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A Hollow Faith

Chapter Text

Don't you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. —Romans {6:16}

The cultural richness of Roma Aeterna, the Eternal City, was almost too overwhelming. Remnants of past civilizations permeated the landscape, each and every palazzo, garden and fountain with a story to tell. Father Graham felt, acutely and immediately, the enormity of such a place – its boundless artistic, archaeological and religious significance. His deep appreciation for such a magnificent city did not go amiss, but the immensity of nearly three-thousand years of history weighed heavily on his mind. For all of its splendor and ancient beauty, it wasn't home. Father Graham wouldn't fool himself into thinking it was.

It was, however, the site of his furthered religious training… Specifically in the realm of demonic exorcism. Graham was aware that his was an unusual calling. Becoming a Roman Catholic priest had never been his first choice, but his affinity for the spiritual domain had quickly become apparent in his youth. He’d always possessed an uncanny sense of intuition, something that had plagued and isolated him for as long as he could remember. Coupled with his keen emotional sensitivity, a young Graham had made a lasting impression on the Bishop of their local diocese.

Growing up poor, church was one of the few places where he felt he fit in. Where he felt equal, as all men were in the eyes of God. Recognizing his excellent clergy potential, Bishop Crawford had offered Graham a unique opportunity: dedicate his life to God, and he would be provided for in every way.

He couldn't refuse.

After being anointed, Father Graham quickly gained a reputation for pure empathy – the ability and insight to see an individual's truest self; to suffer their plight and share in their fears, joys, or sorrows. He was taught to consider it something of a divine gift, encouraged by his fellow ordained to use it for the benefit of others.

It was no secret that amidst the shortage of priests, the need for qualified exorcists in the field was growing exponentially. Graham's background in theology, psychology and demonology naturally made him the perfect candidate, but he suspected that he was wanted for more than just his education. Perhaps his gift would prove useful in his battle against the snares of the Devil.

And, as they say in Italy… Il resto è storia.

It was still hard for Father Graham to believe that he’d been staying just outside the Vatican, in the city home to the holy Mother Church, for some time now. There were still moments where he had to remind himself he really was here. That, and it was odd for him to have such an uneasy feeling plaguing his nerves when surrounded by such beauty, however awe-inspiring. There was a definite disconnect of sorts, a lingering feeling of being mismatched to his environment that reminded him of childhood. A sense of belonging was extremely important to him, something he longed for deep within but would never admit.

Acting In persona Christi, Father Graham knew he'd never truly be alone – but still he missed his Virginia home, his church in Wolf Trap, his pack. He didn't feel like he quite fit in in Rome, but he had to remind himself that the nature of his visit wasn't sabbatical or leisurely… This was an opportunity. He was here for a reason: to serve an effective purpose and do God's work. To be the tool, the instrument, the mortal conduit through which His will would be done. The thought brought him comfort and strength, and Father Graham held his head a little higher as he made his way through the streets beyond the Vatican border.

It was a quiet night, the full moon a ghostly orb amongst wisps of thin, dark clouds. The priest had barely walked a hundred feet outside the city limits when he felt a tugging on his cassock. He turned, glancing down to see a mangy looking dog with long, tangled fur at his heels – it had the black garment in its mouth; pulling at it with dull, yellowed teeth. Another dog whimpered high in its throat just behind it, much smaller in size with a messy coat of brown curls. Graham was still getting used to the abundance of stray animals, mostly cats and dogs, scattered throughout the various Italian cities and towns. He didn't even have to go out looking for them.

Hey there,” the priest cooed sweetly, bracing his hands on his knees. He smiled down at the pair of strays, wishing he had some food scraps to give. “Hey buddy. This your friend?”

Graham had a special fondness for dogs, quite possibly his favorite of God's creations. Four-legged angels, they were simple, pure and innocent creatures. Humans, in comparison, had the potential to be beasts – they were susceptible to sin, possessing the capacity and capability for great acts of both cruelty and kindness. Despite his holy occupation, Graham sometimes found it difficult to remain unbiased when he knew of the darkness in the hearts of men… But even this was God's design. He knelt to pet the dogs gently, stopping to scratch behind their flea-bitten ears. Something seemed to catch their attention in the distance, and the priest lifted his head to glimpse a figure slowly approaching. A lone man.

Once he'd stepped out of the shadows and into view, the moonlight had cast a saintly glow around the stranger – a brilliant halo of sorts. He looked almost ethereal, moving toward him with a calm, easy confidence. Very well-dressed and groomed, as Father Graham observed… and looking right back at him.

The man moved toward him casually, closing the space between them with long strides, hands in his pockets. "Wonderful creatures, aren't they, Father?" he began, in a practiced English-tongue. "I always see these two here... I wish I had something to offer them. You seem quite fond of them as well."

Father Graham blinked in mild surprise, straightening up to regard the stranger. The dog biting at his cassock relented with a whine, and both strays seemed to take a step back as the man came closer. The priest offered him a courteous smile, letting his gaze trail briefly over the unfamiliar form. He could appreciate the man's charm and light-hearted conversation.

Graham had grown so used to Italian and Latin that it had nearly become default, and had to catch himself before he spoke. It was nice to hear his native tongue again; put him a bit more at ease. He reminded himself to make eye contact as he slid his glasses a bit higher on his nose… It was good practice when interacting with people. Father Graham wasn’t unfamiliar with being sought out or approached in the slightest – he was a priest after all – but he found himself tensing inexplicably. Those with heavy souls had a tendency to gravitate toward him, and he could usually sense their conflict with ease, though he didn't feel that now.

“I admire them. I think we can learn a lot from dogs—I have a few back home.” A few. No need to specify just how many. Surely he’d adopt these too, if he could. He was a sucker for strays. “These two… Well, they were rather friendly, believe me.”

The animals had retreated some distance away. Graham shifted nervously – he wanted to make a good impression as a priest, not a dog-lover. He wondered if this man had something he needed to confess, was in need of advice or perhaps divine intervention. He extended a hand warmly. “Father Graham. I'm a priest at one of the nearby churches. Well, two, actually.”

The stranger wondered for a moment if the priest expected him to be another mindless follower, seeking spiritual guidance. He considered telling Father Graham about all of his sins, wondered what the priest would think of them, what he would do after hearing them all. The poor man would probably be terrified, to say the least. It was a humorous thought. He himself was too old and had more sins than he could remember – but he couldn't care less about sin, or God, or priests. Except for this one, who looked and smelled far too delicious for his own good. What a waste, a beautiful man like that being so... Untouchable. Curiosity piqued, the mysterious gentleman wondered how long Father Graham had been a priest; just how pure his soul and body were. He seemed to be too innocent, too spotless, precisely the opposite of himself… It only made the unsuspecting priest all the more appetizing. He knew it wouldn't be easy, but accepted the challenge gladly, knowing, without a doubt, that this man would be his.

"Dr. Hannibal Lecter," the stranger replied, shaking Father Graham's hand. Hannibal – Graham recognized the name and its Latin derivative. Grace of Ba’al… In a biblical sense, the associations were not positive. In fact, they were predominantly demonic. Funny he also shared the name of an enemy of Rome; the brilliant Carthaginian general. It was wildly ironic that they meet here – God had quite the sense of humor. But doctor...

"It's a pleasure to meet you,” Hannibal carried on with a smile. It will be an even bigger pleasure to feast on your blood; feel as the life slowly drains from your body…

“The pleasure’s mine,” Father Graham answered, staring back into dark eyes. “Are you a physician?”

"I’m a psychiatrist. I tried to be a surgeon, but… That didn't work as well as I intended it to.” It was too bad he’d felt the urge to drink all of his patients’ blood. Hannibal had killed three people whose lives he was entrusted to save – not that he truly cared about saving them… He simply took an interest in medicine. The problem was, if too many patients died under his so-called care, people would begin to catch on. That had been centuries ago, and since then Hannibal had gained a lot more self control. He’d decided to pursue a career in psychiatry instead.

"Well, to err is human. Surgeon or psychiatrist, you help people,” said Graham. “In the grand scheme of things, that's what matters, isn't it?" He hoped Dr. Lecter felt fulfilled in his career; it was important to give back to one's community, and as a psychiatrist he had the chance to do a lot of good. Not all afflictions were spiritual in nature. "It may seem odd to hear this from a priest, but I have a lot of respect for the field of psychiatry." The priest flashed a crooked smile before removing his glasses, wiping at the lenses with his cassock.

"It's good to hear that. Not all priests think like you,” Hannibal said with a small smile. He was interested in picking his brain.

Graham shrugged. “I try to keep an open mind. Do you live here in Rome?"

"I do. I have a few houses around the world, but I’ve decided to settle here for the time being. I must confess that Rome is one of my favorite cities, even though I still prefer Florence." Hannibal smiled again, watching Father Graham's face. The man had beautiful blue eyes that were big and bright, even in just the light of the streetlamps – clearly visible in part due to Hannibal's keen eyesight. He could see better than anyone else around them, especially in the dark of night. It would almost be a waste to take Graham’s life and not be able to see those eyes shining anymore.

“Rome is… truly beautiful,” said the priest. “I’m sure there’s nothing quite like it, certainly not where I’m from. I’ve yet to visit Florence myself, but I’d like to.” He chuckled. It was an anxious habit.

"To me, it's the most beautiful city in Italy. Although I'm originally from Lithuania,” Hannibal continued. “You're not from here either, you… Look like a foreigner. Perhaps a tourist—don't take it as an insult, please. I've lived here long enough and believe I'm too observant." His smile was apologetic, even though it wasn't real.

Father Graham inhaled sharply as rush of heat surged through him, and he found himself suddenly self-conscious. “N-Not a tourist, no. I’m from the States but was sent abroad to finish my studies. It seems we’re both quite far from home,” he said, wincing internally.

Graham was sure he stuck out like a sore thumb, and if Dr. Lecter was observant enough to pick up on his “touristy” presence, then it was certainly noticed. Hannibal seemed to fit right in. Looked like he belonged. He had never met someone from Lithuania before – it was a first as a priest; surely one of many to come. Father Graham traced a finger along the chain of his silver cross.

In Persona Christi, he remembered. In the person of Christ. He didn’t have to feel inferior, not as a Roman Catholic priest. He mirrored Hannibal’s smile tentatively – it wasn’t often that people took a particular interest in him, although he freely offered his services to the general public. They requested his religious guidance but were seldom curious about his own life. Then again, what life did he have outside of serving God? His life was not his own, but dedicated to Christ. The personal life of the man known as Will Graham was insignificant.

“How long have you been here, Father? If, of course, you don't mind me asking."

The priest considered the question, innocent but requiring some careful thought. How long had he been here? “If my memory serves, tonight actually marks my… Second month here in Rome,” said Will, voice carrying a lilt of surprise. It didn't feel like it'd been nearly that long at all. “Perhaps it was fated that we meet. How can I serve you, Dr. Lecter?”

"Hannibal, please," Hannibal corrected. He found it a dangerous question to ask. You can serve me with your body and your blood. “Don't worry, Father. I didn't intend to ask for anything. I saw you interacting with the dogs and thought you seemed friendly… Approachable. We have that in common. Our love for dogs, I mean." It was a blatant lie, but he did not dislike them. "Dogs are fascinating. They have pure hearts; cannot be corrupted,” he said fondly. This much he believed himself. It was why Hannibal would never hurt an animal. "So different from humans."

The problem with dogs, and all other animals, was that they avoided Hannibal, as if they could sense what he was. In fact, Hannibal was sure they could, because all animals had pure souls, and Hannibal's soul was precisely the opposite of pure. Nothing in Hannibal could be called pure, and he knew those two dogs could feel it. That's why he didn't have dogs – why he only had humans that he kept for a short period of time, killing them and replacing one with another. He respected animals, as vampires were beasts in themselves, and didn't wish to hurt them. But humans were something different. Humans were sinners, some more than others, but not a single human being possessed a completely pure heart and soul. Not even Father Graham, Hannibal was sure.

“I don't have many friends here, and I have to admit that I tend to feel quite… Well, lonely, at times." And I eat every person who tries to get close to me, he thought, but kept it to himself.

Graham felt a stab of sympathy at the doctor's words, and his brow furrowed slightly. Dr. Lecter had asked for nothing, and yet Will somehow felt compelled to offer his assistance.

"You're never alone, Dr. Lecter. Know that God is always with you. At the risk of sounding...completely stereotypical, have… Have you perhaps considered attending church?" His eyes were clear and searching in the light of the moon, a gentle breeze ruffling the dark curls of his hair. His question hung heavy in the night air, and Will worried that perhaps he’d struck a sore nerve.

“With all due respect, Father, I’m afraid I’m not a frequent church-goer,” Hannibal said – Father Graham’s face was the picture of pure acceptance. Admittedly, he was a bit surprised, although his expression did not betray him. It was rare to avoid church in a city with such a large denomination of Roman Catholics, but he was sure the good doctor had his reasons. He was far from offended; his job was not to forcefully convert others to his faith, but to gently guide them toward the path of grace and light. Father Graham cocked his head to the side, arching an eyebrow curiously. He didn’t push the subject, instead turning to beckon the frightened strays closer, clapping his hands before bracing them on bent knees.

The dogs came running and he stroked them gently, soothing their nerves – the priest huffed out a breath of surprise at the touch of wet noses nuzzling eagerly into his palms. "You’re right… See? Even dogs forgive. I see how trusting they are and I know I could never betray them.” He laughed in earnest at the sight of two furiously wagging tails. “If you're not a church-goer, maybe one of these guys could ease your loneliness. Everyone needs a companion."

Hannibal didn't miss a beat. "I would love to, but you see, Father, I travel all the time. I would have to leave them alone and I couldn't bear to neglect them.” He couldn't take one of the dogs with him, they would never accept him; would fight to go back to Father Graham and the priest would just know something was wrong. What he had told the priest wasn't a complete lie, however. He did like to travel. "They would be much safer with you, I'm sure." He smiled again, looking at the dogs and then to the priest.

"One does get used to being alone, I suppose,” Hannibal continued. “With the life I lead, it's hard to keep a companion." He reached inside his pocket to retrieve a business card and offered it to the priest. "I don't know when you get some free time, but if you'd ever like to talk about anything or perhaps see some new places in Rome, consider me a friend."

Hannibal held the card between two fingers, in a way that would be almost impossible for the priest to take without at least brushing the tips of his fingers across his. He craved the contact, yearned for it, and he couldn't wait to seduce this man – corrupt him forever, corrupt his soul like he’d done to many others before him. A priest would be so much more fun than other humans, because priests knew about the vampire's existence. Father Graham would inevitably notice what Hannibal was, eventually, and by then it would be too late. Hannibal enjoyed seeing the fear in his victim's eyes right before he leaned in to bite into their throats.

“Are you offering to be my tour guide doctor?” Graham asked, sounding a bit more flirtatious than he’d planned. Dr. Lecter was clearly a cultured man, if he said he was too busy travelling to take care of pets or have… companions, then he had no reason to doubt him. But he'd felt his face flush at the playful tone of his own voice; could feel it spreading to the tips of his ears – he was suddenly thankful for the darkness and the soothing coolness of the night breeze against his heated skin.

In truth, Graham had forgotten how good it felt to have such simple interactions with another person, free of judgements or expectations. As a priest he was far from secluded, but he spent much of his free time alone when he wasn’t performing religious duties. On top of that, his studies made it difficult to find time for socializing, and he had few connections in Rome besides his mentor, Father Pazzi. Overall, Will had little time for himself, let alone others as he continued his training to become an exorcist. Maybe a friend was just what he needed. The priest stood up tall and straight, finally reaching out to take the business card from Dr. Lecter’s hand – it was an innocent touch, but the moment their fingers brushed it felt electric. Father Graham had to suppress a gasp at the sensation zinging down his spine – it was embarrassing how strongly he registered the contact. Surely he wasn’t that touch-starved, desperate for the feel of something physical.

“Thank you, Doctor. I may take you up on your offer.” Will traced the engraved lettering on the card stock with his thumb. Dr. Hannibal Lecter, M.D. Something inside of him ached, a small hole where something was missing, a void that perhaps even God had failed to fill. No – that was blasphemous thinking, but he couldn’t deny that there was a very distant part of him that craved companionship as well; more than just the company of strays or members of the church. He was a priest, but also a human-being – and as such, a social creature. It was only natural that he desire camaraderie, a casual acquaintanceship. Father Graham knew he wasn’t supposed to feel alone with God in his corner, but it was hard not to feel somewhat misplaced so far away from home. Yes, he thought. He could use the connection.

“Um, I know you’re a busy man Dr. Lecter—but if you ever find yourself in a dark place, you can find me at the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica on weekends. I’d be happy to offer my services—but if you’re not keen on church… I walk this same path back to my apartment in the nearby palazzo nightly.” Father Graham bowed his head and crossed himself swiftly. “I hope our paths cross again. May the Lord be with you, doctor.”

That would have made Hannibal flinch if he didn't have so much self control. It wasn't something he liked to hear, in fact, it was almost offensive to his ears. ‘The Lord’ wasn't with him, had never been with him. God, in fact, was against him. And Hannibal was certainly against God. But he nodded and smiled – he couldn't deny that the fact that Father Graham hoped their paths would cross again excited him. If that's what Father Graham wanted, that was what he would get. "I wish the same. Perhaps our paths will cross again very soon. May the Lord be with you, Father," Hannibal answered, wondering if the priest would notice the hint of a threat. It appeared he did not.

Father Graham watched as the doctor took his leave, standing quietly in the middle of the darkened city street until he disappeared from view. He pocketed Dr. Lecter’s business card, gaze flickering to the two stray dogs beside him, panting happily with lolling tongues. He whistled and they answered with a whimper, ears perking up in interest. He’d have to remember to bring them something from his pantry next time. The priest bid them farewell and they did not follow, content to stretch out on the pavement instead. It wasn’t a far walk to the Renaissance-style palazzo just beyond the Vatican boundary – he made his way inside and into his modest apartment, equipped with all the necessities for living.

Feeling strangely exhilarated by his encounter with Dr. Lecter, Father Graham had found it difficult to unwind that night. He’d struggled to rid his thoughts of the charming psychiatrist, of the moonlight reflected in those dark, intelligent eyes. When he undressed he did so quickly, ridding himself of shoes and socks before removing his cassock and underclothes. He retrieved the card from the pocket of his robes, leaving it on the bedside table. Clad in his boxer-briefs, he folded his clergy attire neatly and put them away, the doctor’s words echoing in his mind all the while. Will made his way to the bathroom to brush his teeth and splash his face with cold water – he studied his features in the mirror and ran wet fingers through his curls, the cross around his neck glinting in the artificial light. With a sigh he returned to the bedroom, kneeling at the foot of his cot to say his nightly prayers.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.” Father Graham finished, crossing himself before bringing his pendant to his lips. He stood and took the business card from the table, reading the fine script again and again as he moved to sit on the edge of his bed. Dr. Hannibal Lecter, M.D. “Hannibal…” He tried, but the name tasted heavy on his tongue. He turned the card around in his hands a few times, front to back and back again, before reaching over to return it to its place.

His sleep was fitful that night, plagued by waking nightmares of a gaunt, shadowy figure. He dreamt that he was being smothered; long, spindly fingers tipped with claws wrapped tightly around his neck. Piercing eyes the color of freshly spilled blood stared back at him as he fought for breath – Will shivered and gasped in his cold sweat, mouthing the Lord’s Prayer until his tired body had no choice but to still.

That same night, Hannibal found himself an easy victim – he was too hungry to be too picky. He was glad that his eyes hadn’t simply turned red right in front of Father Graham when the priest had blushed in front of him, because in that moment, all Hannibal had smelled was blood. Father Graham's blood smelled so delicious that Hannibal tried and failed to be completely satisfied by the blood he was drinking now.

Most vampires would hide in wait for the street to empty, save for one potential victim. They’d pull their victim into a darkened corner and sink their teeth into their necks, drain their bodies and return home covered in blood because they were careless when they killed. Those vampires wouldn't even allow their victims to look them in the eyes, because they didn't care about having fun with them. To vampires like Hannibal, that was boring. What he truly enjoyed was approaching his chosen prey, talking to them, finding out their names and addresses and when they would be alone. Making his victims want him. Making himself irresistible – they didn't know what he was, they would never know, but he would visit them, have sex with them, drain their blood in their sleep and leave them for the polizia to find.

He wasn't an unusual vampire for the gratification he obtained from playing with his victims, but Hannibal also loved to eat their flesh later, after he drained them. When a victim tasted particularly good, he would even take some of their organs home to cook. He always hid the body in the end, it was easier for the police to deal with disappearances rather than vampire attacks – most people weren't supposed to know vampires even existed.

His current victim was a young woman, early twenties, that had seemed overly interested in him when he’d stopped at a pub to get a drink. The woman had been constantly hitting on him, so he asked if they could go to her place. He kissed her, touched her, made her ride him, then lay her on the bed and sank his fangs into her carotid. The blood tasted good, he couldn't deny it – except for the fact that she had been intoxicated, and the alcohol she consumed altered the flavor. Still, it made him less hungry. But it didn't taste as good as Father Graham's blood had smelled, and Hannibal knew that this man, this priest, was the start of a new obsession. He would have him all to himself soon enough, whether it would be easy or not.

Chapter Text

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined—Isaiah {9:2}

The reprieve of morning came slowly, and Will woke with the sun as the light poured through the window to warm his clammy, sweat-drenched skin. It had been a night more restless than most.

The priest kept himself busy at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where it smelled of flowers and holy incense; frankincense and myrrh. Quiet and lacking the daily swarm of tourists and pilgrims, Father Graham favored the chapel, dedicated solely to the peacefulness of prayer. It was where he sought refuge away from the suffocating crowds – his sanctuary within sanctuary.

The days came and went, blurring together like parts of a dreams; hours spent at mass, reciting praise and prayer alike. Graham performed traditional Roman Catholic rites and rituals as if on autopilot, and though exhausted, absolved the sins of the faithful.

If he carried the weight of these sins with him, it was a burden he did not bear blatantly.

In the afternoons Father Graham often shadowed Padre Pazzi as his superior permitted, and the evenings brought vesper service. One night found him walking the same path back to the palazzo when he spotted a familiar form in the distance. His eyes widened at the sight of Dr. Lecter, approaching him with a steaming cup in each of his hands.

It was dark, but Hannibal could see everything as clearly as he would in the light of day. He had smelled Father Graham long before he laid eyes on him, and smiled as he approached, unable to hold it back. Perhaps there was a misplaced sense of happiness in seeing the priest, but he didn't have the time to think on it – Father Graham was coming closer; Hannibal could hear his heartbeat and the sound of his breathing growing louder in his ears.

"Father," Hannibal began, his mind brimming with all manner of unscrupulous thoughts. “I was supposed to be meeting a colleague for coffee. It appears they've stood me up." He didn't sound too disappointed. "Would you like one?" he asked, raising one of the cups in offering.

Hannibal’s smile was contagious, and Will’s heart skipped a beat at its warmth. He found his pulse picking up, and quickened his pace to meet the doctor halfway. The smell of freshly brewed coffee was a comfort, and he graciously accepted – he didn't want to be rude. It was his colleague’s loss. He couldn't imagine anyone missing out on the opportunity to meet with Dr. Lecter, the very definition of simpatico.

“Thanks,” Father Graham said, stifling a yawn. “I’ve a long night of study ahead of me and could definitely use the pick-me-up.” He didn’t add that he’d hardly slept since they’d last met. “I wasn’t expecting to run into you again so soon, doctor… It's a pleasant surprise. I’m beginning to suspect that God may be rather fond of us.”

Hannibal repressed a chuckle. He thought maybe God was fond of the priest, but at the same time, where was God now? Shouldn't he protect Father Graham from Hannibal? Shouldn't he intervene somehow? God would surely abandon the priest when he needed Him most, leading him alone for Hannibal to take. No, Father, God isn't fond of me and he must not be very fond of you either. You’re just too blind to see it. Hannibal wanted to tell him that, that God was watching while doing nothing to prevent bad things from happening to good people. Sometimes he even facilitated it, dropping a church roof and killing several of His followers simply because He could. Your God isn't fond of you. You aren’t special in His eyes. You'll realize it soon enough, and you'll ask yourself why.

“We make an odd pair, Dr. Lecter,” Will continued pleasantly. “An American and Lithuanian in Rome…” He trailed off, lifting the full cup to his lips.

Hannibal watched the priest take a sip of coffee and wondered if perhaps he should have drugged it; taken the priest to his place instead. But he didn't like the taste of drugs, preferring the natural taste of blood much more. More than that, he wished to seduce the priest. Corrupt him in every conceivable way, not just body and soul, but mind as well.

Hannibal studied Will's face closely. He could make them out with ease – dark circles under Father Graham's eyes. They’d been absent a few nights ago. Interesting. The priest seemed happy to see him again however, and Hannibal decided this was a good thing. It meant that Father Graham still hadn’t realized what he was.

"Perhaps we should take a walk," Hannibal suggested, his voice soft and a smile still on his lips. "I believe you would prefer to do so during the day, but I tend to be very busy with my patients then. The night is often the only time I have for myself. To go out and walk, and think."

Father Graham understood all too well the responsibilities of the day, the time that one must regularly set aside for their chosen profession… His own schedule was often hectic and unpredictable. Will imagined that a psychiatrist’s work was especially long, taxing, and with no shortage of patients requiring the doctor’s services. It took strength of mind and character to make the field of psychiatry and medicine one’s specialty, and Father Graham admired that about Dr. Lecter, just as he admired his openness.

Hannibal took a sip of his coffee – it’d been awhile since he’d last bothered with it, but it was easy enough on his palate. He’d chosen well. "I like walking through the streets, seeing the city. The people..." he continued, taking another sip. Smelling the people. Eating the people. Hannibal smiled and looked to Father Graham. You could very well be next

“I’d be honored to have your company,” the priest replied, unsuspecting, and it wasn't disingenuous. “Perhaps you could show this tourist a thing or two.” Father Graham wasn’t sure what it was about Dr. Lecter that made him crave his company – that drew him in so effortlessly, like a moth to a beautiful flame. It was a curious shift in his own behavior; Graham was no stranger to solitude, finding himself better suited to a more secluded existence. He was used to meditating alone on the Bible and spending long nights hunched over a demonology textbook. He considered himself a private man, reserved but strong-willed, with a naturally introverted personality. His work required him to interact with people – far from intolerable given his genuine love for them – but he had never been particularly adept in maintaining interpersonal relationships.

Hannibal had Will confiding in him only upon their second meeting, and the thought of it was terrifying. It wasn’t just that he was a psychiatrist – Will knew all the tips and tricks, the ins-and-outs and inner workings of psychology, traditional therapy methods and techniques. He’d been psychoanalyzed plenty in the past, before he could even be considered for priesthood. No, it was more than that. Maybe they’d simply formed a bond… The result of God’s will, fate and circumstance.

Will stepped forward and the two began to walk in tandem, leisurely footsteps reverberating down the dimly lit street. There was certainly something to be said about the calmness and quiet of the night, the gentle unwinding and unpacking of a full day’s labor. Even in Rome it held a pleasant stillness, soothing the priest’s less-than-steady nerves. He only wished for a clearer sky in which to see the stars, but the luminous moon was a welcome guest.

“I didn’t picture you as a people-watcher,” Father Graham mused, stealing a glance at Dr. Lecter from the corners of his glasses. “You must enjoy studying their behavior. People are rather remarkable, aren’t they, doctor? There’s a certain beauty in our flaws. Our lives are fragile. I suppose that’s what makes them precious.” His lips curled into a lazy smile.

Hannibal nodded in agreement, captivated by every word as he analyzed the man next to him, much like he did everyone else. He was, after all, a people-watcher, and knew all too well that humans were remarkable. People were fascinating, and so easy to manipulate – Father Graham was currently being manipulated into a friendship with him, and was none the wiser. “The transience of life and happiness,” Hannibal replied. “Such is the nature of all living things. Humanity is both blessed and cursed with brevity."

Will took a sip of his coffee, dark lashes fluttering against his cheeks as he savored the rich flavor. It was a blessing, he thought. It was more elegant that way. “In contrast, Rome itself is hailed as everlasting– the eternal legacy of its founders. Sometimes, it’s… It's as if I can feel them. Sense the remnants of spirits like echoes trapped in marble and stone. Like residue.” Will inhaled a shaky breath, and Hannibal watched him, forgetting about his coffee in a moment of enthrallment. “Souls aren't confined to ephemerality.”

Will wondered if Dr. Lecter would think he was crazy – he'd always been sensitive to his surroundings, highly attuned to the essence of an area's past to the point where his senses were often hijacked. He'd hoped the sensitivity would dull with time, but it never did. Even now he found himself overwhelmed by the energy and auras of dense locations. It kept him on his toes, but also made it difficult to separate his own feelings from those that lingered. Sometimes it was akin to a harsh flood of heavy emotions washing over him… Other times like faded memories whispered softly in his ear.

“It’s strange, but each structure in this city feels alive, every work of art with a voice. History has imprinted itself here on an entirely different plane.” Father Graham cleared his throat, afraid that perhaps he’d overshared. “Alternatively, it could be the coffee or sleep-deprivation talking.” He laughed in spite of himself, feeling the caffeine in his bloodstream beginning to take effect. It was all just as well; Will wasn't planning on sleeping anytime soon, not with the biblical texts he had yet to analyze.

“You are an empath, aren't you?” Hannibal asked, focusing on the priest's face. “You can assume my point of view, or anyone's point of view, as if you were inside their heads. It's a gift from God.” He wondered why Father Graham still hadn't realized he was a vampire. How could he not see how much Hannibal wanted him, how much he wanted his blood? It was a bitter irony, giving Father Graham this gift and at the same time preventing him from seeing who Hannibal was, effectively compromising his safety.

Will huffed out a laugh, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. “An empath—I’m uh, a bit fuzzy on the details of that, doctor. I don’t fully understand the why or how, just that I know I sometimes can. Maybe it’s an overactive imagination, or maybe it’s something else, but whatever it is… I have to believe it’s a part of God’s design.” He questioned whether or not Dr. Lecter would understand the sentiment. “I used to wonder why God would waste the gift of empathy on someone who tries to avoid forming close relationships—then I realized that it wasn’t always a blessing.” Father Graham swallowed thickly, fear settling like lead in the pit of his stomach. He found himself moving closer to Hannibal, unconsciously seeking out the comfort of the other man’s presence. The physical closeness of another person didn’t bother Will as it usually did, and they walked shoulder-to-shoulder, side by side.

“Sometimes, it feels like sacrilege. Like something unholy. Are you familiar with the feeling, Dr. Lecter?” Graham asked. “Like you’re unclean?”

“I’m afraid we all are, Father,” Hannibal said simply, and not entirely in truth. He was born unclean, but didn’t feel that way. He didn’t have to. No one was there to tell him what was wrong or right – the perks of a life not dedicated to God.

Will tried to take another drink of his coffee, but his hand began to tremble as he brought it to his mouth. He wondered if it was the caffeine or the distress born of voicing his doubts. He shouldn’t be afraid, and it felt far too cowardly to expose his anxieties like this. He knew he needed clarity, courage and wisdom to do God’s work… To be pure of heart and soul. He didn’t feel pure. But Hannibal’s eyes seemed to beckon him, and Father Graham was content to be burned by such a brilliant fire.

Hannibal burned too, with opportunity and desire. He tried to distract himself with the brew that was getting cold quite quickly. He didn’t need coffee to stay awake – what he needed was blood, and after being in Father Graham's prolonged company he knew he would need to take another victim tonight. The knowledge didn't make the scent of coffee on Father Graham's breath any less titillating. He wondered how it would feel to lick his way inside the priest's mouth and let their tongues caress each other, sharing the taste. It was a formidable temptation. He brought the cup to his lips again and tried to keep his fantasies at bay.

Hannibal decided he didn't want to take this man home, ravish him and kill him. Not yet, at least. He wanted to wait and see how long it would take for the priest to find out he was befriending a vampire, how long Father Graham would take to notice that Hannibal wanted to touch him, drink his blood until there was nothing left. At the same time, Father Graham was so interesting, seemed so innocent and pure that Hannibal wanted to keep him until he could corrupt the man completely. Until he could turn the dedicated priest into a sinner, showing him all the worldly pleasures he denied himself. He still wasn't sure what he wanted to do with the man in the long term, but Hannibal decided to keep the priest's fate open-ended – meet him during the night, walk with him and converse, keep him close enough to touch but not touch, not yet. He would wait for the right time to come, and it would come, he was sure.

“When I’m in those dark places,” Will continued, “sometimes it feels like I absorb. I take it into myself. Afterwards I’ll go to the chapel or the basilica. I’ll confess my sins. Bless myself with holy water. I’ll fast and pray for days on end—” Shower and scrub myself raw until my body feels clean, he thought, but didn't dare say. In all of his holy authority, Will still feared he wasn't worthy. Too often he felt that sin was trying to stick to him, bind itself to his being. He was left with the sensation that he hadn't washed it all away, that he couldn't. All he could do was hope and pray that his soul remained unmarred. “I worry there’s a limit to how much sin can be absolved… and how often.”

Graham took a slow, steadying breath, realizing his offense. He hadn’t meant to be so morbid, but with Hannibal the words came tumbling out like a verbal landslide. A rosy flush crept up his neck, just above the starched white of his clerical collar. He ignored his embarrassment in favor of removing his glasses, slipping them into the concealed pocket of his cassock. He kept his gaze fixed straight ahead. “I apologize, doctor. You aren’t my psychiatrist. If you’re going to listen to me rambling you should at least be getting paid for it,” he said, only half joking. In all honesty, Will was thankful for such a sympathetic ear. He was aware that psychiatrists had a tendency to be accepting in nature, but after tonight Father Graham was hesitant that the doctor would seriously recommend he see a shrink. Perhaps it would be in his best interest.

Hannibal stopped rather abruptly, right underneath a streetlight. Will did the same, coming to a halt in front of him and watching as Hannibal tossed his coffee cup into the trash bin. Father Graham’s face was illuminated by the light – he was a beautiful man, the most beautiful man Hannibal had ever laid eyes on, and in that moment Hannibal wanted to devour him in every way he could. For a short time Hannibal just stared into the pools of his eyes, endlessly fascinated and pleased by the fact that Father Graham was opening up to him like this. It was plain to see how bad the priest felt about his gift, how uncomfortable it was to empathize with everyone. Hannibal could tell how prejudicial it was for Father Graham to dedicate his life to God. The priest couldn’t continue living like this, in fear and shame, feeling that he wasn’t worthy. In enough time it would cost him his sanity. Hannibal feared it already was. But God, who supposedly loved all His children, simply didn’t care, did He? He knew everything – the past, the future, the inside of people’s minds and their souls, and no matter how much Father Graham prayed and tried to pay for his sins or the sins of others, God didn't care. I could take better care of him than You do, Hannibal thought. He’s yours now, but I’m stealing him, and I’ll save him from You.

The priest still wasn't used to sustained hard eye-contact, but the discomfort waned until it was no longer there. It felt neither invasive or confusing, just… natural. Father Graham could feel the subtle effects of the chemicals lacing his blood, the likes of dopamine and serotonin pulsing through his veins. His heart was learning to take pleasure in Hannibal’s company, tendrils of affection already beginning to root themselves deep within his chest – and oh, this was treacherous. There was something dense and vital to him that called to Will. It was completely irrational given that he hardly knew Dr. Lecter, and yet he was unable to smother the admiration glowing inside of him like burning embers. He wanted to know him. To see the parts of him that still remained a mystery.

The priest watched as the streetlight cast dark shadows upon Dr. Lecter’s sharp, angular features. He appeared distinctly ominous, a stark contrast to the angelic picture he’d painted when Will first beheld him. Now he thought he saw the devil in Hannibal’s face, but the priest wasn't afraid, wasn't given any reason to be. Graham tried to steady his hands; suppress their sorry shaking – what he did fear was the convergence of himself and those that sought his help and guidance. He feared the strong possibility of rejection and ridicule from another human being. Mercifully, the good doctor did not seem inclined to either.

"No apology needed," Dr. Lecter said, his tone growing increasingly pensive. Hannibal didn’t think twice. He didn’t care if he was crossing a line, because he wanted to cross so many other lines, and if the priest let him cross the first he’d get a chance to cross the others. He reached for the priest’s free hand and held it, pulling it closer to him and covering it with his own. Will wasn’t expecting the sincere gesture, or with it the discomfiting flood of hunger that shot through him at the touch of the other man’s skin. The violent craving came to rest sharply in his gut, staggering in its intensity. Father Graham’s coffee cup clattered to the ground, spilling the rest of its contents across the stone pavement – he paid it no mind, gaze fixed boldly on the eyes looking back at him, and with no small effort.

Staring into the priest’s eyes, Hannibal inhaled slowly, taking in all he could smell – Father Graham’s aftershave, shampoo, his cologne and his very own scent. The faint aroma of rose and gardenia clinging to his clothes and skin, the coffee he’d had and spilled, flowing in between the stone. He wanted to bury his face in the priest’s neck and breathe him in, lick and suck on his flesh to taste him.

Hannibal’s hands were cool against the heat of Will’s skin. His glasses were in his pocket and he felt exposed, but he did not try to withdraw. Coffee ran down the cobbled street and into the gutter.

“I prefer to be a friend first, and a psychiatrist second," Hannibal spoke softly, ignoring the mess at their feet. "Though I believe, Father, that you have too many mirror neurons." Father Graham’s skin was smooth, his hand warm, and Hannibal wondered what it would feel like to have it touching other parts of his body. He shook the thought away for the moment being. Later, Lecter promised himself. In a few weeks, maybe a few days. It all depended on how he played his hand. But not now.

Theory of mind,” Father Graham countered, his throat suddenly dry. His hand had stopped shaking within Dr. Lecter’s gentle grasp, distress shifting into something else, something unnerving. He felt insatiable. His other hand came to loosely clasp the cross around his neck, in silent prayer that the feeling would subside.

“Our heads are filled with mirror neurons as children. They help us to socialize and interact, and then they melt away. But you held on to most of yours, and it makes it hard knowing who you are.” Hannibal offered him a sympathetic smile when he saw the surprise on the priest’s face.

Will understood that his ability allowed him to comprehend the actions and intentions of others – but it was more than just recognizing someone’s wickedness. It was embracing it, however unwillingly, and allowing it to spread through him like a poison. A contamination of his own psyche. It made it hard for him to distinguish between what was the result of emotional contagion and what wasn’t, and yes, make sense of who he truly was.

“I try to know myself, doctor. I know that I am a man of God. I know that my purpose is to dedicate my life to Him. I know that—” Will broke off, voice wavering only slightly. “I know that I’m struggling, and am tempted to take a psychological approach to this… But I’m not sure it would be entirely ethical.”

“You said you absorb things from dark places. You see inside people’s minds, don’t you? When they confess their sins. You see their souls, you recognize their flaws and you absorb them. The lines blur." Hannibal's touch was constant. "Perhaps it gets to a point where you don’t know which sins are yours and which are theirs, so you try to pay for them all. But it’s not your responsibility to atone for other people’s sins, Father. I know you want to save all those people, but you can't expect to do so if you cannot maintain your own stability." 

Hannibal realized he had started caressing Father Graham’s hand with his thumb and stopped. He knew now how unclean the priest felt, and how much it scared him. Hannibal was born unclean and was comfortable with it – it was something he couldn't change. He wouldn’t want to change it even if he could. And he shouldn’t want to help this man, shouldn’t want to keep him, to save him from himself. He should simply take him home and kill him, feed from him. That’s what he was made for… Humans were food. Game. But there was something different about this one, and Hannibal toyed with the idea of not killing him at all, but keeping him so he could have his company and a little of his blood each day. Some vampires kept human companions, after all. He didn’t usually get attached to people, but now he caught himself wondering if he could ever wake up knowing he’d never see those eyes again.

“You need a way out of these dark places, Father. You need a safe place, and I can help you find it, if you’ll let me. You need something, or someone, that will help you understand and hold onto who you really are.” Hannibal noticed the priest’s hands had stopped shaking, and almost smiled in his pride. It would be so easy to cross all the other lines.

A safe place. Someone to hold on to who he really was. Was Hannibal offering to be that for him? Will did feel safe with the doctor, he supposed that was a start. Perhaps he could use a slight adjustment in his life… Another outlet, for balance and his own emotional health.

“Are you recommending I see a shrink, or are you propositioning me yourself, doctor?” Father Graham asked, tasting the tension in the air. He managed an unsure smile, finally dropping his gaze to his feet. “I find support in my faith, but I appreciate the offer. As a man I’m aware I must make sacrifices for the greater good—as a priest, I’m expected to. Christ died for our sins, Dr. Lecter… The least I can do is suffer for those of others.” It was the principle of ex opera operato. Even if he were completely corrupted, his own worthiness, purity, or holiness was insignificant. The Sacraments themselves were valid and efficacious.

Hannibal seemed to understand. He offered a look of sympathy, with gentle eyes and a reassuring squeeze of the hand. When Hannibal released him, Father Graham felt an instant relief – the gnawing feeling of want had vanished entirely. He sighed and bent to fetch the forgotten coffee cup, throwing it into the trash nearby. Around them the night was unnervingly still, and so quiet that Graham swore he could hear the rush of his own blood in his ears.

“You live exclusively for God, Father,” said Hannibal. “I’m not questioning your choices, but I’m afraid that if you don’t have something outside of the church, something to keep your mind away from the sins you’re burdened with every day, you will lose who you are.”

“I know who I am,” Will whispered, shaken by the thought of an identity muddied. His palms tingled, but the priest regained his composure. “I would like to continue this, Dr. Lecter. I could use a friend in Rome, and I’m admittedly fond of you.” Will pushed down the feeling of embarrassment that made his blood run hot – he was only being truthful, and there was no fault in that. “I could never believe that my own demons are greater than God, but… Maybe an anchor to help keep me grounded wouldn’t go amiss.”

“Your own demons may not be greater than God, but I’m certain it couldn't hurt to seek help from elsewhere and augment your network,” Hannibal insisted. He couldn't wait to have the priest all for himself, steal him from God and from the Church, keep him in bed for days, just the two of them enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. Hannibal wanted to show Father Graham things he’d never seen before, give him things he’d never before been given.

“Someone to help me fight those demons?” Will cocked his head and slipped his hands inside his pockets. Perhaps he should heed the warning. Dr. Lecter was clearly a highly-valued member of society, well-versed in the ways of both the body and mind. It seemed that the only knowledge he possibly lacked was that of the spirit. Maybe they could help each other… God forbid they become friendly in the process.

“I don't help people fight their demons, but understand them,” Hannibal explained. “After understanding them, fighting is their choice.” Some people embrace them instead. I know you will. And I'll embrace them with you. “There’s only so much God can do for you, Father. Sometimes… You have to save yourself.”

Father Graham tensed at Dr. Lecter’s words. His demons were stronger than he’d like to admit, and he wondered briefly if God was the answer, or if he'd somehow have to save himself as Dr. Lecter had suggested. But did he even possess that power? That strength? Who was stronger than God? Certainly not him. Will was reminded of an excerpt from Dante Alighieri’s La Vita Nuova, the words echoing in the depths of his mind: Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur michi.

 

Behold a God more powerful than I, who comes to rule over me.

Chapter Text

The words of a good person give life, like a fountain of water, but the words of the wicked contain nothing but violence. —Proverbs {10:11}

Following another day of church service, Father Graham made his way through St. Peter’s Square, the lights from the colonnades and the basilica reflecting beautifully off of the cobblestoned piazza. He walked down the Via della Conciliazione, taking the most direct route to return to the quiet of his palazzo apartment.

He sometimes encountered Dr. Lecter on the wide avenue, the two of them spotting each other along the quiet street after dusk. Several times they found themselves in one another's company – though it was a short walk, they made the most of it. Chatting amiably amongst themselves, they briefly visited a few shops and boutiques, browsing Italian jewelry, mosaics and clothing.

The priest had taken a risk on the night he gave Lecter his mobile contact. It was not something he did often, or readily, but after Hannibal had so freely offered his business card, the polite thing to do was to give his information in return. Reciprocate the gesture. Perhaps it was just his nerves, but Will felt something akin to giddiness, a small thrill in the act. Having come to admire the doctor, he was naturally somewhat dazed in his presence.

Graham made it clear that he didn't mind being referred to in whatever way Hannibal felt most comfortable. It felt like the natural progression of their acquaintanceship... If they were to be associates then they could certainly afford to be on a first-name basis, but Will would never insist. He struggled to say Hannibal's name as it was, even when alone; a peculiar heat spreading through him every time it attempted to fall from his lips. Still, Will practiced it often, waiting for the day he built up the courage to address him informally.

Nevertheless, Graham took to Dr. Lecter quickly. They stumbled upon one another like this every so often; relaxed outdoor meetings that struck him as friendly and casual. Hannibal was charming, but it was what lie beneath the surface that truly captured the priest. The depth of emotion, wisdom and patience Dr. Lecter seemed to possess in near endless quantities. This much was not hidden from him. Beyond that, Father Graham still had much to discover.

He was given the opportunity to dig a little deeper when he met Hannibal again. They began with simple conversation: polite small talk. When they reached the subject of Hannibal's colleagues, Graham mentioned in passing that he quite enjoyed the coffee he'd been offered the other day. Hannibal insisted that they visit the cafe he bought it from together. Graham’s protest was weak – the idea was appealing, and he soon agreed to tag along.

"I thought you said this was a café?" he asked as they approached De' Penitenzieri. Will was in good spirits. "I’m not sure how socially acceptable it is to take a priest to a wine bar, at least where I come from."

Hannibal held to door open with one hand, resting the other in between Will's shoulder blades to gently usher him inside. "I'm afraid I'm guiltless," he explained. "In Italy, a bar—caffé—is the center of social life, and convenient for those with hectic schedules.”

Will looked around. They were surrounded on all sides by shelves upon shelves of teas, spices, candy, snacks and wines. A tantalizing arrangement of baked goods, fruit, yogurt and paninis were on full display behind the glass. It definitely didn't seem like the type of bar he was used to back home. There was a modest seating area to their right, with plenty of open tables and chairs. It was all rather cozy.

Hannibal guided Will there, again resting his hand on Will's back – finding that he quite liked touching him. They sat across from each other, and Hannibal couldn't hold back a smile as he watched the priest discreetly looking around to take everything in. Will looked happy. He looked beautiful. Hannibal would take him somewhere new every day if it’d have this effect.

The waiter approached them and Hannibal asked for two coffees – smiling softly at Will as he spoke in perfect Italian. The coffees were the same ones he had bought a few nights back. Hannibal had been here many times, and was used to seeing priests inside – in fact, there were two there now, sitting not too far from them. Hannibal could hear their conversation, but he focused solely on Will and the sound of his heartbeat.

As the waiter left, Hannibal's gaze refocused. He joined his hands neatly on the table. This wasn't something he did often, befriending humans and going out with them just for fun. Just because he wanted to be close, have a conversation. Now he found himself craving Will's company, the sound of his voice and the warmth of his body. It made him hungry, but most of all, it made him curious. He wanted to know the priest, wanted to hear him talking about his life and interests, wanted to see him completely, no walls between them.

“I have to admit I frequent this place often. Although it's usually for the wine instead of the coffee,” Hannibal said with a small chuckle. “How about you, Father?” His tone was vaguely flirtatious, and Will's heartbeat grew louder, faster. “What do you like to do in your free time?”

Will’s knee bounced underneath the table. He sat back in his chair, gaze lifting to a gift box of Dom Perignon on an overhead shelf. He was slightly embarrassed by his lack of hobbies. It was a topic he tried to avoid.

"In my free time—" Graham pondered aloud. "If I'm not studying I sometimes stop by a few shops. They have some nice designer glasses I like to look at. I can't really afford them, but I can try them on." He smiled, then sheepishly ducked his head. "There's Euroclero through the Bernini colonnade. Occasionally I follow the other priests inside. You'd think clerical attire is all the same—there are actually all sorts of styles and fashions."

Hannibal's expression remained jovial. Graham must not be boring him. "I once bought a rosary at Savelli," he continued. "I try to fit in as well as I can here. Other than that, some would say I don't get out much."

Inexplicably, Hannibal found himself wanting to buy things for Will, to purchase anything he wanted at anytime, just to see his eyes glowing and his beautiful smile. “You seem to be doing an admirable job at both,” Hannibal answered. Their status as stranieri didn't make them lesser, and though noticed by some, it didn't prevent them from integrating. “Fitting in and getting out.” Hannibal had seen many priests in his life, but none as unique as Will Graham. His good looks did not go unappreciated, either.

“In fact,” he continued, “I'm surprised I haven't found your picture in the Roman Calendar.” The Calendario Romano was locally known as the ‘hot priest calendar’, and Hannibal thought Will was made for it. He did not try to mask his compliment, curious to see where this would go.

Will's cheeks reddened, skin burning hot all the way up to his ears. He knew of the Roman Calendar – had once been approached by a man who claimed to be Pietro Pazzi, photographer, very keen on capturing his likeness through the lens of a camera. Graham had politely declined.

"No, God no," he spluttered, nervous laughter spilling from his mouth. "I'd be the anomaly. I'm not—I'm not very photogenic, trust me." The priest straightened his posture, attempting to hide his smile behind his fingers. "Whatever leads to more curiosity and interest in the church is wonderful, it's just... There are other ways to showcase the beauty of Catholicism." Graham believed the glory should go to the church as a whole, rather than the individual priests a Venetian photographer found to be especially attractive.

"What about you?" asked Father Graham. "What brings you out to Via della Conciliazione so often?"

As the words left his mouth, their waiter returned with their drinks. He set the two saucers down on the table, spoons beside each. Their cups of coffee were accompanied by a small biscuit beside the porcelain on each. Graham thanked their waiter graciously, who simply pointed to the two priests seated at the bar. They looked back at him and smiled. He didn't know them, nor recognize them, but Graham felt foolish having unfairly judged them as self-indulgent, even for a second.

Hannibal took a sip of his coffee. He had often visited the rione of Borgo, before the boulevard had ever been constructed. The destruction of the whole of the spino of Borgo had led to a jarring shift in perspective.

“I have to admit I’m quite... fascinated by it. I assume you know the story, Father,” Hannibal said. “The presence of the spina. I like to imagine what it would have felt like to stumble upon the grandeur of the Basilica from a maze of dark and narrow streets.” It was a half-lie. He didn’t need to imagine – he knew it all too well, and he missed it – the darkness and light, the contrast of it, the beauty. The contrast and much of that beauty was lost with the clearing of the Spina di Borgo. It had always been one of his favorite locations in the world. It still was, even though the cramped, darkened spaces of several neighborhoods had been demolished. It felt like there was no more darkness, only light. Hannibal had always preferred the darkness.

Taking another sip of his coffee, he thought that he would have liked to be there with Will, to show him the existence of so many places and things throughout history, the endless cycle of creation and destruction. He caught himself hoping that he could live many centuries with him, so that they could see the world together – watch it as it changed with the passing of the years. He set his cup on the table before focusing on Will again.

"I've always thought it was breathtaking," Graham replied. He used to say so often, but looks from the locals discouraged his praise. "It's hard to imagine St. Peter's being any more impressive than it already is. Via della Conciliazione as it is now... Flanked by obelisks on either side, with an unobscured view of the church right down the middle—it's hard to imagine a sight more striking than that."

It certainly inspired its intended awe in the priest, regardless of how many times he made his way down the busy avenue. Father Graham sipped his coffee quietly. Perhaps if he tried hard enough, he could imagine traversing the dim alleyways, searching for a clearing only to happen upon St. Peter's Square and the dramatic image of the basilica in the backdrop. He was sure it would have brought him to his knees. An overwhelming moment of revelation.

It was true that nonetheless, St. Peter's was something to behold. But many years ago its glory had been so much more elusive, and thusly, more carefully savored and enjoyed.

"It is a marvel—the church itself magnificent. Timeless," Hannibal said after a moment's pause. "Yet, I can't help but find it true that the absence of darkness and confusion diminishes the impact of its reveal. Does light not appear brighter when we have been lost in the shadows?"

Hannibal held Will's gaze from across the table. Though he spoke calmly, the priest could see the passion in his eyes. His gaze flickered down to Will's throat – to his Roman collar. "Doesn't the night seem blacker once we've seen the sunrise? Is darkness not more so when we're first blinded by what is brilliant? Radiance cannot be fully appreciated without experiencing its foil."

Will imagined a pitch-black darkness closing in around him, slow and insidious. He knew of how a single candle could navigate the shadows. How a small, dim corner drew attention in a well-lit room. There were times when darkness seemed impenetrable, only to be pierced by the light of God. Father Graham considered the great dualities that lent themselves to one another: black and white, good and evil, heaven and hell. Night—day. Life—death. Vice and virtue. One could not exist without the other.

"Thus, we have been deprived," Hannibal concluded.

Father Graham popped the small biscuit into his mouth and chewed. He thought carefully. Sipped his coffee slowly and then swallowed.

"You have a penchant for lecture, Doctor," said the priest. "I have to agree with you, though I'll never have the pleasure of making that comparison.” He was lucky to be able to experience any of it at all. "I’ll just have to appreciate what I have—what I can. Like this evening spent with you."

Hannibal smiled.

They finished their coffee and biscuits. Will exchanged blessings with the merry Catholic priests before leaving the cafe, and Hannibal and Father Graham said their farewells. Then, the two parted ways.

On the darkened city streets, the priest appreciated the lamplight a little bit more.

Will had spent much of that night reading before dozing off at his desk, cheek pressed against the cool pages of his bible. In his exhaustion, he had forgotten to say his nightly prayers – he paid dearly for his neglect. When he awakened, it was from another night terror, this one far more frightening than any he’d had. Will tried to catch his breath, chest heaving and eyes wide, brimming with fearful tears. He scrubbed a hand down his face; wiped away the sweat-damp curls of his hair plastered against his forehead. He said a prayer to St. Michael, the Archangel, hoping to expel the horrific images from his mind and find protection. Father Graham lit a few candles and continued his studies well into the light of morning.

Their time at the cafe had whet Hannibal’s appetite. After leaving Father Graham, he’d found himself another victim. He had seduced her, kissed her, took her home, and she’d invited him to go inside. Father Graham was in his mind as he had fucked and ravaged her, bleeding her dry until she was dead in his arms. He’d removed a few organs and then took them home to eat later – he liked cooking them, simply because he enjoyed their rich flavor. His was a refined palate, even for a vampire. Hannibal thought about inviting Father Graham for dinner sometime; preparing a piece of one of his victims. He wondered if the priest would like the way it tasted without knowing what it was.

For the next few nights, Hannibal did not see Will on the Via della Conciliazione. He didn't try to push him to attend therapy, or even speak with him. He didn't call or text the priest, didn't insist in any way, deciding to give it time. Will would come to him when he was ready... At least that's what he told himself.

Hannibal spent the third night reading and playing the harpsichord, and by morning he closed the curtains so the sunlight wouldn't filter in. He decided that trying to stop thinking about Father Graham would be impossible. The priest had been in his head for days, and Hannibal didn't know how to get rid of him. In fact, he didn't truly want to, allowing his presence in the back of his mind at all times. Hannibal got into his car and drove to his office, where he also kept the curtains drawn. He met with his patients, but only half of his attention was focused on them. He wanted to see Father Graham, hoped for the opportunity to at least touch him again soon.

He knew where Will worked, and he often passed by the church just to smell the priest and listen to him – his pulse, his breathing, the register of his voice. Somehow finding nourishment at the sounds.

But Father Graham was taking too long to contact him for Hannibal’s tastes, who found himself growing impatient. Bored. He wondered if the priest had simply decided to stay away from him, and in that case Hannibal would have to be less gentle than he’d originally intended. It was easy to track humans down, especially when he knew their scent so well. Hannibal had never met another vampire who had a sense of smell as strong as his own, and he often used it to his advantage. The next afternoon, Hannibal stood outside the church and followed the faint notes of Will Graham's peculiar scent carried in the air. It was child's play to discover the areas Will frequented, but finding his exact location was a little more of a challenge. His persistence paid off as he followed Will's smell for a while longer, and he spotted the priest himself in the distance, walking two dogs.

Before Will could even recognize Hannibal in the distance, Hannibal realized they were the same two dogs Will had pet on the night they first met. Hannibal smiled as they came closer, approaching at a leisurely pace as not to scare them – he knew they would try to stay as far away from him as possible, and that could alarm Will.

"Good afternoon, Father," Hannibal called warmly. "It seems to me that you kept the dogs after all?"

The familiar voice had Will's gaze snapping up from the pavement. He blinked a few times at the sight, but Hannibal was still coming closer. Perhaps he should have found it unusual, but a smile broke out across the priest's face instead. The pressure of the nylon wrappings against his palms lessoned – the dogs were no longer tugging him along eagerly. They'd probably expended their energy during their walk around the city.

Will found himself lengthening his strides, walking faster to close the short distance between them. The dogs whimpered and whined at his feet, scrambling behind him in a tangle of leashes.

"Do you ever get the feeling the universe is trying to tell you something, Doctor?" Will teased. He certainly wasn't complaining. "Actually, I'm… out walking them for a friend. A fellow priest – loves animals. He has a habit of adopting local strays." Will bent down to ruffle their fur, groomed neat and clean. They'd even been treated quite thoroughly for fleas.

"This is, uh… Meatball. He's a bit of a troublemaker." The priest laughed, a flush creeping up his neck. "Spaghetti’s more of a saint. I'm just glad they're off the streets and in a loving home." Will made a tssing noise through his teeth, high and sharp, and the cowering dogs stilled obediently. He cocked his head in question, but Hannibal's appearance had unquestionably brightened his day. "What brings you out this way?"

"Too much free time today, not enough things to do," Hannibal said with a smile, moving even closer. It was beautiful how Will always seemed so happy to see him. "I felt like taking a walk, and wondered if maybe I walked the same streets we usually do, I would possibly find you."

Hannibal was shamelessly flirting and he was certain that deep inside Will knew it. Will didn't seem to disapprove, however. Maybe because he didn't acknowledge it, maybe because he wasn't sure of Hannibal's intentions. Maybe because he didn't mind. Maybe, in a way, Will liked it.

"It was a happy coincidence. I had no idea you would be free today, if I did, I'd have offered to take you somewhere. Maybe one of the places you'd like to see here in Rome. I could still do that if you'd like, of course."

Something in Will's chest swelled. The notion of Dr. Lecter finding him was a romantic one – his own hunger for connection clawed sharply at his heart.

"Still think I'm a tourist, do you?" the priest asked fondly, reaching into his pants’ pocket. The dogs perked up immediately as he pulled out a small plastic bag. It was filled to the brim with dog treats. Will knelt readily to reward them, wondering briefly how out of place he must look. He wasn't afraid to admit that he sometimes liked dogs more than some people, often preferring their company and distinct lack of judgement.

Will laughed as Meatball licked the remaining crumbs from his fingers, and Spaghetti kept sniffing his palms as if the treats were still there. He scratched the dog's furry head and straightened.

"I have to get these two back to Father Bernardone – but I'm free after that if you're serious about showing me around." It was, after all, a happy coincidence to meet Hannibal here. The priest beamed. "I'd be happy to accompany you… Well, almost anywhere, Doctor. I'm sure we can find a way to pass the time."

Hannibal laughed, jovial in mood and pleased that Will had accepted his offer. Spending the day out in the sunlight wasn't exactly his favorite way of passing the time – it made him tired and weak, with the sensation of very slowly burning every inch of his exposed skin. But he had a high threshold for pain, primarily psychological, and mastery of his own mind. It wouldn't cause any permanent damage. He would simply need to consume a large amount of human blood afterwards. It was worth it.

"Have you ever seen the Trevi Fountain?" Hannibal asked, itching to inch closer but holding himself back. If Hannibal could be honest with Will – it was still too soon for that – he would actually prefer to take him somewhere private, like his own place, where nobody would see or be able to interrupt them. Too soon. Still, he hoped that showing the priest new and beautiful things would bring them even closer. "It's absolutely beautiful. A bit crowded, but definitely worth it."

Will stuffed the rest of the dog biscuits back into his pocket. "I… Actually, I haven't," he said in surprise. During his time in Rome, he had never once paid a visit to the fountain – or any other major attractions aside from the churches and chapels. Graham had once stumbled upon the Fontana delle Palle Di Cannone, but it wasn't exactly a famous landmark. The pyramid of round stone cannonballs; the puffy cheeks of the face hidden in the middle, drooling water into the basin… It felt silly. He would make a pretty lousy tourist, but Father Graham was still quite fond of beautiful things. He'd only seen pictures of the Fontana di Trevi, but its elegance was stunning even on a page. It was a relief to know they could visit without buying a ticket, much unlike the Vatican Museums.

"I won't have a problem with the crowds if you're there to ground me." The priest took a leash in each hand, resuming his walk, and Spaghetti and Meatball uncharacteristically tagged along behind him. "I hear to get the full experience it's best to go during the day and again at night. I could be all yours for the evening, if you wanted to go back and visit after dusk," Will said, eyes twinkling.

You could be all mine for the rest of your fragile human life, Hannibal thought. He felt a pang of hunger for him then, his eyes darkening with desire – not necessarily for blood, Hannibal wasn't hungry for that yet – but for something, anything. He wanted to touch the priest, wanted to kiss him, feel him in any possible way. Too soon. But he could wait, as long as necessary for something he knew would be worth it. Father Graham's blood – his whole body, in fact, was well worth the wait.

"We could stay there. It would be my pleasure to spend the rest of the day with you, Father," Hannibal said, drawn in close. He was happy that the priest wanted to spend the whole day with him, since they typically didn't spend more than two hours together when they met at night. That would be new and nice, and the idea of spending the day listening to Will's voice, the thud of his heartbeat and every life-sustaining breath seemed very appealing to him. "Legend says that if you throw a coin into the fountain over your shoulder, you'll return to Rome someday," he smiled.

"I'd like that," said Father Graham, humbled by his admittance of such a simple truth. "I'm sure there's plenty I'll miss once I'm actually back home. It's quiet. Peaceful. I won't miss the tourists, the crowds, but I'll miss—" He would miss Hannibal. It was funny how the idea of returning to Wolf Trap had always comforted him until now. It settled over him like a looming storm cloud, filling him with anxiety. "I'd love to come back and visit, so I hope you've got a good hand for tossing, Doctor." Will fumbled inside of his pockets, patting them down with a dawning realization—he had no coins on his person. "And… maybe some spare change," he added with a sheepish grin.

Dr. Lecter held Will's attention with ease, despite the company of dogs. There were numerous times where the priest had almost forgotten he was walking them, so captivated by their conversation. The animals continued to trail behind at a leisurely pace as the men conversed, interspersed with smiles that broke out across their faces like sunrises; hearty laughter that wasn't forced or faked.

When they arrived outside of Father Bernardone's simple apartment complex, Hannibal kindly turned down Will's offer to come in, content to wait for him outside the entrance. It didn't strike him as odd – after all, Peter was not his patient, and perhaps he didn't wish to meet another priest, especially not under such circumstances. Father Graham had to agree that it was better this way, allowing him to avoid what could potentially be an awkward situation. He didn't want to arouse concern among the clergy, friend or not. He dropped the dogs off without incident, stopping to chat with Father Bernardone briefly; basic pleasantries, before taking his leave.

Hannibal was right where Will had left him, eyes glimmering like stars upon his return. The priest flushed and gestured for him to lead the way, remaining at his side nonetheless, too close to be separated by the growing crowd. The closer they got to Trevi Square, the more people there were – tourists, families, adults, children and seniors alike. Talking, laughing, taking pictures. Vendors selling all sorts of items. The energy was overwhelming, but primarily positive. There was so much happiness here, so much joy and excitement. By the time Will could hear the running water of the fountain, he was clinging to Hannibal's shirt cuff, resolute not to lose him amidst the ocean of people.

He only had to look up to behold the fountain's towering stone facade; the papal coat of arms standing tall and proud above all else. It was certainly dramatic, and they hadn't even gotten close enough to glimpse the marble statues.

Hannibal smiled at Will as they approached the fountain, and as expected there were too many people there for his liking. He wanted to grab Will’s hand and pull the priest with him, squeeze in between the people to get closer to the fountain, but at the same time he knew to have patience.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Hannibal said, looking at the priest rather than the fountain. He had seen the Trevi Fountain many many times, throughout the different decades of his life. He would surely see it again when he went back to Rome in about sixty or seventy years. They were still trying to navigate through the traffic of people to reach the fountain, and Hannibal moved even closer to Will so they could be more opportunistic. When they finally got close enough to see the marble statues, Hannibal looked at Will to see the priest's eyes glowing. He couldn't help but smile again.

"Come on, Father, time to be a tourist. Let's toss a coin and take a picture."

That was something he could do – Will slipped his cell phone from his pocket, already preparing to snap a photo. The atmosphere around them was contagious, though they were able to find a relatively peaceful spot with a perfect view of the majestic fountain.

"It's gorgeous. So much more magnificent in person," Will marveled, nearly breathless, trying to carry his voice above the noise of the crowd. He was enchanted by the meticulous detail, the serenity of the magical scene. The presence of water had always calmed the priest, soothed his nerves and put him at ease. A quiet stream, a rushing river, the gentle waves of the sea – even these waters, bright blue and glistening with coins, seemed to relax him.

Will found it almost funny how Hannibal, with features both sharp and soft, almost seemed to fit right into the mythological backdrop. As if he belonged amongst the gods. His face itself was somewhat angelic, worthy of poetry in its own right.

"After you, Doctor. Perhaps you can show me how it's done," said Will, and this was good. Nice. The priest grinned, flashing teeth, grateful to be graced with such elegant beauty, Hannibal and the fountain alike.

Hannibal pulled out his wallet and grabbed two coins, one for himself and another for Will. Slipping his wallet back into his pocket, Hannibal offered Will the coin, placing it in his open hand, fingers brushing against the priest's skin. Hannibal made it seem like the contact wasn't intentional, but it was, and the simple brush of fingers made him burn with need.

"Alright," he said, and Will's eyes looked so beautiful in the sunlight that Hannibal wanted to stare into them forever. He held his coin in his hand, turned his back to the fountain, and with another glance at Will, smiled pleasantly and tossed the coin into the fountain. He was certainly going back to Rome at some point of his life whether he tossed a coin into the fountain or not, but still, it was fun to do it with Will.

"Your turn, Father."

Will was quick to take a few pictures before stepping forward, coin resting gently in the palm of his right hand. He turned around and held his phone up to the sky, snapping a photo as he threw the coin gingerly over his left shoulder, into – what he hoped – was the basin of the fountain. His aim wasn't the greatest, especially backwards, but Dr. Lecter's smile told him he had succeeded. He chuckled at the picture he'd taken, mid-toss, in front of the fountain.

The priest recalled reading about the tradition some time ago: one coin tossed into the Trevi Fountain meant a return to Rome, but throwing two was told to bring new romance. Three coins ensured marriage, something that could never be a part of Will's future. His laughter died away quietly, and he cleared his throat.

Father Graham did hope that his future held a return visit to the city, and that perhaps Hannibal would find his way back to Rome around the same time. Hoped he'd see him again somehow, even after they parted ways.

"As good as a plane ticket… We’ll both be coming back," Will said with a smirk, adjusting the frames of his eyeglasses. "One more picture. Together this time.” He was invigorated, hooking his arm around Hannibal's to bring them in close; maneuver them once again at the lip of the basin, just outside the glorious display crafted of travertine stone and Carrara marble.

Hannibal smiled at the camera, watching as their picture immediately appeared on the screen of Will's phone, and they looked beautiful together. Hannibal turned his head to look at Will with a large smile, and they were so close he could easily lean in and kiss the priest right there.

"You'll have to send me that picture," Hannibal said, looking back at Will's phone and letting go of the priest's arm, taking just one step away from him. "I'm hoping we can come back to Rome together in the future," he added in a low voice, only for Will to hear.

"If tradition persists," the priest replied quietly, then louder, "I'll text it to you—it's a nice one. I don't usually take pictures, but I thought this was a worthy occasion." He would hate to forget it. "Thanks for the coin, Doctor."

Will took in the spectacular sight once again, committing it to memory. He momentarily forgot the throng of people, the noise and the clamor, all fading away to the sound of running water… Just he and Hannibal. Serene and beautiful.

After they'd had their share of the fountain in the light of day, the odd pair scoured the busy square for ways to pass the time until nightfall lit up the city like a Christmas tree. Dr. Lecter and Father Graham took to browsing free galleries nearby, viewing timeless Roman paintings, sculptures and artifacts. They visited shops and libraries; boutiques and theaters, even stopping at a small American bookstore per Will's request. The priest left with an English bible and a smile.

As dusk approached on the heels of the setting sun, the two men found themselves in a quaint cafe, sitting down for a coffee, cocktails, and a friendly chat. Maybe a little gelato. Will sat back against his chair, cupping a short caffé Americano in his hands.

"It's funny… I've seen more of Rome with you than I have in two months of living here," Will mused, cocking his head. "Sometimes I forget there's a world outside of church. Though to be fair, sometimes I wish I could ignore that fact."

"Our world can be a difficult place to live in. For some people it's easier to accept that this world is filled with horror and pain. For others, it's harder. I can imagine why isolating feels comfortable for you," Hannibal said, sincerely. After Mischa's death, he had isolated from everyone else for years. He had never talked about it with anyone other than his own psychiatrist.

"Still, there are good and beautiful things in the world," he continued, fingers wrapped around his warm cup of coffee. "Nothing is exclusively good or bad. There are many things worth seeing, and I can show them to you, anytime you'd like. If I ever have the opportunity, I'd like to show you Florence."

Will's expression sobered. In reality, he was touched – but something nagged at him, clinging like a leech to the thoughts inside his brain.

"That's a flattering offer, Doctor," Graham said with a shake of his head, smiling incredulously. "But isn't there a beautiful woman in your life, Dr. Lecter? A beautiful—well, a beautiful anyone? Someone special to take on your travels? I find it hard to believe you aren't sought after. You turn heads." Will gestured discreetly to the patrons of the café – curious stares shifting with a quickness as they suddenly became quite fascinated by their menus.

"But you spend your time with a priest. Are you sure you're not trying to repent for something? Maybe even unconsciously?" Will asked softly, setting his coffee cup down on the table. "As much as I appreciate—enjoy your company, as much as I consider you a friend… I'm just trying to understand."

Hannibal laughed quietly, both because of Will’s comment and the question he posed. But mostly, it was just because he felt happy in Will's presence, happy like he hadn't been in a long time. Decades. Maybe happier than he had ever felt. He couldn't explain it, couldn't understand it just yet, but he felt good with Will, and he would never deny himself that.

"I don't..." Hannibal looked into Will's eyes, licked his lips, and smiled again. "I don't have a special someone, Father, not right now. I used to," Hannibal said, easily distorting the truth. Bedelia du Maurier was still part of his life – the only difference was that she was no longer the most important person in it. Will had stolen her place in his heart without even trying. Hannibal had never been in love with her – still, he wondered if he would ever truly leave her. He lifted his cup of coffee, took a sip of it, set it down on the table again. "She and I used to travel the world together. It feels like a long time ago.”

Will wondered how long ago it really was.

"But I'm alone now," Hannibal added, and he didn't look sad about it. He didn’t consider himself in a relationship with Bedelia anymore, not after meeting Will. "Well, not alone. I have a friend." He offered Will a genuine smile. A rarity in most instances, but it was easy to smile when he was in Will's company. Natural. "As every man, I have things I wish to repent for. But that's not the reason why I seek your company."

The priest's lips parted as he considered his next words, fingers absently tracing patterns across polished marble.

"I'm not suggesting you do this, but if you ever advertised—put yourself out there—you know you'd have people lining up to get to know you in any capacity at all, right? Romantic, platonic. Etcetera." Will slid off his glasses, pocketing them with a timid smile. Dr. Lecter seemed, for all intents and purposes, a highly capable, independent individual. But he was far too charming, far too attractive to be seeking company in those who could not fully reciprocate his attentions.

Will may be available now, but he feared his bouts of solitude, the desperate moments spent searching for inner peace, finding time for no one other than God. If Dr. Lecter enjoyed traveling the world, he might find it difficult to do so with a companion somewhat limited to the scope of Roman Catholicism.

"I don't think a man like yourself is lonely by chance. Maybe choice, but not for lack of others trying," he explained, crossing his legs underneath the small coffee table. "Perhaps isolation feels comfortable for you too, Doctor."

"I suppose we have that in common." Hannibal took another sip of his coffee, eyes fixed on Will's the whole time. He would give anything to be able to kiss Will now, taste the coffee on his lips. Too soon. He sighed.

"You're right, Father, it is my choice to be alone. I don't usually seek romance. But you talk as if everyone desired me," Hannibal joked, watching the priest closely. He could hear the priest's heartbeat, focus on it and ignore all the noise coming from the people around them. He loved the sound of it. "I can't deny I turn a few heads, like you said, but that doesn't mean anything if I'm not interested in them, does it?"

It did mean something, though. When people found him attractive and he wasn't interested in being romantically involved with them, it still meant something. It meant dinner. It meant casual sex and a veritable feast of blood.

"Romantic feelings are… complicated," Hannibal continued, fingers curling once again around his cup of coffee. He stared deeply into Will's eyes. "Sometimes, the only person you want is the only one who doesn't want you."

"I know about unrequited feelings," Father Graham replied, and his understanding made him solemn. "And not being able to act on them. I had someone I… liked very much. Back at home. She was a nun at my church, but she wasn't interested. Sensed something dark in me." Will chuckled, rubbing the scruff along his chin. She had known even before he had.

"Not that it really matters. Romance and celibacy can coexist, but I figured maybe I'm not the type for relationships," he confessed. The priest sipped his coffee mindfully, curious how anyone Hannibal desired could possibly fail to feel the same. But he did have a point.

"I'm not privy to your love life Doctor, but anyone who doesn't want you… Perhaps it's safe to say that they're missing out."

Hannibal smiled with the compliment, thinking that he would appreciate Will's darkness very much. Anyone who didn't appreciate it was surely missing out. He kept the thought to himself – Will wouldn’t understand, not yet. While the woman Will had been interested was appalled by Will's darkness, Hannibal wanted more of it, wanted to know it, to see and feel it. Experience it for himself. He finished his coffee and set the cup aside, folding his hands together on the table as he leaned in slightly.

"Would you be able to have a romantic relationship, Father?" Hannibal asked, very interested in the answer. "Even having to remain celibate? Hypothetically, of course."

"Hypothetically," Will repeated with a downward glance. "I could, it's just—celibacy is less of an issue when you're not involved with someone. I find that temptation is easier to resist when it's not right there in front of you." The priest finished his drink, meeting Hannibal's gaze. "When you're not met with it on a regular basis.”

Will drummed his fingers along the table, turning to peek out the nearby window. Rome had come alive as it did every night, the warm glow of lights beckoning each passerby. He could only imagine how breathtaking the Trevi Fountain would look, lit up from within its coin-filled basin, ethereal figures illuminated in all of their glory.

"Should we make our way back?" the priest asked, thrumming with excitement.

"Yes. Let's go back." Hannibal smiled, happy to see how excited the priest was to view the fountain again. Making Will Graham happy felt better than he had imagined it would, and he wanted more, wanted to give Will so much more.

Hannibal insisted on paying their bill, and they made their way back to the fountain, walking slowly. It was still crowded, although less than it was in the afternoon, which Hannibal was grateful for. They made their way through the manageable turnout until they were right in front of the fountain again. It, like the majesty of St. Peter’s, was more beautiful with the presence of darkness. The light illuminated Will's face, reflecting in his eyes, and again Hannibal had to fight his desire to claim the priest's lips. Instead, he reached once more for his wallet, taking two coins just as he had that afternoon. He offered another one to Will.

"One more time, for good luck?" Hannibal asked, trying his best to sound innocent. He knew the meaning of two coins being thrown into the fountain. Hannibal didn't believe that it would change anything in his life – he was the conductor of his own fate – but that didn't matter. What he was truly curious to find out was if Will, who surely knew the legend and claimed he wasn't the type for relationships, would toss a second coin in anyway.

The priest stared at Dr. Lecter for a long moment, glancing hesitantly down at his outstretched hand. He took the coin from his palm with a gentle touch, thanking him in a whisper. Will was not one to blindly believe in superstition, always skeptical of fanciful traditions that foretold of love, marriage, wealth, prosperity. He didn't need fortune; shouldn't want for anything, and so these customs were often unnecessary. If he were to meet someone, to find a partner and enter a relationship, it would be by the will of God alone.

But he reasoned that it couldn't hurt.

"Would it be too cliché if I said ‘When in Rome’?” The priest stood with his back to the fountain, right next to Hannibal Lecter. They tossed their coins in together, looking up at the distant stars in the darkened Roman sky.

Will's lips curved into a pleased smile, shadows dancing across his face as he shifted. "So what will your excuse be?" he asked casually, slipping his hands into his pockets. "At the very least I can claim to be in a monogamous relationship with God. But you… you'll be out of luck if you attract admirers."

Side-by-side, he heard the doctor chuckle, and dissolved into laughter in spite of himself. The priest's eyes flickered with mirth, settling on the crowd gathered around the fountain. He fixed his gaze on a young couple, real tourists from the look of it – a young woman, quite visibly pregnant, tapping away on her smartphone, her lover holding her from behind, his arms wrapped possessively around her middle. Her bag was slung loosely across her shoulder and she had a ring on her finger, glinting brightly in the artificial light. Will could make out the twin gleam of a matching golden band adorning the ring finger of her partner. Married.

Will wondered if the man and woman had tossed three coins into the fountain once upon a time.

The two looked happy. Peaceful. It was bittersweet. The husband and wife parted, but the love in their eyes was tangible. Father Graham realized that such a bond was not meant for him; if he had but this one life, he would have liked to experience such a thing. It wasn't to be. He could bear witness to the sanctity of marriage, officiate the holy union, but it was not his place to desire it. Not matrimony. Not sexual intimacy, children, or a family of his own.

The priest's heart went from light – nearly weightless – to unbearably heavy. Hannibal was speaking to him, he could hear the soothing tone of his voice, but Will had lost himself to his own imaginings. His eyes were unfocused, brain unwilling to process the visual cues around him, conjuring up scenarios within the dome of his skull instead.

He nodded in agreement to nothing in particular, only half-listening. Dr. Lecter's voice grew louder, more urgent, and before Will could take the time to re-tune into his surroundings a piercing scream rang out across the square. With a blink and a shudder he snapped back to reality, adrenaline spiking sharply at the sound. Will scanned the area, fraught with panic, trying to find the source of the commotion. He could feel as Hannibal tensed beside him.

Partly shrouded in shadow, a hooded figure wrestled with the pregnant tourist for her purse – a gutsy pickpocket attempt that hadn't gone as planned. Most were harmless, but this one didn't know when to call it quits. The priest searched the square for sign of her husband, but he had wandered away, separated by the crowd. In a blur the thief had knocked the woman's feet out from underneath her, sending her to the ground as he snatched her purse and bolted.

Will's stomach dropped. Both he and Hannibal rushed forward, but the doctor didn't stop when they reached the expectant mother, crying and shaking against the cold cobblestone pavement. Hannibal couldn't smell blood – none that had been freshly spilled. He knew the woman was in a state of shock but uninjured, and that the priest would see to her immediately. Meanwhile, Hannibal had an agenda of his own... He couldn't let the thief get away and miss the opportunity that had presented itself.

"Hannibal!" Will shouted after him. They could use his help and expertise here. Was he trying to be a hero?

"Help her!" Hannibal called back, and Will was already on his knees, gathering the woman into his arms. Her husband came pushing through the horde of people, panting and furious, yelling for his wife all the while. The priest helped her to her feet, talking her through the ordeal, looking her over for any injuries. A few tourists already had their phones out, no doubt dialing for the authorities; calling an ambulance. The man reached his wife and Will backed off as they embraced, watching as Hannibal disappeared into the sea of strangers to pursue the man responsible.

Chapter Text

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. —Genesis {6:11-12}

Hannibal couldn't run as fast as he wished, not with so many humans out on the streets. Still, he ran faster than the thief and caught up to him quickly, crowding him into a dingy back alley hidden in shadow by the neighboring structures. Hannibal had many reasons to do it. He was weaker; more tired than usual after staying in the sunlight with Will for so long, and it left him feeling ravenous. They weren't so far from the square, but it was quite dark where they stood now, and he knew Will was busy helping the woman – everyone else was surely gathered around them to see what was wrong. If Hannibal pursued the culprit and returned the woman’s purse, his doggedness would certainly catch Father Graham's attention. He wanted to be noticed, admired by the priest, and this was an easy way to achieve the intended result.

"Rude," Hannibal said, his voice low as he dragged the man closer to the wall. "Hurting a pregnant woman, running off with her belongings... It's unquestionably rude.” Hannibal pushed him against the wall, and in that moment the man managed to reach for the switchblade in his pocket, flipping it open to point at Hannibal. He hesitated to attack him, however. The man was not a killer, Hannibal knew a killer when he saw one. Hannibal doubted the man had ever killed anyone. He was just a small time pickpocket good at running away. Well, not so good, after all.

Hannibal chuckled, ready to take the knife from him and sink his fangs into his neck when he heard Will approaching – his steps, his heartbeat, his panting breaths as he ran in their direction.

Following Hannibal hadn't been a conscious choice. It was automatic, as natural as breathing, as the steady, rhythmic beating of his heart. As soon as the stunned woman was safe and being tended to the priest took after him – as fast as his feet could carry him, legs pumping tirelessly to send him darting down the narrow city streets. He raced past throngs of night crawlers, sightseers, foreigners and Romans alike, just barely catching sight of Hannibal's form, tracking his shadow cast against palazzo walls.

Ducking into a dark alleyway, Will finally glimpsed the doctor's back; just beyond him the cornered thief, face still shrouded in darkness. He wanted to pull back that cowardly hood, look deep into this man's eyes just to glimpse the void of what he knew to be a feeble soul. Deem him unworthy in the eyes of God and leave him for the devil to claim in time.

He was about to play mediator when his eyes caught the flicker of a blade… and everything changed in an instant. The priest paled, heart pounding rapidly and primed to leap from his chest. He couldn't hear anything but the rush of his own blood, ears ringing shrilly. Will's vision narrowed, tunneling until all he could see was the man at the end of the alley, knife in hand, glinting and pointed at Dr. Lecter.

He saw red. What came next wasn't a fight-or-flight reaction – every cell in Will's body was poised to strike, and every ounce of fear in him turned to wrathful hate. This was fight, attack, maim. Cripple. The option of fleeing never once entered into the equation. Will was brushing past Hannibal and launching at the thief in a frenzy of motion, tackling him to the ground in his surprise. He straddled the man, drawing back his fist like a pistol cocking to send it flying with all the speed and force he could muster.

It landed square against the man's jaw with a sickening crack.

The stolen purse and weapon fell from the man's hands. Father Graham pushed them out of reach.

He wasn't finished. Looking down into fearful eyes, Will could tell that he was shocked that a priest was brutalizing him this way. The stranger's mouth was moving but Will couldn't make out the words; didn't care to. He grabbed him by the collar, slamming him down against the gravel. There was no absolving him of the sins he'd already carried out.

"You deserve this," Will grit out, rearing back. "Petty theft. Harming the innocent. Making threats you're too cowardly to carry out. You’re trying to play God." He struck him again and again, watching the thief's skin darken with bruising, face slowly beginning to swell. His was a waste of life. A waste of God's gift. A sorry excuse for a human being, greedy and callous. His very existence threatened the sanctity of creation.

"You think you can get away with it. That you won't be judged—" The priest sent a blow heavy blow into the culprit’s nose, the sound of knuckles meeting cartilage and flesh echoing down the backstreet. It yielded and split where the man was soft; snapping, breaking, fracturing where he wasn't. There was blood on Will’s skin but he did not stop; did not cease, not even when the noisy cracking faded to a muffled wetness.

Dr. Lecter had to step in and stop the onslaught, pulling the priest up and away, off of the thief who he'd beaten into unconsciousness. He'd left him unrecognizable, face pummeled to a sticky, bloody pulp.

"I'm judging you on God's behalf," Will roared, struggling in Hannibal's grip, muscles shaking with adrenaline. He didn't care if it was out of line. "You don't deserve forgiveness—this is your hell. You're scum and your soul will rot!"

He wouldn't have recognized himself in the mirror: pupils blown, chest heaving with labored breaths, body racked with tremors. Sweat glossed his skin, and his curls were wild, untamed against the batting of his eyelashes. Will's blood was surging, boiling-hot. He was hard. He felt good.

He couldn't feel his hands, he hadn't noticed until now. They'd gone numb some time ago, but the pain didn't register. Not yet. The doctor swiftly led them away from the scene, arms wrapped around the tenseness of the priest's frame. This was a crime in itself, one that Will had readily committed in the name of righteous violence; a radical, impromptu display of vigilante justice. It would not protect him from the law.

"Will," Hannibal said his name quietly, placing both hands on Will's shoulders and making the priest take a step backwards, resting his back against the wall.

Will was bleeding, the smell was mixed with the other man's blood, but Hannibal's brain still registered it stronger than any other scent around him. The vampire was hungry, starving for Will's blood, and his eyes went immediately red. Luckily it was dark, and even though Hannibal could see clearly, Will surely wouldn't be able to notice the change. He sighed, trying to get his self control back.

Hannibal was amazed by what he had just witnessed. He would have taken the man down easily, would have killed him, but to watch Will beat the man up like that left him breathless. Speechless. Part of him wondered if seeing the thief pointing a knife at him was what triggered Will into action. He hoped he was right about that.

The vampire closed his eyes, breathing heavily, Will's smell making it harder to think. Hannibal hadn't been made to think when he smelled human blood. He had been made to attack. To feed, and kill. Fighting his instincts was against his nature. Still, he said Will's name again to ground himself. He needed to focus, and he needed the priest to focus as well.

"Will, look at me," Hannibal stared deeply into the priest's eyes and placed his hand on the back of his neck, trying to ground him with the touch. "Focus on me. We need to get you out of here."

As Will's eyes finally looked back into his, Hannibal nodded and offered him a gentle smile, then moved away to grab the purse from the floor. He dragged Will out into the street, away from the man who was unconscious on the ground. Not dead, Hannibal could still hear his heartbeat – but severely injured. They left the man behind and Hannibal carried Will with him, one arm around the priest's shoulders as Will walked beside him, emotionless.

Hannibal left Will on the corner of a street, as close to the fountain as he could go without attracting attention. He told Will to stay there and wait for him, but couldn't be sure if the priest was listening to him at all. It was alright if Will didn't do what he said, Hannibal could easily track him down if he tried to run away or went back to beat the man up a bit more. Hannibal returned to where the people were gathered around the couple, taking deep breaths, willing his eyes to go back to normal, the hunger to subside even if just a little bit. Carefully, Hannibal made his way through the crowd and gave the woman her purse. She thanked him several times, her husband shook Hannibal's hand, and Hannibal smiled and excused himself, hurrying to go back to where he had left Will, already picking up his phone and calling a taxi.

The priest was still there, and now under a streetlight, Hannibal tried to get his attention again. He put his phone back in his pocket and his hand returned to the back of Will's neck, fingers tangled in Will's curls. His voice was low, soft. "Will, we're going home now. Everything's alright. I returned the purse to the woman. She's fine. You're fine. We're fine. I'll take care of you."

It didn't seem to convince the priest. Hannibal did his best to keep under control, talking to Will until the taxi arrived and informing the driver of his address before helping Will into the vehicle. He sat next to Will and closed the door, not bothering to put on their seat belts. The driver didn't seem to mind either, impressed by Will's state. Will didn't say anything during the drive home, but his breathing and heartbeat were loud in Hannibal's ears.

Hannibal paid for the ride when they arrived, helping Will out of the car and leading him inside. In the bathroom, he filled the sink with water and grabbed his medical supplies. Will didn't react. He took Will's right hand in his, carefully, and guided it into the sink, under the water. Will still had no reaction. Hannibal cleaned the wounds, washed the blood from Will's knuckles, carefully dried his hand, examined the wounds to make sure they were clean. Will remained quiet, completely still.

"You're lost in your mind," Hannibal said calmly, starting to bandage Will's hand slowly, gently. "I need you to focus on the present, focus on me, on the reality of what happened." He finished bandaging Will's right hand, his fingertips moving to the man's wrist, a soft, cool touch against Will's warm skin. "Stay with me."

Will took a deliberate breath, long and steadying, as Hannibal's voice penetrated the fog of his thoughts. He could hear him first and foremost. He inhaled deeply through his nose, held it there. Exhaled calmly through the mouth. He focused on the grounding in and out, noticing the painful throb of his hands as the adrenaline slowly metabolized, diluting in his veins. He still trembled with it.

"I’m… I'm here," Will answered, voice quaking. His stomach twisted with nausea. Swallowing convulsively, his mouth only continued to fill with thin, watery saliva, and the priest fought the urge to retch.

Hannibal's touch was soothing as he wrapped his wounds – ones Will had sustained after his savage outburst, where he'd beaten a man half to death. He'd never hear the end of it if the church found out. Will closed his eyes, willing the images away. Tried to focus on the feel of Dr. Lecter's gentle treatment, like a salve against his damaged knuckles.

"Where are we?" Will asked. With some effort he had managed to sound vaguely composed, though his voice was still unsteady. His eyes were wet with involuntary tears, but he could not wipe them away if they spilled. Hannibal held his hands in his own.

The priest remembered little after the incident… Remembered even less of the incident itself. He couldn't hide the shame he felt at the knowledge that he enjoyed what he had done; could recall the dizzying rush of power and the way his body had reacted. Will had relaxed somewhat, muscles going slack, the flow of his blood returning to normal. He was unaware of how much time had passed, and it terrified him to think of how he'd left the thief.

"My place," Hannibal said, grabbing Will's left hand now to sink it in the water as well and wash the blood off just as he had done with the right one. Hannibal wanted Will to talk about it, to give voice to his feelings about what he had done. In that moment when Will was punching the thief's face, the priest looked like he enjoyed it, as if hurting someone like that gave him life. Father Graham wasn't supposed to enjoy hurting people, no matter how bad they were. He had accused the man of playing God, but the way Will had judged that man, punished him for his sins... that was playing God. Hannibal was eager to know how it made him feel.

"How much do you remember, Will?" Hannibal asked, his fingers touching the priest's skin more than necessary, caressing the back of his hand, his palm, the length of his fingers. He pulled Will's hand out of the sink and dried his skin, just as gently as he had done with the other hand.

"I remember the… The pregnant woman at the square. And that scumbag fighting for her bag." The priest's shoulders tensed at the memory; how he'd watched helplessly as the thief sent her hurtling to the ground.

"Remember you chasing him, running after you. Finding you," he continued. "I remember him pulling out a knife. He was pointing it at you, you were right there and I… I think I snapped." Will cringed at the recollection – everything after that was a messy blur, flashes of blood and violence mixed with a heady sense of control. His head was pounding, still coming down from his epinephrine high.

"...I don't remember much of what happened afterwards. Just that you were with me." The priest flexed the fingers of his free hand, neatly bandaged and secured with a clip. His knuckles were raw and sore. Will clenched his fist just to feel them ache.

So Will had actually attacked the man because he was pointing a knife at Hannibal. Good. Hannibal fought the urge to smile. He took a closer look at the wounds on Will's knuckles, then started bandaging them, just as carefully as he had been since the beginning. Releasing Will's hand, he organized his medical supplies and emptied the sink, quickly and in silence.

"Focus on what you remember," he said, leading Will out of the bathroom and into his bedroom, then downstairs to his living room. He kept one hand around Will's shoulders the whole time, to ground him and give him some stability as they walked. "Please have a seat. Can I offer you anything to eat or drink?" He gestured for Will to sit on the couch.

Will sat mechanically, a curt, forced smile gracing his lips at the offering. "No, thank you," Will said, pleading with himself to stay in the moment. He glanced down nervously at his bandaged knuckles, an uneasy feeling settling in his gut as a cold sweat broke out across his brow; the back of his neck.

“Wait here,” Hannibal said gently, leaving Will for a short moment just to come back with two pills for pain and a glass of water. The priest accepted the offering gratefully, swallowing the pills with a gulp water, but he didn't stop drinking until the glass was empty. He set it down on the coffee table after he’d finished.

Hannibal sat next to Will, not too close to make him uncomfortable, but close enough to feel the warmth of his body. He crossed his legs and shifted just enough to face Will, watching as the priest took a deep breath.

"I hurt him, didn't I." Will's words held conviction as opposed to uncertainty, but the priest still couldn't look Dr. Lecter in the eye. He closed his own in a solemn expression, resting his injured hands limply across his lap.

"Hurt him badly. I can tell because you're quiet. Vicious acts tend to garner an eerie silence," he explained, and then, "I'm sorry you had to see that."

It wouldn't be the first time he'd resorted to violence, but as a priest he had sworn to live the life of a pacifist. He hadn't struck anyone since he was a child, fighting back in retaliation against the bullying he endured. In times of crisis, it seemed to be Will's preferred solution. The priest sighed, resting back against the couch, utterly exhausted as the last of the hormones ran their course.

Sister Bloom was right – there was a darkness in him, and now Hannibal had seen it too.

"I'm quiet because I'm thinking," Hannibal said, knowing that he couldn't admit just yet that he was amazed, in awe of the priest. He would watch Will hurt someone like that every day if he could, it was the most beautiful and arousing thing he had ever seen. "And because I'm worried about you, Will. You left him unconscious. How did you feel—if you don't mind me asking—when you were hurting him? You said he deserved to be punished. That you were going to punish him like God would."

Hannibal watched Will closely as he finished talking. He remembered how fast Will's heart was beating when he was punching the man's face, how every single blow made the priest pant loudly, how the smell of blood filled the air around him. He still felt hungry for Will's blood, but now, after bandaging Will's hands and making the bleeding stop, it was definitely easier to keep it under control. He could keep eye contact with the priest and not be afraid that his eyes might turn red.

Father Graham's face blanched, draining of what little color it had left.

"I… I don't remember," he lied. He didn't want to remember. "I don't know how I felt. It couldn't have been any worse than… than he did." Will's eyes cracked open, gaze finally settling on Hannibal's face. He wasn't distancing himself, that was a good sign. Perhaps it was the psychiatrist in him, eager to help. The priest wondered if he was feigning his acceptance.

"It was… a bit of a trigger," he confided, unbuttoning the front of his cassock with shaky fingers. He slipped his right arm out of the garment carefully, baring his naked shoulder and the thick knot of tissue at its crux. It was an ugly scar, pale and angry, differing from the rest of his skin in both texture and shade.

"I had a bad feeling, and I'm guilty of sometimes trusting my instincts before God. I didn't want this to happen to you." It didn't excuse what he did, but in that moment, Will had truly feared for Hannibal's life – he'd had no time to pray, to cry for help, only to act. He stole a glance at his exposed shoulder.

"Courtesy of a self-appointed Catholic who claimed he was possessed—his alibi for the despicable things he did. He was a sick man, worse than any type of demon I've studied." The priest slipped his arm back into the sleeve of his cassock, not bothering to button it back up. His hands were tired. "I must have felt like I was doing the right thing," Will offered.

Hannibal didn't remember a time when he had felt so touched. No one had ever tried to save his life. He didn't need Will to protect him from anything, he was more dangerous and deadly than Will could ever be, as human or vampire, but he couldn't ignore the fact that Will had wanted to protect him, had been scared of losing him, or even letting him get hurt. It meant Will felt something for him, something – it didn't really matter right now what it was exactly. Hannibal was grateful for it.

Hannibal was hungry. He could see himself sinking his fangs into Will's shoulder, right over his scar. Making Will bleed again, but this time it would be different, a different kind of pain, maybe even mixed with pleasure. New, positive associations.

"Thank you, Father," Hannibal said sincerely. He still wasn't convinced that Will didn't remember how he had felt when he was hurting the thief, he knew Will had felt good, he had witnessed it. He knew Will was lying. He decided not to push the subject now. "Thank you for caring about me."

"You shouldn't be thanking me, really," Father Graham insisted. "You should be terrified of me, but you have my thanks. For… stopping me, and for patching me up. Staying with me. I owe you a debt." The priest made to stand, just a bit off kilter. His eyebrows knit together in concern.

"I hate to ask anything more of you, Doctor, but I have to know… What happened to the woman who was attacked?" Will asked, eyes searching. "Was she alright? Were her belongings returned?" He didn't give Hannibal a chance to answer, struck with a sudden, all-consuming fear. "I don't pity the thief, but please tell me I didn't—tell me I didn't kill him."

Will would need to confess his transgression, and had to know everything he could of his own reckless behavior. His pride as a priest had taken a serious blow. Hannibal straightened and gave him a look of sympathy. Will felt restless and ashamed. He was eager to return to the safety and solitude of his home away from home.

"If you're able, please just… Text me the details later. Thanks for your hospitality, Dr. Lecter—I'll call for a taxi."

Hannibal didn't usually care about anybody. Rarely cared about vampires, almost never cared about humans. He caught himself feeling concerned about Will Graham. He approached the priest, standing in front of him before he could even grab his phone to call a taxi.

"You don't seem to be feeling well. You can spend the night here if you don't want to be alone. I have spare rooms, you could take a shower, have dinner with me and rest," he suggested, not ready to let Will Graham go just yet. "If not, I could take you home."

"No, it's… I'm fine. I have a service I use to get around on speed-dial," Will replied, the corners of his mouth twitching up in a weakened smile. Hannibal's offer was tempting, but he didn't want to overstep.

"I can take off a few more days to heal, but then I've really got to get back to church. My nerves should settle once you text me." The priest politely excused himself to reach for his phone and contact the taxi service – it hurt to use his fingers, but it was nothing unbearable.

He would have otherwise continued a short regimen of painkillers to keep the ache and swelling of his hands in check, but Will wanted to be reminded of what he'd done. What he was capable of doing if he wasn't careful. Wanted to feel it, for violence should never be met with more violence. Love thy enemy. He'd done no such thing.

Will would confess to Father Bernardone at his earliest convenience, and serve his due penance.

Hannibal waited for the priest to finish the phone call, then walked closer to him again. His gaze fell from Will's eyes to his chest where his cassock was unbuttoned and exposed his skin. He couldn't help but stare, and heard the priest's heart beat a little faster, his breathing slightly heavier. Hannibal took a step closer, his fingers working slowly on the buttons. He could feel the warmth coming from Will's skin, but didn't touch it, not even slightly. He simply continued buttoning up Will's cassock until he got to the button at the top, and then his gaze met Will's again. They were so close. Hannibal swallowed hard.

He could just tell Father Graham everything that happened while they waited for the taxi, but decided not to, just so he would have the opportunity to talk to the priest again later. To make himself present in the man's life a little bit longer. He decided he wouldn't text Will, but would call him. Later, when Will was at home, possibly even in bed and ready to sleep, Hannibal would call him and calm his nerves, tell him that everything was fine and thank Will again for what he had done. Then Hannibal would let the priest sleep, with his voice still echoing in his head.

When the taxi arrived, Hannibal led Will outside to the car, and opened the door for him. Hannibal greeted the driver in Italian, and asked him to take Will home, already paying his fare – giving him more money than would be necessary to drive from Hannibal's place to Will's.

"Dr. Lecter-—" Will started to protest, but Hannibal didn't let him.

"Father, you saved my life tonight," he lied, looking into the priest's eyes. "It's a debt I'll never be able to repay. I could be dead right now or severely injured if you hadn't been there. This is the least I can do for you."

Will didn't feel like he'd done much saving. It was painfully obvious that fear and anger had gotten the best of him, but he couldn't bring himself to regret his actions – though he knew better than to bypass remorse completely. Causing such harm to another human being was the opposite of his job as a priest, but if Hannibal had been injured, Will knew he'd carry a guilt that would far outweigh what he felt now.

In his mind, Dr. Lecter had more than repaid him. This experience had brought them closer, and demonstrated that the doctor valued him as a person and a friend. He was filled to the brim was a gratitude he could not express.

The priest leaned in to gently bestow a kiss of peace to each of Hannibal's cheeks, the roughness along his jaw scratching lightly across the other man's skin. Dr. Lecter's face was clean-shaven, far smoother than Will's own and soft where they brushed. It was a farewell gesture fitting of his current emotions, both thankful and overwhelmed. He took Hannibal's hand, held gently between the wrappings at the ridges of his palms, and thanked him graciously.

The doctor's expression had softened, lips parted as if to speak. Will beat him to it.

"Goodnight, Doctor," he said with reverence, then ducked into the taxi, mindful of his head. "I hope to hear from you soon."

"You will," Hannibal replied, kindly shutting the car door behind him – their gaze met through the window for the briefest of moments before the taxi pulled away from the curb. Dr. Lecter stood and looked on, following the vehicle with his eyes until it was out of sight.

Alone in the blackness of the night, he turned and made his way back inside. For the first time in many, many years, Hannibal did not welcome the silence.

Chapter Text

What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. —Luke {12:3}

Will took four days to recover both physically and mentally from what had occurred that night in the rione di Trevi. Hannibal had kept his word, helping to calm his nerves with a phone call sometime after midnight. He reassured him that Lisa Travis, the pregnant woman who'd been targeted, was released from the hospital that same night with only minor scrapes and bruising. It had only made the priest feel slightly better. Hannibal did not mention the extent of the thief's injuries, nor did he divulge his own involvement in keeping a tight lid on the incident. It would do no good to have Will brought in for questioning – Hannibal had friends in high places, and the money to buy the silence of the local police. It was nothing he couldn't pull a few strings in order to ensure.

Hannibal did confirm that the polizia had become involved, and that they concluded it was a case of vigilante justice. The suspect would be taken into custody after recovering from his injuries, but the guilt of wounding a man so heinously left Will feeling sick. It was something he couldn’t forget.

By the end of the fourth day locked inside his home, Father Graham decided it was time to return to church and confess.

Father Bernardone was the only person Will felt comfortable enough to share what had happened with. What he had done. Still, it hadn’t been easy, and it didn’t lessen the burden of his guilt. The penance didn't seem like enough, but he would carry it out faithfully. His dreams and thoughts felt darker now, as if tainted, and no amount of prayer seemed to bring him any relief. Peter had been noticeably concerned, shocked by Will's actions but sympathetic nonetheless. He claimed he understood what drove him to do it, but reminded him that vengeance belonged to God alone. That He would repay, and His wrath would find those who did wrong.

Father Graham remembered thinking that perhaps God's wrath didn't always come swiftly enough.

As he walked home that evening, he reflected on the state of his soul, his spirit, and came to realize that it might not be shameful to seek more help than the church could offer. More help than God could provide. He grabbed his phone from his pocket and typed out a quick text.

can you meet me tonight? just to talk.

Hannibal’s answer came within seconds, as if he’d been staring at his phone, waiting patiently for Will to message him.

Hello, Will. Meeting you would be a pleasure. Please come to my office, I believe you have the address. I’ll be waiting for you.
Dr. Lecter

Will arrived home and changed into a black clerical shirt and trousers, deciding against the traditional dress of his cassock. He slipped his clerical collar into his collarino, leaving a small white square at the base of his throat, just below his Adam’s apple. Then, he retrieved the doctor’s business card and dialed for a taxi, eager to meet with Hannibal and begin their first official session – although off the books and records. Upon arrival, Will paid his driver and entered the building. He glanced again at the cardstock, referencing the room number to locate Dr. Lecter’s office. Father Graham steeled himself at the door, straightened his spine to appear as confident as possible, and knocked.

Hannibal couldn't help the pleased curl of his lips. Sitting in his chair, he could already smell Father Graham. Will, he said to himself. After the experience they had shared a few nights ago, it felt wrong to keep the formalities. Will was obviously nervous, Hannibal could hear the quickening of his breath and elevated heart rate.

Beautiful, he thought. He wanted to hear Will like this in his bed, under his body, panting and moaning, sweating, heart pounding against Hannibal's chest. He wanted to explore every inch of Will’s skin, feel his pulse just underneath, press his tongue to Will's carotid artery as it throbbed with blood. Sink his fangs into Will's neck and let the blood flow into his mouth, warm and sweet and delicious, and it would nourish him. Will would keep him alive, and both of them would share one life together.

In return for Will’s blood and body, Hannibal would give him everything he was: his mind, his undying love and devotion, even the soul he wasn't sure he possessed, if it wasn't doomed to hell. He wanted to show Will the world, and his world above all. Wanted Will to know him, see him, without the barriers of fear, fate or religion. Unfortunately, it was a result he knew would not be so easy to achieve, but he wasn't giving up.

Hannibal stood and strolled to the door of his office, offering Will a smile in greeting as he pulled it open. Father Graham’s tired eyes lit up at the sight of Dr. Lecter welcoming him inside.

“Will. Good evening,” Hannibal said, stepping back to allow Will passage. He took a deep breath, savoring the priest’s scent, so strong he could almost taste him. After being so thoroughly tempted by the sight and smell of Will's blood just a few nights back, his hunger for it had only increased. Tonight, after their first therapy session, he would have to find someone whose blood had a similarly enticing aroma. Someone that reminded him of the priest, though it couldn't compare. Another disposable human, ultimately unimportant, that he could have sex with, feed from, and kill.

Unaware of Hannibal’s thoughts, Will found himself relaxing his posture, the tensed muscles of his back and shoulders loosening incrementally. He already felt more at ease in the doctor’s presence, and with a demure bow of his head he stepped inside. He still found it difficult to suppress his reaction to the sound of his name, though perhaps he should expect it by now. It somehow felt achingly more intimate after going by nothing but ‘Father’ for some time, and the effect was immediate and profound. Even more beautiful was to hear it spoken in Hannibal’s rich accent, his velvety, low-pitched voice making the name – his name – sound infinitely more attractive than it had any right to.

“Good evening Doctor,” Will said, mentally reprimanding himself at the squandered opportunity to address him in kind. Perhaps it was overwrought nerves at the thought of speaking so casually.

Will offered Hannibal an appreciative glance, noting his tasteful attire: meticulous as usual in an expertly tailored suit. Father Graham flushed lightly, feeling spectacularly underdressed in comparison. He averted his gaze as not to ogle, drinking in the sight of the spacious office room instead – it was decorated stylishly, with elegant, modern furnishings and high-end décor. Somehow he’d expected nothing less. Will was drawn to the plush lounge chair, where he moved to sit with his legs crossed. He rolled up the sleeves of his button-down to the elbow, heart thumping against the silver of his cross. The clerical collar at his throat was tight as he swallowed thickly, but after a few quiet moments a sigh escaped his lips, and he allowed himself to fully unwind in good company.

“May I offer you something to drink?” Hannibal asked, observing him. He wondered if Will would accept some wine. The priest wasn't officially his patient, of course, they had just agreed to having conversations, and Hannibal didn't want Will to pay him for it. It was his pleasure, in every sense of the word. Hannibal intended to take even more pleasure from his company in the future. “Water, perhaps? I have wine, if you’d prefer. Assuming you like it, of course,” he said, closing the door.

“Thank you. Please—wine sounds wonderful right about now.” It was one of the few indulgences a man of the cloth was permitted, and he was sure to savor it.

It was the answer he'd hope to receive. Hannibal’s smile didn't falter – he wondered how much wine he could give Will before the priest decided he’d had enough. He was curious what sort of dark and forbidden things he would confess if Hannibal managed to get him drunk.

Returning to his desk, Hannibal opened a bottle of fine wine he’d chosen specifically for this occasion – a 1941 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino. He poured some into two wine glasses, the clear, rust-red liquid settling smoothly. Then he made his way to the chaise and offered the priest a glass. Will’s clerical collar caught his eye. Hannibal wanted to take it off with his teeth. Or better yet, sink his fangs into Will's throat and watch as the blood painted it red.

Will mumbled his thanks, reaching out to grasp the delicate stem of the wine glass. His fingers brushed Hannibal’s, and the burning memory of the first time they touched rose to the surface. It made his eyes close of their own volition, something twisting and wrenching hard inside his chest. A reminder of how much he yearned for more, more contact, more anything. A choked noise escaped him, like the bitten-off whimper of a kicked dog. It was beyond humiliating, and Will felt the hot rush of blood to his face and neck.

The doctor appeared composed as usual – Father Graham feared he was losing his touch with reality. He took a long sip of the Barolo as Dr. Lecter returned to his chair, trying to distract from the prickly heat of his embarrassment by relishing in the sweetness spreading across his tongue. He hummed in reply before swallowing, cradling the base of his glass in one hand, the other running across the smooth leather of the chaise-longue.

“You may not be used to it, but I’d like you to tell me about your day,” Hannibal said, keeping in mind that Will was used to listening to the plights of others but didn't often seek help for his own. He knew it was seldom that Will’s own thoughts were dissected, and yet he offered religious counseling and advice to others, guidance through grief and the trials and obstacles of the spirit. Hannibal decided against mentioning the incident with the pickpocket for now, instead allowing Will to bring up the subject if and when he felt comfortable doing so.

“I need you to tell me about your routine, how you feel, and the things you think about. But remember, you're not confessing your sins. You don't have to feel guilty about anything you say or feel while you’re with me.” Hannibal was well aware of how sin played into Will’s devout life, how he felt about his own sins and those he’d never intended to commit. “I’m a doctor and won't blame you for any thought or feeling that crosses your mind, so don't be ashamed.”

When it came to his own well-being, Will regularly purged himself of sin through prayer, fasting, and confession. This wasn’t new for him, but it had been a long time since he found himself on the receiving end of this particular form of treatment. Despite this, he was well aware that even priests sometimes needed guidance of their own... Even if it wasn’t exclusively from God Himself. He tried to remind himself of this.

“It’s difficult for me not to think of this as a confession,” Will answered. “Please stop me if I veer into that territory—force of habit. I’m more used to atoning for sins and asking forgiveness than I am discussing the nature of them. My thoughts and feelings are... Often unsavory.” He drew in a lengthy breath. Took a sip of his drink. “Of course, the wine helps a bit.” Will raised his glass in a half-hearted attempt to lighten the tense mood, and Hannibal chuckled quietly at the gesture. A smile lingered on his lips as he watched Will intently, aware of his every movement.

Without a doubt, something in Will wanted to open himself to Hannibal, wanted to lay himself bare, his inner desires and intentions on full display for him to see. He wanted to show him his mind, his inner workings, even his spirit if the doctor was inclined to delve deep enough. He still wasn't convinced that anyone other than God could cleanse the darkness he harbored within him, but in order to begin the process of healing, Father Graham knew he must make himself vulnerable. If he had to start with Dr. Lecter, then at the very least he would feel safe doing so. He uncrossed his legs, leaning forward to brace his elbows on his knees.

“My days are… draining, Doctor. The nights are even more so,” Will began. “Lately I’ve been entertaining heretical concepts, intrusions that force themselves to the forefront of my mind. It’s gotten worse since… Since that night.” Hannibal nodded, understanding what Will was referring to. “I’m not sure if it’s of my own conjuring or something else.” Will’s hands began to tremble and he had to bite back a curse, moving to rest his glass on the nearby coffee table.

He could feel the admissions that wanted to claw themselves up from where they were settled heavily in his gut, crawl into his throat and out of his open mouth. The desire to unearth his impurities was too great, though he knew that neither he nor Dr. Lecter were there to expel them.

“I feel that… something malevolent has attached itself to me, like a… A parasite. The sensation it fosters is overwhelming—of emptiness, profound loneliness. There’s a craving, a need to gorge myself until I’m sated and fulfilled, but no amount of prayer or worship stops the ache.” Keep going, Will thought to himself. He’s here to help. The words were pouring out of him like a fountain. “Every night I’m plagued by nightmares. I dream of death and rebirth. Of killing and unimaginable violence—” His voice was no more than a whisper. Will knew that Hannibal had witnessed what he was capable of. Perhaps he deserved this for his transgressions.

"Go on," Hannibal urged, sensing that the priest had more to unload from his heavy conscience.

Will blinked. He glanced uneasily up at the ceiling, as if afraid of something he couldn't see. “I seldom sleep,” he continued, trudging through the muck of his discomfort. “I find my thoughts wandering to forbidden places, into the darkest corners of my consciousness where I can’t separate myself from what I feel and what I perceive, what I take in. My state of mind feels… structurally unsound, like it wants to crumble under the pressure. As a priest I feel blasphemous and incompetent. Like the path I walk will inevitably lead to one of sin.”

Will set his jaw, teeth clenching. He had always felt like this, but after what he’d done, the thoughts were more frequent, intrusive and impossible to get rid of. Shifting his gaze, he watched instead as his nails dug red crescents into the skin of his knuckles. “I…

He stopped to gather himself, inhaling steadily through his nose.

“I want… No, a part of me wants to stop fighting against temptation—thinks that allowing myself to sin would feel good. But that’s not the life I’ve chosen to live.” Father Graham exhaled slowly, feeling sapped of energy but strangely calm. His mind was blissfully quiet. “I know this is heavy, maybe heavier than what you discuss with some of your patients. Most priests receive counseling from other priests. If it’s too much to handle we don’t have to do this,” he reasoned, though he admittedly felt better already. “Please know I appreciate it either way. I only regret to inform you that I’m probably not what you’re looking for in a friend right now.”

Hannibal watched Father Graham closely, all of his attention focused on the priest. He wanted to reach out to him, pull him into his arms and hold him against his chest until his hands stopped shaking. Until he felt so comfortable and safe that he would have no other choice but to give in and let Hannibal touch him. Hannibal finally raised his glass and took a moment to scent the full-bodied, brick-colored wine before taking a sip, his eyes never leaving Will's.

“I offered you help for a reason. I want to help you. I won't judge you for your thoughts, and I won't think any less of you because of them. You have no idea what kind of people I've met through the years.” Far too many years, Hannibal thought. Centuries, but it was information the priest couldn’t handle just yet. “Whether you think you’re what I'm looking for in one or not, you are my friend, Will—and I’m afraid I tend to be very devoted to my friends.” Hannibal offered him a brief smile, hoping to settle his nerves.

“There's a reason why people sin,” he continued. “It does make you feel good. If it didn't, nobody would sin. You wouldn't be a priest. We wouldn't be here right now having this conversation.” He gave Father Graham a few moments to think on his words. “Sin is supposed to make you feel both good and powerful, and I believe God uses it to see who’s strong enough to resist the temptation—and therefore deserve to enter the kingdom of heaven—and who isn't. To distinguish between who repents for these sins and who tallies them. Can you really blame anyone for wanting to feel elevated? Can you blame yourself for this part of you that wants to stop fighting temptation? Wants to feel the same way you did when you saved me from that thief? I don't blame you. Perhaps you shouldn't blame yourself.”

Hannibal knew, however, that it would be only a matter of time until Will noticed he wasn't trying to offer the kind of help he was seeking at all. Hannibal had in mind another kind of help altogether – liberation, complete and total freedom. It was not what Will thought he needed, but with a bit more time, Hannibal intended to change his mind.

“I… I don’t know if it’s so much about blame as it is discipline,” Will began, shifting in his seat. “I’ve always believed that resisting sin, overcoming it is what should make someone feel good and powerful. Elevated. But the thoughts I’ve been having lately, the way they affect me… it goes against that entirely. There’s a desire there that I don’t fully understand.” He ducked his head and his glasses slid down the bridge of his nose. Sin shouldn’t seem appealing to a priest, he thought. It’s sacrilegious. Unnatural. Father Graham frowned.

Hannibal took another sip of his wine, imagining instead that it was the decadence of human blood swirling around in his glass. To drink blood in front of Father Graham was a dangerous but tempting idea – he'd savor the look of terror in his eyes.

“The more you try to repress it, the more it haunts you. You're dreaming and thinking about it already, without any control. You have a powerful gift, Will. Powerful and dangerous. The only way to become strong enough to fight temptation is to understand it, and accept it. Accept that it's there, that it's part of you. Understand why it's there. And then you'll know how to fight it.”

Father Graham carefully considered the doctor’s words. He let his brow furrow in thought, exhaling slowly and running his hands along his thighs as he racked his brain for a tactful response. The truth was an uncomfortable pill to swallow – it occurred to Will that he couldn’t actually contest anything that Hannibal had said. There was only the simple and slight difference of opinion, and he couldn’t fault Dr. Lecter for his impartial stance on sin. If nothing else, it was an honest, straightforward outlook. Something to be appreciated. Still, it didn't sit quite right with him.

“I’m curious, Doctor. What exactly do you think we stand to gain by defying God?” Father Graham asked, arching an eyebrow. “Surely it’s nothing compared to what we would lose. It shouldn’t feel good to sin… It should feel immoral, should come with a sense of fear and foreboding that warns us not to stray. Sin is inherently wrong in essence, it alienates us from God and leaves us vulnerable to further corruption. If there’s a part of me that wants to sin just for sin’s sake, or because of some misplaced sense of power… I have to cut that part out.”

Will sighed, removing his glasses with nimble fingers. He folded them and set them aside, next to his wine glass.

“The extent of my sin used to be confined internally, existing solely as crimes of thought. But lately, and especially after I hurt that man… The dreams, the nightmares… They feel like they’re beginning to leak from my subconscious and spill out into my reality.”

The lines were blurring, and it scared him. The priest’s dreams were of an immensely private nature, intimate and hidden. They represented the helpless exposure of his mind, where there were no walls, no barriers, just his own tainted imaginings. His mind used to be his retreat, where he could go to escape from the world and seek shelter and solace – he wondered when it had become such a treacherous place, so far away from safe. A sense of dread settled in the pit of Will’s stomach, and he cleared his throat to loosen the constricting pressure threatening to silence him.

Hannibal’s eyes fixed on Will's as if he could actually see the priest's soul. He felt like Will’s empathy was even more powerful than he had anticipated – Will’s mind was being heavily affected by Hannibal’s feelings and desires. It was fascinating, addictive. “Please tell me more about your nightmares, if you feel comfortable enough to do so.”

Will hesitated, questioning if he really wanted to share more of his inner world. He couldn't be so sure that Hannibal wasn't already mentally diagnosing him. But he didn't seem troubled. Looking into his eyes, Will conceded.

“The presence that haunts my dreams is probably the most alarming. Whatever this thing is, it’s… depraved.” Just thinking about it made his skin crawl, but Hannibal appeared fascinated. “It… It um, waits for me to close my eyes, let my guard down before I see it. Like a shadow come to life.”

Will could probably draw it from memory at this point, but he supposed a verbal description would be enough for now. He shuddered, wrapping his arms around himself. “It's tall and skeletal, horrendously emaciated, like it’s been starved for years. Animal-like, but it retains a human shape, with huge antlers that protrude from its head. I don’t know if it’s a demon or some kind of twisted manifestation of my own guilt, but it’s cruel. Sadistic. It likes to hurt me.”

Father Graham could see the creature’s dead stare in his mind’s eye, pale, lifeless orbs except for when they burned red, alight with hunger. He could feel the cold, elongated fingers squeezing around his neck, recalled with perfect clarity the unchanging face that watched him as he struggled. Dr. Lecter’s head tilted just a fraction of an inch.

“It tries to kill me… but other times it’s almost supportive, hovering over my shoulder as I commit atrocities, coaxing me into action. What frightens me most is that… For whatever reason, it seems to take pleasure in taunting me with a familiar visage. It has your face, and I'm not sure what it means. It could very well be mocking my friendships.” Father Graham smiled bitterly, resisting the urge to reach for his wine.

Hannibal only nodded, contemplating, curious if perhaps the nightmares indicated that Will already knew, unconsciously, what Hannibal was and what he wanted. Will was sharing more than Hannibal had expected, making himself open and vulnerable to him. Hannibal wanted to get into Will’s mind, become a part of him, until he was the only thing he had.

Hannibal had wanted to kill the priest, yes, but now... Now what he wanted was to watch him spiral into madness, to support and teach him, encourage and cultivate his more violent urges. If the creature in Will's nightmares had Hannibal's face, it's because it was Hannibal, and although he didn't want Will to know this yet, he was quite impressed by his mental gymnastics, unconscious or otherwise. He was curious about how much the priest could see in his dreams before realizing that the truth had been lying right in front of his eyes the entire time.

"These nightmares that haunt you," Hannibal started, taking another sip of his wine, indirectly encouraging Will to do the same. "I'm afraid they won't stop haunting you so easily. You've certainly tried praying. It doesn’t seem to be helping. The creature in your dreams seems to be stronger than your faith, Will, and maybe even stronger than the power God has to protect you."

Not 'maybe', Hannibal thought. It is stronger. I am stronger, and I can touch you and affect you in a way God can't.

“I have prayed. I don’t have to try when it comes as easily as breathing,” Will replied, lifting his chin to look at Hannibal with a quiet resolve. “And I’ll keep praying, because I have to trust that God will protect me. That’s the very definition of faith—I can’t let fear control my actions, no matter how afraid I may be.”

And afraid he was, afraid and transfixed by the violence he nurtured within his heart.

"God can't touch you directly, but this creature can, and it will—it's doing it already." Hannibal could smell Will’s fear, could hear his heart beginning to race, his breath coming faster. It was a feast for his senses, but not one he could partake in the way he hungered most. Hannibal had learned how to control it over the years, but if he craved blood badly enough, there was still a chance that the hunger could overpower him.

A glimmer of red caught Father Graham’s attention, flashing darkly in the doctor’s eyes. Surely a trick of the light: he hadn’t slept properly in days and reasoned he must be seeing things. The temptation arose to put on his glasses and look again, but there was nothing amiss from what he could observe. A chill still ran down the length of his spine, and he watched as Hannibal raised his wineglass to his lips, closing his eyes as he slowly, deliberately savored his next sip. A strange heat coiled in Will’s belly.

His gaze flickered down to Hannibal’s mouth, lingering inadvertently as his thoughts swam inside his skull. His tongue darted out to wet the pink softness of his bottom lip, feeling the remnants of tannins left behind, slightly dry and bitter. He reached for his own wine glass, already missing the prominent scent of tar, roses and fresh herbs. Relishing this mouthful more than the first, he let its fragrant bouquet fill his nostrils: hints of mulberry, plum and chocolate. Father Graham wondered distantly how anything could be stronger than his faith – stronger than God. He drank again, as if the wine were Christ’s own blood, blessed transubstantiation offered willingly for his consumption. It briefly bolstered his confidence.

“God may not be able to touch me physically, but I feel Him in countless other ways. If this creature seeks to inflict harm on my body…” Father Graham’s voice shook slightly, despite his determination. He drained the rest of the wine from his glass, a comforting warmth spreading through his limbs. It helped. “If it wants to hurt me, that’s something I can endure. What I can’t abide by is the hijacking of my mind. I can’t let it hold me hostage and eat away at my conviction.” He sighed and set his glass back on the table, crossing his legs once more as he tried to stem his fearfulness.

He could not bring himself to believe that his demons were bigger than the Lord – to do so would be blasphemy of the highest kind. But if this held no truth, why was he still being tormented? Was he to prove his worthiness as a priest, conquer these trials as Christ had in the wilderness when the devil came to tempt him? It is said, do not put the Lord your God to the test. The Gospel of Luke spoke against this.

"You have to be strong, Will," Hannibal continued, focusing his gaze on Will again as he tried to rein in his instincts. "Everything you've tried up until now has failed. Fighting it is not the answer. What you need is to understand it." He knew this wasn’t what the priest wanted to hear, but Hannibal was only doing what was best for him.

"If you want my advice, don’t try to run from it. Observe what it does, and what it makes you do. Remember: nothing that happens in your dreams or thoughts can physically hurt you," Hannibal said, as if it would comfort Will. He knew it wouldn’t. "We both know you’re strong enough. Allow it to get close to you. People are afraid of what they don't know. You're trying to fight against something you're terrified of. Chances are, you'll lose. You'll lose yourself. But if you get to know it, you won't be afraid anymore."

Hannibal knew that these two warring sides of Will – the one that wanted to be devoted to God and the one that wanted to surrender to sin – would end up driving him insane, to the point of no return. Saving Will then would be almost impossible, and Hannibal didn't intend to let it get to that point. God didn't care, wouldn't do anything to save Will from the awful fate that awaited him. But Hannibal would save the priest, show him that life could be so much more than what he knew.

"Know your enemy, Will," he said. "And then, you'll know how to defeat it."

Father Graham had kept many of his inner demons hidden from the doctor, and although he was scared of the consequences, there was something strangely freeing about letting them out into the open. Letting Hannibal see him, with no shield to speak of, religious or otherwise. He hadn’t expected a psychiatrist to possess such a grasp on the notion of sin, let alone suggest a practical approach to his unholy dilemma. Perhaps he could make Dr. Lecter understand.

“I can’t argue with your logic,” Will murmured, absorbing the comfort he felt in Dr. Lecter’s presence. “Suppressing my thoughts… only seems to strengthen them. Unspoken sins will only continue to fester and grow, and will probably manifest outwardly again. I have to face them head-on.” He didn’t feel the need to hide; his sins or himself. Maybe Hannibal could be his safe place after all. “I appreciate what you're doing for me—and your friendship, Hannibal. Believe me… It means a lot more than I think you know.”

"And I appreciate yours," Hannibal smiled, unable to hold it back. "That's why I’m concerned about you. I want to help you, Will." He took another sip of his wine, then placed the almost empty wineglass on the small table beside his chair. "But if you intend to follow my advice, you need to be prepared. You need to be unafraid. What do you think the creature in your dreams wants from you?" Hannibal was curious to see how mentally close to the creature – to him – Will already was.

Will closed his eyes in careful thought, the wine having done its job to loosen his tongue and lessen his inhibitions.

“It may sound crazy, Doctor, but I'm afraid that it wants to… Possess me, in a sense. In what capacity I'm not exactly sure," he offered. "The constant, repetitive nightmares feel eerily similar to demonic obsession, a stone's throw away from oppression,” Father Graham explained, his heart a heavy weight beating against his chest. “I think it wants me to be like it. To kill, feast and give in only to be condemned to an eternity of hunger. I'm afraid to get any closer, I'm afraid of this thing bleeding into all aspects of my life. That I’ll lose control and hurt someone again.”

Will tried to loosen his collar, small beads of sweat forming at his brow as the temperature in the room seemed to rise. An effect of the alcohol, he tried to tell himself. He was so scared, but he shouldn't be. The presence of his fear alone was an insult to the power of God, and a poor example of priesthood. It was hard to imagine becoming an exorcist when he dealt with such huge amounts of fear, but the priest couldn't help how vulnerable he felt, how utterly alone. Perhaps his greatest fear was the dwindling hope that God could help him through this trying time. The doubt was eating him alive.

"I think I need some more wine for this. Would you mind?" Will asked with glossy eyes, feeling flushed and pliant from what'd he'd already consumed. He twirled his own empty glass between his fingers, thinking idly of the sermons he used to attend as a child.

"Of course.” Hannibal was more than happy to offer him more. He only wished he could take the priest right there, lay him out on the chaise and ravish him, bite his flesh and taste the sweetness of his blood. He turned his back to the priest and went to his desk to serve him more wine. He could smell Will in the whole room now, the scent was all around him, and his mouth watered as he inhaled deeply. It would be so easy to just attack. Instead, as he poured the wine into Will's glass, Hannibal focused on taking control of his urges.

Father Graham let his gaze trail lazily over the long line of Hannibal's back, the fabric of the doctor's bespoke suit clinging snugly to his frame as he moved with an elegant and practiced ease. He appeared so much more confident than the priest felt, sitting awkwardly in the man's private office. There was a sudden change in the atmosphere – an inexplicable heaviness that felt tangible to Will's heightened perception, senses dulled as they were by the free-flowing wine. It made it increasingly difficult for the priest to breathe, and he wet his wine-stained lips with a swipe of his tongue before allowing them to part.

Graham wondered briefly if he were perhaps overindulging himself, straying dangerously close to the cardinal sins of gluttony, greed and lust. He should have found it troubling, weighing on his conscience and yet... He couldn't find the strength in him to resist the hospitality of another, or the sweet decadence of self-gratification. When Dr. Lecter was concerned it seemed his characteristically iron resolve was apt to crumble to dust.

"It seems like this creature truly wants you to become like it," Hannibal finally spoke again, placing the bottle back on the desk and bringing Will’s glass back to him.

Will’s fingers brushed against Hannibal’s again, and this time it was almost painful. The hair on his arms and the back of his neck raised at the touch, as if by static electricity – Will began to wonder if he would ever grow used to the skin-on-skin contact. If there would ever be a time where it didn't make him feel like he was losing his mind.

"Thank you, Doctor," Will sighed, gingerly taking the full glass from Hannibal's grasp. He brought it to his lips with a quickness, eyelids fluttering closed.

"I think it’s clear that this creature doesn't simply want you to kill, but to find pleasure in it, in a way that you'll always want more of,” Hannibal continued, not moving away from Will this time. “Have you felt it yet, Will? I know you felt as powerful as God Himself—maybe even more powerful—when you hurt that man. But have you felt it in your dreams, as you took a life?"

Will’s eyes met dark maroon as he held the doctor's gaze, silent all but for the subtle hitch in his breathing. His eyes widened at Dr. Lecter's words – he could almost taste the blasphemy, a foul, thick bitterness at the back of his throat.

"I felt what I should have felt, what anyone would feel in the face of such violence. But then," Will paused, nursing his wine until his glass was drained yet again. Graham could hear the steady ticking of a clock hand, syncing with the thumping of his heartbeat. "Then… I felt free. When I hurt that man, it was the opposite. At first it felt good. The guilt came later, like an afterthought."

For a few minutes there was only the sound of the antique clock on Hannibal’s desk. Tick-tock. Tick-tock, tick-tock. It felt like a small eternity as Will sought refuge inside the shelter of his mind, where he felt he could hide from scrutinizing eyes.

The priest inhaled and blinked rapidly, finally breaking the silence with the gentle clearing of his throat. He made to stand – only slightly off-kilter as gravity pulled his blood rushing toward his feet – and clutched at the doctor's arm for balance, struggling to steady himself. "Sorry, I… I should probably be getting back, I've a long day at the church tomorrow. Still haven't gone over a few Old Latin biblical texts," Father Graham said, followed by a huff of nervous laughter he had failed to suppress. "Have to finish studying the Nova Vulgata. Thank you for the chat, Dr. Lecter—I hope you can find the time to meet with me again in the future, God be willing."

Father Graham exhaled shakily, stilling as Dr. Lecter lifted his free hand and settled it surely at his waist. He felt frozen, muscles tensed in an anticipation he couldn’t rationalize. This was the closest he’d ever been to Hannibal – the closest they’d ever been to each other – and he was immediately struck by how naked he felt, how exposed. Will could not ignore this man, he could not block him out and retreat inside himself, not while he was being grounded so firmly with little more than a delicate touch. Something screamed at him to keep his distance, to tread carefully, but he’d already been ensnared.

Any sentiment of self-preservation was quickly swallowed by the sheer enormity of Hannibal’s presence. Will’s better judgement had been successfully beaten into submission, subdued by good wine and the absent stroking just above his hip. Perhaps there was no escaping Hannibal...

Perhaps this didn't frighten him as it should.

"I hope to see you again very soon, Will." Hannibal's voice was low as he leaned in, impossibly closer, his lips hovering over Will’s. Hannibal could almost hear the blood running through the priest's veins as his heart pounded, could almost taste him as they shared the same breath. "I will always have time for you. Whenever you want to see me, day or night, all you need to do is call me. I'm here for you, Will. I'll help you get rid of everything that's bad for you. Everything that causes you trouble." Hannibal let his thumb caress Will's waist slowly. "You're safe with me."

His reaction was frightening in its immediacy, sending Father Graham’s thoughts into a frenzy, blood treacherously making its way south at the doctor’s words. It surged at the lowness of his voice, leaving Will lightheaded and clinging wordlessly to the other man’s body. He could smell the lingering sweetness of wine on Hannibal’s breath, gaze fixed on the warm, inviting mouth from which it came. His gut tightened with a stab of arousal.

Will had never feared anything as much as he did the heat and hunger that burned inside of him now. The gnawing desperation only seemed to heighten the longer he stayed within the doctor’s orbit, but Graham felt as if he weren’t close enough. That even this exposure left him… Wanting. The evening had been one of indulgences, and in the end the priest allowed the pattern to persist. He permitted himself to revel in the newness and pleasantry of it a moment longer, unable to deny the blatant intimacy, the tingling points of contact where he ended and Hannibal began.

Will was not surprised to find that ultimately, he believed Dr. Lecter. Believed he could trust him. He felt safe with Hannibal, viewing his company – and their inexplicable connection – as a godsend in his darkest hour.

“Excuse me,” rasped Father Graham, eyes downcast as he finally moved to free himself. He shuffled toward the small coffee table, retrieving his eyeglasses and slipping them on as calmly as he could manage. He left his empty wine glass in their place, eager to see his way out and breathe fresh air into his lungs; clear his head. “I, uh… I know how valuable your time is, Doctor – but I truly appreciate your help. I mean that,” he said. His tone was sincere. “Buona notte. And may God bless you.”

With a curt bow of his head, the priest left the same way he had entered. He dared not turn around, feeling the silent intensity of Hannibal Lecter’s gaze at his back.

It occurred to Father Graham – if tonight had been anything to go by – that his sessions with Dr. Lecter would leave him veritably drained. Combined with his lack of restful sleep and the alcohol in his system, he barely had the energy to call for a taxi. He was impatient to return to the peace and quiet of his palazzo room, fall into bed and sleep through the rest of the night, if he were so lucky.

The taxi arrived shortly and Will wasted no time getting in, taking a brief moment in the backseat to consider composing a text message. His intentions to text Hannibal were good, but he knew he was still a bit buzzed and weighed his options, choosing to postpone contact via text message or otherwise until he was fully sober. Father Graham gave his address to the driver instead, and they took off.

The car ride was a blur, muffled opera music on the radio and the faint odor of cigarette smoke clinging to the cab’s interior. Will drifted in and out of consciousness as they made their way down the narrow city streets. Rome became a vision of incomparable beauty at dusk, the city lit like a grand theatre – columns, buildings and ancient ruins all illuminated by soft, yellow light. They stood out in sharp contrast to the dark corners and alleyways shrouded in shadow, a chiaroscuro painting straight from the canvas. It was so different from his home in Wolf Trap, where the nights were quiet and calm, save for the sounds of nature and the occasional wild animal trapped in his chimney. He still wasn't used to such liveliness even after dark, the piazzas still bustling with tourists and Romans alike.

Before long Graham felt the taxi come to a complete stop, and he paid his fair with trembling hands, heedless of the time spent stuck in traffic.

Grazie—tenga pure il resto,” he murmured with a weak smile. “Dio ti benedica.”

By the time he’d made his way into his small apartment, Father Graham could barely keep his eyes open. He stifled a yawn and shrugged off his clothes, leaving only the thin material of his boxer-briefs clinging to his hips. He said his prayers with an energy he didn’t possess, knelt obediently at the end of his bed. When finished, Graham gathered his books and notes from his desk and settled underneath the blankets. He flicked on his bedside lamp and adjusted his glasses, blinking lazily as he struggled to stay awake. He was sure he wouldn’t retain much in his current state, but felt compelled to at least attempt his studies.

In between paragraphs of old Latin texts, Graham’s thoughts began to drift away. Dr. Lecter’s voice echoed in his mind: I will always have time for you. I'm here for you, Will.

He tried to shake them away, continue thumbing through the pages of the Vetus Latina, jotting down notes… But he couldn’t focus. I'll help you get rid of everything that's bad for you. Everything that causes you trouble. You're safe with me.

You're safe with me.

The echoing words lulled Will to sleep in no time at all, and his pencil fell from his limp fingers onto the notebook still sprawled out on his lap.

He barely recalled his head ever hitting the pillow when he was suddenly being pulled, dragged into a dream. Tumbling headfirst into his subconscious, a world not ruled by logic or reason. Dangerous, uncharted territory where the safety he craved eluded him more often than not, and he was at the mercy of his repressed feelings and fears.

A suffocating heat filled the darkness spilling into the open dreamscape, inky black tendrils that swirled and bled together surrounding him on all sides. It became increasingly hard for him to breathe, with only thick, humid lungfuls of air to sustain him. Will found himself sprawled out on a massive bed, blood red in color and molded to his shape, so soft he felt as if he were sinking. He sensed immediately that he was not alone, could feel it in the heaviness of the air and the tension in his muscles.

Will registered a gentle shift at the end of the mattress, dipping where it yielded to a strange weight. His eyes caught glimpse of a long, sinuous form like a great snake, twisting and sliding underneath the silken sheets. His heart raced, thumping wildly against his ribs as it slithered its way up the bed, closer and closer to where he lay. But before he could jerk his limbs away, he felt long, cool fingers wrapping strongly around his ankles, holding him in place – they slowly made their way up his body, moving to his calves, then his knees, up up up, and Will couldn’t bring himself to peel back the covers and look. He felt frozen, lying on his back, staring into the dark until a heaviness settled squarely on top of him. A slotting of hips and oh – the slide of a hard cock against his own, the exquisite friction making Will’s toes curl in pleasure.

Confident hands settled firmly at his sides and he reeled, jolting at the muscle memory of Hannibal’s hands on his waist. He knew it was wrong, that it was sacrilegious and against so he'd been taught but God, he wanted those hands on him again, wanted them planted on his hips, squeezing around his throat, pulling him in by the shoulders. He wanted them gripping his forearms, holding him down, grasping tight at the back of his neck. He wanted them everywhere – and as if his silent prayers had been answered, it was Hannibal above him, his body covering Will’s own. Those deep, familiar eyes that seemed to pierce right through him even now, alight with a fondness that made his skin burn hot.

Hannibal’s face hovered just above him, his features as sharp and angular as he remembered. His hair was the only thing out of place, disheveled in a way Will had never seen before, damp with sweat and falling into his face. It was beautiful, he was beautiful, and Will felt his body growing hotter, responding in kind with little consideration for his virtue. He could already feel that he was just as hard, hips bucking up of their own volition, and Hannibal smiled as if feeding on his reaction. He rutted harder against the priest, slicking his needy flesh with further evidence of his arousal, and Will’s eyes rolled back into his head. Instead of a paralyzing guilt he felt euphoria, lacking the sense of mind to be anything but fully receptive as he writhed at the intimate touch.

If the eyes were truly the windows to the soul, the darkness and hunger of Hannibal’s didn't bode well for his own. In a flash Will was on his stomach, biting his knuckles at the sensation of being filled, possessing an equal fervor and urgency as he rolled his hips back to meet every jarring thrust. He was a wanton creature, keening and covered in sweat, unrecognizable as anything but animal in nature. His lips curled into a satisfied smirk, and Father Graham had never felt so far from God, nor had he ever felt as free.

The priest was flipped onto his back again in a blur of motion, and being handled like this, with such ease, appealed to him in the most base, sinful way imaginable. Hannibal made to bite at his neck, laving his tongue greedily over the marks he left along the pale line of his throat, and somehow Will couldn’t bring himself to care. He was awash with sensation; the heady rush of desire that seemed to overtake him with every touch.

Hannibal claimed his mouth in a sensuous kiss and he was lost, eyes closing on instinct.

When he opened them again, his blood ran ice-cold – in an instant he was face-to-face with the creature of his nightmares, staring directly into pale, dead eyes. Graham shuddered at its blank expression, at the sight of himself reflected in the sheen of cloudy white. He was grateful when it slipped out of him and rolled him onto his belly, mounting him that way. He didn't want to see it, couldn't bring himself to look. Will groaned and screwed his eyes shut, but the beast was relentless, driving into him with a singular purpose and pushing him closer to the edge along with it. Sharp claws pricked his skin where the monster held him tightly, and he could feel the outline of its bony ribcage plastered against his back.

Will was dizzy with lust as he was repositioned smoothly onto his side, lashes fluttering across his ruddy cheeks. With half-lidded eyes he glanced over his shoulder to find Hannibal behind him, and grew lax with sweet relief. Hannibal pressed inside of him again and the pressure was still foreign to the priest, but far from unpleasant in his desperation. Reaching around to cup Will’s chin, Hannibal turned his face to meet his own seeking mouth. They kissed languidly as Hannibal moved inside of him, his slick length rubbing across a place that made Will shake with pleasure. It all felt so real, infinitely more concrete than what he knew to be true. Their lips parted wetly and he felt Hannibal’s breath at his ear, strong, sure arms wrapping securely around his middle.

You're safe with me,” Hannibal whispered, and it took Will apart. His back arched almost painfully, muscles contracting as he came with Hannibal's name on his lips.

Will awoke with a violent start, bathed in sweat and panting wildly into the quiet of his dimly lit room. His nerves were still buzzing with the intensity of his release, aftershocks quaking through him even as he let his head fall back against the wall.

Chapter Text

"Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. —Joel {2:12-13}

The pitch-blackness of the night seemed never ending – mortified, Will could not reconcile what had happened in the throes of his dream. The feeling shook him to the core, a bone-deep despondency that stretched far beyond the notion of guilt and shame. The priest was so deeply affected that sleep eluded him, no longer an option to his tortured mind. Instead he pleaded to the heavens, to The Holy Father as if his very soul depended on it, reciting prayer after prayer of confession and repentance. He did not think of rest, nor did he mourn his lack thereof. Graham could think of nothing but his grave offense until the light of the morning sun shone through his window.

Sexual release was not something Father Graham experienced often, at least not consciously. As a healthy adult male, he was admittedly no stranger to the sensation of arousal. Throughout his life of priesthood, it was his responsibility to resist the carnal pleasures of the flesh – he’d frequently denied himself the indulgence of sexual stimulation, and subsequently orgasm, with little to no difficulty at all. Though he faced this temptation on a regular basis, he’d never possessed such a potent object of his desire, a passion so fierce it pervaded even his subconscious mind.

Graham knew the drill. As a member of the clergy he was not only to remain celibate, but free of every and all forms of what was considered sexual perversion – self-pleasure included. Masturbation was decidedly unnatural in the eyes of the Church, especially when men were involved. It was considered a waste of seed and therefore, potential life, and Will was only guiltless in that he hadn’t physically touched himself that night. Still, the clear evidence of his gratification haunted him.

He had found his body’s reaction to his own depraved, self-conjured fantasy unforgivable, and it spoke volumes of his self-control. The sticky, viscous mess of his release that had stuck to the flesh of his thighs, still warm as he woke and blooming in a wet patch at the front of his shorts. The sweat that had soaked through his sheets and into the mattress, glistening on his skin as the muscles of his stomach and pelvic floor had flexed and contracted. He’d showered until the water ran cold, scrubbing his skin an angry pink and willing the image of Hannibal from his thoughts. He might as well have spilled into his own hand, pleasuring himself to the thought of those hands roaming his body, spreading him open, tangling in the hair at the base of his skull.

It was not something Will had been able to control, and yet what he saw in his mind, what he felt… It'd been strong enough to wring his climax from him involuntarily. The very substance of his dream – his nightmare – had left him feeling weak, both in will and faith. Degenerate and corrupt in every conceivable way… And yet he felt himself flush with heat at the memory even now.

Will’s cellphone vibrated with an incoming text message, coaxing a soft gasp from his lips. He reached for the device, fingers quivering slightly. Speak of the devil, he thought with a frown. There was a tightening in his chest as he read the message in silence:

Good morning, Father. I recommend that we schedule another therapy session for next week. Please contact me at your earliest convenience so that we may settle on a date. I hope you had a good night of sleep, and look forward to seeing you again soon.
Dr. Lecter

Graham would have laughed at the irony if he weren't so bothered. He didn’t ignore the way his heart began to pound, closing his eyes briefly. Was he hopeless? Too far removed from God to seek His forgiveness? Graham had to find out for himself. He said his morning prayers, dressed and made his way to the chapel. He did not reply to Dr. Lecter.

After three days of fasting and prayer, Father Graham was already beginning to feel more like himself. On the first day, he’d immediately confessed his sins to Father Pazzi upon arrival. It had taken some courage, and he’d hovered nervously just outside of the confessional for some time before stepping inside and falling to his knees in front of the latticed grate. He hadn't specified the contents of his dream, nor that it involved another man, but Pazzi had pardoned his sins, and it was enough. Graham had nearly wept with relief. His mind was still tainted with thoughts of Hannibal, but if he could just keep fasting, remain in prayer indefinitely and cleanse himself, body, mind and spirit… Perhaps – perhaps he’d finally be able to rid himself of these unholy desires.

Hannibal did not take well to Will’s absence. In the time that he had spent without seeing him, Hannibal had tried to keep the priest out of his mind with no success. He’d met with his patients, tried to distract himself by cooking involved meals and indulging in his favorite pastimes, but the desire to contact Will had been too great. He'd texted him at least ten times, his messages going unanswered. On the morning of the fourth day, as Hannibal caught himself checking his phone every few minutes to see if Will had replied, he came to the conclusion that he was no longer willing to wait. Will had been avoiding him since their therapy session, something Hannibal hadn't planned on or foreseen. He didn't know why, and it was driving him mad.

It was time to do something about it.

As luck had it, Hannibal had booked dinner reservations that night at his favorite restaurant a number of months in advance. A table for two: himself and his psychiatrist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier. She had been with him for many decades now, as his companion and friend, although Hannibal had intentionally kept this information from Will. The priest didn't have to know about his relationship with Bedelia, and he probably never would. Hannibal couldn’t deny that he enjoyed her company. Still, he mostly kept her for convenience. It was nice to have someone to talk to. Tonight, however, he didn't want her company. He wanted Will Graham's.

Finding her in his contacts, he hit call and brought the phone to his ear. She picked it up so quickly that Hannibal wondered if she’d been waiting to hear from him. He found the thought amusing.

"Dr. Du Maurier," Hannibal said with a smile. "Good morning. How have you been?"

"Hannibal," Bedelia answered curtly, attempting to sound as calm and indifferent as she could. "I've been very curious about my patient. You've missed a number of our scheduled sessions... I find it somewhat unlike you." She paused. It did not alarm her when she didn't hear from Hannibal, but Bedelia was very perceptive, and she knew him well.

Typically, his absence and lack of communication correlated with his current... Distractions. His leisurely pursuits that served as the vampire's source of amusement. Bedelia could tell that something – or someone – had piqued his interest. She wondered which it was this time.

The Hannibal Lecter she knew was primarily driven by his near incessant curiosity.

"How have you been, Hannibal?" she asked, cautiously trying to balance the scales of their dynamic.

"I've been fine," Hannibal said calmly, sitting on his couch in his living room, curtains drawn to keep the sunlight from getting in. "I believe I owe you an apology for being away for so long," he continued. "I have a new patient. A friend in need. I've been seeing and helping him. He’s the reason why I'm calling, in fact."

Hannibal sighed a bit too dramatically, his fingers caressing the arm of the couch in the near complete darkness. His mind was far away, thinking about Will and wondering what was wrong with the priest. He needed to find out.

"I'm afraid I’ll need to cancel our plans for tonight, Bedelia.” He sounded apologetic, but was sure she knew it was fake. He knew he was being rude, but he intended to repay Bedelia somehow. Seeing – impressing – Will was more important. "My patient needs me and I have to be there for him."

Bedelia was slow to answer, digesting Hannibal's words as they sat heavy in her stomach. It surprised her to hear, though she had not expected anything less. She was not pleased, however, to have her theory proven so readily.

"And I'm sure he will appreciate your concern," Bedelia said with a bitterness she did not attempt to mask. "It is kind of you to care so… Deeply for the wellbeing of your patients. I've had my suspicions that something of considerable interest has garnered your attentions as of late." Her air of professionalism taking over, Bedelia calmly tried to take a detached, third-party stance.

She had planned to meet with Hannibal much sooner, foolishly going as far neglecting her own needs in the hopes that he would come by. Bedelia's hunger was growing more and more difficult to manage – and she was too proud to admit that she needed him.

"I'm sure the reservations will not go to waste."

"Thank you for understanding, Bedelia," Hannibal said, knowing she would resent him for this, just as she resented him for many other reasons. At the same time, he knew that she needed him and wouldn't leave. The moment he knocked on her door again, she would let him in. All they truly had was each other, after all.

Maybe Hannibal would soon have Will, and wouldn’t need her anymore.

"I'm free tomorrow night. If you'd like, I could visit you… Take you somewhere else," he suggested, knowing she couldn't say no. Since she’d begun refusing human blood, her only option was to feed from him. In normal circumstances, he wouldn't make her wait too long or cancel any plans. But when he had to choose between her or Will, she was not the priority.

"I'm sorry I can't see you tonight," he said, not entirely honest.

"Sacrifices must sometimes be made for the greater good," Bedelia replied, her voice deceptively even and steady. It was a concept she understood well, even when it was at her own expense. In a sense, she did not wish to trade places with the man Hannibal claimed to be helping. "I hope you're able to provide your patient with the care he needs."

She thought for a moment. Bedelia knew this could very well be an association that spanned beyond the boundaries of what was considered conventional – Hannibal often carried with him that risk when he found someone to amuse him. Whatever his relationship with his patient, Bedelia was almost certain it was not strictly professional, or at least would not remain that way for long. It was child's play for him to traverse the typical doctor-patient dynamic and slither into murkier waters, if his past exploits were anything to go by. Hannibal had always struggled with boundaries... It was something Bedelia would bring up when they met again.

"Until tomorrow night, then," she said, a hollow politeness reflected in her tone. "I'll be waiting for you. Goodbye, Hannibal."

Bedelia ended the call.

Hannibal resisted the urge to text Will for the remainder of the day, but it was impossible to focus on anything else. In the evening, after getting properly dressed in a dark blue suit, Hannibal left the house and got into his car, driving to Vatican City, intent on finding Will. Stopping his Bentley outside the Vatican boundary, he made his way to the Sistine Chapel with his hands in the pockets of his coat. Hannibal knew Will was inside – he could smell the priest, his scent pervading the walls of his memory palace. Walking into a church was never a comfortable experience, but finding Will Graham there would surely be worth it. He looked around, and guided by his sense of smell and keen eyesight, spotted Will and crept toward to him.

The chapel was only slightly less congested than usual. The priest had been chatting rather casually with his mentor Father Pazzi, having taken to shadowing him even more closely while he continued his strict regimen of fasting, confession and prayer. He broke eye contact for a brief moment, a powerful sense of intuition pulling his gaze elsewhere.

It was the sight of Hannibal amidst the frescoed walls of the Sistine Chapel that had Father Graham doing a double-take. In his exhaustion he thought perhaps he was hallucinating, a disturbing new symptom of his already serious affliction – but the image of the doctor did not disappear among the crowd.

"Father," Hannibal called, eyes fixed on the priest, not interested in acknowledging anything or anyone else around them. Part of him wanted to punish Will for ignoring his texts, demand that Will gave him a good reason for not replying to him for days. But when he saw the dark circles under Will’s eyes, how tired and haggard he appeared, he decided for a less aggressive approach. He didn't want to make the priest feel worse. Sighing, Hannibal stepped closer. "May I have a moment with you, please?"

Graham excused himself politely and Pazzi shot him a puzzled look, eyes narrowing when his observant gaze shifted to Hannibal.

"Hann–" Father Graham had to stop himself. He suddenly felt more comfortable addressing the man professionally, Hannibal was too friendly, too intimate. He reasoned that he could no longer afford that luxury, at least not here and now. Pazzi was still within earshot.

"Doctor,” Graham began instead. “What're you doing here?" He took Hannibal gently by the arm, leading him away from the mass of tourists and church-goers and into a quiet corner of the chapel.

"You shouldn't be here. Besides that I—I don't think I can see you privately anymore. Please don't take it personally, I just… Don't think it's in my best interest."

"What makes you say that, Will?" Hannibal asked in a low voice, refusing to be professional with the priest now that they had a bit more privacy. For a moment, he feared that Will had figured out what he was. Yet it would be incredibly surprising if a Catholic priest, even the likes of Will Graham, who was by no means ordinary, were capable of reacting so calmly to a vampire. There had to be another reason for Will’s inexplicable behavior.

"If you insist on ignoring me I'd like to at least know why," Hannibal insisted, looking into Will's eyes. His voice softened. "Please. I would hate to lose a friend like this."

The priest sighed, glancing over Hannibal's shoulder to make sure they hadn't been followed. His own voice dropped to a whisper.

"I know it's sudden… And that the least I owe you is an explanation," Will said, unable to meet the other man's gaze.

He let his hand fall weakly from Dr. Lecter's arm, images of Hannibal and the creature from his nightmares blurring together in his mind's eye. Graham could feel his face heat at the recollection, thinking back to his recent dreams with such vividness and detail that his breathing had already started to quicken. He felt like he was burning up.

"I question whether I can trust myself around you. I don't know if I can.” Father Graham fisted the fabric of his cassock, squeezing tightly – he felt lightheaded. Nauseous. Angry, excited, afraid; he was a roiling ocean of conflicting emotions now that he was in Hannibal's presence again… But he knew it wasn't right.

His skin had grown clammy again, and there seemed to be a change in his perception of sound, everything becoming distant and faded. Muffled, as if he had cotton stuffed in his ears. It overwhelmed him.

"Please, just—" Will began, but the words lodged themselves in his throat. His vision started to darken around the edges, and Will struggled to keep his focus. He tried to fight it but his eyelids flickered closed, and on failing legs he pitched forward, glasses sliding from his face and onto the mosaic floor.

The priest fell right into Hannibal’s arms that were there to welcome him, and Hannibal wrapped them tightly around Will's waist to keep him up.

"Will?" Hannibal called next to the man's ear, still ignoring the people around them, even as they looked at them and whispered to each other. Hannibal could hear them clearly, but the words didn’t register.

All he could think of was how warm and heavy Will felt in his arms, and that the priest would need new glasses now. One lens had cracked and the other had popped out. Hannibal decided he would buy him a new pair.

With an arm wrapped around Will and supporting most of his weight, Hannibal was able to lead him to the nearest chapel bench and helped him to sit. Once he was sure the priest wouldn’t fall, he returned to grab Will’s glasses from the floor, then rushed back to kneel in front of him. He immediately pressed two fingers to the pulse point on his neck – not that he needed to touch Will to measure his heart rate. Still, it was an opportunity he couldn't waste. He was aching to feel the warmth of Will’s skin against his own.

"Will?" he repeated, fingers still pressed to his pulse, and the touch was almost enough to make his insides burn with hunger. Hannibal slipped the priest’s broken glasses into his pocket. "Stay with me."

Will's breathing was ragged as he came back around, a thin sheen of perspiration accentuating his sickly appearance. The cold sweat had the priest shivering, and he blinked slowly, his sight still blurry and unfocused. He could make out the vague outline of Dr. Lecter's form, hear him speaking in a calm, comforting voice, his tone soft and even. The words made his brows knit together – of course he'd stay with him, he realized. He had nowhere else to go.

With a few deep breaths Graham tried to calm his racing heart, and the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears began to fade away. His vision cleared gradually, and soon he could make out Hannibal's face with perfect clarity. He could feel his fingers pressed firmly to his pulse, and he didn't have the strength to pull away – but he managed to grasp the doctor's wrist in a feeble hold, swallowing thickly.

"I'm fine… Hannibal, I'm fine," Will said hoarsely. "I'm sorry, I… I think I must have blacked out a bit back there. Thanks for the safety net." An amused puff of breath, and then the priest was running a hand down his face. At least his good humor seemed to be returning. "Did you… Did you drag me over here? Are we still in the Chapel?"

Graham wondered briefly if Father Pazzi had seen the spectacle, but it was hard to focus when Hannibal was on his knees in front of him, fingers still at his neck. He felt his resolve weakening by the second, and all it took was one look into Dr. Lecter's eyes to leave him longing all over again.

"Yes, we're still in the chapel. You haven't been sleeping. I'm certain you haven't been eating either. What's happening, Will?" Hannibal resisted the growing desire to touch him more, bite, feed.
Being inside such a holy place made him feel weaker, and decidedly famished.

It was almost as if God wanted him to lose control and reveal himself right there. He needed to get out, and he needed to take Will Graham with him. At this point, his need for Will and his need for blood were one and the same. Hannibal moved his hand from Will's neck to his wrist, wrapping his fingers around it, still pretending to be taking his pulse. He felt his mouth watering at the thought of tasting the blood that was running through Will’s veins.

The priest allowed the contact, sighing softly at the gentle touch of Dr. Lecter's fingers. Regaining his strength, Graham shifted where he sat, straightening his spine to improve his posture.

"Please talk to me,” Hannibal said. “I'm here to help you. How long has it been since you last ate something?"

"It, um – I've been fasting. It's only been about three days, but I intend to continue. It's nothing dangerous, I just… Usually I have less trouble than this.” Will noted that Hannibal didn't look too approving. "I'm in need of spiritual guidance, Doctor, and fasting will give me clarity of mind. Help me to hear God more clearly.”

There was hope in Father Graham's voice, but he questioned his own self-control and discipline in denying his natural instincts. Still, he had to try. He couldn't allow himself to be hungry for pleasure, for sex, for physical and earthly attentions. For Hannibal. His hunger belonged to God, he reasoned – but the temptation still remained.

Will kept his wrist limp in Hannibal's grasp, contemplating the other man's intentions. The doctor's concern was certainly draining his nerve, how could he expect to push him away when he only wanted to help? Despite his own immorality, he knew it would be nothing short of unchristian to cut their ties so heartlessly. Graham was not a cruel man. Perhaps he'd overreacted, too cowardly to face the things he felt. What it could mean for him as a Catholic and a priest. A bible passage that had boosted his moral amidst the perils of his past was called to mind: Romans 12:11-12. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Father Graham felt gifted with the insight. He made to stand, somewhat unsteady but not in danger of falling, and brushed the damp hair from his brow.

"I could use some fresh air. Right now there's… Too many people, too much noise. If we could go somewhere a little quieter, I think it'd help."

"Let's go outside," Hannibal offered, gently resting his hand on the priest's back as they walked, ready to offer him support if he felt weak again. Hannibal almost wished Will would fall into his arms once more, just so he could hold him close – but it didn't happen. Soon they were outside the chapel, and Hannibal was standing in front of Will.

Hypersensitive, Will couldn't keep track of all the places Hannibal had touched him – it'd almost be easier to determine where he hadn't, at least not in reality. The thought sent a shivery chill through him… He knew precisely where he'd been touched in his dreams. The priest had imagined where those hands had been, where that body had been, places he couldn't think of without a coiling tightness in his gut. Unrelated to his fasting, it was a different kind of hunger, not without its pangs.

But Graham resisted the urge to distance himself from the doctor this time, instead taking advantage of the mild open air, breathing in as deeply as he could. His chin was tilted up toward the sky, eyes fixed on the sliver of sun that still cast St. Peter's Square in a gentle amber glow. Will averted his gaze, fully aware that he no longer had his glasses to hide behind.

"We're going to a restaurant, and you're going to eat something," Hannibal said, and it wasn't a question or an offer – he wouldn't give the priest another option. The fact that Will needed clarity of mind combined with his avoidance almost made Hannibal feel hopeful. Could it mean that Will thought about Hannibal in a way he shouldn't? He would have to find out. "Fasting is not spiritual guidance, Will, it's torture. You need food to survive, your body depends on it."

"Some water would be nice. I can't—shouldn't eat very much, especially after fasting..." said Will. "But it's only been three days. I'm not going to starve if that's what you're worried about. I just… Need to feel closer to God. I need to eliminate distractions. Food is one of them."

Graham lowered his hand to settle above his stomach, pale fingers fanning out across the black of his cassock. "If I don't fast, what do you suggest I do, Doctor? In your professional psychiatric opinion—keeping in mind that I am a Roman Catholic Priest.” There was a twinkle of mirth in his eyes.

Hannibal couldn't hold back a soft smile, Will looked so beautiful in the evening light, and again his thoughts had him yearning just to lean in and kiss him. But it wasn't the right time yet, especially not in front of the Sistine Chapel. Maybe at the restaurant. Maybe after dinner.

"My professional opinion is, continue your therapy," Hannibal insisted. "If it doesn't help you feel closer to God, at least it will help you know yourself better. To feel closer to God, you can pray, or… Do something else that doesn't affect your health. Please come with me.” Hannibal carefully lead the priest to his car, determined to have him see things his way. "I don't see how food could distract you. I'd imagine the hunger would distract you a lot more. Don't you feel hungry, Will?"

Hannibal was right. The hunger was distracting. It gnawed incessantly at his composure, his restraint, tearing him to shreds with gnashing teeth. Will realized that this wasn't just about his physical hunger anymore, but the hunger he had for Hannibal, for his latent desires. His sexual appetite and growing feelings. His face fell, and he felt every trace of buoyancy drain from his being.

"Yes," he whispered, just a ghost of breath. Graham knew that denial would get him nowhere – he had to come to terms with his feelings, no matter how terrifying or wrong. The priest's blood surged hotly through his veins, coloring his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. "I do."

Now it was only a matter of conquering his hunger, instead of being consumed by it. Easier said than done. They walked the rest of the way in silence until they reached Hannibal’s car outside of the boundary.

Graham took a firm hold of the door handle of the Bentley, the cold metal resting against his palm.

"So where is it you're taking me?" he asked, ignoring the extravagance of such a large, powerful vehicle. He barely had to duck his head as he settled into the front passenger seat.

He knew Dr. Lecter was wealthy, but such luxury still caught him off guard every now and then – humble beginnings, not to mention the significance of modesty within the priesthood. This was beyond excess… But Will wasn't here to judge. The priest tried to hide his slight discomfort at the implications of overindulgence, deciding against any questions regarding the price tag. His blush spread quickly down his neck and to the tips of his ears… He could only hope that no one bore witness to a Vatican priest entering such a flashy car.

To be fair, it was pretty stylish.

"I'm taking you to my favorite restaurant in Rome," Hannibal said after getting in the car as well. He already knew Will would complain that Hannibal was clearly taking him to a fancy restaurant and was going to pay for everything. It was a date, Hannibal couldn't deny it, and he was sure the priest knew it – but it was a good opportunity he couldn't waste. The priest finally seemed to be collaborating with Hannibal’s efforts to approach him. Still, part of Will was in denial, trying to pull away from Hannibal's grasp. Hannibal needed make tonight unforgettable.

"You may want to stop at your place first to get properly dressed," he said with a small smile, watching Will through the corner of his eyes. They shut the car doors in unison, and Hannibal turned the key in the ignition, the mighty engine almost silent as it came to life. He had already begun driving to Will’s place before realizing that Will had no idea he knew his address. "In this case, I'll need to know where you live."

"Hannibal—” Will warned, but his voice lacked any real conviction. He could only imagine the sophistication of such a restaurant if it met even Dr. Lecter's standards. "You're taking me someplace with a dress code? I thought you'd want to swing by a cafe or bistro, something fast so you could get back to your patients. Not a sit-down restaurant..."

The priest sighed wearily, rubbing at his temples. Hannibal Lecter was taking him out to dinner, and he… He’d gone from insisting they part ways to agreeing to a date – complete with rules of attire. "Via dei Cavalieri del Santo Sepolcro, 8. That's the address, but I… I really shouldn't be doing this, Doctor. Don't you think it's a bit… unethical?"

"I suppose that depends on your point of view, Father." Hannibal looked at him briefly and smiled. "You see, I usually cook for myself. I rarely frequent restaurants, except for this one." Hannibal kept his eyes on the road as he drove, but his attention was focused on Will – the scent of him, his breathing, the pleasant thud of his heartbeat.

"Maybe I can cook for you someday, if you ever agreed to dinner at my place. I don't see a problem with taking you to a restaurant—you're my friend, and I want to take you somewhere nice. I'd say you deserve it. You don't seem to have fun very often."

Fun. Graham’s eyebrows rose, forehead creasing in amused disbelief. He kept himself confined to his own personal bubble, arms tucked in meekly at his sides. Even with plenty of room to stretch out within the spacious interior of Hannibal's Bentley, he still had reservations in regards to his own humility. Yet the priest couldn't keep his gaze from trailing along the car's leather-clad interior, where his knees didn't even begin to reach the glove box. Even the dashboard and steering wheel were expertly crafted, sporting elegant wood detailing. It all felt so surreal, the cloak of nightfall and the growing moon adding to the illusion.

"I'm not sure how deserving I actually am… I don't feel like I deserve this, any of this, but you—ever since we met you've been very generous with me,” Father Graham reasoned. "Helping me by means of therapy off the books, offering your guidance with a bottle of fine wine. Now I'm riding shotgun in a car that's nicer than my room—in a Roman palazzo—and we're stopping for a change of clothes so you can take me to dinner."

It sounded extraordinary even to him. Too good to be true, in fact. Graham was practiced in temperance, knowing very well that lack of fun was not an accomplishment worthy of reward. His dedication to God didn't warrant special privilege, but that didn't stop Hannibal from extending his seemingly inexhaustible kindness.

Perhaps this is charity, Will pondered with a quirk of his eyebrow. Maybe he pitied him: poor, tortured servant of God. Unless… Unless it was something else entirely. Will clutched the cross hanging from his neck.

He knew he often felt an alarming hunger when Hannibal was near – one he couldn't explain, that frightened him all the more for it. But maybe the hunger wasn't his… Maybe it didn't belong to him at all. Maybe the hunger was Hannibal's. He didn't know what scared him more.

"It just seems unconventional," he said finally. "If I didn't know better I'd think you were trying to woo me—but friends don't have to woo each other. There's no need."

Will could see the silhouette of the palazzo in the distance, and knew he had a choice to make. He could change into something more suitable and join Dr. Lecter for dinner, or continue to hide from him, from the world, shutting out everything and everyone but God Himself. The answer should be clear, but he'd already made up his mind.

Hannibal smiled. It seemed like Will was beginning to understand what was happening, and still wasn't trying to run away from him. Even after hiding from him for three days – something that Hannibal still had to investigate, when the time was right – Will still seemed to want to spend time with him, even at a fancy restaurant.

"Would it work?" Hannibal asked, amused. "For future reference, if I were trying to woo you... Would I have a chance?" It was a dangerous question, and the priest could even take offense, but Hannibal was far too curious to know what was going on in that beautiful, fascinating mind.

Will couldn't tell if the burning underneath his skin was a result of flattery or uneasiness. He hoped Dr. Lecter couldn't make out his face in the low light, or the twitch of his mouth into the semblance of a guilty smile. Graham couldn't afford to be timid now, not if he were reading Hannibal correctly.

"I think you know the answer to that, Doctor," he said, the slightest hint of regret in his voice. "I'm not… I can't. Maybe if I weren't a priest or a Catholic it'd be different. But there are… Rules within the Church. Requirements, especially for clergy." Father Graham huffed a breath of nervous laughter, his gaze fixed outside of the car window.

"You'd make better use of your time wooing someone more available—preferably without any religious obligations. It wouldn't take much. Right here's fine, Hannibal." He straightened up in his seat as they approached, releasing the buckle of his seatbelt. Graham waited for the click of the car doors unlocking to make his way outside.

"Thanks—I guess I'll be right back," Graham spoke in a lighthearted tone. He shut the door behind himself and hurried into the palazzo, feeling the flutter of his heart in his throat.

This was new. It was exciting and terrifying all at once, but he knew the experience was one he would have never been afforded if not for Hannibal. Despite his initial hesitation, the priest had already been thinking ahead to what he could possibly wear to a surely lavish dinner with his refined colleague. Graham doubted he had the funds even to go dutch – perhaps he'd work out how to repay the doctor later. He was surprised to find that, once inside the safety of his room, the thought of staying did not occur to him. Instead he searched thoroughly for the appropriate attire: a single-breasted jacket in midnight blue, scavenged from the back of his closet, a pair of dark slim-fit corduroys from a forgotten dresser drawer. An old French cuff shirt, still starched and white.

For the first time in his life, shedding his clergy wear somehow felt… Freeing. Graham contemplated keeping his clerical collar to remain recognizable as a priest; he couldn't remember the last time he hadn't worn it in public… But it would unquestionably be best to avoid drawing any more attention to himself. Not to mention the scandalous implications of a priest at an upscale restaurant, sitting across from a wealthy, attractive man. He did not remove the silver pectoral cross from around his neck however, and it soothed the ache of his spiritual conscience. He parted his curls to the side with his fingers, smoothing them back with unsteady hands. If he'd had time to shave he would have, but the scruff would have to do. As a priest he wasn't usually one to preen, but his reflection in the mirror – glasses, cassock and collar absent, his hair tamed – was in shocking contrast to the one he knew. He hardly recognized himself, but perhaps that wasn't a bad thing for what he was about to do. Tonight he wasn't Father Graham, but simply… Will.

As Hannibal exited the car to get some fresh air, he thought about Will's answer. Hannibal was definitely trying to woo him, and if Will’s body language and quickening heartbeat were anything to go by, it would work. Will was already interested in him, but still thought he couldn't act on it. Hannibal would have to change his mind, but things were only getting better and better. After a nice dinner at Hannibal’s favorite restaurant, the priest would probably reconsider. Hannibal could give him so much more than God could, and he was determined to show Will that.

When Will opened the door and stood in front of Hannibal, properly – beautifully – dressed, he froze for a second. He knew Will Graham was a gorgeous man, but had never seen him like this, so... Breathtaking.

"You look stunning, Will," Hannibal said with a smile, opening the door of his Bentley for the priest this time. "Shall we go?"

Will raised an eyebrow at Dr. Lecter's chivalrous gesture, but thanked him softly nonetheless. An old-fashioned approach, he thought as he entered the car. Something gentleman most often did with their female counterparts, romantic pursuits. Woo indeed – as if it weren't hard enough not to flush from Hannibal's words. But it was the doctor's appreciative stare that had really sent a frisson of excitement through him. He felt those eyes on his body and it was almost intoxicating; he already missed the man's gaze as Hannibal got in beside him, turning his focus to the cobblestone street. Although Will was content to sit in companionable silence, Hannibal made it easy to foster natural discussion. It came effortlessly when they were together, almost inevitably, like cause and effect. It was surely one of his gifts as a psychiatrist, but Will appreciated it all the same.

The drive to the Rome Cavalieri was short, but the scenery had already shifted from busy city streets, narrow alleyways and piazzas to an expanse of greenery: beautiful trees, neatly trimmed shrubbery and exotic blossoming flowers. Nestled inside of the grandiose 5-star hotel was La Pergola, and its elegance stole the breath from Will's lungs. It was far more sumptuous than he could have ever anticipated, museum-like in its artistry and flair. It was closer in appearance to the Vatican's Pinacoteca than a restaurant. The walls were adorned with exquisite paintings, embroidered textiles and frescoes. The floors were carpeted with intricate rugs, where regal furnishings were dispersed as far as the eye could see. It smelled of flowers and a hint of sweet, rich tobacco. A true Baroque-Renaissance paradise.

Will was beginning to suspect he should have worn a black bow-tie. He was about to protest when they were approached by their well-dressed host – handsome with olive-skin and black, slick-backed hair. Young too. The man led them to their table, where they could see the Roman skyline – including a spectacular view of St. Peter's – right from where they sat. Perched at the top of Monte Mario, it was hard not to admire the luminous city. Ornate vases decorated the windowsills, and Will couldn't believe he'd gone from a cold-turkey fast to a premier gourmet-dining experience.

The atmosphere was decidedly romantic. And although the scenery was incredible, the priest had trouble concentrating on anything but Hannibal. They took their seats opposite one another, and Will absently caressed the fine tableware. His mouth felt dry, but despite the sense of being exceedingly misplaced, the older man's company was something of a relief. He could still use some water perhaps, maybe a glass of their cheapest wine just to loosen him up. He was almost afraid to open the menu.

"This place is—" Gorgeous. Pretentious. Elaborate. Not in my price range."—nice. Much nicer than what I'm used to… Especially when it comes to food." He folded his hands in his lap, releasing a shaky breath. "I've been told that fear makes me rude. It's been a really long time since I've done anything like this, so here's hoping I remember my manners," he half-joked. "You must be appalled by my plebeity." Will offered the doctor a self-conscious smile, running his hands along his thighs in an effort to quell his nerves.

Hannibal smiled, real and warm and genuine. Will looked so gorgeous in those clothes, and sitting across from Hannibal with the sky behind him made him look even better.

"Not appalled, no," Hannibal assured him, and it was hard to stop smiling at this point. Being at La Pergola with Will Graham felt like a dream come true - Hannibal knew from the first time he saw Will that he would definitely drag him into his world, but actually doing it felt incredible. Hannibal wondered if the reason for it was the way he felt about Will. He knew how to manipulate, how to make people want him, but now he was sure he was falling in love with Will Graham. It felt… Good.

"You’ll probably say that I'm wrong, but I look at you, sitting across from me and I feel like... You belong here," he concluded. "It suits you." So much better than priesthood, Hannibal thought.

"You're right," Will said ruefully. "I'd say you were wrong. There aren't many places I feel like I belong—you sort of learn to adapt." But was this simply him adapting, or something else altogether?

Will sat back in his chair, resisting the urge to cross his legs. It seemed his blood enjoyed rushing to the surface of his skin as often as it could in Hannibal's presence. He'd given up on trying to control his physiological reactions, the surge of heat quickly becoming a reflex.

"I can't say I'm used to this, but… I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. It almost feels like I'm being conditioned to," he whispered. Next he'd be Pavlov's dog. "God knows I wasn't made for this." The priest cupped a hand around the nape of his neck, rubbing gently.

Will was relieved when the busser arrived with a pitcher of ice-water, filling their crystal goblets to the brim. He reached for his glass eagerly, sipping until the cottony-feel of his mouth was chased away.

"It’s surely something you can get used to,” Hannibal replied with a smile, his feelings for Will blooming in his chest. He was in love, he decided, and he couldn’t deny it anymore. Will Graham was the one thing that mattered most in his world. For many decades, Hannibal had been emotionally committed to Bedelia. She had been his companion for a long time, but he had never been in love with her. Now Will was taking over Hannibal’s mind, and he couldn’t deny he liked it.
“This doesn’t have to be the only time we come here, Will.”

At that moment their waiter approached, and Hannibal wasted no time in casually requesting their finest wine – Graham spluttered, nearly inhaling water right into his lungs. He covered his mouth as he coughed harshly at the sensation, eyelashes wet with tears. The high-quality, top-shelf wines of Rome did not come cheap in the slightest, and Hannibal was pulling out all the stops. He shot him a glare of disapproval, bringing the back of his hand to lips.

"Sorry," he murmured, pushing away from the table to stand. "I… Have to use the restroom." It sounded like a lie. It was a lie. He shouldn't be lying. "I'll find it, just… Wait here, okay? I won't be long."

Hannibal let Will go, but focused on his scent. He would know if Will tried to leave the restaurant and run from him. He didn't think this would be the case, however – it would be unspeakably rude – and Will didn’t seem to want to be rude. The priest had earned some time alone. He couldn't deny that he was perhaps pushing Will too far, but his curiosity wouldn't let him stop. He needed to see how far Will could go, and how quickly. He wanted him, was willing to wait as long as necessary, but at the same time it fascinated him how Will seemed to want to be there, with him, even though he shouldn't. Certainly being a priest wasn't as good as this. Nothing could ever be as good as the life Hannibal could offer him. He could give him everything, and he wanted to see just how long the priest would be able to resist it. How long his devotion to God would last.

Will wasn't sure how he’d managed to navigate such a setting, as complex and teeming with valuables as it was. The men's room mirrored the restaurant's interior, equally as embellished and pleasing to the eye. The scent of vanilla lingered in the air, and classical music played softly from mounted speakers in each corner. Will splashed his face with cold water from the sink, met once again with the unfamiliar visage of his mirror image. He looked different, felt different, had perhaps been becoming different for some time now. Before Hannibal, he wouldn't have dared to dabble in such hedonism – first the carnal dreams, fantasies of a man he shouldn't hunger for in such a way. Now that same man was pursuing him, sexually, romantically, it didn't matter. He could no longer pretend that this wasn't part of a courtship. The priest was a willing victim of temptation, and he feared that his betrayal would cost him something irreplaceable.

Distancing himself from Hannibal was already beginning to grant Will more clarity of mind – his thoughts were clearer, less convoluted and based in sounder, more sensible logic. He could identify the emotions he was experiencing with an insight he did not possess in Dr. Lecter's presence, reflecting on the situation from what he hoped was a fair and even-headed standpoint. Pride, lust, overindulgence: he was guilty of a plethora of sins tonight alone. He'd been falling apart at the seams, and now he took the time to pull himself together, even if it were for just a few minutes.

Will shut off the faucet, dried his face off with a small embroidered towel. He could hear the gentle piano melody of Schubert's Ave Maria playing in the background, followed by a haunting tenor voice. The lyrics were in Italian. He found it profoundly soothing.

The priest knew he couldn't hide away in the men's room forever, but it shocked him just how lax he'd allowed himself to become. He thought of Bishop Crawford, of Sister Bloom, of Father Pazzi and his own dad. What would they think of him if they could see him now? What would they say? It was dangerously easy for his own desires to meld with Hannibal's, until he was uncertain that what he felt was truly his to feel. A hijacking of his brain and body at his own expense. The loss of control made him afraid, and being afraid made him irrational. No one should have that sort of power over him, not unless he belonged to them. And as far as Will was concerned, he belonged only to God. That would never, could never change. Only He had the power to mold and reshape him as He saw fit… Not another human being. Not another man.

Hannibal Lecter is just a man, Will thought with a deep inhale. Not a god or deity, an unstoppable force or immovable object. Just a man.

He knew Hannibal was waiting. He'd already demonstrated his lack of finesse with his outburst, having left so abruptly. He didn't want to appear ungrateful, despite the older man's advances. What he wanted was to see this through – he told himself he'd let the doctor down easy if he had to. That if it came to putting his foot down, asserting himself and cementing his devotion, he would be able to do so. He would not forsake Hannibal, but he couldn't keep playing tug-of-war with his faith. Even if he didn't spend the night as Father Graham, he couldn't find it in himself to fully separate from his beliefs. Father Graham and Will Graham were the same person… They should want the same things. They should be able to coexist together peacefully inside him. For his own sake, he hoped that Hannibal Lecter and God could do the same.

For now he had a dinner to attend, and Will returned to their table with a little more peace of mind. Maybe he couldn't keep himself from feeling the things he felt, but that didn't mean he had to take his decency and toss it all out the window.

"You'll be pleased to know that I've come to terms with the fact that you're… Ridiculously wealthy and insist on treating me, Doctor," he said, taking his seat. "It seems I just can't turn you down. Not for long, anyway."

Hannibal offered Will a smile – a real one, maybe the realest and brightest smile the priest had ever seen, and certainly the most spontaneous. "I am pleased, indeed. I’d understand if you wished to do so, but I will admit I’d find it rather disheartening. I do enjoy your company, Will."

"I find it hard to say no to you. You can be very persuasive," Will crooned, finally unfolding his menu. His calm expression betrayed the way his heart skipped a beat. "But I trust that your intentions are good. You're a gentleman after all." He met Hannibal's gaze briefly. The blue rings of his irises nearly eclipsed. "The feeling is mutual."

Just as Will finished speaking, the waiter came back with their wine, pouring it into their glasses. Hannibal knew it was immensely expensive, but he never cared much about how expensive things were. Tonight he would give Will only the best.

Smiling at Hannibal, the waiter asked if he could take their orders now. Hannibal wasn't hungry – he was never hungry for regular food, the only hunger he felt was for human blood. Still, he enjoyed regular food very much, and most importantly, wanted to encourage Will to eat. He also wanted to show off. It wasn't playing fair, but that didn't bother him in the slightest.

Opening the menu, Hannibal's gaze wandered through the list of entrees as if he didn't already know each one of them. "Veal... Cooked on beetroot mayonnaise with chlorophyll parsley and black truffle," he said to himself, considering the option, then looked back at the waiter, making his decision. "Yes. That's what I'm having. Will?" Hannibal's gaze fixed on the priest and he smiled, curious to hear his choice.

Will drew his lower lip in between his teeth as he perused the selection, still somewhat hesitant to order. "I'll, um… I'm fine with the cheese… Trolley. Thank you.” He didn't think he could stomach much more than that – being the restaurant's least expensive offering at €25,00 was just another selling point. Their server collected their menus, leaving them to bask in the ambiance as he sent the orders in to the master chef.

Although they had yet to be properly served, Will took a few moments to bow his head in silent prayer. He grasped the stem of his wine glass, raising it in a toast. "Cheers to friendship,” he proposed, with a notable lack of confidence.

"To us," Hannibal said, offering Will another warm smile as he raised his glass as well. Not friendship, Hannibal thought, not just friendship. He wanted – craved – so much more than that. He luxuriated in the complementing fragrances flowing from his glass, isolating each one before finally taking a sip. It was, without a doubt, the best wine they could possibly have. Hannibal was not disappointed.

Will didn't have the heart to protest – the sentiment was innocent enough. He brought the rim of his wineglass to his lips, nostrils flaring slightly as he savored its earthy, full-bodied aroma. From the moment it touched his tongue, he knew it was special. He'd never tasted anything quite like it before. He was far from a wine connoisseur, but he enjoyed a nice glass once in awhile. This was… Exceptional. What had to be a perfect vintage, its flavor was rich and smoky-sweet, with a lush, velvety finish. It settled as a spreading warmth in his stomach, leaving his mouth and throat tingling pleasantly. A few droplets clung to his lips and he chased them with his tongue – two or three sips and Will could already feel the intoxicating effects of what little he'd consumed. It hadn't been much, but with nothing in his stomach it absorbed quickly into his bloodstream. As succulent as the wine was, he'd save the rest for the cheese assortment.

The priest couldn't afford to become inebriated… Not when it came to Hannibal. It was all fun and games until lust and temptation joined the party. There was no telling what a severe lapse of judgement; what a lack of inhibition could lead to, but he could almost guarantee it'd be something he'd regret. Above all, Will didn't trust himself not to give in to his baser desires, succumb to the doctor's charms with no foresight of consequence. He didn't trust himself to be able to resist.

Hannibal hadn't expected Will to eat only cheese, but maybe after fasting for three days it would be better if he started small. He thought Will probably shouldn’t be drinking wine at all, not on an empty stomach, but he supposed it couldn't be bad: if the wine made Will drunk, it would only be a plus. He decided not to comment on Will's choice of dinner and moved on instead to the subject that had been plaguing his mind.

"Will… I've been concerned about you," Hannibal began, looking into Will's eyes. He doubted that Will would be receptive to more personal conversation at the moment, in a restaurant full of people, but still he tried. "I've been wondering if I’d perhaps said or done something wrong. Something not to your liking—that made you want to avoid me. In that case, I'd like to apologize."

Hannibal's words jarred him from his thoughts. A flush crept up his neck and he set down his glass with a stab of guilt.

"No, Hannibal, it's not… It’s not you. It wasn't your fault," Will said, and he didn't know how to reassure him without revealing his own shameful secret.

His Adam's apple jumped as he swallowed, but Will didn't shy away from Hannibal's gaze. "I should be asking your forgiveness. I didn't mean to overreact, it's just… I was avoiding you. I was avoiding you because I was afraid. It does involve you, but it's… Not really something I can talk about. That I want to talk about. Not here.”

His brow furrowed. It was hard not to give Dr. Lecter the wrong impression; it sounded like the precursor to a love confession even to his ears. But it wasn't love, it couldn't be love, not by his definition… It was something dark and selfish, a hunger that occasionally waned only to return ten times stronger. It wanted the priest at its mercy – it was lust in its purest, rawest form, and therefore something a man of the cloth should never give in to. But Will couldn't think about it now, couldn't focus on it, not when they were this close. It was too dangerous.

"To be honest, I'd sooner forget it ever happened than risk ruining the evening. Let's have a nice dinner—enjoy our time together. We can do that, right, Doctor?"

It would be impossible for Hannibal to deny Will this. As curious as he was, he accepted to drop the subject for now and just have a nice dinner with Will instead. Making Will Graham happy was dangerously becoming his highest priority.

"Yes. We can do that," Hannibal replied, smiling softly and sipping his wine again. He wanted to reach across the table and touch Will's hand.

The sound of Will's heartbeat made him want to pull the priest into his arms and hold him tightly, feel the thump of it against his chest. Will seemed to be having a good time, which was what truly mattered. Hannibal watched as Will ate and savored his wine, and the whole time he paid more attention to the priest than to his own food, but it was delicious all the same. After they had finished, Will offered to help pay for dinner but Hannibal refused. Instead he covered the entirety of the check himself, tipping generously, and said farewell to their host on their way out.

They left the hotel behind with smiles on their faces, and everyone's eyes on them.

Chapter Text

Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. —Exodus {19:5}

Driving Will back home was pleasant, even though Hannibal wished he could take the priest to his own place instead, keep him there all night. Dismissing these thoughts, Hannibal managed to hold a conversation with Will – to be fair, even complete silence was comfortable with him. Hannibal felt like he and Will just... Fit together. Being in Will Graham's presence was always better than being anywhere else.

"If I can be quite honest,” Hannibal began as they arrived, parking his car on the street outside the palazzo. Will’s bright eyes caught his attention in the dark, as they often did. It was difficult not to stare.

Hannibal cast his gaze downward.

"I must confess this was the best dinner I've had in a long time.” He shifted slightly in the driver’s seat, contemplating his choice of words. Will found his uncertainty endearing, his heart beginning to pound. The silence dragged on until Hannibal took a breath.

“It doesn't feel like enough to simply say goodnight and leave. I would appreciate spending a little more time in your company tonight, Will. If you'd allow me."

Ah. The priest’s stomach fluttered. He questioned how much further he should let this go, if it was simply goodwill or something more. Will couldn't help but reflect on the night, unable to remember the last time he'd felt so relaxed, so taken care of. So safe. He realized he didn't want it to end, didn't want to spend the rest of the night alone and struggling to fall asleep. As always, he second guessed his strength, his ability to fight the looming threat of nightmares that clawed at his consciousness. If he could only stop time, he thought, perhaps he'd stay in this moment. Hold it close, the night stretching on for as long as he pleased. He would pray to God to let him have this, and to do so without repercussion. To be forgiven, as he knew there was nothing the Lord didn't see, nothing He didn't know – but he feared his hunger would eat him alive if it wasn't soon sated. Just a touch, the comfort of another person by his side. Harmless human contact.

Will did possess the power of choice, the blessing of free will gifted to him as it was the whole of mankind. He was not helpless in his actions. He could allow Hannibal inside, welcome him into his own personal world. Show him how he lived, as ordinary as it was. The decision was ultimately his to make. After all that the doctor had done for him – not only tonight but from the very night they'd met – he couldn't refuse him a simple invitation. With Dr. Lecter's guidance, perhaps he could come to terms with the nature of his desires.

"Yes," Will whispered, and he couldn't take it back. Too late to change his mind even if he wanted to. He could see the glint of Hannibal's eyes in the darkness, and it sent a shudder through him. Will hoped his voice sounded surer than he was.

"But just a warning… You may want to temporarily lower your expectations. It's a far cry from what you're used to."

Hannibal grinned wolfishly, his teeth reflecting the scarce light.

They made their way inside the palazzo and to the modest apartment Will called home. He shut the door behind them, but didn't lock it – he wanted Hannibal to know he could leave anytime he pleased.

"I don't have much in the way of entertainment," Will said with a nervous lilt. "Feel free to have a seat on the couch. Usually I'd warn about dog hair, but I'm technically not allowed to have pets here”—save that one time he rescued a mutt from the pound—”it's clean."

The priest undid his shirt cuffs, folding them back as he made his way to the sink. "I doubt anything I can offer would compare to La Pergola, but could I maybe get you some water? Unfortunately I only have two varieties: ice or no ice."

Hannibal laughed, taking a seat on Will's couch – it was definitely free of dog hair. He was glad Will didn't have one of his own. It would only complicate matters, another distraction keeping him from his objective… To have Will to himself.

"I'll have ice water, thank you," he said, crossing his legs as he often did during office hours. As Will brought their drinks, he tried to think of a way to make him open up about what was bothering him, what exactly had prompted his avoidance over the last few days.

"I'm glad you enjoyed the night, Will," Hannibal continued, accepting the glass from the priest’s hand and taking a sip from it. He didn't need water to survive like Will did, but it was a deviation from the norm – and a part of his human disguise. It couldn't quench his thirst like the warmth of another's blood. "It makes me very happy to see you so at ease. I have hope that we can do this again in the future.”

Hannibal fixed his eyes on Will as he took a seat beside him. He kept some distance, but was still close enough to touch. Hannibal could feel the warmth of his body, the sound of his racing heart a beautiful, hypnotizing rhythm in his ears.

"I think I had forgotten how it felt, to have dinner with someone special. Still, even knowing you had a good time, I can't help but feel concerned about you.” It was a blatant attempt to make Will talk, but Hannibal’s own worry was not entirely feigned. "I sense that there's something bothering you deeply. I'm glad I managed to get you to eat something, but there are other distressing signs regarding your health and wellbeing that I can't ignore.”

Will drank deeply from his glass, the cold water helping to soothe the heat of his body. He swiped his tongue over the softness of his bottom lip and carefully considered the doctor's words.

"I don't want you to worry yourself over me, Hannibal,” he said.

“It doesn't change that I do. You’re weak and paler than usual. You haven't been sleeping well. I'm supposed to be helping you, Will. I want to help, but I feel like I've been failing you in your time of need. Whatever's on your mind and robbing you of sleep... I want to help make it better."

You aren't failing me… I've been failing myself," Will answered, helpless to do anything but relent. His secrecy wasn't doing him any favors. "I catch myself thinking things I shouldn't. Carnalities. They're… pervasive, infiltrating my dreams and twisting them into nightmares."

The priest hesitated, eyes downcast in his indignity. Reflecting on it sent him spiraling; he could feel the throb of his pulse in his neck, his breath coming quicker. He struggled on a deep inhale.

"I'm afraid that if I give voice to it, it'll become real,” Will whispered. “That it'll manifest in a way that's concrete. I remember the way it felt…” He suppressed a full body tremor. "It's a double-edged sword. I can't talk about it without my body reacting in ways I can't control. I… I don't want you to see me like this."

He set his cup down on the glass table, feeling the flood of warmth pooling in his belly right on cue. Will crossed his own legs as a precaution. "They're dreams. Inappropriate dreams, Doctor. I'm sure you understand.”

"I understand," Hannibal agreed with a nod. "I'm sure every priest is plagued by inappropriate dreams at least once in their lives. I don't think they all react to it the way you do. You see the world in a different way, feel things on a deeper level. That's why I offered you therapy. You tell me they’re inappropriate dreams, but that's not all, Will. There's more to it. It's in your eyes, even if you don't want to tell me."

Hannibal took another sip of water and placed the glass on the coffee table, shifting in his seat to face Will, even closer to him now. The warmth of Will's body was intoxicating, and Hannibal had to fight the urge to touch. He clasped his hands together on his lap.

"You don't simply feel bad or guilty about the dream—you’re afraid of it, that it will become real. But are you terrified of the acts themselves, or are you afraid of wanting it? You say you can still feel it. In the dream... Did it make you feel bad and want it to stop? Or did it feel so good that all your morals and principles didn't even matter?"

The priest leaned back with a breathy sigh. "I'm going to try covering all my bases and go with yes," he said, and it was true. Check, check and check. He was terrified of what it meant for him, meant about him that his reaction hadn't been one of pure disgust – but instead the complete and total opposite. He was terrified that he wanted it, and so the very act, the very thought of it terrified him in turn. Even in his dreams he'd never once uttered a word of protest. He hadn't wanted it to stop… The experience had been as thrilling as it was horrifying. He knew it was lust, but he couldn't reconcile how something so pleasurable could be considered a corruption.

Falling victim to doubt, every now and then Will pondered on the problem of evil – the impossible coexistence of holiness and sin. Why did God allow these things to occur if he disapproved of them? Why did His design leave room for blasphemy and sacrilege? If man was His creation, modeled after His perfection, then who was to blame for acts of sodomy and self-pleasure? Fornication and adultery? The devil was the natural choice, but if the Lord was all powerful, omniscient and omnibenevolent, then the existence of evil was therefore incompatible. It was an eternal paradox, one Will had studied in theory but never personally reconciled.

Dr. Lecter was alarmingly accurate in his suspicions, and the priest wondered if he made it obvious. Maybe the doctor had dealt with similar cases regarding his patients in the past.

"All of it. Everything,” Will continued, raking a hand through his hair. “It felt good enough to cloud my judgement, and that should never be the case. Not for me." The dim, hot air of the room had become eerily familiar, and Will knew this was dangerous territory. "I dreamt of you. You and the creature with your face. You touched me and you… You took turns. God, you were inside me Hannibal," he choked out, and the surge of arousal came with an agonizing remorse.

Will was burning from the inside out, sweat beading at the nape of his neck. His hand trembled as he clutched the cross at his breast, hard enough for the stainless silver to leave an imprint against the damp of his palm. He tried for several steadying breaths, but his lungs refused to cooperate, leaving his breathing ragged.

"In the end, I… I woke up and..." Will tried hard not to splutter, but the words caught in his throat. His eyebrows knitted together, as if he were confused by his own racing thoughts. Better to just get it over with, he thought. "I had climaxed in my sleep."

Will hissed as if in pain, and the admission left a sour taste in his mouth. He struggled to relax, a muscle in his jaw twitching, and a hand came up to rub the stubble there. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I feel perverse."

When Hannibal had asked Will about his dream, he had expected it to be about him. What he hadn't prepared for were the juicy details. He didn't mind that Will had seen him and the creature he’d described from earlier nightmares, but it was interesting how Will's subconscious had found a way to show him who Hannibal truly was beneath the veil of his dreams – a monster.

He wasn't ready to know that Will wanted it, even though he thought it was wrong. He wasn't ready to smell Will's arousal, so intoxicating and raw. Hannibal allowed himself to breathe deeply, breathe him in as the warmth of his body surrounded him and made him feel warm as well. Will's ragged breaths, loud heartbeat, the blood running through those veins… Will’s warm, beautiful, delicious human body. Hannibal needed more. He felt his cock hardening, and he was very close to losing control over himself.

Hannibal sighed. "You're not perverse, Will. You're human. That's how the human body works, you have to give it what it needs." Hannibal moved slightly closer and Will lowered his gaze.

He could feel the other man closing the distance between them, and he didn't fight it, didn't try to stop him. Instead Will uncrossed his legs, spreading his thighs in a wide V-shape – he had to fight the urge to palm himself through the fabric of his slacks. He'd been on edge since Dr. Lecter had questioned him at the restaurant, the food and wine making him pliant and the conversation piquing his interest. Now the priest was almost painfully hard, could feel the throb of his cock inside his briefs.

"The male human body needs release from time to time, that's why we have nocturnal emissions," Hannibal continued, doing his best to ignore his own excitement. Thinking about Will having an orgasm while dreaming of him wasn't making it any easier. “It's a wholly natural occurrence that serves a purpose, much like manual stimulation.”

"So,” Will panted, breathless, “you’re saying I need to… Make myself come.” He tipped his head back, the skin of his neck already moist with sweat.

"Have you ever questioned it, Will?” and Hannibal could feel the priest's resistance waning. “If it's a natural thing, why aren't you, as a priest, allowed to have it? Why did God grant you the ability to feel this pleasure... And then forbid you to experience it? It sounds almost sadistic, doesn't it?"

Will didn’t answer, but realized that Hannibal was right – it did seem sadistic to create humankind in his image, allowing their bodies to feel and receive sexual pleasure – only to call it a sin. He'd questioned it occasionally, but never dared to do so aloud. Even in his mind, he feared inciting God's wrath with his doubt.

"Have you ever felt it, Will? For real?” Hannibal asked, and he knew he was pushing too far – he wondered how long he could hide the state of his own arousal and control himself. But did he really want to? No. He wanted to persuade Will to give in to his instincts.

Hannibal doubted Will would be having this conversation with him if it wasn't for the half bottle of wine he drank at the restaurant. “Ever touched yourself in an intimate way, or had someone else pleasuring you like that? Or do you only... Wonder how it feels?"

"No, I'm… I've never," Will admitted, and it sent his blood into a frenzy, rushing south and to his cheeks, staining them a blotchy pink. "I've always wondered but I've never… I'm supposed to remain celibate. I can't have sex, I can't touch myself or let others touch me, not like that.” But God, did he want to be touched now. He was desperate for it, could feel the leaking head of his cock straining against its confines.

Will wanted the doctor's sure, steady hands on him, he knew he wanted him, but he couldn't bring himself to act on it. He wanted Hannibal to touch him, but it would be crossing a line, not only between doctor and patient, but between friends and men. He pressed the heel of his hand to his erection – a little pressure just to ease the ache, and the sensation tore a helpless whimper from him.

If Hannibal was managing to keep his hands off of Will, it was only until that precise moment. With that heavenly sound that fell from Will’s lips every reasonable thought vanished from his mind, until there was nothing else but his hunger for the priest – not only for his blood, but for his body. Tonight, Hannibal wanted to sate himself on more than what his fangs could garner.

With a deep groan, Hannibal leaned forward, burying one hand in Will's curls and pulling him in for a hungry, heated kiss, still able to taste the wine on Will's tongue. He replaced Will's hand for his own, palming his cock with a light pressure. If he couldn't have the priest's blood, then he would have everything else he could take from him: every moan and shaky breath, every beat of his racing heart. Everything would belong to him.

Will was frozen amidst the onslaught, alarm bells going off in his head: warning. Crimson-red flags popped up to fill every empty space inside his mind, but the simple touch felt so good, impossible for his needy flesh to resist. He closed his eyes against it all, ignoring every signal, every danger sign. Slowly, Hannibal made his way into Will's pants, freeing the priest’s cock and wrapping his hand firmly around it. Hannibal’s grip on Will's hair tightened, and he sucked eagerly on his tongue, not giving him a chance to protest.

To his shame, it wasn't long before Will was humming his pleasure into Hannibal's mouth – the feel of his hand wrapped around his bare cock was enough to make him jolt, but the doctor didn't relent, his thumb now rubbing against the head and making it slick with his precome.

It was hard to believe that he had never been touched like this before, never touched himself like this, and especially not with such an easy confidence. Just having the doctor's fingers gripping him, rubbing him, felt incredible, and Will relaxed into the touch. Hannibal kissed him feverishly, licking into his mouth, and the priest nearly went slack from the barrage of sensation. Their lips parted with a wet sound and Will inhaled a shaky breath. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears. Hannibal only released Will’s cock for a second to lick his palm, coating it thoroughly with his saliva. Before Will's mind could process the information Hannibal’s hand was on him again, slick and warm and tighter than before.

"Oh God," Will gasped, and he couldn't help but look, watching with half-lidded eyes as his ruddy cock leaked in Hannibal's grasp. "Hannibal—" His hips twitched with impatience. He desperately needed the friction, needed Hannibal to pump him slowly, quickly, any way he wanted – he just had to have more. Will finally bucked up into the other man's fist with a groan, the slide of Hannibal's hand over his wet cock driving him wild. He leaned in to kiss him meekly, and the thought of asking him to stop did not cross his mind.

Hannibal was lost in sensation, not feeling the need to think rationally for the moment. Returning the kiss, he moved his hand faster on Will's cock, hungry for more, and all he could feel was this flawed, precious human priest: his skin, his warmth, his scent. His thudding pulse, the sound of his heartbeat, his unsteady breathing and the sweet noises that escaped his mouth. The way his cock felt in his hand, so hot and heavy and hard, smooth and wet in his grip. Hannibal was painfully aroused, but he didn't care – right now, everything was about Will.

There was a thin sheen of sweat covering Will's body now and Hannibal could smell it. He wanted to lick it off Will's skin, wanted to lay Will down on the couch and take him the same way he had in the priest's dream, but he couldn't. It would require planning, preparation, explicit consent.

"Will," Hannibal breathed against Will's lips but didn't let go, trapping Will's bottom lip between his teeth and squeezing softly, his hand buried in Will’s hair.

For the priest there was no thought spared for God, no regard for modesty or virtue. Tarnished, Will's only concern was the man beside him and the pleasure he wrought, and in his temple of a body Hannibal was king. He stroked him fast and tight, the slick, obscene sounds that filled the room only making Will harder. He moaned shamelessly as Hannibal yanked his head back by the hair, the ache of his scalp forgotten at the press of lips against his throat – Will’s cock jerked at the treatment. That decadent mouth was on him, and the suction followed by the lap of a warm, wet tongue had him writhing. It was hedonistic bliss, and he leaked with every kiss and hungry growl.

Hannibal continued licking and sucking on Will's neck, but avoided using his teeth. He could taste Will's skin and sweat, could feel the blood running through his veins, the pulse point on Will's neck driving him crazy.

His next groan was of pain, not pleasure – a burning pain on his lips and tongue as he touched the cold metal of Will's necklace, and he was reminded of what Will wore for protection. Hannibal couldn't safely touch Will's cross. Ignoring the pain, he pressed his forehead against Will's neck and waited for himself to heal. His grip on Will's erection tightened slightly to distract the priest, in case he noticed there was something wrong... But Will didn’t, all he could feel was Hannibal’s hand around him.

He lost himself to it. This was carnal instinct: the desires of the flesh of which he'd been warned all his life. It was the eternal pull of temptation all men had to endure – with a startling moment of clarity, Will finally understood why lust was such a deadly sin. But the thought of yielding to the pleasure coursing through his body did not fill him with fear, only anticipation. Slowly but surely it was building, his arousal reaching new heights just as he thought it couldn't feel any better. His mind had already begun to white out, fading to static and blissfully devoid of anything but the unfaltering pace of Hannibal's hand gliding over his cock.

"Oh my God," Will howled again, and God did not smite him, the sky did not open up to rain great balls of flame. He arched and whined, and never in a million years did the priest think anything could ever feel like this.

The words made Hannibal smile wickedly, and once he had healed he started sucking on Will's skin again – not hard enough to leave a mark, he knew he couldn't mark Will visibly just yet. Moving up to Will's ear, Hannibal caught his earlobe between his teeth and bit softly, then sucked on it, groaning again as he felt Will surrendering completely to him.

"Yes, Will," Hannibal whispered, moving his hand faster, eager to watch and feel Will come. "I can make you feel so good." Hannibal knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't keep himself from nipping at Will's neck, his breath hot against the priest's skin.

His fingers moved through Will’s curls now, caressing and pulling slightly, his mouth never leaving his throat. Hannibal had never felt so needy and hungry for someone's body like this, nor he had ever felt so warm or intoxicated by someone's presence – his body and mind craved more, and he didn't care about consequences.

“You’re so hard in my hand...” Hannibal continued, his voice low and rough with arousal. “I want to take you in my mouth. Make you come down my throat, swallow every drop.”

The vulgar words appealed to something primal in the priest – they were filthy, going straight to his cock. It was more than enough to push him over the edge, his orgasm hitting with a violent intensity that had him crying out.

"Hann–" was the only warning he could give and it was tearing through him, overpowering him. Will's stomach tightened and he kept his eyes open just long enough to see himself coming, pulsing hot and thick all over himself and Hannibal's hand. The veins in his neck stood out, surging with blood as his body went taut. Each stroke wrung another spurt from him, punching the air from his lungs, and it felt like dying. Any shred of coherency he'd once possessed dissolved into a long, low moan… Until Will finally went slack. He felt drained and sated, unable to bring himself to look at his spent cock; at Hannibal's hand still pumping him slowly.

"Oh my God," Will panted, over and over again like a desperate prayer. "Oh my God." He could still feel the aching throb of Hannibal's bites, the ghost of his humid breath at the base of his throat. The fingers in his hair were strangely grounding, and he swallowed, still trying to catch his breath.

It was a religious experience, though he did not see the face God, or hear His voice. His senses were dead to everyone but Hannibal.

"Beautiful," Hannibal whispered, lips softly brushing Will's ear. "I've never wanted anyone as much as I want you, Will,” he said, and in this he was honest. He couldn't remember feeling something like this in more than four hundred years – could not recall meeting anyone who made him feel this hungry, for blood or for sex, and certainly hadn't met anyone he wanted to keep with him for eternity. In truth, now that he had become so close to Will Graham, Hannibal couldn't imagine losing him. It was unacceptable.

Lifting his hand, Hannibal finally moved away from Will's neck and let him watch as he licked Will's semen from his fingers, and the taste and smell of it made Hannibal's cock drip and stir even more inside his trousers. Hannibal closed his eyes, trying to decide whether or not he should encourage Will to touch him.

As the pleasure ebbed and faded away, Will's brain caught up with his body. Gradually, the gravity of what had just occurred began sinking in – in the end it had been easy, so easy to relinquish his control. Ignore his higher reasoning in favor of the physical, consumed by a chemical euphoria. But the way it had felt… He struggled to find anything that could compare. He watched Hannibal lick his fingers clean, laving them with his sinful tongue. It might as well have been forked. But the doctor moved to kiss him sweetly, and with a pang of arousal the priest realized that he could taste himself in Hannibal’s mouth. Lewd, and yet it made his blood run hot; his cock weep and twitch feebly where it lay across his hip. He tried to suppress a shudder at the knowledge, turning away to break their kiss.

Will struggled to slow his breathing, quickly spiraling toward panic. "I didn't… I never asked for you to..." he choked out. The shame was unbearable, and Will tucked himself back into his briefs, hastily buttoned his fly with quivering hands. He'd just let another man touch him. He'd let another man make him come. He had compromised his celibacy only to satisfy his own sexual appetite... His offenses were numerous, and grave in nature. He'd need to confess, but how could he possibly begin to explain his actions?

Will forced himself to meet Hannibal's gaze.

"Thank you… For dinner, and for worrying about me,” he whispered, just loud enough to be audible. “For… Trying to help. But I don't think you should be here any longer.” He was still trying to catch his breath, his limbs loose and tired. "Please leave, Hannibal. You can't stay, and I can't… I can't do this. It's against everything I know, against my religion and my God. I have to repent for this."

Hannibal sighed. Part of him had hoped that Will would touch him back, because he knew Will wanted it, wanted him, just like he had in the dream. Will had confessed to Hannibal how much he wanted it. But Will was still too devoted to God to be able to do this. Hannibal hoped he wasn't losing the priest forever, but decided he wouldn't give up easily.

"I'm sorry, Will," Hannibal said, not entirely honest. He was only sorry that he still couldn’t make Will give in completely. He stood up, ignoring his own erection that was positively aching at this point. There was nothing he could do about it, not for now. "I wanted to help. I failed you. I hope you can forgive me."

Turning around, Hannibal solemnly made his way to the door and took his leave, not waiting for Will to answer. He’d see Will again soon enough, and he would try to convince the priest to forgive him. He didn’t return the broken glasses that were still in his pocket, deciding to keep them. Now he needed to find himself a victim, drink their blood, and then drive to Bedelia’s place. He would let her feed from him and greedily take what he needed from her, claim her until he was satisfied, and it would be enough distraction for the night.

As Hannibal disappeared through the doorway, a sense of profound sorrow washed over the priest. Utterly alone, he stood on shaky legs – still weak in the wake of his release – and braced himself against the door.

Finally securing the lock, Will could feel his eyes prickling with the threat of tears. They welled up hot and heavy, blurring his vision as he made his way to the bedroom. He tried to blink them away, wipe at them with the side of his hand… They caught on his dark lashes but didn't overflow to spill down his cheeks.

Will wanted to reconcile the emotions raging inside of him, his chest aching with it – the sting of betrayal, the simmering heat of anger. The hurt of confusion and the stab of guilt and shame so intense it made him dizzy with it. The relief he'd expected to experience with Hannibal’s departure was all but absent, and he feared what this could mean for his priesthood, or more importantly, his own relationship with God. Will tried to breathe through his nose and out of his mouth, calm his pounding heartbeat. Regret was an anchor that weighed him down. His body was exhausted, and it destroyed him to know why.

Will did not curse the heavens, nor did he blame God as some did in times of turmoil. He blamed no one but himself… And Hannibal Lecter.

Had he been too promiscuous? Too forward, wanton in the recollection of his carnal dreams? Had he somehow provoked the doctor to do what he did, encouraging him with positive, promising reactions? A part of him still wanted desperately to believe that Dr. Lecter wanted to help him – that his intentions had been good. That he wanted what was best for him. After all, it wasn't as if he'd been bedded. Hannibal had found no release of his own, focused solely on Will's pleasure instead. That had to count for something.

But the priest didn't know the protocol for these types of situations. He wasn't supposed to know them, should never need to. He'd never had anything like this happen to him before. How does an impure priest gracefully go about regaining his dignity?

Perhaps the how didn't matter so much as the journey of repentance. He would have time to grieve later.

Will stripped off his clothes, cringing as he wiped the mess of his climax from his body; his sensitive cock. He was still half-hard, his body excited by the exhilarating new sensations. It made a flush spread up his neck. Will knew he was too boneless for a cold shower before bed, and it would be a feat to remain standing for any period of time. Instead he changed into a clean pair of shorts, knelt at his bed, and ruefully said his prayers.

"I… I confess to Almighty God," he began, voice trembling slightly. "To the blessed Virgin Mary. To blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist. To the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and to all of the heavenly Saints… I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed.”

Tonight, he prayed for the divine mercy of those far holier than himself. To the angels and the saints, those that could not be touched by sin. “Through my fault”—he struck his breast with a heavy thump—”through my fault”—thump—”through my most grievous fault.” One last beat over his unworthy heart. Grimacing at the memory of his transgressions, he could feel the cold metal of his cross against his skin, hanging heavy on the chain around his neck. Almost too heavy to bear, but he did so with a steady inhale. "I beseech thee, blessed Virgin Mary, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter, Paul, and all the Saints in heaven to pray to the Lord our God on my behalf. Amen."

As he crossed himself thoroughly, Will's heart felt somewhat lighter. The priest crawled into bed, slid underneath the covers and calmly, effortlessly slipped into unconsciousness.

It was the first good night of sleep he could remember having in a very long time.

Chapter Text

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. —Psalm {32:3-4}

Father Graham did not feel clean enough to attend church the next day – nor the next, or the one after that. Perhaps it was best. He could not take part in the Eucharist while in a state of mortal sin, nor was he to celebrate Holy Mass. His body, mind and spirit were marred… Defiled. Then again, he hadn't felt quite the same since that night in the Trevi district. He explained to Padre Pazzi that he was ill and needed time to recover. It was not a lie.

Pazzi had blessed him over the phone, praying to God to heal and protect him.

The priest spent his days in prayer, hidden away inside his room and continuing his previously interrupted fast. He worked on his studies, sought guidance from God, and stayed away from Hannibal Lecter.

The following morning, Will finally returned to St. Peter's. He still found his thoughts drifting to Dr. Lecter; to what had happened just a few days prior. He tried to push them from his mind – instead focusing on the long day ahead and the people in need of his help.

Father Graham was comforted by the knowledge that despite his own impurities as a priest, the duties he did perform were nonetheless effective. He worked himself ragged, spurred on by his own desire to do good.

The priest felt satisfied once the sun had set. The last thing on his agenda was the most difficult of his tasks: he knew that he had no choice but to eventually confess.

Hannibal had made a habit of frequenting the two churches in which Will spent his time, trying to detect traces of his scent just to discover that he wasn't there. Every day, after visiting the Chapel and Basilica, he stopped by Will’s palazzo just to make sure the priest was safe: alive, breathing. Hannibal had lingered outside for a full hour, listening to the unique cardiac rhythm of Will's heartbeat as he closed his eyes and inhaled his scent. He never knocked on the door or tried to get in. It wouldn't be the best approach.

Today, however, he could smell Will as he made his way into St. Peter’s. Isolating the sound of his fragile beating heart, he found that Will was working at a confessional in the right transept of the Basilica – taking the place of confessor, a job usually left to the Conventual Franciscans. Sacramento Della Penitenza, the Sacrament of Penance, a nearby sign read, arrow pointing just beyond the Papal Altar and its beautiful bronze baldacchino.

Another sign posted to the confessional read English, followed by Italiano, denoting the languages spoken by the priest in which confessions could be heard. Hannibal could see a few people waiting for their turn to confess, taking a place at the end of the line. He wondered how all of these sins would affect Father Graham.

As the line began to shorten, Hannibal was the only penitent remaining in the transept. He watched as the small light at the top of the confessional turned from red to green, meaning Will was ready for another confession. Solid dark oak, polished and carved, the confessional appeared quite large from the outside looking in. The panels remained closed, hiding Father Graham from view.

The inside of the confessional was not especially spacious. There was room enough for a small reading light mounted to the wall, a chair for the confessor to sit, various knobs in which the priest could hang his alb, surplice, violet stole, cincture and cross, and a few shelves and cubbyholes for reading materials. There were two icons on the back wall – one of Christ and the other of Madonna and Child.

Hannibal ducked inside of the darkened alcove, kneeling within its finely crafted interior. He listened carefully for the sounds of anyone approaching, but heard no one. Hannibal glanced at the latticed grate as he rested his elbows atop the wood. He took a breath.

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," he said quietly, smiling as his voice caused Will to gasp in surprise. The priest's heart adopted a sudden rapid pace. "I have never confessed my sins before, but now I need your guidance, Father. I need forgiveness."

That voice was unmistakable – Will's stomach dropped. His blood surged with adrenaline. Dr. Lecter was here, kneeling across from him just beyond the partition. The priest broke out into a cold sweat as he realized his situation… He was virtually alone. Alone again with Hannibal Lecter. The usually bustling Basilica was deathly quiet, the transept seemingly empty of all but himself and the doctor. Had he come to church to see him? Followed him here? Perhaps he'd come to apologize, to make amends after their disastrous last meeting. Maybe the doctor truly wished to confess his sins and ask the Lord for forgiveness. But was he even a Catholic? A Christian? Surely he wouldn't be here seeking guidance if he weren't. At the very least, he must believe in God.

Father Graham wanted Hannibal to confess. He wanted him to be pure of heart and soul, and a part of him was curious as to how deep his darkness went. If nothing else, Graham wanted the doctor to have a clear conscience, unburdened by sin. Perhaps he truly wished to change his ways.

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation was generally not to be offered to non-Catholics – such would be sacrilegious – but if Dr. Lecter were a Christian, perhaps it could be overlooked. If nothing else, Graham could allow the confession to take place. Anyone was free to confess their sins to him, but not all could receive forgiveness. He would have to be the judge of that. It may be overstepping, but acting in Persona Christi, he could decide if Dr. Lecter should be granted absolution.

Father Graham wished he had his glasses to hide behind. He steeled himself, making the sign of the cross on a deep inhale, then slid back the partition.

"I… I can absolve you of those sins, if you wish," he said, lifting his chin. He could not turn Hannibal away even if he wanted to, but he could stretch the truth… A venial sin at most. He wanted to hear the man's confession. "If you've reflected on these sins and examined your conscience, you may begin by stating them. Any and all you can think of, including the frequency in which they've occurred."

The priest tried to keep his voice steady; tried not to think of Hannibal's touch, of what had happened just a few nights ago. "Or... Continue to occur,” Father Graham added in a hushed tone. “Especially more serious offenses.”

Hannibal did not think twice before opening his mouth. He had no shame in his sins – to him, they were something akin to badges. Notches in his fine Italian leather belt.

"I've committed adultery, sodomy and fornication. As well as other forms of... Sexual perversion. Frequently," Hannibal confessed, looking through the latticed grate. "I feel sexually attracted to another man. A priest. I can't seem to stop fantasizing about him. Wanting him. I think about him when I have sex with other people. Sometimes I specifically choose men who look like him just so I can imagine it's his body underneath my own, moaning and writhing as I thrust into him. But it doesn't feel like enough anymore."

Hannibal paused, listening. The priest was breathing heavily, heart pounding in his chest. Hannibal wanted to steal all the air from his lungs and then breathe new air into him. He wanted to own Will's life, hold it in his hands.

"Recently it has become harder to resist the temptation," Hannibal continued. "I feel hungry for him constantly. He is all that I desire, and all that I can't have.” He paused briefly. "Although, I did have him, in a sense. We were alone at his place four nights ago. Circumstances led me to touch him in an intimate way. I know it's wrong to touch a priest like that—I wanted to help him but I also wanted him, desperately. I miss the way it felt, Father. He was so hard in my hand as I pleasured him to orgasm. I left with a burning need to take him in my mouth.”

Will's nostrils flared and he swallowed, stunned into silence. This was wrong. This was so wrong. He closed his eyes, pleading with his body not to react even as he felt his face heat and his cock stir with interest. Will imagined how the doctor's lips would feel wrapped around him, how eager he'd be for the heat and slickness of his mouth. He was aching with desire, but the doctor's words shouldn't have this effect. They should terrify him, sicken him with their perversion but instead… Instead the priest was fighting the slow burn of arousal churning in his gut. He let his head fall back, his brow creasing as he tried to focus on the here and now. He had to stay in control.

This was what Hannibal felt. This was what Hannibal wanted. But this was not who Hannibal Lecter was.

“I had sex with a woman that night,” Hannibal added, remembering the urgency he'd felt as he’d arrived at Dr. Du Maurier’s home. “It was quick and rough... I thought about him the whole time. I don't think I can stop wanting him, Father. I need your help."

"If you want to help him, Doctor…” Will breathed, desperate. “If you want to help yourself, you… You have to stop. You have to want to stop." He took hold of his cross for strength, thumb tracing along the cool, polished edges. "No matter your distance from God, it's never too late to repent. If you've confessed everything… If you truly wish to have your sins forgiven, I can absolve you. But you can't keep doing this."

"I need your forgiveness, Father," Hannibal repeated, trying to see Will as much as he could through the privacy screen. Will was aroused, Hannibal could smell it. Could hear it in his voice, his breathing, the quickening of his pulse. It was all so intoxicating, so strong that Hannibal had to force himself to remain under control if only for a moment longer.

"But I'm afraid I can't stop. It's not something I can change, Father. I feel a stab of hunger for him daily. Sometimes it's so intense it's almost impossible to hold myself back and not simply act on instinct.” Hannibal took a deep breath. Pretended to reflect on his thoughts before continuing. Authenticity.

"I need forgiveness because he's important to me. He's my friend. But when I'm in his presence, everything he makes me feel is stronger. He makes me feel... Aroused. Desperate. And so hungry."

Hannibal licked his lips. "I feel aroused now, thinking about the way he moaned when I touched him, how he closed his eyes and focused only on the pleasure I was giving him and nothing else. I wonder how it would feel to be inside him. Filling him up, have him writhing and whimpering with need, pliant under my body. I fantasize about coming inside him, watching as my semen leaks out of him and runs down his thighs. I want to kneel behind him and lick it from his skin. When I'm alone, I occasionally take myself in hand with this in mind."

A choked noise escaped the priest – the mental imagery was excruciatingly vivid, searing itself hotly into his subconscious. He could feel his blush deepening in intensity, spreading down his neck and blooming across his chest. It felt like a fever. Graham might as well have been dreaming for how clearly he could see the scenario in which Hannibal described. He was grateful not to be standing, as the priest was sure the words would have had him buckling at the knees. Coming from Hannibal's devilish mouth, they did not sound repentant or filled with sorrow. If anything they sounded… Curious. Yearning.

For the first time, Will felt uneasy within the walls of a church. He tried to will his thoughts away from the growing hardness of his cock, letting his head fall gently against the thin partition.

"Hannibal," he pleaded, and he knew just how desperate it sounded. So be it… He was desperate. The priest couldn't breathe, could barely speak. His heart was thumping violently against his ribs and he could not banish the sound from his ears.

"If you wanted to salvage our friendship; whatever it is we have… If you cared about me, Hannibal… You'd stop this." His breath came fast, making him feel faint. The arousal did not cease coiling in his belly – it was impossible to ignore. Will felt himself throb.

I can help you. I can offer you forgiveness," he said, reaching out to press his palm flat against the screen. "But if we keep going down this road, it's going to ruin me. It's going to run me into the ground. I'm asking—begging you to have mercy. Please."

Mercy, of course, was subjective. What might seem merciful to one could be cruelty to another, and Hannibal couldn't stop now. He didn't want to stop. In his eyes he was helping Will. Was helping him realize how good his life could be, and everything he could have if he stayed with him. Hannibal was helping Will because he cared about him, but the priest still couldn't see it. Hannibal needed to keep trying to show him.

"I do care about you, Will," Hannibal said quietly, mirroring Will’s gesture and pressing his palm against the screen. He could feel the heat of Will's skin even though it wasn't touching his own. "This is not as easy as it seems, when I know how you feel. What we did that night doesn't make you feel disgusted when you think about it... It makes you aroused. I know you are just as aroused as I am."

Hannibal stood and left the alcove before Will could answer. Was he finished? The light was red now – if anyone approached, they would think the priest was occupied with another penitent, confessing their sins. No one would dare to disturb them.

But Hannibal had better plans in mind.

Before Will could realize what was happening, Hannibal had pulled open the lower door of the confessional and pushed in the panels, squeezing himself inside. Shocked, Will tried to stand, rising from his seat only to be pushed back down by strong hands on his shoulders. Hannibal had shut them both in, closing the panels behind him to leave them uncomfortably close. With ease he moved the priest back as far as he could go, until both he and the chair sat flush against the wall.

"I could give you so much more than I have," Hannibal insisted, kneeling in front of Will and resting his hands on his thighs. He parted Will's legs and positioned himself between them. "I could pleasure you in ways you don't even know are possible, show you things you've never seen before. I can give you anything you want. I want to touch you in the same way I do in your dreams..."

Hannibal smoothed his hands along Will's thighs, moving slowly up to his crotch. "I could take you in my mouth right now,” he whispered, finally sliding his hand up to palm Will's erection. “Caress you with my tongue, taste you again. You taste so good, Will.”

"Please, don't—" Will begged, but Hannibal was already touching him, already cupping the bulge of his cock through his trousers. He hissed at the touch, reaching for Hannibal's wrists – but his hold was little more than a feeble brush of fingers against skin. What little strength Father Graham possessed had been zapped as soon as he felt those hands on him again.

It was four nights ago and he shuddered, pulse racing at the memory. It left him aching, trying to rub himself against Hannibal's palm. His protests melted away, dissolving into soft, helpless mewls of reluctant pleasure. They were so close, it was borderline claustrophobic, sweat prickling at the back of Will’s neck.

This was happening again. Happening in a sacred house of God, right before His very eyes. This was desecration, and yet Will had never been so aroused in the entirety of his life. It was bordering on painful and there was no willing this away, no making it stop.

Not when Hannibal Lecter was on his knees, ready to worship Will with his mouth… As if he were God, and this was his place of worship. Ready to take out his cock and demonstrate the depths of his hunger and devotion.

The amber light cast shadows over the planes of Hannibal’s face, and the priest couldn't stop staring at his mouth, lips already parted for him. He could only imagine what havoc that mouth could wreak, how it would feel on him. Will reached out with trembling fingers to brush along the bow of Hannibal's lips in wonder – without warning, Hannibal was suddenly sucking a digit into his hot, wet mouth. Will gasped, breathless, body taut as a bowstring from the anticipation alone.

With eyes fixed on Will, Hannibal sucked and licked around his index finger, caressing it softly with his tongue as his hands worked quickly to get Will's clothes out of his way. It delighted him to undo some of the symbolic thirty-three buttons of his cassock. Soon he was sliding his hand inside Will's underwear and freeing his cock, his eyes dark with lust, mouth watering with the hunger he felt for the priest as he shamelessly stared. It wasn't even about blood this time, it was purely about sex. Gently, Hannibal wrapped his fingers around Will's wrist and sucked harder, pulling the slick digit out of his mouth slowly, almost reluctantly.

"You look absolutely beautiful, Will. So hard for me like this," he muttered as he leaned in to press his tongue softly to the tip of Will's cock, still looking at the priest to watch him, and at the same time listening to the sounds around them. He was satisfied to know that they would not be interrupted.

Hannibal took the head of Will's cock into his mouth and sucked, stroking the length of it with his fingers in slow, teasing movements.

Slowly, Hannibal slid his mouth down and took him in completely, until he felt the tip of Will's cock against the back of his throat. His nose touched the dark pubic hair at Will's groin, and he was hard and heavy and warm against his tongue. His scent was everywhere, and Hannibal felt so thirsty for the priest he didn't think he could stop even if he heard someone approaching.

Moving back just to take a breath, Hannibal let half of Will's cock slide out of his mouth to suckle it softly, still caressing Will's thighs. Hannibal reached for Will's hands and brought them to his head, encouraging Will to pull him by the hair as he held his breath and took him in completely again.

A strangled cry fell from the priest's lips as Hannibal engulfed him, the smooth muscles of his throat working to swallow hard around his cock. Will's body couldn't help but curl itself over the doctor's kneeling form, head bowed as if in prayer. His spine curved as pleasure zinged along it vertebrae by vertebrae, and God, it was better than Hannibal's hand, so much better than his lustful dreams. The control that Hannibal was offering to him was intoxicating – the doctor's hair between his fingers, nudging at the back of his throat with his engorged cock. And yet an inexplicable sense of weakness and vulnerability still lingered where he sat within the small confessional, the air growing humid and heavy around him. This man had effortlessly seduced him once already, and here he was again – a priest – deep inside of his mouth. Will was quickly becoming addicted to these sex acts with another man, with Hannibal, and it was a dangerous game.

He screwed his eyes shut, unable to witness the unholy spectacle unfolding between his legs… But he could feel it, could hear it, could smell the musk of his own sweat and the heady scent of sex. It robbed him completely and utterly of speech; of anything approaching rational thought. Hannibal had banished everything else from his mind, and perhaps the priest was not as in control as he thought. But Will did not have the sense of mind to be concerned as he tightened his hold, thrusting eagerly into the tight, slick heat of Hannibal's throat, sliding out past his lips only to plunge back inside. The motion tore a sob from him, head thrown back in ecstasy – the sensation was mind-blowing; staggering in its magnitude and he felt exalted. Will's breath came in short, quick pants as he began a steady pace, fucking into Hannibal's mouth. His hips snapped forward as the pressure began to build, his cock dragging wet and hot across Hannibal's palate and it felt better than prayer, better than absolution. He couldn't understand how anyone could be denied such rapture. He only knew that he was bound to come like this, faster and harder than he'd ever come before.

"Hannibal," he gasped, and it was more of a warning than anything else – he wouldn't, couldn't last much longer. Will whimpered as Hannibal pulled away to hollow his cheeks and suck him strongly, tongue against the underside of his cock. The priest opened his eyes only for them to roll back in his head, his own tongue swiping across his lips. He did not loosen his grip.

Hannibal could feel Will leaking into his mouth, and the taste only made him even more aroused, but his own erection was not as important as making Will come. Will needed it, needed to feel how good it could be, how good Hannibal could and wanted to make him feel. He took pleasure in watching Will, seeing him like this, so desperate and needy, clearly letting go of all self control. Hannibal considered touching himself, pulling his cock out of his pants and making himself come right there as he sucked Will, but decided against it. This was supposed to be about Will only, his attention should be focused entirely on pleasuring the priest.

Sensing Will was close to his orgasm, Hannibal sucked him harder – he wanted to taste Will again, for as long as possible. He gently squeezed Will's thighs and moaned softly around his cock to encourage him.

Will had never known himself to be a selfish man. He couldn't afford to be driven mad with lust or succumb to gluttonous desires, and yet as he watched Hannibal pleasure him with his mouth he could not deny that he was giving in. The urge tore through him from the inside, a fierce voice he knew to be his own in his ears: take, take, take. His mouth fell open at the sight of this man on his knees, and he did feel a sense of power in this position. Hannibal was eager to taste him again, he'd shamelessly confessed as much. Will was just giving him what he wanted.

Those lips were sealed around him, the sensation sparking along his nerve endings as his rhythm faltered. His hips fell out of tempo and he approached the precipice, bucking and stuttering with shallow, shaky thrusts. Will could feel the vibrations from Hannibal's mouth as they traveled up his cock, spurring all of his muscles to tense and lock in place. His head tipped back and Will was falling, falling and shattering harshly as he spilled, trembling, across Hannibal's waiting tongue. It was too much – far more than he could have ever prepared for. It wrung every ounce of energy from him until he nearly lost consciousness, chest heaving.

The world came back to the priest slowly, the clamor of his orgasm fading into silence. The polished hardwood of the confessional booth, the chair underneath him. The heat and sweat. He was still throbbing in Hannibal's mouth, fingers bunched up in his hair where they had tangled and pulled. He let the soft strands slip from his hold, and Will was sure it must have hurt to be so rough with him… So careless. But the doctor hadn't seemed to mind, a glint of satisfaction in the depths of his gaze. Will drew a long breath into his lungs. He felt an unusual calmness settle over him, a clarity… But it was gradually being overshadowed by lethargy. His lashes fluttered as he struggled to keep his eyes open, wincing at the stirrings of overstimulation.

Hannibal pulled back then, letting Will's cock slide out of his mouth slowly, not truly wanting to let go. He could still taste Will on his tongue, and hoped he wouldn't have to wait too long to do this again. Gently, he tucked Will's cock back inside his underwear and adjusted his clothes, leaving him properly dressed again. Hannibal ignored his own aching erection – he had enough self control to hold himself back, already grateful enough that nobody had interrupted them while he was pleasuring Will. He really couldn't ask for much more.

Standing up in the tight space, he leaned in to cup Will's face in his hands, staring deeply into those perfect blue eyes.

"You're beautiful," Hannibal said, almost in a whisper, and pressed his lips to Will's – softly, gently, breathing into him before pulling back just enough to speak. His fingers caressed Will's ears. "I would praise and worship you every day of your life if you'd let me," he confessed, closing the distance between them one more time to kiss Will again, teasing the priest's lips open to slide his tongue into his warm mouth, humming softly at the contact.

There was a surreal element to what had transpired between the doctor and the priest, like something out of a wanton dream. Will still felt unsteady, grasping Hannibal's shoulders in their heated kiss, exchanging breath, saliva, and the taste of Will's own spend. It made him shudder and whimper into Hannibal's treacherous mouth.

The priest's heart raced and fluttered every time the doctor called him beautiful – it was not at all something he was used to being told. It made him melt, eyes half-mast. But nevertheless, Will broke away softly, still panting against Hannibal's lips.

His chest bloomed with a potent ache at the sweet words of pleasure and promise. He could feel that they were sincere, and a rush of want coursed through him, helpless against his voice and touch. But why was Dr. Lecter doing these things? Why him?

Hannibal was so gentle, so reverent and kind, ready to give Will anything he could possibly desire. But for what purpose? Did he see the priest as a challenge, someone unattainable to be seduced and led to sin? A game? Did he simply desire his body, or could this man be seeking something more – companionship, a romantic partner and someone with which to share his life? Will knew he could not be that, not in this lifetime… Not if he wanted to stay faithful to God. But he could already feel himself slipping, falling inelegantly from grace and the path of virtue.

Will let his gaze drop to the floor.

"I'm sorry if I caused you any pain," he whispered, guilt-ridden with his own selfishness. "I… Don't know what happens to me when you touch me like that, I..." Oh, but his touch felt so good, and he needed it, needed it desperately.

A part of him was curious about touching Hannibal, too. Would it feel as good? Would it come with the same crushing guilt, or a heady satisfaction? Perhaps it would make him feel even more powerful.

Will squared his shoulders, back straightening as he attempted to piece together his resolve. He licked the sweat beading on his upper lip. "I'm not supposed to be like this. Lord help me, it feels better than anything I've ever—" but he could not finish the thought.

Here he was, risking his soul for his body's sake, surrendering to how much it lusted for this. A priest was not to be a slave to the physical… To sex. Will wondered if it weren't already too late.

Hannibal still looked debauched, lips rosy and plump from his cock, his desire. The man's mouth was a wicked temptation, and yet Will was curious if the doctor felt the same – if he burned with hunger for him so intensely that it made him question everything he knew.

"This can't continue, Hannibal,” Will said. It sounded weak even to his own ears. Words were nothing if he didn't follow through. “Please understand."

Even in his conflict and confusion, the last thing Will wanted to do was hurt him.

Hannibal let his fingers run through Will's curls slowly, his gaze dropping to his mouth for a moment before focusing again on his eyes. Will didn't seem angry with him, but definitely felt guilty for letting himself be touched in such a way, for enjoying it. Will felt guilty for feeling good. It didn't make sense to Hannibal.

"Will, I—" he began, only to stop suddenly. Someone was approaching the transept, Hannibal could hear and smell them – a human man, probably a priest as well. The footsteps came closer, the man's breathing and heartbeat louder in his ears. Will couldn't hear it yet, but he would soon.

Leaning in, Hannibal brushed aside the hair plastered to Will’s sweat-damp brow, pressing a soft kiss there, just a sweet gesture to show his affection. "I hope I can see you again soon, Father," he whispered, smiling softly at Will before turning to exit the confessional, sliding out gracefully and fixing his hair as he left.

Will was left speechless, watching quietly as Hannibal took his leave. He could still feel Hannibal's presence, on him, around him, cool lips pressed softly to his skin. It was inexplicable.

Hannibal could now see the priest who had come looking for Will, and recognized him immediately – Padre Rinaldo Pazzi. He never forgot a face.

Buonanotte, Padre,” Hannibal said as he passed by, and heard a quiet, grim ‘buonanotte’ in response. Hannibal smelled fear on him. Once he finally stepped outside, Hannibal decided against driving home immediately, and instead he stayed just outside of the church to overhear the conversation. He would still be able to hear the voices echoing from within the basilica. It could be worth it to stay and listen to Will and Pazzi’s inevitable exchange.

Will’s heart was still racing as he stumbled out of the confessional, but he finally felt like he could breathe again. The sensation was short lived however – Pazzi was approaching him swiftly, his usual air of composure noticeably absent. Even from where Will stood, his face appeared ashen, brow shiny with perspiration. He looked afraid. Then again, Will imagined he didn't look much better.

The young priest tried to straighten out his cassock, smooth down any telling wrinkles in his clothes.

"Father," Pazzi spoke in a hurried breath, his tone laden with concern. "I've been trying to contact you. Are you alright?"

Will blinked, fingers itching for a moment to adjust a pair of spectacles he didn't have. But his shoulders relaxed at the sound of Pazzi's voice, his rich Italian accent never failing to somehow soothe him. He groaned, realizing he'd left his phone in his palazzo room. They weren't allowed in the transept anyway.

"Sorry,” he answered. “I sort of had my hands full here. I was just finishing up.” To Will's dismay, the lie rolled easily off his tongue.

"I thought you might still be here,” said Pazzi. “You're as red as a pepper. I’m not sure if that's sweat or if you went swimming in the Tiber. Are you sure you're feeling well?"

The flush creeping up Will's collar flared and darkened, and he took a step back, fighting the urge to flee. He had already been seen by God. What did it matter if another priest saw him now?

"I'm fine, Padre. Just… Tired. Still a bit under the weather, but it'll pass. Thank you for asking."

Pazzi cocked his head to the side with an expression of disbelief. It wasn't accusatory, but Will knew better than to take him for a fool. Pazzi was as perceptive as he was, if not more so.

"Come with me," Pazzi urged gently, a steadying hand in between Will's shoulder blades. "We have much to discuss." He led them quietly past the magnificence of the Papal Altar, walking together in stride, small as ants beneath the gigantic dome of the basilica.

"Since you've returned, Father, I've noticed that you've been acting differently. Perhaps even before that." Pazzi's voice lowered to an ominous whisper. "Word has it that you've been spending your nights with the likes of Hannibal Lecter. Does this name mean anything to you?"

Will felt his stomach clench, and he swallowed reflexively. "Dr. Lecter… He's been helping me from a psychiatric standpoint. I know it's against—"

"Don't worry about that," Pazzi interrupted, but it lacked any harshness. "I am not here to judge you. I'm here to warn you, as you are a child of God. Do you understand?"

Father Graham's brow furrowed as he walked alongside Pazzi, far below the massive pillars of the church.

“I think I do, Padre… He's a hedonist. He routinely indulges himself in the cardinal sins of Lust, Gluttony, Greed and Pride—indiscriminate in his pleasures and desires. But he's… Also a very generous man, Father. Respectable." In his own way, Graham thought. "And a brilliant psychiatrist. He possesses an incredible understanding of the human mind."

Padre Pazzi sighed, the hard soles of his shoes echoing against polished stone. "Will… What I am about to tell you is not known to many, even within the Church." A beat of silence. "You know of demons. You are aware of the devil's snares. Are you familiar with the vampire?"

Will cocked an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth twitching downward.

"I… I know of them,” he said. “I can't say I have much experience.” Will stopped, planting his feet firmly on the marbled floor. "Does someone believe they've been targeted by a vampire?"

"Shhh, you must lower your voice..."

"We're alone, Father. Dr. Lecter was the last of the unordained. There’s no one else here."

But Pazzi did not seem convinced. He looked about with apprehension before leaning in closer.

"I'm going to tell you something. Something that you may benefit from knowing. Vampires live among us. They may be in our midst at any hour of the day, though the night calls to them. There are many kinds – as diverse as we are." Pazzi clasped his hands together, a gust of air escaping his nostrils.

"Some are energy vampires,” Pazzi explained, "feeding off of the life force of humans. They are weaker and cannot do you or I substantial harm. Some are purely sexual beings—the incubus and succubus, demons in their own right. They seek to tempt and take from us as we sleep, preying on us through the world of dreams.

“Then there are those that feed on human flesh and blood. Monsters that feast upon innocents. Not creatures of God but spawn of the devil, unholy and birthed in the shadows. They are the most sinister, and they are very good at hiding in plain sight."

It was Will's turn to blanch at Pazzi's words… He could feel it, sense the fear that Padre Pazzi harbored within his heart. He swallowed. "What does this have to do with Hannibal?"

Pazzi seemed reluctant to continue, pity written on his features. Will held his breath.

"Many many years ago,” Pazzi began, “I met a man admiring the painting of La Primavera. He was enraptured, visiting every day to sketch its likeness on a pad of paper.” The priest had a far away look in his eyes. It struck Will as a sincere memory. “That man was undoubtedly Hannibal Lecter. I saw him when he followed you into the church four days ago, and I saw him again tonight as he said his farewells." Pazzi’s expression hardened, dark eyes flashing in the shadow of a towering arch.

Will wondered briefly what he was trying to tell him, the thud of his heart against his ribcage an uncomfortable ache. Should he ask him outright? Or let him finish? He opted for the latter, respecting whatever knowledge Padre Pazzi had to offer.

"He looks precisely the same as he did twenty years ago," Pazzi continued. "Ever since his appearance in Italy, there have been many mysterious disappearances—deaths—across our cities. Florence. Palermo. Venice. Even here in Rome. The suspect is known as Il Mostro. The Monster.

"I want to warn you about this creature you think is a man. Il Mostro is not a man at all… He is a beast. A powerful vampire. He and those like him seduce humans, often into their beds, with their looks and charm. Then when they least expect it they attack, sometimes exsanguinating whole bodies. Il Mostro is unique in that he devours specific parts of his prey as well as feeding on their blood.

"Father, you must pray. I urge you. Pray for God's protection, and for the protection of Michael the Archangel. Pray for your life and for your eternal soul. And most of all… Pray that I am wrong."

Will was silent for a long moment. He'd tried to listen as intently as he could, but he was fighting the pull of unconsciousness. He heard a shrill ringing in his ears, and it made his eyelids flicker.

"Are you saying that Hannibal..." he began, bringing a hand to rest against his forehead, "is Il Mostro...? A vampire? Padre, that's—"

"I could be wrong. I hope that I am wrong. But we share the gift of imagination, Father. I too can see what darkness lies inside of one's soul."

And Will knew he was right. Perhaps he even sensed the draw he himself felt to Dr. Lecter, the precarious nature of their relationship.

"Let's say you're right. What would we do? What can we do?" Will asked. "We can exorcise demons, bless the afflicted and offer our prayers… But what's the protocol for something like this? For… For vampires?"

Pazzi smiled darkly. "We destroy them. Just as we cast out demons and send them back to hell, we return the vampire from whence it came… The flames."

Will felt nauseous. Hollow. He bowed his head, sucking a breath in through his teeth.

“I have to think on this, Padre,” he said. “I… I can't focus right now. If you wouldn't mind, I think I could use some sleep. But thank you for taking the time to speak with me—I'll heed your advice and pray."

Padre Pazzi nodded, the crease of his forehead smoothing. "Of course. Get as much rest as you can. I will see you again tomorrow.”

Hearing their goodbyes, Hannibal turned around and headed to his car outside the Vatican border, deciding to wait for Will there. He had planned to wait longer to tell Will what he truly was – he didn't think Will was ready for that knowledge just yet, but Pazzi had interfered in his plans. Now, he couldn’t leave without knowing what was going through Will’s mind… He couldn’t just let Will go home and sleep on it, not without recementing their trust in one another.

Graham began to make his way toward the exit, but stopped before he could get too far. It dawned on him, heart heavy, that he had not yet made peace with himself or God. Not through the church. It would be too damaging to go on like this, for his spirit to take refuge within this corrupt body, sullied by the sin that weighed him down.

"Padre," Will said, turning back around. "Wait. I apologize, but I... I actually need to confess. I can't leave before I do."

Pazzi nodded solemnly. He was glad for it.

The two returned to the North transept, and Pazzi entered the middle alcove of a confessional, shutting the door behind him. He left the top panels open as Graham knelt in front of him, so that they were face-to-face.

Will made the sign of the cross and bowed his head.

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—bless me, Padre, for I have sinned grievously. My last confession was one week ago.

"I am single and a member of clergy, as you know. I've... I've been overcome by impure thoughts and desires for one person: another unmarried man. I have twice acted on these thoughts and desires, allowing myself to be touched impurely and breaking my oath of celibacy. This has violated my sacred vows as a priest. Both times I have passively consented to being stimulated to release, solely for the sake of my own sexual gratification."

A deliberate waste of seed, he thought, and the image of Hannibal licking his spend from his fingers flashed behind his eyelids.

"One of these acts took place within... a holy space." Right here. Right inside this beautiful, timeless church, in one of the confessionals. "Such was desecration by act of debauchery. Therefore, Padre, I am guilty of the mortal sins of homosexual lust, activity, premarital sex, and sacrilege."

Father Graham swallowed, his eyes brimming with tears. Good. He had defiled a place of worship. How could he ever step foot within the Basilica again, without thinking of the sinful pleasure he’d received? It was necessary that he suffer for his misdeeds. He should have never let Hannibal's desires blur so readily with his own.

"I have yearned for impure pleasures and unnatural sex acts at least twice. I've found myself desiring—craving—more than what has already occurred, including sodomy. I am guilty of the venial sin of immodest looks toward an unmarried man as much as three times a week. Through word and deed I may have encouraged romantic and sexual advances from this same person. I have taken the Lord's name in vain exactly four times, carelessly and in an impure way. This was blasphemy against God. Thrice I have doubted my faith and God's intentions in the last week.

"I am guilty of Gluttony, having over indulged myself in drink and lavish company. Lust, having surrendered to fleshly pleasures. Sloth, as I have stayed home when I should have been at church. I have maintained a state of mortal sin for four days, in which I did not come to confess. I’ve waited until now to do so."

He felt as though his soul had been scarred.

"This is all I can recount. I am sorry for these and all of my sins, especially those that were lustful and adulterous. Please, Padre, I beg for God's forgiveness.”

It was Padre Pazzi’s turn to be silent. He said nothing for a very long time. As serious as the matter was, Graham was one of his most gifted priests, and a valuable asset to the Roman Catholic Church. They could not afford to lose the likes of such a man, one who could potentially make one of the greatest exorcists of their time.

Pazzi sighed.

"This is grave indeed,” he said, and he meant every word. “It would be a matter of suspension for any other, but I can sense your regret. I do not believe this to be willful insubordination, but the work of great evil.”

It was unquestionable that Hannibal Lecter had most certainly targeted him. Through his seductive wiles and the glamour of a vampire, even a priest would struggle to resist temptation. Given Father Graham's particular gifts, Pazzi realized that this was even more true.

"I shall not report this to Bishop Crawford for this reason, nor shall I recommend your laicization or suspension. Instead, you shall serve rigorous penance. Are you willing to do this, Father?"

Graham could not say no. He craved to be cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb, washed clean of his sins.

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes," he replied.

"Very well. Your penance: I want you to purchase a sackcloth hairshirt as well as a cilice. You are to wear the cilice tightly, two hours each day; the hairshirt daily, until you retire to bed—both for one week.”

Father Graham was in no position to question Pazzi’s judgement. A hairshirt and cilice seemed almost medieval, but he reasoned that his sins had earned him the more extreme forms of mortification of the flesh.

"After I absolve you, you are not to miss another Mass. You will dress yourself fully in the vestments, reciting each vesting prayer aloud. I assign you two days of dry fast and four days fast to end on the Holy Day. I shall give you the Saint Benedict medal for protection—you are to say five Gloria Patris, three Pater Nosters, and three more Gloria Patris whenever you feel the pull of temptation. Lastly, I want you to meditate on the Bible verses of Sexual Immorality and God's Wrath Against Sinful Humanity.”

"Yes, Padre. Thank you,” Graham answered.

"Now, your act of contrition, Father. Express your sorrows."

Father Graham didn't even have to think.

"My God,” he began, “though I am unworthy, I humbly lay myself bare to your divine judgement. I denounce my misguided ways, and with my whole heart apologize deeply for my sins. I am sorry, Lord, to have offended you so, lost and turned foolishly away from your light. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have strayed and sinned against you, Holy Father, whom I should love above all else. Through your grace and guidance, I firmly intend to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid that which leads me to sin.”

He realized that this would mean avoiding Dr. Lecter. How could he both avoid and forgive?

“Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us,” Father Graham continued. “He shed his precious blood for our sins. In his name, my God, may you have mercy on me. In his blessed name, my Shepherd, I beg your forgiveness. In this I solemnly pray, Amen."

Padre Pazzi held his hands out in prayer. "God, the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

“Amen,” Graham echoed.

"God has forgiven your sins, Father. You may go in peace.”

"Thanks be to God."

“One more thing, Will,” said Pazzi. “Think long and hard about what I've told you here tonight. You must pray diligently, reflect, and ask for God’s guidance. May the Lord be with you in your time of need."

"And with your spirit," Will murmured. The priest rose to his feet and Padre Pazzi reached out to him, pressing a shiny sacramental medal into his palm.

Father Graham thanked him and immediately made his way to an empty pew to pray.

He took the time to reflect, knowing his mind, his thoughts and feelings were clearer without Hannibal's influence. When he was away from him, Will could be the kind of man – and priest – he most wished to be.

But sin and self-satisfaction were slippery slopes, one he had found himself being drawn back to slowly. Though trained to avoid sin and its sources, Will couldn't seem to keep himself away from Hannibal Lecter.

After feeling what it was like, such boundless pleasure... How could he not want that again? He wanted it and yet he didn't want it.

Pazzi’s words hadn't left his mind. He slipped the medal into his pocket. Quietly, Will began his penance.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum . . .

Absolved, Father Graham saw himself out of the basilica. The air outside smelled of a smoky sweetness, and he stopped along the cobblestone square, feeling the night breeze against his skin. The moon was a lonely half crescent just beyond the Vatican border, and Graham wished for the warmth of the sun.

He noticed a familiar shape in the distance. A large vehicle – a Bentley. Will's heart skipped a beat. It had to be Hannibal. What was he still doing here?

Before he could even register the motion, the priest was making his way toward the car, seeking some kind of reassurance. He didn't want to doubt his mentor, but Pazzi didn't realize the extent of what he'd done, the parts of him that had been inside of Hannibal's hot, slick mouth. His fingers, his tongue, his—no. Dr. Lecter was not a vampire. Pazzi had the wrong man.

Hannibal inhaled deeply as he heard Will nearing, heartbeat loud in his ears, breathing still slightly uneven. He wondered what had taken Will so long, but decided not to ask. He had been able to smell Father Pazzi's fear, not just right there while talking to Will, but before, twenty years ago in Florence. He didn't smell fear on Will now. Hannibal exited the car.

"Will," he said, and approached him slowly, a soft smile on his face. "I was ready to drive home when I realized I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of you walking home alone at this time of night—even though you live nearby. Crime is abundant where tourists tend to frequent, even at this hour. I'd like to take you back if you’d let me."

Will worried his bottom lip with his teeth, pulse racing. The memory of what they had done was still so fresh in his mind, and the notion of sharing such close quarters with Dr. Lecter again made him flush with heat. There was the chance for anything to happen – it was his car, after all. He could even lock them both inside if he so felt the urge.

Not to mention there was the subject of Padre Pazzi's ominous warning.

Will kept his distance.

"I don't know if that's such a good idea,” said the priest, nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot. “I appreciate the offer, Hannibal, really, but I have to decline. I assure you, there's nothing to be worried about. My safety isn't threatened by the night." Will fiddled with the silver chain around his neck. "Besides, it's rather nice out tonight. It'd be a shame not to enjoy it."

Hannibal looked up at the sky, considering Will's words and wondering if the priest was avoiding him. If it was due to their earlier encounter or Father Pazzi's words. Maybe a bit of both. If Will began siding with Pazzi, Hannibal would have to change his plans… Maybe turn the priest into a vampire too, even if he had to do so forcefully. Or, he could kill him and let their game end. He didn't feel inclined to do either, however. He wanted Will to want him, to choose him. He needed to find out what was going through Will's mind.

"You're right. It is a beautiful night," Hannibal said, watching as Will's bottom lip grew slightly red from being squeezed between his teeth. He missed those lips already. "Maybe you'd let me walk you home, then?" He smiled, hopeful – if he showed Will how much he enjoyed his presence, the priest wouldn't deny him an innocent walk, would he?

As Will deliberated, choosing how to best reply, Hannibal took the time to seal the deal.

"I don't expect to be invited in,” he added, voice laden with a pained bittersweetness. “I'd just like to have a nice walk with you, as we often did when we first met.” Maybe Will would feel more inclined to agree if Hannibal brought up memories from the beginning of their relationship. "I'd also like to ensure that you get home safely. That's all, I promise.” For now.

The words were like daggers to Will's heart, piercing him with guilt and the ache of nostalgia. It made his breath catch – those days seemed so far away from them now. It had been a simpler time, but perhaps this was the way it was always supposed to turn out. God's plan, the priest reminded himself. God's design. Will was not faithless, he had not yet fallen so low as to turn his back to God. That meant that he was not to turn his back to those in need, either.

Who was he to pass judgement on his fellow man? If Pazzi were wrong in his assumption, that was all that Hannibal was: a man. For all Will knew, this could be his attempt at making amends. Maybe Hannibal had realized his mistake, would apologize and take his leave. Out of his sight, mind, and… Out of his life. The pain in his chest did not cease, and Will’s throat felt constricted.

"Alright," he choked out. "You can walk with me, Hannibal. Just..." Don't touch me. Don't tempt me. Don't hurt me. The uncertainty he felt surely gave him away. "Just don't give me a reason to regret it. Please."

Will made his way across the cobblestone square and Hannibal followed suit, until St. Peter’s Basilica was looming in the backdrop. Now they walked side by side, mirror images of the other, motions synchronized, and Will remembered this. He watched Hannibal from the corner of his eye, not obviously enough to be apparent.

“I want you to know that I forgive you," Will said, shifting his gaze in front of him. "And I hope you can forgive me." For giving in, for listening to Padre Pazzi, and for questioning everything he knew about Hannibal Lecter. "I have reason to be wary of your company, Doctor, and not just because..." he trailed off, lost in thought. Best not to focus on the nature of their relationship.

“Someone I trust inherently is convinced that you're dangerous,” he began instead. “So forgive me if I'm a bit hesitant. I'm not sure what to believe right now."

Dangerous. That was generous. Hannibal was more than dangerous, he was lethal – when he wanted to be. When he needed to be. He wondered if this was to be Father Graham's fate – slammed against a wall with vampire fangs buried deep in his carotid, trying to scream for his life as the life was taken from him, struggling against the body pressed tightly against his. Hannibal felt his mouth watering with the simple thought of tasting the priest’s blood. He wondered if Will's last thought would be that he should have taken Pazzi more seriously, if his last feeling would be regret, and if his blood would taste like fear.

Hannibal walked with his hands in the pockets of his coat, fixing his gaze on Will – their eyes met and he noticed a slight change in his heart rate, a sharp intake of breath that was just loud enough for Hannibal to hear.

“Do you think I'm dangerous, Will?" Hannibal asked innocently, keeping his anger to himself and adding Pazzi's name to his mental list of people he planned to kill. He kept his tone soft, as if he didn't feel offended at all, just mildly curious. "Do I seem... Dangerous to you?"

The priest inhaled a lungful of crisp night air, ignoring the unwanted churning in his stomach.

"I think you're very smart, Hannibal,” Will explained, “I think you have influence, and… And agency. You boast wealth, status. Charm. Physically, you're—" but the words died in his throat almost immediately. He couldn't trust himself to go there. Surely it didn't take a priest to inform Hannibal of his appeal.

Even as a priest – or perhaps because of it – Will possessed an incredible appreciation for beauty. The marvels of St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel never failed to leave him in awe, and yet Hannibal was no less divine, no less exquisite than even the artistry of Michelangelo and Bernini.

"You're… Seductive. And these things make you dangerous. I have yet to find out if you're dangerous in other ways, but already I… I have trouble thinking straight when you're involved. I can't be objective." Will's jaw set, and he did not want to look at Hannibal lest he be enticed yet again. It was difficult to argue with someone who seemed so calm, so collected, sure of every word and graceful motion. Difficult not to believe them. But Pazzi... Could this just be some extreme religious fervor, born of fear? Or was he actually right?

As they neared the palazzo, Will nearly let out a sigh of relief. He must have been walking briskly – thankfully Hannibal did not complain. Will was grateful, already beginning to sweat underneath his collar.

Hannibal wanted to smile after hearing Will's description. Seductive. Will had just admitted that Hannibal seduced him. "I don't see why anyone would feel the need to warn you about me," he said quietly. "But I'm not worried, because I know you're not the kind of person to believe rumors without questioning them. You wouldn't be unfair like that. I trust you."

Or would you? Hannibal thought. They stopped in front of the palazzo and Hannibal stood in front of Will, close enough to touch, but Hannibal didn't dare. Will didn't want to regret it, and Hannibal wasn't sure what would bring that about. As he looked into the priest's eyes, asking himself if he should force Will to let him in and kill him, the idea became painful. He couldn't hurt Will that way. He wanted the priest happy. Safe. He didn't want Will to be afraid of him. He realized he could no longer imagine how his life would be without Will Graham. He had imagined a future with the priest, and it was his only option now.

"Well, Father," Hannibal said with a soft smile, keeping his hands to himself. "Thank you for your company tonight. And for your forgiveness.”

"You shouldn't be satisfied with my forgiveness alone," Graham replied. "There's something to be said of being absolved of your sins in the eyes of God. Maybe one day you'll try confession—an actual one—with another priest. Just don't... Don't do what you did with me." He wondered where the two of them would go from here. If they were fated to this bond of sin and blurred lines.

"If you ever need to talk," Will continued, "you still have my counsel."

“You'd still like to see me, then,” Hannibal said, watching Will closely. He assumed this was true. The priest was reacting in a much better way than he had last time. Hannibal considered it a victory, and wondered how Will would react next time.

"If you can keep it professional. One way or another, I need to deal with you. And... how you make me feel."

Will just hoped these feelings were truly his own.

Hannibal's lips curled just slightly, an almost imperceptible smile. Keeping it professional was not what he wanted, but it was enough for now. He knew that as long as he could keep seeing Will, the possibility to have him again would always exist. He doubted Will would resist very long, considering the way Hannibal made him feel.

“Then I hope to see you again soon, Father.” It sounded almost provocative. He wasn't sure it wasn't intentional. “For therapy,” he added, in a more serious tone. “Goodnight, Will.”

Will smiled curtly, polite but forced.

"Goodnight."

His smile vanished as soon as he turned his back, making his way into the building.

It was a relief to return to the safety of his room, though he'd spent much of his time here as of late. Peculiar how temptation seemed to leave him as soon as he distanced himself from Dr. Lecter, but he could not make light of the correlation. What this meant for them, he did not know – strangely, Padre Pazzi had not reacted at all how Will had expected. He’d been relatively calm in the face of his confession, and he didn't exactly warn him to stay away from Hannibal.

Instead, he wanted Graham to wear a hairshirt and cilice. For the slightest moment, he wondered if it had anything to do with Pazzi's suspicions. If worn long enough, tightly enough, the cilice was likely to draw blood. If Pazzi wanted proof that Hannibal was a vampire, it could be one way to get it.

Was that why he also gave him the medal of Saint Benedict? He couldn't shake the notion. Still, the holy object was a comfort.

Let not the dragon be my guide, Father Graham thought. He felt the Saint Benedict medal in his pocket, tracing over the engravings on its back. Around the prominent cross, he ran his fingers along the medal's edge, over the letters he knew were there: V.R.S.N.S.M.V. Vade retro Satana; nunquam suade mihi vana. Begone Satan; tempt me not with your vanities. S.M.Q.L.I.V.B: Sunt mala quae libas; ipse venena bibas! What you offer me is evil; drink the poison yourself!

The thought made Will smile to himself. He hoped the medal would help steer him away from temptation. Saint Benedict had been tempted by the devil tirelessly, but instead of give in the lust he'd been inflamed with, he'd thrown himself into a thorn bush to distract from his overwhelming fleshly desires.

Graham hoped his disciplines would work in much the same way. A cilice and hairshirt...

He knew some Italian nuns that might just be able to help him.

Chapter Text

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. —John {8:32}

In the early hours of the morning, still dark enough to see the city lights, Will stirred and awakened in hopes of spiritual rebirth. Faithfully he began with the Liturgy of the Hours, reciting Lauds, the office of daybreak, like clockwork.

“Lord,” he whispered, facing the quiet dawn. “Open our lips. And we shall praise your name.”

Despite his initial optimism, the day felt markedly different from any other – as if Will's outer world had shifted to reflect his inner turmoil. Gray skies, heavy clouds with only the barest hint of sun, and cold enough to warrant a scarf. A chilly, overcast morning. He most certainly felt a strange sense of oppression, a heaviness that stuck to him like gum under his shoe.

The day's silver lining was a favor called in to a nearby church, old and small in size, but home to a group of kindly Italian nuns that hand-crafted a variety of high quality goods. He paid for a hairshirt with cincture and full-thigh cilice, along with a large beaded rosary in which to contemplate God's mysteries. Will wondered if the nuns themselves subjected their bodies to this particular form of discipline. It was impossible to tell.

He heard the flapping wings and loud caws of hooded crows overhead, flashes of black and gray feathers as he glanced above him on his way back to the palazzo. It felt ominous, though the city's corvids were a common sight. Graham was quick to return to his modest room, where the shadows felt a little less heavy, and he felt a little more safe.

Moving onto his mid-morning prayers, he ignored the pangs of hunger that unsettled his stomach. No water and no food, a dry fast was the most trying of them all, but it served its purpose. The hours had passed to yield increasing clarity, and Will was eager to humble himself, promising the mortification of his flesh. After a brisk and necessary shower, Will dried off and slipped on a clean pair of undershorts. He retrieved his items, unfolding the sackcloth hairshirt to pull it over his head.

"Gird me, Lord," he said aloud, using the cincture to secure the hairshirt around his waist, “with the cincture of purity, and extinguish in my loins all the fleshly desires, that the virtues of continence and chastity may abide within me."

The material was coarse and itchy, irritating his skin already – he hoped he could resist the urge to scratch. A constant reminder of his call to piety.

Will examined the cilice, feeling the hooked points against his fingertips. They were sharp enough to prick him but not to draw blood, not yet. He imagined it would leave him quite sore after being worn so tightly on a daily basis. A week’s time under this treatment would possibly leave unsightly wounds, but the thought didn't scare him – he was unafraid of trials and tribulations and no stranger to adversity. Even Dante had to traverse Hell and Purgatory before he could ascend to Paradise.

Rigorous penance, he thought. Padre Pazzi would not report his transgressions to Bishop Crawford, sincerely believing that it was the result of some negative outside force. An unholy influence. Perhaps Hannibal Lecter was temptation incarnate, but to call him evil... It felt reductive.

Graham closed his eyes and breathed, trying to shift his focus back to the task at hand. He felt the hairshirt against his skin, the weight of the cilice in his hand. On a deep inhale he knelt and tied it tightly around his left thigh, until he could feel the bite of the silver-plated metal hard enough to hurt.

Ducking his head, he draped the rosary around his neck to mingle with his cross.

Will stared long and hard at himself in the bathroom mirror. He looked every bit a holy warrior, at war with his own formidable concupiscence, striving to put to death his lower appetites.

Time would tell if he could repair the damaged Imago Dei – the image of God – in his life.

Graham dressed himself and prepared for the day ahead.

Per his training, he knew that to be an exorcist meant to be a skeptic – it would be a part of his job to rule out all other possibilities, until he was left with the near certainty of demonic influence or activity. This was no different. Though he trusted his elders and those above him, Father Graham knew how important it was to ask questions. To take things with a grain of salt.

Far from convinced of Dr. Lecter's mysterious past, the priest felt it was his duty to investigate Pazzi's claims. His mentor was a wise and perceptive man, and Will knew it would be foolish not to heed his warning. At the very least it was a noble endeavor, and distracting enough to keep Will from facing the reality of what had occurred between he and Hannibal. A part of him hoped this would somehow yield an explanation. Provide answers.

A lingering dread still roiled in his stomach, born of his encounters the night before... But he had already made up his mind. Graham would put Father Pazzi's worries to rest. He would research all he could about the vampire.

Within Rome's Biblioteca Vallicelliana, the priest had access to tens of thousands of documents, ancient manuscripts, letters, incunabula and books, including those banned by the Catholic Church. His search had already proved fruitful – he had visited a few libraries before this one: École Française de Rome, for books on Church history and ancient and medieval times, Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medioevo, to conduct more research on the Middle Ages, the library of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, and the renowned Vatican Library itself.

The church bells of the adjacent Santa Maria in Vallicella rang out through the cramped square of Chiesa Nuova. Before he continued his reading, Graham said his midday prayers, asking for peace of heart, to be led away from temptation and protected from whatever evil his digging could stir up.

Though somewhat familiar with the vampire mythos, Graham had been uncertain that the legends had their roots in any real historical events. Early cultural and societal attitudes had ultimately birthed a potent fear of the unknown, of monsters and man’s own animal nature, helping to establish the vampire in its current incarnation. There was an uncomfortably fine line between human and animal – even finer if one believed purely in science and the theory of evolution, contrary to the idea that God created separately both animal and man.

For millennia people from all cultures and creeds have told stories of evil entities, spirits, and bloodsucking demons. Many took human shape, possessing the bodies of the deceased to become the risen dead. Others were creatures separate from humans, a species all their own. It was both fascinating and terrifying.

Graham was able to find the written works of Reverend Priest Dom Augustin Calmet, a Benedictine monk, philosopher, and prodigious academic whose occult studies, including those on vampires, were especially enlightening. One passage read:

“ . . . it is said, men who have been dead for several months, come back to earth, talk, walk, infest villages, ill use both men and beasts, suck the blood of their near relations, make them ill, and finally cause their death; so that people can only save themselves from their dangerous visits and their hauntings by exhuming them, impaling them, cutting off their heads, tearing out the heart, or burning them. These revenants are called by the name of oupires or vampires, that is to say, leeches; and such particulars are related of them, so singular, so detailed, and invested with such probable circumstances and such judicial information, that one can hardly refuse to credit the belief which is held in those countries, that these revenants come out of their tombs and produce those effects which are proclaimed of them.”

It didn't surprise Father Graham to find many more resources on the phenomenon. Various reports penned by clergy, law enforcement, soldiers and civilians. Claims of vampire attacks, documented sightings, guides, and an extensive collection of folklore from around the world, almost every culture with their own version of the vampire legend. Even Homer’s Odyssey told of vampiric beings, too weak to communicate with the living without the power derived from the drinking of blood.

Graham thumbed through a different book, having eyed another name he recognized: Leo Allatius. 17th century theologian, Roman Catholic scholar, trained physician and custodian of the Vatican Library. He carefully skimmed over the manuscripts of his published work, De Graecorum hodie quorundam opinationibus. It confirmed Allatius’s own belief, and detailed the existence of the vrykolakas, a vampire of Greek legend, as well as how to identify and dispatch them. Father Graham hadn't realized just how closely the Catholic Church was tied to the pandemonium of the paranormal.

He could feel his skin itch underneath his cassock and hairshirt, could already imagine the raw pink of his aggravated flesh by the day’s end. The cilice stung around his thigh, but he was determined to finish what he'd started.

It wasn't long before Will had unearthed the troubling extent of the Church's connection to the vampire and other supernatural entities – going as far as to publicly recognize their existence, albeit unintentionally. Long ago, a council had been held in Rome concerning Pagan myths and beliefs that threatened to eclipse Catholicism. Its religious leaders had to act fast, and in response, the Church began to link vampires, witches, werewolves and revenants with Satan, beginning their own investigation into what should have been little more than superstition. Ultimately, vampires were condemned as reanimated corpses, possessed by demons, and therefore of the devil.

The Church established that only God and Christianity, with its holy objects, relics, and symbols, would be capable of driving them away. That the masses would be offered protection in exchange for their faith. In their effort to spread Catholic beliefs and teachings, as well as stem those of Pagan or witchcraft origin, the Church only instilled more fear by confirming the presence of the vampire.

It felt like a medieval scandal.

Father Graham's nose wrinkled. They had never taught him this in all his years as a priest. It was nowhere to be found in any of his religious studies. A secret of the middle-ages. The Church’s involvement only served to push their own agenda, encouraging mass hysteria and sustaining the fear of vampires through to modern times. The 18th-Century Vampire Controversy, as it became known, had been prevalent.

The priest continued his research.

" . . . spirits that threaten every house, rage at people, eat their flesh, and as they let their blood flow like rain, they never stop drinking blood."

". . . demons that visit in the devil's hour, entering dreams to steal the gifts that God bestowed upon man, for they do not possess the gift of life in blood nor seed . . ."

". . . bear the mark of a vampire, and those bitten shall become its thrall . . . to save their soul they must be baptized in the fire . . ."

He stumbled upon documents from the 12th century Inquisition, detailing various encounters with vampires. Will found that they had many names: Children of the night. Bloodsuckers. Leeches. Nosferatu. Nightwalkers. The consensus was that whatever they were called, they were monsters. Veritable demons. This much Father Graham already knew. He browsed through some other manuscripts, much of the text written in Latin. Some were in Italian, and there were still others he could not read. He focused on what he could.

" . . . aversion to sunlight and holy relics, elongated fangs, cold or pallid skin, glowing, red or unnatural eyes, sexual promiscuity, the strength of seven men, a fundamental craving for blood . . . vampirism can be cured only by death."

". . . to kill a vampyre . . . impale or stake through the heart, cremate, behead . . . repel the creature with garlic, blessed objects, holy water and prayer . . ."

Will was familiar with some of the terms he came across—incubus, succubus. Biblical names he recognized: Lilith, Judas, Samael and Cain. There were a few stories depicting vampire origin, and contradicting accounts of the vampire’s appearance; some were hideous corpses, others possessed an unearthly beauty and seductive, mysterious air. The priest read for hours, so absorbed in the material he did not pay mind to the tingling numbness of his thigh, nor the scratch of the coarse sackcloth against his chest. His gaze skimmed across several passages that continued to stand out in his mind:

"Do not be fooled, for they are beasts first and foremost. They walk among us, beautiful to the eye, seeking only to lure and sate their voracious appetite for blood . . ."

"Ugly, with bloated bellies and gnarled teeth, long, sharp nails, covered in the soil of the earth and blood dripping from their mouths . . ."

". . . as dangerous and vicious as the pureblood. Often in positions of power and possessing great wealth, some are hundreds, if not thousands of years old . . . the strongest and most terrifying of their kind."

The words sent a shudder through him, and Will closed the book he held with trembling hands.

"Studying vampires, Father?" Hannibal's voice came from behind him, making the priest jump in his chair. Will bit back a gasp at the slight twinge of pain the motion brought. He'd worn his cilice for much longer than prescribed.

Hannibal had decided to find Will that morning and apologize for the night before – he didn't regret it or wish to repent, he simply needed to make the priest believe he didn't have the intention of repeating the act. After stopping just outside Will's door and honing in on his scent, it had been easy to follow his steps until he reached the Biblioteca Vallicelliana, the last of his library stops. Hannibal had found him there with several books in front of him, so focused on his studies that he hadn't even seen the vampire slink by him and slip in between the bookshelves. Hannibal had waited several minutes before approaching Will, pleased to see what the priest was reading about. Now all he needed was to discover what conclusion Will had come to, and if the priest would hold his ground or try to avoid him entirely.

"You—” Will breathed, a hand against his own chest, tempted to scratch at the press of the hairshirt, “you startled me, Doctor.” He could hear the pounding of his heart loud in his ears. Running into Hannibal was becoming the norm, but he hadn't expected to see him here of all places. He'd certainly caught Will off guard.

"Forgive me, please,” Hannibal said, his gaze falling to the books in front of Will, eyes traveling over the pages and reading quickly. “This seems to be an interesting read. Unfortunately these accounts tend to contain many inaccuracies concerning vampires. It's difficult to believe the myths, but even harder to know the truth of them.” Hannibal flashed a polite smile. “Reality is often stranger than fiction. Those who do get close to real vampires rarely live long enough to write a book.”

Will blinked.

“May I sit down?" Hannibal asked, already pulling out the chair next to Will.

"Please, go ahead."

The priest straightened up as Hannibal took a seat beside him, stacking the books on top of one another, clearing a space for Dr. Lecter at the desk.

“You're right,” Will continued, breath still coming fast. His laughter was forced, shaky and fraught with nerves. "I'm finding they differ widely from culture to culture. Even European accounts can't seem to agree entirely. I've been reading all morning, but most of what I've come across reeks of fear, and… hysterics."

Will lowered his hands, folding them calmly in his lap to stifle their shaking, his gaze cast downward along with them. He didn't try to soothe the ache of his cilice, brow furrowing slightly in question instead.

“What... brings you to La Vallicelliana...?" the priest asked, confusion painting his delicate features.

"Books about medicine and psychiatry," Hannibal answered, smiling at Will as he mirrored the priest's position, hands folded on his lap. "The usual. Some subjects will always be fascinating to me. If I have nothing to do, I can stay here reading for hours."

"Biblioteca Cencelli might serve you better," Will replied, but he was not displeased by Hannibal's presence. It was a weak rebuff.

It was easy to see that he was nervous. Hannibal knew the exact reason why Will was reading those books, and why Hannibal had startled him so much. Will was close, so close to finding out the truth… Hannibal wasn't sure if he wanted Will to find out on his own and confront him, or if he wanted to show the priest what he truly was in the most dramatic way he could think of.

"I saw you when you arrived,” Hannibal continued, crossing his legs, “but you looked very busy and I didn't want to bother you.” His eyes were fixed on Will. The priest's heart was still beating fast, loud in Hannibal's ears, louder than anyone else's in the library. It had become Hannibal's favorite sound. "Just another happy coincidence, I'd say. Although I'm sorry for having startled you. I was preparing to leave when I realized I couldn't go without telling you what has been on my mind since last night."

"Last night was—" Father Graham began, blood surging through his veins. "A mistake. One of many I seem to be making with you, Hannibal." The priest's pulse was racing, but he tried to prepare for whatever words would come out of Dr. Lecter's mouth. He remembered that mouth with vivid detail, warm and wet, wrapped around him so eagerly. A mouth he'd used, that he'd... That he'd so readily defiled. Graham tensed the muscles of his thigh, welcoming the pain that shot through him.

"I'd like to say a few things in light of what occurred between us... while I tried to assign penance, before I could impart you with absolution." Will inhaled slowly, closing his eyes. "'Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them’,” he recited, “‘and whose sins you retain are retained.’” The holy words made him feel lighter in spirit. "I had said I forgave you, but still, I... I feel I need to hear from you. I need to know why."

"Will, I..." Hannibal trailed off, looking down as he thought of what to say. He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment before he looked at Will again. “I know what I did—what I've been doing with you—is wrong. I couldn't sleep last night. Couldn't stop thinking that I needed to apologize to you. Again. I'm sorry, Will. You certainly deserve to know why, although I fear the consequences of telling you. However, it would be unfair to deny you the truth only to protect myself from those consequences."

The priest waited patiently as Hannibal took a deep breath, visibly unsettled. His feelings were true, even if his words weren't entirely honest. He wasn't sorry, and he wasn't going to stop. But he wanted to make Will forgive him, and with time, he would make the priest desire him above all else. His goal was Will Graham's undying love and devotion.

"It has been difficult for me to control my feelings about you," Hannibal said, his voice lower than it was before, lower than the thud of Will's racing heartbeat. "I promise you I will work on that."

Will's eyelids fluttered open at the words – he was helpless not to turn and gaze at him, taking in Hannibal's rueful expression.

"And those feelings..." Will began, little more than a quiet rush of breath, "depending on their nature, I... I may have to recommend that we maintain professional boundaries. You're no more to blame than I am." He licked his lips nervously, but fought the urge to look away. "Perhaps less, because you... Your gratification wasn't..."

Will struggled to continue. The priest's throat felt constricted, making it difficult for him to speak. It was hard to fault Hannibal when his own pleasure had never been the focus. Confronting him was simple in theory, but now that Dr. Lecter was here again, right beside him, close enough to reach out and touch... Will found it nearly impossible to stand his ground. He never thought he'd ever find himself in such a precarious situation. Find himself the object of someone's affections, someone who wanted to know him, including in the biblical sense.

"I know I've sent some mixed messages in my... Indiscretion,” Will said, heedful of his volume. “And for that I must apologize—but that's why I want to be clear now. I can't pursue a—" he glanced around them quickly, the quiet library corner empty and silent; leaned forward and lowered his voice— "a carnal relationship with you. With anyone. I'm happy to be your friend, your confidant, should you ever wish to confess. And I need you... Need you to be my psychiatrist. My compass. I have to trust you for that."

Hannibal nodded, and his expression was sad, but he was relieved that Will hadn't given up on him. Even knowing about Hannibal's feelings, even cast under heavy suspicion, Will still wasn't trying to push him away. The priest was either very brave – or very reckless.

"I can be that for you," Hannibal said, his voice just as quiet as Will's. "I can't tell you how sorry I am. I never anticipated I'd feel this way for you. That I would cross so many lines.”

Hannibal longed to cross even more.

“You're too important to me, Will,” he confessed. “I'd never forgive myself if I lost you.”

This was true. Hannibal couldn't imagine losing the sound of his heartbeat and his voice, his delicious scent, the warmth of his body. He would do anything to keep Will with him.

The priest exhaled, a wave of soothing relief washing over him, untying the heavy knots in his stomach. Hannibal's words sounded sincere, felt genuine... but something at the back of his mind still bristled with uneasiness, insisting he proceed with caution. Will tried to search Hannibal's eyes, to read him, but he was far too affected to be impartial. He found the glint in them becoming, the deep maroon a hypnotic swirl he could lose himself in. Neutrality wasn't an option when it came to Dr. Lecter, not anymore.

"I accept your apology," Will asserted softly, sitting as tall as he could.

Hannibal leaned slightly in Will's direction, eyes fixed on his. "May I offer you dinner? On Sunday. My place, just as friends. I'd like to make it up to you. Please."

Will considered the offer, maintaining hard eye contact... It felt almost natural.

He knew he could say no. He could walk right out of the library; call a taxi to take him back to the Basilica as soon as possible. He could make an excuse, say he needed time, or space, or a combination of the two. He didn't.

"Dinner on Sunday," Will agreed with a gentle smile. He couldn't refuse the invitation when Hannibal appeared so deeply apologetic, but the priest knew this would once again land him in unfamiliar – and potentially dangerous – territory. He wasn't familiar enough with Dr. Lecter's home to see his way out of it. Still, he firmly believed he wouldn't need to. As far as Will was concerned, he had been forgiven.

"At yours,” he repeated. “As friends."

If nothing else, perhaps he could seek to disprove Pazzi's theory.

Hannibal smiled. He still wasn't certain of what he wanted to do with Will on Sunday, but he was certainly curious about the possibilities. He decided he would see where the night would take them.

"Good.” Hannibal’s gaze dropped to the books on the desk. "I may also have a few old books that mention vampires, if you're interested. Some of them have belonged to my family for many years. I never seem to be able to get rid of them, only acquire more and more.” He chuckled, putting the priest at ease. "Some of them are only in Lithuanian, but I could easily translate them for you, if you wish."

Will's eyebrows shot up in surprise. The opportunity was one he couldn't pass up.

"That would be incredible, Hannibal,” he said. “Thank you. It's interesting that they're considered similar or equivalent to demons. I'd like to learn all I can about them." It wasn't exactly a lie.

The priest rose from his seat, gathering the books and manuscripts sprawled across the table into his arms. He was careful not to give away his discomfort, though for a moment he was forced to grit his teeth.

"If… if demons exist, perhaps vampires do too. Who knows.” Will shrugged, but he found the parallels undeniable. "I might come across a few in my work. I don't know much about them, but maybe they're not so different—demonology, vampirology..." He excused himself to return the dusty books and manuscripts to their proper shelves and cases. Hannibal followed closely behind, chatting with him all the while.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Hannibal said as Will finished returning the books to their shelves. “I have something for you, Will.” He smiled. “Close your eyes”

Will hesitated, and all he could think of was the memory of Hannibal’s lips. He feared Hannibal would kiss him right there. He wanted it, but didn't want to want it. He shouldn't want it, it was too risky to kiss Hannibal in a public place, even if the library was almost empty. He shouldn't be thinking about kissing Hannibal at all. The cilice and hairshirt felt even more uncomfortable against his skin as he closed his eyes. His heart was pounding, and it didn't go unnoticed by Hannibal.

Hannibal reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a black case with new glasses inside. Hannibal was still keeping Will's broken glasses in his desk drawer, a reminder of the night he took Will to La Pergola. These were brand new, straight from the company's headquarters in Rome. The kind of glasses Will had said he'd always daydreamed of buying but could never afford. Hannibal took them out of the case and slipped them on over Will’s ears.

The glasses rested on the bridge of his nose, and Will let out a sigh of both relief and resignation. Hannibal wasn't going to kiss him. They had agreed on just being friends. It was all over now.

“You can open your eyes again,” Hannibal said, smiling as Will did just that and saw him through the flawlessly clear lenses. “I hope you like them.”

Will’s eyes widened, and he slid them off to get a better look.

“Bulgari?” he croaked, mind reeling with the gesture. A brand new pair of designer eyeglasses. He didn't want to think of how much they must have cost. “Hannibal, I can't—"

“It's the least I can do,” Hannibal interrupted. “I was unable to salvage the pair broken in my company. I only saw it fit to purchase a superior replacement.”

Politely, Will put the glasses back on. They were admittedly attractive, sleek with a full-rimmed frame. A definite upgrade from the thick, blocky pair he'd worn prior.

They were also non-prescription – surely Hannibal must have noticed. Will felt himself go red all over again, gaze dropping to his feet. He really shouldn't be accepting lavish gifts, especially not now. Adorning himself with such things, he feared, would undermine his penance, insult and undo the modesty in which he was to faithfully carry it out. Will did not heed the uncomfortable feeling growing in the pit of his stomach.

“You shouldn't have. I don't actually need them, not in the traditional sense.”

“Of course not,” said Hannibal, “you use them as a barrier. It must be quite uncomfortable to see the things you see—one must ensure others aren't seeing just as much of you. A small defense, but any protection is better than none.”

Will was surprisingly touched. Momentarily at a loss for words, he quietly studied Hannibal's face. There was no judgement, no harshness in his eyes. No desire to change him. Only… acceptance.

“Thank you,” was all that Will said, and he did not argue. He couldn't deny how warm it made him feel inside, how wanted and admired.

As he prepared to take his leave of La Vallicelliana, the doctor insisted on accompanying Will on his way back to St. Peter's, per his gentlemanly MO.

"I'm afraid I'm going your way," Hannibal remarked with an air of nonchalance. "We can walk together, like we used to. That is... if you'll have me."

The priest saw little point in arguing. When he maintained his boundaries, Dr. Lecter was impeccable company – admittedly he'd missed their strolls, their candid discussions.

"Well, come on," said Will, feigning impatience. His smile told a different story. "I’m late for mid afternoon prayers."

They left the library together, exiting the Oratorio dei Filippini building to step into the now sunny piazza. As they made their way down Corso Vittorio, Will discovered that with Hannibal Lecter, there was no calming the beating of his heart, fluttering like birds' wings in his breast.

"You mentioned you had books on vampires," the priest began, having spent a few minutes in companionable silence. As they walked Will could feel the metal of his cilice against his skin, warmed by the heat of his flesh. "Do you know about them? Were they books you read and studied from?" Will was excited by the prospect, watching Hannibal expectantly from his peripheral vision. "I'm curious what brought you—or your family, rather—to be in possession of such material."

"My uncle was very passionate about vampires,” Hannibal said, lies mixing with the truth. “Studying them.” His uncle had been very fond of his own kind – he hadn't approved of vampires befriending humans like Hannibal was doing now. Vampires who met humans, fell in love and turned their humans into vampires as well, were traitors in the eyes of his uncle. Humans are food, he would say. An inferior species meant to be eaten.

Once, after a Christmas dinner – his uncle found it humorous to celebrate Christmas, drinking human blood from wine glasses and eating their flesh raw – the old vampire had given Hannibal the books, telling him to read them and understand that vampires were superior to any other creature and entity in this world, even God. One of those books was in fact written by another vampire. Hannibal was sure Will would be interested in them. He could sit with Will and translate several passages for him, make Will listen and focus only on his voice for hours.

"You could say I've inherited the books,” Hannibal continued, and smiled. "And a good amount of money. I come from a very old family, I used to live in a castle in Lithuania until I lost my parents and sister—”

He stopped.

Hannibal could use the story to melt Will's heart, bring the man even closer to him, but suddenly he realized he didn't want to talk about it. It had been more than three hundred years, and he still wondered how his life would be different if he had Mischa by his side.

"Perhaps that's a story for another time, Father. I'd be happy to help you with your studies."

"Hannibal," Father Graham said, stopping in his tracks. "I'm sorry."

The priest could feel Hannibal's pain, but wouldn't pressure him into talking – not unless he wanted to discuss it with him openly. Surely it was a sensitive subject.

He tried to play it off as Dr. Lecter had, returning to walk with him in stride, the mood relaxing from its momentary tenseness. The offer to help with his research was much appreciated, and Will would certainly take the doctor up on it.

"Books, money..." mused the priest, looking wistfully up at the sky. "As far as inheritance goes, those are rather wonderful things. Money is useful, but books… Knowledge... Priceless."

"Knowledge is the one thing nobody can ever take from you," Hannibal said, putting his hands in the pockets of his coat. The sun wasn't so hot today, whisps of clouds still floating by high above them. Still, it made Hannibal feel uncomfortable, as if any inch of exposed skin was slowly beginning to burn. He ignored the feeling.

"Which makes me wonder..." Hannibal looked at Will, lips curling in a soft smile as the priest turned his head to face him, steel-blue eyes looking into his. "Is there any particular reason for your interest in vampires? I know that priests are expected to know as many things as possible about them. But some people, the clergy mostly, study vampires with the intention to figure out their weaknesses to hunt them down and kill them."

The priest could feel himself breaking out into a light sweat, perspiration gathering in tiny points along his brow.

"I... I'd always thought those stories weren't real," Will replied. "Vampires... Vampire hunters. That they were exaggerations. But even you don't seem to question their existence."

He tried to hold Hannibal's gaze, but immediately felt stripped of his defenses. Like the doctor could see right through him, peek in through his eyes, his consciousness, his brain. There was no sense in trying to hide. "There's been talk of vampires at the Church. I've been tasked with making a positive ID. Looking into it, more or less."

It had been quite the adventure thus far, to say the least. Hannibal’s eyes flashed darkly in warning.

Will lengthened his strides, walking fast as he spotted the massive dome of St. Peter's in the distance. The sight of it made his penance feel justified, made him want to subjugate himself in God’s name. "You don't sound too happy about the idea," he reasoned.

"You saw how many books were written," Hannibal said, noticing how the priest began walking faster, his heartbeat quickening. "About vampires. So many stories in so many languages; from so many cultures. When confronted with the evidence, I believe it would take more to deny their existence than admit to it. It's unlikely that something so well documented is nothing more than myth, don't you think? They seem real enough to me. As real as God Himself.” Hannibal stopped, reaching for Will's arm to make him halt and turn to look at him.

"Vampires are dangerous, Will," Hannibal said as he took a step closer to the priest. Dangerous, just as Will had described him just the night before. These things make you dangerous. He had no idea just how dangerous he could be.

Hannibal's eyes were fixed on Will's, and he could sense some kind of fear, uneasiness in them. "If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that snooping around into the occult—vampires, demons, even for the Church—is dangerous. I don't want you to get hurt."

Will shot a glance at where the doctor held him firmly, then back to meet Hannibal's gaze. For a split second he was overcome by a feeling of distress, but the priest stood his ground. He shouldn't be afraid, not of vampires, nor demons, nor man. To cower in the face of evil – supernatural or otherwise – would be to question God's might. He was a priest. A man of the cloth. He had the holy authority to do what needed to be done.

"I won't, Hannibal," Will whispered in a soft, trembling voice. "I won't be alone. I have protection. Faith. And I hope to arm myself with even more knowledge if you'll help me.”

He stopped and straightened up suddenly, looking over Hannibal's shoulder. A growing flash of black caught his eye; a figure approaching them slowly, dressed in full cassock. The sight of another priest had Will pulling away, trying to put a respectable distance between he and Hannibal. He could still feel the lingering pressure of his grip, seared into his mind through the conduit of his flesh.

As the figured neared, Will was relieved to find that it was Father Bernardone, and not Padre Pazzi. He was carrying what looked to be a small animal in his arms.

"Father,” Father Bernardone called, one hand stroking the animal's head, even as he held it cradled like an infant. It was a scraggly looking cat, but its eyes were round and bright. "I’ve been looking for you—I thought maybe it was your day off. I've been asked to begin shadowing you at church. Thought I should let you know.”

Will’s eyebrow arched in question. He wondered if Padre Pazzi gave the order. Would Father Bernardone report that he was seen with a strange man? Or could he convince Peter to keep this between them?

Will bristled, but offered his friend a smile nonetheless. "Is that so," he said, sounding flatter than he’d meant to. He couldn't blame Father Bernardone for following orders. Peter was a good man, and a gentle-hearted priest. Will admired his boundless love for animals, despite an accident he'd had with one that nearly cost him his life.

“Yeah,” Father Bernardone continued, unperturbed. “I've been reading. Reading scripture to the animals. They seem to like it a lot. Strays come right up to me. Like this one... Found her by Ponte Sant'Angelo." He scratched gently at the cat's chin, not acknowledging Hannibal at all. The priest did however steal a few curious glances.

"I’m sure they appreciate it,” Will said. “Afraid I'm not much of a cat person, Father, but she's beautiful. Calico’s supposed to be good luck."

Father Bernardone stepped closer and a low, guttural sound erupted from the cat in his arms. It hissed fiercely, ears back, fur standing on end. Its tail looked positively enormous. Will took a hesitant step back.

"Yeah," he sighed, his brow furrowing in sympathy. "That's... why I don't really like cats."

Father Bernardone whispered gently to the stray, right in its delicate ear. Will and Hannibal were just beside him now – the cat hissed again, lashing out with a swipe of its sharp, dirty claws.

Will jumped a bit, surprised by the sudden outburst. The priest was worried Peter might get hurt. Cat scratches and bites could get nasty fast.

"Father... Peter."

“She wasn't like this before," Peter explained. Will's shoulders fell. He felt Hannibal shift uncomfortably, looming like a dark, heavy shadow.

Will kept a safe distance. "She's a stray. She may not be used to humans anymore, Peter. Maybe she's scared. It's best if you just let her be."

There was a plethora of cats in the city. Rome was teeming with them. Father Bernardone could take his pick.

Hannibal pulled Will aside just a little as Peter tried to calm the cat down. "I'm sorry, I have to go," he said out loud, sounding apologetic. "I have to see my therapist in ten minutes."

He squeezed Will's arm again and lowered his voice. "It was nice to see you. Good luck with the cat," he teased, and loosened his grip, letting go of Will's arm as he turned his back to leave.

Will tried his best to suppress an exasperated sigh, watching as Hannibal disappeared down the cobblestone street. He turned to his fellow priest, trying not to let his disappointment show. Father Bernardone was still stroking the cat – Will noticed that she had calmed down exponentially.

"Look," Peter began, urging him to come closer. "She's a sweet one, just a bit shy. Try now—" Father Bernardone reached for the other priest's hand; moved to pet her with it. The cat was peaceful in the man's arms, and Will could hear her purring, feel the vibrations against his skin. "I don't think she likes that man."

"Peter—" Will warned, heedful of any attacks on Hannibal's character. When had he become so defensive of him? Peter only continued to pet the animal, seemingly oblivious to the priest's words.

"Happened before. With the dogs, you remember? They were acting very weird. Very very strange. Shook a lot, had to hold them, talk to them. Took them a while to relax."

The corner of Father Graham's mouth twitched down in a frown. He had noticed that the dogs he'd walked for Peter were behaving a bit differently that day, markedly so after Hannibal's appearance.

"You must've walked them a hundred times since I took them in," Peter said. "Nope, never seen them like that. Were you with him that day? Did you see that man?"

"That man is a friend. And yes, but—"

"There's something not right about him—something wrong.” It was not like Father Bernardone to judge, but if it was an observation, a feeling, then it couldn't be faulted. “I get a bad feeling, the animals get a bad feeling... Please, be careful." Peter stroked soothingly along the cat’s back, and Will turned to leave, unwilling to entertain the thought.

He was more or less finished with the conversation. He thanked Peter for his concern and made his way toward the Basilica, hearing Father Bernardone's voice once more before entering the church.

"I'll pray for you, Will," said the priest. His voice was solemn.

Will didn't answer.

Father Graham remained at St. Peter's for the rest of the afternoon, seeing over various rites and rituals. He spent a considerable amount of time in prayer and led 5pm Mass where he recited scripture, sang hymns, and read psalms aloud. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind, he had spoken to the masses at the ambo. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. Corinthians 10:13.

Father Graham was relieved not to see Father Pazzi within the marbled walls of the Basilica, if not a little bit surprised. Per his penance, he was not to miss another Mass, but Graham hadn't attended the day’s earlier celebrations. Perhaps it was best if Pazzi didn't know.

In the evening hours Graham conducted several confessions, but his mind was elsewhere all the while. He tried to say his prayers in between penitents, but the priest could not stop thinking about Hannibal – about how he had both used and submitted to him, the memory of his own fingers in Hannibal’s mouth, followed by the aching, desperate whole of him.

Father Bernardone's words still made his blood run cold, as did the things he’d discovered at the libraries. Will was utterly exhausted; mentally, physically and emotionally taxed. He wanted to return to his small palazzo room, to lie down in his bed and fall into a blissful sleep.

And he wanted to see Dr. Lecter. When the day was over, he was surprised to find himself overcome with a feeling of disappointment – there was no one waiting for him outside of St. Peter's, not at the square or beyond the Vatican boundary. No big, shiny Bentley. Hannibal was nowhere to be found. It shouldn't bother the priest; they'd seen each other just earlier today, but as he walked back to his palazzo Will realized that he missed him, missed the things they did when they were together. The good and the bad.

He wondered if he was having a crisis of faith. Perhaps he'd been having one for some time now. It wasn't something he thought a priest could ever entertain, but even clergy was not exempt from doubt.

Upon stepping inside of his room, Will felt his phone vibrating in the concealed pocket of his cassock. He was surprised to see the incoming call made through a free voice service – an application he'd downloaded some time ago to keep in touch with his fellow clergy in the States. Needless to say, he didn't use it often. It had been more of a formality.

The caller ID read Alana Bloom. Sister Alana Bloom. He answered immediately. "H-Hello?"

"Will! It's so good to hear your voice. It's been too long."

Will blinked owlishly. "Alana... It's been a while, yeah. How—"

"I'm calling on behalf of Bishop Crawford," Sister Bloom cut in, and the priest was thankful. It was much easier to simply answer questions than struggle awkwardly to keep the conversation going. "We've both been curious as to how you've been doing, actually. How are things? How's Italy?"

"It's beautiful. Rome's a special place. I'm guessing you want an update?"

"Nothing too formal. Jack's been wondering about your studies. He wants to know how your training's been coming, but I'm more interested in knowing how you've been. Everyone at the parish has been asking about you."

"Oh," Will replied, blood coloring his cheeks. He hadn't expected that. Perhaps some of the congregation that'd grown used to him were questioning his absence. "Everything's been going well. I've, uh... I've been learning a lot. Father Pazzi's a great mentor—please give the Bishop my thanks."

There was a beat of silence. "How've you been, Will?" Alana asked, sounding serious.

Oh, just splitting apart at the seams. Will swallowed, slipped off his shoes and slowly took a seat at his desk. "I've been fine. I am fine," he answered, wondering if he were trying to convince himself or Sister Bloom. "Just... Busy. Can't say if I'm really cut out to be an exorcist yet, but if nothing else I'm hoping to become a better priest."

"You're a great one already. Try not to overwork yourself, Father.”

Alana had always been so kind to him. Kinder than he deserved. If Will closed his eyes he could see the cheery glow of her face in his mind, the strands of her beautiful dark hair peeking out from her habit.

“You been up to much outside the church?" Sister Bloom questioned, sounding optimistic. "I can't imagine living in Rome without experiencing all it has to offer."

The priest huffed a sigh. "Yeah, well... I'm not exactly here on vacation. But I've seen some sights. Been around the city, gone out to restaurants. I've actually got dinner on Sunday."

Will could hear Alana's intake of breath. He wasn't sure if it was shock or excitement – maybe both. "Dinner? That sounds wonderful, Will. Mind if I ask who with?"

Another pause. Will's lips parted, but he struggled to find the words. "No, just a... A friend. It's at his house, so nothing fancy." At least he presumed. "He's helping me with my studies."

"Oh, so he's a priest then."

"Ha," Will barked, rubbing shyly at his nape. "Not quite. He works in the field of medicine. Psychiatry. Used to be a surgeon."

"A doctor. What an interesting friend! He must be pretty incredible... Last time I checked you were a hard man to get close to." Alana's voice held a tone of remorse. "What's his—"

"Hannibal,” Will blurted, and it was a strangely satisfying feeling. “His name is Hannibal. We met by chance, but somehow he's been... An indispensable part of my experience here.”

"God works in mysterious—sometimes funny—ways. Sounds like you like him a lot."

Will’s eyes narrowed. Did he detect a hint of jealousy, or was it just his imagination? He and Sister Bloom had been doomed from the start, they'd both known that.

"I-I'm afraid I don't have much more to report. It's been a huge opportunity, and I like to think I've gained a new perspective. I'd say my training's going... Smoothly, overall." It wasn't an outright lie, but his focus had shifted from demons to vampires. Will opened his study bible and absently flipped through the pages, stopping at a list of warnings and instructions. Alana was still talking to him, but he was somewhere far away, lost in the words of Proverbs 27.

Better is open rebuke,
Than love that is concealed.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
A sated man loathes honey,
But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet.

The priest sighed into the receiver. "I hope you've been doing well since we last met, Sister. It's getting late here—I'm about six hours ahead of you." Will couldn't keep his mind from wandering to thoughts of Hannibal. To what he'd allowed to happen between them. "I have to get back to my studies, but we should continue this sometime soon."

"I understand," Alana said. She did not sound offended, but genuinely sincere. Will felt a stab of guilt. "I'll call to check in on you later on in the week. God bless you, Father."

"And you, Sister Bloom." He ended the call and set his phone atop the open page of his bible.

An examination of conscience was in order, and then his evening prayers. Will carried out his routine with memories of the night before stuck in his head. The hours dragged on. By the time he'd peeled off his cilice, there were noticeable bruises blossoming around the tender flesh of his thigh. Preparing for sleep he undressed, untying the cincture around his waist and freeing himself of the sackcloth that had reminded him of its presence all day long. Will didn't bother looking in the mirror at his torso, basking in the relief of the hairshirt’s absence. He left his shorts on and said a few Hail Marys before carefully removing his rosary.

Will’s cross, as always, remained.

His nightly prayers before bed were strained as the priest begged for grace and guidance. For answers; truth. He wished he possessed such things as courage, strength and wisdom, traits that would serve him far better than empathy. Even his virtue now seemed lost to him forever. His heart felt like a treacherous thing, aching and heavy, for he could not find it in himself to hate Hannibal. Will crawled into his bed and drifted off to sleep.

It was easy now for him to recognize when he was dreaming, the nightmares becoming something of a routine; familiar occurrences in which he aimed to navigate as smoothly and calmly as he could. Will glimpsed the dark, dead-eyed creature that plagued him with regularity, grew to know every sharp point of those antlers, every inch of leathery skin pulled tight across protruding ribs. There were few instances where he did not see its gaunt form looming over him.

Dr. Lecter was a less common apparition, but the priest found he often welcomed his presence within the strange, abstract scenes of his dreamscape – a twisted mockery of his reality. It only made sense that he would make an appearance on the night following his encounter with Father Pazzi, his mentor's ominous warning having burrowed itself deep in his subconscious. Meeting him at the library had only been further ammunition.

Will dreamt that he was standing alone, deep within the ancient catacombs of Rome, dark and dusty and surrounded by the dead. He felt he was not alone here, sensing more than just the company of skulls and skeletons; buried bones and ashes; mummified remains. The air was thick but cold, and it was hard to breathe, but the priest still called out into the echoing chasms, shadows dancing across the rock. He was searching for someone, his heart pounding as he made his way through the narrow passageways, burial tombs filling every visible space.

The priest came to a clearing just beyond an underground altar, where his eyes finally beheld who he knew to be Hannibal. It was an inexplicable sense of knowing that left him no less than certain of who he was seeing, who was before him and shrouded in darkness. He was crouched over something on the dirt floor, his back to him, shoulders heaving as a strange, wet sound filled Will's ears... Like a feeding animal.

Will said his name, even as fear coiled in his stomach – then again, louder, and the man stiffened. Slowly, Hannibal straightened in a way that struck the priest as unnatural; made his hair stand on end. A heavy thump echoed against the walls as Hannibal released what he had been clutching, but it was too dark for Will to decipher what it was. Before he could make out his face, Will saw his eyes. Red and vibrant, glowing like embers in the blackness. Hannibal stepped into the dim candlelight, teeth bared and glinting, his mouth smeared with blood. Will was frozen.

"Father," he whispered hoarsely, and it made the priest's skin crawl… There was no doubt what he was seeing. As Hannibal came closer, his shadow cast a familiar visage against the crumbling rock, a crown of antlers rising from the shadow-figure's head. Will couldn't move, could do nothing but look as Hannibal smiled with malice, lunging at him in a blur of movement and knocking him backwards.

He moaned in pain as his head hit the cool ground, vision unfocused… But it did not stop Dr. Lecter. His cassock was torn open with a frenzied lack of respect, buttons popping and scattering around him. Will felt him lean in, lick a stripe along his throat, hot breath tickling his skin.

“Delicious priest,” Hannibal hissed, holding Will down with an unsettling strength. “Pray.”

Will squeezed his eyes shut and did just that, his heart galloping in his chest.

The monster – Hannibal – unhinged his jaw in a terrifying display and clamped down hard, fangs piercing his neck with a burst of searing pain. It felt like his blood was on fire, and Will could feel himself growing weaker by the second. His body went limp as the vampire sunk his teeth in deeper, helpless to do anything but listen to him gorge himself… Until everything faded to black and silence.

Will was so disturbed, so stricken by fear that he lurched forward in bed, startled awake and shivering in the dark of his room. He wasn't surprised to hear himself panting loudly, sheets and bed clothes soaked through, his hair and skin damp with sweat. Will was afraid to close his eyes. He hadn't felt safe in the throes of his dreams for a long time.

It was Father Pazzi, the trip to La Vallicelliana, Peter, he told himself. That's why. That's why I’m dreaming that Hannibal's a vampire. The priest wrapped his arms around himself, wet and sticky. He took it as a sign – vampires, demons, the devil, they were all seducers of men, and Will had been seduced. It didn't have to mean his soul was lost, but there were things he had to accept, needed to accept if he were ever going to be at peace. Things he needed to understand. Though he hesitated to do so, Will knew he could always close his eyes in prayer and be safe. Protected. His God would always watch over him. Will steeled himself.

"Holy Saint Michael, the Archangel," he prayed, his head bowed. "Defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” Will inhaled deeply and continued, his trembling ceasing, pulse slowing to its normal rate. The sound of his own voice was steady and sure. "May God rebuke him," Will breathed. "We humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls …Amen."

Will lay back again slowly. He turned to glance at his alarm clock, blinking the blurriness from his sight as he took in the bright red display… The color of Hannibal’s eyes had been just the same. The priest sighed.

It was 3:00am.

Chapter Text

Then I passed by and saw you squirming in your own blood. You were covered with blood, but I wouldn't let you die. —Ezekiel {16:6}

Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier was the only person who knew almost everything about Hannibal Lecter. She didn't know it all – no one truly did – but Hannibal was as honest with her as he knew how to be. She was the only person who seemed to understand him, to see him for what he was, and he found her to be a worthy companion. They had known each other for many years now and been a part of each other's lives for the majority of those years. Lately, however, she could never bear to see him without a glass of wine in her hand. Sometimes it was whiskey, other times it was simply whatever she could get her hands on.

Having retired long ago – something Hannibal decidedly ignored – Bedelia no longer had an office. This led to sessions in a rather casual, relaxed environment, with Hannibal sitting across from her in her living room, leisurely taking in the sight of the woman in front of him. He knew she was hungry, he could smell it on her, see it on her face, in her eyes. They had taken on a slightly darker hue, almost purple now as they slowly began to shift from blue to red, more and more with each passing day. It was a beautiful, interesting color.

"I know it's been a few weeks since our last session," Hannibal said, crossing his legs and joining his hands on his lap. His face took on a look of sympathy, but his tone was lacking. "I'm thankful for your continued interest in keeping me as your patient. It's always good to talk to you."

Bedelia blinked slowly, hooded eyes boring into Hannibal's as she offered him a placating smile. Her skin was pallid, the color draining from her supple flesh day by day, and her body was weak. But she was stubborn – refusing to feed directly from humans, clinging to whatever shred of mortality she still possessed even after all these years. She found sustenance instead from alcohol and the frozen blood of livestock, but the craving still burned like fire in her veins. This was where Hannibal came in, his blood a potent source of energy for her and other vampires.

"It would be rude to turn you away, Hannibal,” Bedelia quipped, testing the waters. “And I know precisely how you feel about the rude.”

Bedelia swallowed and reached for her glass, dulling her heightened senses with wine. It helped her forget the savage hunger that was gradually sapping her strength.

She traced the bow of her lips with her tongue, savoring the flavor.

"You already know I consider you a model patient,” she went on, though their relationship had never been strictly professional. “We have far too much history to let go to waste, and it would be naive to think I could simply offer a referral and be rid of you. I am curious to hear about how you've been fairing—how these last few weeks have been serving you, if you're comfortable with sharing."

Their previous meeting had been unplanned and rushed, leaving her with few details and more questions than answers.

"As you know, I have a new patient," Hannibal said with a smile, bringing his own glass of wine to his lips. It reminded him of the night he drank wine with Will in his office. That night, they had talked about the creature in his dreams. He sighed. It seemed so easy to discuss Will now that he and Dr. Du Maurier were sitting across from each other during an unofficial therapy session. They had met on the same night Hannibal took Will to La Pergola, but he had refused to talk about Will then. He hadn’t done much talking at all, pushing Bedelia against the nearest wall and attacking her mouth as soon as he had the chance. It had been quick and rough, with him wrapping her legs around his waist and thrusting into her, but Will Graham never left his mind.

"He’s a priest,” Hannibal continued. “In more than four hundred years, I've never met someone quite like him." He wondered if Bedelia would be able to see how he felt about Will in his eyes. He was usually very open with her. "He’s nothing like me. We see the world in different ways, yet he can assume my point of view—or anyone's—because of his gift. He's an empath, and doesn't quite know how to deal with it. I've been helping him in many ways. He's truly remarkable."

Her sense of smell was not as refined as Hannibal's, but Bedelia had thought she'd smelled human on him, faint but present. It was reminiscent of when she'd last seen him. She remembered the scent that had clung to him when he'd come to her: the delicate, coppery-sweet smell of human blood from what had surely been a victim, and something much headier; alkaline and undeniably male. Blood and semen – they were distinctly different.

Though it unnerved her, Bedelia could abide by Hannibal feeding on humans, even killing them as was in his more brutal nature as a pureblood. The idea of him toying with his prey, however, set her on edge. The fact that the man was a priest was even more dangerous, and she couldn't help but wonder if perhaps Hannibal was doing this to spite God, consciously or otherwise. Bedelia was rightfully skeptical of the help he claimed to be offering – Hannibal's idea of help was dubious at best, and she had pity for the human. His empathy would surely be his downfall if it only served to attract the likes of Hannibal Lecter.

"And how, exactly, have you been helping him?" Bedelia asked, arching a shapely eyebrow. "This… Man. This priest. Might I add that it's not only cruel to play with your food, Hannibal, but it's also unwise. You give it a chance to escape you.”

Although she doubted Hannibal would heed her warning, she was determined to discourage his latest venture. Targeting a priest was risky, but perhaps he wasn't keen on simply eating him. Hannibal appeared unusually enraptured, a concerning symptom of what she hoped was no more than infatuation.

"I've been helping him understand who he is," Hannibal said with sincerity. "To face his own demons. To stop fighting them and accept who he truly is, what he truly wants. Deep down inside, he wants to be free, to live for himself and not for God. He's not happy as a priest. I've been trying to show him how good life can be."

Hannibal sipped his wine once again after taking his time to savor its ripe, fragrant bouquet. He loved it almost as much as he loved human blood. Almost. He was still hungry, and would still love to share his prey with Bedelia. Too bad she refused to feed properly.

"I don't see Will Graham simply as food, however,” Hannibal confessed. “He's different. ...Unique. He's important to me.” Will was even more than that. Hannibal would do whatever was necessary to keep him and make him happy every day. "And I still haven't tasted a single drop of his blood, although I have tasted... other things," he added with a smile.

Bedelia let her eyes fall closed, as if trying to will the image from her mind. Hannibal pursuing a sexual relationship with a human priest. She couldn't say she was surprised. Something so blatantly sacrilegious must appeal to him immensely.

"I applaud your restraint," Bedelia offered, trying to smooth the fraying threads of her patience. She couldn't deny that she was impressed; the ability to resist caving to powerful instincts was something she understood well. But even Hannibal's charity had an expiration date. "I just hope you haven't forgotten what we are. Humans are infinitely fragile in comparison. They age and they die. If this man is lucky, growing old is the worst he'll have to endure."

Hannibal's continued involvement made this increasingly unlikely. It occurred to Bedelia that he could easily be doing more harm than good – it was common to project one's thoughts and desires onto others, and she could see Hannibal doing just that. She didn't think he'd bothered to ask the priest outright. It would spoil the fun.

"Does he know what you are?" she asked, bringing her wineglass to her nose. Bedelia wondered how long the smell of alcohol could mask the aroma of Hannibal's own virile blood, and the scent of the human he seemed so enthralled by.

"Not yet. I plan to tell him when he's ready, although he may find out for himself before that. He's quite clever.” Hannibal was proud to say that. His Will had an incredible mind, unlike any other. Beautiful in its own way.

Hannibal watched Bedelia closely, almost concerned. She looked so pale and fragile it was almost alarming. He had seen her in this state before, and it was usually at this point that she would lose control and bite him, feed from him desperately until they were both covered in blood and she was satisfied. Human blood was a vampire’s primary form of nourishment, but for the sired, the essence of their pureblood creator was highly sought after. Hannibal was hungry too, but the only blood he felt desperate for was Will Graham's.

"I'm not sure what he will do when he figures it out,” Hannibal admitted, “or what he will think. I feel hungry for him constantly, and I think part of him knows it.” Will was rightfully cautious around him, and for good reason. "I'm hungry for his blood—when we're close enough I can almost taste it on my tongue. I've been drinking the blood of other humans, sleeping with them just to try to get my mind off of him. But he's still there, like a part of me. I don't want to kill him... I want to keep him."

A dangerous glint in her eyes was Bedelia's only tell, betraying her mask of casual indifference. She smiled again, but it was a frigid, spiteful thing.

"You wish to keep him," she repeated back, tone dripping with amused cynicism. She found it interesting, and she found it infuriating. "Like a pet."

Humans were not durable playthings. They could seldom be domesticated as a fitting companion for a vampire. A predator-prey relationship was not built to last, and sooner or later, something had to give.

Bedelia downed the rest of her glass, resisting the urge to tip her head back and consume every drop. "Don't fool yourself, Hannibal. I'm sure we both can imagine how a priest might react to the truth."

She stood, smoothing down her dress with a manicured hand. Allowing her gaze to fall to Hannibal, her amethyst eyes shimmered in a rare display of vulnerability. "I remember another time you were hungry for a human,” she said, and her voice quavered. “Blood and body alike. When you thought it would be fun to keep them forever. They did not hold your interest for long. I hope, for his sake, that he catches on sooner than later."

Bedelia turned to make her way into the kitchen, heels clicking, in search of more alcohol. Something a little stronger than wine. She could think of nothing but alleviating her craving, too willful to seek relief from Hannibal.

By the time the priest figured out the vampire's game, it may be too late for him as well. She would hate to see him suffer a similar fate.

Hannibal rose from his seat and followed, bringing his glass of wine with him to the kitchen. He’d always known Bedelia was afraid of him, but he hadn't seen jealousy in her eyes many times before. She wasn't keen on sharing her sire, and keeping Will would mean competition – she certainly knew Hannibal planned on changing him the same way he had changed her thirty years ago. Bedelia still hadn't forgiven him for doing so against her will. She probably never would.

Walking into the kitchen, Hannibal placed the glass of wine on the table and wrapped his arms around Bedelia, hugging her from behind. "I'm still interested in you. You're... Important to me. Valuable," he said, and it wasn't a lie. He liked Bedelia's company, and she knew too much about him – she understood him. He hoped someday Will would understand him on the same level. Maybe on a deeper one.

"I know you still haven't forgiven me for sending that patient to try and kill you," Hannibal whispered, but didn't sound sorry at all – he didn't have to lie to her. "You must forgive me, I was too curious for my own good… And you did ask for my help.” Hannibal brought his hand up, pulling her hair away from her neck just to bury his nose there, breathing her in. "You have quite the potential to be a powerful vampire, Dr. Du Maurier, but you insist on limiting yourself. Such a waste.”

The shudder that ran through her was equal parts fear and desire, and Bedelia's lips parted in a quiet intake of breath. She fought the instinct to whirl around in Hannibal's arms and sink her teeth into his neck; pierce him with her fangs until his rich blood was spilling into her mouth. It would certainly take the edge off. Restore her higher functioning, allowing her to think without the restless haze of hunger clouding her judgement.

Bedelia was hesitant to push her luck however, knowing Hannibal could end her just as surely as he'd created her.

"Your curiosity may be your undoing, as it was mine," she breathed. "That's where you and I differ—I know better than to flirt with peril so shamelessly. We are alike… but we are not the same." Bedelia set aside her empty glass, bracing a hand against the table to steady herself. She would never be like him. "I'd like to maintain that distinction if at all possible."

And yet, the thought of power, a power not unlike Hannibal's, filled her with excitement. She turned away from the brush of Hannibal's skin against her own, but did not try to break away from his hold lest he mistake it for defiance. Bedelia would rather bare her throat in an act of submission than risk inciting the wrath of a fiercer predator than she. Nevertheless, she trembled with the touch.

"Your skin is ashen. Cold," Hannibal said, pressing a kiss to her neck even though she was clearly trying to avoid it. "You're tired and weak. You're starving because you refuse to be like me." Another kiss. "Because you refuse to accept who you truly are. And now... You want to feed from me again. Should I let you, Bedelia?" He gently bit her neck, squeezing the flesh lightly between his teeth. "Or should I bring a human here and watch you lose control?"

The words pierced Bedelia’s heart and she went rigid, stilling completely as her breathing came to a halt. Hannibal knew he was pushing too far, that it was almost cruel to remind her of the times she’d lost control and killed a person in the early years of her life reborn. How many times she had felt bad for it, blaming herself even more than she blamed Hannibal.

Still, Hannibal didn't stop, letting his lips brush across her skin as he spoke. "Is it my blood that you want? Turn around. Tell me," he insisted. He would give her what she wanted anyway, because he was also taking what he wanted. It had always been like this between them. "Do you want me, Bedelia, or am I your only option?"

Bedelia ran her tongue over her teeth, considering. Hannibal's threats were seldom empty – it was very likely he'd lure a human here just to see her cave to her monstrous nature. The thought struck fear into her heart, and coupled with the hunger that now threatened to overpower her there was no alternative. She turned around, telling herself that it wasn't for him, wasn't for anyone but herself. That it was of her own volition.

If Hannibal had aimed to make himself irresistible, he'd succeeded long ago.

"Both," Bedelia said, and she curled a hand around Hannibal's neck, straining her own to reach as she brought him down to her waiting mouth. A ghost of hot breath across his skin as she opened wide, pausing to savor the sweet anticipation – and then she was biting down, fangs puncturing the blood-rich vein of his jugular.

It was restrained, neat and clean… at least at first. But as soon as the blood trickled onto her tongue she was clamping down harder, greedily sucking the warm, vital liquid into her mouth. She only pulled away to lap at the wound, already feeling it nourishing her with each swallow. The robust flavor of Hannibal's blood made her mouth water, and the subtle taste of human still ran through his veins. At least she hadn't fed from them directly. Taking blood from Hannibal did no damage to her conscience, only her pride.

With eyes closed, Hannibal held her tighter, but didn't make a sound. He was used to feeling her sharp fangs burying into his neck. He knew she would probably let the blood drip down to the collar of his shirt and end up ruining it, but it was worth it to see how far Bedelia could go. His curiosity always got the best of him, and he liked to see her like this, liked the pain of her fangs into his flesh – and he couldn't deny that the fact that she clearly depended on him was pleasant. He kept one arm around her waist and place his other hand on the back of her head, encouraging her to keep drinking, just a little bit more. He was starting to feel somewhat weak, but soon he would fix that.

"Beautiful," he whispered, his fingers caressing her scalp softly, moving through her hair. He wished that he had Will in his arms instead, as a vampire, biting into him to drink his blood. Exchanging blood with Will would have much more meaning, it would feel like they were actually becoming one. Hannibal craved that feeling, Will's mouth on his neck, Will's body against his own. Will with red eyes and messy curls, Hannibal's blood dripping from his mouth to his chin and then to his neck. Hannibal would kiss him and taste his own blood on the priest's mouth. He could feel himself getting hard at the thought, and pushed his hips into the yielding softness of Bedelia’s body, groaning as he felt his cock rub against her thigh.

Hannibal didn't resist the harsh bite of her teeth, or shy away from the greedy suction of her mouth – Bedelia was by no means gentle, briefly forgetting herself in her desperation. His blood was blessed relief, her flesh warming and flushing with color as her hunger began to subside. She'd forgotten how good it felt to take his essence into her body, as taboo as it was. Bedelia had acquired a taste for Hannibal long ago, and it was only a matter of time until she gave in.

She slid a hand up Hannibal's chest slowly, carefully, smoothing over his shoulders to join the other at his nape. Bedelia did not mistake Hannibal's offering for subservience, although it should make him vulnerable. In reality she knew the balance of power could shift in an instant, but she felt safe under the illusion of control. When she felt her bloodlust had been adequately sated, she pulled back from the bloody mess of Hannibal's neck, red smeared across her mouth. The feel of him against her made her breath hitch, and she licked her lips clean of him, their eyes locked on each other.

"Are you pleased with yourself?" Bedelia asked, a hint of sadness in her voice. It was another battle she had lost, although succumbing to Hannibal was by far the lesser of two evils. She would rather feed from him than risk mauling an innocent human, draining them dry for the polizia to find.

Bedelia's gaze dropped to Hannibal's lips, and she brought her hands to the base of his throat, fingers working to loosen his tie.

"History repeats itself, Hannibal," she whispered, and then she was leaning in to kiss him, shamelessly pressing her body against his. She didn't care if Hannibal was using her just to distract himself; satisfy his own desires until he could claim the priest for himself. Bedelia would take whatever she could get, although her feelings for him were complicated to say the least.

Hannibal pressed her harder against the table, responding to her kiss hungrily, tasting his own blood on her mouth, tracing her sharp teeth with his tongue. He loved to share blood with her like this, no matter whose blood it was. Bedelia hated being a vampire, but she could be a very good one, especially in moments like these. There was blood smeared across his lips too when he pulled back just enough to look into the eyes that were blue again. He smiled – he was all that she needed. She depended on him. Belonged to him.

"As it sometimes must," Hannibal said in a low voice. "You want to know if I’m going to change Will just as I did to you—I am. I have to. It's the best option I have, the only way I can keep him forever.” He ran his fingers through her hair, licking the blood from his lips. "If I don't, sooner or later God will take him away from me. I won't let that happen."

The idea of competition settled uneasily in Bedelia’s gut, and she struggled not to let her distaste show. It was quite possible that Hannibal was… rather besotted with this man, at the very least. If he had the capacity for love it surely had to be a deadly, possessive thing, rife with hunger and dangerous obsession. Hannibal was the very definition of a monster, as cruel as he was beautiful, feared and respected even among vampires. Those like him didn't do love. There was no way the objects of their affection could survive it, but if neither participant were human . . .

Nevertheless, it would do Bedelia no good to tip Hannibal off to her subtle jealousy. If he wished to play make believe with another vampire, someone he could act out his fantasies with without the risk of breaking them, then she would gladly fill that position. If nothing else it cemented her usefulness, her appeal, however temporary.

Hannibal wasn't sure if she could see through him now, if she could read his emotions in his eyes. He didn't care if she could. He had no reason to hide the way he felt about Will, not anymore. Leaning in to kiss her again, he filled his thoughts with the memory of Will's lips, and it felt almost real. It was the wrong smell, the wrong taste, the wrong body, but if he focused enough on his memories, it almost felt like it was Will Graham in his arms.

Sliding his hands up her back, he broke the kiss just to press his lips to her throat instead, grabbing her hair and pulling to make her expose her neck to him even more. He wasn't going to bite yet, not for now, but still he pressed hot open mouthed kisses to her skin, feeling her pulse racing faster the more he touched her. "Should we move to the bedroom, Dr. Du Maurier?" he breathed out the words, hot breath against her skin. "I believe a bed is more comfortable for this kind of therapy."

Bedelia nodded slowly, silent but for the quickening rhythm of her breathing. She was aroused, she desired him and Hannibal knew it. There was no doubt in her mind that he could smell her, where she was warm and wet between her legs, aching for something only he could give. Her pupils were blown and she felt drunk with alcohol – red wine and sweet, sustaining blood; the taste of Hannibal's mouth and the feel of him hot and hard against her.

"Yes," she gasped, and she wanted to wrap her legs around him, pull him close and savor him once again.

"Good," was his only answer, before he grabbed her hand and pulled her to her bedroom with him – he knew where it was, knew it very well, had been there too many times before. Closing the door behind him, he immediately stood behind her to unzip her dress, letting his fingertips brush softly along her smooth skin. She was absolutely beautiful, and he had missed these moments they shared. Still, he was sure that if he had Will only for himself, he would never need her again.

Pulling her hair out of the way, Hannibal leaned in to press a kiss to the back of her neck, his lips softly grazing her skin – warmer now that she wasn't starving anymore. "I want you naked on that bed," he began, his voice low and deep. She always did everything he said, when he decided to be in total control of things, and he knew she was definitely aroused enough to give him everything he wanted. He could smell her arousal, could hear it in her heartbeat, could feel it in her pulse. In the way her skin became just a little warmer as he kept touching her. He caressed her shoulders, then slid his hands down her arms. "There are some specific things I want tonight. I would prefer if you didn't question them."

Bedelia let her dress fall loosely from her shoulders, slipping from her form to pool at her feet with a quiet rustle of fabric. She stepped out of the garment elegantly, the whole of her back exposed, body bare but for the lace that hid her from Hannibal. Toeing off her pumps as she went, Bedelia made her way to the bed, body quivering with fear and anticipation.

Hannibal knew just how to make her body heat, have her ready for him, willing to do anything. With a pause she slid the undergarment from her hips… it fell to the floor as she looked coyly over her shoulder, meeting Hannibal's gaze. His eyes were dark, glinting with a crimson hunger Bedelia knew was not for her.

"This is one area where I don't require answers," she murmured, a steady inhale following her words. "I am amenable. Lust doesn't guarantee the absence of your half-truths." She crept across the plush duvet, settling on her back in the middle of the mattress, splayed out like a feast for Hannibal's consumption. Bedelia's hand came to rest at her stomach, thighs parting to reveal herself, flushed and glistening; heart pounding, chest heaving.

"And I'm in no position to ask," she whispered under her breath. Nor did she want to – not now, not with this. She wanted to enjoy it as much as she could, indulge herself in all that Hannibal could offer.

Eyes focused on her, Hannibal started taking his own clothes off quickly, letting them fall to the floor with little care. His shirt was already stained with blood and ruined, but he didn't worry about it. He had something more important to worry about. Bedelia was beautiful, and Hannibal once again felt hungry for her, for her body and her blood, for the way she responded to every little thing he did.

As he finished undressing, Hannibal stalked toward the bed and climbed on top of her, looking down into her blue eyes. He sighed softly, letting his body fall on top of her, growing impossibly harder with the proximity. Maybe having her like this could help distract him from the all-consuming hunger he felt for Will Graham, even if just for a moment.

"You're right," Hannibal agreed, burying his nose in her neck, breathing her in. She smelled delicious when she was aroused, Hannibal could never resist. "You're in no position to ask.” His breath was hot against her skin. "You took what you wanted from me tonight. Now I'm taking what I want.” He smiled right before he bit down on her neck, long, sharp fangs sinking deep into her carotid, and let out a loud groan as he tasted her sweet blood.

Hannibal's bite was more intoxicating than she'd remembered, the pain of it changing shape and form, the aching throb morphing into a searing pleasure. Bedelia closed her eyes to fully bask in the sensation, body stilling on instinct as she allowed herself to submit to him. She had killed, was a beast in her own right, but Hannibal was matchless in his savagery, ravenous and destructive. Bedelia wondered if he could ever be killed, if fire could put an end to him when he was just as hungry as the flame. She doubted he would ever be satisfied.

To be a vampire was to be cursed.

"You're hoping this will ease the ache," Bedelia panted, her own blood dribbling from Hannibal's mouth. It spilled down her throat, warm sanguine against cream-colored skin. "Once you have him in your clutches… do you think your hunger will cease?"

With a shuddering breath Bedelia trailed a hand down Hannibal's body, lithe and powerful, a vicious hunter behind a veil of humanity. Her fingers slid across his hip bone, moving inward to his navel and below, until she could feel the tantalizing heat of him. Soft fingertips grazed along his length, velvety to the touch but rigid and full underneath. A twinge of pain as his teeth sunk even further into her artery and Bedelia was gripping him tight, stroking once from root to tip, precome leaking against her palm.

Hannibal registered her question but didn't answer immediately, only groaned again with his mouth full of blood, thrusting into her fist. He wanted to thrust into her body, so hard he would make her scream. He wanted to do the same with Will Graham, swallow the priest's blood as he pushed deep inside of him. Hannibal finally lifted his head, fangs sliding out of her flesh as her blood kept dripping from the small holes Hannibal left behind. He watched as the tiny wounds immediately healed and stopped bleeding, and then he licked the blood from her skin.

"I don't think my hunger for him will ever cease," he answered sincerely, thinking about Will's body, about how Will responded to his touch, how he moaned and whimpered and pulled his hair when Hannibal had him in his mouth. "I want him more and more each day. I don't see this ever changing."

Hannibal moved down slowly, kissing down Bedelia's chest with his lips covered in blood, leaving red imprints on her pale skin. Reaching for her hand between their bodies, he pulled it up and licked his own precome from the flat of her hand, kissing her to share his taste mixed with that of her own blood. Slowly he slid a hand down her body and between her legs, groaning into her mouth as he felt how wet and warm she was for him. Not as warm as a human would be, but irresistible all the same. He caught her bottom lip between his teeth and squeezed it until he tasted her blood again, pushing two fingers into her at the same time.

Bedelia gasped at the bite of Hannibal's teeth, the thrust of fingers into her eager body. It was glaringly obvious that he was transferring his passion for the priest to her – a misguided effort to quell the hunger he felt. They were more alike than Bedelia would like to think, struggling to satisfy themselves with what they didn't need; what they knew could only bide them time.

Alcohol was her vice; for Hannibal, sex and sustenance from the blood of humans and his sired. But it would only last for so long, a temporary fix to tide him over until he could get his hands on the real thing. Bedelia knew this better than anyone. She needed to accept her nature, and Hannibal needed the precious blood of his human priest.

Bedelia kissed him back slowly, meekly, the taste of him and her own blood reigniting her thirst. Turning away she tried to catch her breath, but Hannibal's fingers worked so skillfully. She couldn't help but moan and tremble at the press and curl of his digits, stimulating her from the inside, fingers slick with her arousal.

"You seem very certain… that he'll survive you," she breathed. Bedelia's tongue swiped across her teeth, the pungent flavor of Hannibal's essence still lingering in her mouth. "That you won't kill him."

Hannibal smiled, loving to hear her moans and shaky breaths, her sighs of pleasure, and to feel her body shaking, her muscles tightening around him. He couldn't wait much longer to be inside her, feel her wrapped tightly around him, surrounding him in the warmth of her body.

"I am certain," Hannibal replied, lowering his head to tease her nipple with the tip of his tongue, sucking it into his mouth and humming softly as she arched her back beneath him. Beautiful indeed. "I'm careful," he continued breathlessly, his cock twitching and leaking even more with the obscene sounds of his fingers moving faster into her, harder. He wanted to make her come so many times tonight, wanted to have her completely at his mercy – wanted to feel powerful.

"I'd never want to hurt him. Or lose him," said Hannibal, closing his eyes as he continued giving attention to one of Bedelia's nipples, trapping the hard nub between his teeth and pulling softly, then sucking it again, harder this time. But his mind was filled with images of Will, memories of the priest, everything Hannibal had memorized about him – his face, his body, his touch, his voice, the sounds he made when Hannibal touched him, his scent, the sound of his heartbeat, the way he breathed. Hannibal could almost pretend he was having both of them at the same time, and it only made him more aroused.

But Hannibal's words pierced Bedelia like a stake – she burned with envy; anger, hot and heavy in her chest. She'd heard enough, even as he continued to pleasure her. The human had no idea what he was getting himself into. It was dangerously naive of this priest to think he could have a vampire wrapped around his finger, let alone Hannibal Lecter.

"You can't claim him yet," Bedelia grit out, breath hitching at the rhythm of Hannibal's fingers, rolling her hips against the sure, steady thrusts. They were not aimed to tease, but to quickly and efficiently coax her orgasm from her. Bedelia could feel the first flutterings of hers – skirting along the edges of her senses, body tensing with each maddening plunge, the soft, wet noises filling her ears.

It brought her comfort, tickled her to know that Hannibal would have to wait. That his was a slow seduction, a long game requiring gentleness and tact; persuasion and patience in spades until his end goal was within reach. He was playing against God, and the stakes were high.

"Not… like this. Not until he's just like you." Bedelia smiled bitterly, knowing that as soon as he'd done the deed he would have no use for her. It was of no consequence now, not when she could have her fill of him, everything but the sweet jab of Hannibal's fingers driven from her mind.

The sounds of pleasure spilling from Bedelia's lips rose in pitch, and she buried her fingers in Hannibal's hair, nails scratching roughly along his scalp.

The pain made Hannibal groan, but also reminded him of the way Will pulled his hair when Hannibal sucked him and made him come down his throat. He realized he was already hungry for the priest again.

"Having sex with my human victims does not necessarily end in their deaths," Hannibal answered, but he knew what she meant. Having sex with humans was complicated – they were too fragile. He had to be careful, couldn't lose control, if he did, he would hurt them. He couldn't lose control with Will Graham. Having sex with Hannibal was dangerous for the priest. Still, he wouldn't let Bedelia win.

"I used to have sex with you when you were human. I didn't kill you," he continued, wanting to prove his point. Bedelia was right, however. He could never have Will in the same way he had her now – couldn't drive into him as hard, or grip him as tightly, or be as rough with him as he was with her. Not while Will was still human. Pushing his fingers into her as deep as he could with every thrust, he bit down on her neck again, swallowing the blood that tasted even better now than it did before.

Bedelia's mouth fell open as Hannibal penetrated her again, with sharp teeth and slick fingers, breath coming faster while the chemicals of lust rushed hotly through her veins. She wanted to cry out, to scream, but refused to give Hannibal the satisfaction.

Arching into the onslaught, Bedelia bit back a sob, hips bucking greedily. Hannibal was driving her to the brink, and the warmth of his mouth latched onto her throat had her unraveling. She braced for it but couldn't predict the moment the ecstasy crested – her breath caught in her throat and she came around the digits still thrusting into her, her own fangs cutting into the tender flesh of her bottom lip.

"You… you could have," she rasped, chest heaving violently. "You… still could." But Bedelia wouldn't break quite so easily. She wanted Hannibal to take his frustration out on her, to pretend she was the man he coveted, fucking him into submission. The heights of her desire nearly frightened her, but she knew of her insatiable nature, had made her peace with it long ago.

Hannibal pulled away from her throat, fingers slipping from her body and Bedelia took the reprieve to turn languidly onto her stomach. She pulled her knees up beneath herself until she was exposed to him, the swell of her backside in the air, body curved so that she could look back at him. Bedelia’s lips parted to bare the glistening sharpness of her teeth.

Hannibal couldn't resist it, he couldn't wait any longer – Bedelia had somehow guessed what position he wanted her in, and he burned with how much he wanted her. When their eyes met, he took his own fingers into his mouth, savoring her taste hungrily.

Kneeling behind her, Hannibal started pressing kisses down her back, his hands on her hips, gripping tightly. He wanted to thrust hard into her and pull her against him at the same time, leave fingerprints into her skin even though they would disappear almost immediately. He wanted to feel like he owned her.

"So greedy, Dr. Du Maurier," he said with a smile against her skin, amused. He was greedy too, he had to admit, although it was mostly for Will. At this point he was grateful for anything Will would give him, but it didn't make him any less sexually frustrated. "You cannot resist."

Slowly, he slid his hands down to her backside and down to her thighs, spreading her legs just a little bit more, burying his face between her cheeks to lick around her hole. It wasn't something they did frequently, but it was what he needed from her now. He pushed just the tips of his fingers into her to make them wet again, then started teasing her clit in slow circular movements.

She didn't answer Hannibal's taunts, the flush of her skin and the wetness between her legs worth their weight in words. But Bedelia did moan as he rubbed her where she was most sensitive, panting hotly into the crease of her elbow at the lave of Hannibal's tongue against her hole. It didn't surprise her; of course Hannibal would want to take her this way… it would be more authentic to his fantasy.

Bedelia's body was wrought with anticipation regardless, thighs trembling at the touch of fingertips and each pass of the hot, slick muscle of Hannibal's tongue. It was nearly enough to make her beg.

"It's your turn to take," she whispered, a light ghosting of breath against her own flesh. She mewled, wetness gleaming at the apex of her thighs, where Hannibal was working her to a much more decadent, languorous climax.

"Trust me, I will.” Suddenly Hannibal's hands were gone, and he moved away quickly to reach for the bottle of lube inside the drawer of her nightstand. He resumed his position behind her before she had time to think, and opened the bottle to spread lubricant on his fingers, coating them liberally. One of his hands returned to her clit, moving faster now, but with the other he pushed the tip of one finger into her hole to prepare her for him.

Hannibal would take everything she would give him and more, he wanted it all. He wondered if he could make her come like this, even though he was almost desperate to just push his cock into her and fuck her mercilessly into the mattress. Soon he had two fingers buried deep inside her, thrusting them into her.

Bedelia bucked her hips desperately, seeking more friction, more pressure to tip her over the edge again. Her chest was pressed flush against the bed, hands clawing at the covers, white-knuckled with fistfuls of feathery down. The last threads of her composure were wearing thin, any and all concern for her dignity dangerously close to going out the window.

If it was the priest he wanted, she could be his stand-in. Hannibal could close his eyes as he pounded into her, imagining the man he lusted after around his cock, though he was likely not as small, not as yielding. He’d be rougher to the touch, soft curves replaced by rippling muscle – but the clench of him would be the same, the tight, fluttering heat. Bedelia wanted Hannibal to bury himself in her, to claim her roughly and without remorse.

She couldn't keep from crying out this time, the fingers on and inside her making her writhe. She could feel how aroused she was, could feel the evidence of her excitement easing the friction of Hannibal's fingers against her, slicking pink and swollen flesh.

"Do it," Bedelia urged, and it was as close to begging as she would get. Much more of this and she would come again, clamping around Hannibal's fingers and still wordlessly pleading for more.

The urgency in her voice made it harder for Hannibal to control himself – he needed to bury his cock inside her and he couldn't wait any longer. He was painfully hard now, aching for it. He needed to be inside her – a vampire, someone who wouldn't get hurt when he decided to be too rough.

Pulling his fingers out of her, he grabbed her hair and pulled her head back. "Take me into your mouth, Dr. Du Maurier… Make me as slick as you want so I can penetrate you. So I can give you what you so desperately need."

Hannibal had barely finished before his grip on her loosened, and Bedelia was drawing up onto her hands, twisting out of his hold to turn her body around. She moved gracefully but with a restless fervor, slinking forward like a lioness, fingers splaying across Hannibal's thighs. There was a brief moment of consideration – where Bedelia was perhaps tempted to seal her mouth over the tender flesh, sink her fangs into his femoral artery. But her lust gnawed at her, and she bowed her head instead, lips parting to receive him.

She was too proud to admit it to herself, but Bedelia had missed his scent; the taste and weight of him, heavy against the flat of her tongue. As much as Hannibal coveted this priest, she too coveted Hannibal, and the scorching pleasure of his touch. Careful not to graze him with the sharp points of her teeth, she suckled him lightly, hand coming up to grasp him at his base.

Hannibal's hands had returned to tangle in her hair, smoothing the blonde strands away from her face as she nursed eagerly at his cock. The desire to touch herself was nearly overwhelming, but she worked her hand along him instead, taking Hannibal deeper into her mouth. Bedelia moaned around the throb of Hannibal against her palate. Once again she relished his flavor, uncertain if or when she would next be able.

Her gaze meeting Hannibal's, Bedelia pondered just how much time she was buying for the human until he was robbed of his innocence as well.

The groan that left Hannibal's mouth sounded even more desperate than the ones before, and he gripped her hair tighter as he gently thrust into her mouth – once, twice, three times, and it was enough because if he kept going he wouldn't be able to stop. He had missed her mouth, he would have to fuck her mouth again sometime soon. Hannibal wanted to fuck Will Graham's mouth. Come down his throat as he pulled the priest's hair.

"Enough," he breathed as he pulled his cock out of her mouth, and he was very wet and slick with her saliva, just as he wanted. He turned her around, grabbing her hips impatiently until she was on her hands and knees in front of him again. He pressed the head of his cock against her and Bedelia rolled her hips back impatiently.

"So eager..." Hannibal said, feeling proud of himself, of what he could do to her, what he could turn her into. "You're such a slut for me, Dr. Du Maurier," he purred into her skin as he leaned in to kiss her back, holding her hips even tighter and pushing his cock into her hole with another deep groan. He didn't give her much time to adjust, already moving in and out of her, pulling her against him as he buried himself to the hilt over and over.

Hannibal was filling her, fucking her feverishly and it was so ridiculously good that for a moment Bedelia forgot her bitterness, forgot that she should hate him for what he'd done to her. For what he planned to do to someone else. Instead she could only think of how powerful it made her feel – that a human would not be able to endure this, that their bodies could not withstand the extent of such wild rapture.

She was pliant in the face of Hannibal's domination, her slender frame relenting to the firm grip of his hands on her hips. Fisting the bedsheets, Bedelia knew that Hannibal was only taking her this way for own his selfish reasons, but it still felt taboo in a delicious, vulgar way. The feel of him moving inside of her, the tantalizing pressure as he thrust against a place that throbbed with pleasure.

The friction was delectable as Bedelia took him deep into her body, hard enough that she knew she'd feel it later and know that Hannibal had claimed her. The stretch of her hole around him was obscene, Hannibal's blood like an aphrodisiac, sweet and metallic where it still lingered on her tongue.

Bedelia was not above begging now, and she did, with gasping breaths and needy moans. Harder, more, faster, wantonly enjoying the resilience of what she was, what Hannibal had made her.

Hannibal gave her what she wanted, thrusting into her faster and harder, sliding one hand beneath her body to touch her clit again in small circular movements as he fucked her mercilessly, groaning louder with the intense pleasure.

"Begging already, Dr. Du Maurier?" He asked breathlessly, pushing hard into her body, just the way he needed to. Leaning over her body he pressed kisses to her back, breathing her in and smelling her blood, and he wanted more of it. He hoped Will Graham would beg the same way she did, pliant and desperate, eager for his cock.

"Tell me, what do you want, Bedelia? Do you want to come like this, clenching hard around me as I move into you?" his voice was hoarse with arousal, and he closed his eyes for a moment and pictured Will Graham's body beneath his own, Will Graham panting and moaning beneath him, begging, needing more.

"Yes!" Bedelia cried out, completely enraptured. She was too far gone to protest Hannibal's degradation, to deny what he already knew; helpless to do anything but take what she was given and greedily ask for more. Long strands of champagne-colored hair fell into her eyes, brushing against her face with each drive of Hannibal's hips, pounding roughly into her willing body that ached for him.

Bedelia knew that he was right, he was always right – she would come like this, so strongly it would make her limbs shake, have her convulsing and fighting back sobs, biting down to stifle the sound as Hannibal had his way with her. His manipulations were devilish, so clever that she was completely at his mercy, just as he liked. Hannibal was everywhere, around her, inside her, above her, a wicked, unwavering presence from which she could not escape.

And yet Bedelia burned to know he was thinking of someone else, imagining the heat and tightness of another surrounding him so completely, even as he pleasured her so effortlessly she could barely keep her knees underneath herself. But even as she grew weak Hannibal held her against him, his cock, his fingers ruthlessly working her toward orgasm, to falling apart before his eyes in a trembling, boneless mess. Bedelia covered the strong, skillful hand between her legs with her own, pressing his fingers against her harder, rubbing her clit with more pressure until she was arching so hard she couldn't breathe.

As Bedelia came, clenching hard around him, all Hannibal could think of was Will Graham, the priest's hot human body beneath him, inner walls around him, squeezing him tightly and pushing him right over the edge. Hannibal didn't register Bedelia's moans, or her smell, or anything about her, completely lost in his fantasy as he came deep inside her.

He didn't stop moving his hand, though, making her squirm with oversensitivity and making him groan louder. He repeated Will Graham's name over and over in his mind, but in reality he just sighed against her skin as he stopped moving completely, just holding her in place and burying his fangs in her shoulder to taste her blood again.

Their particular brand of passion had left them filthy; breathless and gorged on the carnal pleasures of sex and blood. It had been a dirty, primal joining, fluids intermingling with the streaks of red smeared across their skin sweat-slick skin. It was too much for the now-sated vampires to clean with tongues alone.

They drew themselves a bath, the water warm and sweet with scented oils. The elegant clawfoot tub was spacious and slipper-shaped, gilded with an antique bronze that caught the eye with its luster. The water relaxed their strained muscles, leaving their flesh flushed, fragrant and soft. Bedelia leaned back against the subtle heat of Hannibal's body, her back to his lightly furred chest, caged between the V of long, sinewy legs.

Soaking quietly, Bedelia was still dubious of Hannibal's motives. She knew him to be selfish, to claim what he wanted at any cost, be it through cunning or sheer force, but this was… different. She had seen more than just lust and desire in his eyes, heard it in the gentle tone of his voice when he spoke of this man.

"You still plan to turn a priest into a monster," she began in a whisper. Bedelia hoped that Hannibal would change his mind yet. "And what if it goes terribly wrong? What if he resents you for as long as you both live...?" Or worse – tried to kill him, smite him in the name and glory of God. He was potentially gambling with his own eternal life. Humans were volatile, unpredictable… even after being turned, surely one's convictions would remain. Hers did.

Hannibal had considered the possibility, of course – he had thought about many possibilities, and he was curious about them all. At the same time, he truly believed he could have a happy future with the priest if he tried hard enough.

"A monster? Is that what you still call us?" Hannibal asked quietly, his fingertips touching her thighs softly, drawing patterns across her skin. "How ungrateful, Bedelia. I don't intend to turn him into a monster," he continued. "I intend to make him immortal, so I can keep him with me for as long as I want him. Years, decades, centuries, or maybe forever.” He smiled against her shoulder as he thought about it, then pressed a soft kiss to her skin. "I'm being careful, however. I know the possibility of him resenting me exists, just like you resent me. That's why I have to go slow with him. I'll only change him after he agrees to it."

Anger bubbled up in Bedelia's chest, rising to the base of her throat, hot and thick. Ungrateful. Ungrateful. She sat up, pulling away from Hannibal's touch to bring her wineglass to her lips, taking a large, unrefined swallow.

"More than just the possibility exists," she said, keenly aware of how exposed she felt with her back to him. "I would say the likelihood. You have no basis for comparison, Hannibal. You can't fathom why anyone would want to maintain their humanity… you'll never be able to understand it, and your insensitivity will not be appealing."

With her free hand Bedelia brought her damp hair over her shoulder, inhaling deeply through her nose. Hannibal was still and quiet behind her, and she would never forgive herself if she didn't try all she could to make him rethink his ill-fated plan. Before he ruined another life.

"He won't find you relatable. You will appear as a monster to him, as you are. As I am," Bedelia murmured. "There's no guarantee that he'll ever agree to become what we are, not willingly. And once you change him… once he's a monster incapable of natural death, what will you do once you tire of him?" She could feel the bitterness, the spite she harbored in her gut threatening to spill out. Bedelia took another sip of wine, trying to calm herself. "After the years, the decades and centuries. Once he's outlived his usefulness. Worn out his novelty. What then?" she asked.

Hannibal wasn't touching her anymore, he simply breathed behind her and was sure she could feel his breath on her back and hear the sound of his heartbeat. It took a few seconds for him to speak again.

"For the first time in my life I feel like I will never get tired of someone. For the first time I think about the possibility of keeping someone with me for all eternity," he said sincerely, knowing what she would understand from this: Hannibal never intended to keep her forever. "But if I ever get tired of him, I may leave him. Or kill him. Whichever is more convenient."

Slowly, Hannibal started touching Bedelia’s back with his fingertips, caressing her skin and thinking about biting her again. "But he's not just any person, he's actually capable of understanding my point of view, he would be able to compare his human life and the immortal—good life he could have with me. I'll help him see it. And he will choose me," Hannibal said, fingers moving down her back until they were under the water, then moving up again, leaving droplets on her skin.

"I made you immortal, took you to Florence with me, showed you incredible things... And you couldn't appreciate the gift I gave you, Bedelia.” He sounded disappointed. "But that doesn't mean Will Graham won't."

Bedelia glanced over her shoulder, her eyes flashing dangerously, already beginning to darken to a lavender hue. She smiled, and it was so full of malice that she was sure Hannibal could sense the rage boiling underneath her skin, just beyond the facade. The water sloshed and splashed lightly as she turned, rising onto her knees as rivulets cascaded down her body. She prowled closer, sipping from her glass until it was empty and lazily smoothing her hand up Hannibal's thigh.

"You certainly did," Bedelia purred. "You played God. You sent a monster like yourself to kill me, and then you made me one yourself. You took my humanity from me. All because you were just—" her hand slid up to his stomach, "so—" she continued upward, until her palm came to rest at Hannibal's chest— "curious."

Bedelia pressed herself to him, her warm, wet skin slippery against his. "Let's hope a trip to Florence, some sightseeing and good sex will be enough to convince Will Graham it was worth damnation," she hissed. Bedelia wanted to snarl, bare her fangs to Hannibal, but her venom took the form of a sickly, saccharine sweetness.

She hoped he choked on it.

Hannibal hummed, moving a hand up her back to tangle his fingers in her hair, caressing her scalp as he watched her closely. He could see right through her, just as she could see right through him, and this was becoming more and more dangerous, to the point where Hannibal knew he would have to kill her sooner or later. He wondered if he would ever find himself in the same situation with Will Graham, if he would ever have to – or even have the courage to kill the priest.

"You hate what I did to you," Hannibal said, wrapping an arm around her body, keeping her close as he moved his fingers between her hair. "You resent me, sometimes you wish you'd never met me. And still, you envy Will. You envy him because you wish you were still human. And because you wish you were the only one in my life. You don't want me to turn him into a vampire, partly because you think humanity is good, but also because you're scared I'll leave you when I have him. You see him as competition..."
He smirked, seeing in her eyes that he was right. "Part of you hates me... And still you can't imagine your life without me."

Something inside of her cracked. Hannibal had given voice to the unspeakable truth Bedelia tried so hard to hide from herself, stripping her bare and leaving her flayed open wide. She was a throbbing wound, raw and sore and vulnerable, gushing the blood that was her strength. Bedelia squeezed the stem of her wineglass so hard it snapped, separating from the bowl that dropped and shattered just outside of the tub.

Bedelia couldn't allow him to know, couldn't let him think she couldn't live without him. She had to prove otherwise. If she knew what was good for her she would have left long ago, run far away and gone into hiding, never to see Hannibal again. He was dangerous. Deadly. A threat to her life and the lives of countless others, human and vampire alike, and yet… he was right. Always. She couldn't stand it.

With a surge of adrenaline Bedelia fanned her fingers out across the base of Hannibal's throat, using all of the power she possessed just to keep him still – then she was striking like a bolt of lightning, holding the broken wineglass by the base to pierce his pectoral with the sharp, tapered end of its stem. He caught her wrist as she tried to drive it in deeper, tried to make him bleed, but she could already feel herself faltering, violet eyes brimming with unshed tears.

Bedelia did make him bleed, a gush of blood flowing from the wound as she pressed the broken glass to his skin. If she actually wanted to push it through his heart, he wasn't sure, but he didn't have time to ask now.

He grabbed her hair and pulled her head back, his other hand still around her wrist and forcing her down into the water – he took her weapon from her hand then, letting it fall on the floor just outside the tub and kept holding her down under the water. He wanted to show her that he was stronger than she was, and the only way she would get rid of him was if he killed her – not the other way around.

When he pulled her up again, allowing her to breathe, the wound in his chest had already healed, but the look on his face was meant to threaten her.

"Now that, Bedelia," he said breathlessly, but calmly as if she hadn't just attacked him. His eyes were darker than normal, not with desire for her this time, but with anger. "Was rude."

Bedelia was gasping, the speed with which Hannibal had moved and the shock of him plunging her underwater catching her off guard. She glared daggers at him, gripped with fear at his easy display of violence, so nonchalant in his brutal discipline that she could not imagine how a human could ever survive his wrath. How they could survive him in any capacity.

It had been like flipping a switch – one minute Hannibal was gently caressing her skin, the next he was overpowering her, the change taking place in a terrifying instant. She had hardly even been able to struggle or thrash about in the water, virtually powerless as he kept her underneath the surface, relentless in his hold.

Bedelia had left behind little more than a trickle of blood to show for her effort. She needed to escape, to scramble out of the water and away from this beast, far more cruel and powerful than she could ever hope to be. The instinct to flee overwhelming, but Hannibal still gripped her tightly by the back of her head, fingers tangled in her wet tresses. Bedelia did not speak, waiting for him to release her so that she could distance herself from the glaring danger of his presence.

Hannibal watched her for a moment longer, the fear in her eyes pleasing him very much. He wanted her to be afraid of him, she should be.

"I won't punish you this time," Hannibal said slowly, his fingers still tangled in her hair. She wouldn't be able to pull away from him, and he doubted that she would even try. He raised his free hand to caress her cheek softly, eyes fixed on her. "Even though you deserve it. That's no way to treat a patient, Dr. Du Maurier."

His fingers moved slowly down her neck, feeling the quickening pulse beneath her skin. "I don't want to hurt you. Please, don't give me a reason to. That's not what I came here for."

Wary, Bedelia bristled at the gentle touch. Her body tensed and trembled, and she swallowed against the lump in her throat. Together they had veered wildly from the standard doctor-patient etiquette many years ago… and yet it was a safe, practical pretense in which they always returned. She was surprised Hannibal still considered himself under her care, but for the sake of her own usefulness she hoped he still sought her insight.

"What did you come here for, Hannibal?" Bedelia asked, willing her breathing to slow. "What did you think would happen? That you'd come to gloat and test my limits, but never stray beyond the boundary of conventional therapy?"

The water was beginning to lose its warmth, swirling pink with their shared blood. The atmosphere had changed yet again, but it was difficult to determine if Hannibal's words were truly sincere.

It was late, and Bedelia was hungry yet again. Her hunger made her irritable, compromising her self-control. But it would have been much worse had Hannibal not offered her his blood – for that, she was grateful.

"I came to talk to you," Hannibal said simply, his fingertips tracing her collarbones as he watched the droplets of water running down her face. Beautiful, he thought. At my mercy.

"To have a conversation, have sex with you, and to feed you," he said sincerely, he had no other intentions tonight. "That's what we always do, isn't it?"

He finally loosened his grip on her hair, but kept his hand there on the back of her head just in case. He didn't trust her, didn't trust anyone. Still, he cared about her, and about how she behaved towards him.

"I know you're still hungry. I took too much blood from you," he said softly. "You can have more, if you want."

Exhaling a shuddering breath, Bedelia acknowledged that Hannibal was coddling her. It didn't bother her as much as it should – perhaps he felt some semblance of responsibility, having been the one to turn her into what she was. Maybe it was a shared kinship, knowing that they were one and the same… but mosty likely it was an instinct born of something more akin to ownership. Possession. Bedelia could not find it in her to protest.

She found his honesty very endearing, when he chose to implement it.

"I apologize. My behavior was… irrational. Impulsive," Bedelia whispered, smudging the bloody trail along Hannibal's chest with a wet thumb. She brought it to her lips to suck the taste of blood and water from her skin, keeping her gaze fixed on him. This was what they always did. Perhaps it was unwise to tip the balance, especially now that Hannibal's generosity had returned.

"Yes. I would like that—" And Bedelia was leaning in to lick a stripe along the line of Hannibal's throat, drops of rose-water gathering on her tongue. Then she bit down eagerly, bracing her hands against the smooth, broad expanse of Hannibal's shoulders.

Hannibal groaned as her fangs buried into his flesh, but he held Bedelia close and tilted his head back a bit more to expose his neck to her. Smiling, he breathed slowly and let her take what she needed, fingertips caressing her ribs and then moving up to grab and squeeze her breasts. The feeling of her sucking his blood and swallowing it, feeding from him, was arousing and he wanted her again.

Bedelia found it difficult to resist sinking her teeth in deeper at the feel of Hannibal's hands on her again. She pulled away to gasp softly, her nipples hardening against his soft, wet palms. The small punctures she'd made were already beginning to heal, and Bedelia leaned in to pierce him again.

Once she'd had her fill she wrapped her arms around Hannibal's neck, lips grazing the shell of his ear.

"Forgive me," Bedelia whispered, eager for him to forget her momentary insolence. Bury it in the back of his mind. It would do her no good to remain on his bad side – her existence was threatened enough as it was by Will Graham: the unknowing priest, and Hannibal's latest obsession.

"Do you think he fantasizes about you? Touches himself and imagines it's you… your hands, your mouth on him?" she asked. Bedelia shifted to seat herself in Hannibal's lap, thighs bracketing him on either side. Her breath came quicker at the rapidly cooling bathwater, beginning to grow chilly against the flush of her skin. "Or is he too pure for that?"

She knew that one of the major draws of this particular conquest was the opportunity to defile him; to ruin the human priest, a man of God. Bedelia was sure that would make the pleasure of having him all the sweeter. If Hannibal was anything, he was intensely committed.

"He thinks it's a sin," Hannibal answered, thinking about her question and resting his hands comfortably on her waist. It was good to have her, he thought. Especially when he lusted for Will Graham as much as he did and couldn't have the man for himself. "He thinks touching himself is a sin. That thinking about me in that way is a sin. But he had a dream about me," he said proudly, holding back a smile. "He had a dream where I was having sex with him. And I touched him. I took him in my mouth. I tasted him, gave him a pleasure he never knew before. He enjoyed it."

It felt good to be able to talk about the priest with someone, to be able to give voice to his feelings. He could forgive her for trying to hurt him, as long as she kept listening to him. Tightening his grip on her waist, he leaned in to kiss her, tasting his own blood on her mouth as his tongue slid against hers.

"I promised him I would give him even more," he spoke against her lips, hands smoothing up her back. "And I will. He knows that. Part of him wants it."

It did not surprise Bedelia to learn the extent of Hannibal's ardor for this priest. Of course he'd already touched him; she was surprised that he had withheld himself at all, assuming their carnal activities had not begun immediately. It did, however, puzzle her to know that the human was still maintaining contact with a very old, very dangerous pureblood vampire, intent on making him his eternal plaything.

Bedelia sighed softly, eyes closing. "It is a sin… to a priest. He must feel that you're compromising his beliefs. Calling his religious ideals into question and shaking the very foundation of his life." She tried not to flinch at Hannibal's touch, nor arch into it. "I would be careful how you paint yourself, Hannibal. He may begin to see you as a beguiling serpent offering forbidden fruit."

Her eyelids fluttered open and Bedelia was struck by the sincerity of Hannibal's expression. He truly believed that he was doing the right thing, that he was helping this poor man, freeing him from the shackles of his cruel and unjust God. He looked more than pleased, more than satisfied… Hannibal was genuinely happy. It filled her with a certain melancholy, but she could only argue a moot point so many times. This was no time to feel bad for herself, not now. She knew better.

Wet and agile, it was easy for Bedelia to slip out of Hannibal's grasp. She rose quickly to her feet, water streaming down the gentle curves of her body to feed into the water below. She stepped out of the tub and onto the plush bath mat, soft and dry between her toes. There was a chill to the air without the warmth of Hannibal's body against hers – she reached for a towel hanging nearby to wrap around her petite frame; another to dry her hair.

"I imagine you would have him whether he wanted it or not," Bedelia said, discarding her towels in the hamper. "It would be a wasted opportunity for you, not to have intercourse with a man sworn to celibacy."

Bare and growing cold, Bedelia made her way back to the bedroom, sure that Hannibal would follow. She could still sense the frustration in him, the desire to take something that was not yet his. When she crawled into bed this time, she did not arrange herself to Hannibal's liking, nor did she sprawl out freely across the mattress.

Instead Bedelia rolled onto her side, facing away from the door and curling in on herself. She waited for the whisper of sweet words in her ear, but it would not change her mind. She had already decided on her plan to meet the priest privately, offering him a grave warning and a fighting chance.

Hannibal took a few minutes to join her in bed, but when he lay next to her, pulling the blankets to wrap them around their bodies comfortably, he gently wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her closer.

"I can't deny that I like the fact that he's a virgin... And sworn to celibacy," Hannibal said quietly, his fingertips caressing her belly, tracing patterns on her skin. "It just makes me want him more, want to show him how much pleasure I can give him. I've already started..." He pressed a kiss to her shoulder, soft lips and warm breath against her skin. "I've had him in my hands and in my mouth... Now I need to be inside him."

Bedelia felt her body flush with heat – Hannibal's words shouldn't be affecting her this way, especially when the subject was someone far from herself. But combined with his touch, his body against hers and the low, sultry tone of his voice, she couldn't keep her heart from beating faster.

She could hear nothing but the sounds of her trembling inhalations, the rustling of bedcovers and Hannibal's own steady breaths.

"And you assume he'll let you," Bedelia murmured against the skin of her wrist. "I fear the numerous crises that will arise once he inevitably feels the crushing weight of his sins."

She did not turn to face Hannibal, nor did she wish to. The hunger that was surely glinting in his eyes would only make her more bitter. She struggled not to make her desperation known; wanted to say that he could be inside of her, that she would let him – as fast, hard, and as often as he liked, and still love every minute of it.

She said none of those things. "Consent has never been necessary for you, Hannibal. Not everyone may appreciate that."

"His consent is important to me," Hannibal said, lips brushing across the skin of her shoulder, not being entirely honest. Will had never said yes before Hannibal touched him. The priest had even asked Hannibal to please not do that right before Hannibal sucked him off. He doubted Will would say yes to anal sex, but Hannibal would do it anyway. He knew the only thing that stopped Will from saying yes were his beliefs. He knew what was best for the priest. "I want to hear it from him. That he wants it."

Hannibal’s hand caressed her thigh now. Bedelia had never said no to him. He hoped Will Graham wouldn't either.

"He thinks it's wrong, because that's what he's been taught since he was a kid," he continued, warm breath against her skin, and he moved closer, pressing himself harder against her, his body enveloping hers. "I'll free him from that. I'll make him happy. I'll have him... Just the way I have you."

A sigh of pleasure fell from Bedelia's lips, and she did not bother trying to silence herself. She should have found it degrading, should feel sick, nauseous with the very insinuation of Hannibal's plans, and yet...

It was thanks to the priest and Hannibal's own lust that she was being called upon. In a way she should be thankful. She could not deny him, not her body, not her blood, not even the soul she was convinced he'd sucked from her. Even if she had denied these things, Hannibal would have taken them anyway.

"How would you do it?" Bedelia asked in awe, her body heating of its own accord. "How would you take him? Have him...?"

"In any way I can. Any way he lets me," Hannibal answered, breathing slowly against her soft, warm skin. Not as warm as Will's. Hannibal missed him, missed kissing his neck, missed touching his cock. Missed Will's smell, his heartbeat, his taste. Bedelia could never be enough for him now that he’d had Will Graham. Still, she was everything he had for now.

"On my bed, with his legs wrapped around my waist," Hannibal suggested. "Bent over a table, letting me take what I want. On top of me, sinking down onto my cock as I move into him." He closed his eyes and could almost imagine he was holding Will instead, his fantasies mixing with reality. It was easy to picture the priest in her place, even if the body, smell, voice, heartbeat – everything – was wrong. In his memory palace, he could still have Will.

"At his place," Hannibal continued, knowing that his words had the power to arouse her and also hurt her. "On his couch, with him sitting on my lap," he muttered before biting her shoulder, not to draw blood but to leave a dark bruise behind that would fade too soon. It would last for weeks on Will Graham's skin.

"At the church," he said almost in a whisper, smirking at how sinful and arousing that sounded. "So God can watch as I save Will Graham from Him. As I give Will a different life, one that's so much better than what God decided to give him."

Bedelia was temporarily stunned into silence, left to reflect on Hannibal’s words with a hitched breath: Hannibal was convinced that he was this man's – this human being's – savior. The irony of a priest being saved by a vampire was not lost on her. His God complex was even stronger than she'd suspected… did Hannibal truly see himself as Will's Graham's personal messiah?

"You've given this some thought," Bedelia gasped, and she bit her tongue against accusations of delusion. "Indulged yourself in these lewd imaginings, desperate to make them a reality. You are… obsessed."

"I'm intrigued," he spoke against her mouth, breathing into her. "I'm interested in his body, his mind, everything he is. I want to know him, see him. Feel him. In every possible way."

"Would you make love to him, Hannibal?" Bedelia whispered breathlessly. "Or would it be a claiming?"

"I believe it can be both," Hannibal answered, burying his face in her neck and breathing in. "I could make love to him," he continued, wrapping his arms around her to hold her even closer, making it easier to get lost in his fantasies. "And claim him at the same time. Making love implies feelings. And I do have feelings for him."

Bedelia found it unfathomable. A pureblood with feelings for a human, despite the numerous suitors and mistresses of his own kind that have surely thrown themselves at his feet.

“What will the others think of you?” Bedelia asked, though Hannibal was never one to yield to outside pressures. “Your old and noble society?”

“My actions were never influenced by what they may think of me,” Hannibal replied. “They know better than to try to interfere in my decisions.” He moved his hand up, fingertips tickling her skin until they stopped right above her heart. “And so do you.”

A chill shot down Bedelia's spine – she did know better, but her conscience made it difficult to ignore Hannibal's often reckless actions. Arguing would do her no good; it would be best not to give him reason to doubt her loyalty. The devil took care of his own, and as for anyone else... there was no guarantee of their safety. Bedelia felt vulnerable with her back turned on her sire and moved to face him instead, unsettled by the smile she found on his lips.

She couldn't afford to let her guard down in his presence – when she was tempted to do so, Hannibal wasted little time in reminding her of just how dangerous he was. Easy to forget when faced with the meticulous disguise he wore around humans.

“I wouldn't dream of it,” Bedelia replied.

“Good,” Hannibal said simply, leaning in to kiss her lips softly and pulling her closer. That was enough conversation for a night, she was questioning him too much. Nothing she could say would change his mind, he had made his decision a long time ago.

His hand caressed her back, sliding down to her backside and then to her thigh, pulling her leg up to wrap it around his waist. He pressed himself closer, making her gasp softly against his lips, and he kissed her harder, hungrily. He kept moving, grinding against her, his cock hardening again with the friction.

“Han—” Bedelia muttered as their lips parted, just enough for them to take a breath.

“Shh,” Hannibal said, and kissed her again.

He would spend the night with her and leave in the morning, but for now he didn't want to be questioned about his decisions. Bedelia worried too much, Will Graham would be just fine under his care. The priest was all he could think about as he claimed Bedelia’s body once again.

Chapter Text

"Come, let us discuss this," says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool." —Isaiah {1:18}

The week had crawled by at an abysmal pace, painfully slow without the usual entertainment of Hannibal’s favorite priest. Though he wanted nothing more than to smother him, it would be wiser to allow Will adequate breathing room – the time and space he needed until he willingly returned to him. He spent the days tending to his own needs, taking time to hunt, feed, visit with Bedelia, and hunt some more. He’d had four patients on Friday, and after the last one had left, he’d decided to stay in his office and work for a few more hours.

Hannibal slipped on his coat and left to get himself a cup of coffee – a drink he often indulged in with Will Graham. It brought back fond memories. He hadn't had coffee since that night with Will, weeks ago, when they’d visited a café outside the Trevi fountain and mused over life, love and relationships. A staple of their moments spent together, calm and carefree. Hannibal missed Will and their conversations. He returned to his practice with his half empty cup of coffee in hand, wondering what their relationship would be like from now on, what form it would take and when he would have the opportunity to kiss and touch Will again.

Hannibal was assaulted with Will’s scent as soon as he reached the waiting room, before he had even stepped inside of his office. It wasn’t faint, like Will’s lingering scent on his own clothes, but strong, as if Will had just been there. He wondered if he were looking for him, if perhaps, upon seeing his empty office, he’d decided to come back later. But as Hannibal quietly entered the room he could smell, without a doubt, that Will was still inside. Immediately he followed the enticing scent as if he could see the trail in the very air, sweet and vibrant. He spotted the priest atop the mezzanine with a book in his hands, too focused on his reading to even notice Hannibal’s presence.

“Hello, Will,” Hannibal said as he closed the door behind himself. He could detect the faint trace of blood, the scent blooming as he inhaled. Something was wrong, but Will didn't seem to be injured. Hannibal decided to wait. “It's a pleasant surprise to see you here.”

The sound of Hannibal's voice immediately captured Will's attention. He hadn't arrived long ago, spending only a few minutes browsing Hannibal's extensive collection of literature and scholarly material. He was surprised to see so many books on theology, delighted by the names of influential authors he’d come across.

He gently shut the book in his hands – Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae – and glanced down from the balcony to see Dr. Lecter beneath him, looking every bit as suave as he remembered.

He was so used to the vivid image of Hannibal in his nightmares – he'd looked so different, taken on the characteristics of the monsters Will had read about. He remembered the near feral look of him, with wild, unnatural eyes. And his mouth...

“Sorry, I wanted—needed—to see you,” Will replied, closing his eyes as if to will away the image burned into his mind. “Although you must be getting sick of me at this point.”

He opened his eyes to focus on Dr. Lecter, who looked harmless now. Seemingly unperturbed by his sudden, unannounced presence, with nothing but a slightly arched eyebrow as his sole giveaway. Will had to admit to himself that he’d longed for his wise company.

“On the contrary,” Hannibal said. He had been sorely missed. “I quite look forward to seeing you.”

"My phone was dead,” Will continued, a weak excuse that did little to hide his eagerness, “so I thought I'd just come by and hope you weren't with a patient. I was prepared to wait awhile.” He returned the book to its place on the bookshelf, in between Theology and Sanity and God, Sexuality and the Self. “But the door was open and I'm not a fan of waiting rooms.”

Will walked around to the ladder, wincing as he began his descent down the rungs.

"I didn't mean to snoop around, I just… thought I'd pass the time. Good evening, Doctor."

The priest was hesitant to take a seat, all too aware of the cilice digging painfully into his skin and the itch of the hairshirt beneath his clothes. The way Hannibal was watching him made him feel like he was naked – he would have felt less vulnerable in his cassock and collar, a pang of regret accompanying his decision to change into layman’s attire.

“Good evening, Will,” Hannibal replied with a smile. He usually wouldn't abide by the idea of his patients walking into his office without being invited, but this was Will and most rules didn't apply to him. Hannibal was happy to see him again, and that was the only thing that mattered. “Don't worry. I don't mind. I know you share my affinity for reading.”

Hannibal could still smell blood, could sense an uneasiness to Will. The only way of figuring out what was wrong would be to sit with the priest and make him talk. He placed his cup of coffee on the small table next to his chair.

“Please, have a seat,” Hannibal said. He had missed this, being alone with Will in his office. “May I offer you something to drink? Wine, perhaps?” Pleasantly, he remembered how they’d chatted over wine during their last session. It felt like a long time ago now.

Will considered the offer. He'd have to politely decline, as tempted as he was. It would be easy enough to refuse. His penance wasn't over, and he wasn't sure how much he trusted himself to drink with Dr. Lecter given their less than spotless history. He needed to be as alert and aware as possible.

"I'll pass this time, thanks," Will answered with a smile, hoping he sounded casual enough not to warrant any further questions. Gingerly, he lowered himself into one of the chrome and leather chairs, not allowing his face betray him as a stab of pain shot up his thigh.

Will knew he’d been wearing the cilice longer than he'd been told, but there was something about the discomfort that felt... Good. Just. Especially in Hannibal's presence, where he was reminded of the sins in which he'd been too weak to refrain. He didn't dare to wear the new glasses Hannibal had purchased for him, both embarrassed and delighted by the gift. For now, humility was his aim.

Hannibal observed Will for a moment before taking a seat in front of him. He knew that Will could be refusing the wine simply because he would prefer to be sober in Hannibal's presence after all that had happened between them, but Will’s pallor had returned, face ashen. He looked weaker than normal and Hannibal couldn't smell the aroma of any kind of food still clinging to his person.

“You've been fasting again,” Hannibal said, crossing his legs and joining his hands on his lap, eyes fixed on Will's. He appreciated how Will maintained eye contact with him, even without his glasses. He suspected that Will was only open like this with him. It was a privilege.

“When was the last time you had something other than water?” he asked, but his tone wasn't accusatory. If anything, he was frustrated, but didn't let it show. Will didn't have to punish himself for the feelings he had for Hannibal, neither for surrendering to those feelings. He shouldn't punish himself in any way.

Will let out a sigh, rubbing at the back of his neck. It was embarrassing how easily Hannibal could read him – that much hadn't changed at all. Yet it was comforting at the same time, to know he hadn't imagined Hannibal's keen perception of him.

"It's... been a little while. But it's important that I do this—penance follows confession. Psychologically, it's... freeing. I still feel the need to reconcile with God." And with you, he thought. The lack of distraction provided a particular clarity, one that was very useful when dealing with Dr. Lecter,

Will wondered if there was any use in explaining to Hannibal. Despite all of his books on religion, faith and belief, he doubted that he answered to any deity, God or otherwise. The concept of sacrifice wasn't always easy to understand.

“You've confessed, then,” Hannibal observed, his eyes never leaving Will's. He wondered who Will had confessed to. Pazzi? Bernardone? He figured it didn't matter after all.

“It takes some courage, I imagine, to be able to give voice to everything we've done; to your own desires, in front of another priest.” Hannibal could hear Will's heart beat a little faster, either with the memories of their sexual encounters or anxiety of telling Hannibal about his confession. “You're very brave.”

In a way, the thought was amusing. Hannibal could imagine Pazzi’s face, if he was the one who'd heard everything. He wondered how Will had managed to be forgiven at all. Fasting couldn't be the only penance in his case. Not after what they'd done.

“Were you assigned any other penance besides fasting that I should know about?” Hannibal asked. He knew Will wasn't supposed to talk about it, but Hannibal pushed his luck anyway. Will had already done many things he wasn't supposed to ever since meeting Hannibal.

Will had to avert his gaze, afraid that Dr. Lecter would see through him again. "A few," he said, his voice wavering, "but nothing unreasonable. The Church boasts a long history of mortification—celibacy, fasting, refraining from alcohol. Kneeling piously."

Will smoothed a hand down his thigh, careful as he gently grazed over the barbed cilice hidden underneath his trousers. It stung enough to distract him. To remind him. Hannibal was right – it had taken a great amount of courage to admit what they'd done. What he'd done. Now it served as a warning.

He wondered if it embarrassed Hannibal at all. If it shamed him. He didn't seem to radiate an ounce of regret. Had his apologies all been hollow?

"There are many forms of religious discipline," Will continued, as if trying to defend himself. "It wasn’t uncommon even among saints to test their bodies, putting to death the sins of the flesh. The idea is to make our bodies our slaves—to exert control over our lower selves instead of caving to baser desires.”

“Controlling your body is one thing,” Hannibal said calmly, intrigued by how Will didn't seem to want to make eye contact again. There was more to it, something Will didn't want to admit. Hannibal's eyes traveled over Will's body, the scent of blood still lingering, as if Will was almost bleeding. Had he hurt himself before coming to Hannibal's office as a punishment for his sins? He didn't think he would get a proper answer if he asked.

“What happens when those desires exist not only in your body, but in your mind as well?” Hannibal questioned, his gaze focusing on Will's eyes again, even though Will refused to look at him now. “Are you adept at controlling your thoughts, Will? How effective is physical pain in limiting internal sin?”

Thought crimes were as old as heresy. Will was tellingly silent.

Hannibal paused for just a few seconds, letting the truth of his words sink in. “Our baser desires are a natural thing. We have evolved this way. Trying to avoid it completely, especially by physical punishment, seems like unnecessary cruelty.”

"Not cruelty, no," Will replied, brow furrowed. "Control. Desires of the flesh may be inherent—ancestral—but it still remains our choice to sin or be faithful in our own lives."

Surely Hannibal wouldn't argue man’s free will and his likeness to God, but it was difficult to determine his true beliefs. Dr. Lecter talked of God like he believed in him, and yet his actions were in opposition to Christian teachings. Will had seen glimpses of his personal life, had joined him both during the day and night, and yet his motives remained unclear. Will shifted in his seat, reminding himself not to cross his legs lest he cause himself more pain... But maybe that was what he wanted.

He still felt the pull of sin in Hannibal's presence.

"Even taking into account human nature, it doesn't make it right. I sinned that night at Trevi Square, despite thinking my actions were righteous. I sinned when I let you touch me, because it was what my body wanted. Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future, but sin doesn't absolve sin. Which is why I had to confess."

Hannibal let out a quiet sigh. "Some would argue that since the fall of Adam, all men have been conceived and born in sin,” he said, his hands squeezing each other where they were clasped tightly in his lap. He would never accept the fact that Will thought this kind of punishment was something good, something that helped. He couldn't accept it.

“Which means that all men are full of lust and an inclination to sin from their mothers’ wombs,” Hannibal explained. “And that they are unable by nature to truly follow God."

Will refused to meet his gaze again. Hannibal decided to push him even more.

“Sin is part of humanity,” he said. “The Bible speaks of ‘sinful flesh’ in Romans 8:3, and Romans 6:6 speaks of ‘the body ruled by sin’. What would be the point in trying to be good and righteous, if you are, by nature, destined to fail?”

Slowly, Will dragged his gaze up to finally meet Hannibal's.

"Citing scripture to defend radical corruption—don't you think that's a little antagonistic, Doctor?"

Hannibal merely looked amused – something about it sent a chill down his spine, but Will kept his eyes trained in front of him.

"Do you know the full verse?" he asked, then took in a long, slow breath. "For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as offering... and so he condemned sin in the flesh.'"

Will let his hands rest on his knees, but couldn't tear his eyes away from Hannibal's inquisitive stare. He didn't seem discouraged at all… in fact, he appeared almost pleased. Will felt like he was really seeing him for the first time.

"It's best when read in context. Romans 6:6 shares a similar message: doing away with the body ruled by sin. Freeing ourselves from the bondage of sin in body and mind."

God knew it wasn't easy. Will was still struggling to break free from the fetters of his own sin nature. Even now he could hear the unsettling rattle of chains in his head.

"Roman Catholics maintain that original sin is washed away by baptism," Will continued. "The fact that it's in our nature isn't a free pass to keep sinning. What you're implying is... total depravity."

“Total depravity states that even having free will, humans are unable to not sin,” Hannibal said, and indeed, he was planting the seed. It was true, after all. “People are unable to make choices for God rather than self. So while you think you’re punishing yourself for God, you may just be doing it for yourself. Because it relieves the guilt of your conscience.”

Hannibal could hear Will’s heart pounding now, either caused by his words or the intensity of his stare. He wished he could read Will’s mind, see everything that Will was thinking. He wanted to know what else Will had been doing apart from starving himself, how far these punishments would go. He wasn’t sure where to draw the line, when it would stop being penance and become self-harm.

“Is it for God that people refrain from sin?” Hannibal asked, lowering his head just a fraction. “Is it for God that they pray, that they confess, that they engage in all kinds of penance?” His eyes remained locked on Will’s, staring into them as if both were physically incapable of looking away. “Or is it for themselves? For the promise of eternal life? Are people being good just to get something back in the end?” Hannibal paused just for a second to take a breath, the sound of Will’s heart loud in his ears. “Are you punishing yourself for God, Will, or is it simply to save yourself? Or perhaps you enjoy self-sacrifice?”

"That's—" Will began, his voice small and soft. Again, he had to glance away, as if looking away from the sun – Hannibal had hit a nerve. “That's not—”

His hands clenched into loose fists. Will remembered when he'd injured his knuckles after beating the pickpocket at the square. How he'd liked the pain of it, how tangible and lasting it was.

"Everyone has their reasons," he said, trying to steer away from murkier waters. "I want to make God my focus and do away with distractions. I want to understand His plan for me. But as much as I love Him, I also fear Him. They teach us to be God-fearing and yet faithful. I guess fear drives some of us more than faith."

There were many things he feared other than God, and a few things he feared more. Will looked down at his hands, felt the cross against his chest, hanging heavily.

"You told me once that darkness was sometimes necessary. That evil was needed to define good. When I was young I was so confused by the concept of light pollution. How could light pollute anything? Light cleanses. Light illuminates. It guides and purifies and nourishes. But light can also blind and obstruct."

Religion, he supposed, was much the same.

"If there's too much of it," Will continued, "you can't see anything."

Curiously, Hannibal cocked his head.

"Then you understand my point," he said. "God can be contradictory. Sin and evil are demonized by the church, and yet they give holiness and goodness their power. It's an unfair exchange."

Perhaps it all came down to faith and fear after all.

“But you also make a fair point,” Hannibal continued. “Some people are motivated by fear alone, and are faithful to God because of this fear. Because they believe it’s their only option other than damnation. Imagine that you could sin without having to worry. Without the fear of being sent to hell, but still gaining eternal life. If you could live without any fear. Would you still choose to abstain from sin? Would you still be afraid?”

"Are you suggesting..." Will began in a whisper, "the absence of God?” A Godless priest. What a backwards concept. “Or of hell?"

The loss of family – one's parents and sister – would certainly make anyone doubt the existence of a benevolent God. Will remembered what Hannibal had said to him after they'd met at the library. It was a story he had yet to be told, but one that could certainly inspire a vendetta against God.

Fear and judgement were one thing, but there still remained the power of faith. Will brought his hand to his mouth and let a fingertip trace along his lower lip.

"It's not that I want to save myself. I don't know if I can. But I want to be worthy of God's love. I would fear for my spirit—what's the point of eternal life if your soul is stagnant?" What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

“Fully enjoying life, and all it has to offer. The beauty. The horror. Everything.” Hannibal smiled softly at Will. He didn't hope to convince Will, not so fast, but maybe give him something to think about. He watched as Will touched his own lower lip with the tip of his finger, his insides burning with hunger – for Will's blood and body. He sighed, pushing the thoughts – the hunger – aside. Now was not the time.

“God's love isn't perfect,” Hannibal said then, after a short pause. “He claims to be all-loving, all-forgiving, yet you must suffer self-inflicted pain to earn His forgiveness. His love isn't pure nor selfless. Why should it be more valuable than other kinds of love?”

Will's expression softened. He felt the throb of the cilice around his thigh and felt guilt.

"God doesn't desire sacrifice," he said, though this had not always been true. In the Old Testament, He had required blood. Animal sacrifice, burnt offerings on an altar. It was not until Christ was crucified that He had finally been satisfied.

"He wants worship and obedience. So we offer ourselves up willingly. We mortify our flesh in honor of His Son and to overcome our bodies."

And maybe, in Will's case, yes – because he felt he deserved it. His self-inflicted pain was not for God's forgiveness... God had already forgiven him. It was for his own sake. So that he could forgive himself. It was a selfish penance, but Will was willing to offer his body as a living sacrifice, his love and loyalty in God's name.

"It's so that we may be sanctified. God’s love is truly eternal. I've yet to discover any other being that can claim to love forever.”

“You shouldn't discard the possibility,” Hannibal said. He knew of vampires who lived for hundreds, thousands of years, and still loved their partners and their families as they had in the beginning. Love didn't always end with time, even for the immortal.

“Love should be earned. Do know why you love God, Will? Is it because He's good to you, or because you were taught to do so, even if you don't always feel the warmth of his embrace?”

Will felt something wrench in his chest. His heart felt as heavy as the cross around his neck, but he knew what he should say. What he should believe.

"I was taught that God is love," Will explained, but his voice lacked conviction. He felt not like a priest, but a man lost, unsure of himself and what truly mattered.

"He first loved us. He is the Creator of all things, including man, designed in His image. He gave us free will and through Him our lives gain meaning and purpose. We are delivered by His grace and He forgives."

It wasn't as convincing as he'd hoped, but although he yearned for more, Will didn't question that he had love for God in his heart. If he had to describe his love for God, perhaps he would compare it to a child’s love for their parent, or the love of family, with great awe and respect. He had made a beautiful world full of mysteries and complexity, and indeed, Will owed Him his undeserving life. But he didn't know if God’s love completed and fulfilled him, or if he were capable of cherishing God above all else.

"He has already earned our love. He gave his only Son so that we may overcome our sins, and as a priest He has given me the power to touch the most hardened hearts. Maybe God is contradictory. Maybe He permits evil for the sake of the greater good, but I believe He loves us. Don't you, Doctor?"

“I’ve found that God is not exempt from partiality,” Hannibal said, distorting the truth. His love for humanity confused even the angels, but it was a fickle thing. God’s love has never been equal, he thought. He has never loved all of us. He doesn't love me or my kind. He didn't forgive them.

“You were born in a religious environment. It's easy to make a child believe in anything you tell them. Have you ever questioned the things you were taught? Have you ever stopped to analyze, to examine if those beliefs are truly yours, based on what you experience, or if they were engraved in your mind when you were young?” Hannibal’s eyes bore holes into Will's skull. “Do your experiences make you feel that God is love? That He forgives?”

Hannibal kept his face clear of any expression, but deep inside, he wanted to tell Will everything. Everything he knew and had seen, everything that confirmed his beliefs that God was not synonymous with good.

“Do you love him for giving you life,” Hannibal went on, “for forgiving your sins, for giving his own Son for you? Or do you simply feel indebted?” It was easy to instill debt in those you’ve created. This was simple to understand – God only wanted to be worshipped. Loved, praised, feared and obeyed. “It doesn't feel like he gave you your life, if you have to dedicate it to him.”

Will shook his head gently.

"I don't have to—I chose to. My life was never really mine to begin with. I am not my own, but my thoughts and beliefs, my experiences are mine alone. I love God and I owe him."

He shifted again, trying to relieve the pressure against his thigh, and let out a quiet gasp at the bite of barbed iron.

"We priests do counseling too," Will said, and let his arms relax against the armrests. "It's not just spiritual, though that may be our expertise. It's clear your relationship with God is... complicated. You're so eager for me to see the worst in Him. To see Him as you do. Why?"

Will imagined Hannibal as a boy, a scared child who had lost his family. Such trauma for no apparent rhyme or reason – it surely must have shaped him. He thought of the Book of Job, of having faith even through pain and suffering. God had allowed the devil to test Job, to push him to his limit and take away all he held dear in an effort to make him curse the Lord and turn his back. But Job understood that it was not his job to question God's design. Will hoped to have the same strength.

"’The Lord giveth, and he taketh away,’” he continued. “‘Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?’”

“You say your life was given to you, and yet it was never your own,” Hannibal argued, trying not to show his distaste for the verse Will recited. God takes away indeed. He took my little sister away. Hannibal often wondered what had happened to her after death, if her soul was really sent to hell for being a pureblood vampire, a fate she could not help and didn't choose for herself. “That doesn't seem like a gift. Your life should be your own, it should belong to you only. Maybe this is a subject in which we'll always disagree.”

Hannibal was not giving up, though. He did want Will to see the bad side of God, instead of just the good. The whole truth of Him, typhoid, swans and all.

“I wish the same clarity for you that you claim to seek,” Hannibal said. “Many religious people are blinded by faith, to the point of never questioning anything. I wouldn't want you to be one of them. Maybe God, and life itself, are so much more than what you know of them.”

Will let out a lengthy, deliberate breath through his nose. He closed his eyes briefly – could sense that his was not the only bleeding heart in the room. He was being stubborn, perhaps blinded by his faith as Hannibal had suggested. He'd tried to justify God's actions to someone who had experienced great loss. It wasn't like him, but he’d seen the paper-thin crack in Dr. Lecter's veneer. It was enough.

"I apologize, Doctor. I spoke without thinking. Without feeling. I admit that the nature of God—of life—are things I'll never fully comprehend. Whether we agree or not, I shouldn't be insensitive to your views. It's not my place to judge anyone."

The itching of his penance was barely noticeable, the stinging dulled, but Will was thankful to be wearing dark slacks that would hide any presence of blood. He'd remove the cilice as soon as he returned to his room. He had indulged in his punishment long enough for one day.

"I'm sorry," Will continued, embarrassed by his lack of sympathy. It had been a long day, and an even longer night before, sleepless and plagued with nightmares. "I won't waste anymore of your time."

He stood and tried to smile, but it was distorted by a grimace as the searing pain in Will's thigh made itself known, doubling in intensity with the return of sensation and nearly causing his knee to buckle.

It didn't go unnoticed. Hannibal stood up immediately, his gaze darting from Will's thigh to his eyes and back again. He knew Will was hiding something.

“There's nothing to forgive, Will,” Hannibal said, keeping his tone neutral. “Please don't worry about it. It's always a pleasure to see you and have conversations with you.”

As they walked to the door, Hannibal thought about the many ways he could confront Will about what he knew was happening, a plethora of different possibilities, all appealing. It was difficult not to focus on the smell of Will's blood, especially as they approached the door and Will stood a little too close.

“I truly appreciate your company,” Hannibal said, turning to look at Will again, the door of his office still closed. “And I care about you. That's why I can't let you go before knowing what you're hiding from me.”

He saw the surprise in Will's eyes, but Will didn't have the time to process before Hannibal moved closer and pressed the priest against the wall, his eyes fixed on Will's.

“You've been hurting yourself.”

Will swallowed, hesitating as he stood trapped between Hannibal's body and the cold, hard wall of his office.

"It's not what you think," he said, an effort to explain, to defend his actions. Will tried to make himself as small as possible, to move away, but Dr. Lecter kept him caged between his arms. He couldn't function, couldn't think straight when Hannibal was this close. “I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to assume—there's a stigma attached to the practice. It isn't self harm, it's—"

Hannibal didn't appear convinced.

Will was aware of how easy it was to fall victim to spiritual pride and narcissism, for his ego to inflate with the knowledge of his self-inflicted penance. He had not planned for anyone besides Padre Pazzi to know, but here he was again, helplessly exposed and unable to hide in his shame.

"Show me," said Hannibal. The softness of his voice was a counterpoint to the fierce glint in his eyes, and Will could not move to do so. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut, fists clenched at his sides, praying that Hannibal would step away and allow him to leave. Fearful and in doubt, the priest’s mind turned to scripture, as if the words could protect him.

"’I do not run aimlessly. I do not fight like I am beating the air. I batter my body and bring it to servitude, lest… Lest having preached to others, I myself might be disqualified.’”

It did not satisfy Hannibal, only inflaming his curiosity and concern.

"Please turn around,” Hannibal said, placing his hands on Will's shoulders and making him turn until he was facing the wall. This way it would be harder for Will to push him away – not that Will could anyway, Hannibal was too strong. But this way, Will wouldn't be able to try.

Will held his breath, remaining still and letting himself be handled, curious of Dr. Lecter's intentions, though his heartbeat picked up at the contact. Quietly, he braced his palms against the wall. It felt like a pat-down.

Hannibal didn't waste time. He slid his hands down to the front of Will's pants, ignoring any protest. Deft fingers quickly undid the buckle and fly to get them out of the way until he could push his slacks down and expose Will’s underclothes – and the cilice he was wearing around his thigh.

Hannibal's fingers squeezed Will's waist a bit too tightly, not being aware of it in his anger, all he could focus on was the smell of Will's blood. How dare Pazzi even suggest this kind of penance for Will. But Will… Will seemed to enjoy it, at least to some extent.

The priest was mortified, red in the face, forehead resting against the wall. His breathing came heavily, mind jumping to deplorable places, places he had tried to forget. He had not rid himself of his lust as he'd hoped. Will’s spine bowed as he arched away from the touch, flattening himself against the wall as much as he could bear.

“So this is the truth you've been hiding from me,” Hannibal said, his breath hot against Will's ear. “When I asked if you enjoyed it you didn't answer.”

Hannibal didn't like this. If Will wanted to feel pain, it should be inflicted by Hannibal, not Pazzi, or even Will himself. It should be for Hannibal, not for God. He pressed his body against Will's, his chest flush against the priest's back. Hannibal's hand slid down to where the cilice was wrapped around Will's thigh, and he touched the metal softly.

“Do you enjoy feeling pain, Will?” Hannibal asked again, his voice low and contained, hiding the anger he felt, the annoyance. Hannibal could think of several ways he could make Will feel pain that would be far more pleasant than this was. “Masochist or martyr, I wonder. Does this bring you pleasure?”

Will attempted to struggle, but it was a halfhearted effort. Dr. Lecter wouldn't give an inch. Having Hannibal pressed against him made him shudder, thoughts racing to the pleasures of being touched, memories of sure hands and a warm mouth. The careful brush of fingers against his heated skin.

Will wished he could disconnect from his mind and body, both working against him as it were, preoccupied by Hannibal’s closeness. He was getting hard, aroused by the blasphemous words in his ear – how easy it would be for Hannibal to take advantage of him again, just like this. But would he really be so unwilling?

He tried to pull himself together enough for a few deep breaths and a silent Hail Mary. It didn't do much to will away his excitement. Shameful. Immoral. But God, did it get him going.

"N-No," Will answered finally, but the thought of the tightly-tied cilice, the scratch of the hairshirt against his skin felt deserved. He didn't want Hannibal to see his face, to know the power he wielded over him.

"But I... I take pride in serving whatever penance I've earned. Knowing that my misdeeds aren't going unpunished."

Hannibal was intrigued. Will suffered beautifully – he wondered how he'd look with a crown of thorns upon his head, blood trickling down his face from the sharp points in his skin.

"When I atone for my sins," Will continued, nearly breathless, "that feels good. I'm not a threat to myself or... or to others. Not right now. Not anymore."

“No, you are not a threat,” Hannibal said in his ear. Only to me, he thought, because Will was indeed a potent threat to his self control. Especially now, when he could smell his arousal. And his blood. Hannibal pressed his chest harder against Will's back, pinning him against the wall as both of his hands slid down to the cilice around Will's thigh.

Will's body tensed at the touch, but Hannibal was excruciatingly gentle.

“There are other ways to pay for your sins,” Hannibal went on, carefully untying the cilice and relieving the pressure around Will's thigh. He could see that it had almost broken the skin, marked with the subtle colors of bruising. Hannibal imagined Will had been wearing it for longer than he should. His eyes went dark red with anger and hunger, but Will couldn't see it. He pressed his nose to Will's curls and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes. “You don't have to hurt yourself… And I don't want you to.”

Hannibal let the cilice fall on the floor. “Don't move,” he whispered against the back of Will's neck, and Hannibal was kneeling down to pull Will's pants up again. Will had no choice but to oblige, thighs shaking, and Hannibal quickly buttoned his pants again now that the cilice was gone.

But Hannibal didn't stop there. His hands continued moving, sliding up now to slip underneath Will's shirt, discovering the hairshirt there with a click of his tongue. His fingers stopped for a moment, and his lips brushed against Will's neck as he spoke.

“Do you punish yourself because you regret committing sins?” Hannibal asked, fingers quickly undoing the buttons of Will's shirt now. “Or is it because you want to sin more?”

Will felt like a scolded child – he wondered if Dr. Lecter thought the same of him. But his actions told a different story, he wasn't being punished, but relieved. Will was torn between jerking away and holding still, perhaps even leaning into Hannibal's careful treatment. It didn't feel right to have his burdens, his penance, lifted from him.

"It's a reminder of my sins," Will replied, hyper-focused on the prickle and itch of his skin. "And a warning for the future—so I won't make the same mistakes again. But it didn't stop me from coming to you."

Will wasn't sure if it was the answer Hannibal was looking for, but he was half-dressed yet again, his simple hairshirt on display.

"You want this off too?" he asked, but Dr. Lecter said nothing. The garment offended Hannibal – he backed up just enough for Will to move away from the wall, still facing away from him. Slowly, Will pulled the hairshirt off of himself, and it felt every bit as strange as he imagined it would to undress in front of another person. No stranger than being forcibly undressed by one, however.

But it was a physical relief, the planes of his back marked by blotchy hives and red, angry skin. The air felt good against the heat and irritation, and Will held the hairshirt humbly in his unsteady hands.

“That's better,” Hannibal said, lifting his hand to touch Will's back with the tips of his fingers. It was a soft touch, but it made Will shiver as Hannibal's fingertips slid down his spine, his heart beating faster again. Hannibal wanted to lean in and mouth at his skin, taste it and mark it in his own way.

“You may get dressed again now.” Hannibal took the hairshirt from Will's grasp, trading it for the button-down he'd held carefully, reluctant to wrinkle the fabric. As Will put the shirt back on, Hannibal allowed his mind to wander – he wanted to lay Will out on the chaise, kiss every inch of his body, worship him as he deserved. Instead, he took a step back and watched as Will turned and straightened his clothes with shaking hands, hesitant under Hannibal's scrutiny.

The hairshirt followed the cilice to the floor as Hannibal stepped closer again. He had no respect for such instruments of torture, and though he reveled in the beauty of medieval objects, these did not please him in form nor function. Hannibal gently shooed Will's hands away, cool fingers lingering over the heat of Will's wrists for a brief moment, feeling the tantalizing throb of his pulse; always faster when he touched him.

“Please don't forget about our dinner on Sunday,” Hannibal said softly as he began to button up Will's shirt. “I hope you'll still allow me to entertain you for an evening."

This time Will couldn't keep his gaze from meeting Hannibal's, didn't want to back down from the challenge in his eyes. His heart began to slow, embarrassment fading, Hannibal's closeness no longer a threat. Will didn't know what he'd expected – a glance to the floor where his cilice lay a reminder that what had happened was real, if brief. Maybe boundaries were a moot point.

He longed for that gentle touch, even if it was wrong, even if he didn't deserve it.

"I haven't forgotten," Will said, sensing that their next meeting would put them both to the test. Perhaps it would be their breaking point. The truth was sure to surface, whatever it was, and Will wondered what he'd discover when the dust settled.

"I wouldn't miss it, Doctor."

The evening was a quiet one, the day marked by a beautiful wedding ceremony held at the Chapel of the Choir. Yet there was discord within those gilded walls – Pazzi had been struck with guilt at the sight of his protege, Father Graham appearing frail and sallow, yet resolute in his commitment to serving his penance. Since his brief encounter with Lecter inside St. Peter's, Pazzi had been plagued by paranoia, constantly looking over his shoulder and scanning every crowd for any sign of being followed.

He knew Lecter recognized him, remembered him from all those years ago, and the thought made fear and panic bubble up inside him. But Pazzi continued to pray, to be faithful despite the uncertainty in his heart – holier men had become victims of the vampire, and there were times where he doubted he’d be able to protect himself. It was undeniable that both he and Father Graham were in very real danger.

The clear sky had shifted to a darker, deeper blue above the great dome of the Basilica, and preoccupied with his thoughts, Pazzi took his leave as the church closed its doors. The soles of his shoes clacked against the sea of cobblestones, his path illuminated by golden light, glowing lanterns casting shadows of the colonnades onto the square.

His mobile phone began to ring and vibrate, and Pazzi hurriedly pulled it from his pocket, glancing at the screen as he walked beyond the great Egyptian obelisk. The flashing screen read Private Number. He sighed and answered the call, bringing the phone to his ear.

“Pronto.”

“Padre!” The man on the phone sounded happy, tone laden with an unsettling cheerfulness that seemed to come from nowhere. Pazzi could recognize the voice easily. “So good to talk to you again, I've been growing so impatient! Tell me Pazzi, have you seen my vampire recently?”

Pazzi took a moment to answer, his eyes fixed on the Via della Conciliazione and beyond as his hand clutched the phone harder.

“Yes, he's been around, more than I'd like him to be.” He took a breath. “May I know who you are now?” It was the second time they'd spoken, and the mysterious caller had yet to reveal his name.

Pazzi received a loud laugh in response. “Oh, no, no, Father, not yet! First I need to know if I'm not wasting my time here. You see, it's a long trip from where I am to Rome. Are you sure that the vampire you know is the same one I'm looking for?”

"I'm almost certain," Pazzi said, eyeing his surroundings. He made a detour, heading left, toward the colonnades. "You see, I've done some digging myself. I had to be sure of what my gut was telling me."

"That makes two of us. Care to explain?"

Pazzi made his way to a granite fountain, his voice dropping to a whisper. "Back in Florence, where I come from, I was a priest at a small church. Twenty years ago I was still learning the ropes, I had a mentor that worked at Il Duomo. I went there often, where I noticed a frequent visitor. He never came to pray, but to draw."

"Oh, now this sounds like a tale. Do go on, Father, I'm all ears."

"I would see him often around the city – Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, the Gardens, every beautiful place, he would go, as if he were drawn to them. As if searching for inspiration or perhaps trying to capture, to recreate that beauty for himself.” A beast obsessed with beauty, Pazzi thought. What a contradiction. “That's when they began – the killings. Brutal murders, talk of shriveled bodies drained of blood, throats torn out. There were rumors of vampires. People began flocking to the churches in droves where they prayed for peace and protection. I counseled family and friends of the deceased. Il Mostro di Firenze had been born."

Loud clapping echoed on the other line.

"Il Mostro di Firenze. Wow, what a title. He must love that! I'm sure he just eats it up. Please, please, by all means, continue."

"I learned many disturbing details during my time as a priest. Il Mostro made me question everything I knew. He made me want to become an exorcist, to banish the evil from the world, but this was more than a demon.

“I locked eyes with him once, I could see him in that moment. I knew he was not a man. I learned to trust my gift twenty years ago. By the time they had a face to the monster, he had disappeared without a trace.” A pause, and Pazzi spoke again: “I can guarantee you that Hannibal Lecter is a vampire."

"Hannibal Lecter?" came the voice on the other line. "Is that the name he's using now?" Pazzi waited patiently as the man once again erupted into laughter. "When I met him he was Dr. Roman Fell!”

"He is still a doctor," Pazzi replied. "He works as a psychiatrist, conducting therapy with one of my priests. Il Mostro was a doctor too, also known as the Surgeon of Death. I must warn you, signore – whoever you are – I have never seen a vampire so well integrated, out and about on the streets of Rome. He enters chapels and basilicas with ease and does not rouse suspicion. He comes and goes as he pleases, day or night, equally comfortable in the sun as he is by moonlight." He doubted that many truly knew what he was.

“Goodie goodie,” the man said, and Pazzi could hear the excitement in his voice. “He certainly fits the profile. You’ve done your research Father, this is very good information indeed.” He paused for a moment, and Pazzi waited again.

“However, it would be a shame if say, you were mistaken,” the man on the phone continued, sounding almost threatening. “I will give you a certain amount of money upfront if you can prove to me that it's really him. Photographs, surveillance video, prints, whatever you can provide. The sooner his identity is confirmed, the sooner you get your money, and the sooner we'll meet in person.”

"I'm not the polizia, signore, I'm a priest—how do you expect me to—"

"A Vatican priest and exorcist," the stranger interrupted. "You are not alone in your beliefs. Dig a little deeper, Padre, the Church has plenty of secrets of its own. I'll be in touch. Good luck and God bless."

The man hung up.

Yet again, Pazzi was left alone with his thoughts and his blasted imagination. He looked about himself, feeling vulnerable out in the open. Pocketing his phone, he solemnly made his way past the square, disappearing beyond the Tuscan colonnades.

This time, he would not be disgraced.

Chapter Text

May your kisses be as exciting as the best wine, flowing gently over lips and teeth. I am my lover's, and he claims me as his own. —Song of Solomon {7:9-10}

Hannibal was invigorated, even the day’s sunlight failing to fatigue him as it usually did. It wasn't often that he had a chance to cook, especially for guests, and he seldom missed the opportunity. His first task was to fix dessert well in advance, leaving it to chill inside of his refrigerator. Later on he prepared the night's dinner with a flourish, a full theatrical performance as Vivaldi's La Stravaganza concertos resounded through the halls of his lavish palazzo. The soffrito came next as Hannibal minced vegetables and herbs, then tossed them into a pan to brown. With a genuine smile he cut his choice meat into pieces, dusted them with salt, pepper and flour and allowed the seasoned cuts to sear.

On a rising crescendo he flipped the pieces over, the meat sizzling as it cooked – it smelled exquisite. He was making excellent time. Hannibal stuck his leavened dough in the oven to bake, eager for Will to taste his homemade Roman bread. Then, adding more than necessary of a vintage dry red to the meat and vegetables, he let the spezzatino simmer. Lastly, he got to work on the stuffed rice balls, arguably the least time consuming of his recipes.

When he'd finished he retired upstairs to ready himself, then made his way to Will's building to pick him up. Arriving a few minutes early, Hannibal pulled out his phone and composed a text.

He hit send and rang the buzzer to Will's apartment.

When his mobile vibrated and pinged, Will's heart skipped a beat – he checked it quickly, knowing it had to be Hannibal.

Awaiting your presence outside.
HL

He raised an eyebrow, impressed. Dr. Lecter was not a minute late, meanwhile Will was still scrambling. He didn't know why he'd chosen tonight to put himself together so thoughtfully... He was somehow more nervous than he had been on their visit to La Pergola. Knowing that Hannibal had planned to pick him up and take him to his place for dinner – that he'd known of these plans for days in advance – had only inflamed his anxiety. Will was aware this was supposed to be a simple dinner between friends, a sincere apology on Dr. Lecter's behalf, but it all seemed so terribly formal.

He'd tried to settle his nerves as he'd showered, then again as he'd stilled to gaze at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. For some inexplicable reason, Will wanted to look good. He told himself that it wasn't for Hannibal, that this was entirely for himself, but either way it was vanity. His hair was lightly tousled, and he'd groomed the stubble along his jaw, chin and upper lip – a formality he seldom bothered with. Will was trading his cassock for casual apparel more and more often, but he couldn't shed his faith. He'd changed into a cardigan and some chino pants, slipping a small vial of holy water he'd procured into his pocket. A small protection, but it gave him courage.

Finally making his way outside the complex, Will was greeted by Hannibal's visage as soon as he opened the door. They regarded each other for a quiet moment – Hannibal, with his honey-colored hair, meticulously groomed. A hint of bang parted to one side, falling loosely across his brow and flirting just above the eye. Neat, but almost boyish. The dark navy suit Hannibal wore stood out against his olive skin, sleek and fitted to his body in a way that shouldn't look so appealing – Will had to look away lest he gawk for too long.

They exchanged pleasantries, and Will was all half smiles and nervous glances. Hannibal seemed to glow, beam, and it was impossible not to be overcome by the energy of his excitement. He's a socialite, Will told himself. Of course he's happy about having guests. Hannibal opened the passenger side door of his car for him, and Will ducked inside with a heated glance. He’d missed the spacious interior of the Bentley just a bit – it wasn't practical for the cramped roads of Rome, but Hannibal was nothing if not unorthodox. Hannibal walked around the hood of the vehicle and got in beside him, then they were headed off to their destination... Dr. Lecter’s elegant home.

Though Will had been there once already, the refined beauty of Hannibal's palazzo still floored him. He hadn’t been in a position to appreciate it before. Hannibal parked in his ample garage and they made their way inside – and despite his growing familiarity with the location Will couldn't keep from ogling, scanning every inch of the place with his eyes. An incredible scent wafted to his nostrils, and Will's stomach gurgled in sympathy.

Hannibal smiled, leading Will to the dining room. It was warmed by a great fireplace burning smoothly, darkened and intimate. He pulled a chair out for him, waited for him to sit, then proceeded to serve the food on his plate. The table was well-decorated with dark centerpieces, bronze candelabras and tall candles that flickered firelight underneath a jeweled chandelier.

"Coniglio alla cacciatora, and homemade rosette soffiate," Hannibal said as he placed the plate in front of the priest, "with arancini con besciamella – Italian style béchamel sauce."

He took a seat across the table.

"I hope you enjoy it," Hannibal said as he poured the wine into Will's glass, and then his own. "I wanted to serve you Italian food, since that night we went to La Pergola you didn't eat much. I'm hoping you'll eat more this time."

His smile indicated that he didn't resent Will for refusing to eat at the restaurant, but he also didn't want to let Will forget that night. Despite his promise that this would be a simple dinner between friends, he still hoped for the opportunity to touch Will again, touch him more this time.

“I would like to propose a toast,” Hannibal said, raising his wine glass, eyes fixed on Will’s – just as Will had done at the restaurant. “To friendship.”

The familiar words surprised Will – left a hollow feeling in the cavity of his chest, one that he wanted to do away with as quickly as possible. He was slow to react, but eventually mimicked Hannibal’s gesture with a forced smile, brief and tight.

“Cheers,” Will said, and even his voice sounded weak. He wasn’t sure why the thought bothered him quite so much. Perhaps because the term felt so alien somehow, with Hannibal sitting across from him, having prepared a feast for them both to enjoy. But that’s what this was, wasn’t it? A dinner between friends. Hannibal’s apology, because he had made a mistake in thinking that Will could be anything but who and what he was. He wanted to keep their friendship intact. It was a sentiment Will had proposed numerous times, and now he felt the sting of it.

Hannibal easily pretended not to notice how Will's expression changed when he mentioned friendship, but he could sense that friendship wasn't what Will truly wanted from him. The priest was just scared – or still too devoted to God – to accept that he wanted Hannibal, wanted so much more than to just be friends.

But Hannibal didn't push the subject. He was still worried about what he had discovered during their last therapy session. He had kept the cilice, and hoped Will wouldn't persist in finding a new one to continue his penance. Still, even though he didn't agree with the way Will had been inflicting pain to himself – of how much Will seemed to enjoy it, need it – he wondered how he could take advantage of it.

Will looked about, lip captured between his teeth. All of this was so familiar, almost as if it were staged. An uncomfortable deja vu. That night had changed so much for them, between them… And he still couldn’t bring himself to reject the incident entirely. It still haunted him, but it was also a memory he’d played back in his head more times than he could count, and not always in the context of guilt and reflection. Will grew hot underneath his cardigan, nearly tempted to pull it off. He doubted it would help.

Bowing his head in a short prayer, Will gave thanks to God for the food he was about to receive – though Hannibal had made it a possibility – then brought his glass to his lips and drank like a man parched. He was eager to dull the ache he could feel inside of himself.

Coniglio,” Will cooed, setting down his wineglass and taking in the elegantly plated meal. It rivaled, if not surpassed, what he’d observed at La Pergola. An A-plus for presentation. He took his fork in hand, cool metal against his fingers. The meat was so tender he didn’t even have to use his knife, and the first bite tasted like heaven. He savored it slowly, chewing well, thoroughly appreciating the flavors before swallowing with a blissful expression.

“This is… Incredible.” Will shifted, still struggling to shake off a strange feeling of dissatisfaction. It certainly wasn’t the dinner. “Wild or domestic rabbit?” he asked, eager to get further and further away from the subject of friendship; of what had happened that night.

"I think you could say that this one was pretty wild," Hannibal said, hiding a smile. You should have seen her in bed, he thought. Of all of Hannibal's recent victims, this one had been his favorite. He was glad he could share her with Will now, even if the priest didn't know what he was eating.

"I'm pleased to know you like it." He smiled now, watching with approval as the priest ate, eyes burning with the glow of the candlelight. It surprised him how happy and proud he felt with Will's approval. How important it was to him.

"We could do this regularly if you'd like," Hannibal said, but tried not to sound too hopeful. "I'd cook something different for you every time." He looked down at his own plate and began to eat as well.

Will took another bite, stalling to answer. He didn't trust himself to refuse or accept, wasn't sure what regularly entailed. He could easily see them doing this every week, in conjunction with their sessions. Will couldn't deny that it was appealing, but he wasn't sure how well that would bode for either of them. The more he saw Hannibal, the more he was tempted.

“You know, this doesn't taste very gamey," Will said instead, then took another mouthful to give himself time to process. His thoughts came unbidden, as they often did – he recalled with a bittersweet fondness the days of his youth, hunting with his father in the lush pine forests of Mississippi. When they were lucky they'd get a white-tailed deer; eat venison until they got sick of it. Marsh rabbit was another favorite. It always tasted gamey.

"You must have cooked it perfectly. I don't usually..." Will trailed off. "I haven't eaten food like this in quite some time. But you could say I'm… choosing to indulge myself tonight." His gaze flickered up to meet Hannibal’s from across the table, and this time his smile was a bit more confident.

“It appears to make you happy,” Hannibal said, and somehow he knew Will was. Nervous, anxious, uncertain, maybe. But definitely happy. He took another bite, watching Will eat. He knew Will’s skin was flushed before he even looked at him – he could smell Will’s blood, feel the warmth of it. So close. It could be so easy if all he wanted was to kill the priest.

Hannibal knew he would never forgive himself if he did.

“Indulgence is a gift. You should indulge yourself more often... I always do. But you already know that.” Hannibal was completely aware of what he was doing – he was reminding Will of the night at the church, when Hannibal confessed his sins to him. He wanted to make Will remember, was curious what would happen then.

He could smell the blood rushing to the surface of Will’s skin, could sense where his body was warmest, and Hannibal brought his wineglass to his lips again, hiding his own amusement. It was hard not to push Will like this when he was so curious about him. Will knew about Hannibal’s feelings, suspected that Hannibal might be a vampire, and still he was alone with Hannibal in the very heart of his territory. He didn’t look frightened. Didn’t smell frightened. The priest was truly remarkable.

Will had broken into a sweat, becoming more aware of his stuttered breathing, the thrum of his heart pumping away. The last thing he needed was an influx of physiological reactions – he hoped his blood didn't rush anywhere below the belt; that he could maintain his slowing fraying composure. It was hard not to remember something so… Vivid. That had been so visually explicit and physically intense.

“To a certain extent, at least some degree of indulgence is… Almost unavoidable,” Will said, eyeing their gracious meal, the wine. “In one form or another. I don't believe it's harmful in moderation, but in excess and depending on what's being indulged—it can become dangerous.” Will could remember each and every one of Hannibal’s indulgences, ones he’d openly confessed to the priest with no desire to serve penance for. It sent a chill down Will’s spine. He took another long sip from his wineglass; set it delicately back onto the table. “I struggle with temptation more now than I ever have… Can't help but wonder if it isn't a product of your influence.”

“The problem with temptation,” Hannibal said, “is that it will always exist so long as you choose to deny yourself. The more you fight it, the harder it gets, especially if there is constant exposure to what tempts you.” He watched Will take another bite of his meal and turned his attention to his own plate. This gave the priest a little time to think, but before Will could reply, Hannibal continued.

“Avoidance helps you,” he observed, eyes fixed on the priest again, reading Will like a book. “It always has. But now you say that I'm the cause of your struggle, and yet here you are having dinner with me. Alone. You don't seem to be avoiding me.”

Hannibal set down his fork and reached for his glass of wine to take another sip. He was thankful that the priest wasn't avoiding him, but it made him wonder why. Perhaps Will didn't truly want to avoid or fight temptation, but to give into it, and was following his advice of getting close to his own demons and understanding them. Maybe deep down inside, Will didn't want to fight his demons, but to embrace them.

Will knew he couldn't argue – he didn't want to avoid Hannibal. It was an undeniable truth, but even he wasn't sure why he couldn't seem to stay away. "You're right,” he replied, lips curved in a rueful grin. “I suppose that'd be giving you too much credit, wouldn't it? Blaming you for my own weakness. Sorry—I know I can't talk when I'm here of my own free will." Will shifted a bit in his seat, trying to work out his own conflicted emotions. There were so many to sift through. “Sin, holiness, devotion, temptation... You make it hard to distinguish one from the other. They bleed into each other when you're around, but maybe that's not a bad thing."

Will paused to carefully bring another tender bite of meat to his lips; take it into his mouth. He could taste the red wine in the cacciatore, amidst the myriad of other robust flavors – but he knew the alcohol had been all but cooked out. Only the taste remained, and so he opted once again for his rapidly depleting glass. Maybe he had already stopped fighting temptation. Maybe, at Hannibal's home, he could allow himself to slip. It was funny how his own desire flared, while Hannibal's seemed to have receded.

“I’ve made you commit sins,” Hannibal said, “serious ones, that made you avoid me. And punish yourself.” He was even more fascinated by Will now. The priest’s mind was one of the most intriguing Hannibal had ever seen, and he wondered if Will Graham would ever stop surprising him. “I tested your limits, pushed you, made you do things you promised you’d never do. Things you... partially regretted,” he reminded the priest. Reminded him of those nights, of Hannibal’s hand and mouth wrapped around him. If Will was accepting – seeking – his company after everything that had happened between them, if the priest’s words were true, then Hannibal had no reason to hide his feelings or the way he had deliberately seduced Will. Will already knew. Will didn’t care.

“If temptation and sin are blurring with holiness and devotion in your mind, it should be a reason for concern,” Hannibal said, leaving his food uncharacteristically forgotten. There was nothing else in the room except for them, nothing else mattered to him. “As a priest, you should think that’s a bad thing. Yet, you say maybe it isn’t. Do you still feel guilty about the things we did? Or do you think I'm the one to blame? If it doesn’t make you feel bad that the lines are blurring… how does it make you feel?”

Will carefully set down his fork, considering. He clenched his hand into a fist with a slight intake of breath. "Imperfect," he answered softly. "Flawed. Human." The priest knew he had to hold himself to a higher standard, that he should, but with Hannibal everything that was wrong somehow felt right – at least in every way he'd been taught to ignore. Will didn't know how much longer he could pretend to be unaffected. If he could keep scrambling for higher, holier ground even as he passed judgement on others.

"In the same vein, I can't... blame you for who you are,” Will continued. “Or what to do. Your nature.” He drank down the rest of his wine, bolstering his courage. Ran his tongue along the seam of his lips. "It doesn't erase my guilt or absolve me, but I can't have it both ways. Can't expect grace when I'm flirting with damnation."

Hannibal watched Will carefully and in silence for what felt like a long moment for both of them. He was sure Will hadn’t changed his mind about just being friends, couldn’t have done it so fast. Can't have it both ways. Will couldn’t stay in the church and be in a romantic – sexual – relationship with Hannibal at the same time. Hannibal intended to make him leave the church eventually, but he knew it was still too soon. Will’s words only made him more curious.

“I take full responsibility for the things I’ve pushed you into,” Hannibal said quietly, carefully, his wine forgotten just as his food was. “But you seem to be flirting with damnation again at this very moment… Maybe you're not entirely conscious of it. It seems to me that you can’t decide if you're looking for damnation or grace. That you can’t decide what you expect from me. What do you want, Will?”

Will swallowed in response. The air was thick between them, his chest growing tight with it. What did he expect from Hannibal? What did he want from him?

His thudding heartbeat picked up in speed.
"I want..." Will kept his gaze fixed on his host’s form, but severed their eye contact tactlessly. "I want to be more than just another follower,” he explained with a rush of breath. “I want to be seen. Known, recognized. Understood. I want to know why desire and faith, passion and belief, intimacy and devotion—even lust, if balanced with enough goodness—can't exist together."

Will let out a shaky sigh. "I want to know what I've been missing… So I'll know if it's all worth it."

Hannibal nodded slightly. If that was what Will wanted, Hannibal could give it to him. Could show him what he had been missing and prove to him that damnation was, indeed, worth it. Apparently the priest wanted to be more than friends after all.

Hannibal stood, leaving his meal unfinished – something he would never do under normal circumstances. Now, the food that was still on his plate, the wine that was still in his glass, the dessert that was in the fridge, were all unimportant. All he wanted was to show Will everything he could give him. Everything they could be and do together. Eyes never leaving Will’s, he circled the table slowly, stopping right next to the priest’s chair. Will’s heartbeat was loud in his ears. Hannibal’s voice was barely a whisper as he spoke.

“Would you like me to show you, Will?”

Muscles tensing, Will wondered if this was really the right decision... But he wanted the opportunity to make a choice. It would be sacrilege in itself to waste the gift of autonomy God had bestowed mankind. A consecrated life had been the only one he'd known for so many long, lonely years – if he could just compare, just taste the alternative... If Will could decide of his own free will, then perhaps he wouldn't be filled with such regret, faced with near-constant temptation.

He was tired of the warring between his body and mind, his heart and his conscience. Will felt so small, far too vulnerable with Hannibal looming over him – he rose from his seat, clambering to his feet with his mouth set in a determined line. He was about to turn his body, to twirl around and face Hannibal properly when the gleam of his wineglass caught his eye. It took him less than a second to deliberate. When Will did twist around his hand shot out, swiping his empty wineglass from the table as he groped to steady himself. It broke against the marble floor with shrill clang, the bowl of the glass cracking and splitting into fractured pieces.

"S-Sorry," Will murmured, falling immediately to his knees to gather up the shards. They were big enough to pick up by himself, collect in handfuls, the glass delicate and glimmering sharp. He heard Hannibal say his name, and the urgency in his voice urged him on... Like a warning.

Will’s fingers twitched in his hesitation – it was now or never. This had been his plan, hadn't it? To discover the truth. He clenched his fist around the shards, making no sound as the fractured glass dug deep into his palm. The pieces clinked against the floor as they dropped from his hands, dripping blood onto the marble. A fine line of red had bloomed across the meat of Will’s palm, blood welling up and oozing from the cut. His hand trembled slightly as the pain flared, but he could ignore it. Worse was the sudden silence that set him on edge… He wasn't sure what to expect when he straightened up, turning to regard Hannibal, pulse racing.

Will was struck silent, paling at what he saw. He hadn't realized he'd been moving away until the table dug into his hip. There was a ringing in his ears as his body surged with adrenaline, a product of the cold fear that seized his heart. He stood unmoving, meeting the wild gaze of unfamiliar eyes, beautiful and inhuman – a radiant crimson that seemed to pierce right through him. The sight was almost hypnotizing, keeping Will rooted in place and yet poised and ready to turn and bolt. He fought the overwhelming instinct to do so.

“Will,” Hannibal repeated, knowing what Will had just seen. There was no turning back now. Hannibal had two options: convince the priest to stay, or kill him.

He reached for Will and grabbed his arms without looking at his hand. Not seeing the blood didn't help at all when the smell of it filled his nostrils and the priest's heart raced. Vampires weren't made to resist the urge. They weren't made to spare human lives.

“I'm not going to hurt you,” he promised, staring deeply into Will's eyes. Fighting the instinct was almost physically painful, but he could resist. He managed to keep his voice calm and soothing, even though the hunger made it impossible to think straight. “Let me take care of your hand. Please.”

Hannibal's grip was somewhat hesitant, but firm enough to make Will's pulse spike – he wondered if Hannibal was holding back. The priest was already reciting a hundred silent prayers as he stood, caught in the clutches of a vampire. The feeling of panic was gradually beginning to subside, however. If Hannibal had wanted to kill him, he would have done so already. Surprisingly, Will's world wasn't crashing down around him... But he was hungry for answers. His empathy had never failed him, never been as clouded as it was when it came to Hannibal. He surmised that surely a part of him had always known, but refused to see.

"Do you want to hurt me?" Will asked, unable to look away. He was thankful he'd chosen not to remove his cross pendant; it offered him a small comfort now, made him feel just a little bit safer. "Are you able to just... Ignore it?"

“My instincts tell me to hurt you,” Hannibal said quietly, moving closer to Will, his eyes fixed on him. “To kill you. But I don't want to. I won't.

Hannibal's hand slid down Will's arm until he reached the priest's wrist, bringing his hand closer and finally looking at it. Will's blood was flowing from the cut and dripping on the floor, and Hannibal touched Will's hand softly with his fingers, painting them red.

“I can't ignore it.” Hannibal's hand trembled slightly as he lifted it and stared at the blood on his fingers. He wanted to lick them clean, and lick the blood directly from Will's hand, but he knew if he did that, it would be much harder to stop. He didn't want to bite Will without his consent, it would just make the priest even more scared of him and that was the opposite of what he wanted. He sighed. “But I can resist. I can take care of your hand. You need to trust me.”

Will considered Hannibal’s words as carefully as his scattered brain could manage. “That would require a huge leap of faith. It'd require me to be blind." Will shifted on his feet, watching the gleam in Hannibal's eyes, how brilliantly red they were. He seemed so captivated by his blood. There was something strangely beautiful, almost endearing about the way Hannibal struggled against his nature. Something familiar.

"It's a risk. Especially now, but you..." Will began, cheeks prickling with heat, "you've done other... things... with me. For me." The priest shuddered in the near-silence between them, the only sound that of his faint, quickened breathing, suspended in the tense air. "You've had the opportunity—had me alone and completely vulnerable more than once. At your mercy, but you didn't kill or harm me.”

It was true that Hannibal had demonstrated his restraint on multiple occasions, moments where it would have been effortless to simply take what he wanted. Will was sure he hadn’t made it easy – perhaps the least he could do was give him credit now.

"I... I trust you, Hannibal," Will muttered. "For better or for worse. But I'm, uh... I'm kind of getting blood everywhere."

Hannibal blew out the dining candles with a gust of breath.

“Come with me,” he said simply, grabbing a napkin and wrapping it around Will's palm. He pulled Will with him, upstairs to his bedroom and into his bathroom again. It reminded him of the night Will had hurt his knuckles punching the thief. The night they tossed their second coins into the Trevi Fountain. The coins that promised new romance.

He rinsed Will's hand in the sink underneath cold water, disposed of the napkin, then grabbed his medical kit. Again he would take care of Will's hand, bandage it. Offer to give him something for the pain. Maybe this night would end differently. Maybe Will wouldn't leave.

Hannibal took Will's hand in his again, gently, examining the wound. It wasn't bleeding as much as it was before, but the wound was deep. His eyes were still red as he looked up at Will and he was still hungry but his thoughts seemed clearer. His will to keep the priest safe was stronger than the need to drink his blood.

“You're going to need stitches,” Hannibal said, his fingers caressing Will's hand softly. “I can take care of that. I recommend a local anesthetic for the pain.”

Strangely enough, the pain had taken a backseat in Will's mind – he was hardly focused on it at all. If he narrowed his concentration down to the sensation of Hannibal's touch, everything else seemed to blur into the background. He was being so gentle with him... It was hard to believe that he was anything but human.

"Thanks. I... think I'll be okay. I can take pain pretty well." There was a short pause as Hannibal prepared the stitches, and it gave Will time to contemplate. He still had trouble tearing his eyes away from the eerie glow of Hannibal's. “You know, I fought everyone about you being anything other than what you said you were. About you being this terrible monster. I didn't want to believe it."

The priest inhaled slowly, wondering what this meant for himself. If he'd sealed his own fate and how close Hannibal actually was to what he knew about vampires. If he was really as monstrous as they were made out to be.

"Do you want me right now?" Will asked finally, his voice low and soft. "M-My blood, I mean.”

“Yes,” Hannibal answered simply, cleaning the laceration to Will’s hand and making sure there wasn't any glass embedded in the wound before he began stitching. He removed any debris slowly, carefully, still fighting to resist the urge to bite and taste and kill. “I want your blood. You.”

Will’s pulse picked up and suddenly he couldn't stop the questions from spewing forth. How dangerous are you? Have you killed people? Why didn't you try to kill me? Will didn't care if it distracted Hannibal from his work, he had to know.

There was no reason to lie anymore, no need for it. Hannibal didn’t want to lie. Will had climbed his walls, wanted to see who he truly was, and Hannibal found that he liked being seen by the priest, even if he still didn’t know the consequences it would bring.

And yet… Terrible monster, Will had said. He was used to being seen as a monster, even Bedelia saw him that way, but hearing the words coming from Will’s mouth had hurt him deeply.

His gaze moved from Will’s hand to his eyes just for a second – Hannibal’s own eyes still bright red – before he looked down again, trying to focus on stitching Will’s hand instead of the tight feeling in his chest. “Is that how you see me, Will? A terrible monster?”

Will took a breath, Hannibal's hurt rushing over him like a stormtide. “No,” he said simply. He couldn't think about it too much, not about what Hannibal had done, things he did as a vampire or wanted to do to him. He didn't want to think of Hannibal as evil… It would be too simplistic, too black and white. Maybe that was encouraged in the Catholic faith, but it was one belief he couldn't subscribe to.

"That's not how I see you.” The fingers of Will’s other hand curled into a fist as he fought against the sting of the curved needle. “The books are all wrong."

Hannibal finished stitching, and Will winced only slightly as he pulled the sutures taut; trimmed them neatly with a small pair of scissors. Even his stitches were meticulous… Hannibal didn't have to be caring for him right now. He didn't have to care about him at all, but he did. He did, and Will could feel it just as plainly as the stinging of his palm.

Hannibal proceeded to bandage Will’s hand to protect the wound. Later, if Will stayed, maybe Hannibal could offer him a bit of his blood and that would heal the priest’s hand immediately. For now, he thought that the idea of drinking a vampire’s blood would be too much, no matter how open minded Will seemed to be.

Now that Will’s hand wasn’t bleeding anymore it was easier to fight the hunger, and Hannibal knew his eyes would change back to their normal color soon. Maybe it would be easier for Will not to see him as a monster then. Hannibal sighed, holding Will’s hand carefully and bringing it up, close to his mouth. He inhaled deeply, the smell of Will’s blood still lingering there, and he closed his eyes as he pressed a soft kiss to the priest’s fingers.

“Much better now, isn’t it?” Hannibal asked softly. He lowered Will’s hand again but still wasn’t ready to let go. “Do you feel any pain? Do you need medication?”

Will was very still for a moment. He eyed where their hands were joined, but did not feel inclined to pull away – instead he found himself wanting to be closer. To share more points of contact, skin against skin. It was not a feeling he was used to having.

Will slowly shook his head. "I want to make sure I'm seeing you clearly now," he breathed. "I don't want my thoughts to be clouded.” After a steadying breath, he added, "Thank you, Hannibal."

His fingers still tingled where Hannibal had kissed them. Those lips, that mouth... Will was intimately familiar with them both. Knew what it was like to have them on him, warm and wet, kissing, licking, biting – not hard enough to hurt him, though he wondered how that would feel, too. He wondered how he ever could have missed it. How Hannibal could have held himself back so surely to leave Will none the wiser.

The underlying characteristics shared by the vampires he'd learned about included their voracious appetites: bloodlust; savagery, their cruel and callous demeanors. How they ravaged their prey with their mouths, violently punctured their skin with their fangs... But Hannibal had never ravaged him in a way that drew blood.

"I want to feel them," Will said suddenly. He cringed at his own lack of tact. "Your teeth. I want to... To know what they feel like." His hand twitched eagerly in Hannibal's grasp, fingers flexing. "May I touch them? Please."

Hannibal’s eyes widened in surprise for a second before Will’s words sank in. Will wasn’t running away. Will wasn’t afraid. “Yes,” he said. Tonight he wanted to give Will anything he asked for.

Hannibal usually kept his fangs retracted, as they were supposed to be when he wasn’t hungry or ready to drink blood. With the years he had learned to keep them retracted even when he was in close contact with blood, and with enough time he gained so much self control that it had become easy. Now, with Will Graham in front of him, asking to see and touch, he opened his mouth and allowed his fangs to extend, reaching for Will’s free hand and bringing it closer to his mouth.

“Be careful,” he warned, still not letting Will move his hand too close. “They’re sharp.”

“I would hope so,” said Will. “They need to be, don't they . . .”

It was risky to let Will touch his fangs, even though Hannibal knew he had enough self control for that. Still, it was never completely safe for humans to be close to vampires. But Will had earned the right to know, Will deserved to know, because he was still here. He was staying, was accepting Hannibal for who he truly was.

The cavern of his mouth was dark, but Will could see the faint, twin glimmers on either side. He hesitated before his curiosity got the best of him, and then he was pressing forward, until he could feel the gust of humid breath against his skin. Will ran a fingertip along the upper ridge of teeth until he reached a canine, protruding far beyond what was normal for any human. It was a very specific adaptation – a physical characteristic undoubtedly belonging to a predator.

Will traced along slowly, until he was grazing the sharp point of one of Hannibal's fangs. His eyebrows pulled together, a pang of arousal punching him in the gut and startling him in its intensity. The tooth pricked him with ease, puncturing layers of skin until blood beaded on the pad of Will's finger and dripped onto Hannibal's tongue. Transfixed, before he knew what was happening he was suddenly being pushed away, warm mouth torn from his searching fingers.

Hannibal increased the distance between them until his back hit the wall, and he leaned into it like it was an anchor. Will could hear him breathing heavily, watched as he closed his eyes that had grown bright with renewed bloodlust. His whole body looked like it was shaking – with what, Will couldn't tell. Had he overestimated himself?

"It's okay," Will said, and his voice did not betray his words. "I'm not scared. I’m not running away from you." He stepped closer, saw as Hannibal's nostrils flared, but he didn't stop. "Hannibal, look at me, please."

Will's heartbeat still stuttered at the sight, like he'd already forgotten the color of those eyes, the barely restrained wildness held there. He hadn't meant to cause Hannibal any pain or suffering, and the thought of it alone was nearly unbearable. Instead he wanted to take it all away; offer up his blood and himself if only it would help.

"I'm sorry, I... I wanted to... feel a part of you that you couldn't hide. That couldn't fool me. I just needed to be sure." Will offered a sad smile and took Hannibal's face in his hands, thumbs stroking underneath his eyes. "I know you're not going to hurt me. I said I trusted you, didn't I?"

Will’s gaze lowered to Hannibal's lips, and the pull was impossible to fight. He leaned in slowly, turning his head to allow their mouths to slot together, and his body surged with heat and energy. With light. His eyes closed as their lips moved against each other, like it was the most natural thing in the world. He was breathing Hannibal in, tasting him, and he'd missed this more than he would ever admit.

Hannibal could still taste the blood, could still smell it, but when Will was this close – touching him, kissing him, it was easier to focus on the lust instead of only the hunger. The first time Will had kissed him willingly was in the exact moment he found out how dangerous Hannibal actually was. His feelings for Will filled his chest, the sensation almost overwhelming. Will was not afraid. Will was staying. Will wanted him. Will wanted him even knowing he was dangerous, even knowing he had killed people before, even knowing he had wanted to kill him. Will wanted him, even though it was a sin in the priest’s eyes, in the eyes of God. In that moment, Will was choosing Hannibal.

His hands gripped the priest’s waist and he deepened the kiss, turning them around to press Will against the wall, the taste of Will’s blood never truly leaving his mouth. He wanted more, but it was still too soon to ask for more. To take more. He groaned into Will’s mouth and pressed his body against his, his hands gripping him tighter.

“Will,” he breathed against the priest’s lips as he pulled back, and somehow the words got caught up in his throat. He swallowed, looking into Will’s eyes, blue and red staring into each other. He had been familiar with his feelings for Will since the night at La Pergola, but now, after being this close to the priest – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well, the truth of it sank in, and it left him speechless. He loved Will Graham more than he had ever loved anything in the world.

Will was breathless, exhilarated; hooked on the feeling of Hannibal pressed against him so closely, so completely. He shuddered, knowing he was trapped, ensnared as the willing captive of a vampire. The idea of being his prey only excited the priest, but he knew this was more than that – Will didn't want to be anywhere else. Despite the striking hue of Hannibal's gaze, he looked at him with such reverence, as if he worshipped the very ground he walked on. Will should have found it blasphemous, but instead it set fire to his blood.

Rushing forward again, Will licked feverishly into Hannibal's mouth, spurred on by the desire he felt welling up inside of him. He broke away only to undo the first few buttons of his cardigan, his button down, without finesse – yanking the collar open to expose the base of his throat.

"I'm giving you permission," Will huffed, pale skin beginning to bloom a soft pink. "To do whatever you want. To take from me." He wanted to be Hannibal's sustenance, to be his strength and not his weakness. It felt so good to give in, to offer himself up... Will wrapped his arms around Hannibal's neck as he did just that, hoping he would receive him.

"It's okay if you want to," he spoke against Hannibal's ear. "You can't help it, and I can't help but give it to you."

Hannibal couldn't find words to reply, and it didn't matter. Will was offering Hannibal what he needed most, offering it willingly, as if he needed it as much as Hannibal did. The vampire pressed his nose to Will's neck, breathing him in, and allowed his fangs to extend again as his lips brushed against Will's skin. He wrapped his arms around the priest firmly, his fangs puncturing Will's skin and sinking deeper.

A low groan escaped him as Will's blood filled his mouth, but it sounded muffled against Will's neck. Hannibal swallowed a mouthful of blood, it tasted and smelled sweet to him, and made him feel warm inside. Will Graham was all he could feel, soft and warm in his arms, heart beating fast against his chest, breathing against him, holding on to him, giving him life.

The pain had been brief, overshadowed by a pleasant euphoria that spread thick and slow through Will's body. There was a raw eroticism to being penetrated by Hannibal's teeth, to have him feeding from his own essence, taking it into himself to sate his hunger. It was only the pain that he had feared, and it’d melted away as quickly as it came. Now Will was lightheaded, and he moaned weakly, fingers threading through Hannibal's hair.

"Hannibal," he gasped, the vampire still latched onto his throat and taking his fill of sustenance. A blood meal, Will thought, and bit his lip at the sensation. "Hannibal." He was losing himself to this, languorous, despite the danger.

Hannibal pulled back slowly to mouth at Will’s throat, smearing blood everywhere his lips and tongue touched, but avoiding the cross necklace Will wore. Moving to the other side of Will's neck, he bit again, not as deeply as he had before but just enough to make Will bleed a little more, just so he could taste him again.

When Hannibal removed himself this time his mouth and chin were smeared with red, lips parted to reveal a flash of teeth in a similar fashion, bloodstained and glistening. It was a harrowing sight that made Will’s heart pound, relieved to feel a frisson of primordial fear not yet lost.

Perhaps it was his instinct to appease – he could only think to kiss Hannibal then, and did so eagerly. Will shuddered as he shared in the metallic taste of himself, warm and piquant on his tongue. He brought Hannibal closer, hips angled to slot them against one another, and Will's sighs of pleasure were swallowed one by one. He pulled away to pant helplessly into the space between Hannibal's neck and shoulder, flesh scalding and skin buzzing with inebriation.

"Please," Will begged, hands coming down to clutch at Hannibal's shoulders. "Take me to bed, Hannibal. I'm asking for it."

“Yes,” Hannibal breathed, his hands moving down to grab Will's thighs and pull each one of his legs up, wrapping them around his waist. Again, he placed his arms around Will, holding his body firmly against his own as he made his way into the bedroom, carrying the priest with him.

He stopped next to the bed, allowing Will to put his feet back on the floor, letting go of him and looking into his eyes. Will had blood on his lips and chin just as Hannibal did, and Hannibal caught himself picturing Will as a vampire, with bright red irises and the blood of his victims coloring his lips.

He pushed Will's cardigan off his shoulders and let it fall on the bed, his fingers working slowly to undo the buttons of Will's shirt and reveal his chest. Hannibal had seen a glimpse of it before, but this time he was allowed to touch. His fingertips brushed Will's warm skin as they moved to the next button.

“If we do this,” Hannibal said, breathing heavily, “there is no turning back.” Finally having Will this close was almost too much for him to process. He wanted to take things slow, to see and feel the priest in every possible way. He needed Will to be sure, because he didn't want to be a bad memory in Will's mind. Not now that Will knew the whole truth about him.

“You're making this choice…consciously.” Hannibal's fingers reached the last button, and he reached for Will's wrists to undo the cuffs as well, careful with Will’s bandaged hand. “Choosing to spend the night… with another man. A vampire. I need to know if this is truly what you want, Will.”

Will nodded, half-delirious, wiping the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. "I want this," he insisted, eyes glimmering with emotion. Hannibal finally rid him of his bloodstained shirt, pushing it from his shoulders as if unveiling a fine work of art. Though he trusted him, it was hard for Will not to feel vulnerable like this, his own blood drying against the skin of his throat. He couldn't feel the ache or sting of his wound, just a growing warmth that originated from bite and made his limbs feel heavy; made him pliant and receptive. His instinct was to shy away from the intensity of Hannibal’s gaze, his eyes still rich with their unnatural pigmentation, but Will found a certain thrill in letting himself be seen.

"I need to experience this for myself. I need you to touch me," he said, and Hannibal did, palms running over the smooth expanse of Will's chest, brushing across the hard peaks of his nipples and tearing a moan from his throat. "I... I want to know how it feels.” He reached out with trembling fingers to undo Hannibal's suit jacket, his waistcoat. "I've never done any of this, not before you. I want it to be you."

The priest loosened Hannibal's tie, deft fingers unbuttoned his blouse with care, and even in his desperate state of arousal Will took his time to savor what felt like a ritual – an intimate rite of passage. He felt like he was going to burst, like he needed Hannibal's body pressed against his own with nothing but heated breath in between them.

Hannibal reciprocated eagerly, touching every part of Will he could until his hands slid down and felt something in the pocket of his trousers. He slipped his hand inside and pulled it out, and as he looked at it he immediately knew what it was.

“You hurt your hand to make me reveal myself,” Hannibal said quietly. “Did you anticipate that I would attack you?” He thought it was amusing that Will had been so brave, and reckless, to think that he could fight Hannibal with holy water. But Will had figured it out. Had manipulated Hannibal into showing what he truly was, and in a way, Hannibal felt proud of him for it.

“I anticipated a lot of things," Will said, "but not this." He allowed Hannibal to set the vial aside. "I was curious how you'd react to it. I considered pouring it into your wine but I never got the chance.” It would have been a cruel test.

Hannibal considered it a moment.

"That would not have boded well for you. The ancient Greeks and Romans may have mixed their wine with water – but to dilute a perfectly good vintage would be to ruin it."

The real travesty.

"It wouldn't have stopped you, would it?” asked Will.

"No."

As if to emphasize his point, Hannibal kissed him ardently. Will wondered if perhaps he should have washed and gargled with the holy water instead, but he wouldn't have wanted to miss out on this. He drank in every exposed inch bared to him as the rest of their clothes fell away, trousers unfastened and discarded, followed by their undergarments... The last barrier between them. Will swallowed hard at the knowledge that he was stripped bare, all but for the silver pendant he wore around his neck.

He had to bolster himself, every one of his senses so acute and alive, synapses firing, sensitive nerve-endings frazzled with electrical signals. Will claimed Hannibal's lips again, gasping into his mouth at the hard press of flesh against his hip, and his tongue flicked out to boldly trace along the vampire's teeth. He wished so badly to offer the sort of pleasure Hannibal had freely given, but Will was new to this world, to this sensation… It was best if he learned from the one who had introduced him.

Hannibal returned the kiss, his hands smoothing up Will’s back slowly, finally able to feel Will’s skin against his own. His heart was beating as fast as Will’s, and he didn’t remember anyone ever affecting him the way the priest did. He pulled back slowly, sucking on Will’s bottom lip gently before letting go. He hoped there would be a time for him to be rough with Will, throw him on the bed and pound him into the mattress, but tonight was Will’s first time, and Hannibal would treat him as he deserved.

“Lie on the bed,” he whispered, kissing Will’s lips softly again. “Please.” Another soft kiss.

Will did so and Hannibal followed, lying on top of the priest, his legs between Will’s thighs. Hannibal leaned in for another kiss, taking his time exploring Will’s mouth, caressing his lips and tongue with his own. His cock brushed against Will’s as he moved his hips slightly and he gasped, parting from Will’s mouth. He stared into Will’s eyes briefly, his gaze dropping to his chest, and was reminded that Will’s cross necklace was still there.

“I have to ask you to take this off,” Hannibal said, looking at the cross disapprovingly. Surely Will wouldn’t need that for protection, not as long as he was with Hannibal. Hannibal could protect Will better than anything or anyone could. In time, Will would realize that.

It took him a moment to contemplate, but Will realized he had already made his decision. He pulled the necklace off without protest, tossing it to lie atop the bloody pile of his clothes. Having Hannibal on top of him like this, hard and blood-hot, their cocks grazing against one another... It felt just like the very first dream he’d had of him. The Hannibal that he showed the world, cool and composed, nothing short of a perfect gentleman.

Will knew better.

He bucked his hips, seeking more friction – it felt so good, to be able to feel Hannibal, to touch him back. It empowered him, and made him feel humbled and human all at once.

"Hannibal," Will huffed out, his fingers itching to touch him even more. He reached down to curl his fingers around the thickness of Hannibal's cock, stroking him slowly and without finesse – it was incredible to be holding him like this, hot and insistent against the skin of his uninjured palm. Will moaned in sympathy, lips wet and shining, and he felt the overwhelming need to take Hannibal into his body, to accept him into himself as readily as he had his God.

Hannibal groaned, rocking his hips to thrust into Will’s fist. He rested his forehead against Will’s shoulder and breathing heavily. Many times he had thought about this, had thought about Will when other people touched him like this, but nothing could compare to the real thing – Will’s hand, his body, his heartbeat, his smell. Hannibal buried his face in Will’s neck to lick and suck the blood that was drying there. The two small holes his fangs had made on Will’s skin had already healed, and Hannibal didn’t bite him again, satisfied in savoring what remained.

But Will’s body was hot, hotter than Hannibal’s, and Hannibal wanted to kiss every inch of his skin, wanted to touch parts of Will’s body he never had before, with his hands and mouth. He pressed kisses to Will’s chest as he moved down, his lips brushing against one of Will’s nipples, watching as it hardened. He moaned softly as Will’s fingers circled the head of his cock, and took Will’s nipple in his mouth, licking and sucking.

His voice was hoarse with arousal as he looked up at Will again. “How do you want me?”

The question made Will’s blood boil, and it was impossible to stop touching Hannibal – he knew his grip was hesitant, unsatisfying, but he couldn't tear himself away. His chest heaved with each inhalation, every exhale, struggling just to breathe. "I don't know, I... I'm not sure how to do this," Will admitted, the delicate flush high on his cheeks darkening in shade. "I just know I want you inside me."

His hand continued to move along the heavy weight of Hannibal's cock, silken velvet skin gliding warm across the rigid shaft. It was a novel sensation, the petal-softness of his foreskin – Will had to see it for himself, take a good look at what he was feeling. The thought of this inside him made his heart pound erratically, filled him with both fear and desire. He didn't think a word existed for this type of feeling, somehow so pure but tinged with undeniable lust. There were few things Will had ever been so entranced by that every fiber of his being craved it like a drug.

"I want to feel you for real, not just in a dream," he said, and tangled his other hand in light-colored strands, fingers scratching against Hannibal's scalp. Will shuddered as he once again captured the stiff peak of one of his nipples in between his lips, wetting it with his tongue. Hannibal's mouth was so warm and wet and good it made Will's cock twitch, and he was nearly ashamed by how desperate he was for Hannibal's touch.

Hannibal only stopped when Will moaned loudly and arched his back, and let his teeth graze against his nipple before lifting his head again. He kissed all the way up to Will's neck, let his lips brush against the stubble along Will's jaw, then kissed Will's lips softly. Will wanted to bottom for him. Will trusted him enough for that. The priest had surprised Hannibal so many times, and was doing it again.

“I promise you,” Hannibal said, with another soft kiss. “It will be better than your dreams.”

Hannibal reached for Will's hand, gently moving it away from his cock and bringing it up to his mouth, kissing Will's fingers softly. He had to move away just to reach for the lube in the drawer of his nightstand, and as soon as he got it he resumed his position on top of Will.

“I'll prepare you for me now,” he said, kissing Will's chest again, his heart beating fast against Hannibal’s lips. He kissed all the way down until he reached Will's groin, and he pressed his face there, inhaling deeply, drowning in Will's heady scent. He could hear Will's heart beating faster. Hannibal wanted more.

He lifted his head, grabbed the bottle of lube and flipped the cap open, spreading some on his fingers trying to warm it up. He placed one of Will's legs on his shoulder and guided one of his slick fingers down to circle Will's hole. He heard the priest gasp.

“Relax,” Hannibal said softly, turning his head to kiss Will's thigh, right where the cilice had left its mark. He heard Will taking a deep breath and exhaling, his muscles relaxing visibly. He pushed the tip of his finger inside.

Will struggled not to tighten up, to keep his body slack and allow for the intrusion. It was difficult to keep his thoughts from the negative connotations of the act, views that had been hammered and instilled in him from an early age. The idea that it was something wrong, something dirty and base. Unnatural. Sodomy was supposedly a mortal sin, but there was no evidence to support its alleged wickedness. And yet Will was too aroused to entertain the notion that this was anything but good, his cock hard and hot against his belly. Something in Hannibal's bite was chasing away his inhibitions; something coursing through Will's veins, in his blood, that made him feel safe.

So far it was just an odd sensation – the priest winced slightly at it, foreign and somewhat uncomfortable, but not at all painful. Hannibal was blessedly slow and patient, getting him used to the feeling. He repeated the motion of pressing forward, gradually introducing more of his finger only to recede and once again circle his hole. Each time he worked the digit inside of Will a little bit further, carefully, until he was breaching him up to the second knuckle.

Hannibal returned to massaging him open and Will keened softly, taking his fingers until he was slippery and yielding. If he focused very hard Will could feel the gentle blooming of his own pleasure, alongside an excitement responding in kind to that of Hannibal's. Soon he was matching it with an anticipation all his own. It was a deceptive gentleness coming from a vampire, but none of that mattered now – Hannibal was drizzling more lube to ease the way, cold and wet against Will's heated skin, and his breath left him in a rush.

When Hannibal slipped inside this time he did so and stopped, crooking his finger until Will felt himself being rubbed from the inside. Hannibal applied gentle, rhythmic pressure there until Will felt the warm viscosity of precome dribbling from his cock. He arched his back as Hannibal massaged a place that felt markedly different, the touch shooting straight to his cock as a long, low moan fell from his lips. The sound surprised Will as much as the sensation, and he felt lightheaded as he flushed from head to toe.

“Beautiful,” Hannibal said, more to himself than to Will. He started thrusting his finger in and out slowly, brushing against Will's prostate with every movement, his eyes fixed on the priest watching the way he arched his back again, cock twitching and leaking.

When Hannibal thought Will was ready, he put more lube on his fingers and started pushing a second finger in along with the first, still slowly and carefully. He pressed inside, pulled out, circled around for a moment, then tried pushing them further inside, repeating the movements until Will was relaxed and stretched enough to take his two fingers all the way in. The priest had been making the most beautiful noises the whole time, and Hannibal was sure he would never want to have sex with anybody that wasn't Will Graham, ever again.

He kissed Will's thigh again, licking the bruises the cilice had left on Will’s skin, and rubbing his fingers against his prostate for a moment longer before he carefully pulled his fingers out. Will was almost ready to take his cock, but Hannibal decided not to push it inside him just yet. If Will wanted to know what he had been missing all this time, Hannibal would make sure to show him everything.

“Turn over, Will,” he said, lowering Will's leg and kissing his hip bone softly. “There's something I want to do with you.”

"Okay," Will answered, his voice shaky and small. Before he could think twice he was turning onto his stomach – he tried not to feel like a dog in heat, panting with his ass in the air. It felt obscene, made even more mortifying now that he'd been worked open by Hannibal's fingers.

But it all only served to make Will more aroused, his cock leaking onto the sheets. It had felt so good to be caressed from the inside, Hannibal’s fingertips pressing and rubbing sweetly, with confidence. He missed it already, had grown accustomed to the sensation and felt that if he'd continued, if he'd kept moving his fingers like that... Will was sure he would have been able to reach completion from that alone.

"H-Hannibal?" he asked, nervous and unable to see what was happening behind him. He couldn't tell what Hannibal was doing, and there were no sounds to help give it away. Will had no idea what to expect, couldn't predict what would come next... It was all still so new. Strong hands were on his hips then, yanking him closer and elevating his backside even further. The priest whimpered and tensed unconsciously, bracing for the pain, assuming that Hannibal would enter him just like this... Will shut his eyes tightly as Hannibal parted his cheeks and exposed him to the cool air.

He wasn't prepared to feel a soft, wet heat against his hole, teasing him to laxness before stiffening and plunging inside. Will jerked and cried out, squirming with embarrassment and shock as Hannibal pleasured him with his tongue. He shouldn't be doing this, not with his mouth, not like this... Even if he was a vampire, it didn't make the act any less debauched.

"Oh God, d-don't—" Will choked out, gripping at the bedsheets. "Hannibal, st-stop… You can't—ah..." His pleas melted away, dying on his lips as Hannibal pulled back, maddening strokes against tender-pink, sensitive skin. Will had stopped squirming, but his thighs trembled with the effort to keep still. His breath came hot against the fabric fisted in his hands, and he struggled to bite back a moan at every hot, smooth swipe of Hannibal’s tongue.

"Please," Will begged, and Hannibal squeezed a handful of pliant flesh where he held him open. Will's mind raced with shameful imaginings, thoughts of God watching him, judging him – then Hannibal was sliding two slick fingers in alongside his tongue and he wasn't thinking anymore.

He curled them, pressing down to touch Will’s prostate again. Will’s moans were addictive, Hannibal wanted to keep touching him until he turned Will into a whimpering mess, until the priest forgot everything else that wasn’t them and the pleasure Hannibal was making him feel.

“Do you want me to stop?” Hannibal asked with a smirk, biting one of Will’s cheeks playfully, smiling when Will whimpered in response. Hannibal pulled his fingers out, kissing Will’s skin right where he had bitten. There was a mark of his teeth there, but it would fade soon – way too soon, but Hannibal could leave more permanent marks on him later. He grabbed the bottle of lube to spread more of it on his fingers – three now, and leaned in again to continue opening Will up with his tongue. Will didn’t answer his question, but relaxed visibly when Hannibal licked him like this.

“You're doing so well,” Hannibal said as he pulled back, his voice low. “One more now.” He wasn’t sure if Will had even registered his words as he started pushing three fingers into him, just as slowly and carefully as he had been the whole time. Will whined and pulled at the sheets, and Hannibal didn’t stop, gently stretching him and pushing his fingers deeper with every one of his slow thrusts.

He only stopped when Will was open and slick around his fingers, and he left another bite mark above the first one, pressing his teeth into Will's flesh then mouthing at it, licking and sucking. Withdrawing his fingers, he licked from Will’s perineum to the top of his tailbone. When he pulled back, he could see Will’s cock leaking onto the sheets, and he caught himself wishing that Will would ruin his sheets every night.

“You’re ready for me,” he said, spreading lube on his cock and breathing heavily. He moved away from Will just to sit on the bed, resting his back against the headboard comfortably, and reached to touch Will’s shoulder softly, caressing his heated skin. “Come here. It will be easier for you this way.”

Will felt like he couldn't speak – like if he tried now, he'd lose his nerve. His body was thrumming with excitement and fear; felt electric as it quivered at the memory of touch. He didn't want it to fade. Will nodded almost imperceptibly, lifting onto his knees to shuffle forward, wobbly and weak with pleasure. Hannibal reached out to steady him, grabbing him by the waist to help Will comfortably straddle his lap.

“You shall know fully, even as you are fully known,” he spoke aloud.

The priest tried to settle, but he couldn't help his shudder at the twitch of Hannibal against his backside. He faltered, cheeks coloring further, and it was enough to make Will dizzy. Yet it was his own curiosity that had him arching, pushing back until Hannibal was gliding in between his cheeks, slick and blood-hot. Will hid his face against Hannibal's neck, burning with humiliation, but Hannibal only chuckled and smoothed his steady hands up and down his back. He moved to grip himself, holding in place for Will's ease.

Clutching at sturdy shoulders, Will rose up until he could feel the smooth head of Hannibal’s cock nudging against his hole. He swallowed nervously but pushed down the rising panic, bearing down until his body yielded – Will released a sigh of relief. It was still a bit of a stretch, even as much as Hannibal had prepared him... But he sank down anyway, slow and decadent, until Hannibal was fully seated inside of him. Will sat back carefully, lips parting at the shift. His eyes were half-lidded as he watched Hannibal's close; listened to him moan at the hot clutch of his body.

"...Et erunt duo in carne una," Will breathed, swallowed by such luminous darkness. Hannibal hummed, lips grazing along the skin of Will’s neck.

“And the two shall become one flesh.”

At that moment, Will knew: he would never forget this time. He knew that he couldn't go back, not to the way things were. Hannibal grabbed his hips, helping to move him as Will rose again, gliding along his cock only to sink back down to the root. The feeling was indescribable – Will hadn't realized how empty he'd felt before Hannibal was filling him up, filling the hollow space inside him. He felt so concrete, thick and solid and real as he slid in and out of his body. It was so unlike what Will was used to, living by faith and belief. He groaned and lowered himself, clenching just to feel him on the upward drag, feel something that touched him beyond the realm of faith. Again and again, with more momentum until Hannibal's cock cleaved him open hard and fast, pressing deep inside of him.

"You are something divine, Will," Hannibal panted, hands running up and down the priest's sides. "How fortunate I am to be able to touch you. Dare I say blessed."

"O-Oh..." Will gasped, curls spilling across his brow as he moved. He threw his head back, mouth slack with rapture. "It's... It's good, you feel so good inside me..." His arms looped around Hannibal's neck, pulling him closer, holding onto him like the anchor to his world. "God, Hannibal... I knew you would, I—" A pleasured sob racked his body and Will forgot everything that wasn't this, that wasn't here and now. Distantly, he could hear Hannibal whispering his name with reverence.

Will rode him, slow but forceful, as sweat beaded on the surface of their skin. Hannibal still held him tight, encouraging him, savoring the sounds he made every time he took him to the hilt. Will was breathless from the onslaught, but he leaned in close to speak against Hannibal's ear.

"Will you... Bite me again?" he asked, then mewled at the buck of Hannibal's hips. "I like the feel of your... Of your teeth. I, ah... Want you to do it while you're..." Will's throat felt dry. "While—"

Will couldn’t say the words, but he didn’t have to. Hannibal knew. Keeping one hand on Will’s hip, he moved the other one up his back, feeling Will’s warm skin against his palm. He buried his fingers in Will’s curls, gripping and pulling, yanking his head back to expose his neck. He couldn’t leave any marks in places Will couldn’t hide, but he mouthed at Will’s throat anyway, lips and tongue caressing his skin as the priest rolled his hips in his lap. Hannibal bit Will then, right where his neck met his shoulder, catching the flesh between his teeth and squeezing hard enough to make the priest whine, sucking hard to leave a mark that would last for days.

“Like this?” Hannibal asked, not giving him time to answer before biting Will’s shoulder. He wrapped his arm around the priest to steady him and help him move slowly, attacking him with his mouth: shoulders, collarbone, the hollow of his throat. He bit and sucked on Will’s skin until it was covered in bruises, and it was amusing to think of Will going to church with all those marks under his cassock. Then, without a warning, he sank his fangs into Will’s neck, tearing a moan from the priest. It didn’t last long this time, soon he was pulling back to kiss Will again, sharing the taste of his blood.

Letting go of Will’s hair, Hannibal’s hands returned to Will’s hips, pulling him down hard, making the priest whimper. Hannibal started thrusting up into him slightly, breathing hotly against Will’s skin that was now covered in a thin layer of sweat. Will’s cock was rubbing against his belly with every one of their movements, and Hannibal wondered if he could make the priest come just like that. Breaking the kiss, he pressed his lips and tongue against Will’s neck again to feel his pulse, and Will’s heartbeat sounded louder than ever to him. He inhaled deeply, the smell of sex and sweat and Will was almost overwhelming. His groan was muffled by Will’s skin, and his fingernails pressed into Will’s hips as he buried himself deeper into the warmth of his body. If heaven existed, it was Will Graham.

The priest clung to Hannibal like a lifeline, afraid that somehow all of this would end. He allowed himself to feel, let himself live in the moment and all it had to offer. Will could sense nothing but love and worship, a powerful, pure adoration. Why should a vampire worship a man? Will couldn't make sense of it. The only thing he understood was the shape of them together, he and Hannibal – moving, loving, feeling. He ran his fingers through the hair on Hannibal's chest. "D-Don't stop, oh..."

Will scraped his nails along the peaks of Hannibal's nipples as he was pulled down to meet each drive of his hips. His hands came up to bury themselves in the sweat-damp strands of Hannibal's hair, and he tugged gently, pulling him in to let their lips brush. Kissing Hannibal was an experience all its own, only amplified by the hot press of him deep inside. It only made Will moan into Hannibal's mouth, and he had to break away, panting as he rested his head against one broad shoulder. He moved faster, harder in Hannibal's lap, lifting up just to slam back down and crying out with each movement. Will was impatient to experience the bliss of his orgasm, already quivering with the pleasure of taking Hannibal in such a way. It was as beautiful as it was unmentionable, making his heart swell even as his body was set ablaze.

“You feel so good,” Hannibal praised him, lips brushing against Will’s neck, close to his ear. Will could hear Hannibal panting hard as the vampire moved with him, thrusting up as he pushed down. “So tight,” Hannibal continued, squeezing Will’s hips, nails burying into his skin with no other intention than to leave marks that Will would be able to see in the mirror later. “Beautiful.”

Hannibal moved his hands up to roll his thumbs against the hard peaks of Will’s nipples, alternating between light, teasing touches and firm ones that made Will whine quietly. He pinched and pulled them, making Will’s cock twitch and leak even more, and Hannibal didn’t stop until the priest’s nipples were sore and he was whimpering softly with every movement of his fingers. Hannibal loved how sensitive and responsive Will was, and before he lowered his hands again, he let his nails graze against Will’s nipples one last time, tearing a muffled cry from Will’s mouth.

“Feels good?” Hannibal asked, his voice barely a whisper as he panted against Will’s shoulder. “You’re perfect, Will. You’re everything.” Will answered by pushing down against him even harder and moaning loudly, and Hannibal doubted he could do much else. He could feel that the priest wasn’t going to take long to come, could smell it. He wanted to feel Will clenching around him as he came, hot and tight and perfect. He took Will’s cock in hand, stroking him with a firm, tight grip to take him apart quickly. “I want you to come like this, Will. While I’m buried deep inside you.”

Will threw his head back at the words, at the rapidly building pleasure, throat bared and sweat gleaming against his skin. He couldn't contain the helpless sounds he made as his ecstasy began to peak, and he didn't try to fight it... He knew it was stronger than him. Knew what was coming, and yet was unable to brace himself for the impact. It would have come even without the hand on his eager, aching cock – but now it was speeding toward him faster than he'd imagined. Will had never heard himself so loud, could hardly recognize his own throaty moans and breathy little gasps. He was breathing too quickly, too heavily, but it only added to the feeling of euphoria rushing over him like a wave.

The priest arched his back, the pressure mounting at a staggering pace until he could do nothing but succumb. His toes curled; his body tensed and stilled – Will's nails dug harshly into Hannibal's shoulders and he started to come, muscles quivering as he was held submerged under the heavy tide of his orgasm. He was racked by convulsions, muscles contracting, tightening around Hannibal's cock as he continued to thrust inside of Will's climax-ridden body. Hannibal's hands gripped his hips, thrusting up into him until Will was sobbing his name and spilling, hot, thick ropes of his release striping Hannibal's belly and chest. It seemed endless; come spattering in his chest hair, spurt after spurt shooting with every jerk of Will's cock, but Hannibal didn't stop. The priest whimpered through every spasmodic clench of his hole – Hannibal only pulled him down harder, driving into him until his orgasm slowly ebbed and faded.

Only when Will breathed out a shaky sigh did Hannibal cease his movements. His body still trembled and Will gasped for breath, eyes closed as if afraid of what he'd done, what he'd experienced. He opened them to see Hannibal staring back at him, and it wiped all doubt from his mind. Will felt weak, drained and pliant with a heavy, bone-deep exhaustion... But Hannibal was still so hard inside of him, and he knew he hadn't come. Not yet. The priest brought him in close, held him tucked into the skin of his neck and rode him steadily, furtive little jumps of his hips, rocking and raising himself up; lowering to seat Hannibal snugly back inside. Will wanted to make him come, wanted to see it, watch with rapture as he surrendered himself to the pull. He wanted to feel Hannibal sliding in deep, twitching inside of him, spending himself until he'd emptied and sucking kisses hard against his throat. Will wanted Hannibal to consume every part of him, to defile him, inside and out.

No matter what Hannibal expected from Will, the priest always managed to surprise him. Will was visibly exhausted now, still recovering from a intense orgasm, certainly oversensitive, and still he didn’t stop, didn’t pull away, didn’t ask Hannibal to slow down. Hannibal wrapped his arms around the priest and buried his face in his neck, breathing him in. The smell of sex, sweat, blood, semen and Will was almost enough to push him over the edge. Hannibal groaned into Will’s neck as the priest moved his hips, he could feel Will’s pulse in every point of contact, could hear his heartbeat and shaky breaths. Hannibal could feel him so completely he could barely breathe.

He wanted to tell Will how beautiful and perfect he was, how much he loved him, but all he could do was whisper Will’s name reverently over and over between moans. Will’s heart was beating fast, his body even warmer than before, and Hannibal couldn’t resist. He let his sharp fangs make two small holes on the skin of Will’s shoulder before he retracted them again. The little wounds were superficial and would heal almost immediately, but it would be enough. Hannibal licked and sucked on them, closing his eyes and groaning, gripping Will’s hips again to thrust up into him.

He was so close now that he couldn’t think, couldn’t focus on not holding Will too tightly, not pressing his fingers into Will’s skin too hard, not hurting him. He sucked hard on Will’s shoulder, knowing he was going to leave another bruise. The idea aroused him. Will grabbed his hair and pulled, moaning again, and that was all Hannibal needed. His thrusts became erratic and every single one of them made him groan loudly, until he buried himself deep inside Will’s body one last time and held the priest down against him. Will clenched around him again and Hannibal came in hot spurts, his cock pulsing inside him until he was spent.

It took Hannibal a few moments to move again, and Will waited patiently, breathing heavily against Hannibal’s shoulder, fingers threading through his hair. Hannibal stopped sucking Will’s blood and licked the tiny wounds carefully. He caressed Will’s hips gently as he looked into Will’s eyes, his own still red after tasting the priest’s blood. There was so much Hannibal wanted to say, but he found himself speechless as Will stared back at him. The words got stuck in his throat as his feelings for Will almost overwhelmed him. His heart raced but it wasn’t because of the orgasm, he knew. It was because of Will’s presence, Will’s devotion, Will’s decision to stay.

Before he could say anything, Will smiled softly, leaning in to kiss him. He wrapped his arms around Hannibal’s neck, melting into the kiss, and Hannibal pulled him closer, making them both gasp as Will clenched around his softening cock.

“Could you lie back?” Will murmured against Hannibal’s lips, letting Hannibal’s cock slip out of him with a huff as he moved from his lap. Keeping his eyes fixed on Will, Hannibal did as he’d asked, his lips curling into a smirk.

Will leaned in to lick his come from Hannibal’s belly experimentally, catching just a little bit of it on his tongue and allowing himself to taste it. He had only tasted himself indirectly, by kissing Hannibal after Hannibal had made him come in his mouth. This time it was different, better. The look on Hannibal’s face encouraged him, and Will licked a little bit more, moving up to kiss Hannibal again before he could swallow it. Hannibal immediately took control of the kiss, moaning and sucking Will’s tongue, hungry for more.

Will only broke the kiss so he could finish licking Hannibal clean, swallowing it all. He was curious to taste Hannibal like this, imagined doing it in the morning before he went back to the church. Hannibal pulled him up for another kiss, fingers burying in his hair.

As Will broke the kiss, Hannibal grabbed his wrist and brought it close to his mouth, pressing a soft kiss to his palm. He lowered Will’s hand then and pressed it against his chest so Will could feel his heart beating, because maybe then Will would understand, maybe then Will would empathize with him and feel it too. He lifted his free hand to caress Will’s cheek and smiled, never breaking eye contact, their faces only a few inches away from each other.

There was fondness reflected in Will's returning gaze. His perception scaled down to what he was feeling, his own heart pounding against his ribs. It beat faster in response to the rhythm that drummed beneath his palm. The priest shut his eyes, overcome with a profound sense of love more tangible than any he's felt before. He wanted to ask – he had the words, the loaded question on the tip of his tongue. Somehow, Will already knew the answer, but the desire to hear it clawed at him. If it came from Hannibal's mouth, maybe it wouldn't frighten him so much... Or perhaps it would be all the more terrifying.

Will waited a beat, and then his eyelids fluttered open. "Do you—" he began, voice small and hesitant. His mouth felt dry. "Do you mind if I get cleaned up?"

Hannibal didn't look disappointed. He had expected more of a backlash in the aftermath, pleased by Will's simple request.

"Of course not. Please, feel free to shower—it's there for your use."

Thoughtful, Hannibal reclined as Will rose from his bed, his body a testament to his own devastating nature. Painted with drying blood, love bites and bruises, dark marks from a vampire's mouth marring the skin of Will's neck, throat and shoulders, and the inevitable mess of sex. His body was a blessed, desecrated thing. Hannibal watched as Will disappeared into the en suite bathroom – he'd ready some fresh towels and a plush robe for him. He wanted Will to be as comfortable as possible.

Will ignored his reflection with determination, instead beginning the arduous task of cleaning himself of blood and various other fluids, some his own and some not.

Once finished he dried off and wrapped himself in the warm cotton of the robe, returning shortly to the very same bed he'd seen in his dreams.

When Will left the shower, Hannibal was lying there, waiting for him. He had entered the bathroom while Will was in the shower to clean himself up as well, quickly washing off the dry blood from his chin and neck, and had also changed the bedsheets. Now, he welcomed Will into his arms, sighing as Will leaned in to kiss his lips softly again.

Hannibal stripped him of his robe, wanting to feel Will's warm human skin against his own again, and Will let him, sliding under the covers and into Hannibal's arms. Hannibal kissed him again before Will turned and pressed his back to Hannibal's chest. Hannibal hugged him tightly.

“How are you feeling, Will?” Hannibal asked, pressing his nose against the back of Will's neck and closing his eyes as he breathed him in.

Will was almost afraid of the answer. It wasn't how he thought he'd feel.

The words fell from his lips in a shaken whisper: "I don't think I've ever felt more wanted." A bit of a problem, Will thought to himself, still somewhat dazed or perhaps drowsy with sleep and strain. "I have... a lot of questions."

"I have answers," Hannibal purred, lazy and unwilling to separate himself from Will. "But you've stretched yourself far enough for one night. Don't want to wear your acceptance too thin."

Will didn't answer, but Hannibal was happy just to hold him and watch him fall asleep, listening to his heartbeat. Hannibal kissed the back of his neck softly and closed his eyes, relaxing against Will's body as he felt the priest breathing calmly.