“Your second murder.”

“A fellow student at the orphanage. A few weeks after I arrived.”

Will drums his fingers on Hannibal’s arm, keeping it between them, the back of his mind keeping track of where each of their limbs are, curled on their sides facing each other like quotation marks, as he closes his eyes and tries to see it. “Strangulation,” he says, half a question. “You wanted to get close, like you hadn’t been before.”

The arm moves, and Will flinches, but it’s only to pat down his flank, the curve of his hip and dip at his waist surprisingly pronounced when he feels Hannibal run his hand over them. “More or less,” says Hannibal, “though I brought a chain as a garotte, and ended up having to use it; he fought back more than I expected.”

Will opens his eyes. “Hm. You expected him to just lie back and take it?”

“I had not thought overmuch about his reaction, to be honest.”

“I suppose that’s a good lesson to learn early. That people generally try to prevent you from murdering them. Okay, let’s try a harder one. Shoplifting.”

Hannibal laughs, just a tiny bit of air expelled forcefully through the nostrils, warm by the time it reaches Will’s face. “Of course. It was the most reliable way to get what I needed at the orphanage, and what I wanted in Paris, before I had an income of my own.”

“Uncle didn’t give you an allowance?”

“He bought me what I required, and a good deal of what I didn’t. Did your father?”

“No, but I kept what I made at little jobs, to do what I wanted with. We’re not talking about me, though. Arson?”

Hannibal looks thoughtful, which makes Will’s lips twitch. “This isn’t a stumper for most people.”

“I’m sure it’s not. Are you going to ask me about jaywalking next?”

“Let’s not get too crazy. Arson, Hannibal. Ever lit something on fire just for the pleasure of watching it burn?”

“You rather sound as if you have.”

“It’s a rural hobby. Bonfires, rusty pickup trucks, old barns.”

Hannibal’s hand is up at his shoulder now, running nearly the entire length of his body in smooth strokes. Will shuffles closer into his body heat as Hannibal answers, “I suppose not, then. Not for its own sake, though I have used fire for practical purposes.”

“How about rape?”

The hand reaching into his hair, thumb on his cheek. Will closes his eyes and enjoys the warmth and the terror of it. “Yes,” says Hannibal, “just once.”

Will swallows. Hannibal can probably feel it. “Just once. Well, that’s all right then. Did you like it?”

“Very much.”

For a moment Will wants to leave the room, to have time to go into himself and imagine it, come up with his own version of events before it can be confirmed or denied. Hannibal’s hand feels too good on him to leave, though. “Tell me.”

Hannibal looks right in his eyes, as if daring Will to look away, when he says, “It did not occur to me right away, when I met the victim. I thought– it is difficult to remember, exactly what I thought at first. Perhaps I didn’t know myself. I only sought enjoyment, and knew the ways in which I usually found it.”

“How did you meet?”

“In a dark wood.”

“The straight path lost.”

“For him, certainly. For me too, perhaps, though I didn’t realize it at the time.”

“You never wanted to rape a woman?”

“On any occasion that I wanted to have sex with a woman,” says Hannibal mildly, “I have merely arranged it to be so.”

Will allows his eyes to break away from Hannibal’s, crime scene photos swimming behind his eyes unbidden, autopsy reports and bruised limbs and dried blood. “Sure,” he says, “but rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power.”

“Yes. I enjoyed the usual forms of power over him, of course.”

“Concealment. That you fed him, and he ate, and enjoyed, and didn’t know.” It is, Will thinks, one of the things that had drawn him to Hannibal, even before he knew what magnetic force was exerting the pull. That he has elevated concealment to an art form, to a visceral pleasure. Most hiders chafe at the closets they find themselves shut inside of; Hannibal had reversed the fabric of the world, so that the rest of the world was the closet, and he the only one liberated outside of it.

“Yes.” Hannibal’s placid reminiscence is almost irritating. Will wants to poke a hole in it. He wants to be closer, too, and twines their legs together, pulling their bodies together at the groin. Hannibal is hard. Will could probably get there.

“And yet you wanted more power,” he says. “When do we grasp for power, Hannibal?”

“Lazy psychiatry would answer that we grasp for power when we feel powerless. Is that always the case, Will?”

Will knows power, has felt it echo through his body in too many forms to believe that it comes from only one place. “No,” he admits, “sometimes it just feels good.” But then, just to see what happens, he adds, “You felt powerless, though.”

For a moment Hannibal goes blank and still, and then Will sees him decide to take it lightly, reaching out to pinch one of Will’s nipples, digging his nails in until Will yelps softly. Which kind of proves his point, but Will decides not to press it. “And so? You ran him down, in your dark wood?”

“Humans are mainly persistence hunters, are we not? The long chase, rather than the mad scramble?”

“Humans as persistence hunters is an evolutionary myth,” says Will. He feels uneven, so drags Hannibal’s hand over to his as-yet-unabused nipple and pants through the resulting pain, “we’re tool-using monsters, when we hunt. You’re no exception.”

“I have always appreciated a well-aimed tool,” says Hannibal, and moves his hand down to Will’s thickening cock. “So yes, I ran him down, but carefully. I earned his trust. I gave him gifts. I made him safe.”

Will’s eyes fall shut. He is aroused, a little nauseous, like the seasickness of someone who knows boats, but hasn’t been on one in a while. He is not on a boat. He is stumbling through the woods in Wolf Trap, bare feet, twigs leaving scratches on his legs and arms, freezing, mud caked on his soles that he will find in the morning and this is new, it’s a new memory, for all the good it does him now. And an old one: warm hands on his forehead, in his hair, his throat forced open, being soothed from it–

He can see Hannibal’s unoccupied hand, and pushes it away. “Don’t touch my face,” he mutters. Hannibal pulls it away. Then he replaces the hand on Will’s cock with it, and brings that one up to cup Will’s cheek. Will can smell his own sweat on it.

“You didn’t make him safe,” he says, instead of biting the hand off. “You made him feel safe.”

“Nobody but the dead is truly safe,” says Hannibal soothingly. “In life, safety is only ever an emotion, but no less valuable for it.”

“What did you like about it?” Will asks, and he can hear that his own voice sounds plaintive, tired, but can’t stop it. He needs darkness, and buries his face in Hannibal’s chest, thrusting forwards into his hand.

“Everything,” Hannibal breathes, and that sounds genuine. A little bit shaky. “The way he looked at me, confused but still trusting. The way he trembled, and shook, and still stayed.”

And then Hannibal rolls on top of him, weighing him down so tightly he can barely breathe, and Will starts to thrust in earnest into the soft curve of Hannibal’s belly, and gives into the urge to bite the hand still on his face, fingers too temptingly close to his mouth. “And then–” Hannibal continues, truly breathless now, his cock leaving reciprocal sticky streaks of precome on Will’s belly and thighs, “The best part– the best part was when I had him trapped and helpless– and I had thought that would be the end of it. Every predator must secretly dread a successful hunt, for successful hunts end. But this one– just as I had him pinned beneath me, filling him with me, leaving no room for anything else– just then, he knew himself most clearly, as well as me.”

And that feels good. That had felt good. Will remembers that much clearly.

When he can breathe again, he looks at Hannibal’s hand. He’d drawn blood from it, the flesh more pulled apart than sliced or torn. He wants to wash it, won’t let Hannibal wash it by himself, but later. The air feels fragile and new, like after a lightning strike. He lies back down, fitting his body back into Hannibal’s.

“Tell me about the first time you jaywalked,” he whispers, because he feels too fragile to know anything more consequential.

Just because Will feels himself to be fragile doesn’t mean he is. He knows that. Hannibal knows it better, has learned it painfully. “I had just spat out teeth at the bottom of a soup bowl,” he says. “I escaped, and walked to the road, and crossed it by myself for the first time.”

Will nods. He doesn’t shatter with it. There is something Hannibal wants to ask him, he knows. “Ask,” he says.