By the time he gets home from the hospital it is nearly midnight, and Hannibal is both starving and somewhat nauseous at the thought of eating. He briefly considers making himself a simple meal, but when he attempts to pick up a frying pan, his wrists sear with pain and the muscles of his arms go slack without his conscious permission. He narrowly avoids dropping the pan on his foot and manages to set it down on the counter instead, fingers shaking.

Instead, he calls a Chinese restaurant in downtown Baltimore that he happens to know is unofficially open late. The place does a steady business in the late night and early morning serving bartenders and line cooks just finishing their shifts at other establishments. He had done a favour for the owner’s son once– well, privately he thinks the owner’s son had done a favour for him, but the young man fortunately doesn’t see it that way– and it turns out to be the son himself who picks up the phone, and is very happy to send him some of the pork rib and watercress soup he had been in the middle of making for his own late-night meal.

Luckily there is already water in the electric kettle, so he manages to boil it and use the force of an elbow to tip it into a mug of tea, which he is just barely able to carry, carefully and with both hands, to the parlour to wait for his food to arrive.

It seems a waste, he considers as he sinks into an armchair and lifts the tea to his lips. It’s peppermint, an herbal tea being necessary since he would not be capable of accurately tipping a jug of milk into any tea with which milk is preferable. He would prefer wine over any kind of tea, of course, but that would be both impossible to uncork and pour and counterindicated with the antibiotics and painkillers that he is on.

The waste, of course, is that Will isn’t here to see him, his hands shaking as he clumsily drinks from a mug of bagged tea, waiting for someone else to bring him food that he is too incapacitated to prepare for himself.

Hannibal wonders if Will would be pleased with this outcome, and closes his eyes and sinks back in his chair to consider the question carefully, in all its beauty. He hadn’t really had a moment to himself, since Jack had interrupted Matthew Brown’s tableau: the ambulance had arrived quickly, and Hannibal had managed to convince the paramedics to call ahead to the attending ER physician at Hopkins, a friend of Hannibal’s from residency, who ensured that the orthopaedic surgeon on call, yet another mutual friend, was expecting him. Dr. Arteaga had wanted to keep him overnight for observation, but at the first sign of Hannibal’s protest had relented and agreed to discharge him. “You always did know how to take care of yourself, Hannibal,” had been his only comment, “Make sure you don’t stop now.”

Hannibal has no intention of stopping. He imagines Will here, sitting opposite him, surveying his handiwork. Hannibal’s neck is sore and he has a fuzzy headache, kept at bay by the morphine. It is his writsts, though, that he thinks might be the most pleasing to Will. They are wrapped in layers of gauze that he will struggle to change for the next few days. Underneath, he knows, are long incisions, messy ones made by Matthew Brown, necessarily extended somewhat in the course of Dr. Arteaga’s work before being sewn closed. They will heal cleanly, but he will never quite be rid of them.

“Do you enjoy having marked me in this way?” Hannibal asks, gazing softly behind his eyelids at the vision of Will sitting across from him.

Will is calm, even as the room runs with blood around them. He meets Hannibal’s eyes. “I wasn’t intending to mark you,” he says. “I was intending to kill you.”

“Would you have been satisfied? Hearing of my death only secondhand, denied even the crime scene photos of my lifeless corpse cut down from its noose, lying on the white tile of an indoor swimming pool?”

Will tilts his head, an eerie mirror of Hannibal’s own posture as they talk. There is a knock on the door.

“Your soup is here,” Will observes. “Unless you were planning on eating the delivery boy, instead?”

Hannibal smiles. “I think just the soup will do nicely,” he says, pleased with the joke even though it was his own. He opens his eyes to the empty room, and goes to open the door.

The young woman at the door says “Hey, James sent me–” and then her eyes go wide at the sight of his arms, as he has necessarily rolled up his sleeves to avoid pressing against the gauze. Then she insists on coming in and setting him up in his own living room, with one of the folding TV tables that he sometimes puts out for hors d’oeuvres at parties in front of him, the styrofoam container of soup open and steaming in front of him and a spoon set out beside it. It’s not the soup spoon he would have chosen, and preferably he would have emptied the contents of the styrofoam into a proper bowl, but he has no desire to ask her to go back into his kitchen and fumble through the cupboards for the right supplies. It is mostly enjoyable, to watch a polite, tired-eyed young woman fuss over him. She doesn’t ask what happened, and he realizes that she probably assumes the injuries to his wrists were self-inflicted.

It’s an interesting notion. Perhaps, in a way, they are; at the very least, he is not disturbed to have them there. He thanks her, and listens as the front door clicks closed. He is not in the habit of locking it while he is home; he has always rather hoped that something unexpected would come through it, though realistically that isn’t particularly likely given the demographics of the neighbourhood. Still, he briefly considers locking it, just for the night; any further violence would be unpleasant and exhausting, not novel or enjoyable, after the events of the day.

He can’t quite bring himself to do it. Some part of him is still hoping that he will find Will in his home just as he had found him in his office before their final trip to Minnesota: escaped, clear-eyed, full of tightly coiled violence and vengeance.

It’s an unrealistic and overly romantic hope, he knows. He sips his soup from the too-shallow spoon the girl had pulled from his cutlery drawer, and tries to call to mind where Will really is: languishing in the BSHCI, just where Hannibal had put him. His violence had been forced to take a circuitious route to find Hannibal, but it had arrived nevertheless: implacable, glorious, and somehow tender. Matthew Brown was young and searching and lovely, exactly the kind of unformed but promising matter that, perhaps in another universe, shows up in Hannibal’s office to be shaped and guided.

That, at least, is a comfort. Since Will could not have come himself, he had sent a perfectly chosen vessel in his place. Hannibal finishes the soup and throws the container in the recycling, and when he climbs the stairs he chooses to hear footsteps behind him, as if Will were following.

Will stands at the window as Hannibal slowly, painfully gets ready for bed. The force a toothbrush requires to operate is too much for his hands to produce so he makes do with mouthwash, and he washes his face only clumsily, with suds clinging to his hairline and jaw. He tries moisturizer, but the particular motion needed to rub it in is too much, and he ends up wiping it off with a tissue and throwing it out.

Will’s eyes are soft as he watches Hannibal climb into bed. “Am I beautiful in pain?” Hannibal asks him.

“Am I?” Will shoots back.

The darkness of the room is soothing on the headache that the noose left him with. “Of course,” Hannibal murmurs, hoping Will will be enticed to come closer if he speaks softly. “Exquisite. And yet I can’t imagine this was truly what you had in mind. You don’t want to watch me struggle to eat takeout or wash my face; it would require more than that to satisfy your urges, I think.”

He closes his eyes. The darkness presses in, then warps and shifts. When he opens them again Will has come closer, but they are back at the pool. Hannibal is dressed in his swimsuit again, but his body remains warm and comfortable with the weight of the blankets tucked around him in the physical world.

Will, regrettably, is not similarly attired; he’s wearing his prison jumpsuit, a little dirtier and more worn than the last time Hannibal had seen it. But he is standing opposite Hannibal in the alcove, the noose at the ready above their heads, and he is holding a knife loosely in his right hand, looking at Hannibal like he is a fish that Will knows exactly how to prepare.

On his bed, Hannibal shifts and squeezes his thighs together. Given that a toothbrush had proven too much for him, there is no possible way that he could use his hands to pleasure himself. He doesn’t want to let go of the images, though; he would rather unfold the fantasy like a delicate gift, look at it in all its beauty, and be unsatisfied, than shove it away now for the sake of mere physical comfort.

“Arms out,” says Will, his voice echoing off the pool walls, and he is already behind Hannibal, restraining him; strong in the way that Hannibal had always known Will’s body must be from the manual labour and the police training and the sheer presentness of him, but had never before been privileged to feel brought to bear against him. Will wraps duct tape around his arms to fix them to the dowel. The tape is tight– tighter than it had been with Matthew Brown– but it is worth it for the way Will’s hands hold him in place and play over his skin as he does it.

Hannibal’s legs are weak; perhaps Will had drugged him. Will would want him mostly conscious for this, his reckoning, but some measure of altered consciousness would be appropriate; that is, after all, what Hannibal had done to him. It’s only fair that Hannibal should be left with the same hazy recollection as he knows Will has. The ghosts of Hannibal’s gentle palms on the side of his face are never far from Will’s mind, Hannibal knows. Now he will carry Will’s tender violence with him, too.

Or perhaps he won’t, or at least nor for very long, because that after all is the point: Will is going to kill him. There is no ambiguity in his movements, no hesitation, just clarity of purpose when he manhandles Hannibal into the noose, his feet precariously balancing on the bucket, then comes around to the front and slices his wrists open. The blood starts flowing immediately, the cuts first a sharp pain and then a deep throbbing ache, and Will watches the viscous red pool slightly on the bottom of his arm and then drip onto the floor in a steady stream.

He desperately wants Will to lean in and taste it, his pink tongue proving the depths of the gashes, but Will is too cruel to do something so obviously to Hannibal’s taste, at least so soon. Hannibal considers asking; and yet, perhaps better to stay back for once, see what Will will do without his influence.

What Will does is to reach down and open wide gashes in Hannibal’s thighs, too. He intentionally misses the femoral artery– that would finish the game too quickly, surely– but the blood pours out in rivulets anyway, and Hannibal’s feet jerk slightly on the bucket. The rope digs in underneath his chin. “Will,” he breathes.

Will backhands him. “Quiet,” he snaps, and Hannibal’s head jerks as far to the side as it can within the confines of the noose. The movement of Will’s hand was so quick, almost automatic, as if Hannibal’s body is something other than another human being to him. As if Hannibal belongs to him, and small acts of pain and punishment require no more thought or effort than Will scratching his nose or running his fingers through his hair.

Safe and warm in his bed, Hannibal can no longer stand the lack of friction. He carefully rolls over onto his belly, and pulls a pillow down underneath his hips. He thrusts into it experimentally, and groans. It’s not enough, but it will have to do.

“You have to know how much I’ve thought about this,” Will says, and he walks a wide arc around Hannibal, just out of his peripheral vision. “Have you imagined it too, Hannibal? Is this what you wanted me to be?”

Of course Will would, in Hannibal’s imaginings, ask him about his imaginings. “I have always and only wanted the best for you,” Hannibal says, his voice only a little scratchy from the pressure of the rope.

“For me?”

“And also for myself. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. There is a place for the best of me inside you, as there is a place for the best of you inside me.” Hannibal rubs his cheek against the pillow under his head even as he keeps rubbing his now-sticky cock against the one under his hips, and the words might be coming out of his physical body too, unbidden. He wants to desperately to sit across from Will again, to say the truth and only the truth to him (if not the whole truth.) But this is what he has.

“A place for me,” says Will, and his tone is suddenly vicious. Hannibal feels the knife again, cutting ribbons into the backs of his thighs, shallow but relentless. He moans. It feels like fire. It feels almost as good as being touched.

And a place for Abigail, Hannibal wants to say, but he can’t not yet, not even in a fantasy.

“I think we can do better than that,” says Will, and Hannibal fucks hard into the agonizing softness of the pillow as, in his mind, he feels Will place his hands on Hannibal’s ass and pull his cheeks apart. It’s a lurid imagining, perhaps unrealistic, but then, that is what fantasies are for. Hannibal has never been ashamed of his own desires; he’s found them more often to be a useful guidepost to direct his attention.

Right now, his attention is on his own entrance; how it clenches and flutters in the cool air of the pool, Will observing him in the most intimate way possible. The feeling of being observed is ever-present these days; as he sees patients, as he cooks meals, as he entertains guests and consults with the FBI and turns living meat into dead, he is ever aware of Will’s observation, his growing understanding.

Will rams the handle of his knife into Hannibal’s delicate entrance. It hurts, a burning ache of intrusion, but Hannibal cannot do anything about it; any movement he makes to squirm forward and away would unbalance him and result in his falling of the bucket and swinging freely by his neck. The memory of how that feels is too nearby to be appealing, even in fantasy; so he tries to open himself up instead, feeling the scrape of the irregularly shaped metal over his sensitive passage, catching on his prostate too hard and too rough to feel good.

He revels in the imagined pain; the eyes are always bigger than the stomach, when it comes to pain for the sake of pleasure, but Hannibal has found that he is perfectly capable of ignoring discomfort once its reality exceeds his appetite. For Will, he would stay present and feel every moment. The inadequacy of his hands-free, fleshless, bloodless positioning is agonizing; he thrusts faster, bouncing himself wildly against the bed, and it still isn’t enough. It will never be enough, until Will is here in the flesh.

“Don’t worry,” says Will. “This is just the warm-up. You say that there’s space enough inside you for me, but you don’t get to decide that. You have whittled me to a point, Doctor Lecter. I am brittle, but sharper than I have ever been.”

And with that, he pulls the knife out and flips it around to breach Hannibal’s tender flesh with the blade. Hannibal screams, for Will, for the sound of it echoing off of the tile walls, his hole slicing open and his insides opening to Will’s knife. Will twists it, as if it were his own finger that he were twisting around to find Hannibal’s sensitive spots. He punches through, exploring more deeply, and Hannibal can smell the blood and his own insides suddenly open to the air, the secret human stench of guts and bile, Hannibal being meat just as much as anyone else.

“I see you now,” says Will and he does, he sees everything, inside and outside of him and forwards and backwards in time. He is streaked with Hannibal’s blood as he comes around to his front to watch him die, and it is all Hannibal could ask for, everything he has worked for.

Hannibal has always known that the mind can overcome any barrier of the flesh; and sure enough, the sensations that a moment ago were excruciatingly inadequate are now exactly what he needs. He allows himself a choked-off moan as he comes, a sound that could come as easily from the mouth of one experiencing a true death as merely a petite one.

There is no portion of his fantasy that involves being dead, but he tries to imagine it for a moment anyway: a peaceful stillness of Will’s making. Will would eat him, he fervently hopes. He wouldn’t be able to resist, and especially not with Hannibal gone, unable to reap what he sowed except from the insides of Will’s cells. Will would eat him.

The fantasy fades. Will would possibly not eat him, Hannibal has to admit as lucidity regains its clutch on him. He has little interest in Hannibal’s particular habits, except insofar as they relate to Hannibal. Will has habits of his own, which must be allowed to come out into the light and flourish under their own power.

It cannot happen from a jail cell; the game is becoming stale. Hannibal gingerly positions himself for sleep, his wrists resting in front of him: but his mind bounds ahead in dreams to the final reveal of Miriam Lass, to Will’s freedom, to their bondage solely but inextricably to each other.