Title: The Fourth Want
Series: Profilers for Christmas 2019 Advent Calendar
Author: Jilly James
Genre: Challenge Response, First Time, Romance, Slash
Relationship(s): Hannibal Lecter/Will Graham
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Background Cannibalism, Potentially Other Trigger Topics
Challenge: Originally published anonymously on December 23rd as part of the Profilers for Christmas Advent Calendar. My prompt: Christmas music.
Author Note: Cannibalism is not discussed or on-screen, and no one eats a meal in this story. But Hannibal is Hannibal. Meaning, cannibalism is implicit. Takes place after Fromage (Tobias Budge) but before Trou Normand (the human totem pole). Assume there was a significant break between episodes 8 and 9. Also, I decided to stick with the canon-type of encephalitis, though I took some liberties. Canon accounts for Will’s symptoms even if they jacked the timeline and recovery period. Consider it the author handwave of canon; we can’t fix everything.
Beta: Keira Marcos
Word Count: 7,585
Summary: After an overheard conversation at the FBI, Will decides to take his relationship with Hannibal in a different direction.
“Music is the fourth great material want, first food, then clothes, then shelter, then music.”
—Christian Nestell Bovee
Will paced around Hannibal’s waiting area, knowing he needed to have this conversation, but not looking forward to it.
The click of the door opening got his attention, and he halted his pacing.
“Hello, Will.” Hannibal cocked his head, giving Will an assessing glance. “You are unusually agitated this evening.” Obviously not expecting an immediate reply, he stood back and gestured for Will to enter.
Inside Hannibal’s office, Will hesitated, not sure for once where to go. Sometimes he sat in the chair, other times leaned on Hannibal’s desk, and still other times, he’d walk around the office, finding things to inspect to absorb part of his attention. None of that felt right today. Instead, he went to the ladder and climbed to the mezzanine, strolling along the library shelves, finding the presence of books restful. Certainly more restful than Hannibal’s office. Will had always thought therapists strove to make their offices calm and soothing. Hannibal’s seemed designed to be the opposite of that. It was a contradiction, a flouting of societal norms that Will had always found…alluring.
“Will?” Hannibal finally prodded
At times in Will’s life, in circumstances such as these, he’d been overcome by either agitation or an odd sort of calm. He never knew which it would be until the moment was upon him. “You’re not my therapist,” Will said without inflection, looking down into the office space, meeting Hannibal’s gaze, feeling the calm settle over him.
“Agreed.” Hannibal raised a brow. “We’re having conversations.”
“Except our conversations allow you to sign forms that tell the FBI that I’m stable enough to be in the field.”
“Is that an issue?”
“Perhaps.” He let his fingers graze over the spines of several books with an odd series of colored dots as the only marker of what they were. With some reluctance, he went to the ladder and headed back down to Hannibal’s realm of carefully crafted discomfort.
Hannibal leaned against his own desk, hands clasped loosely in front of him, watching Will expectantly. His suit was a dark plaid that shouldn’t be capable of looking so formal, but Hannibal pulled it off.
“I overheard a conversation today.”
“Shall we explore the maxim that eavesdroppers never hear any good of themselves?” Hannibal’s tone was wry.
“I’d call it cliché. At best.” Will shoved his hands in his pockets. “It’s stated as an absolute, but surely in the breadth of human history, someone has overheard something pleasant.”
“I defer to your logic.” Hannibal’s lips twitched. “The question remains, in this instance, did you hear good or ill of yourself?”
“You assume the conversation was about me.”
“Is my assumption in error?”
Will glanced away. “No, but it wasn’t just about me.”
There was a brief pause. “I say with certainty that, within the halls of the FBI, there have been more than one conversation where you and I were mentioned in the same breath.”
“Yes, well…” Will briefly looked down, rubbing his hand over his mouth. “The point of the discussion was whether it was advisable for me to be your patient considering my specific,” he hesitated before continuing, “regard for you.”
Only the extra two blinks conveyed that Will had taken Hannibal by surprise. “Someone has inferred a…personal attachment and relegated the matter to common office gossip?”
“Not exactly.” Will decided to just get it all out there. He couldn’t deal with being on pins and needles, and he was starting to get another headache. “It was Jack and Alana, and I clearly wasn’t meant to overhear their concerns. Alana feels my ‘growing attachment’ to you is cause for concern, while Jack was sure I’d never make any overtures that would negatively affect our working relationship or prevent him from using you as a resource to clear me to work for him.” Will clenched his jaw, fighting back the irritation.
“And what about that angers you?”
Will glanced up sharply, meeting Hannibal’s gaze. “Am I angry, Dr. Lecter?”
“I’ll assume that question is rhetorical.” Hannibal braced his hands on the desk, on either side of where his hips rested against the antique. “You seek to remind me of our professional relationship in your mode of address. Considering how you began this conversation, I find that curious.”
Will huffed and began pacing the room. “Aside from the gossipy nature of their tête-à-tête, what about that shouldn’t anger me?”
“It was not so long past that Alana rejected a romantic overture on your part.”
“And you think I’m in a snit over it?” Will snorted. “Alana tries, but she has never understood me. Neither has Jack.”
“The fragile teacup.” Hannibal’s first observation when they met about how Alana and Jack viewed Will.
“Yes.” He orbited slowly around the chairs. “It’s interesting how you’d barely known me and seen that for a lie.”
“Why did you seek a romantic liaison with Dr. Bloom?”
“Now you sound like a shrink again.”
“That was a deflection.” Hannibal smirked. “Now I sound like a psychiatrist.”
Will chuckled but stopped his pacing. “Alana was a safer option, and I was feeling…unmoored.
Tired of being alone. At least, I thought she was safe until she admitted she’d never be able to stop trying to analyze me for the sake of her professional curiosity.”
“How distasteful.” Hannibal’s expression was…complicated. “To return to the question you’ve neatly side-stepped…”
“It angers me that they think I’m so predictable.” Will had never liked when people thought they could anticipate him, but he’d done a good job most of his life of keeping his feelings about that sort of thing under wraps. “Regardless of how I feel about what they said, it did raise an issue that needs to be dealt with.” He hesitated again, feeling like he was adrift again. “My feelings are at odds with a purely professional relationship, and it would be inappropriate to ask you to evaluate me for fitness to be in the field.”
Hannibal was still. Too still for Will’s comfort. “You wish to sever all professional ties?”
“No.” Will rocked back on his heels. “I would like to be able to consult with you on cases—we work well together, and your insights are helpful. But this dynamic of you evaluating me for the FBI has to end.”
“Jack may not allow me to consult if that particular benefit for him has been removed.”
“Well, I’m getting a little tired of Jack thinking he makes all the decisions. I’m a consultant, not his employee.” Part of Will was a seething ball of rage over the conversation he’d heard, but he couldn’t afford to let that get to him. Anger had always been a difficult emotion for him, one he couldn’t afford to wallow in if he wanted to be what the world expected. “If Jack wants me to see for him, he can let me work with someone I’m…comfortable with.” He felt vulnerable at the admission but forced the feeling into a box. “Unless you’d rather not. I wouldn’t want you forced into an awkward situation.”
Hannibal pushed away from the desk then rounded to the other side and took a seat. He pulled a piece of stationery from a drawer then began writing with a fountain pen. “Working with you has been one of the more rewarding experiences of my professional life. I would not see that brought to an untimely end.”
Will felt a surge of relief that he didn’t allow himself to show.
After a couple of minutes, Hannibal stood with the piece of paper in hand. He crossed to Will and passed it over.
“I do not think Dr. Bloom has the objectivity to assess you. On that list are three eminent psychiatrists I feel confident would be well suited for any necessary evaluations. I’ve listed all their particulars.”
Will felt a little hollow at how readily Hannibal had produced this list, at the way he’d removed the primary reason for their routine interactions. It seemed at odds with his words about enjoying working with Will. He glanced at the list, noting that two of the therapists were in Baltimore, but one was closer to him in DC.
“Thank you,” he managed to get out.
“There is a holiday concert on the 23rd,” Hannibal said, seemingly apropos of nothing.
Will glanced up and found Hannibal closer than would be typical. He parsed the information given, not able to come up with a clear picture. The concert mentioned was in ten days, only two days before Christmas. “Okaaay…” he drew out slowly.
“Would you care to attend the event with me?”
Startled, Will blinked at Hannibal. “Are you asking me…”
“Oh.” He swallowed heavily. “So, my interest isn’t…?”
Will fought the urge to look away, needing to see if Hannibal was sincere more than he needed to avoid eye contact. “I’m not good at social functions.”
“Why?” Hannibal pressed, moving infinitesimally closer. “You’re intelligent, articulate, and well-versed on a variety of subjects. Why are you ‘not good at social functions’?”
“Because my empathy isn’t limited to killers, and people in general are…” He glanced away.
“What are they, Will?” Hannibal said softly.
There was a long silence before Hannibal asked, “Worse than the killers whose minds you fear to lose yourself in?”
Will glanced away. “When I walk into a crime scene, I know what I’m about to experience. I’m prepared for it. It’s harder when it’s over coffee and you’re slipping into the mindset of someone cheating on their spouse or someone who an hour prior was beating their child. It makes me feel…”
“Yes…?” Hannibal prompted gently, moving entirely into Will’s space, a few scant inches between them, causing Will’s breath to catch in his throat.
“Dirty,” he bit out. “And powerless.” Will shook his head. “Jack thinks I don’t realize how much he worries that I’ll slip too far into the mind of a killer and become one myself. But I’m more likely to channel the killer while sitting across the table from a child abuser.” His hands curled into fists. “People who hurt children, animals, beat their spouse…they make me want to give in.”
“We all have a dark side, Will. It’s normal.”
Will jerked his gaze back to meet Hannibal’s. “Yes, we all do.”
Hannibal was as inscrutable as always. “Violence towards those unable to protect themselves affects you deeply.”
“One of the rare times you didn’t get the nuance quite right, Doctor.”
One side of Hannibal’s mouth turned up in a half-smile. “Please elucidate.”
“Betrayal infuriates me,” Will said simply.
After a moment of consideration, Hannibal replied, “All of those scenarios are forms of betrayal.”
“Yes.” Overwhelmed by their closeness, Will pivoted and began another slow turn around Hannibal’s office. “Tell me about this concert.”
“A quartet of opera singers whose niche is the classical crossover. They’ll perform traditional and contemporary holiday songs in an operatic style. The concert begins at eight.”
Will rubbed his hands over his arms, feeling the chill of the room. “The music doesn’t sound awful.” Once he’d reached adulthood, Will had never been particularly religious, he didn’t even believe in a god any longer. Still, he found many of the more religious holiday songs to be comforting in their way and often very beautiful.
Hannibal intercepted his orbit, blocking Will without touching him. “Will you grant me the pleasure of your company? Know that I’ll do everything in my power to make the evening enjoyable for you.”
He was rarely so ambivalent about a social event because he detested them. But Hannibal had asked him on a date, and he didn’t hate the idea. “I suppose it’s black tie?”
Hannibal looked surprised, but it was the barest of micro expressions that Will would have missed if he hadn’t been making eye contact. “Yes, however, a dark suit and tie would suffice.”
“I’ll manage.” He said it firmly, not wanting to open the door to Hannibal thinking he needed to dress him. He cleared his throat. “Should I meet you there?”
“I’d prefer you come to my home and we drive together.”
Will nodded, the motion feeling jerky. He took a step back, knowing he should say something else and end the situation in a polite and normal way, but switching gears like this wasn’t easy for him. Unless it was for a case, Will didn’t want to have any more conversations in this office.
Hannibal seemed to understand in a way no one had ever even bothered to try because he let Will go without complaint.
* * *
Will stood in his bathroom, towel around his hips, hair still dripping, and tried to make a decision about whether or not to shave. He’d always kept his hair a little too long and his face rather scruffy. Combined with the glasses, they served to prevent people from looking too closely, seeing too much. Any measure of separation was something Will needed if he had to endure social situations.
But Hannibal had promised to make the evening enjoyable. Considering that he knew as much about Will’s issues as anyone—probably more—that was practically a vow to act as a buffer. There was a sense of anticipation, even hope, about whatever this thing with Hannibal might become. Will hadn’t allowed himself to want for things in a long time, but with want came worry. He knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his distance in a relationship with Hannibal—he wouldn’t be able to hide.
It probably wasn’t fair, but tonight was a test. He couldn’t allow himself to want this if Hannibal was going to be unreliable.
Making a decision, he made a phone call and then dressed quickly. The barbershop was going to squeeze him in with barely enough time to get that taken care of before he had to pick up his tux.
He hadn’t seen Hannibal in the last ten days, though they’d spoken once to make arrangements. Will could practically feel Hannibal itching to ask after Will’s wardrobe, but he thankfully decided to leave the matter in Will’s hands. Will would never be the fashion snob Hannibal was, but he was perfectly capable of dressing appropriately when the situation called for it. Unfortunately, the need for a tuxedo had never before arisen.
Will didn’t spend money on anything except his dogs. He owned his house and his car and had no outstanding debt, so most of his income went unspent. Despite the fact that he could afford it, he still found it absurd to pay four grand for something he might never wear again. He’d also gotten a new overcoat, which was another two thousand. Both were at the store in Baltimore for the minor tailoring adjustments. Will would get a final fitting and then go to Hannibal’s. He might even be early if nothing unexpected occurred.
The barbershop Will usually went to—albeit infrequently—was no-frills, but the owner was competent and had a sure hand. Will hadn’t let anyone shave him in longer than he could remember. The situation was surreal enough to be like dreaming.
There was an array of aftershaves to choose from, including Will’s typical choice, a cheap scent he knew Hannibal didn’t appreciate.
Annoyed at his own absurdity, Will pulled out his phone and texted Hannibal.
— You get one opportunity to have an opinion on the subject of my usual aftershave. Wear or no?
His phone vibrated a bare ten seconds later.
— No. Thank you for the consideration, Will. I believe I have something that would suit if you would indulge me?
Will scowled at the phone but typed a short reply.
— Yeah, okay.
He looked up at the barber and shook his head. “Nothing scented.”
There was a fragrance-free aftershave balm that felt nicer than anything Will had ever used. He frowned a little at that as the barber finished up.
* * *
Will stared at himself in the full-length mirror, feeling as if he were looking at a stranger. The tailoring of the Tom Ford tuxedo seemed to be perfect as far as he could tell. He wouldn’t usually know the difference between Tom Ford and Tom Thumb, but the brand had been discussed so much during his fitting last week that he felt like it was permanently etched into his brain.
The sales associate had expertly tied the bow tie, which was helpful. Otherwise, Will would have had to show up, tie in hand, asking Hannibal to tend to it. He felt a warmth in his belly at the thought, wishing he’d chosen that route. Despite the surprising appeal of the idea, he would rather arrive put together.
The clerk came in with the overcoat he’d had on hold. He didn’t know the designer of the coat because he’s just gone with whichever one the clerk said had the right cut that didn’t cost more than a world cruise.
Will was tense and irritable by the time he got to his car from having to deal with the obvious sexual interest from several people. He’d managed to regain his equilibrium by the time he arrived at Hannibal’s house twenty minutes before their agreed-upon time.
When he was on the front walk, midway to the door, the first snowflakes fell, catching his attention by hitting his cheek. He brushed the moisture away as he rang the bell.
The door opened to show Hannibal with a faint smile of greeting. His expression froze as soon as he caught sight of Will. Simply standing there, his gaze flicked down Will’s body, taking everything in.
Will took the opportunity to take in Hannibal’s appearance as well. He looked good, but then, he always did. He was ready except for his jacket, hair perfectly styled, and the clothes fitting as if they were all made for him. In fact, they probably were all custom made.
Hannibal was often difficult for Will to read, which certainly had a level of appeal, but Hannibal was so taken aback by Will’s appearance that it was easy for Will to take in the deep well of desire. He felt his cheeks heat in response.
“Will,” Hannibal said lowly, finally breaking the silence. Rather than stepping back to let Will in, he reached out and clasped Will’s arm, bringing him close. “You look lovely.”
Will felt the heat spread to the tips of his ears but let himself be led inside, keenly aware of the touch on his arm. Hannibal helped him out of his overcoat, hanging it in the hall closet.
Then he stood facing Will, fingertips trailing along the line of Will’s lapel. “Tom Ford is a lovely choice for you.”
Will huffed, ignoring the shivery sensation racing up his spine. “Figures you’d recognize a designer by the lapel.”
Hannibal took Will by the arm again, leading him into the living room. “We have time before we have to leave. I have a small gift for you.”
Will noticed subtle, elegant nods to the holiday season as they walked through the house. The living room had more overt décor but all in shades of red, cream, and gold. Very tasteful. Very Hannibal.
Hannibal opened a cabinet and pulled out a cream-colored box with an elaborate red bow.
“You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“There is no obligation between us. However, after you agreed to accompany me, I sought to secure a suitable present in honor of the season and to commemorate the evening. Tonight, you made a concession in deference to my sensibilities, so allow me to gift this to you early as a small gesture of appreciation.”
Will accepted the box, took hold of one end of the ribbon, and pulled. The entire huge bow came apart with the single tug, falling away from the box to lay over his hand. Of course Hannibal would ensure the gift unwrapped elegantly. He pulled the lid from the box and found two opaque black bottles nestled in custom-molded foam inside. One was larger and round, probably holding about four ounces. The smaller container was about a quarter of the size but had squared edges. Neither bottle had a label, just the letters WG etched in gold.
Will shot Hannibal a questioning look.
Hannibal touched the larger bottle. “Aftershave.” He tapped the smaller, square bottle. “Cologne.”
“You—” He frowned. “WG?”
Hannibal just arched a brow.
“Seriously?” His initials? “Tell me it’s just the bottles that you had customized.”
“Your preferred scent is not altogether wrong for you. It is simply too many fragrances and excessively synthetic.”
Will should probably be offended, but he found himself a weird blend of touched and amused. “So, you picked out something else.”
“That’s not precisely correct.”
Will sighed. “You designed a fragrance?”
“Yes. Focusing on the notes that will flatter you naturally, eschewing any synthetic scents.” Hannibal picked up the cologne and unscrewed the cap, passing the bottle under Will’s nose. The scent was familiar and yet not. More subtle than his usual, but still with spicy/earthy undertones.
Hannibal tilted the bottle, getting a small amount on his thumb. He slid his hand around Will’s neck, tracing his thumb from Will’s jaw, down the line of his jugular, stopping at his collar. Will’s breath caught, and he stared into Hannibal’s eyes, hands tightening on the box still containing the bottle of aftershave.
Leaning in, Hannibal took a slow breath right at Will’s pulse. “Top notes of citrus and star anise.” Another slow inhale. “Heart notes of clove, honeysuckle, and heliotrope. The clove suits you in ways cinnamon didn’t.” He pulled back enough that their faces were mere inches apart. “Base notes of sandalwood, cedar, and vanilla. Perfection.”
Will’s breath stuttered, and he nearly lost his grip on the box. “Hannibal,” he whispered.
Hannibal’s lips grazed Will’s cheek. “William…” He moved back just enough that their eyes met again. “It suits you.” The bottle was recapped and placed in the box with the lid secured. Hannibal took the box and set it on the table, leaving Will’s hands full of silky ribbon.
“I like it,” Will managed to get out. And he did. The scent profile was cleaner than he usually wore but still similar in tone. “I’ll wear it.”
Hannibal smiled. “I’ll replenish your stock whenever needed.”
Will felt like they’d just made a lifetime commitment over cologne. “Thank you, Hannibal.”
“It’s my pleasure.” Hannibal stepped close again, tugging the silky ribbon out of Will’s grip, but Will resisted releasing it for a second. “Did you wish to keep it?”
Weirdly, Will did. He didn’t reply, but Hannibal must have seen the desire because he began winding the ribbon into a smooth coil. He pressed it flat then tucked it behind Will’s pocket square, letting bits of the ends peek out behind the white silk.
Will was about two seconds from yanking Hannibal into a kiss and asking if they could skip this concert, but Hannibal stilled, a brief expression of annoyance crossing his features. He pulled his phone from his pocket, glancing at the display. “The car service has arrived. We should depart. I’ll retrieve my jacket and join you in the foyer.”
Will blinked, trying to get his bearings. “Car service?”
“I occasionally utilize a service rather than drive to such events.” Something about that seemed disingenuous, but Will wasn’t sure what the motive could possibly be, so he decided not to pursue it.
Hannibal squeezed Will’s arm as he passed then disappeared down the hall. They met up again in the entryway. Hannibal’s tuxedo jacket was a deep red with faint black accent lines. He insisted on helping Will into his coat, hands lingering on Will’s shoulders.
“Are we merely friends this evening, Will?” Hannibal murmured right by his ear.
Will’s cognitive function shorted out for a few seconds. “Are you asking…?”
“Should our relationship appear platonic in nature?”
“Not on my account.”
Lips pressed gently right behind his ear, and Will shivered.
* * *
Will glanced at his watch as the car waited at the light around the corner from the Performing Arts Center. “The performance starts at eight?”
“Yes.” They’d been seated, arms pressed together since they got into the car.
“Aren’t we cutting it close?”
“We’ll be in our seats five minutes before the performance.”
Will turned a bit to look at Hannibal, who met his gaze readily. “Isn’t there some mingly social thing you do before?”
“There are opportunities before and after, yes.”
Will raised one brow.
“You’re the only company I desire this evening.”
“Hannibal—” The car coming to a stop prevented Will from saying anything else.
The driver came around and opened the door on Will’s side. They were across the street from the venue, and there was a line of empty cars at the valet station, waiting for the attendants to catch up.
Hannibal finished a brief exchange with the driver then joined Will.
“Nice call on the car.”
“As you can see, ahead of the performance, one may leave the car, and the valets will tend to it in due course. However, the delay after the concert is not insignificant.”
Will pondered all the minor details of the evening as they crossed the street and entered the venue. Hannibal checked their coats then led Will through the lobby, nodding to a few people lingering but not stopping.
An usher led them to a private box at the rear of the orchestra section, centered beneath the dress circle. Their seats were in just about the perfect position as far as Will was concerned. Private boxes weren’t truly secluded, but people were at a greater, more comfortable distance. In the case of the box they were in, people had to be overt in order to stare, twisting around or looking away from the stage. Other than the people in the boxes to their direct left and right, there wasn’t even an easy path to interaction.
Will relaxed as he took his seat.
Hannibal sat close—too close for anyone to think they were merely friends.
“This is where you usually sit?”
“No.” He gestured to the orchestra section. “Orchestra right, though I also maintain a box that I offer to certain acquaintances for most performances.”
“But you prefer to sit closer to the stage.”
Hannibal took his hand. “I promised to do everything in my power to secure your enjoyment this evening. It is no sacrifice, Will, to provide a suitable environment.”
He wanted to say it wasn’t necessary, but it was. Will would have endured this tonight, but there was no way he’d enjoy it with people pressing in on him from every side.
Leaning close, he pressed a lingering kiss to the corner of Hannibal’s mouth then whispered, “Thank you.”
Hannibal’s gaze roamed hungrily over Will’s face for a few seconds before he brought himself back into control. He squeezed Will’s hand as the lights lowered.
Considering how much Will wanted to take Hannibal home and climb him, he thought he’d have a hard time focusing on the music, but that turned out not to be a problem.
The singers were skilled, their voices lovely, and the style of the music wasn’t so high brow that it wasn’t enjoyable for him. He even enjoyed the more contemporary holiday music sung in a classical style, and he’d always hated modern holiday music in the past. However, it was the traditional songs that completely took his breath away. The acapella version of O Come All Ye Faithful was the highlight of the performance right up until the end when the rendition of O Holy Night left him overwhelmed and even more grateful for the illusion of privacy.
The lights were barely up from the last encore before Hannibal was leading him out of the box. An usher was waiting with their coats, which struck Will as odd, but then they were led through an employees-only door, down a few corridors, and out a side door where their driver was waiting.
As soon as the car was moving, Will turned in the seat to look at Hannibal directly. “That was perfectly choreographed.”
“I have some skill in planning such things.”
Will’s lips twitched. “I’ll bet you do. Your friends won’t be put out at you disappearing so quickly?”
“I notified those who matter that I would be leaving promptly after the performance. There are sufficient opportunities for social interaction that leaving early to enjoy more pleasant company is an opportunity not to be missed.”
His fingers twitched, eager to touch, so he gave in to the impulse and set his hand on the back of Hannibal’s. “Thank you. I enjoyed it, and I haven’t been able to do anything like that in a very long time.”
“You are welcome, William.”
“I know it was a sacrifice—”
“It was not.” Hannibal reached up, cupping the side of Will’s face. “Your presence is all I needed for a perfect evening.”
Will inched closer, wanting to pull Hannibal into a kiss, feeling the desire to touch and taste.
“If I kiss you now,” Hannibal whispered, “I will find it difficult to stop.”
“Mmm.” Will’s hand clenched on Hannibal’s arm.
“Did you enjoy the music?” Hannibal let his hand drift to the back of Will’s head, teasing the nape of his neck and causing Will to shiver.
“Yes,” Will said a little breathlessly. “It was lovely.”
“Which was your favorite?”
“O Holy Night.”
“Do you consider yourself a religious man, Will?”
“No, nothing has ever given me cause to believe there’s any sort of higher power.”
“A true agnostic.”
Will hesitated. “But I understand the feeling of reverence that the music evokes.”
“Yes,” Hannibal said, breath ghosting over Will’s cheek, turning the shivery sensation into a full-on shudder. Hannibal abruptly pulled back, swallowing heavily. “I’m interested to learn which performer’s voice held the most appeal for you.”
“Um.” Will’s brain felt foggy, but he knew they had to cool it in the car. He fumbled for the program they’d abandoned on the seat, taking a moment to get his thoughts in order while he looked through it. “Carlos’ voice is astonishing, but something about David… His voice is almost otherworldly.”
They discussed the nuance of the performance the rest of the drive, and Will’s whole body was humming with anticipation by the time the driver let them off in front of Hannibal’s house.
As soon as they were inside with the door shut, Hannibal backed Will against the door, holding him in place with the weight of his body. He braced his hands on either side of Will’s head.
Will reveled in the sensation of Hannibal pressed close, but Hannibal’s clenched jaw and the tension radiating from his whole body gave Will pause.
“Don’t,” Hannibal gritted out, “give yourself to me if you don’t intend to stay.”
“I assume you don’t just mean tonight?” Will softly touched the tense line of Hannibal’s jaw.
“I’m possessive, Will, and I have desired nothing in my life so much as you—almost from the moment we met. If you’re not ready to be mine, we should end this evening here and proceed with the normal course of dating.”
Will’s mind raced, putting together pieces of information, seeing the night as the gesture Hannibal meant it. That Hannibal would stand by Will but also shelter him, buffer the world that was so difficult for Will to deal with. He knew part of the reason they resonated with one another was the darkness they each had. He didn’t yet know the full shape of Hannibal, but he saw the edges. He was fully aware that while Hannibal might shelter Will from the world, he wouldn’t do anything to hold back Will’s own darkness.
Not that Will needed that from Hannibal or anyone else.
He didn’t believe in something as capricious as fate, but if he did, he’d think they were meant for one another.
In wordless reply, he slid his hand to the back of Hannibal’s head and pulled him into a hot press of lips. Hannibal was still for a heartbeat, then he licked into Will’s mouth, taking control of the kiss. Hands immediately found their way to Will’s hips, pulling him infinitesimally closer.
Their overcoats wound up pooled on the entryway floor and then stepped over as Hannibal led Will to the stairs, frequently pausing to fuse their mouths together, both eager and hungry. Will could never recall feeling so present, so caught up in the moment. He just knew this was perfect and everything he’d ever wanted but never dared hope for.
* * *
Hannibal woke abruptly, feeling warmer than he should, sweat sticking unpleasantly to his skin. He knew that something was wrong.
Will was pressed close, body still and heavy, half draped over Hannibal and burning with fever. Hannibal shifted Will to his back then quickly assessed his condition, eventually trying to rouse him without success. The only response was flinching and a distressed moan from the light when Hannibal tried to assess pupillary response.
He moved from the bed and retrieved his medical kit. Several minutes later, he was staring at the readout on the digital ear thermometer and feeling foolish for not having seen a serious medical issue at play in Will all along. He’d never believed Jack and Alana’s assessments of Will’s psychological fragility, but he’d still dismissed Will’s symptoms—sleepwalking, sleeplessness, headaches, auditory and visual hallucinations—as a function of stress. He’d found the working of Will’s mind to be curious and hadn’t delved deeper.
And now… Based on the duration and full breadth of symptoms, Hannibal concluded a rare form of autoimmune encephalitis as the most likely cause. Though he knew the hospital would rightly assess for meningitis first, which would mean isolation for both of them since, if it were meningitis, Hannibal would likely be exposed.
He should call an ambulance, but that would result in a loss of control that he could not abide. Though he was confident in his ability to carry Will to the car, it would be better if he could rouse Will to some degree.
He quickly dressed then made a call to the hospital. He had privileges at several Baltimore hospitals; he’d maintained his license to practice despite the move to psychiatry. So, it was easy enough to get the ER attending on the phone. He outlined Will’s condition and that they would be en route shortly. He then tried to rouse his lover again.
“Will?” Hannibal prodded until he began to get a response, prepared to carry Will if necessary. “I need you to wake up now.”
Will opened his eyes, unfocused and obviously in pain, flinching from the light. “Tired,” he rasped. His gaze sharpened as he looked over Hannibal’s shoulder, smiling faintly at something. One hand was gripping Hannibal’s arm tightly, and the other reached out as if he could touch whatever only he could see.
Hannibal wondered what Will was seeing, but could ill afford to indulge his curiosity now.
Will’s head lolled again, though stiffness in his neck made the movement oddly stilted.
“Stay with me, Will. You’re feverish.”
“Be gone in the morning,” Will muttered.
“This has happened before?” Hannibal felt certain about his assessment of encephalitis.
“Yeah. Need aspirin…head’s killing me.” Will’s brow furrowed, and he plucked at the sleeve of Hannibal’s jacket, oddly focused on Hannibal’s attire. “You’re dressed.”
“Yes, but I cannot give you aspirin, I’m afraid. Come now… I’ll do most of the work, but I need your cooperation.” He levered Will into an upright position then slipped a T-shirt over his head.
“With what?” Will’s gaze roamed the room, not settling on anything.
“We’re going to the hospital. I’ve called ahead and made arrangements.”
“I’m fine. Be gone soon.”
“Will.” Hannibal framed Will’s face with his hands, thumbs grazing his cheekbones and feeling the fever pouring off him. “Your temperature is almost 104 degrees. It terrifies me that this has happened before and you haven’t sought treatment. We can go to the hospital together now, or I will call an ambulance.”
Will blinked, and his brow furrowed, giving the appearance of confusion. “That’s a high fever.”
“Yes. Please let me take care of this—take care of you. After our recent relationship negotiations, I’m not prepared to lose you to illness.” Hannibal wasn’t prepared to lose Will to anything. Will’s declaration in his office ten days past was unexpected, perhaps more so than anything in Hannibal’s adult life, but it was welcome.
“Yeah.” Will patted Hannibal’s leg as if trying to be reassuring. “I’m fine.”
“We’ll let qualified medical professionals ascertain the truth of that.” He managed to get Will into clothes and one of Hannibal’s jackets before he helped Will to the car. Hannibal was half carrying Will by the time they were in the garage. The door was open and the Bentley running with the heater on to take off the chill. He got him buckled into his seat with the seat reclined back, and Will was asleep again before Hannibal settled in his own seat.
While the hospital was normally a moderate ten-minute drive from Hannibal’s home, there was a layer of unplowed snow covering the roadways, slowing their journey.
Hannibal had asked to speak with the on-call neurologist as soon as possible, and Dr. Krishnamurthy phoned while they were still a few minutes away. He discussed Will’s current symptoms with the neurologist as well as the other issues Will had reported, which Hannibal had attributed to sleep deprivation and stress.
There was a hesitation before Krishnamurthy said, “You’re suggesting anti-NMDAR encephalitis.”
“Occam’s razor. Anti-NMDAR encephalitis accounts for all his symptoms.”
“Yes,” Krishnamurthy said slowly, “it does. I’ll need to rule out meningitis first.”
“But I’m in agreement. We’ll run the NMDA receptor antibody test immediately. When will you arrive?”
“Less than two minutes.”
Their arrival at the hospital began a flurry of activity that Hannibal wasn’t exempt from, not that he wished to be—he would not be removed from Will’s side unless there was no choice. Since meningitis was possible, Hannibal had to be assessed for exposure as well, so he and Will were kept in isolation together.
While the situation was carefully controlled chaos for a time, it still afforded Hannibal ample opportunity to think. He sat at the bedside, now dressed in scrubs, and held Will’s hand, wondering at the progression of events if Will hadn’t asked—demanded—for the change in their relationship.
He was irrationally furious at himself because he knew with certainty that if the nature of their association had not changed, he would have let Will burn.
He had always seen Will as a threat because of what Will might see, but that very insight had also been a tantalizing opportunity. The potential to be known was so alluring as to be dangerous. The threat Will presented had often outweighed his allure until Will came to his office ten days ago, angry about Jack and Alana’s gossip. Hannibal so rarely let anyone close, and when he did, he was possessive and territorial. He no longer cared that his craving for Will could be his undoing.
Will has his.
And what might have been no longer mattered. Their course was new, and Hannibal would do everything in his power to protect it and keep Will by his side. He pressed a kiss to the back of Will’s hand.
Will began to sweat out the fever barely an hour after their arrival. Thirty minutes later, he was conscious and lucid if confused about his surroundings.
Hannibal sponged the sweat from Will’s forehead as pale blue eyes tracked his movements.
“What’s happened?” Will sounded exhausted.
“You’re quite ill.” Hannibal sat on the edge of the bed, angled to face Will, and pulled the blanket higher in deference to Will’s shivering. “They need to rule out infectious meningitis then you’ll have an MRI.” He stroked Will’s cheek, the feelings of tenderness and affection so very alien to him and yet so precious. “MRI is necessary in either case, but the protocols are more complicated if you’re—”
“A disease-carrying nightmare?”
“Something like that, yes.” He smiled faintly.
“What do you think it is?” Will’s focus was solely on Hannibal, completely ignoring the nurse who’d entered to change his IV.
“The tests are not—”
“Don’t. You have a suspicion—I can see it.”
“I believe it to be NMDA-receptor antibody encephalitis. It would explain symptoms that I had been dismissed as psychiatric.”
“Like the hallucinations?”
Hannibal focused more intently at hearing something new. “Lost time, Will?”
Will’s hand clenched on Hannibal’s. “I thought I was going crazy,” he whispered.
Leaning in, Hannibal pressed a lingering kiss to the corner off Will’s mouth. “I wish I could have eased your burden sooner.”
Will’s chuckle reflected no real amusement. “Well, we’re here now.” He blew out a breath. “My dogs…” They’d been planning to go to Wolf Trap together in the morning to tend to the pack.
“If you’d allow it, I can arrange for a reputable facility to board them.”
“Will I be here so long that it’s necessary?”
“If it’s what I suspect, it will be several weeks at the least. Some patients spend months in the hospital.”
Will rubbed his free hand over his face, looking distressed. “I… Yes, please arrange it. Though they won’t accept a stranger easily.”
“Then I’ll ask Alana to tend to them today and, provided I’m released, will see to them myself tomorrow. The service can meet me at the house the day after Christmas. Will that be agreeable?”
“Why are you stuck— Oh. Until they rule out meningitis, you were in close contact with me.”
“You don’t have to do all—”
Hannibal put a finger over Will’s lips. “Please do not say anything foolish. Though much of our commitment was unspoken, am I wrong in believing there was one?”
Will’s expression softened. “No. But you weren’t signing up for—”
“I was ‘signing up’ for you, Will, and whatever that may entail.” Even it meant Will would fully see him, something Hannibal both longed for and dreaded in case it cost him everything precious in his life. His thumb moved in small circles on the back of Will’s hand.
Krishnamurthy entered then, without even a mask, so Hannibal knew the tests for meningitis were negative. They discussed the additional tests needed, and Will would be taken for the MRI soon. Krishnamurthy did an assessment of Will’s capacity, determining that he was competent at that time to give consent to treatment and advised that Will appoint someone to make decisions for him if the situation should change dramatically.
Without any apparent hesitation, Will signed paperwork designating Hannibal as his medical proxy. He was then whisked away to radiology, leaving Hannibal alone with his thoughts and wishes for the future.
* * *
Hannibal woke when his hand was squeezed, immediately sitting up in the hospital-supplied recliner to find Will watching him intently. Morning light filtered through the hospital blinds, and Hannibal easily came to full wakefulness despite the few hours of sleep he’d had over several days.
He met Will’s gaze, finding his lover alert, appearance improved over the day before.
Will smiled softly. “Morning.”
“Will…” Hannibal’s jaw muscles flexed as he fought his own internal angst. “How are you feeling?”
“Better. The brain fog from last night seems to be gone.”
“The medications work quickly for symptom management.” They’d, unfortunately, be needed for some time yet.
“But it’s not a cure?” Will extrapolated, brow furrowed. “I vaguely recall test results last night…”
“Your fever spiked again; it’s expected that your memory might be fragmented,” Hannibal supplied. “The scans showed a small tumor on your thyroid, which is believed to be the cause of the anti-NMDA receptor antibodies.”
Will frowned. “So, they’re going to remove it?”
“Yes. Tomorrow. Time will tell if it was the cause.”
Nodding, Will didn’t seem inclined to discuss it further. He glanced around the room, not letting go of Hannibal’s hand. “The music… It’s the same.” His smile seemed genuine.
“From the concert, yes.” Hannibal kept a small speaker in the emergency bag he kept in the trunk of his vehicle. His phone was presently connected to it, playing a studio recording of the same songs. “I thought the music might help you rest more easily.”
“I think it did.” He gave a tug on Hannibal’s hand, obviously wanting him closer, so Hannibal rose to his feet. Will scooted over and patted the bed. “I thought for a long time that I was fine alone, but now that I have you, I’m greedy for more.”
Hannibal slipped onto the narrow bed, readily pulling Will into his arms. “I would happily indulge your greed.” He pressed a kiss to Will’s hair.
After a long, peaceful silence, Will whispered, “So, I’ll recover?”
“Yes, but we’ll need to be vigilant about any recurrence of your symptoms.”
“Of course.” Hannibal tilted Will’s head back, pressing their mouths together softly. “I told you already that I won’t let you go.”
Will smiled, warm and genuine, obviously not put off by the sentiment. He blinked sleepily, trying to move closer as if he could fuse them into one person.
Hannibal stroked his cheekbone. “Sleep, my dear. I’ll be here when you wake.”
Il Divo performs…
Half of my prompts for the Advent Calendar were for art, and I chose to do companion pieces for my stories. One of the art pieces I submitted, titled The Perfect Gift, was a sort-of sequel to this story, visually telling the story of their second Christmas together.
Art Summary: Hannibal finds an abandoned puppy outside his offices and decides it’s the perfect gift for Will on their second Christmas together.
Art Prompt: Unexpected gift