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Regret.

It’s not a feeling that Hannibal Lecter is accustomed to. With such iron-clad control over his emotions, even if life conspired to set him up to feel such a thing, he would have easily shut it down.

Now, as he sits in his office, warmed by both the glow of firelight and the half-full glass of wine perched between his fingertips, he finds himself within a state of regret. And as much as he might fancy himself a transient in such a state, just passing through on his way to somewhere better—more exciting, more titillating, and much less solitary should he get his way, and he intends to—he finds himself lingering there. Beginning, even, to put down roots.

It is altogether distasteful.

The seconds tick by, marked by the clock on a nearby shelf with the evenness of a metronome flicking back and forth. Each click adding up until minutes have passed with Hannibal lost in contemplative silence, embroiled in his regret. Chipping away at the hour he had long since set aside and had not yet had the heart to fill, not with another patient or with another more fulfilling activity.

It is still Will’s hour. And, he resigns himself with a sigh that no one else hears besides himself and the clock that mocks him with its incessant ticking, perhaps it always will be.

Regret.

Now that he’s experienced the feeling so fully, Hannibal finds he doesn’t like it one bit.

***

He told Alana he must get his appetite back.

He’s fed her many lies over the course of their acquaintance, but this is not one of them. A dinner party is in its planning stages, and the planning itself is a wonderful excuse on so many levels. It keeps him busy enough that he doesn’t have to think too much about his impending plan to seduce her, and therefore begin to wrap the blindfold shrouding her lovely eyes all the tighter. It fills instead his nights with hunting, thinning the herd and making the world itself a marginally better place with each spin of his trusty Rolodex.

Most importantly, it doesn’t allow him much time at all to spend wallowing in his regret.

Even still, as he hefts the dead weight of the tax accountant—who had dared to question the amount of money he claimed on his taxes in a particularly philanthropic year—higher on his shoulder, the thought of Will encroaches upon him. He hadn’t seen the younger man since he visited him last at the hospital, and seeing him in one of Fredrick Chilton’s little cages with his curls wild and his eyes piercing blue, full of righteous rage and seething hatred had nearly caused gooseflesh to erupt on Hannibal’s skin in his delight. He had dropped his hint regarding Alana, though, and watched in rapture at the shadow that fell over Will’s beautiful face before turning and walking away without looking back.

Now there was nothing to do but wait until the time was right. Wait, and most assuredly not regret, and fill his pantry to the point of bursting.

He shifts the body on his shoulder to dig in his coat pocket for his keys. Behind the privacy fence surrounding the small garden behind his home, Hannibal knows he is safe from prying eyes.

Which makes it all the more startling when he feels a gaze on him, his predator’s senses registering it immediately. His hand abandons their search for the keys and instead wraps around the scalpel in his pocket, unsheathing it with his thumb as he looks around, scanning the back yard and then the trees, before he finally looks down and meets a single round green eye staring shrewdly back at him.

Hannibal blinks and narrows his eyes at the cat lingering outside his door. It is a rather large specimen, shaggy haired and mostly black with splashes of dirty gray fur here and there. The thing is bedraggled, and is missing most of one ear, bitten off by some other street creature at a rough, jagged angle. One eye is green, the other milky white and blind, and both of its sharp bottom teeth jut out at odd angle from its mouth, giving it the countenance of a permanent frown. It is, altogether, a hideous creature, and as Hannibal glares at it, it glares right back.

“Shoo,” he says finally, with stiff dignity. At the sound of his voice, the mostly dead man slung carelessly over his shoulder groans in pain.

The cat blinks slowly and unevenly, the green eye opening again before the white one has even managed to close in the first place, and doesn’t move from the spot it has taken up, blocking the door and Hannibal’s way.

Shoo,” he says again, more forcefully this time, and the cat draws itself up and hisses.

Hannibal is taken aback at the rudeness of such a creature, and it shows on his face as he shows the cat his own set of crooked teeth. The cat doesn’t seem impressed, and certainly doesn’t care that he’s a serial killer hauling a body into his house to be dismembered and then eaten. If Hannibal wasn’t so offended by the cat’s existence, he would be forced to admit he is grudgingly impressed by its tenacity.

He tells himself that he is most definitely not going to admit that very thing as he turns with a put-upon sigh and heads to another back entrance to his home, leaving the prickling creature undisturbed.

The cat remains, an outrageously ugly gargoyle, guarding the outside door to Hannibal’s basement in the dark.

***

The dinner party goes off without a hitch. Unless one counts the FBI showing up to collect samples of the perfectly presented food served—to no doubt take back to the lab to be tested for traces of human remains—a hitch, which Hannibal decidedly does not. He had planned for just such an event, after all, having instructed one of the young servers he had hired to appear at Jack Crawford’s side on sight with a platter full of finger foods not made from his preferred meat just in case.

His seduction of Alana also went just as planned, except that he had fooled himself into thinking that said seduction might be more of a distraction than it turned out to be. Alana was lovely, soft in all the right places, and objectively a more than capable lover, but the whole time he had been with her his mind was somewhere else entirely. In fact, he is unsure if he would have been able to successfully complete his seduction, such as it was, without his mind otherwise occupied. He felt relief when the drugs he coated the inside of her wine glass with had finally gone to work, freeing him from wearing a mask that was feeling exceedingly and uncomfortably tight. Thoroughly unsatisfied, he left her there in his bed, beautiful and clueless and not at all what he wants.

Hours later, but still deep under the cover of night, he returns with Abel Gideon’s limp body in tow. He brings him in through the basement, deep into the hidden parts under his house, before heading upstairs to confirm that Alana is still soundly asleep. She is, with the aid of the heavy dose of sedative Hannibal gave her. She looks lovely, skin as pale and milky as the sheets, a swath of dark hair spilling artfully over her pillow. Hannibal’s stomach sours at the sight, and he purses his lips against the visions his mind supplies of a very different body in his bed and turns to leave the room, heading back down the steps into his lair where he can be alone with his thoughts.

When he reaches the basement, though, he finds himself not as alone as he planned to be.

The cat is there, sitting with his tail wrapped around his front legs, having let himself in through the door Hannibal had failed to kick shut completely while carrying his burden. Hannibal stops in his tracks, aghast at the sight of such a filthy animal in his home, but the cat greets him like they are well acquainted with a meow that sounds exactly like he would expect to come from such a gnarly beast—low and grumbly and almost hoarse.

“Hello,” Hannibal replies quietly, ever polite, despite his irritation with the animal’s presence. The cat’s mangled ear twitches in response, and the tip of his tail flicks against the concrete floor. “I do not recall inviting you in,” he points out. The cat blinks his slow, uneven blink and tilts his head, his eyes flickering towards the door through which Abel Gideon lies. He unfurls his bushy tail from around his legs to stand and stretches indulgently, back arching as his claws come unsheathed to dig into the floor, before trotting off in the direction of Hannibal’s kill room, tail held high above him.

Hannibal blinks, watching him go. And then, he follows.

He has imagined many, many times what it would be like to have company in this room with him. It has been the point of all of this, after all, to see Will reach his full potential. To see the younger man up to his elbows in blood, among many other images Hannibal’s mind has carefully crafted for him over the time since he and the boy with his brain on fire met in Jack Crawford’s office like a stroke of Fate’s paint brush.

The cat is not Will Graham.

He is, however, not terrible company, Hannibal is quite shocked to realize. He watches attentively as Hannibal sets Gideon up for surgery, first from the floor and then, later, hopping up on a nearby table to watch and lick his chops at the scent of blood and meat, his head turned so that he can better see out of his good eye as Hannibal neatly severs the former doctor’s leg at the thigh. Hannibal doesn’t realize he’s been quietly describing the steps of the surgery out loud until he’s nearly done, having shaved the sharp edges off the bone before neatly wrapping the skin over the stump left behind.

The cat is an attentive listener.

He thinks of Will as he works to disassemble the severed leg, and of his multitude of rescued dogs. Thinks of what might possess the man to take in animal after animal, what it is he might get from their company.

He doesn’t, however, think of what he is doing when he cuts a few scraps off of the leg as he prepares it for use in the kitchen and feeds them to the cat from his fingers, watching with both disgust and amusement as the cat gnaws on the strips of human flesh with his wretchedly crooked teeth. He absolutely does not allow himself to think of what he’s doing when he picks up the surprisingly heavy cat and carries him to the deep basin sink to give him a scrub that leaves Hannibal in the end with scratches all along his forearms, crisscrossing the scars Will’s proxy left behind.

He doesn’t look too closely at his actions either as, when the sun begins to rise, he leaves the cat downstairs with a bowl of water and allows him to stay in the house. With his mask firmly in place once more, he climbs the stairs, intent on doing what needs to be done to rouse and eject the human occupant of his house, at least.

***

Jack Crawford provides a perfect distraction, in the end.

Hannibal was quietly amused by how furious Alana was with the him. Even after Will’s incarceration and the report she had filed against Jack in her anger and resentment for the part he played in Will’s downfall, she had remained friends with the agent. Jack had arrived and made his thinly veiled accusations, and Hannibal had effortlessly switched from playing the part of Alana’s lover, to a friend scorned and betrayed by what Jack Crawford had insinuated was true. It seems that was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for Alana. What relentlessly driving a deathly ill friend to the edge couldn’t do, a few—very true—assertions against her mentor-turned-lover did immediately.

For his part, Hannibal kept up the act; playing at being hurt and wanting to be alone in order to convince Alana it was time for her to take her leave. He endured her well-meaning parting words and a kiss to his lips before finally shutting the door behind her, leaving him blissfully alone.

A sniff behind him reminds him that he isn’t, not quite.

When he turns to regard the cat who has come up from downstairs to lounge in the doorway, lazily licking his paw before dragging it over what remains of his torn ear, all traces of the masks he wore for Alana and for Jack have disappeared.

“Everything is progressing according to plan,” he informs the cat, who pauses in cleaning his ugly, perpetually scowling face to glance up at Hannibal with only one seeing eye. His tail flicks against the hardwood floors as he tilts his head, listening. “Based on what Jack has found, they will soon release Will,” he adds, pleased with himself, “If I know him half as well as I believe I do—and I do—I would wager his first stop will be to come here and attempt to kill me.”

The cat licks his teeth in response. Hannibal realizes he is smiling gleefully at the thought.

“Breakfast, I think,” he announces, before moving past the lounging feline towards the kitchen. With a sigh, the cat heaves his heavy bulk to his feet, and follows him, padding along in his wake with his tail held aloft.

***

“Will was officially released today.”

His companion doesn’t answer, merely looks at him from where he’s hopped into the chair to Hannibal’s right at the dinner table and stares at him with his bulgy eyes, one green with a slitted pupil wide in the candlelight of the dining room, the other white and non-seeing.

Hannibal assembles a bite of his dinner on his fork—Abel Gideon’s loin and roasted fall vegetables—before bringing it to his mouth. The cat’s eye follows the movement of the fork, and he continues to stare with great interest as Hannibal chews, savoring the flavor of the perfectly roasted meat on his tongue. He swallows, and then savors a sip of his wine, watching the cat’s rough tongue appear to lick his chops and continue on staring, almost as if he’s waiting for Hannibal to say more.

He doesn’t, for a long moment. And then, softly, “He will come to me.” The beast somehow manages to look dubious, and so Hannibal gives him a hard look as he adds, “He will.”

The cat puts one furred paw on the table in front of him and meows loudly. Hannibal sighs, wondering how this became his preferred dinner guest. Even without Will in the picture, he could have extended an invitation to Alana, or literally any of his other acquaintances to come dine with him. He could still go downstairs and rouse Gideon, since feeding him his own thigh was quite enjoyable.

But in the end, he doesn’t want anyone else but Will, and Will is not there. Begrudgingly accepting his companion’s company, he cuts off a slice of loin and offers it to the creature, who eats it greedily from Hannibal’s fingers, purring loudly at the taste he’s quickly grown to love.

***

Hannibal arrives home from work the next day and heads straight for the kitchen, desperately wishing for a glass of wine.

He had hoped, whilst studiously refusing to acknowledge he was hoping, that Will would turn up in the waiting room at his office. For what, at this point, he cared very little. He hasn’t gone this long without seeing the other man’s face since he met him, and no amount of convincing himself it would be worth it in the end was enough to get him through the five positively tedious appointments he somehow managed to sit through today.

He doesn’t bother to take off his coat, merely tosses his keys on the counter and reaches for a wine glass. He’s just placed his hand on the refrigerator’s door handle when he smells him. Warmth floods through him, from his fingers to the tips of his toes and back again, settling firmly in his chest, feeling too large to be contained in the space between his ribs.

He came. He knew he would.

“The same unfortunate aftershave,” he murmurs, eyes still closed. He turns as he opens the refrigerator, and watches as Will materializes out of the shadows in his kitchen. Hannibal can’t help his small smile as he adds fondly, “Too long in the bottle.”

Will responds by lifting his gun, fingers wrapped tightly around the stock and over one another, but his hands are steady. Nothing of the trembling young man he saw draw down on Garrett Jacob Hobbs remains, lovingly stripped away by Hannibal’s own steady hands.

“Our last kitchen conversation was interrupted by Jack Crawford,” he says, enunciating each word clearly as if he had practiced on his way there, and oh, hearing his voice again, seeing his face and breathing in his scent without bars between them makes Hannibal feel weak in the knees. He tilts his head, waiting for Will to continue his speech. His boy doesn’t disappoint. He adds with a tight smile, “If memory serves, you were asking me if it would feel good to kill you.”

Hannibal remembers that moment clearly. He was, even then, unperturbed by the gun Will held on him, just as he is now. “You’ve given that some thought,” he replies, running his fingers over the rim of the wine glass in his hands.

“I’m just following the urges I kept down for so long, cultivating them as the inspirations they are,” Will says, grinding out Hannibal’s own words back to him. He finds himself quietly enraptured by the feral thing that stands in his kitchen, his hair too long and his eyes too wild. Hannibal wants to trap him and keep him forever, and to set him free and watch him fly, in equal measure.

“You never answered my question,” he says, his voice soft, honestly and desperately wanting to know the answer, “How would killing me make you feel?”

Will’s lips pull back into a snarl as he growls out, “Righteous.” Only then does his hands begin to shake, his breaths coming loud through his nose as his fingers tighten around the pistol.

“Aren’t you curious, Will?” Hannibal asks, deliberately testing him, as he has always been and always will be wont to do, “Why you? Why Miriam Lass? What does the Chesapeake Ripper want with you?”

“You tell me,” Will spits back, his eyes impossibly wide, a furrow appearing on his otherwise smooth brow. Hannibal can practically feel the tendrils of Will’s empathy reaching for him, brushing against him, slipping inside. “How did Miriam Lass find you?” he questions, “You made sure no one could ever find you that way again.”

“If I’m not the Ripper, you murder an innocent man,” Hannibal deflects. “You better than anyone know what it means to be wrongly accused,” he adds, placing his empty wine glass on the counter, “You were innocent and no one saw it.”

Will shakes his head, his fingers flexing on the pistol’s grip. “No, I’m not innocent,” he replies angrily, “You saw to that.”

“If I am the Ripper and you kill me,” Hannibal prods softly, “Who will answer your questions? Don’t you want to know how this ends?”

Will, his beautiful Will, huffs a laugh and then lurches forward, cocking the gun and pointing it to Hannibal’s temple. He closes his eyes and turns his head away, to give the younger man a better, cleaner shot, and he waits.

And waits.

And then, hears purring.

He opens his eyes to see Will looking down, his brow knitted in confusion at the hideously ugly cat weaving a figure eight around his legs, purring mightily the whole time. The cat looks up, his one green eye locking on Will’s face, and he meows loud enough that it seems to echo in the silence of the kitchen, looking up at Will expectantly.

The gun is no longer pointing at Hannibal’s head. Instead, it hangs loosely in Will’s fist at his side.

“What—” Will starts, blinking down at the creature still rubbing against the rough material of his trousers like he thinks he might be hallucinating again. “What is this?” he finally asks, looking helplessly up at Hannibal.

He can’t help his small smile. He knew Will would choose in favor of having his questions answered. “That is a cat, Will,” Hannibal answers, knowing full well that his cheek might be the thing to finally get him shot. But as unpredictable as Will can be in some ways, he is extremely predictable in others, as evidenced by the way his shoulders slump slightly from their rigid tension in the presence of an animal. The cat lifts itself up on his hind legs in response and presses his front feet to Will’s thigh, mewling again for attention. Something in Will seems to shake free, and reaches down with his free hand to stroke the thing’s head.

Will looks at the cat, then looks up at Hannibal, his expression shrewd. Hannibal knows without a doubt in that moment that Will is looking right through him, knowing exactly why he allowed the cat to stay in the first place, even if Hannibal never planned to admit that to himself.

“What’s his name?”

Hannibal blinks and looks down at the cat, then up at Will, who is still holding his gun. He rarely finds himself at a loss. But much like finding himself in a state of regret, here he is nonetheless.

“Cat,” he finally answers, because it had never crossed his mind to name the thing.

Will looks exasperated by his answer, but turns his gaze back on the cat, considering. “He’s ugly as sin,” he says, scratching the cat’s chin, causing the hoarse and broken rumbling purr to ramp up all the louder. “Can’t imagine you’d keep him around, with only one ear.”

The words come spilling out of Hannibal’s mouth before he can even think to stop them. “I think Abigail might like him,” he admits, “Since they match.”

Will glances up at Hannibal sharply. They both gape at the other, Will gaping at Hannibal because of what he’s just learned, and Hannibal gaping at Will because he truly had no intentions of showing his hand so soon. Will opens his mouth, then closes it again, and shakes his head hard. Tears are in his eyes when he carefully places the gun down on the countertop beside Hannibal’s unused wine glass. He pulls the cat into his arms, hugging him tightly to his chest, while the cat purrs and bumps his head under Will’s chin.

“She’s alive?” Will finally asks, his voice cracking. Hannibal hadn’t planned to play his trump card so soon, but it’s done now. Plans can change and reform. One can sew seeds in perfect rows, but sometimes the most beautiful flower might spring up elsewhere. He nods, and watches the tears spill down over Will’s cheeks, glistening in the light cast from within the refrigerator. Will nods too, and swallows thickly.

“I do need answers,” he says after a moment, his voice sounding like it’s punched out of him.

Hannibal feels a sprig of hope take root inside of him, where the warmth still presses against the confines of his ribcage. “Stay for dinner, Will, and you shall have them,” he replies as evenly as he can manage.

Will nods shakily, and the cat purrs in his arms. Hannibal smiles at the mangy creature that perhaps just saved his life, and the cat scowls back.

When they sit down for dinner that night, the cat gets his own plate.