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The Final Design

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The mind was a delicate thing. Some minds were weak, easily shattered with a few words, a suggestion; others were stronger, but still not entirely immune to gentle manipulation. And then there was Will Graham. Until now, the minds of others had meant nothing to him. They were inferior and unworthy of attention. But Will’s mind was a thing of beauty: an intricate mystery waiting to be solved—or destroyed.

It was fascinating to see Will at a crime scene, to watch him slip into the mind of another—even into Hannibal’s own. Will could assume his point of view in a way no one ever had before. Yet, once the moment was gone, he could look at Hannibal without seeing.

One day he’d make the connection—Hannibal was sure of it—and when that day came, drastic action would be needed. But, for now, Hannibal was enjoying this cat and mouse game. Will was a diverting toy, his mind a new world ripe for plundering. And plunder it he would, taking it apart piece by piece, then moulding it into a design of his own making. He had never felt more powerful, nor more alive.

***

Hannibal raised the glass to his noise and inhaled deeply, smiling at the scent of fruit and oak. He’d been saving this bottle for a while and planned to savour it. He was about to take the first, exquisite sip when an urgent knocking disturbed his reverie. After carefully setting down the glass, he headed through to the hallway. He had barely opened the front door before Will Graham tumbled in, racing past him, heading straight into his office.

“Come in, Will,” Hannibal murmured, with a slight shake of his head, before following. He entered the room to find Will pacing, his hands a constant blur as he fiddled with his shirt buttons and ran his fingers through his dishevelled hair.

“Dr Lecter, I think I’m losing my mind.”

“Calm down, Will,” Hannibal said, maintaining his distance. “Do you actually think you’re losing your mind, or is it just that you fear it?”

Will paused. “Both,” he whispered. “Neither. I don’t know anymore.”

“Come,” Hannibal said with brisk authority, taking control of the situation. “Something has triggered this. Something has upset you tonight. Take a seat and tell me about it. A glass of wine will steady your nerves.”

He waited until Will had settled in his usual seat before pushing the glass of wine across the coffee table towards him and then sinking gracefully into his own chair. Watching Will from behind a carefully blank expression, he surveyed his work with pride. Will was exactly where he wanted him to be—ever more dependent, ever more a puppet on his string.

“I was sleepwalking—again. But it was as if I were making my dreams a reality. I saw myself going to Alana’s house. I knocked on the door, and when she answered, I plunged a knife into her chest over and over and over.” He clenched his fists, then unfurled them, staring down at his palms. “Her blood covered my hands.”

“But it was just a dream, Will,” Hannibal said, as he observed the rise and fall of Will’s chest. He took a moment to imagine dancing to the frantic rhythm of Will’s heartbeat.

“I woke up outside her house, Dr Lecter!”

“Hannibal.”

“What?”

“Office hours are most definitely over, Will, and I am your friend. You may call me Hannibal.”

“Dr Lecter, you aren’t taking this seriously!”

“You dreamed of Dr Bloom and ended up at her house.”

“But I dreamed I killed her!”

“Do you want to kill her?”

“What? Of course not.” Will stood and crossed the room, resuming his pacing in front of the steps that led to Hannibal’s library.

“Well then, you would not have killed her. If you cannot trust yourself, Will, trust me—and I do not believe you would have hurt Dr Bloom tonight.”

Will didn’t answer straightaway, and Hannibal watched him, taking in every detail, memorising it for later dissection. His sense of pride remained, but as he observed Will’s pallor and the sweat that beaded his forehead, something else rose inside him: pain. It was a pain situated deep in his chest that spoke of how it hurt to see Will like this.

Interesting.

He settled his gaze on the pulse that throbbed in Will’s neck, and experienced a stirring in the pit of his stomach.

Very interesting.

Usually, he associated that feeling with the crescendo in a perfect piece of music, the taste of a fine meal, or, above all, the moment of the kill when he felt the supreme power of taking a life.

There were possibilities, he decided, playing each scenario in his mind, detaching all emotion and looking at the consequences and implications of every action. His heart rate had increased—an unusual occurrence. It was that more than anything else that decided his course. He realised it was no longer enough to manipulate Will Graham; he needed to possess him completely.

He stood and approached Will, who ceased his pacing and collapsed against the ladder, head tilted back, neck exposed.

“I do trust you, Dr Lecter,” Will said. “Sometimes, I think you’re my only anchor to the world of the sane.”

“Then let me be your anchor,” Hannibal said, closing the gap between them in two long strides and claiming Will’s lips as he pressed him back into the ladder.

He felt the moment Will’s surprise turned to acceptance, the moment the tension released from his body and he melted into Hannibal, wrapping his arms around him. Hannibal had planned to analyse the experience carefully, treating it as an experiment, but when Will’s tongue brushed against his own, his hunger so overcame him that he feared he could lose all control.

He thrust Will away and took a step back, allowing himself a moment to regain his composure. He couldn’t afford to lose himself. He might accidently kill Will. Or Will might notice something Hannibal didn’t want him to see.

As he tried to regulate his breathing, he glanced across at Will. Will looked confused, and for a second Hannibal thought that the moment was over, that he would turn and walk out. But then their gazes met, and Hannibal saw reflected in Will’s eyes a need that matched his own.

“Hannibal.” Will reached tentatively towards him.

Hannibal had no recollection of moving, but the next thing he knew was the exquisite feeling of Will’s slim frame pressed against him, and he didn’t hold back any longer. His kisses became harder, more insistent, devouring. He thrust his hands into Will’s hair, tangling his fingers in the soft curls and tugging slightly, eliciting a moan.

Will gripped him tightly, pulling him ever closer as if the slightest distance between them was too much, as if he would fall if he let go of his anchor. Hannibal shifted, rubbing against Will’s crotch, and the Will’s animalistic growl gave him another thrill of pleasure. He could no longer deny his growing need, and he reached down, searching for the zipper in Will’s jeans.

Will knocked away Hannibal’s hands, racing to undo the trousers himself, fumbling with the button. Following suit, Hannibal attended to his own disrobing, carefully folding his clothes and laying them over the back of the chair. Will cast his carelessly to the floor.

For the briefest of moments, they regarded each other, but this time it was Hannibal who reached out, pulling Will into a tight embrace.

***

Two hours later, Hannibal sat in an armchair, pondering the events of the night, flashbacks of hot, fierce sex constantly slipping in between his deliberations. Somehow they’d made it to the bedroom, and that was where Will remained, having fallen into a deep, peaceful sleep.

Meticulous to the last, Hannibal had quietly tidied up around the bed before turning his attention to the study, where he’d folded Will’s discarded clothes, placing the garments in a neat pile. Then he’d showered, removing the scent of sweat and sex that lingered on his skin.

He picked up the long-neglected glass of wine and took a sip, rolling the liquid over his tongue. It was as superb as he’d anticipated... but not, perhaps, as superb as the taste of Will’s skin and the smell of his hair, even mingled, as it was, with cheap aftershave.

Hannibal was back in control now, no longer ruled by his sudden passion, yet still his skin tingled at the memory of Will’s frantic touch.

Past sexual encounters had been clinical, devoid of emotion, but this had roused feelings that Hannibal could not easily repress, despite his best efforts. He thought of Will, asleep in his bed, and experienced a sudden urge to join him. He imagined wrapping his arms around Will and resting with him until dawn.

But that would not do.

Hannibal did not form attachments, at least not permanent ones. Temporary then, he decided. Why not groom Will to need his touch as much as his advice? And why not derive that added level of pleasure for himself: the pleasure of manipulating not only Will’s mind but his body too?

“Hannibal?”

Lost in his thoughts, Hannibal had failed to notice Will’s approach. He looked up to see Will in the doorway clutching a blanket around him, hovering in place, his gaze meeting Hannibal’s then flicking away.

Hannibal allowed himself a rare smile. Then he stood. Without a word, he reached out to Will, placed a hand in the small of his back, and guided him back to the bedroom.

***

Several Months Later

He still remembered the night it had started. How could he ever forget? The fear that he would hurt Alana had sent him hurtling to the one man he’d thought could help. And help he had, but not in the way Will had envisaged.

When Hannibal’s lips had first met his, he’d been shocked, but then it had filled him with such a perfect sense of peace—Hannibal’s beating heart eclipsing the pounding of his own in his ears—that he’d given himself over, allowing Hannibal to possess him completely, wanting to be consumed by him.

Sex between them had always been tinged with violence, and he’d always assumed that it somehow came from him, for how could it emanate from cool, calm Hannibal? But now he knew better.

Now, he could see.

In retrospect, the clues had always been there, and his stomach churned as he thought of all the meals he’d shared with Hannibal. How many times had it actually been veal on his plate and how many times had it been... something else? He wasn’t sure what had finally lifted the veil from his eyes. Perhaps it wasn’t one single thing, rather all the little pieces slowly slotting into place like a jigsaw puzzle.

He knew he should search the house while the coast was clear. He had to find evidence to confirm his suspicions, and then call Jack.

But he didn’t move.

He could see now how Hannibal had manipulated and betrayed him, setting him on a rollercoaster ride to insanity. He should have been angry. He was angry. Wasn’t he?

Yes. But overriding the anger was the fear. Not fear of Hannibal, not exactly, rather a fear of his absence, a fear of having nothing with which to replace him: no anchor to stop him from slipping into madness. It was ironic to think that, without Hannibal, Will could become a murderer, too, however unwillingly.

The creak of a floorboard announced Hannibal’s return, and soon the bedroom door opened. Hannibal strode in. He looked at Will and paused. Will’s heart was pounding, but he didn’t fail to see the uncertain way in which Hannibal was regarding him. He gazed at Will, as if seeking something, and from the sudden set of his jaw, he’d found it.

This was the moment of choice, Will realised. He could set aside what he knew, burying it deep in the darkest recesses of his mind, or he could fight, either overpowering Hannibal and calling the police or dying in the attempt.

“Will.” Hannibal’s voice was cold—a demand, not a question.

Will rose from the bed and approached. He moved slowly, not wanting to provoke a panicked response. Not that the Chesapeake Ripper would ever panic. And, indeed, Hannibal had not moved, watching Will advance from his place in the doorway.

Once he was close enough, Will reached out and touched Hannibal’s arm. “Come to bed.”

Hannibal offered one of his rare smiles, and in it Will saw the final piece of the puzzle—the manipulation and conditioning that had led to this moment, where Will could not give up Hannibal, no matter what he knew.

This was Hannibal’s design.

So be it.

Will claimed Hannibal’s lips in a searing kiss, and the rest of the world melted away.