Will gets better. He takes his medication. Most days he doesn’t accuse Hannibal of trying to poison him.
He eats more foods now, spinach leaves and clementines. On the days it doesn’t remind him of maggots crawling in a corpse, Will even eats pasta.
It’s… better. It feels less like spiders are crawling on the inside of his body. The dead killers in his head grow soft, although he misses the company sometimes. He does miss Abigail. With the drugs in his body, she doesn’t visit him out of the blue anymore, and he can’t conjure her at will the way he did used to.
It’s terribly lonely.
At least I have Hannibal, he thinks, and the thought makes him laugh until his guts ache.
His teeth still haven’t recovered.
* * *
It feels less like a truce and more like purgatory, and that’s where he meets Adam Raki.
The kid makes Will smile, and not much about California does, which is probably for the best. It’s an expression that usually makes people wince, except Hannibal who is fucked up enough to love it. His smile is a byproduct of too many knives—Dolarhyde’s knife and the knives sticking out of his mouth, the ones where there should be teeth—people know they’re there even if they can’t see them. It makes them flinch away from Will, and the livid scar on his cheek doesn’t help.
The effect is horrifying. Most people are just too polite to say anything.
The kid cocks his head. “What are you doing with your face?”
The question catches Will off guard. It’s a novel feeling. He is utterly used to everything in his life. Used to being alert, the way Hannibal prizes his jaws open in the middle of the night if he’s lied about taking his medication. Used to the way Hannibal shoves him up against the wall, pushes fingers in his mouth and shoves his way in, turning Will’s head so he can drink down his screams.
He is not used to the blinking frankness and a kid who won’t meet his eyes.
“I’m smiling,” Will says.
The kid blinks again. His eyes skitter off Will’s face like marbles across a slick floor. “I’m sorry, but you’re not. Or at least you’re not doing it right. Smiles are meant to convey happiness. You look like you’re in pain.”
Will raises his eyebrows. “Are you an expert on smiling?”
“No,” the kid says, but he smiles anyway. It’s such a pure and open expression, like he was born to do it. Will doubts he’s ever smiled like that in his life. “No, I’m not good with social interaction, but I practice. I practice smiling sometimes in the mirror. Maybe you should, too.”
“I have nerve damage,” Will says. There’s no reason why he should explain himself, but he does anyway. “Half of my mouth doesn’t move the way it should.”
The kid nods. “How did you get nerve damage?”
“Someone stabbed me in the face.” He doesn’t know why he says it.
The kid just nods again. “Okay.” He hesitates, unsure if he should go. Someone calls his name from down the hall. “But you could still practice smiling. I don’t think the other side of your face knows how to do it right either.”
That startles a bark of laughter out of Will.
“Thanks for the advice. I’ll think about it.” He asks even though he knows the answer. “What’s your name?”
“It’s nice to meet you, Adam. Maybe I’ll see you again.”
Will doesn’t give his name, but he does watch Adam as he leaves to catch up with the man who wanted him down the hall. He walks stiffly, arms moving oddly at his side. Hannibal drifts over from where he had been examining a plaque in front of the telescope. Will doesn’t need words to interpret the look Hannibal gives him.
Shall we kill him?
Will responds with a slight shake of his head.
Another look, this time one that means why not? It’s not like Will to turn down a kill. Most often it’s Hannibal putting his foot down, holding them both in check so they don’t end up on the wrong side of panes of reinforced glass.
Will is terrible at moderation. It’s something Hannibal wouldn’t have guessed before, but Will could have told him. There was a reason he fought so hard against this, all those years ago. He always knew what kind of monster he would be.
“I like him,” Will says. One side of his mouth crooks up in a rictus grin.
* * *
They don’t kill Adam. They do linger outside the observatory for hours waiting for him, because Will wants to. Standing directly in front of the building would be suspicious, but there’s a park across the street, and they spend an afternoon feeding squirrels and lazing about in the sun. It’s not a strictly smart or safe plan, but so little of what they do is. Will has finally learned not to worry.
“I don’t like California,” Will says. It’s an old conversation.
“We can always leave.”
Will shakes his head. “We can’t go back east.”
Hannibal doesn’t correct him because it’s true. Will is… better, now. Most days he’s better, but they’d cut a swath of red through the east coast when he was sick. Will doesn’t need his imagination to know how this talk goes. Next Hannibal will offer Europe, either Greece or Spain. South America, if pushed. Will can’t stand the cold.
He isn’t ready to leave the United States. Traveling abroad feels like too much of a commitment, and it’s one he’s still not ready to make. Even now, after everything.
“Not today, Hannibal,” Will says without opening his eyes, tipping his head back and letting the sunlight turn the insides of his eyelids red. It’s dappled from the trees above them, and it makes patterns in his vision.
It’s an old conversation and one they don’t need to have again.
Hannibal lets it be, and Will is glad. Glad enough to lean against him on the park bench, to set his head against the other man’s shoulder. Trust has been hard for them. Hannibal medicates Will, and Will tolerates it, but he doesn’t forgive. He can see the way it hurts Hannibal. Most days he just doesn’t care.
But it all feels far enough away today. Will is lit from within with that strange boy’s smile. Fall is nearly here, and everything is still green—it’s the one thing he’d grudgingly admit to enjoying about California if he had a knife to his neck.
The air smells crisp and clean, and a breeze throws Will’s hair in his eyes. Everything’s bathed in juniper.
It isn’t cold, but there’s a chill in the air. It’s just enough to redden their cheeks, to make Will clasp his hands tighter around the paper cup of coffee in his hands, to press himself that much tighter to Hannibal’s side.
Hannibal sighs at the touch. He’s hungry for it, always. Desperate for skin on skin, and it’s unfortunate that Will knows that. He delights in withholding it—would rather make Hannibal take it from him instead.
The sky is painted in underwater blues by the time Adam emerges from the building. The parking lot is thinning, and it’s getting late. The park is devoid of lights, and they’re all but hidden in the dark. Will watches. He expects Adam to follow his two coworkers to their cars, but the kid parts ways with them at the door and trudges to the bus stop along the road. The last bus pulled away a couple minutes ago. Will doesn’t know the bus schedule in this town, but it seems a safe bet that he’ll be waiting a while.
Will unfolds himself from the bench, rolling his shoulders out of habit. They get stiff when he sits for too long. Muscle cramps remind him of nights spent immobile in the dark, cursing and crying while Hannibal watched. He prefers to avoid them.
“Will?” Hannibal asks.
He doesn’t bother to respond. He knows without looking that Hannibal will be standing beside him, hands thrust in his pockets. Friendly. Harmless. Two lovers strolling through a park at night.
“Adam?” Will says when he gets close enough, feigning pleasant surprise.
The kid’s face scrunches as he tries to recall Will. It’s terribly charming. Will doesn’t have a knife on him, but he knows Hannibal will snap the kid’s neck if he dredges up the wrong memory (Hannibal the Cannibal, Agent Graham from the late night specials). They’ve fallen out of the news cycle in recent years. Hannibal’s grown out his hair, and Will sports a beard, but people recognize them sometimes.
He’s flirting with discovery—none of this is prudent—but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t like California anyway. It’s getting dark, and the three of them are alone.
“From the tour,” Adam says at last. “I remember. What’s your name?”
“Will,” he says.
“Nice to met you, Will.” Adam turns back to the book in his hand, a paperback with a cracked spine. It’s too dark for Will to make out the title.
He waits for Adam to look up. When it becomes clear that he’s not going to, Will tries again.“We were about to get something to eat. Would you like to join us?”
He does look up then, startled. “Oh. No thank you. I’ve already eaten.”
“Another time then?” Will is aware he’s treading a fine line and likely to come off as a creep if he doesn’t stop pushing. This is usually around the time when people’s brains start firing off warning signals like flashing red flares, danger, danger. He pushes anyway, just a little further.
Adam chews his lip, thinking. His brow furrows. “I’m not very good company, and I don’t like many foods. Plus you’re strangers. I don’t even know his name.” He points at Hannibal who smiles and dips his head in acknowledgment. It’s a gallant gesture that would be charming if Will didn’t hate him so much. “I think that would be a bad idea,” Adam finishes.
“I don’t like many foods either, and his name is Matis. What do you eat?”
“Mac and cheese,” Adam says with a smile.
“I like mac and cheese too,” Will lies. “Would you like to come over for dinner tomorrow? My friend is an excellent cook.”
Adam hesitates. “I have to eat at six o’clock.”
It’s not a no.
“At six o’clock then,” Will agrees, pouring on the charm, a stoat hypnotizing a rabbit.
“Give me your phone, I’ll put in the address.”
Adam does, and Will finishes just as the bus is pulling up. He steps back, out of the light of the opening doors. Adam didn’t recognize them, but someone might. He didn’t want to have to run just yet. Not when things had finally gotten interesting.
The bus pulls away, and he and Hannibal are left alone in the gathering dark. Will can feel Hannibal’s disapproval like burrs against his skin. He thinks of an old fairytale—six swans and a shirt made of nettles. He cocks his head, listening for something in the distance, a cry or a laugh. It’s habit even when there’s nothing there.
Hannibal says nothing. He never does.
“What?” he asks as they walk back toward their car.
“Was that wise?” Hannibal asks. “You enjoy your games, and for the most part I am glad, but that was foolish.”
“He doesn’t know who we are,” Will says. “I didn’t give him your name.”
“And what do you plan to do with him? Serve him dinner and let him go?” He can hear the note of reproach in Hannibal’s voice, but he can’t tell if it’s disapproval or jealousy. He’ll poke at the wound until he can decide which.
“I thought we’d play it by ear,” Will says.
He opens the passenger side door and slides in, tapping his fingers against the dash until Hannibal starts the car and turns on the radio. Everything is too silent these days without the rushing tide of voices. It makes him nervous, the silence and the dark.
“He’s on the spectrum,” Hannibal observes as he pulls out of the parking lot.
A pretty soprano sings an aria in the background.
“You don’t eat mac and cheese.”
Will shrugs. “I didn’t take medication either, but you changed that, didn’t you? I don’t see why we couldn’t expand his horizons as well.”
Will reaches forward and turns the radio up. Hannibal purses his lips but doesn’t argue.
* * *
Hannibal does make mac and cheese. Because it’s Hannibal, it’s an elaborate affair, shell pasta with gruyere cream sauce and crumbs of garlic bread scattered over the top.
Will raises an eyebrow as Hannibal wipes the bread crumbs from his hand. “You know he’s likely to have textural issues. He probably won’t like that.”
A small smile plays at the corners of Hannibal’s lips. “You were the one who talked about expanding horizons, mano meile. I’m merely carrying out your vision. Are you certain you want to do this?”
Will shrugs. “It’s just dinner. He already knows my name, already knows where we live. Canceling now won’t save us any trouble. Might as well have some fun before we flee the country.”
Hannibal’s breath catches in his throat. It wasn’t an accident; Will knows what he said.
Will sets the table while he waits to see what Hannibal will do next. Hannibal takes a moment to compose himself, folding the dishtowel and carefully smoothing it out before he speaks. “You know I would show you the world, Will. All you need to do is say the word.”
“I know,” Will says, cutting him off but not unkindly. He feels uncharacteristically gentle tonight. It’s possible their evening plans have put him in a good mood. “But let’s just get through dinner first.”
Hannibal stares at his mouth. Will can see the effort it takes Hannibal not to grab him, not to have him over the table right this instant. It’s the same effort Will makes not to run, not to shrink away from him. Will would let him. Let him tear his pants down and force his way inside, let Hannibal choke him with his fingers to muffle the screams. Maybe Adam would come to the door and find it unlocked, get the show of a lifetime. He wonders if Hannibal would be more or less inclined to let the kid live after that.
Hannibal’s mind follows many tracks at once, and at least one of those tracks wants Adam dead simply because Will has taken a shine to him. That’s how they work. On some level he always wants what Hannibal wants, even when he doesn’t.
“We’ll talk about it later,” Hannibal says. He crowds Will up against the dining room table, close enough that Will can feel the heat radiating off him. He takes one of Will’s wrists in either hand, digging his thumbs hard into the pulse points there, a cruel reminder that’s as likely to bring on flashbacks as it isn’t.
It makes Will gasp, and he’s instantly hard in his pants.
Satisfied, Hannibal lets Will go and presses a chaste kiss against his lips. Will makes a displeased noise and turns his head to the side, denying them both, when what he really wants is to force Hannibal closer. To make him press in and then bite the love off his face, to shudder beneath him.
But they don’t do that anymore. Hannibal takes what he wants or he doesn’t, and tonight is for something else. Tonight he’s waiting to see Will’s design, so Will puts on an ice water smile and walks away. It’s ten to six. He fixes the black hellebores on the table, turning them to catch the light. He plucks a wilted blossom from the bunch, making little adjustments until the whole arrangement sings.
He’s adept at this, and Hannibal hates it. He hates knowing that Will can be refined, can create theater just as well as Hannibal himself and simply chooses not to. Will finds it irrelevant at best, obscene at worst. That he chooses to do it now, for someone else, grates on Hannibal. Will can see the storm brewing behind his eyes.
The doorbell rings.
“I’ll get it,” Will says with a smile.
* * *
Adam is standing at the door fidgeting, shifting from foot to foot. He won’t meet Will’s gaze, and for a moment it feels exactly like looking into a mirror.
“Hi, Adam,” Will says.
“Hello, Will.” Adam sticks his hand out to shake, then thrusts a bottle of wine into Will’s hand. “Beth said I should bring wine.”
“That’s very nice of you. Matis will be pleased.” He rests the bottle on the entryway table for a moment and holds out his hand. “May I take your coat, Adam?”
He’s standing just a little too close. He can practically feel the fidgety energy bubbling off Adam.
He helps Adam out of his coat, brushing the back of his neck in the process. It’s a small gesture, an innocent one. One that makes Adam’s breath stutter nevertheless, and Will smiles, hidden behind where Adam can’t see it. He doesn’t linger—the small reaction is victory enough.
Will is a patient fisherman.
When he’s hung the coat on the rack by the door (lumpy and green and too long for his frame—Will frowns to himself. He’s starting to sound like Hannibal.) Adam is standing in their hallway dressed in a clean and pressed button down, neat as a pin.
Hannibal smiles wide and wolfish when Will leads them into the dining room. “Will and I are so glad you could join us, Adam.” He takes the wine from Will’s hands, taking a moment to examine it and appreciate the label. “This will pair well with dinner. You have good taste.”
“Oh, I don’t drink. It doesn’t agree with me. Beth said I should bring wine. ‘Pinot noir goes with everything,’” he parrots.
Hannibal inclines his head graciously. The wine glass at the third place setting will be gone before dinner begins. Hannibal might allow Will to have his fun, but he would never be outright rude. “Well then, you’ll have to thank Beth for me.”
“Who’s Beth, Adam?” Will asks, turning his full attention back to the man beside him. He likes the way it makes Adam squirm so prettily.
Adam smiles. “Beth is my friend. She wrote a book about raccoons, although the racoons in her book talk and I told her they shouldn’t. We talk on the phone sometimes. She helps me understand social interactions and gives me advice to help me act normal.”
Will feels an immediate rush of distaste for this woman he’s never met and just barely keeps his lips from curling. “Weird can be a good thing. Matis would be the first to tell you that. Isn’t that right, Matis?”
Will addresses Hannibal as he walks back into the room carrying three perfectly arranged plates. They’re sitting now, Will and Adam facing each other as Adam looks everywhere but at him.
Hannibal picks up the conversation without missing a beat. He hums an affirmation. “Blending in has its advantages, but most people find it more satisfying to be their authentic selves. Wearing a facade can grow tiring, I find. Will, are you harassing our guest?” Despite the words, his tone is playful. He’s teasing.
“Never,” Will says. He takes a sip of his wine and tamps down the tendrils of panic that snake up his throat at the taste. “We’re just getting to know each other.”
He forces himself to swallow before setting the glass down again, adopting an approximation of the person he used to be, one who could drink wine and smile. Hannibal must find the irony terribly funny. He knows Will doesn’t drink anymore, but he’s taking the opportunity to enjoy Will’s own facade.
Hannibal explains the dish with his usual amount of flair, and if Will closes his eyes, he can imagine they’re back at Hannibal’s old house in Baltimore. Back when his friend was just a friend, trustworthy and kind. Their affection for one another has grown, twisting in on itself in the process, like antlers that pierce their bearer’s skull to the bone. Sometimes he misses being in possession of a small love that caused no pain. It doesn’t bear dwelling on.
“Beth says I shouldn’t complain about other people’s food.”
Will raises an eyebrow at Hannibal, who returns his look with the suggestion of a shrug.
“Do you always do what Beth tells you?” He leans in conspiratorially. “Matis tells me what to do all the time, but I don’t always listen. Sometimes it’s fun to do what you want instead of what you should, isn’t it?”
“Are you telling me I should complain about the food?”
Will shrugs. “If you want.”
Adam seems to consider this. After a moment, he announces, “I don’t like the crunchy things on top. They cut the roof of my mouth, and it makes the mac and cheese taste different.”
“I don’t like them either,” Will confides, leaning closer before Hannibal can launch into a spooky tirade about ortolan bones scoring the mouths of diners and hiding your shame from God. It seems like the kind of segue he’d enjoy, and Will intends to deny him it. This table is much smaller than the one Hannibal kept in his old life. It’s meant to seat the two of them, not hordes of Hannibal’s admirers. It’s designed for intimate dinners.
They’re all sitting close enough to touch, close enough that Will can brush his hand over Adam’s wrist if reaches forward, and he does.
A dark look flickers over Hannibal’s face, there and gone between one breath and the next. Will only catches it because he’s staring, fixing Hannibal in place with his eyes. He knows what it does to Hannibal, when he looks at him like this.
“I’m afraid this is what we have,” Hannibal says. He sounds perfectly composed, but Will can see the loose threads at the far corners of him, where he could pull to make him unravel. He blinks and the table is painted with sticky sweet blood. Blinks again and it’s nothing more than a table covered in creeping hellebores. “But I promise I won’t be offended if you’d like to eat around it.”
“That’s okay,” Adam says.
Adam does just that, carefully eating around the garlic bread crumbs that Will knows Hannibal made himself. Will picks at his own food too, more for the illusion of eating than anything else. If he goes too long without eating, Hannibal will force him, but that’s a consequence for another day. For now he watches Adam eat, and Hannibal watches him.
“Do you know why we asked you to dinner?” Hannibal asks.
Will shoots him a sharp look, which he ignores.
Adam talks with his mouth full. “Because you want to have sex with me?”
“Because my husband finds you interesting.”
Will’s eyes narrow at the word husband.
“Heavy-handed, Matis,” he murmurs into his wine. He’s given up on the food and turned to the bottle instead. It’s getting easier to drink it down the more he has, the blessed wonders of alcohol.
“Well it’s true, darling,” Hannibal says. There’s a dark undercurrent running through the words despite his airy tone. A threat and a promise, pitched to carry on a frequency only they share. You’re mine, darling. No matter how many pets you bring home.
Adam’s head swivels between them, the second, silent conversation they’re having with one another completely lost on him. “So you don’t want to have sex with me.”
Will covers one of Adam’s hands with his own. “I didn’t say that.”
* * *
There’s no seduction to it. With anyone else, he’d ply them with wine, whiskey after dinner—he’d put on Hannibal. Slip into someone else’s mind, inhabit the easy charm and genuine interest that Hannibal turns to his design. It’s not like that here, now. Adam is amenable to sex with the both of them. There’s no need to cajole.
(‘You’re married?’ he’d asked.
‘Yes,’ said Hannibal.
‘No,’ said Will.
‘It’s not unusual for married couples to have agreements about sex with third parties,’ said Adam.)
The dishes stay on the table when they make their way to the bedroom. Will and Adam undress each other in a gentle glide of hands, with touches soft and exploratory. It’s been years since Will touched anyone besides Hannibal, and Adam is as different as can be. His frame is wiry and thin. His chest is smooth and pale, and it flushes a pretty pink when Will bends to press a nipping kiss to it.
“Oh,” Adam says when Will laves his tongue over a nipple.
Adam’s hair is soft beneath his fingers. He slides a hand up to grip it, to angle Adam’s face for a kiss. Adam is eager and responsive, dragging his tongue against Will’s and opening his mouth, encouraging Will to slide deeper. The kiss turns sucking and wet and dirty, and Will is already achingly hard. He pulls Adam’s hips flush against his, and they both groan at the contact.
“Bed,” Will says, and Adam is already clambering onto it, scooting back and making room between his legs. He’s so soft and trusting and open. It twists something in Will’s chest, stirs something dark and full of malice. Will spares a glance for Hannibal, watching them with heavy-lidded eyes from the corner of the room. He raises an eyebrow, an invitation or a challenge, and Hannibal gives a slight shake of his head.
“Suit yourself,” Will murmurs, pressing the words into skin that tastes like cheap soap and smells like milk.
He thrills in the feel of Adam’s hands on his skin, the uncertainty of it in the way of new lovers who don’t yet know each other’s bodies. He moans when Adam’s hand closes around his cock, soft hands and too tight, an unfamiliar rhythm. He chases the feeling, wanting all of it.
Adam gasps when Will fixes his mouth to his throat and sucks, shoves him away when he starts to use his teeth. “Ah, not so hard please.”
Will looks at him, mouth wet and eyes glittering. He wants to devour him.
“What do you want, baby?” He asks, dragging a thumb over Adam’s pout. “Anything you want.”
“Will you suck me?” Adam asks, and it’s almost shy.
Will’s cock jerks at the words because yes, that. He wants that. Wants to take this pretty thing apart and watch it shatter, thinks of teacups and time. “Fuck yes.”
He trails his hands down Adam’s arms and back up again, fingertips tracing the veins under milk-white skin. Will thinks suddenly of veal, of innocence and potential. Teacups, always fucking teacups. He thinks of the cuffs Hannibal used to tie him down, custom-made and beautiful, velvet-lined and hated. They’re tucked away beneath the bed frame, coiled like waiting vipers, a constant threat and reminder.
“Will you let me tie you up first?” Will asks. He nips at the sensitive spot he found behind Adam’s ear and revels at the shaky inhale it draws out.
He sees the no on Adam’s face, sees it lurking behind his eyes and on the tip of his tongue, so Will kisses it away. He kisses Adam senseless, until he’s dazed and gasping. Until he changes the no into something else.
“Okay,” Adam says, breathless. “But just for a little while?”
Will smiles, and it’s the devil’s smile. “Of course. Anything you want.”
It’s fine until it isn’t. Will fastens the hated cuffs around Adam’s wrists and ankles, leaves him spread-eagle on the bed. Adam blushes from head to toe, and it’s so charming Will can’t help but kiss him. He starts at ticklish feet and works his way up, taking his time lingering here and there, pressing a kiss into sensitive ribs, the curve of a hip.
“Stop teasing me,” Adam huffs. He’s hard and leaking, and Will can feel his discomfort.
He should let Adam go, should give him a blowjob and apologize and let them both have a good time with whatever’s left of the night. This doesn’t have to end badly.
It’s going to, though.
“I don’t want to,” Will says, licking another ticklish stripe up Adam’s ribs.
“Stop,” Adam gasps, rattling the cords that hold him when he pulls his arms, trying to push Will away. His hands open and close, flexing instinctively. “Stop, this isn’t fun anymore. Let me go.”
Will lets the words sink in, lets himself feel them, the mounting urgency of them. He pushes himself up to sitting and meets Adam’s eyes for a second before the kid looks away. “You shouldn’t go home with strangers, Adam. Some of them aren’t nice people.”
“Will.” It’s the first time Hannibal’s spoken, and Will turns toward the sound of his voice.
“Hannibal,” defiant, challenging. He uses his real name because what the fuck does it matter now.
“Think carefully about what you’re about to do. There’s a line you’re about to cross, and you might not like what you find on the other side of it.”
Will’s face twists into a cruel smirk. “I might not like it, or you won’t? Or are forcible restraints only fine when you use them?”
Hannibal purses his lips. “I never touched you sexually. Not then. Not like that. I wouldn’t take advantage of you that way.”
“You should have!” Will snarls. “That at least would have been comprehensible. Instead you saddle me with that farce of care.” He spits the hated word.
Hannibal’s face closes off, mouth set in a hard, flat line. “I assure you, that was no farce. And no matter what you think of me, I know you know that too.” He cocks his head, a gesture belonging to a bird of prey, not a man. “Or haven’t you tired of trying to hurt me yet?”
“Hurt you. Hurt you?” Will raises his voice for the first time in recent memory, until he’s shouting. He’s positively livid. “You tied me up for two fucking months, Hannibal. You changed my goddamn bedpan and doped me up and fed me soup. You sang me songs.” His mouth twists on the word. “Fucking songs I’ll never get out of my goddamn head. I wake up at night singing in Lithuanian. You ruined me.”
“I saved you.” Hannibal’s voice is soft.
Will turns away. He can’t bear to look at Hannibal right now, not at the grotesque compassion on his face. He surveys the smooth, creamy skin of the man tied to the bed instead, chest and cheeks flushed red with screaming. “No one asked you to.” Will runs his fingers down the salt tracks on Adam’s cheeks, smiling softly when he flinches away. He speaks without looking, drinking in the quivering fear laid out like a feast before him. “Stay or go, Hannibal, but leave me alone.”
“I think I’ll stay, if it’s all the same to you,” Hannibal says. There’s the scraping of chair legs, a rustle of fabric as Hannibal settles himself into a chair at the far side of the room. It’s the last bit of attention Will spares for him before turning his focus back to the man before him.
Adam’s quiet whimpers keep time as they argue.
“What are we doing to do with you?” Will asks, talking directly to Adam now.
Adam hiccups, stuttering and choking on his words. “Let me go. Please, please let me go. Let me go, let me go.” He’s pulling at his wrists in the cuffs, but Will’s left him little room. (‘I don’t want you to wrench your shoulder and hurt yourself,’ he’d explained.)
He’d twisted himself around in those cuffs himself once upon a time, when Hannibal was gone. He’d laid there gasping for hours with a dislocated shoulder, nearly blacking out from the pain before Hannibal came back to tut over him and right him again. The feeling of Hannibal’s firm fingers massaging life back into his numb arm had been almost worse than the injury itself.
“I’m not going to let you up. Can you try to relax for me? Deep breaths. Here, breathe with me.” Will pitches his voice low and soothing, speaking slowly. Adam shakes his head, thrashing from side to side. “Hey, no. None of that.” Will holds him, pressing his shoulders into the mattress hard enough to restrain but not hard enough to hurt. “Breathe, Adam. Come on, one big breath.”
Will draws in an exaggerated breath, in, in, in, until he can’t anymore, then he blows it out on a long exhale. He does it again and again, and eventually Adam begins to match him. His breaths even out and become more fluid and normal.
“Good,” Will says. He flashes Adam a smile, that same smile that scares people. “That’s great, Adam.” He puts a hand on Adam’s chest, and the kid flinches. “Shh,” he hushes. “It’s going to be okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”
He slides his hand down, over the concave chest that reminds him so much of a bird’s. Adam’s eyes are runny and wet, brimming with tears. His lips are spit-shiny and red. Will teases the soft skin of Adam’s belly with his fingers, smiling when it makes him jerk and startles loose a bolt of laughter. Involuntary, he knows. Adam isn’t having a good time—he knows that too.
He slides his hand lower, folds it to cup the warm skin of Adam’s cock lying soft and small against his thigh. His legs are pulled wide—an adjustment of Will’s own to Hannibal’s design. He hadn’t been bound like this, so shamelessly open and exposed. It’s a lovely view. It’s terribly cruel.
“Don’t,” Adam whimpers again. “Please don’t. I don’t want you to touch me, please let me go.”
Will’s cock gives a shameful jerk at that. He fights the urge to look at Hannibal, to see what he thinks—does he judge Will for this? Does he approve? He keeps his eyes trained on Adam, on the lovely stricken expression on his face. He strokes Adam’s cock, coaxing it to hardness with long, steady drags of his fist. He feels the moment pleasure starts to take hold in Adam’s body, the way it doesn’t replace the sense of fear and violation but fits itself into the cracks, hijacking nerve endings and neurons to work its will. To work Will’s design, bright on flesh.
Adam’s face is turned away. He’s facing the wall even as Will plays sonatas across his skin. “Can you look at me, Adam? Can you do that for me?”
Adam shakes his head. He keeps his eyes screwed shut. Will takes pity on him, a thimble’s worth of pity. It doesn’t amount to much, he knows. In the grand scheme of things, in light of the way he’s violating Adam now and all the ways still to come, the small kindness is nothing at all. He offers it anyway because it pleases him. Altruism doesn’t live here anymore.
“That’s all right,” Will says, low, gentle. “I won’t make you.”
“Going easy on him?” Hannibal’s voice floats over from the corner, taps a crack into the chrysalis Will is building here, alone with Adam. There’s a mocking edge to the words, nattering at him like an unwelcome fly. He can feel them burrowing into his head, worming their way inside.
“Shut up, Hannibal,” he growls, regretting the way it makes Adam tense up beneath him.
He bends his head and sucks Adam into his mouth, relishing the sweet, startled cry it twists from his lungs. He uses his mouth and hands, wringing pleasure from the body before him, tuning his empathy to every muffled whimper, every moan that can’t be stifled by closed lips.
“It’s okay, Adam,” he coos, pulling off to nuzzle against the base of his cock, inhaling the scent of soap and sweat. “Does it feel good?”
Adam is thrashing again, weakly this time, rolling his head back and forth. “Stop,” he pants. “Stop, stop, nngh, st—ah!”
Will takes him into his mouth again, swallowing him down to the root, letting the tip of Adam’s cock nudge against the back of his throat. He sucks him deep and sloppy, making a show of himself, wanting to feel Hannibal’s jealousy burn. Hannibal hadn’t been wrong earlier—Will never got tired of finding ways to make his lover hurt. He expected he’d die still finding new ways to wring pain from Hannibal’s exquisite mind. But first, this.
He slips his index finger into his mouth, feels it stretching the circle of his lips wide, sliding slick beside the cock he’s blowing. He gets it sloppy and wet, lets the saliva dribble down his chin, down the Adam’s length and between his crack to pool on the bed. He dips his finger down, skirting his balls to rub gently against Adam’s hole. It flutters and tenses at the first brush of skin, and Adam whole body goes rigid.
“No!” he yells. “No, stop it! Stop, please stop.”
Adam’s yanking against his restraints, and Will doesn’t stop. Doesn’t see the need, not when he knows how feather-soft the insides of those cuffs are. Adam could pull and strain and fight for hours and manage nothing but sore muscles, end up with not a cut or chafe to his name.
“Our house is miles from the nearest neighbor, and no one will hear you if you scream.” He turns to bore a hole into Hannibal with his eyes, gaze heavy and accusing. “It was the defining feature that Hannibal looked for when he purchased the house.”
Hannibal keeps eye contact with Will, rising unhurried and crossing the room in a few long strides, taking Will’s acknowledgment as the permission it isn’t. Will fights not to close his eyes at the soft, fond laughter that sounds right beside his ear. The little hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, and there’s the fleeting sensation of a phantom touch, as surely as if Hannibal’s hand had clasped him there. Will thinks about banishing Hannibal back to his chair, thinks there’s an even chance he might actually do as he’s told, if Will made him go.
“You tried,” Hannibal points out. “You yelled for days. I didn’t think you would ever stop.”
“I didn’t stop,” Will grits out. “You gagged me.”
Hannibal brushes the back of his fingers under Will’s chin, along the long line of his throat. “I was afraid you’d damage your beautiful voice.”
He wants Hannibal’s hand to grip and tighten, to choke the life out of him. He bats it away.
“I’m going to push into you now, Adam. Try to relax. It’ll hurt worse if you don’t.”
Adam’s pain isn’t the goal. Oh, he’ll drink it down, caught between the counterpoint of Adam’s white-hot terror and Hannibal’s simmering interest, but it isn’t what he’s after. That’s not why he’s doing this. He doesn’t need for it to hurt.
Adam doesn’t listen, doesn’t relax. He probably can’t, poor kid, and Will pushes in anyway. The spit is wet but thinner than the silicone lube he and Hannibal use, and there’s the friction drag of skin on skin as Will breaches his hole.
Adam keens, voice gone tight and high. Will works him open quickly, taking just enough time not to tear him. It would be better if it doesn’t feel too good, better if he doesn’t force Adam’s own body to betray him, but he can’t help dragging his fingers along the nub of Adam’s prostate. He’s got three fingers shoved into him, pushing and rubbing and stretching relentlessly. Adam’s cock has flagged, but it’s dribbling clear fluid onto his belly. It glistens in the lamplight.
If he were a cruel man—if he were that kind of monster, he would run his fingers through it, press the bitter fluid into Adam’s mouth and shame him with it. He isn’t that kind of monster. He works the pleasure up Adam’s spine, sending little lightning flares of sensation through him, pulling soft sounds through him through the sobs. Will works him over until Adam’s moans turn loud, ringing through the room punctuating the sound of ragged breath and slapping skin on skin.
He isn’t that kind of monster—doesn’t share a pathology with the sex offenders whose files crossed his desk now and then when he worked for the Bureau, but it’s hard to remember that just now. He wants to be awful, awful in a way he’d surely regret, to shatter the teacup and whisper filth in Adam’s ear, and maybe Hannibal can tell. Maybe that’s why Hannibal interposes himself between Adam and Will, right at the side of the bed. Adam’s eyes fly open at the new touch against his skin, the depression of the mattress under Hannibal’s weight as he sits near Adam’s head.
Adam wails. His eyes skitter from Hannibal to Will, wide with fright and trying to find the biggest threat in a room full of them. Like looking for solace in a drawer full of knives.
Hannibal doesn’t look at Will; he looks at Adam. Will is reminded of another time, another place. A barn and a mare and the thick scent of blood. A loaded pistol and a flood of regret, Hannibal’s thumb on the hammer. It feels like that now.
Adam’s eyes settle on Hannibal (of course they do, the man is magnetic—the sole source of light in any room) and Will narrows his eyes. He twists his hand in Adam’s body and wrenches a hurt noise from him. Adam’s looking at Will now. Will wants to make sure he doesn’t look anywhere else.
Sometimes Will swears Hannibal can read his mind. That it was poison Hannibal gave him after all, night after night. It’s all poisoned, all of it. The love, the affection. The bleeding, bitter care that made him want to turn Will into something other than what he was. It’s in him now, and he’ll never get it out.
“No, don’t look at him,” Hannibal says, and he says it to Adam, voice clear and calm. “Look at me.”
Will doesn’t try to fight it, doesn’t wrest back control. He bends to Hannibal’s whim, lets the fabric of their designs melt and flow together. He pulls his fingers out with a sigh, admires the swollen, reddened skin of Adam’s pucker. It’s puffy and inflamed, and Adam cries out at the loss.
“Look at me,” Hannibal says to Adam as Will bends his face to lick. Adam jerks at the press of Will’s tongue into his ass. He’s open and stretched, and it’s so easy to press inside.
Will tells himself it’s a kindness to get Adam wet, to slick him up and ease the way for his cock. But it’s not particularly kind when he buries his face between trembling thighs. It’s not kind when he licks and sucks and lips at his rim until Adam shakes and begs.
“Do you want me to stop?” Will asks, pulling his mouth away and smiling when Adam pushes back involuntarily, seeking pressure and friction.
“No,” Adam whimpers, and Will watches to see the moment his face cracks.
“You’re hurting him, my love,” Hannibal says. It’s a statement of fact and not a judgment.
“So are you,” Will says. He gets up on his knees and thrusts his cock home in one smooth push.
Adam cries out at the intrusion, and Will doesn’t give him time to adjust, just sets a quick pace that has him panting and thrusting back against Will’s hips. He lifts his head to watch the place where their bodies are joined, where Will’s body disappears into his in a sordid imitation of love. This isn’t about pain, but it isn’t about pleasure either—not for either of them. And yet the tight heat of him feels good despite everything, and Will groans as he lets his body take over. He hasn’t done this in so long, can’t bring himself to touch Hannibal in this way anymore. Will lets his awareness slide away and loses himself in the motion, in taking, claiming, having.
“Stop,” Adam says. He chants it like a litany, like praying the rosary as he twists and moans beneath Will. Stop. Stop, stop, stop.
“Look at me,” Hannibal says again. “Follow my voice.”
Will slams into his body again. Again, again, again.
“Imagine a stream,” Hannibal says. He keeps his hands to himself. Will is touching enough for the both of them. Will closes his eyes, but in the dark behind his lids he sees another image superimposed—him in Adam’s place, soothing words, a quiet stream. Hannibal’s hands stroking through his hair. “A quiet, peaceful stream. The sun is shining, and you can feel it warm on your skin.”
Adam makes a low, distressed noise.
“You wade into the water. It’s warm around your ankles. You’re all alone, and there’s nothing to fear. The birds sing in the trees.”
Will grunts aloud, spreads Adam’s legs wider, pulls him apart.
“You’re totally safe.”
Will’s orgasm is rushing up for him, licking like hellfire along the base of his spine.
“You can feel free to relax and let the current carry you.”
He reaches down and takes hold of Adam’s cock, hard and weeping in his fist.
“Nothing will happen to you here.”
He pumps Adam’s dick urgently, once, twice, and then he’s spilling in Will’s hand, coming in hot spurts over his chest and belly. Adam’s eyes fly open, and he’s pinned. Trapped, caught between two hungry predators in the worst place on earth.
The wrecked sound he makes tips Will over the edge. He shoves himself as deep as he can get, coming inside Adam, marking him. Poisoning him too. They’ll all of them die together of this horrible festering care.
* * *
It takes a moment for the rushing in his ears to fade.
He doesn’t feel ashamed, but he does begin to feel sick. His mouth tastes like bile and blood. Will licks his lip where he’s bitten through it, chasing the clarity found in the sting. He’s still leaning over Adam, braced above him, dripping sweat on his face and neck while his cock softens in his body. He pulls out to the sound of a whimper. The skin around Adam’s rim is red and irritated, and he’s leaking fluid onto the bed. It feels so soft and hot when he dips two fingers inside just to hear that sound again, to play in the mess they’ve made together.
He reaches in to brush softly against Adam’s prostate. Adam’s lying limp in his bonds, but the cords around his legs tighten anew as he tries to bring his knees together. He seems so weak and frail.
“Please no,” he whispers. There are tears in his eyes, and his voice is ragged from howling. “No more, please.” His lips are chapped when Will brushes his mouth against them. “Please.”
It would be kind to make it stop. To let him go. Will isn’t feeling kind. He decides to wring another orgasm out of him—more fierce, unwanted joy.
Hannibal watches and talks, telling Adam of streams and sunshine, painting pictures of a peace far from here. Will can almost taste the brackish air on his tongue. He bends toward it, thinking see how much he loves you.
* * *
Eventually Will empties himself out. He’s sticky and sore, and he has an empathy hangover. He doesn’t feel clean, but he does feel hollow. Adam is gone. Oh, he’s there, physically present in the room—his body’s on the bed, slack in the cuffs whose velvet has gone black with sweat, but his mind is somewhere else.
“Congratulations, you taught him to dissociate,” Will says as he follows Hannibal out of the room. He closes the door behind them.
“I nudged,” Hannibal says. “Dissociation is a natural defense mechanism. That was guided meditation, nothing more.”
“Because I found it interesting.” He cocks his head. “Because I find I like Mr. Raki. I could ask the same of you. Did that little performance make you feel better?”
Will shoots him a look. “You know it didn’t.” A pause. “It was… informative.”
Hannibal hums. His face is inscrutable. “I have to say, I didn’t think sexual assault was your brand of cruelty.”
“Are you judging me?” Will asks, not quite succeeding in keeping the sharp edge out of his voice.
“Merely making an observation.”
Hannibal says it, and it sounds like a lie. Or maybe that’s the sound of his own dormant conscience, wounded and half-dead, stirring in slumber. He doesn’t want to explain himself. He shouldn’t have to. Not to Hannibal of all people, Hannibal who takes what he wants and always has.
Hannibal won’t push for an explanation, for a reason. He could take Will apart, flay him with psychoanalysis even now (again), but he doesn’t. If Will volunteered it, he would take Will’s justifications and drink them down, integrate them into his patchwork picture of Will, of who he is. He’d take them the way he takes anything Will gives him, greedily and with sticky fingers, but he won’t do anything so crass as demand.
Will hates that he wants to offer it up anyway, flay himself to the bone and peel back his ribs to expose his still-beating heart in all its ugliness and power. He swallows the impulse down and lets Hannibal look at him in the low light.
He rakes a hand through his hair, and it comes back stained with sweat. It’s cool here in the hallway, a contrast to the sweaty heat inside where Adam still waits. Will wonders if he trips along the same riverbank, if Will might see him there one day in the forever to come, trailing in the shallows. Do they share the same river now? As if he and Hannibal are a malignant tide, a black hole pulling innocents into their orbit, shades to populate the mind palace they now share.
Hannibal’s voice pulls him back from the place he goes when he turns inward. “And what happens now?”
“We let him go,” Will says with a sigh. There’s no uncertainty here. He’s known from the start he’d always let Adam go, in the end.
Hannibal strokes along his cheek, the bad side where touch feels like liquid ice along the ruined nerves of his scar. “You’ll haunt his dreams, my dear. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather kill him? It would be the kind thing to do.”
Will shakes his head, just once, and Hannibal only nods.
* * *
In the end it’s Hannibal who sets Adam free. He’s calm when Hannibal comes near, and he screams when Will does. Will watches from the other side of the room, as close as he dares come, because he wants to see.
Hannibal unlocks the cuffs from Adam’s ankles and then his wrists, bidding him not to fight. He speaks plainly with Adam, dropping the metaphor and veiled insinuations that make up the language he shares with Will: “I’ll hurt you if I have to, but I would rather not. I would rather give you something to eat and drink.”
Adam nods, tired. He looks shattered and worn, as hollowed out as Will feels. Hannibal helps him into the shower and then back into his clothes. He’s destroying evidence, but then it won’t be long before his house is crawling with cops either way. They won’t need to do a rape kit to find out who Adam’s assailant was. He’ll know who Will and Hannibal really are soon enough, if he doesn’t already.
Hannibal tells Adam stories about the constellations, and Adam doesn’t talk. Will watches from the outside thinking, See? See, he loves you still.
Adam trails behind Hannibal like a lost puppy, and Hannibal sits him at their table while he reheats the evening’s mac and cheese. He sets a glass of warm milk in front of Adam, and some dark part of Will still can’t help but wonder what’s in it. But the milk is only milk, and the mac and cheese is completely devoid of breadcrumbs.
“I’m not hungry,” Adam says, voice barely more than a whisper.
“You should eat,” Hannibal says. He says, “Please.”
Will watches like a voyeur, drinking in Hannibal’s delicate care.
Adam manages a bite. Two. When he pushes away from the table with the violence of scraping chair legs and runs to be sick in the sink, Hannibal is there to rub his back. Only Will sees the glint of a blade in his hand, quickly folded and put away in the blink of an eye.
Hannibal leads him back to the table and coaxes him to eat a little more. It goes better the second time.
* * *
Adam cries when they tie him up. He fights going back to bed like a wild thing, makes a sound like they’re killing him, and the yelling drives an ice pick into Will’s already aching skull. All of Hannibal’s careful work gentling him has been undone, and Will takes no pleasure in it. They leave Adam’s clothes on, lay him on clean sheets.
“Do you mind?” Hannibal asks Will with a pointed look toward the door, voice pitched loud above the racket.
You’re scaring him, remains unspoken.
Will nods and waits outside, hands in his pockets. He can hear bits and pieces of conversation floating through the walls. It’s just for a little while and you can go back to your stream whenever you like.
“I gave him a sedative,” Hannibal says when he emerges into the hall and shuts the door behind him. “We’ll call someone to release him once our plane lands. He’ll sleep through most of it. All of it, if he’s lucky.”
Will’s heart pounds at the thought of medication, sense-memories of bitter liquid and strong hands holding his nose and mouth— “Thank you,” he says. He doesn’t know what for.
“You’re welcome,” Hannibal says.
* * *
They pack light when they go. There are benefits to hitching your wagon to someone with as much money as Hannibal has. They take nothing more than will fit in two carry-on bags, catching a last minute flight with the understanding that they’ll buy whatever they need when they get where they’re going.
Will doesn’t know where that is, hadn’t probed beyond asking “Warm or cold?” as they packed.
“Warm,” Hannibal says with a quirk of his lips, and Will leaves all his jackets untouched in the closet. They left their car and caught a cab to the airport.
Now he leans back against the headrest and watches the clouds go by. It’s the middle of the night in business class. The quiet is punctuated by snuffling snores and shifting fabric, the occasional ping of the fasten seatbelt sign. The lights are low, and everyone sleeps around them. Will knows without looking that Hannibal isn’t.
He’d know if Hannibal died, he’s sure of it. Whether they were inches or miles apart, he’s sure he’d feel the instant when this spark of malice and intellect went out of the world. He feels it in his bones.
“Why?” Hannibal asks.
Why Adam, why now, why you or me, why run?
Will only knows the answers to some of those questions. He shifts, the better to look Hannibal in the eye. They glitter in the dark, a monster walking among sleeping men. Hannibal cards his fingers through Will’s hair and he lets his eyes flutter shut, leaning into the sensation.
“I wanted to see what you see, for a little while,” Will says.
Hannibal’s hand pauses for a second before continuing its hypnotic stroking pattern over Will’s scalp. “Did you like the view?”
“Yes and no.”
* * *
Hannibal buys a burner phone from the airport and makes the call as soon as they land, calling in a kidnapping to an anonymous tip line. He snaps the phone in half and tosses it in the trash on their way to hail a cab.
He’s unusually silent, and Will lets it alone, keeping company with his own thoughts until they arrive. The villa is lovely, bathed in sun with stucco walls.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Will asks once the taxi has pulled away, sputtering exhaust down the tiny narrow road.
“I’d have preferred if there was a personal contact I could have called to release Adam, a friend or a colleague.”
Hannibal doesn’t have to say more. Will had thought of it himself, pictured the scene in his mind—the noise and the lights, a dozen gruff strangers releasing Adam then poking and prodding at him, the rape kits and interviews, each more violative than the last. Something like guilt twists in the pit of his stomach. He’d have liked to spare him that.
Hannibal looks into the distance, maybe having similar thoughts, roaming hall in the mind palace they share before shaking it off with a slight smile (for Will. Always for him.)
“Why did you tell me it’d be more kind to kill him? You don’t really believe that. You don’t believe in mercy killing, in any of it. You believe in…” Will searches for the words. “If not the sanctity of life, then the absolute value of it.”
Hannibal rumbles in assent, pleased the way he always is when Will demonstrates an understanding of his inner workings. He catches Will’s hand and holds it, thumbing over the knuckles. “I wanted to see what you think.”
“What I would do.”
“I wanted to see how much you value life.”
“Adam’s, or my own? This is starting to become a clumsy metaphor, Doctor Lecter.” The title carries a hint of affection, memories of—if not better, then happier times. They both hear it, and it deepens Hannibal’s smile. Will hasn’t called him that in years.
“Clumsy or elegant are irrelevant in this case. You saw yourself in him. You wanted to watch your suffering play out from an alternate perspective. I simply wanted to know how your story ends.”
Will sits with that for a time. “Did you like my ending?”
The question hangs in the air. Birds chirp, and the sky is still chilled by morning. Somewhere the scent of cinnamon and fried dough wafts from a window.
Will grabs Hannibal’s hand and settles against his side, skin to skin, waiting for his answer.