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Pomegranate Seeds and Blood Stained Teeth

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Prologue

 

He didn’t remember the fall- not in its entirety. He remembered pieces, remnants of it, like the negatives to a film- shadows where the light should have been, white where it should have been black. A distorted image of the truth.

 

He remembered the feel of Will in his arms, soft and pliant in a way he had never been. When fever and distrust made him twitchy and uncertain; when wrath and vengeance made him bitter and sharp. He had never been soft until then, sinking wholly into the solid lines of Hannibal’s body as if he had nothing left to give, his hunger sated on the blood that stained his lips and the adrenaline that coursed through his veins. He was a new Will, though not really he supposed. He was new and yet at all once the most original Will. The true Will, sinking into repose like a wolf napping after a hunt.

 

He embraced Will, inhaling his scent. The smell of dog and sweat and cheap aftershave and salt from the winds of the Atlantic and the bitter, metallic clang of blood. In another time, another world, it would have been offensive, a foul combination of unpleasant odors. But in this time and this world, it was perfect, intoxicating and heady and he thought of how smell was the strongest sense, the one that dug its claws into your memory and refused to relinquish its hold and he was pleased to know that this scent would always call to mind this moment, this feeling unfurling in his chest-

 

He was falling before he even knew he was pushed, wind whipping harsher against his face than before as he made his descent, stomach flipping inelegantly and head swimming with sudden vertigo. One hand reached out in a pathetic, half-hearted attempt to find purchase only to clutch at the air.

 

So he clutched onto the only thing he could, the only solid and real and grounding thing he had as he plummeted down the bluff. He held Will tighter.

 

~x~

 

The bar was loud, as bars tended to be. Music thrummed loudly, a living thing. Its pulse undulated through the air, compressing and retracting, thudding through the floor. Laughter broke through, scattered among the crowd, the cheers and the whooping as a good evening turned into a raucous night. Debauched and inebriated, faces red and waxy as Michael strode through them, his own eyes sharp and alert.

 

A predator gazing at his prey.

 

Each predator was different, just as each prey was different.

 

Some hunted in packs, separating the weaker, the more vulnerable from prying eyes and helpful hands. Enjoying the thrill of isolating their prey almost as much as the carnage itself. Some focused on the superior prey, the wary ones. The ones who felt the ghost of a gaze trail down the delicate slope of their spine, drool pooling between sharpened fangs. The ones with talons of their own, venom sitting in their mouth as they waited for the moment to bite in defense.

 

They were fun, too. Fun in the way that driving recklessly was fun. A little bit of danger, a slight loss of control.

 

Michael was neither of these predators.

 

He could see the appeal, of course. Had engaged in such hunts in the early hours of his youth. But when the period between hunts became smaller, and his hobby shifted into a career, his values changed. He had to be pragmatic. Smart.

 

It was still fun if a little dull in the way that things often became when they were a responsibility.

 

He raised his drink to his lips, eyes not once lowering from the crowd. His hand gripped the neck of his bottle, sweaty with condensation and making his palm damp. Cold.

 

There was a little danger in this hunt. It was the offseason- the warmth and sun of the tropical season fading with the winter. Still mild by most standards, but not worth the time and money of the tourists that would flock in droves to the little island in a few months' time. Spring break was the more...lucrative time. The safest time too. Young, self-centered party-goers, too drunk and absorbed to notice the predator prowling his prey. Too crowded and busy to be remembered. Too hedonistic for the hunt to be immediately seen as suspicious.

 

The bar was busy- it was a weekend, after all. But the bartender would remember his face if prompted, might remember him pulling an unsteady body against him as he made his way to the exit.

 

His heart raced at the thought, pulse thudding in his veins and he swallowed thickly.

 

He continued his scan, resting his back against the bar, arms spread over the Formica counter. Sticky, the residue of old drinks clinging to his skin. He tried not to grimace.

 

His eyes finally settled on someone, head tilting almost imperceptibly. The prey was alone, tucked into an alcove. His arms were folded on the table, one hand wrapped around the near-empty glass before him, head tucked into the crook of his elbows. There were no other chairs- filled or otherwise- around his table. They were pulled away by bigger crowds, gathering groups that did not have enough and found plenty surrounding the stranger, drunk and alone in a bar.

 

He knew better than to approach his prey right away. A good predator observed, watched carefully for anything that might prevent the hunt. A late arrival companion that would join in for the rest of the night, a concerned partner arriving to drag them home.

 

Twenty-seven minutes passed before Michael had sighed with impatience. The man did not even pull himself up from the cradle of his arms- he might have already drunk himself into unconsciousness, only to be awoken by the barkeep anxious to close down in the morning. Abandoning his own half-full beer- he was on the job, after all- Michael left his perch and strode to the stranger.

 

“Hey, man,” Michael said when he was close enough that he didn’t have to yell, risk being overheard by prying ears. The man didn’t so much as twitch.

 

“Hey,” he said again, louder this time. He raised a hand, curling it over the shoulder and giving a soft nudge. Slowly, the man responded, pulling his head up as though rising from molasses, heavy and weighted and looking for all the world like he belonged more properly on a gurney than a barstool.

 

“Hmph,” he muttered incoherently, head moving slow, gaze moving slower. Hazy and listless, his eyes- green in the low, golden light of the bar, amber thread cutting through the irises- slid as he glanced around him. Michael inhaled sharply, pleasantly surprised with his prey.

 

He was pretty.

 

Michael smiled, his glee slipping through the veneer of professionalism he wore. “Hey, man. Need some help getting home?” he asked, bending at the waist. Eye contact bred trust, bred familiarity. It made it easier to soothe and lull his prey.

 

Made the snap of his jaw all the more satisfying when he saw the fear mirrored in that shared gaze.

 

The man blinked, the action sluggish, as though fighting away sleep, and his gaze slanted after only seconds of holding Michael’s own.

 

His smile fell.

 

“I could call the cops if you’d prefer. You can sleep it off in a cell,” he said, infusing warmth into his voice so as to not sound like a threat. Trust. He wanted- needed- the man to move willingly, see that Michael was the better option.

 

“No, no, s’fine,” the man slurred, rubbing a hand over his face. He made to stand, chair clattering as it pulled with his weight and he stumbled.

 

“Whoa, hey,” Michael said, reaching out with one hand to catch him and the other to steady the table that shook as it bore the uneven tilt of his body. “Come on, let’s get you somewhere safe,” he said, pleased when the man didn’t protest as he snaked an arm across his waist and tugged him close. He used the other to grab his hand, looping it over his neck so it looked more compliant. Less forced.

 

The man fell into the position like a marionette.

 

They began to weave through the crowd, and Michael chanced a wave at the bouncer as they approached the door. It was a risk, but just enough of one.

 

Men were easier prey. A paradox, created by the far greater chance of women falling into unscrupulous hands. Pulling a drunk, barely conscious girl from a bar would garner concerned glances at best, obstacles at worst. They were more prepared for this sort of crime, traveling in groups, establishing codes and rules to not separate- to not leave without a thorough vetting. Some women even stepped in on behalf of a stranger, pretending to be a long-estranged friend and offering an out- if needed.

 

Cruelty and unfair persecution made women shrewd and calculating, preparing for war and a party in equal measure. Men were lazy in this regard, like a creature made fat and sleepy as winter crept into their bones. They allowed a perception of safety to cloak them, unaware that their shroud of security was just as much a funeral shroud.

 

To any onlookers, Michael was just someone who finally found his friend after a night of perusing the local bars and club, pulling him away from his bad habits and whatever plight had forced him to sink into the bottom of a bottle.

 

Some even gave him soft and approving smiles as he departed.

 

He was such a good friend.

 

They walked two blocks before the man spoke. “My car-”

 

Michael huffed a laugh. “You’re in no position to drive. My hotel is nearby,” he said, surprised when the man offered no further protests. Even the most inebriated men often stumbled at that suggestion. Typically for the wrong reasons.

 

Masculinity was so delicate. More concerned with their wrongful interpretation of their sexuality than the obvious trap they were practically waltzed into.

 

They arrived at the hotel; motel, really, a run down and dingy joint with no cameras and outside entrances to the rooms which afforded him greater privacy. It was with relief that Michael shifted the man so he was held between him and the wall, his weight growing more and more burdensome with each step, and he pulled the key from his pocket. They were the old-fashioned sort, physical keys swinging from old keychains that once upon a time had the room number emblazoned but had since faded, the raised impression the only reminder of where it belonged. It was practically a relic, and Michael held the plastic keychain in his mouth to grab hold of the key before fitting it in the lock. The door clicked, swung open, and he grabbed the man none too gently and pulled him into the room and deposited him on the nearest full bed, the ruse almost entirely forgotten.

 

Not as if the man minded, grunting once or twice but otherwise silent to the rough handling.

 

Michael closed the door, huffing out a breath as he switched on a light and finally looked at his prey in the artificial halo of light created by low-energy bulbs.

 

He really was pretty- prettier than he found most men to be. They weren’t really his preferred sort, falling into a category somewhere between convenient and good enough. But this man was different- slim and narrow despite the firm contours of muscles that he could see beneath the few buttons of his shirt, popped open. The sharp bow of his clavicle, the firm lines of his toned pectorals, the rope-like tendons of his neck. Sharp and angular in the way most fit men were, though the slightness of his form, the long and unruly curls smoothed him, made him soft. Feminine, almost. A contradiction he could not explain yet understood all at once. Gorgeous and soulful eyes- half-lidded, glassy though they were- were set above his well-groomed stubble. The certain lines of his jaw, tapering to a strong chin, met his soft and round cheeks.

 

Yes, he was pretty for a man. Too delicate to properly be called handsome, but not so delicate he was androgynous.

 

Michael offered an appreciative nod, stepping back from the bed the man was haphazardly thrown on, one leg bent as his toes brushed the carpet.

 

He pulled the cellphone from his pocket. It was brand new and would be tossed in a trashcan fifty miles from here at the end of the night. In his other pocket, he pulled a folded piece of paper, soft and worn from sitting against his thigh all night, and dialed the number scrawled messily over it.

 

It rang seven times before the phone clicked, a tinny breath exploding against his ear before the man on the other line, known only to Michael as Paul, though he suspected it was a false name, spoke. “Got some goods?”

 

“Yeah. At the place now,” Michael answered, offering a glance at the man sprawled on the bed. He stirred at the voice but nuzzled against the pillow with a pleased hum. Michael's groin tightened at the sight, warmth spreading into his belly.

 

“What kind of goods?” Paul asked.

 

“It’s a guy,” Michael admitted after a seconds hesitation.

 

The other man sighed. “You know that’s not what most of my clients want.”

 

Michael bristled, a snarl dying on his lips. How easy it must be, to be the broker criticizing the predator’s catch as though he were a mere house cat dropping a half-dead bird at his feet. Instead, he said, “Tell them to come back in a few months. Spring break, you know.”

 

He knew Paul would be displeased by the answer, but he said nothing, a beat passing between them before adding, “Well, alright. How old? I’ve got someone who might be interested-”

 

Michael winced, glancing at the man once more. “Not sure...mid to late thirties maybe?”

 

A gush of air, mechanical and sharp, filled his ear as Paul let out a short, humorless laugh. “Jesus Christ, Mikey, really?”

 

“Look, when you see him you’ll get it, alright? He’s pretty-”

 

“Oh, well I’m glad you find him pretty-”

 

Michael clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Listen, I’m not an idiot, alright? I know what you want and trust me, you won’t be disappointed.”

 

Paul sighed in resignation. “Alright, alright. I’m sure we’ll find someone for him. Got a nice face though, right? That’ll look good on the website. I’ll be there in half an hour or so. You’ve got him until then?”

 

Michael scoffed, aborting the laugh that sat on his tongue. “Yeah, I got him. Might test him out for you a little bit, if that’s okay,” he said after a moment, letting his hungry gaze slide down the form of the man before fixing back on his eyes, closed in a veil of sleep. He would wake him up- those eyes would look stunning gazing up at him as Michael shoved his cock down his throat.

 

Paul groaned, his words coming out twisted with his barely contained frustration. “I swear, Mikey, you’re testing me today. Don’t do any damage or anything that will depreciate his value.” A pause, then, “And you’re paying for it. Don’t expect the full cut.”

 

He hung up before Michael could argue.

 

Michael scowled, pulling the phone away and glancing at it with twisted face before smoothing his features and tossing the device to a nearby table. He turned back to the man- his prey, his pretty prey- and smiled. His lips had parted in his sleep, as though in an invitation, and Michael licked his own, swallowing as he walked to the head of the bed, head tilted as he gazed at the face. Smooth in sleep, the creases that would frame his eyes and mouth ironed out in peace. And yet, a thin line ran-

 

Michael frowned, noticing for the first time the scars. Hardly noticeable- the thin sliver that ran across his forehead obscured by the curls that brushed his brow, and the one slanted on his cheek was hidden by the trimmed facial hair. He wondered if the styling was intentional- if the man allowed his hair to grow unkempt to cover the imperfections. Paul wouldn’t be happy when he saw them and Michael rolled his eyes in anticipation of the chewing out he would receive.

 

Well, he might as well have fun while he could get it.

 

The sound of his zipper sliding down sounded obscene, sending a shiver down his spine and only making his erection grow. His cock was warm and heavy in his hands, and he hummed at his own touch before shuffling onto the bed, the rough path of his knees tugging at the corners of the bedsheets until they pulled off. He straddled the man’s shoulders, one hand gripping the base of his member as the other wound into the mass of curls, holding the man’s head in place as he guided himself forward.

 

“Come on, pretty boy,” Michael teased, his voice thin and worn with arousal. His eyes fluttered shut at the sensation of chapped lips against the crown of his cock, and he pushed forward, sighing at the soft and warm and wet mouth.

 

When he opened his eyes, it was to stare into an unwavering gaze, now more blue than green in the white light. His hips stuttered on a thrust, and he blinked, startled by the clarity in the eyes that had only half an hour earlier been dim and glazed. He inhaled sharply, cock twitching as he flicked his sight down to the lips wrapped around him, swallowing him.

 

His lips twisted into a crooked grin, and the hand that gripped himself slid along the curve of the man’s jaw, thumb smoothing over his cheek in a perverse gesture of love and comfort. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to this soo-”

 

His words were cut short, strangled on a gasp and shout as the man bit down sharply. “Hnnh- Fuck! Get off!” he yelled, making to pull out only for the motion to halt abruptly when the man continued to clamp down, effectively trapping his cock between teeth. The fingers that were curled in his hair tightened, flexed and tugged sharply on the roots- but not too sharply; too frightened of what might happen if he pulled him off with his teeth still in place.

 

With a snarl, the hand that smoothed over the man’s cheek pulled into a fist and swung in an uneven, clumsy arc. Desperate and weak, but not unsuccessful, as the man let his jaw separate and Michael pulled back, tripping in his haste to move from the bed and the very much awake man.

 

“What the fuck!” Michael yelled, pulling himself to a shaky stand as he looked to his sore and abused member. He was no longer hard, though the tip was swollen, blood smeared along the shaft and mottling his pubic hair. He gasped, groaned in pain as jolts of agony shot like electricity into his groin, shockwaves radiating up into his stomach. But his self-perusal was short-lived, his gaze darting from his bleeding cock to the man that shifted on the bed. A predator made prey.

 

The man moved with a steadiness he did not possess earlier, sitting up on the bed almost gracefully- as gracefully as one could with their hair mussed and blood dripping from his lips. He met Michael’s gaze once more, and this time he smiled, teeth red with blood.

 

“Not good for you?” the man crooned, voice saccharine in the mockery of a lover. “It was good for me.”

 

Michael huffed, anger flaring in his chest, uncurling like a snake that rose from slumber. Lazy, he had become lazy in his role as predator. Like a bear who pulled food from the dumpsters and neighborhood trashcans and became fat and slothful on scraps. Allowed the prey to evade him in his laziness.

 

The man stood, and Michael was displeased to find he instinctively shuffled back at the motion, trembling hands fumbling with his zipper even as his cock ached at the constriction of his jeans. He felt too vulnerable, too exposed. Blood seeped into the fabric of his jeans, warms and uncomfortably wet.

 

“This was a trap, wasn’t it?” the man asked, though Michael knew he did not want- or need- an answer, his head tilting curiously so his curls shifted along the crown of his head. “Though the question is- who for?”

 

~x~

 

He didn’t remember the fall. Or the break of water beneath him. There were moments that punctuated his memory, quick and frantic and forgotten within seconds. Less a recollection of events and more a recollection of himself within that moment, suspended outside the universe.

 

The hard press of water, bearing down on him. The sear and burn of his lungs as he struggled to breathe- as he drowned. The cold that bit into his skin and pinched him numb. The tight grasp as he held onto Will even as the crash of waves threatened to pull them under and apart, clutching to him as though he were a life preserver.

 

He didn’t remember the fall, or the crash or the pull from the waters. There was a gap, moments stolen, where there was nothing but darkness and drowning and crushing breaths that spilled out into the night sky, dark and velvet. The moon, full and looming cast an ethereal glow on the world. A different world, as the veil of night was nothing like the world that existed in the harsh glow of the sun. This world was darker, more forgiving. Secrets hidden away in the darkened shadows and tucked within the center of twinkling stars. Dimly, he was aware of something sloshing through water, the slight and comforting rocking of his body as he gazed upward. An ache deep within, not from the pain of his wounds but from something more profound. As though he had forgotten something, gutted and eviscerated and his chest empty with a nothingness he could not place.

 

It really does look black under the moonlight,’ Will had said, and Hannibal wished to see him under the moonlight once more, blood made black as though he were being consumed by the shadows, swallowed into the night.

 

It was only then that he realized the source of his ache, registering the absence of something warm and soft and solid within his arms.

 

Will,’ he gasped, the sound more of a croak than a recognizable name.

 

The sloshing stopped, a soft and familiar voice coming to him, muffled and distant. ‘I left him on the rocks. I saw him push you over and got to the boat as quickly as I could. I didn’t leave him to drown, I thought he would enjoy it too much. Hypothermia will get him instead,” a woman muttered, and the sloshing resumed, the boat- he was laying on a boat- careening forward with her rowing.

 

Go back,” he pleaded, his eyes remaining fixed on the moon as though the celestial body itself would do his bidding. Command the waves to follow her undeniable pull, carrying Will to him over the crest of its waters.

 

A second passed, broken by a sigh. And then he was moving backward, the little boat dragging back through the path it came. Back towards Will.

 

~x~

Chapter Text

Fall

 

He didn’t remember the fall. Or rather the moments that came directly after it. He remembered standing on the eroding bluff, chest rising and falling with strangled breaths as adrenaline thumped and pounded in his veins. He was mutely aware of the pain he felt, the sharp sting of his shoulder, the tight and burning pull of his cheek with each minute change of expression.

 

The embrace was tentative at first, as though neither men could quite figure out where they fit against the other. And Hannibal seemed surprised when Will sunk into it, sliding one arm across his soft middle, soaked with blood that clung to his sweater. He let his head fall, slot against his chest, nose pressed against his throat where his smell was the strongest. The resonating notes of his cologne- bergamot, and cedar and something fresh and citrus- were overwhelmed by the smell of blood and sweat. He smelt tainted.

 

Fingers curled slowly around his waist, as though Hannibal feared that if he was too eager this illusion would vanish. This inviting and soft and loving Will.

 

This is all I ever wanted for you. For us,’ he had said, and it was with startling clarity that Will realized he stood on the precipice of something he could never turn back from. A sated wholeness in his belly as though he had feasted on the finest and most decadent of wines and food and not the blood and flesh and screams of man. A thrill, a delightful shiver that slid up and down his spine, a heat pooling in his chest, not unlike the blood. The heady feeling of power, more intoxicating and addicting than whiskey or wine. The pleased feeling of knowing that he had stopped another one, another monster. Dragged and pulled it out from under the bed and slaughtered it with his hands and teeth-

 

He made the decision as he always did; in the moment.

 

Can’t live with him, can’t live without him. What Bedelia failed to mention was how impossible it would be to live with himself, knowing who he truly was. What he was.

 

And a descent into the roaring ocean below the eroding foundation of a life he no longer wanted was preferable to the inevitable descent into Hell.

 

~x~

 

There were several points in the evening where Will almost changed his mind.

 

The first came from laziness, the ache of his neck and shoulders from his slouched position at the table in the loud bar. All he could think about was how much easier this would be if he were actually drunk, the liquor shutting off the part of his brain that concerned itself with creature comforts and dignity and keeping a tight seal on those thoughts and words that might otherwise leak out. He was getting impatient, bored with sitting prone and waiting. Like a damsel waiting to be in distress.

 

He tried not to snort at the mental image that created, him lying in wait in a tower for the dragon that would come to eat him, tapping impatiently on the face of his watch.

 

He was bad at this.

 

This wasn’t him.

 

He wasn’t a hunter.

 

He didn’t plan and wait and bide his time and play with his toy like a petulant child on Christmas morning.

 

He considered pulling himself up with a sigh and discretely leaving the bar. No one would know, no crime had yet been committed- by him or another. He lifted his head, settled his chin in his elbow and glanced around the bar, wondering if anyone would notice or care or realize that he was something other than a drunk. Michael was here already, they knew he would be. They studied and watched him long enough to see the pattern he himself had not seen.

 

He may not have visited the same bars on certain days, but he always visited them in the same order.

 

Carelessness, settling into the comfort that came from his crimes being largely unconnected, involving mostly tourists who would otherwise overwhelm the small police forces of the various regions he hunted in. The victims just as forgotten as the vacations that turned sour and the families and friends that would return home- a little more torn, a little more broken.

 

There was a time stamp on urgency and grief. And the police would eventually refocus their efforts on the locals whose families would stride to their desks and demand justice every hour. Letters and phone calls didn’t bear the same burden.

 

It was a low hanging crime, and Michael made himself vulnerable in his practiced ease.

 

But he was already here. Hunting.

 

Perhaps he would leave empty-handed tonight, as he did many nights.

 

Or maybe…

 

Will sighed, glance bouncing between the faces of the patrons, oblivious to the monster lurking within them. Monsters. Who would he take, if he were Michael? If he were on the hunt?

 

His eyes settled almost immediately on two girls, stationed at the corner of the bar. Small, young. One wore a sash around her shoulder, emblazoned with purple rhinestones. Birthday Bitch. A collection of dirty glasses littered the counter before them.

 

They were quiet despite their joy, their celebration. A private party between two young women who no doubt flew out for a weekend respite on the uncrowded beaches. A reprieve from their bustling lives in a city, probably. One with a nice and expensive university. These girls were not normally partygoers, but a special celebration and the end of their senior year in a few short months justified the event. Sheltered but well off, this was probably the first trip they took on their own, partially funded by parents who hugged them tightly before their plane left and anxiously wrung their hands until the moment they could pick them up.

 

He could see himself, as clearly as he could see his own hand curled around his glass. He would approach them with a smile- his own would be crooked and tilted from the dead nerves in his cheek, but he imagined it full and wide. Just the way Michael’s would be. He would be charming enough that his age and attention would be a compliment and not an offense. ‘Happy birthday!’ he would say, and he would of course offer to buy them both a drink. A shot. Something strong yet quick enough that he could ply them with a few in short order. And he would make conversation. Nothing to cross a line, nothing too flirtatious or overt. Maybe he would even point to someone across the way, lean close and mutter something about watching out for that one, he’s been eyeing you all night and I want you to be safe.

 

Garner trust.

 

Two would be harder than one. It would take more time, an hour or so of friendly chatter at the bar before he could ask if they were hungry, offer to get them something delicious and cheap and local just at the end of the block. His treat, for the birthday girl and her friend. An hour or so to get them drunk enough that they would consider it, that they would be easily led astray and easy enough to overpower even if there were two of them. An hour or so of chatting that would give the bartender and other patrons time to catalog his face, his attention on the girls whose disappearance would be a short but bright spark in the community. An hour or so before he could clamp his hand over a surprised mouth, press the sharp blade of a hidden knife into the tender flesh of a throat, promising not to cut if they just did as he said.

 

With a gasp, Will pulled himself from the thought, blinking rapidly as the world- the real one- settled into place around him. Slowly, at first. Unfurling. The girls were still there, giggling over something on their phones as they bowed their heads together, faces red and illuminated by the blue screens.

 

He sighed, bringing his glass to his lips and finishing it in one gulp before settling back into his prone position. Once more a damsel waiting to be in distress.

 

He was the easier target, significantly less risk.

 

Better he disappear than them, he thought as he sunk into the cradle of his arms.

 

The second time he considered quitting came from something within his brain. The dying remains of something he once called morality and reason begging him to reconsider. A ghostly wail. Michael had finally come to him- after nearly an eternity of waiting, thank you- and when he slid his half-lidded gaze across the bar upon “waking” he saw that Birthday Bitch and her friend were gone. Michael wouldn’t risk approaching another if Will turned him down; helping one drunk was an act of charity- two was a noticeable pattern. And he would leave empty-handed for the evening.

 

So Will considered stumbling away. Away from Michael and from the crime and from the blood that would stain his hands. No one would be taken, he had done enough. For tonight, at least.

 

It was with that thought he carried on, allowed Michael to pull him through the bar and the streets, the wind strong and carrying a tepid, humid breeze.

 

The third and final time he considered quitting was when Michael tossed him into the motel room like a doll thrown in the heat of a tantrum. He turned away from him when he pulled the cellphone from his pocket and Will considered jumping from the bed and winding an arm around his throat. Pressing down on him and ignoring the sputtering breaths until he fell slack, unconscious. Leave him there in a crumpled pile of limbs and a cheap, scratchy suit jacket. Aching and panting but alive.

 

Because this was different than the others. Different from Garret Jacob Hobbs and different from Randall Tier and different from The Dragon. The others had spun the web for him, pulled him into it, and forced him into action. Creating a design that he had to fight and claw and kill his way out of.


But this was one entirely of his making. His plan, his web, his actions would lead to a series of actions and consequences that would otherwise not exist without his machinations. This was his design.

 

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe Hannibal was wrong. Maybe he wasn’t a killer but just a survivor. No one blamed the snake for biting and spitting venom and devouring when it was all in defense of a greater threat.

 

Something that tasted like regret and guilt settled like film on his tongue and sunk below his teeth. Why was it his job to save everyone? Why did he expect himself to shoulder the weight of this burden, protect the dreaming children from the monsters beneath their beds?

 

The bed shifted with Michael’s weight, and before Will could think better of his decisions- all of the ones that lead him to this moment- he was being straddled, a hand curling into his hair and propping his head up.

 

“Come on, Pretty Boy,” Michael said, the words practically a pant as Will’s stomach flipped with disgust at the obvious arousal. Something prodded at his lips, pressed pass them and Will wrenched his eyes open with the realization of what it was, eyes glancing up the plane of Michael’s stomach and the underside of his chin. As if on instinct, his tongue pressed against his cock, tasting the skin and something undeniably masculine.

 

Michael glanced down at him, inhaling a sharp breath when their eyes met and Will felt him twitch along his tongue. Repulsive. Michael grinned, a hand sliding up to press against Will’s cheek and smooth the pad of his thumb over the arc of his face. The gesture was cold, clammy hands and insincere, a pale facsimile of a time he was bleeding out, warm and adoring hands smoothing over his face. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to this soo-”

 

He bit down before Michael could finish the thought. He tasted the salt of sweat, the acrid and bitter taste of blood and screams and fear. Panic.

 

Suddenly, he knew he wouldn’t quit. Couldn’t quit.

 

The moments between inaction were tormented with indecision, too many thoughts and conflicting emotions. Tearing him apart between two lives, two worlds that he straddled. Never fully settling into either. But eventually, action would come, fierce and cruel and sharp and everything was so certain. He thought it was Hannibal that made him this way- confident and sure of himself and what he was, what he enjoyed.

 

Perhaps that was a false equivalence. His life was dull, filled with inaction for long periods of time as he tucked himself away from the noise and the nightmares in his little classroom. Until Hannibal came and pulled at strings, flipped at switches just to see what would happen. He associated this hunger with Hannibal, but he was an outlier, a passive observer.

 

Will wasn’t a hunter- but he was something. Spring-loaded and launching when the tension became too much, reactionary. A damsel waiting for distress so he could gleefully and without guilt slay the dragon.

 

His head reeled when Michael struck him, and Will finally relented his hold, letting the bleeding and aching man pull from him and stumble away from the bed. Curses fell from his lips, and Will slowly pulled himself into a sitting position, cocking his head as Michael turned to him, offering the sort of focus that only a prey can give when it realized what stood before it.

 

The sight spurned something in him, something heady and thrilling. Power. “Not good for you?” he asked, taunting, lips tipping into an uneven grin. “It was good for me.”

 

Time moved paradoxically then. Quick but dragging, adrenaline igniting him like a quick-burning fuel. Offering one final taunt to Michael- this was his design after all, and he wanted Michael to know it- he launched forward with an agility the man was not prepared for, so used to dealing with the drunk or pliant or prey too weak and small to fight back.

 

He crossed the distance between them in two large leaps, hands pressing into Michael’s shoulders and shoving him to the ground before the man could pull the knife he knew was hidden in his pocket. He grunted, spat at Will as his face turned red in rage at his plans coming so undone, and Will rose a knee between them, settling it just beneath the cavern of Michael’s ribs and pressed his weight into it.

 

“Argh...fuck-” he croaked in a breathy exhale, the expertly placed knee constricting the movement of his lungs, the restriction of his core. He reached out, range of motion limited as he tried to shake Will off while pulling frantically at his jacket, stitches and fabric tearing like a gunshot through the room.

 

Will hissed when one arm managed to shake free of his hold, wind and rip hair from his head and drag fingernails down the back of his neck so that seconds later it was warm and wet. He shifted his weight, rested on his haunches so that his knee dragged down until it was at the apex between Michael’s thighs, bearing down on his tender wound.

 

The man howled in response, gasping. He swung a fist at Will’s head, colliding sharply with the edge of his brow.

 

Stars burst in his vision, like fireworks, and he shook his head despite the dizziness, felt Michael twist from his hold and roll onto his belly, army crawling away from him. His gaze was hazy from the blow, but he followed the ambling shadows, the shimmering shapes, his hands grasping hold of Michael's ankles and pulling himself up along his form.

 

He felt Michael move before he saw it, felt his legs twist and heard his clothes shuffles with his movements as Michael rolled onto the edge of his hip and bent forward-

 

The knife stabbed at Will's hands, cutting through bone and tendon and sinew and making his grasp falter, his breath shaky. But he didn’t let go, lifting his gaze up to look at Michael from beneath his lashes, the curls brushing across his brow. “You should’ve gone for the throat,” was all he said as warning before ripping the knife from his hand and plunging it into Michael’s side.

 

He gave it a sharp twist for good measure.

 

Michael screamed, and something crooked, something shadowy in Will’s brain that he didn’t like to examine or identify laughed at the irony. Screams were the very reason Michael always made certain to get a room in the empty row of rooms, nestled within several vacancies.

 

He never imagined it would be his screams that would go unheard.

 

He pulled the knife from the wound, not wanting to give Michael a chance to retrieve the weapon, and shuffled back up Michael’s body, straddling him much the same way Michael had straddled him only minutes earlier.

 

Hands found throat, crushing down so that the cries of pain became pleas for air, choked and strangled gasps. He shook with the adrenaline, the sheer rush of control, of power that flooded his system, snapped and ignited his synapses and split his nerves in two. He drank in each aborted breath, feasted on the sight of lips turning blue, eyes bulging in fear. It was decadent, luxurious, and he inhaled slowly, as though to steady himself, ground himself in the moment.

 

He had to remind himself to pull off Michael when his struggles came to an underwhelming end, tapering and sluggish until he stilled entirely. Unconscious, not dead.

 

Will huffed, coming to stand over the unmoving form. His hands shook, blood making his fingers slip together, palm tacky. He allowed himself only a moment of appreciation- this was his design, twisted at an odd angle where his limbs slumped when his consciousness ebbed from him, blood blossoming like a rose between his thighs, along the curve of his torso. Lips the color of wine.

 

Then he moved into action, grabbing Michael up from under his arms and dragging him to the cheap desk chair. He grunted, huffed with exertion at the heavy weight in his hands and sighed with relief when the man was- more or less- sitting down, head tilting so his chin rested on his chest. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the slim bundle of rope. It was from an emergency preparedness kit, some sort of bungee cables for roadside assistance, woven tightly together so that the entirety of it was only the size of a marker.

 

He unraveled it, winding the rope around Michael’s middle, around the back of the chair where he cinched his arms tightly behind him. He was always good at this- ropes and knots and working with his hands. It came to him with ease and he was certain that Michael would not leave the chair now that he was bound to it.

 

Not while he was alive, at least.

 

Satisfied, he strode across the room, fingers flexing with the pain that radiated along his palm, strained from pulling at the ropes. He reached the window, pulling several blind panes away to create a small partition. Then he found the light switch, flicking it once, twice, three, four times. The room fell into darkness, blinked into light several times, like a twitch. A pulse.

 

A groan sounded through the room, and Will looked to Michael, the man blinking and grimacing as though the strobing lights were a stab to the brain. “Smoke signal,” Will said in answer, gesturing with his unharmed hand at the room. The other hand slipped in his pocket, as though he were casually waiting for a response.

 

Michael offered him none, only a glare that lasted for half a second, reality shifting in and out.

 

A knock came, and Will opened the door.

 

Hannibal stood in the doorway, dark honey colored eyes finding Will’s easily, as though he always knew where to look, a sort of preternatural sense that honed in on the younger man. Dedicated to him. His face was impassive as always, neutral and thoughtful to anyone but Will.

 

But Will had a sense of his own, a place carved within his brain that bore a familiar shape, a familiar name that echoed in the caverns of his skull. Hannibal, Hannibal, Hannibal. It wasn’t unusual for killers to live in his brain, trample on his sense of self and settle within the space as though it were their home and birthright. Hannibal was the only one that did make it home, nestle himself within the folds and create a hemisphere that was entirely his own. So deeply wound within him that he was indistinguishable from the parts that were Will, undefined as they were.

 

He knew Hannibal better than he knew himself at times, and he saw the subtle twitch of his lips, the near imperceptible flare of his nostrils.

 

He knew he was smelling the air, like a snake.

 

Wondering whose blood covered Will’s face, painted his lips.

 

“I was getting worried,” Hannibal said after a moment, stepping into the room and folding his hands behind his back, glancing at the sight before him as Will closed the door. The sheets and blankets wound on the bed, pillows deposited to the side. Blood smeared across the tiled floor, droplets that created a trail of his and Michael’s scuffle through the room. A story written in pain and sweat and fear. Finally, he settled his gaze on Michael, bound to the chair. Heaving breaths pulled his chest taut against the ropes, hair mussed. Shirt pulled from where it was once tucked into his jeans, and the dark stain of blood between his spread legs.

 

He rose a brow. “Vulgar,” was the only comment he offered, voice level. But Will heard it, heard the notes that buried within the curved belly of the vowels, the sharp angles of the consonants. Anger, indignation and something like satisfaction. He no doubt knew the blood on Will’s face was not his own, his brain piecing the scene together.

 

Will cocked his head. “Me or him?” he asked, curious.

 

Hannibal didn’t answer, instead turning his attention to Will, bruise unfurling along his brow and jaw, blood staining the sleeve of his torn jacket. He sighed. “I should have come in with you,” he said after a moment.

 

Will scoffed. “I don’t need your supervision,” he answered, the indignation heavy in his words. He straightened his back then. “This was my plan anyway, remember?”

 

His own design, in its entirety. He picked the target, picked the execution.

 

“Perhaps you were not ready yet,” he said, picking at something on his lapel because of course he still wore his three piece suits to such an event. The words went unspoken between them. They should have done this together, Will assisting Hannibal. A protege kneeling before the master.

 

It would have been easier. Better than the year of living passively, speaking only a few terse sentences together before Will would eventually leave the room in a huff. Will moping about the home, tiptoeing across the floors as though he refused to fully settle in this life, Hannibal waiting for the morning he would awake with a knife in his chest an empty room across the hall.

 

Will pretended he didn’t notice Hannibal slipping out in the veil of night but was always careful to ask for eggs or oatmeal for breakfast- never any protein. He ate in his room like a stubborn teenager and Hannibal let him, uncertain of the tenuous balance between them. Will was a hostage but not, Hannibal his captor but not. All of it self-imposed, unspoken.

 

They hardly spoke until the day Will came to the kitchen, dropping a tablet down on the counter before Hannibal and raised his chin. His gaze flicked down to the image, the news article about a missing man, a tourist. One of several over the last few months. Will then pulled a photo from his pocket, setting it over the screen. An old mugshot from an unrelated crime. His suspect.

 

Ever the investigator. He hunted in his own way, he supposed.

 

“Him?” Hannibal asked, knowing what Will was presenting.

 

Will nodded. “Him.”

 

That moment had been months ago, the weeks filled with careful planning, careful observing. They talked the most they had in years, but the moment the topic shifted, changing to anything other than this night, Will would leave without even offering an excuse.

 

And now they were here, and Will’s lips twitched at the implication that he was not ready. “Or maybe this is just how I do it,” he said, words acidic. “Not everybody can be methodical and surgical. Some of us like to get our hands dirty.”

 

Hannibal reached down, gentle fingers holding his hand flat between them as he examined the knife wound. “And you were certainly successful in that.”

 

“His friend will be here soon,” Will said, pulling his hand back and stepping closer to Michael, away from Hannibal. “One for each of us.”

 

Michael straightened in his chair, struggled against the binds as Will approached. “What the fuck-”

 

Will reached out, gripping Michael’s hair and snapping his head back. It wasn’t as long as his own, but long enough that he could grip tightly, knuckles grind against his scalp. “Do you have a preference?” he asked, eyes staying on Michael’s face though the question was not for him. Hannibal moved closer to the two of them, his presence like an oppressive shadow. Always the shadow, looming behind Will.

 

“Do you?” he asked, politely. Of course he would want Will to have first pick. It was his plan, after all.

 

He shook his head. The monsters were indistinguishable to him.

 

“I would think you’d like him to yourself. You’ve always had a fondness for righteous revenge,” Hannibal said, something like humor warming his words. Will twisted to look at him, hand still grasping onto Michael’s hair. But Hannibal’s gaze had fallen once more to Michael’s lap, something dark gracing his eyes. Lips pinched as though biting down on a growl.

 

Will shivered, swallowing thickly as he averted his gaze. It was too much. The darkness, the wrath. The possessiveness.

 

“What if I told you it was my idea? That I wanted to...taste him? Maybe I just got too feisty,” Will asked, words low and rough. He couldn’t help himself. Tempted by what he saw, luring the monster he knew existed within the carefully stitched person suit.

 

Hannibal leaned back, settled on his heels and pushed his hands into his pocket. “Then you don’t mind if I take your...paramour?”

 

Will considered it for a moment, eyes slanting between Hannibal’s calm visage and Michael, face twisted and gaunt from the strain of Will holding him back.

 

Hannibal knew Will was lying to him, hiding the true chain of events behind a bravado. Maybe from anger, disgust that his plan had unraveled so much that he found himself beneath the man he meant to kill. Maybe from embarrassment, reeling from the violation and wanting to regain some control in the retelling.

 

Hannibal would not embarrass Will further by questioning him, pressing the issue. But he knew, and Will was certain he would take a special interest in making Michael pay for his lewd behavior. He was, in his own odd and destructive way, protective of him. As though he and he alone was the only one allowed to carve him, cut and whittle him into nothing.

 

He would punish Michael, turning it into art. Something poetic and pretentious, a cruel and beautiful irony in the way he violated the man.

 

“Have at it,” Will said, clearing his throat. Hannibal could have Michael.

 

He was curious what he would do.

 

~x~

 

He didn’t remember the fall. His world became black, cold. Dragging and drowning. Hannibal holding him down, waves holding him down. He wanted to sink into, slip into the blackness and finally- finally- be consumed the way Hannibal always promised he would.

 

Like Jonah, swallowed whole and spat back into the night as bones and a memory that would slowly die within the minds of those who knew him. He remembered hands on him, his form dropping and conforming to the rough rocks, wind whipping his hair. He shivered, from pain or the chill he did not know. But he let himself rest against the rocks, waiting for something that never came. Waiting for a release, a departure. The end of it all. Eroding and sinking into the ocean along with the bluff. Waiting for nothingness.

 

He wanted to wake in the arms of something new. Something soft and promising. His mother, maybe, he hoped; though he knew if Heaven and Hell existed he would be denied knowing her once more. Separated by the worlds of the damned and the worlds of the beloved. But he could fantasize, dream about the arms that would hold him close, loving. Safe.

 

He awoke in the arms of someone.

 

Not his mother.

 

Not God.

 

But maybe the devil.

 

No no no no no,” he muttered incoherently, desperately, a hand smoothing through his curls as he his body rocked along the waves beneath the moonlight.

Chapter Text

Touch

 

Awareness came to him in increments after the fall. Time and life and reality unfolding like the velveteen petals of a flower finally blooming. He could not measure the time in a way that mattered, in a way that situated itself properly and cleanly on a cohesive map of cause and effect. He could not measure it in the days or weeks.

 

It was measured in the number of times he awoke only to slip back into the veil of sleep, the word no becoming a mantra on his lips, uttered with each breath like a prayer that went unheard by God. Or heard and ignored by the wrong god. No to the awaking, no to the continued existence that trudged forward, like a bleeding and limping and wounded body crossing through a field of bullets. No to the hands that were always on him when he awoke, tender touches that he squirmed away from, ignoring the pain that flared anew when he contorted from the grasp he longed to evade.

 

Six times.

 

It was measured in the number of times he tore his own stitches in these ill-thought escapes, reaching and twisting above him as he fell from a bed and scrabbled on the floor, attempting to pull free from whatever weighed him down. Sheets holding him tight to a mattress so his legs remained bound.

 

Three times.

 

It was measured in the number of times his half-mad escape attempts ended before they began, waking with a start to something warm and solid pressed along his side, something weighted wound around his middle. For a moment he thought he had been properly bound, tied to the bed so he could not stumble towards something nebulous and unformed. But the binding moved, held him tighter, and then something would smooth over his stomach in soft circles that made his heart flutter.

 

He was starved for this. This touch, this comfort. He couldn’t remember the last time someone held him like this, held him in his sleep- relationships dying like a star, erupting and fizzling from existence after only a few dates, a few nights of barely remembered fumbling in the dark made bleary in his whiskey-soaked haze. His mother must have held him before she died, but there was one morning that she settled him back down in his crib and never picked him up again.

 

One time, because he didn’t try to escape again.

 

~x~

 

“Listen man, I’m sorry alright. J-just...just let me go. We can all just walk away,” Michael pleaded, his words low and shaking with his barely restrained fear. This role reversal made him twitchy, his veneer of calm and confidence sat in fragments at his feet.

 

Will glanced at him, brows raised so that they disappeared beneath his curls. “I’ve never been very good at walking away from people like you,” he whispered as though sharing a secret, lips tipping unevenly as his face pulled into a smile that resembled more of a grimace. There was a sound- something like a soft, appreciative hum from where Hannibal knelt, smoothing down the corners of a tarp.

 

He insisted on some degree of prep, and Will stubbornly refused to help, sitting backward on the spare chair, straddling the unforgiving back and both of his arms folded on the slime plastic top to soften his resting chin. His back was bowed, legs spread out wide, and he watched with interest as Hannibal prepared the room for the evening. The tarp below them, crinkling with each step, each swoop of his feet as Will kicked out as if a bored child. The careful spread of instruments set out on the dresser- resting atop another tarp. They shined menacingly even in the low light, the room flooded in darkness except for the light that spilled out from the bathroom, a hazy halo that crept into the shadows.

 

Setting a scene, a stage for when their final guest arrived. He could envision it, the door opening to a darkened room, save only for the weak glow of fluorescent light. Spilling out just enough to illuminate the broad strokes of their plan, create a silhouette of a man sitting in wait in a chair, directing their guest away from the monsters hidden in the shadows.

 

Will knew it was unimpressive compared to what Hannibal would have planned, and the days leading up to now were spent thinking of the tableau he might have designed had this been his hunt. His kill. He imagined signs, the word Missing emblazoned above the photos of the two men littering the two bodies, shoved down their throats and choking them on the irony of their crimes. He imagined them spread out on the dance floor of a bar, the dirty wood floors sticky with spilled drinks and blood. Their hunting grounds turned into their funeral service, a viewing for the world. Lips sewn shut to bury the missing posters on their silver tongues and quiet the lies and charming words that led so many into nothingness.

 

He imagined money folded into their pockets, as though Hannibal was considerate enough to tip them for the evening. A transaction, a business deal. They understood the value of it- pleasure oft came at a fee and Hannibal would be willing to pay it.

 

That was Hannibal’s design, and it was undeniably beautiful. Poetic if a bit ham-fisted. He was a man of little subtleties, his designs as grandiose and ostentatious as his suits, his table settings. The world was a theater, a stage to his performance. The curtain pulling back to stilted and horrified yet intrigued applause.

 

But Will was not Hannibal. He was humble, from the wrinkled and fur-covered clothes he pulled from a bin in Walmart to the quick aversion of his gaze, the way he secluded himself from the world, hiding backstage where the applause was a dull, muffled sound.

 

He didn’t share the same flair for the dramatic.

 

Sighing, Will pulled himself from the chair, his body aching from the struggle to subdue Michael, adrenaline long since gone and leaving a weariness in his bones. The memory of pain resonating within him, like a struck tuning fork. He strode through the room, tarp shuffling beneath his steps, and stood before the dresser, fingers ghosting over the tools. Surgical in nature- several scalpels, a bone saw. A clamp-like device, fitted with wingnuts to expand the mouth as needed. It was only after a moment of consideration that he realized what it was for- holding open the chest cavity, cracking the ribs and keeping them spread to reveal the soft and pink organs within.

 

It was- decidedly- out of his element, a far cry from his gun or his fists or a butterfly knife. He swallowed, hoping the sound wasn’t as loud as it seemed to him. Hoping it didn’t sound like regret.

 

“Everything alright, Will?”

 

He startled at the words, blinking as he turned to look at Hannibal, the man standing so close to Will that he had to step back, backside knocking against the dresser. The tools clattered noisily, an alarm to the attempted escape that came to an abrupt end. Will was forced to lean back, head tilted to meet Hannibal’s eyes. He was aware, in some distant, repressed part of his brain that sparked and ignited to life, that he and Hannibal were close enough that they shared the air between them, inhaling and exhaling each other's breaths.

 

“Everything’s fine,” he muttered, and then, before Hannibal could call him on his lie, he reached out and plucked at the knot of Hannibal’s tie, undoing the silken fabric.

 

There was undeniable shock marring his expression, brows raised high and eyes widened. It emboldened him, and Will tried to school his features, lip twitching with the denied smirk as he pulled the tie from underneath the buttoned vest, shirt collar popping up as it was slipped from his neck.

 

He slid away from Hannibal, sidestepping from the cage he tried to create with his body. He turned his back to the older man, tie clutched like a prize in his hand.

 

“Our friend should be here soon, shouldn’t he?” he asked, though the words were meant for Michael, the bound man’s jaw hanging slack as though surprised by the scene before him. A voyeur to something intimate, something not meant to be seen to prying eyes.

 

Michael blinked, eyes flicking between the two men. Trying to understand their dynamic. Perhaps looking for a weakness in it, a rusty link in a chain he could break apart. Trying to decide who to beg to, who to plead to, who to turn against who.

 

Who was the apex predator? Who should he fear most?

 

Will snapped his fingers in front of his eyes when he failed to answer.

 

Michael stuttered. “I...soon, yeah.” He swallowed, licked his lips. “Listen, I don’t...I don’t carry the cash. I don’t...I don’t have that much. I make commission, you know? He’s the one you want though. Rich. A lot of money. He’s got like...four nice cars, he can afford whatever you want, alright?”

 

Ah.

 

Bargaining.

 

The middle step before depression, then acceptance.

 

Will frowned, twisting Hannibal’s tie in his hands, a nervous tic he could never quite shake. “I don’t want your money. Or his,” he answered.

 

Michael lowered his gaze, let his voice drop a level, deeper and lower. “He...He can get you other things too. Drugs...people. I’m not his only dealer, you know? He probably has some goods between hands, whatever you want. Girls,” he started, glancing once more to Hannibal before quickly amending, “or men. As young as y-”

 

Will reached behind him, grabbing what appeared to be an ice pick from the dresser and launching forward, jabbing it into Michael’s thigh. He was careful to hit the center, closer to the knee- away from any arteries that would cut the evening short.

 

He didn’t deserve the mercy of a quick death.

 

He howled with pain, sputtering pants pulling between spit slicked lips as he tried in vain to break through the rope. The chair rocked slightly- an uneven leg, cheap quality- and the tarp rustled noisily with the movement.

 

Hannibal tutted. “That one was mine,” he said, though his tone was playful. Will didn’t need to look to see that his eyes were shining with unabashed delight, sparkling with the sight before him, as beautiful as any tableau he could construct.

 

“Fucking hell, you fucking psychopaths! Let me go!” Michael shouted, face red with the strain of his words, spittle flinging through the air. A vein was visible at his temple, the thin skin around his eyes knotted and crinkled in rage. He was practically growling, the low rumble disrupted by the occasional hiss of pain. The pick was still embedded in his leg, an antenna that settled into bone and muscle and flesh. Blood seeped through his jeans, barely visible in the low light of the room.

 

Will came to stand behind the chair, Michael twisting and turning his head to try to follow the motion, crude and ineffective words falling from his tongue like venom. “I should have slit your throat and fucked that hole instead.” Back to anger, then. He was regressing.

 

Will tipped his head in agreement. “Yes, you probably should have,” was all he said before raising the tie above his head and, with some difficulty, slipped it around Michael’s face, separating his lips with the fabric.

 

The noise was immediately quieted, an incomprehensible mumbling smothered by silk and the paisley design. He tied it taut, Michael’s head snapping back with the brutality of it, and Will stifled a small smile.

 

The tie probably cost more than his entire wardrobe and here it was, tied around a pig and soon to be saturated with spit and sobs and blood and death.

 

With Michael silenced- more or less- Will returned his focus to Hannibal, his vest smooth and collar righted from where Will had rumpled it.

 

“Do you think he still finds me pretty?” Will asked, settling a hand on Michael’s head.

 

It was intended as a joke, a slight on Michael’s behalf, but Hannibal glanced at him with a reverence that made his breath halt, lodge in his throat and strangle him on air and adoration and undisguised love.

 

He had seen the look before, in the moments before the fall, before he understood the weight of Hannibal’s obsession with him. When it was just an intense look offered by an intense man. Had seen the same look in the Uffizi, as Hannibal glanced between the Boticelli and Will as if appreciating two masterpieces in equal measure.

 

He turned away, shifting uncomfortably from the gaze. He didn’t deserve such reverence, such unrestrained appreciation. He felt like a statue being appraised by its creator with hands stiff with dry clay from the loving and careful sculpting.

 

“You have always been your most beautiful like this, Will,” Hannibal said, words spoken like a prayer, a hymn.

 

Will wanted to laugh. He was covered in dried blood, specks flicking from his face with each shifting expression. Sweat made his hair lank and he was aware of how he smelt- cigarette smoke from the bar clinging to him and his clothes, whiskey on his breath and the oh so familiar smell of stale sweat and the aftershave Hannibal hated that only encouraged Will to keep it in steady supply. Once upon a time, he had felt shame when Hannibal expressed his dislike for it, had felt strangely compelled to buy something better- something more expensive and sold on the lit shelves of a too-dark shop instead of in the drugstore.

 

He wanted to laugh, but he knew Hannibal was serious. Knew he loved seeing Will like this, feral and wrathful and covered in the blood of someone who wronged him. Even if that someone was Hannibal himself.

 

He was saved from having to respond by the knock on the door. Rapt and sharp and impatient.

 

“Behind the door, Will,” Hannibal said, his voice a quiet whisper as he grabbed something from the dresser and came to stand between the door and the window. Will nodded, taking his place and draping a palm over the doorknob. He glanced at Hannibal, who offered a stiff nod, before turning it and swinging it open, pressing himself flat against the wall.

 

There were several seconds that passed, dragged out and stretched so that an eternity fit within it. The door creaking, the shuffling of clothes as someone stepped inside. The click-clack of the chair as Michael struggled, tarp twisting beneath it and punctuated by his muffled shouts. Warnings that stayed beneath his teeth and were swallowed back. They rolled together, a symphony. The soft and leading notes that lead to the crescendo, the surprised shout as Hannibal stepped behind Paul, rose a leg to kick him further into the room before leaping- the motion should haven’t been so graceful, so elegant. But it was, and Will almost forgot himself, nearly slamming the door in his haste to resume his role.

 

Paul gasped, shouted in shock as Hannibal clung to him, wound his arm around his neck and leaned backward. His legs bowed, forced to rely solely on the man strangling him to hold him upright.

 

It was then that Will flicked the switch, flooding the room in white light. Like casting a spotlight, the stage lit up. The crinkled blue tarp, the light glinting off the polished silver of Hannibal’s instruments. Michael, bound and straining on the chair, blue jeans turned red.

 

A beat passed, a half-second where their guest’s struggles became limp and slack before commencing with renewed vigor. Frantic. Fearful.

 

Hannibal said fear had a smell, but it wasn’t until that moment that Will could detect the aroma, like the bouquet of a rich wine swirled below his nose. It was cheap and dirty. Sweat and blood and generic detergent, something in the fabrics of the room that had a smell best described as stale life. A culmination of all the lives that passed through the motel and sunk into the upholstered seat of the chair, the curtains. It was the smell of sweet decay. A bed of wet, dead leaves on a forest floor and graveyard dirt, freshly dug. A fever.

 

It was heady, and Will’s head swirled, disoriented as blood and adrenaline thumped and rushed through him. He stepped around the room, giving Hannibal a wide berth to work in, watching with a fascination he tried to classify as purely scientific but knew it was not. It was something else, something he refused to give a name to.

 

The orchestra boomed around him, swelled with its magnificent music. Panting breaths and crinkling tarp, grunts of exertion and muffled screams.

 

It came to an end when Hannibal found the spot he had been searching for and, slipping the syringe from his sleeve of the opposite hand, stabbed the needle in one fluid motion. Thumb pushed the plunger, and Paul offered one strangled scream at the intrusion.

 

The silence that followed was sharp, the sudden absence of noise after so much abundance was always a startling thing. A comma, a pause between calamity. The beats between the roar of thunder and the crack of lightning.

 

The man slumped, fell to the floor with a huff and a whimper.

 

A strong paralytic burned in his capillaries and sunk into his muscles. He would never move again.

 

A chill descended down Will’s spine, icy fingers trailing down the delicate arch. He hadn’t realized he was holding his breath until his lungs burned and his eyes watered and with a loud exhalation he released it, feeling the carbon dioxide and regurgitated air slip between his lips.

 

He swallowed thickly, shaking his head as though the muddled thoughts could be tossed from his brain if he just used enough force. He moved, grabbing Paul’s wrists as Hannibal grabbed his legs and together they pulled him to the chair Will had sat in earlier, besides Michael whose faced was turning blue as his panic reached a mountain peak and the air became too thin to sustain his depraved lungs.

 

There was no need to bind him, and after depositing him in the chair, both men took a step back to stand and admire their work.

 

There was a stark contrast between the two, and Will felt a puff of air not unlike a laugh bubble in his throat. One convulsed beneath his bindings, covered in drying blood and perspiration and bruises blooming across the column of his throat, a canvas painted in purples and blues and sallow yellows. The other sat almost casually before them, and if not for the wide-eyed look of rage mingled with fright and rumpled clothing he might have been mistaken for a friend, visiting in the late evening.

 

“My technique is certainly not as...refined as yours,” Will said, a look of mild amusement flitting over his face.

 

Hannibal smirked. “And yet, both are uniquely beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?”

 

He would, but he couldn’t say as much, hoping his silence said what his mouth would not.

 

“What…what is this…?” Paul asked, the words ragged and limping. He rolled his gaze in the direction he knew Michael to be in- almost accusatory- only for his gaze to falter and fresh desperation to spark in his eyes at the realization that his shoulders could not roll with him.

 

Will blinked. “A reckoning.”

 

Paul narrowed his eyes, confusion furrowed in his brow. “Reckoning...for…?”

 

Will sucked in a breath. “For Becky Berkowitz. Robert Ashland. Vicky Ramirez. Jose-”

 

“Who?” Paul spat, the word slipping like a knife between them.

 

“You probably didn’t catch their names, it wasn’t important for the sale,” Will answered with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You’re a bad person. You both are. And the unfortunate thing is most bad people don’t ever get their deserved reckoning.” He turned away from them, returned once more to the dresser and the assortment of tools displayed like a promise. A playground. He considered them, taking his time and slowing his movements to a torturous pace. Fingers caressing over scalpels, forceps- a pear of anguish, he noted with muted surprise, picking up the medieval torture device and appraising it under the light. He spun the turnkey handle, watching the curved shell of the instrument push open and forward in increments, the lobes clicking back in place as he spun it in the opposite direction.

 

He settled it back down, tilted his head side to side as if to say maybe.

 

It was overwhelming, the sheer amount of devices laid out before him like a banquet. Each whispering an opportunity, promising a difference scream. A different bellow. Each was a piano key, accompanying with it a different note at a different pitch that could all be utilized to compose a song of his own making.

 

He settled on a knife, the blade thin and tapered. It reminded him of the knife he used to gut and filet his fish, though more expensive. The handle a heavy and solid thing in his grasp and the blade a sharpened and refined point, serrated teeth that threatened to chew and tear curved along the slight arch.

 

He imagined, with perfect clarity, gutting Paul with it as if he were a trout. Dropping the man down to his side and standing behind him- a knee pressing into his hip to keep him steady against his own gutting, and a hand curled over his shoulder as the other reached over to his front and dragged the knife down. Starting from the concave bow of his clavicle and ending it at the soft skin above his groin. The positioning would be different- he was, after all, much larger than a fish- but the techniques the same. Ensuring his cut was deep enough to cut through the thick layer of skin and tight muscle, yet shallow enough not to dig into the intestines.

 

Not to spare him any dignity, as the thought of his chest cavity spilling with sludge and shit was humorous in a way that should have horrified him.

 

It was a matter of practicality, in the end. He didn’t want the odor to sour the much sweeter notes of blood and fear and power.

 

He wondered how long he would last like that, spilling out on the floor like shattered glass.

 

He came back to reality with a shuddering breath, perspiration clinging to his brow and chest rising and falling in heaving pants. The anticipation of it, the knowledge of the power he held, like a cruel and jilted God made his pulse thump vividly beneath his clammy skin. His heart held an uneven staccato against his rib cage, fluttering beneath the rapid and shallow constrictions of his lungs.

 

It was a struggle to steady his breath, keeping his words level over the chattering of his teeth as he said, “I used to think there were right and wrong ways to go about stopping bad people. The right way is largely overrated. Authorities are fallible. They arrest the wrong men, fitting them in prison jumpsuits and straitjackets while dining with the murderers they were meant to catch.” He paused, chancing a glance at Hannibal’s direction, expecting to find a look of well-hidden amusement, thin lips poised in a barely-there smile that was meant for Will and only Will.

 

Instead, he was looking to him with veneration shining in his amber eyes, like the fractured beams of a kaleidoscope. His lips were parted in what was perhaps the closest Hannibal would ever look to slack-jawed, gazing at Will as though he were delivering a sermon, a prayer that he would offer kneeling supplication to if only the younger man demanded it.

 

For not the first time, he was aware of the pleasure Hannibal derived from this Will. The one carved from betrayal and covered in scars from where he cut himself in vengeance. Peeled back the skin of an awkward and malleable man to reveal something capable of all the cruelties that he ever stored away in the folds of his brain. Pieces of the killers he hunted saturating and linking into the strands of his DNA.

 

There was a taunt there, settled between them. A lewd joke to relieve the tension stiffening in Will’s neck.

 

He let the joke settle there, turning his focus back to Paul and Michael, raising the knife in his hand and pressing the index finger of his opposite hand against it. A bead of blood pebbled, smeared when he rubbed his thumb against it. “Prisons are fallible. The doctors and wardens degrade and torment the prisoners while ignoring the murderers on their staff, and they’re not strong enough to hold the ones who need it most. There are only two ways to stop bad people. Prison cells and graves. I’ve come to find I prefer the latter. Far more permanent.”

 

He recalled a time that seemed so distant then, distorted as though viewed through the waves of the ocean he nearly drowned in. He remembered watching Hannibal slice Cordell’s face, unfolding it from the pink and red skull, veins ripping like wires. He remembered watching Hannibal invade Mason with clinical detachment, fulfilling a promise to Margot and Alana that was sealed in blood and semen and sin. He remembered watching Hannibal as he laid the mask of death across Mason’s still face, a smile with too many teeth flitting over his face for only a second.

 

He remembered feeling a surge of pleasure, warming his stiff and unmoving limbs, and he hoped with repulsion that his mirror was reflecting Hannibal’s thoughts and delights and not his own.

 

There was no doubt now that the pleasure he felt was his own, and he swallowed, turning to Hannibal to ask, “Ready?”

 

Hannibal pursed his lips, perused Will with a scrutiny that made him shift his weight from side to side. “Actually, I think I’d like to watch you first, if you don’t mind,” he said. He didn’t wait for Will to answer before pulling off his jacket and folding it over his arm. He settled on the end of the bed, crossing his legs neatly and looked to Will expectantly.

 

He thought once more of the theater he envisioned earlier, how unfit he was for the stage and the spotlight. The pressure of the audience waiting before him.

 

He didn’t want to disappoint.

 

After a moment of thought, he made his way back to the dresser and picked up the pear of anguish.

 

~x~

 

Eventually, awareness came to him and didn’t leave. It was bittersweet, as with awareness came with it the deluge of everything he could otherwise deny in sleep. He could not claim confusion, play ignorant to the touches Hannibal indulged in when he fussed over Will’s dressings. When he ran a damp cloth over his arms and legs and lifted his bare hips and canted them forward to slip a fresh pair of pajama bottoms on him. He chewed his embarrassment, the vulnerability as though his secrets might seep through his skin, peeled away with each layer of clothing.

 

We’ll have to find you a dentist,” Hannibal had mused when he examined the cut on Will’s cheek, gauze pulled back to reveal the line sealed together with black sutures. Will had only grunted in response, mouth aching from the exposed nerves of his fractured teeth. He remembered choking on them, bone fragments and dust littering his mouth when the Dragon stabbed his face and shattered the teeth with the strength of his thrust. He swallowed his teeth and blood and ocean water and Hannibal had plied him with the flesh; sacraments of himself and others and a baptism into something new. A new life.

 

He was not a religious man, but he was raised in the south by a religious man. He knew the scriptures.

 

Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him.

 

It was holy. It was unholy.

 

It felt grand in a way he could not appreciate or deserve. That his morality, dying and weak though it was, whined at.

 

He thought of the parable of two wolves, imagined them warring inside him. Imagined one dying beneath the paw and snapping jaw of the other, teeth shredding throat as one wolf ate the weaker one. Fat and greedy and hungry despite the feast it sat before daily, the one Will and Hannibal took turns feeding.

 

Always so hungry, despite the teeth and blood and flesh.

 

The first time Hannibal laid down beside him when he was aware, arm slinging over him with a practiced ease so unlike their uncertain embrace on the bluff, Will wondered how often it happened during his week of shifting consciousness. How often Hannibal held him, stroked the scar of his belly in his sleep that he didn’t hesitate, didn’t feel the need to ask if it was okay. If it was wanted. Always feeling entitled to Will- to his space, to his body, to his mind and his life. It should have been one more of a growing list of violations, and yet Will considered sinking into it. Slowing his breath so that, if nothing else, he could claim he was asleep and did not know. Putting the emaciated and dying wolf out of its misery.

 

Instead, he scowled, slid out of the bed and let Hannibal’s hand fall from his side and to the mattress beneath them.

 

No,” he muttered, though he was unsure if it was to him or to Hannibal.

 

He slept on the couch, stubbornly, his neck and back taking three full days to recover from the expensive but uncomfortable furniture.

 

It was the last time Hannibal tried to lay with him.

 

Chapter Text

 

Blind

 

The second day of awareness he awoke on the couch to Hannibal standing beside him, tending to the feeding tube that snaked through his nose and down his throat, an obstruction that pulsed like a vein with each inhalation. He was cleaning the pump, gloved hands delicately wiping the device down. Without having to be told, Will shifted to a sitting position, grunting as his back and neck protested the movement. Weary bones and muscles still weak from the Dragon, from the Fall, made worse by the firm brocade cushion.

 

He flinched, remembering the night before. The weight of the bed shifting when Hannibal slid in beside him after administering his medication as though it were a familiar routine. The weight of his hand as it slipped away from him- as he slipped away from it. The weight of his no as it plummeted between them, tumbled from his lips like a punch. Nestled between them like a tangible thing. He thought of apologizing, saying he was caught unawares and reacted poorly. Admitting that he slept poor and foul and his dreams twisted into nightmares all too often without the press of something warm against him.

 

Hannibal spoke before him, and he swallowed the words that sat like bugs in his mouth, ground them between his damaged teeth. “Now that you’re awake, we should move on.”

 

For a moment, the words felt like a slap. Like a finger digging into his wound and twisting, stretching and pulling it apart.

 

Move on. As if it were a possibility. As if Hannibal wasn’t a part of him, a vestigial limb. An inoperable tumor buried within his brain that could not be removed without killing him as well. How could he move on? When he had let the Dragon in his head, became the man that nearly murdered his family?

 

How could he move on when he imagined himself committing the crime Francis failed to do? Slaughtering his wife and son?

 

Hannibal never cared if they died, he just wanted them frozen in that moment in Will’s mind, dying over and over again by his hand. He wanted Will to tarnish what little semblance of a life he managed to make. Wanted Will to never look at his wife and child again without seeing mirror shards on cold, white faces- threaded with blue veins and torn skin stained red. He wanted to turn them into a crime scene.

 

There was no moving on he knew, and he felt the first grate of panic reach like a hand for his throat, sandpaper scraping his lungs.

 

But Hannibal soothed it, settled the nerves that frayed and sparked like a live wire. “I may not have gotten to show you Florence, but perhaps I can show some other corners of my universe? If you want, of course.”

 

It wasn’t about what he wanted. It was about what he needed.

 

And he needed Hannibal. He didn’t want to, but he did.

 

~x~

 

Paul had startled to life at the sight of Will with the torture device, eyes flicking manically around the room. His mouth trembled, words he could not say silenced as the paralytic took full hold of him. His pupils were wide in fear, like two large black holes. If he could still speak, he would be bargaining. Promising Will all the things he could offer. Stolen money, stolen people. Paul built a life on these commodities, hoping that the very same would allow him to keep it.

 

Sweat sat on the nape of Will's neck, his heart rate spiking in anticipation.

 

His particular skill was most used for killers- stepping the same steps they did, inhaling the same air they did. He let his brain mold to them, mirror their neuroses and psychoses until they were contorted with his own. Until he could no longer tell whose anger, whose cruelty, and whose delight he was experiencing.

 

It was maddening. His greatest fear was not knowing who he was, and each day he was forced to confront that. Stripping his personality to its bare bones so he would rebuild himself in the muscles and skin of another.

 

He knew who he was, though. Now, he knew. He knew which pleasure was his own, what he liked. And now the roles had shifted, his role of vengeance seeker. This reckoning. He would deliver the punishment rightfully owed, the one Paul's victims had been denied.

 

He didn’t have to empathize with the killer because he was the killer, leaving him free to empathize with all those people the man before him sold and all the lives he ruined. Already, his fingers flexed, tightening around the handle of the pear of anguish.

 

He wasn’t scared or confused when Michael took him- he knew he held control, that Hannibal watched from a safe distance and was more than ready to step in if need be. He fabricated the moment and felt only anxiety and, eventually, power.

 

But he could feel it as clear as if he hadn’t held the upper hand. If he had been just a lonely drunk, weaving in and out of consciousness as a man dragged him into this motel. The fear was cold, striking him like a knife. His chest compressed and tightened around air that was quickly thinning as though hyperventilating, and he could feel the desperation, the pain, the utter hopelessness that would have struck him the moment he realized what Michael was. What Paul was and what he was doing when he would have pulled him, bound and gagged, into his trunk.

 

Disgust pooled, and he lowered himself into a crouch, forcing eye contact with Paul as he sat on a level with him. Paul’s chin rested on his chest, forcing his gaze down as he lost any remaining hold of his muscles.

 

“You were going to sell me,” Will said, the words a struck match in the quiet room. They wavered over something- the fear that was not his own but still sat behind his ribs, his repulsion, and borrowed hopelessness. “None of us are people to you, so why do you think I should view you any differently? You’re a pig, fit only for slaughter.”

 

The only noticeable change was in the hitch of his breath, Michael’s renewed efforts to free himself drawing no attention as Will fixed on his pig and Hannibal fixed on Will.

 

Will stood, stepping forward and between the knees that fell to either side of Paul’s prone body. He reached out, gripping the tuft of graying hair that sat on his head, snatching the locks and tugging him sharply to lean back. A gurgle- lodged in his throat- followed the motion, and Will considered him for a moment. His swollen cheeks, clean-shaven, and the soft bend to his nose. An ordinary enough looking man. Like Garret Jacob Hobbs. Like Francis Dolarhyde. Like Hannibal.


Like himself.

 

He wondered if all the people Paul sold would know the moment Will killed him. If there was a sense that they attuned to, from the spread-out corners of the universe they were sent to. One that would allow them to know- the way animals knew to flee before an eruption. A righteous sense that struck and vibrated like the pluck of a cello when justice had been delivered. Not enough justice, not the right justice that brought with it physical freedom.

 

But a version of justice, soaked in blood.

 

It had its merits.

 

Will raised the pear, twirling it in the air with a slow rotation of his wrist before bring it forward, resting the rounded tip on Paul’s lips. His mouth twitched, eyes fluttered open and closed in quick succession before squeezing shut, not so much in acceptance of his fate as it was an acceptance of having no control. The device was going to choke him whether he watched it or not.

 

Hopelessness.

 

Will pushed it in slowly, watching as the lips spread to accommodate the increasing girth. Paul panted, a groan pulled from his chest that sounded like the grind of mechanical gears.

 

“Shh shh shh,” Will soothed, letting his fingers brush across his scalp in a perverse gesture; a mockery of something kind and loving. He guided it forward, stopping when the entirety of the pear disappeared behind thinning lips turning white as they strained around it. It was small, and though he resisted it fit in Paul’s mouth nicely, with what Will imagined was only a bit of discomfort. His jaw was spread to its limit, and a bead of drool slid from the corner of his mouth, slipped down his chin.

 

The hand that nestled on his head smoothed down the planes of his face, thumb smearing the drool.

 

Bound by the drugs that Hannibal injected him with, gagged by the instrument of torture Will shoved between his teeth. Bound and gagged, like Will would have been if he were something else. Something normal and not the one who orchestrated this whole evening.

 

The leaves of the pear would separate and take his jaw with it. The spear that sat buried within would tear his tongue. The mouth that had brokered the deals that lead to so much suffering would be destroyed with each slow twist of the handle. Silenced for an eternity.

 

There was something beautiful in it, this brutal poetry.

 

Will sighed, twisting the turn-key for a half rotation. The pear shifted, trembled as it began to unfold. A groan followed it, rumbling through Paul’s lax body. He allowed a second of reprieve before twisting once more, a full rotation this time.

 

His jaw clicked, the muscles twitching beneath his skin, flushed and sallow beneath the thin sheen of sweat that broke out over his hairline and brow.

 

Another rotation, finding resistance now.

 

The tarp laying over the bed crinkled, Hannibal shifting closer with undisguised intrigue. No doubt studying the strain of Paul’s lips and the tears slipping from his pinched eyes. Studying Will’s face, photo negative reflection of Paul, his lips parted and eyes bright.

 

Rotate.


His jaw clicked, cracked. A sob was muffled from behind the instrument.

 

Rotate.

 

More cracking, not unlike the sound of ice splintering beneath a firm step. Michael’s struggles beside them tapered until he stilled, watching with morbid fascination- perhaps in preparation. A steeling of his nerves for his fate soon to come. Probably thankful it wasn't him, yet.

 

Rotate.

 

His eyes rolled back, a strained sound emitting from his throat. Rivulets of drool slipped from blue lips and his breath came in fast huffs that Will felt against his knuckles.

 

Rotate.

 

A series of cracks cut through the room as his jaw broke, a hollow in his cheek from how far apart his face was pulled, disrupted by the bulge as the pear spread in his mouth.

 

Rotate, rotate, rotate.

 

With a gasp, Will pulled back, releasing his hold of the turnkey and running the hand that twisted it over his face. He was shaking, the familiar swell of adrenaline blurring his vision and making his chest rise and fall in quick succession with each ragged breath. The decision to stop was entirely his own. He could have kept going, rotating and rotating until his teeth cracked and his jaw was nothing but fragments of bones and spit.

 

The rush of power surged alongside adrenaline, or perhaps in spite of it, and he was almost overwhelmed by the possibilities. Everything he could do- and Paul couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t plea or beg or fight back.

 

He inhaled slowly, trying to steady the rapid thumping of his heart, and admired his creation. Blood joined the spit, Paul’s jaw already bruising, swollen and delicate. Before he realized what he was doing, Will was reaching forward, caressing the distended jaw with the pads of his fingers, watching the eyes that blinked rapidly through fat tears.

 

He pressed in, dug his fingers against his jaw and he could feel the bulge of the pear even between all the layers of his face.

 

Did Paul enjoy the rush of power from his own sins? Or was it too much of a transaction to care? Just a business deal?

 

For some reason, that thought prickled beneath Will's skin, like a splinter. Or a lesion, festering with maggots. The idea of it being cold, of it being nothing to him when it was the worst day of so many people’s lives- a death without dying- was somehow worse than if he took pleasure in it. If he fed some diseased part of his brain that enjoyed the thrum of power.

 

To reduce people to a commodity, to a number-

 

He shuddered with indignant rage only half his own. The others belonged to all the people Paul caught, birds whose wings he clipped without remorse.

 

He slipped from reality, the cheap motel and the smell of copper and industrial detergent dissipating around him. His imagination clutched him, took hold of him. 

 

He saw himself in the theater of his mind, hands chained and pulled above his head, a flash blinding him as a camera photographed him. Nude, his face sharp and twisted with defiance that would eventually die, turn to solemn obedience. He saw himself on a web page, a clock ticking down until the bidding ended. He saw himself being poked and prodded, examined under a glaring light as someone told him to move, to pose. Criticized the scar across his abdomen and demanded reimbursement. Damaged goods.

 

Will.”

 

He saw himself wither away on a dirty mattress with springs that wound through the worn upholstering and cut into his skin. Blood seeping into the mattress that had become his world, his universe closing in until he forgot the warmth of sunlight blossoming on his skin. Forgot the way the dawn looked when the sky was a canvas of violets and magentas and yellows- forgot what colors were entirely as his world became muted gray.

 

Will.”

 

He thought of Paul, forgetting him the moment the chain was replaced by crisp bills. Forgetting him when his trunk was replaced by another person who would soon be forgotten as well. Too many people forgotten and forgetting.

 

“Will.”

 

His awareness came to him quickly, like the sharp and sudden pull when he would blackout and lose time, awakening in a place different from the one he remembered occupying. That his actions lurched of his own accord while he was lost in thought. And when his thoughts dimmed and pulled, he found himself panting heavily, his face warm and slick with sweat.

 

One hand was gripped on Paul’s shoulders, holding him still; the other was gripping the handle of a knife made slippery by blood.

 

“Will,” Hannibal said, and he startled, feeling the word- his name- on the curve of his ear.

 

Hannibal was standing behind him, one hand pressed to the small of his back in a grounding, supportive gesture. “I had the sense you left us momentarily,” he said, not a question. A statement.

 

Will swallowed, releasing hold of the knife. It stayed in place, protruding from Paul’s chest. There were stab wounds marring his body; his suit and button-down wet and red with blood.

 

“I- was a little lost,” Will admitted, hating that it sounded like vulnerability.

 

“What made you lose yourself?”

 

Hannibal didn’t move from Will. He never did, Will was always the one to do that. Moving when the feeling of his presence grew too oppressive.

 

Will cleared his throat. “I ugh...I was just thinking about everyone who-” he stuttered, licked his lips. He tasted the brine of his sweat. “How good it would feel to know he’ll be stopped.”

 

“He was,” Hannibal said, and it was then that Will glanced to Paul’s eyes, wretched open and staring at nothing in particular. Unseeing, dull. Listless. “He died shortly after your first strike-” here, Hannibal gestured to a stab wound in the dead man’s wrist, the knife having been plunged and dragged down at a jagged angle. Will recalled the flash of a camera as Paul’s hands held it before him, flashes from the moments his mind warped and ran away from him. Chains and money exchanging hands. “I suspect he vomited and the combination of the paralytic and your dental work lead to him aspirating and asphyxiating on it.”

 

He felt his jaw clenched, wondering how long he had been trapped in his mind. How long he attacked a dying and dead man before Hannibal succeeded in grounding him.

 

Hannibal grabbed his shoulders, guided him until he was sitting on the bed, surrounded by tarp and the acrid smell of death and all its humbling scents. The older man left, returning with a glass of water he filled in the bathroom sink. It was tepid and tasted like the old pipes, glass smearing with blood as Will held it.

 

Will sat, feeling the eyes on him. Hannibal and Michael, knowing he looked like someone falling apart at his seams.

 

“What are you feeling, Will?”

 

He inhaled a shaky breath, ran a hand over his brow only to cut the motion short when he realized he was smearing blood over his face. “Regret.”

 

Hannibal inclined his chin, the motion only just visible. “Regret for?”

 

“That I didn’t see it happen,” he said after a moment.

 

Lips twitched into a small smile. “You’ll have another opportunity,” Hannibal said, and Will’s gaze slanted to Michael. Resignation slumped his shoulders, horror dulled the light in his eyes.

 

“What are you going to do to him?” Will asked, though it was less for him than it was for Michael, watching as the man lurched, head rising from where it lulled. He wondered if knowing his fate would dull the ache and the fear, make the whole experience feel less unending and ruthless. Death could be a daunting thing.

 

He’d like to know if it were him, Will thought.

 

Hannibal glanced at Michael before turning back, a glint to his eyes. “I’d like to show you something beautiful, Will,” was all he said.

 

~x~

 

Will sat on the floor, legs crossed.

 

Hannibal had given Michael the same paralytic as Paul before pulling him down on the floor, laying him supine as though in surgery.

 

He was, in a way.

 

His chest was open, the same Y-cut a mortician would use, peeling three layers of skin and muscle back. Except, Michael wasn’t dead. His autopsy was early, his organs still warm and pink and lungs fluttering with uneven breaths. He drifted in and out of unconsciousness, Hannibal’s skilled and surgical hands ensuring he remained alive for exactly as long as he wanted him to. Ribs had been cut away, exposing the delicate organs that Hannibal considered with such care. There was something so rich about the taste of organs, a decadence that could not be found in the flesh. 

 

“It’s amazing,” Will said, hand reaching and brushing over Michael’s eyes, feeling his eyelashes. He was awake, at the moment, and his watery gaze looked to Will with something indiscernible. Humor, maybe. Humor with how badly the night had turned against him when he had initially considered it a success. The sort of humor one has when everything else- anger, fear, hope, regret- has failed. “How much someone can live through, I mean. The body can survive a lot.”

 

Idly, he scratched along his stomach.

 

“The human body is a miracle of creation, yes,” Hannibal agreed, carefully wrapping the kidney he removed and placing it in the cooler he brought with him. He was wearing his suit, the plastic squeaking softly with each movement. It was not his ideal set up, Will knew. A makeshift operating Room when he had a perfectly reasonable one in their home (that Will had never seen though knew existed behind one of many locked doors.) There was a limited supply of blood to keep Michael full long enough, the small, travel coolers instead of his meat freezer would have to do for now.

He adapted though, altered his needs to fit Will’s plan.

 

It was, in an odd and perverse way, endearing.

 

“It’s almost as resilient as the mind.”

 

Will scoffed. “The mind isn’t always resilient.” He was a testament to that.

 

“Your brain builds scar tissue over the remains of trauma just as well as your skin, though not as obviously. It’s stronger, guards you against being hurt in the same way,” he explained softly, hands stilling as he rested them on the floor beside his knees. “The mind changes to environment and stimuli. Just because it is different does not mean it is always for the worst. Do you think your brain has changed for the worst?”

 

Will hummed, his fingers brushing over Michael’s lips. “It’s quieter,” he answered. “It was filled with so many people before. All the killers I had to teach about, the ones Jack had me hunt. I couldn’t hear my own thoughts, not as if I could tell what thoughts were mine anyway. There are fewer people in there these days.” He pulled his hands away, rested them on the floor in a reflection of Hannibal’s pose.

 

“How many?”

 

“Me,” he said, then added, “And you.”

 

Hannibal glanced at him from the corner of his eyes. “And these men? Hunting them hasn’t filled your brain?”

 

“It did, at first. When I was...investigating the disappearances. But they got quieter and quieter the closer we got to-” he gestured broadly, waving a dismissive hand at Michael’s exposed body. He grimaced, the expression a jagged smile. “Dead men have no thoughts.”

 

Hannibal nodded, letting his gaze flicker to where Paul still sat in his chair, slumped over with the pear of anguish lodged between his broken jaw. “Was that the inspiration then? You wanted to silence him, have him choke on the proverbial words that filled your head? I’m sure you’ve been wanting to do that for a long time, silencing all the people who ever held a residency in there.”

 

Will flinched, brow furrowing. “Are you...psychoanalyzing my method of torture?”

 

“It’s only fair,” Hannibal said, a tint of humor warming his words. “How many of mine have you analyzed and poured over? Deciphering and translating all the things that were not said in any existing language?”

 

Will opened his mouth, a retort dying on his tongue. It was technically true, but it had been his job. He was one of the many men Jack wanted him to hunt.

 

“Maybe I pretended he was you, then. Silenced him the way I wish I could silence you.”

 

“Always a possibility. Are you psychoanalyzing your own method now, dear Will?”

 

Perhaps it was the pet name, the adoring use of the word dear before his name, but he stilled, his mood souring. This was the most he and Hannibal had spoken, the most amount of time they sat in the same room. A year of silence and brushes in a hallway, Will carefully avoiding moments with Hannibal. Denying him his words and touches in some form of punishment, resentment building within him until he longed to make Hannibal suffer.

 

A year, and yet they returned to it so easily. Their banter, their rapport.

 

It felt good.

 

It felt like home.

 

“Will, stay with me,” Hannibal said, fingers brushing over Will’s knuckles.

 

He sighed. “I am.”

 

A moment slipped unsteady between, tense and filled with the suffocating presence that lingered in the halls and the corners of their shared home. It was broken when Hannibal reached out, hooked one hand under Will’s left underarm, and the other on his right elbow. Before he could protest- or even register what was happening- he was pulled into the older man’s lap, an arm snaking around his waist.

 

Not tightly- not to restrain him.

 

Simply to hold him steady, an anchor to a rocking boat.

 

When Hannibal spoke again, it was directly in his ear. Warm and moist as he said, “I promised I would show you something beautiful.”

 

His breath caught in his throat, choked him and his protestations as Hannibal’s hand rested on his own- the larger palm cradling the back of his hand. He guided his hand into the cavern of Michael’s body, helping him navigate the unfamiliar territory until he settled on something that twitched and trembled beneath his touch.

 

“Do you feel it? How erratic his heartbeat is?”

 

A shiver ran down his spine, stomach coiling at the words. How each syllable felt as it brushed against his curls, the sensitive skin of his ear. The accent infected it with such warmth, like honey or syrup or something thick that drowned him. Pulled him down.

 

“He knows he’s going to die,” Will whispered.

 

Hannibal rested his chin on Will’s shoulder, tilted his head so he nestled neatly in the space between his arm and throat. “The heart is the most beautiful organ. Free of the restraints that tether the brain and strap it down to logic and reason.”

 

“It’s been romanticized,” Will countered, experimentally squeezing it- Michael’s heart- and feeling it beat beneath him. “Poets and playwrights needed something convenient to blame for all their foolish mistakes and idealizations. Emotions are always easier when you can blame them on someone else instead of taking ownership and the heart is just the tangible thing to bear that burden.”

 

“Romanticized for a reason. Your heart rate and pulse quicken when you see someone you love, one of many physiological responses but the one we notice first. It’s the center of the circulatory system, your blood. It’s a sacrament, the very essence of our beings. Our truest selves, reacting and responding to the things our brain cannot understand or justify. You can play denial to your thoughts and brain, but not to your heart.” As if to prove a point, the hand that held his waist shifted, rose until it rested over Will’s heart. “What is your heart reacting to, Will?”

 

He was aware of how harsh his breathing was, how frantic his own heart was. It thumped and rattled against his rib cage, trying to burst through the ivory prison of his bones. He might as well have been cut open, as vulnerable and pulled apart as Michael, his heart exposed so Hannibal could do what he always wanted and wrap his hand around it- never let go.

 

“It’s...bigger than I thought it would be,” Will said instead, ignoring the question as his hand spread across the heart from underneath Hannibal’s touch. Fingers smoothed over the atrium, trailing the artery and cardiac veins. He would need both hands to wrap around it, hold it securely on either side.

 

His other hand joined the first, leaning forward on Hannibal’s lap to better watch as his hands cupped it- watched as it beat in his palm.

 

“You are literally holding someone’s life in your hands- how does it feel?” Hannibal asked, his tone bemused. Intrigued.

 

He was suddenly aware of his mouth, the pool of saliva that he held behind his lips. He swallowed. “Like holding a baby bird and knowing how easily I could crush it,” he said. “But a little different.”

 

“Different how?”

 

Will shook his head. “I wouldn’t crush a baby bird.”

 

And then he squeezed.

 

It was tougher than he imagined. Hearts were seen as such delicate, fragile things. A teacup, he thought with a snort, that could shatter so easily. Hearts could be undone by so many things- a gunshot, a poor diet, bad genetics, a betrayal.

 

The muscle was thick, and he found himself straining to apply more pressure. It bulged, skipped a beat, and Hannibal’s hand was pulling away from within the chest to grasp Will’s chin, twisting it to look at Michael’s face.

 

“Watch it happen,” he instructed.

 

And he did. Watched as Michael’s lip trembled, his tongue lolling behind his teeth. Watched as his eyes bulged, slid back in his skull. Watched a vein press against his skin. The heart thrummed, the pulse in his wrist seeming to mirror each tentative beat. Blood seeped between his fingers, the muscle crumpled.

 

There was only a half-second between the action and the effect. A twitch of something beneath Michael’s skin, a sheen to his eyes. He saw the breath in his throat, the slow bob of his Adam’s apple as it stopped mid-swallow.

 

He saw the moment the life left his eyes. Faded slowly in increments. One moment there was a man, a living person whose neurons were firing, active even in his dying moments. Bright like fireworks. A man whose thoughts and emotions shifted, undulated. A man wondering why, where he had gone wrong, what he could have done differently. If anyone would miss him.

 

The next moment- so fast a blink would’ve skipped the distance between them- it was all gone. He was nothing. Not a man, just a corpse. Not a predator, not even a prey. He was simply carrion now. A feast for maggots and scavengers.

 

The heart in his hands stilled, a ventricle collapsed, veins burst and seeping blood.

 

He exhaled a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

 

He leaned back in Hannibal’s lap, pressing to his chest. Blood smeared his chin where the other man held it, fresh blood joining the old. His head was twisted once more, this time away from Michael’s face, toward Hannibal’s.

 

“See? Beautiful.”

 

Lips brushed his own, hesitant at first, lingering as though waiting for the moment Will would jerk away and pressing harder when he didn’t. Will's head shifted, slotted to make room for the kiss, tasting the metallic tang of blood.

 

His heart thumped, pulse igniting.

 

The kiss deepened, a tongue sliding across his lips but not demanding access- licking the blood away.

 

It was the tongue that startled him, pulled him back with a start and a gasp and he ripped away with such ferocity he fell from the lap, hand trying to find purchase in the shards of ribs and dead organs beside him.

 

Hannibal stayed frozen, his hand cupping the air the way it had cupped Will’s jaw, eyes tinted maroon in the low light engulfing them. His own breathing was deeper, betraying his calm composure.

 

“I-” Will started, shuffling to his feet and pulling the tarp in his hasty movements. “I should shower,” he said with finality, surprised to find his words lilted in an accent he had long since trained away.

 

He turned his back before he could see the hurt blur in Hannibal’s eyes.

 

~x~

 

They didn’t talk much, and he attributed this largely to his inability to do so. His mouth seared with pain so vivid and bursting it felt as if he might combust, everything a catalyst for pain. His tongue, the air; and even though his cheeks flushed with the indignation at being so dependent, he was thankful for the feeding tube that allowed food to bypass his shattered teeth entirely. The ache of the tube snaking down his throat was preferable to the burst of agony on his exposed nerve.

 

That was how he felt. One large exposed nerve. Static, igniting. He felt like the flint that sparked with the threat of fire.

 

He knew Hannibal left the tablet out on purpose, wanted Will to see the article. The large blood-red banner and tacky graphic logo of Tattle Crime filling the screen. ‘Murder Husbands Evade FBI, Begin Their Honeymoon With Bloodlust’.

 

He sneered at the sensationalized headline, skimming through the article and the flowery, indulgent writing, wrought with innuendos. He searched for other articles with an aggressive tap of his finger, finding that Freddie Lounds was in the minority. He was, effectively, labeled a hostage. The dash cams from the police cars showed the deadly shooting from a third party- another cruiser reported missing earlier in the day- and Will was last seen stumbling from the crashed ambulance, tumbling over the mouth of the vehicle and disappearing to the side, a car strolling after him but unable to see the angle of his acceptance. Unable to catch the moment Will slid into the passenger seat willingly.

 

Jack Crawford gave no comment.

 

He knew the truth. That Will regretted not running away with Hannibal the first time. That he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

 

Will didn’t know when they were leaving until he woke to a hand caressing his shoulder, trying to blink the sleep from his eyes only to realize that a slip of fabric was tied around his head. Hannibal pulled him up from the bed and assisted him with a jacket before guiding him through the room, the house. He knew they were outside by the smell of trees and air thickened with salt, the breeze that ran like fingers through his curls. He didn’t protest as he was escorted by the hand gripping his arm, stumbling over the uneven ground. Didn’t protest as he was forced to sidle closer to Hannibal, press against him as they strolled down a deep hill.

 

He ambled in darkness for what felt like hours, bitter cold pinching his cheeks and the feeding tube turned to ice against his face. His shoulder felt tight and thrummed with each step, and he could not stop the sigh of relief when Hannibal slowed, moved his grip from Will’s arm to the small of his back.

 

They were by the water, jagged rocks slippery and pushing against the sole of his shoes. The breeze had turned into a monstrous thing, and he was thankful that Hannibal kept his hand pressed against him, stabilizing. Anchoring.

 

And then Hannibal pulled away, hand sliding from his back to his elbow before finally resting in his palm. “Careful,” he advised, and Will was led onto a platform that shifted and buoyed beneath his feet. A boat.

 

His steps echoed over the sound of waves crashing to earth, and in a move he knew was awkward, settled down on the seat, damp with water. After a moment, the boat rocked and his hands shot out to grip the sides, suddenly unsteady without Hannibal’s hand to hold him upright. He was more thankful than he cared to admit when he heard the telltale signs of the man settling in opposite him, felt the boat push away from the land and into open waters.

 

Chiyoh is waiting for us with something more suitable for our travels,” he said after a few seconds passed, silent except for the oars cutting through the water.

 

Is she coming with us?” Will asked, despite the pain that accompanied the words.

 

No. She will go her own way once we’re situated,” he answered, and Will nodded even though his doubt burned within him. She would go her own way until Hannibal contacted her once more, just as he had done from prison. She would never truly be free.

 

Neither would he, he supposed, though the idea felt comforting instead of suffocating. Freedom came with too many variables, too many paths for himself to choose and flail between. There was something guiltless about this. Blameless almost. He let himself be the hostage the world made him out to be.

 

He swallowed, raised a hand, and pressed it against the blindfold. “Can I-?”

 

I’m afraid I must ask you to keep the blindfold on until I say otherwise,” he said, and Will did not need to ask why. The moments that led to this one were littered with bodies and betrayal, and keeping Will in the dark was basic self-preservation at this point. The official statement was that Will was an unwilling accomplice, a damsel in distress. The FBI and the promise of something softer, something normal still sat on the periphery of his vision. A siren song of temptation to once more try and cut Hannibal from his brain. He was, as far as the police knew, a victim, and each missing piece of information made the knife he could plunge in Hannibal’s back shorter, duller.

 

Will didn’t protest, his hands folding in his lap as he let the waves and Hannibal pull him into something unknown.

Chapter Text

Teeth

 

Will was not permitted to remove the blindfold for several days. It seemed like a test, and for some reason, he was desperate not to fail. So he sat, quiet and unassuming in the cabin of the ship where Hannibal deposited him. He could not see the room that had become his willing prison, but he could discern it was small, beneath the main deck of the ship. The bed he sat on was cramped and narrow and there was another one opposite that he could reach out and brush with his fingers if he strained hard enough.

 

They took turns sleeping, Chiyoh and Hannibal. One steering while the other rested, he assumed. Their difference marked by the cool silence as Chiyoh slid through the room compared to Hannibal’s pleasant chatter. It wasn’t the sort of talk that invited conversation- Will’s mouth too raw to offer anything other than strained grunts and low whimpers. But it was still pleasant in that it broke the unbearable stillness of his days.

 

One morning, he awoke to Hannibal speaking- not to him or Chiyoh, as his thick words were wrapped in an affected accent. Gruff, low. New York, he thought, but he was uncertain where within the state. It seemed almost comical falling from his mouth- so different from his otherwise smooth and lilted tone- but his humor faded as he listened and realized he was speaking to someone on a phone.

 

-I understand what I’m asking you, and I appreciate your willingness to help in such a delicate situation. Your staff as well...Yes, of course, I would expect nothing less...Anesthesia will be best, I believe...the damage is extensive...Wonderful, thank you again for everything. You’ve no idea the difference you’re making...You as well, goodbye.” A soft sound came, the sound of a phone being settled on a made bed.

 

When Hannibal spoke next, it was in his own familiar voice. “An oral surgeon has made special arrangements to see you tomorrow, a Saturday when they are normally closed. She believes that you are in the process of escaping your abusive partner, and require the utmost privacy. We’ll pay out-of-pocket in cash, as your partner holds your insurance and banking information, and the only people on staff will be those necessary for your care. They will not ask about your injury, as I have told them it was the last act that caused you to leave and they are aware of how delicate the matter is.”

 

He could only nod in response, a twinge of uncertainty flaming within him. If he were to escape, crawl back to Jack, this would be his opportunity.

 

Something pooled in his mouth, behind his teeth. Perhaps he was addicted to it, salivating at the chance of betrayal.

 

Chiyoh will escort you. My picture is too far deep in circulation. Yours has had a few rounds as well, though you’ll be disappointed to know not in the same pedigree,” he paused to chuckle softly. “A few alterations should be enough-”

 

He heard him shift in the small cabin, and suddenly a hand was cupping behind his head, cradling it gingerly as something cold and slim pressed against his hairline. The snip of the scissors might as well have been a gunshot.

 

He held his breath as Hannibal cut his hair, flinching with each curl that fell from his crown. Flinching with each exhalation that puffed across his scalp as the older man leaned closer to ensure he was cutting evenly.

 

He felt vulnerable. Exposed. His long curls an armor he didn’t realize he was so dependent on until it was cut from him. But he said nothing, letting him tilt and move and twist his head as needed until it was all gone, his head feeling lighter than he felt.

 

He finally let out the breath he was holding, only to shudder once more when Hannibal pulled away, returning with something that clicked and buzzed. For a horrifying second, he recalled the last time he was prone and Hannibal came towards him with such a device, one hand gripping his hair to hold him still as the other dug a bone saw into his skull. And just as it did then, a hand pressed against his head- for there was no hair to grip on to- and tilted it back.

 

But it wasn’t a bone saw cutting into his skull. It was just some clippers, shaving away at his beard. His shoulders released their tension and his pinched lips only just managed to catch the whimper before it became audible.

 

He sat in silence and darkness as Hannibal peeled away his layers once more.

 

~x~

 

The pipes groaned as Will turned the shower knob sharply to the right, metal turned red from his bloodied touch. They clunked noisily within the tiled walls, as though waking from a deep sleep, and there was a delay before the showerhead finally sputtered. The water pressure was uneven and freezing as it pelted Will harshly in the face, against the width of his shoulders. He grimaced but made no move to pull away from the water or fuss with the knob.

 

It was grounding, the cold reassuring even in its discomfort. He imagined he could feel his muscles tightening, constricting in response to the low temperature.

 

He shivered beneath the spray of water, arms folded over his chest, and gradually it shifted, became warmer in slow and dragging increments. When it had warmed enough that he no longer felt the need to huddle and retain what little body heat he could, he grabbed the complimentary bar of soap. His fingers shook, too unsteady to find the folded edges of the paper packaging, and he brought it to his mouth and tore it open, letting it fall to the floor where it sat around the drain.

 

It was cheap- cheaper even than the soap he used at home- and it pulled and dragged his skin as he ran it over his chest. A thin lather coated his skin, white turning pink then red as he washed away the blood. It took time- the blood sinking into the crevices of his skin, absorbed by his pores and staining him. He had to dig the lather into his flesh with his nails in order to clean away the blood that had long since dried, flakes washed away beneath the spray that was now too hot.

 

Burning, the oxygen strangled from the room as steam billowed and engulfed him.

 

He enjoyed the routine of it, enjoyed the methodical cleansing. He allowed himself to sink into it, sink into the sensation of the soap dragging into him, digging his nails in when the blood proved too stubborn. Each part of him- dissected, segmented- required acute attention and several minutes until the soap and water ran clear and he could move to the next part.

He washed his face last, tilting it up to the ceiling and letting the water wash his face. He imagined the blood and his thoughts- too many thoughts- washing away with it. Slipping down the planes of his body and swirling around the drain.

 

He had a plan. He had a design.

 

And Hannibal was messing with it.

 

It was hard to think, his mind as tangled as the damp curls. There was too much noise in the room- the fan roaring noisily above him, the water pelting and echoing off the tiles. Even the shuffle of the plastic curtain seemed too great, pressing on his brain like a thumb.

 

His adrenaline waned, and he was suddenly all too aware of the throb of his limbs, the heaviness from weary and exhausted muscles. The ache creeping slowly up his spine and fanning outward into his shoulder blades, his arms. His nerves hummed, electric, and sparking with the residual energy. With a groan that was swallowed by the too many sounds around him, his knees buckled and he sunk to the floor. He pulled his knees to his chest, tilted his head back so it rested on the wall, the spray harsh on his face.

 

They had slept before leaving for the night in preparation, and yet he felt as though he could sleep for another twelve hours. An eternity, maybe.

 

He sighed, the motion causing him to inhale far too much of the damp air, lungs struggling to expand. It was suffocating, and yet he found it grounding. Maybe Chiyoh had been right when she said he only understood violence. A language of blood and wrath and sin. There was something concrete about it, something that kept him present instead of wandering, lost in the minds of killers. Other killers, he corrected. He was a killer now- without defense. The erratic thud of his heart, the familiar spark of adrenaline.

 

How could his mind wander, slip into the memories of crime scenes that haunted him like a specter when the pain was blossoming within him? When he was sinking into anguish- either his own or inflicted on others?

 

Being a monster kept the other monsters at bay.

 

Except for Hannibal, of course.

 

Hannibal, who clung to him like a disease, a fever run rampant that made his white blood cells fizzle and deteriorate. Festered like the many wounds he gifted him, the bacteria that nestled in the fold of his torn skin.

 

He pulled his head back, smacked it against the wall once, twice, three times.

 

A dull pain blossomed, and his eyes fluttered closed at the sensation, water and steam clinging to his lashes.

 

He rose a hand, pressed his fingers to his lips in imitation of the kiss that brushed against them before he did what he did best and fled. It paled, was nothing like the feel of Hannibal’s lips. Delicate, the slight puff of air that slipped between them and warmed him.

 

Hannibal had kissed him, something the man longed to do for some time, Will knew, though he was unsure of the exact timeline. When did Hannibal’s sadistic intrigue give way to obsession, something crooked and bent that filled the same silhouette as love but was hollow inside? When did Will shift in his mind, from a mildly amusing toy to bat around to something masterful, the layers beneath a painting that had been sealed in so much varnish and dust that it was unlike the one shown to the world?

 

Was it when he entered his dining room, Will standing at the head of the table above the bruised and bloodied body of Randall Tier? When Will sat beside him in the Uffizi, saw the Primavera through his eyes? Or maybe earlier than all of that, when Matthew strung him up like an effigy, an idol, Will’s name and message on his lips and the promise that- if nothing else- at least this desire was shared between them. The precise moment Will went from being an alleged murderer to an attempted murderer.

 

Or, he mused, perhaps it was love at first sight for him. The sharp and cruel thing recognizing the same in Will, as though all killers had a sense about these things- could sniff other killers out like a bloodhound.

 

Will had certainly been good at it. Until it mattered, at least.

 

He always knew what Hannibal was, though. A part of him saw it, his subconscious screaming through the haze of fever and an inflamed cortex that Will silenced with whiskey and Tylenol. A part Will ignored because he finally had a friend, someone who made him feel seen and listened to without judgment. Someone who didn’t handle like him he was made of glass, delicate and fragile. Like he would break at the slightest provocation.

 

When Hannibal broke him, it was brutal and with reckless abandon.

 

The water was cold again when he finally decided to pull from the shower, glancing over himself to ensure all the blood was gone. It was, as well as the first few layers of skin, rubbed raw with his fingernails and cheap soap. He shut the water off, rubbing a rough towel over him before stepping out.

 

The air in the small bathroom was humid, a thin fog shrouding the tiled space and condensing to the mirror so his reflection was just a blur of indistinguishable movements. The fan whirred, the mechanical sound digging into his brain, and he wondered how long he toiled away after running from Hannibal.

 

He was good at that, too. 

 

He wound the towel around his waist, realizing with a muttered expletive that in his haste to flee he forgot to grab his change of clothes. The ones he had been wearing were balled up in the sink, covered in blood and sitting in pink water. He bounced on the soles of his feet, one hand cinching the towel and the other squeezing water from his hair. Minutes passed, the air growing colder, less suffocating.

 

“Fuck,” he hissed after a moment and swallowed his pride before opening the door halfway and peering around it.

 

His shower was even longer than he realized (or perhaps Hannibal was just that efficient) as the bodies were gone, the tarps vanished from sight. It was still a mess- blood from earlier smeared over the tiles, furnishings knocked askew. It was still a crime scene, but at least it was no longer an operating room.

 

Hannibal glanced up at the sound of the door opening, a tool held in his gloved hands as he stopped packing his instruments away to glance at Will. He blinked once, raised a brow. He knew what Will needed, surely, but was going to make him ask for it.

 

“I ugh...I need my change of clothes,” he said slowly, enunciating clearly to ensure his accent didn’t creep back into his words. He didn’t want Hannibal to know how rattled he was.

 

“Of course,” he said, waving a hand in the direction of the bed, an overnight bag sitting on the tarp. “Everything is over there.”

 

Will looked at him for a few more seconds, rolling his eyes when he realized that Hannibal was stubbornly going to ignore the obvious request.

 

Spoiled brat,’ he muttered below his breath as he shifted the towel to better hide himself before stepping into the room. It was colder there, and he straightened his spine against the shiver that trembled through him, wet feet stepping carefully over tiles to avoid the blood splatters. It was difficult, opening the bag with one hand- the other refusing to do anything but hold together the towel- but he managed to tug the zipper enough to grab his clothes from where Hannibal had refolded them when Will’s packing wasn’t to his standards.

 

He pulled them free, holding them in a tight fist as he turned and strode back to the bathroom, aware of Hannibal’s eyes on him. It wasn’t so much he was shameless as he saw no shame in it, his open indulgence in something he considered extravagant, beautiful. His gaze was greedy and he made no move to change it for Will’s comfort, carving the sight into his memories as though he intended to draw it later on. Commit the moment in charcoals and graphite.

 

Will had made it back to the bathroom door before stopping at the sound of his name.

 

“Yes?” he asked, staring forward and into the small lavatory.

 

“You’ll need a garbage bag, for your old clothes.”

 

He scoffed when he finally turned to look at Hannibal, the man holding the proffered garbage bag in his hand but making no move to walk the few steps between them to give it to him. He wasn’t even holding it out to Will, carefully holding it only inches from his chest instead of stretching out to bridge the gap.

 

“Thanks,” he said through gritted teeth, holding an expectant hand out.

 

Hannibal’s face remained impassive as he continued to hold the bag close to him.

 

“Spoiled brat,” Will said, this time loud enough for Hannibal to hear as he stomped between them and ripped the bag from his hands.

 

The last thing he heard before the bathroom door clicked behind him was Hannibal’s answering words. “Indecisive child.”

 

~x~

 

It was morning by the time they were ready to leave, daybreak filtering in through the vertical blinds and heavy curtains. The room was righted, wiped down, and disinfected. Their luggage was packed away in the trunk of Hannibal’s car and when they left, housekeeping would clean the room even further.

 

If any investigation lead here- doubtful, as Michael’s own forensic countermeasures had worked in their favor- it would be long after the crime and any evidence could be found. Buried in the skin cells and hair follicles and fingerprints of other guests, cleaned and stripped away with each pass of the cleaning service.

 

Hannibal performed one last cursory glance around the room, the cooler a hefty weight in Will’s hands as he waited. With a nod, they left, Will sparing a final glance to the bed. He could almost see the impression he made on it hours ago when Michael straddled him. He ran a tongue over the roof of his mouth, as though the taste of him might still linger there, the taste of assault and shame and a crude grasp for power.

 

He shook the thoughts from his head, tossing the cooler in the backseat before sliding into the passenger seat beside Hannibal. He blinked, eyes wincing at the golden light of day as the sun rose above the horizon.

 

“I’ll have to keep the air on, my apologies if it gets too cold,” Hannibal said, his voice neither sincere nor insincere. Will grunted in response, turning his body away from him in a way that he was sure the psychiatrist was analyzing at the very moment. Not as if it mattered- the good doctor had lost his license a long time ago. His head fell to the window, vibrating as the engine turned and they began their drive back to the house.

 

Hannibal reached for the center console, music seeping through the speakers gradually as he found the ideal volume. Not too high, considerate to how distracting Will found the sound of pianos and violins as they boomed and swelled around him.

 

The music was peaceful, a lullaby. Will always struggled to stay awake during car rides, ever since he was a child. It made moving easier, loading into the van beside his father, and sleeping as they drove from one life to another. It wasn’t long before he lolled, his breath evening out and fanning against the window.

 

When he awoke, it was to a finger tapping on the window, and he groaned, trying to stretch out only to be stopped, cramped in the small space. He winced as he twisted, a jacket falling from his shoulders and into his lap as he undid the seat belt. The door opened for him, and he stumbled through, catching the jacket before it fell to the ground.

 

“I’ll make us something quick to eat before we get some rest,” Hannibal said, closing the door and locking the car behind him.

 

“Do you want help-” Will started, gesturing to the trunk and the suitcases filled with corpses and bagged clothes.

 

“I’ve taken care of it,” Hannibal interrupted, and without another word, he turned and made his way to the covered lanai of the front porch. Will followed, eyes tracing the curved arches of the home, so different from the home Hannibal maintained in Baltimore- the one he stole in Italy. No less beautiful in this new style, the exterior the color of warm sand, bright and colorful plants crowding the walkway. There was the distant sound of waves crashing against a shoreline, the smell of salt in the air.

 

But it was Hannibal’s home, not his, even if the other man liked to refer to it otherwise.

 

His home wouldn’t have so many locks on it, he thought as Hannibal waited for Will to step inside before closing the door behind him, the sound followed by a click.

 

“I take it you’ll be in your room?” Hannibal asked, taking the jacket from Will’s grasp and smoothing it out. He didn’t look to Will’s face as he spoke, focusing on his own hands as they caressed the already righted fabric. Even psychopaths had nervous quirks, Will thought with amusement.

 

“I’m going to sit out back,” he said, watching as the hands stilled. Before Hannibal could say anything else, he made his way to the kitchen, stopping at the small bar cart stationed beside the double doors. He grabbed the bottle of whiskey- a new one, when had Hannibal replaced it?- and stepped outside.

 

The doors opened to a veranda, fitted with stylish wicker furniture and a standing fireplace- how pretentious, to have an actual fireplace outside instead of a firepit. There was a patch of grass just beyond the stone patio- modest, but big enough for a dog or two though Will would never ask- and planters filled with produce and herbs line the yard, running the same perimeter as the fence. A fence, more like a wall as it cut the world in half in the same sand-tone of the house, enclosed him. A locked gate kept the other half of the world away and looming palm trees threw shadows over the yard.

 

He was high enough atop the hill to see the beach below, the small hills and sprawling cliffs that the water curled around. It was too early to enjoy the water- this late in the year it was really only pleasant to swim for a few hours in the late afternoon.

 

He never cared much for beaches, but he longed for this one. One so close he could feel the winds the ocean carried with it, but so far. Kept behind the lock and key. He could climb the fence, or ask Hannibal to go, but that wasn’t the point.

 

He unscrewed the cap of the whiskey, fingers curling around the neck as he brought it to his lips. He was warmed instantly, the liquid filling his empty belly. He dropped himself into the daybed, wicker creaking beneath him. Some of the decorative pillows fell with his ungraceful movements, and in a whim of spite, he pushed the rest of them off, watching them tumble to the stone patio.

 

Satisfied, he laid back, one arm folded beneath his head, and stared at the overhanging roof above him, string lights wound around the rafters. The evening played over in his mind, memories projected before him.

 

He was a killer now.

 

A proper one, not one of circumstance. Not a killer of opportunity.

 

He found a pig.

 

Learned its behavior.

 

Hunted it for weeks.

 

Set a trap and sprung.

 

His actions set it to motion. His actions killed a man. And in doing so, how many others had been saved? Not enough- not nearly enough, really. But even saving the life of one innocent was worth it- their lives were so much more valuable and useful than anything those pigs could do.

 

It felt...powerful.

 

Like those moments during an arrest, the relief of knowing one less violent offender was wandering the streets. The feeling of knowing the job was done and the crimes were solved and the whole file could be stamped and locked away. Like those moments, but better. Because they were snuffed out entirely, reduced to the nothingness they were. They weren’t worth the electricity to warm their cells, worth the time the court systems would devote to them. Better because they suffered the way their victims had, suffered for the sins. How undignified, choking on your own sick with a broken and distended jaw. How glorious to have your heart break so the muscle sagged and blood burst.

 

Will fulfilled all the jobs- investigator, hunter, judge, juror, and executioner.

 

He was a killer.

 

And he liked it.

 

He inhaled slowly, a steadying breath. The world was spinning out beneath him, and he was clutching the ground for purchase. He rose his head, taking another gulp of whiskey, barely settling the bottle back before taking another.

 

Raviolo al uovo,” a voice said, and he twisted to watch as Hannibal entered the patio, carrying a tray before him. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted breakfast because it was the morning, or dinner since we’ve been up for some time. So, I combined them. A homemade semolina ravioli, filled with seasoned ricotta and a runny yolk.” He set the tray down on the wicker coffee table, raising a ceramic gravy boat and pouring it over each plate. “Sitting on a bed of pureed squash, the sauce is brown butter with fried sage leaves and finished with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.” He flourished his wrist as he topped it off with cheese before handing Will a plate.

 

Two portions of ravioli, each the size of his palm, were placed artfully over the mashed squash, a deep brown and nutty smelling sauce soaking into the grooves and crevices. “You said you were going to make something easy...you made homemade pasta?” he asked, incredulous as he sat up and held the plate in one hand.

 

“I’ve always found making pasta therapeutic. There’s something satisfying about kneading dough, and of course, the technical challenges of the dish keep it interesting,” Hannibal answered, and Will was surprised when he took his own plate and sat on the lounger opposite the daybed, balancing the plate in his lap.

 

After another sip of the whiskey- his throat felt hot, tight from the liquor and his head felt too heavy yet too light all at once- Will said, “I would have been fine with an Eggo waffle.”

 

“I wouldn’t have been fine serving you one,” Hannibal said simply, and Will felt his lips quirk at the sight before him. Hannibal delicately wielding his utensils, trying not to apply too much pressure and upend his food.


It was the first meal Will had taken outside of his bedroom, though, and Hannibal seemed desperate to share it with him. Even if it meant forgoing the comfort and stability of a table and place setting.

 

Will used the side of his fork to cut into the ravioli, the egg yolk running out from the center, creamy and thick. He took a bite, savored the flavors on his tongue. Fragrant and earthy sage, the sweet and indulgent butter sauce. “It’s delicious, thank you,” he said.

 

There was a pause, the sound of silverware settling on ceramic. “I’m glad you enjoy it.” Then, after a moment of thought, added, “we can get a patio set if you want. A proper dining area, if you prefer to eat out here.”

 

“We?” Will asked, face pinching from the alcohol as he set the bottle down on the ground to grab his fork again. We. Domestic. A united front.

 

“Yes, we. It's your home too and I’d like you to be comfortable.”

 

Will filled his mouth with more food than was necessary if only to prevent himself from saying something rude. Something antagonistic. He was feeling- for the first time in a long time- content. It would be a shame to ruin it for the fleeting joy of denying Hannibal.

 

They sat in silence, Will eating too much too quickly to force his words to be swallowed back with the masticated food, unable to respond to any of Hannibal’s prompts. After the third amputated conversation, Hannibal seemed to understand and fell quiet. At least Will hadn’t run away yet- it was the small victories, knitted together over time that would win the larger ones.

 

When Will finished, he set his dish back down on the tray and retrieved the whiskey, reclining back and letting it sit in his lap. The bottle was sweating, dampening the front of his jeans where it rested. Hannibal followed suit a few minutes later, his dish clattering as it settled over the first.

 

“If you’ll indulge me, Will,” Hannibal asked, folding an ankle over his knee and settling his hands in his laps. “What changed your mind about this pig? You never cared to accompany me before.”

 

Will took a slow sip of the whiskey, holding it in his mouth as he considered the question. A part of him, a cruel part of him made bold by the liquor, wanted to leave Hannibal right then and there. Leave the question behind and let the older man feel the full burden of his dismissal. He stayed instead.

 

“I’m sure you’re familiar with the tale of Persephone and Hades,” he started, examining a cuticle idly. He didn’t wait for a response before saying, “Six pomegranate seeds, and she was forced to divide her life between her world and the underworld. Six little seeds. All she was trying to do was abate her hunger, and suddenly she was cut in half.”

 

“She was allowed to return home, though. Whole, not dissected. Six months for each seed and she was free once more,” Hannibal reasoned. “And in exchange, she became queen of the underworld. A place of honor among the more notable Gods of Olympus.”

 

Will scoffed. “She was a prisoner, and each time she was to retire to the Underworld, the world froze over in her mother’s grief. She mourned for her daughter every year, and the world suffered for it. It must have been painful, returning each year only to know the reunion wouldn’t last. The clock was ticking, and each second was a reminder of the betrayal from those six little seeds. It’s like returning someone from the dead, knowing they’re on borrowed time. And you’ll have to watch them die again. And again. And again. It’s torture.”

 

Hannibal inclined his head. “What is time to the immortal? And what of Hades, mourning the loss of his beloved? It must be lonely with nothing but disembodied souls for company. Does he not deserve companionship?”

 

An uneven grin cut across Will’s face. “He doesn’t deserve it, but it doesn’t matter, does it? He gets it anyway. And I don’t think that’s the end of Persephone’s story,” Will said after a moment, swirling the bottle of whiskey so that the amber liquid sloshed in the bottle.

 

“Oh?” Hannibal said, tone flat as he arched one brow.

 

“I think, eventually, she got tired of it all. The half-life she lived. She got tired of moving back and forth between the underworld, tired of watching Demeter tear the world asunder in her grief, only to piece herself back together over and over again. I think she did them all a favor and decided to eat the whole pomegranate. The whole fucking thing.” Will tossed his head back, lips curling around the bottle as whiskey dripped down his chin, sliding down the curve of his throat.

 

Hannibal swallowed, imagining Will devouring a pomegranate the way he did the liquor, the fruit sitting in the palm of his hand as he ate like a starved man, red juice dribbling down his wrist and forearm, smearing his lips and teeth like blood.

 

“She would only need to eat six more seeds, a minor sacrifice. Eating the whole pomegranate would just be gluttonous,” Hannibal said, eyes following the bead of whiskey that slipped between Will’s collar.

 

“Gluttony has its merits,” Will answered with a shrug. Then: “I wanted it to be mine. You’ve touched everything else in my life, I suppose I wanted something that was entirely my vision without your influence. And the world is safer for it, besides.”

 

“Not so much an aversion to your nature as waiting for the right way to appease it,” Hannibal muttered, more to himself than to Will. “Killing bad people makes you feel good.”

 

“Does that make me lesser to you? Needing a reason to do what I do?”

 

The gaze he was met with was intense in its sincerity, Hannibal almost pouting before he said, “Nothing you do could make you lesser to me. All I ever wanted was for you to be who you truly are. This is your victimology, your profile. There’s something almost biblical to it as well. Committing the sins that are already within you to save the world from the sins of others. Condemning yourself to hell in your mind so fewer people are shuffled to the afterlife before their time. It’s honorable. Beautiful, even. You’ve sacrificed yourself to save others and in doing so have become your true self.”

 

His words shouldn’t have felt so comforting, so supportive.

 

And yet…


Will found himself leaning forward, mouth slung open. The words were soothing hands to a fraying chord, kisses to a stinging wound. It was foolish that he would still care about what Hannibal thought of him, but he was a fool in this way. Always needing Hannibal despite all the hemispheres of his brain screaming otherwise.

 

He preened beneath the praise, and when it started to feel too comforting- taste too much like nourishment- he cleared his throat. Shifted control of the conversation to his own hands.

 

“I spoke with Bedelia a few times, you know,” he said, hoping the bitterness and jealousy that tasted like charcoal on his tongue wasn’t so obvious. He brought the bottle to his lips once more, taking a noisy swig as though he could wash the taste away. His lips were shiny when he settled the bottle on his lap. “I asked her if you were in love with me.”

 

If Hannibal was surprised by the admission, he didn’t show it, offering a slow and considerate blink as his head tilted minutely to the side. “And what did she say?”

 

“Yes,” he said, extending the curl of the ‘s’ as though hissing it. He then added, “More or less. She said some...shit about you hungering for me. Do you?”

 

“Love you or hunger for you?”

 

Will rose a brow, an uneven grin splitting across his face. “Is there a difference? You did try to eat me once, after all.”

 

Hannibal sniffed, eyes averting as he rubbed his fingers over his thigh, fiddling with a crease at the seam of his slacks. “I changed my mind, didn’t I?” His tone was dismissive, as though Will had brought up a long-ago argument that had since been settled. He had this way about him, this ability to make Will seem like the crazy one- the bitter and childish and reactive one. Perhaps it was the whiskey that slowly seeped into his veins, warmed his capillaries, and created a pleasant blush in his cheeks, but Will was feeling bold. Antagonistic.

 

He wanted a fight.

 

The words were hazy, drowning in the alcohol, but he was able to pull them from the deepest crevices of his memory, reciting them with only a slight slur- the slightest twang as his accent extended his vowels and curved his consonants. “Jesus said to them, very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up at the last day…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”

 

He paused, letting the verse wrap around them. An accusation. “Is that why you ate Mischa? So she would live forever through you? And why you tried to eat me?”

 

Hannibal pursed his lips, eyes mirroring the color of the whiskey as the sun filtered through the fronds of the palm trees. It was the unmistakable flash of irritation, the ghosts of his past creating a shadow in his gaze. He sighed, leaning back on the chair and threading his fingers together. “Perhaps you should stop drinking. You’re becoming a mean drunk,” was all he said, ignoring the scripture and the accusation wrought within it.

 

In a show of spite, Will took another swig. “Do you think I would have tasted as good as she did? Does her taste still linger in the spaces between your teeth?” His words were a whisper, spiked with cruel delight as he dug a proverbial knife into scar tissue.

 

With the look of a man cornered, Hannibal relented, letting his eyes fall from Will’s ruddy and bruised face to the beach, waves crawling up the sand. It was cold, this early in the day and in the off-season, but he could still see some people in the distance. Muted silhouettes of joggers. “Mischa tasted like...mourning. She tasted like all the memories of our short time together, as though I could gnash her flesh between my teeth and savor her life. She did not deserve to die, but she did all the same, and nothing I did could have changed it. In this way, I could let her stay with me a little longer. In the spaces between my teeth, as you so eloquently said.”

 

The bottle slipped in his grasp, held precariously as he leaned forward at Hannibal’s words, jaw slinging open. “And me?” he asked, his voice breathless and thready. When had the air grown so thin?

 

“You would have tasted...” he paused, thinking of his words with all the care of a master artisan before finally settling on one. “Unsatisfying.”

 

He shouldn’t have been offended. And yet, he was, an unattractive wrinkle forming between his brows as he let his lips contort into a grimace. He twisted to his side on the daybed, wicker groaning with the movement and set the bottle on the ground beside him. “That’s not-”

 

“I don’t want to eat you, Will,” Hannibal interrupted, and Will was annoyed to see the phantom smile on his thin lips. Smug, as though delighted to see Will took such an issue with the supposed taste of his flesh. “You would have tasted like regret, a culmination of mistakes, and betrayals. Yours and mine. You would have tasted like missed opportunities and now I know if I had been successful in my endeavor, I could have gorged myself on you and still found a hollowness within my belly. Some fits of hunger can’t be satiated by feasting, and that is the hunger I have for you.”

 

The warmth in Will’s cheeks could not be blamed on the alcohol, and he swallowed thickly, turning away from Hannibal and the suddenly heated look in his eyes. He said he didn’t hunger him like a meal but his eyes said different, a hunger in them that looked as if he wished to consume him. Wished to feel his bones crunch beneath his teeth.

 

He wondered, idly, if his taste had changed now that they reached this nebulous truce between them. If their amendments and slowly building trust tenderized him, seasoned him with a more pleasant, less acrid flavor. If he would linger between his teeth as Mischa had.

 

“Is there a difference, then? Between...that sort of hunger and love?” He licked his lips, and he was dimly aware of the eyes that followed the motion, traced the path his tongue had made. Something hot and wet coiled within his lower stomach.

 

“No, not to me there isn’t,” he confessed. Then, as if wanting to ensure that Will understood what he meant, he added, “I love you, Will.”

 

He sucked in a breath, greedy and too quick so that he choked on it. It bubbled in his throat and he raised a hand to cover his mouth as he coughed, the sound thick and strangled.

 

He thought he was prepared to hear it, but he had been wrong. It was a vice around his throat, a dismantling of the game of pretend they had fallen into. Make-believe. He could dance around the memory of Hannibal’s arm around him, the memory of melting into his embrace before his awareness. Dance around the glances that lingered too long and the brush of fingertips that didn’t need to touch when they passed something between them. Even the kiss could be pushed aside into the depths of his denial, chalked up to the euphoria of a kill and moment shared between them.

 

But he couldn’t dance around this. The admission was like a shackle around his ankle, binding him in place. It was voiced, made real by spoken words, and ushered into existence.

 

“I-” he started, avoiding Hannibal’s expectant look. Afraid his mirror would shatter with the pull of it, that he would fall into the reflection and never come back. “I don’t think I can say it back,” he muttered, the words linked together and hurrying to fall from his tongue. “Sorry.”

 

He kept his eyes firmly on the beach, on the shoreline as it encroached on the earth. He imagined it climbing, crawling so far up that the waves crashed on him and pulled him back, sand shifting beneath him as he struggled to find purchase. He imagined the water- tepid and salty and burning his nostrils and throat as he swallowed it. Strangled on the ocean. Drowning, darkness bleeding into his vision as the water and built-up carbon dioxide ached in his lungs. He imagined the death he sought a year ago.

 

How much had changed since then.

 

“Don’t be sorry, I understand,” Hannibal said, the words soft and placating. There was a sound, clothes shuffling, and wicker creaking, and Will was speaking before he was aware he had opened his mouth.

 

“I don’t...I don’t hunger for you,” he said, finally turning to look at Hannibal. The man was frozen, an aborted movement as he leaned forward, halfway through standing from the seat. His face was as impassive as ever, even to Will’s discernible eyes that had memorized the set of his brow and the slope of the shadows cast by his sharp cheekbones. As if he donned a mask, steeling himself for the rejection.

 

But the mask fell, for only a moment. Though the moment was enough for Will to see the unmistakable hurt that flitted in his glossy eyes. The pain that made his lips twist before settling in a firm line. “I know our dynamic is very take and take but must you ta-”

 

“I don’t-” he interrupted, raising an unsteady hand for emphasis. “It’s not fair to call it love. So I can’t. But it’s...it’s not hunger. It’s like thirst if anything. Like it doesn’t matter how much I don’t want to. Like, I've forgiven you because it's too much...cognitive dissonance not to. I can't forget it though, so it's hard because I need you. I have a thirst and nothing can quench it. I tried with...” he stuttered, swallowed. “Alana. Margot. Molly abated it for a while but...not really.


“It’s not love. Because love is...it’s kind and trusting and that’s-” his words were punctuated by a laugh, punched from his gut, “that’s not us.”

 

Hannibal let himself drop back on the lounger, hands tossing out the hem of his suit jacket. Curious. Cautious. His carefully guarded face- once more affixed behind his mask- was turned to Will as he listened with rapt attention. That same reverent look from before, when Will was doling out his reckoning.

 

“If not love, what then?”

 

Will sighed, reaching over for the bottle of whiskey but he hesitated, fingers trailing down the long neck of the bottle, tracing the beveled dips. He pulled his hand back, empty, rubbing the pads of his thumb and forefinger together, wet from the condensation. “Hmm...an addiction, maybe? Or a...a symbiotic relationship. Like we’ve got the same...we’re connected. Our organs. We share them and need each other or else it will all shut down.” He was drunk now, his words slurred and stringing together in choppy sentences, his accent settling into them.

 

“That doesn’t sound very sustainable,” Hannibal offered, the same measured tone he used during their therapy sessions years ago. A lifetime ago.

 

Will scoffed. “Were we ever meant to be? Sustainable? We’re combustible at best.”

 

Hannibal smiled, the gesture a wide, mischievous curl. “All the best things are, I think. Fire- which delivers warmth and security, allowed our ancestors the opportunity to hunt in the night, scare away those that might bring harm. The sun and stars- even the air we breathe is flammable in the right circumstances. Sustainability has its charm, but I prefer the uncertainty of combustion. I’d rather burst and explode in a blinding blaze of sparks than whither away, wouldn’t you?”

 

Will gave a noncommittal hum, falling back against the mattress when the weight of holding himself up seemed too much. He thought he might fall through. Rip through the wicker, plummet into the ground until he was submerged in the earth’s molten core. “Mutually assured destruction,” he whispered, unsure if it was loud enough for Hannibal to hear or if he even said it aloud at all. The world was blurring, seen through the honey-colored lenses as whiskey flooded his vision.

 

Hannibal was standing over him, and he seemed to Will as though he just appeared there, time becoming indistinct. “Let me assist you in getting to bed,” the older man said, but Will batted away his touches, rolling stubbornly onto his stomach.

 

“Mmph,” he murmured into the mattress, then, after raising his head, added, “I want to stay here. By the beach.” There was a sigh, and hands were touching him again. He squirmed, but they became firmer, pushing him back and rolling him to his side. One hand stayed on his shoulder, as the other used the pillows Will had kicked to the floor to build a nest around him. Keep him pressed between the back of the daybed and the supportive wall of pillows so he couldn’t roll onto either his back or stomach.

 

He sighed, winding an arm around a pillow and holding it close to his chest. He was, in some part of his brain, aware that he had been in the middle of a very important talk- though he could no longer remember what or why it mattered or why he felt bad for letting the alcohol pull him away from it. And when something pushed aside his curls, pressed gently against his temple, he could hardly care, falling into the lull of sleep.

 

He awoke sometime later, head full, and still warm with inebriation. The sun was higher in the sky, a cool breeze wafting through.

 

He pulled himself up- having more difficulty than he cared to admit with the tightly packed pillows, and rubbed at his eyes until his vision stabilized enough to see. See that Hannibal was no longer with him, that the tray of dishes had been cleared away. In its place sat something else. Something small yet shiny, glinting in the light that came at an angle beneath the covered patio.

 

Too small to see with his bleary gaze, so he reached out instead, touching the cool metal.

 

Keys.

 

Hannibal had left him the keys.

 

~x~

 

Chiyoh kept him blindfolded until she pulled the car into the parking space, switching it into park and turning the ignition. The moment stretched between them, and he shifted in his seat, fiddled with his seat belt.

 

When she gave him the cue to pull off the silk that had for so long become his whole world, he almost refused. Hesitant to pull it from his eyes and confront the universe that felt so unsure to him now. He was a phantom, passing through this world as he moved to the next.

 

But the residual ache of his teeth that sent shocks along his jaw and curled over his skull reminded him of why he was here. The fabric slipped from his face, and he blinked as the light blinded him, bright as a cluster of stars imploding in quick succession. Spots filtered his vision, and the contrast of the scene before him was all wrong. Like an overexposed picture, white halos trimming shapes and shadows strangling the light.

 

He covered his gaze with his hand, finding solace in the manufactured darkness.

 

This will help for now,” Chiyoh offered, and something dropped in his lap. Sunglasses.

 

He slipped them on with a grateful nod.

 

They sat, letting his eyes adjust beneath the dark lenses until he could lift his head and look around-

 

Let’s go,” she said, in a tone that brooked no argument. She met him as he stood outside the car door, hand gripping his arm, and dragged him to the office as though reluctant to let him scan the area. But the air was warm and balmy and he could smell a storm in the air and he knew they were moving along the coast and he was almost certain they were in Florida.

 

Risky, stopping before they officially left the country. Jack still had jurisdiction.

 

There was no one in the waiting room- obviously, Hannibal had ensured as little witnesses as possible- and when the bell above the door rang a woman in scrubs with a polka-dotted lanyard stepped out from a room.

 

She smiled kindly. Condescendingly.

 

You can come in, we’ve been waiting for you,” she said, and the cadence was the same as the one he used when catching strays.

 

He followed her into the room, where he was asked to remove his hat and glasses and lean back against the stiff chair. She examined his mouth, tutted at the damage. Her probing fingers tasted like latex and pity.

 

They gave him anesthesia, and the unconsciousness he fell into was sudden and bone dragging. Like the fall from the eroded bluff. One moment he was awake and blinking away the glare of the overhead light, the next he was dreaming of stags that rose from darkened waters, velvet antlers piercing the hull of a ship. Dreaming of himself, jumping from the sinking ship and swimming until his hands found wet sand and he pulled himself onto a beach where Jack Crawford sat in wait.

 

The dream sat like lead within him, burrowing into his bones. And when he was pulled awake, soft and cloudy as though the doctor had taken care to replace his brain with cotton balls while she was at it, his mind lingered on the images. There was a moment where he was alone in the room, gauze and blood and dental crowns filling his swollen mouth, and he glanced at the phone sitting on the counter. Spit leaked from the corners of his lips, and he swallowed thickly as he recited the familiar number in his head.

 

One phone call and he would be heading back home. Sitting among the pile of dogs as Molly fussed over him. She was so worried about him, worried about what Hannibal had done in those weeks since the accident. The disappearance.

 

He did not know how long he stared at the phone, but soon the door was opening and the doctor was returning, smiling that same pitying smile. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

 

His gaze slid to the phone. The temptation of betrayal like the trigger to a loaded gun and all he had to do was pull back the hammer, ready himself for the recoil.

 

He shook his head, and she helped him find his way back to the waiting room.

 

His teeth were fixed, something artificial replacing the pieces of him he lost. He wondered how long before he was nothing but a shadow of his former self, dutifully replaced bit by bit as Hannibal deigned.

 

Chapter Text

Feed

 

The drugs lingered in him for the rest of the day, and he didn’t recall much of the drive to the boat or being pulled back to the little narrow bed. He slept- his blindfold once more in place- and dreamed of tumultuous things. Corpses writhing, limbs reanimated. Stags thundering over rocks and between trees, plummeting from cliffs into the raging waters below. Horned creatures with eyes like an abyss lurching from below the ocean, beads of water shaken from velvet antlers. He dreamed of feasts, eating and eating only for the food to fall from his mouth, wine dribbling between shattered teeth, and through the slanted hole in his cheek.

 

He tried to chew the meats and swallow, but nothing could be consumed, and the hollowness echoed in his stomach. He felt scooped out, empty.

 

His gaze rose from the banquet, the bones, gristle, and chewed up remains of food that fell from the hole in his face dirtying up the table that stretched forward. And he saw the creature sitting opposite him, candlelight filtering between the branches of its antlers and creating a halo. A crown of light. The creature rose, claws settling on the table, and tearing the embossed tablecloth. It was crawling towards him, unconcerned by the bulbous glasses of wine that spilled and shattered, crunching the shards beneath palms and knees. Crunching the bones of some unidentified roasted bird on a platter, blood squeezing from the meat as the creature crawled over it and came to rest before Will.

 

Their eyes meet- eyes that encompassed all the colors, blue and green and amber, meeting eyes of total blackness, eating the light that tried and failed to reflect against the glossy surface. The creature lurched forward, talons digging into the flesh of Will’s stomach and penetrating him, ripping him apart. Skin torn from muscle, flayed apart until the claws scraped over the soft and pulsing organs within.

 

He gasped, choked on a sob, unable to look away from the hand that dug into his stomach, cutting it open. The freehand reached back, grabbing fistfuls of bleeding and rotten meat, sour with mold. It plunged the hand forward, slipping between the seam of his stomach and filling it with all the food he could not eat. Chasing away the hollowness, nourishing him even as he carved into him.

 

He awoke with a gasp, sweat clinging to his skin and body twisted within the sheets. The blindfold was soaked, cold against his eyes and it was the first time he wanted to pull it free, test be damned. Lashes were pressed against his lids, and he reached up and slipped it up to his forehead, blinking in the light of the cabin.

 

There were no windows, and the only light came from a small overhead bulb, a string dangling and shifting with each rock of the waves. Hannibal was sitting on the bed opposite him, a folding tray before him as he poured the contents of his thermos into a bowl.

 

He didn’t look up as he said, “You were having quite the dream, dear Will. I suppose you don’t care to talk about it?” Here, he looked at him, and Will swallowed, regret flaring within him that he had removed the blindfold. That it sat like a damp washcloth on his fevered head.

 

But Hannibal said nothing about it, standing from the bed and pulling the small table with him as he joined Will, who shuffled against the pillow and the wall to give him room.

 

Just some broth, room temperature. We can move on to softer, more nourishing foods in a few days,” Hannibal explained, dipping a spoon into the bowl. Will felt, distinctly, like a baby. Moving from the formula of his feeding tube to soft foods that did not require the use of his new and fragile teeth. A rebirth, he thought with wry amusement.

 

Fingers cupped his chin, and he did not fight as Hannibal slowly spooned the broth into his mouth. Feeding him had become a ritual in its own right, and he had already denied Hannibal so much. From his affection to his words.

 

He could sacrifice this small dignity. Even if dignity was all he had left. Dignity and Hannibal.

 

~x~

 

Keys.

 

Hannibal left him the keys.

 

It was a test. A blatant one at that. So blatant that for a moment Will thought the man was losing his touch. But for all its lack of subtlety, it was a risky test. All the things kept behind locked doors, all the temptations.

 

Nothing was stopping Will from punching through a window or climbing the fence- the locked doors between him and escape were more a metaphor than anything else. A brutal reminder that Will had abandoned him one too many times. It was an insult, the sound of the lock clicking into place said all the words Hannibal didn’t need to. You are indecisive. You are flighty. You will not commit.

 

I can’t trust you to not leave without resistance.

 

Will escaping was of no concern to Hannibal- Will wouldn’t have even put it past the man to have slipped a tracking device into him if he so deigned to do so. Even if Will did manage to leave and return to Virginia, Hannibal would be long gone by the time Crawford could catch him.

 

There were things other than freedom kept behind locked doors, though. Far more dangerous things. The room Hannibal had made his own, that Will had never seen but could imagine. All the tools, the medical supplies he perverted. Dangling meat hooks and large freezers. Even the knives were kept in locked drawers, Hannibal making it an insulting habit to cut Will’s food for him to avoid having to give him a weapon.

 

He was certain Will wouldn’t leave. He was less convinced Will wouldn’t kill him.

 

His head swooning with the motion, Will snatched the keys and scrutinized them, committing each ridge and indent to memory as if that alone would suffice in picking the locks. Excitement thrummed through him, and his body trembled with the implications.

 

Hannibal left him the keys.

 

He was bounding off before he even knew where he was headed, trying the keys in all the locked doors in the house he had ever encountered. Some of them, he suspected, Hannibal kept locked solely to mess with him, as there was nothing of interest in them.

 

Well, to him at least.

 

To anyone else, the art studio with violent and grotesque images would bring alarm. Charcoal drawings of ripped throats and hands pulling intestines from a hollow chest. Pencil drawings of tableaus that Will did not recognize, admiring with a small smile as he wondered if they were fantasies or plans for someone Hannibal had yet to catch but planned to. His elaborate displays had come to an end- they were too identifying, too much a signature- but he still envisioned them.

 

He found an entire sketchbook that seemed dedicated to Will, depicting him from all angles and expression in various states of repose. Most of them distant, seen through the lens of someone who could watch from afar but was unable to approach. Will lounging among the irises and hibiscuses of the botanical garden, crouched down to pet the dog of a vendor at the farmer’s market. His perusing slowed, came to a stop as his flipping brought him to the earlier pages of the sketchbook, pages that were messy with charcoal fingerprints as though they were returned to frequently.

 

Will, blindfolded on a narrow bed. The same subject, done in different ways and from slightly different angles. Sitting up, laying down, head turned to the wall, head twisted and facing Hannibal.

 

He thought back to the cabin on the boat he had only seen for a few rare minutes, to all the times Hannibal sat with him and politely chatted as Will said nothing back, his words hiding the sound of pencil on paper.

 

There was one picture that made his breath catch, lodge in his throat. One that couldn’t have been real and must have come from Hannibal’s thoughts- fantasies blurring with reality. Seen from above, as though he was standing over him instead of sitting on the bed opposite. It was Will laying on the bed, naked, a sheet twisting between his legs for modesty. The muscles of his stomach soft in the shading of the pencil, the contours of his pectoral highlighed- the scar across his abdomen jagged and red- he had used a felt tip marker. His hands were bound, wrists tied together above his head, and the blindfold over his eyes was saturated in the same red marker as the cut in his forehead bled in an angry line.

 

All the things Hannibal had ever done to him- all the wounds, all the imprisonment, all the blinding- depicted on one page. A tableau of its own. His favorite tableau, if the smudged charcoal prints and the easy way the binding spread to reveal the page was any indication.

 

He swallowed, hesitating only a moment before ripping the page from the sketchbook and folding it- shoving it in his back pocket. It felt too intimate to let Hannibal keep all to himself.

 

The secrets of the art studio having lost its novelty, he moved on. Unlocking and opening doors until he found the one he wanted- the one that opened to a darkened stairway and smelled of cold, stagnant air. The steps were quiet beneath him, sturdy because of course, they would be- Hannibal would want the element of fear that came with appearing and disappearing without any preamble.

 

He found a switch after some fumbling against a wall, and the room was illuminated in a low, white glow. A clinical light, lacking all the warmth and comfort. The room was divided, segmented by a thick plastic hanging that offered only shadows to what was hidden behind them, the droning sound of an industrial refrigeration unit.

 

Will dubbed the first room the workspace, chains hanging from the ceiling. There was a wall of cabinetry and drawers, all fixed with several locks. The tools, he realized, licking his lips. A hand reached out beside him, brushing the metal table that sat in the center of the space. An operating table, leather cuffs dangling from either corner, one in the center that would tie around the middle.

 

He wondered if Hannibal ever imagined Will on this table- if there were any drawings depicting those fantasies. Will cuffed and bound and chest cut open. Digging himself inside Will and touching him deeper than ever before.

 

The thought made him blush, and he turned his attention to the cabinetry, keys jangling as he tried one after the other to open them. He found success after several minutes and was disappointed when the unlocked drawer opened only to a collection of scalpels.

 

How many scalpels did one man need? Even if that man was a serial killer, it seemed excessive.

 

Will reached in and plucked one, ensuring the plastic cap was on before sliding it in his pocket beside the stolen drawing. He closed the drawer, opening the others and glancing at their contents with varying interests. When all the cabinets had been explored- his fingerprints settled on each and every instrument with smug satisfaction- he left the basement, letting the rest of it go unexplored.

 

Better to leave some mystery, he thought, even though he knew the real reason was that he hoped Hannibal would give him the tour himself.

 

He didn’t lock any of the doors behind him as he moved through the house, his own message erasing the one Hannibal had locked into them.

 

Ha! It’s mine now, too.’

 

When he exhausted all the doors in the downstairs, he returned to the patio, stepping over his mess of pillows and to the locked fence. His hand shook as he brought one of the only remaining keys to the padlock and he had to steady himself, count to three before he could finally unlatch it. The locking mechanism clicked, hook pulling away and Will slid it out of the latch and tossed it aside, unconcerned with where it landed.

 

He swung the gate open, eyes closing at the uninterrupted breeze, the warm sun on his face. It tasted like freedom.

 

Unencumbered freedom.


He remembered how different the air tasted when he was released from the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane. It tasted like bitter freedom and wrath and blood then.

 

Now, it tasted light. Refreshing.

 

He toed off his shoes, rolled up the legs of his pants before descending down the many stairs that cut through the hill and to the beach below. He ran them, winded and out of breath by the time he reached the hot sand that burned the soles of his feet and was propelled forward by the promise of relief by the ocean’s waters.

 

Water splashed with his hurried entrance, saturating his jeans and flicking upward so that even his flannel was coated in dark patches. He heaved, bent over to catch his breath as the water retreated, pulling back from the shoreline.

 

It was disorienting, the tug of the waves pulling the sand with it, the very foundation he stood on shifting beneath him and leaving him to sink slowly into the disappearing earth. He imagined him going with it, crumbling into a million little granules that were swept away and pulled into the ocean, spat back on the beach as the wave returned. His head still tilted with whiskey and there was nothing he could do to stop himself when the ocean smacked back against him, knocking him to his backside as water filled his mouth, salt burning his throat.

 

He was dragged back by the force of the current, pulled further by the waves and he laughed.

 

How funny it would be if this was how he died. Drowned by the pull of an ocean that had not killed him before when he begged it to. Drowned by the taste of freedom and trust and the drawing of him dissolving in his back pocket. Hannibal would think he ran away, unaware that he had waded into the quiet of the stream just as he told him to all those years ago.

 

It wasn’t funny, but in a way it was.

 

He managed to ground himself, crawl back on the beach, and pull himself up. He was covered in sand, the gritty particles grating against his skin. His walk back to the house was calmer, as though the desperate sprint for freedom had been worked out of his bones, crushed out of him by the wave. His composure was tightened, refined in the way of someone who knew what they had to do. A mission, a plan-

 

A design.

 

He pulled the scalpel from his pocket as he entered the kitchen, unconcerned by the sand and puddles that trailed behind him with each step. Using his thumb, he flicked the plastic cap from the scalpel, hearing it hit the floor with a dull sound.

 

He would need to be quick. Hannibal was a light sleeper, not to mention his preternatural sense of smell would pick up Will from a mile away. He bet he smelled like wet dog, he thought with an amused smile. His natural musk mingling with the smell of salt and sand and ocean.

 

He took the stairs slowly, walking on the rounded balls of his feet to make as little noise as possible. He flicked his wrist against his thigh, a calming tick- even if the sharpened blade of the scalpel dug into his wet jeans and nicked the skin beneath it. When he finally stood outside Hannibal’s door, his heart was beating erratically and his breath was thin and greedy, quick inhales that did not satisfy his lungs.

 

The bed was in the center of the room- bursting in and banging the door open would give him too much time to respond. And he was certain Hannibal kept a weapon with him when he slept- he probably had scalpels taped to the underside of the toilet lid, Will thought with a sneer.

 

No, he would have to be slow with the door and fast after that.

 

The hand not holding the scalpel reached out and curled around the knob. He held his breath as he twisted it, as though doing so would make the bolt inside understand the need for discretion. He opened the door just enough to slip through, eyes flicking about the room he had only seen in passing. Pale blue walls- almost gray, with wide arching windows that would- on a normal day- allow the sun and its glare over the ocean to burst into the room. The deep brown coverings were closed, letting shadows fill the space and making it difficult to see Hannibal beneath the matching duvet.

 

Difficult, but not impossible, his blond and silver hair like a beacon in the dark, the edges of his shape softened beneath the blanket.

 

His back was to Will- an advantage or a disadvantage depending on if he was awake. The thought spurred him into action and he ran across the room, hands grasping the edge of the bed for leverage as he bound onto it.

 

He swung himself, straddling Hannibal just as the man shifted and rolled to his back, eyes opened and alert as he glanced at Will. Will, whose left hand folded over Hannibal’s forehead as though a mother checking for a fever. His right came to Hannibal’s throat, scalpel pressing into the soft part of his neck between the tendons and trachea.

 

Hannibal inclined his chin at the cool touch of metal, lengthening his neck even as he swallowed, looking at Will from underneath a fan of eyelashes. He didn’t struggle- only shifted his arms to find them cinched tight by Will’s thighs.

 

“I see you found the keys,” was all he said, voice disproportionately measured.

 

Will nodded, licking his lips. “I did. Thank you.” He pressed the scalpel into the flesh, his thumb sitting on the dull side of the blade to have more control over it- applying more or less pressure with just the slightest shift of muscle. Blood trickled from the small cut, slipped down the curve of his neck.

 

“You’re welcome,” Hannibal said, his face impassive until his nostrils flared and his brow furrowed. “Did you go to the beach? And get into my bed without so much as a toweling off?”

 

Will threw his head back and laughed. How unfair it was to have the upper hand- to literally have Hannibal pinned down with a blade against his artery and a strong hand against his windpipe- and for the man to take less offense with the attack than he did the salt and water staining his blanket. “You’re ridiculous,” Will said, his words strained around the residual laughter that bubbled from his throat.

 

“And you’re discourteous. There’s an outdoor shower for a reason, Will,” Hannibal countered, his eyes sparkling. Ignited. He was feeling playful, reinvigorated by the Will who for so long had laid dormant. Lazy and distant within the same walls of the house, Will had hardly been the source of entertainment he had once been.

 

Until now.

 

Will grinned, lopsided. “What are you going to do- eat me?” he teased, and he slid the scalpel while not alleviating the pressure, trailing a thin red line across the bared throat. Not deep enough to do any damage, just enough to sting and bleed.

 

“I don’t seem to be in the position to do much of anything, though I wonder for how long,” Hannibal said, blinking curiously up at Will. “Tell me, dear Will, is it your intent to kill me? To finally get revenge for all the alleged tragedies I brought to you?”

 

“Alleged?” Will hissed. “That knife didn’t feel very alleged.”

 

The sides of his lips twitched, a small smirk that wasn’t fair because Will was the one with the knife to his throat, dammit.

 

“True, I am guilty of doing many things to you. However, the tragedies you blame me for most are the ones I’m least responsible for,” Hannibal explained. At Will’s pinched expression of confusion, he added, “I didn’t make you what you are, Will. And I didn’t make you leave your life behind. It’s hardly my fault that you realized the same thing I did- that living a life surrounded by people who think they know you is a hollow existence. Nobody likes to be misinterpreted, even if it’s seen as a favorable misinterpretation.”

 

Will scoffed, the hand that was settled on Hannibal’s forehead sliding to his sleep mussed hair and grasping a handful, tugging it hard enough that the older man inhaled sharply, eyes fluttering close before reopening.

 

“I like killing bad people, and you’re about as bad as they come,” Will said with a nod, his own eyes sparkling in a mirrored response.

 

“Would it feel good to kill me?”

 

Will considered him for a moment, lips twisting as he said, “Killing you would feel...unsatisfying.”

 

He felt the unvoiced laugh in Hannibal’s throat, felt it expand and constrict with the motion.

 

“Then why did you come here? Ruining my bedding, although effective, hardly seems like your idea of righteousness.”

 

“Shut..shut up about the blanket,” Will said, laughter pulling and tugging at his speech. “You’re right, I can’t blame you for that. Not anymore. It would have...it was hollow. When I met you...when we started having our conversations, it was the first time I ever felt seen. Not clumsily examined under a microscope like some middle schooler’s science project, just...seen and accepted. It’s what made it hurt so much. To have found something I wanted for so long only to feel like it was a ruse. Like I meant nothing to you-”

 

“You mean everything to me, Will,” Hannibal said, words soft and eyes softer, something pooling within the honey and maroon colored eyes that seemed so out of place Will almost didn’t decipher it. It was remorse. “I was arrogant, I felt infallible. I thought no one would ever see me, but you did. It alarmed me because I knew in whatever direction you pointed Jack would follow.”

 

“Unless you discredited me,” Will said, surprised to find his voice strangled and uneven. It was then that he realized he was crying, tears cutting over his bruised cheeks. He let go of Hannibal’s hair to rub at them with the heel of his palm.

 

Hannibal’s arms shifted again, trying to pry free from where Will straddled him to offer comfort only to stop when Will squeezed his thighs. He wasn’t ready to give up his control of him just yet. Hannibal sighed. “You felt disposable,” he said; not a question, a statement. Will nodded, trying and failing to hide the sniffle as the scab was scraped away and scar tissue dug through to make the wound fresh. “You felt I betrayed you. That was never my intent and I apologize. I made many mistakes with you, Will. Many actions I regret and wish to take back. Hindsight will always be my second greatest weakness. You will be my first.”

 

Will laughed, hoping his hurt wasn't evident in the sound. “I’m a weakness now?”

 

“Yes,” he answered simply. “My whole life I equated power with control and violence. I demonstrated my superiority with torture and mutilation and consumption. I believed it was the only way to hold power until I met you and realized that I had greatly underestimated the power of love. I am vulnerable to my love for you.”

 

There it was- that confession again. It seemed that the moment the pretenses were dissolved, Hannibal savored the taste of the admission and longed to keep it on his tongue. Will blushed, averted his gaze.

 

When Hannibal spoke next, it was in a voice uncharacteristically soft, even for a man who never had reason to raise his voice. “My feelings are unrequited, and even though I know that it means nothing. I would do anything you asked of me- I would be powerless not to.”

 

Will swallowed. “Anything?”

 

“Heaven and Hell would be unable to stop me.”

 

“I want a dog.”

 

He looked back at Hannibal, just in time to see the smile curl on his thin lips. “Of course.”

 

“I want two.”

 

The smile grew. “Naturally.”

 

“Seven?”

 

“There are easier ways to tell me you hate my furniture, Will.”

 

Will laughed, the sort of cathartic laugh that followed a cry. A hollowing laugh that flushed all the toxins and poisons from your system, filtered your blood, and made it clean and pure again. The laugh tapered, leaving behind a wistful smile. “I only want one. But I...I want Winston,” he whispered.

 

Hannibal’s smile waned. “He’s in Virginia. With your wife and son.”

 

Will licked his lips and nodded. “I know. But I miss him. He...he kept me grounded. Can you...do you think you can-”

 

“By this time next week, yes. Consider it done.”

 

His lips twitched, eyes stinging with tears he refused to shed. He had shed enough of them already. “Thank you,” he said, and then he pulled the scalpel away from Hannibal’s blood smeared throat, leaning over to settle it on the nightstand. “I didn’t come here to kill you. Or ruin your bedding.” At Hannibal’s curious glance, he leaned forward, capturing his lips in a kiss.

 

He stilled beneath him, and Will was pleased to find his attack was successful and Hannibal was genuinely surprised. He took the opportunity to deepen the kiss, one hand smoothing over the side of Hannibal’s face, fingertips tracing the harsh line of his cheekbone. His head shifted, slotted. It fit so nicely, so perfectly.

 

“Will, this isn’t fair-” Hannibal interrupted, and Will swallowed the words and their hesitation.

 

“I want it. You said anything,” he answered, knowing Hannibal would relent. He had told him as much. He was right, there was power in it. Heady and dizzying power, perhaps even crueler than the power he wielded over Paul and Michael. Pain was something Hannibal could dissociate from, sink into his Mind Palace and ignore the anguished cries of his nerves. He couldn’t ignore this, and it would be enough to shatter him. To break him apart in all the ways he was impervious too. The brand Will had on him would be deeper than the one Mason made, sinking beneath the skin and muscles to the blood vessels and bone marrow. This one would never heal.

 

Will held his heart in his hands and he could practically feel it pulse, beat unevenly as he crushed the ventricles and atriums.

 

Will rolled, swinging his legs to settle on Hannibal’s left side, letting him move from the mattress. Like an animal rolling to his back to reveal the soft underside of their belly or showing its neck, he was giving Hannibal control of the moment. He held the power- incomprehensible amounts of it that did funny things to his heart and made his stomach flutter- and it seemed only fair that what little control could be garnished should go to him. He owed him that much.

 

Hannibal moved out from under him, crawling over Will and settling between his spread thighs. One palm splayed on the mattress beside Will’s head, holding his weight up, the other pressing against the bruised jaw, facial hair coarse as he caressed it with a tenderness that belied his true nature. His gaze wasn’t quite heated, wasn’t filled with the same hunger Will had seen so often when he looked upon him. It was almost sorrowful.

 

“Is that what you want? For me to worship you? Taste your flesh in the way only a lover can?” he asked, his voice low, the sensuous timber of his accent sending jolts of something wet and molten down Will’s spine and he shivered.

 

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

 

The fingers on his jaw continued to brush across his face, trace the natural curves of his ears and slope of his brows. Muscle memory, tracing him like a drawing as though he could capture the feel of Will beneath him, pliant and wanting. Hold it in his hands as he would a memory. “Tell me what you want, Will,” he said, just on the edge of demand.

 

The sound of the order went straight to his cock, hard and straining beneath his jeans. He swallowed thickly. “I want...I want you to show me your favorite fantasy. I want you to...to f-fuck me the way you imagine most. The one you turn to at night when you want my touch and comfort but know I won’t give it to you.”

 

It was a mean request. Torturous. Demanding the intimacy and vulnerability of his fantasies while offering no promise to let it be anything more than a memory once it was over. A fantasy compressed into a reality that would fade with time.

 

Hannibal pursed his lips, nodded at the request. “Very well.”

 

Will inhaled sharply, eyes closing as he prepared himself for whatever was to come. What fantasy Hannibal indulged in, frequented like a security blanket or a favorite book from his childhood that smelled like home and stability. He expected the scalpel to press into his skin, expected something to be tied around his eyes and wrists. He expected pain and torment.

 

He did not expect the hand that slid over his chest, feeling the contours of his muscled torso with delicate care. He did not expect the hand that slid into his curls and tilted his head back at the desired angle as lips found his own. The kiss was gentle yet urging, a plea that became desperate, turned passionate, and needy as a tongue probed his lips. He opened his mouth to the demand, feeling the tongue taste his own, taste the artificial crowns of his teeth. For a moment, he imagined them shattered once more, a hole in his face and his mouth filled with bone dust and fragments and blood-stained teeth. Imagined Hannibal licking it all up, savoring the taste of his destruction and pain.

 

When Hannibal finally pulled away from his exploration- no doubt having memorized each groove of his teeth- it was to kiss along his cheek, his jaw. The same path his hand had made only now his mouth traveled it, leaving it warm and wet and tingling. Teeth dragged down his neck, tongue lapping at the salt and sweat-slicked skin as though it were the most exquisite taste in the world. Will hissed, chin tilting back to give Hannibal access to his pulsing carotid.

 

He bit down in response, clamping over the thrumming point and sucking. Will moaned, low and tempered, hips canting up in search of relief. A firmer and more direct touch than the fingers wound in his hair, the one slowly undoing his buttons and pausing to rub each newly revealed patch of skin as though it would feel different than the last.

 

Please,” Will said through gritted teeth, stomach tight and coiled. “I need more.”

 

Hannibal didn’t pull away as he spoke, letting his breath puff and cool against the wet patch of pink skin. “You asked for my fantasy, Will.” As if the matter was settled, he returned to his ministrations, kissing and biting lower until his tongue followed the dip of his clavicle.

 

Will, embarrassingly, whined, unable to sit still and reaching out to grip Hannibal’s shoulder, nails cutting half-moons in the skin beneath his soft nightshirt. It was steadying, holding on to his strong shoulders as Hannibal did his best to pull him apart. Searching for the thread that he could pull and unwind in one fluid motion.

 

Hannibal had finished unbuttoning his shirt, pulling the hem out from where it was tucked in his jeans before finally releasing Will’s curls to pull it off. Will rose to help him, teetering on his tail bone as Hannibal refused to stop tasting the angles of his pectorals. The shirt was tossed to the side, and Will flopped back against the mattress just in time for Hannibal to lavish his nipple.

 

He groaned, shifted at the sensation as his hands clutched to straining upper arms. The tongue lapped over the bud, dusty pink turning red and wet from the attention. When it was hard and tight he kissed the distance between them until he found the other nipple. Offered it the same treatment.

 

Will hadn’t been expecting this. He had been expecting actual torture, expected blood to be spilled and something perverse and crude that would arouse him in a carnal way he would try not to examine too closely. He expected violence to merge with lust and form something indistinguishable, pleasure and pain blurring into a nebulous nothingness.

 

This was torture of an entirely different context, his cries for more a parallel to the cries for mercy he expected to give. His hips moved without his volition, and his hands clutched and ran feebly up and down Hannibal’s arms. Seeking something he could not name. And Hannibal was torturing him, taking his time as his mouth familiarized itself with the entirety of Will’s body. Tongue licking the modest indents of his abs, lips brushing across the inward tilt of his hips. His whole torso felt marked, tasted with delicious delight.

 

When hands finally pulled at the button of his jeans, he nearly sobbed in relief. The pull of his zipper sounded amplified, obscene, and he was surprised he didn’t knee Hannibal in the face in his haste to pull his jeans off. When they fell, it was with a wet plopping noise, sand hitting the floor like the resonating beat of a drum. His cock strained against his pale blue boxers, damp in the front where he leaked against the fabric. He whimpered when fingers hooked beneath the waistband and slid them down.

 

Hannibal sat over him, resettling between his legs and swallowing as he openly drank in the sight of Will. Eyes admiring the wet patches and red skin swelling around teeth marks. He licked his own lips- swollen and pink- as though looking for a lingering taste of Will.

 

It occurred to Will then that while he was naked and exposed, Hannibal was still fully dressed, his maroon nightshirt draping across him. Silk, probably, Will thought with a snort. Real silk, not the kind of fabric that looked vaguely like silk but was too manufactured and processed. He reached out, pinched the hem of the shirt between his thumb and fist. “Take this off.”

 

He did, without hesitation, sliding it over his head and letting it flutter to the floor. Even his clothes moved gracefully, Jesus Christ.

 

Will touched him, palms flat against his chest, and running his fingers through golden hairs. His touch wasn’t as measured as Hannibal’s, dragging and pulling and exploring the skin with a rush that spoke of his desire to return to where they left off. Hannibal seemed to understand, leaning back down and pressing Will to the mattress with a gentle hand to the shoulder. He kissed him once more, tasting like saltwater from where he licked it off Will’s body, and then he pulled back, sliding down the mattress until he hovered over the straining cock before him.

 

“Beautiful,” he whispered, gazing at Will as though he were something artfully constructed. A masterpiece. It made the younger man shift with discomfort, cheeks flaming in a blush.

 

His sudden shyness was all but forgotten, however, when Hannibal reached forward and let his fingertips ghost over the crown of his member, fluttered down the curved shaft. He hissed at the too-gentle touches. It wasn’t enough and he bucked upward as though doing so would tell Hannibal what his mouth wouldn’t. Get on with it.

 

But Hannibal took his time, his lips and tongue taking the same delicate care to memorize his cock as he had his torso. Always enough pressure to make Will gasp, never enough to relieve the tightening in his stomach.

 

“Please...please,” he begged, hands clutching uselessly at the pillow, the sheets. “Please, Hannibal.”

 

He felt the growl vibrating against him, lips curling into a smile. Oh. “Hannibal, please. I need you, Hannibal.”

 

The name sounded so decadent on his lips, mixing with his panting breaths, and he cried out when he was engulfed, the mouth warm and wet around him. “Fuck!” he hissed, back bowing at the sensation. Hannibal’s cheeks hollowed as he sucked, rolled his tongue over the head. He bobbed slow and purposefully, letting Will nudge against the back of his throat and holding him there before sliding back off. He built up a rhythm, swallowing the whole length and pulling a string of filthy curses from Will’s mouth. “Fuck, fuck, yes, so good.”

 

Too soon, the coil was tightening and Will groaned, hand settling on Hannibal’s shifting head and patting it. “I-I’m close...Don’t want-”

 

Hannibal growled in response, curling a hand around his shaft and sliding it up and down as he continued to suck and lick at the head. His touch was firm, urging him to come. Beckoning him to release and melt beneath him.

 

Will did, hand curling in blond and silver locks as he held Hannibal in place, gave three rough and uneven thrusts into his mouth before coming in a long and low moan. The moan was broken, punctuated by half-words he could not fully form in the haze of his orgasm, world blurring out of focus.

 

Fuc-Hanni-oh fuck, y-yes.’

 

Hannibal’s returning moaned vibrated on his oversensitive cock as he swallowed the cum that filled his mouth. His tongue licked the head as it leaked more of the pearly white seed. Tasting Will, savoring him.

 

Will was flinching by the time he pulled off, overstimulated. His breath came out in ragged pants and his chest rose and fell rapidly. A sheen of sweat coated his forehead, curls clinging to him and his head lolled to the side as he watched Hannibal crawl back up to him through half-lidded eyes.

 

He kissed him, tasting himself on the swollen lips. It was undeniably erotic, a spark igniting that began at his core and trembled like lightning to his erect nipples- to his curling toes. Hannibal broke off the kiss, nose brushing against Will’s cheek as he spoke.

 

“Have you ever been with another man, Will?” he asked.

 

Will shook his head, mouth opening and closing several times before deciding words were an impossibility at the moment.

 

“Have you ever been penetrated?”

 

Will blushed at the question but shook his head, motion coming to an abrupt halt. “Well..ah-”

 

Hannibal rose a questioning brow.

 

He cleared his throat. “Not by...it was...myself. I’ve done it. Once.” He swallowed, realizing he had played too many of his cards, handed over too much information. Dammit.

 

“When?”

 

Will pursed his lips as he debated whether or not to divulge such information. With a sigh, he relented, knowing even before he did it that he was only giving Hannibal more power with each confession. “The night you turned yourself in. It took hours before the police left and I had to give a statement and turn down medical care like eight times before they left. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep and I...well I turned to the most tried and true sleep aid there is. But I...guess I was curious...”

 

His eyes were sparkling in unabashed glee. Smug bastard. “Curious about?”

 

Will let out a puff of air. “What you would feel like inside me.”

 

Something flashed in Hannibal’s eyes, and for a tense few seconds, Will could have sworn he heard the man purring. “It wasn’t...it didn’t feel right, though. It just made me more frustrated so I never tried again,” he said with a shrug.

 

“It will feel right this time, mylimasis,” Hannibal whispered as he placed a soft kiss to Will’s temple before turning away and reaching for something in his bedside table. Before Will could ask what the word meant and decide whether or not he should be offended, the sound of a cap popping open filled the room. He watched as Hannibal filled his palm with a generous- excessive, it seemed, but he thought better of questioning him- amount of lube, rubbing his fingers to his palm to warm it up.

 

Will had never been with a man, and his attraction to Hannibal was slow enough that it crept onto him, broke into his brain like a stealthy thief before beating him over the head. He had never considered his sexuality much- the rare moments he took company with someone had always been with women, few and far between. He didn’t even own a computer to watch pornography on, his head already filled to the brim with killers and violence and he didn’t feel the need to clutter it further with spam emails and tedious social media. The little experience he had with this newfound attraction consisted solely of one magazine he purchased, and he examined the images with more scientific intrigue than arousal.

 

He assumed Hannibal was uncircumcised, though he had no frame of reference for that, and all the men in the magazine were cut. And all the images of well, active scenes had been the same position. Drawn onto hands and knees.

 

So, uncertain of what to do, Will pulled himself up, made to roll over onto his hands and knees only for Hannibal’s clean hand to wrap around his hip and pull him to his back.

 

“You’re giving me very little, Will, but the one thing you did give me was that it was my fantasy. Please lay back,” Hannibal said as he hovered over him once more. Dimly, Will nodded. “Wrap your legs around my waist.”

 

He did, finding it an odd position to be in, the cradle of his hips opening for someone else.

 

He didn’t mind it.

 

Hannibal pressed against his entrance, rubbing over the bunched and sensitive hole. Will hissed at the sensation, the warmed lube still a surprising wetness. Hannibal took his time, tracing the ring of muscle and massaging it gently, prodding at it before resuming his caresses. When Will’s muscle relaxed, loosening as the unfamiliar touch grew less overwhelming, he pushed in.

 

He took in a shaky breath at the intrusion. A hand pet the side of his face, lips pressing against his forehead. “Stay with me, Will. Breathe.”

 

He worked him open in this way, slowly pushing forward and pausing, kissing and soothing Will until he relaxed enough to press in more. The intrusion became less painful, less too much with each second that passed, Hannibal taking great care in preparing him. By the time he had three fingers inside of him, curling them slowly as he expertly found that tight bundle of nerves, Will was sobbing in want, voice heavy with desire and words cut short by pleasure. He was hard again, cock angling at a bent pose against his stomach.

 

“Please, Hannibal, please,” he muttered between indistinguishable moans.

 

With a final kiss to his lips, Hannibal pulled away, pulling the tie to his pajama pants and slipping them down his legs where they become lost in the tangle of blankets and fallen sheets. He grabbed the lube again, applying it to his own cock that made Will’s eyes widen in both anticipation and nerves. He was...bigger than he expected. The length was only a little longer than average, but his girth made it intimidating.

 

Saliva pooled behind his teeth.

 

He wanted it inside him, more than anything. He wanted to feel Hannibal deeper and harder than he ever had, wanted to be split open, and fall apart on his cock. He wanted to be so full of him there wasn’t room for anything else. Wanted to never feel hollow again.

 

He rose his legs- perhaps a bit too eagerly- when Hannibal settled and positioned himself against his prepared opening. And he laid them on his shoulders, ankles nestled at the base of his neck. Hannibal smiled, one hand rubbing his calf and the other holding his ankle still as he placed a kiss to that as well. As if he couldn’t get enough of marking him with his lips.

 

He slid in, the crown of his cock pushing through. The burn was slight, barely noticeable, and Will moaned at the feel of him bursting through. He moved slowly, the ache growing with each half-inch and the flash of pain that he had been expecting- waiting for since his request began- finally flared through him. A dull sort of pain, deep-seated and aching. He felt it in his abdomen, as though his organs were being shifted around and he thought once more of Hannibal digging through his opened chest.

 

“You take my cock so beautifully, Will,” Hannibal said, his accent thicker and sloping through the praise, softening the sharp consonants. “It’s as if you were made for me. Made for me to take and fill and mold to myself. Do you think you were made for me, dear Will?”

 

Will moaned heaving breaths. His vision swam. It was like he was drowning again, pulled under by the waves, and disappearing into the ocean, Hannibal’s voice a hand that reached out for him.

 

“Do you, Will?” he prompted again.

 

His teeth chattered around his answer. “Y-yes. All yours.”

 

Hannibal grunted when he was fully seated, hips flush to the back of Will’s thighs. How unfair that even that sounded elegant on his lips, a spike of arousal piercing through him.

 

He pulled out, just as slowly as he entered, speaking praises with each roll of his hips. “You’re so good for me, Will. Taking my whole cock so well.”

 

Will was whimpering, and he reached a hand down to take himself in his hands and jerk off only for Hannibal to grab and hold his wrist. He whined.

 

“I want you to come because of my cock and words. Only. Can you do that for me, mylimasis?”

 

He nodded, that same need to please Hannibal, to be accepted by him roaring within him. He had no idea what the word meant, but already he loved the sound of it on Hannibal’s tongue, wanted him to replace his name with it forever and all eternity.

 

“Good, Will. You’re doing so well,” Hannibal hummed, his pace quickening now that Will was stretched around him, meeting his thrusts with shaking hips as he sought release. His legs strained and tensed on his shoulder, and Hannibal rubbed at them, kneading his thumbs into the tight muscles. They trailed a path down his legs until they settled on his hips, grabbing him and raising Will up in search of-

 

Fuckfuckfuck,” Will gasped, eyes rolling back as Hannibal’s cock found his prostate, knocked against it with each thrust. “Ple...please Hannibal. I need to..I need to come,” he begged, words strung together. He moved his hands, as though to reach for his cock, only to think better of it and grasps the pillow underneath his head instead.

 

“I’ve got you, Will, don’t worry. You feel so good and tight around my cock. Do you have any idea what you’re doing to? What you do to me? I would slit my throat if you begged me to, begged me the way you’re begging for your release. You sound so beautiful breaking apart like this, how could I not?” His voice was straining, thrusts becoming more brutal and uneven as he fell from his established rhythm. “Do I feel good for you? Is my cock filling you and making you whole? Answer me, dear Will.”

 

Will nodded, the motion stuttering. He didn’t think he was capable of words, stomach tightening as something wound within him. A rubber band ready to snap.

 

“How long have you wanted to feel me inside you? Your mind and heart already belong to me, it was only a matter of time, wasn’t it, Will? You were made for me, made to take my heart and my cock and you’re so good at both-”

 

Will screamed when he reached the crest of his second orgasm, cock twitching and spasming as he came in spurts against his stomach. It was pulled from deep inside of him, and he imagined his marrow draining with it, bleeding out by the sheer force of it as stars burst in his vision.

 

Hannibal came moments later, Will’s name on his lips, spoken as if in worship. In prayer to a god he would cut and sacrifice himself to. Reverent and adoring and Will didn’t deserve any of it, but he got it all the same.

 

His limbs slumped, drained, and weak, and exhausted. His eyes were closed and the effort of opening them seemed too great, even as a tongue licked across his chest, catching and devouring his spent seed. Even as Hannibal pressed a kiss to his lips that he only half returned, forgetting how to move his lips and tongue.

 

A blanket was pulled around him, arms enfolding him and he shifted, made to pull away, out of habit more than anything else.

 

“No,” Hannibal said, desperation making the words slanted. Cloying. “Please, stay.”

 

He did, sinking into sleep and into the tight embrace.

 

~x~

 

He did not know how much time had passed, his blindfold replaced with a clean strip of fabric and the door to his prison-not-prison closed once more after he awoke from one monster feeding him to another. He sank into his memories, traveling through the bayous of his childhood to the streams and woods of his life before he died. For he came to see the Fall as his death, in one way or another. The death of Will Graham.

 

The baptismal waters of the Atlantic had christened him into something else, something without a name. And maybe he did die for real and everything hitherto was just a hallucination caused by the misfiring of his neurons. Ghosts projected by the dying brain cells as life was strangled from them. Or maybe this was hell- he wouldn’t know the difference either way.

 

Eventually, the time came to leave the boat.

 

When he next pulled his blindfold off, it was to a familiar sight. Hannibal in the kitchen, a sharpened knife clacking against a cutting board as he deftly cut onions, crushed garlic cloves with the side. He had been guided to sit on a barstool, sitting on the opposite side of the peninsula-style counter.

 

He dropped the blindfold in his lap, looked to a double paneled door shielded with bamboo blinds that chopped the sunlight through the slots. There was a padlock dangling between the handles.

 

I came with you willingly, you don’t have to lock me in,” he said, his voice hoarse from disuse. Even without the excuse of pain, he had swallowed all his words. Let silence sit between them. It was easier, that way. Speaking with Hannibal was like leaving a door into his mind open so that the man could traipse in with dirty shoes and muddy him up.

 

He didn’t stop slapping the blade down as he said, “Don’t I?”

 

I don’t even know where we are. Where could I go?”

 

You say you know my tricks by now. You fail to think that I too might be familiar with yours,” he explained, using the blade to slide the diced onions into his palm before tossing them in a small dish. He moved on to mushrooms. “You adopt vulnerability like a costume you can wear and dispose of when it’s convenient. You hide your fangs behind the mask of a broken man. You mirror the stray dogs you collected, hoping that if you look lost and beaten enough no one would question your disguise.”

 

Will swallowed, goosebumps prickling his skin at the frank analysis. His mouth felt dry as Hannibal continued his dressing down. “Whether the design is intentional or not, it belies your true self. You are cruel and vengeful and while I admire this most about you, it is also why I must be prepared for the moment your repressed bloodlust might turn to me. Again. I simply can’t trust you, Will.”

 

A retort sat on his tongue, something banal about a pot and a kettle. Instead, he said, “Jack won’t trust me, either. I couldn’t go back to him if I wanted to.”

 

Hannibal did not respond immediately, lips pursing as he considered Will’s words. “Do you think that will help your case? By reminding me that I’m not the only one who knows the bitter sting of your betrayal?”

 

The words were a slap, talons carving into his stomach and hollowing him out. Filling him with something else.

 

He said nothing for the rest of the evening aside from his mumbled thanks when Hannibal settled a bowl of mushroom risotto before him.

 

His teeth were fixed, and they were not to blame for the spark of pain that trembled through him. Hannibal’s words were visceral, tearing at the scar on his abdomen- the scar on his forehead. How many times would Will have to bleed for him to be satisfied?

 

When the fingers reached for his chin, guiding him towards the spoon, he shook his head.

 

He grabbed the bowl and slid from his seat. He took the bedroom to the left of the upstairs hallway, not particularly caring if Hannibal had a specific one in mind, and sat on the bare mattress. He ate in silence, keeping his empty dish until he heard the telltale sign of shuffling feet, the door opposite his room clicking close.

Chapter Text

Rebirth

 

Hannibal was the first to break the silence, standing in the threshold to Will’s room. “The silent treatment, Will? How juvenile,” he sniffed, trying to hide his hurt, the micro-expression flitting over his face faster than he could conceal it.

 

Will glanced from his plate, the bacon to his eggs Benedict wrapped in a napkin. He debated saying nothing, stubbornly continuing his unspoken game. Instead, he said, “I didn’t come with you to be a prisoner. Haven’t you locked me up enough for a lifetime?”

 

Why did you come with me?”

 

He had not anticipated the question, and he gaped openly. Ugly. He pursed his lips, raised his chin. “Would you have let me walk away?” he asked instead, not wanting- or unable- to confront himself on the whys of his actions. He had no other option, surely Hannibal knew that?

 

He hadn’t expected an answer, but Hannibal gave him one anyway, pausing only for a moment. “No, I wouldn’t. For a little while, I would have. Let you be, that is. I would have watched you, see what you did. If you went back to your wife and child and tried to live that facsimile of a life. Pretending you were fulfilled by homework and birthday parties and PTA meetings.” He stepped into the room, crossing the dividing line between them and Will thought how unfair it was that vampires were the only monsters that needed permission to enter a space. “I would have watched you until I got bored, which admittedly would’ve taken some time. A few years. And then I suppose I would have done something to remind you of who you are.”

 

Will frowned. “Who I am? You don’t know who I am. Just who you want me to be,” he accused, brows furrowing. “I had a life before you. It wasn’t much but it was mine. You didn’t want me to have anything that was mine, though. You wanted me to have you, and only you.” He stood from his bed- now fitted in sheets and a blanket- and filled the distance between them, carrying his plate with the crumpled napkin and discarded pieces of meat. “You got what you wanted. How lucky,” he spat, making certain to bump Hannibal’s shoulder as he passed and entered the hallway.

 

He wanted the words to taste like victory, a verbal wound like the one Hannibal had assaulted him with. He wanted it to ache like the reminder of his betrayal. The words that played in his head on loop, a tune he couldn’t shake. He tried to digest them, tried to move beyond them. But they sat in the shell of his ears, in the folds of his brain between his overactive neurons. He wanted revenge, offering his own cruel words, only to find they were not what he wanted to say.

 

What he wanted to say was that he came with Hannibal because he couldn’t imagine a life without him. That his brain was damaged, rewired so that it craved the destruction that sweet Molly would never bring. He was an addict, chasing the euphoria and high that only he could offer- the high of sliding the knife across the Dragon’s muscled torso, the high of tossing them to the eroding bluff. Molly deserved better than someone like him, who reveled in the blood and cries of someone dying beneath him.

 

He wasn’t sure what a life with Hannibal would bring, but he hadn’t thought it would contain so many blindfolds and padlocks and missing pieces of information. He thought it would be enough, the sacrifice of his old life and his bloody rebirth. But Hannibal wanted more from him, always more.

 

What more could he give him? Did he truly not know he owned every piece of him?

 

~x~

 

Hannibal awoke to an empty bed.

 

He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised. Will had still been drunk when he came to him, after all, whiskey sitting behind the taste of ocean water and sand. Drunk and euphoric from the high of a kill, from all the emotions that warred and twisted within him. So many emotions it never failed to amaze Hannibal that someone could feel so much at once. So many conflicting things. He had even been assaulted, and his refusal to give a name to it or even acknowledge it didn’t lessen the weight of it.

 

He was using Hannibal for comfort, a cruel thing to do.

 

How ironic. So many had tried to find a way to break Hannibal, to crumble him enough that he broke free of his well-restrained mask. Alana had come the closest, having his comforts- both privileged and basic- stripped away from his cell. None of that compared to this, though. This felt like flesh was ripped from bone, as though Will had buried his hand up to the elbow in his chest. His ribs cracked and pulled away just as he had done to so many.

 

The sweetest torture and he had stumbled into it while drunk and horny and knowing Hannibal would give him what he wanted.

 

And Hannibal would still give it to him if he asked, chipping away pieces of himself and happily handing them over.

 

He swallowed his disappointment, a bitter thing that lodged in his throat, and ran a hand over the side of the bed that Will had slid into when they slept. The pillow smelled like him, and it was a small comfort. That cloying aftershave and sweat mingling with the cheap shampoo he insisted on using even though Hannibal provided far more extravagant offerings. He wondered how long the smell would last. How many nights in a too-empty bed would come to pass before the scent faded and the memory of Will in his bed would be a ghost?

 

He had committed it to memory, mental photos of his back as it arched and bowed with pleasure. Of his face as it skewed and twisted, as his hands gripped into the sheets and pulled them from the mattress. The memory of those tendons pulled against taut skin erotic in its own right, control slipping as he sought purchase in the mattress below. Control slipping as Hannibal undid him. He carved these things into his brain, nestled the sounds he made within the folds of it. From the whimpers and charming mewls to the expletives and crude words that fell from his lips as his pleasure crested. He had a filthy mouth, and his brain wanted to catalog each word and its cadence.

 

He regretted his memory now, knowing it would have been better to let the moment fade. Like a dream he couldn’t quite recall upon waking.

 

This memory would torment him, come to him in the moments when Will took the proffered plate of food only to disappear to his room. Come to him in the moments when Will passed him in the hall with a steadfastly averted gaze. Some memories were vicious this way, and this one had teeth and claws that would tear him apart.

 

How could he tolerate Will’s silence when he knew what it was like to drink in his moans? How could he bear the distance when he knew how well he fit in the cradle of Will’s hips, knew how the knots of his spine felt beneath his fingers?

 

His disappointment was heavy, but he couldn’t linger in this. He was never one to languish in such maudlin thoughts. With a final inhale of the pillows (still a little damp from Will’s sweat-slicked dreams), he rolled from the bed. He pulled the sheets from the mattress, flicking more sand onto the tiled floors and knew he would be finding sand for weeks after. A cruel breadcrumb trail, a constant reminder of what Will asked of him and what he was powerless to say no to.

 

He set the sheets and blanket in a basket to launder later and headed for the shower.

 

It felt like a betrayal, Will running away once more. But it wasn’t, and it wasn’t a kind way of looking at it.

 

The betrayal was his own. Will wanted to use and hurt him and he allowed it. He should have known better- he was all too familiar with Will’s mercurial moods; his thoughts and whims which flipped by the hour. There existed a duality within him which made trust impossible. He was simply surprised that Will stayed for as long as he did, long enough for both of them to sink into sleep as he tried to commit to memory the way he felt in his arms- perfect, of course.

 

Will had a way of making him careless, reckless. Returning to Italy when logic dictated he should avoid his old stamping grounds, avoid the people who almost caught him once. Killing recklessly and without reason and leading the entire world to him. But Will was part of that world and that was all that mattered to him, self-preservation swirling down the drain if it meant carving out more rooms in his Mind Palace. Rooms that smelled like forest and dog and cheap aftershave.

 

When he left the restroom- filled with steam and his own cosmetic products that filled the air with the overwhelming smell of teakwood and bergamot and citrus- he paused, sniffed the air. There was something else. The smell of butter and something warm.

 

Curiosity prickled despite himself, and when he dressed it was not fully- foregoing his jacket, vest, and tie in favor of following the source of the aroma.

 

The smell hit him almost immediately as he came to the landing, nose sniffing the air. Food, something hearty and creamy, sprinkled with thyme and rosemary and thick with cracked black pepper. His mouth watered, and intrigue bubbled within him as he walked to the kitchen. He had never known Will to be much of a chef- he did all the cooking for the two of them, and aside from the fish Will caught and the small selection of vegetables he grew in his garden in Wolf Trap, Will subsisted mostly on coffee, whiskey, and aspirin. Hannibal had seen him eat the occasional gas station hot dog as well, an offense greater than the gun he held to him several times before.

 

Perhaps it was a special occasion, he thought with a flicker of something that tasted like hope.

 

“How long have you been awake?” he asked when he saw the scene awaiting him, one brow raised. Will’s head wrenched up from where it was bowed over the counter, and he offered a lopsided grin, the nerves in his face never quite recovering from the stab wound.

 

“I didn’t sleep much at all, actually,” he answered, but the proclamation came with something other than its usual despair and exhaustion. He was vibrating with frantic energy, a manic glint to his wide, blue eyes. He had showered already, his cheap shampoo thick in the air (a three-in-one monstrosity that acted as a body wash as well) and had even taken care to do his hair the way Hannibal liked, smoothed to the side with that one stubborn curl brushing his brow. He had dressed for the day in a crisp button-up instead of something pulled from the floor that might have passed his personal sniff test but didn’t meet Hannibal’s standards.

 

“And why is that?” he asked, stepping to the opposite side of the counter and glancing at Will’s mess. A carton of eggs sat open, filled with broken shells. He had used all twelve of them, and when he caught Hannibal glancing at it he sniffed in embarrassment.

 

“I overcooked the first batch. They were fine to me, but I know how you are,” he said, the words playful instead of an attack. Then, with a shrug, added, “There’s a lot I wanted to do.”

 

He nodded, splaying his palms on the marble countertop. “I see. And the eggs are meant to accompany...” he paused for dramatic effect, as though trying to determine the layered aromas despite having known what it was the moment he stopped at the stairway landing, “biscuits and gravy?”

 

Will grinned. “My grandma’s recipe. Well, a version of it,” he corrected, a bemused twinkle sparkling in his eye.

 

“A version of it?” Hannibal asked, but Will gave only a hum, turning his gaze away from Hannibal’s knowing smirk. Will had been awake long enough to make his own sausage, it seemed. Something shifted in his chest- something between the softness of his adoration and the harshness of smug pride. He felt like a pleased house cat watching his owner eat his offerings instead of tossing them to the bin with detestation. He thought he would start purring if he were capable of such an effect.

 

“After all these years, it was my turn to cook for you, and I know it’s probably pretty inelegant to you but it’s one of the only things I know to make with my eyes closed,” Will said, his confidence wavering as his energy dissipated some, turned to bashfulness. The oven dinged and he reached for it, using a towel to pull out a sheet of fresh-baked biscuits. He set them down on a trivet and brushed them with melted butter.

 

“Nonsense. There is no such thing as inelegant cuisine, only inelegant preparation. And it seems as though you’ve taken great care,” he said, voice lowering to a husk that made Will’s movements stutter, flounder. The kitchen was a mess, a thin dusting of flour coating the surfaces, thick dough clinging to the counter where Will had obviously worked and kneaded it, thoughtlessly. Thyme stems had been brushed into the sink, and he swallowed his grimace. Will’s prep work would need to be fine-tuned, and the thought brought with it vivid images unfurling in his mind. His mind conjured evenings spent together as he stood behind Will, one arm snaked across his waist and the other holding his hand as he showed him the proper way to use a knife. Brushing his hair from the nape of his neck as he instructed him on the importance of mise en place and keeping a clean workspace.

 

He was achingly hard at the thought of sharing a space that was so intimate to him, so personal. Guiding Will through the cooking and then settling down to savor the food that was so thoroughly them. From the meat to the preparation to the cooking to the gnashing between teeth. Slivers of themselves tenderizing the food and he knew each meal made would be more decadent than the last. Recipes crafted with an ingredient that could not be listed, could not be purchased or foraged or hunted.

 

He was pulled from his mind palace- or rather, the future halls in construction- by ceramic clattering before him. Will had settled a plate loaded with scrambled eggs and fresh-baked biscuits barely visible beneath the sausage gravy.

 

It was perfect. Even if the eggs had threads of whites disrupting the creamy yellow and were still more cooked than he liked them. Even if some of the gravy had congealed where it hadn’t been stirred evenly enough. Even if the knife cuts of his rosemary was atrocious.

 

“Looks delicious,” he said, sincerely, and he settled into the chair as Will came around the counter, a plate of his own balanced in his hand. The chair groaned as he plopped ungraciously into it and he gave Hannibal a wide, expectant smile. He made no move for his silverware, and with a smirk, Hannibal understood what he was waiting for.

 

Grabbing his own fork, he sawed the side of it through the biscuit. Soft and crumbly, the gravy sinking as he cut off a piece. He sunk the tines of his fork into it, raising it in the air and considering it for a moment before his gaze slid to meet Will’s.

 

They maintained eye contact as he settled the bite onto his tongue, making a show of curling it back behind his lips and chewing with great precision. The taste melted on his tongue, hearty and crackling with just the right amount of spice. The sausage was definitely homemade, with not enough fat to keep the mixture from drying out despite the cream-laden sauce. He would have to show him how to select the right cuts of meat- he used something with too much muscle.

 

It was delicious despite the technical flaws and he hummed in appreciation. “Excellent work, dear Will,” he said, eyes flashing when he saw the movement from his periphery- Will shifting his legs together, ducking his head. Where disappointment had once laid bare only moments earlier, hope now flourished deep within him, and he was pleased to see that Will still reacted to the timber of his voice and the delicate praises. Their shared night now felt like a promise instead of regret and he was thankful he had not wallowed in unfounded despair when Will was waiting for him. Preening for him and courting him in the language that Hannibal spoke best.

 

It made the overcooked and dry sausage taste even better, and he took another bite without the theatrics of his first.

 

Will was not as quick to dig in as Hannibal, staring at the gravy with an indiscernible expression, brows knitted in thought. His fork dragged through it, turning the sausage over and pushing some gravy so that it spilled onto the eggs.

 

Just when Hannibal thought he would push the plate aside, deciding that this taste was not something he could acquire, he tore into a biscuit and shoved a forkful into his mouth. Sloppily, gravy smearing the corner of his mouth. He chewed roughly, with the same manic energy he greeted Hannibal with, and he could see the tendons in his throat strain with his swallow.

 

“Grandma would be proud,” he joked.

 

“Indeed,” Hannibal responded, reaching a hand out and cupping the younger man’s face. His fingertips brushed just below his lower lashes, thumb smoothing circles over the apple of his cheek. A blush painted his face pink at the caresses, and he thought of Michael and how he called Will pretty. But he was wrong. Calling Will pretty was a slight against him. He was ferocious, feral. Cruelty and vengeance and power wrapped within a misleading package. He was beautiful like a deadly storm that uprooted trees and made their branches tremble. Beautiful like a tiger that crawled low to the ground, stalking his unaware prey. Pretty was too soft, too delicate.

 

He hungered for his cruelty, could feast himself on him each night and every morning, and never feel like the glutton he was. He could worship him with his teeth and lips and tongue and hands and never feel like he honored him enough.

 

He leaned forward, holding Will in place as he pressed a kiss to the side of his mouth, tongue licking at the tempting smear of gravy. He stilled beneath him, a moment of hesitation before twisting his head so that their lips were properly aligned, plush cupid’s bow pressing against cupid’s bow. He tasted like butter and pepper, and Hannibal sighed into the kiss, petting his jaw lovingly.

 

He didn’t pull away when the kiss ended, instead, he lowered his forehead to Will’s- careful to avoid his bruised brow. Breath blossomed on his lips, and his eyes fluttered closed, savoring the moment. Gnashing it in his teeth.

 

“I love you,” he said, knowing Will wouldn’t say it back but unconcerned. He knew Will did love him, even if he wouldn’t say it. Loved him in his own way, a perverse and twisted love; the mirror image of something kinder, safer. A distorted reflection on fractured glass. Loved him in all the ways he hated him, loved him in a way that threatened to destroy the two of them.

 

There was no one he would rather have destroy him, he thought.

 

Will huffed out a laugh. “Mutually assured destruction,” he muttered in response.

 

~x~

 

Moments later found them tangled together and bent over the counters, empty plates left to congeal with the remains of gravy on the counter and mugs of half-finished coffee. They finished their food, feeding each other and catching any spilled gravy with probing tongues. There was no sense in wasting good food, after all, and the moment they finished eating, their hands dropped forks to clutch clothes, peeling them away. Will was clumsy, aggressive, and desperate to touch anything he could as quickly as he could, knocking away Hannibal’s much steadier and sure hands.

 

It wasn’t ideal, bending Will over the counter, flour dusting his forearms. He wanted to look at him, have him stretched out before him so he could watch his face flicker with discomfort as he slipped his first finger in before shifting to pleasure. Wanted to see his lips shape the words he was too breathless to say, his name clinging to a silent mouth.

 

But Will had a way of testing his usual patience, making him desperate and greedy and hungry, and the distance to his bed seemed too great. He used olive oil to ease the push of his fingers, Will snorting derisively- no doubt at the knowledge that the expensive oil was being used for such a task. It slipped down his wrist, created a small puddle on the floor between them when he underestimated the flow of the decanter. When his fingers slipped in with little resistance, and he could crook them at an angle and elicit a stream of filthy curses and breathless moans, he coated his cock and aligned himself with Will’s entrance.

 

He didn’t push in until he reached a hand out to grab those wild curls, twisting his head so that he could watch his face with each thrust. It was a beautiful thing, seeing those eyes twist close, spit slicking his lips.

 

His hand slid over the planes of Will’s stomach, trailing the seam of his scar before sliding lower, fingers catching on wiry curls as he wrapped them around the straining cock. Will made a gurgling sound at the touch, bucking his hips forward to chase the sensation.

 

“Fuck,” he moaned, the sound low and filthy and God how he made something so crude and inelegant sound delicious. Made it sound like all the poems and symphonies and sonnets of the world, wound within those four letters. He tried to follow the smooth and steady rhythm Hannibal set, tried to match the pace of his thrusts but he was wanton and eager, grunting as he pressed himself firmly against him so hips met thighs.

 

Hannibal had indulged in his fantasy hours earlier, taking his time selfishly to memorize each contour and curve; to learn which touch inspired which sound, playing the man before him like the most wonderfully crafted of instruments that only he had earned the privilege to listen to. An orchestra that existed only for him and it was a wondrous gift- one he never expected to be given once let alone now, with the high of the kill and the promise of freedom stripped away and leaving sincerity in Will’s offering.

 

He expressed his gratitude by quickening his pace, gripping Will firmer in his hand, and was rewarded with a long and guttural moan that was ripped from his chest. He lowered himself so his chest was pressed against Will’s back, fingers of his free hand still curled in his hair, knuckles knocking against his scalp and he spoke into the shell of his ear. “You asked for my fantasy. Is this one yours, now? Bent over the counter while I fuck you so hard you forget your own name? You trembling on my cock as you take it so well?” he breathed, his accent thick and sloping with arousal and Will whined in response, neck coiling at the too-muchness of the breath, hot on his neck even as he pressed firmly against Hannibal, shoulder blades digging into his chest.

 

Precome pearled at the tip of Will’s cock, and Hannibal used his thumb to smear the fluid along the crown, to ease the slide of his hand as he squeezed him. “Is this what you like, Will? For me to take care of you, worship you like a god and whore in equal measure?”

 

Will’s breath hitched, his own hips stuttering against the beat he set and Hannibal dragged his lips down his neck, teeth grating along the sensitive skin. The familiar taste of sweat that he had come to associate with the man writhing beneath him, his natural musk, and the chemical taste of the horrid aftershave he knew was purchased simply to annoy him. It was a heady, intoxicating brew and he lapped it up greedily.

 

His stomach coiled, muscles tightening as he approached the precipice of pleasure, groans of his own ripped from behind his ribs, and released his hold on Will’s hair to grip his narrow hips, roughly pulling him in place so he found the angle he was searching for. Will jerked in his hold, shoulders dropping until he was spread out over the counter, face pressed against the marble countertop. The words that fell from his mouth were unintelligible, incoherent strands of broken syllables that wound around his moans and whines of pleasure.

 

He was a solid weight in Hannibal’s hand, twitching under the touch and the certain thrusts against his prostate. “So good for me,” he murmured against the fevered skin, words strangled in his own quickly-approaching bliss. “Such a good whore.”

 

Will shouted, the noise tapering into a groan as he pulsed in Hannibal’s hand, cum slipping over his fingers as he pulled him as far over the edge as he could. Two more thrusts and Hannibal was spilling inside him, lowering himself in the same arch Will had taken to sink his teeth into the soft juncture of skin at the base of his throat. Will gasped at the puncture, sharpened teeth digging into flesh until he tasted iron, blood mixing with his saliva and pooling behind his teeth.

 

He pulled his teeth back, dragged his tongue slowly over the bite, licking the blood with the same fervor he did his sweat. It seemed there was nothing not shared between them at this point, tasting flesh and blood and delighting in the sacrament of one another. Will shuddered beneath him, limbs weak and heavy in his post-orgasmic bliss.

 

Several minutes past where they laid like that- Will pinned to the counter, knees buckled beneath him and held in place by the firm body draping over him. Panting and gasping breaths the symphony of the recovery, collecting the fragments of themselves they tore about in their haste to touch and fill the other.

 

Will was the first to speak, his voice a deep and strained mumble. “We’re going to have to have a talk about what just happened here.”

 

Hannibal didn’t need to look at him to know his cheeks were colored in his embarrassment, no doubt clinging to indignation in favor of shame at his reaction to Hannibal’s words. He smiled, knowing the gesture would not be seen but offering it anyway as he pressed a lingering kiss to Will’s shoulder. “We can talk about whatever you’d like, mylimasis.

 

~x~

 

Will was stretched out on the beach, knees bent, and face turned up to the sun. His pale skin was flushed, tinting pink, and Hannibal was thankful he thought to bring sunscreen with him when he began his search for the younger man. It had only been a few days since he unlocked all the doors between them, and he would still startle at the absence, fear clenching his heart when he couldn’t find Will. The emptiness of the house sounded too much like abandonment, but he was learning where to look for him. The small cave created by rock formations that barricaded the ocean, water stagnant and filled with minnows and algae. The top of the hills over facing the beach, accessible only by climbing and sliding low between the rocks. Pass the signs that explicitly stated not to climb the small cliffs that Will ignored almost spitefully.

 

Sometimes, he just enjoyed lounging, a towel below him to keep the sand from burning his soft skin and his shirt bunched up behind his head.

 

“Did you know that five or more instances of sunburn can double your risk of developing melanoma?” he said, Will scoffing as he squinted up at him.

 

“You lost your board certification, Mister Lecter,” he teased.

 

Hannibal knelt beside him, squeezing the sunscreen on his hand and rubbing it into Will’s skin without asking, starting at the cleft between his pectorals. “That’s just a license. And throwing that in my face will not provide the protection you need from the sun.” Will hummed in response, eyes closing once more as Hannibal continued to work the sunscreen into his skin. He could never tire of it, touching him after admiring him for so long. Fingers tracing the path only his eyes had been allowed access to. He was so breathtakingly beautiful, with his firm yet delicate torso, his thick curls straight from a Boticelli painting. Wide blue eyes settled within the sharp and certain lines of his face.

 

So beautiful, and he was all his, fingers idly tracing the fading teeth marks and small bruises that dotted across Will’s chest, displaying for the world all the places Hannibal had tasted him.

 

Will rose his arm for him when he finished applying the sunscreen to his chest, speaking as Hannibal spread it across his shoulders and down the muscular limb. “I think I want to do it again.” It was a whisper, offered on smiling lips. Eyes blissfully closed from the glaring light of the sun.

 

“So soon?” Hannibal asked though he was grinning himself, beside himself with delight. Radiant in this moment that he oft dreamed of but believed would never come. A moment he believed would be forever locked behind closed doors and sealed lips.

 

Maybe he died that night when Will threw them from the cliff. Had drunk in too much of the ocean and had been condemned to wander through Hell and Purgatory and all their tribulations until he could arrive at Heaven. Mirroring the path that Dante and Virgil had traversed until he too could be handed to his beloved to ascend into paradise, hand in hand.

 

Will rose his hand- the one not being held by Hannibal as he delicately smoothed lotion into his elbow- and held it above his eyes, hiding from the sun. “How often did you wait between them?”

 

“You taught about me en-”

 

“No,” Will corrected, rolling his eyes beneath the shade of his hand. “There were others. Between the Ripper kills. I just wonder how many.”

 

Hannibal dropped Will’s arm, waiting for Will to shield his eyes with his other hand before starting on the second arm. “What makes you so sure there were others?”

 

He was smirking as he said it, and Will mirrored the gesture, snorting inelegantly. “You’re such a narcissist. You just like hearing me praise you and your work. Stop fishing for compliments and ask directly if you’re that desperate,” he said, before adding, “And it was more a countermeasure than anything. The more kills and tableaus we had, the more potential for evidence- or at least a stronger profile that could point to you. Besides, not everyone deserved to be made into art, I’m sure. Some people were just...” he paused, searching for the right word before shrugging. “Pigs.”

 

Hannibal chuckled, though said nothing as Will continued, an almost glazed look in his eyes. “The tableaus were special though. Still pigs, but they inspired you to elevate them. They were muses. That was what made them special, and they were for special occasions. Dinner parties, of course. The rest of them were almost more necessities. People who got too close, required for a grander design or in the wrong place and wrong time when you were feeling particularly bitchy. Or hungry, I guess. Grocery shopping,” he finished, chuckling wryly at his own pun.

 

“You think I’m bitchy?” Hannibal asked, amused by Will’s assessment of him and the other facets of him. The identities he wore when he wasn’t the Chesapeake Ripper or the Copycat or Il Mostro. He was so good at seeing him, seeing all of him- not just the parts he put on display for the world.

 

“Extremely. So how long did you wait between them?”

 

“A few weeks, on average. It depended on how much I could take from them. I took more from them than the others- those ones required a greater canvas to work with, so I was limited in what was offered to me. Very rarely was anything left to be discovered. Longer still though, if I was entertaining them as live-in guests,” he answered. Will’s eyes darkened, shadows swallowing the pupils and the muscles in his jaw twitched from underneath his skin.

 

“That’s...a lot. For as long as you’ve done it, that would-” he paused, licked his lips, “that would make you one of the most prolific. If not the most. And you didn’t even take credit for all of it, so the world won’t even know exactly how dangerous you really are.”

 

Hannibal released Will’s wrist, pressing a hand against the side of his face and rubbing his thumb over the soft curve of his lips. “You know, though. You get to see me, entirely.”

 

Will lurched forward, one hand curling on Hannibal’s shoulder, the other settling on the back of his head as he held him in place, lips meeting his. The kiss was fierce, clumsy. More teeth than lips and vibrating with the sound of a growl that sat in the back of Will’s throat. He kissed the way he killed, feral and recklessly and it felt like death, a decadent nothingness that stole Hannibal’s breath and made his heart skip several beats.

 

He pulled away too soon, settling back down on his towel, a blush that could not be blamed on the sun warming his cheeks. “Besides, I forgot to do something the last time. I never got the pictures I wanted.”

 

“I took them,” Hannibal said, sliding down and gripping Will’s feet. He held them up in the air as he settled down cross-legged on the towel, lowering the feet into his lap. “When you took your shower, I took them for you.” The sting of the rejection was a bitter ache, Will so quick to pull away from him he slipped into the split open cavern of the pig.

 

The ache was becoming duller though, replaced by a pleasant warmth and the memories he collected of Will’s pleasure laced sighs and moans.

 

Will blinked. “Oh...thank you. Where are they?”

 

“I can get them to you when we go home for lunch. Souvenirs?” he asked, a thrill dancing up his spine. He enjoyed watching this Will unfold, unfurling like a budding flower into himself. He imagined the sort of classes Will might have taught about himself, how he would frame, and build his own profile.

 

Will smirked, a slow and lazy gesture. “It’s a surprise.”

 

“Oh?” he asked, raising his brow.

 

Will said nothing else, and Hannibal didn’t pry, sighing softly as he let his gaze roam over the beach. The waves crashing against the shoreline, crashing into an abandoned sandcastle and pulling it into the ocean. He thought of the Buddhist teachings, of the view of death and likening it to a wave.

 

An ocean of multitudes, waves always forming and shifting anew. Some high and strong and destructive, crashing to the shore with all of Poseidon’s wrath. Some low, gentle things which dragged playfully along the shore. Each wave different, each collision with the earth never exactly the same.

 

But it would always be the same water, the well the waves drew from. Each wave a person rising and flourishing and dwindling before returning to the pull of the ocean where it belonged. Returning home in death so other waves could arch and curl over the earth.

 

He wondered if this was why Will was so drawn to the beach and the ocean now that the keys had been placed in his palm. Perhaps he simply enjoyed coming home.

 

~x~

 

His perimeter grew, universe expanding to include the beach that sat below the winding and many stone stairways in the back of their home. The botanical garden that Hannibal enjoyed with a picnic and his sketchbook, the farmer’s market where he conversed with the locals while Will stood hunched beside him, hands shoved in his pocket. His universe grew, until the moment they returned home and the deafening click of a lock would remind him of the prison beyond the extravagant dressings.

 

One evening, when Will turned with his plate to eat his dinner in his bedroom, Hannibal caught his wrist, held it as he said, “You can go back. We can...make it look like you escaped.” He rubbed the skin of his wrist as he said it, as though soothing imaginary ligature marks. “Give you some drugs. You can still go back if you want.”

 

It was an out. The same out Bedelia had taken.

 

He didn’t want an out, though. He wanted the gift Hannibal had given him years ago when his dying morality refused to appreciate it. Hannibal was kind to him despite the distrust, loved him despite it and his face would flash with hope and then disappointment each time Will walked into the same room as him only to leave without a word a few minutes later. He didn’t love Hannibal in return, but he didn’t hate him. It was more complex than that. Something that couldn’t fit within the spaces of those four letters for it was too big to be contained. He couldn’t name it but he could chew it, taste the unnamed feeling on his tongue.

 

He wanted Hannibal. Yet, he didn’t want the affection and adoration when it came in shackles, mired with distrust. He wanted him wholly, wanted the freedom to leave unhindered only to prove he wouldn’t.

 

He was a traitor to many though, a mongoose that attacked too many snakes and now he starved, serpents having long since learned to steer clear.

 

He didn’t die during that night, the Fall. No matter how he viewed it, the metaphors he crafted to romanticize the near-death. As far as Hannibal knew, Will Graham lived. Two separate versions of him, deviating from that fixed point in time. One of them a hostage, a victim of a deranged and obsessive man. The other an accomplice.

 

Hannibal wouldn’t trust him until he was dead. Until one of the Will Grahams was buried and fetid with rot.

 

The realization came to him after months of living around each other, Hannibal wanting what he could get and Will too greedy to only live a half-life. They had fallen into a ritual, Hannibal no longer expecting company for meals and instead leaving the food for Will on a tray outside his door. Each morning, the newspaper sat neatly folded beside his plate, Hannibal having already perused it over his own food.

 

One morning, he read the headline over a spoonful of oatmeal, roasted and seasoned peaches bursting on his tongue.

 

Tourist Vanishes After First Night of Vacation: One of many suspicious disappearances.’

 

His chest clenched, a sensation he could not decipher but felt vaguely like the spark of seeing someone attractive. A love at first sight notion, if love was the anticipation of violence and first sight the beginnings of a plan. He didn’t want to die.

 

But his death was the currency to earn Hannibal’s trust. And he would murder himself, destroy one Will Graham so the other could flourish.

 

If the Fall was his death than his murder would be his rebirth.

Chapter Text

Afterbirth

 

It was almost eleven in the evening by the time Jack Crawford came to his home, quiet in a way that seemed unnatural. Years had come and gone since Bella’s passing, but there was still a part of him that expected to see her in her familiar haunts. See her pressed into the corner of the couch, feet folded underneath her as she read over her paperwork, one hand idly tracing the rim of a wine glass that sat on the table beside her.

 

His stomach clenched for those brief seconds between hope and reality when he entered the room, and when it released it was to plummet.

 

It was getting easier though, her presence fading in a way that was bittersweet. He often wondered if his constant invocation of her disrupted her eternal rest; if thinking of her with sorrow and grief made her spirit stir. For so long at the end of her life, he denied her peace. It wasn’t fair to continue to do it in death.

 

So he pushed the thoughts of her away, replacing them with cases that never seemed to end.

 

The more unsolvable, the more he craved them. The bigger hole he could dig himself into, knowing it would one day become his grave.

 

He sighed as he toed his shoes off, hung his coat on the hook. He pulled his cellphone out from his pocket as he walked to the kitchen, letting the blue light guide him. There was an email about the results to a case being ready, an email about an upcoming trial he was expected to offer his testimony on. He checked his voicemail, listening to the recordings with waning interest as he cradled the phone between his head and shoulder, pulling a bottle of bourbon from his liquor cabinet.

 

He poured himself two fingers, added another when he listened to a message from a lab tech about some evidence being compromised. By the time the third message played, he had raised the glass to his lips, settling it there without sipping as the familiar voice curled in his ear.

 

Hey, Jack...it’s me...Molly,’ it began, breaking off to huff out an awkward laugh. ‘Been a long time since the last time we got together...I know you’re busy though.’ A sound boomed in his ear, the tinny sound of a large exhale through a phone. There was a second of silence, a lull, and when the voice returned it was strained through tears. ‘Did you know last week was the anniversary? Can’t believe it’s been a year already...I know you...I know there isn’t anything new to report on. You would have called but I guess I was just hoping-’ a strangled, hollow laugh cut through- ‘I was hoping calling you would make the stars align and point an arrow to him I guess. I don’t know what I was hoping, I just miss him and I’ve had wine and Winston’s been missing since yesterday and he was Will’s favorite and I feel like I’ve lost him all over again. I should really get off the phone before I say anything else.’

 

Quiet followed, and for a moment Jack thought she might have hung up right there, ending the brash and drunken phone call. Just as he was about to pull his phone away, the recording came to life once more. ‘It wouldn’t be so bad if I just...knew what happened. Even if his..his body was found. But I doubt it would be. Because he-um...Lecter eats them. Maybe that’s why we haven’t found anything yet-’

 

He ended the voicemail, dropping his phone as though it were a grenade, seconds away from detonating. He didn’t like thinking about Will or Hannibal, pushing the two men further from his mind with every case file that was settled on his desk. He had worked the case diligently in the first few months, almost deliriously- forgoing sleep and food in favor of nights cramped over his desk, coffee and breakfast bars keeping his stomach from hollowing too much.

 

He finally understood what the word obsession meant, his own personal white whale eluding him. Forgetting him, it seemed. Hannibal wasn’t leaving any clues, wasn’t flirting or toying with the police anymore as he had in Baltimore, in Italy.

 

There was no need to; he had what he wanted. He had Will Graham.

 

He fought when the case was pulled from him and given to a different team. One with more resources and fewer reasons to whittle themselves to the bone in trying to solve it. He fought it for weeks and even continued to work it, using his personal time to build maps and theories.

 

The fight was a front though. He was relieved to no longer have those names sitting on the case file, the ink-black letters staring at him like a taunt. He waited the appropriate amount of time before he could drift, let it wane. Long enough that it didn’t seem like he gave up.

 

Will had told him once, long ago, that he didn’t like to go to crime scenes because he always brought something back with him. At the time he thought it was a dramatic proclamation, an unstable and struggling mind who dedicated himself too much to a case.

 

He understood him now, though. He brought something back with him.

 

It was time to let it go.

 

A whole year had passed, he thought with a sigh, downing his glass of bourbon even if it burned like acid, made his face wince in pain. It warmed him instantly, throat and stomach hot with the alcohol. He poured another two fingers, raised his glass in the air as though in cheers to a dinner party that was made entirely of ghosts. Bella, Hannibal, and Will occupying the empty seats around his dining table.

 

“To one year,” he announced to the empty room. He sipped this glass, savored it slowly. He wondered if Hannibal was doing the same- raising a glass of champagne (it would be actual champagne, from France, naturally, not sparkling wine) in a toast to his good fortune. He imagined him lounging in a couch with some pretentious extra name, a synonym as if 'chair' wasn’t good enough. A chaise or a davenport. Listening to Mozart or Beethoven, something classical and wrought with sounds that swelled in boom and triumph. He imagined him petting his prized possession- a moment five years in the making.

 

He tried to chase away the taste of failure with more bourbon.

 

The official report was Will had been abducted by Hannibal. There was no reason to contest it. Hannibal had been obsessed with him and now that the veil had long since been pulled from his eyes it was startlingly clear that every decision Hannibal made was with Will in mind. From his manipulations to frame Will and make his word worthless, the claims of a sick and delusion prisoner who cried wolf, all the way to turning himself into the FBI. Wanting Will to know him, to see him. Too afraid to think that Will might actually stop obsessing over him long enough to cease hunting him and he would be alone once more. Sending a serial killer to his home out of spite when Will did prove he could live without him.

 

His cell was filled with pictures of the profiler, drawings from memory that were startling in their detail. Not skipping over a single freckle, a single curl.

 

It was hard not to bear the burden of the obsession, feel the weight of his responsibility. He had gift-wrapped Will for him, left him on a basket on Hannibal’s doorstep, and ran away with hardly a parting glance. Dr. Lecter will do your psych eval, he had arranged. Had it even been his decision, he wondered? Searching his brain for a slip, a moment that would allow him to shirk the blame to another one of Hannibal’s careful orchestrations. Maybe Hannibal put the thought in there. Maybe he suggested it one evening over dinner, set the trappings to ensnare Will as his patient. “Will killed someone. I can’t imagine the sort of things that would do to someone with his abilities. A trauma for a person without pure empathy-”

 

Wishful thinking, though. So many interactions were forgotten before his mind knew what Hannibal was and knew to commit them in vivid detail.

 

His own theories conflicted with the official reports, but only barely. How responsible could Will be? Hannibal spent years playing with him, rearranging the wires of his brain as he saw fit, carving into him more than he carved into anyone else. He was his psychiatrist, a person trusted with righting his thoughts and instead he muddled them, tangled them by letting a fever wreak havoc and gaslighting him until Will was almost convinced he had murdered and cannibalized someone.

 

And even then, when Will was locked behind bars, he still toyed with him. A child delighted by a toy that did not break with rough-handling and now testing the limits he could go until it shattered.

 

At what point would Stockholm syndrome be considered? An abduction not of the body but of the mind?

 

He had Miriam Lass for two years, his interactions minimal because she was not the toy he was playing with, and yet, even she called him kind. He treated her well, she said. Very well even as he cut off her arm for Jack.

 

Two years under his thumb with only his second-hand interest was enough for her to think him considerate. He shuddered to imagine the damage that could be done when Hannibal offered his full attention, devoting himself for years.

 

Even if Will walked into that car willingly- and he suspected he did- he was unsure how much it mattered, in the end.

 

Regrets strung together, all the should haves that haunted him. Should have left Will in the classroom, should have trusted Alana’s assessment that he wasn’t stable enough. Should have trusted Will when he first pointed the finger to Hannibal.

 

Should have let Will kill Hannibal in Minnesota, in that kitchen so soaked with blood it had a taste for it now.

 

It would have been neater, so much grief and misery and death avoided.

 

Should have, could have- but he did not.

 

There was no point turning over the past, flaying himself on all his mistakes like someone wandering the circles of Dante’s Hell, condemned to the same torture on a loop.

 

It wouldn’t bring Will back- the Will he knew, not the one who replaced him. The Will who avoided eye contact like a kicked puppy and refused to look at the parents of victims because it was too much to feel their sorrow.

 

He was a changeling, dragged from his bed one night, and replaced by something that looked like him but was not. Something shadowy that wore his skin like a costume but it fit all wrong.

 

Winston had gone missing, Molly said in her message. He wondered if he was looking for Will, too.

 

He wondered which one he would find.

 

The night was quiet as he stepped outside onto his patio, cold enough that there were no bugs to fly lazily around the light that settled like a halo. Frost clung to the branches of overgrown flowers that would bud once more in a few months. They needed trimming, but he always found a reason to push it off until the season had passed and they were dead and dry once more. They had been Bella’s, and each clip to the brush felt like he was cutting away parts of her. Her tenuous hold on his life cut like the thread of fate. He was Atropos to her memory.

 

They caught his attention though, something red blooming on the roses that shouldn’t be because it was still too early in the year.

 

It wasn’t until he heard the distinctive sound of glass shattering at his feet that he realized he dropped his bourbon, the sound piercing the moment and dragging him back to reality. He stepped over the glass, fragments turning to dust beneath his feet until he stood before the roses, breath caught on the sight of the red envelope, the familiar looping script. Jack Crawford.

 

An anniversary present.

 

He reached for it, opening it with one hand as his other busied with his cellphone, trying to find the contact of the agent assigned to lead Lecter’s case.

 

He pressed it to his ear, hearing the soft purr of the ring as he ripped the envelope in half, its contents falling to the ground.

 

He blinked, swallowing at the sight of Will’s temporary badge, sitting on a bed of frozen grass- frost clinging to the brown-colored blades. His photo, small at his feet, seemed to glance accusingly at him. Even in the identification, he averted his gaze, glasses and curls obscuring him from view. The phone continued to ring as he crouched down, fingers brushing over the card and the leather holder it sat within, stiff from the cold. He lifted it up.

 

He choked on something- his breath, a sob, the bourbon that shot back into his throat- when he saw what sat beneath it. Polaroid photos, glossy even in the low light. A man prone on the floor, chest ripped open and hollowed out, his heart crushed and pulled over his lungs, ripped from its place.

 

Panic strangled him, made his hands shake as he held the photo close before letting out a breath of relief.

 

Short cropped hair, dusted with silver. Skin too golden, too olive tone and face too narrow.

 

It wasn’t Will.

 

There was another photo behind it, a man slumped in his chair, large gut marred with blood. Something protruded from his mouth, but it was indiscernible from the small image.

 

It wasn’t Will either, and dread filled him, crept into him as though he were drowning and it was the water that filled his lungs. Understanding came with it, knowing without wanting to admit it. Voice it into existence as if he had the power of creation and destruction nestled in his larynx.


Will was the one returning the badge. Not Hannibal.

 

The ring of his phone cut off suddenly, a voice thick with sleep and irritation curling in his ear. “Jack? Jesus Christ, it’s like midnight. This better be-”

 

He didn’t respond, phone sliding from his ear, and held loosely in his fingers as he picked up the final item from the package. Bile roiled in his stomach, burning from the alcohol which sat like poison in his belly. Something sat on his tongue, dug into his brain. Something he could not name. Surprise? Disappointment? Horror?

 

None of them seemed adequate, none of them filled the hole that burred into his skull at the sight of the slim card stock in his hands, dark where the frost had seeped into it.

 

Will Graham’s distinct and messy scrawl, the very same one that filled so many case files and reports.

 

It was a recipe card.

 

~x~

 

Will Graham’s Sausage Gravy

 

  • 2 finely diced shallots

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 2 cloves minced garlic

  • 8 ounces ground sausage*

  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 2½ cups half-and-half

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

     

  1. Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and cook the onions until golden. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the ground sausage and cook until brown and cooked through. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to incorporate, cooking for another minute.

  2. While stirring constantly, pour in the half-and-half. Stir until smooth. Add the salt, pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a simmer and stir until thickened. Add the rosemary and thyme and simmer for another 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  3. Serve hot.

 

* For most authentic taste, sausage should be made from a pig of your choosing, freshly slaughtered.

 

 

~x~