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Blackbird

Chapter Text

Will pressed his palm flat to the window in Hannibal's office. Thunder rattled the glass.

"Sometimes I wish I weren't real," he said.

"What would you be if you weren't real?"

Hannibal sat at his desk, drawing. Every few minutes he picked up the scalpel and honed his pencil to an even finer point.

"Something they could wheel out to look at bodies and stick back in a closet after."

"You feel the rest of your life serves no purpose."

"I wouldn't say that. I just think it would be easier if I didn't have to…"

"Live it?"

He shrugged. "Yeah. Basically. What are you drawing?"

"A street in Paris. The Rue Saint-Denis."

Will drifted over to the desk. Hannibal angled the paper toward him. A crosshatch of shadow covered most of it, with just the bare white streetlights showing through. He pressed his fingertips against the rough edge as if he could absorb answers from it.

"Ask," Hannibal said. "This isn't a crime scene, and I am not a corpse."

"You always draw Paris."

Hannibal smiled and brushed away graphite dust. "How do you know? You haven't seen all of my drawings."

"Do you?"

"Often. Not always."

"Do you draw people?"

"Rarely." Hannibal glanced up at him. "Shall I draw you?"

"The hour's almost over."

"I was going to invite you for dinner in any case. If you are not too hungry, we may take the extra time."

"Why do you—“ Will nearly bit his tongue he cut the sentence off so quickly. Sometimes he forgot himself with Hannibal. He wasn't even sure how he'd meant to finish it. Why do you keep trying, possibly.

"I'm not the only one who enjoys your company, Will. Others watch you rebuff offers of friendship, or more, and are perhaps more wary of impinging on your solitude. You are left with me because I am more persistent and more sure of myself."

"Must be nice."

"You are equally sure of yourself, in your own way. Sit, please, and turn your face toward the light."

Will sat in the leather chair nearest the window and leaned back. "I'm not left with you." He poked at the shape of his next sentence, tested it, and said it anyway. "If anything, I'm right with you."

Hannibal said nothing. Whole minutes passed with only the faint scratch of his pencil over the paper and the tick of the clock. Somehow, the silence failed to be awkward, or to make Will regret his words. He let his eyes close and tipped his head back.

"Yes," Hannibal said, at last, voice an incoming tide on the edge of sleep. "I recognize the sentiment."

Will slitted his eyes open and smiled at the sight of Hannibal bent over his work. His last thought before sleep pulled him down was of dinner, coffee afterward in front of the fire, everything tinged an irrational gold and sliding into the soft focus of fantasy.

He woke with a jerk when something dry and thin settled over his hands. It took him a moment of confused blinking and elevated heart rate to identify it as the paper Hannibal had been drawing on.

"Sorry," he mumbled, and stopped clutching at it before he crumpled the edges. He focused on the drawing and then rubbed his eyes and adjusted his glasses. He'd expected a sketch. This was photographic. The slanted light managed to pick out every sign of wear in his face. His hand hovered over the unhappy tilt of his mouth.

"This must've taken… How long did you let me sleep?"

"About three hours."

"Three hours." Will shook his head and looked down at the paper again. He could see why Hannibal let him sleep. He hadn't expected a particularly flattering picture, but the man staring back at him from the paper looked like shit.

"Come," Hannibal said. "I promised you dinner."

"It's late. It must be almost ten." He stumbled a little as he got up to claim his coat. "I should get home."

"You should come and eat dinner. You can ride with me."

He let himself be pulled along in Hannibal's wake. It was easier. And, truthfully, it was what he wanted.

Hannibal didn't speak during the drive, and Will found himself hovering on the edge of sleep again. The dim interior of the car soothed his eyes, and the rain and road noise nudged his mind into neutral.

"M'not very good company tonight," he said.

"Silence is sometimes the best accompaniment."

Their silence accompanied the rain all the way to Hannibal's house. In the kitchen, Will was given an onion to chop. He washed his hands and picked up the knife. The handle fitted precisely into the curve of his palm. The blade gleamed like a murder waiting to happen.

"Why the Rue Saint-Denis?" he asked.

Hannibal had removed suit jacket, tie, and waistcoat. He rolled up his sleeves, not quite to the elbow, and started peeling tomatoes.

"Because I once patronized a prostitute there, and I was thinking of the incident earlier today."

Will blinked down at the glint of light off the knife blade. "Yeah? How did that go?"

“Oh, poorly. I was beaten and robbed."

"Before or after?"

Hannibal laughed and took the chopped onion from him to scrape it into a hot pan. "After," he said. "Whether that is better or worse, I couldn't say."

"What made you think of it today?"

"The weather. It rained from morning till night that day as well. Cities look more alike in the rain."

"It's not the first time it's rained in Baltimore."

"Someone tried to mug me last night. I suppose that might have some bearing on the resurfacing of the memory, though I have thought of her on rainy days before."

He spoke so calmly that it took Will a few seconds to process the words.

"You— Are you all right? Did you report it?"

"Yes, and no. Nor do I intend to."

"What happened?"

"A man approached me from behind and held a knife to my ribs. I was able to fend him off. It was over in moments. I never saw his face.”

Will's eyes were drawn to Hannibal's ribs, though he didn't even know which side he should be assessing.

"But you're all right?"

"He didn't even damage my coat."

He might've damaged a lot more. Will started to reach out, pulled his hand back, and stuck it in his pocket. "I'm glad," he said.

Hannibal stepped smoothly between Will and the counter. He tugged Will's hand up and placed it low on his side. Will's index finger lay over his lowest rib and a smooth plane of muscle. The heat of his skin seeped into Will's hand even through the shirt.

"You see?" Hannibal said. "I am entirely whole."

Will kept his hand there too long. He didn't even care what Hannibal thought of him. Muggings turned into murders so often it barely made the news. He looked down at his hand on Hannibal's side and swallowed.

"I see," he said.

Hannibal covered his hand with his own and then curled his fingers under Will's palm. He turned to stir the soup, and their hands hung, joined, in the space between them.

"I have no intention of dying prematurely," Hannibal said.

Will flexed his fingers in Hannibal's grip. Hannibal showed no sign of letting go. Will slid his thumb experimentally over his knuckles.

“What's this?" he asked.

"What would you like it to be?"

"I can probably only cope with it being dinner right now," he admitted.

"Then dinner is all it will be."

Hannibal bent over his hand as if he meant to kiss it, but he only came close enough for Will to feel warm breath on his skin before he smiled and released him.

"There is a rye loaf on the counter there. You may cut us a few slices," he said.

"Oh, may I?"

Hannibal gave him an amused glance. "Only if you wish, of course."

Will cut bread and rubbed it with garlic as instructed. The soup went into a food processor to be blended smooth. Hannibal stirred in coconut milk and lime juice and toasted the bread in an iron pan.

It was after ten by the time they settled in Hannibal's study. He had poured the soup into wide, cream colored cups with matching saucers for the bread to sit on. Will had been sent ahead to build a fire, and the warmth from it washed against their knees.

Will closed his eyes when he tried the soup. “It’s good.”

“The veal stock is key,” Hannibal said. “Few people bother to make it themselves.”

"I was thinking about this when I fell asleep."

"Veal stock?"

“This room, the fire. Coffee."

"You've never seen this room before."

"It's almost exactly the way I imagined it."

"Do you spend much time deducing my interior design?"

“First offense, I promise."

"Perhaps I should give you the full tour after dinner." Hannibal's foot nudged his. "If you're going to fall asleep, put the soup down first, please."

Will righted his cup, which had started to droop dangerously. They ate mainly in silence, watching the fire.

"Did you plan for me to stay here tonight?" Will asked.

"I will drive you back to your car if you wish, of course."

"That sounds like a yes."

"I do have a perfectly adequate guest room."

Will had gone home to feed the dogs and let them out before his appointment. He thought of staying here, forgoing the long, cold drive home and the chill of his house when he got there. The furnace was, as had often been said of Will in school, not working up to its potential. He could stay, wake up here, have breakfast with Hannibal.

"All right," he said. "Thanks."

*

His phone woke him just after five. Jack wanted him at Dulles for an early flight, which left him barely enough time to get home, throw some things in a bag, and get to the airport. He pulled on his clothes and tried to be quiet on the stairs. He'd have to call a cab and text Hannibal later to explain.

The smell of coffee stopped him on the way to the door. He found Hannibal in the kitchen, slightly rumpled, in dark red pajamas and a robe. Hannibal slid a cup of coffee across the island toward him.

"I have to go," Will said, already reaching for it.

"Another case?"

"Yeah, someplace in Ohio. I'll be lucky to make it to the airport in time."

"I'll drive you."

Will took a breath to refuse and let it out again. It would be a lot faster than taking a cab to get his car, and time would be tight even if Hannibal did drive him.

"Thanks," he said. “We're going to have to leave…basically now."

"Of course. Drink your coffee. I'll be back in a moment."

Hannibal's coffee warmed him, soothed him, and woke him up all at once. It was so far from what Will made at home that he half-suspected it of not being coffee at all.

Hannibal was back down in five minutes. He got out two travel mugs and filled them while Will tried, unsuccessfully, not to stare at the V of bare skin revealed by his sweater.

He handed one mug to Will. “Shall we?" he said.

Hannibal's car had heated seats. Which it should. Will had looked up the list price once. It had cost more than Will’s house.

He sipped his coffee and bit at his thumbnail. Alana was out of town. There really wasn't anyone else he could ask. "The dogs," he started, and winced. If it'd been anything else, anything for him, he wouldn't have asked at all.

"I'll look after them."

"Thanks. Sorry. I know it’s not your idea of a good time.”

“I’m happy to do it. If you wish to repay me, look after yourself while you're gone."

"I'll be fine."

"I would like you to be more than fine."

"Are you more than fine?"

"I find most days quite satisfactory. Occasionally dull, but I can usually find some way to make the time pass more quickly. I believe I am happy, for the most part."

"You should teach a class," Will muttered.

"Would you enroll if I did?"

"How to be happy in ten easy steps? Are you going to do an audiobook?"

"I was thinking of a more personalized curriculum."

Will glanced at him. He meant to look away, but he was finding it hard this morning. He could still feel Hannibal's hand in his.

"How personal?"

"Oh, one on one, I should think." He smiled. "Perhaps we can discuss it when you return."

*

Lucy Mather hung from a sycamore tree by the edge of a pond. Her face echoed the stark white of the peeling trunk, and her reflection swayed across the dark water.

Will stood alone near the base of the tree. Reeds and blackberry brambles and wild roses lined the bank. A host of redwing blackbirds, scared off by the human traffic that had accompanied the discovery of the body, now flitted back and watched him from the safety of the thorns.

Four people in Fulton, Ohio had been found hanged in their front yards over the course of the last week. Until October 31st had come and gone, they had been taken for Halloween decorations.

Lucy Mather, the fifth found and the freshest body, was miles from home. The pond bordered the land on which the town’s high school stood. Outside the perimeter set up by the local cops, they had an audience of wide-eyed students with a few teachers maintaining the pretense of order while making no move to herd them back inside.

A contingent from the home ec class had set up a lemonade stand and were doing a brisk business, despite the chill.

Will looked up at Lucy Mather and closed his eyes.

She'd been out running (jogging shoes, track pants), and the killer had come up behind her, probably chloroform, put her in the back of his car. More drugs, an injection this time. It was important she be alive when he hanged her.

When he came back to himself, he found Jack standing just behind him. "He's judging them," he said. "He thinks of it as a legal proceeding. The bodies are left up as a warning to others."

"Why Halloween?"

Will shook his head. "I'm not sure. The date has personal significance to the killer, beyond the holiday.”

Price and Zeller wandered past, holding tiny Dixie cups of lemonade with Disney princesses printed on them. Jack watched them for a second and then rubbed his eyes. "The other bodies are already in DC. You can look at them when we head home."

“When will that be?”

“Tomorrow, unless we find something here.”

Jack headed after Zeller and Price. Beverly slid into place by Will's elbow and offered him his own Disney princess Dixie cup. "Support local business," she said. "It's actually pretty good."

Will took a sip and winced involuntarily as sharp, sour lemon flooded his mouth.

"She said it was fresh squeezed," Beverly added.

"I believe her. Did you find anything?"

"I found us a motel, which wasn't easy. There's some kind of rubber goods convention in town. Three rooms. Zeller and Price are together, obviously. You can stay with Jack or you can stay with me."

"You, please," he said quickly.

"Yeah, I've heard him snore. Do you think this is it, or will there be another?”

"He's punishing them for a specific incident. If this is everyone involved, then he's done. Or she. They were keeping secrets."

Jack loomed up behind him once again. "What kind of secrets are we looking for, Will?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. Something…from a long time ago. But not something they would’ve forgotten. He didn’t have to remind them.”

“All right. We can talk to the families tomorrow.” He stalked off again.

Will sighed. All he wanted was a shower and bed. And not to talk to the families tomorrow.

“Need a ride?” Beverly asked.

“Are you leaving?”

“There’s not much more to do until I get back to the lab.”

“So we’re both stuck killing time until we can go home.”

"You could look at it that way, or you could look at it as getting the rest of the day off and then we could go buy pizza and see if there's anything decent on pay-per-view."

He blinked at her. "Pizza sounds good.”

"I rented a convertible. Do you want to drive?"

"They'll reimburse you for that?"

"The rental place was out of compacts because of the—“

“Rubber convention. Right."

"It was cheaper than the SUVs."

They drove along Main Street with the top down and the streetlights flickering to life as the light waned. Will had passed through a hundred small towns like this as a kid. Even then, they'd been emptying out, store fronts gone permanently dark, lawns left to grow high and solid with dandelions.

Will waited in the car while Beverly got a large pizza. “Hope you like pepperoni and pineapple,” she said.

“Isn’t it supposed to be ham and pineapple?”

“Nobody really likes ham on pizza.”

He pulled onto the road again. Overhead, the sky was fading from sunset to deep blue. "Can we drive for a while?"

"You're the one with the keys. I'll be over here eating all the pizza."

He drove them out past the edge of town and down a road that wound between two dark, stubbled corn fields. Venus hung in the sky ahead of them, growing brighter as the light dimmed. He pulled off onto the packed dirt shoulder and leaned his seat back to watch.

Beverly passed him a slice. "You really have no awareness at all of how this looks, do you?" she said.

"What?" He pulled his thoughts away from the past and the stars and added up events in the present: parking on a country road, stargazing, a girl he was going to spend the night with later. "Oh. That kind of thing hasn't been on my radar for a while."

"How long is a while?"

"I'll take the Fifth."

"Is that the way you want it, or is it just something that happened?"

He chewed pepperoni and pineapple for a while. "I just stopped thinking about it as a possibility. Do you ask everyone this many questions?"

"Sure. How else would I find out their darkest secrets?"

"Do they tell you those, too?"

"Price told me he has the boxed set of Alf DVDs. But I don't think he considers that a secret, even though he probably should."

He smiled up at the sky. "Probably."

Will's phone rang. He pulled it out, expecting Jack, but the caller ID said Hannibal.

"Hello?"

"How is Ohio?" Hannibal asked.

"Quiet. Dark. Full of rubber conventioneers." He shifted, too aware of Beverly beside him and her interest.

"I was just preparing dinner. Have you eaten?"

"Pizza. Did you call to check on me?"

"Is my concern unwelcome?"

Will closed his eyes and slid a little lower in the seat. "No. It's fine. So what are you having?"

"Roasted quail with a maitake mushroom stuffing. I found the maitakes near your house when I was out with the dogs."

Will smiled at the image. "How are they?"

"The dogs or the mushrooms?"

"You cooked the mushrooms. I'm sure they're great."

"The dogs are well. I brought them some sausage. I fear I may be spoiling them."

"I'm glad you're getting along with them. Even if you had to bribe them."

"It was a gift of friendship, nothing more."

"Is that what dinner was?"

"Perhaps a little more."

Even in the cool night air, Will could feel the slow crawl of heat up his neck. “I— I should go."

"Should you?"

"Unless you want to go back to talking about mushrooms."

"You're not alone."

"No."

"Very well. Until tomorrow."

"I don't know when we're coming back."

"No, but you do know when I will call again."

"Tomorrow."

"Yes. Goodnight, Will."

"Goodnight."

Will pressed the disconnect button. He could feel Beverly staring at him.

"That was a girlfriend conversation," she said. "Did you meet someone?"

"Off the radar, remember?"

"I'm not sure I believe you anymore."

Will wasn't really listening. He was thinking about the things people left unsaid for fear of who might be listening.

"What kind of things do people keep secret?" he said.

"Things they want to keep safe," she said, after a moment's pause.

"But some secrets aren't safe to keep. Is there a library in town?"

"Closed."

"Police station then. It might be in the police records."

"Probably also closed. No way they staff it all night out here. What are you looking for?"

"I don't know. Something they did. At the high school, maybe. They're all the same age. Are they all from here?"

"Yeah. Lived here all their lives."

"And there can't be more than one high school, so they all went there."

“And that’s where we found the last body. Seems like a good bet. What's her name?"

Will frowned, jarred out of his thoughts. "What? Who?"

"Whoever you met. His name?"

Will stared straight ahead, mind inconveniently empty of excuses and explanations.

"Okay, sorry. I won't pry. I'm happy for you. You looked different on the phone with him. Better."

"There's really not— It's not anything."

"It's sweet he called to check on you. I mean, I'd probably find it annoying and intrusive, but you didn't seem to, so I'm going with sweet."

"No, I— I didn't mind."

"Nice to have someone who cares?"

“Unusual.”

"Well, whoever he is, he's not the only one who cares about you. Do I need to make a sign or something?"

Will smiled a little. "Probably."

"I'll put poster board on my shopping list when we get back. You want to wake someone up and see if we can get into the police station?"

"It can wait until morning. Will you drive back?"

"Sure."

They drove with the radio on, softly, playing the local station: community news and light rock from the early nineties. Will watched the unspooling road ahead and thought about Hannibal meeting him at the airport, driving him home, staying for dinner. Staying after dinner.

He pulled out his phone and sent Hannibal a quick text: thank you.

Beverly opened her mouth, and Will pointed one finger at her in warning. She grinned.

"Okay. I won't say anything. Text away."

Will was about to say he was done, it'd been a one-off, but then he got a reply.

For what?

not being put off by me

Rather the opposite. I have been drawn to you since our first meeting.

Will stared at the words for a few long seconds. He rubbed his thumb over them where they sat innocently on the screen. His stomach twisted, but it wasn't an entirely unpleasant feeling. Frightening, but not unpleasant.

that's not the usual reaction

I'm not surprised. Most people are terribly unobservant.

what did you observe that interested you so much?

Will you think less of me if I admit that I was initially attracted to you for your mind?

Will tried to smother his snort of laughter with one hand. It didn't work very well, but Beverly kindly ignored him.

i'm told it's unique

Not merely the way you apply it at work. Your thought processes and word choice, the way you allow yourself to be led down unconventional conversational paths and turn them to your advantage. I find it thrilling.

Will read that text over again as well, and again, with one hand pressed over his mouth and an unfamiliar feeling in his chest. Thrilling.

Have I said too much?

no, not at all
i don't know what to say
sorry. i'm pretty terrible at this

You're not used to it. And I shouldn't take advantage, no matter how endearing I find your reactions. I'm sorry.

no, don't
i like it

Will took a second to stare at his own words, which seemed almost as unbelievable as anything Hannibal had said. But he did like it. Or at least he didn't want Hannibal to stop.

just maybe wait till i'm not sitting right next to a co-worker

Very well. I'd prefer to see the results in person, anyway. Goodnight, Will.

goodnight hannibal

Will looked uneasily at the last line. Using his first name seemed fine in his head, but irrationally daring when directed at Hannibal himself. Usually, Will tried not to call him anything at all. 'Dr. Lecter' should've been safely formal, but often it tasted too much like flirtation as it left his mouth.

"Done now?" Beverly asked.

"I hope so," Will muttered.

She laughed. "It can't be that bad."

"Just disconcerting."

"I think it's supposed to be disconcerting." She pulled into the motel parking lot, already mostly full of a mixture of pickups and rented sedans, and found a space at the far end. Beverly let them into the room with a real key instead of a key card.

She looked down at the brown carpet. "Makes you not want to take your shoes off till you get in bed, huh?"

"Pretty much." They'd both seen too many crime scenes at motels. Brown was a particularly good color for hiding stains.

"I'm going to check the closets. There was a case. If you laugh, I'll throw something at you."

"I won't laugh. I'll be checking the shower." He still checked his own shower at home some nights. It'd been one of the first murders he'd seen in New Orleans. Bloody handprints all over the bathroom walls, and the expression on the man's face had never really left him, despite far worse things he'd seen later.

They changed for bed and hauled out their laptops almost in sync. It was all surprisingly easy, and made Will wonder if he were doomed to be attracted solely to people who made him feel hopelessly awkward, or if that were a symptom of the attraction.

He only checked his phone three times before they turned out the lights. No new messages.

*

They spent most of the next morning at the local police station, going over files from the mid-nineties related to the local high school, everything from minor vandalism and underage drinking to one young woman who had driven a combine harvester into the side of the school.

"What about accidental death?" Beverly said.

"What does it say?"

"Eugene Long, seventeen, drowned in the pond at the back of the property. He got his foot stuck between some stones underwater. They found him two days after Halloween."

"Let me see it."

She slid the folder across the table to him.

"I always thought there was something wrong with that one," the police chief said. Her name was Cecelia Mallory, probably late forties, hair already mostly iron gray. "The pond was a big party spot. Still is, when they can get away with it. Someone should’ve seen him.”

Will bent over the file and squinted at the autopsy photos. The foot was sloughing skin in a puffy mass. "How long was he down there? That looks like two days at least."

"Yeah, that's about right," Mallory said.

"How did you find him?"

"Corbin found him. He was the police chief here before me."

Will's phone rang before he could ask how. Hannibal.

"Hello?" he said.

"Is this a better time?"

"Uh, sort of. Give me a minute." He slipped outside, pursued by Beverly's smirk, and leaned against the warm brick. "Hi."

"Hello, Will," Hannibal said.

His voice was warm, amused, both deeper and smoother than Will was used to. It pulled at something in his chest and left him a little breathless.

“I still don’t know when I’ll be back,” he said.

“When you do, you must tell me when your flight gets in. I'll take you home."

"That'd be, yeah, thanks." He shook his head, almost had to laugh at himself. "I mean, it would be kind. You don't have to."

"I very much want to."

Will squeezed his eyes shut for a second and took a slow breath. It was the tone more than the words, soft and intimate. "I'm working," he said.

"Of course. Will I shatter the mood irrevocably if I ask whether you ate breakfast this morning?"

"Yeah, but that's probably a good thing. Eggs and sausage. Not as good as yours."

"I should think not."

Will nearly choked himself not laughing. "I'm sure they tried," he said, as seriously as he could manage.

"Mm. Too arrogant?"

"Justified. I've never eaten anything better than the stuff you make."

"You shouldn't feed my ego. It's large enough without your assistance."

"The fact that you have at least one flaw is incredibly reassuring."

"Oh, I have many more than one, Will, I promise you.”

Beverly stuck her head out the door and gestured for him to wrap it up. "I think I have to go."

"Very well. I’ll speak to you later.”

As soon as he'd hung up, Beverly tugged him inside. “The old police chief is Lucy Mather's father," she said.

"There was some bad blood between them,” Mallory said. “She wouldn’t let him see the grandkids anymore. They had some kind of blow up last year. About this time, actually."

Beverly looked at Will. “You think she knew something about the kid who drowned? She and her friends had a party at the lake, everyone’s too stoned to help help him, so they just watch. Years later, she confesses to dad, and he snaps?”

"But her own father?" Mallory said.

Will watched Mallory for a second. That was not the part of Beverly’s theory that struck him as unlikely. "We should at least go and talk to him," he said.

They called Jack and drove out, all three of them in Beverly's rented convertible, Will in the back with his knees jammed against Jack's seat. Mallory drove ahead of them. The house came in sight, pale yellow and cream along a dusty road surrounded by soybean fields.

Oliver Corbin had been hanged from the oak in his front yard. His hands were tied behind his back. The body looked relatively fresh.

“The killer saved him for last,” Will said. “He was to blame, more than the others.”

“Why do you say that?” Mallory asked.

“Because he knew and he did nothing.”

“He should have,” Mallory said. “It was his job.”

Chapter Text

Will got the first available flight back to Dulles. He dithered in the departure lounge for close to half an hour before he gave in and texted Hannibal the flight number and arrival time. 

the beltway will be a nightmare that time of day, you don't have to come

Of course I'll come.

Will couldn't bring himself to argue, so that was that. He spent the flight doing prep work for his next class, navigated the throng of travelers on the other end, and slid with relief into Hannibal's black Bentley.

As soon as he closed the door, the cacophony of people and cars and tinny announcements and the roar of planes overhead dropped to a murmur. Will leaned back in the seat and sighed. "Thanks," he said.

Hannibal reached into the back seat and offered him a single, long-stemmed red rose.

Will stared at it. "Seriously?" he said, before he could stop himself.

One corner of Hannibal's mouth curled up. "At least semi-seriously. Symbols are important."

Will reached for it, and Hannibal slid his thumb down the length of Will's forefinger as he took it, slow and deliberate.

"I wouldn't want you to mistake my intentions," he said.

Will swallowed. "I don't think there's much chance of that."

"Be careful of the thorns," Hannibal said. He pulled into the slow stream of cars headed toward 267.

"Metaphorical or literal?"

"Mainly metaphorical, but they did miss a literal one about halfway up the stem." Hannibal tipped the pad of his thumb toward the light and displayed the small prick of red in the center.

Will brushed his fingers down the stem until he felt its sharp tug against his skin, like the hook in a fishing lure. It might fit into one if he could run a thread through it. Impractical, but appealing.

"How was your flight?"

"I got some work done. It wasn't terrible. How are the dogs?"

"Surprisingly well behaved. I was concerned about taking them out, but they stayed fairly close. If I didn't know better, I would say they were keeping an eye on me."

"They were, but not like that. I use hand signals more than voice commands. They're used to checking in with me."

"They miss you. I'm clearly no substitute."

Will smiled down at the rose. "You should've brought more sausage. About tomorrow," he said, and then stopped.

"We have an appointment."

"Yeah."

"Are you my patient, Will? If you are, I've already crossed a number of ethical lines."

"You don't sound like you care that much."

"I've always found it difficult to think of you in purely professional terms."

"I'm not your patient."

"Will I still see you tomorrow?"

"Yes."

"Are you certain you wouldn't like a referral? It may become awkward for you."

"It's not going to become more awkward than trying to talk to someone else. Trust me, I've already experienced the heights of awkwardness that therapy can achieve."

"I won't pretend I'm not pleased. I'm afraid I find myself rather selfish when it comes to you."

“Good choice. No competition.”

“You seem very much in demand recently.”

“Jack thinks I’m better than I am.”

“Does he? Or does he merely recognize that you’re better than anyone else he has?”

Will shrugged. It would be dishonest to deny it.

"I'm sure they try," Hannibal said, shadow of a smirk returning to his mouth.

Will looked out the window at the darkening landscape to hide his own smile. "Too arrogant?"

"Most certainly justified. I have never met anyone like you."

"That's not necessarily a compliment."

"Then I shall have to try harder. The control you exhibit is flawless in every aspect. You use your mind like a dancer uses his body, even when you are dancing on knives."

Will felt a pain in his hand and looked down to find he'd gripped the stem of his symbolic rose far too tightly and driven its one thorn into his palm. He held it tighter, mouth twisting.

"Too much?" Hannibal asked quietly.

"Too apt," Will said.

Hannibal reached over and curled his hand loosely around Will's until his grip began to relax. Hannibal's hand was warm, skin dry and faintly rough. Will looked down at the hand over his, the way it was stretched, as if sheltering him. He listened to the faint rush of air over the car. Hannibal didn't let him go until they were pulling into Will's driveway.

He let Hannibal herd him inside and then knelt on the floor with his dogs. The assault of tongues and wildly waving tails made him feel more solid. When he got up, he sent them all outside and went to find Hannibal.

"Sorry. I don't know what that was about," he said.

Hannibal had diced two carrots already and was pressing cracked pepper into a steak.

"External acknowledgement of one's difficulties can be powerful. It's not something you often speak of, even in our sessions."

"No point."

"The point of discussion is not to change reality but to accept it."

"I don't want to accept it."

"Which is the reality you don't want to accept? The knives, or the dance?"

"I don't know how you can see anything I do as beautiful."

"How do you see it?"

"Necessary."

"You see yourself as a soldier, hands bloody so that others may keep theirs clean."

"Not a soldier. An executioner."

"A killer. Like those you hunt."

Will turned sharply away. Outside, he could just see the gray shapes of his dogs circling in and out of the light from the back porch.

Hannibal made a neutral sound and told him how to cook the carrots.

"Sometimes I think about what it would be like to do it for real," Will said, as he added the wine. "Like them."

"How would you do it?"

"I don't know."

Beside him, Hannibal added something from a small, dark bottle to the steak, and a brief streak of orange flame lit the the room.

"With a knife?" Hannibal asked. "You handle them well. Not like a chef, but with something of the same dexterity."

Will could still see flame behind his eyes. "Maybe," he said.

Hannibal picked up the knife Will had used to chop carrots and handed it to him. Will took it, fingers fitted neatly into its worn wood.

Hannibal took his wrist and pulled the knife up to his own throat. Over the years, Will had sharpened the blade down to a sliver, and it lay like a streak of light just above the knot of Hannibal's tie.

"Oh, God," Will said, but it came out nearly silent. "Oh, my God."

He couldn't look away. The press of metal against Hannibal's skin ate up his focus and his breath. He lifted his free hand slowly and brushed his thumb along the indentation above the blade.

"How does it feel?" Hannibal said.

"Terrifying," Will managed. He felt like someone had punched the air from his lungs.

"And?"

Will didn't move, even when Hannibal let go of his wrist. He stared and stared and took a half step closer. He knew how much pressure it took to cut with this knife. If he bore down even a little harder, he'd see blood.

Hannibal laid a hand on his hip. "Will?"

"Thrilling," he whispered.

"And if I asked you to cut me?"

Will jerked his eyes up to Hannibal's face. It was as calm and smooth as a windless sea.

"I would," Will said, heart racing. "I would if you wanted me to."

Hannibal smiled, approving, and stepped casually away to tend his steak. "These are done," he said. "Get the plates, please."

Will set the knife down with nerveless fingers and had to flex his hands again and again before he was sure he wouldn't drop the plates.

They ate at Will's kitchen table with the dogs disposed around their feet. Steak au poivre, glazed carrots, and potatoes au gratin with gruyere.

"It's really good," Will said quietly. Most of his mind was still holding a knife to Hannibal's throat.

"I'm pleased you like it."

"You didn't need to— I mean, you must want to get home."

Hannibal gave him an amused glance. "Must I? And I was convinced I wanted to spend the evening with you."

Will shook his head in a vain attempt to get his brain back online and into the present. He could feel the ghost of the knife in his hand every time he picked up his fork.  "Sorry. I'm not usually this bad."

"My fault."

"I don't even know if that was therapy or— or something else."

"What would you like it to be?"

"You're not getting away with that again."

"Are you asking if I want you to cut me?"

Will gripped his own knee under the table. "Do you?"

"It wasn't what I had planned when I handed you the knife, but I admit, I'm intrigued. Your response was not what I expected."

"What did you expect?"

"Fear. Hesitation. And instead, I saw power, strength of purpose, a certain raw quality that you don't often allow yourself to display. I found it very attractive."

Will looked down at his food. "I am not going to get through dinner if you keep talking like that."

Hannibal tapped the edge of his plate with one finger, and his eyes strayed toward the kitchen, where the knife still lay slantwise across the cutting board.

"I would hate for the food to go to waste," he said, finally.

Will let out a slow breath and nodded.

"How was your trip?" Hannibal asked, and they talked about the case, about the wine Hannibal had brought to go with dinner, and the recent murder at the vineyard that had produced it.

"Is that why you picked it?" Will asked.

"It was a factor. My association with the FBI has heightened my awareness of such things."

"Not with the FBI, with me. Put the blame where it belongs."

"You speak as if you carry a contagion."

"You shouldn't have to think about these things."

“It was my choice to become involved, Will. Just as it was yours.”

Will looked down at his plate. “I know.”

"You wish to protect me."

“I wish I could. Yeah. Stupid, I know.”

"Not at all. I find it charming."

Hannibal was smiling at him. Will could hear it in his voice, though he kept his eyes firmly on his dinner.

"But useless," he said.

Light fingers touched the back of Will's neck, and he jerked his head up. Hannibal caught his eyes. A few long seconds ticked past before Will looked away.

“It is appreciated,” Hannibal said quietly.

After dinner, Hannibal washed the dishes while Will dried them and put them away. Hannibal's suit jacket and waistcoat hung over a chair, and his sleeves were rolled up. Foam clung to his hands and wrists.

"I can do this after you go," Will said. "If you're going."

"I don't mind."

Which was no answer at all. Or else it was an invitation to be more direct, but Will liked the peace that had gathered around them. He stretched up to put the pan away, and Hannibal leaned around him for the towel, hand at Will's waist, chest against his shoulder, breath on his neck.

Hannibal dried his hands and moved in behind Will, gripping the counter on either side of him. Will could see them, reflected in the window over the sink, his own face prominent, Hannibal's fading into shadow.

Little by little, Will leaned back against him. Not so much that he'd fall if Hannibal stepped away, but enough. Hannibal wrapped one arm around Will's waist.

"I'm afraid I must strand you here," he said. "Your car is still in Baltimore."

Not staying, then. "I can get a ride in the morning."

"From Alana?"

"Probably. I'm not that far out of her way, and she has to teach tomorrow, too."

"What will you be speaking on?"

"The Chesapeake Ripper."

"An interesting subject."

"They all want to be the one to catch him."

"It's not a bad ambition."

Will paused. When the Ripper started killing again, Jack would want him on it. That was inevitable now. The thought made him feel cold to the bone.

Hannibal's arm tightened around him. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"I hope no one catches him," Will said. "I hope he's one of those who just stop, just disappear, and no one ever hears from him again."

"Do you believe that's possible?"

“Maybe. He’s smart. He has to know he can’t get away with it forever.”

"You sound very sure."

"I've read the files. A lot."

"But you've never seen his work in person."

"No."

"You will if he kills again. It may offer you an opportunity to know him better.”

“I don’t want to know him better.” He turned halfway toward Hannibal, hand on his wrist. "You could stay tonight," he said, but he already knew the answer.

"I think it would be a bad idea."

"Okay."

"What happened tonight was unexpected."

"You don't have to explain." Hannibal tried to tug him closer, and Will shrugged him off, arms crossed over his chest. "I get it," he said.

"I don't think you do."

"I don't really want to hear it right now."

Hannibal watched him with a faint frown. "Very well,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow."

"Okay."

Will walked him to the door, silently berating himself for acting like an asshole and completely unable to stop. "Sorry," he managed, grudgingly. "It's been a long day."

"And I have made it longer."

Will rubbed at his face, suddenly and achingly tired. "That's not what I meant."

"But it's true nonetheless. This morning you saw a man hanged."

He'd almost forgotten. It seemed like at least a week ago. "It's my job."

"That doesn't mean it leaves you untouched. Get some sleep, Will. Until tomorrow."

Will watched until his tail lights vanished around a curve. He dumped his clothes on the floor next to the bed and crawled between cold sheets.

The dogs, sensing his mood and an opportunity, jumped up and flopped down around him, over his legs and on either side. Normally, he'd make them sleep on the floor, but Marshall nosed at his hand and whined, and maybe it would be okay, just for one night.

"I hope you guys don't think you're getting sausage for breakfast tomorrow," he said, and closed his eyes.

*

The next morning, he made a detour before he headed to his classroom. Conversations with Jack tended to go better face to face and with the element of surprise.

Jack looked up and raised his eyebrows as Will walked into his office.

"Is the FBI paying Dr. Lecter directly?" Will said. "I'm not getting co-pay statements. I'm not getting anything."

Jack set his pen down slowly and spread his hands out on his desk. "No," he said, after a small pause. "The FBI isn't paying Dr. Lecter for your treatment. Not since he signed off on you."

"Is anyone?"

"I thought you might be."

"No. I know you wanted to keep this unofficial, but--"

"He refused payment. He tried to refuse for the first session, but we needed a record of that."

They looked at each other, or, Jack looked at Will, and Will looked at the tension in Jack's shoulders and jaw.

"You don't think that's a little strange?" Will said, because Jack would expect it of him.

"If you're suggesting he has an ulterior motive, I don't see what it could be."

"Most people won't do their jobs for free."

"Shouldn't you be asking him about this?"

“I’m asking you.”

Jack sighed. "He told me he considers you a friend. Given how reluctant you were to see him in the first place, maybe he doesn't want to blur that line."

"Maybe," Will said, thinking harder than he wanted to.

He told me he considers you a friend. Hannibal talked about him to Jack. Their sessions were entirely unofficial in every legal sense. That meant no doctor-patient confidentiality.

"Are we done?" Jack said. "I do have work here that doesn't involve your insurance issues."

Will excused himself and walked slowly back toward his classroom.

On the bright side, any potential relationship couldn't come back to bite Hannibal on the ass. Will had been worried about that. Hannibal had exactly the sort of arrogance that would let him think he could get away with bending the rules forever. In Will's experience, the rules only bent so far before they snapped back and took out an eye.

On a darker note, he knew exactly why Jack didn't want Will's therapy to be official. He wanted Hannibal reporting directly to him on Will's mental stability, and Hannibal couldn't do that if Will were officially his patient.

Jack was too obviously pleased with the arrangement and wary of disturbing it. Hannibal was telling him something. Clearly not anything resembling the truth, or Will would have a dozen Bureau shrinks breathing down his neck for a real psych eval, but something.

Will filed that away for the moment. He had a class to teach.

*

The class went fine, up until he asked a fairly basic question about biomarkers in the soil of a decomposition site.

A hand went up, and Will nodded for them to go ahead.

"I believe the fatty acids may be extracted using chloroform," Hannibal said, and went on to explain the process.

It was unmistakably his voice. Will peered into the darkness and spotted him near the back. "Did you actually read that forensic taphonomy book I was talking about?" he said.

"I asked you for the author and title, didn't I?"

Another hand went up.

"Yeah?" Will said.

"What book is that, Mr. Graham?”

"You can ask Dr. Lecter after class. Stand up and let everyone get a look at you, Dr. Lecter."

Will was thrown and hoping, unkindly, to pass it on, but of course Hannibal stood and nodded to the class like visiting royalty, with a lift of his hand and a gracious smile. He winked solemnly at Will before he sat down, and Will had to turn away for a second to hide the smile he couldn't stop.

After class, Hannibal made his way to the front of the room. A small cluster of students trailed him at a respectful distance.

Hannibal leaned against the desk and smiled up at him. "Should I apologize for intruding?”

"I should apologize, after last night. I…" He shook his head, helpless to explain how vital it had seemed that Hannibal stay, even to himself.

He was saved from having to try. One of Will's students worked up the courage to interrupt, and Hannibal was kept busy for a few minutes with their questions.

"You should already know at least half of what's in that book," Will pointed out.

"But Dr. Lecter shouldn't?"

"Dr. Lecter's a psychiatrist. I'd guess decomp rates aren't that useful in his practice."

"You never know what may become useful," Hannibal said. "All information proves its worth sooner or later."

"So stay in school, kids," Will muttered, bent over to disconnect the projector.

Hannibal gave him an amused look. "Lunch? There's a restaurant nearby I've been meaning to try."

"What, you didn't cook for me?"

"You've caught me unprepared. Next time," Hannibal said.

Will stopped winding up cords and glanced up at him. The warmth and promise in those last two words caught and held him, and for a second all he could do was smile at him and wonder how any of this was possible.

It wasn't until he straightened up that he remembered they still had an audience. His students were watching the two of them like they were a tennis match.

"Was there something else?" Will asked them.

They filed out with a few curious backward glances.

"So where are we going?" Will asked. He shoved his laptop into his bag and looked for his pile of folders and books.

“The restaurant is called Leda. I know the chef's business partner. He assures me we'll enjoy it."

"Sounds like somewhere I'm not dressed for."

"It's lunch. And you are wearing a tie, of a sort. In any case, I prefer you as you are."

Will glanced at him. "Good thing, since I'm not likely to change."

Hannibal regarded him for a second and then gripped his tie just under the knot. He folded his fingers around it one by one. Plenty of time for Will to object. He didn't. Couldn't. He felt the warmth of Hannibal's touch at the hollow of his throat. One thumb skimmed the line of Will's collar.

 Hannibal tugged him a stumbling half-step forward until Will was pressed tight against his body. He braced both hands against Hannibal's chest and curled them under the lapels of his suit jacket.

"Those in your past who sought to change you couldn't see what you are," Hannibal said. "I thank God that I am not so blind."

Will's grip creased the soft wool. His glasses slid askew as he ducked his head and ended up with his cheek pressed against Hannibal's jaw. "Don't," he said. "You can't just say things like that."

"Are unpleasant truths the only sort you want from me?"

"They're easier to take."

"I shall have to convince you otherwise," Hannibal said softly.

Will took an unsteady breath. "Got a plan for that?"

"Positive reinforcement."

He turned his face toward the curve of Will's neck, and Will felt the ghost of his breath there as Hannibal's lips brushed millimeters from the surface of his skin without a single solid touch. Will bit his lip hard, stomach tight with want.

Hannibal wound the tie over his fist until Will could feel it pull taut all the way around his neck. When he tugged to the right, Will tipped his head obediently. The bared stretch of skin made him feel naked. Hannibal stroked one finger down his neck and just under his collar. It left a shivering trail on Will's skin, and his breath hitched.

"Is there something you want?" Hannibal said softly.

Will shook his head slowly and just waited for whatever Hannibal chose to do to him. He felt paralyzed, helpless, and it was getting him hard so fast he felt dizzy.

“Are you sure? I could have you here, bent over your own desk at the front of your classroom."

"Jesus," Will whispered. He could see it, too clearly. There was no way Hannibal could miss the push of his erection against his hip.

Hannibal's slow, knowing smile made his face heat. He tried to turn away, but the tug of the tie around his neck kept him in place.

"I see," Hannibal said. "But I think you might regret it when you need to teach here again. And I'm enjoying this too much to stop so soon."

"Enjoying torturing me?"

Hannibal brushed his thumb over Will's lower lip. "Do you want me to stop?"

He shook his head again, feeling Hannibal's thumb slide across his skin. Hannibal was taking him apart piece by piece, and it wasn't like anything he'd known before. He wanted to see what would happen next more than he wanted to get off.

"Your call," he said.

"Lunch, then. And our appointment this evening. And then we shall see."

Hannibal released him and picked up Will's pile of books and papers. Will touched his own throat as if he might find some permanent mark there. He looked around for his bag and found it somehow still slung over his shoulder like nothing had happened. Less than five minutes and only one real touch, and he felt dizzy from it.

They walked out to the parking lot together, and Hannibal guided him toward the Bentley with a light touch at the small of his back.

*

Leda stood in a strip mall near the highway, inauspiciously sandwiched between a row of discount stores and an Arby’s, and housed in a building like a cement shoebox.

“Maybe I was wrong about not being dressed for it,” Will said.

“I’m told the owner has done quite a bit with the interior.”

Hannibal looked like the owner better have done quite a bit with the interior.

As it turned out, he had. Dark red and black paint had been layered on the walls, and carved wooden screens covered the windows to block the view of the Target and Filene’s Basement. The tables were set with mismatched china and silverware, patterned with everything from the face of Boris Yeltsin on a plate to a bird’s nest on a fork handle.

“How did you end up in my classroom?” Will asked, after they’d ordered.

"I was speaking to Alana about a referral, and I passed your room on my way out. When I heard you, it was too much to resist.”

“I’m glad you didn’t. It’s— It’s good to see you.”

“That sounded painful.”

Will breathed out a laugh. “Aren’t admissions of guilt always painful?”

“Do you feel guilty for desiring my company?”

“You feel like something I shouldn’t be able to have.” He straightened a fork with a silver vine twined around its handle. “That sounds bad. You’re not a thing.”

“Would you be disturbed or comforted to know that I have thought the same of you?”

Will looked up from his place setting. “Me?”

“You have seemed, at times, a wild thing, to be coaxed close enough to enjoy the warmth of my camp fire, perhaps, but never truly within reach.”

“That’s a hell of a loaded metaphor. Do you want to tame me, Dr. Lecter?”

“I don’t believe I could.”

“That wasn’t the question.”

Hannibal watched him for a few seconds. “No,” he said, finally. “The wilderness I begin to glimpse in your soul is something to be treasured. Something I would treasure. Given the opportunity.”

It didn't take a lot to make Will feel awkward in any given situation, but this wasn't that. This sense of being overwhelmed, rolled under by the brute force of Hannibal's honesty left him shaken and almost ill and still wanting more, like he'd just got off the highest roller coaster at the park.

Their food arrived and spared him from having to answer. Hannibal focused on his plate for the first few bites, just as he did at home, though with a more critical expression than he ever directed at his own cooking.

“Acceptable?” Will asked.

“I don’t normally dine out. Food prepared under time constraints for a mass of people is bound to be inferior to that which is created for a limited audience. But yes, I believe this will do. I have no specific complaints.”

“I’m sure the chef would be pleased to hear it.”

“You do enjoy laughing at me.”

“There’s not much in my life that amuses me these days.”

Hannibal gave him an oddly soft look over the rim of his wine glass. “Then I shall resign myself to playing the fool for you. On occasion.”

When they’d finished and the waiter had been sent for the check, Will excused himself to the men’s room. On the way out, a man shoved past him with enough force to knock him into the doorframe. He walked back to the table rubbing the side of his head where he’d banged it.

“A collision?” Hannibal asked. “I saw the chef. He seemed to be in a hurry.”

“Yeah, we met. Forcefully.”

“Not very polite,” Hannibal said, with a small frown. “We are, after all, essentially his guests.”

Will shrugged. “I guess he really had to go.”

Hannibal gave him a look that probably translated as must you? and reached for the bill.

“We’re splitting that,” Will said. “Don’t argue.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. You may pay for the whole meal if you wish.” Hannibal slid it across the table to him with a faint smile.

“Very magnanimous of you,” Will said, but he was pleased, even when he saw they’d somehow managed to spend over seventy bucks between them.

On the way out, Hannibal took a business card from the desk at the front.

“Good enough to go back?” Will asked.

“Perhaps. My acquaintance suggested it as a possible investment, but I’d need to have a word with the chef about one or two things first.”

Chapter Text

"Please, come in.” Hannibal stood aside and gestured Will into his office.

"Do you do that on purpose?" Will asked. He dropped his bag and coat on the chaise and walked to the windows. It was raining again, a gentle and persistent tap at the glass.

"Invite my patients in?"

"The same phrase, the same intonation. Almost every time I come here. If it's that consistent with me, you probably do it with everyone."

"It creates a sense of familiarity, of ritual. Most people find it reassuring."

"It is. It's nice knowing what to expect. I was just curious."

"And when did that shift from your unconscious to conscious notice?"

"I was wondering if things would be different, and when they were exactly the same…" He shrugged.

"I see." Hannibal leaned against the edge of his desk. He studied Will with an almost calculating look.

"If you're cooking up some kind of test for me, try to be original."

"I'll do my best. How was Ohio?"

"You asked me that last night."

"Not in a professional capacity."

"What capacity is that? Since we've established I'm not your patient."

"Yes, Jack told me you came to see him."

Will looked out at the streaming night again and then turned his back on it. "I was worried," he said.

"Still trying to protect me?”

“Yes.”

“It’s unnecessary in this case.”

“I had to check.” He slid toward the loft ladder and put one hand on it, looking up. Contemplating a temporary escape among the books. "I feel uncertain with you," he said. "Especially since— since this."

"Come here."

Hannibal sat in his desk chair and leaned back, hands spread out over the arms like he was sitting on a throne. When Will came close enough, he reached up casually to take hold of Will's belt and pull him in to stand between his spread legs. It didn't make Will's heart stutter in quite the same way as when Hannibal had him by the neck, but it certainly focused his attention.

"Tell me about Ohio," Hannibal said again.

"Do you ever think about the secrets people keep?" Will asked.

"People tell me more secrets than they keep from me."

"Do you really believe that?”

Hannibal was quiet, considering. Will didn't know what to do with his hands. His palms were faintly damp, and he'd pushed his hair back from his face three times in the last three minutes. He held onto his own forearms and waited.

"More in sheer volume, yes," Hannibal said. "But you're right to suggest that one secret can outweigh a dozen in terms of psychic impact."

“Oliver Corbin was killed because he kept a secret he shouldn’t have kept.”

“Why did he do that?”

“To protect his daughter.”

“A worthy goal. Worth keeping a secret, one would think.”

“Not when he owed the truth to someone else.”

“And what was the truth?”

“Either they watched that boy drown and didn’t help him, or they held him under.”

“Then these killings were a long delayed vengeance. A righteous act.”

“Were they?”

“What do you think?”

Will rubbed at his face. His eyes hurt, and his skin felt too thin. “Five people are dead.”

"Yes, they are. Was it wrong for them to die?”

"What kind of question is that?"

"One you're avoiding. Was it morally wrong? Was Garret Jacob Hobbs morally wrong to murder his wife and cut his daughter's throat?" He paused. "Were you wrong to kill him?"

"He would've killed her if I hadn't. He almost did anyway."

"Does that make it right in your mind?"

"Does it make it right in your mind?"

"Would it shock you to learn that I'm not overly concerned with the morality of your actions? You saved her life. Possibly mine as well."

"The ends justify the means?"

"You said you see yourself as an executioner. Your killer in Ohio was performing the same task, bringing monsters to justice. Do you see yourself in him as you did in Hobbs?”

"Don't," Will said. He jerked away, a step back, out of Hannibal’s grip.

Hannibal let his hand fall. Will glanced down at him, wary, and Hannibal looked back at him with no hint of emotion. Seconds passed, maybe a minute. Will felt unmoored now without Hannibal holding him in place.

“Is that it?” he said, finally. “No more questions?”

“You told me to stop.”

“I’m fine. I can— You can keep going.”

“You can take it? Is that what you meant to say? Of that I have no doubt.”

“Then why did you stop?”

“Because you asked me to,” he said gently. “That’s all you need ever do.”

Will shoved his hands into his pockets and pulled them out again a second later to rub over the outside of his arms. “That’s not usually enough.”

“It is with me.”

Will took a breath and let it out in a rush. “We’re not talking about therapy anymore.”

Hannibal gave him a small half-smile. “Not only therapy, certainly. Would you like to choose a different word? One you won't say by reflex or accident?"

"I don’t think you’re supposed to need a safeword with your psychiatrist.”

“It might have other uses.”

“It might. What exactly do you have in mind, Dr. Lecter?”

“Nothing I expect you to have a problem with. But it is the unexpected for which one must prepare.”

Will thought of Hannibal’s hand on his tie, pulling it taut and tight around his neck. He swallowed. "Do you know what you're doing?" he asked.

"I do have a degree," Hannibal said mildly.

"Not the psychiatry. The— The rest of it."

"If you mean, do I have experience with sexual domination, then I must say no. Is that what you're asking?"

"It’s— I guess so. Close enough." Will hoped he didn't sound as breathless as he felt. Christ, just hearing Hannibal say the words made his stomach flip over, and he didn't know if it was nerves or lust. "Is that what we're talking about?"

Hannibal took hold of his belt again, and Will felt some of the tension in his shoulders release.

"If it is, as you said, my call, then we seem to be in that territory, yes. I have a number of extremely clear ideas about what I would like to do to you."

Will just stared at him for a few seconds. "Such as?" he managed, finally.

"We can discuss it over dinner tonight if you wish?"

Will nodded quickly.

“Do you have a word for me?”

Will thought of the tangle of wild roses and blackberry brambles near the lake where they’d found Lucy Mather’s corpse and of the redwing blackbirds nesting there, safe among the thorns.

"Blackbird," he said.

Hannibal's smile grew teeth, and it wasn't the charming, harmless grin he'd sometimes shown Will in the past. Nothing about it was meant to reassure, and Will had a moment of near vertigo as he reviewed his recent past, from their first meeting to this.

"Shall I continue then?" Hannibal asked.

Will nodded yes, though he wasn't sure he meant it. Hannibal pulled him closer until his legs were pressed against the inside of Hannibal's thighs.

"We were speaking of morality."

"You were."

Hannibal looked up at him, and the silence before his answer seemed very long indeed.

"Do you know the difference between right and wrong, Will?" Hannibal asked. No hint of judgment. Just a simple question.

Will found himself pulling against his grip again, relieved when it remained unyielding. "I know it," he said, hands rubbing down his thighs, looking away at the rain. "I don't always…feel it."

"I imagine it would be difficult to empathize with your killers if you did. Do you ever feel it?"

"Sometimes. I'm not completely dysfunctional."

"I would view it as a defense mechanism rather than a personal failing."

"Easy for you to say. You don't look at the victims and—“

"And?"

Will shook his head, images replaying behind his eyes, too numerous and bloody to count. A tug on his belt jerked him out of it, and he looked down at Hannibal, startled.

"Continue," Hannibal said.

It wasn't a request, and it jarred something loose in Will’s memory. “I was the lead on the investigation of a series of murders in New Orleans. The killer would use the bodies afterward. Sexually." He rubbed his eyes to clear them of a hundred bloody snapshots, still vivid after years filed away. "I was trying to get in his head. I looked at the bodies of these women, the things he'd done to them, and I felt… I felt what he felt."

"Sexual excitement."

"Sure you want me to go home with you after this?" Will directed his pained smile at the floor and at Hannibal's polished leather shoes. He could see the color of the ceiling faintly reflected in them.

"It seems a natural extension of your talent, though I can see why it would disturb you more than other aspects."

"I got a hard-on at a fucking crime scene."

"Language," Hannibal said gently, with a tug to his belt that brought Will abruptly back to the present, to the serenity of Hannibal's office.

"Really? The part of that sentence you're objecting to is the swearing?"

"Have you ever wept at a crime scene from what you felt there, from what the killer felt?"

Will nodded, one quick jerk of his chin.

"Few feelings cause an involuntary physical response. Grief and sexual desire can. What does that suggest to you?"

“You’re saying it’s all what I’m picking up from them, but last night—“

"You held a knife to my throat," Hannibal said calmly.

"I liked how it felt," Will said, in a rush. "I liked it. So what if it’s not them? Or not all of it?”

“You’re afraid of yourself. Do you believe that something in you echoes their darkness?”

Will shook his head, but not in denial.

"Do you believe you deserve to be punished for it?”

Hannibal's voice was so mild, so toneless, that Will didn't grasp his full meaning for a second. When he did, he folded his arms tighter around him, sank his nails into his own skin for purchase on a situation that was suddenly beyond him.

“I— Do you mean by you?"

"I was speaking generally, but, if that's something you want, we can certainly discuss it."

"I…think I really need to sit down." He felt hot all over, and the room was shifting very slightly sideways.

"Kneel," Hannibal said softly.

Will stared at him. "What?"

Hannibal pulled down on his belt, and Will's legs folded beneath him. His knees hit the floor with a thud. He grabbed at his own thighs and bent his head. Hannibal stroked lightly over his hair and then sank his fingers into it and let Will lean against his hand.

"This is really, I mean, we shouldn't…"

"Would you prefer more separation between our relationship here and outside of this office?"

"I don't do that very well. Separation. Everything bleeds through."

"Tell me if you change your mind."

The chime rang softly for the end of the hour.

Will squeezed his eyes shut. "Can I just stay here for a second?"

"As long as you like. Come a bit closer." Hannibal tugged gently at his hair until he shuffled forward enough to rest his forehead against Hannibal's knee. Hannibal cupped the back of his neck and squeezed lightly. "Very good," he said.

Will braced his palms flat on the floor and concentrated on breathing. And on not thinking about where he was or what he was doing. As long as he could manage that, it was strangely peaceful.

He shifted just a little to feel the wool of Hannibal's pants against his cheek. They were soft and smooth. The plaid was good to focus on, dozens of subtle color variations to catalogue while he tried to crowd out his own thoughts.

Hannibal pulled his sketch pad from the desk to his lap and started working. The sound of the pencil lead over smooth paper started to unknot Will's shoulders.

"Do you draw during your other appointments?" Will asked, only a little muffled by speaking more or less directly into Hannibal's knee.

"Most of my patients prefer me to focus on them."

"Only most of them?"

"A few are more reticent. They believe they need the help I can offer, but are unwilling to interact more than is necessary. Sometimes I work on my notes, or read, or we sit in silence."

"The whole hour?"

"If that is what they prefer, yes."

"Sort of a waste of money, isn't it?"

Hannibal made an amused sound and stroked his free hand over Will's hair. "Is that why you've forced yourself to speak to me, again and again? Fear of wasting the FBI's money?"

"No. A little. But I would've been wasting your time, too. And mine."

"I have few patients as goal-oriented in regard to their therapy as you are," Hannibal said, still amused, but also fond. He trailed his fingers down the back of Will's neck, up behind his ear, and into his hair again.

Most of his patients probably didn't have hallucinations about the man they'd killed. Will's knees were starting to ache, but he didn't want to move. Didn't want Hannibal to stop touching him in this warm, absent way, as if he'd forgotten where his hand was, as if the touches were as much for himself as for Will.

"You don't draw even when they won't talk to you?" he asked.

"I find I focus too fully on the drawing and neglect certain cues. It's not a problem I have with you."

Will tried not to smile. "Are you saying your patients bore you, Dr. Lecter?"

"Hush." Hannibal tugged his hair gently in reprimand, laughter in his voice. "It's the great secret of psychoanalysis, I'm afraid. The therapist who claims he is never bored listening to his patients is certainly lying."

Will lifted his head finally, relieved to see Hannibal still focused on his drawing. "Paris?"

"I'm told that's what I always draw." Hannibal paused. "But, yes, in fact. It is. The base of the Tour Eiffel. Are you feeling better?"

"Yeah, I think so." He started to stand, but Hannibal pressed him back down with a hand on his shoulder.

"I didn't say you could get up. Let me look at you."

He took Will's chin and tipped his face up. Will let him, gut-punched by that casual assumption of control. He realized he was holding his breath while Hannibal examined him and made himself let it go.

"Will I live, Doctor?"

"I believe so. Stay here for a moment."

Hannibal rose and left Will kneeling in front of his empty chair.  Will's stomach gave an unpleasant lurch at the sudden abandonment. With Hannibal there in front of him, touching him, the situation had been tolerable. More than tolerable. Without him, Will just felt like a fool.

He climbed to his feet, joints stiff, one knee clicking as it unbent. He stretched and rolled his shoulders back.

Hannibal turned and regarded him, head tipped slightly to one side. He had Will's coat draped over his arm.

"You can't just tell me to sit and stay," Will said.

"I can," Hannibal said. "I did. I can't force you to do anything, of course. That's true, and I think that's what you mean."

Will pulled his gaze up from the shiny surface of the desk and took in the steady calm of Hannibal's body language. "Maybe," he said.

Hannibal crossed the room and held Will's coat for him, helped him into it, which Will couldn't remember anyone doing since he was three years old and still had mittens on strings. Hannibal stood close behind him and smoothed it down over his shoulders, leaned in until Will could feel his breath on the back of his neck.

"I wouldn't wish to force you," he said. "I enjoy your obedience. It would be dishonest and, at this point, disingenuous, to pretend otherwise. But it's certainly not a prerequisite for anything that happens between us."

"What is happening between us?" Will shook his head quickly. "Don't answer that. Just. Can we go?"

"Of course. You'll feel better once you've eaten."

“Optimistic.”

Hannibal squeezed his shoulder. "You won't feel worse. Is that an appropriately conservative prognosis?"

"Better.”

Hannibal didn't offer him a ride, and Will followed in his own car, grateful for the space. And for the ability to escape if it came to that, though he knew he needed to muster some level of maturity. Bolting for his car would not be the best start to whatever they were doing.

They ate lamb chops with perfectly Frenched bones and a lemon and herb sauce by candle light. The warm glow fell in pools on the table and illuminated stray details: the scroll work on a fork handle, the damask pattern on the white napkins, the sheen of Hannibal's thumbnail and the creases of skin at the joint below it. Hannibal spoke of his colleagues, a few notable former patients, and places he'd been that Will would never see.

Will sat back in his chair while Hannibal cleared the dishes. Previous dinners had taught him he wouldn't be allowed to help.

"Dessert in the study?" Hannibal asked, making off with the last plate.

"Sounds good. Can I do anything?"

"Put out the candles, and then you may whip the cream if you like."

Will found the candle snuffer on the sideboard. This was the sort of order he was used to from Hannibal. Requests phrased to suggest that no other option existed, or commands so polite that people obeyed without question. He smothered the candles one by one and watched the thin streams of smoke pour up toward the ceiling.

In the kitchen, Hannibal pointed him toward a chilled, stainless steel bowl and a whisk. “Stop when you reach the consistency you desire or when your arm threatens to detach." Hannibal gave him a quick smile. "Whichever comes first."

“You know they make powered mixers, right?”

"Everything they can do has been done by hand for centuries. I see no reason to allow them space in my kitchen."

"Cross that off the Christmas list then."

Will picked up the whisk and got to work. The cream formed tiny bubbles and then a skim of light froth and then, finally, started to thicken.

"And do you feel better?" Hannibal asked, as the cream went from a sort of pudding stage to something both lighter and thicker.

"Yeah, actually. I think I do."

"You see? A good meal can be a miraculous restorer of health and spirit. Coffee?"

"Yeah, thanks. I think this is done. What's it for?"

Hannibal gestured toward a bamboo tray. In addition to cups for the coffee, it held two plates, each with a raspberry tart small enough to fit in the palm of his hand.

"When do you do this stuff?" Will asked. He smothered one of the tarts in whipped cream, which would probably get him a faintly disappointed look. That always amused him.

"I baked the tart shells while you were away, and the crème pâtissière was fairly simple." He glanced over. “Of course, you’ll barely taste it over that amount of whipped cream. It’s a subtle flavor.”

Will fought down a grin. Apparently, they'd moved past disappointed looks. "There's plenty left. Want me to do yours, too?"

"Thank you, no."

Hannibal set a carafe of coffee on the tray and took the whipped cream bowl from Will. He ran the whisk through it again, picked up one perfectly tart-sized dollop, and set it down on the raspberries with a twist that made it sit up in an elegant peak.

Will watched the operation with a warm feeling and sense of wonder that they managed to get along at all, let alone anything more. The better Will got to know him, the more improbable it seemed.

They settled in the study. Will built a fire and tried not to make obscene noises while eating his tart, which was harder than it should've been. He'd never run into a dessert that made him want to swear before.

"This is really— Not to sound like a broken record, but. Amazing."

"The ten minutes of complete silence you've just devoted to it speaks for itself," Hannibal said, smiling.

Will set the empty plate aside and sipped his coffee. The fire cast a bright, moving tapestry across the rug and up their legs.

"Do you want to start or shall I?" Hannibal said.

"I don't know what to say."

"Tell me what you want."

"Right now? Hiding under the bed sounds like fun."

"It's a perennially difficult question. Especially when it involves another person, whose desires may or may not mesh with yours."

"I haven't been in a relationship since my twenties."

"But you'd like that now."

Will stared into his coffee. "Yes."

"Good. I'd like that as well. And the rest of it?"

"You mean the sexual domination?"

"Yes."

"I don't know— I don't even know how to talk about it. How to think about it."

"Have you enjoyed what we've done so far?"

Will felt his face heat, and it wasn't just from the fire. "I think you know I have. I'm pretty sure it was obvious."

"Even when I asked you to kneel?"

"Told me. You told me to kneel.”

Hannibal conceded the point with a nod. "And?"

"It was okay while you were there. I mean. The— When you said it, it was a shock. And then when I was, after I was…kneeling. It was okay. It made things seem simple." He let his voice drop, half pretending he was talking to himself just to get the words out. "Like you could just tell me what to do, and I'd do it, and everything would be all right."

Silence. Will listened to the crackle of the fire and tried not to think. Less than a minute passed before Hannibal set down his own coffee cup and then took Will's out of his hand as well.

"Come over here for a moment," he said.

Will followed him to the wall opposite the fireplace, which was lined with built-in bookshelves. Hannibal closed his hands slowly over Will's wrists and slid his thumbs up to stroke over his palms. His grip grew tighter, and Will could taste the tension between them, feel it as a weight on his tongue.

Hannibal pushed his wrists up against the bookshelves on either side of his head. Will breathed in quickly and shifted, feeling the lines and corners of the wood imprint themselves along his back.

"Good?" Hannibal asked.

"Harder," Will said, and barely stopped himself from adding please.

Hannibal leaned forward deliberately, closer and closer until his weight was holding Will in place. He squeezed down around Will's wrists. The pressure hovered on the edge of pain.

Will's breath came short. His mind was spinning escape scenarios, reacting as if this were real, as if he wanted to get away. Between his lack of leverage and Hannibal's thigh now pressing his legs apart, he wasn't sure he could. Hannibal's grip was like iron.

"Are you afraid?" Hannibal asked him softly.

"No. A little."

Hannibal leaned closer and breathed in against Will's neck. He pulled back and looked at him. "What do you want?"

Will strained forward for a kiss, but Hannibal jerked his wrists above his head. He held Will's gaze as he pinned them there with one hand. He got a fistful of Will's hair in the other. Will turned his head away, chest heaving, cock so hard now that there was no way Hannibal could miss it.

"Ask," Hannibal said.

Will swallowed. "Kiss me," he said. “God, you've waited long enough."

Hannibal kissed the corner of his mouth first, and Will was afraid that was all he would get, just another tease. It made him ache with frustration and sent another little spike of arousal through him at the same time. When Hannibal finally brushed their lips together, Will arched helplessly against him.

He pulled against the grip on his wrists as Hannibal licked along the seam of his lips and inside, over his teeth. Hannibal held him tighter, dug his nails in until Will's mouth fell open and he let out a inarticulate pleading noise. The sound of it coming from his own mouth made him flush, made him harder.

Hannibal took Will's lower lip between his teeth. His breath washed over Will's skin, and he bit down slowly, first imprinting himself on soft flesh and then threatening to break it.

"Hurts," Will mumbled, but he didn't want it to stop.

Hannibal scraped his teeth over Will's lip and then pressed their mouths together again, hot and wet, and Will's wrists were throbbing, stinging from the bite of nails in his skin. He couldn't help rubbing himself against Hannibal's thigh, hard and hot and right between his legs where he needed it.

Hannibal broke the kiss and pulled at his hair. "Be still."

Will tried. He stopped the movement of his hips, but he was squirming in Hannibal's grip, half wanting the freedom to move and half wanting Hannibal to hold him tighter and force him to obey.

Hannibal dragged his head back by the hair and bared his throat. Soft lips pressed against his neck. The kisses there stayed gentle, and, after a few long seconds, Hannibal let his grip ease. Will's breath was still shaky on each inhale and, when Hannibal let his wrists loose, Will grabbed at his shoulders for support.

"What," he said. Gasped, really. "What was, how can you," and then he stopped and just held on.

Hannibal pulled him into the circle of his arms and combed gently through his hair. "Just a kiss," he said. "Just what you asked for."

He was hard, too. Will could feel his cock pressing against his lower stomach. There was that, at least. It wasn't just him.

"You respond so beautifully," Hannibal murmured. "So sensitive. Every little touch…"

"Shut up," Will mumbled, both meaning it and wanting to hear more.

"So little restraint, and we've barely even started. It's as if no one's touched you before me."

Will looked at the marks on his wrists, ran his tongue over his bottom lip, swollen from Hannibal's teeth. "No one's touched me like this," he said. "I'd remember."

"Good," Hannibal said, with a slight edge to his voice.

"Possessive?"

"Not in general. With you, it seems so."

Will curled his fingers into the back of Hannibal's shirt and rested his head on Hannibal's shoulder. "You'll be the first one who fucks me," he said.

The hand in his hair tightened briefly, and Hannibal breathed out a laugh. "Blatantly manipulative."

"Maybe."

"And presumptuous."

"Presumptive."

"Possibly. Do you want the rest of your coffee?"

"Yeah," Will said, but he didn't move. He didn't trust his legs yet. "I have to go soon, don't I?"

"You are welcome to stay in the guest room, if you prefer."

"Not to be presumptuous, but is there a reason we're not having sex tonight?"

"I told you earlier."

"You're having too much fun. Playing with me. Like a cat with a mouse."

Hannibal kissed the side of his neck. "Mm. I promise not to eat you when I'm done, if that helps."

"You're not objecting to the comparison."

"A cat with a rat, perhaps. It's a more equal match."

"Rats are worse than cats. I got a nasty bite off one when I was a kid. My whole arm—“ A yawn overtook him, and his jaw cracked. “—swelled up. Maybe I should stay here."

"Come and drink your coffee."

Slowly, they disentangled themselves. It hurt more than anything else Hannibal had done to him and left a sullen, empty feeling in his chest.

Will picked up his coffee and hovered near Hannibal's chair. His own was only three feet away. He'd make himself sit down. In a minute.

Hannibal caught his wrist and kissed the reddened skin where his nails had dug in. He pulled Will gently down to sit at his feet.

Will went gratefully, drained of pride and embarrassment for the night, and so tired he thought he might sleep like that, propped against Hannibal's chair, leaning against his thigh. The fire warmed and loosened his muscles. He sipped his coffee.

"How are you?" Hannibal asked.

"Okay. Good. You?"

Hannibal ran his fingers through Will's hair and rested his hand there. "Quite satisfied," he said.

"Glad you're having fun."

"Aren't you?"

"Not sure fun is the right word, but I don't want to stop."

"Is there anything in particular you'd like to try?"

"Can I think about that when I'm not about to fall asleep?"

“Of course.” He trailed his fingers down Will’s throat and over the steady jump of his pulse. “Whatever we do, I will always stop if you need me to."

"I know," Will said, and he did know it, believed it, trusted Hannibal in ways that he'd never trusted anyone. He didn't know how or when it had happened, but Hannibal had crept inside him somehow. Will felt as if he constantly carried a small piece of him now, a sliver or a thorn in his skin, a nagging reminder of their connection.

Chapter Text

Alana crashed his class the next day. She gave him an apologetic smile and mouthed something he didn't catch.
 
"One second," he said to his students and stepped down to meet her.

"It's Jack," she said. "He wants you at a scene. I'm supposed to cover the rest of the class."

"There's only half an hour left."

"The body was mutilated, and it's missing organs. You know what everyone's thinking."

His stomach dropped. He gave her a two minute summary of what they'd covered so far, grabbed his bag, and left.

When he got to the scene, he counted seven black and whites in addition to the FBI forensics van. The dozen or so unoccupied Baltimore PD officers hovered nearer to the yellow tape than to the house. Never a good sign. Beverly met him at the door, but said nothing. She led him through to the study.

The layout was similar to Hannibal's: fireplace, desk, one wall filled entirely with books. The body hung from the bookshelves, male, Caucasian, late forties to early fifties, black hair, probably dyed. He was naked from the waist up, arms stretched out to either side and nailed to the wood. The flesh and muscle of his arms had been cut into fine slivers so that they fanned open. A printed page sprouted from each wound.

Jack spotted him and nodded. "Took you long enough to get here,” he said.

"Traffic.” He was still looking at the body. He found it difficult to look away.

"Clear the room," Jack roared, and Will was alone but for the dead man.

He closed his eyes.

Sometime later, he became aware of Jack's voice calling his name.

"Will! Can you even hear me?"

"Yes, sorry, just. Wait." Will rubbed at his face and slid his glasses back on, but the room still seemed out of focus and hazy.

"Is it him?" Jack asked.

“Yes.”

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure."

"We have to get him this time, Will. You understand me?"

Will nodded, already weary.

"What do you have for me?" Jack said.

"Something triggered this."

"It's been a while. He should've been starting up soon again anyway."

"It's not that it's too soon. It’s too…pointed. Sharp." Will paced closer to the body and looked up at it. "It's like he has a motive this time."

"That doesn't fit your profile of him."

"That doesn't fit anyone's profile of him. It's new."

"What kind of motive?"

"What do we know about the victim?"

"Lawyer, well off, no major debt, divorced, pays his child support on time."

"Home security?"

"We're waiting for a report, but the alarm didn't go off, and none of the wires are cut."

"The Ripper followed him home. Caught him as he was unlocking the door."

"How do you figure that?"

"Briefcase dropped by the front door, tipped over."

"Lots of people leave their bag by the door."

"Not this guy. Not in a house like this. What book are the pages from?"

"It's in Cyrillic. We're getting a translator."

Will's phone rang. He checked the caller ID: Hannibal. He turned away from Jack to answer.

"Yeah?"

There was a tiny pause before Hannibal spoke. "You're busy. A call from Uncle Jack?"

"Yeah."

"I was going to suggest dinner this evening."

"I don't know if I'll make it. Do you know the Cyrillic alphabet?"

"Yes, although of the languages that use it, I only speak Russian."

"Hold on." Will turned to Jack. "It's Dr. Lecter. Can I send him a photo of one of the pages?"

"Do it."

The three of them waited while the picture went through, Jack frowning fiercely at the body as if he could make the dead man talk by force of will.

"It's a page from Lolita. Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul, et cetera.”

"Thanks. I'll call you, okay?"

"Of course."

"Nabokov," he told Jack, when he'd hung up. "Lolita."

"Think the Ripper's trying to tell us something about this guy?"

"I think it's worth focusing on the victim this time."

One of the forensic techs called to Jack from the next room. "Sir? More pages out here. I think it's a different book."

Jack sighed and left Will alone again with the dead man.

"I don't even know your name," Will said quietly.

A breeze ruffled the book pages. Will glanced toward the windows, but they were all closed. He could feel the wind on his face, hot like the air from an open oven. Paper rubbed against paper. The sound was a low, constant whisper, a repetition of words he couldn't quite make out.

Will stepped closer. The dead man's eyes opened.

"Will?"

He stumbled backward, fear spiking through him, but the voice had come from behind him.

Beverly stood in the doorway, frowning. "You okay?" she said.

"Fine." He swallowed. "Fine. What is it?"

"Just wondering if I could get a ride back. I came with Zeller and Price, and they'll be here for hours yet. I want to get back to the lab."

"Sure. No problem."

"Great, let me pack up. Meet you outside?"

He nodded, and she vanished back down the hallway and up the stairs. Outside, winter air filled his mouth with the taste of imminent snow and car exhaust. The sweat that had formed on the back of his neck dried slowly and left a trail of goosebumps in its wake. He leaned against his car to wait.

"Mr. Graham?"

He looked up and wished he'd gotten in, enclosed space or no. Freddie Lounds.

"What do you want?" he said.

She gave him a bright smile. "I know we got off on the wrong foot, and I just wanted to apologize, again. It's nothing personal."

"Calling me a psychopath isn't personal? Telling thousands of people I'm crazy and I carry a gun isn't personal?"

"It's the sort of thing people need to know, don't you think?"

"I think your website is garbage. The kind of reporting you do is an insult to journalism."

"I try to be as accurate as possible. It would really help if you'd like to say anything about the most recent Chesapeake Ripper killing."

"No comment."

"Do you think it'll take you ten shots to put him down or can you do it in less this time?"

"If I were going to pick someone to put ten bullets in, it wouldn't be him. At least he's honest about what he does. You ruin people's lives and tell them they had it coming."

He jerked the car door open and slammed it behind him as he got in. His palm smacked down on the steering wheel. She waved at him as she walked away, no doubt mentally composing headlines.

Beverly loaded a couple of bags in the backseat and got in beside him. "Quickly, to the Bat Cave!"

He smiled despite himself as he started the car. "If this makes me Robin, you might want to reconsider. I don't think Spandex would be a good look on me."

"This is Batman and Robin for the economic downturn. There's a lot of plaid and goggles and no one gets a cool car."

"Sounds much more realistic."

"The critics will love it. We're going to sweep Cannes. Was it really the Ripper?"

"Yes."

"No doubt?"

"No. It's just— It's everything about it. It's different, but it's him."

"You think the dead guy really was hurting kids and that's why?"

"I don't think the Chesapeake Ripper has suddenly turned vigilante, no.”

She sighed. "I hate Ripper scenes. There's never anything to find. It's like he wore a hazmat suit or something. Which would make a pretty good super-villain costume for Batman: The Great Recession, by the way."

"I don't think this movie is going to be a box office smash."

"It'd be pretty ironic if it were. We're going for critical acclaim, not boatloads of cash. How's your boyfriend, by the way?"

"He's not—“ He stopped. They'd definitely passed the point of plausible deniability last night. "He's…fine."

"Are you seeing him later?"

"When's the autopsy?"

"When Heckle and Jeckle get back. Should be over in plenty of time for dinner."

"Maybe."

"Do it. And don't talk about cutting up dead bodies. It really puts people off for some reason."

"He hasn't had a problem with it so far."

She smiled. "He sounds like a good guy."

"Yeah. I think he is."

Once he'd dropped her off, he sat in the parking garage and dialed Hannibal's number.

"Will," Hannibal said when he picked up, and there was real warmth in his voice, like he'd been waiting for Will's call.

Will leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. "Hey. They should be done with the autopsy in a few hours. You still want me to come over?"

"By all means. Whenever you get done. I won't start anything until you get here. You can work on your knife skills.”

Will swallowed, thinking of his knife at Hannibal’s throat. “Don’t trust me with anything too complicated.”

“But I do trust you,” Hannibal said easily. “It's mostly a matter of keeping one's fingers out of the way. Speed is a matter of practice, but accuracy is paramount."

Considering how sharp Hannibal kept his knives, that was no doubt true. Will promised to call when the autopsy was over and drove home to feed the dogs and take them out. He shoved some clean clothes and a toothbrush into a bag and the bag into the back seat of his car. Just in case.

*

Will parked outside Hannibal's house. He looked at his tie, crumpled in the cup holder. He'd taken it off on the way to the crime scene earlier. Now, he smoothed it out and tied it again. He'd never seen Hannibal sit down to dinner without the full regalia of tie, jacket, and waistcoat. Will let himself pretend that was what had prompted him to don his own again and not the prospect of Hannibal grasping it and pulling it tight around his throat.

Hannibal answered the door seconds after Will had rung the bell. His eyes caught on the tie, and he smiled slowly, reaching for it while Will's heart sang with a spike of adrenaline.

He caught it and pulled Will a step forward, trapped him against the doorframe, other hand braced above his head. Looming, though he was barely taller than Will, presence overpowering.

"What are your neighbors going to think?" Will said.

Hannibal pressed closer and cupped his jaw. "That I am a very fortunate man," he murmured, and their lips met on the last word.

Hannibal nipped his lower lip and licked into his mouth, right there, with the door standing open. Cold air crept along Will's skin, but he felt almost fevered where their bodies touched. Seconds passed before he remembered that Hannibal wasn't holding him still this time, that he could move, and he spread his hands over the solid muscle of Hannibal's back.

He shivered as Hannibal finally pulled him all the way inside, and his first few steps felt shaky.

"May I take your coat?" Hannibal asked.

"You can take more than my coat if you want to," Will said, but he shrugged out of it and handed it over.

"Tempting, but dinner first."

In the kitchen, Hannibal gave him two green apples and instructions to slice them thinly.

"Rest your knuckles against the flat of the blade," he said. "It guides the knife and prevents the untimely removal of your fingers."

"Where did you learn all this?"

“Reading and experimentation. It wasn't that difficult."

Hannibal stood behind him and adjusted his grip. His hand on Will's was warm and faintly sticky from the star fruit he'd been chopping. He braced his other hand on the counter, boxing Will in, and kissed his jaw.

"What is difficult for you?" Will asked.

"Waiting for things I want. But I find it's nearly always worth it. Do you have moral objections to foie gras?"

"No, I'll eat anything."

"I've heard many people say that, but few truly mean it."

Will shrugged. "Anything so far. Most of my life, I couldn't afford to be picky. Price said he ate a live octopus once in Korea. I'd rather not eat anything that's still moving.”

"Yes, I also generally prefer my food to be incapable of fighting back when I consume it."

"I was thinking more of the octopus. Although I guess I wouldn't want it trying to crawl back up my throat either. My gag reflex is bad enough as it is."

"Important information," Hannibal said, amused.

"I mean, it's not that— There’s nothing I can say to make that better, is there."

Hannibal moved past him to the stove and trailed his fingers over the back of Will's neck. "Practice is the best remedy in these situations, I've found."

He started searing foie gras and left Will with his head filled with graphic images of an entirely different sort than the ones that usually lived there.

They ate pork belly with tart apples poached in white wine, tiny new potatoes, and the foie gras and star fruit compote Hannibal had been working on while Will sliced apples.

"How was the autopsy?" Hannibal asked.

"I've been warned not to talk to you about cutting up dead bodies."

He raised his eyebrows a fraction. "Have you?"

"Beverly was in the car with me when you called in Ohio. And I was…obvious. Apparently. She doesn't know it's you, but. Yeah."

The corners of Hannibal's mouth curled up in a minute smile. "Obvious, were you?"

Will's stomach twisted with heat, something between embarrassment and desire. He wondered if he would get over this, if there would be a time when Hannibal wouldn't be able to pierce him through with a look and a certain tone of voice.

"If you'd overheard my end of that conversation, what would you think?"

"I think I'd be jealous. Are you going to tell her?"

"Is that— Are we doing that?"

"Do you want to?" Hannibal asked.

Will speared a potato on his fork and hesitated, hand in mid-air. “I hate the idea of telling anyone. I hate the idea of it not being just between us."

"Then we won't tell anyone."

"That easy?"

"Not forever. One of us will slip up eventually. But for now, yes. That easy."

"Okay."

Hannibal took a sip of wine. “So. It is the Chesapeake Ripper?"

"Everyone's asking me that today. Yeah, it's him."

"And the book pages? Lolita?"

"We don't have any proof that his victim did anything."

"You believe he's innocent?"

Will sighed. "I think the Ripper believes Sanders was guilty of something, but that doesn't necessarily mean he was actually a child molester."

"If Mr. Sanders was guilty, does that make this killing more just than the Ripper's others, regardless of his motivations?"

"It's still murder.”

“But it’s an interesting question, isn’t it? One I’d think you’d be intrigued by, given your feelings on the death of Garret Jacob Hobbs. In any case, I hope you'll keep me informed."

Will nodded, appetite ebbing despite the foie gras melting on his tongue.

"Did they discover anything helpful during the autopsy?"

"Not really. Not without a possible weapon to match the wounds to. He died of blood loss from the incisions. Liver and kidneys missing."

"What about the other book?"

"It was Julius Caesar. Also in Russian. I can't put that one together yet. Do you have any aspirin? My head is killing me."

"Yes, of course."

He took the pills, snuffed out the candles, and watched while Hannibal cleaned up, though most of it had been done as he cooked.

Hannibal made tea the color of pale jade in a white teapot, and they took it into the study. Will started the fire without being asked this time. The familiarity of it, the small space he'd been given in Hannibal's life, warmed him even before he struck the match.

"I asked you last night if there was anything you'd like to try," Hannibal said. "Have you given it any thought?"

"I was a little busy this afternoon."

"Would you like some time to consider now?"

"Does that mean we're actually doing something tonight?"

Hannibal gave him a tiny smile. "Something, yes. Are you avoiding the question?"

He was. He didn't really want to think about it. One of the most appealing aspects of this was that Hannibal made the decisions.

"I've liked what you— What we've done so far," he said.

"What I've done to you so far."

"Yes."

"You enjoy my control."

"You're good at it. Not just this. There's a level of control to everything you do."

Hannibal made a considering noise and sipped his tea. "Come here," he said, and set his cup aside.

Will rose and crossed the space between them. He half-expected he'd be told to kneel. He was steeling himself for it when Hannibal grabbed a handful of his shirt and pulled him sharply forward. Will stumbled, would have saved himself, but Hannibal caught him around the waist and turned him so that the next pull landed him in Hannibal’s lap with his back against Hannibal’s chest.

Will froze, feeling stiff and much too heavy, no idea what to do with his arms or legs. Any movement seemed like it would inevitably dig some bony part of him into some unprotected part of Hannibal.

"I'm not sure this is a good plan," he said.

"Have faith," Hannibal said. He shifted and spread Will's legs outside his own, thighs splayed wide.

“I look ridiculous.”

“Perhaps. But I'm enjoying the view from this perspective. Unbutton your shirt."

Will started from the bottom. When he reached the top, Hannibal pushed his hands away and pulled the tie loose himself.

"Cross your wrists," he said.

Will swallowed hard and held them out, absurdity of his position forgotten. Hannibal wrapped his tie around them and pulled it tight with a sharp tug that made Will's breath catch. He slid one finger under the fabric, testing.

"Tell me if it becomes uncomfortable," he said. "That's not the point of this exercise."

Will nodded. Never mind that it wasn't exactly handcuffs, that he could work himself loose in seconds. He wouldn't.

"Tell me your word," Hannibal said.

"Blackbird."

"Good." He brushed his lips behind Will's ear. “And now you may tell me to stop all you like. I'll know what you really mean."

Will closed his eyes and bit his lip, hard. "Don’t— It's not like that."

"Isn't it?" Hannibal spread his shirt open and ran his hands up Will's sides. His fingers spread out over Will's rib cage. "What is it like?"

Will stayed quiet, just sinking into the feeling of Hannibal's touch on his bare skin, finally. He twisted a little when Hannibal hit a ticklish spot and nearly jabbed him with an elbow.

"Sensitive in more ways than one, I see," Hannibal said.

"No laughing."

"I wouldn't dream of it."

But he did pull Will's shirt down over his shoulders so that the stretch of fabric arrested the movement of his upper arms almost completely. He kissed Will's bared shoulders, a thin line of gentle contact from one to the other, with a scrape of teeth at the back of Will's neck that made him shiver.

"Tell me about your first sexual experience," Hannibal said.

"I was fifteen, she was seventeen. Back of her father's pick-up truck."

"Her idea?"

"Mostly. I wasn't exactly objecting."

Hannibal swept his palms over Will's chest and stomach, right down until his fingertips pushed under the waistband of his pants, and then back up. The touch made Will's skin tingle and calmed him at the same time.

"You met her in school?"

"I was in her math class."

"And yet two years younger?"

"They skipped me two grades in elementary school. Is this sex or my life story?”

"It's certainly more of your life story than I've extracted from you by more conventional means. Tell me, was she on top?"

“Yes.”

Hannibal rubbed his thumbs over Will's nipples, steady pressure and friction. Will couldn't stop himself arching up into it, just a little. Hannibal made an approving noise and kept it up, kissed the back of his neck and bit there, a light impression of his teeth on skin.

"Did she hold you down?" he asked.

"No. Of course not. It was nothing like that." Meaning, nothing like this.

"The position," Hannibal clarified. "Your hands joined with hers, flat against the bed of the truck, her weight resting there for leverage as she moved herself on your cock."

Will had to close his eyes. The past and the present were both too vivid. Hannibal's thumbnail scraped over one nipple, and he gasped as the present won out.

"She couldn't have," he said quickly. "Not really."

"Mm. But I could. Even if you wanted to struggle."

Will's heart thudded in his chest, excitement and fear and arousal twisting together. The bulge of his cock was clearly visible against the front of his pants. It ached, and he wanted to touch, but when he reached down, it was mostly in the hope that Hannibal would stop him.

He caught Will's arms just above the elbow and pulled back hard. "Do you want to try to get away?" Hannibal asked softly. "I promise you, it won't work. You are tied and vulnerable. I have every advantage. I am a great deal stronger than you are, and I intend to keep you this way, helpless and spread open for me."

It was the word, helpless, that did it. Will found he couldn't stay still for that, even if he’d wanted to. He'd worked too hard to make himself anything but.

He twisted hard against Hannibal's grip and only succeeded in bruising himself against it. Hannibal was unrelenting, strong like he hauled in fishing nets every day of his life. His fingers pressed deeply into Will's skin.

Hannibal spread his legs wider, and Will's thighs, outside his, stretched almost painfully. He couldn't shift forward far enough to get his feet on the floor. He had no leverage, and Hannibal had him pinned down tight.

All he could do was twist helplessly in Hannibal's lap, and he could feel the hard outline of Hannibal's cock pressing up against his ass every time he moved. He stilled with a final, shuddering breath and collapsed back against Hannibal's shoulder.

"Better?" Hannibal asked him.

He nodded dumbly, dazed and turned on.

“You’re perfectly safe,” Hannibal murmured. “From the world, from yourself. I have you.”

Will bit back a yearning sound as Hannibal went back to his nipples. Slow, hard drags of his fingers sensitized the skin, and quick flicks of his nails pulled gasps from Will even when he thought he was prepared for it.

The first hard, twisting pinch made him cry out. He strained automatically against his bonds and pushed at Hannibal's hands.

"Shh," Hannibal soothed. He caught Will's hands between his and held them gently.

"That hurt."

"Yes. I'm going to do it again."

"No," Will said, but he let Hannibal rearrange his shirt and pull his arms up over his head, stretched out and laid bare. He could feel nothing but heat now where the pain had been.

The next pinch was harder. Hannibal used his nails. Will arched against him and gripped the back of the chair. Hannibal did it again, and again, and Will tried to breathe through the sharp ache, but it just kept building.

“So sensitive," Hannibal murmured. He shifted Will easily until he could lean down and lick the flesh he'd been abusing.

Will gasped and then flinched away from the feeling of Hannibal's nails digging into his ribs. "Don't, fuck, don’t—“

"You don't want me to keep hurting you?" Hannibal curved his hand over Will's cock so lightly he barely felt it. "You seem to be enjoying it."

"I don't, it's not," Will said, but he was pushing up into Hannibal's touch.

Hannibal bit down hard at the join of his neck and shoulder.

"Oh, god," Will said, almost a moan. The pain was dull and hot, and it started to throb almost immediately. "God, fuck, please."

Hannibal pressed his thumb over the bite and then slid it upward. "Would you like me to do that here, where everyone could see the mark?"

"You—“ Will gasped as Hannibal pressed against the forming bruise again. "I'd let you," he said.

"I know you would. You're not in any condition to be making decisions right now, are you?"

Hannibal cupped his hand over Will's cock and kept it there, even when Will's hips jerked up and he rubbed himself against it. Will bit down on his lower lip, but he couldn't completely stop the noises he was making, low, needy sounds that made him flush and made him harder.

“Can you just—“ The friction was only enough to make him even more frustrated. He could feel his boxers clinging to his skin, damp and sticky near the head of his cock.

“Just what?" Hannibal squeezed him gently. "Finish your sentences, Will. I don't know how you expect me to know what you want if you can't even manage a full sentence."

"You are such an asshole," Will said, still grinding up against Hannibal's palm. Even an hour ago, he couldn't have pictured saying that to anyone during sex, let alone Hannibal.

Hannibal breathed out a faint laugh against his ear. “Such manners. You’re fortunate I’m so fond of you,” he said.

"Sadist. God, just, let me—“ Hannibal took his hand away, and Will whined. Couldn't help it. He felt like Hannibal had stripped away his self control entirely.

"Unzip your pants," Hannibal said, and nudged his arm when Will looked at him blankly.

Right. He could actually move, at least that much. He released his death grip on the back of the chair and rolled his shoulders once. The right one ached, but he was used to ignoring that. He fumbled with the button for a few seconds. The way his wrists were crossed made it hard to use both hands, but he managed. The zipper was easy.

His cock pressed against the gap, tenting his boxers. Even that slight relief in pressure made him sigh, and it was a struggle not to reach for it, not to touch himself. He curled his hands into fists and kept them firmly pressed against his stomach.

"You're learning."

Will dug his nails into his palms. "You make it sound like obedience school."

“Not at all. I'm learning as well, you know."

"How to get to me."

"Yes. Push down your pants. Underwear, too."

There was no easy way to do it. Will worked them down an inch at a time, all the while painfully aware of the press and shift of his body against Hannibal's erection. His cock sprang free from his boxers at last and slapped against his stomach, flushed dark, wet and sticky at the head.

And Hannibal was still in his suit and tie and fucking waistcoat. Will squeezed his eyes shut and imagined himself on his knees, just like this, asking Hannibal for permission to suck him off. His cock jerked against his stomach.

"Stand up," Hannibal said.

"What?"

"On your feet, please."

He helped, steadying Will with both hands at his waist. Will could barely get his legs to work, and they felt decidedly shaky when he finally pried himself upright and tried to stand without assistance.

Hannibal turned him gently so Will was facing him and then leaned back in his chair with a pleased expression. "Very nice. Put your hand on your cock."

Will swallowed. "Are you seriously going to make me…"

"I'm not going to make you do anything. We can stop right now if you like."

"Are you— You're just going to watch?"

"I am. You're very attractive like this. Uncertain, even a little scared, almost desperate. Not sure if you can stand to have me watch you while you lose what little control you have left. I think you can, though. I think once you touch yourself, you won't be able to stop. Go on."

Will closed one hand around his cock and stroked, root to tip. He turned his head sharply away and closed his eyes. One stroke became two and then three.

"Open your eyes," Hannibal said.

"Can't."

"Will. Now, please."

Will snuck a glance at him, leaning back in the chair, perfectly put together and cool. He sat with his legs spread and the fingers of one hand drumming against the armrest.

"Better," Hannibal said. "Shall I tell you what you look like right now?"

"I can guess," Will muttered.

"Can you? The skin around your nipples is so red where you've let me play with them. I think you must feel so warm that you hardly notice when you blush now, but I notice. It's lovely. So unexpected from someone who works as hard as you do for control, but then this is all very new, isn't it? And you're so dreadfully embarrassed by the things you want."

"Stop," Will said, and the word slid into a moan as his grip tightened. "Please."

He wanted to hide his face, but he'd have to stop touching himself, and he couldn't, just couldn't. He was so hard, and every touch felt so good, and everything Hannibal said made him need it more.

"You're such a mess right now," Hannibal said softly. "Flushed all over, clothes half off, cock hard. You're leaking all over your hand. And you're letting me watch. Performing for me."

Will's cock jerked, pre-come sliding over his fingers. He clenched his teeth over a moan.

"Go on. Finish the show," Hannibal said.

Arousal and heat went through Will like electricity, and he stroked himself hard, hand blurring in the periphery of his vision. Hannibal was the only thing he could see clearly. His vision started to dim at the edges as he came, and he closed his eyes. Specks of wet heat fell over his hands and stomach.

He stood still, legs trembling, hand still wrapped around his cock. He swayed and blinked at Hannibal, mind numb.

Hannibal stood and pulled him close, come and sweat and everything pressed up against his suit as if it didn't matter. As if holding Will was more important. Will hid his face against Hannibal's shoulder and held on like he might fall off the face of the Earth if he didn't.

"You did so well," Hannibal told him, and smoothed his hair back from his forehead and kissed his temple. "You were so good for me. Perfect."

Somehow, Will hadn't expected the kindness. It hit him like a bullet, sharp and sudden in his chest and throat. He pushed at Hannibal and stumbled back. The tie came free with a few desperate yanks. He pressed himself against the wall next to the fireplace.

"Will—“

"Blackbird," Will said. His voice was shaking.

Hannibal stopped where he was. "All right," he said. He regarded Will with the cool, assessing look he often wore in their sessions. It loosened the knot of irrational panic in Will's chest. "Shall I make us some coffee?"

Will nodded.

"Will you come with me?"

"Okay."

Will looked down at himself. He wiped his stomach and hands with the tail of his shirt and zipped up his pants. His hands were shaking too badly to try the shirt buttons.

Hannibal unfolded a blanket from a carved, wooden chest and looked to him for permission before he draped it around Will's shoulders. Will followed him into the kitchen with the blanket clutched around him.

Watching Hannibal's clean, practiced movements calmed him. By the time he had a cup of coffee in front of him, his hands were steady enough to pick it up. He leaned against the island, and Hannibal sat in the leather armchair, a safe distance away. Farther, really, than Will wanted him.

He stepped away from the island and stood, hesitating, in the middle of the room. "Can I—“ he said, but the rest of the sentence just wouldn't come.

For a miracle, Hannibal seemed to know what he wanted. He held out his hand. Will took it and sank down to sit on the floor at his feet.

"Always," Hannibal said. "You don't need to ask, not for this."

"Might be awkward in public," Will said, face pressed into Hannibal's thigh. The wool smelled like Hannibal's aftershave, something warm and dark, and very faintly of cedar.

"I'm sure we'd manage."

"I wasn't serious."

"I know. I was."

Will rolled his eyes. "Great, you can tag along to the next crime scene."

"I would, you know. How's your shoulder?"

"It's fine. Aches a little, that's all." Will twisted his head round to look up at him. "How did you know?"

"I've seen you favoring it before. I didn't notice any discomfort earlier, or I would have stopped. Will you tell me these things in the future, please?"

"It was just the position. Arms over my head."

"I will keep it in mind. An old injury?"

"I got stabbed."

"May I?"

Will shrugged the blanket off his shoulder and let Hannibal pull back his shirt. The warmth of his hands sank into Will's skin. He traced over the scar with one fingertip.

"I missed it entirely," he said. It sounded as if he were speaking to himself.

"You can barely see it now even if you know it's there. And you might've been a little distracted."

"Even so. Will you wait here for a moment?"

Will pulled the blanket around himself again. He held onto it tightly. "Where are you going?"

"Only across the room," he said. He waited for Will's nod before he got up and crossed to one of the cupboards. Will watched him open another cupboard that contained a microwave and put something in it.

"You own a microwave?"

"They're useful for some things."

"Don't tell me you use it to heat up leftovers. I don't think I can deal with the shock right now."

Hannibal shook his head, more amusement than denial, and returned to tuck a heated pad against Will's shoulder, under his shirt. It didn't touch the deeper ache, but the faintly damp heat seeped into him and relaxed the muscles he'd been holding tight.

He tipped his head back against the chair as Hannibal sat. "It's good. Thanks."

Hannibal leaned over him and kissed the corner of his mouth. He wove his fingers through Will's hair. A minute or two of silence ticked by while Will sipped his coffee and gathered his courage.

"I guess you're going to want to talk about this," he said.

"I can see the outline of it, I think." He resettled the blanket closer around Will's shoulder and stroked his hair. "You'll allow me to care for you like this. Actions are acceptable. It's the words you don't like."

Tension started a slow march up Will's spine. He hugged his knees. "It's fine. I'll be fine next time."

"I believe I've said that I'd like you to be more than fine."

"Yeah, well, we can't get everything we want. That's life."

"You seemed amenable to the idea before. I promised you lessons."

"And now we're back to obedience school."

He expected Hannibal to— Well, not to snap at him. But at the very least to say something polite and distant and give up. Maybe for the night, maybe for good.

It didn't happen. Hannibal kept touching him, his hair, his neck, his forehead and the side of his face. Will started to relax again in spite of himself. His head ached, and Hannibal's touch felt so good. He let his eyes close.

They stayed like that. Will didn't know for how long, but a sudden thought made him sit up with a start. He twisted around to look at Hannibal.

"You never— Can I do something for you? I'm sorry. I didn't think."

Hannibal smiled. "No, but thank you. That was never on the agenda tonight."

"Why not?"

"Because I had other plans. Don't concern yourself. How are you?"

"Better. I guess. I should go."

"You should go upstairs and shower. You left your bag in the front hall, didn't you? I'll fetch it."

He helped Will to his feet and aimed him toward the stairs. Will went. The shower did feel good, and there were pajamas on the guest bed when he got out. White silk. His bag sat next to them and contained his usual t-shirt and boxers. He put on Hannibal’s selection and went to knock on his door.

When it opened, he was faced with Hannibal holding a toothbrush with what looked like Aquafresh squeezed onto it.

He stared. “Never mind. Not important."

"Come in. I'll only be a moment."

Will sat on the edge of the bed. Hannibal shut the door of the bathroom behind him, which was something of a relief. He emerged after a few minutes and sat next to Will, also in pajamas and smelling vaguely minty.

He leaned back on his hands and smiled at Will, hair falling softly across his forehead. Will's heart clenched. It was easy to forget, after the past few days, how much he genuinely liked Hannibal. In the end, that would probably be what really got him in trouble.

"Do you want to sleep with me tonight?" Hannibal said.

"Yes. Please."

Hannibal turned back the covers, and they got in together. Light off. Will lay still and listened to Hannibal's breath.

"I meant everything I told you," Hannibal said quietly. "You were perfect tonight."

"I was a mess."

"You were exactly what I wanted you to be."

Will found himself oddly comforted by that. Hannibal wasn't stupid. He knew by now what actions would pull certain reactions from Will. If he chose to push those buttons, at least he knew what he was getting. Apart from the last few minutes.

"I'm sorry. About how it ended. I should've kept my mouth shut."

Hannibal's hand found his under the covers and squeezed. "Next time I'll know to save the words for later, when you aren't so raw."

"Or you could just not bother."

"Words are important, even when they're hard to hear."

"They don't mean anything. They never do."

"They mean a great deal. If they didn't, they wouldn't hurt you so much. Sleep, Will. Let this go for now. Think about what you'd like me to make you for breakfast in the morning."

Will closed his eyes against the dark. He pictured Hannibal's easy movement in his kitchen, a slow waltz with oil and salt, fire and flesh. Sleep came with surprising ease.

Chapter Text

Spots of wet blood stuck to the soles of Will’s feet. He didn't know whether it was his or not. A hand caught at his shirt. It was Sanders, pinned to the bookshelves and gasping silently. The book pages in his arms rustled like wings.

Will stepped toward him, and then he was the one nailed to the wood, arms spread as if on a cross. Hannibal was kissing him. His pounding heart sent gouts of blood pouring out of his wounds, and he was hard, riding Hannibal's thigh with mindless determination. Garret Jacob Hobbs watched over Hannibal's shoulder and smiled with sunken eyes and flesh rotting away from his teeth.

Will woke with a start, already half out of bed and thrashing to free himself from the sheet tangling his arm.

Hannibal sat up and passed a hand over his eyes. "Will?"

"Don't, don’t— It's okay." Will backed up against the wall. The cool air near the window helped. He edged toward the door. "I'll be back, just stay here. Please."

Hannibal frowned and then nodded once. Will fled downstairs.

In the kitchen, he stuck his head under the faucet. Cold water ran over the back of his neck. Sweat evaporated off his skin. His heart slowed. His erection had already subsided, maybe before he'd made it out of bed. Hopefully.

He stopped in the guest room to change from Hannibal's pajama top to one of his own T-shirts. The whole room smelled fresh and cool. The white sheet was folded back over the smooth bedspread, untouched by nightmares. It would be easier to stay, but Hannibal would come to look for him eventually.

Will walked down the hall. Hannibal was sitting up in bed with the light on. Will sat next to him.

"Do you want me to sleep in the other room?"

"Not unless you want to."

Will shrugged.

Hannibal laid a hand on his arm. "Then stay," he said.

In bed again, with the light off, Hannibal reached for him. Will kept his arms close to his body, pressed between his chest and Hannibal's side, unwilling to entangle himself. He waited for the inevitable questions, but Hannibal never said a word.

*

Hannibal made lemon crepes and bacon the next morning and kissed Will goodbye at the door when he left. Back at his house, the dogs poured out to greet him in a tsunami of wagging tails and lolling tongues. He gave them breakfast and took them out into the fields.

Fall still reigned in terms of color, everything burnished and bright, but the sky had faded to a pallid winter blue. Will found his hat stuffed in a jacket pocket from last winter and pulled it on. His breath frosted the air. He threw sticks for the dogs to chase until his arm ached and he was smiling. They collapsed in front of the fireplace when they got back, and Will turned on the space heater for them.

He showered and dressed for class. When he wiped away the steam on the mirror, he saw that his reflection didn't have a face. Paper plastered over his skull. A few lines of Cyrillic were scrawled at the top. Below, out of sync with his bone structure, Hannibal's drawing sat, skewed so that the eyes slid toward his ear and his mouth was eating his chin.

His chest grew tight, ribs contracting, impossibly smaller. He jerked himself backwards and nearly fell against the bathtub. His hand unlocked, and the tube of toothpaste hit the floor with a clatter.

 He became aware of a scrabbling at the door. He yanked it open and knelt to let Winston lick his face.

"It's okay," he said, face pressed to his fur. "It's okay, it's okay." He glanced up at the mirror and saw only his face. "Everything's fine."

That was twice. Three times if he counted seeing Hobbs at the mushroom garden. Twice in the last two days. Winston whimpered. Will was holding him too tightly. He let go and stood. Brushed his teeth. Got dressed for class. Nothing else to do.

Just stress, Hannibal had said. There was still no reason to think it was anything else. He went into the kitchen for more coffee.

The rose in its juice glass of water had capsized on the kitchen counter. It could've been one of the dogs, but it could as easily have been the foot long stem and top-heavy bloom. The water had evaporated, and the rose was wilting already.

The one thorn popped off easily with the aid of a paring knife.  He still had vague thoughts of using it in a fly. The rose itself, he tossed into the trash.

He eyed the table that held his fly tying gear. The thorn was tiny, easy to lose among all the bits and pieces, easy to forget about even if he didn't lose it. He didn't want to forget it.

In the end, he stuck it to the inside of his watch band with a small square of duct tape. The bump was barely noticeable when he strapped it back onto his wrist. He checked the bathroom mirror once more, saw only his own face, and left for Quantico.

*

A few of his more intrepid students had questions after class and were only chased off when Beverly came in and sat on his desk.

"Hi," she said brightly. "Want to come and look at some hair?"

"I don't know, do I?"

"You do. They found it in Sanders' house."

He started packing up and then paused. "You don't mean just a few stray hairs, do you."

"Nope. I mean locks of hair tied up with different colored ribbons, wrapped in tissue paper, and stored in a cigar box in an air conditioning vent. Also I could use a ride to the lab.”

"My Batmobile is your Batmobile."

"Nice hickey," she said, as they crossed the parking lot.

"Nice try."

She grinned. "So either you know there isn't one, or you know where they all are and you've got them on lockdown."

"One of those," Will agreed.

Most of the marks had faded overnight. His wrists bore the faint shadows of bruises from when he'd yanked the tie off. The one on his neck, well below his collar, couldn't really be called a hickey.

The impression of Hannibal's teeth stood out in vibrant purple and red against his skin. It was closer to what he'd seen on corpses than to anything he'd seen on himself. He normally took off his tie after class, when he remembered to wear one, but he liked the pressure, the constant reminder of what he carried under his clothes.

"Not going to share, huh?" Beverly said.

Will unlocked the Volvo and got the heat started. "What happened to your car?"

"Right, okay. Nothing happened, it's fine. I came here with Alana."

"I didn't know you two knew each other."

Silence. He looked over at her.

"We've…sort of been hanging out?" she said.

"Sort of?" He pulled out of the lot and headed toward the lab. High clouds painted white streaks across the sky.

"You've known her for a while, right?"

"A few years, yeah. She was one of the first people I met when I started teaching."

"So, you would know if, uh," Beverly said, and stopped short.

It took Will a second to get it. "If you should lay off the autopsy talk over dinner?"

She snorted. "Metaphorically speaking. I am usually way better at this, I swear, but I just can't read her at all. We could be having lunch as a preface to, to whatever, or we could just be having lunch."

"She's very self-contained."

"Is that your way of saying you don't know either?"

"I've never seen her with anyone. Have you asked her?"

"I've tried. Sort of. She's very good at changing the subject. Sometimes I don't even notice until a couple hours later."

“Alana’s one of the most observant people I’ve ever met. She probably knows how you feel.”

Beverly sighed. “I need about two hours at the range before I’ll even know if that’s good news or bad news.” She caught his questioning look. “Shooting helps me think. Or not think. Whichever.”

“If she weren’t interested, I think she'd say something.”

Beverly glanced over at him. "Yeah?"

“Yeah. Although, consider the source."

"You mean the FBI's best profiler? Yeah, what am I thinking asking you for advice, jeez."

Will smiled a little and shook his head. “Talk to her."

"Is that what you did with yours?"

"Ah. No. That was… That was almost entirely him."

"Lucky. What if I do and it's weird and we don't talk anymore? Ugh, why am I like this? I've been cooler than this since high school.”

“You can tell me about the hair instead if you want,” he said, trying not to smile.

She hesitated. "I was going to wait till we got there."

"Why?"

"Because you can't do anything until then, and you'll want to. We've already matched two of them, tentatively, to missing persons cases."

"You can't have DNA back yet."

"No, but he put little tags on them. First one, long blonde hair, March third last year, and one word: Bellows. There was a Kat Foster, twelve years old, long blonde hair, who disappeared two days before that on her way home from school. Her school is on Bellows Road in Fairfax."

"How many locks of hair?"

"Seven."

Will nodded, stomach sinking. No one had even noticed the connection. "No specific physical type?"

“Age, we’re assuming, but otherwise hard to say. The other girl we're pretty sure about was thirteen, red hair, missing after band practice. The word on the tag matches a street on her route home. We're not getting anything on the others yet."

"Are those the two most recent?"

"Maybe, maybe not. One of them doesn't have a date."

It might mean nothing. She might be dead and Sanders hadn't had a chance to record it yet. Or she might be out there somewhere, trapped and praying for rescue.

*

Will drained the last of his coffee and banged his head gently against the desk. He looked up at the incident board and the photo of a smiling twelve-year-old girl with braces and dark curls that matched the untagged hair from Sanders' house. Her name was Chloe Bell, and she'd gone missing just six hours before Sanders's approximate time of death.

"He knows where she is," Will said.

"You realize Sanders is dead, right?" Zeller said. "And therefore unlikely to talk to us."

Price nodded sadly. "Where's Bruce Willis when you need him."

"Or Whoopi Goldberg," Zeller said.

"Not Sanders, the Ripper."

Price paused in the act of cleaning his ear out with a pencil eraser. "I don't want to burst your bubble, but I don't think he's going to tell us either."

"He already has.” Will looked at the photocopies of the book pages, the translations, the crime scene photos. "It's here somewhere."

"Right, cause he's always so helpful, love that guy," Zeller said. He groaned and stretched. "Is it time to go home?"

It was almost two in the morning. No one had any intention of leaving, and they all knew it.

Will shuffled the pages again. There was just no way the Ripper had killed Sanders right after he'd abducted another girl by coincidence. He knew where she was. He'd left clues. Otherwise it wouldn't be a game. Will just had to find them.

"You could join the rest of us in the real world of detection and we might find her faster," Zeller said.

Will grabbed at his own hair and pulled. His head felt like Athena was about to burst out it, which would be great. He could use the help.

"I said—”

"I heard you. I couldn't help hearing you," Will said.

"I swear to god, kids, I will turn this lab right around and no one'll get to go to Disney World," Beverly said.

"I'm getting coffee," Will said, with a sigh. "Who else wants some?"

Everyone raised their hand.

He grabbed his coat and headed out. Fresh air and coffee that hadn't been stewing on a hot plate for three hours might help. Had to help.

Beverly caught up with him in the hall outside the lab.

"Hey, I know Zeller's being kind of a prick—“

"We all want the same thing, I know."

"I know you know. Just, are you sure about focusing on the Ripper instead of Sanders? If he wanted us to find the girl, he could've made it more obvious."

"He doesn't care whether we find her or not. He just wants to watch us dance."

"Okay, but—“

"It's there. I'll find it."

He waved off whatever else she had to say and stabbed the button for the elevator. Outside, cold air wrapped around him and pushed the fog out of his head. He took two more aspirin and walked across the quad to the cafeteria.

The woman behind the counter held up a hand when he came in. "Four coffees, I know. What do you want to eat?"

"Just the coffee."

"Honey, you have been in here three times in the last seven hours, looking more like grade-A shit every time I see you. Get something to eat. And get some for your friends, too."

He smiled a little. "What makes you think all the coffee isn't for me?"

She eyed him. "I'd believe it. When your hands start shaking so bad you can't get your debit card out, I'll cut you off. Bagels and cream cheese?"

"That'd be great, thanks."

He leaned against the counter and closed his eyes. The air smelled of coffee and old grease and faintly of the cigarette smoke that permeated the woman's hair and clothes. Away from the bright overhead lights of the lab, his headache eased.

The Ripper had left them nine pages from Julius Caesar and eight from Lolita, one ripped in half and used twice. The translations showed nothing in common between the pages, nothing that stood out.

He grabbed a napkin and wrote the page numbers down again so he could stare at them.

35 3 7 26 11 24 26 21 20
8 7 18 26 15 19 21 24 11

He'd tried to force them to fit coordinates, street grids, anything. Translated into letters, it was even more of a mess.

(35? C E?) C G Z K X Z U T
H G R Z O S U X K

He wasn't using all the information. Why Julius Caesar? Why in Russian? It couldn't be random.

The woman returned with his bagels. “Nice alphabet soup you’ve got there. The coffee’s going to be a few more minutes. I had to make a fresh pot.”

Will ignored her and stared until the letters blurred in front of his eyes. There had to be something he was missing.

“What’s an eight letter word for Caesar?”

He looked up at her, startled. “What?”

“Crossword.” She nodded at the paper in front of her. “I tried murdered, but it doesn’t work with six across.”

Will blinked at the gray newsprint for a few seconds, and his brain threw up a bit of half remembered information from high school. “Try cognomen,” he said.

“That’s it, thanks.”

Maybe he’d been looking at this the wrong way. Maybe it wasn’t about Julius Caesar the play, but Julius Caesar the person. He patted down his pockets for his cell, but he’d left it on the desk.

“Do you have a phone I can use? It’s important.”

She got the cordless off the wall for him. He dialed Hannibal's number.

“Was there a code Julius Caesar used? Or one that was named after him or associated with that period in Rome? Anything?”

Hannibal paused only briefly. “Yes. The Caesar cipher. One chooses a number and shifts the alphabet that many places to the left.”

"How many letters are there in the Russian alphabet?"

“Thirty-three."

"You're better than Google. Thanks, I have to go."

"Will— I'm at your house. After you asked me to feed the dogs, I stayed to make dinner. I must've fallen asleep."

Will winced, though only half his attention was the on the conversation. The rest was scribbling on the napkin, shifting the alphabet 33 places to the left. "I'm sorry."

"No, don't be. I only meant, I'm here. Do you want me to stay until you get home?"

"It might be hours yet. Or tomorrow.”

"A simple yes or no will do."

"Yes. Please."

"I'll see you when you're done. Good luck."

"Thanks."

He looked down at the page numbers, now decoded: 35 Waterton, Baltimore. After a second, he applied the cipher to the street number as well and changed it to 68 Waterton.

He added a phone number to the napkin and pushed it across the counter. "Call this number, ask for Beverly Katz or Jack Crawford, tell them I found her and to send back up and paramedics to this address, got it?"

She blinked at him. "Got it. No problem."

He ran for his car and broke several speed limits between Quantico and Baltimore. The street was silent. 68 Waterton looked like every other house on the block: worn, but cared for, peeling paint, but clean windows. No light inside. The front door looked too solid to knock down, but there was a basement entrance. He braced himself and slammed his foot into it near the lock. It burst open.

The room was empty. Stairs led up. Washer and dryer in one corner. One closed door with light visible through the crack underneath. Barred from the outside. He lifted the bar and pushed open the door. Something crashed into his side, a sharp pain, the sound of something ceramic shattering. His gun was in his hand.

He blinked, and his eyes cleared. He was aiming at a small girl with dark, curly hair. She held a broken lamp like a baseball bat and looked ready to take another swing.

"It's okay," he said softly, holstering the gun. "My name's Will. I'm with the FBI. We've been looking for you. Chloe, right?"

She nodded, but she didn't put the lamp down.

He sank down to balance on the balls of his feet, hoping to look less threatening. "You want to see my ID?"

"Yes."

He slid it across the floor to her, and she studied it for a few seconds, eyes flicking back and forth between him and his photo.

"You're really here to get me out?"

"Really. The people I work with will be here soon. Paramedics, too. Are you hurt?"

"No." She pushed his ID back toward him and set the lamp down carefully. "He didn't do anything. He just grabbed me. I thought you might be him. I only saw him for a second. And then I woke up here alone and I couldn't get out and I didn't know what he was going to do when—“ She stopped and took a few shaky breaths.

"Okay," Will said. "It's all right. You’re okay now.”

"Can we go outside? I don't want to be down here anymore."

They walked up the stairs together. Will got her a bottle of water from his car and gave her his coat to wear while they waited. It came down to her knees.

"Where is he?" she asked. "Did you get him? What if he comes back?"

"He can't come back. He's dead."

"Did you kill him?"

"No. Someone else did."

She was quiet for a minute. "I'm glad he's dead."

"Me too."

She sidled closer and took his hand in tight grip. They waited in silence for the approaching sirens.

*

Will pulled into his driveway in the dead, pre-dawn dark. His house glowed with warmth. Hannibal must've switched on every light in the place. It made Will smile.

The front door opened, and Hannibal came out to stand on the porch. His cufflinks were gone, and his cuffs hung loose around his wrists. He lifted one hand in greeting.

Will got out of the car and walked toward him, too fast, too eager, too tired not to show it. Hannibal opened his arms in welcome. Will stepped into them, pushed closer as they circled his shoulders. One large, warm hand cupped the back of his neck, and Will ducked his head. He breathed in the warm, dark sliver of space between their bodies.

"You found the child you were looking for?" Hannibal asked.

"Yeah. She's okay."

"Good."

Hannibal led him inside and over to the bed. The dogs milled about and got underfoot for a few minutes until Will had said hello. They flopped down into their beds, or onto the rug, or under the chair in the corner of the room.

Hannibal unbuttoned Will's shirt and pulled it off him. He eased the t-shirt off as well and regarded him in the glow of the bedside lamp. His eyes lingered over the mark on Will's neck, and he kissed it gently before he started to undress himself.

The sheets had been changed since the morning, and they were cool and crisp against Will's skin. Hannibal followed, stripped down to black boxer-briefs and emanating a heat that drew Will like a magnet. Hannibal tucked Will close against his side and pressed a blurred kiss across his temple.

Will unfolded one arm from between their bodies and laid his hand on Hannibal's chest. The slow rhythm of Hannibal's breath eased him into sleep.

Chapter Text

Will woke to an empty bed, the smell of coffee, and the sounds of cooking. Early, from the slant of light through the window. He couldn't have slept more than three hours, but three hours with no nightmares was something to celebrate these days.

He stretched and scrubbed his hands through his hair. A mug sat, steaming, on his bedside table, and all he could do was curl up on his side and smile at it, glad he was alone, glad he could let himself be this stupidly grateful for something so small, just for a few seconds.

Propped up on his elbow, he reached for it. The dark liquid shook, and, in its distorted surface, Will saw Garret Jacob Hobbs's eyes, misty blue in death.

He breathed and breathed and set the mug carefully back down on the table. He was still half-asleep. It didn’t mean anything. When he looked again, it was gone. He pushed back the covers.

Hannibal stood at Will's electric stove, frying eggs and sausage. Four slices of bread sat next to the toaster, awaiting their fate. Hannibal reached back for him without taking his eyes off the pan. Will shuffled closer and let Hannibal curl one arm around his waist.

"You're dressed," Will said.

"Yes, I do tend to put on clothes in the morning."

"Funny." Will yawned and rested his chin on Hannibal's shoulder. "It's just weird. I've never seen you wearing as little as you were last night."

"Patience. Start the toast, please. This is almost ready. Did you lose your coffee?"

"No. Uh." Will fiddled with the toaster as the handle conveniently jammed. Like hell he was telling Hannibal about Garret Jacob Hobbs in his coffee cup or any of the rest of it. Not now, when the alternative was a nice, normal breakfast and Hannibal not looking at him like a problem to be solved. Maybe at their next session. If it hadn't stopped. "One of the dogs stuck his nose in it. I'll get a new cup."

When he turned from the toaster, he caught the tail end of Hannibal's sharp look. He ignored it and got out plates and silverware.

"It's warmer today," Hannibal said over breakfast. "Perhaps the last true day of autumn. What will you do?"

"Work, this afternoon. But Jack told us not to come in before then. Might go fishing. I go in the winter sometimes, but it's better when you're not freezing your balls off."

Hannibal gave him a mildly disapproving look for that turn of phrase, which was why Will had chosen it.

"And may I intrude on your day, or is this a solitary pursuit?"

Will paused with a bite of sausage halfway to his mouth. "You want to go fishing with me?"

"Only if you would enjoy the company."

"I'm trying to imagine you in waders," he said, carefully. "And it's not really working."

Hannibal smiled. "Stop trying, please. No, I have fished in the past, and it's not my favorite pastime. I can entertain myself. I have my sketchbook."

"You really want to?"

"The opportunity to observe you in your native habitat is too much to resist."

"Okay, sure. I mean, yeah, I'd like that. I’ll find you some boots. We have to walk through the fields out back."

"I was hoping to borrow more than boots. I don't think I'm dressed suitably for the expedition."

Will looked him over. "You're welcome to anything I've got if you think it'll fit."

"I'm sure I'll find something. We're not so different."

What he found, after some rummaging through Will’s dresser, was a gray t-shirt that stretched tight across his chest and the oldest, filthiest pair of jeans Will owned. An indelible smear of engine grease cut across one thigh, and the hems hung ragged over his bare feet.

Will had to swallow twice before he could speak. "There's a hole in the back of those," he said, voice more or less steady.

"Yes, it's unfortunate. But they are the best fit."

Will gestured for him to turn around, and he obliged. The hole had started when he'd got caught on a loose nail in the shed and had expanded to a slash. Will didn't wear them out of the house anymore because he didn't enjoy showing off his underwear to strangers. On Hannibal, the black cotton that showed through the gap managed to look scandalous instead of sloppy.

"Will I do?" Hannibal asked, turning to face him again.

Will realized he'd been staring too long and took a quick drink of coffee so his voice wouldn't come out as a croak. Maybe it was seeing him in Will’s clothes, or maybe it was just seeing him without his usual armor. Either way, he looked almost more bare like this than he had in just his underwear the night before. He looked like someone who belonged in Will’s life.

"You look fine. Nice, I mean. Good. Very good."

Hannibal's mouth turned up at the corners in a faintly pleased expression. "Thank you," he said.

"Socks," Will told him, and pointed back toward the dresser.

Hannibal went. Will found boots for him and got his rods and flies together. He had the few most recent in a padded case on his table. Or at least, they’d been there a few days ago. Where there had been seven, three remained. He checked the drawer, the larger case, even the tackle box, and he’d never have dropped them in there to rattle around with wire and fishing line and spare pliers.

“Hannibal?” he called. “You didn’t move my flies, did you?”

“No,” Hannibal said, still bent over something on the kitchen counter. “Did you look on the floor? The dogs were a bit disorderly earlier. Perhaps one of them knocked against the table.”

They weren’t on the floor, or under the couch, but of course they couldn’t be. The case had been zipped, and was always zipped. With the dogs around, he had to be careful, and the habit was ingrained. He packed up the case with the three remaining flies and joined Hannibal in the kitchen, still frowning to himself.

Could he possibly have moved them and forgotten about it? Maybe. With his mind the way it was recently. He noted that for some future therapy appointment as well. Just not today.

“Where did you see them last?” Hannibal said absently. He was cutting up cubes of melon.

Will watched him, flies forgotten for the moment. There was a cooler half-packed on the counter. Hannibal was clearly making them a picnic lunch.

Hannibal glanced at him over his shoulder. "Is something wrong?"

Will shook his head. Nothing was wrong. Things were veering dangerously close to perfect. The visitation of a dead man in his coffee cup seemed normal and reasonable by comparison. He found himself clinging to that image as reassurance that this was still his life, that he hadn't stumbled into a better one by mistake.

The sun fell warm on their backs as they tramped through the fields toward the stream at the back of Will's property. Normally, he would've left the dogs at home, but he'd been gone so much recently, and he didn't honestly care if he caught anything or not. They ranged out ahead and behind, tails just visible above the tall grass.

Thick brush closed in around them when they left the fields. Trailing blackberry canes caught at their clothes. Will went first and tried to open a path for Hannibal through the brambles. A few late berries still hung on amid the thorns to stain his fingers.

They emerged into a clearing next to the stream, grass and moss hemmed in by birch trees. One flat rock jutted out into the water, warmed by the sun, the perfect size to sit on.

"This is lovely," Hannibal said.

Will grinned at the surprise he was obviously trying to keep out of his voice. "The fishing's not as good. That's why the path is such a mess. Looks nice, though."

"Thank you," Hannibal said. "For showing me this."

Will wanted to say it was nothing, but he'd never been that good at lying. He shrugged instead and started climbing into his waders.

An hour later, Hannibal was stretched out on a blanket in the grass, Winston on one side of him and Teddy by his feet. He'd started out sketching, but now his pencil had slipped from his hand, and his head rested on one folded arm. His eyes were closed, breath deep and even.

Will's rod hung in his hands. Anything over two pounds could've pulled it out of his grasp in a second. Feeling only slightly guilty, he dug out his cell phone and took a quick picture. It'd probably hurt like hell to look at once this all fell apart, but it might be worth the pain, to remember this day.

He turned his mind back to the stream and caught one or two, much too small to keep. The dogs chased each other in and out of the water, through the woods and undergrowth. He'd probably spend a good two hours later picking burrs and grass seeds out of their fur, but he let them be.

Eventually, Hannibal stirred and stretched. He turned a sleepy smile and half-closed eyes toward Will. "How long?" he asked.

"Hasn't been three hours yet. I still owe you."

"Mm. Come here."

Will set the rod down and pulled off the waders. He stretched out on his side on the blanket. Hannibal slipped a hand behind his head and pulled him in for a series of slow kisses that slid one into the next like water over smooth stones.

Hannibal's teeth on his lip made his breath catch. He pressed forward into the kiss and found himself tumbled onto his back, Hannibal straddling his hips, both his wrists pinned down. Hannibal's mouth was hard against his, taking control of the kiss as Will gladly yielded it.

"Can I," Will said, and pulled against Hannibal's grip and flexed his fingers. "I want to touch you."

Hannibal released him, but stayed as he was, bent over him, hands on either side of Will's head, blocking out the sun.

Will slid his palms up Hannibal's thighs. The denim strained over muscle, and everywhere Will touched was hard and solid. He pushed his nails up the seams on the inside of Hannibal's thighs and stroked up over the sharp angles of his hip bones.

The t-shirt had ridden up on one side, and Will laid his hand over the exposed skin there. It was the same place he'd touched in Hannibal's kitchen that first night. He leaned up and kissed it.

Hannibal hooked a finger into the collar of Will's shirt. "Take this off."

"Are we going to— Out here?"

Hannibal slid his thumb over Will's lips and then between them. "Do you have any idea what I want to do to you when you say things like that, Will? These innocent questions, with your eyes so wide and a little, nervous catch in your voice, like it's all up to me and you couldn't possibly refuse me anything?"

All Will could do was stare and shake his head.

"Yes, out here. Take it off."

Will peeled out of it awkwardly, still trapped by Hannibal's body over his.

Hannibal drew one finger down from the hollow of his throat to the waistband of his jeans. Will couldn't help pressing himself into the touch, and the motion brought his hips up tight against Hannibal's.

"You really are exquisite," Hannibal said, and his eyes creased in amusement at whatever reaction Will hadn't managed to keep off his face. "You disagree?"

"Average."

"Fishing for compliments?"

"Stating facts. Male Caucasian, mid to late thirties, brown hair, approximately six feet. You get that on the radio for a BOLO and you just roll your eyes. How do you pick someone like that out of a crowd?"

"I think I could pick you out by the way you stand, or the pattern of creases on the skin at the back of your neck. Or the way you almost stop breathing when I've caught you off guard."

Hannibal smiled, not quite a smirk, and Will took a deliberate breath.

"Yes, just like that. It's one of my favorite things to do. You become so perfectly still. I shouldn't admit this, but I used to watch you wind yourself so tight inside and wonder what would happen if I touched you." He laid his hand over Will's throat. "Here. How shocked you would be. If it would still the chaos in your mind."

Will looked up at him, once again hardly breathing. The grip on his throat was a secure mooring instead of a threat. He nodded very slightly.

Hannibal kissed him, his lips and then the bridge of his nose. His free hand cupped Will's cheek. "It's the most inappropriate thing I've ever imagined doing with a patient," he said. "I hope you'll forgive me."

"Not your patient."

"But you were, in every official sense during that first session, and that was when the thought first came to me."

"It might've saved a lot of time."

"You would have run so far and so fast that I would never have seen you again."

"Yeah. Probably."

"Patience is nearly always rewarded, I find."

Will tried to decide if that meant Hannibal had been planning this, waiting, gaining his trust this entire time and, if so, how he felt about that. His thoughts scattered when Hannibal put his mouth over the mark on his neck and started to suck.

It still hurt, and the suction and the pressure of Hannibal's tongue made it throb with a low ache that spread heat through his limbs and stomach. He hadn't been told to be still, and so he held onto Hannibal's shoulders and slid a hand up to disarrange his hair. Their hips pressed together, and Hannibal rocked slowly against him until Will could feel both of them, hard and pressing uncomfortably against tight denim.

Hannibal moved down, licked at the hollow of his throat, and then farther to tease one nipple with teeth and tongue. Will squeezed his eyes shut, hands tight in Hannibal's hair, maybe too tight, and ground up against him. Hannibal's teeth closed around it until it felt like the skin might break and Will couldn't help the whimper that escaped him.

"Hurts…”

"I know. It's meant to." Hannibal released him with a last lick and looked up at him. "Do you want me to do the other one as well?"

Will nodded quickly.

"Ask me," Hannibal said.

Will opened his mouth, but the words wouldn't come. “Please,” he managed, finally, and he knew it wouldn’t be good enough.

"Please what? You'll have to be more specific than that."

"I can't."

"Mm. Pity. Shall we have lunch then?"

He started to sit up, and Will grabbed at the collar of his shirt. "Don’t. God, you're a bastard."

"You're not the first to say it." He pressed Will down flat with a hand in the center of his chest and licked over his other nipple slowly. The wet trail it left made Will's skin tingle. "Go on. I promise you, this time will be the hardest. It will get easier."

Will stared at his mouth, at the wet shine of his lips. He felt almost sick, nerves and embarrassment and excitement all coiled together in his stomach.

“I want— I want you to do it. To bite me there. Your teeth in my skin. I want it to hurt.” He closed his eyes. “Oh, god. Please, Hannibal.”

Hannibal took a slow breath. "And I will be happy to oblige," he said.

There was no build up this time. Will moved restlessly, heels digging into the blanket, grabbing handfuls of it as the pain grew increasingly sharper and more insistent. Inescapable. And he'd asked for it, literally asked for this.

When Hannibal let up, Will fell back flat on the blanket, gasping like a landed fish. His heart raced, and he could feel the prickle of sweat along his spine. Hannibal kissed him softly.

"Very nice. Tell me, how did your father punish you when you were a child?"

It took Will a few seconds before he could even make sense of the question. He frowned, still breathing hard, still more turned on than he wanted to be. "Right now?" he said, finally.

"If you don't mind."

"I do. I don't think anyone wants to talk about their parents during sex. Or. Whatever this is."

"But you will. To please me."

Will turned his head away. Gentle touches ghosted over his chest and sides. "He didn't, much," Will said finally. "I didn't do anything that bad, and he ignored most of it."

"And when he couldn't ignore it?"

"When I was eight, I stole something out of a store. He didn't know what to do. I could tell, even then. He said when he got in trouble as a kid, his father told him to go cut a switch, so that's what I'd have to do."

"Good. Then you'll know what to look for."

Will jerked his eyes up to Hannibal's face, searching for any sign he was joking. There was nothing. Just the confident tilt of his mouth and his steady regard. Will dropped his gaze quickly.

"Yeah. You want me to do that now?"

"Please." Hannibal got off of him and sat back on the blanket, legs crossed, perfectly composed.

Will sat up and rubbed his hands down his arms. Something between chill and fever pricked at his skin. He checked to be sure he still had his pocket knife and then stood. He went from tree to tree, testing branches, shutting down every thought that wanted to bubble up and overwhelm him.

A willow draped itself over the stream. He slipped under the curtain of its branches. Thin, flexible. He cut one, as thick around as his finger at the base, narrowing to a whip at the far end. He looked down at his hand curled around it for a long time.

"Will."

Hannibal's voice, just behind him. Will turned with the branch held up between them like a weapon. Hannibal closed his hand over Will’s and waited until he released it.

"You're upset," Hannibal said.

"I'm fine."

"We don't need to do this."

"I'm fine. Christ, if I could take it when I was eight, it should be no problem now."

"You're angry."

"Yes!" Will said, and stopped short.

"Yes," Hannibal agreed. "Were you angry when your father punished you?"

"I deserved it."

"And now?"

Will looked down at the ground, mostly bare of grass in the dim light under the willow branches. He swallowed. “I didn't do anything wrong.”

But he saw his knife at Hannibal’s throat and Garret Jacob Hobbs always just behind him, waiting for him to turn around.

“I agree,” Hannibal said.

Will glanced up at him. “Then what is this?”

“An exploration. When I asked if you thought you deserved to be punished, you seemed undecided.”

“Maybe I was.”

“And now you’re not. That’s good. I agree with you, incidentally. There’s nothing wrong with you, Will.”

Hannibal held out a hand to him. Will took it and let himself be pulled into his arms. He clung to the back of Hannibal's shirt and tried to pretend that the raw relief he felt wasn't absolutely terrifying.

“I would prefer this to be about pleasure,” Hannibal said. “I expect both of us to enjoy it a great deal. What do you think?"

"It didn't hurt very much when he did it,” Will said, voice unsteady and muffled against Hannibal’s shoulder.

"Is that an objection?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Your father was striking an eight-year-old child. I don't imagine he was comfortable putting much force into it."

"Unlike you."

"Yes. Unlike me."

"I wasn't serious when I called you a sadist before."

"Part of you was."

"Was that part right?"

"In general, I have found your psychological assessments to be flawless."

"You really like hurting me?"

"Does that idea disturb you?"

“It's a relief. If you were only doing this for me… I couldn’t take that.”

"It's not only for you."

Will pulled back enough to look at him, at his mouth and the patterns of sun and shade on the side of his face. "Okay. So. Let’s do it.”

Hannibal regarded him steadily.

"What?" Will said.

“I don’t believe you’re in a fit state to decide whether you want this or not.”

Will almost laughed. “When am I ever? I feel like half my brain shuts down the second you touch me.”

“Still, time to recover, to discuss—“

“I don’t want to recover. I don’t want to discuss. I want you to hit me.”

Hannibal breathed out slowly. He curled his hand around the back of Will's neck.

"And don't try to pretend you're not getting off on that," Will added.

Hannibal pulled him close and kissed him hard, bruising grip on his neck and bruising pressure on his mouth. Will sagged against him.

“Come on,” he said, and nipped at Hannibal's lower lip. "Come on. Hard as you want. I can take it. I promise.”

"Will," Hannibal said, drawn out, the barest hint of a moan.

The sound of it, just that minute loss of control, sent heat sliding through every part of Will's body. He pressed his mouth to Hannibal's neck. "Please," he said. "I want it.”

Hannibal pushed him back slowly. Color had crept into his cheeks, and his eyes shone, intent on Will's face. "Yes," he said.

Another breath, and he smoothed back his hair. The fit of the switch in his hand looked perfect to Will, slim fingers curled around green wood. He took a step forward. Will retreated, desire and just a little fear blooming in his chest. Hannibal tapped the switch against his leg. Will couldn't look away.

"Face the tree. Put your hands on the trunk."

The bark was cool, or at least cooler than his hands, cooler than his forehead when he leaned forward to rest against it. Blood heated, but sap cooled. Only dead wood was warm to the touch.

"Can you keep your hands there, or do you want me to tie you?" Hannibal asked.

"I won't move."

"Good." Hannibal smoothed a hand over Will's back as if preparing a canvas for paint. "Tell me your safeword."

"Blackbird."

"I expect you to use it if this becomes too much for you. Can I trust you to do that?"

"Yes,” he said. The idea of being able to stop if he needed to was strangely thrilling. His thoughts wandered to his nightmares, his memories. His mind didn’t come with an emergency shut off switch. There was never any choice but to endure.

The first strike caught him by surprise, a sharp diagonal line across his left shoulder blade. He clutched at the tree trunk, but it was more shocking than painful.

"I would like your mind on the situation at hand, please," Hannibal said. "That's enough daydreaming."

"I wasn't," Will said, an automatic denial, faint guilt at having been caught.

Hannibal gripped the back of his neck. "Will."

"I'm sorry. I won’t— It won't happen again."

"I'm sure it won't," Hannibal said mildly, and the next stroke cut across the first, right to left, harder, enough to force a hissed breath between Will's teeth. "That's two. There will be ten. You may count if you wish, but it's not necessary."

Will waited for three, but it didn't come. Instead, he felt the drag of Hannibal's fingers over the already-forming welt. He swallowed and pressed his cheek against the trunk when Hannibal dug his nails in.

The third and fourth were laid over the first. Will fought to hold himself perfectly still, not to flinch away even an inch. The pain stung and grew hot and didn't ebb. Five whipped down in the same line, across all the others, and Will pressed his chest to the tree, arms all the way around it, just holding on.

Hannibal paused again. He pressed his mouth to Will's back and licked over damaged skin, mouthed at it, scraped at the raised lines with his teeth. The last finally pulled a low, strangled sound from Will, despite gritted teeth and tight shut eyes and every muscle tense with holding himself silent and still.

Hannibal did it again, harder, and again, and Will bit at his own shoulder to keep quiet.

"Tell me how it feels," Hannibal said.

Will shook his head, silent, everything in him strained and taut.

“Now, please,” Hannibal said, and pinched him hard, twisting swollen skin between his fingers.

Will cried out, a sharp sound that descended into a whimper. He curled his shoulders forward, but there was nowhere to go, no chance of shelter or escape. "God, it hurts," he said, voice rough and crumbling. "Hannibal, please."

"Please stop? Please make it worse?"

"I don't know. I can’t— Whatever you want."

"You shouldn't leave it up to me." He bit softly at Will's earlobe. "My choice will always be to make it worse."

"Then do it."

He hunched forward, tensed for the next strike. All that came was the very tip of the switch dragged in a slow line down his back, bumping over each ridge of bone. Down over his belt. Down along the seam of his jeans.

"Spread your legs for me, please," Hannibal said. And then, when Will had shuffled his feet apart a foot or so: "Wider."

He spread them wider and shuddered as Hannibal ran the switch right between his thighs, over his balls, up in front to press briefly along his aching cock. He had a few long seconds to wonder just how much worse Hannibal planned to make it, and then the sixth strike came with a crack on the inside of his left thigh.

Even through the denim, the pain blazed hot across tender skin, and he cried out again. Birds fell silent or took off in a rush of feathers. The sound became the rustle of dry paper in his mind, and he shut his eyes, afraid of what he might see.

"Harder," he said.

Again, the inside of his right thigh. Seven. He thought it was seven. Maybe eight. Maybe it didn't matter. His legs shook, spread too wide, muscles under strain. Two more blows, the backs of his thighs this time, and he was no longer even trying to keep quiet.

"One more," Hannibal said, soft and calm over Will's wet, ragged breaths.

He tapped the end of the switch against Will's neck, and Will flinched from it.

"Would you like to choose where?"

"Your—“ He broke off as his voice cracked and shook his head. "Your call."

"Yes, it is, isn't it.”

He stepped back, and Will could hear the whistle of the switch through the air just before it came down hard across his ass, right where he’d sit down. It burned like acid and salt. Hannibal dropped the switch.

"You don't have to stop. I can take more. I can." Will could hear himself panting. Blood sang in his ears. His legs shook.

Hannibal peeled his hands away from the trunk and turned him. “That's not your choice to make. It's mine. And I think that’s just as well, don’t you?”

Will nodded dumbly. He swayed and held onto Hannibal's shoulder with one hand, the tree behind him with the other. Hannibal palmed the front of his jeans, and Will tipped his head back against the trunk, sucking in air through his nose.

"Very nice," Hannibal said, and stepped back. "Come this way, please."

Hannibal took his arm gently and led him back to the blanket. Will lay face down and turned his head toward the stream. Belka and Strelka bounded across it. They shook themselves on the other side, water drops diamond-bright in the air. Something cold touched his back, and he hissed.

"A salve. It will speed the healing and ease your pain. Be still, please."

Will had hauled himself half-upright, and he subsided flat once again. "You don't need to, I mean, I want…"

Hannibal traced one line with his nail, and Will grabbed at his own hair and swore.

"You will feel it," Hannibal said, amused. "You don't need to worry about that. The backs of your thighs, particularly. Sitting down won't be very comfortable for a day or two."

"You sound so smug about that it's disgusting."

"You should be nicer to the man tending to your wounds."

He tugged Will around until he was lying with his head in his lap. Hannibal's fingers eased the tangles from his hair and rubbed lightly against his scalp.

"I take it back," Will mumbled. "You're nice. Don't stop."

Silence. Sunlight. The sounds of water and birds and leaves. The grease stain on the jeans Hannibal wore stood out crisp and clear. He could see each thread in the weave. The rocks near the stream, the faded yellow blanket they lay on, each leaf on the tree that arched over them held a new and almost painful vibrance.

“How are you?” Hannibal asked.

“M’okay.”

“Hm. What did you steal?"

Will turned his head to blink slowly up at him. “What?"

"From the shop. The reason your father punished you."

“Oh. You won’t tell anyone?”

"You have my word."

"It was a bird. A taxidermy hummingbird.”

“What did it look like?”

“Green and red, like someone had cut its throat. I wanted it so much.” He turned onto his side, and Hannibal tucked an arm around his shoulders. "I think he would've understood if it'd been, you know, candy bars, or cassettes. Something normal."

"Children are strange little monsters. Heaven knows, I was myself. An admiration for the natural world is hardly unusual.”

"What were you like?"

"Oh, dreadful. Difficult to please, a terrible temper, given to disappearing into the woods for hours when I ought to have been in school. Your father was fortunate compared to mine."

"You said you were an orphan."

"I was. Eventually."

"What happened?" Will said. He felt as if he should regret asking, but Hannibal had knocked down all his barriers, and he couldn't stop himself.

Hannibal was quiet for a long time, until Will was prepared to accept his silence as an answer. His hands moved over Will's face and neck, tracing bones and features, veins and arteries, perhaps in this moment more for his own comfort than for Will's.

"If I tell you, you will say nothing in return, now or at any point in the future. I would find any expression of sympathy, or empathy, abhorrent."

Will nodded.

"They were killed when I was very young. All my family save my younger sister. And I lost her as well, some time later."

Will said nothing, let nothing show on his face. “Thank you for telling me,” he said.

Hannibal gave him a faint smile and leaned over him to unpack the cooler.

Will would've gotten up to eat, but Hannibal kept him down with a hand on his neck. Will lay with his head on Hannibal's thigh and let himself be fed: torn off pieces bread and cheese, grapes, slivers of apple, slices of dried sausage.

Later, he might be embarrassed, appalled at himself for allowing it. On a more immediate plane, Hannibal's single-minded attention warmed and eased him, buoyed him up like floating in clear water, all the rough edges of the world held at bay.

"Do you like this part too?" Will asked, and then wished he hadn't. If Hannibal considered this payment of some sort for what came before, he might've preferred not to know.

Another long pause while Hannibal poured himself more wine and took a sip. He held the glass to Will's lips, and Will drank from it as well, dark red and rich.

"I almost prefer it," Hannibal said. "Though you shouldn't mistake my reasons. They're not particularly altruistic."

"Possession.”

"Yes. You never belong to me more fully than in these moments. It's intoxicating." He offered Will a quick smile, almost self-deprecating. "How that must make me sound."

"Is this my cue to reassure you I'm as crazy as you are?"

"Coming back to yourself already, I see," Hannibal said, amusement in his eyes.

"Totally functional and more or less sane, you said. Maybe less, right now." Less and less all the time. He wondered again about his missing flies.

Hannibal touched the bruise on his side. "What is this? I noticed it last night when you got in bed. It's not mine."

"Chloe—the girl from the Ripper case—she hit me with a lamp when I came in. Thought I might be Sanders coming back for her."

There was a pause. "She must have struck you with some force."

"She plays field hockey. I guess she's pretty strong for a kid." Will looked up at him and smirked a little. "I didn't enjoy it, if that what you're worried about."

Hannibal gave him a look of mild exasperation. "How kind of you to reassure me. But, oddly enough, no."

"What, then?"

"I don't like seeing other people's marks on you."

“I don’t like it much either. Kind of inevitable though.”

"Nonetheless." He was quiet for a moment. "I'm glad you found her," he said. "I was certain you would."

"It was easier than I thought it would be. Not easy, but… I don't know. I thought he'd make us dance longer."

"You still have to find him. Perhaps he prefers that dance to one focused on someone else."

Will yawned and closed his eyes. "Yeah. But still. If I'd known about that code, or even that Julius Caesar had one, or searched for a link earlier, it all would've been over in about an hour. Pretty simple."

"It was simple for you. I think you underestimate the level of your contribution."

*

"He'll be here soon," Beverly said, when Will joined her in Jack’s office that afternoon. "Did you get some sleep?"

"Some, yeah. You?"

"Not bad. Did you get to see your boyfriend?"

"Can we not call him that? He's older than I am."

"Ooh, how much older?" She waved a hand in the air. "Wait, sorry, wrong part of that to focus on. If you tell me his name, I won't have to call him your boyfriend anymore. Even though he is."

"I'm not telling you his name. Is this what having siblings is like?"

"This is what having friends is like. Siblings are much worse."

He crossed his arms over his chest. “How’s it going with Alana?” he said pointedly.

“I haven’t even seen her. I went home and crashed and ate Froot Loops and got yelled at by my sister for drinking all the orange juice.”

“You live with your sister?”

“The youngest. She’s going to school at Georgetown. One of the many reasons my love life is less interesting than yours. Are you really not going to tell me anything?”

“He went over to feed the dogs for me last night,” Will said, uncertain if he wanted to share even this much, but feeling a debt between them. “He stayed. He was still there when I got home.”

Beverly just smiled at him, softer around the edges than her smiles usually were.

Will stared at the case board. “When we were in Ohio, did anyone ask Lucy Mather’s neighbors about the fight she had with her father?”

“No. We only have Mallory’s word for it.”

“Corroboration would be good.”

She nodded. “What about the Ripper case? Any ideas? We've found zippo so far, or we've found a lot, you know, the usual, but nothing actually useful."

He got up to look over the board. His eyes kept sticking on Chloe's photograph and the newer ones of the basement where they'd found her.

"Have you been here yet?" he said, tapping the photo.

"Not me personally. Zeller and Price brought me back a bunch of stuff to go through. Nothing good so far."

"Is there an inventory of what was in the room?"

"Bed, table, lamp, rug, gallon jug of water. That's it."

"Water?"

"Yeah. I guess he wanted to keep her hydrated in case he couldn't get back right away?"

"But only one? And no food?" Jack walked in, and Will turned to him. "I need to see the room Sanders was keeping the girls in," he said.

"No, you need to see this," Jack said. He turned a computer monitor toward them and typed in TattleCrime's address.

CHESAPEAKE RIPPER HAILED AS HERO?

Will skimmed the post. There was a quote from Chloe's mother saying that she was grateful to the Chesapeake Ripper for killing the man who had taken her daughter, but Jack wouldn't look so grim if that were all. He caught his own quote toward the end:

If I were going to pick someone to put ten bullets in, it wouldn't be him. At least he's honest about what he does.

"It's not what it sounds like," he said.

"Why don't you tell me what it's like, because whatever you want to say about Lounds, I've never caught her in a misquote."

"There was more after that," Will muttered. "To be honest, it'd probably be worse if she'd quoted the whole thing."

Jack eyed him. "What did you say."

"Something like…you ruin people's lives and then blame them for it?"

"Implying you'd rather shoot her." Jack sighed. "Wonderful. Will, you cannot let her get to you like that."

"I keep hoping she'll get a restraining order against me."

"Not funny."

Out of the corner of his eye, Will could see Beverly, her lips pressed tight together with the effort not to laugh.

"She's a vulture, Jack."

"She's an occasionally useful vulture. She's a vulture with a very large readership. Just stay out of her way. For God's sake, it shouldn't be that complicated."

"It's not that bad," Beverly said. "Pretty tame for her, really."

Jack sighed. "Moving on. What have we got?"

The next several hours were lost to discussion and research. By seven, they'd gone through the details so many times that Will felt they were reciting a catechism more than investigating a case.

"I want to see the basement where he was keeping her again," he said, for the third time.

He wished he'd been more insistent earlier. His ears rang with other people's voices now. The air in Jack's office smothered him. Only the heated lines of swollen skin on his ass and the backs of his thighs kept him focused.

Jack stared at the board and rapped it with his knuckles. "Tomorrow," he said. "Go home, you look like hell. None of us got any sleep last night, and we're not thinking straight. You, too," he said to Beverly. "We've got two more chances this cycle if he sticks to his pattern. I want everyone in top form when we get the next body."

Outside Jack's office, Beverly caught his arm. "You do look like hell," she said.

"Thanks.”

"Are you sick or something?"

Or something. He tried not to laugh. "Fine. Just need some rest, like Jack said."

"Would you actually tell me if anything was wrong? Or at least tell someone?"

He should tell someone. He knew that. The rustle of paper wings stirred at the edge of his hearing. It might just be Jack shuffling papers in his office. Or it might not. His heart was beating too fast, sweat along his spine, a palpable tremor in his hands.

"I don’t—“ His phone rang. The caller ID said it was Hannibal. "Sorry. I have to take this," he said. He walked away as he answered, and kept walking.

"Are you coming over tonight?" Hannibal asked.

He closed his eyes and leaned on the elevator button. "I don't know, am I?"

Hannibal paused. "Where are you?"

"The hall outside Jack's office. The elevator," he said, as he stepped into it.

"Will the dogs be all right without you?"

He leaned against the back wall and clutched the cool metal rail. "Yeah."

"Can you drive, or do you want me to come and fetch you?"

"I can drive." Probably. He took two more aspirin. Water would help. He still had a bottle in his car.

"Then I will see you shortly."

"Okay."

That made it easy, and the cooler air outside helped. He rolled his windows down and chugged half a bottle of water. They'd eat. He'd feel better. Stopped at a red light, he closed his eyes for a second and let himself imagine Hannibal's study, the fire, the thick rug, Hannibal's hand in his hair.

The door was unlocked when he got there, and he walked in. "Hannibal?"

"In the kitchen."

Will smiled to himself. "And all's right with the world," he said.

Hannibal looked up from slicing a lump of something into strips. "Hm?"

"Nothing. Can I help?"

Hannibal pointed with his knife. "You may sit and tell me how it went this afternoon."

Will lowered himself into the armchair, mindful of each mark Hannibal had left on him. After hours on a hard chair in Jack’s office, the ones on his thighs and ass were the worst, but he could feel every one of them with a persistent clarity. After a second, he toed his shoes off and pulled his feet up onto the seat. Hannibal brought him a glass of wine. He breathed it in and tried to remember the afternoon as more than a haze of heat and disappointment.

"Not great," he said, finally. "Did you see TattleCrime today?"

"The public does like their heroes dark these days, it seems."

"I can understand her mother saying that. It's all the people in the comments. Like they've forgotten everything else he's done."

"And what about you? 'At least he's honest about what he does'?"

"That was taken out of context," Will muttered.

"You were arguably correct. There are few things more sincere than murder."

"I meant I'd rather shoot her than him. But I don't want to shoot anyone.”

"What do you want?"

Will slumped in the chair, curled around his wine glass. "If she could never speak to me again and he could just disappear, that would be great. Twelve hours of sleep without nightmares, and my life would be complete."

"That's the second time you've expressed the hope that the Chesapeake Ripper would disappear. You'd prefer that to catching him?"

"We're not going to catch him. Or if we do, it won't be clean. Someone's going to die. I don't want anyone to die."

"Even him?"

"Even him."

Silence. When he looked up, he found Hannibal watching him with no expression at all. Blank face, loose mouth, darkness reflected in his eyes.

"Perhaps you're right," Hannibal said, at last. "I failed to get the grease stain off of your jeans, I'm afraid."

"You didn't have to try. I should probably just throw them out. Can't even take them to Goodwill at this point."

"If you're going to dispose of them, perhaps I might keep them?" He gave Will a quick smile. "I think you like them better on me than you do on yourself."

"You'd actually wear them?"

"They'd be more suitable than anything else I own if you take me fishing again."

"Does that mean you'd want to go again?"

"As long as it's understood that there will be no actual fishing on my part, yes."

Will smiled into his wine, hopelessly happy. "Understood."

"Set the table, please. This is almost ready."

"What is it?"

"Heart, cooked with shallots and vinegar, on a bed of arugula and butter-poached asparagus."

"What kind of heart?"

"Pig. An unusually athletic one, I understand. The muscle should be in good shape."

After dinner, Hannibal led Will into the study with a hand on his elbow, as if he might wander off and get lost on the way. The fire smoldered in red cracks among the half-charred logs. Fresh wood and a little coaxing brought it back to life.

Will scooted back to lean against Hannibal's chair, feet stretched out in front of him. No coffee this time, no tea, nothing to occupy his mind but the lick of flame against stone and Hannibal's gentle fingers sliding through his hair.

"You'll stay tonight," Hannibal said, and Will didn't even think of arguing. He was so tired, and his head pounded in time with his heart. "Do you want to go upstairs now? I know it's early, but I think you would sleep."

"Don't want to move."

"Is there anything you do want?" Hannibal said.

One finger ran down the back of his neck and pressed against one of the red lines on his shoulder. Will shivered and turned his head to frown at him.

"What, like getting my rocks off so I'll go to sleep sooner, Doctor?"

Hannibal's mouth twitched. "It's a likely result, you must admit. And not precisely a hardship for me."

“Fine. Since you ask, I want to get you off, for once. I want—” The vision of himself on his knees, begging to suck Hannibal's cock came back to him with physical force, and he swallowed. "I want to suck you."

"Do you? Show me your back first."

Will clenched his jaw. "So you can check it, or so you can get in the mood?"

"I see no reason why I can't do both. Remove your shirt. Now, please."

Will's fingers were working on the buttons before he'd consciously processed the words. He didn't fight it. Buttons undone, flannel shirt and undershirt on the floor beside him, he drew his knees up and bent forward over them. The position sparked a dozen small aches in his stretched skin and muscles.

Hannibal touched him everywhere, neck to shoulders, the back curve of his ribs, down to his belt and underneath his jeans. A nail scratched lightly down one of the marks, and Will gripped his knees tighter. He couldn't take anymore today, didn't want it, right up to the point when Hannibal pressed down, and the hard knot built up by the afternoon unraveled just a fraction.

"I must work harder on the pattern next time," Hannibal said.

"Does it look bad?"

"You look beautiful."

Will rolled his eyes. "Stop that."

"Shall we pretend you don't want to look good for me? I've seen you admiring the mark on your shoulder. Touching it through your shirt when the bulk of your attention is elsewhere."

"It was just a question," Will muttered, head bent down still further to touch his knees.

"The canvas can't be blamed for the clumsy hand of the painter. Next time will be better."

Will turned halfway around to see the firelight on his face and neck. "You've really never done this before?"

"Never. I would do better with a knife or a scalpel. The marks I'm accustomed to making on human flesh are somewhat more permanent."

He shifted to kneel between Hannibal's legs, hands on his thighs. "Do you want to do that? To cut me?"

Hannibal covered Will's hands with his own, warm and dry, even rough in places. Seconds ticked away. A log cracked and settled in the fireplace. Will held his breath and watched the minute movements of Hannibal's mouth as he considered.

"Yes," he said, finally. Stark and unqualified, no excuses offered. "I would like that very much."

"Tell me," Will said, and reached for Hannibal's belt.

Hannibal closed his eyes as Will unzipped him. "I would tie you down," he said. "Not the bed, I think. The dining room table. A feast in every sense but one."

Will eased Hannibal's cock free from his pants and underwear. Already half-hard, it stiffened further under his hands. "Keep going," he said, and brushed his lips over the head.

"Chest stretched taut, arms out at either side," Hannibal said, after only a moment's pause. "Scalpel. Alcohol."

Will stroked him once and followed the path of his hand with his tongue, tasting him, wetting his skin.

"The first cut here," Hannibal said, and touched the hollow of his own throat. "And down, right down in a line over the breastbone, over the bronchial tube, down the stomach."

"Opening me up," Will murmured, and felt Hannibal's hand sink into his hair.

"Yes. Red thread beaded with blood. Like the glimpse of magma through fissures in black rock. A hint of what is inside you. More," he said, and tugged at Will's hair until Will let his lips close around the head and sucked.

"Bisecting lines over your lungs and heart," Hannibal murmured. "Branching, like antlers."

Will looked up at him sharply and caught only the gleam of reflected light in half-closed eyes. Hannibal spread a hand out across his cheek.

"Close your lips more tightly," he said. "How deep can you take it?"

He leaned forward as far as he could, but the head pressed down on the back of his tongue, his throat, and he had to back off, eyes watering. He swallowed hard and tried again, and again, until he lost himself in the rhythm and the absorbing discomfort of it.

Hannibal's cock was slippery from his mouth and from the pre-come that Will could taste at the back of his tongue. It slid between his lips, stretched his mouth too wide and made his jaw ache. Saliva dripped over his chin, and he reached to wipe it away.

Hannibal caught his wrist. "Leave it," he said. "I like seeing you like this. Pushing yourself so hard to please me. Practice will do wonders. Someday, I'll watch you choke yourself on my cock, right down to the base."

Will moaned and twisted his wrist in Hannibal's grip. He wanted to touch himself, but couldn't get free. He sucked harder, stroked the shaft with his other hand, licked and licked under the head. Hannibal's grip tightened, and his nails dug in, and he was coming silently, head tipped back so that Will could only see the arch of his neck and his parted lips.

He pulled off, breathless, and let Hannibal haul him up, half in his lap, one knee on the chair, and kiss him. Their mouths pressed together and opened, Hannibal sucking on his tongue until Will could only clutch his arms for balance while the world spun around him.

Hannibal took him by the hips and repositioned him, nearly lifted him up and set him down again. Will rode his thigh, hips rocking automatically and reaching for the button of his jeans.

"No," Hannibal told him, caught his wrists and pulled his arms behind his back.

The left twisted up, awkward and on the verge of pain, but Hannibal was gentle with the right even now, and Will felt no strain in his shoulder, nothing but the warmth of Hannibal's arms around him, constricting him, contracting his world down to the narrow points of his forehead on Hannibal's shoulder, his dick hard in his jeans rubbing feverishly against Hannibal's thigh.

"Just like this," Hannibal said. His breath brushed across Will's cheek. "This is all I will allow you, so make the most of it."

Will knew how he must look as he ground his hips down, awkward and ridiculous and desperate. The knowledge made him flush, heat in his chest and his face and his cock. He pulled against Hannibal's grip, not to escape, but to feel it tighten and lock him down.

Hannibal's lips brushed his cheek. "You won't get away," he murmured. "And we both know you don't really want to. You only struggle because you know I can hold you. You want this, the humiliation of it. Working so hard just to come in your jeans. I wouldn't want your mess all over me."

Hannibal's voice was low and almost soothing, and it made Will burn. The friction kept him just on edge, not quite enough, and the muscles of his thighs and back ached as he moved.

"Liar," Will gasped. "You want it just as much as I do. You want my fucking blood on your hands. I bet you want to taste it."

Hannibal's nails dug into his arms, and he stooped over Will like something wild bearing down on its prey. His teeth sunk into Will's shoulder, sharp and bruising. Will whined and almost sobbed as he came.

He fell forward with the sudden release of tension, limbs weak, head spinning. Hannibal gathered him against his chest and spoke to him softly. The tone got through, soothing and gently approving, but not the actual words.

Will felt he had to move, respond, do something. The alternative left him a passive heap of twitching nerves, and he could do better than that. Should do better than that, except that when he tried to sit up, Hannibal pulled him back with ridiculous ease.

"Stay a moment," he said, and the contrast of these words, perfectly intelligible, to what he'd been saying before, made Will frown.

"That was French. I don't speak French."

"Yes, I'm aware. And so you can't be distressed by anything I might say in it."

"What…" But he knew what Hannibal had been saying. All the things Will had told him not to say, praise and undeserved compliments. Hannibal had said them anyway, even if Will couldn't understand. He couldn't begin to sort through how that made him feel, although a large part of it was terrified. "I'm going to clean up," he muttered, and started to pull away.

“Stay. Tell me what concerns you.”

"I can't just sit here."

"Why not?"

"I don't need to be coddled. Or whatever this is."

"But you would be perfectly happy to sit at my feet."

Will looked away, face heating. He couldn’t deny it.

"And if I tell you that I would prefer to have you closer right now?"

The pressing need to escape eased at that. Will glanced at him, his jaw faintly stubbled and his mouth a straight, serious line. "I'll have to clean up at some point," Will said.

"Soon enough, I promise. Let me have you for now."

He let himself lean into the curve of Hannibal's arm. "You've had me most of the day."

"Mere minutes at a time, and you make me work for each one," Hannibal said, but he was smiling.

"I don't know why you bother."

"Yes, you do. You may have difficulty seeing yourself as a prize, but you're more than aware of how I perceive you."

"Doesn't mean it makes sense."

"Think of me as one of your killers. My motives can't be more difficult to fathom than theirs."

Will stifled a yawn. His jeans were sticky and getting cold, and his throat felt raw. They really would have to move in a minute, but now that he was settled, with Hannibal's arm around his shoulders and the other at his waist, it barely seemed worth it.

"The thing with the scalpel and the dining room table," Will said. "We can do that."

Hannibal paused, and his hand stilled on the back of Will's neck. "Yes?"

"Yeah. Definitely."

Chapter Text

Will went to sleep in Hannibal's bed, Hannibal's chest rising and falling against his back like the steady tick of a metronome. He woke to cold and stiff muscles, darkness and confusion.

Lights shone above him, haloed with mist. No bed. Hard surface under his feet. He straddled a dashed yellow line. Someone—Hannibal—was saying his name.
 
"Will? Are you back with me now?"

Will nodded uncertainly, and Hannibal took his arm to lead him back toward the sidewalk.

"Your phone woke me, and I found you gone. The front door was open."

"Sleepwalking?"

"Yes. Let's go back inside."

Will let Hannibal steer him along an unfamiliar street, rows of dark houses, neat lawns, and luxury cars. When they turned the corner, he could see Hannibal's house, the only one with its lights on. Hannibal himself was wide awake and fully dressed. Will leaned on the hood of Hannibal's Bentley as they passed. It was warm.

"You've been looking for me a while?"

Hannibal glanced at his hand on the car. "Yes. I couldn't find you at first, and I feared you'd wandered farther afield. Have you done this before?"

“Not recently. Who called me? Jack?"

"Yes. I imagine he's tried again since then."

Will rubbed his eyes and jogged up the stairs to the bedroom. It was just after three. Jack had called the first time about forty minutes ago and five times since then. It rang again, and Will nearly dropped it.

"Hello?" he said.

"Where the hell have you been?" Jack said.

"Sleepwalking. I woke up in the middle of the road."

A thick silence followed. "Are you okay to drive?"

"I don't know," Will said. He felt detached from the world, floating free. It wasn't entirely unpleasant.

"There's been another Ripper killing," Jack said.

He closed his eyes. "Give me the address," he said. "I'll be there."

The smell of coffee drifted up to him as he walked down the stairs. The kitchen halogens shone with the same misty aura as the streetlights outside, a softening of the world that Will couldn't seem to rub from his eyes. Hannibal handed him a glass cup, black with one sugar.

"Must you go?"

"Yeah. It's the Ripper again." He groaned. "My jeans. Dammit."

"They're in the dryer. They must be nearly done."

He slumped against the counter in relief. “Thank you. For the coffee and for doing my laundry."

"It is my fault it needed to be done."

The memory of rocking mindlessly in Hannibal's lap swept over him, and he looked down at the floor as he nodded. He started to make his escape to the laundry room, but Hannibal caught his arm as he passed and tugged him closer, kissed the bite mark on his shoulder and the fading one on his neck and finally his mouth, lingering and warm, until Will was leaning into him, everything else momentarily forgotten. One hand curved over his ass, and he shivered.

"Are you ever going to…"

"All good things to those who wait," Hannibal said, and kissed him again. His fingers slid along the back seam of the pajamas, warm through the slippery silk. “Shall I drive you? Please," he said, as Will opened his mouth to object. "A simple yes or no. I'm already dressed and unlikely to sleep again. It would be no trouble."

Will hesitated, but the sleepwalking had shaken him more than he wanted to think about it, and he was unlikely to feel better after the Ripper scene. "Yeah," he said. "Thanks."

Hannibal nodded, and Will left. When he came back, dressed in yesterday's clothes, Hannibal had two travel mugs of coffee ready.

The world outside Hannibal's Bentley flashed past in a series of still frames: one house awake on a dark street, Christmas lights up far too early, one lone jogger under a streetlight. When they drew near to their destination, Will could see blue and red lights flashing between the trees as they pulled up next to the park.

Jack bore down on them and stopped short. "Are you all right?" he asked, and then, to Hannibal: "Is he all right?" Not even a hint of surprise at seeing Hannibal here, maybe some relief.

"I certainly hope so," Hannibal replied. Even, calm. As always.

“So do I, Dr. Lecter,” Jack said. “I’m trusting you to—”

Will didn't wait to hear the rest of it. He slipped sideways into the shadows, cut around a few slim, young trees, and found Beverly at the edge of the yellow tape. He handed her his untouched coffee.

She held the tape up for him. “You are literally the best person on Earth.”

"Wait till you taste it."

She gave him a wary look, but took a sip. Her expression changed slowly to one of slightly confused bliss. "That was a lie. This coffee is the best person on Earth, and I'm going to marry it. We’ll have delicious children. Come on, I'll show you the body."

"Jack said it was the Ripper."

"We're waiting on you to say for sure, but it matches up. Probably.”

“Probably?”

"Well, we’re assuming missing organs from the incision in the abdomen, but we can’t open it up till we get back to the lab. Also we can’t find the head.”

More tape blocked off the scene, and a few plastic stepping stones led up to the body to preserve any prints in the surrounding earth. It hung upside down by the ankles from a tree branch. Female, naked, a line of heavy black stitching up the stomach. A pool of blood had collected in the frost-tipped grass under the stump of her neck.

"It's Mallory,” Will said. “The police chief from Ohio. Don't you recognize her?"

"Without her head? No. No, I don't. Are you sure?"

“Look at her hand. Same wedding ring. Even the same nail polish.”

"We'll run the prints against hers. And call her house." Beverly stared at the body, face blank. "She had two kids."

"I remember."

"You want me to get rid of some of these people?"

"It would help."

She started clearing the scene, and Will tuned her out, tuned out the shuffle of footsteps around him, Jack's voice raised in the distance, the repeating loop of the police flashers. The yellow tape and stepping stones vanished.

The park settled into a black and silent night, chill wind whipping around a lone figure with the body of Cecelia Mallory slung over his shoulder. She was still warm. Strangled. Will could fit his fingers into the blooming bruises on her neck.

She had been tall for a woman, fit, dense muscle, not an easy burden. He laid her on the grass at the foot of the tree and cut open her stomach. He removed the organs, scooped her out clean and prepared to fill her up again.

“Her head’s in the abdominal cavity,” Will said, eyes still closed. He didn't know if there was anyone there to hear him, but usually someone was. Waiting for the oracle to speak.

“Why?” Jack said.

Will opened his eyes and looked between Jack and Hannibal, both of them carefully neutral, Jack shading to grim, Hannibal shading to distant.

"Are you two done arguing about me?" he asked.

"For the moment," Hannibal said.

Jack's jaw twitched. “Beverly said it's the police chief from Ohio.”

“She killed Lucy Mather and Corbin and the others. The Ripper told her he knew her secret. He told her to come here. And he killed her. Head in her stomach. She literally consumed herself with grief. Or revenge.”

“Why did she kill them? She knew the boy who drowned?”

“Yeah. There was a picture in her office. I think it was him. She must’ve found something in Corbin’s notes about it after he retired.”

"So what does the Ripper care about Mallory?"

"He's showing us up. Correcting our mistakes." There was something so familiar about it. Will stared at Mallory's body, the stomach distended with her guilt. Like Sanders, who she was wasn't as important as what she was. Like Cassie Boyle and Marissa Schur, except he'd moved on from pointing out the killer to disposing of them himself.

"It's the copycat," Will said. "The Chesapeake Ripper is Garret Jacob Hobbs's copycat."

"But Nicholas Boyle--"

Will was already shaking his head. "I don't care. There's some explanation. This is right. This makes sense. The same hostility, the same contempt and condescension, not just toward his victims, but toward us. Cassie Boyle and Marissa Schur were demonstrations. Pointers. To see if we could learn. Sanders and Mallory are because we couldn't."

"To prove he's better than us?" Jack said.

"He doesn't have any doubt he's better than us. That was never in question." Will rubbed at his head and waved Jack off. "I need to think. Just give me a minute."

He walked down the path to where it descended a low hill in three flagstone steps. He sat on the lowest one and rubbed at his face. Sweat had gathered at the back of his neck, but his teeth wanted to chatter, and his hands and feet felt nearly numb. It wasn't even that cold. He couldn't see his breath in the air.

Hannibal sat down on a step above him and laid a hand on his shoulder. Will leaned an inch closer until his arm touched Hannibal's calf. As close as he could get without causing comment.

"How are you?" Hannibal asked.

"Hot. Cold. I don't know." He shook out two aspirin and swallowed them dry.

"What happened to your coffee?"

"Beverly's proposing marriage to it. I'll get your mug back, don't worry."

"That's not high on my list of concerns at the moment. Nicholas Boyle’s DNA was found on Miss Schur's body."

"Planted."

"I would like to believe you, Will. I simply don't see how it's possible."

"Somehow!" It was right, had to be right. He wasn't losing it, whatever Hannibal's gentle tone implied.

"All right. Please don't upset yourself." Hannibal squeezed his shoulder. "Perhaps we should go home." He paused. "Back to my house."

Will smiled a little. "You want me to believe that was a slip?"

"You may, of course, believe what you like."

"I've spent a lot of time at your house recently."

"Is that a problem?"

"It's not a problem for you, is it?"

"If it were, I wouldn't continue to invite you."

"No, I mean… I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, but you actually want me around."

"Is that unusual for the people you find yourself in relationships with?"

"More than you might think."

"Is there anything else you can do here tonight?"

Will sighed. "Not really. I just need to think, and my head feels like it's full of fog."

"You've had an unsettled night."

"I should go home. If you can just give me a ride back to my car…"

"Of course. Is there anything else I can do?”

He closed his eyes and rested his face in his hands. "Honestly? I want you to take me back to your house and kiss me in your kitchen until I forget everything else. That's why I'm going. I have to focus."

"In the morning," Hannibal said. "Go in the morning if you must. For now, let me take you home."

"I'm really not up to…much. My back is killing me. Thighs, too."

"I believe I can kiss you without any further injury. Is the kitchen a requirement?" Will could hear the smile in his voice.

"It feels good there. You feel good there. It's where you're the most comfortable. The most you. I like it."

"I like it a great deal myself." Hannibal took his arm and rose, pulling him up as well. "Let us go."

“I’ll meet you at the car. I just want to ask Beverly something and get your mug back.”

Hannibal nodded and released him. “Of course.”

Will watched him walk away until he disappeared into the shadows under the trees, gray coat fading in the gray light. He found Beverly, watched as she chugged the remainder of the coffee, retrieved the mug, and then caught up with Jack.

“Assume for a second that I’m right about the Ripper being the copycat. What do those crimes and the latest set of Ripper kills have in common?”

Jack shoved his hands in his pockets and turned away from Will to watch them take down Mallory’s body.

“Us,” he said. “We were investigating Hobbs, we were investigating the murders we’re assuming Mallory committed. We should’ve been investigating Sanders.”

“Yeah. The killings are getting closer to home. Maybe he is too.”

“Closer how?”

“I don’t know. But something’s changed. The themes he’s exploring are different. Justice and morality. That’s a long way from where he was with the last set.”

“You said he wasn’t going vigilante.”

"You can paint a representation of justice without having any interest in forwarding the cause yourself."

Jack nodded, though he didn’t look entirely convinced. “Anything else?”

“Yeah. You owe Hannibal an apology.”

“It’s his job to—“

“His job is listening to rich assholes talk about their neuroses. He’s doing this out of friendship. For both of us. Don’t make him pick sides and especially don’t do it with me standing right there. Jesus, Jack. Don’t treat him like an employee.”

“Don’t treat him like I treat you. That’s what you’re saying.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

Jack let out a slow breath. “Fair point. I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Hannibal was standing next to the Bentley when Will got there. He opened the passenger's side door, and Will let the cushioned, silent interior swallow him up.

"I haven't seen you do that before," Hannibal said, as he pulled out.

"My party trick?"

"Does it go over well at parties?"

Will breathed out a laugh. He'd hoped to keep the bitterness inside, but no luck. "Only very specialized parties."

"You don't strike me as someone who is particularly interested in parties."

“Parties aren't interested in me."

"Except for the very specialized ones. You are becoming a fixture at Uncle Jack's."

"What did you think? It's not much to look at."

"It's the result that matters, not the appearance."

"I asked what you thought."

"My honest opinion?"

The corner of Will's mouth twisted up. "That sounds like a warning."

"Perhaps you should take it as such. I wished I could take the top off of your skull and dip my hand inside. Touch. The other senses seemed inadequate, and I wanted the full experience."

A heated shiver passed through Will's chest and settled at the base of his spine. He leaned his temple against the cool glass of the window. "That's…"

"Intrusive? Too morbid?"

“Weirdly arousing?”

Hannibal laughed softly. "I did tell you I was initially attracted to you for your mind."

Will glanced at him. "Better not stir it up too much if you get your fingers in there. It won't do you any good as mush."

"I will treat it with the utmost care and respect. Have I not so far?"

"Point." Will rubbed his hands over his thighs. "You said you'd never done this before."

"Caused someone pain for the purpose of sexual pleasure? No."

"Have you ever thought about it?"

"Once or twice. In the end, I did not believe it would be worth the effort. I had no such doubts about you."

"That's flattering. I think."

"And you? Have you given it much thought in the past?"

"No. Not this. Not what we're doing."

"Something similar? Or related?"

"I used to think about worse things," Will said slowly. "I used to think about someone hurting me. Much worse than you have, or will, or can. Stuff that would have put me in the hospital. At least in the hospital. Maybe in the ground."

"Is that what you thought of when I spoke of sinking my fingers into your brain?"

"Yeah. It wasn't sexual though."

"What was it?"

"It was comforting. This shadow figure cutting into me, blood everywhere, telling me it would be all right, everything would be all right." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "I didn't really want it to happen. It's just something I used to think about."

"The use of violent fantasies as a release for tension is hardly uncommon. Have you considered that they may have been an externalization of your fears?”

“I’m not afraid of the people I empathize with.”

“No. You are afraid of yourself.”

The road hissed by under the tires. Will looked down at his own hands where they clutched at his knees. “You’re saying I was imagining someone doing to me what I was afraid I might do to someone else.”

“I’m inviting you to consider the possibility.”

Will reached out to turn up the heat and pulled his coat tighter around him. “I’m not sure I want that invitation.”

“Will you tell me if you begin to have these fantasies again?"

"I'll think about it." He sighed. "That probably means yes."

Hannibal gave him a half smile and laid a hand on the back of his neck. "Unable to refuse me?"

"Don't sound so smug. I can refuse you just fine.”

"But not this."

Not much, Will thought. He didn't reply, and the rest of the ride passed in silence. A few houses on Hannibal’s street were waking. Frost silvered the leaves, and pre-dawn light rolled across the ground like pearls. Hannibal took his hand at the front door and led him into the kitchen.

"I should go," Will said.

"Sit on the counter."

"Why?"

"Because I asked you to.”

Will boosted himself up to sit on the stainless steel countertop. "I feel like I'm breaking about ten rules here. What happens if I get marks on your cupboards? Do I get excommunicated?"

Hannibal pushed his knees apart and stood between his legs. "I'm sure I could think of some suitable reparation. I like having you in my kitchen. Very much."

Will slipped his fingers under Hannibal's tie, a blue and maroon tangle of paisley. He couldn't bring himself to grip it as tightly as Hannibal had gripped his, but Hannibal leaned into him with no more than a gentle tug.

Their lips met and held, warm, dry, and almost chaste. Hannibal laid one hand on Will's thigh, thumb sliding hard against the inner seam of his jeans.

It passed over the now-bruised line of the switch, and Will made a noise that was half protest and half hopeless arousal. Hannibal kept his thumb there and dug it into the tender flesh. He angled his mouth against Will's, coaxing his lips apart, deepening the kiss until Will had crushed the silk of his tie in one fist and grasped his shoulder with the other.

Will pulled back with a gasp. "I have to go," he said. His eyes skated over Hannibal's face.

"Are you waiting for my permission?"

He was, in a way. He'd go anyway, had to, the work was too important. But he'd like Hannibal to release him and send him on his way. That might be enough to let him lie and get away with it.

"Maybe," he said, eyes downcast, two fingers brushing the skin of Hannibal's throat. "Yeah. Can I?"

For three heartbeats, Hannibal said nothing. The air thickened between them. "Very pretty," Hannibal said, finally. "Not very sincere, but very pretty. I suppose I should say I don't appreciate being manipulated."

"But you do appreciate it."

"You choose your moments carefully."

"I try. You don't leave yourself open to it that often." He brushed his lips along Hannibal's neck. "You want me to ask you on my knees? I would."

Hannibal's grip on his thigh tightened momentarily and then released. He took Will's face between his hands and kissed him once more. "You're a menace. Go," he said.

Will slid off the counter and went, no goodbyes. In the car, he drove toward the dawn. Sunlight stung his eyes. Home, take the dogs out, feed them, feed himself. No class today, so he could focus on the case. The day marched on ahead of him, firm and ordered. He was in no way surprised when he turned aside from its rut, bypassed the on-ramp, and put the sun at his back. The basement room where Sanders had kept Chloe pulled at him.

Will parked behind a police cruiser on Waterton. The low angle of light caught the street, and it shimmered with oil spots, salt crystals, and the snaking black lines of road repair. He jogged down the stairs to basement level and saw the uniform on the door. Freddie Lounds leaned against the wall next to him, cigarette hanging from her lips as the cop bent to light it for her.

Will snatched it and threw it to the ground. "You don't even smoke. She's a reporter," he added to the uniform. "I'm sure she was very flattering, but if you want to have a job this time next week, you probably don't want to listen to her."

Lounds gave him a flat look. "What brings you out this early, Mr. Graham?"

"My job."

"Funny, me too. Is there any particular reason you're revisiting this location when you have a fresh body to look at?"

"You can leave, or I will be more than happy to have you thrown off the property. Or do it myself."

"And you are, sir?" the uniform said.

"Will Graham, FBI." He held up his ID.

“That’s a temporary ID. Better watch him while he's in there," she said to the uniform. "He's not quite right upstairs, if you know what I mean."

His sleepless night wound the anger inside him like a spring. "You want me to show you how not quite right I am? Get away from me. You're trash, Lounds. You pollute the air."

Her eyes narrowed briefly, and then she smiled at him. "You know, it's not very smart to piss off someone who blogs about people like you for a living, sweetheart."

She sauntered off, and Will took a slow breath.

The uniform gave him a dubious look, but he did unlock the door and let Will pass.

Inside, the room looked the same as he'd last seen it. A shard of the lamp lay on the floor, red ceramic patterned with white stripes. Will sat on the bed. He closed his eyes and watched the present fall away.

Sanders stalked in and dumped Chloe's unconscious body on the bed. He stroked a hand over her hair. Will watched from the shadows of the main room. He'd already been there when Sanders arrived, two steps ahead, waiting. Sanders looked her over once more and touched her cheek. Will felt a mild, distant disgust watching him, and he knew the feeling wasn't his. His own disgust would’ve choked him.

Sanders backed out of the room and dropped the bar into place. He watched Sanders climb the stairs. The door opened and closed. He’d catch up with him later, at his house. It would be easy.

Will lifted the bar and swung the door open. He did not look at the small figure on the bed. Gallon jug of water set down in the corner. Gloved hand turning on the lamp. Black leather, fine stitching, familiar—

“—all right? Hey, Agent Coffee, snap out of it!"

Will opened his eyes and blinked against the harsh light. The basement room was gone. He stood in the cafeteria at Quantico where he'd solved the Chesapeake Ripper's code on a napkin two nights ago. The woman behind the counter had a hand on his shoulder. She watched him with a combination of irritation and concern.

Beverly pushed through the double glass doors with a travel mug in hand and stopped short when she saw Will. “Were you here the whole time? I've been calling you all morning."

"What— What time is it?"

"After eleven. Was your phone off? Jack tried you too."

He'd gone to the Waterton house around seven. He searched his memory desperately for anything to fill the intervening hours, but there was nothing. The room, the Ripper, a blank space, and now this.

He passed a hand over his face. His throat ached, and his skin felt too tight. Beverly was waiting for an answer. "Why?" he said. "What— Was there another one?"

"You haven't seen it?"

"Seen what?" Dread pooled in his gut. Not a body. Beverly wouldn't look like that over a body.

She got out her phone and poked at it for a few seconds. When she held it up for him to see, he recognized the colors and layout of TattleCrime immediately, but his eyes skipped over the headline. All he could see was the picture.

Hannibal's house, front door standing open, Will pressed against the door frame. Hannibal pressed against Will. His eyes skipped back and forth between Hannibal's fist around his tie, their mouths sealed together, the expression on his own face.

It was the last that slid a tendril of violation up his throat to choke him. Hannibal's face was mostly hidden by the angle of the camera, but his own showed every last flicker of his hope and desire and desperation. His heart and breath hung for a long second before a wave of nausea slammed him back into the world.

"You can take him into the back room," the woman behind the counter was saying. "There's a couple of chairs back there, and I'll bring him some water."

"Thanks," Beverly said. She took his arm.

Her phone was back in her pocket, but Will still saw the picture, whether his eyes were open or shut. A creeping numbness moved through his limbs, and his steps shuffled on the worn industrial tiles.

Cardboard boxes of potato chips and instant mashed potatoes lined the back room. Two folding chairs leaned against a cooler. Beverly unfolded them both and sat him down.

"You okay? I thought we might lose you there for a second."

"Fine, I'm fine." He pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes until he could see nothing but swimming colors. "I just went back to the house where Sanders was keeping—”

"Will. Stop."

"It's important. The water—”

"Fuck the water."

At that point, the woman behind the counter stepped into the back room with a bottle of Dasani for each of them and stopped short.

Beverly sighed. "Different water."

"Uh huh." She pressed one bottle into Will's hand and then laid a broad palm across his forehead. Rough and cool, it felt oddly like his father's hand. Will leaned into the touch. "Your boy's burning up," she said to Beverly. "Might want to think about getting him to a doctor."

She left them alone again. Beverly ducked her head and pulled one of Will's hands away from his face, but she couldn't make him meet her eyes.

"You know why you don't sleep with your psychiatrist?" she asked.

"He's not," Will mumbled. "I checked. No one's paying him. They're just conversations. Jack knows that. He's got no right to complain about my private life."

"You don't sleep with your psychiatrist because the whole point of seeing him is to tell him things that you can't tell your friends. Or your family. Or your boyfriend."

Will felt raw all over and he couldn't quite hide his flinch. He knew he should've told Hannibal about the hallucinations, should certainly tell him about losing the last four hours. The pockets of time they’d had together were oases, too good to spoil. He laced his fingers behind his neck. "You may have a point," he said.

"Something is going on with you," Beverly said. "I didn't want to push. I figured Dr. Lecter was handling it. But you haven't said a word to him, have you?"

"Not about this. Not for a while." He cracked the seal on his water bottle and downed half of it in one go, throat burning. The earth was crumbling under his feet. Time to jump. "I don't know where I've been for the last four hours. I can't remember."

"Shit," she said softly.

"I see things that aren't there. My head feels like it might crack open any second. Has for…forever, maybe." He smiled at her, an undoubtedly sickly expression. "I'm starting to think there might be something wrong with me."

She stared at him for all of two seconds before she whipped out her phone and started dialing. "Right, I'm calling Alana. How long has this been going on? Jesus Christ, Will, you could have a fucking brain tumor."

A hazy shroud woven from relief and fear hung over the next few minutes. Will focused on the cool slide of water down his throat, the smell of coffee and rancid oil in the air, and on not running away.

"She wants to talk to you," Beverly said. She held out the phone.

"Hi?" Will said.

"You're scheduled for an MRI this afternoon at Johns Hopkins and you have a neurology appointment after that with a friend of mine, Dr. Josephine Bellamy. Are you experiencing any symptoms right now?"

"I'm fine. Except for the headache. Can you do something for me?"

"Something else?" Her tone was dry, but he could hear her smile, too, and it warmed him.

"Something else. Don't call Hannibal."

"If you're going to try to defend him—”

"I'm not up to defending either of us. I just don't need things to be any worse than they already are, and I don't know how Hannibal's going to react if Jack gets in his face over this. He's not used to people questioning him. I'd like you to be a neutral party."

"I don't feel neutral, Will."

"Responsible adult? Designated driver?"

Her chuckle was reluctant, but honest. "I'll try." She paused. "You can't keep seeing him. You know that, right?"

"Officially speaking, I'm not seeing him. They're just conversations. Or did you mean I can't keep having sex with him?"

She sighed. "I think I mean he better give you a referral, or I'm going to drown him in his own homemade beer. Sorry. We'll talk about this later, when you're feeling better."

"Unless I have a brain tumor."

"A brain tumor will not get you out of that conversation. Four o'clock. You'll be there?"

"Yes. And, uh. Thanks."

He handed the phone back to Beverly before Alana could respond. If the scan showed nothing… The words repeated and chased each other around the circumference of his skull, no conclusion, no answer possible.

Chapter Text

The nurse gave him two hospital gowns, one for the back and one for the front. They helped, but they couldn't entirely hide the bruised lines that climbed up over his shoulder and they did nothing at all to disguise the two bite marks, one fading and one perfectly fresh.

They got him some curious looks, but no one commented. The resident who helped him into the MRI asked if he would be comfortable lying on his back. Will wasn't sure what would've happened if he'd said no.

Afterward, he spent half an hour parked in a wheelchair in a waiting room, toes and fingers frozen, a distinct draft blowing up his hospital gown. He was starting to worry about making the appointment with Alana's friend when the resident reappeared to tell him he'd be checking in and Dr. Bellamy would see him in his room.

That meant something on the scan, something they could see. Will slumped into the wheelchair with relief and an unwinding of tension that left him almost lightheaded.

"I'm really not supposed to discuss the results with you before your neurologist sees them," the resident said, apparently mistaking Will's relief for something else. "But I wouldn't say it's bad news."

Will laughed a little, just a puff of air, a lightening of his heart. "Don't worry about it. Even a brain tumor sounds good to me right now."

"That's not the response we usually get," the resident observed, and left him with a pile of paperwork to fill out.

Over an hour later, he eased himself into a hospital bed. He wore a pink plastic hospital bracelet on one wrist, and was missing about a gallon of blood. He tapped out a text message to Beverly:

they've admitted me, so probably not crazy

congrats!! seeing the doc soon?

yeah, she's coming here

fantastic. alana's stopping by, you want me to come with?

only if you promise to stay in the room and prevent us from having the incredibly uncomfortable conversation she's going to want to have about hannibal

no can do, you're on your own there buckaroo

He smiled and laid the phone down on his chest. His eyes closed on their own.

He stood in the basement room. The lid of the water jug lay in the palm of his hand. Water started to flow over the rim. It poured around his ankles, cold but steaming. Streamers of blood unfurled in its clarity to wrap around him and pollute everything they touched.

A gloved hand closed around his neck, and it shocked him awake. The angle of the sun had changed. His gown was soaked with sweat. A woman stood by the foot of his bed, dark skin, close-cropped hair, a sense of tight control. She held his chart, but she wasn't looking at it. She was watching him.

He waited for his breathing to steady enough to speak. "Dr. Bellamy, I presume?" he said.

She nodded, one slight inclination of her head. "Mr. Graham. You strike me as someone who is accustomed to nightmares."

"Gold standard observation, Doctor."

"Would you say they've been worse over the past three months or so?"

"Slightly."

"Headaches, hallucinations, lost time, sleepwalking. Anything else? Are the night sweats new?"

"No, those are old." He thought back over the time since he'd started working for Jack. "Fever, maybe. I don't own a thermometer."

"Fever, definitely. A hundred and one when you were admitted." She slid the chart back into its place at the foot of the bed. "You have encephalitis, Mr. Graham. The right hemisphere of your brain is inflamed. With your symptoms, I'm surprised you haven't seen a doctor before now."

"Didn't seem that bad."

She gave him a cool look that reminded him of Hannibal at his most detached. "Normally, I would put that down to macho bullshit, but, having just witnessed that nightmare, I believe you. Alana says you're a profiler for the BAU."

"That's right."

"Then I hope you're in therapy, but that's not my department. Have you considered participating in a sleep study?"

"Do you honestly think it would help?"

"I think if I had nightmares like that, I'd take the chance."

"I notice you didn't wake me up."

"There is a borderland between the mental and the physical that I don't encounter often in my work. It was interesting to watch you stroll through it." She clasped her hands behind her back. "We'll wait for your blood work to get back and then start treatment."

"How long before I can get out of here?"

"At least forty-eight hours. And rest when you go home. No work unless your next scan shows a marked improvement."

Will thought of the Ripper case. They were due for another body soon. "I can't miss work right now."

"Mr. Graham, this is not something you can brush off. The rest is as imperative as the medication. The world will continue to revolve without you."

"My boss seems to feel otherwise."

"I know Jack Crawford. Refer him to me if he gives you any trouble, and I'm sure he will."

They said their goodbyes, or Will did, and Bellamy gave him a sharp nod in return. She departed, and Will was left to eye the fading battery bar on his phone and wonder who to call about the dogs. It had to be Hannibal, he decided, though he was looking forward to explaining things to him only marginally more than he was to his upcoming conversation with Alana.

"Hi," he said quickly, when Hannibal picked up. "I'm in the hospital. I have encephalitis. Can you feed my dogs?"

There was a pause. "Of course," Hannibal said. "They've done a brain scan?"

"Yeah. Right side, all swollen up."

"I suppose the sleepwalking— But I would've expected other symptoms, especially in a case so advanced."

"There were other symptoms. I didn't tell you."

"May I ask why not?" Hannibal's tone was perfectly even, no hint of recrimination. Or of anything else.

"I…wasn't thinking clearly."

Hannibal said nothing.

Will closed his eyes and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. He wondered if they'd consider giving him morphine for his headache. "Can we talk about this later?"

Another pause. "May I come to visit you after I see to the dogs?"

"If you want."

"Of course I want to," Hannibal said. Will thought he detected a slight thaw in his tone. "I'll bring you something to eat."

"You don't have to. You've got a life. You've been spending a lot of time with me lately."

"Because I choose to. It is the usual case in relationships that both parties involved wish to see one another with reasonable frequency."

“Yeah, about that. Have you seen TattleCrime today?"

"One of my patients told me about the photograph. I haven't seen it yet myself."

"I'm sorry," Will said.

"It's hardly your fault."

"It is. She doesn't care about you. She's just out to get me. And I saw her this morning. Said something stupid."

"Regardless, the only person I hold responsible for this is Ms. Lounds. Shall I bring you anything else?"

"Yeah, my phone charger would be great."

Hannibal agreed to that, to a change of clothes, toiletries, and Will's copy of The Mauritius Command, but not his laptop or anything to do with work.

"You need to rest."

"I don't even feel that bad." But, truthfully, his eyes were closing again, and the sun hadn't yet set.

"Humor me. I’ll see you in a few hours."

He hung up without saying goodbye. Will laid his head back on the pillow. His hospital gown was still damp with sweat. A chill settled into his chest. He pulled the thin blanket up to his ears and tried to shut out the world.

A light tap on his door pulled him back. He couldn't tell if he'd slept or not. The light through the window waxed and waned as clouds passed in front of the failing sun.

Alana stood next to his bed. She smiled at him when he looked up. "How are you?"

"Fine. Except for my brain, apparently. Who would've thought."

"You have a diagnosis?"

"Encephalitis."

She sat down in the chair next to his bed with a sigh. "It sounds wrong to say I'm relieved, doesn't it? It's not a trivial diagnosis.”

"I'm not crazy and I'm not dying. I'll take it."

He struggled to sit, unwilling to remain cocooned in blankets like the invalid he was. In the process, he revealed both the hospital gown, clinging and translucent, and the bite mark on his shoulder. He could see the moment Alana spotted it. Her eyes flicked away and then back to it and then fixed resolutely on his face.

"You really want to go home, huh?" she said.

His throat closed up, and he could only nod. The people, the harsh fluorescent lights, the casual invasion of his space and privacy all ground against him like salt on raw skin. He still couldn't face the humiliation of calling a nurse for another gown, couldn't bear the fact that even the resources to care for himself had been stripped from him.

"Be right back," Alana said. She left the room and returned a few minutes later with pajamas and a robe. "Gift shop," she said, and left him to put them on without another word.

"Thank you," he said awkwardly when she returned. Gratitude tended to be awkward for him anyway, but this instance was particularly noteworthy.

"How long?"

"She said at least forty-eight hours." He tried to smile. "Think there's any chance they'll sedate me until I can leave?"

"And miss the delights of hospital food?"

"Hannibal's bringing me something," he said, and then wished he hadn't.

Alana rested her chin on her hand. "Are you looking forward to seeing him?"

Will passed a hand over his sheets, which did nothing to smooth out the wrinkles. He picked at the cotton ball taped into the crook of his arm where they'd drawn vial after vial of blood. "Not really. That obvious?"

She waggled a hand back and forth, noncommittal. "To him? Probably. Any particular reason?"

"I react badly to traps."

"Is that what this feels like?"

He looked away, out of the window. Red evening light hit the ventilation housing on the roof of the building opposite and stung his eyes. "I can't leave," he said.

"And everyone else gets to come and go as they please. Would it help to throw me out?" He could hear the warm, minute curl at the corners of her mouth.

"I just want to go home," he said.

"Is he feeding your dogs?"

Will laughed, short and bitter. "Of course he is. An hour out and back and then all the way here. Why wouldn't he?"

"I don't know. Why wouldn't he?"

"Are you here as a friend or as a therapist?"

"It's a mode of interaction I fall back on when I feel threatened. Just like you fall back on analysis and deflective language."

Will made a noise that could be charitably interpreted as acknowledgment. He squeezed his phone until his hand hurt, clutching at it as his last line to the outside world, though there was no one he wanted to call.

"I've never seen Hannibal in a relationship before," Alana said.

Will glanced at her, momentarily startled out of the quicksand of self-pity that sucked at his feet. "You've known him for a while."

"More than ten years. He's had affairs. Nothing more permanent, at least not that I ever heard."

"What makes you think this isn't one more affair?"

"Because I can't imagine him being stupid enough to believe that anything he got into with you would be that simple." The words should've stung, but her smile held nothing but affection.

He rubbed at the back of his neck, did his best to return her smile. "Complicated is my specialty. Do you still want to drown him in his own beer?"

"Absolutely. But I'm doing my best impression of a responsible adult." She touched his hand. "It's only two days. Want me to let you get some rest now?"

He nodded and then caught her wrist as she stood, throat full of words he owed her and couldn't say. "You always… I'm glad I know you. I always have been."

She tugged her wrist free and leaned down to fold her arms around his shoulders. Her hair brushed his cheek and neck. She smelled like soap and honey.

When she'd gone, he got up and walked to the window. The light outside had dimmed to dull gray. At home, dusk would creep across the fields and tap at his windows for an hour before it settled in to stay. Here, among the tall buildings, the delineation was sharper, less like falling asleep than the sweat and fear-drenched transition from nightmare to waking.

"I saw Alana on her way out," Hannibal said behind him. "She didn't say anything, but I don’t think she’s pleased with me."

"She wants to drown you in your own beer."

"I think it's somewhat late in the brewing process for that sort of addition." He paused. "How are you?"

"Not crazy."

"Is that something you were concerned about?"

"I've been concerned about that on and off for most of my life. The past few months have made the issue seem a little more pressing."

He could feel Hannibal close behind him now, not his warmth or touch, but a displacement of air currents and perhaps the subtle pull of their bodies' polarity, tiny electrical impulses jumping from one nerve to another.

"Who is your doctor?"

"Bellamy. Alana recommended her."

"We were at medical school together. She's very well thought of in her field."

Will shrugged. "As long as she fixes me and I get to go home."

"Yes, of course."

Will wrapped his arms around himself. The physical distance between them couldn't be more than a couple of feet, but a much wider gap yawned between their ease in Hannibal's kitchen in the small hours of the morning and this cool separation.

"I'm not sorry," he said. "I never promised to tell you everything."

"I wouldn't ask you to. The things we do not speak of shape our interior landscapes and draw us to those whose formative secrets have bent them in complementary ways."

"Have our secrets bent us in complementary ways?"

"I believe they have, yes," Hannibal said slowly.

"But you're still angry with me."

"Not angry, no."

"Then what?"

"Will you turn around?"

"No. Say what you're going to say."

Silence. Will felt he could hear the ventricles of his heart open and close over the noise of distant traffic.

"At the moment, I feel that you would take any suggestion of censure as an excuse to slip further away from me," Hannibal said, at last. "If that's what you want, you don't need an excuse."

"Why would I want that?"

"Many parts of your mind are still opaque to me. Perhaps you fear becoming an inconvenience. Perhaps you merely wish me to work to regain your affections."

"Neither of those sound like great choices."

"Can you suggest one of your own?"

Will thought ahead to the endless awkward conversations with everyone he knew, everyone they both knew. The inevitable whispers among Hannibal's society friends when the article became common knowledge. The steady grinding down of whatever had held them briefly together.

"Clean endings are better for everyone," he said.

"Perhaps." Hannibal laid a hand on his shoulder. "But let me assure you that whatever sort of ending you and I have, it will not be clean."

Will turned at that. Hannibal slid his hand down to Will's waist. The stark, remote expression on his face drew Will closer, intrigued by the possibility that ending this might hurt Hannibal as much as it would hurt him.

"Messy, huh?" Will said.

"You have no idea."

"Is that a promise?"

“It is.”

Sirens wailed and faded four stories below. Shadows fell across the flat line of Hannibal’s mouth. Will imagined what it would be like if they never kissed again.

"I'm still not sorry I didn't tell you," he said.

"And I am sorry that I was not more observant."

"You can't see everything."

Hannibal watched him, waiting, maybe, for a suggestion of how things would proceed between them.

"Did you bring dinner?" Will said.

"Yes. If you sit, I will set it out for us."

When Hannibal turned away, Will nearly stumbled, legs abruptly weak as the tension that had supported them unwound all at once. He sat down gratefully at the small orange formica table near the window.

Hannibal set two containers down and removed their lids. A rich, gingery scent flowed out. Will bent over his and let the steam warm his face. "That's amazing," he said.

“Silkie chicken in a broth. A black-boned bird prized in China for its medicinal values since the seventh century. Wolfberries, ginseng, ginger, red dates, and star anise.”

"You made me chicken soup," Will said. He blinked down at the dark flesh swimming in clear broth, the red of the berries like drops of blood or the throat of a hummingbird.

"If you prefer to oversimplify a complex and nuanced dish, then yes. I made you chicken soup."

"Sometimes you have to oversimplify. I hear symbols are important."

The stiff line of Hannibal's mouth softened. "Eat," he said.

They ate. Their legs brushed together under the table. Dusk faded into night.

"I have appointments most of the day tomorrow," Hannibal said as he packed up the remains of soup. "But I can bring you dinner again if you wish."

"I'd like that," Will said, and found to his surprise that he meant it. He stood and stepped around the table.

Hannibal spread his legs and maneuvered Will between them, hands on his hips, squeezing lightly. "Where did these come from?" he asked, fingering Will's blue cotton-poly blend pajamas.

"The gift shop."

Hannibal's low hum was disapproving at best. "I found nothing suitable at your house, so I brought you some of mine."

"I'm not wearing silk pajamas in here." Especially not when anyone who knew him at all would know they weren't his.

"These are quite modest," Hannibal said, amused. "Black cotton. I admit, I prefer you in silk, but not where others may see you."

The casual possession in that statement made Will flush. He leaned into Hannibal's hands, and Hannibal stood slowly to cup his face and kiss him, deep and wet and searching.

"It's the way your skin feels through it," Hannibal murmured. "So sweetly heated. The shadows of your body through sheer white. Someday I'm going to suck your cock through them. What a mess you will look afterward."

Will clutched at Hannibal's upper arms and pressed their bodies closer. "We really can't," he said, and then Hannibal was kissing him again, one hand spread out over the small of his back and the other fisted too tight in his hair, and Will was lost.

He didn't hear the knock, if there were one, and only distantly registered the sound of footsteps on the floor. A soft cough. Hannibal looked over Will's shoulder like a lion raising its head from a kill.

"Dr. Bellamy," he said.

"Dr. Lecter."

Hannibal's grip on Will had tightened at the interruption, but now he stepped back, smoothing down the creased fabric over Will's shoulders.

"A pleasure to see you, as always," he said.

"I just need a moment alone with my patient and then I'll be out of your way."

"Of course," he said and walked to the door, leaving Will to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand and fall into a chair.

"My resident told me about the state of your back," she said, as soon as the door was closed. "He was concerned. I am not normally a person to whom anyone brings non-medical concerns, so I must conclude that it has been preying on his mind."

"It's fine," Will said shortly.

"Consensual?"

"Yes."

"It was Lecter?"

Will looked up at her. "Seriously? Is that any of your business?"

"Not remotely. If it were anyone else I would be gone by now. I find this invasion of your personal life at least as distasteful as you do."

"You don't like him. I've never met anyone who doesn't like him."

"It is in my nature to mistrust charm, particularly when I can't see what lies beneath it."

"So, what? You're warning me off him?"

"Not at all. I know of nothing against him, either personally or professionally."

"I'd say not to be rude, but I'm willing to be rude at this point. What are you still doing here?"

"Assuaging what remains of my conscience." She handed him a card. "Call me if you require assistance, now or at any time in the future. Good night, Mr. Graham."

In the two seconds before Hannibal reentered the room, Will fought the absurd impulse to shove the card under his pillow. He dropped it on the table instead.

"She asked about the marks on my back," he said, lifting the bag Hannibal had brought onto the bed. He plugged in his phone and got out the pajamas.

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her I was fine and it was none of her business. I don't think she likes you." He glanced up to catch Hannibal's reaction, but, if there were one, Hannibal had it well under control.

"As I said, we knew each other at medical school. I'm afraid I wasn't always the man I am now."

"What did you do, put a cadaver in her bed?" He waved off Hannibal's answer. "Never mind, don't want to know. I'm going to change."

He took the pajamas into the bathroom since the entire world apparently felt free to wander into his room whenever they felt like it. Dr. Bellamy had called Hannibal charming. That didn't exactly suggest med school pranks. He watched his own face in the mirror as he did up the buttons. He looked puzzled. More puzzled than he felt, but mainly what he felt was exhausted.

The toiletries included Will's toothbrush and toothpaste, but Hannibal's soap. Apparently Will's hadn't been deemed acceptable, which he found more amusing than he probably should. Teeth brushed and face washed, he emerged to find his bed straightened and turned down and Hannibal in the chair beside it, reading a small book bound in red leather.

"You're not going?" Will said.

"I had planned to stay until you fell asleep. Unless you object?"

Will sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed at his eyes. "I don't need you here," he said, too tired to be anything blunt.

"Perhaps I need to be here," Hannibal said, without looking up from his book.

"You don’t. You're not that sentimental," Will said, but he swung his legs up and under the covers anyway, settled down to lie on his side and watch Hannibal's fingers slide over cream colored paper as he turned a page.

"Then perhaps I want to be here."

"Instead of at home, in a comfortable chair in front of the fire, in a room that doesn't smell like Lysol."

"I have reached a stage in my life where I am seldom required to do anything I don't want to do, Will. You may draw your own inference about my presence here."

"Turn the overheads off."

Hannibal marked his place with his finger and got up to turn off the lights. He tugged his chair a foot closer to the sconce on the wall and sat back down.

Will watched him, cheek cushioned on one hand, blankets pulled up to his ears. When he was young, he'd fallen asleep watching his father like this on too many nights to count.

Beau Graham had come home from the boatyards, put TV dinners in the oven for himself and his son, and sat on the floor in a little circle of broken things. It had been Will's job to get the dinners out of the oven almost as soon as he could walk, while his father fixed toasters and televisions, vacuum cleaners and sewing machines.

Will wondered what his father would've made of Hannibal, or if Hannibal were so far out of his realm of  experience that he wouldn't have been able to make anything of him at all.

"You're smiling," Hannibal said, with a glance over the top of his book.

"M'glad you're here," Will said, defenses finally slipping. His words blurred at the edges, eyes sliding inevitably shut. "It's really stupid how happy you make me sometimes."

He had a second to register the utterly blank expression on Hannibal's face, and then the void of sleep pulled him under.

A nurse woke him sometime in the night with painkillers for his headache and his first dose of medication. Will fought his way out of sleep to swallow them and fell back onto the bed when she was gone.

He remembered a few brief seconds of near-waking when Hannibal got up to go home. A clumsy, missed attempt to catch his sleeve, Hannibal sitting on the edge of his bed to place himself within reach. Will's mumbled demand for one more kiss, as if it were his right. Hannibal's hand cradling the back of his head and one chaste press of lips after another until Will had sunk back into unconsciousness surrounded by warmth and the scent of Hannibal's aftershave.

*

By morning, he'd woken three more times, but only once with nightmares. The other two had been noise from the hall or sirens from the street below. If he could get someone to rattle by with a loaded cart every hour or so, he might avoid the nightmares all together.

Beverly came to visit just after seven, with coffee and breakfast wraps from Starbucks and a furtive expression.

"I'm not really here," she said. "I'm letting you rest."

"You sound like someone gave you a lecture."

"Second hand lecture. You should've heard Alana with Jack. I almost recorded it for you."

"I'm fine," he said.

"That's what you said before, and it turned out half your brain was about to pop out of your skull. I'm not going to believe you when you say you're fine anymore."

"Would you believe me if I said I'm bored and I've only been awake for an hour?"

“I brought you a couple of newspapers.” She tossed them on the wheeled table next to his bed. “And The Forensic Examiner and Cosmo.”

“Cosmo?”

“Zeller gave me the forensics one, Price gave me Cosmo. I don’t know, I don’t question him anymore. He’d probably say it was cultural research.”

Will glanced over the headlines. The Ripper had been replaced on the front page by a gas explosion and a new murder, body found in a McDonald’s with a fork stuck through its tongue.

“This isn’t one of ours?” Will asked.

“Not unless it happens again. DCPD doesn’t want us.”

“So what are we doing? Have we got anything new?”

“I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you, but there’s not much to tell anyway. No new bodies, no real progress. Everyone’s been at it too long. I came back yesterday after I dropped you off and found Price and Zeller passed out on a couch in the break room together. Want to see a picture? Z’s drooling.”

“That’s okay,” he said, but she she showed him anyway, and he couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped him. “I hope you made copies.”

“So many copies. Z’s face when he sees it will be even better for my stress levels than the shooting range.”

He fidgeted. Their wraps were nearly gone, and time was slipping away. "Will you listen to me about the water now?" he said.

"The jug Sanders left in the basement?"

"It wasn't Sanders. That's what I was trying to say. It was the Ripper."

She paused with her coffee halfway to her mouth and set it back down. "He left her water, what, in case we didn't find her for a few days?"

"Extending our time limit. Yes."

"Why would he do that? Fuck. Why would he do that? He didn't care whether she lived or died. He couldn't. Right?"

“He has a personal code. That might be part of it. Or maybe he just wanted to see the conflict it would cause. You’re pretty angry right now. Jack won’t like it any better.”

She frowned at him. “How do you like it?”

“I don’t. This is an experienced killer, set in his ways, at the top of his game, and he’s trying something new. Why?”

She shook her head. “You tell me.”

“I can’t, but something’s different. He’s looking for a reaction, maybe.”

“From us?”

“From someone. I'll tell you if I come up with anything else."

Beverly eyed him. "Okay, but only because I know I can't stop you. I am officially letting you rest."

"I'll tell Alana your official position if she shows up."

"Good."

Will did more resting, officially and unofficially, than he wanted to. Between breakfast and afternoon, he didn't manage more than two pages together of his book without drifting off. The painkillers dulled the constant scream of his headache, and, without work to focus on, deprived of his usual stream of coffee, his body took its revenge.

By three, he'd resorted to scribbling semi-coherent notes on the case into the back of his book and wondering if Hannibal would bring him a goddamned notebook or if that were also on the contraband list.

"Hi," someone said.

He looked up, and then he looked about a foot and a half lower to where Chloe's face peered around the edge of the door.

"Can I come in?" she said.

"Uh. Sure. Hi." He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "What are you… Do your parents know you're here?"

She sidled through the door, clutching a battered field hockey stick. "Yeah. My little brother gets his asthma treatment here and we were in the lobby and I heard this lady ask a nurse about you and then I found out what room you were in and my mom said I had to give this back."

She pulled his knit cap out of her pocket and smoothed it carefully before darting forward to drop it on the foot of his bed.

"Oh," he said.

Her eyes were fixed on the floor. All he could see of her was her curls. "It was in the pocket when you let me wear your jacket. I'm sorry I took it."

"Are you?"

She glanced up at him. "It's wrong to steal things."

"It's wrong to lie, too."

"But she said I had to apologize."

"It's my hat. I don't care if you're sorry or not."

"You don't?"

"Not really. But that wasn't the lie I was talking about. I think your mom probably told you to write a letter apologizing and she'd mail the hat back, and she has no idea where you are right now."

"I'm supposed to be at field hockey, but they won't even let me go, like I'm broken or something when nothing even happened, and instead I have to come along to my stupid brother's stupid doctor's appointment and she's like blah blah blah sit and read a book!”

"And then you heard I was here."

"Yeah. So I went to find you."

Will sighed and tipped his head back against the pillows. "Must be rough to have all those people who care about you. I saw your dad crying when they came to take you home."

Chloe scowled at the floor. "You're gonna make me call her, aren't you."

"Yep."

"What if I don't have a phone?"

"I do."

She made a noise of wordless frustration and pulled a red flip phone out of her pocket.

Her side of the conversation consisted mainly of apologies and Will's room number. When she had hung up, she crossed her arms and turned to Will.

"She's coming to get me. Happy now?"

"Why'd you take it?"

"I just wanted to," she mumbled.

"Do you still want it?"

She looked up at him, wary. "Yeah."

"You can have it."

"Really?" He nodded, and she snatched it up and jammed it onto her head. It covered her eyebrows, and her curls stuck out in a enthusiastic halo around its bottom edge.

They both turned at the sound of hurried footsteps coming up the hall. A tall woman in corduroys and penny loafers engulfed Chloe in a tight hug. She squeezed her eyes shut, and, for a moment, Will was worried she might start crying. She took a deep breath and held Chloe by the shoulders.

"Please, please don't do that again. I was so scared when I couldn't find you."

"I was fine," Chloe muttered.

"But I didn't know that." She looked up at Will. "I'm so sorry about this."

"He said I could keep the hat," Chloe said.

Her mother gave the hat a dubious look and approached Will, hand outstretched. "My name is Lydia Bell. I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself properly that night. Or thank you. I couldn't think. Neither of us could."

Will shook her hand briefly. "Will Graham. Don't worry about it."

"Oh, I know who you are." She smiled. "Chloe hasn't stopped talking about you."

"Mom, can I stay here while Benny gets his treatment?"

"I think you've bothered Mr. Graham enough for one day." But the quick flick of her eyes between her daughter and Will left an opening of sorts.

To his surprise, Will took it. "I don't mind," he said, and gestured at the empty room. "My schedule's pretty free right now."

There was more negotiation, promises extracted from Chloe to be polite and wait for her mother's return, but the end was a foregone conclusion. Mrs. Bell had the look of someone at the end of her rope. Will had seen that look directed at him too many times not to recognize it.

"Did you get shot?" Chloe said, when her mother had gone.

"No. Encephalitis."

"What's that?"

"It's an inflammation of the brain."

"Oh. Can you die from that?"

"Yeah, but I'm not going to. They're treating it now."

"I can stand on my hands. Want to see?"

"Sure."

She set her hockey stick down on the end of his bed. Palms down on the floor, she flipped her feet up against the wall.

"Nice," he said. "You know, you don't have that much time before your mother comes back. Maybe you should tell me whatever it was you wanted to tell me."

"Who says there was anything?"

Will just waited. After a second, she flipped down and shuffled across the room to sit on the window ledge, feet swinging.

"I read about you online," she said. "You used to be a cop and you got stabbed and solved lots of murders. This one website says you're crazy."

Thank you, Freddie Lounds. "You wanted to ask me if I'm crazy?"

“It said you could think like the bad guys, that you did it all the time. Is that why you said you were glad he was dead?"

Will rubbed at his eyes and sat up straighter. He glanced at the door in the hope Alana would suddenly materialize. He didn't have the credentials for this conversation.

"You said it first. Are you worried there's something wrong with you? That I only agreed with you because I'm used to thinking like…bad guys?"

"Everyone keeps saying whatever I feel is okay, but what if I don't feel anything? I just want things to be like they were."

"Did you tell your parents that?"

"Yeah. They just looked worried. Dad does this face like an owl." She demonstrated, eyebrows crooked, stroking a beard she didn't have.

Will tried to come up with a tactful, non-traumatizing response, but neither of those were strong points for him. As usual, he had to fall back on the truth. "I'm glad he's dead because if he weren't, you would be. We had no idea he'd killed other kids. We weren't even looking for him."

“The guy who killed him was pretty bad, too. I found another article on that website and it told all about the organs he cut out of people and stuff."

Will winced. "Does your mom know you're reading that shi— site?"

"No way. She'd kill me. But it's my life. How can I be too young to read about my own life?"

"The Chesapeake Ripper didn't kill Sanders to save your life."

"Then why did he kill him?"

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out. If we know why, it’ll be easier to catch him.”

“Is that your job?”

“Yeah. That’s my job.”

"If you catch him, can I meet him?"

"No."

"But—“

"No, no buts, no chance."

"What if my parents said it was okay?"

"Your mother seems sane, so I can't imagine that happening, but no. Not even then."

"Why not! He saved my life."

Someone knocked on the door and pushed it open while Will was trying to think of an answer that wasn't 'because I said so’ and being grateful that he wasn't ever likely to have children. Hannibal walked in and raised his eyebrows when he saw Chloe.

"I didn't expect you to have company."

Will sighed. "Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Chloe Bell. From the Sanders case."

Hannibal took her hand and bowed over it very slightly. "Miss Bell. A pleasure to meet you."

She slid off the window ledge and shook his hand firmly, pumping it up and down. "Nice to meet you too, Dr. Lecter." She frowned. "Do you work for the FBI, too? Were you there that night?"

"I'm afraid not. I have consulted with the FBI, but not in this case."

“But I’ve seen you somewhere.”

"Oh?" Hannibal tilted his head a fraction to the left, hands clasped behind his back.

She frowned up at him. "I know. You're the guy Agent Graham was kissing in that photo." She looked at Will. "Is he your boyfriend?"

Will smothered the urge to pull the blankets over his head. "More or less," he said.

"You can't have a more or less boyfriend. Either he is or he isn't."

"He is," Hannibal said, perfectly solemn except for his eyes, which creased at the edges with amusement. "And speaking of that photograph, I caught Ms. Lounds asking about you down in the lobby,” he added, to Will.

"Is that who writes that website?" Chloe said. "Does she have super amazing red hair?"

"Yeah," Will said. "Is that who you heard asking about me earlier?"

"Yes. I want to talk to her."

"No," Will said.

"You won't let me do anything, you're as bad as my mom."

"What else won't he let you do?" Hannibal asked, looking far too entertained.

"I wanted to meet the Chesapeake Ripper if they caught him, but Agent Graham said no, not even if I got my parents to say it was okay."

"There are quite a few people apart from Will and your parents who would object to that, I think. You may wish to focus your energies elsewhere."

"Like where? No one wants to let me do anything. It's like I'm being punished for getting kidnapped."

"They are concerned for you. It's an illogical concern, since the event is unlikely to recur, but fear lingers in the mind and it will affect their decisions about you for some time to come. I'm afraid it is the price one pays for being loved. Complete freedom to do exactly as one desires is a lonely prospect, Miss Bell. I would not wish it on anyone."

Before Chloe could respond, before Will could begin to sort through the ways in which Hannibal probably meant that speech to apply to him, though he hadn't looked at Will once, Chloe's mother knocked on the door and slipped inside. She had a small, blotchy boy by the hand. He broke free and hugged Chloe around the waist.

"I got you a grape one," he said, and thrust a lollipop at her.

Will was mainly silent as they said their goodbyes, but he did give Chloe’s mother Alana’s office number. Someone in that family was going to need therapy at some point, even if it weren’t Chloe.

"A charming family," Hannibal said when they’d gone, though not with any particular enthusiasm.

"I guess."

"You don't agree?"

"I just don't understand how people can live like that. So tied to each other."

"You prefer your restraints to be literal."

"I like to know where they are, that's all. I thought you weren't coming until dinner."

"I had a meeting with a colleague in the building. When I saw Ms. Lounds, it seemed prudent to deal with her. I had to reschedule the meeting after that, so here I am."

"Deal with her?"

"We had a brief conversation. Nothing she would willingly quote on her website. Don't concern yourself."

Will shifted on the hard bed. He watched Hannibal's shadow on the floor. "Are you going now?"

"As I said, the meeting has been moved. We’re going to Leda for lunch, as a matter of fact. So I have some time if you'd like me to stay."

"I might fall asleep on you. I've been in and out all day."

"I don't mind."

Will looked down at his hands where they curled around the edge of the worn sheets. "Yeah. Stay. Please."

Chapter Text

Will was released the next day. He let Hannibal drive him home and take over his kitchen to make dinner. Will sat outside on the porch, wrapped in two blankets and several dogs, while the rest roamed in and out of the shadows.

Clouds streamed in front of a bone-sliver moon and blocked out nearly all the stars. He saw Venus, half of Orion, occasional flickers of the North Star. Belka dozed in his lap and drooled on his sweater.

It might have been the time away from home or just the medication, but everything seemed clearer, abruptly crisp, like the first autumn wind after a desperate, sweaty summer. He could feel the first prickle of a coming storm under his skin.

"Will?" Hannibal leaned out of the screen door. "It's almost ready."

Will disentangled himself from blankets and dogs and stepped inside to the smell of cooking. When he wandered into the kitchen, Hannibal was sliding flat fried slices of some sort of pale meat onto plates. He picked up the pan and poured out a sauce that smelled of lemon, studded with capers.

Will stepped closer to examine it over his shoulder. The meat was gray where it wasn't seared brown around the edges. The slices curled in on themselves in a familiar shape, one Will had seen most recently in the MRI images Dr. Bellamy had shown him.

He bit his lip against a smile. "Did you really make me fried brain for dinner?"

"I'm afraid I did," Hannibal said. "My butcher only rarely gets it in, and the timing was too much to resist."

Will muffled laughter against his shoulder. He slid his arms around Hannibal's waist and hugged him briefly. "I'll set the table," he said.

Hannibal turned, almost unbelievably fast, and caught Will's elbow. He pressed their mouths together, off-center, and then rested his forehead against Will's for a second. He turned back to the plates and their garnish of rose tomatoes and caviar.

After dinner, they walked out into the dark. The grass was beaten down now, folded in places to half its length and tangling around their ankles. Gray dog shapes darted around them, a hundred yards away and then suddenly snuffling into Will's palm. Frost imparted a crisp, crystalline quality to everything around them, even the air.

At some point in their slow ramble, Hannibal reached over and took Will's hand. His palm fit against Will's, warm and dry, and the curve of his fingers felt oddly engulfing. Will tried to remember the last time he'd done this, but no memory came to him.

When they turned back toward the house, Will stopped to look at it as he always did.

"Do you see?" he said.

"I see a light in the dark forest," Hannibal replied.

"How do you know it's not fire?"

"How do you know your boat won't be swept under by the storm?"

Will didn't answer. Hannibal let go of his hand and curled an arm around his shoulders, drew him close against his side. Will hesitated, and then slid an arm under Hannibal's coat, around his waist, and leaned into him.

Hannibal was right. The end wouldn't be clean. He'd missed his chance for that in the hospital, if it had been possible even then. He turned his face toward Hannibal's neck and kissed the steady throb of his pulse. His house glowed like a beacon in the corner of his eye.

"It will snow tonight," Hannibal said. "Can you smell it?"

Will nodded. The cold, wet scent poured down his throat like water with each breath.

"Have you walked in the woods at night on a fresh snowfall?" Hannibal said. "The light of the moon becomes amplified as if reflected through a prism."

Will closed his eyes. He could see the forest, the snow, one set of footprints winding between the trees. "How old were you?" he asked.

"When they were killed? I was eleven."

"You came home and found their bodies. The killers were still in the house."

"Yes," Hannibal said, perfectly calm.

"You killed them."

There was a pause this time, a slight tightening of Hannibal's hand on his shoulder, but at last Will felt him nod.

"Yes. One with my father's rifle. The other with a kitchen knife. It took the second man some time to die."

"Think of me as one of your killers, you said. You are one of my killers."

"Your favorite, I hope."

Will couldn't smile, lost as he was in the shadows of Hannibal's childhood, but he pressed himself closer, smoothed his hand over Hannibal's hip. "Yes, my favorite. Your sister?"

"Died days later of her wounds. It was a mercy."

"Was it?"

Hannibal shrugged. "For her, yes. There is no mercy for those left behind."

*

Hannibal washed the dishes when they got back to the house, and Will dried, despite Hannibal's disapproving look when he wouldn't sit down and rest.

"I feel fine. I feel better than I have for months."

"That doesn't mean you're well."

"I don't think drying a few plates is going to put me back in the hospital."

"Would it be more convincing to say I had hoped you would be well rested for tonight?"

Will glanced at him. "Marginally. I was expecting to get sent to bed early."

"I haven't touched you for three days."

Will swallowed. "Yeah, I noticed."

He finished the last plate and noticed his kitchen knife lying on the windowsill, on a folded towel. Hannibal caught his wrist when he reached for it.

"Leave that for the moment. I went to some trouble sterilizing the blade.”

"Sterilizing…oh," Will said, abruptly short of breath.

"You remember that night."

"I'm not likely to forget holding a knife to your throat."

"Would you like to do more than that?"

"To you?"

"Yes. To me."

Will nodded slowly, wide-eyed and staring. The other with a kitchen knife. "How did you do it? The second man."

"Under the ribs and up to the heart." He smiled briefly. "I got lucky. The simplest way to a man's heart is, anatomically speaking, through his stomach."

"How are we— Where—?” Will's hand itched for the knife, cock stirring his pants already. He felt hot and overwhelmed, and his heart vibrated in his chest like an overwound spring.

Hannibal gestured for Will to follow him. "Bring the knife."

In the next room, Hannibal sat upright in a wooden, straight-backed chair. The buttons of his shirt were half undone. He finished and removed it to hang it on the back of the chair.

Will walked toward him with the knife in his hand. Like one of his killers. Like Hannibal was his prey. His, to open up and take apart.

When he got close enough, Hannibal pulled him forward until Will was in his lap, straddling his thighs. Hannibal took his wrist and held it so the blade rested against Hannibal's left forearm.

"The line between adequate pressure and not enough is very fine," he said. "Likewise, the line between enough and too much."

He pressed down on the back of Will's hand, and Will could feel the faintest give in the skin beneath the blade. When he pulled his hand back, a line of red remained.

"You can feel it, can't you?" Hannibal said.

"Yes," Will whispered. He stared at it until it blurred and he had to rub at his eyes with his free hand. His breath came so fast he was nearly hyperventilating.

"Will." Hannibal took his face in both hands and lifted it until he couldn't see the cut anymore. Hannibal kissed his forehead. "I won't let you hurt me. I promise. You are perfectly safe. Do you believe me?"

Will nodded automatically. Believing Hannibal had become a habit. His skyrocketing heart rate began to wind down, and he took a few slow breaths.

Hannibal took his wrist again, thumb stroking over tendons and pulse point. "Do you want to stop?" he asked.

"No. I want— What can I do?"

Hannibal released him and rested his hands on Will's thighs. "Anything you like," he said.

"What if I go too deep?"

"I'll stop you if it becomes necessary. Don't concern yourself."

Will looked him over, the calm, set lines of his face, down the sharply shadowed tendons in his neck, over the flat planes of his chest, the curve of his ribs, the faint convexity of his stomach. He pressed the flat of the blade just below his ribs, and watched the way the skin stretched and light reflected off the metal.

A blurred image of himself looked back at him, distorted past recognition. He could be anyone. Garret Jacob Hobbs with a knife in his hand, slashing his daughter's throat. Anyone at all.

He faltered, gripping the handle too tightly. "I don't know where to start. I don't know how to…"

"You do," Hannibal said. He sounded so sure.

Though he felt as if his entire body were shaking to pieces, his hand was perfectly steady when he turned the knife on its edge and followed the curve of Hannibal's lowest rib. He remembered the pressure Hannibal had used for the cut on his forearm and replicated it as well as he could.

A red line followed in the wake of his knife, a drop of blood and then two welled up. He watched them pool together and overflow, a tiny inch-long trickle down Hannibal's smooth skin.

"Oh, my god," he said, breathless. "Oh, my god." He couldn't say or think anything else. There was no room in his head for anything but that image. Sweat gathered at the back of his neck.

Hannibal cupped a hand over his hard cock through his jeans, and Will's breath and heart stuttered. He looked up, caught and held by Hannibal's gaze.

"Again," Hannibal said. He squeezed lightly, and Will moaned and pushed into his hand. A fluttering heat spread up his stomach and chest.

Blood stained the edge of the knife, too.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," he whispered

"I can. You are capable of so much more."

Will moved the knife to the other side, to mirror the first cut. More pressure on the tip this time, so that the curve could be cleaner. It followed the last rib precisely. Will watched a single drop bead up at either end. These did not overflow, but grew more round and full until they looked like tiny cabochon rubies. Will wondered how Hannibal would look with lines drawn between each of his ribs, down his breastbone, over his hips, every part of his skeleton outline and defined.

"I want to see you," he said. "Every part of you."

Hannibal kneaded at his cock. Will bit his lip hard, drowning in heat. He pressed his feet against the floor and rocked up against the touch.

"You will," Hannibal said.

"You don't understand," Will said. "I want to see your bones."

Hannibal only smiled at him, a restrained expression of pleased benevolence. "Show me," he said.

Will lifted the blade and touched it to the knife-sharp angle of Hannibal's cheekbone. Both of them caught their breath simultaneously. Hannibal looked at him with hunger and greed and popped open the button on Will's jeans.

"Do it," Hannibal said. His voice was rough. He pulled at Will's zipper and shoved his hand inside to touch the bare skin of his cock.

"Everyone will see," Will said. He could hardly get any air behind the words, and the ordinary silence of his living room swallowed them up.

"Let them," Hannibal said. He wrapped his free hand around Will's throat, a warm, reassuring weight. "I want them to see what you do to me."

It felt like a declaration. Will met his eyes as he leaned in. The gathered energy and weight of his body bore down, little by little, until the knife did its work. He felt Hannibal's tiny flinch, the jerky swipe of his thumb across the head of Will's cock, and then he saw the slow slide of blood down Hannibal's cheek.

The knife fell from his hand, and Hannibal was kissing him desperately, working his cock until it felt raw. Will clutched at him and forced himself closer. His nails dug into Hannibal's back and caught at the angle of bone where his shoulder blade skimmed the edge of his spine. Will closed his eyes and could see a line of blood there as well, another opening cut into Hannibal's armor.

He lifted his other hand to Hannibal's face and felt the warm smear as his thumb passed over the wound. Hannibal stroked him hard, relentless, and Will came with a bright flash behind his eyes and a few seconds of roaring silence.

The world reassembled itself around him while he lay against Hannibal's chest. He didn't feel cold, but his teeth were chattering. Deep tremors spread out from his chest and left him weak and spent.

Hannibal pulled him close. One hand smoothed down Will's back, steady pressure between his shoulder blades. The other drew Will's head down to his shoulder and stroked his hair, over and over. Within a minute or two, Will's breath had calmed to match it.

He pressed one palm over the cut on Hannibal's side. The blood was sticky, not flowing, but not yet dry. Will felt his way up over Hannibal's shoulder and neck to touch his cheek. When he felt the line there, he had to raise his head and kiss it. The hand in his hair tightened briefly, but Hannibal said nothing.

Will pulled loose and got to his feet, legs unsteady. He took Hannibal's wrist and tugged. "Come on."

"Where are we going?"

"Bathroom. So I can clean those."

"It's not necessary. I'd planned to do it myself once I got you settled in bed."

"No. I'm going to do it."

"Very well."

Hannibal followed him, clearly amused, but Will couldn't leave this undone. He'd been the one with knife; it had to be him cleaning up the result. Even if Hannibal had to steady him a couple times during the short walk to the bathroom.

"Stubborn," Hannibal told him while Will cleaned blood off of his face.

"So I'm told."

Hannibal watched him for a few seconds in silence and then took Will's chin to raise his head. "Did you ask Alana to act as a buffer between me and Jack?"

Will looked down, busying his hands with rewetting the washcloth. "Not exactly."

"Then what, exactly?"

"I just asked her not to confront you about this until I was better. And to keep things calm if she could. Just buying time until I could deal with the fallout."

"Protecting me."

Will shrugged. It wasn't as if he could deny it.

"Given our respective roles, one might argue that I should be the one to deal with the fallout," Hannibal said.

"Our respective roles. Meaning yours as my therapist or mine as your…"

"Submissive?" Hannibal suggested.

Will had a hard time rallying any logical objection to the word, but his reaction to it must've showed on his face.

"Pet?" Hannibal said, with a shadow of a smirk in his voice. "You sit at my feet and eat from my hand."

"Shut up," Will muttered, and did everything in his power to hide the slightly horrifying fact that he liked that word choice better. "Do you want Neosporin on these?"

"No. This will do. And regardless of which role I was referring to, it would still seem to be my part to resolve this situation."

"I know everyone's going to blame you. It's offensive."

"It suggests you're unable to make your own decisions."

"Yes."

"Perhaps that's fair, given your current physical condition."

"I was still clearing cases."

"Is that the only measure of your mental clarity that's important to you?"

Will turned to wash his hands and put things away. "Yes," he said. He knew it shouldn't be true, but it was.

Hannibal pressed up behind him, his chest to Will's back, his hands on the counter on either side of Will's hips, boxing him in. Will could feel Hannibal watching him in the mirror. He didn't look up as he dried his hands.

"I don't need you to protect me," Hannibal said. He didn't sound defensive, which Will knew he would've done in Hannibal's place. It was a statement of fact with only mild curiosity behind it, as if Hannibal couldn't imagine why Will would bother to try.

"I didn't need you to stay with me at the hospital."

"How do you define your needs?" Hannibal said. He nosed aside the collar of Will's shirt and pressed his lips to the fading bruise.

Will searched for words, but the scrape of Hannibal's teeth along his skin knocked them out of his head. He closed his eyes and leaned back without meaning to. Hannibal's body was so warm.

"Will?"

“I— You make it hard to think," Will said, more breathless than he wanted to be.

"Your mind is a formidable weapon. I very much enjoy being the one to shut it off. To strip you of your defenses."

Hannibal took his wrists in a hard grip, nails digging in. Will's breath caught in his throat.

"You're not— I'm not defenseless."

He held Will tighter and scratched his thumbnails hard along the insides of his wrists. Will arched helplessly against him, head tipped back onto his shoulder.

"Look at yourself in the mirror, Will. Do you look like someone who doesn't need this?"

Will squeezed his eyes tighter and turned his head away. "Don't. I know what I look like when you do this to me."

"When you let me do this to you."

"Yeah. Yes."

"You have put yourself in my hands from the first time you came to my office, and you give me more every time we do this. Don't think I'm unaware of the privilege." Hannibal said softly.

"You like me like this," Will said, half to himself, for reassurance.

Hannibal pressed his cheek against Will's and his lips to the corner of Will's mouth. "Very, very much, Will. Yes."

Will leaned back into him more deliberately. "I don't know if I need it, but I want it," he said quietly. "I want you."

"You have me."

"But—“ Will said, and stopped himself before he said anything stupid, like for how long.

"You have me," Hannibal went on, as if Will hadn't said a word. "And I think you'll find it more difficult than you might expect to get rid of me."

Will smiled a little. "How messy an end are we talking about? Broken dishes?"

"Oh, at the very least."

"Better do it here then. Yours are too nice."

"Half of yours are plastic. They would bounce."

"You're exaggerating. It's five cups. They gave them out free at the gas station in Wolf Trap for a while." He didn't have to open his eyes to see Hannibal's faintly pained expression, and he didn't bother trying to hide his own amusement.

He was on the verge of telling Hannibal they were a matched set because he could imagine the reaction that would get, when Hannibal pressed his hands down against the counter and let go of his wrists.

"Stay," Hannibal said and reached under Will's arms to unbutton his shirt.

Will flexed his wrists and opened his eyes, finally, to see the marks there, two vertical red lines. The top layer of skin had frayed under Hannibal's assault.

"Didn't know my poor taste in glassware would inspire you like this," he said.

"You don't have poor taste. You recognize quality when you see it. In most areas."

"Are you going to tell me I subconsciously feel I don't deserve nice things?"

"Are you psychoanalyzing yourself now, or is that a gem from some past therapist who should remain in obscurity?"

Will laughed a little, even as his shirt fell open and his skin broke out in goosebumps across his shoulders. Hannibal pushed it down and let it hang at the bend of his elbows.

"The latter. What are you doing?"

"Undressing you."

"Thanks, I got that. What for?"

"Because I want you naked."

"Why?"

"You'll see shortly. Don't concern yourself for the moment."

"You've been saying that a lot recently. It's starting to sound like 'don't worry your pretty little inflamed head about it'."

"Good. That's precisely how I mean it."

Will turned halfway to face him, but Hannibal caught his shoulders and directed him back toward the mirror.

"Hands on the counter, please."

"Hannibal—“

"Will."

It wasn't even a warning. A gentle reminder at worst. Will put his hands back on the counter and swallowed. He looked down at the floor as Hannibal pulled his belt from his jeans and coiled it neatly next to the sink.

"You said that about Freddie Lounds. I should—”

"You should do just as you've been doing and let me deal with her."

Hannibal knelt to untie his boots, and Will looked down at the top of his head. "Why?"

"Because I want to, and because you want to let me. Lift your foot."

Will did, and Hannibal tugged his boot off. "But I shouldn't."

"And the other. Why not?"

Will knew there were good, logical reasons, had to be, but the only ones that came to mind weren't logical and weren't ones he wanted to share.

Hannibal set his boots aside and sat back on his heels. "Because, as you once said to me, abandonment requires expectation, and you would prefer to have none? Because you fight constantly against being perceived as weak, or fragile, or unstable, and you believe that accepting help from any quarter will reinforce that perception?"

It was suddenly a struggle to keep his hands on the counter and not wrap his arms around himself for what scant psychological protection that might provide. He looked at the creases in his knuckles while Hannibal helped him out of his jeans.

"Are you going to tell me why I want to let you?" he said.

Hannibal rose slowly, one hand skimming up Will's bare leg and over his hip. "Because you're aware I find your vulnerability attractive, and that excites you," he said. "It turns any perceived weakness into an advantage."

"Is that all?" Will said faintly.

"No. But you won't like the rest of it as much."

"Tell me anyway."

Hannibal moved to stand behind him again. He pressed Will forward until the counter dug into the front of his thighs and he could feel Hannibal all along his back. The soft wool of his pants slid against Will's bare ass.

"Your experience suggests that any help offered will be withdrawn and leave you worse off than before. When I tell you to kneel for me, or take the pain I inflict on your body, or let me deal with Ms. Lounds, I remove your agency. The choice and the fault, if any, are entirely mine. It's an aspect of your psychology that I have been exploiting since I talked my way into your motel room with breakfast."

He touched Will's chest and sides as he spoke. His breath brushed Will's neck. Will leaned back against him more heavily.

"That's not a very flattering picture of either of us," he said.

"No, but it is accurate."

"You must like it, at least a little." He could feel Hannibal's renewed erection rubbing between his cheeks and pushed back against it.

"Sometimes I think I like it a great deal too much. The power you give me goes to my head. If I could, I would order your days for you, lay out your clothes, prepare every meal you eat myself."

"There are days I might let you. I get…tired."

"So tired you wish you weren't real. Yes, I remember."

"I didn't mean that."

"Didn't you?" Hannibal asked.

"Maybe. Then."

"Not now?"

"Not most of the time. Things are different now."

"Yes. For both of us."

Hannibal wrapped an arm around Will's waist and pulled him closer. Will turned his head to lean it on Hannibal's shoulder. He could still feel Hannibal's erection. He wanted to do something about it, not get put off with later or not part of the plan or, worse, don't concern yourself, which was either going to piss him off or turn him on the next time he heard it, and he didn't know which.

"Can I take my hands off the counter?" he asked.

"You may."

Will turned in his arms and slid a hand down to cup his cock as he kissed him. "Can I suck you off? Or— Anything, really. What do you want?"

"Come this way.”

Hannibal took him by the back of the neck, and Will let himself be guided to the bed, stretched out on it, face down. His belt hung from Hannibal's hand.

"Are you going to hit me with that?" he asked.

Hannibal closed his eyes briefly. "No. Not tonight. I think we've subjected your body to enough adrenaline for one day."

Will watched while Hannibal shed the rest of his clothes. Stared, really. He'd never seen him entirely naked before. It was the way he was put together, Will thought. Not the individuality of muscle and bone, mouth and eyes and hands, but his body's cohesion and power.

Hannibal sat on the edge of the bed next to him, one corner of his mouth curled up.

"Sorry, did you say something?" Will asked.

"No. I was waiting until I had your full attention."

"You had it, trust me."

"Mm. I would like to bind your legs together with the belt, above the knee. Is that acceptable?"

"Yes," Will said.

"Just like that? No questions for me?"

"No questions."

Hannibal watched him for a second or two. He brushed Will's hair back from his forehead and bent to kiss him and murmur a few words against his lips. French, but Will knew good and sweet and recognized others without knowing what they meant. He made a noise of protest, but he was too tired to seriously object, had been exhausted since he got home from the hospital, and now, stretched out in bed with Hannibal directing him, he felt the last traces of the tension that had kept him upright drain away.

Hannibal slid the belt under his legs, cinched it tight, and slid a finger under the edge. "How is that?"

"S'fine."

"Will. I asked you a question. Please take it seriously."

He brought a hand up to rub at his face. "Fine now. Probably going to be uncomfortable in a while, but I don't mind."

Hannibal let it out, and Will's knees stopped grinding against each other. "Better?"

"Yeah. Can you…" Hannibal waited and stroked the back of his thigh until Will forced the words out. "My hands. Can you tie my hands, too?"

"Behind your back?"

He nodded quickly.

"Your shoulder," Hannibal said.

"Doesn't matter, I don't care. I just, I want it."

Hannibal dug his thumb into the muscle below the scar tissue, and Will groaned. "Did you have physical therapy for this?" Hannibal asked.

"Really? I ask you to tie my hands and you decide to play doctor?"

Hannibal took a fistful of his hair and tugged, not hard, but clearly a warning.

“I— When I was in the hospital still. Not after that. I left for DC. I never did the follow up," he said, so quickly the words stumbled over each other. It was embarrassing to fold so fast and so thoroughly, but the slide of Hannibal's fingers through his hair and down his neck made up for it.

"I'll make an appointment for you. It won't help as much now as it would have at the time, but it will be something."

Will took a breath to say all the things he knew he should say, all the protests and rational objections, not least of which was that he hated physical therapy and anything that involved strangers touching him made his skin crawl...and then he let it out again. All he managed was: "I don't think my insurance will cover it at this point. It's a little late."

"They can bill me for it."

And that was…so much worse. Or better. He wanted to say you can't, but they'd had the conversation that detailed exactly why Hannibal could literally five minutes ago. He could say don't. In the morning, he'd even be able to say it with enough conviction for Hannibal to believe him.

He didn't want the physical therapy, but some part of him wanted to say yes to Hannibal, to let him take care of this, just because he was offering. He felt it as a physical pull behind his breastbone.

"It doesn't usually bother me," he said, which was as good as asking to be talked into it. He turned his face into the pillow and swore silently.

"It bothers me to see you in pain."

"Pain you didn't cause."

Hannibal stroked down his back and pressed a kiss to the small of his back. "Yes. We've discussed my possessive tendencies before."

Will breathed into the pillow for a few long seconds, face entirely hidden, breath dampening the cotton pillowcase. He turned back to Hannibal and said, "Okay," on a long exhale. "Okay, yes," and the release he felt was almost erotic.

Hannibal kissed him and caught his lower lip between his teeth briefly as he drew back. "Thank you," he said.

"I think you're stealing my lines."

"I think you know very well I'm not."

Hannibal knelt on the bed and then swung a leg over Will's hips. When he reached over to the drawer in the bedside table, Will could feel his cock sliding against his back. Hannibal pulled a small, glass jar from the drawer.

"That's not mine," Will said.

"No. I brought it with me."

With the lid off, it smelled faintly warm, maybe cinnamon, Will couldn't tell. He watched Hannibal spread it on his cock and then dip two fingers back into the jar. He ran one fingertip lightly down Will's back, between his cheeks.

Will arched into the touch, but he found himself stifling a yawn at the same time. "Sorry. I hope whatever you're planning doesn't require too much participation from me. I think you wore me out."

"Yes, I'd planned on that." Hannibal pushed both fingers between Will's thighs, pressed tightly together by the belt. "You needn't do anything but lie still."

"What are you— Oh. Oh," Will said, and watched as Hannibal eased the hard length of his cock between Will's slicked thighs. "Oh, god. You really mean that."

"I do," Hannibal said. He took Will's wrists in his hands and pinned them to the bed. He leaned on them with his full weight and thrust his hips forward.

Despite the awkward angle, Will couldn't look away. Past the first thrust, Hannibal's cock was mostly out of sight, but the way his hips flexed was mesmerizing, and the tendons in his arms stood out as he held himself over Will's body. His hair fell across his forehead and shaded his eyes. Will watched his mouth, the pass of his tongue across it, the scrape of his own teeth as he shoved in hard and the head of his cock brushed against Will's balls.

Will had to turn his face to the pillow again and swear, because there was no way he was getting it up again tonight, even with desire pooling in his stomach and his toes curling against the sheets.

"Fuck, fuck, Hannibal, can't you—” He didn't even know what to ask for.

"No," Hannibal said, voice low and rougher than Will had ever heard it. "Just like this. Be still and let me have you."

Will pulled against his grip, couldn't help himself, but there was no give in it. Hannibal had the weight of his entire upper body balanced there, knuckles pressed into the bed to keep from bruising Will's wrists.

"Give me something," Will said.

In response, Hannibal let his body drop more fully over Will's until he covered every inch of skin from back to thighs. He shifted up to thrust between Will's cheeks, hard and hot. Every stroke dragged his cock across Will's hole, and Will clutched the sheets and dug his knees into the bed.

"Do you like being used for your body instead of your mind?" Hannibal said in his ear.

Will shuddered and pushed back to meet his hips. "I want—“

"Do you want to fight me? I promise not to let you get away."

Will twisted under him, put more force into his effort to get his wrists free, but Hannibal kept his promise easily. He licked a wet stripe up Will's shoulder and bit lightly at the jut of his shoulder blade.

"When you struggle, I can feel your muscles shift and tighten around my cock," he said. "I wonder how that will feel when I'm inside you."

That pulled something close to a whimper from Will's throat, and he shoved himself against the bed, not remotely hard, mind blanked by exhaustion and useless arousal. "Please," he said.

“What do you want? What are you begging for?”

“I don’t know. Just— Keep talking.”

"Do you like being reduced to this?" Hannibal asked. "All of your choices taken from you. No responsibility for your own actions. Mine in every way."

Hannibal ground his hips down, everything slick and heated between them. His breath washed across Will’s neck. They were both breathing harder. Hannibal's thrusts came more quickly. Will could feel fluid from his cock smeared against the inside of his thighs and between his cheeks.

“You make such a pretty little toy,” Hannibal murmured. “And so obedient. You’d let me play with you all night and only beg for more.”

Will closed his eyes and shoved his face into the pillow. Heat and shame and desire ate at him. He yanked against Hannibal's grip on him seriously for the first time, harder and harder, until Hannibal dug his nails in and pressed down, and there would be bruises. He wanted bruises.

Hannibal nipped at the side of his throat and then settled in to suck, high up, just under the curve of his jaw. Teeth and tongue and hard suction. There'd be no way to hide it.

"I didn't want to do this when everyone would wonder who'd done it to you. But now everyone will know, won't they? They'll look at you and see me. Perhaps I owe Ms. Lounds a favor."

"Christ, Hannibal—”

"I'm sorry the photograph distressed you, but I wasn't entirely displeased by it. Do you know why?"

Will shook his head. Hannibal's thrusts shook his body. The friction of skin on skin was making him ache.

“I got to see how you look when I kiss you. I can feel how you tense up, the way your body finally yields to me. Everything is a struggle with you, but when you give in, it's so complete. You looked like you had everything you wanted in the world."

"I did," Will said, intentionally muffling the words in the pillow. He hoped Hannibal couldn't hear him and hoped he could. "I do. You make me forget everything else. It's bad, I know it's bad, it's not supposed to be like this, for either of us, but you make me crazy, I want you all the time, I want so much from you and you keep giving me everything I ask for and everything I don't and it’s— You're—”

The last word fractured as Hannibal bit down hard on his shoulder and came between his legs.

Both of them went limp. Hannibal's full weight on him was almost crushing. Breathing took concentration and effort, but Will didn't care, didn't want him to move, ever. Hannibal rubbed slowly at his wrists and licked and sucked idly at the mark on his shoulder.

"Well," he said, finally, as sweat cooled on their skin. "We shall have to revisit that when you aren't quite so worn out."

"Mm," Will agreed. "Water?"

"Yes, of course. Just a moment."

Hannibal peeled himself off of Will's back and unfastened the belt. He returned a minute later with a glass of water and a damp washcloth. He cleaned both of them up and rolled Will over onto his back so he could turn the bed down.

Will let him and lay where he was put, one arm flopped across his chest and the other hanging over the edge of the bed. He didn't even reach for the water. It seemed like too much work.

"Sometimes I think I'm as bad for you as the job is for me," he said. He didn't know where that had come from, but it felt true, hazy as he was, and he was having a hard time keeping his thoughts inside his head where they belonged.

"But not that I'm bad for you?"

"You're the best thing in my life. It's going to hurt so much when you leave."

"What makes you think I'll leave?"

"Everyone does. Don't start making promises you won't keep. I'm too relaxed to argue with you right now."

"So pragmatic. Very well, as you wish." Hannibal maneuvered them both under the covers and pulled Will close against his side. He handed Will the glass. "Drink," he said.

Will drained half the glass. He reached over Hannibal to put it back and knocked his watch to the floor.

"I'll get it," Hannibal said and pressed him down flat with a hand on his chest. It didn't take much pressure. Will's bones felt like they'd been liquidized.

When Hannibal straightened up, he was running his thumb over the patch of duct tape on the inside of the wristband. "What's this?"

"S'the thorn you gave me. I didn't want to lose it."

Hannibal let out a breath of laughter and pulled him closer until he lay with his head on Hannibal's chest. "I gave you the rose, Will. The thorn was incidental. What do you mean to do with it?"

"Put it in a fishing lure if I can figure out how."

"Symbolic. Like something from a fairytale."

"Or a serial killer's M.O." He yawned. "When she said no work, do you think that included teaching?"

"Yes. Now close your eyes." He laid his hand on the back of Will's head and tugged his hair gently. "Sleep. Rest tomorrow. Get well. That's all you need to think about."

Will was asleep before he could answer.

He woke in the morning with the sun on his face and no memory of nightmares. Hannibal was sitting up in bed beside him, reading on his iPad.

"Good morning," he said.

"Wha—“ Will cleared his throat and took a drink of water. "What time is it?"

"Almost eight."

"It was barely nine when we went to sleep."

"I'm sure your body welcomed the rest."

"It always welcomes it. And then my brain puts an oar in and I'm up five times with dead bodies in my bed or rats in the walls. What did you do?"

"Is it so unbelievable that you slept peacefully for one night?"

"Yes," Will said flatly.

Hannibal regarded him a moment longer and then set his tablet aside. "I watched over you. It was easy enough to soothe your nightmares before they woke you."

Will stared at him. "All night?"

"You wanted Ms. Lounds out of your life, the Chesapeake Ripper gone, and a night without dreams. Two out of three is the best I can manage, I'm afraid."

"But you didn't sleep at all? I know you have patients today. You can’t—”

Hannibal pressed his fingers to Will's lips until he stopped talking. "I require very little sleep, and it's likely I got more than you do in an average night. My patients today are, let us say, undemanding. This was my choice. The only thing you need to do is say thank you."

"Thank you," Will said, and kissed his fingers, and then his palm. He pulled Hannibal down and pressed their lips together. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Hannibal said. "Go and shower. I'll make us breakfast and then I must leave."

Will rolled over him to get out of bed and kissed him again. He stopped at the door and glanced back. "You can… If you were serious…" He stopped. It would sound absurd as soon as he said it. It was absurd.

"I was serious about everything I said last night."

"If you want to tell me what to wear, I probably wouldn't argue. Today." He wanted to run after he got it out, but he held his ground. If Hannibal was going laugh, he'd rather know now.

He didn't laugh. He pushed the covers back and walked over to Will.

"You're staring." Hannibal stopped in front of him and tipped his chin up with one finger. It was so obviously a move and it shouldn't get to Will like it did, but it made his breath catch just a little every time.

"You're naked. Of course I'm staring."

"Mm. I suppose you'll insist on going out today."

"I'm not going to lie around all day in silk pajamas if that's what you're asking."

Hannibal's eyes creased at the corners with amusement. "Then you weren't serious in your offer?"

"Real clothes. That I can leave the house in."

"If you insist."

"I really do," Will said. And then something clicked together in his head, a dozen rapid images of Hannibal in his own pajamas, all of which were cotton. "Did you buy those just for me?"

"Yes. I was wondering how long it would be before you noticed."

It was only sheer force of will that stopped him saying you can't do that. “I— I'm going to shower."

Hannibal gave him a slow smile. "Yes, why don't you."

Will gave up on dignity and ducked around the corner into the bathroom without another word. He leaned against the closed door for a few seconds and told himself it wasn't a big deal, that there was no call for his stomach to flip over like that, for the languid heat in his limbs, hovering in that space between arousal and embarrassment that only Hannibal seemed to inspire in him.

It wasn't even as if he liked the silk. He didn't mind it, but he'd rather stick with boxers and a t-shirt. Except that he'd rather, apparently, bow to Hannibal's whims, and the memory of Hannibal saying he liked him in silk was enough to get him moving and in the shower so he could jerk off under the hot water without the chance of being overheard.

When he got out, he swiped a hand over the steam that coated the mirror. He still looked basically like shit, but, in comparison with Hannibal’s drawing, the Will in the mirror came out on top. More desperately in need of a haircut, but less bruised around the eyes, less grey, even if that was only the heat of the shower.

Hannibal walked in without knocking, and Will grabbed a towel against the sudden rush of cold air. He really needed to look at the furnace before winter settled in for good.

"Close the door," he said.

Hannibal complied and came to stand behind him, just as he had last night. He leaned past Will and wiped a larger circle in the condensation. When he drew his hand back, he rested it over the mark high up on Will's neck. "Did you think you would be teaching today when you let me give you this?" he asked.

"People stare at me anyway. For a lot of reasons.”

"Did you want them to see?”

Will shifted and brought the towel up to rub at his hair. Water rolled down his neck and over Hannibal's fingers.

"Maybe," he said. "I didn't not want it.”

"Do you like it?"

"I like the other ones better. The bites."

Hannibal licked water away from the most recent, still red in places. "Why is that?"

"They're more honest. More you. This one's just for show."

"Would you want to show off the others?"

“No. Those are for me.”

“You feel protective toward them. As you do toward me.”

“Not just you. This. Us. People will have things to say about it, and they won’t be nice. You do know that, right?”

“Obviously, I’m familiar with society’s views—”

“I’m not just talking about generalized homophobia. I mean the people who will look at the two of us and wonder what the fuck you’re doing with me.”

“Or, perhaps, the other way around.”

“Some of that, too, probably. Yeah.”

“You don’t seem as concerned about that.”

“I take a lot of shit just for being the way I am, especially in law enforcement. I always have. You’re not used to that, and you shouldn’t have to be.”

"That's why you would've preferred to keep our relationship private."

"Yeah." Will sighed. "And if I'd just told people, it wouldn't have been news, and she wouldn't have printed that picture."

"It was hardly news in any case. A mainly vindictive act, I think."

"Probably." Will shook himself and started drying off the rest of the way. "What's for breakfast?"

"Eggs Benedict. It won't be long once I start the eggs."

"I'll hurry."

Hannibal kissed his neck once more and left. When he emerged, Will found clothes laid out on his bed. Boxers, jeans, t-shirt, pullover, nothing he wouldn't have picked for himself. But he hadn't picked it for himself. He suspected he'd be remembering that all day long.

Hannibal was in the kitchen, at the stove. The table already held a carafe that Will didn't own, presumably of coffee. The pitcher was his, but the last time he'd bothered to buy orange juice was months ago.

"How much food did you bring?” he asked, wandering over to the fridge.

"Only the essentials."

Will opened it, looked inside, and shut it again. "I hope you're planning to be over here a lot, or I'm going to end up throwing most of this out."

"It's a reasonable amount of food for an adult who wishes to do more than subsist on coffee and items he purchases from gas stations."

"That was one time. I've never seen anyone hold a grudge against a sandwich before."

"And I'll come over to cook, of course," Hannibal said.

It had been their third or fourth appointment. Will had missed lunch and asked if he could eat while they talked. Hannibal had invited him to talk over dinner and then more or less forced him to dump the soggy ham and mayo in a trash can on the way out. It was the first time he'd seen Hannibal's house.

You don't have to. He didn't say it. "I did warn you I'd eat anything," he said instead.

"And now that I've seen you eat hospital food, I'm slightly more willing to believe it."

Hannibal slid their breakfast onto plates and gestured for Will to sit at the table.

"You took the tray away from me."

“You feed your dogs better than that. Lunch is in the refrigerator. You only need to warm it up."

"You'll spoil me if you keep this up."

“Do you have any objection to that?”

He didn’t. To an embarrassing extent. He looked down at this plate. “Is this about possession, too?” he asked.

Hannibal took a bite before he answered. “Perhaps. I am more accustomed to caring for things than for people. One keeps a musical instrument in tune with attention and fine adjustments. A knife will serve you for as long as you tend to its edge.”

“Which am I? The harpsichord or the knife?”

“Both. And more. You have your own music and your own sharpness. Should we discuss last night?”

Will’s gaze was drawn to the slender red line on Hannibal’s cheek. “You’re okay, right?”

“I am. Are you?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” He smiled down at his eggs. “More than fine. It was good.”

“You seemed hesitant at the time.”

“I was afraid of what I might want.”

“Not an uncommon feeling for you.”

“No. But I think that helped.”

Hannibal gave him a pleased look. “I’m very glad to hear that, Will.”

"The eggs are great. Thanks."

"You're quite welcome. Remember to eat lunch as well, please."

"Planning to call and check?"

"Do I need to?"

Will shook his head quickly. "I do eat like a normal person most of the time. It's just been a bad few months."

"Do you want me to call and check?" Hannibal asked, tone perfectly even. As if that were a remotely reasonable thing to want.

"Can if you want," Will said, and tried to make it sound casual. Probably failed. He poured himself more orange juice. "Why don't you ever— There are no consequences. You never say do this, or. It's usually do this please."

"It's unnecessary. You always try your best for me."

Will didn't have an answer for that. He concentrated on his food and on not thinking about trying his best and everything that had entailed recently. Not thinking about his growing suspicion that he'd do pretty much anything Hannibal asked him to.

"What if I didn't?"

"I don't think that's very likely, Will. Do you?"

He ducked his head, half wanting to admit how right Hannibal was and half appalled at himself for wanting it. "Has the plow been by?"

"Yes, earlier. The road is clear enough."

Will glanced out the window. A thick, rolling sheet of white covered the fields, heavy enough to be unbroken by any stray grass or rock. He finished his eggs and stood.

"They probably blocked your car in pretty good. I'll go shovel."

"You're meant to be resting."

"This is resting."

"Your doctor might disagree."

"Well, I'm not going to let you do it." He stood to grab his coat and dig out a spare hat. He found it hard to imagine Hannibal in snow boots and a parka, or even a knit cap, though he must own something other than Italian leather shoes and an overcoat for the Baltimore winters.

Hannibal cocked his head slightly, in that way he had that made him look vaguely reptilian. "Let me?"

"You just shouldn't have to, that's all. Finish your coffee. There can't be more than three inches out there."

Hannibal leaned back in his chair. He looked pleased, Will thought. "You appear determined."

"I'll be back in a few minutes," he said, and stepped outside.

The cold felt good, and the shoveling got his blood moving and woke him up more thoroughly than the coffee had. He cleared away the small drift of dirty snow left by the plow and then cleaned off Hannibal's car for him and shoveled a path to the front door. The rest could wait.

When he went back in, Hannibal already had his coat on. He pressed a fresh cup of coffee into Will's hands and kissed him, lips hot against his chilled skin.

Will held the coffee out to the side and leaned into him. "Going now?"

"I'm afraid so. It will be a slow drive in the snow."

"Yeah. Look, stay home tonight. It's crazy to drive all the way out here again. I promise I'm fine."

Hannibal slid an arm around his waist and kissed his hair. "What will you do today?"

"Fix the furnace, hopefully. Otherwise, call someone to fix the furnace. Hope nothing's nesting in the vents. Take the dogs out."

"Very domestic."

"Compared to this?"

"A fair point. If you change your mind, you can always call me."

"I'm good at being alone. It's my other major talent."

"Is it as bad for you as the first one?"

Will shrugged. "Sometimes, maybe. But not always."

Chapter Text

The blower fan on the furnace was clogged with dirt and dog hair, which would make it, hopefully, an easy fix. "You guys shed too much," Will told Winston.

Winston flopped down next to him and propped his head on Will's leg while Will cleaned the fan blades and their surrounding cage. Ten minutes into the job, the doorbell rang.

He nudged Winston off of him and wiped his hands on his jeans as he climbed the stairs. Alana had the door open a crack, peering into the dim interior and trying to keep Marshall and Belka inside.

"Hey," Will said.

"Don't you lock your door?"

"Sure, when I'm not here."

She eased through the narrow gap and bent down to let the dogs say hello. "You look better," she said.

"Yeah. I…slept well last night."

"Is that unusual?"

"Unheard of. Coffee?"

"Thanks."

Will's can of instant sat on the shelf as usual, but it had been joined by an electric coffee grinder and a French press, which suggested coffee beans in the freezer. He found them next to an ancient block of frozen spinach.

Alana leaned against the counter and watched. "Hannibal's?" she asked.

"Yeah. You've seen the set up at his house, right? I think this is the bare minimum he'll tolerate."

She smiled and shook her head.

"What?" Will said.

"It's odd seeing him with someone. His things at your place. He's always been…not solitary, but so self-contained. Most people just slide off him."

"Not you."

"I see him, and we talk. But I don't know if I'd call him a friend. Or, no, I would. I don't know if he'd call me a friend."

"He talks about you."

She raised her eyebrows. "What does he say?"

"Not anything specific. Just, you're really the only person we both know, except for Jack." He glanced at her. "I told him you wanted to drown him in his own beer."

She groaned. “Did you have to?"

"He said he thought it was too late in the brewing process for that kind of addition."

He ground the beans and watched her smile as Winston nosed at her hand.

"That sounds like him," she said, when he'd shut off the grinder.

"He likes you."

"I like him, too. I'm still mad at him."

"You could be mad at me instead. It's as much my fault as it is his."

He poured boiling water over the coffee, watched her eyes skip over the mark on his neck, again and again. He suddenly recalled that he'd pushed his sleeves up to the elbow to work on the furnace fan, that both his wrists were ringed with bruises from last night.

He wondered if she'd ask and what he'd say if she did. The colors were so vibrant they looked like they'd been painted on. He loved them, wanted them there all the time, which was probably not a healthy way to feel about broken capillaries.

"I don't agree," Alana said.

"You realize there's no way to play this where you don't end up painting me as a victim, right? And you know how well I'm going to respond to that."

He watched the coffee grounds settle at the bottom of the glass carafe. Alana boosted herself up to sit on the counter. Winston balanced his head on her foot.

"I know," she said.

"So maybe we could go another way."

"I'm open to suggestions."

"This thing with Hannibal, it is what it is. Maybe you can convince him to stop seeing me. I don't know. I'd rather you didn't try. I know you can't convince me to stop seeing him."

"Just have to accept it, huh?"

"Everyone will, eventually. Jack's just pissed off because he doesn't think he can count on Hannibal to be objective about me anymore."

"I'm not sure he was ever objective about you."

Will shrugged. “Maybe not. Subjective or biased judgement isn’t necessarily faulty. But Jack will want someone who he feels can be objective."

"And you think that's me?"

"I think that's you."

He depressed the plunger and poured coffee for both of them. The rich, dark scent of it filled the kitchen.

She took a sip. "Do you ever feel like the one toy on the playground that all the kids want to play with?"

"If we're going with that metaphor, one eye got lost in the sandbox and my stuffing's coming out."

Her lips curved behind the rim of her cup. "Are you telling me you need careful handling?"

The bruises on his wrists ached more sharply for a moment. He struggled not to rub at them. "I wouldn't say that.”

"Then what are you saying? I don't want to paint you as a victim, but nothing you've said so far makes me less willing to hold Hannibal responsible for this."

"Nothing I can say will do that. That's not what I'm trying to do."

"What then?"

"I think I'm asking you to be my therapist."

She stared at him. He stared at the floor.

"That is not where I thought this was going," Alana said.

"I'm not saying on a permanent basis. I'm not even saying I'll actually talk to you."

"I won't do it if it's only a ruse to placate Jack."

"It's not. Or it's not only that. I would have told Hannibal about the hallucinations. I would have told him a while ago."

"If your relationship had been purely professional."

Will nodded. "I should have told him. So there's that. And there's Jack. And there's you."

"Me?"

"You work really hard to be my friend. And I appreciate that." He gave her a brief smile. "I know I make it difficult. But that's not all you want from me, is it?"

She shifted, and Winston's head slipped off her foot. He nosed at her ankle until her shoe dropped off onto the floor. It lay on its side, dark green suede against the dull pattern of his kitchen linoleum. She made no move to retrieve it, just stared down into her coffee as the tips of her ears went pink.

"I have a certain professional curiosity about you, yes," she said quietly. "I'm sorry. It's probably not hugely more appropriate for me to act as your therapist than it is for Hannibal."

He knelt to pick up her shoe, noted the rubber grip on the heel, the wear inside where the gold script of the brand name had rubbed off over years of use.

"It's you or him," he said as he slipped it back onto her foot. He looked up at her with one hand still curled around her ankle. Her expression was not one of professional curiosity.

“Sorry.” He stood and backed up against the opposite counter.

“I’m also attracted to you,” she said tightly.

“I’ve wanted to kiss you since we met.”

She glanced up at him. “Why didn’t you?”

“I might have if you’d ever spent more than thirty seconds alone with me. But it wouldn’t have gone anywhere, would it? You wouldn’t have let it. Because of your professional curiosity.”

“It wouldn’t be fair to you. I wouldn’t be able to stop analyzing.”

“So it would be better to have a relationship where that’s appropriate.”

“You’re very persuasive when you want to be,” Alana said.

“Is that a yes?”

"If you're serious about it, yes."

"I'm serious about sitting in your office for an hour a week until Jack calms down about my mental health. Beyond that, no promises."

"I'm not going to sit there and read a book while you stare at the wall."

"I know." He found the plastic bag of sugar at the back of the cupboard and stirred a spoonful into his coffee. "I owe you a lot. No, don't," he said, because she was clearly going to deny it.

"Friendship isn't about debt," she said quietly.

"Not the ones you have. I believe you. All the same, I'm saying if you want to poke at my brain, I'll give you the chance. I won't make it easy. I can't. But you can try. Three months should be plenty to get Jack to relax."

"Are you sure about this?"

"No. Might be the worst idea I ever had. I guess we'll find out."

She took a deep breath. "When do you want to start?"

"Not till they let me go back to work. If I'm too sick to work, I'm definitely too sick for that."

"Okay. I'll schedule something when you're cleared." She tilted her mug around until the coffee formed a tiny, dark whirlpool in the center. She looked down into it, like she'd lost something there.

“How’s Jack doing?”

“With two new Ripper cases and you out of action? Not happy. You were right about Cecelia Mallory though. The photo in her office was the boy who drowned. Her stepbrother.”

Will nodded, weary. They talked for a few minutes more, but the chill was growing from the switched off furnace, and Alana had to get to work. After she left, he called Hannibal.

One ring, two, three. He might be with a patient. He kept his phone on vibrate sometimes during sessions. Will had heard it, though Hannibal had never answered it while they were together.

"Will," Hannibal said when he picked up at last, on the fifth ring. "I was showing someone out. How are you?"

"Fine. Alana was just here."

"It was kind of her to visit."

“Yeah." He rubbed a hand across his mouth. "I asked her to be my therapist.”

"I see." A pause. "Officially?"

"Yeah. It's–– It'll just make things easier."

“You didn't think of discussing this with me beforehand?"

“No point."

"I'm sorry you feel that way."

"I just mean––" He rested his forehead against his fist and pulled at his hair. "I had a lot of time to think in the hospital. This is the best option."

"For whom?"

"For everyone. Nothing has to change.”

“Change is inevitable."

“I can still come to your office, can't I?”

"I'm not sure that's wise. If you are seeing Alana, then I would not wish to tread on her toes."

"But… We can still talk?"

A brief silence. “Perhaps we can discuss this later. I have a dinner engagement this evening. I'll see you tomorrow."

They said their goodbyes, Hannibal cordial and distant, Will fighting the urge to apologize. Back down in the basement, with the furnace fan and the dogs, the urge vanished, replaced with equal parts anger and guilt. Maybe he should have discussed it with Hannibal first. That would’ve been the polite thing to do, but he wasn't polite, and it was his life, his mind, his choice and responsibility.

Trivial as it was, he couldn't help seeing in this, once again, the beginning of their end. It could be worse, he decided. At least this would be something he'd done instead of something he was.

He started the furnace up again and took the dogs out. When he came back, he heated up the food Hannibal had left for him. It looked and tasted like tomato soup, but richer and darker. On impulse, he texted Hannibal about it. He was pretty sure Hannibal would talk about his food to anyone, anytime, even Will, right now.

lunch was good, thanks. what was it?

Tomato saffron bisque with fresh thyme and roasted bone marrow. Did you find the brie?

no?

Next to the stove. It should be warm enough if your furnace is back in working order.

Will looked and found a plate of cheese, roasted almonds, and dried figs under a dishtowel, all meticulously arranged in a sort of mandala pattern. He stifled the desire to apologize again.

looks great

Are you well?

i'm fine. how are you?

Surprisingly angry with you.

i find it surprising that you admit it

Perhaps that's fair. I am not generous with my emotions.

can i do anything?

Not at the moment, no.

okay

Will finished his lunch without tasting it. Took the dogs out again, until they turned toward home on their own as the sun started to sink. He cleaned off muddy, snowy paws and walked from room to room.

One more fruitless search for his missing fly case revealed nothing. He sat down at his desk and switched on the light that surrounded his magnifying lens. It would be easy to lose a few hours to his lures, and then it would be late enough that he could reasonably go to bed.

He set out the materials he'd been thinking of to go with the thorn: a scrap of deer hair he'd found stuck in the brambles months ago, tiny slice of a black feather, glass bead, copper wire. He unstuck the thorn from the inside of his watch band and set it beside them.

He looked over the little pile and felt a tug at the back of his mind. Something missing. He didn't want to think, about this or anything else, and so he didn't question it. Just got up and went to the storage closet in the basement. On the top shelf, wrapped in a black garbage bag, was the broken deer antler he'd found two autumns back near the stream.

Two prongs jutted away from each other with a jagged stub underneath where it had attached to the rack. The whole thing fit in one hand. He wouldn't be able to use more than a sliver.

It lay across his palm, rough in patches, smooth near the points. He weighed it against the air and waited for the memory of Cassie Boyle, impaled. Nothing came. He remembered it all with perfect clarity, but, for the first time in months, the memory wasn't a trap waiting to be sprung.

He climbed the stairs with a clear mind and set it down next to the feather. The crows. He waited for the memory of black eyes and beaks wet with blood. Again, nothing.

The thorn Hannibal had given him sat in the middle of it all. No immanent memory attached to that, either, though it was one he'd welcome. Strange.

He took black thread from the drawer. He saw leather gloves, top-stitched in black, around the handle of a water jug. He saw the same gloves set out on the half-moon table in Hannibal's hall.

The next thing he saw was his own hands laid out flat on his thighs. Winston nosed at his fingers and whined. When he jerked his head up, he found that night had fallen around him. The green fluorescent tube of his magnifying glass lit the table and his skin and left the rest of the room in shadow.

Sweat from his palms had left damp imprints on his jeans. His hands slipped on the smooth plastic of his phone. He nearly dropped it twice as he dialed Jack's number. The rings seemed interminable.

"Jack Crawford."

"Jack, it's Will--" He stopped.

"Will? Everything all right?"

He could be wrong. He was still sick. He hadn't given it more than five seconds of thought. He might be wrong. He wanted to be wrong.

"Will?"

"Sorry. When can I come back to work?"

Jack sighed. "Not till the doc clears you. I don't like it. I guess you don't like it either. But that's the way it is."

"I understand."

After he hung up, he paced. One side of the living room to the other, into the kitchen, back to the front door. The dogs sensed his nerves and trailed after him, two or three at a time.

When he'd gone out sleepwalking, he'd been just around the corner from Hannibal's house. He'd been cold, but not freezing. And yet Hannibal had been unable to find him for long enough that he’d gotten dressed and taken the car out to look for him.

Will remembered the heat of the engine when he'd touched the hood. He remembered Hannibal's eyes tracking the touch, the easily offered explanation. He remembered, now, what he hadn't noted at the time: the warmth of his own side of the bed when he sat down to return Jack's call.

He remembered the liver and star fruit preparation, the empty space in Sanders’s abdominal cavity. Will swallowed twice. He flicked on the kitchen lights and put water on to boil for coffee. He revised his mental profile: the Chesapeake Ripper did not take surgical trophies. He took ingredients.

The heart: possibly also from Sanders. The brain: no recent Ripper victim. One from the last sounder was missing a brain. Could it have been vacuum sealed and frozen this long?

The bone marrow in the tomato bisque.

The ham at breakfast.

Hannibal's dinner parties. Tomatoes suspended in blood plasma.

Will stirred instant coffee crystals into a mug of boiling water and drank it so quickly that it burned his throat. He sat down on the kitchen floor. Marshall and Winston flopped down beside him. He scratched their ears and pressed his face into their soft fur.

His hands shook. He set his coffee down between his legs so he wouldn't spill it.

The high points of his profile marched through his head. Many fit. Some did not.

Sadist: obviously, admitted. Intelligent: still more obvious.

He had killed the same way more than once: Marissa Schur and Cassie Boyle. But he hadn't been, so to speak, killing on his own time.

Psychopath. More difficult. Where was the line between lack of fear response and the ability to remain calm in crisis? Where was the line between the superficial charm of a psychopath and that of a socialite? Hannibal had never presented a shallow affect. If anything, he left the impression that there was more under his surface than anyone saw.

Will pushed himself to his feet and walked out into the fields. The dogs whined at the door, but he left them shut inside. He followed their tracks from earlier: one set of boots and seven sets of paw prints in varying sizes and depths.

When he looked back at his house, he felt the memory of Hannibal at his side. His sister. The men who'd killed his family. The Ripper's victims had families too. Will had met some of them.

He remembered Hannibal's drawing of the Rue Saint-Denis, the story of the prostitute. He was gripped by the conviction than Hannibal had killed her and the man who had helped her rob him. Sweat broke out along his neck and spine.

The other drawings, the ones in a careless pile on the table. Will had never looked through them, but he'd seen bits of each. He reviewed them now and nearly ended up on his knees in the snow. The Wound Man. It was buried in the pile, only a section of leg and torso visible, but unmistakable.

He started to shiver. He'd left his coat inside.

He took the walk back carefully, feeling his way around obstacles in the dark fields and obstacles in his mind.

The movie reel of Hannibal cutting that man up as he screamed was loaded just behind Will's eyes, ready to play if he stumbled. He couldn't watch that and keep on being who he was. The dread of that change filled the air around him.

Inside, the dogs looked to him for food, and he thought of the sausage Hannibal had fed them. There was more in the fridge, in a labeled paper bag. Will threw it in the trash with so much force that he nearly knocked the trashcan over. Throwing away evidence. He pulled it out again and shoved it to the back of the fridge.

He fed the dogs canned food and kibble, made himself more coffee and, after a struggle, frozen waffles spread with safely commercial peanut butter and jam. If he stopped eating, he'd only end up back in the hospital with Hannibal bringing him chicken soup.

He took out a yellow legal pad and started to write. Within an hour, he'd done a revised assessment of the Chesapeake Ripper, taking into account the copycat killings and what he knew of Hannibal's past.

His mind lingered unwillingly over the image of Hannibal alone in the woods as a child, the squirrels and birds and other small animals there, the link between animal abuse in childhood and disregard for human life as an adult. But Hannibal hadn't needed to start with animals. He'd killed two men when he was only eleven.

Will's head ached. He was late taking his medication. Three sets of pills and aspirin to top it off. More coffee to get them down. He set the pad of paper aside and put his face in his hands.

Everything fit. All the parts of Hannibal he'd never quite worked out joined up perfectly with the gaps he couldn't previously fill in the Ripper's profile. The certainty nested inside his ribcage, crowded out his lungs and heart until he could hardly breathe around the pain of it.

The phone lay next to his coffee. He should call Jack. He wanted to call Hannibal. Hannibal would reassure him. He'd be so convincing. Will might even believe him. And then, the invitation,

Come over, it doesn't matter how late it is, I'd like to see you. You're always welcome here, Will. And he'd go, and he'd disappear, just like Miriam Lass. Will could imagine worse fates.

But Hannibal wouldn't stop with him. Will was more responsible for his victims now than ever. He could taste their blood at the back of his throat.

Just as Hannibal's symphony of horrors had played inexorably behind Will's eyes, different scenes played now. Hannibal's constant care and caution with his injured shoulder. The moderation of the pain he'd inflicted, when Will would have let him do much more. Watching over him to keep his nightmares at bay. The sense memory of Hannibal's hand in his hair as Will leaned his head on Hannibal's knee, surrounded in comfort and warmth.

None of it had been necessary. Hannibal could've bought his trust and devotion for so much less. He pressed his hands to his face. His throat burned. His chest constricted until each breath hurt.

When he pulled out his phone, it wasn't to call Hannibal or Jack.

There was a click as the call connected. "Freddie Lounds."

"Ms. Lounds, this is Will Graham. I need to meet with you. Tonight."

"I won't come alone."

"Stop buying the shit you sell. If I were going to kill you, I wouldn't have called you from my cell phone."

"Seriously? That's the argument you're going with?"

"Meet me or don't. The park where the last Ripper victim was found. One hour.”

*

She was already there when he pulled up at the edge of the park. They both got out and stood under the trees. Lounds kept one hand in her pocket.

"What do you want?" she said.

He nodded to her pocket and held out his hand. Her mouth tightened. She pulled out her digital recorder and made a show of setting it on the ground. He nodded to her purse. Her expression this time was wordless frustration. She nearly bared her teeth at him as she set down the second recorder.

He kicked them away. There was still a real possibility he'd get in trouble for this, but at least now it would be her word against his, if it came to that.

"I want you to post something for me," he said. "A message for the Chesapeake Ripper."

Her eyes widened. "What message?"

"It has to be tonight."

"This isn't exactly peak traffic hours for my site. Can't it wait till seven?"

"Tonight. As soon as you can get to a computer." He paused. "When Jack Crawford sees this, he'd going to want to know where you got it from."

"I protect my sources, Mr. Graham. Even you."

He shrugged. "You will or you won't. I'm just saying, there will be fallout. As long as the Ripper sees it in time, I don't care what else you do. Just post it."

"This is that important?"

"It might save a life. I'm hoping that even you think that's more important than peak traffic hours."

"How do you know he'll be looking at it this time of night?"

Will sighed. "I think he probably has a Google alert set up, to be honest."

She turned away abruptly and coughed once. When she turned back to him, her mouth twitched for a second before she got it under control. "You think the Chesapeake Ripper has a Google alert set up for himself? Would that fit his profile, Mr. Graham?"

"I'd think twice before posting that if I were you. Unlike me, he actually is a psychopathic killer, and you're already on his shit list for that article you did for Jack."

"If I do, can I quote you as the source? Come on, you owe me for this, and serial killers with Google alerts is the best thing I've heard all week."

He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked down at the ground. The heat of anger rose up inside him, not at her, but at Hannibal, for doing this to him, for forcing him to make these decisions. He chose his words to wound.

"Yes, it would fit his profile. He's a classic narcissist, and he sees these crimes as his life's work. He'll track the news reports of them as avidly as any second rate painter clipping reviews from the back of a city paper."

He could practically see dollar signs in her eyes as she wrote it down. He had a feeling he'd regret that one later.

"Sit on that for a while,” Will said. "This is not the time to piss him off."

"All right. So what do you want me to post tonight? What's the message?"

He had encoded it using the same 33 letter offset cipher from the Sanders crime scene. He gave her the numbers.

"What— Is that the code from the Sanders murder?" she said.

"Yes." He turned and walked away.

"What does it mean? Graham! Come on!"

He kept his mouth shut, but he could taste the one word message on his tongue as he drove away: blackbird.

Hannibal had said he would stop if Will needed him to. He’d given his word. With enough time and distance to consider it, maybe the Ripper would, too. Will clung stubbornly to the wreckage of his hope.

Chapter Text

Will’s phone vibrated in his pocket and jerked him awake. He'd fallen asleep on the couch near dawn. His watch said it was now close to ten.

"Hello?"

"Will," Hannibal said. "How are you?"

He sounded completely normal, and Will's heart lifted with a painful resurgence of hope. He could've been wrong. Or had it all been a nightmare? Another hallucination?

"Didn't sleep great," he said. "How was your dinner thing?"

"Acceptable. The company left something to be desired. Will you dine with me this evening if you're not too tired?"

"Sure, what time?"

Hannibal paused just a fraction of a second too long. He'd expected Will to refuse to eat with him. Because he now knew what he'd be eating. Not a nightmare, not a hallucination. Not wrong. Will closed his eyes and swallowed again and again around a lump in his throat so large he thought he might choke on it.

"Seven?" Hannibal said.

"Sounds good." He stared at the opposite wall. "Listen, about Alana.”

Another pause. Hannibal hadn't expected that either. He must be wondering if the message in TattleCrime had come from someone else, even while he knew it had to be Will, knew there wasn't one chance in a billion Will would've told anyone else his safeword. Will wondered if Hannibal were experiencing the same sort of hope Will had a few seconds ago.

"Don't concern yourself," Hannibal said, at last.

"I'm not used to considering other people in my decisions. I don't want to fuck this up."

"You're forgiven," Hannibal said, and Will closed his eyes at his gentle tone.

"That wasn't exactly an apology. Although I was thinking about offering to make it up to you."

"Did you have something specific in mind?"

Will took a deep breath. “You mentioned something about a scalpel and your dining room table.”

The silence this time could be measured in whole seconds. "Are you sure you feel well enough?" Hannibal asked. He sounded just the faintest touch breathless.

"All I have to do is lie there, right? Let you have your way with me? I think I can handle that."

"Perhaps a bit earlier then, and we can eat afterward. Six?"

"Sure. See you then."

They hung up, and Will scratched Winston's chin idly. Hannibal might now be planning a menu around the contents of his abdominal cavity. Will could acknowledge that as a fact, hold it in his mind and examine it from every angle and see that it was true. What he could not do was believe it.

He had to look at it from the outside, ask himself what he'd do if he did believe it. What precautions he should take, knowing he might not come home again.

He wrote an email to Alana and asked her to look after his dogs for a few days. If she came by and he were here, fine. If he weren't, she'd make sure they were all right. And then he got out his yellow legal pad again and wrote a letter. He included his revised profile of the Ripper and his suspicions of Hannibal. The problem was whom to give it to.

He let his mind drift, and it settled on a card on the table of his room at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Bellamy’s card. It had been gone in the morning, but it was easy enough to recall the information on it.

He wrote his own name on the envelope above Dr. Bellamy's address. She didn't strike him as the sort of person to open other people’s mail, or to rip into an envelope without checking the name. She would set it aside and call him. If he went missing, she’d give it to Jack or Alana. They might not catch Hannibal, but at least they’d know.

*

He knocked on Hannibal's door at two minutes after six. Hannibal pulled it open and greeted Will with a look of pleased affection that drained the air from Will's lungs. He still couldn’t truly make himself believe that Hannibal had done the things he knew he'd done. Will moved forward automatically, into his warmth and scent, and rested his forehead on Hannibal's shoulder with a sigh.

Hannibal closed the door and held him. He tucked a few tangled curls behind Will's ear and kissed the top of his head. "Was our little quarrel bothering you this much, or is there something else?" he asked.

"Bad night," Will said. "I didn't really sleep." He could feel himself relaxing now. Everything was out of his hands. The absolute worst that could happen was a whole lot of pain, and he knew about pain.

"Will you stay here tonight?"

Will nodded. "I've got a bag in the car. I didn't want to presume."

"Will," Hannibal said, gently chiding. "I've told you you're always welcome here. Go and get it, please."

Funny, Will thought. He walked out, keys swinging from his hand. Giving him a chance to run? Too late for that. He grabbed his bag and went back inside. He found Hannibal in the kitchen, seasoning a roast. Maybe he wasn't on the menu, then. At least not tonight.

Will leaned against the counter and watched, detached. He'd felt like this after he'd been stabbed, watching his blood run slowly out onto the stained concrete floor. He'd felt like this kneeling over Abigail Hobbs, fingers slipping in her blood. Hannibal had pushed his hands away and saved both of them.

"I have a few more things to prepare," Hannibal said. "Go upstairs and run yourself a bath, please. There's a robe for you when you're done. Don't bother to put on anything else."

"Okay."

He went. While the bath filled, he looked at the robe. White silk, like the pajamas. Lines of red stitching at the cuffs and collar. He pulled it on and surveyed himself in the mirror. He looked like a sacrifice.

When he eased himself into the tub a few minutes later, he tried to remember the last time he’d taken a bath. Years. Maybe not since his apartment in New Orleans, with its high ceilings, moldering walls, inexhaustible supply of cockroaches, and turn-of-the-century plumbing. He remembered sitting on worn porcelain and scrubbing his hair under the tub faucet with his knees drawn up and the sun through the windows baking him into a stupor.

By contrast, Hannibal's bathtub stretched out around him like a small swimming pool. He could float on his back and just touch the far end with his toes. He leaned back into it, and water soaked into his hair, lapped at the edges of his face. With one expelled breath, he sank beneath the surface. The warm water stung his eyes and then soothed them. Reflected light wavered across the ceiling.

He hung like that, nose and mouth in the air, the rest of him submerged, for a long time. Eventually, Hannibal knocked on the door and opened it just enough to be heard. "Time to get out," he said.

Will sighed and left his aquatic cocoon behind. He dried off, rubbed his hair with a towel until it stopped dripping, and pulled on the robe. He looked better now, he thought. More himself than he had in months. He walked downstairs with a steady heart and wondered if this was what it really felt like to lose one's mind.

In the dining room, Hannibal stood at the head of the table. Candles painted the room with brushstrokes of light and shadow. Will had expected something more surgical.

"Do you want me to take off the robe?" he asked.

"No. Just as you are, please."

"It'll stain."

"If it proves unsalvageable, I can replace it."

Will lifted himself onto the dark wood surface of the table. He swung his legs up and lay back.

"Stretch your arms out to either side, please," Hannibal said.

Will did. Hannibal took his left wrist and wound it with red rope. It felt soft and almost slippery against Will's skin, no loose fibers or rough spots. Hannibal knotted it tight and slid a finger between the coils.

"How is that?" he asked.

"It feels good," Will said honestly.

Hannibal gave him the same blank look Will remembered from the hospital. Will hadn’t known what to make of it at the time. Now he interpreted it as the response of a man with a repertoire of carefully tended human expressions, caught so off guard that he hadn't managed to deploy one. Hannibal went on to tie his other wrist. "Pull against the rope, please," he said, when he was done.

Will tried. They bit nicely into the bruises on his wrists, but otherwise there was no real friction, no skin irritation. No give, either. The rope ran under the table and maybe around the legs. Will could shift himself about an inch in either direction, and that was it.

"You've got me," he said.

"Yes. I do." Hannibal looked him over. He smoothed Will's damp hair back from his forehead and ran a hand down his neck to spread the robe wider at his throat. One finger traced the lines of Will's collar bones and descended down the center of his chest like the Y incision for an autopsy.

Will’s breath started to quicken at the familiar feel of those hands on his skin. He pulled involuntarily against the ropes as Hannibal untied the robe and spread it open.

"The fantasies you mentioned before. A stranger cutting into you. Tell me about them."

"I don't know what to say."

"Did it kill you?"

"No. Maybe? I never thought about it. It stopped when they stopped hurting me."

"They? Not he or she?"

"He, I guess. Gender irrelevant."

"I see. Describe one of these fantasies for me."

Will looked away at the cluster of candlesticks on the side board, crystal and artfully tarnished silver. He hadn't counted on being forced to participate in his own dissection.

"There was one where he took the veins out of my arms," Will said. His voice sounded far away. It had a tinny, echoing quality to it. "Slit them on the underside from wrist to shoulder and took the veins out and laid them on my skin. I could feel the blood still pumping inside them."

"Exposed. Visible for what you are and vulnerable because of it."

"Yes."

Hannibal pulled the robe wider, out away from his hips. He ran warm, dry hands up Will's chest and rubbed hard over his nipples until Will was arching into it, unable to stop himself.

Soft lips moved down his neck and shoulder. Hannibal pushed the sleeve of the robe up and kissed his bicep and back down to the crook of his elbow. Will turned his arm up to present softer, more vulnerable skin to Hannibal's mouth.

Hannibal bit at the blue vein that ran down the center of his arm, just enough to leave pale impressions of his teeth that reddened into incomplete circles. Will clenched and unclenched his fist and pulled against the rope. Hannibal licked over the straining tendons in his arm.

"Harder," Will said. "Do it harder."

Hannibal licked over his pulse, just above the rope, bit down, and sucked. Will jerked against his bonds. He wanted to put a hand over his mouth to stifle the noises he was making.

"No one will hear you but me," Hannibal said, and bit him again, harder, teeth sinking into bruised skin.

Will whimpered and twisted. The robe slid on polished wood. He braced himself with his heels. "Harder," he said.

"Much harder and I will draw blood."

"I know."

Hannibal looked at him, eyes half-lidded, jaw relaxed, lips parted, the first faint flush of arousal. No expression to speak of, and that was unusual. When they did this, Hannibal showed Will what he needed to see. Now he showed him nothing.

"Not here," Hannibal said, finally. “It would be difficult for you to explain."

Will looked at the mark on his wrist, color deepening as he watched. “It’ll be difficult to explain anyway. I lecture on this, you know. Bite marks. Suck bruises at the center. Often found on victims of sexual assault."

"I read your article on biting as an attack pattern in certain types of killers. Very interesting. Particularly the correlation with biting in childhood."

"Is there a correlation with you?"

"As a child, I used any weapon to hand. And you? This—” He licked up the line of marks he'd left on Will's arm. "This is all new for you?"

"All of it. You know that."

"You've never asked anyone else to break your skin? To violate your body in that way?"

Will flushed hot at the word violate and turned his head away. He was fully hard now, and Hannibal could see it, could see everything. "Never. Hannibal. Please."

"Later. I promise. For now…" He reached one hand out of sight, behind Will's head, and came back with a scalpel.

The orange glow of the candle flames flickered along its edge. Will's breath caught in his throat. He stared until the metal looked like fire. His wrists ached, and he found he was pulling against his bonds again, heart tripping over itself inside the cavern of his chest, trying to get away.

"Are you afraid, Will?" Hannibal asked. His voice was very soft. Shadows pooled in the hollows of his eyes.

"Yes," Will whispered. "Yes. I'm afraid."

"But you know I'll stop if you need me to, don't you? What's your safeword?"

Will swallowed. "Blackbird. Will you stop, really?"

"Of course. I gave you my word."

Was that a promise? A larger commitment? No way to tell.

"May I begin?" Hannibal said.

Will let out a shaky breath and nodded.

Hannibal looked him over for a few seconds and then touched the blade of the scalpel to his arm, above the elbow, just where Miriam Lass's arm had been severed. Hannibal pressed down. Cold metal split Will's flesh, and he sucked in breath, a high, wavering gasp.

"Is this the first time someone's cut you?" Hannibal asked.

"You know it's not. You know I got stabbed."

"Yes. Tell me about it."

Will shook his head. "Happened too fast. Nothing to tell."

He trailed the scalpel around Will's arm until it made a complete circle, bright red and slowly oozing. "Tell me how it felt when he put the knife in you."

Will squeezed his eyes closed. He was so hard, aware, barely, of arching off the table an inch or two, coming back down with muscles more tense than before.

"It felt cold. Like wading through snowmelt."

Hannibal ran his thumb along the cut he'd made. "Did you like it?"

"It hurt. Worse than anything."

"That doesn't necessarily mean no."

The scalpel touched down in the center of Will's chest, and he took a hard breath. Hannibal dragged the flat of the blade down to his navel. The scrape left a reddening line. He flipped it over, and the blade bit into Will's stomach.

Will gasped and twisted. It hurt, a cold, thin, pain that ran right through him. His arm had moved on to stinging heat. Hannibal pulled the scalpel up, stopped just under his breast bone. Just like the cut he'd used to open up Cecelia Mallory.

"I liked lying there," Will said. He felt Hannibal was reaching inside him to pull the words out. "I liked that there was nothing I could do."

"You can only allow yourself to give in, to give up, when you have no choice. You'll fight to the bitter end. You can't help yourself."

"Yes."

"Tell me how it felt to lie there."

Hannibal licked up the cut he'd just made. His tongue pressed into the narrow groove in Will's skin, inside him, hot and quick. All Will's breath left him in a rush, and he was yanking blindly at the ropes.

"That won't help you," Hannibal said, so calm and smooth, even with Will's blood on his lips.

"I couldn't move," Will said. "I couldn't move at all. It was like dying. I was dying. My head was turned to the side and I couldn't even close my eyes. All I could do was watch the blood."

"Was there very much?"

"It seemed like a lot. I guess it always does when it's yours."

"Yes. Did you think you would die?"

"I thought I might."

"Did you want to?"

"No, but I didn't not want to. I didn't want anything."

"Released from all responsibility. How long did the feeling last?"

"Until the paramedics got there. They kept talking to me, asking me questions."

Hannibal smiled down at him. "Like I'm doing now?"

"No. You're just poking to see where it hurts." Will looked up at his smooth face and bright eyes, the little smile that hovered constantly at the corners of his mouth, as if he couldn't contain his delight. "It hurts everywhere," Will said. "Is that why you like me so much?"

Hannibal bent to kiss him, slow, open-mouthed, wet and filthy until Will was almost humming with pleasure. When he felt the scalpel press behind his ear, he nearly bit down on his own tongue. It hovered there a moment and then slid down to his neck, a cool, smooth threat.

"Nothing you can do," Hannibal murmured. His lips brushed Will's. Their breath mixed on Will's skin, hot and humid. "The loss of blood is more rapid from the carotid than from the jugular. Either way, it's quick, of course."

Will's body shook in time to his pulse. He could hear nothing but his blood and Hannibal's voice. Hannibal pulled back and watched him with flat curiosity, like a snake might watch something small and furry if it weren't yet hungry enough to strike. It looked dishonest to Will, a sham of distance and detachment.

"It's okay," Will told him, and he meant it. Whatever Hannibal decided to do would be fine. Will felt the threat of the blade against his throat and smiled.

Hannibal frowned. It clearly wasn’t the reaction he’d been expecting. His grip shifted on the scalpel. The blade scraped across Will's skin and left a small, raw patch. He spread his free hand over Will's throat. "Is that what you think?" he said.

"Yeah. I'm not afraid anymore."

Will could feel a trickle of blood running off his stomach, down his side. Every small pain had bloomed into warmth now. Sweat gathered along his spine and soaked into the silk beneath him. Hannibal's body sheltered him. The hand on his neck and the sharp prick of metal held him steady.

Hannibal watched him. Time crawled along. Will floated in warmth and a sea of endorphins and a peculiar sense of complete security. He couldn't remember feeling so at peace.

Eventually, the point of the scalpel moved from his throat to his unmarked arm. Hannibal leaned over him. His waistcoat rubbed against the clotting wound on his other arm and snagged it, pulled until Will could feel it oozing, staining Hannibal's clothes.

Hannibal either didn't notice or didn't care. He drew precise, parallel lines along Will's bicep, the sort that might hold book pages if they went deep into the muscle. These skimmed the surface, the first just a scratch, the fourth a bare parting of skin. The last went deeper.

Will jerked and cried out. He could see the wound overflowing before Hannibal clamped his handkerchief to it and tied it in place.

"That will need stitches," he said, cool as ever, and Will shuddered. "But we're not quite done, are we? You wanted something from me that you can't get from a knife."

Dry heat prickled at the back of Will’s throat and his eyes. He remembered the feeling of Hannibal’s teeth in his arm and felt his cock jerk, pre-come smeared across his stomach. Yes, he wanted more of that. More, and deeper. “Please,” he said.

Hannibal bent low and kissed the small, white scar where the knife had gone into him. He bared his teeth and bit down hard. Will felt him break the skin, felt the penetration and arched up off the table, suspended on the points of his heels and his strained shoulders. When Hannibal started to suck, it sent a jolt of twisted pleasure straight to his cock, and he nearly came right there.

He eased back down by degrees, frustrated and hard and saying things he couldn't keep track of, pleas and demands and half-strangled sobs. When he closed his eyes, he felt wet heat gather on his eyelashes.

"Shh," Hannibal said. He licked once more over the bite and then pulled at the knots around Will's wrists. The rope unraveled, and he pulled Will up against his chest, arms solid and tight around him.

Will held onto him and shook. He could barely stand when Hannibal eased him off the table and onto his feet. It got easier, step by step, and Hannibal led him up the stairs and into the master bath.

"Let's get you cleaned up," he said, brisk now, surgeon winning out over sadist.

Will wasn't ready for brisk. He shrugged out of the bloodied robe and pressed up against him. "Let's get me dirtier," he said, and watched Hannibal's eyes darken.

"You're hurt," Hannibal said.

"Yeah. You hurt me." He kissed Hannibal's neck and spoke into his ear. "The little ones sort of burn and sting. I feel them when I move, mostly. The one you want to stitch up is like ice. The scalpel felt so cold going in, just like his knife. But the bite is the best. I can still feel it, all hot and throbbing like you've still got your teeth in me. Like you'll never let me go."

He felt the long rise and fall of Hannibal's chest, the press of his cock against Will's thigh.

"You do the most appalling things to my self-control," Hannibal murmured. "What do you want?"

"Take me to bed and fuck me. I feel like I've been waiting since we met."

A beat of silence. Will listened to the white noise of the bathroom fan, the faint ping of rain on the roof. Winter held back for a few more days.

"I'll clean these first," Hannibal said. "But after that, yes."

"I'm fine."

“That’s not for you to say. Sit there and be still." He pointed to the edge of the tub.

Will sighed and put a towel down before he sat. "You're killing the mood here."

"Nevertheless. Do you want a local anesthetic for the stitches, or do you want to feel them?"

"You just keep this stuff around the house?"

"I keep a great many things around the house. I've found it best to be prepared."

"No anesthetic."

It was the wrong choice. Hannibal's clinical focus lit no answering spark in Will, and he gritted his teeth through the whole process. By the time Hannibal pronounced him done, his body was chilled in the aftermath of adrenaline, and his teeth were chattering despite the towel Hannibal had draped around his shoulders. When they slid together under the sheets, Will plastered himself against Hannibal's body heat and hung on.

Hannibal stroked his back and kissed his forehead. "Are you certain you don't want to rest?" he said.

"I want you," he said, into Hannibal's neck. "I need this."

"Very well."

Hannibal eased on top of him, weight supported on knees and forearms, but pressed flush to Will's body, and so warm. He kissed Will slowly, tugged his hair until he bared his neck, breathed hot over the steady thump of his pulse.

"Do you like the way I taste?" Will asked.

Hannibal nipped his ear. "I think I have never met anyone more calculating than you in my entire life."

"You just never met anyone who knew where your buttons were. Or even knew you had any."

Will suspected that the next kiss was solely to shut him up. It made him want to laugh. Instead, he concentrated on memorizing the feel of Hannibal's naked skin, back and ass and thighs, every part of him that Will could reach.

"On your side will likely be easiest for you," Hannibal said, but he didn't move away.

Will shook his head. "Like this."

Hannibal reached over him to pull open a drawer.

"You really keep lube and condoms by the bed like a normal person?" Will said.

"I do have sex, Will," Hannibal said, dry and a touch impatient. "The bedroom is the usual place."

"Alana said you had affairs, not relationships."

"That's a fair assessment."

Hannibal sat back and pushed Will's legs apart, feet on the bed, spread wide for him.

"So what happened with me? That obviously didn't go according to plan."

Hannibal coated his fingers with slick from the same sort of jar he'd used when he'd strapped Will's legs together and fucked him between the thighs. Will's body recognized the scent and a zing of arousal crept up his spine.

"I wanted to know you better. I took the opportunities that presented themselves."

He slid his fingers over Will's hole, rubbing lightly, slippery and cool. Will couldn't keep still, squirmed at the feel of it, at the promised invasion. Even as Hannibal penetrated him with one fingertip, he thought about the study he'd read months ago on psychopathy and attendant problems with planning and foresight.

At the time, he'd thought that what the psychiatrist in question called lack of planning could result in truly brilliant improvisational skills and split-second decision making. The sort that might be as useful in an ER surgeon as in a killer.

Hannibal pressed in, hard and sudden. Two fingers twisted inside Will, filled him and made him gasp.

"That's enough thinking,” Hannibal said. "I want your focus here, with me."

"It was never anywhere but you," Will said. He took short breaths, almost panting as his body adjusted. "God, that feels weird."

"Pain?"

"Burns a little. I'm okay."

A little turned into a lot as Hannibal stretched him, fingers scissoring and twisting incessantly. Will kept quiet. He was tempted to tell Hannibal he didn't have to be so careful, but this felt more dangerous than knives, more intimate and raw than the switch across his back. He breathed and watched Hannibal listen for each breath.

"How is it now? Better?"

Will nodded. He couldn't take his eyes off Hannibal's face. He felt the stretch of delicate skin as Hannibal added a third finger. Will touched his mouth and then pulled him down for a kiss. Hannibal began to thrust his fingers in and out. Will felt empty when he pulled back, strangely warm when he pushed in again.

"I think that's enough," Will said.

Hannibal said nothing, just helped him position a pillow under his hips and dipped his fingers back inside Will's body, just two this time. Will frowned, an odd sort of itch under his skin. He hadn't thought three had been much to write home about, but he wanted the sensation back now. His cock was still soft, and it was nothing like what he'd expected, but even so.

"What are you waiting for?"

"Patience," Hannibal said.

More lube, so much that Will could smell its faint spice in the air all around them and feel it dripping down between his cheeks to stain Hannibal's sheets. Three fingers, thrusting smoothly. Hannibal was opening him up. Making a space in Will's body for his cock. He flushed a little at that thought. Absurd, considering the situation. He liked it though, liked the idea of it. Of being changed somehow for Hannibal's pleasure.

"Better," Hannibal said softly. He changed the angle of his fingers and rubbed in a way that had Will clutching the sheets and staring up at him.

"What—” Will said, and then quickly shook his head. The answer was obvious, but he just hadn't known.

Hannibal did it again, and again, and Will pulled his knees up to his chest and didn't care about the indignity of the position or the small cramp in his left hip as long as Hannibal didn't stop. Hannibal braced one hand on the back of Will's thigh and gave him long, smooth strokes that seemed to touch every nerve inside of him, always ending with a glancing brush to his prostate that made Will want to whine for more. He bit the inside of his cheek.

"How do you feel?" Hannibal asked.

Will turned his face toward the pillow, hid as much as he could. "Don’t— Come on, don't do this right now."

"You know what you need to say if you really want me to stop. Since you won't say it, I can only assume that you enjoy this. Is that right, Will? Do you like being forced to speak your private truths aloud? Do you get off on that hot rush of shame and embarrassment?"

Will shook his head uselessly, eyes closed now, hand over his face.

"Tell me," Hannibal said.

"It feels good," Will mumbled. "Everything you do feels good. Even when it hurts."

"And this is just the same, isn't it? Words dissect more cleanly than knives. Do you remember rubbing yourself off against my thigh?"

Will swallowed hard and nodded. He could feel his cock leaking against his stomach now.

"Fuck yourself on my fingers," Hannibal said. "I want to watch you."

It took effort to let go of his legs and ease his feet down to the bed again. He stretched and straightened one leg at a time, aware of Hannibal's eyes on him, three fingers still inside him, just waiting.

Will braced his elbows on the bed and rocked his hips forward. Hannibal found the right angle for him, and that hot spike of pleasure washed away some of his embarrassment. He moved again, and again, and let his head fall back, shoved himself forward to take what he needed.

Hannibal stroked Will's thigh with his free hand. "Do you tell yourself it's all my fault, you'd never do or say such things if I didn't force you?"

"I don't know— I don’t— I don't think about it."

"I think that's a lie, Will. What else have you fantasized about being forced to do?"

Will flushed hotter still, shook his head.

“Tell me,” Hannibal, and it wasn’t a request.

“I— Before, in your study— I imagined being naked on my knees, and I had to beg you to suck your cock. Oh, god. Sounds so stupid, why did you make me—” But the slightly sick feeling of having exposed himself too much just got him hotter. He worked himself on Hannibal's fingers, thighs aching, wet sounds and his own groans as he took them deeper and harder.

"That's right," Hannibal murmured. "I made you. It's all my fault, isn't it? Such a monster. Just the monster you need. You wouldn't know what to do with mercy or kindness."

Even in that moment, dizzy and stupid with arousal, Will could barely think of a time Hannibal had shown him anything but mercy and kindness. "Please," he said.

"Can you come like this, do you think?"

"I don’t— Maybe." He bit his lip, moved faster. "Maybe. But I want—”

"I'll still fuck you, don't worry. I'd prefer to have you afterward."

He stroked Will's cock once, root to tip, and Will lost all his rhythm and most of his mental processes. "God, again, please touch me, just like that—”

Hannibal stroked him slow and steady, and Will's hips worked with frantic jerks to get more. He came in seconds and collapsed flat on the bed, sweaty and limp, streaks of come halfway up his chest, heart pounding.

Hannibal rolled him off the pillow underneath his hips, added another, and positioned him face down, all without any help from Will. Strong from carrying bodies, Will thought, from the necessity of moving dead weight without assistance. Another piece of Hannibal and the Ripper fit together with a tiny mental click.

"I wanted it face to face," Will said, words nearly slurring as he tried to get his brain back online.

"And this is how I want it," Hannibal said. "You needn't do anything at all. Just let me use you."

The fitted sheet cooled Will’s face, and he reached up to grip the headboard. His shoulder ached. He wondered if Hannibal would still want to pay for his physical therapy. If Will could possibly justify letting him.

Hannibal's forefinger slid around the ring of loosened muscle, playing with him, dipping inside and then pulling out again. Will gave up on the headboard and gripped his own hair.

"Will you just do it?" he said.

Hannibal leaned over him and kissed the back of his neck. "You're so warm. Overheated and oversensitive, I imagine. Your body wants to be left in peace. Shall I let you rest?"

"I swear to God, you are such an asshole."

Hannibal laughed quietly. "Perhaps all your therapy should be post-coital. You certainly seem to be more inclined to honesty in this state."

"Try me after some actual coitus."

"Mm. Ask me nicely then."

Will ground his teeth. "Please," he said, knowing that wasn't going to be enough.

"Did you know that the flower sweet William grows red in the wild? Now there are so many cultivars that you can find it in nearly any shade from pink to blue, but it started out the color of blood. I believe I'll plant some in the spring."

"What do you want me to say?"

"Tell me what you want, Will. That's all."

"I want you to fuck me." He paused and swallowed. "I want you to use me, like you said. To get off. Like that's all I can— All I'm good for." His voice sank until he could barely hear himself. "Like all I have to think about is pleasing you."

Hannibal kissed the small of his back and shifted forward. Will could feel the head of his cock pressing slowly in. "You always please me."

"Not always."

"Always. Even when I have to correct you. I enjoy that as well, you know."

He sank into Will's body, slowly, so slowly. Will pulled at his own hair and tried not to squirm. It didn't hurt, but it felt so much more. Every sensation intensified. Fuller, hotter, his body molding around Hannibal's.

"Even now?" Will said, meaning now that he knew, now that he'd asked Hannibal to stop and they hovered in this liminal space between war and peace.

"Especially now. Do you want to please me, Will? Is it so important to you?"

Will had no plans to answer that, but there was something about the way Hannibal moved inside him, so steady and implacable, almost geological, that pushed the truth out of him.

"It's easier than pleasing myself," he mumbled. "It's nice to get something right for a change."

"And yet you won't let me praise you for it."

"Words don't mean anything. I can tell when you— When I did okay.”

Hannibal put his hands on Will's ass and dug his fingers in hard. Bruising, Will thought, and couldn't help the noise he made. It sounded like contentment. He could see the marks in his head already. Hannibal pulled his cheeks apart and traced the join of their bodies with one slick finger.

"Do you think you could take more?" Hannibal asked him.

It took Will a moment to understand what he meant and then his body clenched tight around Hannibal's cock without his permission. "You can’t— No. That is not going to work. No, don't."

Hannibal stroked down his spine. "You won't even try? For me?"

"It's too much. I can barely take…" He swallowed. "What I've got."

"You always ask me for more. Never content. You always want me to make it worse."

"Not always, not— I can't, please don’t— Oh, god, oh—“

Hannibal eased the tip of his finger in beside his cock, and blackbird was on the tip of Will's tongue, poised and ready. It was too intense, too invasive. It felt like Hannibal was taking him over and he'd have nothing left. Panic rose up his throat with a sour tang, but he heard Hannibal's voice through it, speaking softly over the roar of his blood.

"Breathe, Will. Just breathe. In and out. It feels like too much now, I know, but you should see how you look. The way your body flexes around me, trying to close as I force it wider. You feel perfect, struggling to keep me out."

Will shook his head and smacked his palm against the mattress. He didn't dare move otherwise.

"How does it feel to you?" Hannibal asked.

The next few minutes were measured in harsh breaths and the slow push of Hannibal's first knuckle inside him. It took him that long to get enough to air to speak.

"Feel like I'm going to break," Will said. "I feel fragile."

"I won't let you. You don't need to worry." Hannibal twisted his finger, and Will whined. "Shh. I have you. I'll take care of you."

The bulge of his second knuckle did it. It felt huge, the stretch of skin perilous, and when it slipped inside him, Will had no resistance left. He collapsed against the bed, panting and limp.

Hannibal started to thrust in earnest, finger still inside him, pinning Will down with that small touch. Will’s head was filled with a gentle fizz of white noise, his own pulse, and Hannibal's sharper breaths as he thrust harder. Hard enough to slide Will up the sheets, hard enough to make him gasp and shove a hand over his mouth when Hannibal's cock grazed his prostate.

He had a few seconds of blind, desperate overstimulation, and then Hannibal was coming, breathing hot between his shoulder blades, curved over him. He eased his finger out and stayed there, stroking Will's side with a hand that wasn't quite steady.

"All right?" he said, finally.

Will nodded, and even that seemed like too much effort. He rested his forehead on the mattress and stretched his arms out to either side.

"One moment," Hannibal said and stood.

Will heard him moving about the room, getting rid of the condom, the door to the bathroom opening. Water running. In a moment, he returned with a warm, damp cloth. Even the deep plush of Hannibal's towels grated like sandpaper on Will's oversensitive skin, but Hannibal used a light touch and, gradually, Will sank into the feeling. Hannibal wiped the sweat from his back and neck, turned him over, and cleaned his own come from his chest and stomach.

Absolutely boneless and exhausted, Will let him. He stared alternately at the pale green ceiling and the top of Hannibal's head. His hair had fallen loose from its habitual slick lines. It curved in a soft fringe across his forehead. Will reached up and brushed it back.

Hannibal caught his hand and kissed it, a smudge of warmth across his knuckles. “Are you hungry?" he said.

"Don't go," Will said. He turned his hand to grab Hannibal's wrist. "Not yet."

"I won't," Hannibal said gently. He pulled back the covers and lifted Will up and over and between the sheets. He slid in beside him and let Will lie across his chest, ear pressed over his heart.

"Do you need me?" Hannibal asked.

Will hung on to him tighter. "Don't go," he said again.

"What would you do if I did?" Hannibal sounded curious.

He could feel the fault line behind his eyes and in the tightness of his throat. "Please don't." He sounded on the verge of tears. Maybe he was.

Hannibal wrapped both arms around him and held him tight, as tightly as if he were bound. Will relaxed against him with a shuddering sigh.

"Rest," Hannibal said. "I won't go anywhere. I have you."

Time stretched. Will might have slept. He was semi-aware of Hannibal's hands moving across his skin, combing through his hair. Hannibal spoke to him quietly. It might have been French or English or Martian. Will only heard the intention behind the words, soothing and full of approval.

When reality started to filter back in, Hannibal was still speaking, but not to Will. He recited something under his breath in Italian as he stroked Will's back.

"What’s that?”

"Dante," Hannibal said, and switched to English.

"And then if I, whom other aid forsook,
Would aid myself, and innocent of art
Would fain have sight of thee as a last hope,
No sooner do I lift mine eyes to look
Than the blood seems as shaken from my heart,
And all my pulses beat at once and stop."

"I know how he feels," Will said.

"Yes," Hannibal murmured. "Well. How are you? Ready to rejoin the world?"

"No. Not at all. Screw the world. Let's stay here."

Hannibal chuckled. "I need to check the roast whether we are to eat it or not. Will you be all right by yourself for a few minutes?"

"Yeah. Sorry."

"Don't be. Never apologize for needing me so desperately. It's intoxicating."

Will curled more tightly in on himself, too aware of how naked he was, in every sense.

"Forgive me," Hannibal said. "That wasn't what you needed to hear right now."

"Don't start lying to me."

"When you're more yourself, I'll tell you anything you wish, but not when you're like this."

"What am I like?"

“I could break you with a word. It's tempting sometimes, to see how you would shatter.”

"But you won't."

“Never.”

“Because I'm yours."

"Yes. Mine."

Will wanted to hate it, but the truth was that he had never felt safer or more cared for in his life. He closed his eyes and let Hannibal hold him and stroke down his back.

"Do you want to come with me or wait here?" Hannibal asked.

"Come with you."

They got up, and Hannibal wrapped Will in his robe. Will sat on the edge of the bed and watched as he dressed in pajama bottoms and a maroon sweater. He took Will's hand to lead him downstairs.

The smell of cooking meat met them halfway down. Will's stomach growled, despite his knowledge of what they would be eating. He’d had nothing since the frozen waffles last night.

Hannibal tied on his apron and moved about the kitchen, steps guided as if by prearranged choreography. He took the roast from the oven, transferred a dish of asparagus from the counter to a rack just under the broiler, and cracked two eggs into a well of flour on his counter.

It smelled good. It would taste good. Will thought he'd be okay if he could avoid thinking about where it came from.

"Hannibal?"

"What is it?" Hannibal kept his hands moving, working eggs into flour.

"Don't feed my dogs that sausage anymore."

Hannibal paused and looked up at him. No expression on his face as he nodded. He turned back to his task.

"Pasta?" Will asked.

"Spaetzle. One pours the batter through a colander into boiling water." He transferred the mixture to a bowl, added some milk, and moved over to the stove.

Will watched him cook and weighed the psychological stress of eating a person against that of not eating at all. He remembered being hungry with a clarity that most of his childhood no longer possessed, as if he carried that feeling and the fear and resentment that went with it on a string around his neck, preserved in amber.

When they sat down at the table, Will tried the roast first. “It's good," he said. And it was.

Hannibal watched him throughout the meal, but Will didn't falter. If this were some sort of strange bargain they were striking, he could keep up his end of it. If it weren't, he wouldn't leave the house alive anyway, and his last meal wasn't much to worry about.

After dinner, they went into the study, with ice wine and almond biscotti. Will built up the fire and shuffled back to lean against Hannibal's chair. Hannibal's hand settled on the back of his neck. He closed his eyes and let himself drift.

"This is not what I expected,” Hannibal said, after a stretch of silence.

Will took a sip of wine. It tasted of honey and apricots, sweet and rich as summer.

"Maybe you should have. Captor bonding. Stockholm Syndrome. It's not uncommon for abused children to turn to their abuser for comfort. We're programmed to survive, not for maximum psychological health."

"Do you feel abused?"

"I feel betrayed."

"And yet you are still here."

"Where else would I go?"

"You have other options."

"I don't like my other options."

More silence. Hannibal's hand slipped down the front of the robe to trace the edges of the bandage he'd used to cover the bite mark.

"Why didn't you turn me in, Will? It's not purely emotional attachment. You're no more capable of allowing that to override your judgment than I am."

Two hours ago, Will wouldn't have known how to answer that. Now all his fear and hesitation had drained away like a receding tide, and he saw the answer written across the naked shore.

"Because you're mine,” he said. “And they can't have you.”

Chapter Text

Will woke as the mattress shifted. Hannibal had set a tray on the bed and was sliding back between the sheets with him. Will dragged himself upright and rubbed his eyes. He couldn't reliably cope with cereal first thing in the morning, let alone anything that had come out of Hannibal’s deep freeze. No method of escape presented itself to his foggy brain.

“Coffee?" he asked.

"Of course."

Hannibal poured him a cup, and Will clutched it. Through the steam, he took in the tray. Poached eggs on toast with smoked salmon and some kind of dill sauce. Will knew fish. Unless the salmon had been very carefully doctored, it was actually salmon.

“Tactful," he said.

"Mornings are not your best time."

Will resented his gratitude, but he felt it all the same. He took a sip of coffee and then another. "I don't always eat breakfast," he said carefully.

"You do when I cook for you."

“It's good. And I don't want to be rude. But if we're going to keep doing this…I’m just warning you."

“If you decline in the future, I will try not to be offended."

If Hannibal stayed away from the meat, Will thought he might get used to eating breakfast regularly. The eggs were perfect, the salmon rich and slightly smoky.

"I cured it myself," Hannibal said.

Will filed that under only slightly worrying. As the haze of sleep lifted, he tried to think. Everything Hannibal did and said had meaning, and he had never served a meal that wasn't also a statement. He had put Will's needs above his own desires, and not for the first time. Some of Will’s resentment ebbed.

"Thank you," he said, and leaned over to press a kiss to the corner of Hannibal's mouth.

Hannibal gave him that blank look again, fork suspended in mid-air for just a second before he adjusted his face and kept on eating. "I'm glad you're enjoying it," he said.

Will crunched toast and let his mind wander. “You took that case with my newest fishing flies in it," he said, because it was the only thing that made sense, even if he couldn't work out why.

Hannibal hesitated before he answered, and that both unsettled Will and gave him hope. At least Hannibal was standing on uncertain ground as well.

“It was a reversal of a previous decision," Hannibal said.

"What decision?"

"I had altered them."

Will put down his fork. "How," he said, although he thought he already knew.

“To include certain materials."

"What kind of materials?"

A longer pause this time. "Human remains. From Cassie Boyle and Marissa Schur.”

"You were going to frame me for the copycat killings."

"Yes."

Will looked down at the carnage on his plate, the yellow blood of the egg yolks, the raw flesh of the salmon. He took another deliberate bite and another. White patches stained his hand where he held the fork too tightly, metal sinking into skin.

"Will?"

"You planted Nicholas Boyle’s DNA on Marissa Schur’s body.”

"Yes."

Will wiped up the last of the dill sauce with his toast. He could feel his mind trying not to make the last connection, but he couldn't hold it off forever. "Tell me what happened the night Nicholas Boyle attacked Abigail."

"He came to talk. She gutted him. I knocked Alana out, and we hid the body."

It wasn't a surprise, but it was too much. Will pushed back the covers and got out of bed. "I'm going," he said. Hannibal caught his wrist. "I'm not going to tell anyone. I just can't be here right now."

"I'm not sure I should let you go."

"You're under the covers with a pot of hot coffee six inches from your crotch. I can promise you a hell of a fight if you try to keep me here.”

"I am not accustomed to the necessity of trust."

"You're pointing a metaphorical gun at my head. Either trust me, or be prepared to pull the trigger."

“No half measures."

“No.”

Hannibal held onto him a second or two longer. His fingertips dug into Will’s skin, still bruised and tender. By the time he released him, Will didn't want to pull away, but he did.

"Go," Hannibal said.

"I'll shower first."

"Do you want to give me time to change my mind?"

"It’s not like the only place you can kill me is in your house."

Will had left his clothes and bag in the guest bedroom and he showered in the attached bathroom. He emerged to find clothes laid out for him. All his own, from the bag he'd brought, except for the white cotton undershirt. He owned more than one like it, but Hannibal's was crisp and smooth, perfectly white, no ragged edges. He pressed his hand against it and hesitated, feeling the tighter weave, unsoftened by a hundred laundry cycles.

When he gave in and pulled it on, it felt good against his skin. He buttoned the plaid shirt over it quickly, but Hannibal would know. He was sure of it.

They said goodbye at the door. Will was the one to lean in for a kiss. He felt cold all over, more in need of Hannibal’s warmth than ever.

"I'm concerned for your mental state," Hannibal said.

"You probably should be."

Will got into his car and started for home with perfect calm.

When he arrived, he found Beverly parked in his driveway. She got out of her car and waved as he pulled up.

"Delivery for you," she said. She held up a stack of folders.”Old stuff on the Ripper that Jack says you might not have seen. And paperwork. How do you live all the way out here?"

"I like it all the way out here. You want coffee?" His hands were ice cold. He needed something to warm them.

"Does anyone ever say no to that question?"

The dogs poured out onto the front porch when he opened the door. Beverly shoved the files at him and knelt to pet them. He watched her public face dissolve into a bright grin as Winston licked her ear. She was never precisely reserved, but always armed and armored. Not now, as Belka knocked into her and she landed on her butt with a thud and a laugh.

She looked up at him, still smiling. “Jack said you had a lot, but I didn't know you were the crazy cat lady of dogs."

Will managed to smile back. "You want me to call them off?"

Peanut settled down to sit in her lap, and she shook her head. "Mom was allergic to dogs, and Dad was allergic to cats. I had a frog for a while. I named him Buoy."

"I'll make the coffee. You come in when you're ready."

Inside, he started the coffee and took his pills. He hadn't bothered with them before he left for Hannibal's house. He walked to the back door and touched the frost patterns on the glass. Winston trotted up to sit on his foot and lean his full weight against Will's leg. Home.

Will laid a hand on his head. "I wasn't sure I’d see you again, buddy.”

Winston licked his hand, and Will had to sit down abruptly at the kitchen table. Beverly found him with his head in his hands, hunched over the files.

She sat down next to him. "You okay?"

He shook his head. He wasn't sure what would come out of his mouth if he tried to speak.

"Did something happen?"

She put a hand on his shoulder, and he struggled with the simultaneous desires to shake it off and lean into it. He held himself still. It wasn't what he wanted. She wasn't who he wanted. He took a slow breath. He'd be fine once he got used to standing on his own again.

“Bad night," he said, voice rough but steady. "I'm fine."

"Didn’t I say I wasn't going to believe you anymore when you said you were fine? Did Dr. Lecter do something?"

Will laughed, and it came out ugly. He couldn't help it. "You could say that."

"You want me to beat him up for you?"

That surprised a better laugh out of him, and he managed to untangle his fingers from his hair and look at her. “I’m hoping to settle it without bloodshed."

"I'm guessing you don't want to talk about it."

"Right."

She tapped her fingers on the table. "I could prank call him from a pay phone in the middle of the night."

"You're just assuming it's his fault?"

"Of course it's his fault."

"Why of course?"

"Because your face, that's why. I've seen you pretty upset, but I've never seen you look like that."

He swallowed and opened the top file. “Work is easier. Even when it's hard. What's this? It's not the Ripper.”

She plucked the file out of his hand. "That is my excuse to go to Alana’s house after I'm done here. You remember the dead guy at McDonald's with a fork through his tongue? This is the third one. They found him at an Arby's in Virginia. The one before that was Burger King.”

“It's ours now?"

"Yeah, Jack wants a profile."

He nodded. Not his business, not right now. Except that he'd already seen the photo of the body. Naked, stretched across two tables, apparent gunshot wound to the chest, tongue distended and swollen, pierced through with a silver fork. The design on the fork handle showed a fox at the base of a tree trunk. Something about the scene rang a faint bell in the back of his mind.

Beverly glanced at him. "You got something?"

He searched for it, but had to shake his head. A dim heat haze covered the last week or two before the hospital. His memories shimmered and shifted and would not hold still for close examination. "I'll call you if it comes back to me."

"Or if you want to talk."

“Or that. Thanks."

When she had gone, Will lay down on his bed, cup of coffee balanced on his stomach. He let the dogs jump up and pile around him. Now that he was still enough to feel it, most of his body ached. His eyes closed as he scratched Winston’s ears.

The cut on his arm hurt when he moved, stitches pulling against skin. The fine lines on his chest and stomach, his other arm, and the scrape on his neck stung when he touched them or when they rubbed against his clothes. His shoulders ached from pulling at the ropes and from holding himself still while Hannibal stretched him open.

But the bites were the most constant. Even the ones on his arm, the ones that had only bruised, spoke to him with every shift of breath or muscle. He rolled up his sleeve to look at them, a line of purple flowers with blue stems running just under his skin. The one on his chest felt so deep that it might as well have taken out a chunk of his heart.

He let that image roll around in his mind for a while. Beating muscle, red teeth, the viscous drip of blood from Hannibal's lips. Did he always cook them first? Will squeezed his eyes shut and turned on his side. Peanut squirmed closer and licked his chin. He tried his best not to think.

On the edge of sleep, it came back to him: the silverware at Leda. He didn't remember a fox specifically, but they’d had just about everything else. There might be no connection. He reached for his phone anyway.

“You got the files?" Jack asked.

"Yeah. Thanks. I think. About the fork in that guy’s tongue—”

"You're not on that case."

"I know. Hannibal took me to this restaurant—”

"I don't want to hear about you and Hannibal."

"Jesus, Jack. I didn't think I'd be getting this from you."

“It's not like that. You know it's not."

“Then listen to me for thirty seconds. This restaurant, near Quantico, it's called Leda. All the silverware’s mismatched, all antique stuff, different patterns. At the very least, whoever's buying it could probably tell you something about those forks."

There was a beat of silence. "Yeah, all right," Jack said."We’ll look into it. But if you're going to be thinking about work instead of resting, I'd rather have you looking at that Ripper stuff. Maybe you'll find something we missed."

Will agreed and hung up with the impression that Leda was, at best, on Jack's back burner. Two hours later, with his backlog of paperwork done, he looked at the pile of Ripper files. He reached for the first one and stopped with his hand on the folder. Dread crawled around the edges of his mind.

He pulled his hand back. He could not open that file and look at those pictures. Not today. Not when he still wanted Hannibal's touch so badly that its continual absence ached more than all of his wounds put together.

He fed the dogs and took them out. He answered e-mails. He tried to read. When he opened the refrigerator to find something for lunch and saw the provisions Hannibal had bought for him, he gave up.

At worst, he'd get an overpriced lunch out of it. He put on a tie, got in the car, and headed for Leda.

*

The concrete shoebox building sat isolated in an empty parking lot. Closed on Mondays. Just his luck. He pulled the car around back where the door to the kitchen lurked between two dumpsters and a stack of empty crates. The door stood open a half inch and showed a dim light on inside.

Will knocked briefly and then pushed it open. "Hello?" he called. His eyes adjusted slowly, and the scene swam out of shadow.

A gun lay on the floor. Five feet further into the room, a man was slumped unconscious over a butcher’s block. Just beyond him stood Hannibal. Will stared at him, and he stared back.

"What the hell are you wearing?" Will said.

Hannibal was dressed head to toe in plastic, gloves and booties included.

"Shut the door, please," Hannibal said, and he sounded so perfectly calm and sure that Will did it without thinking. "I was expecting you."

"No, you weren't."

"What makes you say that?"

Will eyed his plastic suit. “Because you don't like looking ridiculous in front of anyone, let alone me."

"It's practical."

“With a hair net, it would be practical. But I guess there's only so far you'll go to stay out of prison."

Hannibal sighed. “Come over here, please.”

Will came closer, step by step. "Is this him? The guy sticking fancy forks through people’s tongues and dumping them at fast food chains? I guess he’d suit your recent taste for other killers.”

“Yes. I wasn't aware you were involved in the investigation."

"I saw it in the paper.”

"You recalled the detail of the fork and decided to speak to the chef.”

"I needed a distraction.”

The unconscious man wore chef’s whites. His back rose and fell steadily with his breath. No sign of blood or any other mark on him.

"He didn't see me coming," Hannibal said.

"Good. Then let's get out of here. Is that his gun?" The victims had been shot before they had been stabbed through the tongue. Will pulled his gloves from his pocket and put them on before he picked it up off the floor.

"I want you to do something for me, Will."

"What?"

Hannibal took up a knife from the counter and held it out to him by the blade. "I want you to cut him."

Will took a step back."No. Why?"

"I want you to know what it feels like."

"I don't want to know what it feels like."

"I think you're lying."

Will looked at the knife. The angle showed him a slice of Hannibal's face reflected in the blade.

"You don't need to kill him," Hannibal said. "One cut."

Will shook his head and kept shaking it, even as Hannibal pressed the knife into his palm and closed his fingers around the handle. "I can't," he said. "I can't. I don't want to." But he remembered how it had felt to cut into Hannibal's skin. How clear everything had seemed. His breath and heart shook his body, and the chill crept into him again. He looked down at the knife in his hand and expected to see frost patterns winding up his arm.

"Just once,” Hannibal said, calm and soothing. "You'll try it, won't you? For me?"

The silence of the room pressed in on him, the man’s breath, the distant traffic.

"Where?" Will whispered.

Hannibal pulled up the man's shirt to bare his side. He drew a line with his finger along the bottom rib. "Here," he said. “Just as you did with me."

Will lifted the knife and set the edge against the man's pale flesh. One cut. Put that way, It didn't seem so bad."What happens afterward?” he asked.

"Don't concern yourself. This is all you need to think about right now."

But Will could imagine what would happen afterward, could always imagine. He saw blood well up around his knife. After the first cut, it would be easy. Up and under the ribs: the simplest way to a man's heart. He could do it. Hannibal would be so proud.

"I asked you to stop," Will said. Now he saw his own face reflected in the blade. "I know you got my message."

Hannibal didn't answer for a second or two. He curled a hand over Will’s upper arm where he had stitched him back together. "I got it, yes. I considered it. This is outside the boundaries of our agreement."

"It's supposed to stop you from hurting me. You’re hurting me.”

"You have endured far worse, and it will only last a moment.”

“I’ll be a different person if I do this.”

"Is that a bad thing?"

"I guess it doesn't matter now."

Hannibal stroked the back of his neck. "Tell me what you’re thinking, Will."

"I'm jealous of who I'll be after I do this. Because he's the one you really want.”

Hannibal tightened his grip. “That’s not true. You are stretched between two worlds. This will be far easier on you.”

"I never asked for an easy life."

“Or a happy one?"

"Happy and easy aren’t the same thing.”

Hannibal let out a slow breath and rested his cheek against Will’s temple. “You must see that we cannot go on as we are.”

"Yeah. I see.” The man's side rose up with his breath as if to meet the knife. Will started to press down.

Hannibal caught his wrist and held him back. “Would you be so different?”

“Don’t you know?”

Will turned enough to look up into Hannibal's eyes. The low light had dilated his pupils, and Will could see himself there, standing on a dark floor with a spill of dried blood all around him. He could see Hannibal’s chest shake with his heart beat.

Hannibal took the knife from his hand. "Yes. I suppose I do.”

Will saw what he meant to do before Hannibal even moved. As the knife arced toward the man’s naked side, Will raised the gun, aimed for Hannibal's shoulder, and pulled the trigger.

The force of the bullet sent Hannibal back a step. He grabbed the counter behind him for support and then sank slowly toward the floor, one hand over the wound, eyes fixed steadily on Will.

Will took a careful breath. His thoughts speeded up. His mind felt like his own again, maybe for the first time since he’d realized what Hannibal was.

"Take the suit off," he said.

"I am in some pain," Hannibal said, between his teeth.

“Yeah? So am I. Take the damn suit off. Are you sure this guy is the killer?"

"I saw him with the last one. Sloppy work." He started to struggle with the zipper of the plastic suit.

Will pulled the man's shirt back down and hauled him upright. He considered their respective heights, trajectories, where Hannibal had been standing when the bullet hit him. With a forensic map laid over the scene in front of him, he fit the gun into the man's hand, aimed six inches to the left of where Hannibal had been, eased the man's finger over the trigger, and squeezed.

The report echoed around the kitchen. Will's ears rang with a high, tinny sound. He hadn’t heard the first shot at all.

Hannibal was halfway out of the suit. Blood had soaked into his clothes and stained the cabinet behind him. Will pulled the plastic off him, gloves and booties as well, and gave him a clean dish towel to press against the wound.

“It was my idea to come and ask about the silverware," Will said. "I invited you and suggested lunch. We got here and found the restaurant closed. Where's your car?"

"Too conspicuous," Hannibal said. He spoke slowly and quietly, and his face was pale. "I have another, parked some distance away. The registration is not in my name."

“Keys,” Will said, and waited until Hannibal handed them over and gave him a description of the car and its location. “I'll move it later. You took a cab from your office. You paid cash. You don't remember the name of the cab company. When we got here, I asked him about the forks. He pulled out a gun, shot once and missed, and then got you in the shoulder. Only if someone asks. Don’t volunteer anything.”

Hannibal nodded. “The gunshot residue,” he said.

"Which one of us has a forensics degree? Don't worry about the gunshot residue."

Hannibal's lips curled up in a faint smile. "Yes, Will. Just as you say." He looked down at his shoulder. "I may lose consciousness soon."

Will was already up and moving. He stuck the plastic suit under his jacket and dialed 911 as he jogged out of the kitchen to his car. He shoved the suit under a tarp and grabbed a blanket.

Hannibal leaned against him as Will sat down next to him and folded the blanket around his shoulders. "They'll be here soon," Will said.

"How did you subdue him," Hannibal murmured. His eyes were closed now. His head rested on Will’s shoulder.

"You didn’t see it. Don't worry about it.”

"This isn't going to work, you know.”

"It's going to work."

"I don't mean your interpretation of today's events. I mean us.”

“I told you, I'm not giving you up."

"It seems I feel the same."

He could hear sirens in the distance. "We'll talk about it when you get out of the hospital.” He swallowed and reached for Hannibal's hand. It was cold. “You’re going to be okay, right?"

"There may be some residual pain, perhaps nerve damage, but it's not life-threatening."

"I'm not sorry."

"I wouldn't expect you to be."

They waited in silence for the ambulance, Hannibal’s fingers tangled with his, Hannibal’s blood on both their hands. After the paramedics took Hannibal away, Will gave the cops a brief summary of the situation. He stayed long enough to see the chef regain consciousness and be loaded into a police car, dazed and stumbling.

Will got in his own car and called Beverly.

"Katz," she said briskly.

"It's Will." At the sound of a familiar voice, he suddenly didn't have to feign the unsteadiness in his own. "Hannibal's just been taken to Johns Hopkins with a gunshot wound to the shoulder."

"Oh, my god. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Would you meet me there? I just don't want to—” Sit there alone, waiting, in the smell of Lysol and sterile death. He really didn't.

"Yeah, of course. Do you want me to come and get you?"

"No, I've got my car."

"What happened?"

"I'll tell you when I see you, okay? I just want to get there."

She said she would see him soon, said she'd let Jack and Alana know, and hung up. Will sat hunched over the steering wheel for a few seconds and then he made himself straighten up and start the car.

He looked at his reflection in the rearview mirror. A streak of blood cut across his forehead where he’d pushed his hair back. His face was nearly as pale as Hannibal’s. The role of the traumatized boyfriend would not be a difficult one in any sense.

Alana and Beverly met him at the hospital. Beverly hugged him immediately, and he surprised himself by holding onto her for a few seconds, an uncomfortable lump in his throat.

"How is he?" Alana asked.

"Surgery. He said he'd be okay." He gave her a weak smile. "He should know, right?"

She squeezed his shoulder. "I'm sure he'll be fine."

They sat in a small waiting room in the bowels of the hospital. Dim light, mauve carpet, pastel abstract prints on the wall. Or, at least, Beverly and Alana sat. Will paced. On his third or fourth transit, Alana stood up and took him by the arm.

"There's a men's room down the hall. You still have blood on your face.”

He swallowed. "Sorry. I know this must be worse for you. You've known him longer."

"Longer doesn't necessarily mean better. You don't understand what he's like with you, Will. You didn't know him before."

He wanted to ask what she meant, but she turned him toward the door and gave him a little push. He went. In the men's room, he washed his face and hands and got most of the blood out from under his nails.

Jack arrived an hour later with coffee for all of them. He didn't say a word, just sat down next to Will and clapped him once on the shoulder.

Will looked from face to face. His friends, Hannibal’s friends. People whose very presence here meant he was no longer alone in the world. He imagined telling them about Hannibal now, while Hannibal was helpless under someone else's knife. They wouldn't believe him first, but they would check. The evidence would be there. He imagined Alana’s face when she realized what she’d been eating at those dinner parties. If he’d had any desire to tell them, that alone would have changed his mind.

Two hours of alternating silence and stilted conversation later, a nurse came in to tell them that Hannibal was in recovery and doing well. Will couldn't say a word. Jack thumped him on the shoulder again and smiled.

"When can we see him?" Alana asked.

"At least two hours, and he may not be up to having company for long even then." She smiled. “I’d suggest all of you go and get some fresh air and something to eat."

"What about him?" Will asked.

"I'm sorry?"

"He won't eat hospital food.”

She gave him a kind smile. "He won't be eating anything today, even if he wants to, which isn't likely."

He nodded and sank slowly back into his chair. He didn't know when he'd gotten to his feet.

Alana left a few minutes later to teach a class at Georgetown. Jack went back to work. Beverly dragged Will out of the hospital mainly by force.

"I really don't think I can eat right now," he said.

"We're not going to eat."

"Then where are we going?"

"Stress relief."

She took him to the firing range at Quantico, as he'd suspected she would, sooner or later. It was the main reason he'd called her. The gunshot residue wouldn't be a problem. The chef might be, but Will thought he knew how to deal with him, too.

Chapter Text

Marcus Flyte, the chef from Leda, sat mute in the interrogation room. Will and Beverly had been watching Jack get nowhere with him for the last twenty minutes.

Jack thumped the wall when he came out for a break. "It's like he barely knows I'm in the room with him.”

"Do we really need a confession? What about the gun?"

"It’s the same one he shot them with. We've got that, we've got his prints on it, and on the bullets. Hard to prove he pulled the trigger though. We've got nothing to put him at the crime scenes and still no ID on two of the bodies. A confession would help.”

"Let me try," Will said.

"Are you sure that's a good plan?"

Will shrugged. "At worst, he'll stay quiet."

"I meant for you. After what happened. You're still supposed to be resting."

"I questioned the guy who stabbed me in New Orleans while I was supposed to be resting. I think he’s up for parole in about ten years.”

Five minutes later, Will sat across the table from Flyte.

"Hi, Marcus. Do you remember me?"

Flyte glanced at him and then quickly away, no sign of recognition.

"It's scary, isn't it? Not knowing what happened. What you said. What you did. I'm missing four hours of my life from a day last week. I know what it's like."

Another glance. "Liar."

"You get paranoid after a while. Wondering what happened. Especially when everyone keeps asking what you did."

"I didn't do anything.”

"Are you sure, Marcus?" Will said quietly. "What's the last thing you remember?"

Silence. Flyte rubbed his palm across the table. “I was in the kitchen doing prep for dinner,” he said finally. “I don't know anything about any murders."

“We’re not worried about the murders, Marcus. Has anyone asked you about the murders? You’re sewn up there. I'm here to talk about the man you shot. The one who didn’t die. His name is Hannibal Lecter. You know that name, don't you?"

A short nod.

“He was thinking about investing in your restaurant. He knew your business partner. You wouldn't want to shoot him, would you?"

"I wouldn't. I didn’t.” Flyte shifted in his chair and ran a hand over his sweaty face.

"Right," Will agreed. "No motive. So we're confused. Are you confused?"

Flyte was looking down at his hands, flat on the table. ”Yeah. I'm confused.”

"I would be, too. It's a confusing situation. You want me to tell you what I think happened?"

Flyte shrugged, still looking down.

"You were prepping for dinner, like you said. Mushrooms, right? A friend of mine says that if you chop them early and let them sit, the flavor gets more intense."

Flyte looked up at him with more life then he’d shown so far. "That's right. Is your friend a chef?"

"No, but I guess he could be if he wanted. He's pretty good. Do you always do that kind of prep yourself?"

"No, but I was there. Thought I might as well get started."

"Makes sense. So you got started on the mushrooms, and then the door opened. Do you remember that?"

Flyte frowned. "Maybe? Yeah. I remember…light on the floor. A line of sunlight.”

“That's good, Marcus. You're doing great. Where was your gun at that point?" Flyte jerked his head up. Will lifted his hands in a soothing gesture. "We've got the gun. It has your prints all over it. Not just the gun, the magazine and the bullets, too. Remember I said we've got you sewn up for the murders? You know that's the gun you killed them with.”

Flyte slumped further down in his seat. "I don't know anything," he said.

"You know where your gun was. You can admit that much. I'm trying to help you, Marcus. Don't you want to remember?”

A long silence. “On the counter next to me," Flyte mumbled.

"Good. So, the door opened. You picked up the gun. You didn't want anyone to see it, right?"

“Yeah."

"You would've held it behind you. Maybe tried to get it down the back of your pants.”

A short nod.

"Two men came in. One of them said he was from the FBI. I know you don't remember, but what do you think you would've done?"

Flyte swallowed hard. He shook his head and kept shaking it. "I don't remember. I can’t— I don't remember.”

"I believe you," Will said. The hope on Flyte’s face churned Will’s stomach with guilt. He stomped on it. No half measures. It was too late to stop now. “It must’ve been a shock, us showing up like that.”

"You?"

Will nodded. ”That's why I asked if you remember me. I was the FBI guy. My friend who knows about mushrooms, that was Hannibal Lecter.”

"Oh, God. Oh, God,” Flyte said. "I didn't mean to."

"Of course you didn't. You have a real respect for food, Marcus. I can see that. You wouldn't want to hurt someone like Hannibal, not on purpose. Not like those other guys.”

"They were pigs. Clark barely knew a morel from a chanterelle.”

"He was one of your suppliers?"

"If you work in this business, you're supposed to care, you know? You have to care about the food.”

“Sure. If all you care about is money, you might as well work at McDonald’s. Do you want to tell me about Clark?"

“He sold me a load of bad morels. I mean bad. Going slimy. They must’ve been a good two weeks old with a few fresh on top. I needed them for that night. He wouldn't take them back, wouldn't get me any more. I had to change the whole menu.”

“Unbelievable. What did you say to him?”

"Plenty. I had plenty to say. I met him the next day to talk about a refund, and he just laughed."

Will shook his head. “What a pig. He had it coming.”

"He did, sure he did."

"How did it feel when you shot him? Did it feel just? Like you knew you were doing the right thing for once?”

Flyte met Will’s eyes for the first time. He nodded slowly. “You understand.”

"Sure I do. Tell me about the other two."

He did. Will sat with him for another hour and got a full confession, both on tape and, shortly afterward, on paper and signed. By the time he circled back to Hannibal, Flyte was high on his own power and Will hardly needed to say a word.

“He shouldn’t have come into my kitchen without being invited,” Flyte said. “He should’ve shown more respect.”

“You’ve had some experience with that,” Jack said, when Will came out of the interrogation room.

"You can't work homicide and not have some experience with that. I'm going back to the hospital."

Jack nodded and let him go, but Beverly caught his arm on the way out and steered him across the quad to the cafeteria. "I'm not hungry," Will muttered.

"When was the last time you ate?"

"Breakfast."

“And it's almost six. You're hungry. Get a bagel, it won't kill you.”

"I have to get back to the hospital. I didn't want him to wake up alone. I didn't think this would take so long."

“You didn't think talking a suspect into confessing to three murders would take this long?"

“He wanted to tell us. He was proud of those murders.”

“Uh huh. Well, you can go now. Just get a goddamn bagel first."

He got a goddamn bagel and ate it on the drive over.

At the hospital, he found the correct floor, and a nurse showed him to Hannibal's room, large and airy, with a potted plant in one corner. Hannibal lay with his eyes closed and his hands arranged on top of the covers. His shoulder was bandaged, but not to the extent that Will had expected. Will sat in the chair next to the bed on his uninjured side. With his face relaxed, the lines around his eyes stood out more clearly. His mouth looked soft. Sweat and pain and someone's attempt to clean the blood from his hair had left it half plastered down and half heading off at a perpendicular angle from his head. Will smoothed it into place.

Hannibal’s eyes opened and caught him at it. "Will."

"Hi."

"You weren’t here before."

"Sorry.”

Hannibal shook his head a tiny bit. “The chef?"

"I got his confession about half an hour ago."

“He admits everything?"

“Even shooting you."

"I see. And now?"

"Now you get better."

"Will you stay?"

"I'll be here till they kick me out.”

Hannibal uncurled his fingers, and Will took his hand. His eyes were hazy, closing again already. "I want the bullet," he said.

”It’s evidence.”

"They don't need it. Tell Jack I want it."

Will squeezed his hand lightly. “I’ll see what I can do. Go back to sleep, okay?"

"You'll be here?"

“Where else would I go?”

Hannibal slept. After a few minutes of watching his chest rise and fall and listening to the sound of his breath, so did Will.

Shadows stole into the room while he slept. A dark stain spread out all around him to cover the floor. Hannibal’s bandages glowed white, and spots of blood seeped through them like water out of rocks, or rubies around a bare throat, or the red patch on a blackbird’s wing.

Will woke with a jolt to someone's hand on his shoulder.

“Easy,” Jack said.

The room was dark, but not the pit of shadow Will had seen in his dreams. He rubbed at his eyes and carefully extracted his hand from Hannibal’s. “Outside,” he said. "I don't want to wake him."

"You look like hell," Jack told him, peering at him in the brighter light of the corridor.

"I look better than he does. I probably look better than you do. Go home, Jack."

"I will. I just wanted to see how he was doing."

"Okay. A little out of it. He wants the bullet. I told him I'd ask you."

“You think he’d go for one that looks like it?"

"I think I wouldn’t want to be around when he found out it was a fake."

"It's evidence."

"Yeah, I told him. I think he'll get it when the drugs wear off."

Jack smiled a little. “Hannibal Lecter on drugs. Wish I'd seen that."

"He wasn't that different. Just slower. Maybe more honest.”

“Speaking of honest, I talked to Freddie Lounds again. Told her we were looking to get a subpoena for her source.”

"What did she say?"

"That we wouldn’t get it, which is probably true. That, even if we did, she doesn't know who sent the message. Anonymous email.”

Will shoved his hands into his pockets and looked down at the polished floor. There was only one reason for Jack to bring that up here and now. He wasn't surprised that Jack suspected him. It could be a good thing, if he played it right. Better than trusting Freddie Lounds’s professional integrity, anyway.

"I know what you're asking," he said.

"Got an answer for me?"

"It could've been me. Those four hours I’m missing. Is that when she got the message?"

"She won't say. Have you remembered anything?”

"I remember thinking about Mallory and about Lucy Mathers. The lake where they found her body had blackbirds living in the rose bushes. Safe among the thorns.”

"Any idea why you'd want to tell the Chesapeake Ripper about them?”

“I'm sorry, Jack. I don't even know for sure that it was me, let alone why. I’ve been pretty out of it.”

"Well. On the bright side, if he got the message, he's probably as confused about it as we are."

“Yeah. Let's hope it means as much to him as it does to me."

Jack squeezed his shoulder. “Hang in there. Get some rest.”

Will nodded and watched Jack walk away down the hall. He leaned back and slid down the wall to sit on his heels. If he let his eyes close, he thought he’d sleep right there. Exhaustion pulled at him, a leaden weight in his chest.

That was Jack and Freddie Lounds taken care of. Marcus Flyte wasn’t going to be a problem. Alana had promised to stop by and feed the dogs. There was something else, something picking at the edge of his dulled mind like a nail at a scab.

Dr. Bellamy. The letter. He’d sent it to her office here. It might not have been delivered yet, but it just as easily might have. He stared across the hall at the scuffs and pock marks in the paint, heart pounding. She wouldn’t have opened it, no, but it wouldn’t be as easy to explain as his email to Alana.

And if she did open it, that was his whole life gone in two sheets of paper. Hannibal arrested. His career shot. He’d be incredibly lucky not to be charged. He’d definitely never work in law enforcement again. For a moment, a void opened up in front of him, as blank and terrifying as the one he’d faced when he realized what Hannibal had done.

He rubbed hard at his eyes and shoved himself to his feet. The world dimmed around him, but he forced himself forward. Her office should be empty this time of night. He’d get in, get the letter if it was there. If it wasn’t— He could see her in the morning. Tell her he might’ve written her, that he was still out of it, the same story he’d given Jack.

It wasn’t even a lie. He clutched at the railing in the elevator, dizzy and too hot. He’d missed his last dose of medication. The fever was back. Probably dehydrated too. Just this last task, and then he could go back to Hannibal’s room and rest.

He found Bellamy’s suite on the third floor, pulled on his gloves, and picked the lock with a piece of wire from his pocket and a disassembled ballpoint pen. Stillness settled around him when he slipped inside and closed the door, a dark and quiet peace.

Accessing the receptionist’s desk required him to pick another lock, but there was no deadbolt this time, and it went more quickly. He sat down and sorted through a pile of mail. No letter. He’d have to check her office, too. And there was no guarantee it had even arrived yet.

He rose and swayed, clutching at the doorframe. The room brightened around him, and, for a moment, he feared another hallucination. Instead, he saw Dr. Bellamy standing in the doorway, silhouetted by the light from the hall.

She stepped inside and shut the door behind her. “Mr. Graham,” she said. “I was looking for you.”

He could feel the thud of his heart in his fingertips and behind his eyes. He took a slow breath. “Any particular reason?”

“I seem to be getting your mail.”

She held up the envelope. A dozen visions of the next few seconds flashed through his mind. All of them ended with her dead on the floor, and he swallowed them all down. Not an option. He waited.

“Nothing to say?” she asked.

“I think you know I’d like it back.”

“Unopened.”

“It’s not addressed to you.”

She smiled very slightly. “Are you going to tell me you were out of your mind when you sent it?”

“I could. I’d say, at least, that I wasn’t myself.”

“Most people’s concept of self is nebulous at best.”

“Not mine,” he said. “I know who I am.”

She tapped the envelope against the heel of her hand. It was still sealed. Some of the tension went out of Will’s spine.

“Would you like to know what made me wary of Dr. Lecter?” she asked.

“Yes. Very much.”

“We did our surgical rotation together," she said. "I saw him cut open his first patient. It was the look in his eyes as the scalpel parted skin.”

“Not a lot to go on.”

“Nothing at all to go on. I’ve never spoken of it to anyone else.”

“But you think about it,” Will said.

“Not as often as I used to.”

“You’re thinking about it now.”

“Are going to tell me this is nothing to do with him?”

“No. I won’t tell you that.”

“Then what will you tell me, Mr. Graham?”

“You don’t need me to tell you anything. I saw the same thing in him that you did. That I think you see in me. That you probably see in yourself. Potential.”

“Everyone is potentially capable of doing terrible things.”

“Some more than others. But there is a difference between capability and action.”

“Is there? Once a thing is imagined, it is granted some form of reality. It festers and recurs and eventually it wants to be born into the world.”

“Our nightmares seldom get what they want, or the world would be a very different place. And I don’t believe Hannibal’s nightmares are any worse than mine.”

She watched him for a few more seconds, but he could see the relief in her eyes. “Is that your professional opinion, Mr. Graham?”

“It is.”

She stretched out her hand and offered him the letter.

And now, having dimmed her suspicions, his own rose up from the shadows. How sure was he of Hannibal? How sure could he ever be? He hesitated.

She gave him an impatient look. “Now you want me to keep it?”

He shook his head and took it from her. If he didn’t trust Hannibal at least this much, he should have already turned him in. That wasn’t going to happen. “Thank you,” he said.

She folded her arms over her chest. “I said I’d help if I could. Next time you break into my office, you’re on your own. Now get out.”

Will nodded and left. He got a stale muffin from a vending machine and made his way back to Hannibal’s room. Hannibal’s chest rose and fell, barely visible in the dim light. Will watched him until his mind calmed.

Maybe Dr. Bellamy’s suspicion was the best surety he could hope for. If Will disappeared—and he knew that was still a possibility—at least someone would be pointing in Hannibal’s direction.

He’d burn the letter in the morning. And then he’d have to take a look at Hannibal’s basement.

*

Hannibal insisted on the full three piece suit for the short journey from the hospital to his house and had, in fact, given Will a written list of what he wanted. The shirt and tie had been easy, but Will had been forced to text him pictures of the suits to make sure he got the right one. Will had watched him for signs of regret while he worked his injured arm through shirt, waistcoat, and suit jacket, but had seen none, despite the pallor of his face.

When they got to the overcoat, Will draped it around his shoulders rather than letting him force his arm through once more unnecessary layer. "Don't argue. You're just going to take it all off when you get home anyway.”

"I am not," Hannibal said. "I have been in bed long enough. And I'll need to make dinner.”

"I'll make dinner. You can tell me what to do."

Will drove him home in the Bentley. He turned into Hannibal's drive. "Stay put," he said. He went around to the passenger’s side and opened Hannibal’s door for him. Hannibal refused his offered hand and got out on his own, slowly, stiffly, and with great attention to every movement.

Inside, Will settled him in the armchair in the kitchen and took his bag upstairs.

“You have been cooking in my kitchen," Hannibal said when he came back down.

"It's better equipped than mine.”

"I had assumed that the things you brought me were from restaurants. Or perhaps Alana’s efforts. I didn't know you could cook."

"I do okay. Nothing fancy.”

"The chicken soup?"

“I got the recipe from a woman who works at the cafeteria across from the BAU.”

"You astonish me," Hannibal murmured.

“What gave me away? I thought I cleaned up pretty well."

"The scent lingers." He stretched his legs out in front of him and rearranged his arm in the sling. A shadow of pain passed over his face. "Perhaps I will leave dinner to you, then."

"What do you want?"

"What would you make for yourself?"

"I got some fish. Snapper. I could do it with a tomato thing. It's Italian.”

“The name of the dish?”

"Can't remember."

“You can't remember? Really?"

“I got it out of a library book when I was thirteen.” Will got out the fish, tomatoes, garlic, and parsley. He started chopping.

"We haven't discussed your memory, but I suspect it rivals mine. I would like to know.”

Will sighed. "Give me a few minutes."

Most of what he had seen or read in the last five years was available for immediate recall. The previous decade took some thought, but still lingered close at hand. Most of his life in New Orleans would return to him with gentle prodding. His childhood, however, had sunk like Atlantis in the ocean of his memory. He could see it beneath the still waters, but raising any specific part of it took serious excavation.

He peeled the tomatoes. When he made it for himself, he didn't bother, or he used canned. When he had gone through Hannibal's pantry, he found a few glass jars carefully labeled in Hannibal's flowing script, but not one commercial can or bottle.

“The author was a woman,” he said slowly. “Something with an M. Hardback. Green cover."

"Are your memories of childhood not organized?"

"How do you organize memories?"

"Have you never heard of the concept of a memory palace?"

"I've heard of it. Seems like a lot of trouble."

“It offers one a great deal of control over what resurfaces and what does not."

“What is it you're trying not to remember? Your family?" Will paused to scoop ingredients from the cutting board into the pan. "Your sister?"

Hannibal said nothing.

"You left that water for Chloe Bell."

Hannibal shifted in his chair. “Is that when you knew?”

"I think it's what allowed me to know. It humanized the Ripper for me. He wasn't really a person to me before that. Just a collection of installation pieces that I didn't particularly care for. And you're one of the most human people I know. I'm not sure I ever would have made the connection without that link."

"I saw no reason for her to die if it were not necessary."

"What happened to your sister, Hannibal?"

Hannibal sat silent and stared into the shadows in the corner of the kitchen. Eventually, Will gave up expecting an answer.

“Pesce all’acqua pazza,” he said. "The recipe. You serve it over bread. I got this stuff at the Winn-Dixie. Italian bread, said so right on the plastic bag it came in. Completely disintegrated when I poured the sauce over it. Turned into a sort of tomato and garlic flavored mush.”

Hannibal didn't reply, but his head turned towards Will again.

"My dad ate it anyway. I mean, we had to. As bad as the bread was, it cost too much to waste it. But he didn't have to pretend to enjoy it. He was good like that. I made it with rice from then on."

"I would not have thought that the rice would be less expensive.” Hannibal's voice was toneless and far away, but at least he was talking.

"I could usually trade for it with one of the farmers. There were a lot of small rice farms down that way.”

"What did you trade for it?"

"Fish. Usually catfish, but whatever I could catch. I'm doing it with bread tonight. I found a card for the bakery in your Rolodex. Seems like good stuff. The guy was kind of an asshole though.”

Hannibal laughed, an abrupt and rusty sound. "Yes. Yes, he is."

They sat at the dining room table, Hannibal straight-backed and precise in every turn of his fork and repositioning of his napkin. Will served the snapper over grilled bread with a salad on the side.

"I've been in your basement," he said.

Hannibal paused briefly and then gathered up another bite. "Have you."

"It's all gone. I thought you should know."

"I see. I suppose that was to be expected."

“Yeah, it was. You don’t have to sound like that.”

"I hope you disposed of it responsibly."

"I did. And I left your other car outside a chop shop. It's spare parts by now."

"Was it necessary to have this conversation over dinner?"

"I thought we’d better get it over with."

Hannibal picked up his glass, took a sip of wine, and set it back down in the exact same spot. “I ate this dish once in Amalfi. That version was superior, but you are to be commended. Undoubtedly, they had better ingredients to work with.”

“Glad you like it.” Will checked his watch. "You want your painkillers? It's been four hours."

“Not yet.”

Hannibal stayed upright in his chair until the last bite was gone from both their plates. He braced a hand on the table as he stood and paused there, bent over, mouth tight. Will took his arm and helped him into the study.

"I'm going to clean up. I'll be back in a few minutes."

He set the kitchen to rights and started the dishwasher. When he returned, Hannibal sat as he had left him, eyes fixed on the fire. He turned his head when Will walked in and held out his hand to him.

Will stopped where he was. "I can't," he said.

"Then what has been the point of all this?"

"We need to settle some things first."

"You're afraid. Afraid to seek comfort from me as you once did. Afraid that I will overwhelm you."

“I know you’ll overwhelm me. That felt good before. Safe.”

“And now?”

"You lied to me."

"I have been as honest with you as it was possible to be. The omissions I have made could only have been avoided if we had never met. Is that what you would have preferred?"

Will thought of his house, his dogs, the progressively smaller sphere of his life before Hannibal. The quiet hours, the solitude, the constant knowledge that he was alone without the sting of loneliness. He thought of the fear and guilt and the laws he had broken just in the past week alone. The people he had consumed, people he should have protected, lives he should have saved. Even with all those things held carefully in his mind, he couldn't say yes.

Hannibal reached for him again. Will hesitated a few seconds longer, but he knew he’d made his choice. He went to him, and Hannibal’s long fingers curled over his. Will stared at the veins in the back of his hand.

“Down,” Hannibal said quietly.

Will folded at the knees until he could press his face into Hannibal's lap. Hannibal bent over him and kissed the back of his neck and kept a tight grip on his hand.

"We will talk. I can see the necessity. But not tonight.” He stroked a hand down Will’s back. "You've had a difficult time, haven't you?"

Will held himself still. As obvious as the answer was, he couldn't make himself say it. It would be admitting too much, both about what this past week had done to him and how much he wanted Hannibal to fix it.

“Take this off." Hannibal tugged at his shirt. "Let me see you."

Will pulled it off over his head and dumped it on the floor. He kept his head bent, eyes focused on the floor in front of his knees.

Hannibal traced a finger under the line of stitches on his arm. "These can come out. You've been looking after them. I'm glad. I was worried you would neglect yourself."

"I've been taking care of myself my whole life."

"Have you? Or have you simply done what you must to stay alive?"

"Is there any difference?"

"The difference between fine and more than fine, I think. Come, we’ll go upstairs and I'll remove those."

Will left his shirt on the floor and followed Hannibal up the stairs. He sat once again on the edge of the tub while Hannibal clipped the stitches and pulled them free. When he was done, he examined the bite mark.

“This will scar, I think. I didn't realize I’d gone so deep.”

Will snorted. “Really? You didn’t?”

Hannibal tipped his chin up gently. Will wouldn't meet his eyes, but he didn't seem to expect it. "We’ll match now. Mine will certainly scar. The same shoulder as well. Did you do it on purpose?"

"It was an easier shot, that's all."

Hannibal bent and kissed the healing wound. His tongue flicked out across the scab, hot and wet. Will took a quick breath.

“What about me?” he asked. "Was I an easy shot?"

“Never," Hannibal said. "Not in any sense." He rose and led the way into the bedroom. "Undress me," he said.

Will approached and looked him over. This was something simple, something he could do. Something that involved no trust. He wondered if Hannibal knew how little he had left.

The sling came off first, and Hannibal let his arm straighten with only a slight tightness around his mouth and eyes. Will eased the suit jacket off his shoulders and hung it back up in the closet where he had found it only a few hours ago. The waistcoat was easier. The shirt fit tight to Hannibal's body, and Will had to maneuver him out of it one arm at a time.

"There's a support bandage in the bathroom. Do you remember how to wrap it?”

"Yeah," Will said and went to fetch it. One of the nurses had shown him while Hannibal stood and stared out the window, mentally absent as he had been whenever the staff came in to treat him.

He was not absent now as Will got the bandage in place to support his shoulder. He watched every move.

"Good," He said when Will was done. "Get two of my handkerchiefs from the drawer, please. Dark blue with green paisley and also the solid burgundy.”

"Are those color choices crucial?" Will muttered, as he sorted through at least three dozen of them.

"The first, yes. You may choose a substitute for the second if you like."

"I was being sarcastic."

"I know, but I tend to be far more choosy about what lies against your skin than you do.”

“And where are these going?" Will returned with the requested colors and held them out.

“The blue is going over your eyes. Do that first, please."

Will looked down at the square of dark silk in his hand. The knot didn’t have to be tight. He’d be able to get it off in a second. Even so, his heart beat faster as he tied the blindfold in place.

"Now what?"

"Now you will hold the other behind your back, one end in each hand.” He waited until Will had obeyed. "How does that feel? Not too much strain on your shoulder?"

"It's fine. It doesn't hurt."

"I'm glad to hear it."

Will felt Hannibal step close. Their bodies didn't quite touch, but his warmth and presence were palpable. One hand came up to cradle the side of Will’s face. Hannibal stroked his thumb under Will’s eye where skin met silk. He kissed Will carefully, soft press of lips and nothing else at first. He teased Will’s mouth open with slow, gentle kisses, the brief, wet trace of his tongue, his fingers rubbing at the short hair at the back of Will’s neck until Will was leaning into him, wanting more instead of afraid of it.

When Hannibal raised his other hand to cup his cheek, Will stiffened. “You’re not supposed to— You’ll hurt yourself,” he said. The bandage was fine as a support, but Hannibal still wasn’t meant to be using that arm.

“It’s all right,” Hannibal said.

"Your shoulder’s held together with metal plates and screws. It’s not all right.”

Hannibal was quiet for a moment. He let his hand fall away. "Then hold on to me instead of the handkerchief.” He took Will's hands and placed them on his arm at elbow and wrist. The silk Will had been holding fell to the ground. "Keep it still," he said.

That was better. It gave Will somewhere to put his focus while Hannibal licked and bit gently at his mouth. He kept his hands still and steady and supported the weight of Hannibal’s arm to keep the strain off his shoulder. Hannibal mouthed at his lower lip and sucked in slow, rhythmic pulses until Will could think of nothing but his mouth elsewhere, wet and hot, taking him apart. He took a shaky breath. His hips jerked forward to meet Hannibal’s thigh.

“Do I even get to come tonight?” he said.

"Do you want to?"

Will closed his eyes behind the blindfold. “Your call."

"It's more important to you to give up that decision than to achieve release. No matter how much you want it."

Will nodded once, stiffly.

"Then don't concern yourself. You will or you won’t, as I see fit."

Will did relax a little more at that. One more decision out of his hands. He held Hannibal’s arm and let himself be kissed and touched and teased and didn’t try to think. Hannibal pulled back with a sharp nip to his bottom lip that made Will’s breath hitch and his cock jerk.

“You may finish undressing me,” Hannibal said.

Will eased Hannibal’s arm back down to hang at his side. He knelt, unsteady, feeling his way down Hannibal's body. One shoelace tangled into knots, and he had to unpick them blind. One shoe off and then the other, socks, and then he reached for the belt. Hannibal tangled a hand in his hair as Will pulled his pants and underwear down. He stepped out of them.

“Hang up the trousers. The rest you may put in the hamper.”

Will hesitated, orienting himself in the dark. Hannibal stood next to the bed. The closet was to the left. He gathered everything up and stood. He swayed as he regained his feet, and Hannibal steadied him with a hand on his back.

The clock on the dresser ticked, a second for each uncertain step. Will held his hand out in front of him. He felt only open air and then he hit the wall with a scrape of his knuckles against smooth paint. The closet opened up three shuffling steps to his left. Socks and underwear in the hamper. He felt for the most recent hanger. He had left it toward the front. It should be obvious, the only one with a jacket but no pants.

His hands skipped over a dozen or more wool lapels and trouser legs. An odd knot of panic started to form in his stomach as he failed to find the correct one. It didn't matter. It didn't matter at all. Nothing could be less important. But Hannibal had asked him to do it. He wanted to get it right.

“You brought to mind the image of one page in a book you haven’t seen for twenty years,” Hannibal said from just behind him. He rested one hand at Will’s waist. “You only need to focus.”

“This shouldn’t be so hard.”

“It’s designed to be. You need something to lift you out of the turmoil in your mind.”

“Did you move it?”

“No. There are a finite number of hangers. Go through them one at a time if you must.”

He had to. Even with a hand on the closet door to orient himself, he couldn’t pinpoint where he’d hung up the matching jacket. The image skipped and stuttered along with his nerves. Hannibal pressed up along his back. Will leaned against him. Hannibal’s arm slid around his waist and drew him close.

“Aren’t you bored,” Will snapped, angry at himself, tense. His fingers found the closet rail and the hook of each hanger, slid down to test for its contents, and then back up.

“Not at all. The point of the exercise is not to get my suit hung up, Will.”

“No, it’s to focus me.”

“Partially, yes. And partially it’s because I enjoy watching you struggle. There is no reason for you to do this other than to please me, and yet you continue. How could I possibly be bored, knowing that?”

Will flushed slightly. He wondered what it looked like to Hannibal, pink skin against dark blue silk. At last, his fingers found the correct hanger. He folded the trousers and looped them over the bar.

"Very good," Hannibal murmured, and Will sagged against with absurd relief. He kissed Will’s cheek and then the side of his neck. One hand stroked up Will’s stomach and traced the fading path of Hannibal's scalpel. The cut had been shallow. It was almost entirely healed now. “Can you get me my robe?"

Will nodded, and Hannibal let him go. The robe hung on the back of Hannibal's bathroom door. The image of the room had settled more firmly into Will’s head, and he turned toward it now unerringly. He still had to feel his way and wait for his hands to encounter the wall, but, once there, it was simple to reach behind the door and lift down the robe. He had counted his steps on the way, and he returned to Hannibal with ease.

Hannibal hooked a hand around the back of his neck and pulled him close so suddenly that Will stumbled and almost dropped the robe. Hannibal bit his lower lip, already tender, and Will melted against him with a low, helpless noise. His cock was aching in his pants. Hannibal's nails dug into his neck briefly, and then his fingers closed on Will's throat. Will tipped his head back, shallow breaths, and stayed perfectly still while Hannibal kissed him over and over, tongue fucking into his mouth.

“Put it on me," Hannibal said. He released his hold on Will and stepped back.

It took Will a few long seconds to pull himself together and unclench his fingers from the fabric. He did the injured side first, supporting Hannibal's arm as he worked it through the sleeve, and then the other. He pulled it closed, but didn't tie it right away. He ran his hands over Hannibal's broad chest, nipples and chest hair and bone under muscle.

"When you're ready," Hannibal said, amused.

"You never give me a chance to touch you."

"I will. Not tonight. Take the rest of your clothes off now.”

Will obeyed. When everything was in a pile on the floor, Hannibal kissed him again. “Come, we’re going downstairs."

Hannibal took his hand to lead him, and Will followed. Twelve steps down to the main floor, along the hall and to the right. A brief pause in the kitchen and then a few yards to the left. When they stopped, Will reached out and found the cool glass of the door to Hannibal’s back garden under his hand.

“You know where we are?” Hannibal said.

“Yes.”

“The roses are still in bloom. Battered by the frost, but hanging on. I want you to go and pick one for me.” He pressed a pair of garden clippers into Will’s hand. “Do you think you can?”

“Yes.”

He stepped out the door into grass crisp with frost, cold on his bare feet. The sun had set while they ate. Darkness would shroud the garden. The fence rose high enough that, even in daylight, the neighbors wouldn't have an easy view. Will wasn’t sure it would bother him if they did. He felt as if he had stepped into another world, one with very simple rules and easily navigated waters.

He crossed to the far side of the yard, where the roses grew up a weathered brick wall. He could see them in his memory, white and blush pink and crimson all tangled together. He had to feel along the canes for the few remaining blossoms. Thorns pricked his fingers. He wished he could see the colors. He didn't know which one he would pick, but it would've been nice to have the choice.

The first one that came under his touch felt too far gone. The second had been killed by frost before it bloomed. The petals of the third remained firm, oddly like skin. He felt his way down the cane and cut it with a long stem.

He paused there, rose in his hand, under a moon that might or might not be visible. The cold air raised goosebumps all over his body, but he was still warm enough that it felt good. Hannibal would appreciate the image, naked in the garden, clothed only by the night.

When he returned and stepped back into the house, he felt Hannibal's absence. He closed the door behind him and put his back against it. Not the bedroom, he thought. Up until the last time, it had always been the study. He made his way down the hall, bare feet on wood, damp from the grass outside. The additional warmth of the fire reached him from the doorway. He paused.

"Hannibal?"

"I'm here."

Will went to him and held out the rose. Hannibal took it from him.

"Do you know what color you have brought me?"

“No."

"I'll show you when we’re done." Hannibal pressed a slip of silk into his hand. "You are to hold it behind your back as before."

Will wove it between his fingers and held on tight.

"Very good. Spread your legs, please. No, wider than that. Better." Will felt the blossom brush down his thigh and over his cock. “Rose thorns contain certain proteins which give many people a mild inflammatory reaction. Itching, irritation, some slight swelling. I have noticed as well that they tend to scar more than other minor scratches."

He laid the rose cane along Will's inner thigh. Will took a breath and held it. The first drag of it along his skin was light, but the thorns bit into him, exquisitely sharp. He let out his breath and sucked in another immediately. His hands squeezed into fists. Hannibal swept it down his other thigh with more force.

"The skin is reddening already. How does it feel?"

“Like you said. Hot. Itches a little.” He shifted from foot to foot. "I can still feel it. It's worse after you stop."

“Do you like it?"

"I don't know."

“It doesn't matter. Your answer won't change anything. I'll carry on regardless. It's lovely, how it makes you squirm. Does it help to know that?”

“Yes," Will said, and it turned into a hissed breath as Hannibal scraped the thorns harder against his skin.

The inner thighs again and then the tender skin at the join of thighs and hips. Will took one shuddering breath after another. Each tiny prick against his skin multiplied and became indistinguishable. Hannibal kept going, kept up the slow, maddening scrape up and down until Will felt raw and burnt and his cock stood up hard between his legs.

Hannibal brushed the blossom over his balls, up the underside of his cock, up his stomach and chest until he could rest it under Will’s chin.

“You're bleeding," Hannibal told him. "Just a few of the scratches. I can smell it."

"What does it smell like?"

“Like you. Like life."

Hannibal gripped his thigh. Warm breath and then the shocking heat of Hannibal’s mouth sealed against his skin, right over one of the deepest scratches. Will could feel his tongue pressing into it.

He squeezed his eyes shut, dug his nails into his palm. He could hardly bear to hold himself still. “Fuck, Hannibal…”

“Mm?”

He sucked at Will's skin, hard, enough to leave bruises on top of the scratches. Imprinting layers of himself into Will's body. Strong suction, the wet, hot slide of his tongue, scrape of teeth that made Will jump the first time and whimper the second.

“How is it?” Hannibal murmured, lips moving against his skin.

“Hot. Fuck, so hot. Everything feels swollen. I can’t— It’s driving me crazy, Jesus, Hannibal.” His hands wound the handkerchief tighter, and he gritted his teeth.

“Spread your legs wider.”

Will obeyed, thighs straining, feet slipping on the rug. He felt Hannibal shift down off the chair. On his knees in front of him, close, so close. One arm wrapped around the back of Will’s thigh, and Hannibal gripped his ass and pressed his mouth right back where it had been.

Will felt like he was burning. Every nerve ached with raw fire. His cock jerked, leaking fluid that slid along the shaft or dripped on his thighs. Hannibal sucked harder, bit into him, not enough to break the skin but more than enough to bruise. A high, choked noise forced its way out of Will’s throat.

“Christ. Fuck. I think I’m going to come.”

Hannibal sucked harder and raked his nails down the other thigh. Will was shaking. “Lovely," Hannibal told him.

"Oh, God, do it again. Do it again, please."

Hannibal did it again, nails digging harder into Will’s skin. At the same time, his mouth left Will’s thigh, and he closed his lips around Will's cock. He slid up the length of it, tongue pressing against the underside. Will dropped the silk handkerchief and tangled his hands into Hannibal's hair, grabbing on hard, hips shoving forward as he came. Whatever noise he made was loud enough to leave his throat raw, though he couldn't hear it.

The floor swayed under his feet. He sank down and bent over until his forehead rested on Hannibal's knees. His chest shook with heaving breaths and his slowing heart.

“Sorry," he said. “Sorry.”

“Hush." Hannibal stroked his hair and rubbed slow circles into his back.

"I wasn't supposed to let go."

“You needed to let go. How have you been sleeping, Will?"

"I haven’t.”

"Then it's time you did."

Hannibal helped him up, and they climbed the stairs together. Will's skin still felt like it was on fire. His mind was a haze of half-formed thoughts that would not coalesce. He held onto Hannibal's arm and could not let go even when Hannibal had got him into bed.

“Just one moment," Hannibal said. "I'm only going to hang up the robe. I'll be back directly."

Will unclenched his fingers and let him go. He held onto the sheets instead until Hannibal returned and got in beside him.

"Do you want the blindfold off?” Hannibal asked.

Will reached up to touch it. He’d forgotten he was wearing it. He shook his head.

“Is there anything you do want?"

"I want to suck you."

Hannibal was quiet for a moment. “There is no need to reciprocate, if that's what's in your mind."

"No, I just want to."

“Very well.”

Hannibal kissed him, slow and soft, lips clinging and shared breath. He folded back the covers and pressed down on Will's shoulders. Will went as he was directed, to lie between Hannibal's legs. He nosed along one strong thigh and found Hannibal's cock, half-hard. It stiffened as he took it into his mouth.

Just the head between his lips stretched him open wide enough to be conscious of it every second. He licked and sucked and ran his tongue over and around the head. The taste and smell grew stronger. It filled his mouth and the air around him. Hannibal stroked over his hair and laid a hand on the back of his neck, but he didn't push.

It was nothing like the last time. Will set the pace, and it was more of an exploration than a sexual act. He took more, as much as he could, and then backed off. He licked up the shaft, traced every contour with his tongue and lips. Hannibal only rubbed lightly at his neck, fingers twitching when Will hit a sensitive spot.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” Hannibal asked.

“Mm,” Will agreed. He kept sucking until Hannibal pulled him off, and then he leaned his head against Hannibal’s hand and kissed his wrist.

“Tell me what you’re thinking of.”

“You. You're always in my head, always inside me. I want you to fill me up, so I can't talk or think. So there's only you.”

Hannibal kissed him and pressed him back down. Will sucked harder, tried to slide his lips up and down, take it deeper. After a moment, Hannibal’s fingers wove through his hair and held him still. Hannibal thrust up into his mouth, one long slow slide, just a little too deep. Will moaned at the feel of it, at the invasion.

"Loosen your lips,” Hannibal said. "Open your mouth wider.”

Will did, and Hannibal pushed the head of his cock against Will’s tongue. The strokes came quicker and harder. Hannibal tapped his jaw. "Close now," he said. "I'm going to fuck your mouth."

Will moaned around him, almost hard again himself. He closed his lips tight and stayed still as Hannibal put a hand around his throat and started to thrust. The grip held him and steadied him, and he took Hannibal right to the back of his throat.

He swallowed convulsively, always just on the edge of gagging, eyes watering, but still strangely at peace. Content to let Hannibal use his mouth all night if that was what he wanted.

It lasted only a minute or two more. Hannibal pulled back as he came, and it filled Will's mouth and dripped down his chin. He licked his lips, chasing after it. Hannibal slid his thumb through the mess and let Will lick it clean.

"Come up here," he said. Will pulled himself up to lie beside him. Hannibal put a pillow under his head and tugged the covers up around him. "Will you be all right by yourself for a moment?"

Will nodded. He stared into the dark space behind the blindfold. He never wanted to take it off.

The mattress shifted as Hannibal got up. Will heard quiet footsteps across the floor and then water running in the bathroom. He drifted. The touch of a wet cloth on his face brought him back a little, and the cold sting of alcohol on his abused thighs made him hiss through his teeth.

"Hurts," he said.

"It will likely be worse tomorrow. You may want something softer than jeans.”

Another damp cloth followed the alcohol swab. Every pass stung and scraped at raw skin. Will heard himself make a vague noise of protest. He tried to curl onto his side, only to have Hannibal straighten him out again.

"Be still," he said. "I'm almost done."

He finished with a cool cream that soothed the burn. When he got into bed beside him, Will turned toward him immediately, arm over his stomach, head on his chest. He listened to the slow beat of Hannibal's heart and drifted.

“Do you remember asking me for the bullet I shot you with?” he said, after a few minutes.

“It’s a bit hazy, but yes. I remember being quite cross that I couldn’t have it.”

Will smiled. “I did ask Jack.”

“But it’s evidence, of course.”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

Hannibal kissed his temple. “I don’t need it. I have you.”

“Did you like it?” Will asked. “When I shot you?”

A beat of silence. Hannibal's hand tightened in his hair. "Yes. It bound us more tightly together, of course. But, beyond that, there was something about the idea of destruction at your hands… For a moment, I thought you had killed me.“

“And how did that make you feel?”

“At peace.”

Will reached for his hand and pressed a kiss into his palm. “We should sleep. Long day tomorrow."

"Is it?"

“Yeah. We're going to Minnesota."

"Why are we doing that?"

“We’re going to move Nicholas Boyle’s body."

Hannibal was quiet for a few seconds. "I think we should discuss this in the morning."

"Does Abigail know where he is?"

"Yes. She helped me dispose of him."

"Then your accomplice is a mentally unstable child. We’re moving the body."

A soft breath of amusement stirred Will's hair. "I can see there will be no arguing with you over this.”

"No."

"There may come a time, whether we do this or not, when Abigail becomes too dangerous to us. When steps must be taken—”

"No. You won't touch her."

"And if I do?"

“Then the next bullet’s going in your knee."

Hannibal kissed his forehead. “Even when I have you so far down that you would kiss my feet and thank me for the privilege, you are never truly within my grasp.”

“I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

He felt Hannibal’s arms tighten around him. Neither of them spoke again and, for Will at least, sleep came quickly.

Chapter Text

The first thing Will saw when he woke up was the rose. It lay across the sheets next to him, white, stained with rust colored spots of his blood. He spent a few seconds staring at it and then got up to go in search of Hannibal. His jeans lay on the floor, and he left them there. The insides of his thighs felt hot and tender. He borrowed Hannibal's robe instead.

Hannibal stood in the kitchen, cooking eggs and bacon. Will had bought the bacon himself yesterday, fancy stuff. It had cost more than Will had ever paid for bacon in his life, but he hadn't wanted to give Hannibal any reason to complain. Anymore reason than he already had.

"You should be wearing the sling," Will said.

"I've seen the basement. When you said it was all gone, I thought you only meant the meat."

Will poured himself a cup of coffee. He bent over the counter and let his head hang down. "There was no chance I’d get the saws clean. The freezer’s still there. And the fridge. I went over everything with a spray bottle of luminol. You were pretty neat about the blood, but there was still a lot to clean up. The pipes and the garbage disposal might be a problem, but, apart from that, you could send an FBI forensics team through this place right now and they wouldn't find anything."

Hannibal turned toward him slowly. "What you mean is that you could turn me in tomorrow and no one would believe you. There would be no proof."

"That's what I mean. I'll get the sling."

When he came back down, Hannibal let him put it on for him. He stayed quiet as Will served up breakfast and put the pans to soak.

"What makes you think that I won't buy new saws? That I won't replace all that you have thrown away?"

“You mean besides my threat to hobble you?"

"Besides that, yes."

"Curiosity. Something new. Sharing your life with someone was never practical and, even if it had been, there was no one you wanted to share it with."

“You think I want to share it with you?"

“You already are. This isn't what you imagined, but in the end it's what you chose. You picked me."

“Unnecessary attention to my injuries and the wanton disposal of my property without my permission.”

Will shrugged. "You can't say you didn't know what you were getting."

Hannibal came closer and looked him over. “You've done all of that this week? The cleaning and the disposal of the car and the saws and the rest? While you were cooking my meals and sitting with me at the hospital?"

"Yeah."

“You're still ill. Have you been taking your medication?"

Will straightened up and turned away. “Most of the time. Enough.”

Hannibal put a hand on his back. "You must be tired."

Will felt as if he lived his life now in an unending fog of exhaustion. The unexpected acknowledgment, when he was braced to defend himself, nearly broke him.

“I’m fine,” he said. He sounded as if the words were made of splinters.

Hannibal turned him gently and pulled him close. Will clung to him and buried his face in the curve of Hannibal’s neck.

"I'll drive,” Hannibal said. "You need to rest."

*

Hannibal drove for the first six hours. Will passed out almost as soon as the car started moving. He woke to find them parked at a rest area, Hannibal setting out their lunch on a picnic table. Will got stiffly out of the car to join him.

"You don't think it's a little cold for a picnic?"

“You would prefer to eat in the car? Perhaps we should patronize a drive through, as well. I'm sure the odor of rancid grease would be barely perceptible after a week or two.”

Will held up his hands in surrender. "Picnic. Great."

Hannibal held out a sweater to him.

Will pulled it on, dark red, soft, and a little worn. "This is yours?"

"Yes. I like the way it looks on you."

Will took a bite of pasta salad and looked down while he chewed. “You didn't try to tell me what to wear this morning."

“Did you want me to?"

"I just thought you might.”

“You are allowed to ask for what you want, Will."

He shook his head and kept eating. “Did you take the tramadol?”

"I wouldn't be safe to drive if I did. I'm too easily tired as it is."

"You look like a ghost. Take them. I'll drive."

"Do you plan to stay at a motel tonight?"

“No. I don't want a paper trail. We’ll drive straight through."

"You don't look well yourself."

“Don't worry about me. I've got NoDoz.”

"Where are we going after Minnesota?"

The Great Dismal Swamp. North Carolina."

"Another twenty hours or so.”

"When it's done, it'll be done. Another two days won’t kill me.”

"I fear I will be little help.”

"You're not coming along to help. You're here because it would look weird if I left you behind. As far as Alana and Jack are concerned, we’re on vacation."

"I see. Where are you taking me? I imagine Alana will ask.”

"The Outer Banks. We've got a rented house there. Which is the other reason we’re not stopping. I don't want to be late picking up the keys."

"So in the time that we might drive from Baltimore to the Outer Banks, you mean to drive to Minnesota, pick up a body, dispose of it in a swamp, and still reach our intended destination on time."

"That's why I brought the NoDoz.”

"I'll drive until sunset."

"Hannibal—“

"If you collapse, I may not be able to get him into the trunk on my own. It certainly wouldn’t do me any good to try.”

Will sighed. "Yeah. Okay."

Hannibal drove until sunset and then kept driving. Will faded in and out. Most of the time, he couldn't tell whether he slept or not. The clouds cleared and left the sky a fathomless black. Will looked up at the stars, like the constellation of bloody pinpricks scattered over his thighs.

"Where is he?" Will asked.

“At the hunting cabin. The freezer has a false bottom."

“How long were you going to leave him there? They’re going to turn off the power eventually.”

“Eventually. We were pressed for time.”

"At least we won't have to dig him up.”

“He will thaw on the journey.”

"Dry ice. Body bag.”

"You seem to have thought of everything."

“This is your hobby. It’s my job."

"I shall try not to take offense at that."

“I’m not trying to be offensive. Let's be honest, you never really tried to hide yours."

"I suppose that's fair enough."

Another hour of silence and streaming stars. Hannibal spoke quietly, voice blending with the edges of Will’s dreams and pulling him back to consciousness.

"I was six when she was born. I watched her come out of my mother’s body. I thought she must be hurt, to be so covered in blood.”

“Were you afraid?”

"No. I felt responsible. I felt an obligation.”

"To keep her safe."

"Yes. They left her with me in the garden, often. Her basket sat on the ground between rows of squash and tomatoes. When I leaned close enough, she patted my face and pulled my hair."

Will said nothing. He didn't dare. The air in the car grew thick with memory until he could almost taste the sun and the dirt and feel the touch of a tiny hand on his cheek.

"When she was three and I was nine, I would take her with me into the forest. She followed after me as well as she could, but my legs were longer and I was often careless. She would cry when I left her behind. It was a piercing sort of pain, hearing that shrill wail and knowing that it was my fault.”

"You went back for her."

"Of course. In time, I learned to walk more slowly.”

"What was her name?"

"Mischa.”

Another well of silence, so deep that Will could not hear the splash of Hannibal's memories as they hit the bottom.

“I called her mažai padaras. Little thing. Little creature. She did not speak often, but I remember the way she watched me, with tilted head and fixed eyes, like a small bird more than a girl. Abigail has a similar expression.”

"I know the one you mean."

A smile passed over Hannibal’s lips, or else it was the slide of shadow in the wake of a street light. “So do you. Watching the two of you together is an education in the subtlety of reflected gesture and attention. I believe she has much of your empathy.”

“Abigail isn’t my daughter.”

“She is yours by blood. And mine as well.”

Will closed his eyes. "Jack was right. She was the bait."

"Yes. I was curious to see what she might become. I still am.”

"Did you know Nicholas Boyle was coming for her? Did you prime her to kill him? Did you give her the knife?”

"No. Her actions were her own, and I honor her for them. I count that boy’s life well lost. He could not have hoped for an existence even a tenth as meaningful as the death Abigail gave him.”

"Stop the car."

Will got out and stood by the side of the road. The pale cloud of his breath spread out and vanished in the dark air. Hannibal came to stand beside him.

“Are you regretting your decision?" he asked.

“We are going to do the right thing for Abigail,” Will said slowly.

“What does that mean to you?"

"It means a normal life. College, friends, a place in the world. Do you want her to be as lonely as we’ve been?”

"No. I also do not wish to hear her crying behind me in the forest."

"We’ll be there if she needs us.”

"Who is to judge that need? I presume you feel I am not qualified.”

“I’m not either. Alana’s her therapist.”

“And yours, it seems.”

"We're not getting into that again."

“You feel very free to dictate terms to me."

"I'm trying to make sure we all get out of this with our freedom and sanity intact. If you want to give me shit about any of it, do it later. I'm not in the mood right now."

"I have imagined killing you,” Hannibal said.

Will glanced at him. “How would you do it?"

A car passed with a low hum and silence in its wake. Something moved in the trees beside the road and was still again. Hannibal’s voice was quiet when he finally spoke. "Quickly," he said.

"And how would that make you feel?"

“Tell me, am I a psychopath? In your professional opinion.”

Will looked out over the deserted road. He crossed his arms on top of the car. "You fit a lot of the criteria. You must know that. Even disregarding the murders."

"I do."

"You also have what I believe is a genuine emotional attachment to me. Would you agree with that?"

"Genuine is a difficult word. If I were a psychopath, my own view of my attachment to you would be distorted. It might be no more than fascination and possession. I do certainly feel both those things for you."

"It's easier to judge actions. I’m still here. You’ve had more than one chance to get rid of me.”

"Does that speak to my regard for you or merely my desire to avoid the pain of your loss?”

"Would you find it painful?"

"I have come to believe I might find it unbearable. Is that selfishness or love?"

“Does it matter?"

"I think it would to most people."

"Love is transient. People love until it becomes inconvenient for them, or until they get bored, or find someone new. I’d prefer selfishness.”

"Then that is what we shall call it.”

They got back in the car, Will in the driver’s seat. Hannibal was quiet for so long that Will thought he might have fallen asleep. When he spoke, his voice was musing, curious.

“You don’t intend to ask me how or why I slipped so far from the common path of humanity?" he said.

"Same way I did, I guess. Same way anyone does."

"You don't blame my past for what I have become?"

"At the age of eleven, your instinctual response to the death of your family was the murder of two grown men. I think it's pretty safe to say that you were who you are before they were killed."

"I had come to the same conclusion," Hannibal said. "But I am glad to have it confirmed."

"Didn't trust your own opinion?"

"The knowledge weighs on one eventually, that the vast majority of the population would instantly invalidate your thoughts and beliefs simply by virtue of one thing that you cannot change."

"Are you so sure you can't?"

"I can change what I do, perhaps. That is the experiment we seem to be undertaking. I can’t change what I am.”

"I wouldn't want you to change that."

“No?”

"You wouldn’t—” Will stopped and rubbed a hand over his mouth. He'd meant to keep that to himself. Too late, judging by the quality of the silence next to him.

"You believe that if I were not what I am, I could not care for you," Hannibal said slowly.

"It makes more sense this way. I could never figure out why you bothered with me."

Hannibal reached for his hand in the dark. He said nothing, but he didn't let go. Even when his head lolled to one side in sleep, his grip stayed warm and strong.

*

The hunting cabin still had electricity. The freezer hummed in a corner and released wisps of vapor when Will raised the lid.

“There is a latch under that stain on the bottom," Hannibal said. “You press down to release it."

Will did, and the bottom of the freezer came loose. He lifted the panel out. Underneath lay Nicholas Boyle. His shirt was saturated with blood, and his legs had been broken at the knees so that he could lie flat in the space available. No one had bothered to close his eyes.

Will closed his own eyes briefly. "Did she watch you do that?"

"Break his legs? She helped."

“Go and get the dry ice from the car."

"To spare her from the consequences of her own actions—”

"Go. Right now, Hannibal."

Hannibal hesitated a moment, and then Will heard his retreating footsteps. Will took two or three deep breaths. He wondered if Abigail had been upset. If she’d cried. He wondered which was worse: the image of her in tears as Hannibal forced her to help mutilate the man she’d killed, or the two of them working easily side-by-side with matching placid expressions.

He unplugged the freezer and tipped it onto its side. The bag he’d brought was just a few layers of sewn-together tarp. He spread it open to receive the body. Handling the chicken wire would be easier if he waited for Hannibal.

He had a fairly long wait. When Hannibal pushed the cabin door open again, his eyes went to Will with a wary expression.

"I'm over it. Mostly. Come and help me with this," Will said.

Hannibal walked over to him and examined the contents of the tarp. “Chicken wire to prevent the untimely surfacing of any small part of him, I take it. And concrete at the bottom to weigh him down. Very clever. The fingerprints will be lost within a week or so of submersion. Will you remove the teeth?”

"There's no computer searchable database of dental records. They’d have to get a forensic odontologist to compare the skull to Nicholas Boyle's X-rays, and there won't be any reason for them to think it's him. If they ever find him, they'll check people who went missing in the area.”

Hannibal stood, silent, hands clasped behind his back, gazing at Will.

"What?" Will said.

"I want to kiss you, but I'm afraid you wouldn’t appreciate it right now."

"I… You could."

Hannibal smiled a little and stepped forward. "Could I?"

Will said nothing. He let Hannibal lay a hand on his cheek and brush their lips together while the corpse of Nicholas Boyle looked on, eyes still open and staring. It didn't bother Will as much as he wanted it to. He was too lost in the wet slide of Hannibal’s mouth. He held his gloved hands out to the sides, conscious of what he’d been touching. He swallowed and licked his lips when Hannibal stepped back.

"It's a pity that you won't consider a different sort of life. It seems you would be exceptionally good at it," Hannibal said.

“I’d be like you," Will said. "I wouldn't want to hide it. We would…goad each other. And we would get caught."

"I didn't get caught."

“You were alone. It's easy to be prudent when you only have yourself for company. The way we'd be together…"

He shook his head and started maneuvering the bagged body into its chicken wire cage. They loaded it into the trunk and cleaned up the basement.

"How would we be?" Hannibal asked.

"We’d set the world on fire, and we'd burn with it."

“Perhaps it would be worth it.”

“I want more than that,” Will said.

“Then you shall have it.”

*

Will drove most of the way to North Carolina without stopping. He let Hannibal spell him for an hour or two at a time, but, even before he took the NoDoz, he was too wired to sleep. Everything since his own stay in the hospital blended together in his memory in a riptide of unreality. Now that he could finally see the shore, he couldn't stop until he got there.

The Great Dismal Swamp access road was a one lane dirt track cut close on either side by black water, cypress knees, and green scum. They drove around the gate, a simple pole barrier with a keypad. Will didn't want any record of their visit and that included registering at the ranger station to get a code.

"How do you know it will be empty?" Hannibal asked. "I assume you do know that."

"You can't get a code for the gate between sunset and sunrise. Too dangerous in the dark. If everyone on their list isn't checked off by the end of the day, they go in and make sure you haven't run off the road and got yourself swallowed by the swamp.”

"Will it swallow anything?"

“Just about. But we’re going to the lake. We’ll drop him straight into the middle."

“Do you have a boat up your sleeve as well?"

“Inflatable dinghy.”

He pumped it up on the shore by hand, a slightly ridiculous affair. Manhandling Nicholas Boyle in his wire cage into it was worse, even with Hannibal's help. Every cut end of the wire threatened to puncture the vinyl, and the concrete pushed it so low that the water nearly slopped over the sides.

Will wiped sweat off his forehead and the back of his neck. “I’ll be lucky if I don't have to swim back.”

Hannibal handed him the oars. "Don't they have alligators here?"

“And water moccasins. Can't wait."

Will paddled out onto the dark lake. Each dip of the oar sent ripples out all around him, concentric rings in perfectly black water. Except for the reflection of the Bentley's headlights casting two white streams after him like a storm anchor, he moved through a void. The shore receded. Hannibal was a small figure outlined against the light, first a silhouette and then merely one more shadow in a night made of shadows.

Will floated alone, a few scattered stars above and black void below. He forced his hand between the layers of chickenwire and pushed Nicholas Boyle’s eyelids down over his sunken eyes. He wanted to say he was sorry, but an insincere apology seemed worse than nothing at all. He wasn't sorry enough to let Abigail or Hannibal pay for what they’d done. He wasn't sorry enough to give Nicholas Boyle’s family peace or justice or even a body to put into the ground.

"At least it was fast," he said. "And this is a good place. Water’s better than dirt. Water’s always changing."

He leaned back against the far side of the dinghy, planted his feet against the cage, and kicked Nicholas Boyle over the side.

Back on shore, he cut a jagged tear in the vinyl. They could toss that and the tarp in a dumpster, and that would be the end of it. Hannibal emptied the rest of the dry ice onto the lake. They stood and watched it fizz and steam and finally disappear.

*

Hannibal was asleep by the time they crossed the bridge to the Outer Banks. Will pulled into the real estate office in Nag’s Head and left him in the parking lot while he went to collect the keys and again while he picked up bagels and cream cheese and coffee for the morning at a tiny deli. The grocery store seemed as impossible as climbing Mt. Everest.

At the house, he opened the sliding glass doors at the back to let in the sound of the ocean. A cold, damp wind enveloped him and raised goosebumps on his skin. He left the door open a crack anyway so that the roar of the incoming waves filled the small house. Only then did he go back to the car to collect Hannibal.

"We're here."

Hannibal blinked up at him slowly. His eyes seemed reluctant to open all the way. "I can hear the ocean," he said.

“It's just behind the house. Come inside, okay?"

Loaded up on tramadol, Hannibal held tight to Will’s arm and let himself be led slowly up to the bedroom. Will helped him undress and wrapped the support bandage in place. They got into bed together. Will turned off the lights and lay still in the dark. The ceiling seemed infinitely far away, as if it were the night sky above him, eternally without stars.

"Will?"

"I'm here."

Hannibal reached for him, clumsy with exhaustion and medication. Will let himself be pulled in close against his side. Hannibal stroked through his hair with a sigh. "I have dreamed of having you so close," he said.

"I've been this close. I've been closer.”

“Not like this. There has always been something between us.”

“That’s not my fault.”

“Nor can you truly say it is mine.”

“I can. No one made you a killer.”

Hannibal was quiet for a few seconds. When he spoke, Will could barely hear him over the rush of the ocean. “I want you with me always,” he said.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“You’re angry.” Hannibal groped for his hand and held it tight. “Don’t be. Not tonight. I’ll misspeak and lose you and I couldn’t bear that. Please, Will. Don’t be angry with me.”

Will kissed his hand and curled close against his side with his head on Hannibal’s chest. “I’m not angry,” he said, and, abruptly, it wasn’t a lie. “Go to sleep. Everything’s going to be fine. More than fine.”

“I want you so desperately.”

“You’ve got me. I promise.”

*

In the morning, he woke to the sound of Hannibal’s soft snores. His hair was a mess, face creased with sleep and wear and advancing years. Will watched the expansion of his chest, the resultant faint line of pain between his eyes as his shoulder rose and fell. He eased carefully out of the bed and found the bottle of tramadol. He left it with a glass of water on the bedside table, though he didn’t hold out much hope that Hannibal would actually take the full dose again after his sudden bout of honesty last night.

Will put the coffee on and then stepped outside into the cold sand. Wind swept up the gray beach. The sun was a spark of impossibly bright light at the far edge of the ocean. Pelicans flew in a line just above the swell of the waves. Icy water curled around his ankles, and he shivered.

He looked up and down the row of houses, but they were all dark, most boarded up and abandoned for hurricane season and the winter. He and Hannibal might’ve been the last people on Earth. The thought appealed to him.

“Will?”

He turned. Hannibal stood not five feet away, voice nearly lost to the waves. He wore his red sweater, Will’s old jeans, and the most uncertain expression Will had ever seen on his face.

“I’m cold,” Will said. “Come here.”

Hannibal stepped up behind him and pulled Will back against his chest with one arm around his waist. He bent his head and sighed into Will’s neck. His body curled over and around Will’s until they were molded together. He was warm, as always, and Will leaned back into him.

“It’s very likely that I will kill you if you try to leave me,” Hannibal said.

“That’s what you meant by a messy ending, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Romantic.”

“Don’t joke about it.”

Will smiled at the lightening sky. The sun had risen enough to cut a bright path across the waves. “What if I said the same thing?”

“I might almost have some respect for God again.”

“Let’s go inside. I can’t feel my feet.”

They went in. Hannibal regarded the bagels with distaste but ate one anyway.

“We can go to the store later,” Will said.

"I suppose we must. I doubt they even have an organics section.”

Will tried not to laugh, he really did. As a result, he ended up snorting his next gulp of coffee and coughing until he had tears in his eyes while Hannibal watched with impassive dignity.

“You could’ve picked somewhere more civilized,” Hannibal said.

“Deal with it. Next time we can go somewhere you want to go. Be glad you don’t have to spend Christmas with my family.”

“Do you truly have none at all? No distant cousins?”

“No one. Don’t worry, you’ve got me all to yourself.”

“Am I that transparent?”

“In some things, yeah.”

“I’m afraid you’re not so fortunate. My aunt and uncle are still alive.”

Will stared. “Really? Do I get to meet them?”

“It will be inevitable.”

“I can’t wait.”

“I can. But there are places in Paris I would like to show you, and I suppose it can only be put off for so long.”

“What are they like?”

“Robert is a scholarly man. In his youth, he had planned to take vows as a monk but for his father’s objections. I believe he often wishes he had. A contemplative life would have suited him better.”

“What does he do?”

“He manages the family’s properties and investments. They are extensive, and it leaves him little time for anything else.”

“Properties? What…” He searched for a polite way to ask just how much money Hannibal’s family had and decided there probably wasn’t one.

“In Lithuania, France, Italy, and Switzerland. The family goes back several centuries, and one tends to acquire things. My aunt is more sociable. Invitations to her parties are much sought after in Paris, though they tend to be highly uncomfortable affairs for at least a few of the guests at any given event. She sees them less as occasions for gaiety than as opportunities for the study of human nature.”

“So, you take after her, then.”

Hannibal smiled faintly. “She keeps notes on her guests. Whole journals of observations, going back years. Much like a naturalist might keep track of a population of birds. They were quite educational. With luck, she still doesn’t know I found them.”

“Do they know about…you?”

“They know nothing. They suspect much. Robert suspects me, I think, of worse crimes than I have ever committed. Go in armed for battle, and you’ll come out unscathed. I wouldn’t expect either of them to like you — they don’t like me, and Robert barely tolerates human company at all — but I believe they will approve of you.”

“You like them. You like your aunt anyway.”

“What makes you say that?”

“The way you talk about her. With respect. That’s rare for you.”

Hannibal inclined his head in acknowledgement and fell silent.

Much later, after he’d rejected the grocery store and forced Will to drive nearly an hour north to a small gourmet market, he resumed the conversation. “Their house was a haven for me in many ways, but also so removed from my former life that sometimes I still feel I am living in a world shaped by my own mind. An illusion of luxury. I would not be surprised to wake one morning in my room at the orphanage, a child again.”

“Does that frighten you?”

“Occasionally. More often, I find it freeing.”

“Do you believe I’m real?”

Hannibal was silent for a few seconds as he examined two apparently identical heads of romaine. “Positing that most people would consider me insane, and assuming that there is some basis for that conclusion, I find it entirely plausible that you are a persistent hallucination. Likely, perhaps.”

“Why likely?”

“What are the odds that someone like you exists, that we have found each other, that you are still here despite knowing me as you now do?”

“Are you saying I’m literally too good to be true?”

Hannibal shot him an annoyed glance. “Perhaps I spoke too soon.”

Will smiled and trailed after him as he went to inspect the crab cakes in the glass display case.

By the end of the day, they were both exhausted again. Will dragged Hannibal up to bed at eight and met very little resistance. They both undressed and climbed under the sheets together. Will lay on Hannibal’s uninjured side so that Hannibal could reach out and pull him close. He rested his head on Hannibal’s chest and stroked a hand over his stomach and side.

“You complained before that I never let you touch me,” Hannibal said quietly. “You may do so now if you wish.”

“However I want?”

“Yes.”

Will touched his chest, the lines of his ribs hidden under a faint padding of skin and muscle. He pressed over the hard center of his breast bone and felt his heartbeat, steady and slow and reassuring. He rubbed the pads of his thumbs over one nipple and then the other, just enough to make them go hard. Hannibal watched him in the near dark.

Will’s hand hovered over the bandages on his shoulder. “Can I see?” he said.

“Yes.”

He peeled back the dressing easily. He’d been the one changing it since before Hannibal had the left the hospital. The sight of the wounds wasn’t unfamiliar, but he’d tried not to stare. It had felt wrong. Illicit. Now his eyes fixed on the closing pucker of the bullet hole and stayed there. He badly wanted to touch it.

“Do you like it?” Hannibal asked.

“That’s an ambiguous question.”

“The way it looks. The knowledge that I will bear your mark forever.”

“Yes,” he said quietly. “You know I do.”

“The knowledge of the pain it caused me and causes me still?”

Will swallowed, but he didn’t look away. “Yes. That too.”

“Good.”

Above the bullet wound ran a line of dark stitches where the surgeon had cut Hannibal open to repair the fracture in his shoulder. Will traced one finger in the air just above it. Hannibal closed his eyes and arched just a little toward his touch, enough that Will’s fingertip skimmed the raised thread.

“I want to taste it,” Will said.

“I want to let you.”

He thought Hannibal probably would let him, and he taped the dressing carefully back into place before temptation got the better of either of them. Hannibal grasped the back of his neck and pulled him down for a hard kiss. They lingered together, softening, reminded of their weariness, until Will straddled Hannibal’s hips and rested his forehead against Hannibal’s temple.

“The world would never have forgotten us,” Hannibal murmured. “We would have been alive in its nightmares centuries hence.”

“I don’t care about the world. I just want you.”

“You have me.”

“Is that really what you want? To be remembered like that?”

“Infamy is the most lasting form of fame.”

Will kissed him once and sat back. He touched Hannibal’s stomach, his hips, his thighs. He picked up one hand and traced the veins on the back and the creases on the palm.

“What’s this?” Hannibal asked.

“You want to be remembered. I’ll remember you.”

“Every part of me?”

“Yes.”

Will pressed a kiss to the heel of his hand and saw Hannibal’s throat work. His eyes were wide, his expression almost painfully open and unguarded and still completely unreadable. Almost alien. Will grazed his lips up his forearm and breathed into the crook of his elbow, kissed his shoulder just beneath the dressing, and then his mouth. He moved down with touches to Hannibal’s sides and thighs, bent to kiss the head of his stiffening cock.

“How tired are you?” he asked. Hannibal handed him a glass jar of slick in answer, and Will smiled. “Okay. But I’m not done yet.”

“There will be other nights.”

“Promise?”

“As many as you like. Come here.”

Will moved as he was directed, until he was leaning forward, legs spread wide over Hannibal’s waist while Hannibal worked two fingers inside him. Will’s breath caught in his chest and he closed his eyes tight.

“Your face when I do this to you. I could watch you forever.”

Will wasn’t even hard yet, but the hunger in Hannibal’s soft tone sent a shudder through him. He shifted backward and found Hannibal’s cock with his hand, held it as he lowered himself down. It was too soon, but Hannibal didn’t stop him. Will kept his eyes closed through the burn and bit his lip hard. His nails dug into his own thigh.

Hannibal didn’t hurry him, just stroked his side and murmured to him, words below the threshold of Will’s hearing until he was finally seated and his blood had stopped its oceanic roar. Hannibal touched his cheek, and Will leaned into it, panting.

“All right?” Hannibal asked.

Will nodded uncertainly. “Feels bigger than I remember,” he muttered.

“You push yourself too hard as usual. Your body will adjust. Here, give me your hand.”

Hannibal laced their fingers together and watched him steadily. Will focused on his face as the one still point in a shifting universe and felt his body begin to ease.

“Better?”

Will nodded. He let his head tip back and his eyes close again. He rocked his hips and felt more than heard Hannibal’s faint intake of breath.

“Then move,” Hannibal said. “Take your pleasure.”

He moved, working himself down further onto Hannibal’s cock, feeling once more molded to the shape of Hannibal’s desire. He rocked forward and braced one hand on Hannibal’s chest, searching for the right angle, teeth scraping across his lower lip when he found it.

“God, oh, God…”

“Stay there,” Hannibal told him softly. He rocked his hips in tight little circles that had Will panting again in seconds, mouth hanging open.

He wanted more, and he chased after it, thighs aching as he lifted himself up and came down hard. Hannibal’s hand rested at his hip and squeezed, encouraging. Will stroked himself, expecting to have his hand pulled away, but Hannibal only put his own hand over Will’s and stroked him faster. Will’s breath stuttered, and he came, bent forward, both hands on the bed.

Hannibal jerked his hips up inside him and fucked him with short, hard thrusts. Will watched his face, his wide open eyes, the faintly glazed look and parted lips as he came a minute or two later and fell back onto the bed. Will stretched out along his side and kissed him and let Hannibal pull him still closer despite the heat of their bodies. Hannibal combed through his hair, over and over, until the rhythm of it threatened to send Will to sleep.

Hannibal reached for tissues by the side of the bed and cleaned them both up. He eased Will’s thighs apart and stroked over the scratches left by the rose thorns. He bent to kiss the bruise he’d sucked there and then lay down next to Will again.

“Come here,” he said. “Come closer.”

For the first time, it occurred to Will that Hannibal always wanted him close, never pushed him away in the night, despite his restless sleep, the sweat, the nightmares. They slept like this and they woke up like this, together.

A certain sense of unreality hung over him. “If you wake up from your dream, will you come and find me?” he said.

Hannibal took his hand and kissed it. “I will always find you, Will. Nothing on Earth or in Heaven could stop me.”

It was half a threat, maybe more than half, but the absolute assurance of it settled around Will and warmed him through to the heart.

Chapter Text

Two months later, Will sat in Alana’s waiting room. He’d gone back to teaching a week ago. Jack hadn't called him out to a crime scene yet, but it would happen. He rubbed his hands restlessly along his thighs. The longer he waited, the worse an idea this appointment seemed.

Finally, the door opened. He looked up and found himself face to face with Chloe Bell. She was still wearing his hat.

“Agent Graham!” She beamed up at him. "Are you here to see Dr. Bloom, too?”

"Yeah. I guess your mom called her?"

“Not for a while, but then I started having a lot of nightmares, which was really stupid because it happened like forever ago.”

"Sometimes that's the way it goes.”

“Is that what happened to you?"

"Sort of. I have nightmares about a lot of things."

"Because of all the stuff you've seen?"

"Yeah."

“Does it help to talk to Dr. Bloom about it?"

"I don't know yet. This is my first appointment."

She dug in her pocket and pulled out a sticker in the form of a cheerful looking bee. She stuck it to his shirt. "Dr. Bloom gives me those at the end of every appointment and I usually give them to my brother because I'm too old for stickers, but you can have this one."

"I'm not too old for them?"

"You look really nervous," she said.

Will was saved from having to confirm or deny that by Alana’s arrival. Inside her office, with the door shut behind them, Will crossed his arms and looked at her. “Don’t try to tell me that was a coincidence,” he said.

She smiled at him. "Chloe talks about you a lot."

"Are you going to ask how that makes me feel?"

“I think ‘deeply uncomfortable’ is a pretty safe bet. Nice sticker.”

He peeled it off and walked over to the window. Alana’s office was nothing like Hannibal’s. Long and narrow, with a window at one end, particleboard desk in the corner, industrial-strength carpet. Like any other therapist’s office he’d ever seen, including the photos: mostly black and white, unremarkable renderings of snowy trees or cherry blossoms on the Mall. Not her taste at all. Designed to be a neutral space for her patients, while Hannibal’s personality sloshed around his office liked expensive wine in a crystal glass.

“Did a patient of yours take the pictures?”

“Several patients. Why? Do you have anything you'd like to contribute?"

"I don't own a camera."

“At least half of those were taken with a camera phone.”

"I don't take a lot of pictures." The last one had been of Hannibal, asleep by the stream. He remembered how inevitable an end had seemed for them then, how keenly he had felt that future pain.

Alana let his silence stand for a minute or two. "Is there something you want to show me, Will?"

"Ask me what you want to know. Don't pretend I want tell you."

“All right. Show me the picture you’re thinking about.”

Will thought of what Hannibal had said, that he found it easier to accept help when it was thrust upon him than when it was offered and he could refuse. He took his phone out and flipped through until he found the photo.

“Oh, my God. He's wearing jeans,” Alana said.

Will laughed, rusty and creaky, but genuine. “Did you see the grease stain?"

"Are you sure I can't hang this on the wall?"

“Only if you never invite him in here. He doesn't know I took it.”

"How are you two?"

He shook his head. "Ask what you really want to know."

She glanced at him and then settled her gaze on the neutral territory of the window. "The bruises," she said. “On your back in the hospital. And later on your wrists.”

"That's not a question."

"I don't know what the question should be."

"Do you think he's abusing me?”

“I’d believe you if you told me that," she said carefully.

"Of course you would. That's your job. But that's not what you think is going on. Give me a theory.”

“I’m hesitant to put a label on it. I don’t know what you’d prefer. The consensual infliction of pain within a sexual context.”

"No disapproval, Dr. Bloom?"

“You're happier right now than I've ever seen you.”

"That's not an answer."

“It is, actually.”

He turned away from the window and dropped down into a brown plaid chair. She joined him in its twin. They sat in silence. Will could hear her breath, faintly, and the sound of her shoe rubbing against the chair leg. The traffic outside. The tick of his watch.

“You really hate this, don’t you?” she said.

“I told you I don’t like traps.”

“You can leave whenever you want to, Will. Jack hasn’t made this mandatory. At some level, you’re here because you want to be here.”

He hunched forward in his chair. Somehow that just made it worse. “Maybe I got a taste for it.”

"What did you and Hannibal talk about?"

"Mostly cases."

"The Chesapeake Ripper?” she asked.

"Why do you ask about him specifically?"

"Because Jack keeps asking me about him specifically."

“Why hasn't he killed again, you mean."

Alana nodded. “He's one short of his— What did you call it?"

"Sounder.”

“First time that's happened, isn't it?"

“Maybe we just got lucky. Maybe he's done. Maybe he's dead.”

“Is that what you think?”

“No. I don't think he's dead. He's just done for now. Doesn’t mean he’ll never kill again.”

“Does that worry you?”

Will shrugged. "Jack wants to catch him. I just want people to stop dying. Mission accomplished. For the moment.”

“Did you send that message to TattleCrime? Doctor-patient privilege. I couldn't tell anyone even if I wanted to.”

"Jack knows anyway. Or he knows as much as I do. I don't have any clear memory of sending it, but it's possible." He shifted in the chair, weighing uncomfortable truths against necessary fictions. "I think I believed I could get him to stop."

She raised her eyebrows. “Looks like you were right. How did you do it?"

“No idea," he said, and that was the truth. He glanced at the clock, more than done with talking about himself, still a considerable amount of time to kill. “You know Beverley likes you, right?”

She blinked at him. “That was a jump.”

“You can keep up.”

“Implying that most people can’t.”

He shrugged. “It wasn’t an intentional implication.”

“All right. Yes, I know she does.”

“And you like her.”

She gave him a wry look. "I feel I've lost control of this session. If you were anyone else I'd be thinking about giving you a referral right now."

"Very conscientious of you, Dr. Bloom, but you're stuck with me."

She paused for a few seconds. “Yes,” she said, finally. “I do.”

"So what's the problem?"

“Me and dating. I don't do it well. I overthink things."

“You worry about the end before you’ve even started.”

“Is that the voice of experience?”

“We’re not that different.”

"What did you worry about with Hannibal?"

He watched the sweep of the second hand on the clock. “I worried— I assumed that he’d get tired of me eventually. Of the way I am. I knew that was the initial attraction for him, and I didn't expect it to last.”

"You don't sound like you're worried anymore."

“He told me some things recently, things about his past. They let me rationalize his feelings for me."

“Attraction isn’t rational.”

“Obviously not.”

“Would you like to tell me what those things were?”

"Those are his secrets, not mine. Are you going to talk to Beverly?"

“It's not like you to be this interested in anyone’s private life."

"I like her. And I owe her.”

“Do we need to repeat the conversation where I tell you that friendship isn’t about debt?”

“You say that because it comes easily to you. I know how lucky I am to have people who put up with me.”

Alana sighed. “I’ll talk to her.”

“Good.”

By the time the hour was up, Will felt as if his bones had locked into position. He stretched as he stood.

“Do you want to have lunch later this week?" Alana asked.

“You want to? I mean— Are we still going to be friends?"

"I hope so. Are you comfortable with that?"

“Yeah. I guess I haven’t been too much of a prick today then.”

"I'm not going to fault you for telling the truth, Will.”

"Most people do."

“You don't give most people the chance to do anything else.”

She hugged him and let him go. He drove to Hannibal’s house feeling as ungrounded as he had before the appointment.

Hannibal stood in the kitchen, knife in hand, frowning over three piles of herbs.

“I thought there was marjoram in this recipe,” Will said.

"The plant is dying. I'll have to acquire a replacement. How did things go with Alana?"

Will poked at the basil. "I hate therapy."

"I'm sure you told her no more than you wished her to know."

"I don't even know what I'm doing here. I should go home. Feed the dogs."

He started for the door, but Hannibal caught his wrist and pulled him in close against his side.

"You're here because you are unsettled and you trust me to settle you. To repair the damage that you and your life collude to inflict on your mind.”

Will wasn't even listening. His body relaxed automatically into Hannibal's touch and the soothing stream of his words. "Can I just—"

"No. You'll do as I say tonight, I think. I've given you too much freedom."

Will swallowed and ducked his head. His pride demanded an immediate denial, but he could feel the tension in his back and jaw unknotting already and the pull of something warm and yearning in his stomach. He leaned against Hannibal's shoulder. “What do you want me to do?"

Hannibal laid a hand on the back of his neck. He squeezed once and then pressed down. “Kneel,” he said.

Will folded himself stiffly down to the floor. The stone made his knees ache immediately, but it didn't matter. He placed his hands down flat and bent his head.

“Tell me when the position becomes too uncomfortable," Hannibal said.

"I wouldn't call it comfortable now."

"But it is tolerable. You have no real desire to move."

Will had to acknowledge that. It didn't feel good, but it felt right. Safe. Calming and uncomplicated.

“So you will tell me when that changes," Hannibal said.

He went back to his herbs, and Will stayed on the floor at his feet like one of his own dogs. He watched Hannibal move from the counter to the fridge and back, slicing leeks and carrots, dismantling some form of organ meat and packing it into a cooler. Planning to cook at Will’s house, then. Will shifted, knees sore, back starting to ache. He rubbed his palms against his thighs and sat up straighter.

"It's not an endurance contest, Will," Hannibal said.

"I'm fine."

Hannibal looked down at him. "I can smell her on you. I'm not accustomed to sharing the things that are most important to me.”

Will knew he should tell him to get used to it, but both the words and the necessary tone stuck in his throat. He did not want to have this conversation on his knees in Hannibal's kitchen. He wasn't even sure he could. He closed his eyes and ran a hand over his mouth as if he could draw the words out by physical contact.

"I apologize," Hannibal said quietly. He stroked Will’s hair and tugged him close to lean against his thigh. "Now is not the time."

"I can— Just, give me a few seconds, I can—”

“You don't need to. I know what you would tell me. I am aware that you have other people in your life. That you must. That it is unreasonable for me to want anything else. Not only unreasonable, but detrimental to your happiness." His fingers moved slowly against Will's scalp. “I won't say that it's an issue I can set aside and never think of again, but certainly we will not discuss it when I have you like this."

Will reached up for Hannibal's hand and gripped it tight, face pressed hard against his hip. "You're all I want," he said.

“Right now, that's true. And it's enough.”

Hannibal drove them both to Will’s house. He told Will to see to the dogs while he cooked, and Will took them out across the fields. Snow and mud had churned together into brown slush, and the sky had dulled to a flat gray, but Will felt his heart lift as he walked.

When he started back toward the house, he could see Hannibal’s silhouette in his kitchen window. He stood still and watched until the light had faded almost to nothing and the only color left in the world was the warm glow of his windows. Hannibal stepped out through the kitchen door and lifted a hand to call him home. Will fed the dogs on the porch and cleaned their feet before he let them inside.

“Don’t speak,” Hannibal told him, and they ate in silence. The dogs settled around the fireplace. Peace filtered down like dust all around them.

After dinner, Hannibal sat in Will’s armchair, and Will sat at his feet. Hannibal read on his tablet. Will drifted, nearly asleep until Hannibal’s hand tightened in his hair. “Another interesting article by Ms. Lounds,” Hannibal said.

Will cleared his throat. “I get to talk now?”

“I think you should, yes. He'll track the news reports of them as avidly as any second rate painter clipping reviews from the back of a city paper?”

Will winced. Thank you, Freddie Lounds. Again. “I was angry.”

“You’re still angry.”

“It comes and goes. I’m still here.”

Hannibal’s grip gentled. He set the tablet aside and stroked down the back of Will’s neck. “Yes. We both are.”

“Do you still think this won’t work?”

“I believe it’s worth making the attempt. I am committed if you are.”

That was probably as close as he’d ever get to a promise regarding the Ripper’s retirement. It was enough. Hannibal stroked through his hair again. Will listened to the dogs breathing, the shift and creak of the house. He watched the steady glow of the space heater.

“I told you, I’m not going anywhere,” he said.