Sojourn at Sogliato's
“Welcome to la casa di Sogliato,” Hannibal said casually as he draped his jacket over a nearby chair and undid a few buttons at the top of his shirt.
“And where is the owner of la casa now?,” I enquired, “an extended sabbatical perhaps?”
“Extended indeed. Permanently in fact. One could argue it a technicality, but in effect, Bedelia killed Professor Sogliato. No great loss to the world. When the man becomes overshadowed by the position he holds in life, he himself becomes a shadow, and quite undeserving of the privileges that come with such prestige.”
“Dr DuMaurier has always struck me more as an observer than a participant in the activities that come with living within your sphere of influence,” I replied.
“She is also an incredibly skilled psychiatrist who has become deft at applying the disillusionments embraced by the common man to her own actions,” Hannibal countered, folding his arms as he leaned against the smooth edge of the dining table.
“Well, she did learn from some of the best…” I took a step closer to him, maintaining eye contact.
“And you, Will? Would you say you too learned from the best?,” he enquired, unfolding his arms to rest his hands by his side in a gesture of physical openness.
“Your definition of the word “best” would determine my answer, Hannibal.” Before he could respond I continued my train of thought, as well as my movements towards him. “You were the best of friends before you framed me for multiple murders. You were the best of dinner hosts before I realised you were serving up delectably prepared parts of your victims. You were the best of all I had when I had nothing else, before I realised you had taken everything from me until there was nothing left but you…”
I boldly reached up to run my hand through his hair and grip the nape of his neck. I pulled myself close, leaned my forehead against his and closed my eyes.
“And even now after all this time and all I have learned, there is STILL nothing but you…”
He made no move. “I could devour you right here, right now, you know.”
“You could,” I said, keeping my eyes closed as I spoke, feeling the power and want radiate from him rather than look the desire in the eye. “But you won’t.”
“Why won’t I?”
“Because it would be akin to consuming yourself, and I don’t believe you are yet ready to do that, Hannibal.”
Those words it seemed were enough for Hannibal to continue our interlude beneath Botticelli, as he leaned forward in one fluid movement to resume our kiss.
He broke away, leaving me flushed and panting, the state of his own discomposure only betrayed by the desire in his eyes. “You are correct, William. That would be a terrible waste of a meal that could be savoured for some time to come.”
He grabbed my forearms and swung me around, hoisting me bodily onto the dining table. He pushed me back to lie flush on the hard, unyielding surface, climbing over and enveloping my mind and body as he kissed me hard again.
“Are you ready for your first course, Will?”
I smiled up at his dishevelled countenance, while my breath left my body hard and heavy. “I could eat something…”
I closed my eyes. The golden cord swept across my darkness, once, twice, three times, before I opened them again.
I paused to absorb the scene around me. “So this is where you keep me?”
“It is one of several rooms in my mind palace within which you reside,” Hannibal replied. “What do you think?”
Smooth, ebony-coloured floors held twisted, knotted patterns that swirled beneath my bare feet. The wood radiated warmth. Was it alive? I considered for a moment it was pulsating, though that could have been nothing more than the throb of my own steadily increasing heartbeat, its rhythm pushing me forward further into my own personal space in Hannibal’s mind palace.
Panels of floor-to-ceiling mirrors hung against two of the opposing walls, from each was draped a transparent golden veil, dampening the sense of infinity that would come without their softening of Hannibal’s reality.
A fire pit, angled at 45 degrees, was embedded in the wall in the far corner of the room. I gazed at the flames as they licked and twined round each other. I observed they were almost languid and sensual in their movements, noting the nine concentric circles within which they moved, circles that seemed to weave a path that would lead me to the very bowels of Hell itself. My reverie was broken by the sound of Hannibal’s voice drawing me back to his world.
“I would venture to say that you are impressed with my choice.” He was standing by the bed, unbuttoning his shirt, a bed I hasten to add, which went beyond the definition of decadence. Rich, luxurious deer pelts of black and grey, lay invitingly across the mattress, pillows into which you could sink teeth stifling the most intensified moans of pleasure.
And above it, hung La Primavera.
“This, is how you see me?”
“Yes. Or at least, this is how I imagine the more sensual aspect of Will Graham.”
“I’m… flattered…,” I ventured, as I moved to the opposite side of the bed.
“You are the counterpoint to my very own existence, Will. How else would I treat someone so precious?”
Throughout the conversation, he had continued to divest himself of the remainder of his clothes, before climbing naked and unabashed onto the bed. He tilted his head and extended a hand in invitation. “Won’t you join me?”
This was his world. I had entered it freely and without compunction. I had sought him out as much as he had drawn me towards this moment.
So I did the only thing I could. I gave myself to him.
His eyes burned.
I couldn’t tell if those dark pools were reflecting the inferno of the fire behind me, or the flames emanated from his own soul. Perhaps both. It was not unlike the colour with which they had burned the night he gutted me in his own kitchen, left me bleeding and empty, my blood pooling with that of Abigail’s own, our final embrace.
They blazed a trail across my skin as we knelt, only breath apart, across from each other on the deer pelt-adorned mattress. Its softness moulded my skin, in direct contrast to the feel of Hannibal’s eyes, as he chiselled new grooves into the ever-changing contours of my body.
He made no move to touch me. Nor I him. Was there any need? When he could feel me, as I felt him too, pulsing through my veins, caressing the muscles beneath my skin with each passing beat of my heart, delving into the most hidden crevasses of my mind where even I had once feared to tread.
“Do you know why I came to Florence, Will?”
I summoned the memories, conversations and moments I had amassed and shared with Hannibal.
“Were I not to know you as well as I do now, I would have said Botticelli.” I allowed my eyes to trail down his arms and come to rest on the scars I had bestowed upon him by the proxy hand of Matthew Brown. I brought that memory to my mind and the feelings it stirred in my bowels, the gut reaction tearing my innards as a lion would its prey before devouring. The day I abandoned a version of Will Graham in favour of a new incarnation.
“But now I know better,” I whispered.
“Florence made you a man. Here you found a sense of the humanity you needed that could counter the monster within.”
Hannibal smiled softly and the fire in his eyes quelled to glowing embers, as he moved closer to me. “Is it little wonder, the love that swells within me for you?”
“May I touch you?”
I smiled in response. “You are an overflowing paradox of existence, Hannibal,” I replied, with a hint of ruefulness. I gave him my permission by reaching out to touch his cheek. “You harbour no misgivings about invading, rearranging and evolving my mind, but you hesitate to explore the physicality of our human drives and desires…”
“In my endeavours as a psychiatrist, my work only shapes and hones what is already there, waiting its becoming,” his voice coarse as he leaned his face into the palm of my hand.
“Unlike the body, the mind is truly malleable. In its macro form, the body is already defined. An established genetic blueprint implanted in the world.” I stilled as he ran warm fingertips down my throat to come to rest above my heart, its throb mirroring his own.
“Physical expression can be vulgar unless approached with care and consideration. I refrain from such vulgarities.” The throbbing became stronger, louder, filling my ears. I felt my chest split open and watched as Hannibal took my beating heart and placed it on a golden platter. He sliced a piece from the side of the organ and speared it a fork before raising it to his lips.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I leaned my head back and closed my eyes while gripping his shoulders, thumbs gently caressing his collarbones, grounding me, a reminder that in another place, another reality, dinner was being served and I was Hannibal’s main course. I felt the pulse of that piece of myself quicken as I slipped gently into his mouth, down his throat. Opening my eyes again, I saw the sheer pleasure on his face, his lips apart, eyes closed as he savoured the first taste of that which we had denied ourselves for so long.
I wondered briefly if I could ever come back from this moment, or if I would prefer to be devoured forever by the flames of his desire, knowing nothing in my future could compare to the force of his nature coursing through my body.
Forever would never be long enough.