no relation with the hotel

It is around when the Secret Service starts showing up that Will realizes this may have been a bad idea.

Hell, he was a cop once. Okay, briefly. He’s not intimidated by a uniform or the odd armoured truck. He is a little intimidated by a firearm, but more by the trigger side of it than the business end. But landscaping was supposed to be an escape from all that, and now an entire panoply of law enforcement, private security, and White House spooks are descending on the parking lot of his little business. Not to mention the forty-odd scraggly-looking neo-Nazis, some of whom aren’t even wearing pants.

As if on cue, the phone rings. Will stares at it warily; the ancient rotary dial phone had been affixed to the wall of the office when he’d moved into the place, and up until three days ago, the only people who had ever called it were upper-middle-class Philadelphians wanting lawn maintenance. Then, a prank call that had claimed to be Rudy Giuliani, asking to hold a press conference in his parking lot. Of course he’d said yes, it was funny, and he’d assumed whoever was on the other end of the line probably had a couple bucks riding on some weird bet.

Well, the bit about the weird bet turned out to be almost right. In a manner of speaking. Whatever manner of speaking involves the price of the wager being the entire United States of America.

Will picks up the receiver gingerly, like it might bite him. “Hello?”

“Mr. Graham,” says the voice on the other end of the line, and Will recognizes it with a combination of relief (that it isn’t a reporter– at least, not yet) and embarassment (because this is real, and he’s inflicted it on other people.)

“Dr. Lecter, God, I’m so sorry,” Will stammers before the other man can get another word out. Lecter own the sex shop across the parking lot; he insists on introducing himself as Doctor Lecter, probably for weird sex reasons that Will doesn’t want to know about, but other than that he’s a perfectly pleasant neighbour. They greet each other on their way in and out sometimes, and exchanged phone numbers on the occasion of a block power outage a few years ago, reasoning that they might as well be able to contact the neighbours in case of emergency.

There is a pause on the other end of the line. “May I ask,” says Lecter eventually, “What precisely you are sorry for?”

“Um.” Will peeks out the window, hoping that nobody from outside looks back at him. There is a cartoonish cardboard cutout of Donald Trump leaning against his building only a few feet away. If he peers around it, he can see someone taping signs to his garage door in a checkerboard of red and blue; in front of that, a podium. “So. The Trump campaign asked if they could put on a press conference in my parking lot. And it turned out, ah, the Trump campaign actually wanted to put on a press conference in my– shit.”

There is a knock at the door, the kind of loud, boorish knock that tends to happen in seedy motels at three in the morning when your neighbour is too drunk to read the number on the door properly. “Hey, is there anyone in here?” whoever is pounding on the door yells. “The fucking Democrats are frauding the election! Look up the sharpies! They put the funnels in the mail so they control the whole process! Look it up on the internet!”

“Oh fuck,” says Will, “There’s someone– and my fucking car is out there.” He can’t even leave.

“You may come into Fantasy Island by the back door,” says Dr. Lecter archly, “And remain here until the event is over.”

“Fuck. Thanks. Okay.” Will hangs up the phone and grabs his bag, and ties a mask behind his ears before slipping out the back door of the office. There’s another assembly there, but this crowd is mostly holding up smartphones to film the scene and the occasional BIDEN FOR PRESIDENT sign, so Will manages to escape around the block with only a few curious looks.

Lecter is waiting for him at the seedy-looking back entrance to his sex shop, probably the only purveyor of titty mags and vibrators in America who wears a three-piece suit to work every day, plus a colour-matching face mask. He slams the door behind Will. Will doesn’t need to be able to see his mouth to know that he looks positively murderous.

Will slumps against the wall, next to a display of actually rather pretty-looking underthings. “Thanks,” he says again. “And, God, Dr. Lecter, I’m so sorry. I thought it was a joke.

The other man’s stare remains blank for a moment, like some strange lizard deciding whether or not to move its head. “I think,” he says finally, with a softening of his eyes so minute that Will feels pleased to have even noticed it, “You had better call me Hannibal.”

Will lets out a long breath, and looks around. He hasn’t been on the inside of Hannibal’s shop before, and from the sign, he’d assumed it would be grimy and smelly. It’s nice, actually, if extremely odd; polished hardwood floors, walls full of paintings that don’t seem sexual until you look twice. Displays of clothing, sex toys, and fetish gear are distributed around the room, with each item having a card beside it that seems to explain its purpose and function. As if this were a pretentious gallery, and the dildos needed artists’ statements. “Anyway, thanks,” Will says. “I think there was some weirdo trying to get in. At least this place doesn’t have windows.”

“I find,” says Hannibal, walking calmly down a wide aisle that houses a collection of floggers and paddles on one side and a bookshelf on the other, “that my customers do better in relative obscurity. Their desires are growing, evolving things; I can feed the caterpillar and I can whisper through the chrysalis, but what hatches follows its own nature and is beyond me. Premature exposure to the harsh scrutiny of daylight could prove ruinous.”

“Um,” says Will, and briefly considers whether the whackos surrounding the place might be a safer bet than the whacko currently straightening his lapels as he settles himself behind the register. Then he hears the faint echo of someone hollering “How much money they take in bro? Who pays for all that?” and decides that even if Hannibal turns out to be an literal serial killer, he’s probably still better off in here. As if to prove Hannibal’s point, the few customers that Will notices browsing through the store seem to arrange themselves to be conveniently hidden behind shelves and displays whenever Will looks around to try to get a sense of them.

“Tell me, Will,” Hannibal intones, “What did you expect would happen, from your prank phone call?”

Will shrugs. “Nothing. Or– I figured if something did happen, it would at least be… exciting.”

“Do you hunger for excitement?”

Will snorts. “Not in the way that anything you’re peddling could help with, no.”

“I disagree; in my experience, the variety of excitement that I am, as you say, peddling, is universal in its value. But I defer to your passion on the subject. For what kind of excitement, then, do you hunger?”

Will steps away from the till. “What is this, therapy?” he asks, trying to sound light, as if the real answer isn’t The only safe way for me to interact with other people is to make their lawns look nice, and they leave me alone while I’m doing that, as they should, because there’s something inside me that is dangerous. Really dangerous, not like the idiot out there with the flag of Rocky Balboa wearing Trump’s head thinks he’s dangerous.

He’s retreated far enough that he’s now more or less standing in front of the front door to the shop, which is why he hears the cacophony of car horns and triumphant whoops first. It has a different timbre to the shouts of the press conference, and he leans towards the door slightly, trying to hear better.

Hannibal, too, comes to stand beside the door, hands clasped in front of him as he leans in almost cartoonishly. His gaze is conspiratorial as he places his hand on the doorknob. Will bites his lip. “Okay, open it,” he says.

Hannibal cracks the door open, and the two of them poke their heads out cautiously, their bodies crowded against each other as they try not to be too visible. The Biden crowd, which had been hanging around the edges, has absolutely erupted. Hannibal murmurs “very nice” approvingly as a young woman does a tidy backflip in the middle of the parking lot. Rudy Giuliani is waving his arms in the air. “All the networks!” he raves. “Wooooow! All the networks! All the networks! C’mon, don’t be ridiculous!” Meanwhile, a steady stream of journalists are packing up and heading back to their vans, many filming as they go. Before they can slam the door shut, a woman with a press badge and a shock of orange curly hair turns her camera away from the crowd and up the steps of Fantasy Island. She looks delighted. “Are you the proprietor of this shop?” she exclaims, though it’s unclear who she’s addressing.

“What happened?” Will asks, since it’s clearly too late to avoid being seen.

“The election’s been officially called for Biden,” she responds. “Come on, give us a kiss. A ‘sailor and nurse’ for the modern era.”

Before Will can do anything, there is a warm hand behind his ear, unlooping the his mask. Then Hannibal places an arm around his waist, bends his torso slightly back, and kisses him.

It only lasts a couple seconds, Hannibal’s mouth warm and tasting like spices as the journalist’s camera clicks wildly, but Will feels like every bit of air has been punched out of him. Something halfway in between rage and lust wells up in him, and he pushes Hannibal away and slams the door on the outside world.

“What the fuck,” he says, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Um,” says a young woman. “Can I get by?”

Will looks around, and notices that the few customers in the shop have emerged from their hiding places, clutching phones and either texting or scrolling furiously. Apparently, nobody can concentrate on browsing for sex toys when there’s election news to be had. Will steps back and lets a couple people leave, and Hannibal pulls his mask back up as if nothing happened to superciliously ring through some guy’s stack of pornographic books on his way out.

Finally, all of the customers are gone, and Hannibal turns back to Will, his expression so irritatingly pleased that Will wants to slap him; then, he fails to come up with any reason why he shouldn’t. Will strides forward, pulls off Hannibal’s mask again, and slaps him as hard as he can on the cheek.

Hannibal’s face spins to the side slightly, his eyes closed. He looks very, very calm.

“Fuck you,” Will says, and he ignores the feeling in his gut that’s screaming dangerous, this is dangerous, he’s dangerous like the rattle of a poisonous snake. He presses forward, into Hannibal’s space because why the fuck not at this point, and snarls, “You don’t just kiss someone without their say-so. I thought they were supposed to teach you about consent in sex toy school or wherever the hell you came from.”

Hannibal has the gall to look innocent, almost sweet. “I thought it would be helpful,” he says, “to have some press of this event that diverted the attention to some of the other businesses in the area. Otherwise, your little landscaping outfit will be the sole focus in the coming days.”

That actually makes sense, which is even more irritating. Will’s hand twitches, the vestiges of an instinctive desire to slap him again, and Hannibal catches his wrist. He holds it tightly, almost painful, and Will is suddenly very aware of the rise and fall of his breath and just how close they’re standing to each other. Hannibal’s lips are slightly above the level of Will’s own; if he leaned forward right now, he could brush them against Will’s eyelids.

“Do you begin to see,” Hannibal murmurs softly, “the value of the type of excitement that I peddle?”

The noise from outside has died down a little; Will can faintly hear the maniac cadence of Rudy Giuliani pontificating into the microphone, though he can no longer make out what he’s saying. Will swallows. His stomach is roaring with the anger being transmuted into something else. “I’m straight,” he says.

Giuliani keeps yelling. Hannibal says nothing, his eyes roving hungrily over Will’s face.

“Though I have to say,” Will admits unsteadily, “That crowd out there are making the idea of clinging desperately to my remaining heteropatriarchal authority increasingly less attractive.”

Hannibal takes that as permission to lean in and kiss him again. He’s gentle, his hand releasing Will’s wrist and coming up to cup the back of his head. Will opens his mouth, letting Hannibal’s tongue run softly over the insides of his lips. It feels good.

Joe Biden’s gonna be president, he thinks dizzily. Yeah, okay, what the hell.

Will seizes the back of Hannibal’s jacket and shoves him back roughly, pushing them until Hannibal’s back hits the wall. Hannibal huffs out a breath of air that almost sounds like a moan, and Will forgets about everything else but getting more of those sounds. He shoves a knee in between Hannibal’s thighs, and ruts his own growing erection against the other man’s hip. “Is this what you wanted?” he pants. “Is this… the chrysalis you whisper through in your customers?”

Hannibal manages to get a hand down to Will’s crotch, cupping him and giving him something firmer to thrust into. “Everyone is different in the becoming they seek,” he pants. “I think you, Will, can do better than this.”

Will huffs. “So, did you have something specific in mind when you said I should… come into Fantasy Island by the back door?”

It’s a terrible innuendo, and Will doesn’t really even mean it– or at least he didn’t, it’s never even crossed his mind to want to fuck a man, but Hannibal responds like Will was speaking poetry. “Words are pack hunters,” he mutters against Will’s neck. “They have personality, point of view– agenda. Every utterance can have as many meanings as we assign it.”

Will gasps as Hannibal sucks a bruise into his throat– another thing you should really ask first before doing, he thinks weakly– and stammers, “So what you’re saying is, everything you say is an innuendo?”

“I am saying,” says Hannibal, “That the lubricant display is over there, and I suggest you go choose one.” He releases Will’s neck and reaches over to the till, where there is a prominent glass jar of condoms, and presses one into Will’s hand. “Water-based.”

Will feels like he’s slightly outside of reality as he walks over to the display, clutching the plastic packet of the condom in his hand. There are quite a few types of lube, and they all have the artists’ statements beside them explaining what they’re for and who made them. There’s a greek letter phi beside the ones that are produced locally. Will graps the most expensive bottle of water-based lubricant he can find, because why the hell not, and heads back to the front, where Hannibal is neatly undressing.

For a moment Will just stands there stupidly, repressing the urge to ask what he’s supposed to do. But then, he knows what to do. Get his cock out, get the lube in, then– yeah. Just. Okay. Will shucks down his pants, leaving his jeans and boxers lying on the floor. He strokes himself a couple times, perversely getting harder at the sight of Hannibal just waiting, his suit pants and jacket folded and resting on the till counter. He’s still wearing his shirt, the tails of it hanging down around his bare ass, his face calm and expectant as he watches Will roll on the condom.

Hannibal reaches out and kisses him again once it’s on, drawing him towards the counter. “Have you ever had sex in your shop before?” Will asks.

“Define ‘sex.’”

“Uh.” Hannibal haas arranged them so that Will is pressing him against the counter; their weight difference is probably not going to allow for him to lift Hannibal up by the legs, so he must be intending for Will to have him brace his hands on the counter. “How do you define sex?”

“We frequently hold kink workshops which require volunteers as demonstrators,” says Hannibal, taking the bottle of lube from Will and popping it open. “Do you consider being flogged before an audience to be sex, Will? How about a live fisting demonstration?”

“Jesus,” Will mutters. Hannibal is spreading the lube over Will’s cock, so Will takes the plunge and grabs the bottle back, pouring a large quantity into his hand and spinning Hannibal around. “You’re a really fucking strange neighbour, you know that?”

“No stranger than my neighbour, who invited a spluttering attempted coup to hold a press conference in our parking lot,” Hannibal shoots back, only slightly breathless and leaning forward to expose himself. “It could be argued that I am owed a good dicking-down, in recompense for the error.”

Will’s cock jumps at the strange combination of Hannibal’s precise speech and the idea of a good dicking-down. He takes a deep breath, leans forward, and brings his hand exploratively to the cleft between Hannibal’s asscheeks. He can feel a tiny twitch of surprise and pleasure at the contact, and Hannibal presses back into his hand. It makes him feel oddly powerful, and he presses into Hannibal’s body with one finger coated in slick.

“Good,” says Hannibal, like he’s teaching a fucking workshop. “Very nice. Add more lubricant and a second finger, and spread it around the inside of my passage.”

“Jesus Christ,” groans Will. Fucking the owner of the porn shop next door to a soundtrack of car horns and Rudy Giuliani’s public meltdown is possibly one of the weirdest things he’s ever done, but Hannibal feels hot and soft and welcoming inside. He can’t figure out, in this moment, how to regret any part of this.

“You may use your cock whenever you’re ready,” says Hannibal, the aloofness of his permission entirely undone by the way his voice seems to catch in his throat, every word nearly a moan. Will doesn’t need telling twice; he strokes his slippery hand over himself once, lines up, and pushes in.

Will gasps at the tight heat closing around his cock, and Hannibal makes a sound that is so low it’s almost a growl, and then there is a noise much closer to the door than any of the others. “Man, we were DEFRAUDED,” says a voice. “Bro, we should deserve, like, money for that or something. Hey look, do you think they’ve got porno booths in here?”

There’s a rattle at the door, but Hannibal just mutters “It’s locked,” and Will is entirely too busy clutching at his hips to fuck into him to consider the implication that Hannibal had planned this, from the moment Will slammed the door on the journalist.

He tries reaching around Hannibal to grab his cock, but Hannibal bats his hand away. “Like this,” he grunts, so Will just keeps slamming into him, watching Hannibal’s manicured fingers press white-knuckled into the countertop as he holds on. When Hannibal comes, it splatters down the front of the counter, over a poster advertising a Sunday morning queer support group in the upstairs of the shop. Will grabs him tight and uses his body for a few more suspended, timeless seconds before he follows suit, and slumps forward against Hannibal’s back, panting.

Their breath is the only sound in the store; eventually, that too slows and grows quieter. The space starts to seem very quiet in comparison with the cacophony outside. “This will be a very strong case,” raves Giuliani. “And I know you won’t accept it because of your hateful biases! But see if you can try thinking rationally!”

Will stands up, carefully holding the condom in place as he pulls his cock out of Hannibal. Hannibal himself straightens up with a kind of casual dignity that pulls something very like envy from Will. It would probably be nice, he reflects, to be the kind of person who can beg to be dicked-down and then look smug about it afterwards. That kind of person would probably also be the kind of person who could unwittingly host the single dumbest press event of the decade, and… take advantage of it, or whatever someone in Will’s position is supposed to do.

Hannibal points him around the back of the counter to a garbage can for the tied-off condom, and Will dresses, then sits down in the chair behind the register, as if he could slip into Hannibal’s skin and live there. “I’m probably fucked, aren’t I,” he says.

Hannibal merely raises an eyebrow, and Will cuts him off. “Do not say whatever you were just going to say. I just mean– this is the stupidest media spectacle in the country. Everyone is going to know about Four Seasons Total Landscaping, and not because I’m such an awesome gardener.”

Hannibal comes around and stands behind him, draping his arms over Will’s shoulders and pulling him back against his body. Will closes his eyes. It’s nice. It’s not what he needs to be thinking about right now, but– this is weirdly nice.

“I think,” says Hannibal, “You will find that taking advantage of the strangeness of your own story will serve you better than trying to minimize the incident. And if you don’t wish to have the photo of the front of your garage plastered with Trump posters be the representative image of this day– well, perhaps you ought to promote the other one in its stead.”

“You think that I should publicly comment on the photo of you kissing me. As damage control.”

“I think it would go very nicely on a novelty t-shirt. People buys such things, you know, with far lewder images on them.”

“You seriously want people to wear a t-shirt with a picture of you snogging me on it?”

“Of course.”

“Oh my god,” Will slumps forward, “You are such a narcissist. Any other clever ideas?”

“Not at present,” says Hannibal, “but such things take time, and I believe we’re going to be stuck here for quite a while longer. Well, Will? How do you think we should occupy ourselves?”