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1.

Mason Verger, while many unpleasant things, is not stupid.

When the video is first created, it is kept in a safe coded to two people, and viewed on a screen accessible by one. It is titillating, highly illegal, and the favorite amongst a collection.

After the dogs have finished making a dinner of his face, Mason watches for different reasons. It fills him with impotent fury. He forces himself to stop. For a while, the video sits in a basement.

Mason dies. He is killed by a man in an impeccable suit. His sister sells the house. Collectors come from across the globe. The man with good taste does not come; the F.B.I. checks. The safe is purchased. The video is watched.

It has been live for fifty-three hours, attracting a full day of news coverage and over a million Youtube hits, before anyone thinks to contact Will Graham.

2.

Jack Crawford arrives exactly one hour after Will hangs up on the New York Times.

Will is elbow-deep in dishes, facing a window overlooking the sea, but knows his guest immediately. Can tell by the rising whine of his dogs’ barks and the purr of a luxury engine. The engine dies. His dogs yip. Jack’s footsteps are heavy on the front porch.

Will anticipates Jack’s hesitation. He doesn’t need empathy to guess at his guilt and suspicion, shaken and slow-poured into a cocktail of dread. Jack won’t want to be here, which makes two of them.

Will bares his teeth at a grease stain in the bottom of a pan. His scars pucker. He washes his hands.

“You might as well come in.”

The door creaks. A rectangle of sunlight spills across the counter and is immediately blotted out by Jack’s shadow.

“You going to look at me?”

“It might be easier if I didn’t.”

“Tell me that’s not an admission of guilt.”

For a second, it’s fifteen years ago and Will’s wearing a bad suit, seated in the defendant’s chair and watching his boss testify how he’d killed people. He turns, sucking the memory behind his teeth. “I thought we’d gotten over the accusation phase of our relationship.”

Jack’s gaze flits to the mess of distorted tissue Dolarhyde’s knife made of his face, and Will notices how white his hair has gotten. How deep the wrinkles around his mouth and forehead. Will smiles. It makes him feel like a monster.

“I’m not here to judge you, Will.”

“Really? Because it feels like that’s exactly what you’re doing.”

“Do I have something to judge?”

“I guess it depends how much you trust Doctor Lecter.” He flinches and it occurs to Will on a visceral level that somewhere between Bella’s death and Lecter’s escape, Jack has gotten old.

As if to balk the observation, steel returns to Jack’s spine. He looks Will square in the eye. “Lecter didn’t know he was being filmed. What reason would he have to lie?”

“What reason does he have to kill and eat people?”

“You’re telling me everything he says in that video is false?”

“I haven’t seen it. I don’t know. But yes. Probably.”

“If you haven’t seen it—”

“The Times asked some very specific questions.” Hysteria beats at back of Will’s throat like the frantic flutter of moth’s wings. “And I have no intention of seeing it. Jesus Christ. I’ve got enough nightmares without watching some sort of — of— cannibal sex tape.”

“This involves you, Will.”

“Because he says it does?”

“Because it does!” The fire’s back, and Jack’s brandishing his finger like a weapon. Will remembers that he used to admire this man. “Lecter’s never gotten over his thing for you. Now I don’t know if that’s because you caught him, or because certain things happened before you figured out what he was—” Jack’s raised hand forestalls Will’s torpedoed objection. “Let me finish. I don’t know, and I don’t want to. But true or not, Lecter claimed you were engaged in a sexual relationship. He’s been loose nearly four years. Other than taking out Verger, he hasn’t made a peep. Not a murmur. This could be our last chance to bring him into the open. I want you where I can see you.”

“At any cost?”

“Don’t give me those puppy eyes, Graham. I’m too crotchety to give a damn.” They both know it isn’t true.

“I’m guessing if I say no you’ll find an excuse to bring me in anyway?”

Jack grunts. “Don’t need an excuse. I had to fight J.O. tooth and nail to keep them from sending S.W.A.T. after your ass.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time. Someone’s going to have to take care of the dogs.”

“Way ahead of you. Found a guy up in Palm Coast. A real Dr. Doolittle. He’ll be out as soon as you’re packed.” Jack slips his hands into his pockets. The movement is so familiar that, for a moment, time seems to go in reverse, erasing decades of doubt and waylaid trust.

Honey, a black lab Will’d saved after a hit and run, places a wet nose in the palm of his hand. His fingers close on the soft fur of her neck. A feeling he cannot name blossoms, raw and ragged, in the center of his chest.

3.

Jack gets him a temporary ID and puts Will up at the Crossroads Inn at Quantico. Agents ten years younger than him try to make him watch the video. They tell him it’s not so bad, it’s one of many. Mason tried to freak out all his shrinks. They tell him they know it’s a lie, and ask about his sexual preferences.

On a screen in the cafeteria, Will catches a clip of himself on FOX, denying Lecter’s allegations. They’ve chosen a bad one. His eyes dart. His voice cracks. The text beneath reads: “THE LADY DOST PROTEST TOO MUCH?” Afterwards, the hosts debate, and an “FBI Official” speaks the paltry disavowals of a bad cover-up. Will leaves, feeling sick.

They bring in Alana Bloom.

She meets Will for coffee on a bench outside the teaching facility. When he offers to shake, she hugs him. Dappled light catches threads of silver in her hair.

In the initial pleasantries, Will learns she’s married with two kids and a husband who writes from home. When he jokes about dogs and picket fences, she confesses they’d had a cocker spaniel, but had gotten rid of it; “Terry’s allergic.”

“Too bad,” Will says. She agrees.

The conversation lapses. Nostalgia hovers between them like perfume. Regret pries at Will’s ribs. Even at Alana’s most curious, she’s never been willing to push him. If they’re going to do this, it’ll be on him.

“I ran into a reporter this morning.”

“Oh?”

“He wanted to know if I felt Lecter had cheated on me with Verger.” Will’s surprised by how quickly anger tongues his stomach.

“Was he with Tattle Crime?”

“I almost miss Freddie Lounds.” He has nightmares about her sometimes; chained to Dollarhyde’s wheelchair, her skin blackening, fat liquefying, melting open to reveal bone. Cartilage grinds at the back of his jaw. “Is this some sort of mass hallucination? Has everyone forgotten what he is? Why do they believe him?”

“Maybe they don’t.”

“You do.”

The barb hits home. Alana’s head dips, and Will experiences a shiver of masochistic satisfaction. He’d thought so. Then she’s looking at him, eyes sad, and the feeling curdles in his chest. “Were you?”

“No. Alana, I can count on one hand the number of times he touched me. His scalpel put me in a hospital bed.”

“I know. I’m sorry. It’s just… Before. He spoke of you very fondly.”

“I’m getting that.”

“Sorry.”

Will sighs. Exhaustion pulls his shoulders into the bench. He is suddenly, sharply aware of how shabby he looks, in his ratty jeans and seven-year-old button down. The sole of his right shoe so thin, he can feel the pavement. A chill, the size of a quarter, just beneath his big toe.

“I thought it was over,” he tells her. And because he’s older now, because he’s grown, he reaches out. For a little while, she holds his hand.

4.

Will goes to bed early and dreams of a world that doesn’t exist. He wakes up in an unfamiliar bed, dresses in clothes nicer than any he’s ever owned, and descends stairs into the home of a cannibalistic serial killer. In the dream, breakfast is on the counter and his coffee is prepared exactly the way he likes it. When he leaves for work, Hannibal Lecter hands him a Tupperware and kisses him out the door.

In the dream, Will opens the lid. Jack Crawford’s face stares up at him.

5.

Will leaves the Crossroads at 11:35pm on a Tuesday night and orders a cab for Baltimore. He’s feeling wild and stupid and pays with cash instead of the bureau’s credit card, which he uses to withdraw five hundred dollars from an ATM. With that, he hops a bus across town and he rents a room in a motel with a view of the water.

They’ll find him by morning.

This is a cry for privacy, not an escape attempt, and he’s made sure to leave a trail even a junior agent can follow. It’ll give his security detail a heart attack, and Jack an aneurism, but they’ll understand. Maybe.

Will misses his dogs. He hasn’t felt like this since his stint in the asylum. Like he’s drunk, trapped in a haze of false truths and, starting to believe them, because that’s how empathy works, damnit; he can’t be around others and not assume their point of view. No matter if they’re wrong. If it’s lies. There are a thousand hands, fumbling at the catches of his head, and he’d almost prefer Chilton.

Will lays on sheets the color of old mustard and tries not to hyperventilate.

He still hasn’t watched the video.

It itches, just beneath his skull. It manifests as pornography in the flash of reporters’ eyes. He knows there’s no way those phantom bodies could be him, knows he was jailed at the time, but something in the pit of his stomach has begun to doubt.

The laptop is open, page found, before he’s aware of having made a decision. He clicks play, like ripping off a band-aid.

BLACK. Then, an empty sitting room, windows dark.

Will recalls a file he’d received at the bureau, and suddenly knows it is late November, 2007, and the eighth of twelve sessions Mason Verger will ever have with Doctor Lecter. These follow on the heels of Mason’s trial, which newspapers call the “crime of the century”, after multiple rape and pedophilia charges are dropped due to, alleged “bribes, threats…[and] political pressures exerted …by pork czar and father of the accused…Verger Sr.”

In addition to his sister, Margot, Mason will be one of only two patients Doctor Lecter treats outside his office.

On screen, Verger sprawls across a settee. Lecter crosses his legs. Will has almost forgotten this version of the man. Prison had bloodied his elegance.

“Can I ask you a question?” Mason drawls. Lecter nods, and he wags his finger. “No bullshit now.”

“Of course.”

“You really think you can ‘cure’ me?”

Lecter puts down his pen. Will watches him weigh his response. “Therapy is contingent on the willingness of the patient. A happy tiger will not change his stripes.”

“He won’t, will he?” A shared, calculating silence. Mason breaks it with a delighted clap and stands. “Good! Very good. Sherry?”

“No, thank you.”

He shrugs, slinking to a cabinet. He pours himself a glass, takes a sip, and glances half-lidded over the rim. “You know, Doc, you’re not half-bad looking, in this light.” Mason’s smile turns sharp. His gaze rakes Lecter. “How about it? We gotta pass the time somehow. Wanna fuck?” The curse comes out with a bubblegum pop, all vulgarity and shock value. Lecter doesn't bat an eye.

“I’m flattered, Mason. Yet I must abstain.”

“You can’t expect me to believe you’re straight.”

“I find labels exceedingly dull. I have a previous commitment.”

“Oh come on, Doc. You have to know you’re being watched. Cordell would’ve told me if—“ Realization dawns. “Oh. Oh. You naughty boy. Graham. You fucked the Copycat Killer.” He breathes out the last with hunger. “You’re like me.”

Lecter’s discomfort is almost convincing. “I would hardly compare the situations.”

“I would. How much do you want, Hannibal? A grand. Two? I’ll pay for the details.”

“Perhaps I should refer you to someone else.”

“You won't. Sit down.” Hannibal doesn’t. Mason gnaws on his lower lip. “Fine. Fine. You like your privacy. I get that. How about I break some rules for you, Doc? Play a game. Question for question. My honesty for yours.” He leers. “You’d be my first.”

“The matter is ugly, and potentially scandalous. I would be putting my personal life in your hands.”

“As would I. Quid pro quo. Trust me, Doctor, your secrets are a hell of a lot less scandalous than mine.”

Will pauses the video with an unexpected feeling of relief. He had forgotten, in his retreat from the world, how little most people see. This is not about sex. This is a power play, pure and simple, and he is nothing more than a tool. It is a familiar role, so much better than the alternative, that it warms his belly and makes him brave. He reaches out. He presses ‘play’.

The monsters take their corners. Mason is good, but Lecter outclasses him by orders of magnitude.

“Your move, Doc.”

“Very well. Forgive me for being blunt, the nature of this game, I fear. Do you rape your sister?”

Mason rolls his eyes. “Oh, gimme a hard one. All the time. You fuck Graham, or he fuck you?” Mason’s hand sneaks down his chest and brushes the curve of his fly. Lecter ignores it.

“It was a back and forth. Though when his mind was troubled, he often found it comforting to lose himself in experience.”

“Gonna have to be more specific.”

A flash of annoyance. “Will preferred penetration.”

Despite himself, Will flushes, and he’s thankful that he’s never been able to picture Lecter anything less than fully dressed. In his mind, the Doctor is a hollow suit, layer upon layer that, if unwrapped, would dissolve into expensive fabric and empty air.

“When did you first realize you were sexually attracted to children?”

“Don’t be boring. It’s not the kids. It’s the, ah, control of the landscape. They can’t fight you. Can’t beat you. Can’t even realize how thoroughly they’re fucked.” Mason’s grin is sharkish. His hand slips into his pants. “I was nine, I think. Ever watch him kill somebody?”

Silence. “…Not per se. Tell me about your relationship with your father.”

“Don’t hold out on me. C’mon.” Lecter’s lips thin. “Come on, Doc, and I’ll answer your non-question.”

“Discretion must be paramount.”

“Patient/doctor confidentiality. I swear.”

“…You are familiar with Garrett Jacob Hobbs?”

“The Minnesota Shrike? Sure. Graham was on the team investigating him when he… well.”

“Indeed. Poor Will lost himself in the mind of a killer. He took Hobbs’ daughter to their home in Minnesota. I feared for the girl and followed. When I arrived, it was already too late. “

Behind Will’s eyes, a pendulum swings, dissolving the room, the bed, and the screen. His scars creep back into his skin. Reality takes shape around Lecter’s voice.

Abigail, mouth agape, on the linoleum floor. Footsteps on the stairs. Will’s gun trained on Hannibal. He didn’t mean to do it. He hadn’t meant to-

“He had eaten her ear. I- understand, I cared for Will deeply. I helped him dispose of the body.”

Will watches, eyes vacant. Hannibal’s coat around him, as he shivers in the snow.

“We had been intimate before. He begged me to ground him.”

“To fuck him.”

“If you wish to be crass.”

In the Hobbs’ bedroom. Will sprawled on his back. Sweat-sheened. Lips stained. Hannibal, taking off a glove. Finger tracing up his inner thigh. “Please. God, Hannibal, please-“

On screen, Verger is jerking off. “It turn you on?”

Lecter’s nostrils flare. Anger, and something else. The camera is high quality, but too far from the subjects. Without realizing it, Will leans forward. He tries to reach his thoughts into the room, taste the truth hidden beneath the facade.

And then he has it, flooding his senses, raising his hackles and-

Will comes back to himself with a jolt. Desire drains from him like blood in a sieve. “Oh,” he says, and bolts for the bathroom. The lock clicks. He hunches over the toilet, smelling bleach and urine in the discolored bowl. He waits for the bile to come.

A headache throbs behind his eyes.

6.

Will showers under a cold spray. The water in his mouth tastes like metal and when he shuts it off the air feels sharp and brittle. His boxers on the tile look like a sex crime. He steps back into the room without them.

Hannibal Lecter sits on the edge of the bed.

Will is proud that his first concern is his gun, inches from Lecter’s hand. Terror needles down his neck, replaced immediately by resignation. He’s too old, too weary to deny that while he may yet live or die, it’s no longer up to him.

Lecter’s gaze skims the scar his scalpel drew in Will’s belly. Blood flushes down Will’s chest. He clears his throat.

“Admiring your handiwork?”

“Regretting the necessity. Please,” Lecter gestures to his suitcase. When he doesn’t move, the doctor’s face softens in a parody of concern. “I can avert my eyes, if you wish.”

Will snarls, snatching pants and the largest available shirt. Offer spurned, Lecter watches unabashed as he covers himself. He draws the still-open computer to his side.

"I would have spared you this.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“I had no reason to imagine the recording’s existence. Its disclosure is unspeakably ugly.” He hesitates, and Will is treated to the rare spectacle of his agitation. “You have my apology.”

Will’s laugh is biting. “Great. That’ll help me sleep at night.”

“Nevertheless.”

Will buttons his shirt to the collar; the baggy folds are a paltry armor. With nothing else left to him, he turns his focus to Lecter.

Freedom has softened the harshest indignities of incarceration; prison pallor warmed to a mild tan, hollow cheeks filled, and Dior suit well-fitted. His hair is styled and cut, though the blonde has long fled, leaving gray streaked white at the temples. It is with a start that Will notices: Lecter is missing three fingers on his left hand.

“Someone finally get to you, Hannibal?”

“A compromise. I believe Mr. Verger was hoping for rather more.”

“For what I hear, he got the worse end of the deal.”

“Perhaps.” Hannibal shrugs, waiting. Will leans against the bathroom door. There are things to be asked, truths to be said. He’s not sure he wants the answers. He’s less sure Lecter will leave until he’s given them.

“Say what you want, kill me, or get out.”

Lecter’s eyes are twin fireflies in the dark. Surprisingly, he stands and shrugs on a winter’s coat, slipping Will’s gun into the pocket. “There is a case of Montrachet in the fridge. If you can, enjoy it. The F.B.I. will find no tampering, nor do they have your palate.”

“You know I can’t.”

“Alas.”

Lecter fixes his cuffs and against all odds walks to the door. If Will were not so stunned by the concession, he might’ve tackled him then, threaded fingers into the dandy’s hair and slammed that pristine face into the ground. He might’ve made pulp of it.

Instead, he fixes on the odd hobble in Lecter’s gait and wonders if Verger’s compromise has taken more than he’s seen. Words bubble onto his tongue before he can stop them.

“You never touched me.” Lecter freezes. Again, Will might’ve attacked. Again, he doesn’t. “You wanted to. There was- was ample opportunity. Why didn’t you?”

“You know me better than that, Will. I do not stoop to the nonconsensual.”

“Because your dinner ‘guests’ are such volunteers.”

“Their behavior is their volunteer.”

“And my… ‘behavior’ didn’t volunteer me?”

“I do not fault you for staying true to nature. As I am true to mine.”

“Meaning what, exactly?” Halogen light though the curtained window traces the edge of Lecter’s face. His mask, usually so difficult to pierce, is currently set at impregnable. High on the thrill of baiting the man, Will throws himself into slipping beneath it. His heartbeat thrums. Lecter is a familiar point of view and like a suit unworn for many years, Will is surprised to find he still fits.

He sits in Jack’s office next to himself, wearing a designer ensemble of tans and gray. His thoughts soar, pitiless and swift. He turns to the frumpy--- No. Will tailors the facts. Turns to the, ah--- turns. He takes in the man called Will Graham, in glasses and an un-ironed shirt, and despite appearances, appreciates the cluster of neuroses and personal traumas that might allow this creature to catch him. The shivery thrill of it tastes like iron on his tongue. Graham smells of backwaters, motor oil and the prejudices that so often make their homes there. He will have to be careful.

Later—

Will opens the door of his office, and the other Will steps in. He relaxes muscles tensed in preparation for murder as his double tells him, “I kissed Alana Bloom.” He had been aware of the attraction of course, has felt it himself, but reorganizes the necessary checklists. ‘Repressed’? He wonders. The conversation unfolds and as affection is pushed, molded, revises his assessment to, ‘straight.’

Later still—

Will leans over Graham’s shoulder, smells sweat, illness and fear, as his lesser self rejects what he could have been and spurns magnificence for drudgery in the laws of others. The gun is lifted. Will accepts: there will never be anything more than this. He will leave very little of ‘this’ standing.

“Is that—” Will doesn’t open his eyes as he comes to himself. His nose scents air he cannot parse. His anger is solid and comfortingly his own. “Is that what this- this vendetta was to you? You didn’t think I could, what, want to fuck you, so you made me damaged goods? That’s a little Fatal Attraction, Hannibal. Even for you.”

“Language, Will.”

“Am I getting to you?” Will’s aware he’s on thin ice, but doesn’t care. The week, hell, the decade has made him feel old, worn thin, but he is in control now and he’s reckless. “That's the problem with being a sociopath. You put people into neat little boxes and can't conceive of them exceeding your expectations.”

Lecter’s face lies especially flat. “Oh?”

“I might’ve—” Will knows he can’t hurt Lecter this way, not like he could hurt Jack or Alana, but he can make the monster question himself. There’s a sort of vengeance in that. “Before I learned what you were, before you ruined my life, I might’ve... been receptive.”

“Low taunts do not become you, Will.”

“The night at the ambulance, you saved that man’s life, I found you… attractive. It was troubling. I skipped dinner.” That’s the truth, at least. A painful, embarrassing one he’d buried deep; but honesty is the only thing capable of touching Lecter. He attempts eye contact. For once, the doctor avoids him.

“As I recall, you had a ‘date with the Chesapeake Ripper.’” Lecter’s thin lips twitch at the dated irony.

“Different world, I might’ve.” It’s as far as Will can bring himself to go, and farther than he meant to. The silence is deafening. Lecter turns from the door and pads to the mini fridge. From inside, he pulls the Montrachet in its olive bottle. He lifts it to Will.

“It is the height of rudeness to partake in a gift recently given, but considering the circumstances, perhaps I may request an exception?”

"Would it stop you if I said no?"

"Ask and see."

And suddenly, Will can’t see the point. He huffs a noise like consent, closes his eyes, and listens to the sound of unwrapping foil. His back slides down the textured wall in slow motion, soft pop of the cork nearly in time with his body as it touches the ground. Liquid splashes into one- two, cheap glasses. He opens his eyes. The clock to his right reads 4:55am. When had it gotten so late?

Lecter places a cup in his line of vision. With dim curiosity, Will wonders how he would’ve responded to that five, ten years ago. He doesn’t take it, and is proud of himself.

“The bed would be more comfortable.”

“Are you flirting with me?”

“Possibly.”

Without coming closer, Lecter looms. Trapped between the wall and dust cover, Will begins to feel claustrophobic. He shifts to the bed and does his best to impart the movement with indifference, instead of the frantic scrambling of a hare before the hawk.

The doctor’s stare pins Will to the mattress. Darkness pools in Lecter’s eyes, and Will ponders exactly what definition a man like Hannibal Lecter takes for ‘consensual’. No one has touched Will since Dollarhyde, since Molly took Willy and left over six years ago.

In the distance, he hears the sirens. Lecter must hear them too, for his head tilts, recalling a stag, straining for the bay of its hunters. Whatever black urge had taken him fades, until he is once more a man, or nearly one. He places his wine atop the TV cabinet.

“That will be Jack. You must give him my best. Convey my regrets, for Bella.” He opens the motel door. Beyond, to the east, the sky is pinking above the water. “It has been a pleasure.”

Will’s relieved to see him go, relieved to the marrow of his bones to escape this encounter without another scar. The unlooked for respite opens him up, everything he’s suppressed gushing forth. When it’s passed he’s bereft: empty and used-up.

“Too ugly to be worth your time, Doctor?”

And that must be the right thing to say, or something like it, because Hannibal stops. “Self-pity is unbecoming, Will. Intimacy holds a unique terror for you. You use your scars to keep it at bay. A fault of your own perception, not the beholding eye. The Venus de Milo has lost considerably more, and is no less beautiful.”

“Prove it.”

Back resting on the headboard, heart in his throat, Will lets his mind go blank. He may not have lost, but he hasn’t won, and he needs, so badly, for this to be over. He clings to the approaching sirens. Lets his knees drop open. Far off, in another world, he’s aware he’s half-hard.

It takes him two tries to speak. “One time offer, Hannibal. Take it or leave it.”

The shag carpeting mutes Lecter’s footsteps. His touch on Will’s knee burns. With false bravado, Will reaches up, brushes the knuckles of Lecter’s wounded hand and guides it to his face.

“Quite a sight for poor Jack. To catch me with my hand in the cookie jar.”

“I thought I was a teacup.”

Lecter’s amusement is that of an antagonized cat. Will feels the forced stillness in the pads of his palm. “A Pyrrhic victory.”

Will stares at the healed stumps where a pinky, middle, and ring finger had been. He contemplates the index, and wonders how many throats it’s closed upon. He fights back a panic attack as he considers sucking it into his mouth.

“There can’t be much of interest for you out there.”

“On the contrary. I find infinite fascination in matters on which I am yet a novice. Something about ‘expectations’.” He begins to pull away. Will tugs back.

“Unseen. Unappreciated.” Lecter skin tastes like neither steel nor blood, but instead, the soft, vanilla tang of expensive lotion. “That double homicide in France, last spring. Husband and wife, denier on their eyes.” The appeal to vanity does it. Hannibal’s free hand flutters to the curve of his thigh, short nails raking the inseam. Will reminds himself Jack will be here soon, it will be over, and god, he’s not sure he wants it to be. The bed dips under Lecter’s weight. “R-recognized- the biblical allusions, Ananias and Sapphira, killed for lying to God- Ah!”

“Clever boy. Very clever; I’m flattered.”

You would be, narcissistic prick. There’s a fine line between hate, fear, and mind-blowing sex, and Will suppresses a hysteric giggle as he realizes he’s headed for the latter. Adrenaline heightens every casual touch. Will’s hand, in Lecter’s pocket, closes around the gun. There’s a sudden stillness between them.

Lecter leans down. He’s close, getting closer. Will fears he’s going to kiss him. His head tilts at the last second. He whispers into Will’s ear, “Dearest Will. I took the liberty of removing the bullets.”

His teeth close on soft cartilage. Will has time for one, full body shiver before he bites. The lobe comes away in his mouth. Will hisses, jerking instinctually from the pain. “Exquisite,” he murmurs, as he stands. Scarlet drops fall from his chin.

“But I’m afraid I am in no hurry to place myself in Frederick’s less-than-capable-hands.” Lecter’s irises are rings around engorged pupils. “Though I should very much like a rain check.”

“Fuck you.”

“We’ll see.”

Lecter leaves his gun on the sill. The door is opened, and he is a silhouette against the rising sun. Then a wind blows, and he is gone. The sirens rise in pitch. Will stares at the stucco ceiling. He listens as police vehicles park and waits for a S.W.A.T. altercation in the lot. It doesn’t come. Instead, there are voices, and footsteps on the stair.

The left side of his face is sticky. The heat of arousal ebbs. When Jack Crawford finds him, Will stands at the window, clutching the still-loaded gun.

7.

Two years have passed. Jack Crawford’s retired, and the F.B.I. no longer make house calls. His dogs are happy. His ear has healed.

In the time since the release of Mason’s video, Will has taken several high-level self-defense classes and stayed up late with a bottle of whisky. He’s learned over thirty ways to break a man’s hand and what his fingers feel like inside himself. He knows that sometimes, that way, he can make himself come and he’s accepted that most often when that happens, he’s picturing Hannibal Lecter.

Will doesn’t know if he wants to capture, fuck, kill or love the doctor. He suspects that the next time they meet will be definitive. There’s not a whole lot more of him left.

But for now, there’s tires crunching up his driveway and he knows his guest immediately. Can tell by the rising whine of his dogs’ bark. By the purr of a luxury engine. Will picks up his gun.