“So?” says Will. “What’s the secret ingredient?”

He surveys the countertop in front of him, which is something akin to an assembly line. Hannibal had sent him out earlier with instructions to buy a truly monstrous amount of pecans, which as it turns out, are extremely expensive. They don’t worry about money– at least, there’s no reason to– so it wasn’t the expense itself that had caused him to pause in the store and text Hannibal, you’re sure walnuts won’t do just as well? Hannibal hadn’t responded, which is a gambit that works a lot better when you’re in the room with someone and available to affix them with a steely gaze than when you simply fail to respond to a text message. Still, Will felt the steely gaze anyway. He’d bought the pecans.

It had taken some doing, to even convince Will far enough to get him to agree to this. Christmas cards, he had vetoed entirely. No mindfucky letters, he’d said, and Hannibal had asked alright, how about some sweets? Will had agreed only based on the fact that there is a snowball’s chance in hell of Alana, Margot, Jack, Bedelia, or Frederick Chilton ever eating any food item they receive in the mail. (Freddie Lounds might, he admits, but that’s her own damn choice.) He’d imagined something more involved– cookies, perhaps, or some sort of strange homemade candies– but Hannibal, very reasonably, had pointed out that they needed to be something that could handle being smashed up a little bit in the mail.

Now, instead of answering the question Will did ask, he answers the one he didn’t. “These were a recipe of one of the nurses in the emergency room at Hopkins,” he says. “She made large batches of them every winter, and gave out gift bags of them to everyone in the hospital she’d interacted with all year. I did a few psych consultations for patients she was attending on.”

Will squints at the nuts, now covered in a mixture of egg whites, butter, sugar and spices, and ready to go into the oven. He tries to read the hidden meaning in that story. “That sounds… nice,” he says. “Did you then hand her out in gift bags?”

“Of course not. She was a very pleasant woman, and a competent nurse.”

Hannibal slides three trays full of the nuts into the oven, and sits down at the counter with a pen and a stack of plain white cue cards.

“I said no mindfucky letters,” says Will.

Hannibal ignores him until he’s written out one card in full, then hands it to him. “Acceptable?”

Will reads the card. In the distinctive flowing script that could belong to nobody but Hannibal, it says:

Egg white

Will narrows his eyes. “Okay. I ask again: what else?”

“Nothing,” says Hannibal, in exactly the same tone of voice he’d used to deny killing the nurse.

There was, Will realizes, absolutely no reason for him to have killed the nurse; and if he did, there is certainly no reason to deny it to Will. Just as there is no reason for him to pretend not to have somehow inserted human remains into a former colleague’s holiday nut recipe.

That is the point. That will always be the point: Hannibal’s love won’t prevent him from gutting you, Hannibal’s ire won’t prevent him from sending you a perfectly lovely Christmas package. That is what is so terrifying.

Will should probably be more terrified, but the time has passed for that. Instead, it’s just kind of funny.

“You realize they’re not going to eat these, right?” he asks.

“Then they will have wasted the food, not me,” Hannibal says, and Will has to admit it’s perfectly true.