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The warm embrace of his home was laced with something familiar. A cluster of scents, foreign but not unwelcome.

Fresh snow, mud, dead leaves.

The faint, unmistakable scent of blood. Decay.

Old Spice.

Hannibal opened his eyes again, and they crinkled at the edges with a smile that did not reach his mouth. He pushed open the double doors of the dining room—they had been wide open when he had left the house, earlier in the evening.

The room was dark but for a single square of light streaming in from the kitchen doorway, stopping just shy of the table and the macabre display that awaited him.

The centerpiece had disappeared, and in the middle lay the broken body of Randall Tier. Dead eyes, dull with fear and rancor, stared up at him. Blood poured from a skull cracked open, pooling in a halo so dark it was barely distinguishable from the polished wood. On his chest, a single piece of paper and the words Return to Sender.

The corner of Hannibal’s mouth twitched up.

He approached, respecting the reverent silence, and gave his gift the consideration it deserved—no more, no less—before turning away. His eyes searched the dark corners of the room.

Will’s scent was everywhere, and him, nowhere in sight.

Hannibal took careful steps towards the kitchen, stood in the doorway. Everything was pristine, exactly as he had left it, save for Will’s coat thrown haphazardly over the back of the armchair in the corner.

The hardwood creaked behind him and he only had enough time to turn and see Will swing his rifle at his head before the stock slammed—

The world collapsed. Drowned under a pitch perfect, ear-splitting A.

He tried to push up on his elbows. They gave under his weight. Or was it the ground giving in? It held onto him like tar. His lips parted around a brittle, wounded sigh that never reached his ears. Fingers locked around his nape, holding him down. He knew those fingers. Knew not to fight them. He closed his eyes, lay still but for the rise and fall of his chest and shoulders, and breathed.

Breathed.

Breathed.

The blood screaming in his ears receded and the shush of clothes rose through the fog. The world was whole again.

The back of his head throbbed, only alleviated by the coldness of the floor under his cheek. His coat was gone. His suit jacket was gone. The hand on his nape was gone. Hannibal barely had time to miss it before Will’s scent engulfed him, now much stronger than the reek of his aftershave. It was a balm to his senses.

His hands were held at the small of his back, pinned at the wrists in Will’s grip.

“Will—”

A curt, high pitched sound silenced him, and the warmth of Will’s hand was chased by tape. Will wrapped it several times around his wrists, up to his fingers, tight enough to keep him from wriggling them. The tape stuck uncomfortably to his skin, pulled on the fine hair with each movement. This was… pedestrian. Amateurish.

He cleared his throat. “If you would prefer, I have PVC tape better suited for—”

“I wouldn’t prefer.”

Hannibal licked his lips patiently. “The hemp rope in your shed may have been more satisfactory, if you were feeling vindictive,” he said. Ropes would have left the most exquisite marks.

He felt the heat of Will’s breath on his hands as he leaned down to bite at the duct tape, cutting it off neatly.

“Vindictive,” Will echoed, his voice almost a purr. “Why would I feel vindictive?” Gentle fingers found their way into Hannibal’s hair, stroking the back of his head, soft enough as not to add to the throbbing pain. Hannibal relished it, knowing they would—

—tighten in a vicious grip and yank his head back.

“You so kindly delivered the killer we were looking for right to my doorstep,” said Will. “If anything I’m grateful.” And the sweetness in his tone felt so sincere Hannibal could almost taste it.

The moment held for another second. Then Will let go of Hannibal’s hair, and sat back on his haunches, leaning most of his weight on Hannibal’s thighs, knees bracketing his legs. He reached around Hannibal’s hips, unbuckling his belt and prying open his trousers. Hannibal could do little more than tilt his hips up as Will hooked his fingers inside his underwear and pulled everything down to his knees, then rucked both his dress shirt and waistcoat up. He hissed as his front was pressed against the hardwood, but was soon distracted by the cold air hitting the sensitive skin of his buttocks and thighs and the welts that had yet to heal. Welts that Will laid there himself mere days ago.

Will traced the uppermost marks, then ran the back of his fingers from the top of his cheek to mid-thigh. Delight was rolling off of him in waves. Perhaps awe as well. Satisfaction, undoubtedly.

The reverence of his touch was familiar. A few evenings prior, while Hannibal had been clawing his way back to awareness, the endorphins flooding his mind reducing the world to the searing pain of the lashes, Will had reached out. He had caressed his ravage skin with a softness so discordant with his hitherto brutality it had rattled Hannibal more than any blow.

And Will had whispered, low enough they could both pretend Hannibal had not heard, beautiful.

“But if it was a challenge,” Will continued, bringing him back to the present, “I’m thoroughly disappointed.” He laid a harsh slap on Hannibal’s left cheek, making him jolt in surprise as heat flared up under Will’s hand.

“It wasn’t.”

“No?”

Another slap, on the same spot.

Hannibal hissed, gluteal muscles tensing up reflexively. “A challenge wouldn’t have such obvious outcome.”

Another.

“Was it defiance then?”

“Merely a gift.”

Will paused, both palms flat against his skin, thumbs tracing the raised lines, and Hannibal felt the gauze wrapped around Will’s right hand. He was injured.

Hannibal had barely moved to try and get a better look over his shoulder when Will leaned forward, one hand pressing between Hannibal’s shoulder blades—right onto the welts covering his upper back—and ripped a choked sound out of him. Will bore down until Hannibal was pinned under his weight, until the hardwood dug painfully into his ribcage, until his lips grazed the shell of Hannibal’s ear.

“Your gift,” Will rasped out, “nearly killed Buster.”

He was teetering on the edge of control. One more push, he would plummet into instinct.

“I’ll compensate for any required care.”

“I don’t need you to pay my vet bills, doctor.” He grabbed a handful of Hannibal’s reddened flesh, kneading it between his fingers and clawing at the welts. One more slap, this one carrying the edge of violence he had so diligently contained so far. “Generosity is no different than condescension for the destitute.”

“I know,” Hannibal said.

And wished he could stuff the words back into his mouth.

“Do you.” It was not a question. So Hannibal did not answer.

Will straightened up, eliciting a sigh from Hannibal as his back was released, and ran his fingers up and down the swell of his buttocks. “Next time you send me a pet,” he said, “pick one with less appalling aim.”

Because of course he would care more for his pack’s safety than his own.

Hannibal sighed, eyes falling close, savouring the caresses as much he did the blows. Once certain his voice would not waver, he said, “You resent me for using a proxy when you resorted to one yourself.”

“It’s all about reciprocity for you, huh.”

“One positive action begets another.”

Will chuckled, not entirely mirthless. “Define positive.”

“In this case, something beneficial to one’s understanding of oneself.”

“And when the understanding itself isn’t beneficial?”

“Self-awareness is hardly detrimental.”

Will hummed. He placed a hand on Hannibal’s wrist, slipped his thumb under the sleeve to brush the scar, and Hannibal realised that this was indeed the first time he could see the fruits of his efforts. Did Will reconstruct the night the way he would a crime scene? Did he see himself in the orderly’s place, holding the blade to his arms and watching the life trickle from him? Did he revel in the sight of him, helpless, struggling for every breath?

Letting go of Hannibal’s wrist, Will added, “Well, we’re not quite even yet.”

“Are we not?”

“Buster’s injured. One gash along his flank.”

Hannibal smiled indulgently. There remained several more matters to settle between them. Will had yet to retaliate for Alana’s predicament. Or Ms. Katz’s death. Perhaps he would not. Not yet. He deemed himself as much responsible for their involvement as Hannibal.

There was still Abigail, but Hannibal doubted this particular affront would be repaid through physical violence. The retribution had to be sharper, subtler. Insidious. It would not leave marks, it had to leave wounds.

A pat on his thigh pulled him from his musings, and Will’s weight lifted off his legs. Will pulled on his upper arm to turn him on his back, and Hannibal hissed as the cold hardwood pressed against the back of his head, still sensitive from the blow. The roll of tape lay on the floor not too far from him and the rifle was on the kitchen island within Will’s reach, its stock peeking from over the edge. Hannibal was not surprised by Will’s state, spotless dress shirt neatly tucked into pressed pants. He had noticed earlier that neither his hair nor clothes carried the scent of sweat and blood and adrenaline that still stuck to Randall’s corpse.

Will had taken the time to refresh and change before coming. Preening for him.

The only proof of tonight’s events was the gauze hastily wrapped around his right knuckles.

“Did you kill him with your hands?”

“I did,” Will said, looking down at the bandage. “It was… intimate.”

“Did you fantasize you were killing me?”

Will scoffed. “Didn’t take you for the jealous type, doctor.”

Hannibal tilted his chin at Will’s hand and said, “Would you let me redress your wound? It’s quite poorly done.”

“Now’s decidedly not the time to be insulting me,” said Will, though the tone was too light to be a warning.

“It’s only my professional opinion.”

Will crouched at Hannibal’s feet, and a few harsh tugs had Hannibal’s trousers off, shoes and socks taken as well. Will threw them aside and Hannibal’s eye ticked at the sight of his clothes in a careless heap.

“If you behave, maybe I’ll let you,” Will conceded.

He leaned up and reached for the kitchen island. The sound of a knife sliding out of the block sent a shiver up Hannibal’s spine.

Will settled between Hannibal’s splayed legs, nudging his thighs further apart with his knees. He sliced open the waistcoat with a few cuts, and the gutted fabric pooled on either sides of Hannibal, exposing his crisp dress shirt underneath. Then the knife slipped under the placket.

Hannibal froze. Held his breath.

The tip of the blade brushed against his abdomen, inching further up as Will cut each button with a flick of his wrist, sending them clicking on the floor. There was no teasing, no sensuality in his movements. Only a cold, factual sense of ownership. Hannibal relished it.

The blade caught against his lower ribs. He closed his eyes, kept perfectly still as it slid over his sternum, not deep enough to draw blood. It reached the top button, digging into his suprasternal notch and his lips parted around a voiceless sigh. He tilted his chin up ever so slightly. Pain flared up at the back of his head. A quiet, “Will,” rushed out of him.

Will paused, looked up.

“Would you spare the tie? I’m quite fond of it,” said Hannibal. When Will did not answer, he added, “Please.”

A beat.

Will tugged at the knot of the tie, pulling it off his collar and casting it aside.

“Thank you—”

The knife slit both thread and skin. Hannibal’s breath hitched as a shallow line of heat bloomed on his throat. The smell of blood hit his senses, and a thin trickle slid down the side of his neck.

“You’re very welcome, doctor.”

Will pushed Hannibal’s shirt open, scraping his chest as he did. He ran the blunt side against his flank, and Hannibal’s abdomen jumped slightly at the tickling sensation, legs twitching against Will’s sides. Will clicked his tongue the way he would to reprimand his dogs, making Hannibal tense, muscles straining with the effort to remain still. But he jolted again when Will traced his tender inner thigh.

“Now, that won’t do,” said Will. He balanced the knife on Hannibal’s chest—and its weight felt crushing, sucking the air from his lungs—then picked up the duct tape. He bended Hannibal’s right leg and wrapped the tape around ankle and thigh, tight enough to prevent any movement. He leaned down to bite the length of tape to sever it, and repeated the process for his other leg, leaving him exposed. Hannibal felt a spark of arousal at the proximity of Will’s teeth. Wondered what it would take to tempt him into taking a bite.

Will retrieved the knife, placed the tip against Hannibal’s side.

One gash along his flank.

He cut into his skin in an excruciatingly slow glide downward. Hannibal dared not breathe. The pain was but an afterthought to the overwhelming intimacy of the act. He was not so much at Will’s mercy than he was in his care. He found himself sinking into a well of trust, and his eyes fell shut.

The blade stopped at his hip. He let out a shuddering breath.

Before tensing again when it pressed into his ribcage just below his left pectoral, and slowly traced another red line along the bone, from the serratus anterior to the sternum.

“Breathe,” Will whispered. And placed a mirroring cut on the opposite rib, connected to the first.

Hannibal exhaled a quiet, “One gash.”

“Ever heard of interests, sweetheart?”

Another cut, below the first one. Hannibal pressed his lips shut, muffling any sound.

Will leaned forward, towering over him, left hand on the floor next to Hannibal’s chest to support his weight. He ran the flat side up the left external oblique, catching onto every intercostal space, then higher still. Hannibal’s gasped when it slid over his nipple, felt the nub harden at the touch. His breathing grew quicker as the knife moved up his throat between both sternohyoids, scraping his Adam’s apple before stopping under his chin. Will pushed the tip against the sensitive underside and Hannibal’s breath stuttered.

“Look at you, so open and tender,” Will purred. “So thrilled to be humbled. To be reminded of your own mortality. Your own humanity.”

Hannibal swallowed once. With a voice steadier than he felt, he said, “Without death we’d be at a loss. It’s the prospect of death that drives us to greatness.”

The blade nicked his chin, startling a whimper out of him.

“You’re way too coherent for my taste.”

Hannibal took a second to gather himself, then, with undeniable fondness, echoed their very first encounter, “I can’t shut my mind any more than—”

Will clamped a hand over his mouth. “And he talks back too.”

Hannibal huffed against the palm, surprised at the warmth of Will’s naked touch. Will took it away, and Hannibal licked his lips to chase its taste while Will sat back on his heels, leaning sideways to grab the roll of tape.

“You make lovely sounds when you’re in pain,” said Will. “But when you’re coherent you’re just a pain in the ass.”

Hannibal blinked once. He had been under the impression Will appreciated their weekly verbal jousts as much as he did. Official and private both. “And here I thought you enjoyed hearing me beg.”

“Only when you mean it.” Will tore a strip of tape, once more flashing those enticing teeth.

“I’ve been entirely honest with you. All the more so in such intimate context.”

“See? Too coherent.” He unceremoniously stuck the tape over Hannibal’s mouth.

And only then, robbed of his voice, did Hannibal feel truly vulnerable. Along with his jaws, his words were his strongest weapon. He had neither now. He shivered under Will’s gaze as he added another strip for good measure, before throwing the roll aside. Hannibal focused on taking steady breaths through his nose, on keeping still despite his rabbiting heart.

“I like when you beg with nothing but your eyes,” Will crooned, stroking Hannibal’s jaw with the flat side. “There’s no room for lies in them.”

A quiet mewl built in Hannibal’s chest. He smothered it, let it die inside his lungs. His eyelids fluttered shut as the knife slid down his neck, and bit into his skin again, drawing a line of blood over each clavicle. They merged at the center and stretched over his breastbone. Blind, his world was narrowed to the sharp, cold point travelling down his torso. It traced another red line along his ribs.

Hannibal struggled to stay still. His body jolted every few seconds, making the incisions uneven, in places deeper, biting into flesh. Above him, Will made shushing noises, never pausing while he carved his design.

“You know, I meant what I said, earlier,” Will said, adding another cut, below the previous one. “I am grateful for your little gift, in a way.” Another, reflecting it. “Material damages aside, I feel like I owe you. Polite society puts such a taboo on taking a life.”

The six curves joined in a single point over his sternum, as though to draw his skeleton right on his skin. Exposing him the way he had exposed Beverly Katz, to preserve her beauty.

Will placed the tip of the knife on the merging point. “I’m grateful for the opportunity you granted me.” Then, as slowly as he had slit his flank, drew a thin line down his stomach—Hannibal gasped when it dove into his navel—following the trail of hair to his pelvis.

“I can still see it so vividly,” Will whispered, low and brimming with morbid pleasure, “the way he was thrashing under me like the trapped animal he was, so full of life and the desperation to preserve it.”

Two more searing lines, along the iliac crests, and into the sensitive crease of each thigh, leading to his groin. A single bead of blood crawled down his skin.

“I felt his skull crack under my fist, and then,” Will paused, lifted his head, “and then life fled from his eyes.”

The blade scraped along Hannibal’s length, tore a whine out of him. It teased the slit, the crown, the frenulum. He felt himself stir from arousal and apprehension both.

“Left nothing but the ghost of unrestrained, primal fear.”

The tip slid down the underside. Slowly. Slowly. Choked sounds rose inside him, reduced to voiceless whimpers by the tape. His thighs shook against Will’s sides, toes curling up as the Will touched the sharp point to his testicles, his perineum, inching down towards—

Hannibal tensed up.

There are wounds too intimate too heal.

“You too, know the surge of power that comes with,” Will searched for his words, his gaze dark with promises, “doing bad things to bad people.”

Frantic eyes tried to catch Will’s. They met, for only a second, before Will focused on the blade again as it slid lower. Hannibal tilted his chin up, took deep, calming breaths, counted his heartbeats. He had to keep still.

The knife brushed his rim. He gasped, blinked up at Will. Something hungry flickered in his pupils. He pushed the tip against Hannibal’s entrance, scraped the delicate skin.

No.

“I’ve never felt more… alive—” Will stared at him from under his lashes, his gaze lazily roaming up his trembling body, his heaving chest, before meeting his eyes, “—than when I was killing him.”

He pressed in.

Hannibal bucked his hips.

Stop.

A hand closed around his throat.

Firm but not aggressive. Secure.

The knife clanged on the floor. Hannibal’s strength left him at once, like a puppet whose strings were cut. His head fell back, eyes fluttering shut with relief. Every exhale drowned into a whine. Small, gasping cries extracting the pit of tension in his abdomen one breath at a time. The pressure in his lungs dissipated in increments, trembling limbs loosened, the knot in his stomach uncoiled.

Will’s thumb caressed the side of his neck, taking away the tension, gently. Leaving him blessedly light-headed. He was still talking in a hushed tone, but Hannibal could not make sense of it.

A moment longer, and Will released his throat. He caught one side of the strip of tape between two fingers. Instead of ripping it off, he carefully pulled on the corner, detaching the strip inch by inch. One hand stayed on Hannibal’s jaw, thumb soothing the reddened skin underneath. Hannibal did not move, barely dared breathe. He kept his eyes shut, until the entirety of the makeshift gag came off and Will’s hands retreated. He stretched his jaw once, swallowed, then let his mouth fall slack, breathing deeply.

Sound returned to his world and he heard Will crinkle the tape into a ball. Only then did he open his eyes. His vision was blurred at the edges. He blinked several times, damp lashes clinging to each other in clusters. He looked down at Will and fell into bright, inscrutable blues.

“Even Steven,” said Will.

If Hannibal could, he would have smiled. He only nodded.