“Brush my hair for me, Hannibal.”

Hannibal breathes out slowly, looking at the brush in her hands. It’s wide and flat; one of the many personal items he’d bought for her in recompense for their having left without time for packing. He accepts it, feeling the grain of the wood beneath his fingers. Smooth, but heavy.

It is simultaneously exactly what he wants, and not even close; and Bedelia knows it. Hannibal can also tell, in the smugness that drips off of her like perfume, that she isn’t expecting him to object. To object to one implement would mean asking for another; and anything that is asked for, in plain language and with clear intentions, can be refused.

Hannibal has never asked for this, which is why Bedelia has never had the chance to refuse. In the same way, he had never asked her to remain in her position of trust over him as his therapist, in Baltimore. Asking was, and is, unnecessary. She is by now an experienced partner in the dance of manipulation and influence.

So he’ll accept her terms, this time. He’s sitting cross-legged on the bed, an almost childlike pose that makes his knees ache if he stays that way too long. It allows her to sit on the edge of the mattress, though, her feet planted on the floor and leaning backwards slightly into him as he pulls out the clip that was keeping some of her hair swept up to the side.

He slides the brush through the fine strands of her hair, and tips his head forwards to smell her. She smells like everything about her belongs to him; the blow-dry cream, perfume, deodorant, lotion, all purchased by him. Even the scent of her body bears his mark; the spices and flavours of his cooking faintly noticeable on her skin. His influence is leaking out of her every pore. It is very nearly enough to be reassuring. It is more than enough to make him feel incredibly lonely, as if he might as well be alone in the room.

He isn’t, though. And he does need her, or at least want her, or at least prefer her presence. If only to remind him, with her wrongness, her not-quite-enough-ness, of what he really wants. For a few minutes, the only sound in the room is the rhythmical progress of the bristles through her hair, calm and burbling like a waterfall.

“Thank you,” Bedelia murmurs, and Hannibal takes a moment to smooth one hand down the back of her head as he reaches around and hands the brush back to her. Glossy strands part beneath his fingers, and Bedelia conceals a shiver, not entirely adequately, before pulling away. “Stomach,” she says crisply.

Hannibal is wearing silk pyjama bottoms and nothing else. She hasn’t asked him to remove them, so he doesn’t; Bedelia is specific, in this, as in all things. It’s one of the many things Hannibal appreciates about her. He lies down on his stomach, arms splayed out to the sides, relaxed, and turns his head towards her.

He could turn away; she would allow it. There is a thrill to offering honesty freely, though. Bedelia is no longer his therapist, but if she were, Hannibal suspect she could have some comments to make on his particular brand of honesty.

She’s slapping the bristles of the brush against her palm, circling the bed, watching him. Bedelia is, and has always been, a master of anticipation and timing. Her every word and phrase is carefully considered, and placed just a tiny bit after the last moment that was open to it. It had been no great surprise to Hannibal, the first time they had done this, that the proclivity carries over. She’s not intentionally teasing or holding out on him; she’s simply following her natural rhythms. He can’t help but approve.

It’s possible, Hannibal considers as he holds still and waits for pain, that she doesn’t even know that her choice of implement– the deliberate reminder to Hannibal of who is in the room with him and who is not– is unnecessary. Even if he were blindfolded, even if she were hitting him with something else, even if her scent were removed; he would recognize her from her cadence. From the way the wave patterns of her mind imprint themselves on his skin.

She strikes the back of his thigh first. It’s not hard, and that is another dead giveaway. Bedelia couldn’t care less about his comfort, has no investment in warming him up so that the harder hits feel good. She does have a sense of narrative, though; the same sense that made her– makes her– a good therapist. All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story; and Bedelia, Hannibal knows, is an expert at resolving the jumbled tangle of a client’s thoughts into an acceptable narrative by which to direct their decisions. It’s not her fault that Hannibal has his own sense of narrative; recursive, serpentine, very possibly invisible to anyone but him and Will.

So of course Bedelia understands instinctively the need to build narrative out of pain. The flat of the brush, lightly against his thighs, over the fabric of the silk pants. It’s an opening. For a moment, Hannibal anticipates what will happen next: harder strikes, an order to remove his remaining clothing, perhaps the corner of the thing aimed to bruise sensitive tissue or the bristles leaving marks on his skin like a forest of pinpricks. Then another sting of impact rings through him, and he stops thinking about the future.

“If you’re not going to be here with me,” says Bedelia icily, “I fail to see the purpose of this exercise for you.”

She’s right, of course. Hannibal can withstand pain easily by ignoring it, retreating from the physical sensations into a mental landscape of his own creation. It’s the desire to be present with the pain that makes him crave this so desperately. Just like psychotherapy, the process requires his participation.

“I am here,” he says. It’s the truth. He’s not entirely sure that he wants to be, at this point, but he is. He is rewarded and punished with a series of strikes to his ass, light but growing stronger in a flurry. Businesslike. He allows the pain to show on his face.

“You have a tendency to not think through very thoroughly what you think you want,” she says, and Hannibal can hardly argue with that. He considers telling her you have no idea, but she probably does. She can extrapolate with perfect clarity how Hannibal had– well, moped, there’s no other word for it– during the time that Will Graham had been in prison. The sudden realization that victory is not a clear path to happiness. Before Will, Hannibal had never had to work particularly hard to be happy. He was easily delighted by people, by food, by the small irrationalities of everyday life.

Things are different now. Hannibal needs things, and the need has settled uncomfortably into his bones. It hurts, and it hurts more when he can reach towards but not touch what he needs.

Bedelia reaches down and snaps the waistband of Hannibal’s pants. It’s crude and it gets her point across; he slips his fingers into the waistband and pulls them down, baring his ass to the room. Well, to her, specifically.

She ignores that his cock is half-hard as he sinks back down onto his front and presses into the sheets, taking some fleeting pleasure where he can get it. He doesn’t particularly want to be hard. He wants to hurt. He wants to have something real to withstand — something that can, for a few minutes, block out the aching, all-encompassing need that has characterized his inner life ever since he left Will bleeding out on his kitchen floor. It’s irritating, almost embarassing, that his body has other ideas.

His body, of course, is thinking of Will. Every cell of him bears his imprint, because Will was right– he already did change Hannibal. It’s Will that he tries to keep in his mind’s eye as the pain begins in earnest, blow after stinging blow over his bare ass, his thighs down to his knees, and his back up to his neck.

It doesn’t work. That was the point of Bedelia’s entire hair-brushing routine; to rub it in like salt in a wound. If Hannibal ever managed to get Will standing over him and hurting him in a non-fatal way– hell, sometimes Hannibal thinks he would even accept the possibility of fatality, if it got him this from Will– it wouldn’t be like this. Maybe Will would use his hand, or a belt. If Hannibal were very lucky, maybe he would use a knife, cutting ribbons into Hannibal’s skin that would heal over into permanent scars.

Will would not use a hairbrush. Will probably doesn’t even own a hairbrush. He probably has a comb that he runs through his hair a few times after a shower. The image of him slips away, and Hannibl grunts as Bedelia delivers a particularly nasty hit to the tender flesh just above the back of his knee. He wonders if the tendons might be damaged; Bedelia would think it hilarious if he ware forced to walk with a limp tomorrow.

“Tuck your knees underneath you,” she says, and Hannibal feels weak and unsteady as he pushes himself up to do as she’s asked. The backs of his thighs are on fire as they make contact with his calves, the skin stinging sharply as it makes contact and then settling to a dull throb. He manages to kneel and then fold himself back over his knees, so that back is slightly more curved– any hits directly to his back will make contact with the bones of his spine, now– and his asscheeks are pulled apart, exposing his hole.

Hannibal does not, as a rule, get nervous. Situations that are unpleasant physically are frequently interesting, and situations that are unpleasant emotionally provide the backdrop for future actions that he finds satisfying. There is, therefore, nothing to fear. He’s not certain why he feels a flutter in his belly at the way he’s spread open and exposed.

“How many more would you like?” Bedelia asks, and Hannibal clenches his teeth. You have a tendency to not think through very thoroughly what you think you want, she’d said, and she was right. Now she is giving him a chance to think it through, but there is no good answer. There is no number he could say that he won’t regret; for being too high, too low, or too obvious. He winces as her soft, slim fingers trail down his back, over the ridges where strikes had overlapped and formed welts, and over his ass. Every touch there is agony already. He wants to refuse the question, insist that it’s her choice. If he can have her as his therapist when she would rather retire, and his dom when she would rather pretend that everything between them is gentle, he should be able to force this authority onto her too.

“Twenty,” he finally bites out, completely randomly. It stings more to know that his choice has no metaphorical significance at all. “On my ass. Please.”

It’s a request. It’s something Bedelia could say no to, could refuse him in an instant just by bringing down the brush over his back. He hadn’t meant to give her that. Out of all of the pieces of himself that he has handed over to her for safekeeping, none of them were ever as crucial to him as his control.

Maybe it’s that, the shocked realization that Hannibal has finally given her something he didn’t mean to, that makes her be merciful. Perhaps the mercy itself is a form of taunting; you have made a request of me, and I am granting it.

She doesn’t make him count. Perhaps she doesn’t know that that’s commonly done; perhaps she does, and simply doesn’t care. Perhaps she doesn’t want to hear his voice any more than absolutely necessary. She kneels on the bed behind him and smacks him as hard as she can, or at least he assumes it must be from the small grunt of effort that escapes her. He lets the noise inside of him out as well, a small keening thing that dissipates in the air like smoke. Bedelia is allowed to see that much of him; she always has been. That’s why he brought her here, after all. If Hannibal must be in pain– Bedelia must be the one to witness it.

Now that that barrier is broken, he wants more, wishes he’d asked for more, because he’s finally getting close to what he needs; it hurts so much that nothing else matters but getting more of it. It hurts enough that the usual logical boundaries of the mind palace are broken down, and he forgets that he cannot reverse time. He almost forgets that his pain comes from someone other than Will.

Almost.

When it stops, Hannibal has a single, precipitous moment where he opens his mouth and is about to ask for more. Beg, really, is probably what he is about to do, when his syrupy-slow mind finally catches up with his mouth and he manages to press his lips shut just in time. He’d asked for twenty, and Bedelia had acquiesced. He’d asked for them on his ass, and she’d obeyed with an accuracy that feels deliberate, almost sarcastic. She would have to be much more credulous than she actually is to allow him to move the goalposts now, like a petulant child.

He breathes out, long and low, feeling slightly fuzzy, every muscle in his body loose and relaxed. Bedelia is still kneeling on the bed, and she’s fiddling with something. It’s a credit to her proficiency in the language of pain, and to Hannibal’s trust in her, that he doesn’t bother asking himself what it is until he feels the press of something smooth and cold against his exposed hole.

He stills, mind racing. He and Bedelia have had sex. It’s friendly, somewhat antagonistic, and entirely upon her initiation. it seems to help her work out something about her position in his life and in the world, and Hannibal is firmly in favour of those around him taking practical steps to better understand their selves and situations.

This is different. He imagines for a moment, in a flash of longing so intense that it feels like pain, that he is Will, and can sense her emotions. She is not aroused, and not exactly angry. She simply wants to take something from him, and this is how she has decided to do it.

He could tell her to stop. He’s almost certain that she would, and neither of them would either mention this again. He would simply pretend that he hadn’t held the handle of the hairbrush against his ass, as if to say you wish I were Will? Here, have one more thing that you will never convince him to do to you.

He doesn’t tell her to stop. It would be too much of an admission; that despite the fact that every fragment of trust and vulnerability she has of his was forced on her unwillingly, she still has them. She is capable of hurting him, and she knows it.

He had let her see his pain, before; even reveled in showing her, demanding that she take responsibility for it. Now he doesn’t want her to see. He doesn’t want to be in pain at all, but the physical pain is taking a backseat ass his traitorous cock hardens in anticipation of pleasurable penetration. His main defense against emotional pain has always been a sort of alchemy; a prism through which to see the world that leaves very little that is without some kind of pleasure or interest.

He tries to retreat to the memory palace, now, where Will had once asked him if he could be happy living. The handle of the hairbrush has been slicked with lube, he realizes distantly. It starts to press in, and then Bedelia brings her hand down on his ass again and presses, bringing his skin to life with a sharp burn and calling him back to the physical world. “Stay here,” she murmurs, “Or I’ll stop.”

He hadn’t wanted this to begin with, but now that it’s begun, he cannot bear to admit that he wants it to stop. He pushes himself up on his elbows, head hanging down in between his arms, so that she can see him nod.

She pushes the hard, slippery handle in, and he groans. It’s too long, too hard and unyielding, and too gentle all at once. Bedelia makes a noise that sounds very much like an amused chuckle, and begins calmly, smoothly working it in and out of him. It’s taunting, just the wrong amount of stimulation, and impossible to imagine anyone but her doing it. Hannibal has imagined Will’s naked, sweaty body, imagined his own hungry body accepting Will’s cock. He’s imagined Will hard and angry and rough, and he’s imagined him forgiving and loving, and every subtle step in between the two. Bedelia is making sure that he cannot superimpose those fantasies on this sensation.

Bedelia has a sense of narrative, and she understands human biology as well as the next M.D. So it’s deliberate, the fact that she neither speeds up to keep pace with Hannibal’s reluctant arousal, nor teases him by pulling back. She simply keeps going, sliding the wood of her hairbrush in and out of his ass, her arm mechanical even as he can practically feel her eyes boring a hole into his back, greedily lapping up every bit of his reluctance and uncertainty.

Even the glancing, oblique pressure against his prostate is bound to have an effect eventually. A few moments ago, Hannibal had been so lost in the throes of pain that he would have begged for as many more blows as Bedelia would give him. Now, the mundanely captivating pleasure of penetration builds unbearably inside him, exactly the same way that he’s seen pain build to a breaking point in a victim. When he orgasms, it feels more like giving up than any sort of pleasure.

Bedelia pulls the hairbrush out of him, and he winces. She throws it down on the comforter. He doesn’t dare move.

“Don’t try to use me as a substitute,” she says, and her voice is unexpectedly gentle. She pats a hand down his side, over the curve of his ass, trails a finger in the crack between his thigh and calf, which is going to hurt like hell the moment he tries to pry the sweaty skin apart.

“Very well,” says Hannibal. He’s too defeated to offer anything else.

Her hand leaves his skin, and the loss of contact hurts just as much as the touch did. “It’s not going to help, Hannibal,” she says. “Eating him.”

She stands up. “Wash the hairbrush and leave it outside my door, please,” she says, and leaves.