When Will steps into the bedroom, there are ropes looped around the bedposts, and Hannibal is sitting in a chair beside the bed, waiting.

Will closes the door. It’s not like the gesture means anything. The house is secluded, secret. They haven’t been here long, and neither of them have even had to go into town yet for supplies. They are entirely alone, and if Will is going to be screaming tonight, it makes no difference if the door is open or closed. Still, there is a certain symbolism to it.

He surveys the scene. There aren’t any implements of pain laid out, but that doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes Hannibal doesn’t want him to see what’s coming, which is just fine with Will; if he knew, he might say no before they even got started, and he doesn’t want to give himself the chance. The ropes are hardware store fare, not specialty shop. He knows that must chafe at Hannibal’s sensibilities, but they had agreed that buying items online which they could purchase with cash instead is a risk they don’t need to take.

Will strips off his shirt and throws it on the floor, enjoying that Hannibal notices him casually making a mess but doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t say anything because he wants Will to acquiesce to whatever he has planned as easily as possible, and Will has no objections to being the sole exception to a sadistic murderer’s concept of orderliness. He flexes his fists, takes stock of his body. His cheek is the only serious injury that is still healing, months later. Other than that he has only the injuries inflicted in sessions like these: shallow knife marks over his back, bruises on the backs of his thighs. He feels ready. He steps forward and reaches for his belt.

“Will,” says Hannibal, “I would like for you to choose a safeword.”

Belt through the loop, on the floor close to Hannibal’s chair. Possible he’ll want to use it. “Don’t want one,” says Will, yanking down his pants and underwear, half-hard cock springing free. “I told you that already.”

He had, too; the first time that Hannibal had brought it up, just at the point in their whatever this is that biting kisses and grips tight enough to bruise seemed to be turning into something more. Words like sadomasochism and safeword seemed odd in Hannibal’s calm, measured voice, and Will had to bite back a laugh as he answered “since when do you not do exactly what you want with me no matter that I say?” before pulling Hannibal down on top of him, knocking the wind out of himself, and kissing him senseless. Nothing about going on the run with the most wanted criminal in America was safe, and there was no way to pull the handbrake on any of it. Better not to pretend that events were under any sort of conscious control.

Now Will flings himself down on the bed, arm and legs splayed out, ready to be fastened spread-eagled and helpless. His head is buzzing with nervous anticipation, his rational mind screaming at his body to get up and run, and it takes every ounce of energy he possesses to keep himself in place. Soon Hannibal will have him tied down, and it’ll be easier; he’ll have no choice but to endure to the end.

He glances sideways to where Hannibal is still leaning back in the chair, making no move to immobilize him. He looks thoughtful, and Will squeezes his eyes closed as if the movement could somehow fasten his ears shut as well, because he has a feeling he really doesn’t want to hear whatever biting piece of psychological analysis Hannibal is about to treat him to. “Don’t,” he mutters, knowing it’s hopeless even as he says it. “Just… come on, I’m ready.” He thumps his fist against the mattress uselessly.

To his immense relief, Hannibal stands up and starts fastening the ropes around his wrists, testing the give carefully and ensuring the loops around Will’s skin are tight enough to bruise. Will yanks on them experimentally, and just as he thinks he might have gotten away with the distraction, Hannibal says, “You have no confidence that I will abide by your safeword, should you choose to use it. You would prefer, therefore, not to have the opportunity to be disappointed.”

Since that is a flawless summary of the situation, and Hannibal knows it, Will elects to say nothing. Hannibal ties his ankles, and then return to the chair and sit down, watching Will test his bonds with small movements.

“Will, I selfishly would like to undertake with you an activity that I hope may be repeated,” says Hannibal. “For it to be successful, I need to build your trust. It is in my interests, in this case, to encourage you to dictate the parameters, at least in the opening stages.”

Will swallows and stares up at the ceiling, not wanting to meet Hannibal’s eyes. They’re too persuasive to be trusted. “Appealing to my understanding of your selfishness,” he says. “Logical. Doesn’t mean much, though. Probably just the opening gambit of some new form of intricate mindfuck.”

“It is,” acknowledges Hannibal. “There is something which you have been withholding from me, and I would like to take it from you.”

Will snorts. The scratches and bruises and cuts from every sadistic whim that crosses Hannibal’s mind are written on his body. He can feel a million tiny aches as he presses down into the mattress, and he revels in it. Hannibal causing him pain feels good; it feels right. It feels like rising from the ashes every time Will takes it and asks him for more. “I’ve given you everything,” he says. “Do whatever you want to me.”

Nobody else could possibly notice it— perhaps Will himself wouldn’t even have noticed, before they were together every moment of the day— but Hannibal’s eyes widen slightly, the invitation having the desired effect despite it certainly not being the first time Will has said something similar. But Will can see the flash of arousal, and then the effort to force himself back as he says, “In that case, there cannot possibly be any issue with your having a safeword. You’re not obliged to use it.”

Ugh. Will wants to kick something, and he can’t even kick the mattress with the range of motion afforded by the ropes. But Hannibal has that particular stillness that means his mind is made up, and it isn’t worth it to resist him over this. If Hannibal has plans to drive him insane in new and novel ways, Will might as well get it over with.

“Chilton,” says Will, and enjoys the momentary confusion on Hannibal’s face before the non-sequitur resolves itself into the answer that he was seeking. Hannibal nods. “Well, that will certainly… kill the mood, as they say.”

Will lets out a breath, relaxing. There. He’s tied down, he’s done what Hannibal asked, and now all he has to do is allow it, allow everything, and drown in the way Hannibal’s eyes grow deep and dark and so goddamn loving at the sight of Will suffering– and when he’s in pain Will is sometimes even distracted enough to accept the love. It slips in past his defenses, in between gasps and screams, and leaves him feeling wrung-out and frightened but warmed from the inside in a way that lasts for days.

Hannibal stands up again, stepping around the bed to survey Will from the vantage point of between his spread legs. Will shivers, because Hannibal really does look at him like he’s a piece of meat sometimes, and it’s uncomfortable to the exact degree that it makes Will want to offer himself up to be devoured.

He raises his gaze to meet Hannibal’s, though, and realizes that Hannibal isn’t predatory. He looks almost… uncertain. Like he’s steeling himself to do something that he’s not certain will be well-received. Which is ridiculous, considering what Will has let him do. Invited him to do. Forgiven him for.

He sits gracefully in between Will’s legs, laying a warm hand on his calf. Will winces reflexively, steeling himself for pain that never comes, and tenses when Hannibal starts sweeping his palms up and down both of Will’s legs, soothing and tender and absolutely terrifying. Will shuts his eyes; he doesn’t want to know what’s coming. He hopes it arrives sooner rather than later.

“Will,” says Hannibal, his voice almost reverent. “You find it difficult to accept pleasure that does not come disguised within a Trojan horse of pain.”

Will bites back laughter, because of all the psychological evaluations that Hannibal has made at inconvenient moments, this is one of the more obvious. “Uncomplicated pleasure has never really been our style,” he answers.

Hannibal’s searching hands rub from his ankles to his upper thighs, and Will tries to pull away from the invasive touch. Of course he can’t, and Hannibal’s hands grip him tighter in response to the twitch. “Pleasure and pain are frequently entwined,” he acknowledges. “And yet, in order for the contrast to be effective, we must be capable of treating them individually as well.”

Will grits his teeth. Talk of psychology and philosophy is the exact opposite of what he wants from Hannibal right now. And the way Hannibal is caressing him is equally uncomfortable— which is, of course, exactly Hannibal’s point. Because they don’t do this; set aside quiet moments to give each other pleasure, like a couple. Like two normal humans who care for each other. The thought of it makes Will’s heart feel like it’s trying to escape his chest, like he’s freefalling all over again.

Still, Will can feel understanding seeping into his mind; as surely as his brain will reconstruct a crime scene whether he wants it to or not, he can’t help but construct Hannibal’s motives, fit his actions to a pattern, extrapolate motivations—

“Are you offended that I don’t like you being nice to me?” he blurts out incredulously.

The corners of Hannibal’s mouth twitch up, almost imperceptibly, and he rubs the pads of his fingers over Will’s lower belly. Will squirms; this is not what he thought he was signing up for when he eagerly allowed himself to be restrained.

“‘Offended’ would not be the most accurate term,” says Hannibal. “As you know, I am willing to tolerate from you offenses that would be, from others—”

“Actionable?” Will suggests. The thought of him having ended up on Hannibal’s table years ago, for putting his coat in the wrong place or leaning against Hannibal’s desk one too many times, is nearly amusing enough to distract him from how much he doesn’t want to be tied down any longer.

Hannibal just nods, allowing Will’s choice of word to complete his sentence. “You expect pain from me,” Hannibal observes. “You find it comforting. I would like to broaden your expectations.”

Hannibal’s fingers are soft as they trace up Will’s side, as if he were playing a harpsichord instead of a human body. But no— the harpsichord requires a firm touch, Will recalls from peering in to observe the strings being plucked. And the Chesapeake Ripper always did treat his displays with a certain delicacy.

“So that when you do hurt me, I’m no longer prepared for it?” Will asks. “You want me to give you back the element of surprise.” It doesn’t feel quite right even as he says it, though, refusing to slot into place like a crime scene being passed off as the wrong killer’s work.

Hannibal smiles. “If you wish to give me that gift, I will accept it gladly.” He moves to straddle Will’s body, the soft fabric of his trousers just ghosting above Will’s thighs. Will swallows down his automatic fear, no longer even sure what it’s fear of: that Hannibal will hurt him? Or that he won’t?

Hannibal reaches down, running his palm over Will’s groin. He’s gone soft, the anticipation of fear and pain having faded into a lower but more substantial kind of terror. The bone deep feeling that something is wrong.

Hannibal reaches to the bedside table to coat his fingers with lubricant, then begins to stroke quietly at the Will’s flaccid cock. Will winces, his mind racing. He was closer with his first assessment than the second; Hannibal objected to the word offended, but otherwise, he substantially agreed that he… wants this. He wants to be tender and loving and gentle, and Will won’t let him.

Which should pull on Will’s heartstrings, and if it were anyone else, it would. But this is Hannibal. And it has not escaped Will’s notice that, although there are many ways in which his attachment to Hannibal is unhealthy or downright suicidal, he’s also shacked up with the one person on earth who genuinely doesn’t care about his feelings. Or rather, does care, but only to the extent that he enjoys Will’s suffering as much as any other type of emotion. Which, for a man with near-terminal levels of empathy, is more like a quarantine chamber than any sort of unkindness.

Will remembers long, sleepless nights of tears and apologies, trying to convince Molly that her sympathy when he woke sweating and shaking from nightmares was the absolute worst thing he could imagine; that infecting her with his misery and fear would only ever come back around to gnaw on him, too much fucking empathy in one bedroom.

Hannibal is like a cool sheet of glass against the overheated madness of Will’s gift. When Will suffers, Hannibal simply observes. These days Will falls back asleep quickly after nightmares, Hannibal’s keen, fascinated eyes watching over his sweat-soaked form. The one time it had occurred to Will that he ought to be unnerved by this treatment, he’d decided that since the nightmares seem to be inevitable, it’s better to just appreciate that at least someone is enjoying them.

And then, the best part, which Will had really only come to appreciate in the days since they had— tentatively— stopped actively trying to kill each other: to empathize with Hannibal is to look out through eyes which are able to refuse to feel, or even choose to enjoy, the suffering of others. And the more Will does it— the more the edges of them blur and their beings run together— the more Will thinks he may be able to learn the trick. At least as it applies to Hannibal himself.

So at the revelation that Hannibal wants tenderness from him, that he yearns for loving touches just as much as any other human, grips Will for a moment. Then he lets it slide away. He stares up into Hannibal’s eyes, dark and cruel and still somehow vulnerable, and grins.

“Fuck you,” he says. “I’m not giving anything back.”

He twists viciously, pushing up to bash his body into Hannibal’s and attempt to knock him over. The restraints around Will’s wrists and ankles yank at him, but they’re only a significant restriction on his movement so long as he wants to avoid getting hurt, and he no longer has any interest in that. If Hannibal refuses to hurt him, Will can force him to: either directly in an effort to subdue him, or indirectly as the ropes Hannibal tied bite into his writhing flesh.

Will is almost turned over on the bed, his shoulders screaming in pain as they’re wrenched nearly out of their sockets, before Hannibal loses his balance at all. Will can see the excitement on Hannibal’s face, being drawn into the game despite himself, and he snarls and bites at Hannibal’s fingers the moment they get close enough to his face to do so.

Hannibal rights himself, hands on either side of Will’s head to push himself back up, and he tries at first to push Will back into a position that won’t injure his shoulders by grabbing at his arms. When this fails under the force of Will’s sheer determination to thrash around, he finally resorts to simply crushing Will, lying down on top of him with all his substantial weight bearing down.

Will keeps trying to push him off for as long as he can, but eventually the physical exertion combined with the inability to take a proper breath take their toll: first he’s light-headed, then blackness starts creeping in inexorably at the edges of his vision. He wants to keep struggling until he actually passes out, but his body has other plans; primal instincts kick in and force him to devote his whole attention to gasping for air, desperately trying to fill his lungs under the oppressive weight of Hannibal’s body.

The cloud around his vision clears slowly, so it’s quite some time before he realizes that Hannibal is stroking his hair and whispering. The words seem to float directly into his brain while bypassing his ears entirely: that’s it, it’s alright, it’s okay that you struggled, I forgive you, I’m proud of you. “Quit it,” Will says, voice slightly squeaky.

Hannibal, of course, does not. “You enjoyed that, didn’t you?” He murmurs. “Feeling my desire and rejecting it. Being callous and unfeeling, even for a moment.” Will’s vision is slightly blurry, but finally resolves into the image of Hannibal’s face, and the man in practically glowing with pride and appreciation.

“Now I’m going to take what I want,” Hannibal says, and Will realizes that his erection managed to make a feeble attempt at a comeback during the struggle and subsequent subdual. He grimaces, because he doesn’t want it. He wants Hannibal to come away from this attempt at forcing Will into tenderness with nothing at all to show for it. But Hannibal is sliding down Will’s body and lapping his cock into his mouth, and Will realizes suddenly that he’s never been in Hannibal’s mouth before, and the thought of that is enough both to bring him to full hardness and make him inwardly curse Hannibal all the more for ensuring that the first time was like this, when Will would rather be anywhere else.

For a while he just lies there, enduring the oppressive sense of being cared for so directly that it feels like getting too close to a fire, with the same stoicism that he would bring to bear on pain before the endorphins kick in. Hannibal laps at his cock and caresses his thighs and glances up at him through heavy lashes, completely unconcerned that Will is just glaring daggers at him in return.

Soon it starts building, though— orgasm curling threateningly in Will’s belly, but something darker and more threatening drawing around him. He shuts his eyes, wanting to leave, wanting to be fishing in serene waters in his mind’s eye, but it’s impossible— he can ignore anything but Hannibal, and it’s unmistakably Hannibal here with him now.

He tries anyway, forcing reality away and trying to conjure the river that lives somewhere just below the surface of his mind. It almost works; the room is melting around him, reality twisting and colours running into each other. Instead of a riverbank materializing underneath him, though, it feels like he’s falling slowly into the embrace of something huge and terrifying, something that wants to hold him an immobilize him. It’s when he feels the prick of sharp antlers against his back that he panics.

A veil of black fog is descending around his vision, both the room as it really is and the version in his mind’s eye where he is about to be impaled. Will suddenly realizes he’s breathing incredibly fast, which would explain why everything is going dark, he just needs to—

“Will?” Hannibal’s voice seems to come from very far away. He doesn’t sound particularly concerned. “Do you remember your safeword?”

Will doesn’t. He remembers that he chose one, something he thought was funny at the time, but it wasn’t something important, and now he realizes with a jolt that he can stop this, he can make Hannibal stop and it will be over— or he could, if he remembered the damn word. “Shit,” he mumbles.

He feels his ankles and then his wrists hit the bed as they’re loosed from their bonds, and then suddenly a sharp blaze of pain in his left upper arm. The fog threatening to obscure the room lifts, and WIll blinks around like he’s just woken up.

He finds Hannibal sitting to his side, pinching the skin over Will’s bicep viciously between forefinger and thumb. He looks thoughtful. When he sees Will’s eyes focus on him, he smiles and drops the hand that was pinching him. “Welcome back, Will,” he says.

“You stopped,” says Will. “Even though I didn’t say the word.”

Hannibal’s eyebrows raise infinitesimally. “Should I have continued?”

Will recalls his own panic, the feeling of being closed in with nowhere to go, and shudders. “No. Just doesn’t seem like you, is all.”

Hannibal smiles, and Will realizes that Hannibal’s fingers are combing through his sweat-damp hair. It’s not intolerable, in comparison to the claustrophobia of what came before. “Well, you did say you were expecting a new form of intricate mindfuck,” Hannibal points out. “Did I deliver?”

Will takes a moment to think about it, his muscles gradually unclenching as he’s distracted by the question, and the soft hand on his head tips over from bizarre and vaguely threatening to soothing. He nuzzles into it in answer. “Yes,” he says, “Well done. Tenderness as a form of sadism. Do you really want me to come to enjoy it, or would you prefer that the traumatic memory of being tied down and gently pleasured turns me even more feral and masochistic than before?”

“I would enjoy either,” Hannibal answers easily. “But my intentions were aimed more towards the former.” Will just nods. Stated that simply, it’s easy to believe; Hannibal might obfuscate and manipulate, but he doesn’t lie.

It’s not the worst goal in the world, really. Will doesn’t bother granting permission, but he does curl into Hannibal’s body slightly, his arousal entirely gone and a sickly kind of exhaustion overtaking him. “We can still do— the other?” He mumbles incoherently.

“Do you truly believe I could tire of hurting you?”

Will grins. That’s okay, then. This is just one more trial, one more thing to be endured until it worms its way so deep inside of him that he can’t imagine living without it.

“No,” he says. “No, I don’t think you could.”