The first contact of the glowing brand to his skin had been sharp and searing; the sensation hasn’t quieted, but it has shifted. Now the pain is dull and radiating, as if the wound were bone-deep instead of just an injury to the skin. Hannibal grasps it, turns over the fullness of the pain in his mind, and places it in a locked room. It is still present, but not relevent.

What is currently relevent is that Cordell is leading him to kneel in an empty pen, his wrists and ankles still bound. It’s not quite enough to ensure the man’s personal safety. Hannibal still has mobility at the elbows, a little bit at the knees, at the neck. Cordell is strong but it’s a pampered, overfed sort of strength; the gluttony of one who has never known hunger, as opposed to the ruthless appreciation of one who has. They are alone, either because Cordell is overconfident or because he would prefer not to be watched for what came before or what comes next. Hannibal could put an end to this now. He could retrieve Will before Cordell has the opportunity to so much as touch him. And yet, issues are still unresolved with Alana and Margot. It would be a shame to make his exit too soon.

So he looks around the pen, evaluating his new surroundings as he would evaluate any new living space, even a temporary one. The pens are curiously majestic; the sides sloping gently upwards towards posts that tower over their occupants. They are arranged in an arc around the room, each resident announced by a plaque on the front of its pen indicating breed and each opening from both the front and the back. These animals are meant to be enjoyed not just after their deaths, but also during their lives.

“It is important for Mason that I have the pig’s experience,” Hannibal says again, but it has a different meaning this time. Cordell is spoiled and overconfident, but he is perfectly suited to his environment, and he understands implicitly that Hannibal is not merely repeating himself. It is a remarkable experience, to be in the company of someone who understands you. The fact that Hannibal will enjoy killing Cordell doesn’t mean that he isn’t enjoying his company right now; in fact, it makes the anticipation of his death all the more sweet.

“Right again, Dr. Lecter,” says Cordell, and wrenches Hannibal’s arms behind him to push him forward onto his knees. Hannibal has a brief moment of regret that his exercise regimen had always included more shoulder flexion than extension, let alone the hyperextension of his current position. An oversight to correct in the future; for now, though, the effort of holding himself in a position that puts the least amount of stress on both his shoulders and the collar around his neck makes him breathe slightly harder. Not ideal. But not insurmountable.

Wrists, collar, ankles. Cordell is efficient, and his knots are secure. They have to be, both for the sake of Hannibal’s strength and for what Cordell clearly has planned next.

Hannibal watches the sow in the pen next to him, snuffling around in her sawdust. He recalls the first time that Margot had stepped into his office in Baltimore, full of potential and rage at the indignities to which she has been subjected. He had wondered then if he would have the opportunity to understand the situation from all angles, or if he would have to be content to watch from the sidelines as she seized her destiny.

Understanding from this particular angle would not have been his preference. But then, life is rarely about preference. In lieu of preference, enjoyment and control are the two vectors along which one can direct one’s experience.

“I, too, must admit a proclivity for playing with my food,” Hannibal observes. He hears the rustle of cloth behind him, and tests the give of his bonds. They shift slightly, which is worse than the alternative; his shoulders will strain all the more with any movement. Hannibal swallows and then takes a deep breath, focusing back in on what’s important. “Tell me, what sort of play does Mason prefer?”

“The only way to test the fat on a pig,” says Cordell, “Is to stick a knife in it and see what comes out.” No knife pierces Hannibal’s skin, though, and he hadn’t expected one. Instead, he feels Cordell’s member nudge against his entrance. Slick, which is a blessing he hadn’t necessarily expected. He is shifted forwards against the ropes by even that minute movement, his own genitals swinging limply beneath him like that of an animal.

Cordell grabs his hips and starts to push in. The invasion is a completely new sort of pain, and Hannibal forces himself to begin his next sentence in the middle of it, as the velvet thickness is still opening him up, as if it was of no importance to him at all: “A sow goes into heat twice a year. Does Mason test them all, I wonder? It’s a large operation for such an undertaking.”

Cordell wastes no time in pulling back and then slamming in again. For a single screaming moment the sensation of invasion is deep enough that it allows a trickle of the horror of pain through the cracks in Hannibal’s fortifications, and then the crack bursts open to become a flood and he can feel it all: the cock in his ass and the brand on his back and the wrench in his shoulders and the imprint of his knees in the sawdust and the ache in his calf where Jack had put a hook through him and most of all the indignity of it, the distance between the desired and the real, the fact that Will is somewhere in this house and Hannibal isn’t with him.

Will. There is a reason that he hasn’t already killed Cordell; there is a proper order to things. Mason needs to die, and it is good and right that Margot be the one to do it. Hannibal will carry Will from this place in his arms. On the next hard thrust, Hannibal turns his face down towards the floor and smiles.

For a while the only sounds are the snuffling of pigs and the slap of skin on human skin. “Only the ones who are destined for a special purpose,” says Mason finally in answer, his voice breathy with exertion and arousal. The implication is clear: Hannibal is destined for a special purpose. Cordell is so sure of it that, now that Hannibal has regained his hold on himself, he almost finds it a shame that the plan won’t come to fruition.

“Ιf only the constraints of biology were not as they are,” says Hannibal, “Such a special purpose could result in a true Verger baby. The union of human and swine.”

Cordell’s fingers grip him hard enough to leave bruises as he slams into Hannibal’s body one final time and spills inside of him, and Hannibal wonders whether he will have the opportunity to explain those bruises to Will. Wonders how Will would feel, if he were here right now. Surely not pity: such an emotion would be beneath him. Interest, maybe. Hannibal would very much like Will to be interested in this.

Cordell pats the meat of his flank and pulls out. “The constraints of biology are merely a failure of imagination,” he says. “Mason has transcended biology, as Margot will learn very soon.”

Hannibal winces as semen runs down his thigh, then closes himself off against that sensation, too. Nobody and nothing can transcend biology. Hannibal knows that bodies are just meat; animal stuff, base but not interchangeable. Perhaps Mason has not yet learned the lesson. “Has he?” he asks. “I look forward to hearing about it.”

Cordell shuts the door of the pen with a slam. “I need to go transplant a face now, Dr. Lecter,” he says. “But I’ll be back for more bits of you.”

Hannibal flexes and releases his fingers, his toes. He’ll need to bloodflow to return quickly, once he is released. Cordell leaves the room, and a guard takes his place who blanches and turns away when Hannibal greets him politely. Hannibal closes his eyes and settles down to wait for Margot.