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When Hannibal picks up his pile of mail, the Airsure envelope stands out immediately from the more mundane offerings that have been delivered to him that day. He separates it from the rest and holds it up, pleased by the Royal Mail insignia, the oversized portrait of the British monarch, so much more dramatic than his usual run of correspondence. The letters come at irregular intervals, perhaps once every few months, and the sight of one always brightens his mood, no matter how trying his day has been.

They’re always the same; he doesn’t need to flip it over to see who it’s from, much less open it. However, there’s a certain pleasure in following established forms, established traditions. He slits it open anyway, using a treasured antique blade for the purpose.

The smaller envelope inside is exactly as he expects, constructed from heavy cardstock in silkweave ivory, sealed with wax the colour of port wine, beautiful. He takes a moment to admire the way the wax has spread at the edges from the controlled impact of the seal, a simple copperplate M. He pulls it open with his fingers. There’s nothing incriminating in the letter, of course, but the ritual of sending and receiving is something both he and the sender are inclined to appreciate in this age of unseemly haste. One of the many small details they have in common. He unfolds the matching notepaper, already anticipating the message awaiting him in fine black cursive.

The pleasure of your company
is requested on the usual terms
at your earliest convenience.
                                               -M

Hannibal smiles, and moves to check his day planner.

 

***

 

“And what is the purpose of your travel to the UK today?” The girl behind the counter glares at Hannibal as though his landing form has caused her personal offence. Her face is pinched, her hair frizzy and dry, and the pink lipstick she wears is too bright for her complexion. “Business or pleasure?”

“Pleasure,” he says, although in truth it’s a little of both. Her attitude, however, suggests such subtle distinctions are unwelcome. “I’m visiting an old friend.”

“I see you’ve been back and forth a bit in the past few years?” Her voice goes up at the end in that infernal way that makes him unsure whether she’s asking him a question or stating a fact.

“Yes,” he says. When she appears to find that answer unsatisfactory, he elaborates. “In order to sample your wonderful cuisine. I find the culinary delights of London far richer and more varied than those on offer back home in Baltimore.” He maintains his pleasant tone by imagining how much better her mouth would look painted a rich arterial red.

Fortunately by now she has lost interest. She stamps his passport and waves him through.

 

***

 

As always, a driver is waiting for him in the arrivals hall. The car whisks him to the same apartment always allocated for his use, a sleek two-bedroom expanse of glass and steel with full-length windows overlooking the Thames. The driver carries his bags to the door, but then takes his leave, handing over the keys to allow him to find his own way inside. Hannibal likes his privacy.

After turning on the lights – the sun is already setting across the river – the first thing he does is check for the disposable mobile phone, which he finds in its usual place beside the table lamp. He leaves it where it lies. Then he carries his bags to the bedroom and unpacks his personal belongings, setting out his toiletries in the bathroom, putting his socks and underwear in drawers, aligning three days’ worth of clothing in the wardrobe. He will have to smooth out the creases of travel later on.

Luggage stowed, he heads for the kitchen. It’s top of the line stainless steel, not as well fitted out as his own, of course, but perfectly adequate for a short stay. However, he does want to satisfy himself that the equipment supplied, particularly the knives, is up to scratch. He would have preferred to bring his own, but blades have the tendency to draw attention to their owners, even when placed securely in checked baggage. The set of drop forged Global knives in a block on the counter appear sufficiently sharp and functional, if without distinction. He will just have to make do.

Exactly fifteen minutes after the driver leaves, the mobile rings. Hannibal closes the door of the pantry – well stocked – and goes to answer it.

“Mister Holmes,” he says, smiling.

“Doctor Lecter. I trust you had a good flight?”

The rite of exaggerated formality forms a sort of private joke between them, although one that would be meaningless to anyone else. Hannibal’s not even sure why it amuses him, but he chuckles anyway. “Yes, yes, as much as can be expected.”

“And the apartment?”

“Everything’s fine, thank you. How are you, Mycroft? It’s been too long a time.”

“Yes.” Mycroft’s voice is warm, regretful. “It has. I’m afraid requesting a visit from you has become something of a luxury nowadays. I’m so rarely able to justify it.”

“Always a pleasure. You know that.”

“You’re very kind. Anyway, I’ve made a reservation for us at seven thirty tonight in Marylebone. It’s a place called Hanssen’s, opened late last year. Three Michelin stars, modern European with Scandinavian influences. Lamb from Skagafjordur. I very much hope it’ll be to your liking.”

“I’m sure it will be. You know me too well.” His body clock is running a few hours behind, but he barely ate on the plane, so the dinner will serve him nicely as a late lunch.

“Karl will be waiting downstairs for you at seven pm. Just over an hour from now. I hope that’s enough time.”

Hannibal checks his watch. “Plenty, thank you. I’ve already unpacked.”

“Good. I’m looking forward to catching up, Hannibal.” His name sounds delicious coming from Mycroft’s mouth, full of promise.

“As am I, Mycroft. Until then.”

 

***

 

Mycroft is already at the table when he arrives, and stands to greet him. The sight of him sends a warming shock through Hannibal’s veins, an infusion of pleasure. They’ve never quite managed to come to agreement on public terms of display – Hannibal is not a demonstrative person compared to the the Americans who normally surround him, but he’s no match for Mycroft’s reserve. He leans over to grasp Mycroft’s upper arm while Mycroft’s hand rests briefly on his back, still keeping a foot of space between them. It’s a half-hug, a semifreddo of affection.

The restaurant is clean and minimalist, with pale padded chairs and bare wooden tables in an unusual design – round, supported by a central trunk of slender supports. The centerpiece is a miniature tree topped with a ball of greenery, a Western-style bonsai, that echoes the table’s shape. Plates, flatware and napkins are likewise on the simple side; there are few of the rich decorative flourishes that he prefers in his own settings. However a glance at the menu Mycroft has ordered for them, seven courses matched with wine, reassures him.

They start with an amuse-bouche of a single scallop on a bed of bright green seaweed, decorated with a cluster of fat salmon roe. It’s presented atop a small, shell-fluted platter that allows the entire morsel to be consumed in a mouthful. Hannibal chews, savoring the combination of sea-sharp textures in his mouth, crushing the roe in oily bursts against his palate. Mycroft follows suit, but his enjoyment appears more subdued. Half of his attention is on Hannibal’s reaction, rather than the food.

“Very good,” Hannibal reassures him.

“That wasn’t laver, was it? Too green.”

“Sea lettuce. Quite distinct, but equally tasty.”

The conversation meanders for a while through the permutations of seaweed, and then onto the merits of different species of fish roe. It then takes an inevitable detour into caviar. By now they’re onto an entrée of beetroot with goat’s cheese and pistachios, a gentle contrast of acidity and creaminess. The juice of the beetroots runs into the milk-white cheese, staining it in purple-red streaks as they eat.

“And how has your practice been faring?” Mycroft asks, in between bites.

“Very interesting, as always. Although I’m afraid another of my most annoying clients has recently gone missing. He was obsessed with the idea of devils who walk the earth in human form.”

Mycroft’s fork pauses in mid-air. “Really.”

“A pity he could not go on with his treatment. Mental instability often leads to such unpredictable behavior.” Hannibal smiles.

“I see. A little… risky, wouldn’t you say?”

“But life is all about risk. Isn’t it, Mycroft?” It’s too soon for Hannibal to go further into the purposes of his visit, too crass, but he can’t resist teasing Mycroft a little, just to see the look on his face.

Mycroft swallows the last bite of his dish with noticeable effort, replaces his cutlery, and pushes the plate away. “I suppose so.”

“I’ve reported his disappearance to the police, of course. I’m sure he’ll show up eventually. I have my own theories on what might have happened to him, but I’ll spare you the details.”

“Thank you.”

The next course is chargrilled pigeon, cooked to smoky perfection, but which clashes aggressively with the pinot noir they’ve been served to accompany it. After a single sip, Hannibal sets the glass down in disgust.

“No, no, no,” he says. “A little oak is acceptable, yes, but this is far too heavy. I want to see the sommelier.”

“Hannibal, please calm down. Just leave it alone. Here, have some more water instead.” Mycroft refreshes his glass. A moment later, Hannibal feels the discreet squeeze of Mycroft’s hand on his leg, under the table.

“I am perfectly calm,” he says, which is true, but he understands the message. He drinks the water, and lets Mycroft explain the situation when the dishes and his barely-touched glass are cleared away. The server promises to pass his comments on. She probably won’t.

The next course plunges once more into the ocean – monkfish, mussels, and “sea vegetables”, which turn out to be an unusual mixture of wakame and samphire, salty-sweet. Mycroft’s tense air eases a fraction as Hannibal sips the matched wine without comment. They eat for a while in silence, and Hannibal consoles himself with a renewed appreciation of the man sitting opposite him. He’s been so fortunate, really. Mycroft knows him for who and what he is and yet does not resile. Perhaps he doesn’t approve, exactly, but he’s intelligent enough to understand that it’s only a matter of degree between them. When it comes to ordering the deaths of men, they both see their actions as justifiable under their own codes of morality. Hannibal simply has a more visceral, hands-on approach to his work. Mycroft clearly respects that, even if he can’t condone it.

“Your suit is very nice – it’s new?” Hannibal asks, by way of apology. The suit in question is one he’s not seen before, a dusty charcoal grey with narrow pinstripes, but in truth, it hardly stands out from its fellows. Mycroft’s clothes are impeccably tailored, but he dresses like a man grown old before his time, as though his job has drained all sartorial flair from him. Hannibal secretly wishes he could outfit him in something more striking – a tasteful plaid, for example, or at the very least something more colourful in the way of ties.

“It is new, in fact.” Mycroft smiles at last. “How did you know? The fabric?”

“Yes, but it’s also cut an inch narrower in the waist. The diet must be going well. Or at least until this evening.” He winks.

“It’s a constant struggle,” Mycroft says. “I don’t know how you manage it.”

“I have more strenuous hobbies.”

There’s a pause as the next course is set in front of them, thick slices of the legendary Icelandic lamb, served with potatoes in béchamel sauce, but with spinach instead of peas. There’s a small cluster of fresh lingonberries on the side for visual and textural contrast. Hannibal finds it conservative to the point of plainness, clearly a sop to appease those unsettled by the more interesting courses preceding it. Still, it’s a dish requiring more technique in the execution than it looks. He bites into the rare red flesh, enjoying the way it virtually dissolves in his mouth.

“And how is that little brother of yours?” Hannibal’s voice softens. He’s never met Mycroft’s sibling, but the subject always makes him think of Mischa. If she’d lived, she would be only a little older than Sherlock is now.

“He seems to have recently found himself a flatmate,” Mycroft said. “A doctor, in fact,” he adds, as if the thought had only just occurred to him.

“A psychiatrist? That seems far too coincidental.”

“No,” Mycroft appears amused. “A GP. Ex-military, though, recently arrived back from Afghanistan.”

“How strangely appropriate.”

“Sherlock’s been doing so much better than he was. He closed a nice series of presumed suicides with his new assistant some three weeks ago, in fact. But there’s been very little since then, and now I’m afraid he’s becoming a little… bored.”

“Ah.” Hannibal understands the implications. It’s not the first time that this has happened, either. “He needs a new mystery to solve.”

“Just so. But let’s discuss it a little later, shall we? We’ve still dessert and petits fours to come.”

 

***

 

After dinner is concluded, Mycroft’s driver takes them back to the apartment. Once the door is shut behind them, Mycroft hands over a plain brown envelope.

“Andrej Pavlovic, 55, fled from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, resettled in the UK. Fell in with a bad crowd, or rather stayed in the same line of work he was already in. Believed to be personally responsible for the deaths of four MI5 agents between 1999 and 2006, but not enough evidence for a conviction. More recently, he’s become a known associate of a man called James Moriarty, who I believe poses a serious potential threat to my brother.”

Hannibal sets it aside for the moment without bothering to open it. “I always tell you there’s no point explaining, since I have only your word to go on. As long as the details are there.”

No matter how many times they’ve done this, it never seems to get any easier for Mycroft, who is now shifting uncomfortably in front of him. “However, in this case…”

“Yes, you mentioned you needed a little mystery as well, to have your brother involved,” Hannibal says, with professional patience. “So, I have free rein? Some ritual scarring, perhaps. That should keep him occupied in useless research for a while.”

“Whatever you think best.”

“And the matter of– souvenirs?” he adds delicately. He doesn’t really need to ask, since there’s nothing Mycroft can do to stop him. But he always does. It’s partly a sense of politeness, but mostly the desire to see the look of suppressed revulsion flicker across Mycroft’s face. He’s aware, intellectually, that within his own realm Mycroft is a man to be respected, perhaps feared. However, here, in Hannibal’s domain, he’s just like everyone else. Ordinary.

He retracts the conclusion almost as soon as it’s made. No, not quite ordinary. Even in the most insipid of suburban gardens there may occasionally be found a single perfect bloom. He’s not above appreciating such beauty for its own sake.

“If you insist,” Mycroft says. “But afterwards...”

“Oh, yes, and what about afterwards?” Hannibal smiles. “Will there be one this time?”

He reaches out to slide a hand slowly up the front of Mycroft’s expensive, boring suit jacket, then moves over to caress his cheek. Mycroft trembles under his touch but stands his ground. Hannibal suddenly grips his face between his hands, draws him into a kiss, pressing his tongue deep into Mycroft’s mouth as though seeking to devour him. He can feel Mycroft’s muscles tense, caught between the urge to surrender and the urge to flee. Hannibal holds him close, giving him no choice but to remember the pleasure, the pain, of their last intimate encounter. “Say yes.”

“Yes,” Mycroft says faintly, when Hannibal lets him go. “But…” He swallows, and his voice regains some of its strength. “Before I set foot in here again, everything must be tidied away, do you understand? Including any… smells. And for god’s sake, don’t leave anything for the cleaners to find when you leave.”

“Of course, Mycroft. Consider it done. Really, you worry far too much, it’s not healthy.”

Mycroft’s tongue flicks out to wet his lips. Such a vibrant pink against all that gray. The savage part of him wants to take Mycroft apart right now, wants to hurl him to the ground, tear off that horrible suit, and do whatever he likes with him. He won’t, of course. That would be terribly uncivilized behavior considering all that Mycroft’s done for him, all that Mycroft means to him. But the thought still fills him with joy.

“I’d best be off now,” Mycroft says, taking a step towards the door.

“I’ll let you know,” Hannibal says. “By the day after tomorrow, I think, unless there are any… complications I should be aware of?”

“No,” Mycroft says. “He’s single. Lives alone. No wife, no girlfriend, no boyfriend, no children.”

“Such consideration. You know the safest thing an enemy of yours could do is to settle down and breed. You wouldn’t go near him then.”

“Perhaps,” Mycroft says.

“Unless he – or she – targeted your brother, of course.”

He loves the hardness that instantly colors Mycroft’s eyes. “Of course.”

 

***

 

He spends the next day in peaceful enjoyment of his borrowed city. The day is gray and soothing through his expanse of windows when he wakes, and he goes straight to the kitchen to prepare himself a cup of strong brewed coffee from the percolator. He sits at the table and studies Mycroft’s file for an hour, building a profile in his head, contemplating logistics. He enjoys the view of the Thames whenever he looks up from his work, the way it follows him through the apartment when he returns to his bedroom to shower and change. The thought of all the bodies that must have disappeared over the centuries into its sluggish depths fills him with satisfaction.

Dressed anew in houndstooth and paisley, he explores London, picking up supplies. The envelope included a generous bundle of cash for expenses, as always, but his requirements are few. He has already brought most of what he needs – a bundle of lock picks, suitably discreet clothing, his own lifetime’s experience.

Only a few small items remain to be purchased. Perhaps a new knife, to be disposed of when its purpose is served, a little rope for emergencies. However, of greatest importance are the ingredients he’ll need afterwards. He attacks Harrods early and begins by purchasing a small selection of vegetables and spices to complement his plans. In an ideal world he would have preferred pickling, but he’s regrettably short on time. At least the apartment has a decent cast-iron crockpot that should do well for slow cooking. He spends a little more time in the food hall acquiring the makings of a light lunch, and examining the cuts of meat on display. He won’t be buying any today, of course, but he appreciates the presentation, like artworks under glass.

Shopping done, he returns to the apartment to begin preparing the vegetable stock. While it heats, he composes himself a restrained plate of bread, cheese, paté, and salad, accompanying it with a glass of red wine. He eats his lunch at the table, with a knife and fork. Later in the afternoon he leaves the stock simmering on the stove and pays a brief visit to the National Gallery to refresh himself, lingering before the fleshy Titians and the Bosch in a side wing. On impulse, he steps into the gift shop and buys a silk scarf in watery blues and reds. Ophelia, drowning, lost amongst the flowers. Then he returns to prepare himself for the evening’s work.

In the end, the hunt proves disappointing – not in its outcome, but in its ease. An examination of Mycroft’s data has led him to the conclusion that this at this time of night his quarry will be either at work for his new boss, or passed out in an alcoholic stupor in bed. The balance of probability rests with the latter, and as it turns out, the odds are with him. The most difficult challenge Hannibal faces is how best to mark the man’s body to warrant Sherlock’s attention. He settles for inscribing some Viking runes into the flesh of his victim’s stomach and chest – “mouth”, “gift”, “joy”, “game” – in honor of his Scandinavian dinner with Mycroft. Job completed, he lovingly retrieves his reward.

At some time after two am, he returns to the apartment, and brings the stock back up to the boil. He brings out a frypan and sears the small cut of muscle on both sides before putting it in the crockpot, making sure it’s completely covered by the liquid. He turns the heat back down and replaces the lid for it to cook gently for the remainder of the night.

 

***

 

In the morning he peels, slices and seasons the meat before returning it to the fridge. He feeds the offcuts into the whirring of the sink disposal unit. The broth remaining in the cooker is sweet and strong, and he decides it will do nicely as part of his lunch. Waste not, want not.

The smell that remains in the apartment is nothing that could be considered offensive, warm and nourishing, but nevertheless he opens the window so that all traces of it will be gone by the evening. He calls Mycroft on the little black phone and assures him the job is done. After a little more pressing, he extracts a further promise that Mycroft will come by at eight pm.

He ends the call already filled with anticipation. The occasions with Mycroft are rare enough to be treasured in his memory, his soaring palace of light and shadows. He’s given Mycroft the honor of an annex to himself, only a few doors down from Mischa.

Such concepts of memory and remembrance are ones they’ve enjoyed discussing at length in the past. Mycroft’s mind works differently, a computer that produces fully-formed conclusions out of a tangle of myriad sources. Should he choose to call Hannibal to mind, he’s there in an instant, but with all the threads he’s attached to trailing off into the distance, should they need to be pursued. It’s efficient, but lacks the charm of Hannibal’s architectural domain. However, Mycroft has reported that his brother has since found the concept useful for his needs.

Hannibal would so love to meet young Sherlock, but it’s the one point on which Mycroft is immovable. His brother’s rudeness is apparently legendary, so perhaps his fear is justified. But Hannibal’s curiosity remains. One day he may have to pay him a visit anyway.

 

***

 

When Mycroft arrives, Hannibal is already relaxing on the sofa with a glass of wine, a piquant Barolo in the classic style. A collection of Scarlatti sonatas plays in the background on the excellent stereo system, the notes of the piano crisp and sprightly. On the sideboard stands a heavy crystal vase filled with a mixture of red and white roses, their scent serving to mask any lingering cooking odors. A practical gesture, nothing more.

“My friend,” he says, when he opens the door, and in the privacy of the apartment he reaches out to embrace him. Mycroft’s smile is stretched and thin, the returning press of his hands weak, but Hannibal lets it go. It’s always like this, at the beginning. Mycroft’s true self needs to be excavated from the protective shell he keeps tightly drawn around him. Like the tender heart of an artichoke, the reward is well worth the effort.

He begins by taking Mycroft’s suit jacket from him – one of the older ones, in funerary black – and hangs it in the hallway closet. Mycroft hesitates before letting him unbutton the waistcoat, but Hannibal brushes his hands away. He notices Mycroft hasn’t worn the fob watch, perhaps understanding that tonight his time is not his own. The waistcoat takes its place beside the suit jacket. It leaves them both in their shirtsleeves, but Mycroft’s shirt is a starched, cold white next to the vibrant blue of Hannibal’s own.

He insists Mycroft’s shoes and socks come off, too. Hannibal himself has been padding around the apartment barefoot since he returned from purchasing the flowers, appreciating the plushness of the carpet. He gestures Mycroft to sit beside him on the sofa, and Hannibal pours him a fresh glass of wine, leaving his own half-drunk on the table. He notes with approval that Mycroft sniffs, but does not hesitate before sipping. It’s far too late to worry about such trivialities. If Hannibal truly wished to do him harm, there would already be no way out.

“So,” Hannibal says. Mycroft is silent. Their best conversations always take place over dinner, or sometimes in the hours afterwards. In these moments there’s nothing but the eternal battle Mycroft wages with himself and his conscience. It’s delicious to watch, and goes to Hannibal’s head far faster than the wine.

“It went… well, then?” Mycroft says.

“Of course. It may take some little time for the body to be found, but it will be a striking discovery.” Hannibal chuckles, and leans over to kiss him. Mycroft flinches away, for the moment, and despite the competing odors Hannibal can smell the subtle changes in his body chemistry, the fear and arousal that twine together, inseparable.

“Did he fight?”

“It was quite boring, in fact. He was asleep. I strangled him first.”

Mycroft nods, accepting all that’s been done at his request, and as far as Hannibal’s concerned, the subject is closed. Time to move on. Hannibal turns towards him, takes Mycroft’s free hand in both of his, and begins caressing the skin, running his fingers up to undo the cufflink of his sleeve. Pushing the cuff back, he slides a thumb over the pulse point at Mycroft’s wrist. He feels for it there, the warm throbbing just beneath the skin, fast but steady. The wine glass in Mycroft’s other hand trembles as Hannibal raises his wrist to his mouth, kissing it softly, tracing the tip of his tongue over fine blue veins. He breathes in, taking Mycroft’s scent deep into his lungs.

Mycroft takes another slow sip of wine as though pretending he doesn’t see, doesn’t feel what Hannibal is doing. Then he sets the glass down. Hannibal takes that as invitation to work at the cufflink of his other wrist, undoing it before pulling Mycroft into his arms. Mycroft’s mouth tastes of wine underlain with the ugly, distressing flavor of mint.

“You are very tense,” Hannibal announces, drawing back. He stands and goes around the back of the sofa, reaching around Mycroft’s throat to remove his tie and then unbutton his shirt. It unfurls beneath his fingers, exposing Mycroft’s skin, soft and pale, so very delicate. Hannibal doesn’t approve of auburn hair, or freckles, he never has, so vulgar, but he makes an exception for Mycroft. He makes so many exceptions for Mycroft.

He slips the shirt from around Mycroft’s shoulders and lays it aside. He can see the muscles of Mycroft’s shoulders and neck overlaid before him as though on an anatomical model, their names as beautiful as incantations – splenius capitus, trapezius, Levator scapulae. Freckles are clustered like constellations. Mycroft sighs as Hannibal’s fingers dig in, loosening his tight flesh, and Hannibal is irresistibly reminded of the way Japanese farmers massage their prize Wagyu cattle for the slaughter. He knows well how very tender that portion would be, just beneath the shoulder blade. Mycroft slumps back against him, tilting his mouth up to be kissed, and Hannibal pushes the thought away.

“Come,” Hannibal says. He takes Mycroft by the hand, and Mycroft follows him to the bedroom meekly, like a child. He’s reminded of the feel of Mischa’s hand, so soft and trusting in his own.

At the foot of the bed, he helps Mycroft shed the rest of his clothing. He pushes Mycroft’s briefs and trousers down to his ankles and Mycroft steps out of them. He’s no Renaissance sculpture, but his flesh has the warm pliancy that marble can never supply. His prick is half-hard, standing slightly away from his body, but his eyes are downcast as though ashamed. Hannibal presses close against him, takes his prick in hand and strokes it. Mycroft’s breath whispers against his cheek as he moans in response, his eyes closed.

“Good boy.” Hannibal kisses a trail from the base of Mycroft’s ear down to where neck meets shoulder. He can feel the pulse beating there as well, thick and fast, and his teeth worry the skin but do not bite. All the while he continues to play with Mycroft, who grows and swells in his hand.

Satisfied, Hannibal steps back and undoes the buttons of his shirt, letting it drape around him. He unfastens his belt and trousers, but only enough to expose his prick, which is ready for further attention. A firm hand on Mycroft’s shoulder is enough to push him to his knees. At other times, perversely when Mycroft’s at his most calm and relaxed, he’ll put up a show of protest, resisting Hannibal as much as he dares, like a terrier yapping in defiance. He must really need this today. Mycroft’s intellect may be unique, but Hannibal finds the psychology of his desires disappointingly commonplace.

Hannibal closes his eyes and sighs as Mycroft bows his head, takes him into his mouth. His hands move restlessly through Mycroft’s hair, then settle on either side of his head to push Mycroft more firmly against him. He holds him in place, maintaining pressure even when Mycroft chokes a little on his length. If he will only remember to open his throat a little wider, and not panic, he’ll be fine. Mycroft briefly struggles for air through his nose and then takes him deep, deeper. Finally his breathing calms again and Hannibal fucks his mouth in short, sharp thrusts.

When he’s fully aroused, he pulls out of Mycroft’s mouth, which is now red and swollen. His prick glistens with saliva, and he draws it down first one of Mycroft’s cheeks and then the other, marking him. Mycroft looks up at him, eyes wide, waiting.

Hannibal gestures with a tilt of his chin and Mycroft scrambles onto the bed on his hands and knees. The loss of Mycroft’s dignity evokes in Hannibal a strange tenderness. He pushes at Mycroft with his hands, turns him over so he can see his face once more. Then he spreads Mycroft’s legs apart and pushes his face between them. The fear is back in Mycroft’s eyes as Hannibal’s mouth wraps around his prick. Hannibal only sucks at him gently, swallowing his essence, finding it exquisite. He sweeps the blade of his tongue in long swirls until Mycroft is whimpering, his head falling back against the pillow. Now and again Mycroft’s cock twitches in his mouth, but he knows he’s forbidden to come.

Next, he traces his tongue slowly along the seam of Mycroft’s perineum and down to his opening. Mycroft is clean, would not dare come to him otherwise, and Hannibal pushes his legs even wider before pushing his tongue inside. Mycroft’s body jerks as though he were dying, and his groans send new surges of blood to Hannibal’s erection. Hannibal works the tip of his tongue in and out as Mycroft writhes against him.

“Oh god, please, please,” Mycroft begs. It’s the first coherent thing he’s said since they entered the bedroom.

“What?” Hannibal says, climbing further up Mycroft’s body, kissing him once more on the mouth. The trails of saliva on his cheeks have dried out, resembling the tracks of tears. “What is it you want, Mycroft?”

There’s no reply, but Hannibal moves down to Mycroft’s right nipple, first wetting it thoroughly with his tongue. He covers it with his mouth, enclosing an area of skin perhaps an inch in diameter. Then he bites, slowly, precisely, increasing the force of his teeth by tiny, pitiless increments.

“Ah, oh, god,” Mycroft cries, as the pain begins to register. He bucks up frantically into Hannibal’s mouth, trying to ease the sensations, but if he struggles too much it will only hurt all the more, risk tearing the delicate skin. For the same reason, he’s unable to push Hannibal away. He’s trapped in place, writhing like a dying fish on a riverbank. “No, Hannibal, stop, stop, please.”

Hannibal is not unmoved by his plight, but there’s no escape here, no safety. The initial decision rests with Mycroft, but having ceded his body to Hannibal, there will be no further negotiations. They both understand this.

Tears of pain are seeping from the corners of Mycroft’s eyes, but his erection is still hard against Hannibal’s thigh. Hannibal releases his nipple at last, and runs his tongue around the indented red mark he’s made, the skin looking bleached white around its edges. Mycroft’s breath rushes out of him, shaky, sobbing. Before he can recover, Hannibal moves over to the other nipple and repeats the process, biting down again, ignoring all protests. This time he swirls his tongue against the raised nub and uses his hand to take both of their pricks in hand, stroking them together, luxuriating in Mycroft’s cries.

Mycroft’s cheeks are streaked with tears when he lets go, new stains overlaying the old. His hands go at once to rub at his tortured skin in an attempt to soothe it. Hannibal leaves the bed to strip off the remainder of his clothing and put on a condom, one of the small concessions he makes to their arrangement. He feels Mycroft watching him, his face set, expressionless.

When he returns to the bed he raises Mycroft’s legs once more, pushing his fingers inside. Mycroft gasps, but Hannibal can tell he’s done some preparation beforehand, perhaps with the memory of past sessions in mind. Therefore he wastes no more time but lines himself up and thrusts into Mycroft in one swift movement, invading his body at last. After the initial adjustment Mycroft quietens, and begins stroking himself with clear intent. Hannibal places his hand over Mycroft’s, stops him.

“Don’t,” he says, with just a hint of teeth. “I’m not finished with you yet.”

“What do you mean?” Mycroft says. The look of trepidation is back in his eyes.

Hannibal reaches up to the headboard, over which is draped the silk scarf. He holds it up in one hand like a trophy as the ends droop down softly over Mycroft’s face.

“I bought this yesterday,” he says. “To use on the late Mr. Pavlovic. A most civilized way to die, don’t you think?”

It’s clear that Mycroft has his own reservations on the matter. However, he’s still pinned to the bed under the weight of Hannibal’s body, impaled on his prick.

“And now,” Hannibal continues. “I would very much like to use it on you.”

“No.” Mycroft’s tone is surprisingly firm, remonstrating with him in much the same way he had over the inappropriate wine.

“You misunderstand, Mycroft. I have no intention of harming you. In fact, I anticipate that you will greatly enjoy it.” He threads the scarf behind Mycroft’s neck, and crosses the free ends across his throat. He holds the ends down against the bed so that the fabric is taut against the skin, but does not pull. Mycroft struggles a little, pulling at his hands, but Hannibal has both strength and experience, and Mycroft’s leverage is sadly limited.

“You promised me,” Mycroft says, as though clinging to the words.

“I promised only no visible marks. The cloth is soft and wide enough to leave only the mildest of abrasions. Just keep stroking yourself.”

“Please, Hannibal, no. It’s too dangerous.”

“Isn’t that what life is all about? Risk?” Hannibal smiles, showing all his teeth.

He doesn’t wait for an answer, but begins tightening the scarf around Mycroft’s neck. Mycroft is shaking his head, his eyes frantic. He hasn’t touched his prick again. Hannibal sighs, and loosens his hold, but only marginally.

“You will never forget the intensity of the sensation,” he says. “And I will not let you go until you come for me. Are you so frightened of death, Mycroft?”

“Sherlock,” Mycroft whispers.

“I don’t understand.” Hannibal frowns. It’s a rare occurrence.

“Not for me.”

The implications take a moment to grasp, and then spark and coalesce in his brain. It seems Mycroft’s psyche may present some slight features of interest after all. He wonders how he could have missed it for so long. Perhaps the ever-present ache of Mischa’s memory has blinded him to a more objective view of Sherlock. If she had only lived… Never mind. Later. He will not be distracted from his current pleasures.

“Nevertheless, Mycroft, you will. That is what you promised.”

“No,” Mycroft says, but with far less conviction than before.

“Yes. Come for me, and I will let you go. Otherwise, I really may have to kill you.”

He watches the shadows in Mycroft’s eyes ebb and flow as he tries to determine whether Hannibal is serious. It doesn’t take long. Mycroft’s hand hesitates, then returns to his prick. Despite everything, he’s still half-hard; for all his protesting, his body gives him away.

“A good choice,” Hannibal says, without irony.

“Just… please, quickly.” Mycroft shuts his eyes, and then his focus seems to turn inwards as he concentrates on his depleted arousal. Hannibal’s hands stay on either side of Mycroft’s head, holding the scarf in place, but at first he only resumes his steady thrusting, helping them both back on their way. He angles his hips a little further forward, pushing in harder, and is rewarded by Mycroft’s renewed gasps of anguished pleasure.

“Ah,” Mycroft moans. “Yes, like that.” His hand is moving faster now, tugging at himself, desperate. “I think… oh.”

Hannibal slows his thrusts to stillness and then turns his attention back to the scarf. As Mycroft’s orgasm approaches, his need for oxygen increases, and this is precisely when Hannibal starts tightening the flow. At first Mycroft tries to relax into it, tries to ignore the increasing pressure on his throat just as he’d done the first soft press of Hannibal’s lips on his wrist, but the need for air is primal and unforgiving. His eyes widen in desperation as Hannibal pulls the fabric slowly tighter.

Hannibal watches the struggle with satisfaction. It goes a long way to making up for last night’s disappointment. Caught in his sleep, Pavlovic had merely made a series of ugly choking noises, then expired. This conscious battle for life and breath is far more compelling.

Mycroft’s hand is still moving frantically on his prick, knowing it to be the key to his salvation. At the same time, Hannibal is making it progressively harder for him to concentrate. It’s such a fine balance, Hannibal thinks. Life and death. Pleasure and pain. He would love the chance to perfect his technique. Such a pity then that Mycroft will probably never let him do it again.

“Can’t… breathe…” Mycroft’s words are perfectly formed, if lacking in substance. His free hand clutches weakly at Hannibal’s arm. “Please.”

“Just a little more, Mycroft. Courage.”

Mycroft finally shuts his eyes and concentrates, surrenders. Hannibal feels all of Mycroft’s muscles pulling tight just before orgasm, and in that moment Mycroft’s eyes flick open for a split second, his face flushed red, and he’s choking, gasping, silently begging Hannibal for a breath that isn’t there. Hannibal commits the exquisite sight to memory, storing it away like a snapshot for future framing, and then releases him.

The sudden return of air gives Mycroft just enough breath for the beginnings of a scream as his orgasm hits. His body thrashes uncontrollably under Hannibal as he comes in waves, helpless against all the competing demands of his body. Hannibal delights in the sensations of Mycroft shuddering around his prick, and chases his own climax at last, thrusting into him carelessly, hard and fast. His orgasm is agreeable enough, and leaves him sated, but feels like almost an afterthought compared to the wonders that have gone before.

 

***

 

Afterwards Mycroft is too polite – or perhaps still too fearful – to call him by abusive names, but it’s clear that he wants to.

“We are never doing that again,” he says, turning on his side, towards Hannibal. Even after ten minutes’ recovery, his voice is breathless and shaky, and his hand occasionally strays to touch the hollow of his throat. Yet he’s still lying here, still speaking of hypothetical futures. Some addictions are too strong to break.

Hannibal reaches out to stroke his arm. “Shhh,” he soothes. “I apologize. I thought it would be… an experience for you.” It’s the truth; just not all of it. He moves in closer to kiss Mycroft, who does not deny him.

“That it was,” Mycroft says. He finally meets Hannibal’s eyes without flinching, a man who has fought his demons and won. This time. “But you’ll have to get rid of that scarf. It’s evidence, for one thing.”

“Certainly not. I intend to keep it with me always. It is a souvenir.”

“So what other souvenirs did you take?”

“I thought you preferred not to know.”

“I’m just… curious.”

Indeed you are, Hannibal thinks. A most curious man. “It is a long plane trip home tomorrow, you understand. The food…” He shakes his head in despair. “And it has been such a long time since I had a fresh tongue sandwich.”

Mycroft looks sorry that he asked.

“And you,” Hannibal continues. “What will you do when I have gone?”

“What do you mean? Pick up the pieces and feign surprise, as always.”

“That is not what I meant. I realize I’ve underestimated you, Mycroft. Not your intellect, which is one of the finest I’ve encountered outside of my own, but your psyche, which is more delightfully perverse than I ever anticipated.”

“That’s hardly a compliment.”

“It was intended as fact, not flattery. You see, I made the mistake of taking your need for submission and pain at face value, as an escape from the responsibilities of your work. A common enough paraphilia. But it’s something more than that, isn’t it? You believe you need to be punished for your desires. Towards your errant little brother.”

He watches for Mycroft’s reaction, eager to judge the truth of his words. Mycroft’s mouth tightens, and he swallows. He will not look at Hannibal.

“He’s all you think about, isn’t he?” Hannibal continues. “You don’t even fear death for your own sake, but for his. I should have seen it before. You would order the ritual mutilation of a man just to save your brother from himself. Not that I don’t approve. But your feelings go far beyond the fraternal. Perhaps you haven’t even admitted them to yourself.”

“I’m not here for you to psychoanalyze me.”

“No, otherwise I would be charging you a great deal more.” Hannibal smiles, but it does nothing to lighten Mycroft’s mood. For once, Hannibal hesitates, choosing his words carefully before he speaks. His hand reaches out for Mycroft’s, squeezing it. “I have often thought that if Mischa had lived… perhaps I too would need nothing more.”

Mycroft looks at him, his face softening, and this time it is Hannibal who dips his head away. For all that his admission was a calculated ploy, he, too, is powerless against the emotion that briefly engulfs him. Knowing proves little defence against feeling.

“I’m sorry,” Mycroft says, in awkward condolence, and then, “There are some lines I won’t cross.”

“It is a little late for that, I think,” Hannibal says, and reaches out to lightly trace the curve of his throat. Mycroft remains unamused. So you are aware, from the sounds of things. As is he.”

“I’m not discussing this with either of you.”

“Then you only deny yourself much happiness.”

“I must go,” Mycroft says. “My driver is waiting.”

He disappears into the bathroom, and Hannibal does not attempt to follow. Showered and dressed in all his layers once more, Mycroft looks as though he’s done little more strenuous than discuss the economy for the last two hours. A keen eye might notice the slight dampness of his hair, or the reddened skin at his throat, but no such scrutiny is likely to befall him on the way home. He wishes Hannibal a good flight and kisses him goodbye before walking out the door. The stereo has been silenced, but the apartment still smells of roses. Hannibal finishes off his glass of wine and then starts packing his things into suitcases.

 

***

 

A week later, Hannibal has just begun wrapping up with an obsessive-compulsive librarian when a delivery from Fortnum and Mason’s arrives. He’s forced to interrupt the session to give the courier his signature. Nothing like this has ever happened before; he wonders what Mycroft wants now. Afterwards, Hannibal apologizes to the librarian, gives him an extra three minutes – for beyond question the man is keeping track – and then shuts the door gratefully behind him.

Inside the insulated packaging is a large, traditional wicker hamper, with buckled straps and “F & M” stenciled in large black letters on both sides. Hannibal examines its contents piece by piece, placing each item on his desk after due appreciation – mixed spiced almonds, damson cheese, crystallized ginger, a generous selection of preserves and biscuits, tea and coffee. Only then does he reach for the cream-coloured card tucked into the pocket of the inner lid. It’s written in familiar black copperplate.

Thank you for the consultation.
Until we meet again.
                                   -M

Hannibal brings the card to his nose, catching the faintest traces of Mycroft’s scent, mixed with his cologne. He glances at the marble bust of Agrippina he keeps on a bookshelf, which is now incongruously adorned with a scarf in watercolor shades of red and blue, tied in a slip knot. He tucks the card tenderly in a drawer.

It’s difficult to say exactly what it means; all he has for now are his suspicions. Meanwhile, he has just enough time before his next patient arrives. He opens the tin of marmalade biscuits and brews himself a modest pot of Royal Blend. It’s a thoughtful gift, and he’s feeling quite cheerful by the time he takes his first sip of tea and his second biscuit.

Perhaps he’ll even let the librarian live a little longer.