Will Graham stood next to the open gate of the community playground, wringing his tiny hands as he watched his father drive away. He said he would only be ten minutes, that he was going down to the store to pick something up and to have fun while he was gone. He said the same thing every Saturday but it never lasted just ten minutes. The sun always shifted from the high shining of noon to the low, warm light of sunset before his old, beaten blue truck returned.
Dark curly hair framed his face and a pair of large glasses slid down his nose, clearly not made for his small features. He didn't need them; he just liked how they made him feel. The black frames and prescription free glass acted as a wall between himself and other people. He felt safe behind them, though that safety wavered as he slowly turned to face the group of screaming and laughing children already within the enclosed playground.
Some of the faces he saw registered as familiar like Alana who was helping a younger boy in the sandbox to fix his broken car. He also noticed Beverly on the swings with Brian and Jimmy who seemed to be arguing about who would use the open swing first. The other faces were ones he didn't recognize which left him feeling uneasy. He shifted back and forth on his sneakered feet, unsure of what to do so that he would look busy and blend in.
He stole a few steps forward, eyes flitting from the metal slide in the far right corner to the monkey bars to the teeter totter before settling on the sandbox with Alana. He felt the most comfortable around her because she was always kind to everyone she met unless they were mean to her first. Will walked with more purpose toward the walled pile of sand when another boy, an older boy, approached Alana and grabbed her attention from him before he even had a chance.
She beamed up at him, talking animatedly with her hands and arms, though Will couldn't hear what she was saying. The older boy smiled down at her, his perfectly combed fair hair slipping down over his face. He wore a fancy white shirt with black pants and a matching vest. Will felt his expression turn into a frown without realizing he was doing it, looking down at his plaid shirt and jeans. He turned to walk away when he noticed a pair of dark eyes on him, making his skin crawl.
He glanced back, seeing Alana still talking to the boy, but the boy's eyes were fixed intently on him. His head was slightly cocked to the side, his gaze scanning Will in a way that reminded him of his doctor when he was looking for something wrong. Alana looked up from her enthusiastic telling of a story and paused, following the boy's eyes to find Will. She looked between the two before smiling and beckoning him over with both hands.
He stood still for a moment, still processing everything, before his feet finally unfroze and he walked into the malleable sand. Alana hugged him when he walked within range and he tensed up in her grip, his arms pinned to his sides as he looked over Alana's shoulder into the curious eyes of the older boy. His face remained expressionless as he stared down at Will, making him feel uncomfortable as his wall slipped down his nose. As soon as Alana let go, he scrambled to push the glasses back up, rejuvenating a feeling of safety.
"Hi, Will!" she said excitedly, her dark brown hair bouncing around her face. Her blue eyes were wide and alight with joy and her cheeks were flushed a light red.
"Hi, Alana," Will replied, finding it hard to tear his eyes away from the boy that towered over him.
"This is Hannibal," she said, her tongue stumbling over the letters of his name. "He came here last week with his uncle! They live here now."
Hannibal held out his hand and Will stared at it for a couple of seconds before he remembered what he was supposed to do with it. He reached out with his smaller hand and grasped Hannibal's, who then shook his arm up and down a few times, taking Will's with it. When Hannibal let Will's hand go, he smiled at him, but the smile didn't seem completely friendly to Will. The feeling that sometimes settled in his gut when he looked a person in the eye began to consume him. He shifted his gaze down, staring at Hannibal's lips instead.
"Nice to meet you, Will," his voice thick with an accent he'd never heard before.
"You too," Will replied, trying to keep the intimidation and unsurity he felt out of his voice to make it sound normal. He didn't need to embarrass himself in front of a big kid, especially not one that was friends with Alana.
Hannibal studied him again. "Why don't you like to look people in the eye?"
Will's eyes widened in surprise that he'd noticed his quirk. "Um, I, uh. I see a lot. It's not good sometimes. My dad says it's not polite to say the things I see."
Hannibal smiled briefly. "Hm. Interesting."
Will frowned and looked down at his hands, his right hand wringing his left until it started to hurt. He wasn't sure if he liked Hannibal. He seemed closed off, like a diary with a lock on it and no key to be found. It left him feeling both curious and wary about the boy. He wanted to find the key but didn't know if he actually wanted to use it, no idea of what he might find within.
"Wanna play with us, Will?" Alana asked excitedly.
"Um," he looked from Alana to Hannibal, wanting to say yes but the opposite tumbled from his anxious lips. "No, I, um, I'll just stay here for now."
Alana's happy expression deflated a little at the denial but quickly returned as Hannibal offered up his hand. She immediately accepted and he led her off toward the slide, shooting a quick glance back at Will over his shoulder. Will tried to avoid his eyes like he avoided everyone else's, but something about his drew him into Hannibal's gaze like the moths that would gather outside of his windows at night just for the lamp light. When Hannibal turned back around, his hold on him broke, leaving him to blink away his confusion as he plopped down into the sand.
The other boy in the sandbox was content to play on his own with his newly fixed car, so Will grabbed a nearby bright red bucket and matching shovel to keep himself occupied. He packed the bucket with sand before turning it over and hitting the bottom of it to remove the contents. When he lifted the bucket, he smiled proudly at the standing structure it left behind. He started to refill it in order to make a matching tower when a pair of feet marched forward and completely destroyed the first one.
Will slowly looked up to see a girl with curly red hair staring down at him with a smirk on her face and her arms crossed over her chest. He frowned as a reflex, the expression he usually adapted when he found himself in the company of her.
"Hi, Freddie," he mumbled, mourning the loss of his sand tower.
"Hi, freak," she said, grinding her foot into the sand as if she could destroy it further.
"Please leave me alone," he said, choosing to stare down at his lap rather than look up at her.
He closed his eyes and wished she would go away, like the monsters his imagination sometimes made him see in the dark. With them, all he had to do was wish and they would be gone when he reopened his eyes. With her, she became more real than ever. When he opened his eyes and looked up, he stared at her pale, lightly freckled nose. In return, she reached down and plucked the over-sized glasses from his face. As soon as the glass lifted from his sight, panic settled into his gut. He jumped to his feet, short arms outstretched.
"HEY! GIVE THOSE BACK!"
She held them high over his head, being taller that he was. He looked up at his glasses, the noon sun in his line of sight, glinting off the glass, making it hard to see. He jumped for them anyway, flailing his arms wildly in the hope that his hand might hit them by chance. However, with each jump he never touched them. After the fifth try, he landed on his feet in the sand, panting for air.
"GIVE THEM BACK RIGHT NOW, FREDDIE," he demanded, stomping his foot, kicking up some of the sand. The other boy in the sandbox chose that moment to flee the area, making it to a safe watching distance along with a few other children who noticed and gathered.
"Why should I?" Freddie said, holding the glasses up with her right hand and allowing them to swing back and forth, like the tail of his dog when he felt excited. She teased him, trying to make him jump for them again when he knew she'd just pull them far out of reach when he tried.
Anger and frustration bubbled up within him, the heat from it starting in his toes and filling all the way to his eyeballs where they exuded a burning pressure. Will tried to fight it off but he couldn't control it as tears dripped out and down his cheeks, pooling and falling under his chin. He tried to wipe them away but they kept flowing, causing Freddie to smile even wider. A Cheshire cat to his Alice except she was even less helpful.
He glared up at her through his tears, feeling a growing fire in his core. He wanted to hurt her but he knew it was wrong even though she hurt him first. His fingers curled into fists before his shoulders slumped forward in defeat. The children that had gathered around them started to laugh. His lax shoulders shook with choked sobs and the sound filled his head so much that he hardly noticed when the laughter stopped. When it finally registered, he looked up to see Hannibal calmly passing Will to approach Freddie.
"Freddie Lounds," he said simply, staring her down as he stood an inch or two higher than her.
She scoffed at him. "And who are you?"
"I'm Hannibal Lecter. My uncle and I just moved here," he said, a friendly smile on his face. Something about it caused chill bumps to rise on Will's skin.
"This has nothing to do with you," Freddie snarled, still holding Will's glasses over her head.
"I think it does," Hannibal said, raising his eyebrows. "You made Will cry. That's not very nice."
"So, I think you should give his glasses back."
She laughed at him and Hannibal's pleasant smile faltered just for a moment. He leaned in, his lips at her ear, and whispered something to her that made her stop. She stared up at him with wide eyes while he continued to smile. He held out his hand to her and she promptly dropped the glasses in it before turning away, escaping at a running pace.
Will watched everything with a look of awe on his face, like he'd just seen Batman in real life. He didn't even notice that he had stopped crying, eyes red with tear tracts drying on his cheeks. Hannibal turned to him, the part of his expression that once gave him chills gone, replaced with only kindness. He knelt down in the sand so that he and Will were at eye level before unfolding the glasses and sliding them onto his face. He pushed them up the bridge of Will's nose as they drooped, causing Will to smile, something he hadn't done in a long time.
"Thank you," Will said, his voice barely a whisper.
"It's all righ—oh," Hannibal said, surprise entering his voice as Will wrapped his arms around his neck.
He did nothing for a moment, then slowly folded his arms around Will, pulling him into a tight hug. They remained like that for a moment or two until they both let go. Will readjusted his glasses until they felt right as Alana approached the two of them.
"Are you okay?" she asked, her tone dripping with concern.
"Yeah, I am," he said with a small smile.
She hugged him and he hugged her back, enjoying the warmth. He looked up at Hannibal over Alana's shoulder, staring him straight in the eye. Hannibal reached over and ruffled Will's curly locks and Will grinned, ducking out of the affectionate touch as Alana pulled away from the hug. A car horn sounded from the street and everyone turned to look. A man was honking the horn of a small red car as a woman stepped out and walked around to the front gate. She had dark brown hair and blue eyes, just like Alana.
"Mommy!" Alana said excitedly at the sight of her. "Sorry. Gotta go. Bye!"
She waved at Will and Hannibal as she ran off into her mother's arms and they both waved back. Will watched as Alana's mom hooked her into the backseat before climbing back into the front. They drove off, one happy family, and Will was left with Hannibal. He didn't mind, he felt comfortable with him, like an older brother. As he turned to Hannibal, his stomach growled loud enough that Hannibal heard it.
"Did you bring lunch?" he asked, more curious than concerned.
Will shook his head. His father forgot again and he didn't know how to make anything on his own. Hannibal smiled at him before standing up and brushing the sand off of his knees. Once he'd cleaned off everything, he held out his hand and Will accepted it, allowing his hand to be enfolded in Hannibal's as he led him away from the sandbox.
He guided him through the playground to a spot on the fence where a few jackets hung with shoes and other belongings sitting on the ground just beneath. When they were a couple of feet away, Hannibal released Will and grabbed a blue tin lunchbox that rested beneath a fancy black jacket, the kind he sometimes saw his father wear. With the lunchbox in one hand, he grabbed Will's with the other and led him over to an area with two picnic tables. They were once a bright red but were faded by the sun and chipped by the weather and the curious children who liked to peel away the remaining paint.
Hannibal sat down and Will moved around and sat across from him. Will rested his chin on his arms, watching Hannibal as he opened the latch and lifted the lid of the box. He emptied out the contents onto the table, one item at a time. First was a tall, metal thermos, then a large plastic container, and two smaller ones. Last, he removed a couple of plastic forks, one of which he handed to Will. Will's eyes grew wide at the display of food; he didn't even have to know what kind of food it was.
"Wow, this is a lot," he said, feeling his stomach start to rumble again at the mere thought of food.
"It is," Hannibal said proudly. "I helped my uncle make it. I thought Alana and I would share but you need it more anyway."
He began to open each container, stating what was inside each one as he pried off the lids. "This is salmon and it's on a bed of white rice with garlic seasoning. This one is steamed broccoli. And this one is fresh apple slices."
"My dad and I got a salmon before," Will said, looking into the different containers. "He takes me fishing sometimes."
Hannibal smiled at Will as he unscrewed the thermos and set the lid down on the table. He held it still with one hand and poured out golden liquid with the other. He passed the cap to Will who practically inhaled a mouthful of it.
"Mm, apple juice," he said with a smile. "Can I really eat this?"
Hannibal nodded. "Have as much as you want."
Will avoided the broccoli and dove straight into the salmon, spearing a piece of it with his fork and popping it into his mouth. He hummed in contentment, enjoying the taste despite how cold it had gone. Hannibal watched him, a short-lived smiled spreading across his face as Will enjoyed the food. Will carefully made sure to only eat half of the salmon and rice before starting to munch on the slightly browned apple slices. Only then did Hannibal start to eat as well.
They ate mostly in silence other than the outside noises of children playing. Will focused intently on the food but he did notice that Hannibal focused mainly on him. He found it strange but didn't say anything. Maybe it was normal where he came from, he thought, wherever that might've been.
"Where do you come from?" Will asked after finishing another apple slice.
Hannibal hesitated, his eyes momentarily losing their brightness. "Lithuania," he said simply.
"That's a funny name. I've never heard of it," Will replied, resting his head on his crossed arms as he looked up at Hannibal curiously.
"It's not that well known here," Hannibal said, flashing a smile that didn't reach his eyes.
Will frowned, realizing that his home was one of those things he shouldn't talk about. He wracked his brain for something else to ask him but his eyes kept drooping, feeling tired as the sun moved across the sky. Hannibal started packing away the empty containers when a question dawned on Will.
"Can you teach me how to keep bullies away?" he said, working to keep his eyes open.
Hannibal smiled. "I don't think Freddie will be back, not for a while anyway."
"But what if there's more?"
His smiled widened. "Fear. Find out what they're scared of. Freddie is scared of spiders."
"Isn't that mean?" Will said, wondering if Hannibal knew what scared him.
"Maybe, but bullying is mean too. They'll leave you alone," Hannibal said, snapping the latch on his lunchbox closed.
Will nodded, his head still resting on his arms, as his eyes started to close again. He yawned, a long, drawn out one, but his eyes never reopened. He didn't have the energy. He heard and felt the picnic table shift as Hannibal moved and heard his footsteps moving away. A minute later, he returned and felt something being draped over him that held in warmth. Hannibal sat down on the bench beside him, feeling the wood sink down as he sat, and soon after everything turned dark.
After what felt like seconds, Will opened his eyes, but rather than the sun beating down on him, he saw the bright light of a chandelier. His sight was hazy, warping everything he set his eyes on, and his glasses sat askew on his face. He blinked a few times, adjusted his glasses, and his sight cleared up, allowing him to take in the room around him. The walls were tall and white, towering high above him. The tops and bottoms of the walls were bordered with carved wood and a lot of pictures in fancy frames hung on them so they didn't seem so bare.
He shifted so he sat up and looked down at the soft red couch beneath him. Draped over him was the jacket he remembered hanging on the fence above Hannibal's lunchbox. Will swung his legs over the side, his shoes barely brushing against the dark wooden floor. A few inches away from his feet rested a large, ornate red rug that covered most of the floor in the large room. A few bookshelves were pushed against the walls along with some puffy armchairs and a fire crackled in the fireplace to his right, set into the wall beside a door.
He pulled the jacket off and dropped down onto the floor. He should've felt nervous about waking up in a strange place, but with a house so over the top, he felt he had a good idea of where he was. Will walked toward the door when the knob turned, opening to reveal Hannibal. He didn't seem surprised to find Will awake as he walked into the room.
"This is your house?" he asked as he looked up at the high ceiling.
"It is. There's a lot more to it, though," Hannibal said with a smile. "You fell asleep at the playground and I felt bad leaving you there when my uncle came. I convinced him to take you with us. If you tell him your father's number, my uncle can call and have him get you here."
Will nodded. "Okay."
He couldn't imagine what the rest of the house would look like when the one room was about as big as half of his home. Hannibal walked out and Will followed, keeping his neck craned back so he could see everything above him. He watched as the ceiling lights passed by along with the many pictures and paintings. They walked down a couple of hallways into the giant, shiny kitchen where Hannibal's uncle was chopping up vegetables.
The tall man's hair was fair like Hannibal's but his eyes were blue and his face was very angular. He reminded Will of a skeleton in a suit except he had skin pulled over him like wrapping paper. He scared Will a little but he trusted Hannibal so that extended over to his family. His uncle stopped cutting and set down the knife when he saw Will before walking around the counter. He crouched down with a smile that stretched the skin of his face even further.
"Hello, Will," he said, his accent similar to Hannibal's but both deeper and thicker.
"Hi," he said quietly, wringing his hands again. He pushed his glasses up his nose to make sure they were securely in place between himself and this man.
"It's nice to have a friend of Hannibal's here but I'm sure your father will be worried. Do you know his phone number?"
Will nodded and Hannibal's uncle walked a few feet away to grab a pad of paper and a pen. He listened to Will list off seven numbers and wrote them down before walking away to the nearest phone. He felt relieved to not have to be in his presence anymore and turned to Hannibal who gave him a smile that reassured him. He beckoned Will to follow him and walked down a hall to a set of stairs that they both ran up. At the top of the stairs, Hannibal walked down the hall to right and stopped two doors down. He checked to make sure Will was still following him before opening the door.
"This is my room," he said, holding out his arm for Will to go in first.
Will peeked inside to see a large, well-kept room. The bed was twice the size of the one he had and the room itself was three times as neat. He walked in, stepping onto a blue carpet, and marveled at everything being in its place, free of dust and dirt. The light blue walls were bare of posters and pictures. The room felt cold and impersonal, like it was a guest room rather than belonging to someone.
"Does your uncle clean your room?" Will asked, turning around to see Hannibal.
He shook his head. "I just like things to be neat."
Footsteps approached the room a few seconds later and Hannibal's uncle stuck his head inside. "Your father will be here in a couple of hours so you'll be having with dinner with us, Will."
"Okay. Thank you," Will said, forcing a friendly smile.
"You're welcome. I'll call when it's ready."
They stayed in Hannibal's room as time passed and Hannibal showed off it off as well as the toys within it. They sat and talked and played and got to know each other, though Will noticed he ended up mostly talking about himself while Hannibal barely mentioned anything, skirting around some of the questions Will asked.
Later on, they all sat down around a massive table for dinner with Will and Hannibal at one end and Hannibal's uncle at the other. They ate in silence, Will feeling uncomfortable the whole time, though Hannibal kept a conversation going in a hushed tone that drew muffled laughs from Will. He set him at ease in an awkward situation.
When Will's father arrived not long after dinner, Hannibal walked Will to the door. He helped Will to pull the heavy wooden slab open and looked up at his father who didn't exactly appear approving. A frown lined his face as he stuffed his hands into his green military style jacket. Will pushed up his glasses before looking down at his feet. He could feel the talk his father was going to have with him on the car ride home.
"Say goodbye to your friend," he said in a deep, gruff voice. "It's time to go."
Will nodded and turned to Hannibal. They stared at each other, Will looking him in the eye before reaching up and removing his glasses. He didn't need the wall for Hannibal, he could already tell. Hannibal smiled at the gesture, something in it causing the small hairs on the back of Will's neck to rise. He disregarded the feeling and smiled back before hugging Hannibal, who hugged back without hesitation, making Will feel as safe as his glasses made him feel.
"Bye, Hannibal," he said, saying the name the way Alana had, tripping over the unfamiliar arrangement of letters.
"Bye, Will," he replied.
They broke apart and Will's father led him out to his big, blue truck where he had to pick him up and buckle him into the front seat. The truck started up, roaring to life, and Will waved out of the window to his new friend who waved back until they were both out of sight of one another. He barely registered the stern tone his father was using or the words that spilled from his mouth. Will simply slid his glasses back onto his face and stared out of the window at the scenery that flew by in a blur, thinking about his knew friend that understood him better than anyone else.