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Secretary

Chapter Text

 

It’s just an interview. Simple. You’re going to walk up to that door and do your best to act normal.

Will Graham knew that shouldn’t be a tall order, but lately even simple things had become challenging.

And since when has acting ‘normal’ ever been a simple thing?

He sat in his car, heavy rain on the windshield beating an impatient staccato, obscuring his view of the stately Baltimore office building that loomed in his peripheral vision.

You can’t even look the building in the eye.

‘Just focus on the typing. You know how to type.’

...and fight, and bleed, and kill… and have a complete nervous breakdown… and talk to yourself, apparently...

Will let out a heavy sigh, fogging up the windshield, blurring stark reality just enough for him to take stock. He slowly pried his fingers from the steering wheel, flexing his hands, watching as blood flowed back into his pale knuckles. His brows knit together in a scowl as he catalogued their network of bruises and scabs. Accusatory constellations. The ones on his face had cleared at least, but he had hoped they would all have healed by the time this interview rolled around, or at least be less obvious. He had even made sure to stay out of the bars in the last week… just in case… just to remove the temptation.

Since quitting the FBI… all that ugly business with Hobbs and everything that had happened since… he just didn’t trust himself out there.

But you never could entirely trust yourself, could you? Always teetering on the edge. At least Jack and the entire FBI aren’t pushing you from behind anymore. And there’s nothing about a secretary gig that should send you over a cliff.

Will’s sigh threatened to turn into an audible grumble this time. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, scrubbing at his face with both hands.

Enough. You need this.You can’t hide in Wolf Trap forever. You need some… direction… some order.

But first you have to get out of the car.

He sat up straighter, tugging at his tie in the rearview mirror. He did his best to set a pleasant smile on his face, but even to him it looked suspiciously like a grimace. His hands pushed and prodded at his hair, trying to force some obedience into curls that had gotten just a bit too long; a haircut having been that one thing too many leading up to this.

Just getting ready for this interview had been overwhelming. The world was insinuating itself once again, everything spinning just a bit too fast, a few too many decisions to be made, doubts to squash, impulses to smother. Will knew that work, real work, was what he needed to pull him out of this tailspin, but trying to claw himself out of this downward spiral, to get back at least the semblance of a life, he found that every single step was like fighting against a current. Even the idea of getting a haircut. Will felt like his feet were mired in a streambed that had once given him at least the illusion of place and purpose.

He wanted to work; he had always felt purpose in being of service, craved it even. That sacrifice of self at the altar of something bigger than himself; a kind of necessary penance, paid in light of all those dark compulsions he’d tried to keep buried. That was what the FBI had given him. But it had also given him madness, and twisted indulgence, and it had taken more from him than he could bear to lose.

Will gave himself a hard look in the mirror. He certainly didn’t look like a killer. Regardless of whether or not Jack had called it justified. He didn’t look like a violent man.

Probably why they always look so surprised when you land that first punch.

He’d done his best to pretend he could just leave that world behind; be the captain of his little house in Wolf Trap, cast adrift on a lonely but manageable sea. But the world had crept up on him once again.

Or have you been creeping up on it? Stalking from the shadows?

He knew this was closer to the truth.

The truth was Will Graham had been fighting. For months. Since quitting the FBI, he’d been frequenting the worst bars in Wolf Trap, just to find someone volatile and dumb enough to take his bait. He wasn’t proud of it, but that hadn’t been enough to stop him.

You don’t feel guilty because you always lose.

He knew this was also true, or at least part of the truth. Will didn’t fight to win. He fought to let loose that vicious thing inside him just long enough for it to take the edge off, only to go down in a haze of cleansing pain and blood as he purposely let the tables turn. It was in those final moments, the taste of his own blood in his mouth, the sharp thud as someone’s flesh impacted his own… Will knew he was going off the rails, but still he felt it helped him somehow. The pain cleared out the chaos of his thoughts in a way nothing else could. It left him feeling dirty, but clean, spent but refreshed, shameful but ecstatic all at once.

You can’t keep it up though. This isn’t sustainable. You have to find something else, something… better. Something healthier.

These same thoughts had been rattling around his head as he’d stumbled from the bar a week ago, still reeling from his last fight; the music from inside muffled and tinny as he’d eased his way down to the curb.

Better that than fall.

It had been a semi-satisfying interaction; the other guy had been quick to turn things around on him, bloodying his nose and getting in a few good kicks when he went down. But as usual, it had been over too quickly, leaving Will chasing a feeling he didn’t fully understand but knew he needed; one he had no idea how to satisfy or why he even wanted to.

He’d bled all over the sleeve of his shirt before fishing a newspaper out from the top of a garbage can to wipe his face.

Not your finest moment.

At least he had forced himself to go for the middle part of the paper - cleaner he hoped - fishing for the classifieds since no one ever looked at those anymore. Wiping the blood from his face, he’d sat down heavily on the curb once again, completely at a loss for what to do next, only sure that he had to do something. Something more than this. Some kind of direction.

Is this rock bottom?

He still couldn’t be sure why he’d bothered to uncrumple that bloody newspaper - probably just hoping to distract himself from the despair that had hovered around that thought - but there, in stark, classic lettering swimming under bright crimson, had been something that had felt surprisingly like a possible answer...

Secretary Wanted.
Dr. H. Lecter. Psychiatric private practice.
Typing and good manners essential.
Must follow direction.

Will let his gaze drift away from the rearview to eye the front door of the office one last time. It had all seemed so simple there on the curb. Something to focus on. Something to drown out the endless buzz and whir of his traitorous and overactive mind. Something… normal.

Must follow direction.

He’d balked at that, of course; he’d always been one to buck at authority… salty with his superiors and sullen when forced to work with others… it had always stood directly at odds with his desire to be useful; but there was something about that simple line that had resonated with him in some way, something that hinted at that quiet calm he had associated with the taste of blood in his mouth.

Direction.

Secretary.

It had felt right, somehow. It still did.

So get out of the car.

It was almost a relief to step out into the lashing rain. Will slammed the door decisively, locked the car and scowled up at the gothic facade.

Time to fish or cut bait.

There was no list of names on the steel plate screwed into cream stone. Just one: Dr H Lecter. And only one buzzer.

He owns the fucking building?

A couple of deep breaths, a hand passed over gleaming wet hair in another sorry attempt to tame it, and he pushed the button. A few seconds and he was buzzed in.

He’s not going to check who I am?

Curiosity shouldered aside his natural caution and he stepped into a cool, tiled vestibule. Before him, a second door, leading presumably to the doctor’s office. Will had barely enough time to wipe his shoes on the mat before the sound of footsteps, and the inner door swung open, and he found himself face to face with the most striking man he had ever laid eyes on. Immaculate side swept hair, tawny, clipped to frame an angular face. Enigmatic eyes and a polite, professional smile. A tall, athletic frame hugged by a suit in various shades of red, patterns clashing madly, the whole effect at once daring and quaint. Confidence exuded in the tilt of his head, his economy of movement.

Sharp. Precise. He’s all edges.

Bizarrely, the thought calmed him.

‘Mr Graham.’ His voice was deep and mellow. Granular. Sweet.

Fuck.

‘Doctor Lecter?’

‘Indeed. And thank you for being punctual. Please, come in.’

Said the spider to the fly.

Cursing his wayward thoughts, Will followed the doctor inside, and found himself in a small but well-appointed outer office.

‘This is where you would work.’

Wooden desk, typewriter (typewriter? For show, surely...), maroon rug, a couple of antique chairs, some kind of spiky plant growing halfway up one grey wall. Off to the right, a narrow corridor opened out into what was clearly a waiting area.

‘And this is the main entrance to my office.’ Doctor Lecter nodded towards a frost-panelled wooden door in front of them and gestured for Will to precede him. ‘I have a separate exit for patients.’

He’s so economical. Eloquent. With his body. With his words. Bet his office is a monument to minimalism: whitewashed walls and a sleek glass desk.

He opened the door and stepped inside. His eyes widened. Three grey walls and one red.

Really red.

Floor-to-ceiling red and grey-striped drapes.

Bold colours for a psychiatrist’s office.

Galleried, colonnaded, filled with artifacts, books, paintings, cabinets, a rosewood desk. A mishmash of styles. And yet somehow it worked. Something about a clarity of taste.

He makes art out of chaos.

Taking a seat behind his undeniably solid desk - upon which Will spotted a copy of his resume that he had emailed over the previous week - Doctor Lecter indicated a chair set just in front.

‘Please, sit down.’

Will did so, uncomfortably aware of that cataloguing, calculating gaze. He sees everything. The doctor’s eyes flicked to Will’s hands, pressed tightly together, the criss-cross of scars on his knuckles telling their own sordid story. He sees too much. It made him feel vulnerable. Exposed. Instantly he wanted to shove his hands between his knees. Hide the evidence. No, stay still. But it was an effort. And he felt with a sting the aesthetic differences between them.

Shabby versus chic.

‘Tell me a little about yourself.’

Hands clasped before him, elbows resting on the polished wood, Doctor Lecter smiled politely, eyes fixed on Will’s face. Immediately, Will felt pinned in place.

Trapped in amber.

When he failed to reply, the doctor’s eyebrows lifted fractionally.

He’s not used to being kept waiting. Interesting.

‘How did you get here this morning?’

‘Car.’

‘Is it your own?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you live in an apartment?’

‘House.’

‘In Wolf Trap, Virginia.’

‘Uh huh.’

That earned him a raised eyebrow.

Why am I testing him? Why do I want to?

‘Not an inconsiderable distance.’

‘An hour and a half drive.’ Will shrugged, noting how the doctor pursed his lips at the gesture.

And at the closed answers?

The idea that he might be sassing himself out of the job gave him pause. When had he gotten so defensive? He forced himself to unfold arms he hadn’t even realised he’d crossed.

Maybe it’s time to give a little.

‘I like long commutes. Gives me time to think. And I worked in the city before… before…’

‘Yes, I am aware,’ Doctor Lecter cut in smoothly.

With eyes still intent on him, the doctor picked up a slim remote device and pressed a button. Instantly, pinpricks of light drew Will’s attention to a mossy diorama of exotic flowers showcased on a tall plinth within a delicate hoop of gold. Another click released a mist of water, highlighted in swathes of silver, fine droplets kissing the surface of the delicately bowed petals.

‘Nice black orchids. Unusual.’

‘Thank you. Baker’s Dark Angel. A particularly fine species. Of course, their appearance is deceptive. The only truly black orchids are found in the jungles of Papua, New Guinea, but it is illegal to remove them from the island.’

Will took a breath, collecting himself. Fascinated by the doctor’s sudden animation. Grateful for the segue.

Almost as if he knew I needed a moment.

‘I imagine your clients find them soothing.’

‘Yes, I suppose they would.’

A short pause and the interrogation began anew. ‘Do you live alone?’

Will cleared his throat. ‘Yeah. That is, I have dogs, but yeah...yes.’

‘How many dogs?’

A stain of colour rose to his cheeks. ‘Seven. I have a habit of collecting strays,’ he added, a trifle defensively.

‘Admirable.’ The doctor’s tone gave nothing away, but there followed a sensual almost-smile.

Sensual? Where the hell did that come from?

Will lowered his gaze.

‘Not fond of eye contact, are you?’

‘Eyes are distracting.’

As, it turns out, are downturned, sculpted lips. And cultured, accented voices. And loud check suits teamed with floral ties.

‘Do you have a significant other?’

Will looked up, bristling again. ‘May I ask how that’s relevant?’

The doctor stared back at him, unblinking. ‘My previous secretary was predisposed to romantic whims. Followed her heart to the United Kingdom. I am looking for reliability.’

‘Okay,’ Will answered slowly, arrested by sudden realisation.

I can’t anticipate his train of thought. Perhaps that’s why I find him so compelling.

Will eyed the man in front of him before formulating an answer. The doctor's eyes seemed to support and challenge him in equal measure, an almost imperceptible smile flirting across full lips, betraying a sort of amused curiosity. It sent a strange jolt through his stomach.

Perhaps that's not all I find compelling.

‘I guess that’s fair. And the answer’s no. It’s just me, and that’s the way I like it.’

It wasn’t bravado. Being gifted with empathy was anything but a gift when it meant being able to see right through the most watertight of date-cancelling excuses. Or knowing instantly when someone you were attempting to flirt with started zoning out. Thinking about their ex. Or their dinner. Or the weather.

‘Hm. Have you ever won an award?’

Finally, an easy one.

‘Yes.’

Although...

‘For what did you win the award?’

‘Typing.’ He tried not to spit the word out.

‘I see.’ Doctor Lecter tilted his head fractionally, assessing. ‘You distinguished yourself as a police officer in New Orleans before going on to study forensic science at George Washington University; your subsequent work for the FBI’s Violent Crimes division was so outstanding, it earned you teacher tenure at the FBI Academy; yet it is your award for typing that you choose to speak of.’

‘It’s my award for typing that will get me the job, isn’t it?’

Again the slight smile. ‘You don’t wish to discuss your past career?’

‘I don’t wish to be psychoanalysed.’

Please don’t get boring.

‘I’m sorry, Will. Observing is what we do. I can’t shut mine off any more than you can shut yours off, ex-FBI or not. It’s ingrained in both of us.’

Will. We. Us. Unexpectedly intimate and unsettlingly pleasant. Nope, definitely not boring.

The doctor pulled towards him a leather bound notebook and plucked from it a handwritten sheet of paper.

‘Would you take this through to the outer office and type it up, please?’

Slightly taken aback, Will hesitated, before reminding himself wryly that this was, after all, a big part of the job for which he was applying.

‘Of course.’ A hint of mischief prompted him to add, ‘Sir.’

Doctor Lecter paused, hand outstretched, and his eyes narrowed slightly. Will was entirely unprepared for the consequent kick of arousal that caused him to blush for the second time, and he almost grabbed the sheet from the doctor’s grasp in his hurry to absent himself.

Well, that came back around to bite you on the ass. Nice one.

Closing the office door behind him with a soft click, he leaned against it momentarily before remembering that his outline would still be visible, frosted glass or not. He jerked away, cursing beneath his breath, and his eyes fell to the page he was gripping.

Fine paper. Oyster. Textured. Sloping handwriting. Extravagant. He’s used a fountain pen. A fucking expensive one.

He headed for the desk, placed the paper down and smoothed out the creases. Looked around for a computer, laptop, tablet. Anything remotely electronic. Nothing. Just the blue Selectric II typewriter (again, fucking expensive) that he’d sneered at on his way in.

Joke’s on you.

A quick recce of the desk drawers revealed paper and ribbon. One part of him seethed at the associations. What’s next? Coffee with sugar, Sugar? But another part - the part that had brought him here in the first place - drew comfort from the utter simplicity of the task.

Thread the ribbon, insert the paper, clackety clack. Job done. Order followed. Mind quiet.

It was a short piece, and he was almost finished before he registered what he was typing.

Poi la svegliava, e d’esto core ardendo
Lei paventosa umilmente pascea:
Appresso gir lo ne vedea piangendo.

Is he a romantic or a satirist?

Amused, he walked back through to the main office with an unaccustomed spring in his step, brow quirked.

‘You’re not about to ask me to eat a burning heart out of your hand are you, Doctor?’

He handed over both sheets to his prospective employer, who responded without missing a beat.

‘Not until I have checked your references thoroughly.’

Touche.

He sat back down. Doctor Lecter leaned forward, eyes intent. Will found himself mirroring the gesture. It was hypnotic, this pull.

‘Do you really wish to be my secretary, Will?’

My secretary. A hop, skip and a jump from my to mine.

A jolt of warmth spread through his belly. He licked his lips. Dark eyes followed the movement.

Do I want this?

‘I really do.’

‘You scored more highly than anyone I have ever interviewed, although given your background that is hardly surprising. You must know that you are overqualified for this position.’

Will swallowed, an unpleasant thought curdling in his belly.

Is he going to reject me? After all this?

‘Yet you chose to interview me anyway,’ he shot back, resenting how unsettled even the prospect of rejection made him feel.

Vulnerable. Abandoned. (Abandoned? When did I start expecting something from this?)

‘I was curious.’

‘And now?’

Hanging on for a favourable verdict. Hating how much it mattered.

‘I am still curious. This is a long way from the FBI, Will. In my considered opinion, you would be bored to death.’

‘I want to be bored.’ He spit it out; couldn’t prevent the emphatic tone. No longer a game. No longer a case of idle curiosity or something to get him out of the house, out of his toxic headspace, out of his mind...

Fuck. I really want this job.

Their eyes locked. A gleam turned the doctor’s gaze to warm honey. Inviting and comforting.

Rewarding.

‘You intrigue me, Will. At the risk of being accused once again of psychoanalysing you, I would say that you are very - closed off.’

Will took a slow, deep breath. The finishing line was tantalisingly close.

Don’t blow it now. Be honest. Give a little.

‘I build forts. Old habit.’

The gleam intensified. ‘Then let’s see if we can’t break it, Mr Graham.’

They shared a smile. It tasted sweet.

One final thought.

This could get addictive.

Chapter Text

Here you are, ready to do battle with a coffee machine.

Will was determined to master the ridiculous thing, but he was beginning to think of it as his nemesis. It looked more like a chemistry set than a coffee maker.

A chemistry set for the Earl of somewhere.

Even two weeks into his job, Will was convinced that all his degrees and experience hadn’t prepared him to face such an adversary. But Doctor Lecter had been adamant from day one that he learn how to brew from it properly, so Will was determined not to let it get the better of him.

Just think of it as a boat motor.

A fancy, gold, boat motor.

For the Earl of somewhere.

Will huffed a low chuckle, but set to work. He had already hung his coat neatly on the hook by the front door and tucked his bag unobtrusively beneath his little desk. He’d checked the messages and appointments for the day, and tended to the wall of exotic plants in reception. Now it was time for coffee.

Just as he had been told to do.

Another day. Same dance. Strange, the comfort in routine.

As he worked, Will could still hear the doctor’s voice reverberating at the back of his mind, that velvet tone with its ironclad lining. That tone had worked its way into him somehow. He could still hear it, as if Doctor Lecter stood at his shoulder throughout the day, guiding him through, observing him, dissecting him, perfecting his actions through each task expected of him. Their conversations in those first few days were seared on his memory.

‘I will show you once how to complete a task, but I expect you to apply yourself thereafter. You are an intelligent and capable man, Will. I have no doubt you will rise to every challenge. I am not unreasonable enough to expect perfection immediately, but I do expect effort.’

‘And I’m sure this thing will take a lot of effort.’ Grumbling already. Trying to make sense of what should be a simple machine.

He can’t stop himself; runs a finger through its open flame. One second of bright, but welcome heat, a momentary comfort. Focus. Sharp eyes track his every movement.

‘And what beauty can be produced without struggle, Will? Whatever tastes so sweet as that which triumphs through challenge?’

That smile. Goading. Mischievous. Appraising. Testing.

‘Beautiful, challenging coffee. Check.’

A raised eyebrow for that.

‘I take my coffee at nine thirty. I ask that you greet me with it in my office at that time, and only once your other morning tasks are complete. In addition to coffee, you will be expected to have my messages sorted and a firm grasp on my schedule before coming to me. You are also responsible for the living wall in reception.’

‘So the plants get their drink before you do? Hardly seems fair.’ Salty. A touch mocking. He can’t help himself. Still resistant, but intrigued nonetheless. Who is this man?

‘I also expect you to be polite, Mr. Graham.’ A swift rebuke. No hesitation. Storm clouds passing over warm amber, sparking their warning. ‘Rudeness is unspeakably ugly to me, the one sin I will not tolerate.’

Only one? Another quip hovers on his tongue, but he forces it down. He has promised himself he will try. A deep breath. It feels like dropping a shield… just a bit. It feels… good.

‘I’m… sorry, Doctor. Really. Old habits. Old forts. Please, just… tell me what you want me to do.’

Sharp eyes hold him, a warning before release. Tension drains, but not all the way. Probation before indulgence. The smile warms once again, but there is something dark beneath that well-crafted person suit, something that resonates with the thing that sits inside his own heart, something hungry. He is definitely intrigued. Suspects it goes both ways.

‘I expect you will find me… exacting, Will. But do not mistake the clarity of my directions for discourtesy. I will say this once. I have no interest in belittling you, and you are far too interesting to mock. But I do know what I want, and that includes a secretary who is equally invested in the dynamic of perfection. I hope that person is you.’

That early exchange echoed through Will’s head while he waited for the coffee maker to bloody do something. He had to admit, the thing did make incredible coffee when it cooperated, and it suited Doctor Lecter to a tee.

The dynamic of perfection.

To his relief, a smooth gurgle signaled that the water had finally begun to siphon properly. But that wasn’t the only thing that brought a private smile to his face, albeit not without a certain ruefulness. The memory of Doctor Lecter’s words lingered with him as he released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

Apparently I also want that person to be me. Most of the time.

As if that thought brought forth its own liquid gold, Will finally managed to draw coffee from the damn thing. Triumphant, he let the tension drain out of him as the coffee poured into the glass mug. It looked and smelled just right, dark and rich and exotic. He placed the mug on a silver tray, complete with napkin and the day's mail, wiping one errant drop off the tray before moving towards the office door. Pausing a moment, he made sure to check the clock.

9:28. Wait. Pull yourself together.

Will tried to center himself, shaking off the battle he had just fought, straightening his glasses and doing his best to flatten down the front of his rumpled shirt. It was strange how the ritual of the morning built to its own kind of climax; how he couldn’t help but thrum with a certain amount of anticipation as he watched for the clock to strike 9:30, waiting to bring Hannibal his morning coffee, perfectly prepared.

When did it become Hannibal over Doctor Lecter? Don’t let yourself slip with that. And since when do you care so much about how well someone thinks you’ve made their coffee? Or the state of your shirt, for that matter?

Will wasn’t sure he wanted to analyze that any further; in fact he had been doing his best over the past few weeks not to dwell on those particular sorts of questions.

Maybe since that someone looks like the devil in a three piece suit...

Will tried to shake the traitorous thought out of his head.

What the hell is the matter with you?

He didn’t have time for this. The clock had struck. He took a deep breath and eased himself into Hannibal’s office.

‘Good morning, Doctor Lecter.’

As always, Hannibal was already there, perfectly composed at his desk. He was always there first, no matter how early Will arrived.

He must never sleep.

Hannibal looked up, his expression pleasant, suit and hair immaculate as always.

Still all sharp edges. But what’s hiding around those corners?

‘Good morning, Will.’

Hannibal set down his pen carefully, closing his notebook to move it precisely to the corner of his desk. His eyes never left Will as he set his desk to rights; pinning him in place, assessing, but still warm, welcoming.

Pleased?

‘I trust you slept well.’

‘Sure, yeah.’

Clumsy. Do better.

It was funny how manners still required such an effort. He’d jettisoned them years before in a concerted effort to cultivate a certain distance from people… the saltier he had been, the more likely to be left alone. But Will was surprised to find that he didn’t entirely mind making a go at politeness, at least here in Hannibal’s office. There was something almost refreshing in it, like opening a window inside himself; just a crack, just enough to let some air in.

Strange to dismantle walls with what I used to build them.

‘I mean, yes… thank you, Doctor Lecter.’

A lie of course, but only a partial one. Will still lay in bed every night, antsy, agitated, trying not to think about going to the bar, or dwell on the strange relief he knew it would give him. If he did manage to sleep, he was still plagued by nightmares, full of blood and guilt, waking most nights covered in sweat and breathing hard. But he had to admit, he’d been sleeping better in these past few weeks working for Hannibal than he had in years. It was as if something akin to possibility had begun to permeate the fabric of his dreams, twining itself among the threads of need and compulsion to weave something new… as if all he had to do was turn another corner and he might find whatever it was that could satisfy the insatiable craving that stalked him.

As usual, Hannibal watched him keenly as he stood there, as if he could read his thoughts simply through force of will. Will had gotten more used to this kind of dissection; was learning not to fidget or cast his eyes about the room, but it still took his own act of will to stand still and return that piercing gaze.

What does he see?

‘Perhaps you will sleep better tonight.’

Everything.

‘I trust you have what you need to begin your day?’

This was Hannibal’s subtle cue for him to get back on track; a gentle nudge to get on with things.

To do what is asked of you. Simple. Clean. Calm.

‘Right. Your first appointment is at ten with Mr. Tier. You scheduled him in for two hours this time, so that takes you to Mr. Gumb at noon. But your back-to-back afternoon appointments with Mason and Margot Verger were cancelled again. Mason left a… message… of sorts… but that leaves a chunk of your afternoon completely open. The next and last appointment isn’t until four-thirty with Ms Komeda regarding the symphony gala. I think she’s going to ask you to host the cocktail party.’

As one annoyance piled on the other, he could feel Hannibal’s mood shifting, like the hint of ozone in the atmosphere just before a storm. As always, his composure was unshakable, but Will caught just the barest hint of a snarl on Hannibal’s lip. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Don’t just stand there. Give him the coffee.

Will moved closer, steps measured. Hannibal’s eyes followed him the whole way. Anger piqued, there was a darkness in them now, coiled and shifting, almost predatory. Something hungry for satiation that eyed him like prey. It sent a strange but somehow familiar thrill through Will’s body; something electric, something reckless.

‘Right… well, the good news is, I think I may have finally coaxed the coffee machine into submission.’

Careful.

But sometimes careful was a losing game.

‘Maybe now you can trade out some of that bitter taste in your mouth.’

He was gratified at the slight twitch he caught in Hannibal’s brow; registering his sass, hovering somewhere between indulgence and warning. Hannibal sat back in his seat, crossing his legs elegantly at the knee, open, but dangerous somehow. Will could feel himself being drawn in, like a moth flirting with a flame. He took the opportunity to close the distance between them.

‘Maybe I should also bring you something to eat. From the looks of it, you better get something in your stomach before you take a bite out of Mason… or the messenger.’

Pushing. Sometimes he found himself wondering just how much it would take, curious to see what that thing inside Hannibal would do if it wasn’t caged by decorum and a fancy suit. What it might do to him if he could just coax it out...

That’s enough now. He’s your boss, not one of those guys at the bar. Don’t blow this.

Will set the coffee down gently, barely a ripple to mar its surface. In a moment of inspiration, perhaps even contrition, he turned the tray so that the handle of the mug would be just where Hannibal would naturally reach for it. Just so. It felt… good to have thought of it.

‘I can assure you, Will, when my appetite is sufficiently piqued, I will be sure to come and find you.’

His stomach lurched, and he was suddenly very aware of how closely Hannibal was eyeing him… pinned in place beneath glittering amber.

But Hannibal eventually let him go, dropping his eyes to his daytimer, his expression darkening once again as he drew a heavy red line through Mason Verger’s name. It was strange, Will knew he should just go, but he found himself hesitating, wanting to do… something to bring the warmth back to Hannibal’s steely gaze, hoping to coax back that hint of enigmatic smile he had begun to find so surprisingly comforting.

‘Is there anything else, Doctor? Outside of the usual, I mean? Can I… do anything?’

The words came out awkwardly but, he hoped, sincerely.

Your sincerity is as rusty as your manners.

But he was rewarded with a ghost of a smile that nonetheless lit up Hannibal’s features, the shadow passing. Try as he might, and try he had, Will still couldn’t assign that smile any better description than charming.

And isn’t charming one small step away from coaxing? But which one of you is the snake and which holds the flute?

‘Such a genuine offer is enough, Will, thank you. For now, just the coffee will do, and you can start on the rest of your assignments. I expect I will have something extra for you in my office this afternoon. It will just be the two of us, after all.’

The two of us.

Will recognised that as the gentle dismissal it was. Polite but firm. And if he was being honest, he already found himself anxious to get started on the day’s tasks. He had learned quickly that Hannibal had exacting standards and expectations. There was a lot to do, and do properly. He nodded and turned to leave.

‘Oh, and Will, leave the door open until Mr. Tier arrives. And move your desk to where I can see it from here.’

What?

‘What?’

Will’s exclamation slipped out of his mouth before he could catch it, his steps faltering. He could feel blood rushing to his cheeks and resolved not to turn around.

Are you actually blushing? Don’t you dare let him see.

He hated being caught on his back foot. His first instinct, as always, was to throw salt.

‘Since when are secretaries so interesting that they need an audience?’

The silence was glacial. Hannibal’s eyes felt like they were boring holes in the muscles of his back, tension thrumming between them. Still, Will refused to turn around, his face still burning, eyeing the distance to his reception desk, an escape that was no longer an escape.

‘Were my instructions unclear, Will?’

That tone. It coiled inside of him and pulled tight. Dangerous but silken, iron wrapped in velvet. Hannibal never raised his voice, but that tone brooked no argument.

Fix it.

Ego aside, he had to admit the thought of Hannibal’s eyes on him while he finished his morning work… assessing, appraising, hopefully approving… it sent an unnerving but visceral roll through his stomach.

Answer him.

‘No… I heard you. I mean… fine, Doctor Lecter, if that’s what you want.’

His own voice sounded strange to his ears, but Hannibal’s tone warmed immediately,

‘Good, Will. That is what I want. And to answer your question, I do find you that interesting.’

Will didn’t think his face could have gotten any hotter. Flattered, annoyed, gratified… irritated that such a simple request could get under his skin like this… his face was on fire and he was still desperate to get out without turning around.

But he’s going to see you anyway. He’s going to see everything.

The thought startled him, but not altogether unpleasantly.

No one has ever tried to see you before. Not really. At least not someone so… intriguing.

It was like a knot inside him loosened imperceptibly.

‘So... should I move the desk before I sharpen the pencils?’

Objectively, Will knew that it was a ridiculous question. But there it was. A strange imperative. An ode to just how deeply Hannibal’s expectations had taken root inside him already. Will was usually expected to sharpen Hannibal’s drawing pencils (again, ridiculously expensive) after bringing his coffee (also ridiculous) and before beginning his typing (on that goddamn typewriter). But that was the routine that Hannibal had taught him, and strange as it was, Will had gotten used to it. Liked it even. To add a new step to the dance…

Just tell me what you want me to do.

‘Yes, Will. Do it now. I would like to watch how you’re progressing with the scalpel.’

Satisfied, if still a little off balance, Will nodded and quickly strode from the room, forward momentum a necessity.

He set to work, moving his desk into Hannibal’s direct line of sight, placing himself right in front of the open doorway. Hannibal’s eyes followed him from his office, connecting them like an invisible tether. It took an act of self-control for Will to let go and relax into it. Still, he couldn’t help throwing Hannibal a rueful look across the distance between them as he took his seat.

Well, you wanted to see me. Here I am. Do I get my gold star now?

Was that a smile on Hannibal’s face? It was hard to tell, but he seemed pleased. Satisfied. Which, in turn, satisfied something inside Will, something he wasn’t quite ready to examine too closely.

Your submission to observation is just one more explicit instruction.

He had to admit, buck as he might sometimes, over these past weeks Will had gotten used to the comfort of knowing exactly what was expected of him. He found it quieted his mind in a way he hadn’t expected. He always knew what he should be doing, and how, and he knew that he could rely on Hannibal to correct him if he went off course. In a way, it was something that he had always been looking for. Never really able to trust himself, he had always secretly hoped for someone in his life he could trust enough to anchor him. It was what Jack had promised to be for him at the FBI, before casting him adrift without a paddle.

Does that mean you trust Hannibal to be your paddle?

He didn’t know the answer to that. Not yet. Even the question unnerved him.

You barely know him. Not really.

He suspected no one did. The man’s artifice was his art. But Will was intrigued; more than he’d been about anyone in a long time.

Anyway, who says he’d even want to be your paddle? Who would?

A sigh dropped from him like a stone in water. He shifted in his seat, hoping the ripples of it wouldn’t reach as far as Hannibal’s desk. Rubbing at the back of his neck, Will tried to focus on the task at hand, pulling the scalpel from the drawer and setting to work sharpening each of Hannibal’s drawing pencils.

It didn’t take long before he was completely absorbed in his task, the scalpel an extension of that focus, searching for a perfect point. It was almost enough to allow him to forget that Hannibal was watching. But his voice still spoke to him as he worked, collected and smooth, stalking him from the memory of those first lessons...

‘You will sharpen my pencils in the morning once you have brought my coffee. I often sketch between appointments, and a fine line cannot be made without a precise point. I learned early that a scalpel cuts better points than a pencil sharpener.'

A blade produced as if from air. Uncomfortably close. He holds his ground, even as the light glinting off its edge sends an electric current through his gut. He knows this is a test. This is all a test.

‘It is important to me that you take pride in your work here, Will. There are far too many who underestimate the pleasure to be found in elevating life’s simple tasks. Take your time. Focus.’

Sharp, cold metal producing showers of tiny hardwood slivers like confetti. Strong hands guiding him. By example first. Then covering his own like a second skin.

‘And if I cut myself?’ A little breathless. Suddenly very aware of the wounds on his knuckles.

‘Happens to the best of us. Don’t be ashamed to shed a little blood, Will. We are all of us merely meat on the inside. Just refrain from getting it on any of my outgoing letters.’ Eyes twinkling. Amused.

The memory of that exchange never failed to stir something inside him; Hannibal standing so close, the feel of his hands on his own. Will tried to shake it off as he walked back into the office with the sharpened pencils.

He knew he was getting better with the blade, and he couldn’t deny the surprising swell of pride inside him, like a small ember he had all but forgotten about until Hannibal’s praise had begun to breathe it back into glowing life. He felt it now, stoked under Hannibal’s approving inspection as he turned the pencils this way and that in the light from the window.

‘You are doing very well, Will. An improvement to be sure. Remember to keep your hand supple as you carve, allow your grip to loosen, let your tension flow out through the blade. Find comfort in each cut.’

If you only knew.

Hannibal’s eyes fixed on him as if reading his mind once again. An almost imperceptible smile made Will wonder if he actually could.

Honestly, since when do you blush?

Hannibal didn’t break his gaze as he put down the pencils and held up a stack of notes.

‘Here are yesterday’s notes for you to type... and one with corrections.’

The world came crashing back. Will’s brows knit together; frustrated, but mostly with himself. He had tried to be so careful. He had to stop himself from swiping the notes right out of Hannibal’s hand, forcing himself to take hold of the folder gently. But Hannibal didn’t let go of it right away; instead he held him there, searching his face, flaying him open, waiting to see if he would buck. Will felt his breath stutter as a finger brushed against his own.

Fuck.

‘I’ll go fix them now.’

He tried to keep his voice even, but it still came out close to a whisper.

Hannibal released the folder with an imperceptible smile.

‘Good, Will.’

Will drew a deep breath as he slowly returned to his desk, forcing himself not to hurry, the sound of Hannibal’s early instruction once again reverberating in his mind.

‘You will correct these notes, Will, now. Errors will happen, but sloppiness betrays a lack of pride. You should be proud of the work you do here, and every stroke of red pen shows me the amount of… encouragement… you will need.'

Fine white paper riddled with red, slashing at words like knife wounds, bleeding through. They cut him just as deep, sharp and surprising, but also oddly welcome, familiar, like the taste of blood in his mouth.

‘Since when does a red pen spell encouragement, Doctor.’ Still salty. Still at war with his promise to himself.

‘Encouragement comes in many forms, Will, as do lessons. We will start with the red pen. All correction represents an opportunity… a chance to learn what we are capable of. My corrections might seem like reprimands, but at the heart of the matter, each strike should teach you that I care.’ A fascinating twist of logic. Tempting. He finds he wants it to be true.

‘Well then, I guess whatever strike comes after the red pen must be love.’ Cavalier words, said before he can catch them. He stumbles to fix it but is arrested by an enigmatic smile, and the answering electric current under his skin.

Will’s face flushed once again with the memory of that exchange.

Just type dammit.

He sat down at his desk and readied his typewriter.

Ribbon. Paper. Set.

Breathe.

Finally he opened the folder. Three mistakes. Not too terrible, but the circles of red pen on the page still screamed out at him, more effective than a raised voice could ever be. Not that Hannibal ever raised his voice. He didn’t need to.

Each strike should teach you that I care.

Will typed the letter again. Read it again.

Fuck.

He typed it again.

He remembered the first time he had been stuck in this kind of loop; battling with himself, battling with the typewriter, typing and retyping Hannibal’s notes. Hannibal had been patient, but stern, that red pen ever-present.

‘Type it again, Will.’

‘Do it again.’

‘Again.’

His little desk is littered with white paper, bleeding red. Everything is caught. Nothing missed. He bristles, naturally succumbing to mounting frustration.

‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you. Only a sadist has this many red pens.’

But he is met with only a chuckle, deep and rich, goading… and another paper dripping with red.

‘Again, Will.’

He’s lost count of the editions, the iterations. The clack of the keys becomes almost meditative, blurring with the doctor's voice. Again. Again. Again. Always that tone. Impossible to deny. Infuriating, compelling, comforting; tying knots inside him just to untie them again.

But as he types the notes again and again, awash in red ink and effort, he begins to find that it gives him something else… something… unexpected.

Calm. Comfort.

It washes through him, crowding out the resentment. He begins to see the pattern, tracing the outlines of Hannibal’s design. Each iteration underscores the truth in his words… every strike an opportunity for encouragement, a lesson in care. With each correction he gets better. With every clean page and warm smile comes mounting pride. Hannibal is like a built-in safety net, a security of standards, holding him tight so he can let go…

It had been a lesson Will needed more than he’d known.

Did he see that too?

That calm was already spreading through him now as he worked to correct the offending notes. He imagined a comforting hand coming to rest on his shoulder, warm but firm, the pressure of strong fingers just enough to remind him that even in comfort can lie command.

You want him to tell you it’s perfect.

He knew it was true, but it never failed to unnerve him. When he had first heard those words, he had been startled by the feeling that had flowed through him with Hannibal’s praise. Even now, he couldn’t help but hold his breath as he returned the notes to Hannibal and watched as he looked them over.

‘Well done, Will. These are perfect. Perhaps you don’t need more than the red pen after all, hmm?’

Hannibal said it with a twinkle in his eye, but Will had to dig his fingernails into his palms as he felt his stomach flip. All manner of retorts sprung to mind, none of them appropriate. He bit them back behind clenched teeth.

Drop it. It was just a joke.

But something in Hannibal’s smile made him wonder. Something that flickered behind his eyes. Like a challenge.

Or an invitation…

The light metallic jingle of the front doorbell cut through the moment. Mr. Tier had arrived. Will didn’t know if he wanted to thank him for his punctuality or curse him.

‘Please show Mr. Tier in, Will, and close the door behind you. You can finish the rest of your typing and then eat your lunch.’

And just like that, the person suit was buttoned up once again, that cool exterior slamming down like a portcullis, unbreachable.

The good doctor builds forts of his own.

 

*********************

 

The rest of the morning and early afternoon passed uneventfully, Will’s mind eventually slipping into stillness as he worked, lulled by the rhythmic sound of the keys under his fingers and hushed voices from the other room. Like wading into the quiet of a stream, it offered relief.

Will ate lunch at his desk. A simple sandwich he’d brought with him. Hannibal rarely ate lunch and often saw clients right through the lunch hour.

‘I am very careful about what I put into my body, Will. As should you be. Which means I prepare most meals myself. I often choose to have a hearty breakfast and work through lunch. I prefer to cook a more… involved dinner at home in the evening. I ask that you bring your lunch with you so that you are here to greet my clients when they arrive, but I expect you to eat it. I can’t have you going hungry on me.’

He was just finishing up when he heard the back door open and close; Mr Gumb using the client’s exit. He listened as Hannibal’s even steps approached the door to reception, his shadow growing larger through the frosted panes.

The two of us.

His heart beat a little faster as he remembered Hannibal’s words from the morning. But he didn’t have time to dwell before Hannibal opened the door. He had removed his jacket and stood there in his shirt and vest, rolling his sleeves up to expose lean, well-muscled forearms. There was the hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Like a cat who wants to play with his dinner.

‘I believe we have some time to fill, Will. Would you care to join me in my office?’

I guess that makes me dinner.

He waited a breath for that thought to bother him, finding instead only a simmering kind of anticipation.

‘Whatever you say, Doctor. You’re the boss.’

Will brushed by him on the way into his office, perhaps a little closer than necessary. Hannibal followed him inside, close behind.

‘We are going to add to your duties this afternoon, Will. You have been doing exceptionally well these past few days, and I find there is… more I would like you to be responsible for.’

‘What, here, in your inner sanctum?’ He tossed the words back over his shoulder as he made his way into the room. ‘You’re going to trust me with something more dear to you than your plants?’

Hannibal merely smiled back.

‘More than you know. I would like to entrust you with looking after certain elements of my person. Please, sit.’

Will slowly eased himself into one of the two armchairs that faced each other in front of Hannibal’s desk. The ones reserved for patients. As Hannibal retrieved something from the armoire in the corner, he was left to mull over that statement, his heart beating harder.

His person?

Will felt his eyes widen as Hannibal walked briskly back towards him carrying two pairs of leather loafers. One brown. The other black.

‘Beginning with polishing my shoes.’

He placed them down in front of Will and settled back into the chair opposite him, still with that hint of a smile, eyes intent on his face, gauging his reaction closely.

No fucking way.

‘Are you serious?’

‘I am always serious, Will.’

‘No you’re not. You’re playing with me like I’m one of your patients. Don’t forget, I type your notes, Doctor Lecter.’

‘I was under the impression that perhaps you enjoyed a bit of sport, Will?’

Hannibal cocked an eyebrow at the old scabs still fading on the backs of Will’s knuckles, then sat back with a knowing smile.

Will’s stomach flipped. Hard.

Trying to ignore that surprising kick of arousal, Will sat back in his chair, eyes narrowing, mirroring Hannibal’s posture. He did his best to hide an incredulous smile, but left his hands on full display.

It was a brilliant redirection, he had to admit it.

I know exactly what you’re trying to do.

Still... he decided to let him get away with it anyway.

Will let loose the rueful smile that quirked at his lip.

‘A few bloody knuckles are hardly evidence of good sportsmanship, Doctor Lecter. And besides, I thought this was work, not play.’

It certainly felt like play. Hannibal said nothing, but his eyes were sparking back at him with an almost imperceptible smile of his own.

Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so.

‘So... you’re telling me to sit here in front of you and shine your shoes? I’m surprised they’re not still on your feet while I do it.’

‘I had considered it.’

Will couldn’t help the snort of a laugh that escaped him, surprising himself. This entire exchange had him completely off balance, and for once, he was actually enjoying it.

What is happening here?

‘Really… Doctor... I thought you weren’t interested in mocking me. Am I really meant to take this as a reward for good behaviour?’

Will expected another quick retort, but instead he was thrown completely off balance yet again as Hannibal’s face softened, his smile losing some of its cunning, his eyes filling with a genuine warmth.

‘Woe betide the man who would mock you, Will Graham. No, you are meant to take this exactly as I mean it. Sincerely. I wish for you to attend to me more… personally, and I am only in the habit of asking once. We will start with the shoes.’

‘Like we started with the red pen?’

‘Precisely.’

They stared each other down... but Will knew he would do it. It seemed like every day, Hannibal found new ways to push him, testing his willingness, his limits, his soft spots. He was learning what made Will tick, but also what made him soft, all the while increasing his appetite for that quiet command and the praise that hopefully followed.

It was like Hannibal knew just when to push him, but also exactly how to push him just a little too far, as if it pleased him just as much when Will bucked before submitting.

And just how much will you have to buck before you find out what comes after the red pen?

That was the question that sent the biggest thrill up his spine. But it was one he didn’t dare let take root.

Don’t mistake a little flirtation for more than it is… for more than it can be. He’s still your boss and you’re not throwing punches in a bar. What comes after the red pen is probably just... getting fired.

‘Fine then, Doctor Lecter… If that’s what you want. Where is the shoe polish.’

Hannibal stood and strode right up to him, forcing him back in his chair as he loomed above, crowding between his knees. Will gripped the arms as if that could ground him as Hannibal bent down into his space and spoke, low and hot in his ear.

‘Moving forward, Will. This is not a negotiation. When I ask for something, I expect you to do it.’

Will’s mouth opened and closed on useless syllables as he tried to get ahold of himself. Finally he managed to look up and spit something out...

‘Well then, yes, Sir.’

It was meant in jest, just part of the game, but as the word fell from his lips, the room felt like it contracted around them. Their eyes caught and held, and Will heard Hannibal suck in his breath, mirroring his own.

‘Good, Will. Very good.’

Nothing else was said. Will simply sat and polished the shoes and Hannibal watched him.

And, gods help him, he actually found himself enjoying it.

Just like the typing, and the pencil sharpening, and the plants, and the coffee… Will let himself sink into the task, allowing it to wash over him with each circle rubbed into supple leather, Hannibal’s eyes on him like a warm hand on his shoulder. Quiet. Comfortable. Calm.

By the time Ms. Komeda showed up, the shoes shone with a rich luster. Will watched as Hannibal traded the newly-polished black shoes for the ones he had been wearing, approval shining in his eyes.

And Will took pride in it.

Just as he had been told.

This is his design.

Still, he didn’t hesitate to swipe a red pen off of Hannibal’s desk on his way out.

So... what comes next, Doctor Lecter?

Chapter Text

‘Do you know how to tie a double Windsor, Will?’

Will paused in the doorway, coffee tray in hand. A moment’s confusion as he registered the empty desk, Hannibal’s suit jacket draped over the back of his chair (checked grey and red - he’s in a whimsical mood). Then his employer strolled out of the washroom and all the air left Will’s lungs.

Collar up, top button unfastened, vest hanging loose. He looks so… accessible.

‘Will, I asked you a question.’

He flicked his eyes up to Hannibal’s face, conscious of his slightly heated cheeks.

‘Sorry… well… yes, but it’s been a while.’

‘Show me.’

Will shot him a wry smile, bemused.

‘You want me to show you how to tie a tie?’

‘I want you to show me how you tie a tie.’ A hint of steel beneath the velvet.

The opportunity for closeness and touch was surprisingly tempting. Things he had denied himself - shied away from - for a long time, unwilling to risk rejection on the other person’s part or overindulgence on his. But this was different. This was Hannibal.

Controlled closeness. Measured touch. Disciplined indulgence. But does he want the same from me?

He placed the coffee tray on the desk and walked over to Hannibal, uncertainty goading him into one final jab.

‘Your coffee will get cold.’

‘Then you will make another.’

The conflicting flare of annoyance and arousal must have shown on his face. Hannibal caught it, of course. A snap of a smile.

‘Is there a problem, Will?’

The urge to appease versus the urge to tease.

‘Not at all.’ Appeasement it is. This time. ‘It’s just that I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to throw off the morning’s schedule.’

‘That’s very thoughtful of you, Will.’ It was practically a purr. ‘But I have faith in your ability to multitask.’

Yeah well, I’m willing to bet you’ve never used that fucking coffee machine while trying to do something else.

Always the urge for fight or flight. But at some point it’s just exhausting. Quit stalling. Let go. You already know how good it feels.

‘Really?’ A quick intake of breath, walking closer. ‘I mean, thank you.’’

‘Come then.’ Stern expression tempered now by amusement. ‘Show me.’

Will had faced some tough situations in his tenure with the FBI, but none had prepared him for standing almost toe-to-toe with Hannibal Lecter. He fixed his eyes on the tie, red flowers on grey silk. Tried not to notice the slip of skin in the v of the doctor’s throat, the suggestion of chest hair beneath crisp cotton. Tried not to allow dark, rich notes of subtle cologne to fill his senses.

He cleared his throat. ‘Right.’

I’m his reflection. His mirror.

First fixing the length so that the tapered end sat higher, he flicked his eyes up.

‘Very good, Will. The narrowed end should be no lower than the top of the ribcage.’ A warm hand placed atop his and the adjustment made. ‘Like so.’

Trying to ignore the rapid drumming of his heart, Will could only nod.

Was it his imagination or did Hannibal’s hand press against his for just a moment before it was lifted away?

Focus. Wide over narrow and…

‘No, Will. Like this.’

And the hand was back, cupping his, guiding him lower.

‘Cross over at the second shirt button. That’s right. Now secure it with your left hand.’

Will glanced up.

He tried to keep his voice even, but a huskiness had crept in, betraying him. 'Could you just... lift your chin for me?’

For me. Such simple words but they sent a tingle of possessiveness through him. Mine. To serve? To please? Taking control by giving.

The idea was… oddly freeing.

Hannibal tilted up his chin obediently. Will swallowed.

Just tie the damn tie. Under, up and through; across, up and under.

Careful not to contact skin, afraid of how badly he would blush if he did. He stopped and studied the partially completed knot.

‘What are you looking for, Will?’

He could feel the vibrations of that low timbre through his fingers, the whisper of breath against his forehead.

‘Checking that it isn’t too loose.’ He frowned. ‘How does it feel?’

‘You’re doing very well.’

It’s still not right.

‘But if you put your index finger here,’ Hannibal’s own fingers trailed softly across Will’s to reposition them, ‘it will give you added control.’

And you know all about that, don’t you?

Will tried to focus on his fingers doing the work. Pausing, he took a few moments to check the width of the knot, then slid it carefully up until the backs of his fingers brushed the smooth, taut skin of Hannibal’s throat.

Freshly shaven. Still slightly damp. From the shower...

With the utmost care, he flipped down the collar. Starched, of course. Fingers grazing skin. Fuck. He’d forgotten how much touching would be involved; it seemed a lifetime ago since the de rigueur of shirts and ties in the classroom at Quantico.

But Hannibal does this every day…

Teeth gritted, he fastened the top button then repositioned the knot to sit square.The final touch, looping the narrow end through the back.

He smoothed his fingers down the length of the tie, cool silk and patterned ridges pleasant to the touch. And beneath, warm muscle.

I want… I want...

Releasing his breath in a shaky exhale, Will stepped back, hands falling away.

‘All done.’

An unexpected silence. Unnerved, he looked up and noticed with interest the faintest slash of colour on Hannibal’s cheekbones.

Well, well. I guess I’m not the only one thrown off balance. Don’t tell me that your test backfired, Doctor.

But Hannibal was already turning away, buttoning his vest, reaching for his jacket.

We both have our armour.

‘Thank you, Will.’

‘Thank you... Sir.’

A raised eyebrow. A shared smile.

It doesn’t feel so strange anymore.

Will picked up the mug. Lukewarm.

‘I’ll go and make fresh.’

And the day resumed its usual course.

Such comfort in the familiar.

Such comfort in… him.

 

********************

 

Days now since the tie, that closeness in the office. Almost a week of being kept just out of reach. Not a single request that would require Will’s prolonged presence in the inner sanctum.

Despite the open door between them (the tether that keeps pulling me to him. Him to me?), Hannibal had been frustratingly preoccupied. And today seemed annoyingly likely to follow the same pattern. Even when Will had served the morning coffee and freshly sharpened pencils, he’d gotten no more than an murmured ‘thank you’ before a broad back had signalled his dismissal. Oddly irritated by the lack of attention, he’d worked through lunch. (He doesn’t like it when I don’t stop to eat. So I won’t stop to eat.)

Nothing. Zero reaction. Nose still in that damn notebook. After another three hours of fuck all, Will had sat at his desk entertaining himself with ideas of how he could break Hannibal’s resolve. Turn on the radio? Do cartwheels across the floor? Close the door?

Cut the tether?

Okay, that might be a step too far.

So that had been that. Resignation and resolve. Until this last-minute reprieve.

Will did his best to walk slowly into the office. Hannibal didn’t look up.

‘Have you copied the notes on Mr Froideveaux?’

‘Almost.’ Resisting the urge to knock something off his desk. Oh, come on. Give me something!

‘Then get them finished, and have them couriered over to Doctor Du Maurier’s office before you go.’

Will dawdled, scowled; glared at the dark head still resolutely bent, slicked back hair gleaming tawny under the lights. Finally sloped back to his desk with no small amount of irritation. With Hannibal. With himself.

You’re not a spurned lover. Get it together!

He sat back in his chair, arms folded, brooding at the infernal typewriter. Told himself it didn’t matter. Hannibal wasn’t paying him any attention anyway.

Except that he really is and you know it.

Clack clackety clack.

He punched the keys with unnecessary vigour.

What a shit day. And now this.

Doctor Du Maurier.

He had spoken with her twice on the phone, met her once, and at each encounter her aristocratic air had set his teeth on edge. That and the way she looked at Hannibal, all fucking proprietary. The worst of it was the way in which she enunciated his name, always drawing it out with possessive relish.

‘Tell Haannibal I will consider his referral.’ ‘Ask Haannibal whether eight o’clock would suit for the breakfast meeting.’

As far as Will was aware, they were colleagues and friends. As far as he was aware.

And since when is that your business?

Job finally done, he contemplated calling it a night, but Bedelia Du Maurier still soured his thoughts. He pulled out the scalpel, looking for relief in how it felt in his hand as he sharpened a new batch of drawing pencils. A small rebellion, to do this now instead of in the morning, but still satisfying. And as the blade sliced through pliable wood, he found himself fantasising about applying its point to her skinny neck.

‘Your technique is improving.’

The smooth, deep tones close to his ear caused his breath to hitch.

‘Jesus, Ha- Doctor.’

Embarrassed by the near-slip, he whipped round and snapped, ‘You might want to avoid startling the guy with the scalpel in his hand.’

A slow blink was the only reaction to his snippiness (rudeness - that was rude, Will), though the long pause that followed was ominous. And he much preferred rich honey to slate grey in Hannibal’s eyes.

Flushing, he turned back to his task. Tried to parse his feelings: pleasure at having finally drawn Hannibal out (I’m still a good fisherman), censure for having displeased him in the first place.

‘You seem a trifle flustered, Will. Do you not like being left to your own devices?’

‘Do I…’

Registered the knowing smile on the doctor’s face. And suddenly everything clicked into place.

He knows how much I want this. He knew it before I did. He wants me to know how much I'm craving every second of attention, direction, command. This was a lesson.

Strange, the simultaneous urge to laugh and hurl things around.

Hannibal was directly behind him now, and Will froze as a puff of breath against his neck was followed by a swift but unmistakable inhale.

First of all, oh god. Secondly...

‘Did you just smell me?’

‘Difficult to avoid.’

A note of humour had crept into Hannibal’s voice. Somehow, that made it worse. And then he compounded it.

‘Do your dogs have access to your closet, by any chance?’

‘Of course not.’ Grinding his teeth, Will resolved not to rise to the bait. ‘They were restless this morning - probably smelled a coyote. They were all over me and I didn’t have time to change.’

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

‘No matter. It’s an easy fix.’

Will frowned, fretted, swivelled around. ‘What does that -’

But he was talking to the air.

Damn it! What is he, smoke?

 

***************

 

Next morning, Will woke up still brooding on that last exchange. To his surprise he found himself rooting around for the iron. Salmon shirt, best pants, a bit of product to tame his curls. The minimum of dog hair. Refusing to analyse his actions while darting himself knowing looks in the bathroom mirror.

Just admit it. You like pleasing him. A nourishing feedback loop. Amuse-bouche.

But this time it was, apparently, too little too late.

He threw his keys onto his desk, staring daggers at the suit bag draped over his chair, then scooped it up and stalked off in search of his infuriating boss.

‘Good morning, Will. That… doesn’t look like my coffee.’

Brandishing the bag, Will endeavoured to keep his tone even.

‘Please tell me this is your dry cleaning.’

Hannibal rose slowly from behind his desk.

‘Try it on.’

‘No.’

‘Use my washroom.’

‘No.’

Hannibal pushed his hands into his pants pockets, rocked back a little on his heels, eyes narrowing in time with a dangerous, spreading smile.

‘Now, Will.’

Like a punch in the gut.

Shit.

 

********************

 

He had to admit, it felt good.

Rust-coloured silk sensuous against his skin. Black paisley tie and charcoal tailored suit with a pocket square to match the shirt. Deftly, he knotted the double Windsor, remembering to incorporate Hannibal’s instruction.

Was this what that was about?

The idea made him blush, pleased. For a few moments after, he swivelled in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror, pushed back his hair with hands that trembled slightly.

Not entirely terrible.

He finally stepped back out. Realised that he hadn’t locked the door. Hadn’t had to.

Because I trust him? Maybe I do...

‘Well? Better?’

He sought Hannibal’s gaze; the approval shining there set his heart beating faster.

‘Beautiful. The fit though… is only adequate. It would have been better had I sent you to my tailor for proper measuring.’

‘So why didn’t you?’

Will didn’t know which of them was more surprised by the question.

Hannibal took a step forward. ‘Would you have gone?’

Mouth suddenly dry, Will shrugged. ‘Perhaps.’

‘I shall bear that in mind.’

He’s letting the shrug pass. He must be pleased.

‘I’ll go make the coffee.’ A wry apology in his smile.

‘One moment, Will.’

Another step and Hannibal was right in front of him.

Is he going to touch me? Eagerness at the thought.

‘Allow me.’ Fingers gentle, Hannibal adjusted the angle of the knot, the lay of the tie. ‘There. Perfect.’

I feel like I’m glowing. Like his damn orchids. For him. Because of him. Fed, nurtured, cultivated. All a part of his design.

A warm look passed between them. And the day’s routine resumed its flow.

Except it feels like something has shifted...

Strange how assertive he sounded to his own ears when he answered a call, how he naturally sat up straighter in his chair, how he moved around the outer office with a new confidence. A confidence he’d thought he had lost.

What a difference a suit makes. What a difference he makes.

‘Oh, Will.’ Strolling into the room mid-morning, Hannibal started picking through the mail that Will was in the midst of sorting.

Can’t keep away, huh?

‘Yes, Doctor?’

Smugness made him borderline flirtatious, and it earned him a brief smile.

‘Book a luncheon reservation for two at the Four Seasons.’

Will glanced up, startled, heart suddenly racing.

Hence the suit?

‘Of course. For what time?’ Couldn't help anticipating.

Hannibal hummed. ‘Best make it one o’clock. Doctor Du Maurier is meeting me here and we will drive over together.’

A sharp twist of jealousy. Surprisingly disappointed.

‘And I will not be returning this afternoon, so you may have the rest of the day off.’

To do what? He resisted the urge to wrench loose his tie, trying to repress a sardonic scowl.

I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go.

And where was Haaaaannibal going after his cosy lunch for two? Will rechecked the schedule but it held no surprises. No more appointments.

You need to stop. He doesn’t owe you anything, and the man just bought you a suit. What was that about though, if not lunch? A leveling of the playing field? An elevation?

He knew there would be a reason. Had to be. For all of it. Hannibal never did anything without a reason, and most of those reasons were lessons.

And he had to admit,the suit was beautiful. Hand-picked with infinite care.

He thought of me the whole time. And when I put it on, I felt good. And he liked what he saw. Liked it a lot.

There it is.

 

**********************

 

Thoughts that sustained him through the rest of the morning; allowing him to greet Bedelia Du Maurier with a just-this-side-of-polite who-gives-a-shit attitude when she arrived at twelve forty-five precisely, finger pressing on the buzzer just long enough to send Will a clear ‘I’m a VIP so jump to it’ message. He sighed, shuffled a stack of typing paper, set it back neatly on the desk, repeated the process, then pushed the built-in lock release to open the front door. Thought he heard a quiet chuckle from the main office, but didn’t look round in case it had been wishful thinking.

A different kind of clack clack as Manolos hit tile.

Then in she wafted. Suit by Prada, hair by Laboratorie, nose by Matarasso. Or so says Susie Swanson of the Baltimore Sun.

‘I’m here to see (don’t fucking say it) Haannibal.’

She extracted a gold compact from her purse and inspected herself, satisfaction evident in the lift of her chin, the fluffing of her hair.

‘Please tell him that I’ve arrived.’

The interconnecting door was still wide open.

She has to be able to see him from where she’s posing. But that’s the whole point, right? You’re the help. You’re expected to bring the prize to her.

Will decided to play along and, maybe, play up. Just a little. Just because.

‘Take a seat, Doctor Du Maurier.’

She eyed the twin Hepplewhites as if they were straight out of the dumpster round the back.

‘That won’t be necessary,’ she announced breathily. ‘We have a luncheon in fifteen minutes. He won’t want to be late.’

The subtle reminder that she knew Hannibal better than Will did. It set his foot tapping on the floor. He leaned back in his chair, far too idly for a mere employee; swivelled around, just a touch, just enough to hopefully set her teeth on edge.

‘Doctor Lecter is currently occupied. If you will take a seat, I will let him know that you’re here.’

Her forehead furrowed and immediately she cleared it. She tucked away the compact and hesitated. Pale blue eyes shifted past Will to the open doorway. But evidently she was still not willing to be the first to cry uncle.

‘Of course.’

She set herself gracefully into the nearest chair. It was a pretty picture: grey silk reclining against red leather. The heart-shaped carved back added a whiff of romance. Will had never hated her more.

There was still no movement from Hannibal’s office. Will was desperate to turn around and get the lay of things, but the fact that Hannibal hadn’t yet stormed out to apologise for Will’s rudeness was telling. So he picked a sheaf of notes from the in-tray, selected a fresh sheet of typing paper (oyster, 135gsm, milled to a luxurious softly textured surface - I know what you like, Doctor) and inserted it into the dread machine.

Doctor Du Maurier’s brows rose.

Will started to type.

She cleared her throat.

‘Excuse me.’

Not a chance.

He typed faster.

‘I really must insist.’

And yet…

Faster. Keys punched so hard, he knew he was taking a risk here. But he couldn’t stop. Couldn’t help himself. She’s everywhere. Her voice, her face, her goddamn perfume. Will thought of the luncheon to come and bit his lip so hard, he tasted copper.

‘Oh, this really is unconscionable.’ She stood up, face tight with anger. ‘I'll go in myself.’

Because shouting would be unspeakably vulgar...

Will was out of his seat and round the desk before she had taken three steps.

‘You can’t do that.’

‘Get out of my way.’ She was really seething now.

But so was Will.

‘Now, now, Doctor Du Maurier. Manners. You really should be more gracious when speaking to the help.’

‘You righteous, reckless, twitchy little man.’ She peered over his shoulder. ‘Haannibal?’

‘Sit down,’ Will gritted.

Her response was a scornful eye roll. ‘I think not. In fact, I’m leaving.’

Will’s hand was temptingly close to the scalpel. ‘What a very good idea.’

And then Hannibal walked through from his office. ‘My apologies, Bedelia. I was just freshening up.’

Liar. You were enjoying the show…

Breathing rapidly, cheeks hot, Will shot him a narrow-eyed glare - and found that Hannibal was looking down with a great deal of interest. Because somehow Will had picked up the scalpel without noticing.

Fuck.

He uncurled his fingers, hastily pushing the incriminating object onto the pile of paper, which masked the clatter. Hannibal’s eyes slowly tracked upwards and their gazes caught.

‘You need a new secretary.’ Every syllable dripped cold venom. ‘One who knows their place.’

‘I’m sure Will was only doing what he thought would please me.’

The deep purr of his voice was mesmerising. Impossible to look away. And just like that, Bedelia Du Maurier ceased to be of any importance. Hannibal’s eyes flicked to Will’s lips and Will suppressed a shiver.

‘But of course it is unacceptable that you were kept waiting. Will, if you wouldn’t mind, a word please.’

Leaving Bedelia huffing in the outer office, Will followed Hannibal back into his, and winced as the doctor closed the door behind them. He turned on Hannibal, about to launch into an explanation, but the wind was knocked from his righteous sails when, instead of reprimanding him, Hannibal stepped closer and brushed a thumb across his bottom lip.

‘What happened here?’

‘I just - nothing. I - I bit my lip.’

‘I see.’ Hannibal regarded him steadily. ‘And the scalpel? Tell me what you were thinking.’

‘I don’t…’

Just bullshit... lie. Say something that won’t get you fired.

‘I don’t know.’

Genius.

Hannibal inspected his thumb, smeared with a trace of dark red. Marked. By me. Will flushed.

‘I’m sorry. I’ll fetch a cloth.’

‘No need.’

Without breaking eye contact, Hannibal brought his thumb to his lips and sucked slowly.

Almost like a kiss. God.

‘Do something for me, Will.’

Right now I feel like I’d do anything for you.

‘What would you like me to do... Sir?’

A smile so gentle, Will was utterly captivated.

‘It seems I’ll be returning this afternoon after all. I would like you to stay. Continue with your duties. And wait for me, should I be delayed.’

Wait? How long? For what?

Does it matter?

He’s coming back for you, and you know it.

Found himself saying ‘Yes.’ But couldn’t resist pushing back, just a little.

‘You can owe me the afternoon off.’

 

********************

 

The clock’s monotonous ticking dragged across his nerve endings as it spitefully checked off the seconds, minutes and hours of Hannibal’s absence.

Five forty-five. Tapping his pen against the desk.

Why am I still here?

Six o’clock. The dogs would be expecting dinner in another hour.

Six-fifteen. Pacing, eyeing his coat and the suit bag hung alongside it on the coat stand.

How far am I prepared to go with this? How far would he expect me to?

And then the door opened and Hannibal walked in, bottle of wine in hand, hair glistening with beads of rain.

‘Still here, Mr Graham.’

‘You asked me to wait.'

Flushing, defensive, ready to walk out at the first sign of smugness. But Hannibal’s expression was genuinely apologetic.

‘I stopped off at home to pick up the wine and got caught in rush hour traffic.’ A pause. ‘It pleases me very much that you waited, Will.’ He held up the bottle. ‘I hope you like red.’ A flash of a smile. ‘It’s a nice Chianti.’

Not another test. Traffic. The thought was unaccountably amusing. And comforting.

He wasn’t playing you. He went back to his house for the wine. To share with you.

Will wanted to see the smile again. Suddenly eager to earn it.

‘I’ve completed all the referrals for this month.’ Trailed his hand over the pile. ‘Would you like to see them?’

‘Put them in my briefcase. I’ll look them over this weekend. You’ve done well to finish them so quickly.’ A caress in his voice. ‘Assuming, of course, that you didn’t rush to do so. I’m not a fan of sloppy work.’

The implication stung. ‘Really? Yet you seem to so enjoy wielding your red pen.’

Hannibal looked back at him impassively.

Stop butting heads with him. Why do you have to keep doing that?

Will spread his hands. ‘I’m sorry. I - I don’t take criticism well. I didn’t rush the referrals.’

A beat, then a gracious nod.

‘Apology accepted. And for future reference, my criticism is only ever constructive, Will.’

‘Noted.’ No, that’s not enough. ‘You’ve never been anything but fair with me.’

‘I’m glad to hear it.’ And the smile was back. ‘Come through to my office. The wine needs to breathe and we can talk there in more comfort.’

Talk about what?

But he followed, watching with interest as the doctor went over to an antique dresser and retrieved a squat candle, a small square of muslin and a box of matches. He placed them on his desk.

‘Go to the kitchen and fetch the bottle opener and decanter please, Will.’

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘And two glasses.’

A secret thrill at that.

‘Which ones?’

Hannibal paused in the act of unbuttoning his coat, head tilted in consideration.

‘The Baccarat, I think.’

Okay, am I meant to know what that means?

‘The soup bowls on stalks or the ones that look like chalices?’

Ever gratifying, to draw from Hannibal a genuine chuckle.

‘The chalices, if you please. Have you ever decanted wine, Will?’

‘Definitely not.’

‘Then that is where we shall begin.’

 

********************

 

There was something Zen-like about being taken through the steps. Lights dimmed, a rainbow of colour in the background from the gentle cascade of water from the orchid sprinkler. Instructions fed to him quietly, the low rumble of Hannibal’s voice ever pleasing. Centring.

‘Always wipe the neck of the bottle after opening... Light the match, but away from the wine. The smoke can impair the flavour… Pour at a forty-five degree angle and watch for sediment.’

‘Ah, hence the candle.’

‘Exactly. The light source will betray any shifting.’

Hannibal at his shoulder. Reassuring, not oppressing. Guiding, not dictating. A communion of sorts between them.

When Hannibal served the wine, it felt odd to be on the receiving end. Like an ill-fitting suit. Will’s discomfort must have shown, for Hannibal offered a gentle smile.

‘Tonight you are my guest, Will. Please, take a seat.’

It didn’t escape Will’s notice that these were the chairs Hannibal used for his clients' sessions, but he let it pass. Black leather, butter-soft. Definitely more comfortable than the antique chairs or the Queen Anne sofa. He followed Hannibal’s example, thumbing open his jacket as he sat down to avoid creasing the fine material, aware that the gesture had been noted. Just the teeniest bit smug that he had thought to do it.

It pleases me to please him.

‘I would normally allow the wine to aerate for thirty minutes before pouring, so this will not be quite at its best.’ Pinching his glass at the base, Hannibal swilled the rich liquid around the bowl and put his nose to the rim, inhaling, before taking a sip. ‘Satisfactory.’

Will was half afraid that he would be subjected to an interrogation about how the wine smelled and tasted. The perfect opportunity for me to make a complete ass of myself. But instead, to his relief, he was left to enjoy it as he chose. The relief was short-lived.

‘Tell me about this afternoon.’

Settling back in his chair, one leg crossed over the other, Hannibal looked every inch the indolent inquisitor. Eyes half-lidded, yet ever-watchful.

Will circled the rim of his glass with his forefinger.

‘What would you like to know?’

‘Firstly, how did you come to bite your lip?’

Shifting in his chair. ‘A lot of people bite their lips.’

‘Not to the point of drawing blood.' A cant of the head. 'How were you feeling at the time?’

Is this a therapy session? Disappointment soured the wine on his palate.

‘Am I your patient now, Doctor?’ An acid drawl.

‘Not at all.’

‘Then what is this?’ A sweeping gesture to take in the room, the wine, his suit.

‘This is whatever you need it to be.’ Unblinking calm.

That gave him pause. Not what he wanted but what he needed. It made him feel oddly…

Cherished.

And somewhere deep inside, a fort wall crumbled.

‘I felt… beseiged.’ Jealous too, but he would leave out that particular detail.

‘An interesting choice of words. Beseiged by Doctor du Maurier?’

‘You’ve spent plenty of time with her. What do you think? She has this incredibly annoying habit of treating employees like 19th century lackeys.’ A snap that he couldn’t control.

It felt good to express at least some of his anger - anger that he was beginning to realise had been building slowly all evening, like poison beneath his skin. But what if the cost was his job?

‘I’m sorry, that was rude.’

‘Yes, it was.’ But Hannibal sounded more thoughtful than anything else.

‘How does that make you feel, Doctor?’ A slight challenge in the question, though he moderated his tone.

Hannibal placed his wine glass on the side table and leaned forward, clasping his hands between his knees and regarding Will almost with curiosity. ‘Intrigued.’

‘By my rudeness?’

‘By my tolerance of it.’

Will put aside his own glass and leaned forward in turn. ‘You abhor rudeness above all things.’

‘Yes.’

‘So why make an exception for me?’

Hannibal’s lips quirked. ‘I believe it’s your turn now. Quid pro quo, Will.’

‘Oh, a trade.’

‘It seems only fair. After all, this is just a conversation, not therapy.’

An exchange of smiles. I’m really enjoying this. Enjoying him...

‘Go ahead, Doctor.’

Buoyed up by the attention, relishing the delicious push-and-pull of two minds equally matched.

‘What were you intending to do with the scalpel?’

Okay, not enjoying it so much any more. He dropped his gaze.

‘It was just - I don’t know - there.’

‘In your hand?’

‘On the desk. Just a - a thing to play with, like a pen. I fidget a lot.’

Bullshit. But what else can he say? I was having fantasies about stabbing your obnoxious colleague in the neck?

Hannibal’s eyes narrowed, and when he spoke it was with an intensity that captured Will utterly.

‘Tell me, Will. When the shadows beckon and demons whisper to you of the terrible things you have witnessed - of the lives you failed to save, or saved at a cost - how do you silence them?’

Heart thudding, palms suddenly moist, Will took a shuddering breath. ‘You know, don’t you?’

He forced himself to meet Hannibal’s gaze, but there was no sign of the condemnation he feared. The psychiatrist’s mask was in place.

‘Do you go to a gym or your local bar?’

A hard swallow. ‘I go to the worst bars I can find.’

‘I see. And when you win -’

‘I don’t win. I never win.’

A trace of compassion, but no pity. ‘Because winning is not the goal.’

‘No.’

‘What you seek is relief in violence, control in release.’

Will squeezed his eyes shut, ran shaking hands through his hair, nodded.

‘Look at me, Will.’

Impossible to ignore the silky command. Helpless to the pull.

‘You enjoy the pain because it frees you.’

‘It…’ He licked his lips. ‘...simplifies things.’

‘No time for the whispers in your head when you have blood to stem and cuts to mend.’

‘No.’ Almost a whimper. It hurts, how well he understands me.

‘But the method you have chosen is dangerous, Will. There can be no control in chaos.’

‘I know. I haven’t - done any of that since I started working here. And I don’t intend to go back to it.’

Oddly, Hannibal looked less than pleased. ‘Then you have left yourself with no outlet at all.’

A huff of frustration. ‘What concerns you so much, Doctor Lecter?’

‘What concerns me, Will, is that one day that scalpel will find its target.’

Will flinched. ‘You believe I’m a danger to Doctor du Maurier?’

He wasn’t sure what affronted him more - the implication that he was a murderer-in-waiting or the idea that Hannibal’s main concern was for her.

‘I’m not speaking of Doctor du Maurier.’ The softness was back, tempered now by steel. ‘Promise me something, Will.’

The temptation to say ‘Anything’ was scary. ‘What?’

‘When the shadows gather again - when you need a way out of dark places - I want you to come to me.’

Feelings of relief, of gratitude, almost overwhelmed him. Yet doubt, ever his nemesis, pricked.

‘You really think you can quiet the voices?’

Hannibal smiled. ‘I think we can quiet them together.’

A revelation.

I seek control in release. And you, Hannibal - you seek release in control.

Chapter Text

That’s right, who’s in charge now?

Will’s smile fell somewhere on the spectrum between smug and grateful as the coffee machine submitted with a gurgle. He’d finally mastered the temperamental thing, learning to coax it along more by feel than anything else.

At least something feels right this morning.

Smile faltering, Will tried to push the thought aside.

He’d had a bad night, and its bitter taste still lingered on his tongue.

He stood and left the coffee to do its thing, unable to keep his feet from wearing circles around the reception room as he waited.

If only you could master yourself as well as that damn coffee machine. But apparently your feet have decided to take their cue from your brain. Running in circles.

He was beginning to wonder just how many times he could pass the open office door before Hannibal noticed.

You know he already has.

Will did his best to resist the urge to wave.

Instead he sighed around a wry smile and forced himself to stop, yanking his tie tighter, the knot closing snug around his throat. It was... oddly comforting, like a firm hand on the back of his neck. He had to admit, getting dressed this morning had helped, the suit (the third one Hannibal had bought for him now) slipping on like a suit of armour, a barrier against the rawness of a night spent tossing and turning.

Not enough of a barrier, apparently. Maybe you should have just… let yourself go to the bar.

Will tried to push that thought aside as well, busying himself with minutia instead, hoping the comfort of the morning routine might just be enough to settle him before going into Hannibal’s office.

He checked the plants (again), set his desk to rights (if you could call moving a stapler a fraction of an inch an improvement), and rehung his coat from the hook by the door (for no discernable reason whatsoever other than the opportunity to to give it a brief but violent shake).

No reason except the desperate need to throttle something. Not like your coat is hitting back anytime soon though.

He couldn’t help rolling his eyes at himself. He’d made the mistake of driving by one of those bars on his way home from work yesterday, only at the last second gripping the wheel and forcing himself back on the road, watching as that particular brand of relief receded in his rearview.

As if that wasn’t enough, Jack had the brilliant timing of calling him just as he’d gotten home. The dogs were still nosing around in greeting as he’d answered the phone.

You should really stop doing that. Is it possible to block every number that isn’t Doctor Lecter’s?

As expected, Jack had bulled something about ‘just a friendly check in’, but it hadn’t taken him long to mention a case that was troubling him. Will had made the mistake of not flat-out refusing his request to send him some files. And then he’d made another by actually opening the email.

Eventually he’d crawled in bed with a head full of violence, that old familiar cocktail of need and guilt making him white-knuckle his thoughts just as surely as he had the steering wheel. He’d even gone as far as getting dressed and climbing back into his car, ready to try and make last call at the closest dive.

‘When the shadows gather again - when you need a way out of dark places - I want you to come to me.’

Hannibal’s words thrummed through him now as they had then, taunting and comforting him in equal measure. They had rattled around his head since they had been uttered almost a week ago, but he still wasn’t sure exactly what to do with them. At least they’d been enough to get him out of the car and back in bed last night.

‘I think we can quiet them together.’

Together.

Will was embarrassed to even admit to himself that it was that word more than any other that had echoed through his mind, crowding out the rest at least enough to finally allow him to fall into a semblance of fitful sleep.

He had left that night after their conversation with a head full of wine and a strange sense of… potential? Possibility? But since then, it had been business as usual. He’d found comfort in the daily routine, of course; in Hannibal’s quiet but firm direction as they danced through the intricate steps of their day, but there had been no new ‘tasks’ set for him since then, no discernable ‘lessons’, almost as if Hannibal had taken a step back.

You probably scared him off. You did manage to basically brandish a scalpel at his closest colleague.

But the visceral memory of Hannibal raising his thumb to parted lips, no hesitation as he had licked clean the stain of Will’s blood, eyes dancing… it did a better job of negating that idea than any Will could think of.

As if you’ve been thinking about much else for the past week. You know that’s what sent you by the bar last night in the first place.

Yep, running in circles.

With no small relief, the coffee maker finally let out its satisfied wheeze and Will was able to focus on pouring the coffee.

Get your shit together. He’s waiting for you.

A brief flare of frustration.

Let him wait. He’s kept you waiting long enough.

Unfair and he knew it.

Waiting for what? What exactly are you expecting him to do?

Will didn’t know the answer, and that frustrated him more than anything else.

Control in release, release in control.

The potential inherent in that palindrome of reciprocity had worked its way inside his mind somehow, flavouring his need with a kind of dangerous hopefulness, his runaway imagination leading him down an an increasingly decadent spiral of possibilities he feared could only lead to disappointment.

He couldn’t possibly be thinking what you are, could he? Jesus, you can’t even fully admit to yourself what you’re thinking.

He tried to steady himself with a deep breath, but coffee sloshed over the rim of the mug as he picked up the tray, prompting a brief but immediate urge to throw it across the room. Instead he forced himself to set it down gently, leaning both hands on the counter and dropping his head between his arms, fists balled up tight enough to feel his fingernails bite against his palms.

‘Something troubling you, Will?’

Will froze, still bent over the counter, looking at his feet through the cage of his arms.

Like a bloody ghost, I swear to god.

Before he could respond, a warm hand stroked up his spine, coming to rest lightly between his shoulder blades. It almost knocked the wind out of him. He kept his eyes on the ground, trying to catch his breath.

Jesus, I guess composing myself is out of the question.

‘I’m fine.’

It was all he could manage, through gritted teeth. It was taking everything in him not to melt back against the comfort of Hannibal’s palm, swallowing a small gasp as he felt a thumb sweep against his suit jacket, the nail scratching briefly against the fabric, sending an involuntary shiver through him.

‘Of course you are. But I do believe my coffee may be under threat.’

Hannibal’s voice was warm, amused. Will forced himself to stand, turning to extricate himself from the seductive spread of Hannibal’s fingers. Except now he found himself face to face with smiling amber eyes, just a hint too close, searching his own with avid curiosity.

‘Rough night perhaps?’

Not rough enough, apparently.

Will grunted his assent, unable to trust his voice.

It earned him a raised eyebrow, but he held his ground.

He’s so close I can smell him.

As if he could hear his traitorous thoughts, Hannibal smiled and leaned even closer, forcing Will back slightly against the counter. Those honeyed eyes never left him, pinning him in place as Hannibal reached around him to pluck the mug from the tray. Taking a good long sip, Hannibal let his eyes drift closed, savouring the coffee, affording Will the rare opportunity to eye him unseen, watching as his throat, bared by an open collar, worked around a deep swallow.

He’s waiting for you to put his tie on.

Looks like you won’t be catching any kind of balance this morning.

‘I asked you a question, Will.’

Hannibal’s eyes were on him again, mild, curious, but his tone was firm. The tone.

Fuck.

But he just wasn’t willing to concede so quickly, not this morning, not after white-knuckling a whole night because this man had suggested he give up the one comfort he knew, no matter how destructive it was. He felt another spike of anger, directed in no small part towards the hint of chest hair he could see in the V of open collar and how it was melting his insides.

‘You also told me to bring you your coffee in the mornings, but here you are. I guess we’re two for two in the Will doesn’t always do what he’s told department.’

The predatory smile that played over Hannibal’s lips nearly knocked the wind out of him a second time.

But that’s not really the only comfort you know anymore, is it? Not your only thrill...

‘Show me your hands, Will.’

Hannibal threw a pointed look to the fists Will hadn’t realized were still balled up at his sides.

‘Why, so you can slap them?’ The rash words were out before he could stop them, but Will heard his voice falter as his stomach flipped, hard.

‘Is that what you want?’

Will almost choked on an incredulous bark of a laugh, floundering around another witty response that could possibly answer that question with anything other than yes, please. His hesitation was enough to spread that dangerous smile on Hannibal’s face yet again.

‘I won’t ask you again, Will.’

Will could only answer by unclenching his hands; it took some effort, but he held them out for Hannibal to see, that fucking tone coiling in his gut.

Hannibal slipped his own hands in his pockets, and bent down close to Will’s knuckles. But he didn’t content himself with merely looking for cuts or bruises; he also took a deep, slow inhale, his face mere millimetres from Will’s skin, the movement of air from his breath enough to raise every hair on Will’s body.

If your hands shake any more, you’re going to brush against his lips.

The memory of that tongue again, snaking out to gather his blood.

Cataloguing how I taste. How I smell.

Will felt like his head was spinning.

‘Ha… Dr. Lecter…’ He caught himself just in time, sucking in a breath. ‘Listen, I didn’t go to the bar.’

Apparently satisfied, Hannibal stood upright again, his tone when next he spoke noticeably lighter.

‘I know. There is no smell of blood on your skin, and I have a feeling you would be less… agitated this morning if you had. For a time at least. Tell me, were you close?’

‘Yes’

‘Why?’

Need.

‘Old boss. Sent me some… particularly graphic files.’ A half-truth at least.

And you’re driving me just as crazy as those files did.

‘Guilt and desire can make puppets of the best of us, Will. There’s a part of you that enjoys looking at those files, isn’t there.’

Nope. You’re not crawling that far in my head yet.

At least it wasn’t phrased as a question. Will set his jaw, but Hannibal didn’t push the issue.

‘And what kept you from seeking out the relief of the bar?’

You. Or at least the potential of you.

‘I don’t know.’

Staring him down. He didn’t want to give him anymore. Not until he’d had a chance to cool down. Finally Hannibal inclined his head, a curl of a smile ghosting on his lip as he took another drink of coffee.

Letting it go. For now.

Do something. Change the subject. Do your job for Christ’s sake, it’s not like you don’t enjoy it.

‘So... where’s your tie? I don’t want to go three for three. Let me tie it for you.’

Now let’s see who’s on his back foot.

 

***************

 

Will methodically polished Hannibal’s shoes as the late afternoon sun streamed in the front windows, transforming the office into a quiet cathedral. He could feel Hannibal’s eyes on him like a comforting weight.

He knew I needed this.

A window of calm. A bit of air before the night closes in again.

And Will knew the night was coming. Some of the agitation that had clung to him throughout the morning had evaporated over the day as he sought refuge in his duties, but still he could feel that same… itching… at the back of his mind, clawing at him, just waiting until he found himself alone.

But you’re not alone now.

Will could feel Hannibal looking at him from the chair opposite, a solid, comforting presence, watching as Will rubbed slow circles into the shoe’s leather. This had become a surprisingly relaxing routine for them; a few days a week, sandwiched between the last two patients of the day, before Will’s final batch of typing.

Sometimes they spoke. Sometimes they just sat quietly together.

But Hannibal always watched him.

Admit it. You miss it now… when his eyes aren’t on you.

‘Tell me, Will, does your old boss contact you often about case files?’

Will paused for a second at the question, mid-buff, but set back to work polishing in earnest, speaking into his hands as they busied themselves with the leather.

You knew he wouldn’t leave it for long. Just long enough for you to catch your breath.

‘Jack Crawford is nothing if not persistent. He’s not one to just forget about a tool he found that worked for him.’

Did you just call yourself a tool? Smooth.

‘I suspect it would be difficult for any boss to give you up easily.’

That made him pause again. He tried to make his voice jovial, teasing, but it came out quiet.

‘Already thinking about giving me up, are you?’

‘Quite the contrary, Will. I want you right where you are.’

Will felt his cheeks flush. Looked full into Hannibal’s face. Searching.

He actually means it.

‘Well, if my experience has taught me anything, it’s that bosses can be persuasive when they want something.’

Hannibal stood up with a grin and shrugged off his suit jacket, walking to his desk to hang it neatly over the back of his chair. Will watched as he gathered his drawing supplies and returned with them to resume his seat, eyes intent on him.

Now a real warmth flushed through him.

You thought you were being dissected before.

‘What I want right now is for you to just keep working.’

The sharp sounds of graphite on thick paper, a delicate counternote to the soft sound of Will’s cloth on already shining leather.

‘Funny, that’s just what Jack used to say, or at least imply.’

Hannibal kept sketching as they spoke, eyes roving over him, almost possessive.

‘Even when you were clearly in distress?’

‘Particularly then. Although, when things got… intense… I tended to dig in deeper, all by myself.’

A rare admission, surprising himself more than Hannibal, whose pencil never stalled in its efforts.

To explore. To hunt and capture. What is he looking for?

‘Distress can be an exciting emotion, Will. A thrill pursued in the hopes of catharsis. Human beings often seek to explore the edge of our endurance; to court our own limits, even unto our own destruction.’

You’re telling me.

He resisted the urge to rub at the old bullet wound on his shoulder, the scars on his knuckles. Instead he rubbed harder at the toe of Hannibal’s shoe.

‘Addictive maybe?’ His voice was quiet again, a little unsteady. A flash of memory. The smell of stale beer. Blood in his mouth. A heady but temporary relief. An itch he could never quite scratch.

He cast a look at Hannibal. He sat composed, continuing to draw, his tie a crimson exclamation, brazen against his white shirt. His eyes flicked continuously from Will’s face to his page, but they were warm, approving. His pull was undeniable.

A new addiction maybe?

I swear, if you really knew what was in my head…

‘Addiction is born of seeking whatever it is that gives us relief… pleasure.’

A knowing smile that reached his eyes.

Sometimes I swear you do.

‘But pursuing our desires need not be inherently destructive, or shameful, Will. Indeed, walking the knife edge of our own boundaries can be a form of elevation in itself.’

That was enough to coax a dry chuckle from him.

‘I’ve never been particularly good at ferreting out where my lines are. I’m not even sure whether I have too many, or not enough.’

‘All our lines are drawn in sand, Will, no matter how precisely. But they are our own, both to draw and to move, when and where we see fit.’

He threw an arch look Hannibal’s way but kept polishing.

‘That sounds like some shaky footing, Doctor.’

That smile again, dangerous, knowing, persuasive.

“Thrilling though, is it not?’

Will felt his stomach flip, hard.

‘Put down the shoes and take off your jacket.’

Will’s heart tripped in his chest, breath stalling as he looked up at Hannibal. His eyes were sharp, avid, hungry.

For me.

A surprising thrill of power. A suggestive smile of his own.

‘Does this fall under the purview of work, Doctor Lecter?’

‘One should always love what they do, Will.’

Shrewd but playful looks bounced between them as Will hovered on the edge of obedience.

Feeling along the knife edge.

You know you want to.

Will made a show of setting the shoes aside, finally standing to slowly shrug his jacket from his shoulders, never taking his eyes off Hannibal.

‘Put it over the back of the chair, please.’

He did as he was told.

Tell me more.

‘Undo your tie.’

Will’s breath was coming faster now. He brought one finger to the knot, working it loose slowly, finally using both hands to drag the tail through, freeing himself. Undone, Will let the tie dangle around his collar. Still he held Hannibal’s gaze, but something reckless was blooming inside him.

Before Hannibal could say anything more - before he could doubt himself - Will undid the top two buttons of his shirt, opening his collar.

Baring your throat?

That heady sense of power shot through him once again as he watched Hannibal’s tongue snake briefly between his lips, spreading now in a slow smile, eyes inescapably drawn to the V of exposed flesh.

Quid pro quo, Doctor.

‘Very good, Will.’

Slight hesitance. ‘You don’t mind?’

‘I’m not opposed to a little… improvisation. Now sit.’

Will lowered himself slowly back in his chair. They eyed each other for a moment, playful, until finally Hannibal gathered up his pad and pencil and started sketching him once more. Will felt more on display than he ever had.

For him.

Heat spreading through him, Will shifted in his seat a little, adjusting, crossing his legs in a mirror of Hannibal’s posture.

‘Is this to be one of my new duties, then? Put on a new suit just so I can take it off again?’

A twitch of a smile, tugging on the tether.

‘Beauty can be enjoyed both with and without embellishment.’

Beauty?

Will knew he was blushing, but he didn’t try to hide it - didn’t try to hide anything. Instead he felt something uncoil inside him, opening to that ravenous gaze, watching Hannibal as Hannibal watched him, a warm sense of pride growing inside him. Power.

Control in release.

Another lesson.

A sharp realization of how much he’d been craving this.

Whatever this is...

He could feel Hannibal’s eyes as they traced across his face and chest and shoulders, visceral, like hands on his skin, stoking the tension between them as his pencil moved across the page.

Thrilling.

Will tried to hold his tongue but a kind of recklessness had gripped him, once again winning out over caution.

‘You say our lines are our own to move, Doctor... But what if sometimes we need a push? Someone to take hold and make us reach a little further in the sand?’

Someone in a plaid suit? Wielding a red pen, perhaps?

Hannibal’s pencil finally stilled. He looked up, but said nothing for a breath, two, three… his eyes openly roving over Will’s form; assessing, calculating, an almost private smile on his face. He sat back a little, putting his drawing aside, thoughtfully running a thumbnail down the razor sharp crease of his pants.

'You need help to draw your lines, Will?'

Will let out an exaggerated sigh, but cast a wry grin in Hannibal's direction, one hand scrubbing at his face.

'You don’t seem uncomfortable wielding that sort of power, Doctor.'

'There is a difference between power and authority. True power lies in understanding its essential reciprocity. It is always better to coax someone across a line rather than push them.’

‘I want you to come to me.’

Hannibal’s words echoed with stark immediacy, sending Will’s mind into a spin.

This… this holding pattern… that’s why it’s felt like he’s stepped back since our conversation. He won’t order you past this line, no matter how hard you push him. He will only take what you can give.

He may have set the stage, but you have to set the terms.

Hannibal smiled knowingly at him.

Doesn’t he know how hard that is?

‘We can only leap for those we trust, can’t we, Will. Every leap is one of faith.”

Of course he does.

Will struggled to find the words he needed, Hannibal’s expectant gaze cooling with each passing breath.

‘Stand up, Will’

Pulled by that velvet tone, Will stood on unsteady legs.

‘Turn around.’

A rumbling purr he could almost feel.

Will felt sure that Hannibal could hear his heart racing, beating at the bars of his ribcage. He heard slow measured steps; felt hot breath on the back of his neck. He forced himself to stand still - not lean against that solid weight, not tip his head back to rest on a strong shoulder…

Please.

But still… he couldn’t say it… didn’t know what to say…

The silence strung out between them and Will could feel the moment slipping away… felt the very instant Hannibal snapped the tether, a whisper of fabric and cool wool pressing at his fingertips…

No. No no no… wait...

But Hannibal was already sliding Will’s suit jacket on over his arms, settling it expertly across his shoulders, impersonal hands brushing out the creases along the lines of his back. Will felt like he would lose his balance with each swipe.

‘My four o’clock appointment is due, Will. Your afternoon notes are on my desk. The one on the top is for my publisher, so please take special care.’

Helpless, all Will could do was watch as Hannibal walked away from him, back around his desk, putting on his own jacket and settling himself down to wait for his client, that damned person suit already zipped up tight.

Just like that?

He couldn’t tell if he was more angry with Hannibal or himself.

‘Oh, and Will, make sure your tie is tied properly before you greet them.’

Goddammit.

Will shot Hannibal a withering look, but didn’t say anything as he swiped the notes off the desk and let his feet carry him out the door, allowing it to slam behind him.

How clear a message is that, Doctor?

 

***********************

 

Will found himself banging away at his typewriter, drowning out the sound of murmured voices from the inner sanctum, uncaring if the noise reached Hannibal’s ears.

Let him hear me.

He’d typed all of the notes except the letter to the publisher. Numerous times in fact. Fingers clumsy in his frustration, he’d found mistake after mistake after mistake.

Where’s a red pen when you need one? Or am I going to have to ask for that now too?

He knew his anger wasn’t exactly fair, but that didn’t make him any less livid.

Anger makes you reckless. Maybe that’s exactly what you need right now.

Maybe he knows that too.

Will pushed himself up from the desk with a grunt of frustration, unwilling to feel quite so charitable just yet, abandoning the notes to once again pace around the room… casting about for…

For what? Something retaliatory?

Walked over to the plants. Considered snipping one off at the base.

Leave it right in the middle of his desk. How clear is that?

But he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

It’s not the plant’s fault you couldn’t admit what you want.

As if I even know what’s on the table.

Will paused for a second, considering... found that he didn’t really care anymore… whatever was on the other side of the line, he wanted it. All of it. Wanted it more than anything else in his life; the need to know almost as great as the need itself.

‘Every leap is one of faith.’

More like a swan dive into the abyss. Hope there aren’t any rocks at the bottom.

Will could hear the clock ticking, counting down the remaining minutes on Hannibal’s last appointment, adding its own insistent imperative to his already visceral sensation of teetering over some kind of precipice.

The knife edge.

Will could feel the night drawing ever closer, that itch inside him mounting.

You can’t just leave. Not tonight. You know exactly where you’ll go.

‘I want you to come to me.’

Hannibal’s words echoed the same, but something new occurred to him.

He’s couched your choice inside an explicit instruction. He’s given you that much, at least.

Ordering you to own your line in the sand.

Will pulled himself up short. When had he picked up the scalpel? He turned it slowly between his fingers as he paced.

You’re not at anyone’s mercy except your own.

Unless you want to be.

At his mercy.

A slow smile spread over Will’s face as he sat back down at his desk, setting the scalpel aside.

For now.

Will pulled out the notes for Hannibal’s publisher and resumed typing.

This time, though, he had no interest in curbing his mistakes.

Let’s see how well your red pen works on this, Doctor.

 

******************

 

Will waited only a breath after hearing the back door close - Hannibal’s patient leaving through the client’s exit.

He took that moment to stare down at what lay before him on his desk.

A typed letter to Hannibal’s publisher, on their thickest, most expensive paper. It sat on the silver tray meant to bring Hannibal his coffee in the morning.

Riddled with mistakes.

And a large, bloody thumbprint, right where Hannibal’s signature ought to be.

Is that explicit enough for you, Doctor Lecter?

Will smiled; his thumb was still bleeding onto the edge of the tray as he picked it up and stalked into the office.

No more hesitation.

Will forced himself to enter quietly, projecting a calm that belied his racing heart. Hannibal sat at his desk, the very picture of cool collection, but sharp eyes followed Will’s every measured step as he approached. The silver tray let out a faintly resonant ring as Will placed it on the desk, turning it just so, displaying the letter to its best advantage squarely in front of Hannibal.

Hannibal didn’t look at it right away - he kept his gaze tight on Will, eyes shrewd, searching his face. Whatever he saw twitched a dark smile at the corner of his mouth. But as he finally looked down at the letter, really looked at it, Will felt his heart leap in his chest as Hannibal sucked in an audible breath.

Not so composed now, are we?

But Hannibal recovered quickly, sitting back in his chair to cross his legs elegantly at the knee, reaching languidly to pick up the letter so he could read it properly, expression entirely unreadable as he worked his way through it.

Will said nothing; merely leaned over him, invading his space to pluck a red pen from where it sat on the opposite side of the desk, handing it to him with a wry smile.

Clear enough?

Hannibal barely skipped a beat. If he was off balance, his voice didn’t betray him… dark, rich, dripping with command.

‘Stay where you are until I’m finished, Will.’

That tone thrummed through his body and mind like he’d been struck by a tuning fork. Still, Will managed to keep his voice even, pitched low as he responded through a suggestive smile of his own.

‘Whatever you say. And you’re right, a scalpel certainly does make precise cuts.’

Will slowly brought his thumb to his lips. Hannibal’s sharp eyes followed his every movement with avid, predatory fascination, watching as Will sucked the blood from his thumb.

‘Take your time, Doctor.’

Hannibal held his gaze a moment longer, then picked up the red pen and began circling. And circling. Will quickly lost track, but each mistake felt like a triumph, a brand new line in the sand, each a little further than the last.

When Hannibal got to the bloody thumbprint, Will heard him take a deep breath and licked his lower lip to temper a wry smile. Hannibal looked up at him, eyes locking as he marked it with a slow circle, large and extravagant.

Will’s heart was pounding as Hannibal set the letter back down on the desk, facing away from him this time.

‘Go stand in front of the desk, Will, and bend over.’

Will sucked in a breath. It caught in his throat.

Hannibal stood slowly to face him, so close they were almost touching, that looming presence enough to eclipse everything else. Sheer gravitational pull…

He spoke slowly, voice pitched low, a dark promise inherent in each enunciated word.

‘Put your elbows on the desk, Will, and get your face very close to the letter.’

Hannibal’s words, that smile, that voice, that tone… they reached inside him and twisted, propelling his legs forward to do as he was told.

Will hesitated for only a second more before bending over the desk.

He placed his hands and forearms flat on either side of the paper, nose mere inches from its surface, so close that he could feel his own breath against his face, hot and fast.

He could hear Hannibal’s measured footsteps as he came around the desk to stand behind him. The seconds stretched out, tension singing, blood rushing in his ears. He couldn’t help throwing a glance back, only to see Hannibal, hands in his pockets, drinking in the sight of him, making him wait for whatever was coming next.

Will

‘Eyes on the letter, Will. I won’t tell you again.’

Fuck.

Will was sure the anticipation would rip him apart.

‘How many typing mistakes have you made. Count them.’

Will shook his head a little, the red marks from the pen swimming in his vision as his eyes struggled to focus. He could feel himself beginning to sweat, the desk blessedly cool against his forearms. He counted as quickly as he could.

Will

‘Tw… Twelve...’

A resounding crack as Hannibal’s palm connected with his ass so hard it pushed all the air from his lungs.

Oh god.

The world contracted. Will forgot himself and threw a stunned look over his shoulder.

Crack.

Will snapped his eyes back to the paper as his body was rocked against the desk with the force of the blow.

‘Count them, Will. One at a time. Out loud.’

Hannibal’s voice was like iron, undeniable.

Perfect.

Will licked his lips and dragged in a long shaky breath, setting his feet a bit further apart for balance and resettling his forearms on either side of the letter.

‘One.’

Crack.

‘T… two’

Crack.

A great gulp of air.

‘Three.’

Each blow came harder than the last, Hannibal’s hand never striking the same place twice; unpredictable, first one cheek, then the other.

Will continued to call out the numbers, barely a fraction of a second passing before Hannibal’s hand would connect. His voice sounded utterly alien in his own ears; sometimes loud, sometimes a whisper, but a thread of need wove through every gasping word.

Please, don’t stop...

He was panting now and his ass felt like it was on fire, Hannibal’s hand like a brand - a heat that scorched straight through him.

‘Ten.’

Rounding in on the final mistakes, closer and closer to the wide crimson circle around the bloody thumbprint. He could barely see, the red all bleeding together, sweat dripping to further blur the edges of the ink, awash in a sea of sensation.

‘Eleven!’

The slap caught him in the delicate crease where his ass met his thigh, wringing a low moan from him. It sounded… decadent, somehow, almost obscene. Will could feel himself getting hard, but it seemed far away, almost incidental, the impact of Hannibal’s hand the only feeling he needed to chase right now. He forced his hips away from the desk, his ass further into the air.

‘Twelve!’

This time the ringing crack almost shoved him over, but Hannibal didn’t pause, another resounding slap to the other cheek enough to right his balance… and another, and another… following faster and faster now, no longer a need to count since reaching the bloody thumbprint.

The pain was enormous. The pleasure, obliterating.

Will could hear his own breathing, heavy and ragged… but he could hear Hannibal now as well, a deep growl resonating from behind him as his rhythm hit a fever pitch.

Will’s mind was spinning with sensation, but it was also strangely still. The world had narrowed to just the two of them and Will felt something inside him loosen somehow, his vision going white, a low moan issuing from him that built louder and louder in time with Hannibal’s punishing rhythm. His legs could barely hold him now, but he no longer fought to keep his balance, knowing Hannibal's hand would catch him.

That he would catch him.

Will felt himself let go.

Crack.

Crack!

CRACK.

Will cried out at the force of the final blow, Hannibal’s momentum carrying him forward to slump over Will’s back, one hand slamming down on the desk for balance so that their fingers overlapped, briefly gripping each other for purchase. A mutual grounding.

Relief like a wave.

All I’ve ever wanted.

Hannibal’s breath was hot against his cheek, his body pressed full against him, pushing him down against the desk. But as Hannibal slowly drew himself back and away, Will couldn’t help the small sound that escaped him - startlingly close to a whimper.

He didn’t know what else to do, so he kept his forearms on the desk, trying to regain his breath as he watched Hannibal walk back around his desk, tugging at his vest and cuffs, running a hand through hair that had worked its way loose to spill over his forehead, setting himself to rights.

Slowly, Hannibal lowered himself into his chair until their eyes were level with each other - gazes locked, breathing still uneven. The slight blush on those high cheekbones filled Will with a heady sense of pride, triumph, power.

True power lies in understanding its reciprocity.

Hannibal’s words snapped in place.

‘Go and type it again, Will.’ An ironclad tone, even now.

Will’s gut rolled lazily.

‘Yes, Sir…’

Hannibal’s smile spread, approving, warm and rich and dark.

Sudden and overwhelming gratitude flushed through him, a growing sense of earnestness wiping the coy smile from Will’s lips as the magnitude of what had passed between them hit him full on. The relief - the...potential of it all - like a revelation.

He willed Hannibal to see it on his face, to feel it, to know what this meant to him… it made him want to leap again…

‘Thank you… Hannibal.’

Will could practically taste Hannibal’s name in his mouth, heavy and sweet on his tongue; dangerous, like honey straight from the hive. He liked the feel of it, the sound of it. It earned him a raised eyebrow, but the deepening colour on Hannibal’s cheeks sent another intoxicating rush of power through him.

He likes the sound of it on your lips just as much as you do.

‘Thank you, Will.’

Will’s heart was full as he turned away from warm amber eyes. His mind strangely quiet, satisfied, he no long had any fear of the night as he strode quickly from the room, off to type the letter again.

To do as he was told.