I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
When Will emerged downstairs, Hannibal had also changed into pajamas and a robe. Will couldn’t explain why he’d chosen the red silk to wear. Perhaps because he had never owned anything like it. Hannibal looked Will up and down.
“If you would be so kind to start a fire in the den, I’ll be in shortly. Help yourself to the whisky on the side table.”
Will built up the fire and Hannibal breezed in holding a tray piled with gourmet cheeses, dates, nuts, and fruits. To his surprise, Hannibal chose the velvet couch nearest the fireplace rather than the parlor table. Even more surprising, he actually curled up, bare feet tucked under himself. He still managed to make it look elegant.
“Come join,” he said and patted next to him. They ate lazily, putting a sizeable dent in what was an excessive amount of food. When they were done, they sat in companionable silence, content to sip their whiskey and watch the fire dance.
“You live well,” Will finally said.
“What would you change here? Not enough yard for seven dogs perhaps?”
“It’s a tough question. No one else sees this space through my strange mind. I see the trappings of someone concealing himself. This house is a façade, an elegant sleight of hand to distract others. All your acquaintances see is the glamour and privileges of old World wealth. They want to sidle up to it and pretend that that heritage might just be theirs too. They don’t even notice all the obscure little inside jokes you tuck here and there to mock them. The art that reveals your appetites outright and yet is completely ignored. I think the only painting you own that doesn’t feature death or gore or something scandalous is that little Papillon dog in the kitchen.”
“I assumed you liked it. I often catch you admiring it when I’m cooking. You can have it.”
“Oh Hannibal, I can’t accept that. Something’s got to keep some semblance of balance in your collection and it sure ain’t going to be Leda and her pervert swan.”
Hannibal snickered into his glass.
“I like the dog, but my favorite is in your dining room.”
“Ah. The lithograph of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ that you so cheekily tipped askew today.”
“I’m happy you noticed. With an inscription no less of the line “O villain! Though wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this.’ Condemned to everlasting redemption! Hanging directly over where you lord over your unsuspecting flock of admirers – serving them up one of their own sheep. You actually have a pretty funny sense of humor, you know.”
“Thank you, I’m glad you appreciate my playful little jokes. Will, humans have decorated themselves and shaped their dwellings since time immemorial. You have your comforting home too, and everything about it is Will Graham. But the country life you’ve chosen to avoid social contact and the baggy clothes and fake glasses you hide behind don’t conceal you. Not from me.”
“What am I hiding?”
Hannibal smiled deeply. “Your extraordinary beauty. Your uniqueness.” Hannibal lightly stroked Will’s knee, then he looked away. “You don’t want them to see you either.” Will was stunned and swallowed thickly. The room suddenly felt much too hot and dim.
“Patients with intimacy problems and sexual issues,” Hannibal continued, “they are a dime a dozen. They make for terribly banal work and I usually won’t take them as clients.”
“It wasn’t aware my sex life was a point worth discussing. You’ve never brought it up in session.”
“Neither did you. And this isn’t session.”
“I should hope not. Two grown killers having a pajama party in the small hours of the night chattering away like hens and drinking an unadvisable amount of liquor? That would be too unorthodox a treatment technique, even for you.
“I’m simply offering an observation. I’ve upset you this evening with some of my words.”
“Will, look at me. The natural drive we have for connection, in most pathological cases, can be improved from within a patient through therapy. But you have an entirely different problem with intimacy, don’t you? The issue is not what is inside. You’re not broken. It is everyone beyond you, no?”
Will licked his lips. “Can’t fix empathy,” he admitted in a small voice.
“Empathizing with the dead is easy. Looking at crime and blood and violence is easy. It has no emotion anymore.”
“I imagine when you look at the living, looking at a friend, or maybe having young girls and boys try to get your number, even a colleague, and your murderers in your visions, their desire, fear, disdain, joy – all of it – becomes yours.”
Will nodded and sighed. “There’s no way to know if my reaction and feelings for another are mine or theirs. I have never been able to have someone very long in my life before it creates a major issue and there’s the inevitable blow up and tears and doors slamming.”
“Like your rather unfortunate encounter with Alana.”
“You mean my epic failure with Alana. Don’t rub it in. I had always liked her. When she came to me with sympathy, support, and comfort, I completely misread her intentions when they became tangled with mine. But longer term stuff is what’s basically impossible.”
“When I was 20, in school, I was living with a girlfriend and I would know immediately when she lied. Lied about stupid things like buying toilet paper. Lied about serious things like whether I was making her happy. I started lying too, compulsively. To her. To myself. I couldn’t bear to even touch her because I internalized her rejection of me. I came home one day and could see she held no love for me at all. She hated me. And so I hated myself and blamed myself for all her neurotic shit. The emotional wires got crossed in my head and I felt disgust when I owed her kindness and a graceful exit. I said things that I later regretted before I walked out on her. I heard she dropped out of school a semester later.
“I’m sorry that happened to you. She clearly did not deserve you. Women are socially licensed to express their emotions more freely, while conventional masculinity is supposed to bottle it up.”
“Yeah, but guys are allowed to express lust and covetousness and aggression. That didn’t work out either.”
Hannibal’s astonishment showed only as a blink. “Not if they’re taught to conduct themselves respectfully. I do hope you weren’t taken advantage of in the course of your explorations.”
“No, just kind of non-stop emotionless fucking that left me feeling miserable and used.”
“Hmmm. A parody of intimacy then.”
“I can’t trust my feelings because they are very often not mine. My empathy disorder has mislead me into hurting people. I’ve done reckless things, sometimes dangerous things that later fill me with guilt.”
Hannibal leaned back in thought. “I have been a bachelor my whole life. Had affairs now and again when it suited me. I never had the urge to share my private life with someone else. I haven’t shared my space with another for any considerable time since I was a boy. Beyond my parties, I’m alone here.”
“Well, maybe if you dialed back on the crazy horn décor you’d stop frightening people off. Five horns in every single room of this mansion, Hannibal? It is overkill. Pun intended. What, do you like buy them in bulk?”
“What, pray, would you suggest?”
“Limit it to one in each room and ditch the rest.”
“Why leave just one?”
“So I’ll always be reminded that you may actually be the Devil.”
Hannibal smiled slyly. “But I haven’t even offered you a Devil’s bargain yet.”
“A moratorium on trying to kill each other might be nice.” He sighs deeply. “So why are you asking me for decorating advice? As you so diplomatically pointed out, I have zero fashion sense and live in a shitheap of dogs and motors in the middle of nowhere.”
“Because I want you be more comfortable here. I like you in my spaces. I like sharing them with you. That is a rather new sensation for me.”
Will furrowed his brow in confusion and set his glass between his legs.
“Let me ask you something and answer me honestly. At any point in the time we’ve known each other, in spite of everything that has transpired, have you ever felt your emotional wires get crossed with mine? Feel that you couldn’t distinguish what you felt from my sentiments?
“N…no, actually. I don’t think so. I sense them, read them – when you let me. Not much gets through your shields. They don’t invade like others. It’s…nice. A respite from everyone else’s sentimental cacophony. It’s your words and deeds that I have to watch out for.”
“Yes. We are rather two sides of the same coin. I find our conversations to be singularly engaging. Do you ever find yourself anticipating them?”
“Yes. The hours leading up to an appointment sometimes tend to drag. Sometimes the whole week seems like it hasn’t happened until I’m sitting across from you in your office.”
“When your chair is empty, its emptiness is sometimes deafening. I’m glad you came here tonight.”
“I can come for more sessions, if you want.”
Hannibal shook his head. He struggled with words for a moment. It was so unlike himself to hesitate. He inhaled deeply and set his hand gently over Will’s arm on the couch.
“Stay with me sometimes.”
In that moment, time slowed to a stop. Then in the next second, Will was hit with its entire force. “You mean here? Again, after tonight?”
“Yes, although you needn’t bring a whole corpse on every occasion.”
Will’s heart was racing. “What..what are you asking?
“Here’s your Devil’s bargain, since you seemed to want one. We’ve already given each other enough violence. Let’s try something different. Stay with me in whatever way you feel comfortable, when it suits you, and let us enjoy the intimacy of each other’s companionship. It could be as simple as sharing a meal, cooking, gardening. Having a nightcap as we are now. More, if that interests you. In turn, you must agree to take a 6 month sabbatical and let me take you to Europe. Be warned, you may not want to leave.”
Will got up and filled his glass again. He downed it in three gulps and went back to steady himself on the couch.
“How’s Alana going to feel about that, Hannibal? That’s not very nice to her.”
“It’s been a brief affair based entirely on grieving you. Funereal. It’s time has come to an end.”
Will ran his hands through his hair. “You are telling me that you are dumping Alana.”
“’Dumping’ might be a bit extreme given how casual I’ve kept it, but yes.”
“What you’re suggesting doesn’t sound very casual. It sounds…intense. You want me to come over to your house whenever I feel like it, keep messing with your decorations, eat your delicious cooking, read your rare books, drink your booze, wear your designer pajamas, and maybe sleep with you?”
“You left out the European Tour.”
“Oh right, that about covers it then. Right.”
Hannibal gave him a patient smile.
Will was shaking his head, stunned.
“Which of those things in that list is most important to you?”
“Only Europe is non-negotiable. I’d like to begin arrangements soon.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Hannibal. I kill a guy that you encouraged to murder me and now you are asking me to have some weird platonic-romantic relationship with you.”
“Dear boy, boundaries are either there, or they aren’t. We’ve crossed quite a few together. Why not cross a few more, if we like? Haven’t these last few hours eating and talking been exceptionally pleasant? Don’t we always enjoy each other’s company when it would seem no one else can be so fulfilling?”
“You’re basically proposing to be my sugar daddy. That’s what they’ll say.”
Hannibal licked his lips cocked his head. “But it is how you respond to such an accusation that matters.”
“Is that want you want from me? To tell people I’m your pet? Your boy toy?”
“No. I simply want you to say yes.”
Without warning, Will burst into tears. Not crocodile tears. Big fat rolling ones that made it down to his throat and made black dots on his crimson nightshirt. He tried to cover his eyes with the back of his hand to stem the tide but it was pointless.
“Will…Will, širdelė, mylimasis…Come here.” Hannibal wrapped his arm around Will’s shoulder and brought him to his side. “What has you so distraught?”
“Why would you even want that. With someone like me. I have nothing to offer.”
“I already told you. You are unique and extraordinarily beautiful. Everything I know about you makes me hope for more of your companionship, whatever that might be.” Hannibal was rubbing Will’s back, pulling his head to his shoulder. He nuzzled Will’s curls, inhaling their sweet smell.
“It’s a trick. Another manipulation.” Will snuffled gracelessly.
“Look at me. Really look. I never lie.”
“No, you omit.”
“I am only omitting the fact that I have wanted this for some time. It would be an embarrassment to say more if you were to refuse.”
“And it would be an even greater embarrassment to me if this was only to get the FBI off your back. Since when. Tell me.”
Hannibal pursed his lips and stiffened. “Perhaps the notion was like a snowball, slowing gathering and growing, crushing pathways in mountains I’d sworn not to tread. It has been every day, mongoose, since we first met.”
Will swallowed thickly. “You brought me protein scramble. Soup. You’ve cared for my health and my mind.”
“Cared for, yes, and cared about.”
“You’ve also pushed me into hard places.”
“As have you.”
Will sighed and laid his head down on Hannibal’s leg. The heat of his firm thigh warmed his cheeks and Hannibal softly combed through those disheveled curls he’d so longed to touch.
“Jack’s going flip his shit when he finds out,” Will said and yawned through a laugh. “And I am so not paying you to be my psychiatrist anymore.”
“Then that’s a yes?”
They stayed there like that, silent and oddly satisfied, watching the fire burn down into embers.