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Thorns About Them

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Will's phone buzzed as he sat down with his coffee.

"Sorry," he said, "I need to--"

Beverly waved it away. "I think I'm gonna get one of those cakes anyway. You want anything?"

He shook his head. "I'm fine."

When she came back a minute later, he was frowning down at the screen. "You don't look fine now."

He put it away and tried to focus on her instead of the message he'd just read. "You ever been in therapy?" he asked, before he could think better of it.

She raised an eyebrow. "Sure. Who hasn't?"

"Me, until now. If that's even what this is." His coffee was too hot; he took a gulp anyway. "Doctor Lecter has some interesting methods."

"Ooh." Beverly pulled her chair in closer. "Tell me all. Except-- wait. You're doing therapy by text message?"

"No. Yes." Will sighed. "Kind of?" He hadn't planned on letting her know, but it was probably better than sharing some of the other things Hannibal had him doing. 'I get naked in his office while we talk about cases' or 'he told me to do something inappropriate in his house so I rolled about in his incredible silk sheets' would probably get him more than a raised eyebrow.

He couldn't deny the nudity had been effective though; the physical vulnerability, even without Hannibal looking at him, made the emotional vulnerability much less threatening. He found it a lot easier to talk with the arrangement they had, and had even found himself looking forward to the freedom after a few sessions.

Hannibal had promised he would forget he was naked in the end and lose his inhibitions enough to walk around the room, or even sit opposite Hannibal in his usual place. It hadn't happened yet, but Will was starting to see that it might. One day.

"It's either that or he's sexting you. The two of you can get kind of intense, it would explain a lot."

Will laughed, and some of the tension went out of him. Beverly had been a good choice to spend time with. "Believe me, it's not that."

"Well, okay." Beverly picked up her pink-iced monstrosity of a cupcake and looked at it as if she was trying to work out where to start. "Maybe I just prefer to think of him as taken. Saul wants to try being exclusive for a while, and every time I hear Lecter speak my brain goes on the fritz."

"You like his voice?"

"The accent's sexy, don't you think?"

Will hadn't given it much thought either way, and he didn't think Beverly had either. "You're digging."

She grinned, guilty as charged. "Okay, I'm lying. It's his hands that do it for me. Sexy, competent surgeon's hands."

Hannibal's hands on the victim in the ambulance, the only things keeping him alive until help arrived. Will unable to look away from this new layer, this facet he hadn't seen before.

He blinked. There was a knowing look on Beverly's face.

"And you invited me for coffee because he told you to, didn't you?"

Will wished he had any colleagues or acquaintances who were just a little bit less smart. He scrolled through his texts, careful to hide the most recent one, and put his phone down on the table.

08.32 Talk to a complete stranger for at least one minute.

10.34 Make eye contact with one of your students.

12.31 Invite someone for coffee.

"He thinks I need to loosen up a bit," he said, shrugging. It's not like Beverly couldn't work that out, or like everyone who'd ever met him hadn't thought the same thing. "I picked you, if it helps."

"It's cool." She wiped her fingers clean of sticky pink icing and tilted the phone towards her. Will twitched, but she didn't make any attempt to see more. "Did your student freak out?"

"Oh, yes." The guy had spent the rest of the lecture with his eyes fixed on the wall, and left really quickly at the end. Will wasn't sure he'd show up again. Talking to the other customer at the gas station for a minute had been much easier; turned out he was into fishing as well. It had felt a little like cheating on a test.

"And you just received another message." She clearly wasn't asking a question. "One you don't want me to see. That's not because of what I said about Saul, right?"

That wasn't really a question either. Beverly knew him well enough to know he'd have asked someone safe for coffee.

He liked Beverly more than almost anyone, but there was a reason it wasn't Alana sitting here with him.

"It's not," he said.

Beverly nodded, but she didn't look reassured. "You want my advice?"

Will wasn't sure he did, but he had brought up the subject of therapy. What could it hurt? "Go for it."

She passed his cell phone back to him. "See if he'd be up for sexting instead. It would probably be safer."


"You are going to get me fired," Will said when Hannibal opened his door.

"Come in, Will."

Will went to put the plant he was carrying down on Hannibal's desk. There was a tremor in his hand, but he didn't know if he was nervous or angry.

Maybe he was both.

"Here," Hannibal said, and put a mat down for it. "I'll pour the wine. If you're staying, that is."

"Why wouldn't I stay?"

"You seem a little agitated tonight."

Hannibal handed him a glass, and Will took a long drink. It helped, but not much.

"'Steal something larger than a breadbox'," he read from his phone. "Really, Hannibal?"

Hannibal ran his fingers over the petals of the miniature rose plant. "I'm not sure this qualifies as larger than a breadbox," he said. "But it's pretty."

"I have a very small breadbox," Will snarled, then rubbed his hand over his eyes. "I'm sorry, I've had this-- this headache on and off all day. And these things you've been asking me to do--"

"They were minor things, Will," Hannibal said calmly. "Yes, even asking you to steal. Think of all the terrible things that happen in the world every day. Is depriving a large chain store of one plant really so dreadful in the scheme of things?"

"You don't know it was a large store," Will said. He wasn't letting Hannibal get away with this without justifying himself. He had to make some sort of a stand here.

"I know you," Hannibal said simply, and Will couldn't hold on to his anger after that.

"You asked me to break the law," Will said, crumpling into his chair. "I could lose my job."

Hannibal took the chair opposite as usual. "Which of those is making you upset?"

Both, Will wanted to say, but Hannibal's questions usually had a point, and were worth giving proper consideration.

"I feel guilty," he said in the end, watching his fingers clench and unclench on his legs. "I'm upset because I got away with it."

"Good," Hannibal said, and Will looked up. "Guilt is very simple to deal with."

Will bit back the comment that it might be simple for Hannibal. "Yes?" he said, aware that he still sounded harsh, if not entirely hostile any more.

"Yes," Hannibal said, folding his hands together. "We just need to find you a suitable punishment."


"I can't believe you have me doing this." Will squinted at the computer screen and wrote down a couple more things in the notebook Hannibal had given him.

"Using Google is hardly a dangerously radical activity." Hannibal was looking through a pile of books; mostly to give Will his space, he assumed.

"Googling 'punishment' isn't something I've ever considered, strangely enough."

"Perhaps you should have," Hannibal said, and when Will looked over at him, he was smiling. "I just noticed you have quite a long list already."

Will tapped the notebook with his pen. "I'm being thorough," he said, wishing he didn't feel the need to explain himself. "You said include anything I thought I could deal with, even if it wasn't necessarily appropriate."

"It will be helpful to know what your limits are," Hannibal said. "If only to navigate guiding you past some of them."

Will's hand paused mid-word. Looking down at the page he thought maybe he should have held back a bit, if that was Hannibal's plan. Of course that was Hannibal's plan.

"It's best to be truthful, Will." Hannibal sounded amused, as if he knew what Will had been thinking. "You have to trust me."

Hannibal had kept his promises so far.

"I'm being as truthful as I can."

There were some things he could think of that he couldn't write down; there were some things he'd done that he wasn't going to write down.

"Trust me with the truth, and trust me to give you a safe environment to explore your boundaries," Hannibal said. "I know it's a lot to ask of you, but I will not betray the trust you put in me."

"Okay, I'm done." Will pushed the notebook across the desk. He felt almost sick at the thought of Hannibal reading it, but there was a dizzying sense of anticipation riding along with it that was almost pleasurable in its intensity.

He'd never have considered letting another person know some of the things he kept buried, but there was enough in that notebook for a man of Hannibal's insight to make all kinds of painfully correct assumptions about him if he cared to. Hell, even he had noticed words where his hand couldn't hide a tremor, or where the pen had hardly touched the notebook, as if he didn't want to write it. The ones where the writing was dark and forceful might be even more damning.

He knew Hannibal had made him write the list on paper for that very reason.

Hannibal put his hand on the notebook but didn't pick it up. "And you will accept anything I choose from this list as your punishment?"

Will's heart thudded painfully, and he didn't think he could speak. He didn't think Hannibal would pick any of the really inappropriate stuff on there, but he was effectively giving permission. He nodded quickly before he could change his mind.

"Since I don't know the contents of this notebook yet, or if I will need preparation time," Hannibal said, returning to his chair, "I will leave it to you decide if you wish to remain clothed, or undress as normal."

It was almost a relief to do something as simple as undress after his previous task. When his clothes were in their usual loosely folded pile he sank down to the floor and leaned against the rear of Hannibal's chair.

"Better?" Hannibal said. Will couldn't hide much from him.

"It's... yeah."

They were both silent for a moment while Hannibal, as far as Will could tell, perused the list he'd made in the notebook.

"How were you punished as a child?" Hannibal asked eventually.

Will guessed he should have expected that question. "I wasn't, not really."

"Your father ignored any transgressions?"

Will's laugh was short and sharp. "More like ignored me."

"He didn't know how to handle you."

That was probably true, Will thought. "He just shut down sometimes. He wasn't much of a talker."

"Silent punishment and withdrawal," Hannibal said. "There's nothing like that on your list."

"I hated it." Will studied his fingers. They were still trembling, it was ridiculous. "There were kids, sometimes, in school. Their dads would hit them, maybe use their belt. They complained, and I'm not saying it was okay, but--"

"A decisive punishment carried out, and then the penance is paid," Hannibal said. "In the circumstances, I can see the attraction."

Will knew what Hannibal was going to choose from his list. He closed his eyes.

"When you're ready, Will," Hannibal said softly, "I would like you to go and stand by my desk."

By the desk, where Hannibal would be able to see him.

He thought about asking if he could dress, or just doing so without asking; Hannibal had said earlier that he could keep his clothes on today. But really he'd known this, or something like it, was inevitable as soon as he'd handed over the list, as soon as he'd answered Hannibal's questions. Covering up wasn't going to help.

There was a certain amount of peace in knowing it was out of his hands now.

He stood and walked over to the desk. For the first time since he'd set foot in this room, he was aware of everything all at once; the space around him, the corners where anything or anyone could lurk in secret, hidden by the odd architecture of the place. The carpet, surprisingly soft under his feet, probably due to it being better quality than he was used to. No simple hard-wearing carpet for Doctor Lecter.

He felt the brief movement of air around him as Hannibal walked over to sit in his chair, but still wasn't prepared for the moment Hannibal looked up at him. He was acutely aware that the desk hid very little from view, and his hands twitched with the urge to cover himself, even though Hannibal paid his nudity no attention at all.

"Come here, Will." Hannibal's voice was firm, authoritative.

This time, with Will standing right next to him, Hannibal did look. The survey was dispassionate, more like a medical professional making an assessment than anything else. He could see Hannibal make mental notes about his state of health (not great), the care he took of himself (worse, but at least he was clean) and how he was reacting to the situation (yet to be fully determined, but there was some trepidation).

Will squirmed under the scrutiny even with Hannibal's clinical detachment.

"Over my knee, please."

It was a simple instruction, and exactly what Will had expected, but he couldn't somehow work out how to do it without being awkward. Did he lean on Hannibal to steady himself, rest a hand on his shoulder? Should he use the desk to make the dizzying lean down easier? How could it be such a long way down that he wasn't already resting over Hannibal's thighs?

How could he avoid his cock touching Hannibal... okay, that wasn't actually possible, so he just had to go with it and hope nothing was going to be irreparably crushed by the position.

He ended up crouched awkwardly across Hannibal's lap, legs bent, with no idea what to do with his hands and arms.

"Further down," Hannibal said, and tilted him until his toes left the ground.

Will's face dipped alarmingly close to the floor, but Hannibal steadied him with broad, solid hands until he stilled. Then he braced his legs and placed a firm hand across the small of his back. Against his expectations, Will found himself relatively stable. He could have gripped the chair legs, but the position Hannibal had put him in suggested that wasn't something he'd allow.

Hannibal was his only means of support, and something about that felt right to Will.

"I want to spank you with my hand, Will," Hannibal said, and Will felt a tremor go through his body from head to toe. "But I think that might be too much contact for you to start with."

Will heard the desk drawer open.

"We will start with a strap. It's a belt, that's all." Hannibal showed it to him; he had it wrapped partly around his hand, with a loop of leather standing free. "I will take it slowly."

Slowly apparently didn't mean softly: the first blow of the strap stung enough to make Will gasp and his whole body tense up. Hannibal paused just long enough for the shock to pass and for his muscles to relax before he cracked it down again, harder this time.

"It is a punishment, Will," Hannibal said. "Don't expect me to go easy on you."

Will kept his eyes on the legs of Hannibal's chair as the strap came down over and over. It was slow enough for him to feel every stripe fully before the next one came, the regular stings receding in waves. The rhythm was soothing despite the pain; that was a surprise.

He lost count of how many times the strap landed. He wasn't sure he could count if he wanted to; his head was a fog of endorphins and the only thing he was truly aware of was the heat focused in the collection of painful stripes across his ass. There was nothing he could do about that, this was his punishment and he deserved it. He just had to take it.

He let his body relax into Hannibal's strength, allowing his muscles to clench his body into a brief jerk of movement with each blow, but otherwise remaining perfectly still under Hannibal's strap. He breathed the pain out each time.

"Tell me why you're being punished, Will."

"I—" The strap cracked down once more. Jerk and breathe. "I stole the plant."

"I told you to steal. Why would I punish you for that?"

"Because I f-felt guilty," Will said, hating how unsteady his voice sounded.

Cr-rack. Jerk and breathe.

"Is there anything else you feel guilty for?"

Will choked out a laugh. "Everything." The killers, all their crimes. Hobbs. They gnawed at him in the day and they haunted him at night.

"You are not responsible for the crimes of those you profile, you know that."

Another crack of the strap. Jerk and breathe.

"And yet that doesn't seem to help."

Hannibal's hand stilled. The strap brushed across his back as Hannibal did something: rolled up his sleeves, Will realised after a moment.

That sent a rush of something unidentifiable through him, making him squirm. Hannibal's hands steadied him again.

"Is there anything else you think you deserve to be punished for?"

Will wanted to speak, but the words wouldn't come.

"If you tell me, I can punish you for it. When you've been punished, it can be forgiven."

Will felt his eyes prickle. If only it was that simple. Maybe it was that simple.

"I—" He swallowed. "I made a mess of your sheets."

"So you did."

"I'm sorry. I-- I didn't mean it to happen." Will couldn't stop now that he'd started. "You'd made a joke about masturbation, and I thought it would be funny to pull back the sheets and let you wonder what I'd been doing in your bed."

"Instead you found yourself with too much sensory input and too much information about what I had been doing there." As usual, Hannibal was too quick on the uptake.

"It was just all too much," Will said. He was glad Hannibal couldn't see his face; he had no doubt it was as red as his ass right now. "I don't know what's wrong with me, I usually have some control over myself."

"You try too hard to keep control of everything, Will." Hannibal's voice was understanding, which was so much more than Will deserved. "Inevitably control will fail somewhere, and make your life more difficult than it needs to be."

"The guilt makes my life difficult right now," Will said, and huffed out a long breath. "It doesn't matter if it's real or all in my head, I just-- I don't think I can deal with it myself."

Will heard the desk drawer open and close. Hannibal resettled his grip on Will's back and braced his knees slightly further apart.

"Then we will finish dealing with it now."

The smack of Hannibal's broad palm across his cheeks was a shock. The pain was very different from the strap, a bloom of heat covering a wide area, and Hannibal wasn't going slowly any more. The slaps came at short, regular intervals, no time for Will to recover or get his breath back after each one. All he could do was gasp and squeeze his eyes tightly shut.

"I'm going to spank you until I can see all the shades of those rose petals on your skin," Hannibal said, his tone conversational. "I think that will be a suitable punishment. Every time you see the plant you will be able to remember that you were punished, and that forgiveness followed."

Will had yet to see the forgiveness, but Hannibal was a warm, steady support underneath him and a strong guiding hand above him, so he had no reason to doubt it.

Slaps echoed loudly through the room and Will focused on the sounds. They seemed miles away, and even the pain was hazy through the fog in his head. He was floating, drifting through the air. The only parts of him that were grounded were those laid in Hannibal's lap and the overheated spots on his ass and thighs where Hannibal's hand landed hard, over and over.

He almost didn't realise when it stopped; he missed the sounds first. He tried to speak, but words seemed very far away.

"You're forgiven, Will," Hannibal said quietly.

Will felt a hand on the back of his head, stroking the damp hair at the nape of his neck, and right then, that was when he couldn't hold back the tears any longer.


"Thank you doesn't seem like enough," Will said, getting ready to leave. "That was probably above and beyond."

While he'd been getting himself cleaned up and dressed in Hannibal's bathroom, Will had wondered if he'd be able to look Hannibal in the eye. It turned out not to be a problem.

Catching a glimpse of the rose plant still sitting on the desk though, that brought a flush to his cheeks. Hannibal noticed, of course.

"Nonsense," Hannibal said. "I'm glad it seems to have had the desired effect."

"Yes. Yes, I-- thank you." Will shuffled his feet, not sure if he should say what was on his mind.

Hannibal picked up the notebook, the one with Will's list, and tapped on it thoughtfully. "I was going to suggest," he said, and stopped. "Maybe not."


"I thought perhaps it would make it easier to set a time aside for you to relieve yourself of any feelings of guilt each session. It would save me having to guess, or you having to ask--"

"That... that sounds like a good idea."

Hannibal looked pleased, and Will felt a warm rush of pleasure himself at the sight.

"In that case, might I suggest we set a slightly earlier start time, and you come for a light supper with me before our session? It would give you time to relax after your journey, and you can have some time to reflect on your week."

That seemed reasonable enough, and Hannibal didn't seem to mind the idea of more time in his company, so presumably he wouldn't be a burden. "I'd like that."

"We can deal with any punishment required, and then continue our session as usual afterwards."

"Oh, I would have to come straight from work," Will said. "I can leave food for the dogs, but--" He laughed. "I'd like to be able to have a shower first. Since, you know. Undressing and all that. I'm not very comfortable using the ones at work, they're a bit too communal for my liking."

"Quite understandable." Hannibal tapped his fingers on the desk, and appeared to come to a decision. "You'd be more than welcome to use my bathroom. You could even have a bath instead of a shower. Far more relaxing."

"I never have time for a bath," Will said. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had one.

"You should make time for relaxation and enjoyment, Will. Consider it part of your therapy."

"Well, I can certainly give it a try." Will fiddled with his car keys in his pocket and gestured to the door. "I should--"

"Of course." Hannibal stood up to open the door for him in his usual well-mannered way. "Oh, and Will?"

Will paused, already halfway through the door. "Yes?"

"There was one thing you deserved punishment for."

Will still had a hard time accepting it wasn't all well-deserved, but okay. "And that was?"

"Failure to follow instructions." Hannibal gave him a sly smile. "That rose plant is certainly not larger than your breadbox."