. Warm hands soothe over his skin. And then he's settling against Will's back, curling an arm beneath him to keep him close. He strokes along Will's thigh, easing it forward.

"Toward your chest," he directs gently, the hand there passing back and up between his thighs slowly. He palms at Will’s cock and then tugs gently at his balls, startling a little whine out of him, before pressing calloused pads behind them.

Will's breath catches, and he presses back, maximizing contact. He can feel the touch absolutely everywhere. When Hannibal rubs carefully against him, he exhales sharply. It's so close to what he feels he really wants. It almost feels like he's being tested; given opportunity to change his mind. Perhaps he is.

"Please," he breathes, hating the way it sounds so close to a prayer.

He hears Hannibal's measured breath, feels him reach for something on the towel by his hip. He twists back to kiss him. Hannibal pulls him close. His fingers return, slick now, and he strokes between Will's cheeks gently.

The pressure isn't so rough now, more of a teasing slide. He kisses the back of Will's neck. The low murmur of his voice coaxes Will to relax and his finger starts to press gently. Will takes a few deep breaths, the sensations sizzling through him. The easy slide inside, and the searching press, makes him hold his breath. The whimper gets through anyway. Hannibal hushes him gently.

"Feel it," he whispers. He turns his wrist gently and slides deeper.

The next brush touches something inside that makes Will moan. He tips his hips back, breathing hard, seeking more.

Hannibal croons in his ear. "That's perfect. Just relax."

The repeated strokes make something inside Will melt. He turns his face into the pillow and pants. It still feels strange, especially when Hannibal eases his hand back to press in another digit, but there's something right in it too. Something that tells him he was right to crave it.

Hannibal is pressing kisses to the skin of his throat. His breaths rasp below the touches. He's going slow, turning his fingers slowly, getting Will used to the feeling.

"Do you like it?" he whispers.

"What do you think?" Will breathes. Hannibal must be able to feel his trembles; the sweat forming on his skin and the tension in his shoulders.

"Oh, I think you do."

"Doesn't sound like you - usually need assurance."

"I don't. But from you, Will... I very much like it."

"I like this," Will repeats, breaths spilling out. He moans again at the quickening of Hannibal's fingers. He's fucking him with them now, slow but gathering momentum. Will can't help but to move along with it. Noises keep slipping out of him, mortifyingly raw, but Hannibal doesn't seem to mind. If anything, Will can feel his attention; his complete absorption in giving this to Will. His determination to moor Will to a singular sensation. "Hannibal," Will groans, "please, I want more."

"If you’re ready," Hannibal agrees softly.

"Please," Will insists.

"Very well."

He gently eases his fingers free, and Will hears the soft shuffle of the towel being used again before a metallic tear. Hannibal is still warm at his back, but Will shivers slightly. Hannibal has to take his other hand back briefly, and when Will twists, he's opening up a condom.

"Wait-" Will bites his lip, an odd reluctance rising in him at the sight. "Do we need that?"

Hannibal considers it. "Usually I prefer to err on the side of caution, but..." 

"I've never touched anyone else," Will whispers, the gravity of this whole surreal thing dawning on him. 

Hannibal strokes his side. "I suppose I've already had my mouth on you..."

"I didn't even think-"

"I did, I considered it an acceptable risk. I'm happy to go without, I have regular screenings, and irregular unprotected sex."

"We can use one if you'd rather-"

"On the contrary. I won't be passing up an opportunity like this." He kisses Will's shoulder. "Do you want to stay on your side?" he murmurs.

"I - you tell me how you want me."

"All right. Stay where you are."

Will nods, shivering a bit. He kisses Will's shoulder, then adjusts the position of his thigh. Letting himself be guided and moved, Will sighs as he feels Hannibal settle against his back. He can't help feeling so very safe. Even when Hannibal starts to hold and press in.

Will's noise is full-throated and uncontrollable. He feels slowly cleaved open, deeply, mouth-wateringly invaded. And then, filled with heat and sensation.

Hannibal's hand covers his belly, anchoring him close.

"Will," he whispers.

"It's okay," Will says quietly, voice straining over the sensation. "You can move."

He shivers when Hannibal rolls his hips and makes a small, helpless noise. It feels... like a lot. He wants to ask if Hannibal is sure he can do this, but he can't summon the words. He's driving deeper, slowly, his face pressed gentle and assuring into Will's throat.

"Talk to me," Will pleads.

"I'm staggered to be given such a gift as you," Hannibal admits, voice faint. "I can't quite form it into words."

"Try," he begs.

"Should I tell you how you feel?" Hannibal whispers against his ear. "Like some hot, carnal dream?"

Will moans softly. He thinks he nods.

Hannibal kisses under his ear, breath making him shudder. "Like lightning in my hands," he breathes.

There's a grounding current running through them that makes Will agree. Hannibal rocks into him, filling him up with each motion. It renders Will breathless, mouth opening on a soundless moan.

"This is how it feels," Hannibal tells him, "to become part of someone else."

It's the kind of connection Will has dreamed of, in hopeless moments when the warmth of His love felt too far to reach.

"Hannibal," he says weakly, helpless against it. He's rocking in mindless circles, panting softly, and it feels so good now, to shift and tilt his hips as Hannibal starts to pick up an even pace. And then he arches his back, and Hannibal hits the perfect spot inside him, and his cock jerks as he gasps. "Hannibal," he groans. "I need you."

"You have me, tempting boy." Hannibal clutches at him with strong hands, pulling him back into his driving thrusts with one flat against his belly and the other on his thigh.

Will can't hold back his noises anymore. He lets out a series of embarrassing cries.

Hannibal's breath behind his ear is heavy as well. He tips them, his other knee finding purchase on the mattress, both their bodies twisted downward now so he can drive into Will. It feels like he's clinging to his control.

Will wishes dizzily that he might lose it. He fists at the sheets, lower back bridging, jaw dropping at the change in angle. He's moaning with every stroke now. Hannibal is low against him, mouthing softly at his shoulder, breaths ragged. Will braces his forearm against the mattress and gives himself a rough stroke. There's not much space between his body and the mattress, but it's enough to give himself something to rock into. He cries out again, Hannibal's name in a rough voice. He's starting to feel overwhelmed by the friction and pressure, so much to handle all at once.

"I need, I need-"

"Tell me, Will."

"I need to come, please, Hannibal -"

"Do you want me to stop?"

"No," Will groans.

"Tell me what you need."

"Come with me," Will whispers.

"You can take faster?"

"Yes," he groans.

It's nearly a plea, and one Hannibal answers. He pounds his hips, his non-supporting arm closing tight around Will.

Will's breath feels punched out of him, each one raking from deep within. The pressure between his hips feels charged and compressed by the strokes of Hannibal inside him. Then he feels teeth again, squeezing the nape of his neck. He's shuddering, trembly already, cock leaking between his fingers as he moves. He groans as the fluid comes faster.

"Hannibal," he gasps, the pressure becoming overwhelming.

It locks him up as he comes sudden and hard. He feels like he spills forever. It's gut-wrenching, full-body. He can barely feel anything outside of it, but Hannibal is still moving, triggering another weak pulse from his twitching cock, body tensing and relaxing in turn.

The sensation is nearly too much, but Hannibal is following with a stuttered groan, his hands and the jolt of his hips so tender Will has to close his eyes against the novelty of it.

He can feel the heartbeat in the broad chest pressed so tightly to his back. Hannibal kisses Will's skin again, softly, cherishing, as he slips out and briefly uses the towel to do a half-hearted clean up. Then, settling back down, he turns Will in his arms to press their bodies back together.

Will is clutching, breathing hard, knuckles white as he sinks back into his skin. He lifts his face to Hannibal's for a kiss. Hands slide softly through his curls, and then Hannibal tightens his arms around him and holds on.

When Will's breaths settle, his body feels heavy and full. It's so good to be grounded by a Hannibal's warm weight, and Will drifts off again for a little while, stirring only when Hannibal cleans him up with careful hands and the towel, blinking up at him.

Hannibal leans down and kisses him lingeringly.

"Hi," Will whispers.

"Hello, sweet boy." Hannibal looks soft and beautiful in the light of his bedside lamp, flicked on while Will was still coming down, apparently. Outside, night has fallen. Will feels like they're wrapped in a cocoon together.

"I could get used to this," he admits, and then blushes with regret: there's no guarantee or sign that Hannibal feels the same.

He hears a soft breath from his bedmate, then feels a hand in his hair.

"Sorry," he starts, toes curling with his cringe at himself.

"Don't apologize," Hannibal urges him softly. "You must know it's mutual."

"I mustn't," Will murmurs.

Hannibal's hand soothes down his side. "Then let me assure you."

"Please," Will says helplessly.

"I want you to stay," Hannibal tells him, softly. "I want to berate God for neglecting you so, and praise Him for it in turn, for it feels like a gift to me. I want to lose myself in you entirely."

It's like a slender dart somewhere soft and vulnerable. Will's throat feels tight as he puts his hand to Hannibal's chest, feeling the dull thud of his heart beneath the muscle and hair.

"Do it then, show me," Will whispers. "All of it."

"It would be my pleasure." He strokes down Will's hip and thigh. "Would you care for some dinner now?"

Will thinks about it. "Yes," he decides softly.

"Perfect. Come and join me when you're ready." He bends to kiss him gently.

Will allows himself to cling. And then he lets him go with a sigh. "I'll be right there."

Hannibal hums an acknowledgement as he pulls on a light sweatshirt and some pajama trousers. Will watches greedily. He's sure Hannibal notices. It seems to please him.

When he's alone, Will gets up and goes to the bathroom to clean up and inspect himself: the bites on his chest are already coming up in dark bruises. He runs his fingertips over their edges and shivers. Which of the seven deadly sins will he exhibit next? He's intrigued to find out, if he's perfectly honest with himself. It lodges in his chest like the fangs of a serpent; the poison of a proffered apple. And with it, he can't look at himself anymore; he has to clean himself and put on the sleep clothes Hannibal put out for him.

They're too big, but outrageously soft. Will hugs himself absently as he pads through to the kitchen.

"I've got deja vu," he laughs quietly, to announce his arrival.

"Soon you'll have dinner," Hannibal answers with a smile.

"Take two." Fingers skimming the counter, he comes to stand near Hannibal. "Anything I can do this time-?"

"Just have a seat and relax, darling." He brings Will a glass of wine, and some iced water. "Rehydrate. Both glasses," he adds wryly.

Will takes a big drink of water first: he finds himself thirstier than he thought. Of course Hannibal knows. It occurs to Will that maybe it's because of first-hand experience, and he relaxes slightly. He lets himself enjoy the sensory experience of the icy water trickling down his throat.

It's good. Everything Hannibal does seems inherently better than anything else Will has ever experienced. It's like some switch has flipped inside him, turning everything up. He watches Hannibal now, searing meat and sautéing vegetables, and wonders if he'll always feel like this watching him; if he's changed Will's life for good. If he's even in Will's life for longer than a few crazy days.

Even if he isn't, Will thinks he might have irrevocably altered him. Like he's grown or stretched into a different shape. The thought doesn't discomfit him as much as it perhaps should. He thinks maybe it was overdue.

"Saint Thomas was an important figure in the bible," Hannibal says conversationally, sprinkling some herbs into one of his saucepans. "His doubt lent veracity to Jesus' rising, and proved his resurrection to others who did not believe him to be the son of God. Having lapses in faith is normal, and natural, and the symptom of a rational mind..." he flicks his wrist to punctuate, tossing the contents of the pan. "Who will you have to dip your fingers into, to assuage your doubts?"

"How do you manage to make theology sound dirty?" Will says faintly.

"I'd argue most subjects are. Love and attraction are what have kept us going, they're at the base of many human transactions."

Will sniffs, takes a sip of his wine. "So I give you my body, you give me an answer? Or is it the other way around?"

"Is that what you think this is? I'm using your existential crisis as leverage for sex?" He doesn't look at Will, but just his posture seems sharp.

"I wouldn't blame you if you were. You don't know me from Adam," he reminds him.

"Is that the impression I've given you?  You're the one who came to me, if you recall." He's offended, and not trying to hide it.

Will looks down at his glass with a sigh.

"I came to you because I want you," he murmurs.

"So you're using your existential crisis as leverage for sex," Hannibal concludes, tone still clipped.

"That would be predicated on you caring about my existential crisis, and why would you? We're strangers," Will snaps back.

"I'd argue that we are not."

"Would you?"

"Will, if you're having second thoughts then you needn't humor me."

"I've never gone through a day of my life without having second, third, and fifth thoughts," Will grumbles. Hannibal doesn't say anything to that, clearly still displeased. Will sighs and gets to his feet.

"Are you leaving?" Hannibal asks, faintly.

"No," Will murmurs. He's only stepping closer. His hand finds the gentle curve of Hannibal's waist, and he feels him stall. He doesn't move into it, leaving further action up to Will. "I'm rude when I'm scared," Will mutters, pressing hesitantly into his side.

"How often are you scared?" Hannibal says. "Is it often, per chance?"

Will bites his lip and looks up at him. It stings, but it's not entirely undeserved. He nods, tucking his chin against Hannibal's shoulder gingerly.

"I don't mean to blame this on you," he says.

There's a brief silence, and then Hannibal seems to realign himself, raising his chin and looping one arm back around Will as he turns the steaks deftly with tongs.

"I'm aware I am a catalyst, I suppose. I am not usually one for shying from my role in monumental changes."

Will wonders how many changes he's catalyzed. Though he has to admit his responsibility for his role in this, too. His hand was never forced.

"Go and sit down," Hannibal tells him, "it's ready."

Will leans for one more breath, then obeys. He doesn't know if he's salvaged this or not. He's not sure if there's really anything to salvage. And whether that's worse. He'll have to behave himself through this dinner, and then see what he can do.

He goes to sit at the table, dark, polished wood furnished with an ornate table setting of delicately carved bones and other unusual relics. Will examines the gleaming ram horns, a few sprays of white hydrangeas that make the whole room seem bright. As his eyes drift up, Will sees a small gold frame on the mantel that overlooks the table. The painting inside is a softly rendered study of Caravaggio’s David, sword held loosely against his hip, the head of Goliath hanging from his fingers by the hair.

Noise over his shoulder barely disrupts his study for a moment. Something mournful lingers in David’s downcast gaze, Goliath’s expression frozen with hatred even in death. Will wonders if David felt pity, or disgust.

Hannibal is perfectly courteous and poised as he brings two beautifully presented plates to the table, and Will pushes his musing aside.

"Bon appétit," he murmurs.

Will thanks him politely and waits for him to sit before addressing his food. "This looks beautiful," he observes, entirely earnest.

Hannibal gives him a bare smile and begins to eat gracefully. He's still holding himself stiffly, and Will entirely hates it. He's given the man no reason to trust him, today. Hard to believe Hannibal is capable of feeling used, even as little as Will knows about him. But isn't it his job to respond with compassion, even if he certainly isn't the man's priest?

"Usually other people's motivations are plain to me," Will starts, quietly. "And usually, they're not good."

"Usually?" Hannibal echoes.

"Yours aren't. Obviously. In the absence of clarity I chose experience."

"And upon reflection, are they good?"

"That's the thing, my experience doesn't apply here, does it?"

"I suppose it does not," Hannibal murmurs.

"I'm sorry," Will whispers.

"Sorry for what, Will?"

"For... assuming the worst."

"You're protecting yourself," Hannibal replies.

"But you shouldn't be collateral damage in that."

"It would be rare to avoid it altogether."

"I know that." He sighs. "Don't you care?"

"About which aspect?"

"The collateral damage."

"I do care, but I can't inform your perception of me without us spending more time together. You have to think about whether you want to do that."

Will sighs, poking at his dinner. "It's not a matter of not wanting to..."

Hannibal pauses in his own eating, listening politely.

"This is all like some fantasy I shouldn't be having," Will admits quietly.

"I generally dislike the word ‘shouldn't’."

"It's difficult to unlearn the habit of a lifetime."

"But dare I say worthwhile?"

"So far, definitely." He admits it wholeheartedly.

That, at least, makes Hannibal smile. He's so wholeheartedly tempting, enough that Will sighs at the sight of him. His craving, it seems, only increases when it's slaked.

"Eat your dinner," Hannibal admonishes gently. He manages to make it sound vaguely paternal.

Will smiles at his plate and does as he's told. It really is good. He ought to appreciate this opportunity. It certainly isn't cafeteria food.

"Thank you," he says again, quietly.

Hannibal nods in acknowledgment.

Will sighs. "Are you sure you don't want me to go?"

"I'm very much enjoying your company, Will."

"You mean up until I verbally skewered you."

"I’ve been known to enjoy a good skewering, every now and again."

They exchange careful smiles, Hannibal’s decidedly more wicked. The wine is helping to take the sharp edges away.

"What will you do now?" Hannibal asks, after a few more minutes dedicated to eating, and appreciation.

Will hesitates: he hadn’t really considered anything else. Hannibal has occupied his attention so entirely he’d almost forgotten the rest of the world existed, vibrant and exuberant as it is outside on the streets below.

"I'm not quite sure yet."

"If you need a listening ear, I am willing," Hannibal murmurs.

"Thank you. I'm sure I'll take you up on that at some point." He looks down at his food again.

"We're going through changes together," Hannibal observes.

"What are yours, Hannibal?"

"I have never invited any of my customers upstairs to my home before."

"Never, really?"

"Never." He smiles gently at Will. “And I have never enjoyed any of them so thoroughly.”

It heartens Will, just slightly, that the quiet, beautiful little flat hasn't been shared indiscriminately. He thinks of Hannibal's serene bed, all in blue like twilight clouds, and wants to go back there.

"Can I still stay?" He whispers.

"I'd be delighted."

"Thank you." He can't quite look up, but he means it.

"Of course, Will."

Hannibal doesn't press further, and so Will focuses on his food with a soft breath of relief. Focuses on his body and the tastes and nothing else. This sharing of meals and secrets feels more spiritual than any prayer he's uttered recently, but then again, weren’t so many meals revelations in the bible? So many miracles in the sharing of food and shelter. For the first time in weeks, Will feels at rest.

After their meal, Hannibal whisks away their plates and forbids any help, though Will tries to protest, to no avail.

When he returns, he’s drying his hands on a crisp white hand towel and smiling. "Would you care for dessert, Will?"

"I couldn't expect you to make something else -"

"I wouldn't offer if I didn't have every intention of following through."

His eyes are warm as he says it, full of meaning.

"Thanks. Sounds good," Will whispers.

"Would you like to sit with another drink while I prepare it?"

"Can I come sit with you-?"

"I would be delighted."

Will gets the sense he was hoping for it. He rises, bringing a few other bits and pieces with him to the dishwasher, which Hannibal takes off him briskly. Defeated, Will sits down at the elegant chair Hannibal directs him into and waits until he's handed a glass, which he obediently sips.

"S'good," he offers.

"Why settle for less than the best?" Hannibal smiles.

"Why indeed."

In Will's case, the reason is clear, the smile Hannibal gives him knowing as he starts to gather ingredients. Will watches.

"Zabaglione," Hannibal supplies, starting to separate egg yolks into two bowls.

"I'm not sure what that is."

"An Italian foamed custard. This one is with champagne. Speaking of - would you go to the fridge? There's a bottle chilling."

Will nods and hurries over. The contents of Hannibal's fridge are astounding, and Will tries not to stare for too long before he retrieves the bottle, handing it over carefully and then returning to his seat.

“Thank you, Will.” Hannibal smiles, eyes sparkling as he pops the cork.

He sets up a double boiler and adds the egg yolks and some sugar to the bowl, using a whisk to briskly beat it. He doesn't stop for a long time, until Will is sure his arm must be hurting, but he seems impervious.

Will can't look away: the sheer competence is as satisfying as watching the mixture turn frothy and emulsified; ribbony thick. Hannibal pours in some of the champagne and continues whisking, then takes the bowl off the heat and transfers it to the cool counter, giving it a few moments longer before he leaves it to retrieve two champagne saucers.

"Come sit," he murmurs. “We’ll relax a little.”

Will goes with him back to the sofa, pinking a bit at the thought of what they were doing when they last sat on it. He remembers his manners when Hannibal hands him a saucer and a spoon, and the first mouthful makes Will sigh.

"It's wonderful."

"Glad to hear it."

It's light, but rich. Will forces himself to take his time, because that's what Hannibal is doing. He matches his pace the best he can. A knowing smile flicked in his direction like water from leaves tells him he's not fooling anyone, not even himself.

"It's really good," he apologizes.

"I can tell." Hannibal gives him a gracious smile. "I'm flattered, truly."

"Good." He sets his empty glass down, pink.

It’s late, and he’s fed and watered and indulged, aching slightly from the exertions of before. He suddenly feels heavy, trying his best not to sink back too obviously into the couch cushions. If he's truly staying...

Hannibal tilts his head, watching him.

"Feeling the effects, dear Will?"

"I'm. Yeah, I'm a little tired."

"That's all right. You deserve your rest."

Will bites his lip. "You too?"

"Me too." He stands, setting down his own saucer and offering Will his hand. "Come with me."

Will can't imagine not taking it.

They move back through to Hannibal's bedroom, and Will watches Hannibal undress swiftly, without concern. He himself is slower. It feels much harder now, for some reason, shyness creeping back in. He takes a breath and feels the liquor still in his veins.

"Are you all right, Will?"

"Yes, I.... Yes." He fumbles to strip back down to his boxers, feeling childish, but Hannibal doesn’t comment, instead heading into the en suite. Will hears running water; the buzz of an electric toothbrush. It reassures him faintly: Hannibal is human.

When he returns, he tells Will, "I set out some extra things for you."

"Thank you..." Will feels strangely distant now their intimacy has eased, and he tries to catch the last strands of it before they ribbon away, stepping into Hannibal's space. He’s relieved when there's immediately a place made for him, Hannibal's hand reaching to touch his waist. He smells of mint and cinnamon when he leans to kiss Will softly, and Will's blood thrills to feel it.

Sighing into Hannibal’s shoulder, he relaxes against him, and Hannibal bears his weight easily.

"You'll feel better after some sleep," he assures Will, in a very gentle voice. He sounds very certain.

“How do you know I feel bad?”

“Not bad,” Hannibal intuits, “just raw.”

Will can’t argue with that. He lets Hannibal usher him into the bathroom, using the new toothbrush he's given and putting on the t-shirt, though he leaves the pajama pants.

When he joins Hannibal in the bedroom again, he's in bed, a book open against his raised knees, glasses perched on the end of his nose. He’s appealingly shirtless, soft and disheveled and still so elegant.

Will smiles and goes shyly to climb in beside him.

"You can keep reading, I won't mind."

"No need, I was just waiting for you."

Will glances at the cover of his book as Hannibal closes it and sets it aside, stowing his spectacles on top of it.

"Looks complicated," he observes, tucking himself under Hannibal's welcoming arm.

"It's a study of the influences on Satanic ritual," Hannibal explains.

"Oh? Looking for tips for your next seance?"

"Sarcasm, Will?"

"Not as such."

"You're curious, then."

"Reluctantly." He peers up at Hannibal, who’s smiling, gentle fingers starting to comb through Will's curls. Will nearly has to close his eyes against the drowsiness it inspires.

Finally, Hannibal speaks.

"Worshipping Satan is another finger on the hand of worshipping God. I find both... compelling."

"How so?"

"I'm interested in the difference between the motivations behind it. God grants you forgiveness for taking what you want. Satan grants you confidence to take it." He touches the bridge of Will's nose with a fingertip, trailing it down, one finger and then the other.

"Encouraging," Will quips, letting him.

"Quite."

Will smiles despite himself.

Hannibal's own shines in his eyes. "You don't seem to need any though, Will."

"Encouragement, our confidence?"

"Maybe a little confidence," Hannibal purrs.

"Maybe," Will breathes. He lets Hannibal bend to kiss him with a grateful sigh. It's like a part of him just melts, every time.

"Sleep," Hannibal whispers, but Will's lips still part for another kiss. It's granted, again, and again.

Dizzily, and despite fighting it, Will fades into a heated doze between one kiss and the next. Hannibal's presence against him is constant and warm, and his dreams seem equally dizzy. Strange and dark but not frightening like they have been before, simply full of symbolism and a heavy sensation of dark and heat. A hand leading him through the dark, touching his face, sliding down his chest.

 

He comes to with it warm against his lower back, its mate tucked between their chests. He's slept exactly like this, wrapped in Hannibal's arms. He's not twitching out of some sweat-drenched nightmare, just emerging from the haze of crimson sleep.

It's early, barely dawn, and he's comfortable and warm and tucked against Hannibal's chest. The cocktail of guilt and relief nearly sends him reeling.

Hannibal's breaths are deep and steady. Will desperately does not want to disturb him. Not now. He just brushes his nose against his chest and closes his eyes. It's still early, he could sleep a while longer. He should; savor the contact a while longer. Soon enough he'll have to leave.

It makes him shiver with regret, but he knows this fever dream has to end, though he clenches his eyes shut tighter at the thought. He's surprised by the force of his reluctance. He doesn't have to let go of this, he reasons. Nothing is making him. Except for the nagging guilt.

He can feel himself tensing as his thoughts oscillate, and he tries in vain to relax as he feels Hannibal stir.

All at once those warm hands slide up Will's back. Hannibal's waking breaths are sweet and quiet, and he comes to with the perfect tranquility of someone with the easiest of consciences, eyes drifting open the color of whiskey in the morning light, his smile serene and satisfied.

Will can only stare up at him with a lump in his throat.

"Good morning," Hannibal says, voice soft and rough.

"Good morning," Will whispers. He can't help but lean into it when Hannibal cups his cheek. He's going to kiss him again, and Will is powerless to resist.

"Stay for breakfast?" He murmurs.

Will holds back a whimper. "I've got classes..." His resolve is so weak.

Hannibal strokes down his side, expression effortlessly imploring.

"I can't," Will insists, voice a raspy whisper. “I’m sorry.”

"Very well." He doesn't hide his disappointment, but it doesn't feel critical.

Finally, he gives Will the awaited kiss. It's the worst thing he could have done to shake Will's resolve, and Will steels himself for him to break it.

Instead, Hannibal moves briskly, sitting up. "Do you need me to lend you any clothes to go home in?"

"No, thank you," Will murmurs. Again, the quiet that follows seems slightly miffed.

"All right. I'll let you get ready. I'll be in the kitchen."

"Thank you," Will replies, feeling somewhat abashed.

When he’s alone, he takes a shower, ignoring the sting of bruised bite marks, and hastily pulls on his clothes. They're sadly crumpled, of course, but that's not entirely unusual for Will.

When he hurries into the living area, Hannibal is perched in a chair, legs elegantly crossed, and a newspaper open across his lap.

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" he offers politely.

"I really better be going but - thank you." Will looks down at his hands.

"And will we be seeing one another soon?" Hannibal murmurs, finally closing the paper.

Will doesn't answer for a moment.

"I'd like to," he admits quietly. "I'll call you?"

Hannibal nods faintly.

"I look forward to it." Then, he sets the paper aside, and stands. "Shall I walk you out?"

"Sure," Will nods, insides cold at the though.

He lets Hannibal lead the way, filled with obscene grace. At the apartment door, they stand close for a minute, suspended in that brief moment from the day before once more, where Will listened to the Devil on his shoulder – let him buoy his confidence to ask for what he wants. Now, God’s hand is steering him toward remorse.

"Make sure you close the gate, please," Hannibal murmurs. "But don't hesitate to use it again."

Will can't speak for a minute. He doesn't want to go. Doesn’t want to feel alone again. Finally, he gathers himself enough to put his hands in his pockets, head down.

"Thank you," he breathes, eyes starting to sting.

"It was my pleasure, Will," Hannibal replies. His own eyes are tellingly soft, so dark they seem black in the dim hall. Will wants to lean in. Part of him is afraid it's his last chance, but a bigger part of him needs to know he still has control over this.

"Goodbye," he says, and quickly hurries out into the humid morning air.

The city always feels bright and new in the mornings, but Will doesn't share it today.

He hurries back towards campus, shoulders hunched and head down, trying to blend in with milling students. Without the collar, he mostly does, and he's early enough to dash back to his room for a change of clothes.

Even so, he's barely ten minutes into his first class before he feels the choking sensation of panic rising - the desire to flee. It holds him paralyzed in his seat, pulse hammering. He sweats silently through another twenty minutes of class until a break in the lecture gives him an opportunity to bolt. Through the cool halls, bumping into people in his haste, across the shimmering heat of the parking lot and into his car.

He lets the air conditioner hiss at him for several minutes, head tilted back against the headrest as he pants through the remnants of his panic. Then, sweat still glittering on his brow, he starts the engine and pulls away, rumbling out onto the road and away from the city center.

 

Eventually, the little white church shimmers in his windshield like a mirage. He pulls off onto the dirt road, dust pluming from his wheels until he draws to a stop on the grassy bank, getting out and looking out over the fields and trees, the gnarled branches decrepit with sunburn; the walls of tall grain waving like arms in the heat.

Will is not entirely sure what he's about to say, or do; what terror drove him here to ask for guidance from a God who has not answered for some time. Still, he trudges his way up the wooden steps, into the church, hand skimming the smooth wood of the rail.

Inside, it smells like incense and hot dust and furniture polish, the great carving of Christ overlooking the altar, picked out in color by the sun through the stained glass. The place is abandoned as always. Will has been here on Sundays too - there are rarely more than a dozen parishioners. It makes him wonder how they stay open. Makes him wonder what this one priest can busy himself with here, all alone.

Said priest looks up at the sound of the door from where he's working in the open sacristy.

"I wondered when I'd see you again," he says in greeting, though it’s hardly been longer than a week.

"Wondered how I'd been getting on?"

"You were considerably upset the last time you came to confess."

"Not convinced I'm less upset now. Tried to take your advice." Will picks at some varnish on the lip of the shelf where the few well-loved and unstolen bibles rest, keeping his head down until the priest waves him into the pew, seating himself in the next one over.

"And what were your findings?"

"I've been fooling myself for a long time," Will whispers.

"Fooling yourself?"

"About my suitability for my calling. About my desires. About it all."

"Your desires?"

"I've denied them for my entire adult life."

The priest's expression is carefully neutral, but he shifts where he’s sat. "What desires are these?"

"For a long time, I didn't think I had much of a sex drive," Will murmurs, voice dry, "but I think I might have just been... ignoring it."

"That is the choice a priest makes," the Father replies.

"I don't think I can ignore it anymore. It's not just sex, it's... it's about who I am. About what God expects me to be."

"If God is calling you to marry this woman you've met, and start a family, that's a godly pursuit. Otherwise...desire can breed doubt. Your faith must stamp it out."

Will digests that for a moment. "And what if I feel called to someone else? Someone I can't marry."

"Then it's possible this is the reason you're feeling He has abandoned you." The old priest leans forward, locking his milky eyes with Will's. "It is merely a temptation, my child. Resist the ungodly urges to commit perversions. This is your charge."

Will stares at him. For once, holding his gaze isn’t a challenge: Will can see. The flintiness in the priest's gaze, the new lines in his leathery face that have moved away from concern to unfeeling disapproval.

"Ungodly urges," Will repeats, barely a whisper. Then he shouts it. "Ungodly urges!" A near-frantic laugh bubbles out of him. "That ship has sailed, Father."

"Do you wish to make confession, my child?"

"I'm not your goddamn child," Will snaps, standing sharply, "and I have nothing to confess. I'm through."

“There is no sin in experiencing temptation,” the priest implores him, “it is only in yielding to it that you turn your back on God. You can still repent, appeal for his forgiveness, his blessing-”

Shaking his head, Will stumbles back into the aisle, shoving his hands in his pockets. When he finds his rosary there, he pulls it out and lets it drop to the worn boards.

"Keep your blessings," he spits, and then turns on his heel.

When he makes it to his car, he nearly fumbles the keys. He's shaking with barely contained rage, mind whirling, sweat making his hands slippery as he flips the key; turns the engine over and steps on his gas like he’s on the run. When the dust plume obscures the building from view, he imagines it a tornado in his rear view, tearing down the whitewashed wood, the tiles from the steeple, leaving it a picked skeleton in its lonely field. The priest buried among the rubble, sprawled in his cassock like a blackened heart.

The thought gives Will an unsavory thrill, yet it's so unlike him. He doesn’t recognize he pale, sweating face that looks back at him when he glances in his mirrors.

"What do I do now?" he whispers to himself.

Everything seems uncertain, his very uncertainty like a rope around his neck. He keeps shifting, trying to relieve the pressure, but the only way to win is to cut it loose, or let it hang him, he knows that now. That thought makes him smile mirthlessly at the thought of the collar in his messenger bag: an unimaginative metaphor if ever he heard one.

Then, he curses under his breath, squinting against the sun as it flashes among the trees that flank the road. What a waste. Of his breath, of his prayers. Of his life. He thinks Hannibal would tell him he has his whole life ahead of him, but it doesn't exactly feel like it, right now. He feels lost in the wilderness.

Vehemently, he wishes he'd never left Hannibal's apartment. It hardly feels fair to go rushing back. He can’t abandon one following for another; seek comfort in the forgiveness of some other authority. He needs to bear this on his own.

His head full of the pealing bells of his thoughts, Will drives back to campus and feels like he barely remembers the journey when he gets there, ears still ringing. He walks to his dorm with his shoulders tight, undoing his shirt button to keep it away from a throat that feels like it’s closing up.

Collapsing into his bed, he pulls the sheets over his head with a low grunt of frustration, kicking off his shoes and balling up. He aches, and his heart pounds, and he misses that low, melodic voice. Misses the way it made him feel; like he wasn't wrong, for once. Like everything was clear, and within reach.

He stews on it until he's sticky under his sheets; until the sun blazes through the window and he has to emerge briefly to yank the blind closed. He sleeps then, fitfully, and wakes when the sunlight is starting  to fade and he’s been drifting in and out of sleep for hours.

 

Succumbing to wakefulness means acknowledging his headache, and the ache in his body. Maybe he'd feel better if he ate something. Even the act of finding sustenance seems like too much effort.

With great, grumbling effort, Will peels himself up out of bed and grabs a shower, then heads out of campus once more: a beer might help, too. He can find a bar somewhere nearby that does pizza, or sandwiches, and kill the emptiness in him in the only way he can think.

He traipses through the town, avoiding the more touristy bars in favor of a quieter spot. Once he's found one, a worn little bar with a flickering bar sign depicting a refilling glass, he settles at a bar stool and orders a whiskey and a plate. It's an oyster po-boy, familiar tastes, nothing fancy about it. The whiskey is sharp and peaty. There's a live band playing light jazz in the corner, the place lit with fairylights and decorated with old photographs.

Will starts to lull into calm. No one here knows him, or wants anything from him. He eats, and drinks, and tries to let himself forget the last forty eight hours.

There are certain things it's hard to forget. Easy to identify, though, is the voice that shapes his name through the din.

"Will?"

"Freddie?" Raising his head, he curls his lip. "I'm not in the mood. Please, just for today. Don't."

"I'm not sure I've ever heard you say please before," she muses. In the flickering neon from the window, she looks big-eyed and young, smaller than he’s ever thought of her before.

Setting her cobalt crocodile skin purse on the bar, she pulls up the vacant stool beside him despite his sighs. "You look like shit, Will."

"Feel like shit too," he grunts. Her red curls glow in the low lights, fire, neon, and he can't help but look at them, and she eyes him back a moment before folding her thin arms on the sticky bar.

"As reluctant as I am to broach this... are you all right?"

"Nope." He takes a swig of his whiskey.

"You wanna talk about it?"

"With you?" He gives her a skeptical eyebrow. "You scraping for stories or something?"

"I'm off the clock," Freddie replies.

"You? Bullshit."

"Don't make me regret it, Graham." She nudges him. "Come on. I'll buy you another. Spill."

"I'm quitting," he mutters.

That makes her eyes widen. "I'm guessing you don’t mean drinking."

"Seminary. You're right. I'm not a priest."

Freddie looks him over. "What made you change your mind?"

He cuts her a side-eye. "I want to ask you something first."

"Oh, I'm all ears."

"When you asked me in class... about my sexuality."

"Yes?" she raises a russet brow.

"How did you know?"

She giggles, incongruously. "Didn't you?"

He just stares at her, trying to find the conversational sliproad he somehow missed.

"Will." She shakes her head. "You don't remember, do you?" When he says nothing, she sighs and continues. "We met at a social last year at the beginning of school, remember? You were pretty drunk, maybe you don't. I was also pretty drunk, but I thought you were cute, and I hit on you."

Will is speechless. "You hate me."

She looks at him over the rim of her glass. "I didn’t know that then.”

“You’ve been nothing but an ass to me the entire time I’ve known you.

“Oh yes, and I'm not a nice person. Did you ever consider that it might be because you rejected me and I was embarrassed, and also am not a nice person?"

"You don't strike me as the 'woman scorned' type."

"Do I strike you as anything?"

"Kind of a piece of shit, if you find out I'm gay and then make it your life's mission to harass me about it at every opportunity. What's wrong with you?"

"That list is long," Freddie laughs again.

Will doesn't laugh, he waits.

"I didn't say I liked you, Graham," she says finally. "But it made me mad to see you in denial." She shrugs. "That night, you kissed me, and then you stopped, and you seemed so upset. You told me you made a mistake. You were pretty sweet about it, actually."

"I'm still not getting it, Freddie."

She sighs. "I'm not good at touchy feely, okay? I was embarrassed, but more than that I was worried for you, in my way. I didn't want you to get in too deep. That's too big of a secret to keep..."

Will laughs, bitterly. "You're right, as it turns out."

"My curse," she says dryly.

"That's not the Freddie I know. Not nearly smug enough."

"It actually doesn't fill me with joy to find you looking on the verge of a breakdown in a bar, Will. Not about this."

"The verge, huh? Better than I expected."

"I was trying to be kind."

"Also not the Freddie I know. Or so I thought."

"I have my moments."

"You sure do." He pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingertips, and when their drinks arrive, he picks his up and quickly takes a gulp.

"So, Will. Are you going to tell me why?" Freddie asks.

"Why what?"

"Why was today Decision Day, Graham?"

"I met someone," Will murmurs.

"Oh." For once, Freddie doesn't have much to say. Will wonders what that sound means, coming from her. She takes a sip of her own drink. "Is he worth it?"

"I don't know," Will says, honestly. "Even if he's not..." He shrugs his shoulders. "I'm not who I thought I was. I'm tired of trying to be."

"Sounds like you need a rest, Will."

"Yeah." He closes his eyes against the fresh wave of overwhelm; he can't cry in front of Freddie Lounds, he just can't. "I tried all day," he adds. "Thought this would help."

"Is it doing?"

"Not really."

"What would help?"

Will knows very well what would help.

"Not something I deserve," he mutters.

"See; there's that whole sin thing again."

"Hard to step off the edge of what you’ve been taught.”

Freddie huffs. "Are you going to try, or are you going to stay miserable?"

"Not sure yet."

"Clearly."

He sighs heavily. "I can't believe you of all people are the one who showed up tonight."

"I think it makes sense," she muses.

"Does it?"

"In a way." She laughs. "Not that I'm following you or anything, you self-centered thing you."

"Not exactly what I thought."

"What did you think? That I'm a message from God?"

Will looks at her for a long moment. "Unlikely."

They glare mutually at one another for a moment. Eventually, though, Will sighs.

"... Next time, try not to harass anyone who isn't ready to come out, huh?"

She still looks mulish, but she nods. They drink again for a few minutes, and then, she cautiously lights up.

"I think this would make a great article, Will..."

"And what do you think I'm going to say to that, Freddie?"

She wrinkles her nose. "Well, it doesn't hurt to ask."

"You'll do it anyway, I don't know why you bother."

"I'm hurt," she retorts.

"Mm, I'm sure." He rests his head on his hand, closing his eyes in resignation. He feels... not better, but enlightened. Still doesn't mean he wants to be tabloid fodder.

He takes a second to rack his brains for a memory of the night Freddie is talking about. He's never been much for parties, and it's not hard to identify the night she means, though he can’t really remember seeing her. And she's not wrong, he'd been wasted. The scene she’s described completely evades him, even though he recalls the next day feeling hungover and dimly embarrassed.

It's almost more fantastical to imagine her being interested in him. He supposes it would have been before they got to know one another. The thought makes him chuckle darkly. They’d have made a horrible couple.

Like she can read his mind, Freddie smirks at him and sips her drink. She's not good company; he'd never go that far. But he's glad he's not alone right now.

"So, who's the lucky guy?" She asks, shameless through and through.

"No one you know."

"That doesn't mean you can't tell me."

"Doesn't mean I should."

She huffs. "Fine, don't kiss and tell."

Will snorts. "Does that seem even remotely in character?"

"Worth a shot."

That's Freddie in a nutshell, he muses. She always takes a shot.

Will orders them both another drink; makes them doubles. He needs to be less attached to this body he finds himself in.

He wants to float.

"I think I'd like to be alone now, if you don't mind Freddie."

"You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, thanks." He almost can't believe she's asking. She looks like she can't either.

"Take care, Will," she murmurs, and she slides off the stool, taking her drink with her and making her way back to the other side of the bar.

Will picks up his own and stares into the liquid. Then, he throws it back. It burns all the way down, but he immediately orders another: he's finally starting to feel it.

When he can't feel anything anymore, he stumbles out and onto the street, weaving through the tourists and clubbers. Once again, he's following his feet: it's worked out interestingly before.

Less interesting when he blinks up at the familiar facade of the bookstore. He honestly hadn't intended to come here. He sways a bit where he's standing; leans his head against the cool glass of the window front and peers into the darkness where the books are sleeping. They look peaceful, from out here, the shutter pulled down inside so he can just glimpse them through the slats.

Weaving now, Will cranes his head back, stumbling back onto the quiet road, peering up at the edge of the balcony, spilling over with white clematis. He can make out lights on upstairs, soft and yellow, and he watches them for a moment, imagining he might be able to see a shadow moving among them.

Then he feels dizzy, and has to sit down right there on the sidewalk, turning his back against the shop front and trying to control his breathing. He can just stay here for a little while. No one will care. It's undoubtedly not one of the most sensible decisions he's made, but today is not a day for those.

He sits there for long enough that the earth stops moving beneath him, largely ignored by the small clouds of bar-patrons leaving after last rounds. Then, finally, he levers himself up and stumbles back toward campus. When he looks back, Hannibal’s windows have dimmed.

It's a long walk back to the university, but he doesn't feel it. He's starting to emerge from the fog of his drunkenness, but not enough that he doesn't face plant into bed as soon as he's in his dorm.

 

It's astounding how well he sleeps like that. Well enough, in fact, that he has missed all his classes when he wakes up mid-afternoon the next day. Sitting up groggily in his bed, still in his shirt and jeans, he closes his eyes and catalogues how much he feels like he minds.

Coming up empty, he puts on his glasses, opens his laptop, at starts to pen his resignation from the seminary. He tries to make it sound as firm and unwavering as possible, while staying respectful. His advisors deserve that much.

When he gets an immediate reply requesting a meeting, he sighs: he knew he'd have to go in person, he just hoped it wouldn't be immediately. With a heavy heart, he gathers his things to shower: time to see if he can salvage his future.

 

*

 

Hannibal drinks his morning coffee on his upstairs balcony as is his habit, but today he doesn't see the cobalt sky or high clouds, instead absorbed in memories of Will's presence; a balm to his current lack thereof. It's nothing short of acute, the way it lodges in his chest. To say he's unaccustomed to being an experiment is... an understatement.

He went into it with open eyes, he must admit, but he truly hasn't expected to be cast aside. Ego, perhaps. Or simply hope. Will had seemed so genuinely connected to him, or at least Hannibal had considered it genuine. His own feelings had been alarmingly fierce.

As sure as he usually is of himself, now he cycles back to wondering if he made a mistake. There is, after all, a first time for everything. But that doesn't make Will any easier to forget, and forgetting, Hannibal finds, is best achieved with closure.

He doesn't think he can achieve closure from Will without drawing blood. It's a thought that has its own balm: he knows where Will lives on campus, it would not be beyond Hannibal’s capabilities to slip into the fray. Plenty of people milling in and out, he would look like a professor. It would perhaps even be easy. Will wouldn't be suspicious of him, not hard to gain access to his room; to relax him.

It would be, above all else, beautiful, to see him laid out peacefully, like a martyred saint. Hannibal could take a piece of him to keep, his own blessed object, kept in a glass case to pray over; to bring him good fortune. He thinks perhaps his heart would be appropriate.

Rubbing the tip of his finger agitatedly against the rim of his thumbnail, Hannibal tucks his knuckle against his septum and considers. It’s tempting, but he can't. Will Graham is entirely unique in this world. And besides, had he told anyone about Hannibal... Unlikely, but not impossible.

As he muses, his eyes drift to the Caravaggio study he'd purchased on the day Will had wandered into the web of his attentions. He wants to keep Will just as close.

Persuasion, he reasons, would be a safer tactic. What a prize he would be, could he be won. His own sweet, fierce David, overthrowing his tyrannical God. The poetry of it calls to Hannibal. He'll let him live, at least a little longer.

 

He lasts a week before his dissatisfaction gets the better of him. After closing the shop early, he makes the walk to Will’s university campus with a measured stride. It's hot out, but he's unruffled and undampened even when he arrives, and he makes his way to Will's residence hall easily enough with the card Will had first scrawled his address on neatly resting in his inner breast pocket.

It's bustling at this time in the afternoon. The students who live here are mostly older, so Hannibal isn't too exceptional, though he's almost certain he doesn't look like a seminarian, in his fine cut suit. No matter. He's not here to blend in, precisely. He finds the door he's looking for and, with a quick glance at his reflection in a nearby window, raises a hand to knock. It takes a long time for him to hear motion inside.

When Will comes to the door, he's clearly just woken up, despite the late hour. Sweat sheers out the front panel of his t-shirt, his eyes narrowed against the light. He's in nothing but the shirt and boxers.

"Hannibal?" He frowns. He raises a hand to shield his eyes, the balmy afternoon light making him look golden, like an aged photograph. Like a painting.

"Will. I've woken you?"

"I - yeah. Just a nap." He looks embarrassed, caught off guard, cheeks flushed with color. "I didn't expect you."

"I know. Perhaps courtesy would have dictated I contact you first, but courtesy didn’t seem to be on the cards for us."

Will still looks a little befuddled. "You got my address from when you ordered that book in for me."

"Yes. Have I acted out of order, Will?"

"Ordinarily I say yes, but as you pointed out, I haven't exactly been in order myself." He looks back over his shoulder at his dark room, then sighs. "You want to come in?"

"If you'd like," Hannibal murmurs.

"Well, what else did you have in mind?"

"I'm willing to wait, if you'd like to come have a cup of coffee with me instead."

Will pinches the bridge of her nose, rubbing it like he has a headache. "You're still allowed to wait inside."

Hannibal inclines his head and steps into the room. Once the door is closed behind him, he can smell the mingled scents of sweat and whiskey. It's not messy or dirty by any means, but certainly displays evidence of self-neglect.

"How are you, Will?" he asks gently.

"Wonderful," Will mutters, opening the door to what Hannibal would think was a closet if it didn't house a narrow shower stall, toilet and wash basin. "Guess you're waiting then?"

"You invited me in."

"I did."

Hannibal gestures, the universal hands up for 'give me a clue', and Will sighs.

"Sit there. I'll be five minutes."

Hannibal obligingly makes himself comfortable on Will's desk chair, gaze crawling over the neatly folded clothes at the foot of his bed. On the wall above his bed, an empty nail. Hannibal searches, and his eyes find the cross that once hung there, lay flat on the desk.

Will has left the door ajar, to Hannibal's surprise, and immediately wriggles his t-shirt off over his head. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, Will, thank you for asking."

"Right." Hannibal sees Will step bare into the shower cubicle through the crack in the door, and the rush of the water becomes muffled by his body. He's surprised by the lack of modesty, but doesn't let it show: it seems Will is in quite a different mindset than he was during their last meeting.

Hannibal would dearly love to talk about it, but not over the din of the water. Regardless, part of him is tempted to try; he'd love to see the way the water clung to Will, desperate to stay on his skin. Will, it seems, is never anything other than tempting.

Hannibal allows his attention to drift again as he listens to the sounds of washing, and then teeth brushing.

There are no signs that he's been doing schoolwork, though the apron and overalls in the laundry basket suggest Will has not abandoned his community work. No open textbooks or notebooks, just an old laptop and the small stack of books from Hannibal's shop by the bed. He seems to own very little, all in all. The shelves above his little desk are packed with books, but the open front wardrobe contains few clothes, two pairs of shoes, two belts, one worn satchel. It's an ascetic lifestyle, one Hannibal has difficulty imagining.

When Will emerges from the little washroom, he's pulling on a shirt, jeans already fastened. Hannibal watches, because he sees no reason not to.

"How are you, Will?" He asks once more, mirroring Will's tone.

"I'm great," Will says airily. "I'm a disgrace to my community. It's very exciting."

"A disgrace?"

"Isn't that what you call someone who's fallen from grace? I quit the divinity school this week, they're still trying to sort out what my credits can apply toward, or else I might as well leave entirely."

Hannibal lets himself absorb in quiet.

"I see," he murmurs finally. "Will, I feel-"

"It's fine. It was a long time coming."

"Was it?"

"Yes, you know it was."

"You don't sound happy. Or relieved," Hannibal notes.

"Before I had the potential to have something, now I have nothing," Will mutters, pulling on a jacket, "not sure how relieved to feel."

"Nothing may be an overstatement," Hannibal murmurs. "As long as we live, we have the opportunity to thrive."

"Mm, I've never been much good at that. Come on." He gestures vaguely toward the door, and Hannibal rises and follows him.

"Where are we going?" he asks politely.

"You said coffee, right?"

Whether he knows he’s obstinate when he’s uncomfortable, Hannibal can’t say. "I did. If you know a good cafe, please lead on."

"Yeah, sure." He tucks his hands in his pockets as they walk. He's still wearing the black shirt, no collar. With his battered jeans and wild damp curls, he looks more like a hipster than a priest.

Hannibal can't look away from him, even now, but he manages to keep himself at least vertical while he follows Will off campus and down to a little, cozy bar and cafe. Will doesn't talk much while they walk, nor while they find a comfy, tucked away couch near an open window after Hannibal orders them a pair of coffees, just settling neatly into himself, visibly resigned. Hannibal just watches; Will’s innate grace is endlessly compelling, if not spiritual then certainly physical.

When their cups are filled and they're alone, Will finally sighs and takes a sip.

"That's good," he says.

"I think you should have something to eat, too," Hannibal murmurs.

"I don't need anything."

"I disagree." He's both firm and polite.

Will holds his gaze for a second, then sighs. "Okay. Whatever you want."

Hannibal stands back up to buy him something. At the counter, he chooses a sandwich and orders, then returns to Will when he's paid. "They'll bring it when it's ready."

He sits back on the couch, close enough to get another whiff of Will, smelling faintly of citrus and fear. He wonders if the fear is for him. Today, the thought... bothers him. He's given Will no reason for fear yet, but he's always regarded Hannibal with some hesitance, hasn't he? That keen sense of intuition at work.

"You're upset with me," he says now, like he's reading Hannibal's mind, "you thought I'd come back."

"I had hoped," Hannibal replies, tone dignified.

Barely containing his shiver, Will look down at his hands, fidgeting.

"I wanted to," he whispers.

"Do you still want to?" Hannibal asks coolly.

"Do you still hope I do?"

Hannibal takes a sip of his coffee. "I came to find you," he points out.

Will nods, knee bouncing. "I... I did come one night..."

Hannibal looks up from his knee and cocks his head.

"I was drunk, I thought you'd be upset," Will murmurs, "and I wanted to... think. And I didn't know what you... I didn't know if I was being naive." He sighs, seemingly just at himself. "So I just sat outside for a while."

Hannibal takes a breath.  "You looked in through the window of the shop. I have CCTV down there. I saw the footage upstairs, but I couldn't tell it was you."

They meet each other's eyes for a moment, silent.

"I got scared," Will admits, quietly.

"You're still scared," Hannibal surmises.

"Yeah, a little." Will laughs softly. "But that's nothing new."

"Fear is a survival mechanism. Nothing to be ashamed of."

"I'll take your word for it, then. But I excel at being ashamed."

"That's what you've been bred to do. To revile your own needs." He sips his coffee and watches Will take that in.

"I'd like... to unlearn those traits. It's going to take time, though."

"Of course. That was never in doubt. But you must be willing."

Will looks up. His eyes look very pale where the sunlight touches them. "I need help."

"From me?" Hannibal asks mildly. He pauses as the waiter delivers Will's sandwich, then fixes his gaze on Will again.

"Only... if you want to offer it."

"I wouldn't mind hearing you ask," Hannibal murmurs.

Ears pinking, Will tucks his pink lower lip under the crescent of his teeth, itching the back of his neck. Hannibal thinks he must not know how appetizing he truly is.

"Will you help me?"

"I'd be honored."

"Really?" Swallowing, Will stirs his coffee aimlessly, not looking at Hannibal. "You wouldn't... you might not like me."

"An improbable outcome. I already like you."

Another big sigh at that. "All right."

Hannibal gives him an encouraging smile. This is the first time Will has felt young to him, though he's not in years, not significantly.

"How shall we start?" Hannibal asks him.

"Maybe we could - " another pause; Will takes a big breath. "Maybe we could go on a date?"

Hannibal feels warm at the sound of his voice. This sweetness is such a balm to the coolness Hannibal has seen him exude. He's a tangle of contradictions, with something special beneath, something electric and dynamic. Hannibal can practically taste it, like ozone on the breeze.

"I'd love that, Will."

He's already thinking of venues, but then of course, Will surprises him again.

"What're you doing now?"

"I admit I've closed my shop early today."

"I have a fishing boat moored down at Pontchartrain, it's a good time to catch the sun going down. We could - we could go.”

"Will. That would be lovely."

Will smiles softly. "Good."

"Perhaps you'd let me take you to dinner after?" Hannibal’s eyes slide to Will's untouched sandwich. "Provided eating is still something you do, of course."

Will blushes and reaches for the roll. He takes a bite, and as he chews, his knee bumps Hannibal's, and rests there. Slowly, they smile at once another.

"I'm happy to see you," Will confesses once he's swallowed.

"Truly?"

"Truly. I wanted it all week."

"You should have come," Hannibal tells him gently.

"Resisting seemed -" Will sighs. "More righteous."

"Self-flagellation isn't always righteous."

"No, you're right." He takes another bite of the sandwich, like he's remembered he has a stomach. Hannibal suspects it's a common problem for him.

"S'good," Will says, apologetically, apparently becoming aware he’s being watched.

"I'm glad you're eating. I'll have to make sure you continue to do that," Hannibal murmurs.

"I do eat sometimes," Will says mildly.

"Of course." Hannibal's lips quirk. He echoes Will's tone. "Sometimes."

Will wrinkles his nose and stuffs more of the sandwich pointedly into his mouth. Hannibal watches contentedly as he sips his coffee, pleased to have exerted control in this small way; fed him and watered him and seen him smile. Once again, he finds himself content simply to watch him eat.

Finally, when Will has finished the sandwich, their coffee cups empty, they stand.

"Shall we?" Hannibal asks.

"Yes, let's go."

It feels different, leaving with him. Hannibal likes to have Will by his side, it feels comfortable, and right, though he's not sure how it got to this point so immediately.

They meander through the quieter streets, out to the the crowded boulevard to catch a streetcar toward the lake. Will buys their tickets and stands with an arm around the railing, peering down the carriage at the other passengers, his gait still and assessing.

Hannibal watches his face as he watches everyone else, still with the unwavering, unflinching familiarity as before; a natural receptiveness. He would, Hannibal reflects, have made a loving and kind priest. Selfishly, Hannibal still considers it a waste, but he’s long since made his peace with being selfish.

He proffers his hand, perhaps a little meanly, to see if Will might take it. He sees the moment of consideration, and then, Will interlocks their fingers. It runs through Hannibal like a tiny current of electricity. He gives Will a soft smile.

"Ready for a boat ride?" Will asks shyly.

"I certainly am."

Hannibal is quite fond of the water, though he hardly gets the chance to go out. For his part, Will seems incredibly at home as he leads Hannibal down to the harbor, flanked by the great corrugated iron sheds of storage sites and mechanics. The only signs he's feeling any trepidation is when he pauses at the dock, squeezing Hannibal's hand, eyes fixed on the small cluster of people around the admin cabin.

"We can wait," Hannibal tells him.

"No, no. It's fine." He squares his shoulders and heads to the shack.

Hannibal hangs back, watching him with a smile. He's slim and lovely in the sun, moving like he's in his element for once, and when he's retrieved the keys to his modest little fishing boat, he beckons Hannibal, and leads him down to the dock run where it’s moored.

“It was my father’s, I’m keeping it here until I can get a place on the lakefront, or maybe the coast,” he tells Hannibal, who had indeed been wondering. He waits by the stern to help Hannibal aboard with an extended hand.

"Chivalry isn't dead," Hannibal quips, stepping neatly aboard.

"Not in the South, darlin'," Will drawls softly. He looses their line with the calm motions of the experienced, then pushes gently off the dock with his boot, letting them drift a couple of feet before he goes to the helm and starts the engine.

Hannibal seats himself in the passenger chair and watches this display with growing appreciation: Will is imminently competent, it seems, looking assuringly at home on the well-maintained deck.

"I wanna take you out to get the best view," he tells Hannibal, somewhat shyly.

"I am at your disposal," Hannibal tells him. "Tell me more about you and boats, Will."

"I've been on them since I was small." Hannibal nods, and Will continues. "My dad was a boat mechanic. I helped out when I was younger, in the summers, you know."

"Of course. Fishing too?"

"I love fishing. And not because of the Jesus thing," he says sarcastically.

Hannibal huffs a soft laugh. "I wouldn't dare suggest."

"Sure you wouldn't. No talk of fingering Jesus' holes from you." He keeps a remarkably straight face as he says it.

Hannibal's grin widens. "A verbal slap often clears the cobwebs from the mind."

"Who's doing the slapping here?"

"Today, apparently you."

He’s unoffended. It's refreshing, if he's honest. Recently, no one challenges him at all, Will, however, is sharp and rough, but gentle too. He wants so very much to be loved. It's obvious in everything he does. And Hannibal thinks he will find it so very easy to love him. Less predictable is how the love will be received.

"Sometimes I think about driving across to the coast with the boat, sailing down the gulf," Will murmurs, gazing out across the seemingly endless expanse of the water. "I've been thinking about it a lot since I resigned."

"You could," Hannibal agrees mildly. "Where would you end up?"

"The Keys, maybe. Good fishing down there." He shrugs. "Cut down to Cuba, maybe. Take a break."

"Cuba," Hannibal hums.

"Havana sounds nice," Will murmurs.

"Yes, it does. Would that I could join you."

"You can't?"

"Am I invited?" Hannibal smiles, small.

"I'd say you are, wouldn't you?"

"In that case...perhaps we ought to make plans."

Will actually smiles, a full beam. "Really? It'd be a while. Maybe a week and change."

"Perfect," Hannibal murmurs.

Will looks back ahead like he’s trying to conceal the fierceness of his smile, and then he moves to cut the engine, just letting them drift for a moment as he leans back down and kisses Hannibal. Despite his surprise, Hannibal settles right into it. It feels entirely natural, Will  himself feels more natural out here on the water, calm and at home.

Hannibal can't wait to be alone with him. To travel with him. He's a bit stunned by his sudden desire to do so.

"I'll ask a colleague to look in on the shop."

"You can do that?" Will sounds relaxed, now. Then he makes a noise of recognition. "Oh, I get it. You probably don't actually need to make money, judging from your home."

"Which is why I'd like you to let me chip in for the trip, Will."

"Chip in?" Will raises his eyebrows.

"On expenses? Food, perhaps."

"Sure, if y'want."

Hannibal will finesse this. Will likes his cooking, after all. "I do want. I very much look forward to it. When would you like to go?"

"I'll need to prep the boat for the trip, maybe a week?"

"A week. Perfect." Hannibal pats the bench beside himself. "Come sit a while."

Obligingly Will comes up to the bow, settling down to face him,

"Tell me, Will, when you left my home last week, you didn't seem this content."

"No, I suppose I didn't."

"What happened in the interim? What broke you free of your shackles?"

"I drank a lot of whiskey," Will grumbles. Then, he seems to mentally adjust. "Well, first I went to church, and then, I drank a lot of whiskey."

"What happened at church?" Hannibal asks.

"The priest said I had to control my 'ungodly urges'," Will mumbles. “And some other stuff about perversion.”

Hannibal feels a sudden steel-bright lash of anger.

"Can't be an exceptionally compassionate priest," he comments, with all the restraint he can muster.

"No. Not so much." Will shrugs. "Just realized it didn't matter. I can still help people like this. I don’t have to wear a collar."

"Of course you can," Hannibal soothes.

Then Will turns another smile on him. "You're not the only one who can change people."

"I never imagined I was." He touches Will's cheek. "After all, you changed me too."

"Oh?"

"Do I strike you as a man who comes to find people after one-night stands? Or indeed a man who has one-night stands?" He sees Will's expression twist with amusement. "Perhaps sometimes the second," he allows.

"When you think it's worth your while," Will surmises.

Hannibal feels known. "I was right in this case."

"I hope so."

"Trust me," Hannibal murmurs. He tips Will's chin up for a kiss, and Will sinks into it with a sigh. It's slow and cherishing.

“Tell me, Will,” Hannibal says, affecting calm interest, “what is the name of this church?”

“It’s called Saint Bernard,” Will murmurs. “Apparently he was very eloquent, they called him the ‘mellifluous doctor of the church’.”

“Doesn’t exactly sound like your priest deserves that title.”

“You might be right there.”

They stay like that for quite some time, until they've almost missed the sunset altogether. Hannibal thinks Will looks radiant in the dying light, curls aflame with red. He looks well in crimson.

"Thank you for coming with me," Hannibal tells him softly.

"Isn't that my line?" Will replies.

"You could have simply shut the door."

"And in the past, I would have. But not anymore."

Hannibal softly beams.

"To new beginnings, then, and open doors."

"To new beginnings," Will murmurs.

Hannibal absorbs the tentative smile Will gives him, the white little window of his teeth a knife blade in the red gloaming. So beautiful he makes Hannibal’s throat tight. He presses in for another soft kiss; e listens to the gulls call and feels the wind ruffle their hair.

Beyond, the sun bleeds out on the skyline, dyeing the water crimson. They float on the burgundy tides, in one another's arms, until Will finally takes them back to shore.

Then it's a walk along the lakeside to a bar after Will admits he's too nervous to eat. Hannibal resolves to coax him again later. For now it's simply good to sit on the decking overlooking the lake, nursing drinks and surrounded by twinkling string lights while the warm dark night falls around them.

Hannibal is unusually content to endure the scent of beer-stained wood and fryer fat coming from within the bar so that he might listen to Will talk about his boyhood with his father; the many firings and moonlight flits that led him to the church. Now, he tells Hannibal, his father drinks, and travels the coast in an RV picking up work where he can find it. Then, he talks about his education; the gap year working three jobs and doing voluntary work for the church to raise funds for his degree before winning a scholarship that made his father proud. It’s fascinating to see the way he emerges from behind the shyness to reveal his wit and charm, and occasionally to bare his teeth.

Eventually, Hannibal talks Will into sharing an order of oysters. He relents, and allows Hannibal to order wine to compliment them. After that on top of his beer, Will seems much more agreeable, sweetly swaying into Hannibal's side, leaning against him as they watch boats drift along the smoked glass surface of the lake, mirroring the starry sky beyond. Hannibal tells him the carefully edited version of his own upbringing, and lets Will squeeze his hand and sink into his side while he listens.

Hannibal takes him home when the stars are out and the moon is high, leaving him somewhat reluctantly in his barren little dorm, heading back into the city with his collar up against the nighttime chill. His reluctance starts to wane as his mind clears: it's for the best: he has things to do tonight. It's been a while since he took a drive out to the country. He looks forward to it immensely.

He goes home to prepare, thinking of the sweet, sleepy kiss Will had given him at his door. The fierce protectiveness he feels is like a guiding star, showing him reason through the tossing waves of his own anger as he decides what to do about the priest. Such mistreatment of Will is not something he'll allow to stand unopposed.

With a fire in his heart, he goes down to collect his car from the basement garage, and heads out into the glittering night.

 

*

 

Hannibal hums as he makes sauce on the tiny galley stove belowdecks on Will's boat. It is the evening of their first day of sailing, and they're well on their way to Cuba. The weather is calm and the sunset is a fanciful concoction of purple and orange.

He hears the rattle of chain; the anchor being dropped. Footsteps above track the same path he took not an hour before, and then Will is coming down the stairs, unusually civilian in a checked shirt and jeans. Hannibal supposes this is how he'll look, now. Until Hannibal reveals what he has hidden away in a suit bag in the cabin, for a special night in Havana.

He can't say he doesn't like it, regardless. And earlier he had seen some promising looking swimwear. Surprising, that. He might have to ask tomorrow.

"Smells good," Will says now, still with the note of acridness he always has when they're first together. Hannibal has come to associate it with shyness, and is therefore impervious.

"It should be," he tells him mildly. The loin is grilling in a small pan next to the sauce, a salad already prepared and set on a tray with plates and cutlery. Will had suggested they eat above, since it's pleasant. "Just a few minutes now. Would you do me the favor of setting the table?"

"Of course." Will takes cutlery, the wine cooler and woven place mats upstairs with careful movements, already well-used to the rock of the boat. Hannibal is adapting. He's always been good at that.

Soon, he follows Will upstairs with two beautifully plated filets, setting them down and watching Will pour the wine carefully into stemless wine bowls Hannibal brought.

"To the Gulf for her beautiful weather," Will offers as a toast. "And to having a talented chef on board."

"To good company, and pure ingredients," Hannibal amends, touching their glasses and taking a sip. "Bon appetit."

"Merci," Will smiles fleetingly. Then, he puts his glass down and starts on his dinner.

Hannibal watches him cut a neat bite, swirling it through the sauce, pleased that his appetite has improved over the past week.

"You seem more relaxed already," he observes.

"I am," he replies, slipping the meat between his lips.

Hannibal watches avidly as he chews. "I am delighted."

"Me too. This is delicious."

"Yes, I quite agree." Hannibal smiles and tastes his own meal. It's perfectly cooked, marinated to make the meat of an older animal yield. Hannibal is indeed a talented chef, and Will an appreciative dinner companion. The wine is pleasantly warming, the salad refreshing, the air cool and bright.

"Freedom," Will murmurs, and Hannibal thinks he's feeling the same sensations.

"Well deserved." He reaches out to cover Will's hand with his own.

"This is so good, what's the meat?" Will hums.

"Tenderloin, from a local Louisiana pig of course," Hannibal replies, smiling with keen satisfaction when Will nods along, humming appreciatively around another mouthful. "I'm glad you're enjoying it. It was made with you in mind, procured especially."

"Hannibal," Will sounds pleased.

Easy to let himself bask in the praise. Hannibal lets Will squeeze his hand, watching him as he makes his way through his own meal. He can see color starting to stain the tops of Will's cheekbones. He looks beautiful, iconographic against the waves and sky. The top few buttons of his shirt are undone, exposing smooth skin and graceful collarbones. Hannibal adores him; the potential he sees in him. A marble pillar; a clean white canvas. Something in Will speaks to him.

Will sees the shift in his gaze, and licks his lips, stained crimson by berries and wine.

"All right?" He sips his wine again, ears turning pink under Hannibal's gaze.

"Perfect," Hannibal murmurs.

"Well, I knew that," Will quips.

He's even pinker now. Hannibal allows himself to be moved once again by his sweetness. He has an even stronger urge to adulterate him.

They finish their dinner, pleasant words passing between them, and then Will gets up to throw the scraps overboard and rinse the plates before taking them down into the kitchenette.

"You stay," he orders softly. "I'll clean."

Hannibal complies, quite at his leisure, warmth simmering in his belly. Then, all at once, he doesn't think he can wait any longer, and he follows Will downstairs, taking the wine cooler and glasses with him.

Will looks up at his entrance.

"Did you forget something, Hannibal?" he asks, the perfect echo of their first entanglement.

Hannibal sets the wine glasses down, walking across the cabin to box him in. Will's eyes drift to his mouth, and Hannibal smiles.

"I did."

He kisses him, smooth and commanding, enjoying the way Will melts into him so immediately. His breath stalls, hands hot and wet from the water when he clasps them in Hannibal's shirt. Hannibal wraps him in his arms. They haven't touched like this, not outside of a few fierce kisses that first night. Truthfully, Hannibal didn’t doubt Will wanted him, but he wasn’t sure if he’d let himself have him, but the tremor in his hands speaks of nerves over regret.

Hannibal projects calm certainty, smoothing his hands slowly up Will's back and letting Will's warm hands explore in turn. He's gentle like he was the first night they spent together, but there's a new edge to it, desperate, a hunger that Hannibal can appreciate.

"Will," he breathes it against his lips, "is this what you want?"

"Yes, yes," he breathes back. He closes the space between them again to kiss Hannibal.

He tastes of the wine and berries that stain his mouth, entirely enchanting, surging against Hannibal, body tensed and needy. His kisses turn sweet and lingering. Then, Hannibal steps back, and Will eagerly follows.

It's only a step and a half to the berth, which is not enormous by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly big enough for their purposes, cozily made up with blankets, a nest rocked by the waves. They haven't used it yet, though they're both more than aware of its potential.

Will surveys it now as they break apart, and looks at Hannibal almost dubiously.

"Not exactly what you're used to," he says, self-conscious.

"I have no complaints."

"Well that's something."

His eyes sweep over Hannibal again, openly appraising. t's heady to be so plainly desired. And by this man.

"Let me undress you?" he whispers, making Hannibal’s skin heat.

"Of course." Delightedly, he stills for the hands on the buttons of his shirt.

Will undoes the linen with keen concentration, lashes dark on his cheeks. He's careful, even folding the shirt when he's eased it off Hannibal's shoulders.

Hannibal can't help showing his pleasure at the treatment. He guides Will in by his wrists and kisses him again, until Will is pink and breathing hard. As Hannibal relieves him of his shirt, his breaths quicken further, only slowed again by more kisses; soothing touches. Hannibal admires his form, shown to good effect by his loose jeans. His fingers find the flies, and Will's breath goes shivery as he lets Hannibal undo them; lets him regard him.

"I'm okay," he says quickly when Hannibal meets his gaze questioningly. "Keep looking."

"Happily." He shucks down Will's jeans with a hum: beautiful. Just beautiful. He's lithe, just short of too-lean, with the kind of muscle that speaks of teenage manual labor. Manual labor that isn't too far in his past.

"What do you see?" Will whispers.

"Power," Hannibal tells him.

It's not what Will was expecting, clearly. He blinks, biting his lower lip.

Hannibal pulls him close.

"You have immense potential power, Will," he whispers.

"To do what-?"

"Whatever you set your mind to. Certainly to enrapture me."

"That wasn't precisely what I set out to do, but I'm glad nonetheless."

"Are you?" Hannibal smiles as he feels Will's hands at his belt buckle.

"’Glad’ might be putting it lightly."

"You can put it however you like."

Will visibly steels himself to be honest. "I think you're astonishing."

He pauses to slip free the button and zip of Hannibal's slacks. Then, they're pressed close and bare, and Will is the one who cups Hannibal's jaw and presses in to kiss him. He's gratifyingly eager, and Hannibal hauls him closer, gripping his hips with a hum. Their salt-warm skin sticks a little, the little groan that escapes Will soft and heated. He's already filling out in the space between their thighs, cock cut and lovely and flushed.

Hannibal so appreciates it, and he palms him now, the motion of his hand gently massaging so he can feel him harden rapidly. It's tantalizing.

"Hannibal," Will breathes it like a plea.

"I'm at your disposal, lovely boy."

"Me too. Tell me what you want."

"I rather think I'd like you to take me," he murmurs.

Will raises his eyebrows, but he jerks in Hannibal's hand, and Hannibal waits with pleasure for him to form a response.

"Okay," Will whispers. “Okay.”

Hannibal has everything they need in his bag, but he's loath to let go. His haste to continue wins out, and he steers Will down onto the little bed with another lingering kiss. "Wait there, I'll only be a moment."

He unzips a side pocket of his bag and takes out a small bottle, then, shucking his underwear, he climbs carefully over Will's lap. Will watches, lips slightly parted.

"Just relax," Hannibal tells him, slicking his hand. "I can do this myself."

Will swallows reflexively, touching Hannibal's hips.

"Are you - sure?" His hands soothe up and down.

"Certain," Hannibal assures. He does it frequently enough for his own pleasure, after all.

Now, he curls a slick hand around Will and gently strokes, reveling in the noise Will makes; lovely, shocked, low, urgent. Truly, Hannibal loves touching him.

"Beautiful boy," he praises, letting his hand move in long, purposeful passes. "I will make you know the true meaning of worship."

"You too, right?"

"Of course. Mutual enjoyment a guarantee," Hannibal smiles coaxingly.

Will nods shakily. He takes another deep breath, then tugs Hannibal gently closer over his hips.

"I'm ready, are you?" he whispers.

"Absolutely," Hannibal purrs.

He helps Will line up, but the slow penetration is entirely under his control. Watching Will's teeth bare is nearly as good as the thick press of him inside. Watching his expression is every bit as good as feeling his hands tighten on Hannibal's hips.

Tipping his chin down, Hannibal hisses through his teeth at the feeling. He slowly rocks down until he's fully seated, and then, he draws back up again, controlling the pace effortlessly. There's a convenient place for his hands, a small wedge-shaped shelf in the bulkhead just above him.  He holds on and uses the leverage to ride himself faster on Will's cock.

Will stares up at him, eyes sparkling. Then he sits up like he can't resist, hands sweetly skirting up Hannibal's back as he bows his head to kiss and nip gently at his chest.

Hannibal keeps rocking down, the slide sparking through his limbs. When Will closes his lips gently over a nipple and sucks, Hannibal hisses softly. It's a sensitivity he hadn't entirely been expecting.

But Will is clearly keen to give, rather than simply take, and Hannibal perhaps should have expected that. He appreciates it, nonetheless. Will’s mouth is keen, and his instincts good. Hannibal fastens one hand into his curls as he keeps riding him faster.

Will finds a rhythm with his kisses as well. His hands are guiding, his own hips rolling into each movement, clumsy at first and then smoother. They begin to really move together - as well as with the gentle sway of the boat.

Hannibal doesn't curb himself: it's perfect. Will's inexperience means he's without ego, simply wanting to please; paying heed to the signals Hannibal gives him, and Hannibal in turn watches his face closely. He looks transcendent, as filled with exultation as Hannibal is. He cups Will's face to kiss the cries from his lips, smiling when Will fights to keep his eyes open; keep looking at him.

His words pass directly to Hannibal's lips.

"You're - everything..."

"Oh, Will," Hannibal murmurs, cradling him close. He strokes his hair as he rolls his hips. They breathe into one another's mouths, both feeling the steady tightening of Hannibal's body.

Will lets out a couple of little cries that Hannibal commits steadfastly to memory. He's never heard a hymn so lovely; he’s desperate for more.

"Beautiful boy."

His hands trail down Will's chest, rubbing a thumb over one pink nipple to make Will gasp, his hips stuttering. It's gratifying for them both. Then, Will's fingers slide into the well-maintained hair on Hannibal's chest and gently tighten, and that's plenty gratifying too. Hannibal touches his lips to the side of his neck.

They roll quicker together, Will's breaths loud to Hannibal's suppressed. Each one is like a note of music coming from a singular instrument. Hannibal closes his eyes to bask in the sounds of their coupling, wet clicks of skin and breathy vocalizations. Will sounds so lovely, and Hannibal relishes being filled by him.

"Perfect," he repeats softly, breaths quickening. He feels a moan building, if he lets it, and Will is gently stoking it all the while.

His hand creeps between them to grasp Hannibal's cock; stroke him in slow pulses.

"Good," Hannibal whispers.

"Yeah?" Will presses up for another long kiss.

Hannibal holds him close, rocking rhythmically down. It is perfect, especially when Will sucks and bites at his chest again, his free hand guiding Hannibal's hips a little quicker, the other stroking faster. Fierce little thing. Hannibal thoroughly enjoys him.

"Harder," he coaxes.

Will does as he's bid. Both his hips and his teeth obey.

Hannibal hisses in delight. "Good boy."

"Fuck," Will breathes in answer. He does it again, harder.

This new rhythm suits Hannibal even more, and he breathes his name, imploring until Will bares his teeth and continues. Hannibal softly coaxes him, and is finally is driven to a full moan.

"Yes, Will-"

"Good," Will gasps. The motions of his wrist quicken, and he hauls Hannibal closer.

Hannibal's jaw slacks. His hips jerk down and forward, an electric sensation shooting up his spine. This boy is astonishing, and he groans Hannibal's name like he feels the same.

Heat is pooling in Hannibal's core, unexpectedly fierce. He's nearly overcome by it, by Will's urgent strumming of his body; rolling hips and tunneled fingers, his breaths breaking and begging.

Hannibal drives his hips down with one hand tight in Will's curls as the pressure grows too great to bear. He throws his head back in release, completely shaken by it, the whole world drowned out but for Will's soft gasp. He finally forces his eyes open; meets Will’s as he watches him follow. He looks beautiful in the throes of it, so alive with it Hannibal thinks he feels it echo in his own nerves. The connection between them feels like a living thing. Hannibal has never even entertained the idea that such a thing could exist before.

"Will," he whispers.

He seems dazed beneath him, clinging and flushed, but he smiles.

Hannibal leans down for a kiss. He's serenely pleased with himself. The way Will looks up at him.... It moves him so completely.

Finally, he moves to slip off of Will, only to be snatched close again by avid hands, Will urging him down into another desperate kiss. Heedless of mess, Hannibal obliges. Will's hand wanders between his thighs, exploring, and Hannibal obliges him that too. He'll indulge any amount of curiosity the boy has. And his finger gently pressing inside is worth the indulgence, feeling the heat he occupied just moments ago; the slick, sordid mess he’s made of Hannibal.

"Oh," he says quietly, nearly to himself.

Hannibal kisses his chest.

"Oh," he echoes.

"Just wanted to feel-"

"And your thoughts?" Hannibal smiles lazily.

"I never want to feel anything else again."

"Very well," Hannibal murmurs.

"Other," Will breathes, stroking deeper purposefully, Hannibal's breaths catching, "than of course to feel you inside me."

"As you wish," Hannibal whispers.

"And that's what you want?" That wry little look again, like he doesn’t quite believe it; like he has to be sure.

"I can safely say I want nothing more."

"Glad to hear it," Will murmurs. His expression is bright and open, everything about him flush and gleaming and warm.

Hannibal cups his cheeks as Will slips his fingers free and leans to kiss him once more.

"Will you still pray, Will?" He murmurs it, and Will presses their cheeks together. Hannibal can hear him hum.

"Do you think anyone is listening?"

"Yes," Hannibal replies. "Someone always is."

He strokes Will's curls back.

Will hums again. "I don't know that I feel the need."

"Not even for me?"

"If you want that..." Will's expression slips for a moment. Hannibal holds his gaze.

"I only want to know you. Everything there is to know."

"So you'd have me pray to you," Will surmises.

"Do I have much in common with God, Will?"

"You tell me, you seem to know him intimately."

Hannibal smiles. "Not as intimately as all that."

"Not as intimately as you want to know me?"

That's the truth of the matter, isn't it? Hannibal just nods, because he can't deny it. And Will knows it.

They stay close, their little sanctuary rocked and pitched on the calm waves. Hannibal thinks of the little white church, and how this little white boat is so reminiscent of it.

"Anything else to confess, Will?" he whispers.

"You tell me."

"Quid pro quo?"

"If you like."

"Should I guess, then?" Hannibal murmurs. "Guilt has been replaced by delight, yet you still hesitate."

"It hasn't been replaced entirely; it exists alongside."

"Is it an uncomfortable juxtaposition?"

"Guilt usually chafes."

"Like an ill-fitting garment."

"Like a stone in my shoe."

"All the more reason to take them off."

"But then I'll have no shoes, Doctor, and walking barefoot on the stones can be even more uncomfortable."

"Oh, Will," Hannibal murmurs. Will dips his head, shying, and Hannibal lets him, letting the rock of the boat sooth them both.

"Quid pro quo, Doctor," Will mutters.

"I took off everything ill-fitting long ago."

"Took it off?" Will echoes. "Or cut it off?"

"Where necessary."

"You are a fan of fine tailoring," Will quips.

"Yes, I am." He strokes Will's jaw absently. "A priest's habit is loose enough to hide beneath."

"Your suit is not?"

"I simply have more than one. You like the one you've seen."

"What about the ones I haven't?"

"Perhaps that remains to be seen."

"Show me, then."

"I will."

"I want to know you."

Hannibal strokes his hair, wondering just what Will would say, if he knew the picture Hannibal had made for him with his priest, draped over the body of Christ on the cross. "You will, in time."

"Good," Will murmurs. He cups Hannibal's hips tighter, smoothing up his flanks with a grin Hannibal is starting to become familiar with. "What shall we do until then?"

"Enjoy one another," Hannibal suggests.

Will nods. "Worship one another."

"I hope you know I already was," Hannibal murmurs. He watches Will bite his lip, eyes jewel bright in the dark, cheeks rosy.

"So was I."

"I know," Hannibal replies.

"What else do you know?"

"This boat, our sanctuary."

Will nods. "In both senses. We're safe here."

Stroking his hair slowly, Hannibal smiles, imagining what he might say if only he knew of the inherent lack of safety, being alone with Hannibal. He has no doubt that he will glean it eventually, with that keen wariness he possesses, and when he does, Hannibal will simply have to teach him that he can be trusted. At least, with the treasure that is Will.

The thought fills him with pleasurable anticipation: he senses potential. And like God, he is endlessly patient.