The beginning of winter in Tuscany turned the hills from gold to bright green and filled the valleys with morning fog. It was hunting season. Hannibal had been talking about wild boar all week. The persimmon trees behind the house were so full of ripe fruit that Will couldn't pick it all.
He stood under one with a cobalt colored bowl to put them in and shivered. He'd come out barefoot, still not quite convinced of the cold. It wasn't much compared to Wolf Trap, but only idiots froze their feet in fifty degree weather. He dug his numb toes into the ground and smiled and picked more persimmons.
He wore jeans and one of Hannibal's shirts with the sleeves rolled up and black lace panties. His hair was long enough now to curl over his shoulders and tangle when he wasn't careful enough about combing it out. He'd painted his toenails the night before, which was the other reason he wore no shoes. He liked to see the pale pink against the dark earth. It made his life feel more solid.
The wind picked up. Rain spotted across his skin, stinging and cold. He gave up on the rest of the persimmons and walked back toward the house. A sharp gust sent the branches creaking overhead and made him jog the last few steps.
Hannibal was waiting for him at the kitchen door. He took the bowl and set it aside to pull Will into his arms, hands hot on his chilled skin.
"Barefoot and without a coat," he murmured into Will's hair.
Will sighed against his neck and let himself snuggle closer. His lips grazed Hannibal's collar bone through his shirt. "It's not that cold," he said.
"You're chilled through. Mud on your feet. Fingers like ice." Hannibal kissed Will's finger tips and sucked one into his mouth. It was so hot it burned, and Hannibal smiled at his flinch. He ran a hand through Will's hair instead. "And your hair," he added. "What a dreadful mess you look."
Will smiled. "You think I look beautiful. You always think I look beautiful."
"That's because you always do, my dear."
It was so absurd, but it filled Will's chest up with warmth that the winter couldn't touch. He kissed Hannibal's neck and slid his cold hands under his shirt against smooth warm skin, and Hannibal let him do it.
"What do you want for breakfast?" Will asked.
"I made coffee. We have persimmons. Let's go back to bed."
They took coffee and persimmons and a few slices of buttered bread through to the bedroom. Hannibal set the tray on the bed and climbed back between the sheets. Will kicked off his jeans and sat beside him.
"Wash your feet. You'll get dirt on the sheets," Hannibal said.
"We're getting crumbs in them. I'll have to change them later anyway."
Hannibal held out an arm, and Will leaned against him. They ate persimmons in the early morning quiet and listened to rain ping off the glass.
"I'm going into the city today," Hannibal said.
Will made some sound of acknowledgement. Hannibal made weekly trips into Florence. Will never asked what he did there.
"I'll bring home boar meat for dinner."
"You're cooking it," Will said.
After Hannibal left, Will put the sheets in the washer. He went to get more wood for the fire and found they were running low. They usually were. Hannibal hated chopping it. Will did it now, splitting log after log and wondering what to serve with wild boar. They had squash. He could roast it and stuff it with rice. Or he'd been meaning to try making gnocchi.
He carried the wood inside and stacked it up next to the fireplace. When the sheets were dry, he set up the ironing board there, between the fire and the broad window with its view of the lowering clouds.
It had been a shock to him that anyone actually ironed sheets, but of course Hannibal did. Will had come to enjoy it: the long slow pull of the iron, the scent of hot metal and lavender water, the crisp heat of the cotton.
He was waiting to be bored. He had been waiting for months. It hadn't happened yet. He drifted inside the confines of the domestic life they had built together, still unwilling to step outside, as if his past might be waiting there with bloody hands.
Hannibal came home in the gray early evening through a veil of rain. Will put on coffee and watched the car wind along the road between the hills, the only moving thing in a suspended landscape.
He kissed Will in a rush of cold, damp air. When he stepped in, Will stayed at the open door and let the rain fall on his outstretched palm. Hannibal returned to put a hand at his waist and stand close behind him.
"Gnocchi or roasted squash?" Will said.
Hannibal hesitated. "The squash, I think. You know I would take you with me. I would like to show you Florence."
Will closed the door on the rain and followed him into the kitchen where Hannibal set the wrapped meat on the counter with a dull thud. They cooked together. Hannibal watched him. Their eyes met only as reflected shadows in the window or the knife blade.
"I know you're not killing again," Will said.
"You are so certain of me?"
"Right now, yes. You're worried about me."
Hannibal lowered the heat on the heavy cast iron pot that held the boar, simmering with soy sauce and star anise. "I brought you something," he said. "A gift. Wait a moment."
Will stood at the edge of the kitchen. Hannibal tended to announce his gifts when he came in the door. What it meant that he had reserved this one, Will couldn't guess. Hannibal went back out into the rain, and Will heard the car door open and close. He returned with a flat brown box tied with twine. Will cut it with kitchen scissors and lifted the lid.
A silver hair brush lay inside, cushioned by tissue paper, along with a matching comb and mirror, all three faintly tarnished. Delicate scrollwork gave the impression of rolling waves and tidal pools. Will brushed his fingers over the back of the mirror. The metal was cold from sitting in the car. He gripped Hannibal's hand instead.
Hannibal stepped in close and touched the ends of his hair. "Do you mean to keep growing it?"
"I - I don't know. I haven't thought about it. I haven't thought about anything."
"You've let me plan for our future."
"Are you still content to do that?"
Hannibal nudged him toward a stool at the kitchen counter. Will sat. Hannibal took up the brush and stood behind him. He combed larger tangles from Will's hair with his fingers and then ran the brush down from scalp to tip.
The bristles were so soft that Will could barely feel them. He closed his eyes. "Thank you," he said.
"For the brush?"
"For this. For everything." Will reached back and laid a hand on Hannibal's thigh. He leaned against Hannibal's chest and felt his breath and his heart.
Hannibal kept up the steady stroke of the brush. "You wanted to stay here. Do you still?"
"Just a little longer."
"As long as you need, my dear."
Hannibal draped an arm over his shoulder and across his chest. He pressed a kiss to the top of his head. The repeated passes of the brush warmed Will's scalp and set his hair in smooth waves around his face.
"Will you dress for dinner?" Hannibal asked him.
"If you want me to."
"What do you want?"
"I don't know what I want. I keep waiting."
Hannibal tucked Will's hair behind one ear and kissed his temple. "For what?"
"I don't know. For reality."
"This is real."
Will held Hannibal's arm more tightly against him and looked out at the gray evening quickly fading into dull blue night. "I don't want to go back," he said.
"No one is going to take you from me, Will. I won't allow it."
"I promised already." He laced their fingers together so that their rings lay side by side. "I promised you a lifetime."
"I'm almost afraid to go outside. No, it's worse than that. I don't even want to go outside. I'd rather stay here and iron your sheets. I don't know what's wrong with me."
"You are still recovering from trauma."
"The shooting was almost a year ago."
"I don't mean only the shooting. And your life has been so difficult that you now mistrust ease. Even while you clutch it close to your heart and hoard it against future catastrophe. Give yourself time. You will come to believe in this life."
"It was easier in Lithuania."
Hannibal smiled. "No, it was far more difficult and so it was easier for you to accept."
Will remembered the long winter, their constant care over avoiding the police, chopping wood to heat the house. The mattress that had come with the house had also come with fleas. They'd itched for weeks.
"Maybe," he said.
"If you want to stay inside, then stay inside. There is no reason to do anything other than what you desire."
"That sounds dangerous."
"Why? What do you want to do?"
Will didn't answer, but when Hannibal set the brush down to go and check on the boar, he stood and walked to the bedroom. He undressed down to his panties and then stripped those off as well. In their place, he put on cotton ones, blue with small white hearts. He looked down at his own hands spanning his hips for a long time.
He did want to clutch this unlikely peace to his heart. It seemed impossible that it would last.
From the closet, he took out one of the simpler dresses Hannibal had brought him from Florence, a loose gray cotton knit that fell past his knees. He pulled it on and wore one of Hannibal's sweaters over it, all of it warm and soft and comfortable. Easy.
When he returned to the kitchen, Hannibal was standing over the stove. He reached for Will and drew him close. "Better?" he asked.
"How did you know?" Will said.
"How did you know I was worried about you when I hadn't yet realized it myself? We know each other better, I think, than we know ourselves. Perhaps due to more concentrated study." He paused. "I have thought of killing in Florence. It would not be the first time."
"Il Mostro. The Monster of Florence. That was you, wasn't it?"
"Yes. It was me."
"You were in one of my textbooks when I was getting my forensics degree. I've taught classes on you. Three of you. Il Mostro, the copycat, and the Chesapeake Ripper."
"And you still believe your life with me is too good to be true?"
Will smiled and leaned against him. "You might have a point."
Hannibal dipped a spoon into the braising liquid and held it up for Will to taste.
"It's good," Will said.
Hannibal tasted it himself and set the lid back on the pot. He looked Will over, up and down, and smoothed a hand over his hair.
"You talked about places where I could get away with much more," Will said.
"I know Paris best. There are a number of clubs where I could take you."
"Not yet," Will said. "But … maybe soon. We could do that."
"When you're ready, my dear. I can wait."