Hannibal sipped his tea, the delicate teacup almost fragile in his hand — too much pressure and it would shatter.
It wasn’t that he insisted on the tea being served in one of the beautiful fine china cups that most people thought were merely decoration, it was simply his preference. He knew this blend in particular would taste better from this style of cup — not only the materials but also the shape of it, the diameter of the surface. It allowed the tea to brew and subsequently cool at exactly the right temperature.
“Mmm, very good Abigail. Your first blend is a success.” Hannibal nodded, sitting on the customer side of the counter, in order to partake in the entire experience.
Hannibal gave the barista an encouraging smile that made her face light up. She always seemed to be looking for the approval of a father figure — wanting to please; he found it oddly charming. She was a talented girl, so it had seemed the obvious step to allow her to begin experimenting with tea blends. And he was not one for disingenuous praise; the tea really was very good.
“I will put it on the specials’ board for tomorrow.” Hannibal said as he watched her grin grow and her cheeks flush. He wasn’t blind to Murasaki watching them with a soft smile either — perhaps she saw a little of Mischa in Abigail as well? That was definitely a weakness Abigail could exploit in him, if she knew and was so inclined.
He was becoming very fond of her. She had started as a customer he had liked immediately — something he couldn’t say for all his patrons. It had seemed an easy step to employ her as the shop became busier.
For a while he had wondered if she was the reason he didn’t seem to want to move on as he had originally planned. He had been in this place much longer than anticipated, and whilst the shop was a success, he had always planned it to be temporary — a stepping stone. Something was keeping him in this place and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
At first he thought it had been Murasaki. His aunt had arrived, full of wisdom and persistence, almost as soon as he had opened the shop. It had been many years since he had seen her — he had barely recognised her — but they had made a formidable team and a successful business. In those early days they had drawn customers with their fine coffee, but also their expansive menu of teas.
There were other customers he was fond of too, many who had been frequenting the café since it had first opened. Certainly, Abel Gideon was always interesting, and Hannibal enjoyed talking with the man about the psychology of many things when it was quiet in the evenings.
Abel said often that it was a shame that with such a keen interest, Hannibal hadn’t gone into psychology. Hannibal had to wonder at that at times too. As much as he enjoyed developing new tea and coffee blends, and perfecting new pastry recipes, medicine and psychology were deeply fascinating to him. He was perhaps too old now to become a student of such things, so he satisfied himself with conversations and reading.
Not that his interest and personal studies helped him understand any further his own reluctance to move on.
It was a nice place, the weather was predictable — which he enjoyed. The people were interesting and yes, he enjoyed getting to know his aunt once more. Especially with the perspective of now being an adult, despite how much she continued to scold him like the youth he had been.
He watched as Abigail happily poured a cup of her blend for Murasaki and wondered if it was just that he had become too settled here? Content enough to ignore the adventure of moving on and his long term plan? He was lost in thought on the subject for some minutes.
And then the bell above the door rang.
It was a strange time of day for customers — too early to be Abel, too late to be Bev Katz and her friends. Normally, this time of day was quiet enough for them to indulge in trying new blends and recipes, and planning the next week’s pastry menu.
All three of them looked up as the man entered.
He was scruffy, slightly sweaty, clearly harried and… utterly breathtaking.
To say he was flustered would be incorrect but also completely true.
To the casual observer, Hannibal Lecter presented a cool yet affable exterior. To Murasaki, who knew him better than he might like to admit to, he was clearly experiencing an inner turmoil that he was very much unaccustomed to.
“Hello?” The new customer seemed a little confused. “Um, are you open?”
“Yes. Certainly.” Hannibal replied a little too quickly, which had Abigail now looking at him as Murasaki had been. “It is… merely a quiet time of day. What can we get you?”
Hannibal stood from the stool and moved around behind the counter, brushing down his apron as he went, and effectively forcing Abigail and Murasaki to move along the counter until they were almost in the kitchen.
The man stood, warily studying them, before walking slowly into the café and letting the door close behind him. He wore an expression of consternation as he made himself comfortable — if comfort was something this man could experience — on one of the high stools at the end of the counter. Not the warm one Hannibal had just vacated.
“Black coffee, please. No milk, no sugar. No sprinkles. Just-”
“Black coffee, of course.” Hannibal smiled despite the slight twitch in his eye. He resisted the urge to offer one of the rather rich Turkish espressos they had, given how adamant the man appeared to be. No doubt years of frequenting coffeeshops as the only patron not to order a nonfat skinny latte with extra foam. He would work up to leading the man into finer options.
Hannibal moved to the machine and began to prepare the coffee, selecting a rather large mug, which seemed to be met with some relief by his customer — an accurate reading of his needs.
“Long day?” Hannibal asked, continuing to smile gently even as he saw the man bristle at the question. Ah yes, this one was certainly not for small talk. Hannibal could appreciate that, though it came with the territory in this job.
The man’s shoulders tensed and hunched for a moment before he clearly made them relax.
“Yeah. I’m new here,” he clasped his hands in front of him on the counter and looked at them intently rather than meeting Hannibal’s eyes. “It’s…”
Not fond of eye contact are you?
“The weather,” Hannibal nodded, finishing the coffee and placing it in front of the man. He looked up then, though seemed loathe to do so. Nonetheless he gave a small smile of thanks that warmed Hannibal through.
“Everyone tells me I’ll get used to it,” his tone somewhere between friendly and — what Abigail would call — snarky. Hannibal found his lips involuntarily quirking into a smile. Hannibal wasn’t one to be easily interested in someone, much less based on looks alone — as handsome as this man was, once one looked past the flannel — but he was more than a little intrigued by the stranger.
“Well, if you plan to become a regular, I believe introductions are in order,” Hannibal could wince at his own awkwardness. He was sure he heard Abigail snicker. “Hannibal Lecter.” Hannibal held out his hand to shake, and there was an awkward moment of hesitation before the man took it in his own. His hand was strong and calloused; Hannibal found himself wondering what it would be like to feel those hands roaming over his body.
“Will Graham.” The man replied, the words pulling Hannibal back from his thoughts.
It was only when Will cleared his throat that Hannibal realised he hadn’t released his hand and so did so as smoothly as possible, as though it weren’t terribly cloddish.
He cleared his own throat before setting about tidying a few things along the counter, “You have chosen a very good time of day — you strike me as someone who appreciates the quiet.”
“Yes,” Will looked over at him again, holding eye contact for a moment before looking down at his coffee mug. “I prefer…the quiet of the stream,” Will’s mouth twitched into a wry smile and Hannibal immediately imagined the man all wind-chafed in waders. It was a pleasing image.
“Well, perhaps we shall see more of you at this time of day.” Hannibal’s words came out as a rumble, much more suggestive than he had intended.
Will looked at a loss for words, his mouth moving with no sound for a moment when he was preemptively interrupted by the bell above the door.
Franklyn. Hannibal looked at the clock on the wall; yes, right on time.
“Hello,” Franklyn greeted them all cheerfully before his eyes landed on Will. He made an immediate move to the new comer, taking the seat next to him at the counter. “Ah, not seen you before. Just moved to the area?” Franklyn didn’t give Will a chance to respond before he turned to Hannibal and ordered his drink. When he turned back to Will he continued without drawing breath, “I’ve been here a while now but the weather…” He shook his head. “They say you’ll get used to it.”
Hannibal tuned out as Franklyn began to talk at Will about the mundanity of his life — he would tell anyone that would listen. He was, however, pleased to see that Will looked incredibly awkward — he was not enjoying Franklyn’s company. Which was reassuring, until Will suddenly rose, mug still half full.
“I, uh… I should be going.” Will said to no-one in particular before promptly leaving, the doorbell ringing in his wake.
Hannibal watched after him as Abigail moved to his side. He didn’t need to look at her to know the grin she was wearing.
“So… he seems interesting. Don’t you think Hannibal?” She asked, sweetly.
“I have no idea what you mean.” Hannibal replied tersely before removing Will’s mug from the counter and taking it towards the washer.
“You can’t be serious? How do you even hold a medical license?”
Hannibal wasn’t sure how many times he had heard these same arguments between Ms. Katz and Doctor Sutcliffe. As always they took the table next to the wall, closest to the counter, and partook in the liveliest of conversations about science and medicine. More specifically, some of the research Sutcliffe was involved in. As usual, the conversation descended into indignation on Beverly’s part as to the moral and ethical considerations — or lack thereof — of Sutcliffe’s work.
“She only sits with him because she is bored.” Murasaki spoke quietly into Hannibal’s ear as she swept past on her way to the kitchen. She always had ample observations at hand about each of the customers. And, perhaps it was the effect of her having raised him during some of his formative years, they always seemed to somehow be a criticism aimed at him. As though he were responsible for the wellbeing of each of his patrons beyond the provision of beverages.
Hannibal sighed and began to restock some of the coffee blends.
After his first visit, Will Graham had not returned the following days. And Hannibal had found himself waiting each day during that quiet period, for him to come through the door. There were no other coffee shops or similar establishments in the immediate vicinity, so he couldn’t have gone to a rival.
Perhaps Franklyn had put him off?
Perhaps he had put him off?
I don’t find you that interesting.
He sighed again and felt strangely perturbed. He had never felt like this before— a sort of trepidation at the thought of a man he had met so briefly. And who Abigail still teased him mercilessly about.
Murasaki was a lot more restrained, however there were the occasional comments from her too.
Had he been so obvious in that first meeting? Perhaps he had, but never before having experienced such an instant and profound attraction, it was something he had been unable to avoid.
There was something familiar about Will Graham — perhaps that was what the attraction was? There was something in his nature, it seemed, that was like Hannibal’s secret self — the one he kept hidden under a person suit constructed for customer service.
Hannibal was half listening to the latest rehash of Beverly and Donald’s ongoing, and only somewhat good natured, argument — when the bell above the door rang.
The few patrons, used to this being a fairly predictable time of day for regulars, looked up at the same time Hannibal did. Something not missed by Will as he stopped in the doorway — caught like a deer in the headlights by the focus of the whole room. Hannibal cleared his throat loudly and the few customers went back to their business.
“Hello again, Will.” Hannibal smiled softly from behind the counter, already reaching for a mug, “The usual?”
Will raised an eyebrow at that but a slight smile pulled at his lips too. “Are you saying I am that predictable? That after one visit you know I’ll be having the same drink?”
“Predictable? No, not at all. In fact, of all my customers thus far, you are the most unpredictable. I find it rather refreshing,” he leaned in conspiratorially when Will took a seat at the counter, “It can get rather boring around here.”
Will huffed a laugh, “It does seem like this place gets rather samey. Not that I mind.”
“Ah yes, you’re seeking the quiet life. You’ll certainly find that here. Though if you are ever in need of entertainment, I can perhaps suggest a few things.” Hannibal found himself grinning and the words came out in a near flirtatious tone. He wanted to kick himself; he was acting like a teenager.
He just knew, had Abigail been in earshot she would later be teasing him about wanting to date the customer. Though he couldn’t say she’d be entirely wrong…
Hannibal went about making Will’s drink in silence, trying to ensure that he didn’t let himself say something that might embarrass. He was almost done with the coffee when Will initiated further conversation, allowing him to breathe a sigh of relief.
“So, Café Inferno? Doesn’t really seem to fit. It feels like it should be some sort of raucous party location, but this place is… thankfully sedate. And you… no offense, but you don’t seem like a raucous party guy either. Are you secretly a party animal? Or perhaps secretly the devil?” Will grinned.
Hannibal took a millisecond to appreciate that Will Graham had thought about him, even if just to make this observation.
“Nothing so interesting I’m afraid,” Hannibal’s lips twitched into a smile. “The name came with the establishment when I took it over. I did consider changing it, but it had a good reputation and I didn’t want to put off patrons before even brewing my first coffee. Besides, it has never been my intention to stay. This is a stopgap so it seemed unnecessary.”
“Makes sense.” Will agreed with a smile and a nod, “I’m in a similar situation myself — temporary position.” He wrapped his hands around the mug as Hannibal placed it in front of him. For the briefest moment their fingers brushed against each other. Neither made mention, but Hannibal’s heart fluttered and there was a slight blush across Will’s cheeks.
Before either could say anything further Bev appeared at the counter, hers and Sutcliffe’s empty cups in hand. She slid them over the counter as she took the seat next to Will’s.
“Same again, please, Hannibal, and maybe some rat poison in Sutcliffe’s, if at all possible.” She was grinning as she said it.
Hannibal returned the smile, “Fresh out, I’m afraid.”
“Next time,” she nodded with a thoughtful smile. “I guess I’ll just settle for whichever of your delights contains the most chocolate. I need something to get me through.”
Hannibal laughed lightly, taking the cups to the washer before beginning to brew fresh beverages.
“Bev Katz,” she turned to Will and held out her hand. He seemed momentaily startled by the forwardness of a total stranger, but then took her hand and shook it. Hannibal found his awkwardness around people strangely endearing.
“Will Graham,” he responded, only meeting her eyes for a moment.
“So, Will. What do you do?” Bev asked, her usual pleasant and eager self.
“Oh, um…” Will seemed confused by the personal question, as though people rarely thought to ask him about himself. He was slightly flustered and Hannibal felt suddenly jealous that Ms. Katz had elicited such a response — robbed of the chance to ask these questions himself and perhaps equally fluster him.
“I’m a teacher,” he finally finished.
“Oh, interesting.” Bev put an elbow on the counter, resting her cheek on her hand and giving Will her full attention. “What do you teach?”
“Uh, criminology.” Will was beautiful when put on the spot — a stab of jealousy went through Hannibal again and he clenched his jaw.
“That really is interesting!” Bev grinned. “Most people around here seem to just talk about the weather. You can regale us with tales of awful students and crime scenes.”
That made Will chuckle, and Hannibal clenched his fist so tight he almost crushed the cup he was holding. Instead he forced himself to put it down in front of Beverly, along with Sutcliffe’s drink and the plated pain au chocolat he had selected for her.
“Perfect! Thanks, Hannibal.” Beverly grinned. “Catch ya later, Will.” She turned her smile on Will and he gave a curt nod, a very slight smile on his lips.
Hannibal wondered what it would take to have Will smile more.
Time flows in a strange way, Hannibal mused, when you’re falling in love.
He was sure it had been months, but with Will visiting sporadically — sometimes daily, sometimes a couple of times a week — it was hard to know exactly.
Some days it felt like nothing had changed, or like Will had always been there. Now he didn’t always sit at the counter. Sometimes he would join Bev and they would laugh and joke in a way that continued to make Hannibal jealous. The times he did sit at the counter — in the late evenings after even Abel had left, were a salve. Cooling his jealousy and satisfying his desires to be the focus of Will’s attention as they talked and laughed and flirted.
Will would sample the new pastries Hannibal was baking and Will would talk of fishing and boating. Hours would pass before either of them noticed, as they fell into deep discussions — Hannibal finding himself leaning closer across the counter as they did. Will never retreated.
Hannibal realised he was in love on a very specific occasion. Of course, regardless of Abigail’s teasing and Murasaki’s knowing looks, he was not blind to his attraction to Will. Both in a physical and emotional sense. But love wasn’t something he easily came to, and he had never thought to feel it again — not after Mischa. But with Will he had no choice but to allow himself to feel the affection that expanded within him at the mere mention of the man’s name. That was love, he knew. But being in love was something harder for him to grasp.
Hannibal realised it the day that Will came in in the morning. It was a time he’d never come in previously — after the early morning rush and before the lunchtime crowd; it was especially quiet. He carried with him a book and, as he sat at the counter, he seemed every bit as awkward as the first day he had come to the coffeeshop.
“Is everything alright Will?” Hannibal had asked.
“I, um…” Will looked down at the book in his hands as he turned it over on the counter. It was old and worn — well thumbed and well loved. “This was my grandmother’s, she gave it to me and…well. I didn’t know if you wanted to borrow it.” Will didn’t look up.
Hannibal tried to swallow around the lump in his throat. Will looked up then, biting his lower lip as he offered the book. It looked like an old, well-used journal, but when he opened it the first page made it clear. It was a handwritten family recipe book.
“The, uh… pastry recipes are easy to find — they’re the ones that are most well thumbed.” Will grinned a little as he shrugged. “Meemaw always had a sweet tooth.”
“Will.” Hannibal breathed out his name, at an utter loss of what to say — for once. He held in his hands part of Will’s family history and tradition. Something deeply personal and surely an expression of his affections?
“It’s nothing,” Will forced a chuckle. “I mean… I, um… I just, I miss her beignets and thought…”
“I could make some.” Hannibal offered instantly, “Though, I’m sure I’d never do her recipe justice.”
Will chuckled at that and seemed to relax. “Hannibal, I’m sure you know full well that there’s no recipe you can’t master.”
Hannibal’s cheeks heated, in what he was sure was his first ever blush. It made Will grin before he turned away again.
And now he stood watching Will chatter happily with Beverly at least a week after this realisation, his usual jealousy surging. But then Will looked up to realise Hannibal was studying them intently, and… he smiled. There was something in that warm smile that seemed like a reassurance. As though Will had seen his jealousy and wanted to allay it.
When Beverly left, Will stayed. He moved to the counter and they talked whilst eating beignets — now a regular item on the menu. Will leaned in and brushed the powder from Hannibal’s lips as Hannibal’s cheeks heated again.
I’ve changed. You’ve changed me.
It took Hannibal several weeks to realise that Will had finally settled into a sporadic pattern. One that involved him staying long after Abel left many times. He found himself anxiously anticipating Will’s arrival and then, once he arrived, dreading his leaving.
Apparently, according to Abigail, Will’s flirting and interest was very clear. However, when it came to Will, Hannibal’s usual confidence deserted him — leaving him rethinking every word from his mouth as soon as Will left.
He felt his usual trepidation now as he waited for Will — watching the door and waiting for the bell to ring as he nursed one of his special blend teas. The café was quiet — empty of customers now and he’d told Abigail to leave early to avoid her smirks.
When Will walked through, Hannibal’s elation was sapped. The man always looked a little harried but this time he looked troubled.
“What’s wrong?” Hannibal asked, leaving the counter and walking towards the door — towards Will — the moment he saw the forlorn look on the man’s face.
“I…” Will swallowed and frowned, looking intently at Hannibal when he continued, “I’m leaving. Soon, I… I don’t know the details yet. It’s just my time to go.”
Hannibal’s breath stopped and his heart thudded a beat.
“No, Will… You…” Hannibal couldn’t find the words, even less so when Will took his hands and squeezed them.
“Hannibal,” Will let out a heavy sigh, “I don’t have a choice, I have to go.” He let Hannibal’s hands drop, moving away and walking to the counter, taking his usual seat whilst Hannibal composed himself and resumed his position on the other side.
“You’ve been here a while now.” Will said, knowing it to be true from the many conversations they’d had.
“It was never my plan to stay here long,” Hannibal admitted, wanting to leave now more than ever, but almost terrified of what was to come, of making that leap.
“Why did you then?” Will asked, reaching over the counter for Hannibal’s hand — which he gave freely.
“I was… I always felt that I was waiting for something. Someone.”
Will’s lips twitched into a smile. “We’ve… Is it too forward to ask you to consider coming with me?”
Hannibal’s heart beat fast and he trembled. He had grown used to things here, even the weather. He was stuck and now a reason — the reason — to move on was in his grasp.
“I…” Hannibal tried to respond, but nothing came out. It didn’t matter, Will was on his feet then and tugging his hand so that he was pulled half across the counter.
Will’s lips met his — soft and tender, slow and exploratory as his hands moved to frame Hannibal’s face. Hannibal opened to him immediately, leaning further into him, until his hand met his teacup and it slipped from the edge.
The sound of the teacup shattering as it hit the ground seemed to reverberate through both of them.
Not fond of eye contact are you?
I don’t find you that interesting.
I’ve changed. You’ve changed me.
For a moment there was nothing.
He remembered falling, he remembered the sea and his lungs filling. He remembered the dragon and the bluff, the FBI and psychiatry. He remembered Will Graham — a flash of the first time they met in Jack Crawford’s office.
He remembered dying.
“Will.” He breathed the man’s name against his lips.
“It’s time to go Hannibal, you’ve been in limbo long enough.” Will’s words seemed to float. Everything was floating — the shattered pieces of teacup rose as though carried on a current. “I’m here now, you don’t have to wait any longer.”
The counter between them was gone and they were clinging to each other as he remembered they had once before. They were standing on a bluff again, the heat surrounding them. The damn weather — always as hot as hell.
He was ready to descend.
It was his time, Will was finally here to go with him.
TigerPrawn is a gay transgender man who has been writing in fandom for almost two decades, from Doctor Who and Andromeda to Star Trek and Detroit: Become Human. The vast majority of his most recent works (2015 onwards) are in the Hannibal fandom, where he has made a home with all the other weirdos. https://twitter.com/TigerPrawnDSC