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Gifts

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A surprisingly warm and homely smell greeted Will at the door. He dropped his keys into the bowl and stowed his jacket in the cloakroom. It was his old one, for outdoor work on cold days. It was creased and stained but he hung it on a hanger anyway, next to Hannibal’s pristine wool overcoat. He followed his nose to the kitchen, where Hannibal bent with careful precision over a cake tin.

Will waited while the cake was skewered and inspected for uncooked batter.

“Baking?” he asked. “Surely nothing as ordinary as a cake.”

Hannibal slid the tin neatly back into the oven and set a timer. “This is a Christmas cake,” he said. “A variation on a Victorian recipe. Glazed and crowned with dried fruits and nuts, it will be a perfect centrepiece for the dinner party I am planning for the holidays.”

“It’s a little early to be thinking about Christmas. Only just got Thanksgiving over with.” Will winced a little, aware how like his dad he sounded.

“The cake needs to mature,” Hannibal said. “Fed at regular intervals with brandy.”

“Right,” Will said. “Well, good for it.”

At his tone, Hannibal untied his apron and put it aside, finally turning from the oven to look at him.

Guilt prickled hot over Will. Hannibal was looking forward to spending their first Christmas together, in a house they both equally belonged. It was a perfectly reasonable and ordinary thing to wish for. He was going to have to spoil it, but he didn’t have to make it worse.

He yanked his hand from the back of his neck, and made himself clench and unclench it a few times.

“I don’t mean to be-” Will sighed, shrugged his shoulders uselessly. “I've got some news you're not going to like.”

Hannibal came over to him, to stand close. He encircled Will’s wrists gently, finger and thumb held just over the pulse point. Will let out a deep breath.

“I met with Wade at the house this morning,” said Will. There was little point in dragging it out. “It's not going to be ready until sometime in the new year. End of January, probably.”

Something tightened in Hannibal's face, at the corners of his mouth and eyes. He lowered his gaze to Will’s throat, to the thin strip of leather knotted around it. He drew his thumb along its roughened edge, then up to Will’s jaw, his chin. “Are they sure?”

“Yeah,” Will said. “Sorry, I know you’re disappointed.”

Will leaned into him, pressing his cheek against Hannibal’s, sliding his palms over the crisp cotton across his back. He smelled warm and buttery, of citrus and rich brandy.

“They found a small subsidence problem.” Will said. “Before they can deliver the frame for the extension, that side of the house needs to be shored up. There’ll be complications with the drainage and utilities and things. It should just be habitable by the time winter really hits, but only just.” Over Hannibal’s shoulder, the bespoke kitchen and its exacting finishes was laid out in all its impeccable glory, mocking him. “And by habitable I mean watertight, not, well… Not ready to live in, not even for just the holidays.”

Behind them, the timer rang out shrilly. Hannibal went to shut it off then swept up his apron and tied it on again. The cake came out of the oven in a swirl of steam and mixed spice. It was a burnished mahogany, lusciously dense. Hannibal tested it again and, this time satisfied, picked up the brandy bottle waiting on the side.

“It can't be helped,” he said finally, as he drizzled the cake with brandy.

Will drew near and wrapped his arms round Hannibal, feeling pained on his behalf.

“There'll be next Christmas,” Will said. “By then we'll have lived there for months, moved in properly. Everything will be done. It will look and feel like our house.” It sounded blatantly placating, but there was nothing else he could say. “And we’ll still be together this year.”

Hannibal twisted round in Will’s arms to kiss him, softly nudging his mouth open. He tasted faintly of bitter molasses.

“You are right,” Hannibal agreed. “We will. Just the two of us.”

“We’ll just have to spend it here instead,” Will said. “It’s only a little longer.”

“I confess I am impatient,” said Hannibal. “To have you with me all the time. To share the same space, the same everything.”

This time Will’s smile came easily. “Me too.”

*

By the time Will got home it was late. The dog sitter had been and gone, leaving behind her a pack of tired-out dogs and a few lighted table lamps. Will crouched in the midst of lazily wagging tails and nudging wet noses, pleased to see them.

“Soon,” he promised, scratching Buster's ear. “Just a few more weeks. Then I won't be away as much.”

Greetings given, he headed for the kitchen and the dogs trotted back to their beds near the fire. He poured a nightcap and went to join them, flopping down into an armchair to watch their warm furry bodies settle into sleep. It was peaceful; exactly like it always had been, though easy now to picture Hannibal sitting across from him, his legs crossed elegantly at the ankle. Both of them would watch the crackling fire, their silence warm and soft as candlelight. But it didn’t seem to matter how often Hannibal stayed over or how much Will liked to have him there, still no permanent trace of him remained. The room, the whole house, told only of Will. Hannibal’s presence left with him, at the end of every visit.

Will had for years deliberately built a fortress around himself and it was disquieting that even Hannibal could not fully penetrate it. The walls had been breached, partially dismantled, yet on occasion their ruins made themselves felt, tripping Will up when he least expected it. Increasingly, he found his little house was a stronghold for a past self, one he was ready to leave behind. There the person he had been before Hannibal lingered, quietly disbelieving and anxious. Certain that one day he would need to retreat back to isolated safety; that inevitably, things would fall apart. That he would not be enough to prevent it.

He knew this was nothing but whisperings from places deep in his history - the same which spoke to him of abandonment and taught him not to expect too much. A familiar companion, and one he did not expect to conquer overnight. Finally living together, somewhere new, would be a happy relief. Will had looked forward to it for months and it had seen him through meeting many patronising realtors and viewings which were hopeless wastes of time. And after had come the endless waiting - for legalities, for architect’s plans, and now for building works.

Which was why, when he’d learned the house wouldn’t be ready for the holidays, Will had been surprised to immediately know that Hannibal’s dismay would be far greater than his own. After some reflection he’d decided that moving in, and all the negotiations that would entail, would be better done without the added pressure of the holiday season.

It wasn’t a time of year he relished. Usually he coped by bedding down and ignoring it until it was over. But how disappointed Hannibal would be in him meant he couldn’t say so.

*

Will's old therapy appointment on Wednesday evenings remained a fixture. He was expected for dinner at seven-thirty promptly, even though Hannibal often had a feast of another kind planned before the entrée was served.

Now he had a key there was no need to knock, but after he let himself in Will remained in the entranceway and waited for Hannibal. When he appeared he was silent and swift, just a brush of lips on the back of Will’s neck and a murmured greeting in his ear. Will turned to face him, raising his chin so Hannibal could buckle his collar into place. It still sparked something deep in him, a delicious feeling of love and belonging.

The thin strip of leather he wore around his neck had been his own idea - something he could wear always but would pass as commonplace. Just a plain loop, tied so it could be adjusted to sit high around his throat or loosened enough to lay hidden under his collar. Hannibal had placed it around his neck like a wedding band, damp-eyed and with hands slightly less sure than usual. Will had not taken it off since.

His other collar was reserved for times like this evening, when their intimacy was more structured and Will's submission was foremost. Tonight, he was directed straight into the dining room where a glass of wine already waited at the table. Smiling to himself, Will obeyed the silent instruction. Sit, enjoy, let me take care of you.

When he entered, Hannibal glowed fervent and fierce approval at him. “My favourite guest to have at my table,” he said, as he placed a plate in front of Will. “I hope you will still allow me the indulgence when the table is ours.”

“I indulge you in indulging me,” Will said. “Isn't that how this works?” He considered the plate of foie gras, garnished with berries and dark trailing feathers. “Though I suspect the dinner table will in some measure always be yours.”

Hannibal sat down and smiled genially. “One day I will get you to accept indulgence for its own sake. But for now I can be content with your generosity of spirit.”

“If you were to manage that, your influence would be diminished. I need you to hand out my pleasure as much as I need you to hand out my pain.” Will took a bite. Naturally, it was delicious.

“I would still choose and administer your indulgences, pleasurable or not,” Hannibal said. “But to admit to experiencing them purely for your own enjoyment would be something new.”

“You're not convinced by my asceticism?” Will asked.

“I think you are very good at getting what you want, without having to own your desires. More than anything you enjoy being taken care of. Initially it was intense sensation you sought from me - pain, followed by release - and you did not expect where it ended nor how much you wanted it. Someone to tend your wounds, and cherish them.”

“Neither did you,” Will countered. “Fuck, that shouldn't sound so romantic.”

Hannibal took his hand and kissed it. “I have come to terms with my desires, with my delightfully unexpected love.”

“And I haven't?”

“I think you struggle with the idea of happiness.”

“Whereas you never have,” Will replied.

“Never,” Hannibal agreed. “The opportunity for happiness should be taken whenever and wherever it presents. One doesn't know which will be the final chance.”

Will dropped his eyes to the table, to the slender stem of the wineglass in front of him, and thought back to the first time he'd eaten at Hannibal's table. It had been easy to accept the baroque display of his hospitality as just how Hannibal liked things. And he did like things that way, that was true. But there had been shifts along the way; the presentation had been tailored. Will had become his audience, the only one which truly mattered.

“I am happy, you do know that, right?” Will said. “With you. Because of you.”

Hannibal’s fingers squeezed his hand, then released it. “I do, yes. And on that note, I have something for you.”

An box, unadorned except for a black ribbon, was placed on the table in front of Will.

“A gift?” Will asked, noting Hannibal’s careful language. “Or something else?”

“Much as I like giving you things, I like taking away too,” Hannibal said. “There is a sadistic pleasure in denying things which are wanted.”

A smile tugged at Will’s lips. “So, with this box, are you indulging me or yourself?”

Hannibal slid the box closer to him. “Let's find out.”

Will pulled at the ribbon; it unravelled easily into one long strip of satin. Feeling like he was on stage, he took the lid off and looked inside. And then frowned and looked again. “You can't really be serious?”

“I have promised to teach you discipline and self-control many times,” Hannibal said. “And I have not yet succeeded. This is another avenue to explore.”

In the box lay a moulded piece plastic obviously designed to fit over a flaccid penis. From its top dangled a padlock.

Will stared at him. “Rather contrary to the concept of indulging me, don't you think?”

“Anything in excess can be indulgent, if done correctly. Even denial,” Hannibal said. “And perhaps we will find your focus might change - you might seek other things from me to replace what you've lost.”

“Lost?” Will looked back at the chastity device. The smooth plastic looked clinical and unforgiving. He couldn't imagine wearing it. “What am I losing, exactly?”

“Nothing yet,” Hannibal said. “All I ask is you take it home and think about it.”

Will narrowed his eyes. “I hate it when you seem reasonable.”

Hannibal looked smugly amused. “If I told you to put it on, it would be much simpler, wouldn't it? You’d complain but you’d do it. Because I wanted you to, and, in the end, because I wanted you to, you would want to also.”

“But you must still want to, even if you send me home with it. Or you wouldn’t have given it to me.”

“I don’t know what I would like from this experiment,” Hannibal admitted. “The cage in that box is intended for full-time wear. Is that really what I would like? Do I want to keep you locked away or do I just like the idea that I could?”

“You're curious what I’ll do. What I'll let you do.” He pulled the box closer and took it out. Underneath he found the fitting instructions and unfolded them. They looked complicated. “When you say an avenue to be explored, you really mean that.”

“Yes,” Hannibal agreed. “We may quickly discover it is not for us.”

“So what are you proposing? Right now?”

“Take it home, try it on, whatever you like. Then tell me what you discovered about yourself.”

Will sighed and knew that was exactly what he was going to do.

*

The box sat on his side table for a few days, unopened. Will glared at it every time it fell within his field of vision. He knew he was waiting for Hannibal to ask about it, to force the issue in some way. Infuriatingly, he didn't, which meant the choice of what to do about it was left entirely to Will. It was a very deliberate and obvious ploy, and it rankled Will even more than the box itself.

Theoretically, he could just return it to Hannibal with a shrug and explain it wasn't for him. He hadn't actually agreed to do anything other than think it over. But that would be disingenuous of him. Hannibal's wishes deserved proper consideration - it was part of the commitment they’d made each other. The very least he could do was try it on, at home, alone, before rejecting the idea.

His reluctance at least partly stemmed from an ill-advised late-night search on his laptop. He'd known it was a bad idea before he'd even started but thought other people's words might help explain the appeal. Instead, the screen had shouted things like master, slave, sir, boy and locked at him. There had been a couple of useful bits of information hidden away in between but overall he'd not particularly enjoyed the experience. It was difficult to relate his connection to Hannibal to such lurid clips and images, all entirely devoid of context and personality.

The other thing which bothered him was the suggestion of chastisement - to be restricted, forbidden, from getting an erection seemed infantilising and diminishing. Certainly there were plenty of websites which agreed with this point of view, if the number of smooth-skinned collared ‘boys’ coupled with overly-muscled thick-necked men in leather were anything to go by. It didn’t sit comfortably with the peculiar kind of balance they’d struck, and it lacked Hannibal’s finesse.

Briefly, Will amused himself by picturing him on his knees and clinging to Hannibal’s legs, begging ‘Master’ dramatically for release. Maybe he’d be wearing a loincloth, in true cheesecake fashion. He laughed, not even needing to imagine the expression of horror Hannibal would wear, and pulled out his phone.

If I ever call you Master, please assume I'm being sarcastic.

Hannibal’s reply came back quickly. I usually do. I assume you’ve been giving my gift some thought?

Haven’t tried it on yet. Done some horrifying research. But yes.

Maybe you can give me an update next weekend. Or do you need longer?

The weekend just past had slid by with no mention or discussion of it, not even any veiled allusions. It was looking like their mid-week dinner the next day would follow the same pattern. If Will wanted to cross his living room without frowning at inanimate objects any time soon he was going to have to face up to it. Hannibal’s patience was almost limitless, and he was showing every sign of exercising it to its fullest.

I don’t know yet. But I will let you know tonight.

As you wish, tesoro. Take as long as you need.

Will rolled his eyes and looked at the clock. He had about an hour free until the dogs’ evening routine would kick in, when there would be dinners to be made and walks to be taken.

Yeah, okay - thanks for your generosity, ‘Master’.

*

Upstairs, Will sat on his bed and looked at the instructions again. He'd cleared out the junk he'd forgotten he left there and moved his furniture in a couple of months ago. As part of their transition to the new house, the dogs needed to get used to him sleeping in another room. Once there they would have the run of the ground floor but would be barred from upstairs, where Hannibal's breakables could reside in safety.

The advice online had been that it could take weeks to find the best fit, but that was for long-term or even permanent wear. Will reminded himself firmly he was just trying it out - maybe only for a couple of minutes. The cage which would go over his penis was a tube of opaque plastic, solid apart from small holes for ventilation and urination. It attached to a ring which fastened behind the scrotum - when these parts locked together there was nowhere for his dick to go if he got hard. All of it was roughly the same pale pink tone as his skin.

In a final flourish of chastity, the padlock went on last.

He grabbed the lube and set to work. It helped the tube slide on and was supposed to prevent chafing. It took a little time to assemble and, when he was finished, it felt so strange it was difficult to tell if he'd got it on right. The whole thing added extra weight to his penis and squashed his balls forward - there was certainly no danger he'd forget he was wearing it. Experimentally, he tried touching the cage but could feel nothing. Everything, excepting his balls, was securely out of reach.

Next, he stripped off to stand in front of the full-length mirror by the wardrobe. It didn't look as monstrous as it felt but it was still odd. Shiny pale pink plastic instead of a soft limp dick. He couldn't help but wonder what Hannibal would see if he were here - would be see one of those smooth obedient boys? Is that what he wanted? He reached for his phone again.

What if I wanted to give you an update now? Will paced impatiently about the room as he waited for Hannibal’s reply. The cage bobbed stupidly about with each step.

Are you looking for my approval, Will?

I want to talk about some of this now, rather than wait.

There was a short pause before his phone began to vibrate with an incoming call.

“You have it on?” Hannibal said.

Will swallowed. “Yes.” He wasn't actually sure what he needed to say so urgently, just that he wanted to hear Hannibal's voice. Wanted some kind of guidance.

“Tell me how it feels.”

“Alien. Noticeable.” Will looked down at it, frowning. “It’s not uncomfortable, but I haven’t worn it for long. Do you want to see?”

“No, not yet. How do you feel about yourself, now you are wearing it?”

Automatically, his mind offered him a few suggestion - ridiculous, vulnerable. “I don’t think it looks particularly good,” he said, instead. “It’s not like other things you’ve had me do. Not very… aesthetic.”

“That is a matter of opinion,” Hannibal said. “That’s important to you, isn’t it? You like feeling desirable. You take more care of your appearance than you used to.”

It was impossible for Will to deny that, after all the things they’d done together. But that didn’t mean it was easy to admit to, especially outside of the erotically-charged moments Hannibal specialised in creating. “I suppose,” he said, sounding more grudging than he would have liked.

“It is what it represents,” Hannibal said. “Your sexuality would be a gift. You would be handing control of it to me, temporarily.”

“Fuck,” Will said. He slumped sideways against the wall, its painted surface chill under his shoulder. Trust Hannibal to suddenly decide to view Will’s penis as a gift just for him. “Okay. Um, how temporarily?”

“I would suggest we devote a weekend to the experiment,” Hannibal said. “But I will be guided by you in how that should happen - for instance, the length of time you are comfortable wearing it and how often.”

“And how am I supposed to know that?” Will asked.

“You will continue to wear it, beginning with frequent small doses. Maybe trying it out in public too. And you will continue to provide me with updates, until we decide to try it together. Or not, perhaps.”

“Right,” Will said. “And- I mean, there’s nothing else you want to instruct me in? Nothing you want to… forbid?”

“I only want you to become used to wearing it. That is all.” The smile in Hannibal’s voice was nearly insufferable. Will could picture him exactly, with the expression which crept out whenever he got something he hadn’t expected and was busy calculating how to use it to his benefit.

“That’s the aim, though, right?” Will went on, stubbornly.

There was a pause on the line, followed by a faint exhale. “If I wanted to forbid you anything, I would make it so you could choose to disobey. Or I would make it impossible for you to be successful, so your punishment would be guaranteed. I would not chain you, make you immobile. That is what will happen, more or less, if you give me your key.”

Will screwed his eyes shut and, for the first time since putting on the cage, felt the tiniest twitch in his dick. It tugged at his balls, not unpleasantly. “I understand, yes. You would forbid me only if the end result you wanted was to punish me.”

“I do not see this as a punishment, no,” Hannibal said. “Like your submission, it would be a profound gift.”

“One I must choose to give,” Will said. “Which is why you want me to explore it on my own.”

“Precisely. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yeah,” Will said, surprising himself. It made it easier to see it as a task - a challenge. Something simple he could do for Hannibal. “I think I can.”