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Firenze

Chapter Text


Art by bjoart

+++

The air felt thin, though it could have been nerves; the weather itself was mild enough, no threat of rain in the pale sky, clouds soft and light, moved quick by the wind and seeming to pass anywhere but over the sun.

Will rubbed his palms over his farsetto before clasping them once more behind his back.

Perhaps the nerves were unwarranted. The man had accepted Will’s request to meet, to discuss, after all. Surely something would come of it, a man so busy would otherwise not take time from his art.

Two young women passed Will, arm in arm and deep in whispered conversation. They couldn’t have been much older than him, and he allowed himself to follow their progress with his eyes only before closing them and returning them to look straight ahead once more. His jaw tightened, breath held for a moment before being released in a slow exhale, measured and calm.

It had been a whim, coming here, a whim encouraged and pushed by his friends back home when he had indulged in too much cheap wine. And he was here, now. After everything. He had managed to get up the courage to write a letter, had waited with bated breath for weeks for a reply, had held the pages with shaking fingers as he read the response.

In the end, the only thing keeping him rooted to the stones was that this was an opportunity he could not afford to let pass by. Hannibal Lecter was a man of great esteem, a master artist. Will could only hope one day to have as much freedom with his work, as much respect for it. He had told Will it was his words that had caught his attention, had held it for the weeks the letter lay unanswered in his studio, and it was his words he had wanted to hear in person, when he had invited Will here.

Words before his work. Words to sell it.

He wished words were worth enough to live on, he had an abundance of them.

+++

Hannibal stared down at the dark-haired younger man who stood so hopeful and straight-backed in the shade of the walled garden outside his villa. Even from his vantage point in the loggia above, he could see that the man's doublet was cheaply-made, unpadded, and cut in a style that hadn't seen light in any respectable circle in many years. Secondhand, his instincts told him. Poor. He lifted the letter to read the words again.

"...it would be an honour to hone my craft under the tutelage of one of the greatest masters..."

Chuckling to himself, Hannibal shook his head. This letter, above all others, had stood out in his mind for those words. Letters of application he received often; in fact there were many more waiting for him to peruse on the wide, antique marble table he used as his writing desk. All of them simpering, fawning, flattering things that made him grit his teeth. Not this letter.

Simple, elegant language, lacking the overly-flowery prose of the day, made it clear that the hand that had penned it belonged to someone who was not simply currying favour. That the young artist was there to "hone" his craft pointed to someone who already had some confidence in his abilities; the choice of word was oddly satisfying to Hannibal. The part that amused him, however, was that Hannibal was named one of the greatest masters and not the greatest as was the case in all the other letters he had received to date. Hannibal refolded the cheap paper and tapped his bottom lip with it before tucking it into the breast of his doublet.

At his lifted hand, a young man dressed in a richly-made blood-red tunic and black hose appeared at his elbow. Hannibal turned to appraise his servant. Images of the young man pinned beneath him, whimpering and pathetically unconvincing in his ardour, flooded his mind. The older man smiled wanly; this one would have to be dismissed soon.

Even now, the younger man's eyes held a sly cast as he looked up at his master. So much guile in one so young; Hannibal couldn't fool himself into thinking that the soft-skinned, blond-ringleted youth had any interest in him beyond the extra coins and cheap jewellery that he was given in return for the use of his body.

The young man was also almost certainly the source of disappearance for many small antiques around the villa.

Tilting his head, Hannibal narrowed his eyes at the servant.

"Piero, please fetch our guest and show him to the studio. Be polite. Be demure," he said. "If I learn that you've been rude again, I will punish you."

The delicate youth curved his pink lips into a sweet smile and very nearly fluttered his blond lashes over his limpid blue eyes. Hannibal restrained the urge to push the boy over the railing at his blatant artfulness, merely pressing his lips together in a tight line instead.

"Go. Now," ordered Hannibal in a low, dangerous voice, turning to look back down again at the young artist who had so piqued his curiosity with his words.

Hannibal turned from the ledge as Piero approached the young artist, as he called his name to make him turn his head; the master had no interest in witnessing what would doubtlessly be an inelegant meeting. What he desired most was to see the artist before him, to hear if his lips echoed the words scrawled by his hand.

Outside, the gate opened with a quiet groan of metal, and closed again.

+++

Will found that counting his steps was a simple enough distraction as he was led through the courtyard and into the cool shade of the first floor. The youth before him, a mere servant, was dressed in richer fabrics than Will, fabrics he had only ever seen from afar, had never even been able to reach out and touch; suddenly his own clothes, so expensive at home, seemed no better than rags.

His mind instantly flared with excuses, explanations for his presentation. He didn’t catch the eye of the young man as he turned to see if Will was following, but he could feel it against him, a hot gaze filled with as much curiosity as dislike, sliding down his face and away as though a hand had reached out to touch him.

His jaw clenched, relaxed, and Will found himself taking a slow, measured breath in and holding it for the time it took them to climb three steps. Then he exhaled, the motion drawing his chin up, his eyes forward and aware. The artist’s stare, he didn’t doubt, would burn far hotter, and with far more when he felt it.

He was led down a corridor, open on one side, green leaves weaving their way through the columns where their growth had not been checked, and found himself unprepared to see Hannibal when he was led around a corner.

Perhaps it had been the initial plan, to set Will unprepared and lost before his potential new mentor, perhaps just a cruel joke played by the young man sent to fetch him. Regardless, Will’s breath left him in a quiet sigh, and he found his lungs not filling with more as he stood, just waiting.

Stopping mid-step, Hannibal's eyes widened at the sudden encounter. He frowned, turning his gaze from the obviously startled young artist to the blond, gimlet-eyed youth that stood smiling serenely at him. Hannibal had asked Piero to lead the visitor to his studio so that their interview could have the air of formality. Instead, the youth had blundered and taken him through Hannibal's private corridor - a graceful first introduction made awkward by what seemed like a chance meeting. Checking his impulse to lash out at the boy, Hannibal curled his lips into a smile and turned his gaze back to the slight, dark-haired young man who stared off somewhere over his left shoulder.

No eye contact.

It was not so strange for one to avoid too-boldly meeting the gaze of a man of means and prestige like himself, but that there was none at all made Hannibal even more curious about this young English artist.

From up close, Hannibal could see that he was more attractive than he had assumed from his vantage point earlier. While his tastes leaned heavily towards the cherubic archetype that Piero embodied, Hannibal found the young man before him to be strangely appealing.

Though only marginally shorter than Hannibal, the Englishman seemed much more wiry and slight. His hair, kept somewhat longer than was the current fashion in Firenze, curled attractively on his forehead and over his ears. Hannibal could tell that some attempt had been made to tame it, but the wind in the hills where his villa perched had whipped it into a pleasing disarray. He had blue eyes that hinted of stormy greys beneath the shadow of his dark lashes, and Hannibal found himself wondering how easily he could reproduce the colour. The lines of the man's face were a tad skewed, his nose off-centre, and he was more gaunt than Hannibal normally liked his men; however, the effect wasn't displeasing. In fact, the only thing that the older man found slightly unfortunate was the tight, serious line that the dark-haired artist held his mouth in.

"Buongiorno. You must be Signore Graham. Apologies for the abruptness of our meeting. It seems my servant lost his way," Hannibal said, his accent lending a unique flavour to his words. He extended a long-fingered hand towards the colonnaded corridor to their right. "Come with me to my studio. We shall talk there."

After he watched the younger man take a few steps, Hannibal turned to Piero and appraised him with a dark look. Had the boy deliberately taken the wrong corridor to his studio to provoke him? At Hannibal's glower the young servant blanched slightly; Piero had the good sense for once to know when he had overstepped his bounds and fled down the corridor in the opposite direction.

Will measured his steps, keeping a comfortable pace but not a fast one, until Hannibal joined him and gestured, inviting the younger man to lead them to the studio. They didn’t speak, and although the difference in height between them was not significant, Will felt dwarfed by the man at his side.

There was something about the way Signore Lecter carried himself, the confidence he exuded, in his status, his position, his abilities; it didn’t so much make Will question his own, but it certainly made him consider.

The studio, when they entered it, was vast. A clean open space that had Will taking a sharp breath and holding it. It was an artwork in itself, painted warm brown and ivory tones; the way the soft light fell into the velvety colours seemed to silence everything outside the room to absolute insignificance. Dust motes floated in gentle eddies in the light and settled, invisible, on tables and canvases.

Compared to the spaces Will had found himself working, this was heaven.

He exhaled slowly, letting the air flow free once his lungs burned with the effort of holding still. Turning to the master, Will met the man's eyes for a brief moment of vulnerability before continuing to stare just past his ear, following yet another path of light to a painted landscape, allowing himself to absorb how the slanted sunbeams changed the entire feeling of the work, added depth and heat and animation to pigment and oil.

“It’s beautiful here,” he said, swallowing lightly and turning away, hands behind his back in a nervous clasp. “I thank you for taking the time to speak with me.”

Hannibal watched the young man take in his surroundings, his eyes darting over the large canvases that graced most of the walls. When the young artist lifted his chin to the light, the master frowned slightly.

There, in that angle... yes... he thought to himself, tracing the graceful arc of the man's neck and strong jaw with his dark eyes. There was something utterly beguiling about how Signore Graham tilted his head, the way that his stormy eyes caught the light and suddenly became the blue of a clear day. Hannibal watched the young man turn his head and meet his eye, albeit briefly, and it made him feel a little breathless. The way that the Englishman's cheek bore the shadow of dark stubble, just below the surface of his pale skin, so different from the swarthy Italian men...

Hannibal realized he was staring and blinked, shifting his gaze up to the walls of his studio. He nodded.

"It is... a comforting space. A little unconventional, but I enjoy the way my figures grow warm in the soft light," he said with a soft smile. His eyes landed on the unfinished canvas to his right, and he let his focus go fuzzy.

When the work was done, it would be yet another depiction of the Rape of Ganymede, a popular commission these days. This one, however, he had left unfinished when the bishop who had requested it suddenly died; Hannibal now saw potential in it. A dark-haired Ganymede...

Hannibal turned back to the young Englishman and smiled.

With a wave of his hand he dismissed the two apprentice boys who were watching the exchange with curiosity; as they quickly and silently exited, leaving the men alone in the sunlit studio, Hannibal leaned back against the large marble table and crossed his arms over his broad chest.

"Now, Signore Graham, tell me in your own voice why I should take you on as an apprentice."

Will smiled, the first truly open expression he’d worn here, though it wasn’t one of amusement.

“You saw potential in my letter,” he said, “Without seeing any of my work. Something made you respond.”

He sighed, brows furrowing a little before he allowed himself to look over the studio again, feel the space envelope him and accept him inside.

“Signore, I could tell you how I have an eye for detail, how every person in the background of my pieces is a person, with expressions and clothing to make them individuals. I could tell you the exact component of pigments needed to recreate the ocean at dusk,” he gestured to one of the master’s unfinished canvases, “but they are skills. Skills can be learned, can be taught. Every apprentice will sell you skills for the chance to gain more.”

He glanced up to meet Hannibal’s eyes again, another brief encounter, before his lips pursed, throat working on a swallow, and his shoulders pulled him taller.

“I have the talent,” Will said, “I do not have the means to have it seen. Signore, you have both.” Will’s smile returned with a subtle edge, a narrowing of his eyes that made Hannibal think, again, of the man’s likeness to Ganymede, of perhaps how the two would share a fate in this studio.

“I beg you to remember, that you were once an apprentice yourself. And consider.”

+++

Spearing a young potato on the end of his knife, Hannibal stared off into the shadows of the dining room, lost in thought.

An incredible spark of vitality had burned bright in the young English painter as he had warmed to his subject with a canny intelligence that had made Hannibal slowly raise his stark brow in astonishment.

However, after Signore Graham had delivered his somewhat impudent speech, Hannibal had just stood in silence, watching him and, at the master's mute scrutiny, the younger man had started closing in on himself again.

Then, with a few graceless words about giving him an answer the following morning, Hannibal had summarily dismissed the younger man.

Sitting at his solitary meal, Hannibal wondered if his wordlessness had indeed been calculated - a means of testing the young man standing like a dark ember in his studio.

Or, was he lying to himself? he thought as he dipped a piece of smoked tongue into the herbed butter-and-cream sauce.

Had he simply, and embarrassingly, been struck dumb by the sheer beauty of the fire he could see burning in the young man standing before him.

Letting out a sigh, Hannibal pushed away his plate and put his elbows on the table, pressing his forehead against his fingertips.

The Englishman, young as he was, was still older than the apprentices Hannibal normally took on. Doubtless, this Signore Graham would have formed bad habits and would chafe at being broken of them. He spoke no Italian. He was obviously proud, with a difficult nature. Definitely not as tractable as the master would have liked. Hannibal chuckled softly, remembering the challenge in the young man's eyes.

Isn't that why you wanted to meet him face-to-face? Wasn't that the appeal?

Pinching the bridge of his nose, the master clenched his jaw.

Too old. A bad investment. A waste of time. A distraction. The promise of unrest in his serene studio.

Then why are you actually considering taking him on?

He pushed himself out of his chair. A final decision could wait until morning

"Piero," said Hannibal wearily. "Come with me."

The blond boy stepped out of the shadows and followed his master down the hallway to the large bedroom at the back of the villa.

+++

Will refused to beg. Even in times that felt so dire that the only option left was to beg, Will had not done it. He had sold his services painting walls and sealing houses, drudge work that took every ounce of creativity out of his mind and wrung it dry, but he did not beg.

And he would not do so now, standing once more outside the gate of the villa and looking up at the vines that curled their way to the second floor, some already close enough to the columns to threaten them with their unerring grip. He watched as the early morning light caressed the green leaves and chased away the shadows to darken them elsewhere.

The villa stayed silent.

He had gone the day before, with a weight on his shoulders that felt suspiciously like guilt. He had found his voice, had told the master what he had intended to say, and had found the man speechless, short with him when he did finally speak. Perhaps he had made a mistake, hoping the man who created such exquisite pieces of art, who on more than one occasion had broken convention to present something new to the world with his work, would allow him a chance to do the same.

The guilt had slid to anger quickly, festering overnight into hurt pride and a foul taste in his mouth.

Will had come again only to accept the rejection as a man would, to look the master in the eye when he promised to see him again once he had found his way. He would not beg him to reconsider, he would not sell his pride to him.

He was startled when the door opened quickly at the pull of the bell. Standing on the other side was the servant boy who had been sent to fetch him the previous day. The boy, all blond ringlets and big blue eyes, stared at him sullenly before gesturing for Will to follow. Will's eyes widened; along one fine cheekbone were the mottled reds and purples of a new bruise and, when the boy turned to lead him down the corridor, Will couldn't help but notice the boy's limp.

Though he was led down a different corridor than previously, Will found himself entering the studio from the other side and wondered whether this space had once been some kind of covered atrium. Lifting his eyes, he saw that there was a long balcony that ran along the far wall; supported by slim columns and accessible by ladder, Will could see that it contained shelves of books and scrolls.

"Do you like to read, Will?" came the accented voice of the master near his shoulder.

Signore Hannibal, wearing a loose white shirt under a tunic of bright-red embroidered silk, stood next to the large marble table that dominated one corner of the room. In one large, sun-dark hand he held Will's letter, and he looked down at it as the younger man came towards him.

Hannibal sighed; sleep had not come easily.

Too old. A bad investment...

Hannibal pressed his lips together and lifted his gaze to the young englishman who came before him, the disappointment in his storm-blue eyes obvious as he stood with a defiant tilt to his chin. There was something there in that moment that made the master change his decision. Hannibal almost laughed out loud but instead just let his mouth relax into an easy smile.

"Why the look of defeat, Signore Graham? Do you presume to know my mind?" asked the master as he raised an eyebrow, looking quizzically at the younger man.

“I presume to know much,” Will said, eyes narrowed, though he smiled to match Hannibal’s own, “And voice very little. My words would not carry the prestige yours do, Signore.”

He watched the master a moment longer before letting his gaze slide away. He knew only what he could see, and Will often saw more than he wanted. Perhaps a reason he avoided eye contact when possible. He could see just as well from inanimate objects, learn enough.

He swallowed again before addressing an earlier question with a nod and a glance near enough to eye contact to not appear rude when he again looked away.

“I enjoy reading. Would the skill serve me well as an apprentice?”

He shifted his weight and finally met Hannibal’s eyes again fully, forcing himself to hold the gaze until the shadow that passed over the master’s face faded to nothing, the barest hint of irritation behind his pleasant smile. Will found his own growing by a degree.

“I presume,” He added.

It was not the humble response that Signore Hannibal had been expecting, and it stroked the very edge of anger within him. The young English painter was a prickly character; suspicious and irritable with very little deference in him.

The master was on the verge of sending him away after all but, when Signore Graham turned his eyes away, Hannibal saw something that made him frown. Yes, there was that ridiculous pride... but there was melancholy. It was in the way that his eyes skimmed over the sunny, airy space of the studio with obvious longing. The younger man was intelligent and perceptive, two things that would serve the master well. Perhaps...

Again he let his eyes take in the dark, almost tragic beauty of the young painter; Ganymede with dark curls and the peaches-and-cream complexion of the English. Hannibal was suddenly struck with a vision of the man, eyes half-lidded in pleasure with a ruddy flush to his cheeks, and he felt something deep inside him stir. Turning to the antique table to cover his sudden breathlessness, Signore Lecter dropped the folded letter to its surface and spoke rapidly, his tone businesslike.

"You'll begin immediately. I normally ask for a small fee, given in good faith, to cover the expenses of outfitting you, but I assume that you've spent all of your money making this trip," the master said, turning around and holding up a hand to stop any rebuttal. "It's not important. However, I would like to point out one salient detail: this is not a simple botteghe like you'll find on the Ponte Vecchio... I run things in my own way. As such, there will be no contract stipulating the time you will apprentice under me - I may choose to dismiss you at any time. That being said, you will begin to earn a small salary once you have proven your worth. You will work alongside the two other apprentices I have," said Hannibal pointing to the two boys mixing fresh plaster in a wooden trough. "I expect you to get along; they are both younger than you but have been here longer."

Hannibal paused and considered the young englishman standing in front of him.

"Signore Graham, here we specialize in oil, but we do both buon fresco and a secco. Can I assume that you are familiar with, if not with the actual technique, the simple concept?" At the englishman's sharp nod, Hannibal continued. "Good. That settles that. Now - we take the midday meal together. I expect you to be back here within the hour with whatever belongings you have. My villa will become your place of residence."

With the last of his words, the master crossed his arms over his chest and allowed himself a wry smile.

"Any questions?" he asked.

Will’s eyes widened, the flow of information seemingly endless and more unbelievable with every passing moment. Somehow, the morning’s initial disappointment, the adrenaline built up to take the rejection with grace and find his way off the continent on his own had not found its intended outlet and instead seeped back to Will’s blood in a cool unpleasant slide. He felt breathless.

“Thank you.” Was what he managed, blinking and turning away to gather himself. He had few belongings, but the distance between the boarding house he had managed to secure a room in and the villa was one that would require a considerable expense of energy to make the round trip within the hour.

“Thank you, Signor Lecter, I—“ he paused, swallowing down his questions, the questions that would win him no favours with the master. He thought of the bruise on the young blond boy’s face. He thought of why the master said yes to him. “I have no questions.”

He met Hannibal’s gently quirked eyebrow with nothing more than a nod and, when dismissed, made his way to the lower floor and to the gate without a backward glance.

The adrenaline, he found, was quite useful in propelling him down the hill to the boarding house.

+++

Why. Why was the one word that thumped through Will’s veins as he pulled the sack with his belongings closer to his chest, the one containing his rolled canvases and brushes bumping heavy and hard against his spine as he ran.

Why had the man said yes?

Will knew he had been rude, knew he had not shown the respect the man had been used to. He had seen the anger pass the man’s features and turn his eyes red. He had felt the way his entire demeanour had shifted. He had watched as anger slid to amusement slid to something else entirely – he hadn’t missed the master turning away from him before he gave his answer.

Will rested his weight against the gate, forehead to the cool metal, eyes closed as he heaved breaths into his burning lungs.

He stood only long enough for someone to notice, for the young blond boy to let him inside again.

“Signore, you are late for the noon meal,” the boy told him, closing the gate and leading him through the now familiar paths into the villa. But, instead of reaching the stairs and climbing up to the sunny studio, Will found himself led through darker corridors, no less impressive though obviously meant only for the residents of the villa to see.

“The master does not take kindly to lateness.”

His room, Will found, was small, big enough for a bed, a small table large enough for a candle and a book, and a small chest at the foot of the bed for his things. One window, high on the wall, let in enough light to show it wasn’t east-facing; it would be cold in winter. He set his things aside quickly and ran a hand through his hair before following the young man to take his meal.

Late.

When the master had explicitly told him when to be there.

Instead of being taken to somewhere inside the villa, Will found himself being led through the kitchen to an open door and then outside to a sunny patio. His eyes widened at the sight; the outer wall of the villa was choked with vines like elsewhere, but here there were painted, flat-backed urns adhered to the stones, each holding what appeared to be different herbs. The flagstones were large squares of grey rock, bordered by small reddish bricks inlaid to make a subtle pattern. When Piero impatiently pulled him forward, he saw that there was a long table to one end of the terrazza. Sitting at it were the master and his two assistants, as well as a few others who he took to be members of the household staff; it was both intimate and highly unusual.

Piero left his side and went to sit at the table, grabbing a piece of bread and taking a bite before looking over his shoulder coyly at Will.

Signore Lecter was sitting with his shirt sleeves rolled up and a cup of red wine held in one hand. Looking at Will without expression, he lifted the wine to his lips and took a sip.

"You are late," he said, glancing down to pick up an olive. Taking a bite out of it and chewing, he then pointed a long finger at the younger man. "I said one hour." Swallowing, the older man pulled a piece of bread out of the basket in the centre of the table. Tearing it in half, he frowned at Will. "You can read books but cannot read a clock?"

Piero started giggling into his cup. With a harsh noise, Hannibal silenced the boy; he let his eyes linger on Piero for a moment longer, his expression unreadable, before turning his eyes back to Will.

"Since you are late, you have missed the midday meal," said the master, taking a bite of the soft white bread. "Go wait for our return in the studio." Looking down at his meal, Signore Lecter dismissed Will completely.

For a moment Will stood, feeling empty, humiliated. The master had dismissed him, but the others he could feel still watching him out of the corners of their eyes or blatantly, enjoying the sight of someone else’s shame, perhaps for a change.

Without a word more, Will turned on his heel and calmly returned to the villa.

He found the studio quickly enough, and felt his muscles unwind from their tight stressful pull as he let the space take him in.

Hannibal had not indicated how long it would take for the meal to finish, and Will had a feeling he would be made to wait longer than usual simply to drive a message home. He felt his stomach twist in hunger and ignored it, swallowing to wet his mouth a little before allowing himself to familiarize himself with the space he would be working in.

He walked around it slowly, letting his eyes settle in the middle distance instead of taking in the details in front of him. He didn’t see the tables and stands, the troughs and benches. He saw the spaces between them, the places where one could slip through if they turned sideways, and thus get to the window, or the way certain works had almost an aura about them that left a radius of space around them that others didn’t have.

It was as though the master’s command and power lingered in the very air, even when he himself wasn’t present.

Will let himself breathe it in, closed his eyes and listened to the wind pushing the leaves outside, to the cicadas hiding invisible in the trees. He let himself smell the oils, the water thick with residue and pigment, partially dried in buckets or stagnant and dirty where it was yet to be emptied.

By the time he opened his eyes, the space felt warmer.

Will thought back to the encounter outside, of the indifference he’d faced, the dismissal. It had been a show, perhaps something planned to have Will understand the man’s earnestness when it came to upholding his own rules. Perhaps it had just been a coincidence. He thought back to the way the man had held himself, sleeves rolled up, wine glass in his hand, eyes on Will as he’d deliberately taken a sip.

His fingers itched for paper, charcoal. To draw the expression in those eyes, the slope of his wrist as he’d held the glass aloft, the curve of his lips that bordered on both a sneer and a smirk before they had parted to accept the wine past them. Will parted his own in a slow exhale and moved towards the window instead, through the space he’d seen before, to rest his hands wide against the sill and lean his forehead against the cool glass.

Nearly a half hour passed before the sound of boys laughing filled the hall outside the studio. The younger of the two assistants, a boy no older than eight or nine with a halo of thick, curly black hair, stopped in his tracks and stared with wide brown eyes when he saw Will standing in the studio. The other assistant, a gangly youth with a mop of auburn hair pushed past the goggling youngster and looked appraisingly at Will.

"You begin by sweeping," said the apprentice with a smirk, his English heavily accented. "Then you wash floor."

Will felt his jaw lock in anger. It was humiliating to get commands from a boy. But a boy – he reminded himself – who had been here longer, whom Hannibal had chosen to take on as his apprentice, who hadn’t come to him demanding a place.

He turned, asking where to find the broom, the bucket and cloth for his task, and set to it in silence.

+++

Hannibal thanked Nario for the fresh vegetables and left the stall, holding a ripe tomato under his nose to smell the exquisite scent of it. It amused him that most still treated tomatoes solely like ornamental plants, afraid to eat them for their kinship with deadly nightshade; he himself wasn't so timid. Shaking his head, the master began to whistle to himself as he walked up the winding path to his villa.

On reaching his home he made his way to the kitchen to deposit the basket on the wooden shelf in the dark pantry space before pulling out the correspondence that he had picked up in the village. With a smile he also picked out a ripe plum and turned it over in his hands before taking a bite out of it, the flesh both sweet and tart and absolutely delicious. After his errands, he felt a little less conflicted about his decision to take on the young Englishman. Perhaps it was not such a gamble after all.

The master made his way through the villa to the studio and, on entering, saw that Signore Graham was bent over double, scraping at lumps of plaster that had adhered to the stone floor.

What on earth?

He turned his head and saw Leo duck behind a ladder, his face completely red. Little Giacomo's eyes had gone as round as an owl's at the master's return, and Hannibal wondered if he had been part of the game. He sighed and snapped his fingers to get the Englishman's attention, placing the letters and plum down on the desk.

"What are you doing?" asked Hannibal when the young man turned to him.

The question garnered a brief furrow of Will’s brow, but no answer. His back ached from stayed curled in the position he’d been in, scraping at a floor that he was certain would never be clean again, his hands felt scraped raw. He exhaled slowly, letting the air leave his lungs and hiss from his nose before he pressed his lips together and tilted his head.

“Preparing the workspace,” he said carefully, eyes on the master, though he could feel the two boys watching him from wherever they had found to hide. He would not give them the satisfaction of telling the truth. They may get beaten for the false commands, but he would be seen as someone too weak to take on his own problems, and weakness, Will could tell, was something the master would not tolerate.

“I had the time, Signore, so I began early. Perhaps in the morning you will set me to another task.” Will’s eyes did not stray from the collar of Hannibal’s shirt, resolutely keeping his attention focused as keenly as he was determined to not meet the master’s eyes. He settled to his knees properly when his legs began to tremble – he’d stayed in a crouch as he worked to keep the dirt off his clothes as much as he was able – and waited for a response.

Perhaps this, like the midday meal, was another test. Another blatant riling.

Hannibal stared intently at the young man, only partially surprised by his words.

Ridiculous, unfounded pride, he thought.

Leaning back against the edge of the table and taking up the plum once more, he contemplated his choices. If he challenged Signore Graham, he would have to punish all three of them, something that would probably make things more difficult between his apprentices. On the other hand, if he went along with the lie... well it was still a lie and deserved punishment. He took another bite of the plum and watched the Englishman's eyes dart to it before looking away again; the boy had to be hungry, but that was his own fault.

Nodding, the master addressed Signore Graham.

"Normally I would leave the cleaning up to my cleaning staff," he said with a frown. "My apprentices do not waste their time scraping floors. However, since you seem to be enjoying yourself so much, I will let you continue." He looked around, realizing that he hadn't, in fact, had the studio floor cleaned in some time. "The work should last you until this evening when you retire. Tomorrow is a new day, and you will be assigned more appropriate tasks." The last was said while turning his eyes to Leo. Hannibal had told him to ask Signore Graham to simply wait until his return. The lanky youngster swallowed and looked away; the next time the master told him to pass on information to someone, he didn't doubt that he would be obeyed.

Will just swallowed – his anger, his pride, the hunger gnawing at his stomach – and slowly inclined his head, eyes up just briefly, to meet Hannibal’s own. He said nothing, asked for no further instruction or confirmation, and returned to his task, vindictively scraping the rough cloth over the plaster until it softened and slid from its place.

+++

By the time the candles were the only light in the studio, warm and soft, Will’s hands were shaking. He had a headache, his knees felt rubbed raw with how he’d been kneeling all afternoon, set on this task. He hadn’t stopped, not once. He hadn’t looked up at either boy as they went about their own tasks, the younger watching him guiltily before returning to his work, the elder just as silent and just as stoically avoiding Will’s gaze.

He threw the cloth into the bucket of water, easing his hands in after it with a hiss, just to feel the cold water over his red knuckles. They shook under water as well.

When he pulled up the cloth again, he wrung it out, just enough to wipe his hands on before tossing it back. He couldn’t quite stifle the groan of pain as he eased his shoulders back, rolled them to settle how they should, and brought up a cool hand to press against his neck to ease the heat and sweat there.

He would need a bath, a long one to ease his muscles and soothe the tension, to prepare him for morning so his hands didn’t shake then.

He tilted his head back and let the air escape his lungs in a slow exhale, eyes closed as he enjoyed the simple pleasure of cold water from his fingers trickling down his back, of the promise of standing and never having to kneel on this floor again.

Glowering at the sheet in his hand, Hannibal read it over again, frustration hot in his chest. Normally one did frescos in situ, but the Medici cousins insisted on ordering pre-poured and painted pieces in advance of their villas' construction, and in bigger and bigger slabs. Not only was it impractical for Hannibal to have new frames built for pouring the plaster, to have them delivered and placed, without cracking, was nigh impossible. Preposterous. It couldn't be done. They would be stuck piecing the broken pieces back together again... the seam would be noticeable, and the clients would be unimpressed.

The damn Medici boys and their constant competition. Hannibal gnashed his teeth and closed his eyes, calculating the extra expense for the ridiculous endeavour. It would cost him upwards of—

Opening his eyes at the soft sound, Hannibal frowned into the gloom. He had been so caught up in this month's planning that he hadn't noticed how late it had gotten; the studio was dark save for the candles that were burning bright on the edge of his desk - Leo must have lit them before leaving - and another one at the far end of the room.

At first Hannibal was confused and somewhat irritated at finding someone still working so late; normally he was the last to leave. However, his breath caught in his throat as he saw the young Englishman on his knees in the warm, flickering candlelight. Signore Graham was sitting on his heels, head tilted up with one hand caressing the back of his neck; the way that the younger man's back curved in so gracefully as he held his chin up and reached back made the master feel suddenly a little weak. Hannibal could see Signore Graham's lithe muscles through the thin linen shirt he had been given to wear in the arm that was bent up at the elbow, and he let out a small sigh at the sight of the water on the young man's neck and hand; it tricked down his back making his shirt translucent, the wet material sticking to his skin along the S of his spine.

He was absolutely, and heartbreakingly bewitching.

Fingers scrambling for a bit of charcoal, the master began sketching quickly before the moment passed.

There... the way the candlelight outlines the contour of his ribcage. A dark smudge for the hair, no need to be precise. Just capture the moment. The mouth... open just so...

Hannibal sketched rapidly, filling in as many details as he could, but it was over when Signore Graham dropped his hand and turned his head at the sound of charcoal on paper. Heart beating fast and mouth slightly dry, the master felt more alive in that moment than he had in what felt like many years. This young English painter had somehow kindled the fires within him; what had been idle thoughts of painting his likeness was now a burning need to see it through. He was... astonished.

Realizing that he was still staring at the young man, he forced himself to look back down at his papers. However, when he heard a soft groan, he glanced up again, watching as Signore Graham got shakily to his feet. Seeing just how weak the younger man was made him regret the decision to bar him from the communal lunch. It had been a petty thing... just something to put a dent in that interminable pride.

Hannibal suddenly felt for the man, alone in a strange city and subjected to the whims of a strict taskmaster. Chuckling softly he shook his head, standing slowly.

"Signore Graham," he called out. "Please, come here."

Watching the younger man approach with a weary tread, he smiled sympathetically.

"I know you must be exhausted. However, you need to eat something first," said the master, his eyes taking in the details of the man's face with new appreciation. "Join me for the evening meal. It will be simple fare, quickly made; you'll be able to retire for the evening soon, I promise you. It's not... an order. It's an invitation. If you choose to join me, please meet me in the kitchen in a quarter of an hour after you've cleaned up a bit." Hannibal turned to the table to pick up a candle. Remembering the way the candlelight shone on the young man's wet skin, he pressed his lips together before turning back to Signore Graham. "It would please me greatly if you do decide to join me."

Will allowed the words to hang a moment, unanswered. The very idea of food sounded so tempting right then that, had it been an order, he would have gone without complaint. It didn’t go unnoticed, though, that it had been an invitation, a deliberate invitation.

He inclined his head gently, held the bow, and finally stood straighter, eyes up to meet the master’s in the dimly-lit room.

“The pleasure would be mine,” he said, holding the man’s gaze until the other returned the nod, then dismissed him by simply turning away.

When Will left the studio, he walked straight-backed, his tread careful but easy; smile unseen but genuine at having passed some unknown test.

This time, he would not be late to the meal.

Chapter Text

Hannibal sliced through the sweet onion and smiled at the fresh, crisp scent; chopping half of it up quickly, he put it in the copper pan with a small chunk of butter and some minced garlic. Placing the pan on the tripod over the wood fire, Hannibal turned back to the table to see that Will had stepped into the room.

The younger man's eyes slid away from his, taking in the details of his large kitchen space. The master knew that this was probably very different from what Signore Graham was used to; Hannibal had heard tales of dark, sooty cooking buildings built separately from the houses of the English for fear of fire destroying everything.

In comparison, Hannibal's kitchen was central in his villa, a wide-open space with a large table in the middle that served both as a space to prepare food and for serving it when the weather grew cold. The back wall was hung with a multitude of copper pots, and the chimney for the big brick oven was bracketed on each side with mullioned, ivy-covered windows that let in the bright sunshine during the day. Mounted in cast-iron holders on the walls and at each end of the table, candles of good quality wax burned bright; along with the fire from the open wood oven, they made the space warm and cheerful with their flickering yellow light

The air in the kitchen was redolent of the cooking onions and garlic, and Hannibal smiled when he saw Will swallow. The boy had to be starving.

"Welcome, Signore Graham. Take a seat and pour yourself some wine," he said, pointing to the pitcher and cup across the table.

 

Will hesitated before doing as requested, pouring himself enough wine as not appear rude, but not drinking more than a sip. His stomach nearly ached with hunger, wine would do quite the opposite of soothing it.

In his room, he had taken the time to select a cleaner shirt, to wash his hands in cool water, wincing when it stung the broken skin. He had not had time, yet, to bathe, but had soothed his hair into a semblance of cooperation regardless.

The day had been trying, and he was exhausted; but, there had been something, some strange fascination that had struck the master as he’d watched Will throughout the day, something that Will felt almost like a physical tug to explore further, to discover for himself. Hannibal was like a river, mercurial and dangerous, running clear for long enough to hide the deadly currents and eddies below the surface.

Will took another sip and twined his fingers together holding the cup, watching Hannibal work.

 

Turning to pull a few herbs from the drying rack above the stove, the master crushed them quickly in the mortar with his pestle. Adding the herbs to the mix simmering in the copper pot, he turned to the big basin that served as a sink and pulled out the scalded red tomatoes that had been set there to cool. The skins were peeling almost on their own as he placed them on the table, knife at the ready.

The younger man's eyes were wide as he watched Hannibal skin and then slice the tomatoes with his sharp blade.

"What are those?" he asked, his eyes narrow and curious.

"Tomatoes," replied Hannibal, grinning at the Englishman's horrified expression.

"But Signore... those are poisonous!" exclaimed the younger man.

Chuckling, Hannibal shook his head.

"No, they most certainly are not," he replied in amusement, scooping up the red, dripping pile and throwing them in the pan. The mixture sizzled, and Hannibal wiped the table down with a rag before unrolling a thin sheet of pasta. "Just because something is related to a poisonous plant, doesn't mean that it is similarly poisonous." Hannibal smiled wide at the sceptical look on his newest apprentice's face.

"You will have to learn to trust me," he said and looked down at the pasta, slicing it quickly into strips with a short, pointed blade. "As I've stated before, I'm prone to unconventionalities; however, that does not mean I am in the habit of poisoning my young charges."

Looking up at Signore Graham, Hannibal smiled.

"And, for tonight, when we are like this," he said, gesturing to the empty room. "You may simply call me Hannibal."

 

Will tilted his head, the delicious smell in the kitchen almost enough to make risking his life for a meal worth it. Though he supposed if the master had wanted to poison him, he would not have done so with something he himself intended to eat.

“Hannibal,” he repeated, the word foreign on his tongue, pleasantly heavy. He considered extending the same courtesy; no one but Hannibal had ever called him so formally as Signore Graham for more than a few short exchanges.

“Let us be on even ground, then,” he said. “It would be strange, calling you by your Christian name if you still used a title with me. So for tonight, Will should suffice.”

He took another sip of wine, the liquid warming him from his core to the tips of his fingers. The smell of cooking was almost intoxicating – tempting, delicious – and he wondered what the purpose of this display was, why he had been asked to join Hannibal for an evening meal when no one else was here to do the same.

He wondered if Hannibal made a point to cook for his household in such a way often.

“Do you not share the evening meal with everyone?” he asked at length, the words quiet, a gentle inquiry.

Hannibal's hands paused over the pot of boiling salt-water, and a wrinkle formed on his stark brow. Shaking his head slowly, he dropped the pasta in the pot and stirred it once with a ladle before answering.

"Not usually, no. And I do apologize for serving you from my own hand," said Hannibal, his voice low. Standing silently, he watched the roiling surface of the water a moment longer before wrapping a cloth around his hand and pulling the pot off the flames.

"Where is your servant?" asked Will, watching Hannibal transfer the pasta to something that resembled a wire basket over the basin in the corner; the water poured through and left the narrow, flat noodles behind. Hannibal slid these into two earthenware bowls and turned to take the tomatoes off the oven. Scooping some onto each mound of pasta, he deposited the result in front of Will, along with the basket of leftover bread from the midday meal.

 

Sitting down across from the younger man, Hannibal curled his lips into an apologetic smile.

"Piero? It seems I am in the market for a replacement.
He... has found employment elsewhere," he lied, plucking a small egg-bread bun out of the basket and dipping it into the tomatoes. Taking a bite, he looked back up and saw that the young Englishman was staring at him with a strange expression on his face.

 

Will considered what had been said, more, he considered what hadn’t been. The lie was plain, just as it was obvious that it was none of his business, nor his right, to ask for more details on the matter. Instead, he directed his attention to the food in front of him, watched as Hannibal ate some of his own, apparently unfazed by the tomatoes.

Carefully, Will reached to take a piece of bread from the basket and try the tomatoes as Hannibal had.

The taste was unusual, but far from unpleasant. Will swallowed and forced himself to wait before taking another bite. Ravenous as he was, he wouldn’t appear ill-mannered in front of the master.

“I hope you won’t be inconvenienced by the loss,” Will offered, taking up his fork to start in on his dinner properly, eyes down as he ate. He wondered if Piero’s departure was an indication of Hannibal’s short temper, or his lack of patience. He thought back to how the man had given him no guarantee of time for his apprenticeship.

The pasta was delicious – heavy and fresh and mixed with the tomatoes, absolutely perfect as Will’s only meal for the day – and he set his concentration on it. Beyond asking the man about his work, or rudely pressing questions he had no right for answers to, he could come up with nothing at all to say.

 

Letting his eyes wander freely over the younger man's face as he focused on his meal, the master could have sworn that Will had immediately detected his lie, and it intrigued him.

"No, I am not greatly inconvenienced. Florence, and the outlying villages, are rife with boys looking for similar employment," he replied, pulling apart another another small bun.

Thinking of the meat that was being slow-bled in the cool cellar dug into the hill beneath the villa, the master took a swallow of wine and smiled at Will.

"Is this simple fare to your liking, Will?" he asked the young Englishman, watching him lift another bite to his mouth. "Or do you prefer something richer? Veal, perhaps?"

 

Will allowed a smile. He was still forcing himself to eat slowly, to savour the food instead of just filling his stomach with it. The patience, so far, had been well worth it – everything tasted divine. He took up his cup again and sipped more wine. It brought out the subtler flavours in his meal, and he let it sit on his tongue before setting the cup aside.

“This is already far richer than what I’m used to,” he admitted, allowing himself a moment to look up before directing his eyes carefully to the side of Hannibal’s head so he wouldn’t have to look at him directly.

“I am unused to meals being prepared before me,” he said, tilting his head gently before adding: “Or for me. If this is simple fare then veal will be a feast.”

He set his wrists to the table a moment, a pause in his meal, and regarded the master once more. The man looked much more comfortable here, though relaxed seemed almost the wrong word for Hannibal. He wondered if the master ever relaxed, if he ever allowed himself to. The thought, strangely, sent a very cold feeling through Will, and he took a breath before looking away.

 

Watching Will's expression change like a subtle ripple in a deep pond, the master wondered what the Englishman saw when he looked at him. It was fascinating that those stormy blue eyes took in so much with only brief glances.

In amusement, Hannibal realized that he had been tracing the negative space around Will with one fingertip on the tabletop, a drop of spilled wine acting as his medium. Lifting the finger to his mouth, he saw Will's eyes track the motion and he smiled.

So far Will Graham was turning out to be a rather reserved dinner companion, and Hannibal found himself in an unusual state. It was his custom to eat the evening meal alone so that he could straighten the day's thoughts without the tedium of unwanted conversation, and Will was anything but verbose. However, the master's mind kept turning around topics that could make the younger man open up. Having seen the faint smile that had flashed over Will's lips, Hannibal wondered what he could do to make the younger man warm to him.

Hannibal pushed his bowl away and sat back in his chair comfortably, just watching Will finish his meal. The play of light on the younger man's handsome features was mesmerizing, and Hannibal sipped at his wine, wondering idly if the young painter had had many lovers. Did he prefer women to men or, like Hannibal, did he sample both? An image of Will, flushed and half-lidded, painted itself in Hannibal's mind and he let out a soft chuckle. At Will's guarded glance, the master lifted a hand, waving away the younger man's suspicion.

"I was just thinking that you must find me incredibly peculiar for taking you on without a single glance at your work - I assume you did bring some canvases with you? Yes? Well, the truth be told is that I absolutely abhor the English style, if it can be called that. The complete lack of understanding of human physiology and zero attention paid to the Golden ratio... has the De divina proportione not been translated into English yet, or do your scholars eschew studying anything that is not Germanic in origin?" smirked Hannibal, his face creased into a wide grin as he purposely baited the younger man. "And the colours! Absolutely horrid. So here I sit, wondering whether your canvases will similarly offend my eye. Tell me, Will, do you paint beauty or do you paint convention?"

Will listened, watched Hannibal slip into yet another lie and wondered if the man ever played with truths as he so masterfully manipulated falsehoods.

“I paint what I see,” he replied quietly, unsure if the way his hand trembled against his thigh under the table was due to anger at the master’s words or his own exhaustion. In truth, he found no offence in what Hannibal had said – they, neither of them, followed convention with their work, and though the master’s could be seen as revolutionary, Will’s was only seen as strange.

“Just as you paint to open the eyes of those you paint for,” he added carefully. He could see that strange shadow pass Hannibal’s eyes again, as it had the time Piero spoke rudely and when Will had refused to admit that his tasks for the day had been given to him by two silly boys pulling a prank.

For a moment, the darkness drew him in - stifling, overpowering. Will met Hannibal’s eyes for just that second too long and saw what the older man had seen in his mind's eye before he had so casually waved it away:

Hands, strong and calloused and worn by brittle plaster and oil, tight against his skin, on his shoulders, over his throat, pressing…

Will had moved without expressly commanding his body to, standing now, perhaps a pace away from the table, one hand out to balance himself against the back of the chair, the other fisted at his side in an effort to control the foreign anger and bloodlust coursing through his veins.

Hannibal started when the younger man suddenly stood as if doused with cold water and he watched Will's chest heave with breath as if he had run uphill. Perplexed, he got to his feet slowly and saw that Will's eyes were wide with fury, his lips pressed tightly together.

What is this? he thought, intrigued.

Holding out his hand in front of him, a gesture of calm, Hannibal smiled gently and raised his brows in the semblance of worry.

"Will, are you all right? You look like you've seen the Devil himself," he asked, keeping his voice low and friendly. "What I said could not possibly have been so insulting that it drove you from your seat in horror. That was not my intention - I merely was curious about your work."

Will shook his head slowly, blinking until Hannibal could see the pupils grow smaller, the blue-grey returning where it had darkened, as though ink had been cleared from water. When he looked at Hannibal again, Will’s expression was both apologetic and oddly clear.

“I’m sorry, Signore,” he murmured, drawing a hand over his forehead, pressing the backs of his knuckles to his cheek. “The day has exhausted me, I’m not myself.”

Another shake of his head, throat working to swallow, and Will finally seemed to return to how he was, watching Hannibal without meeting his eyes.

“Perhaps in the morning, before you set me my tasks, I could show you my work,” he said, a peace offering to make up for his strange behaviour.

“Of course,” Hannibal replied, nodding. When the younger man offered to help clean up, the master waved him off distractedly.

Watching Will walk stiffly off into the gloom of the corridor, Hannibal narrowed his eyes, face sombre in thought. He had the strange, yet unmistakable feeling that the intense young man had somehow taken a peek behind his walls.

In the flickering light of the warm kitchen, Hannibal's gracefully bowed lips stretched slowly into a wide smile.

+++

Will pressed his back to the door once he’d made it back to his space, hands pressed firmly under the opposite arms to stop them shaking.

He'd had similar responses to people before, when he had looked in deep enough, had his mind open enough to allow others’ thoughts and emotions to invade him. It was the reason he no longer met anyone’s eyes for more than a few seconds, the reason he had decided to seclude himself with his art, why refused to draw portraits where the subject looked through the painting…

He swallowed, dropped his head back to rest against the wooden door, and thought back to what he’d seen. The violence he’d felt, that was contained in such an impeccable, controlled frame. He had thought the master odd in his choice of discipline, in his choice to accept an unknown artist into his studio, but he had never expected the potential of such blatant, unapologetic cruelty in him.

The master was dangerous. He was terrifying and cold and Will had seen him.

You look like you've seen the Devil himself.

Will swallowed, opened his eyes and watched the stars appear slowly from behind a drifting cloud through his window.

Perhaps he had.

Chapter Text

For the first time in many months, Will did not wake with a jolt, in a cold sweat, and struggling against the blankets tangled over his feet.

He woke trembling with cold, his heart hammering as, for a moment, he could not recall how he'd gotten to the room, or, in fact, where the room was. The panic sent a cool wave of adrenaline through his system, sending him curling harder into a ball to retain whatever warmth his body had allowed him to have for the night.

It was not yet dawn, the little square window above Will's head and to the right showed only the deep navy sky and stars seeping through light clouds; the cicadas mournfully serenaded the end of nighttime in slow ebbs and flows of sound as Will brought his shaking under control.

He took stock of his body as feeling returned with warm blood to his limbs - he ached everywhere, from the way his shoulders curved to how his fingers clutched white-knuckles to the blanket around him. Slowly, he allowed his mind to unravel the previous day in a leisurely twist of events, from the morning where the master had accepted him as his apprentice, to the meal he had missed and his punishment for it.

He felt his body relax further, concentrating in setting his thoughts in order and redirecting the tension from his muscles to his mind instead.

He remembered the evening meal, how unusual it had been, with the master chopping up the fruit that should have been poisonous without fear, eating it in a way that was almost presented as a challenge for Will to accept. He remembered the warmth of the meal, the delicious textures and semi-sweet wine. He remembered the way the master's eyes had narrowed at every lie that he fed Will, how the bottom lids had gently tugged up in amusement at watching Will see right through them.

He forced himself to sit before he remembered what he'd seen. Or, perhaps, because he couldn't remember; just a familiar hammering of his heart, a vision of something... something.

Will shook his head and drew cool fingers through his hair to comb it back into a semblance of order. Outside, through the window, he could see the sky slowly lighten, only enough to suggest dawn, but enough to wake him further with promise of a new day. He had grown so used to counting his days, living simply in hopes of the new one being better, that his situation now seemed almost unreal to him.

He was apprenticed to a master whose work had captured, and held, Will's soul since he had been a boy. He was permitted to work with him, learn from him, hone his skills with the security of a roof over his head and a warm meal in his stomach. Water, wine, warmer clothes... Will smiled and stood, hissing at the cold of the floor against his bare feet before he found his boots and put them on.

The villa was quiet, only gentle sounds outside suggesting whichever servant was awake was in the garden. Will found his only warm cape, folded carefully in his bag, and tugged it over his shoulders, standing still for a moment to allow his body to share its warmth with the fabric before taking up the two leather tubes in his hands - his art that he had brought with him - and leaving the room for the studio.

Perhaps he could surprise the master with his work before he asked again for it, show initiative before he called the man's ire to rise again by simply presenting himself unprepared.

+++

Hannibal sat with one leg crossed over the other, his left hand tucked against his ribs while the other held a mug near his lips as he stared hard at the unfinished painting. He'd pulled it into the centre of the room and set it up on a display easel, right in the light of the rising sun filtering through the large studio windows.

Though unfinished, the background was entirely complete, and the eagle needed only a few touches for him to be satisfied with it. It was only the main figure, Ganymede, that was a hazy amorphous thing. Pursing his lips, the master blew a cooling breath over the top of his hot drink and frowned. The colours were good - they were believable, rich - and the composition was right. He tilted his head slightly. The painting was on the smallish side, only slightly over two feet across; the bishop who had commissioned it had planned to mount it in a secret panel in his bedchamber. Normally, Hannibal preferred larger canvases as they inspired a sense of awe, but there was something intimate about the size of it that pleased him.

At the sound of footfalls approaching from the far side of the room, Hannibal blinked out of his reverie and turned his head to watch his newest and by far most intriguing apprentice make his way across the dawn-lit, chilly studio towards him. Will walked with his head high, his strides deliberate as he approached the master. Hannibal checked the wide grin that tempted his lips and instead raised his brows and nodded once.

"Good. You're here early," he said, sitting up straighter in the large oak chair that normally stayed behind the antique table. Pulling his hand away from the warmth of his side, he held it out to take the leather tube that Will offered him. "I appreciate the initiative, Signore Graham," he said, letting his lips curl into a slight smile. "Now, let us see whether the words that chased you from my table last night had any grounding."

Will's eyes flicked to Hannibal's for a moment before turning to look at the piece on the easel. The master knew very well that it hadn't been his words that had sent the younger man away the previous night; the true reason was surely something that could be coaxed from Will with patience and trust, like charming a wild bird to eat from his open palm.

Watching Will's stormy eyes take in the details of the painting quickly, Hannibal was again struck by the obvious intelligence behind that blue-grey gaze. The master rose to his feet, his thoughts on how he could draw the intense young man closer to him. There was humour there, he could see, and passion. How best to unlock those in the solitary creature that stood before him, eyes averted as usual?

"Would you like some coffee, Will?" he asked, deliberately addressing the young English painter by his given name.

Will turned his head, dark brows pinched in suspicion or confusion as he watched Hannibal lift the thick, covered, earthenware pitcher.

"Coffee?" he asked, his storm-blue eyes amusingly suspicious.

"Yes," laughed Hannibal. "I'm sure you must have at least heard of it?" When the younger man shook his head once, lips taut with what the master read as embarrassment or chagrin, Hannibal realized that constantly pointing out the Englishman's ignorance was not winning him any favours.

"Of course you haven't!" he said, chuckling to himself. "My apologies, I sometimes forget myself. It is a Muslim drink... from Africa. I have much trade in Venice, for hard to get supplies and what not, and there are merchants there that specialize in the foreign. Come... you must try it."

Without waiting for Will to answer him, Hannibal pulled another mug from the shelf behind the table and used a clean rag to wipe the plaster dust from it before pouring a half cup of the steaming black liquid. He then sprinkled a little sugar from a cloth bag and added a pinch of grated cinnamon into it before stirring it with the tiny silver spoon he'd used in his own cup. The master handed it to the younger man with a small smile.

+++

The mug was hot against Will's palms, and for a moment he did nothing more than hold it and leech its warmth. He was unsure to even trust what the master offered him. However, the tomatoes in the meal the night before had done him no harm, even after rest. In a way, he was curious, but he was also completely ignorant. He wondered how long it would take the master to grow weary of his repetitions, of his desire for clarification.

The liquid looked thick, unappealing, if Will allowed himself to think so. It looked like dirty river water. But the smell was intriguing; bitter with the hint of cinnamon just underlying it. Carefully, he tilted the earthenware mug to his lips and took a sip.

The bitterness, he found, struck the hardest, and it took a lot to not outwardly cringe his initial response to the offering. Why would people drink something like this? It held no appeal for him; thick and almost grainy on his tongue as it was. He didn't think it would quench thirst, or fill someone's stomach to stave off hunger. It sat heavy on his tongue and in his nose and without thinking he sipped again, eyes on the master who had just set his own mug back on the table, apparently satisfied with its contents as Will was not.

+++

Unrolling the canvases, Hannibal saw that they were indeed of the style he had denounced the previous evening: no attention to proper proportions, the colours garish... The master flipped through them quickly but soon realized, with no small amount of dismay, that he was growing rather confused. To his utter astonishment he found that his eyes were drawn to the compositions like a man's hand was to naked flesh.

No, this is not possible, he thought with hot coals in his chest.

The limbs of Will's figures were elongated but, instead of rendering them ludicrous, it infused them with grace and subtle movement. The colours were bold, bright, unnatural, but they sang out from the canvas like music for the eyes. Shifting his gaze to his own work up on the studio wall, Hannibal saw with dread that his own figures looked squat and lifeless in comparison. Licking his lips and swallowing, Hannibal looked back down and fought the urge to rend the canvases in his hands just to spare himself the stunning conclusion he had come to.

They were beautiful.

Exquisite.

Words could not begin to touch the tide of emotions that welled up in Hannibal as he beheld the work of the young Englishman; when tears moistened the rims of his eyes, he quickly blinked them away. Once, Hannibal had been the rising star; he had become a master on the merit of work deemed revolutionary, fresh. Too many years had gone by and his work had become stale. Repetitive. In his hands, Hannibal held the future.

Straightening his face, he made himself cluck with annoyance as he rolled up the masterpieces and stuffed them back in the leather tubes.

"They're about what I expect out of the English. You have much to learn," he said, trying to slow his racing pulse. Making a moue of mocking sympathy with his lips, Hannibal shook his head at Will. "It's a shame you waited so long to become apprenticed."

+++

Will had turned his eyes to the painting sitting in the early morning sun when the master had taken his work up to look. Art was a private thing, a magical, deep experience that Will had found demanded its own space. Be the master pleased or disappointed in his work, he needed to allow himself to see it without the weight of Will's eyes on him.

At the words, Will turned back, mug close to his face, palms hot and the backs of his hands still freezing in the studio as the steam from the coffee licked his cheeks and warmed them too. He blinked, allowed the disappointment to slide under his skin - he had expected it. But there was something in the master's eyes, something that caused him to not meet Will's, for the first time since they'd spoken together, that had Will curious, that had the disappointment seep but not cut him.

Something about his work had had the master curious. Curiosity was enough.

"No one could teach me to paint what I saw," Will said, "I have vision, if not technique, Signore, and only one of those can be taught."

Will nearly smiled at the way the master tensed again, perhaps angered by the blatant disregard for the criticism, perhaps because Will hadn't immediately grovelled for help. He would get help. He was an apprentice now, but he was far from a fool - the man would not be appeased with shallow praises and undivided attention.

Dropping the leather tubes abruptly on the table, Hannibal walked away and pointed to another large unfinished canvas on the far wall.

"We shall start at the beginning. You will learn to paint grass,” said the master, his voice brusque.

Will blinked.

"Grass, Signore?"

The works Will had presented to the master ranged in amount of detail. Some were portraits, some still life, others scenes of his city that he had sketched and then coloured from memory. In every one, the shadows were accurate, the background details meticulously worked on. Grass seemed almost an insult to the young man, and yet he did nothing more than incline his head in thought.

The painting before him was unfinished only to those who knew how to look. To a layman, the details were there, the composition complete. And yet, there were no subtleties, nothing to suggest the wind in the reeds, or how the grass would feel under someone's hand were they to run a palm over it. Subtle things Will couldn't explain that were just not there.

He lowered his mug and held it against his stomach instead, most of the coffee within still there, undrunk. His lips tasted of the bitterness of it when he licked them.

"I would be grateful," he settled on carefully.

+++

Once the master had finished sketching the outlines for a new commission on the prepared surface, he put Leo to work layering colours for the backdrop. Across the room, little Giacomo stood high on a ladder, working on the same painting that Will laboured at. The young boy had an exceptional hand when it came to clouds, and Hannibal put this gift to use as often as he could.

From the middle of the studio, Hannibal squinted and tilted his head, watching the dark-haired Englishman work slowly on the grassed area of the pastural scene. Will's hands were sure and steady, and he infused subtle movement into the simple patch of green that hadn't been there before. Hannibal grit his teeth and let his eyes slide to the leather tubes on the antique table. He wanted nothing better than to clear the room so he could set his eyes on Will's paintings again. To study them. Alone.

No, not alone. He wanted to sit the proud young Englishman in a chair and question him, over and over, on all of his methods. He wanted to ask how and why this immeasurable beauty came to nascency at the hands of a mere...

The hands of a mere what?

Hannibal rubbed his hand over his face, fingers scuffing slowly over the short salt-and-pepper stubble of his jaw. What was Will Graham? A foreigner. Sure, but so was Hannibal; he'd been in Florence for nearly thirty years, but he was born in the Duchy of Lithuania, and his accent would always mark him as an outsider. Will was poor, but the master also had humble beginnings; early life in the orphanage had taught him the meaning of poverty.

His eyes settled on the mostly untouched cup of coffee that he had offered Will and frowned.

Unrefined.

That was the word that popped into his head when he turned back to the Englishman. Will's work was a reflection of the man he was: unrefined... a little unkempt, coarse, unschooled. And frustratingly beautiful. Hannibal had to avert his gaze when the younger man turned his sombre blue eyes to him. Burning deep inside the master were troubling emotions; resentment and envy were crippling the calm in his mind. Turning his dark eyes to Will again once the younger man resumed his painting, Hannibal let the feelings wash over him. Desire. Anger. His hand tightened around the mug. Putting it down before it cracked in his fist, he turned his back on the room and left, his strides long and quick, for the sanctuary of his gardens.

+++

Will flexed his fingers, a slow curl inwards against his palm, a gentle splay outwards until the skin pulled taut over his knuckles and tinged white at the tips of his fingers. Over and over.

The table was not yet fully set, though he had been told to sit and allow it to be set for him by the household staff. The two apprentices sat nearby, the younger sitting closer to Will and watching his slow exercise with childish awe. Will had found the boy to be both sweetly curious and irritatingly observant.

He turned his head just a little and felt his lips quirk when Giacomo quickly turned his head away, as though he had never been looking. Leo paid Will as little attention as the new apprentice paid him. They had not shared even two words since the younger had told Will to wash the floors, and Will found that he felt no loss at the potential company.

The morning had gone faster than Will had anticipated. He had found himself absorbed in the tedious, repetitive task of detailing the grass, his breathing measured and eyes half closed to visualize the movement before he infused it into the oil. With detailing, Will always lost himself, always allowed his mind to drift where it wanted to go. In his youth, he had found that affording it the freedom to do so slowed the onslaught of nightmares later, allowed him to meet people's eyes without seeing through the mask they painted over them.

He had looked at the master when he had felt the man's eyes linger on his back, draw cool in curious lines down the back of his neck. The phantom caresses had turned hot before the man had simply left his studio, and hadn't come back.

Will noted that the master was not at the meal now, that even as the last plates had been set and the staff took their own seats to start the meal, Hannibal was nowhere to be seen.

Strangely, Will felt himself smile, at first a secret thing, then something wider, dark as his eyes lowered to his plate, imagining pointing out to the master that if he hadn't arrived at the midday meal on time, he would not be permitted to eat it. Will brought a piece of bread to his mouth - soft and fresh, warm in the sun enough to suggest it perhaps had not cooled from when it had been baked in the morning - and imagined not the man turning to go, obeying Will's word as Will had soundlessly obeyed his, but responding. Imagined the lowered voice and the narrowed eyes, and the way his profile turned sharp when shadows fell at a certain angle.

A strange thrill slid down his spine at the though, and a niggling, cold tug he couldn't place, just behind his heart. Like a panicked memory, or a dream remembered. He ignored it, chewed his bread thoughtfully, and when he heard Hannibal's footsteps on the cool stone, he turned to watch him arrive.

+++

Hannibal's mood was not much improved by the pacing he had done in the shaded gardens, nor the wine he was drinking as he sat in the plush chair in the tiny brothel at the foot of the hill, watching the young man he had purchased work his mouth over the almost painfully rigid staff that jutted out from the coarse, greying hair between his legs.

One with brown hair today? Are you certain, Signore?

Clenching his jaw, the master closed his eyes and leaned his head back on the dark satin. After only a few minutes he let out a frustrated growl and pushed the leccacazzi away from him with the heel of his boot. Dropping a few coins in the startled man's lap, Hannibal readjusted his hose and pulled the long farsetto back down. Without a word, he placed the empty cup on the table by the door and left, his frustration so hot that he imagined that the air around him sizzled.

Making his way back up to the villa, Hannibal let out a low chuckle with little humour. Young Signore Graham had made his way beneath his skin and the master was, for the first time in his life, at a complete loss. He wanted to tear into the man, cut him up and distill him, plunge his hands into the essence of him and claim the Englishman's secrets as his own. He wanted to hold Will's maddening beauty in his naked hands... he wanted to utterly possess it. It was sheer insanity.

When he saw that the studio was empty, the master walked quickly to the leather tubes that he had discarded on the marble table. Opening them, he carefully unrolled the canvases within and, with covetous eyes, he poured over the English painter's exquisite work until the ache in his chest was all that he felt.

+++

Now, walking slowly to his seat at the long table outside, Hannibal let his gaze just skim over those assembled without seeing, refusing to settle on the pair of grey-blue eyes that narrowed and watched his approach. With a frown, he reached immediately for the pitcher, pouring himself a generous cup of the dark red wine within and slopping a few drops onto the coarse tabletop in his haste to busy his hands. His appetite for food gone, the master instead sipped at his wine to settle the turmoil that laboured his breathing and made his skin feel too tight. The table was quiet, each concentrating on their own plate of cold onion tart and sausage with fennel, and the master found the silence oppressive. Taking a deep swallow, Hannibal clenched his jaw and finally lifted his eyes to meet Will's frank stare.

 

Will didn’t hold it long before he looked away, busying himself with his meal.

He had always eaten quickly, perhaps a habit developed from years of not having enough food, of always fearing that whatever he was given would just as quickly be taken away if he didn’t show enthusiasm in wanting to eat it. He had curbed his habit of wolfing down his meals to something much more civilized, but he still found himself finishing faster than anyone around him.

He mirrored Hannibal, taking a sip of his wine before reaching out to take another piece of bread.

The tension at the table felt almost electric, and Will wondered if anyone else noticed and simply ignored it, or if they were completely oblivious.

He ventured another glance at the master and felt his cheeks darken at the look – the eyes were darker, set in an expression that was as much a scowl as it was a very dangerous grin, and yet the master’s mouth had not moved from the straight line he had held it in.

Will licked his lips and looked away, catching little Giacomo’s eyes again before the boy had the time to avert them, his plump cheeks reddening at being caught staring once more. Will felt himself relax, felt a smile soften his lips again at the thought that the young boy was so interested in him that he could neither speak to him nor keep himself from gawking.

He gently nudged the younger boy’s leg with his own and turned back to his meal as the other nearly jumped from his seat in surprise. Grinning softly, he pulled the bread slowly between his teeth before wrapping his lips around the food and chewing carefully. He could feel Hannibal’s eyes on him again, sharp as claws now, where they had been soft that morning, but kept his gaze down. What did the man want from him?

A few moments later he glanced up when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the master rise from his seat. He watched in confusion as the older man left the table holding only his wine cup, the food on his plate almost untouched. Raising his eyebrows, Will looked around and sensed by the uncomfortable silence around him that this behaviour was frighteningly erratic, even for someone as unconventional as Hannibal.

+++

Will stood very still, eyes on the scrubbed corner of canvas that had once been a field by the water, that had once been alive with long grasses and early afternoon breezes. Now there was nothing but mess, smears of muddy green oil beneath fluffy clouds and the mere sketches of trees.

Gaudy, Hannibal had said, tone level and indifferent. He hadn't even graced Will with his gaze as he'd spoken. Garish and unacceptable.

Will didn't understand. He had listened patiently to the master's instruction that morning, had worked under his supervision until the man had seemed pleased enough to leave Will to work alone. And Will had worked, for the length of the morning, after the noon meal, with Leo mixing colours at his side in silence, Giacomo standing taller still on tip toes on the ladder to add shapes to the sky.

He had taken the evening meal with the household and returned to find his work obliterated, as though it never was.

"You will do it again."

Will exhaled quickly, something that sounded like a laugh, but helpless, confused.

"But Signore—"

"Again."

Will turned, eyes narrowed and brows furrowed in genuine displeasure. He wanted to push the matter, to show his anger and upset. It was evening now; the boys had gone to their rooms, and Will would have gone himself if he hadn't wanted to retrieve his artwork from the master. He stood, dumbfounded, and clenched his fists by his sides.

He knew the man meant to test him, that the dark pleasure in his eyes came from seeing Will submit, seeing him fall in line to the man's whims and power. It was infuriating, cruel, and in a way, absolutely childish. Will pursed his lips together and forced his heart to slow. Minutely, he shook his head.

+++

Part of Hannibal recognized the galling puerility of his behaviour towards Will, realized that he was punishing the young man for ingenuity, something he should be lauding him for instead. He didn't care.

Lifting the cup to his lips and draining it once more, Hannibal closed his eyes tight, taking a slow breath. It was a heady madness, an intoxicating loss of control that propelled him headlong into the dark embrace of this choking desire - and he welcomed it. When he opened his eyes, Will was facing the canvas again. Clenching his jaw in anticipation of the younger man's rebellion, the master's eyes caught the slight motion of Will's head.

I want to break you, his anger sighed. I want to devour you.

He dropped the beaten-metal cup on the table, not caring that it tipped and rolled on its side, red wine snaking over the white marble like spilled blood. Taking a step forward, his voice was a low growl in the sombrely-lit studio.

"I'm sorry... am I wasting your time, Signore Graham?" he spat, the younger man's name spoken like a curse. "Are you so anxious to abandon your apprenticeship?"

When Will turned to look at him, the younger man's eyes were smudges of shadow under dark brows, and his lips were pressed together in a tight line. Hannibal could almost taste Will's anger, and his own maddened fury gorged itself on it. After a beat, the Englishman slowly reached for a paintbrush, and the master let out a bleat of harsh laughter.

"Has all sense completely left you, Signore Graham?" he taunted. "No. You will not paint tonight. There isn't enough light for it... or, do the English have the eyes of a cat?" He shook his head, letting his lips curl into the semblance of a smile as an idea took shape in his head.

"No, tonight you will serve in a different capacity," Hannibal said and turned, reaching for his sketching tools. "Come here. Come here now."

Will stepped forward a few paces, brush set aside. Color rose in his face again – Hannibal saw it for what it was: true, genuine anger now.

Hannibal pointed to a spot on the floor where the moonlight shone bright, competing with the flickering light of the candles.

"There. You will stand right there and take off your shirt. You've wasted your time today, and you have wasted mine. I might as well get some use out of you yet." Hannibal's words came in staccato bursts, the hunger for the young man's submission firing the wine-tainted blood in his veins. He would see him stripped of his pride, forced to humiliating nakedness in the moonlight to feed the master's desire. He looked down and scraped the sharp knife against the side of the soft charcoal, making a slanted edge, better to sketch with.

The boy would be his Ganymede, in likeness and in fate.

“No.”

The word was quiet, a murmured thing past Will’s lips perhaps before he had realized he had said anything. The knife stilled in Hannibal’s hand, thumb caressing the handle as one would skin, a gentle slide over and over as though to soothe, when Hannibal’s hands wanted to do anything but.

“What did you say?”

Will slowly shook his head.

“I will not,” he said, “I shan’t slip into another’s duties simply to fulfil your whims. You wish me to paint the grass again?” His jaw tightened at the thought. “I shall paint it once the sun has risen, and I can see. But I shall not do this.”

The movement was almost too fast for Will to register, and his hands went up on instinct to grasp Hannibal’s wrists before he could rend the thin shirt on Will’s back.

“Strip. Now!” roared the master, his sharp teeth bared in a rictus of fury.

The man’s breath smelled sour. Will didn’t know how many more glasses he'd had after his abrupt departure from the midday meal; the master hadn’t eaten anything to soothe his stomach against the wine’s effects. Dark, hooded eyes bore into his own, and Will found the panic he’d felt at the initial lunge melting into anger again.

“You’re drunk,” he said, voice low and calm, even as his heart beat thick, heavy strikes behind his ribs.

The master seemed to pause a moment, his eyes narrowing as he registered the tone, registered yet another implied rejection of his instructions… registered the excuse handed to him on a platter. And then he smiled.

+++

Will’s chest rose and fell quickly, in a desperate need to seek air before he would never have it again. The knife pressed to his neck and didn’t seem to warm to his skin, did not move even as Will’s heart pounded against it.

The initial struggle had been brief, the master agreeing with Will’s words in a strangely detached manner before pulling him closer and twisting from Will’s hold, knife edge catching just the collar of his shirt and ripping the material there.

After that, Will had felt like he had been fighting a wild animal; no other words could describe the force of the attack. Hannibal was ferocious, and he was absolutely cold, inhuman. Eyes dark and hands quick, he seemed to anticipate every attempt Will made to escape and stopped him before he could even try.

Will had managed, by a turn of fate, to pull away enough, to turn his feet towards the door when he’d lost his balance and dropped, his cry quieter than it could have been, quieter than the impact radiating through his knees should have earned, numbing him with pain and stilling him long enough for the master to grip his shirt and shove him against the floor.

“No, don’t—“

The words had been stuttered, barely above a whisper, and then choked to silence when the knife had slid cool and frighteningly sharp against skin. Will closed his eyes, brows furrowed, and turned his head away. Had no one heard? Would no one venture upstairs at the sound of a struggle in the studio when everyone should be sleeping?

Will swallowed when he realized the answer to his own question.

No one would come looking. No one had heard. Everyone was asleep.

The blade pressed harder against Will’s skin, and he made a soft sound of fear. He was paralyzed, hands at his sides instead of struggling and clawing at the man above him to get him away. He was prey caught in the distant gaze of a cobra before it struck, - quickly for show, but ultimately at its leisure.

The serpent now had its prey.

“Signore—“

The knife pierced the skin in a slow, stinging glide, and Will trembled, the next inhale close to a sob of terror as the blood welled, and the beads of red slid together to form a heavy, thick drop. Will found himself, idly, imagining that in the moonlight of the studio it would look black, that all colour had been taken from him as though anticipating his death. The thought was enough to have him whimper.

“Hannibal—“

It was a plea, trying to pull the man from the madness of drink by using a name Will had been granted permission to use, one that no one else had used in his presence. Will felt the master's long fingers stroke over his eyelids, pressing down, covering and blinding him in a terrifying dark where his pulse beat loud in his ears. Will wondered how many beats of his heart it would take before he stopped counting and it didn’t matter.

He couldn’t see. Could hear anything but the thump-thump-thump of his heart against his ears and throat and everywhere but where it belonged. The moment seemed to drag forever, and Will’s mind turned suddenly to the blond boy he had met on his first day here, to the way his eyes had looked sunken from exhaustion and a fear Will hadn’t been able to place, to the bruise against the boy’s face, and he wondered, pointlessly, was this your fate?

Each breath dragged for eternity, a rattle now, with fear, throat too dry to bring forth sounds beyond soft gasps and, once in a while, a barely-voiced whine. The knife stayed. Will swallowed. And then...

...it took his exhausted mind a moment to realize the heat against his throat was not his own blood, but lips pressed against his skin to suck away the blood that was there. That the master was holding Will pressed flat against the floor with the weight of his body, not solely with the blade against his neck. That the gentle movements of the older man above him pressed the hard ridge of his cock against Will’s thigh.

The next gasp was tinged with a new sort of desperation, the mind turning to any and all means of survival to make sure that the breath Will had expelled was not the last he would, today.

He sighed. Then he moaned. And the lips moved against him as though to form words Will didn’t understand.

And then they were gone.

“Go.”

Will blinked, breathing harsh and ragged, and tried to focus his eyes, turn his head back when he felt the blade had been pulled away. In the space of a breath, the weight pinning him had lifted.

“Go!”

If there was a third command, Will did not hear it. His legs felt like water beneath him, but he found traction enough to half crawl from the studio and run downstairs.

He pressed his back to the door as he closed it, a futile, childish belief that it would protect him from the demons that cried for his blood, and his shoulders shook with silent tears of relief.

He lived.

His shirt lay ragged and barely on his shoulders, the cut against his throat throbbing with every beat of his heart, but he lived.

Will slid shaking to the floor, his shoulders curling forward as he wrapped his arms around his knees, feeling the adrenaline rush through him and fill his throat with bitter bile, his heart beating out the litany of terror in his ears.

He did not think of the man upstairs. Did not think of the studio or the spilled wine, or of the moonlight filtering through on them in their struggle.

He blinked hard against the realization that, even as he held himself, even as he hunched with arms trembling and weak, blood oozing slowly from the cut on his neck, his own cock was a hard, treacherous thing that throbbed thickly between his legs.

Will wept.

-


Art by Icallit

Chapter Text

It was past dawn when Will heard a soft knock on his door.

He hadn't slept, not for long, not without waking in a cold sweat and trying to catch his breath, pressing his hand to the cut on his neck. He didn't think about the desire that coursed through him with the fear and adrenaline. He tried not to think about anything.

Hannibal had not come to seek him in his room, had not attempted to pull him from his bed or throw him out. Will hadn't heard the man come upstairs at all once he had regained enough of his composure to listen for him.

Will knew he was expected in the studio, that he was expected to paint the grass once more, to please the man's sadistic whims of degrading him for his pleasure. He knew that, should he miss another afternoon meal, he would find himself and his belongings on the street.

And yet, he hadn't moved except to pour water from the ewer, dipping the remains of his shirt into the bowl and wiping away the sweat, tears, and blood from his face and torso. Will then sat on his bed watching the small square of sunlight slide slowly over the stone floor.

The knock came again, and Will turned his head to the door silently. It wasn't Hannibal. The master wouldn't knock, nor would he have waited to knock again when the first attempt had gone unanswered. He let out a slow breath and turned to the window again, wondering why he was still here, why he hadn't taken his things and left in the night.

"Signore Graham?"

Will sighed, closing his eyes and rubbing them gently. Outside, Giacomo shuffled from foot to foot with childish impatience. His voice sounded even smaller filtering through the wooden door.

"Come in."

The boy did, carefully, opening the door only inches at a time as though worried Will was a wild animal that he'd frighten if he opened it any faster. For one terrifying moment, Will wondered if the boy had been subject to the same treatment he had been the night before, but Giacomo's eyes showed no shadow of fear, just the furrowed brows of someone who knew he was imposing.

"Sorry Signore," he murmured, taking in Will's posture, lingering a moment on the mark on his neck before averting his eyes to the floor. He lifted a small cloth bundle in his hands and quickly set it on the table.

"I didn't mean to wake you," he continued, his words slow, but his English surprisingly good. Will wondered for a moment who this boy really was. The son of a diplomat? A cardinal's bastard?

Will's eyes slid to the package and took in the folded shirt with a mixture of confusion and dark amusement.

Does he want a clean slate to tear another from me?

"There was a note, the Maestro he—" Giacomo gestured, unnecessarily. "More clothes will come when the markets open, but for now I was told to give this."

"Thank you."

The boy nodded quickly, flicked his wide eyes to Will again and smiled before turning to go, fidgeting with nervous energy that Will could not, even vainly, attribute to himself. He cleared his throat and caught the boy before he closed the door fully.

"The master," he said, "Is he in the studio?"

The boy shook his head.

"No, Signore," he murmured, "He was up all night. Only Leo saw him. He has instructions for you when you go up. Real instructions this time." Giacomo's face split for an instant into a cheeky grin, his dark eyes sparkling with remembered mischief before the shyness sobered him once more.

Will allowed a smile and nodded, wondering if the relief was clear on his face or if the boy would just see it as exhaustion. He repeated his thanks and didn't get up to dress until the younger boy's footsteps retreated in the distance.

+++

 

The painting stood propped on one of the larger easels, catching the morning light as it would have caught the moonlight Hannibal had painted it by.

The Rape of Ganymede.

Will could feel how still the room was around him, how Leo had stopped mixing his colours, how Giacomo held his breath until he trembled behind him. He understood the silence, the stillness, felt it himself as he shifted his arms to rest across his stomach, hands cupping the opposite elbows.

The painting was striking, a variation - as many were - on the myth, but unlike most that depicted a fair-haired soft boy being carried by an eagle, this was an image of torment. The boy's head was arched back, jaw tense with pain or fear or both as the talons gripped his thigh and arm to pull him away - or perhaps to pull him apart.

Tendons stood out in harsh relief against his neck, fists clenched where he couldn't bring himself to fight or had given up hope of trying to. His eyes were closed, brows pressed together and high in fear, lips barely parted. His hair fell messy against his forehead, dark and curled, just like Will's own. Will felt his cheeks grow hot when, with a trick of the light, the shepherd's face took on a distinct look of ecstasy. Instead of fear, now he could only see a man in the throes of passion. A frisson of horror prickled him as he stood staring at his own torment from the previous night; he felt breathless with shock.

Behind Will, Giacomo finally let out his breath before attempting to hold another. It seemed enough to break the spell, and Leo walked over to Will, the bowl in his hand dark with the pigment he was still mixing. Will tore himself away from the painting lest he replay the scene from last night again. Licking his lips and swallowing, he turned to Leo.

"You... paint the grass," said the younger apprentice quietly, eyes not quite on Will's face - though at least he was addressing him. "Maestro says look at sky, look at Giacometto's clouds. Merda... Come se dice... ah wind?" Leo moved his hand in a wave, suggesting the wind on the grass, and Will nodded in understanding, his lips quirking in a small smile as the gangly redhead searched for his words.

"After, you work with me," the boy finally said, pointing to the large canvas across the room. Leo's eyes tilted up to look at Will a moment before sliding away. There wasn't teasing there, or mockery. A strange sort of pride, perhaps, in being able to call a painting his own, and in being able to recruit someone to help where it was most difficult.

Again, Will nodded, slowly, brows furrowing just a little in growing confusion. No mention had been made, at all, of Hannibal himself wanting to see Will, or speak to him.

"Will the master be up?" he asked carefully.

Leo shrugged, his smile earnest this time.

"Ah... maybe? Maybe for eating," he said. "Maybe tomorrow."

+++

 

The brush was like a knife cutting the likeness of the young Englishman into the canvas, the boy's blood a salt-and-copper kiss on Hannibal's lips, a rich, red delicacy in his mouth.

Groaning softly against the dark sheets, Hannibal fought against his growing consciousness, desiring nothing more than to stay asleep in the sombre twilight of his bedchamber. However, his eyes opened and he peered into the gloom, his jaw tight with recollection of the previous night.

He had been frantic, almost mindless as he pinned the younger man to the floor of the studio, the knife just a sharp edge between life and death. Hannibal hadn't even known what he wanted as he pressed himself to the younger man, anger and desire raging like a tempest inside him. With Will's blood in his mouth Hannibal had been on the feverish cusp of destruction, aching for the boy's glorious ruin... until that sigh... that soft moan. The body beneath his was flush with fear, but it was the blatant arousal that pressed hard against Hannibal's leg that startled him out of his furor.

Turning his head to the closed door, Hannibal scrubbed a hand over his eyes. He'd found his way back to his room at dawn, nearly blind with exhaustion and raw like an open wound. Collapsing on his bed, his mind had churned, reeling from the unaccustomed passion that had moved his hand over the canvas.

Have I made a mistake?

It was not like him to question himself, that alone was enough to beget another low sound out of him - part sigh, part groan. The lack of control was unforgivable.

Hannibal sat up slowly, the wine headache making his eyes feel gritty in their sockets as he reached up to pull off his sweat-soiled shirt. Wadding it into a ball, he threw it into wicker basket to be laundered and chose another unbleached linen one from his armoire. It was one that he often wore to paint with and the stains on the sleeves were permanent. Chuckling to himself, the master shook his head.

No, he would not be painting today. He had done enough painting and enough damage for one day. Now was the time to collect the fruits of his insanity, whether they were bitter or sweet on the tongue. Padding down his private corridor to the studio, he pressed himself against the door and listened, eyes closed. In wonder and relief, Hannibal shook his head. The young Englishman had not fled.

Perhaps the arousal that had stayed his killing hand had coaxed Will to stay despite the obvious danger he had faced. Perhaps.

Noticing the sun's position in the sky, Hannibal realized that it was late afternoon; he had slept nearly the entire day away. Furrowing his brow, Hannibal made his way to the kitchen, his mind focused on repairing the harm he had done.

+++

 

The master watched the two young boys jostle each other out the door, leaving the sombre, dark-haired Englishman standing like a statue before his likeness on the canvas. Hannibal wondered what was going through his mind.

Stepping forward out of the gloom, he scuffed his toe on the floor to alert the younger man of his presence. Will stiffened, his shoulders coming up at the sound, but he did not turn to the master. There was no doubt in Hannibal's mind that the younger man knew exactly who stood behind him in the shadows.

"I have made us something to eat," Hannibal murmured softly. "It is my desire for you to join me, Will."

He didn't get an immediate answer, not verbally or in a shift of the younger man's position. Will stayed as still as if he were carved of marble, body tense and poised to run; but, to Hannibal's genuine pleasure, he made no move to try.

The master stepped closer, and Will remained as he was.

"The expression had been eluding me," confided Hannibal, turning to the painting, again bathed in the candlelight in which it was painted the night before. He had never enjoyed the serene look of false surprise on the cherubic features in other works, and yet, he was never quite convinced that those showing any amount of terror were expressing their true emotions either.

No. Ganymede had always been just beyond his grasp; a clever, beautiful boy.

Beside Hannibal, Will's shoulders lowered in almost the reverse of a shrug, the tension still heavy on his skin but controlled. He said nothing.

"Will you take supper with me?" Hannibal asked again, turning to keep Will's profile at the corner of his eye, to watch for a tick, a tell, something that would bring to light the flurry of emotions broiling within the other man.

At length, Hannibal saw Will's jaw tighten, his throat working to swallow before he parted his lips with the tip of his tongue.

"Is your desire..." he said, lingering on the word, almost sneering it despite his calm tone. "...an invitation or a demand, Signore?"

Hannibal frowned, keeping his gaze on the painting as he chose his words carefully.

"It is a... request, but I will not extend another if you choose to decline," said the master, the looming tension in the room tightening his skin like a prickling fever. He turned to look at Will, his eyes frank as he watched the blue-grey gaze shift to his own.

"So tell me, Will: what is it that you desire?" He waited a moment, noting the slight widening of the younger man's eyes, the pupils expanding outwards to devour colour. Hannibal turned away before Will did, his regard once more on the painting. Checking the slight quickening of his breath, he smiled and continued as if his words had not been deliberately and coyly provocative. "Will you join me for a simple meal and forgive an old man his excesses? Or will I be dining alone?"

 

Will was tempted to immediately decline, to see if the master followed through on his promise to not ask again if he did so. But something held his tongue as surely as the painting held his gaze. He thought back to the expressions on the master he could never read, the way he looked both angered and somehow longing, how he had seemed disappointed and yet intrigued by Will's paintings.

How he had turned from violence to lust in the space of a breath the night before.

Will was as curious about Hannibal as the master seemed to be about him. He wanted to know why he had painted his face, when he had, in essence, shown Will that his skills and his initiative were useless and unwanted. When he had done everything in his power to bring Will down to nothing at all, only to elevate him so much as to be a muse - Leo had told him, as they'd worked, and Giacomo translated the words he couldn't find, that the painting had sat untouched for months, the master displeased and angered by the lack of inspiration.

And now it sat finished. After a single night of work.

"I will dine with you," Will said at length, turning to face Hannibal but not meeting his gaze when the other sought it. "But one can only forgive what one understands, Hannibal." He deliberately used his name, and heard the man's inhale at the sound of it.

He wanted Hannibal to tell him, to make him understand why he had gone from aching for Will's blood to aching for his body. Why he had started to kill him and had left it at a warning. He wanted to know why his face would belong to another man, when the painting was paid for, and why, if the master wanted him as passionately as he seemed to, he wouldn't keep it for himself.

+++

 

Hannibal dug into his own dish, presented to Will as veal, and smiled as the meat fell apart like velvet on his tongue. Looking up, he watched Will take up one of the small yellow carrots that Hannibal grew in his small garden and eat it in two bites, his brow furrowed as he concentrated on the plate in front of him. The younger man's posture was tense, leaning over his meal in an almost protective way. Hannibal recognized it for what it was; he too had once been so poor that meals felt hard-won.

Bringing the cup of watered wine to his lips, Hannibal let the silence go on. It wasn't uncomfortable, not yet. The space between the master and his apprentice was shot through with energy and charged with tantalizing potential. How best to harness it?

The sheer exhilaration that had coursed through him when Will had finally accepted his offer of a meal had almost overwhelmed him. The way the younger man had said the master's name in his quiet voice had brought forward an exquisite ache in Hannibal's chest, and he'd had to tamp down on the feeling before it moved him to act on it prematurely. It was an enticing dance, and the master knew he should take time to learn all the steps lest he tread on his partner's shoes.

Hannibal chuckled at the analogy and smiled wide when Will looked up at him, his blue-grey eyes wary. Waving away the younger man's concern with a hand, the master set his face in more serious lines and kept his eyes on Will's.

"I am a... solitary man," he said and then frowned. Hannibal had intended it to mean that he was particular, or singular in his talents and passions, but when the word left his lips it suddenly took on a different meaning: lonely. The thought was absolutely galling.

But true...

Forcing himself to smile pleasantly at Will again, he continued, though the few seconds' lapse hung in the air like a whispered confession.

"I have been the master of my own fate for so very long, and used to doing things in a particular way; your arrival has unaccountably caused ripples where there was only a calm surface before. While I would like to be able to attribute my behaviour to an abuse of wine, it would be unfair of me to keep the truth from you." Hannibal looked down at the palm of his hand, the one that had held the knife to the younger man's throat. The moment of clarity he had seen through his blood lust pulsed up fresh in his mind once more, and he nearly grimaced at the bland audacity of the words he was driven to speak the younger man.

"The truth is that I am rather taken with you.”

 

Will paused, carefully swallowing his mouthful before setting the fork down against the side of the plate. That much, at least, was true. He could sense the desire within the man to have him, possess him - though perhaps it would have been more accurate if the master had said he would rather take him. Will considered, thought back to before the knife had opened his skin, back to how the master had looked at him that first night when he had been scrubbing the floor, how his eyes had taken Will in as though he was a work of art himself.

Then he allowed his mind to return to the night before, to being trapped beneath the man's weight, at his mercy, blind and deaf to everything but the blade and the lips almost tenderly lapping at his blood. He had felt, for one brief moment, completely free. Will swallowed.

"I'm your muse."

It wasn't a question, just a voiced thought that held more gravity than the tone suggested. A muse was an artist's boon and bane, something to be revered and hated, cherished and abused. It seemed the irony of it was not lost on the master, just as it was not lost on Will. And yet...

His desire for Will burned much deeper than simply bedding him. When Will chanced another look at the man in front of him, he knew Hannibal meant to devour him, have his entire being. He wouldn't deny that terror pulsed through his veins just as surely as heat pooled in the base of his stomach. This was fascinating, it was a road Will had never ventured before.

"What do you want of me, Hannibal?" he asked at length, leaving the question to be deliberately misinterpreted, or, perhaps, seen for what it was, as he kept his steady gaze on the master and placed another morsel of food between his lips.

 

The words were like a challenge, like a promise, and Hannibal felt something twisted and clawed rise up within; flexing its malefic form, the soulless and hungry darkness keened at the invitation. Tearing his eyes away from the younger man's scrutiny, the master felt the control begin to crack in his hands, sifting away to dust between his fingers.

What did he want from the dark-haired sylph that reflected back to him, in eyes like a midnight tempest, the corruption writhing gleefully in his bosom.

He wanted the boy's bloodied body, broken and begging, writhing beneath him.

More.

He wanted to taste the boy's soul on his lips.

No! More.

He wanted to drown his monstrous darkness in Will... and have the boy say "please" with desire in his eyes.

The cup cracked suddenly in Hannibal's hand, and he started. Wine and blood poured over his palm and over the tabletop, mingling together to seep redly into the crevices left by knife marks in the wood. He hadn't even realized that the Englishman had risen from the table until the cloth was pushed into his grasp by a hand as paint-stained and roughened as his own. Of their own volition, the fingers of his hand curled around the younger man's wrist, not out of any evil but simply to feel the thrum of Will's pulse against his thumb for a moment. He furrowed his brow in confusion and kept his eyes from Will's fierce gaze, fearing that this weakness would also be reflected back at him.

Then, like a strap of leather stretched too far, the breathless tension snapped and control returned when he pulled his hand away from Will's. Hannibal chuckled and motioned for the younger man to return to his seat.

"I should have my potter flogged for his shoddy handiwork," he said shaking his head. "I thank you, Signore. The cut doesn't seem deep." He dabbed lightly at the blood in his palm before wrapping the cloth around his fist and sitting back in his seat.

Hannibal let his eyes settle on Will's again, now closed and guarded, and smiled slowly.

"What do I want from you?" he finally replied at length. "I would like to... extend our arrangement. In the fashion sanctioned and revered by the Ancient Greeks. I am willing to teach you all that I know, advocate your talent, raise you up in the esteem of those who would otherwise reject your work." Running his finger through a streak of bloodied wine, he underlined his caveat. "In return, I am to have full access to your body for my art; and, you must share my bed one day out of three.”

There was a silence, not suffocating or tense, but heavy, spanning several heart beats and half a dozen exhalations.

Hannibal wanted to look up, to face the man with his offer, to find a way to have him accept it, when the answer came on its own. Will's voice was quiet and steady, a hint of something beyond mere submission, the very thing that whetted Hannibal's appetite when he heard it, merely thought of it.

"Tonight is the third night I am spending in your home… but these are new terms.” Will lifted the cup to his lips to take a sip of wine, tongue pressing softly to the top one as he set the cup aside again, fingers lingering against the smooth surface. “I will accept, Signore, on the condition that you allow me the next two days to myself."

In the wan, warm light of the kitchen, Hannibal lifted his eyes to Will and let his gracefully bowed lips stretch wide into a pleased grin.

Chapter Text

Gritting his teeth, Hannibal watched his new servant, a graceless village boy of indeterminate age, fiddle with the hem of his tunic again. They were Piero's old clothes, and the boys were of similar size, but this one wore them with all the aplomb of a hound wearing silks. When Nico lifted a stubby finger to dig into his ear, Hannibal sighed and set down the manuscript he'd been trying to read.

"Go," he said, narrowing his eyes.

The farmer's son turned his brown, bovine eyes to his new master and frowned in confusion. When he made no move to obey, Hannibal stifled the urge to rise up and grab the boy's head to snap his neck like a twig. However, much as he wanted to, he was in dire need of a new servant.

"Go, or so help me, I will strip the flesh from your bones and use your marrow for my soup," he growled. When his words spurred the young man no further than the antechamber door, he bit back a groan. "To the kitchen. Stay there until I come for you," he said, exasperated. The boy left in a hurry, and Hannibal looked down at the papers strewn on the small table in his bedroom and sighed.

He was on edge.

There was no other way to put it. The past two days had moved forward like cold treacle, and Hannibal was feeling the strain. What was it about the thought of bedding this boy that had him feeling like his blood was filled with buzzing bees? One minute he was compulsively rearranging his notes on his desk, the next he was standing tense in the shadows of the loggia watching Will teach Giacomo a game he called "Cherry-pit" in the gardens.

At first the master had grit his teeth and tried to lock away the troubling envy he felt when faced with the Englishman's work, instead focusing on isolating the extraordinarily few problems with it. The subtle imperfections in his paint could be easily fixed with better quality pigments; but, in technique, Hannibal honestly felt like Will was sloppy with his compositions. In keeping with his side of their bargain, he had set aside the previous morning to show the younger man how he could improve.

However, it had been an exercise in frustration as, when he had finished running through the different symmetries that Will could try, the English painter had just lowered his dark brows and nodded sombrely. That Hannibal had expected anything more outwardly grateful had immediately cut his temper short and, in a fit of jejune pique, had demanded Will strip to his underthings in the middle of the studio so that he may teach the others a lesson in figure painting.

Will had complied, but a deep blush had infused his cheeks as he had stared down Hannibal for a long moment before doing so. The master's breath had hitched at the tide of fury and want that had risen up in him at the challenge in Will's eyes; it had almost swept away his better judgment, and made him strip the boy bare on the spot, needing to tear from him his pride and wring shuddered moans from his throat.

That was the last time that the young man had let his eye meet the master's.

This morning, Hannibal had granted Will leave to work on his own once he had completed the tasks set for him. After filling out the background of the Roman forum with Leo - the boys working together with newfound ease that hinted of a growing rapport - Will had taken up some paper and charcoal and settled by the windowsill.

It was then that he realized that he was unable to keep his eyes from the boy who would no longer raise his own to Hannibal's.

He had watched the way Will had regarded his work on the painting with a curious pride that did not stem from the river flowing within, but in the genuine pleasure of having completed a task well.

He had watched the way the Englishman had meticulously cleaned his brushes and put away the pots of pigment with an obvious sense of accomplishment.

He had watched as the younger man had turned his head to look out and sketch, face smooth and young and light in the sun, lashes long dark lines over his cheeks as he concentrated, mouth in a soft line of contemplation, brows just barely furrowed.

Not once had Will acknowledged the master's hot stare.

Hannibal had waited until Will had left with the boys for the midday meal before letting himself look over the drawing, noting how, despite the lack of respect with which Will had responded to Hannibal's advice the day before, he had taken it to heart.

Hannibal had refrained from tearing the page by sheer force of will, and had taken to his rooms for the rest of the day.

It was utterly maddening to have his attentions and efforts met with so little recognition, and Hannibal found himself deeply unsettled by the niggling thought that he was the one vying for the other's esteem and not the other way around.

If the boy was planning on coming to his bed with the same frustrating insouciance...

Hannibal stood up from his desk and swept aside the sheaf of papers he had just reordered.

 

+++

Will hadn't eaten more than a few olives and some scraps of the piece of bread he had meticulously shredded between his fingers.

Time had passed far too quickly since the meal he had shared with Hannibal, alone in the kitchen, when they had struck their bargain - one that Will had never expected the master to follow through on. However, Hannibal had surprised him, taking time to teach Will techniques with the patience and approach of someone genuinely interested in seeing him succeed.

Will had listened, had forced down his pride to let the criticism fuel his work, to let it impact how heavily he pressed the charcoal to the page, how thickly he applied the paint. He had taken it quietly and, to his mind, graciously. And then Hannibal had stripped him before everyone and forced him to stand and endure, until the candles were the only light and warmth in the studio.

Will hadn't thanked him when he'd been released, hadn't said a word. He had dressed with shaking hands, rubbing his arms to bring warmth back to the skin, and declined dinner with the others. He'd returned to his room, and slid to the floor, back against the door with one hand over his eyes as he'd forced his heart to slow, his breathing to even out, and his cock to soften between his legs so he could undress fully and attempt to sleep.

 

Now, he sat with his back rigid and his fingers fidgeting with another slice of bread as he took his meal with the rest of the household, deliberately avoiding the master in the studio and leaving with Giacomo so he would not be the last in the room with him. He had this meal, this one meal, between his freedom and his obligations and, that too, was slipping past like sand in his hands.

Time was a cruel mistress.

Around him, the servants talked, low voices and quick words Will could not yet understand fully, though he had started to pick up certain things listening to the other apprentices in the studio. He wondered if they knew, wondered if Hannibal had ever used any of them beyond what their job entailed, whether they had any idea that their master, usually so collected and very rarely outwardly angry, was the same man who had held a knife to Will's neck and covered his eyes so he could die in darkness. Then he thought of Piero.

He wondered what would happen if he didn't go to the master's room after supper, if he went to his own instead, locked himself in and waited.

But was he such a coward?

His fear stemmed only from watching Hannibal respond, watching the tics in his expressions when he had regarded Will, how they shifted from mere lust - which Will, despite his inexperience, was acquainted with - to wanting something so deep Will wasn't sure what would remain of himself if he allowed the man to see it. His fear stemmed from the thin cut that still hurt when he ran his fingers over it, when he pressed it down and hissed in pain so his other hand wouldn't stray between his legs in his cold, moonlit room.

He blinked, drawing in a quick breath and holding it. The table had emptied, Giacomo sat beside him with a perplexed expression and asked if Will would go to bed or if he needed something before he could. Will just shook his head and dredged up a smile, one that brought an answering grin and a shy wish for Will to have a good night.

Will didn't let his mind linger on the sentiment. In the gloom of the kitchen, he lowered his eyes to the table to wait.

+++

He was tracing with his fingertips the old knife marks that had drank the master's spilled wine and blood when a soft step alerted him to someone else's presence. Raising his head, Will saw the new servant, Nico, standing uncertainly at the door of the kitchen. When Will raised his eyebrows at the youth, the servant boy just cocked his head gracelessly towards the passage and uttered two words:

"Signore Lecter."

The master's chamber was at the far end of the house, near the studio and on the same floor, but out of the way such that one would not accidentally come upon the door if they were aimlessly wandering the house. Will had never been near it, knew only vaguely where to go.

The door was open, enough for Will to see that inside there was a candle lit, perhaps more than one. He pressed his lips together in a gentle gesture, heart beating quickly in his chest, and passed the fidgeting servant to step over the threshold into the room within.

+++

 

Hannibal lifted his head at the sound of footfalls in the corridor. Taking a sip from the small cup of sweet wine he had been turning around in his hands almost compulsively, he turned to watch Will enter his bedchamber. All his peculiar trepidation fled when he was dismayed to see that the younger man had not even had the decency to change out of his painting attire; he flared his nostrils at the heavy smell of linseed that still clung to Will's clothing and hung in the air around him. However, before the grievance left his lips, Hannibal realized that Will was staring at him, his eyes storm-grey in the candlelight.

For a moment he felt weak, strangely naked in the younger man's glare... but only for that moment. For when Will lifted his chin a tiny bit higher, Hannibal's breath caught at what he perceived there.

Narrowing his own dark eyes, he stepped towards the Englishman, furious with the thin-lipped pride that he saw in the boy's wide stare.

I do this under duress.

Biting back the rage that was growing inside him like a black thundercloud, Hannibal let his lips curl into a sneer.

"Take off those filthy clothes," he spat, the heat in his blood rendering his words almost guttural.

Will started as if shoved and raised his hands slowly to the hem of his stained linen shirt, lifting the edge of it like he was moving in a dream.

It was only then that he shifted his accusing eyes away from Hannibal's.

With growing impatience at the boy's slow movements, Hannibal closed the space between them and simply grabbed the front of Will's shirt. Thin linen balled in his hard fist, Hannibal tore the shirt away from the younger man's chest in a fury, his heart racing against his ribs at Will's sharp cry of dismay. The smooth planes of the younger man's chest shone in the candlelight, Will's skin young and unblemished save for the red line along the side of his throat. At the sight of the knife wound, Hannibal's cock pulsed hard in his groin, a thick ridge that pushed at the material of his hose.

"On your knees," he ordered.

Will's eyes darted to Hannibal's, round with what could only be assumed was horror.

With a low growl, Hannibal grabbed the Englishman by the hair and fisted his hand in the soft, dark curls.

"On... your... knees," he repeated slowly, each word released with a deceptive hush into the air, rife with terrible intent. With a downward tug, Will was forced down onto the hard marble floor with a gasp, and Hannibal pressed the younger man's face against the growing bulge beneath his tunic. Will's hands clawed hard against Hannibal's thighs, trying to push himself away.

The beast inside the master threw back its horned head and howled in delight.

Releasing Will, Hannibal backhanded him as hard as he could before letting the younger man collapse with a strangled cry. Standing over him, chest heaving and fists balled, the master bared his teeth.

"You'll keep your end of the bargain, Will," he growled. "Now get up on your knees, and open your mouth like a good boy, lest I open it for you."

 

Will just stared, heart pounding so hard he could barely hear, though he knew he would feel those words to his very bones even if they had been whispered.

He had come here slowly, following Nico, counting his heartbeats against his footfalls on the floor to ground himself, to calm his nerves and approach the evening with as open a mind as he would allow himself. He ran the master's words through his head as he'd walked: share my bed. The implication was clear enough, Will had spent his two days, barely won with his clever words, rolling the phrase through his exhausted brain, trying to find a way to reconcile himself with the idea.

He had come prepared to try, forcing his eyes to meet Hannibal's again, following his instructions despite the harsh tone...

And now he lay on the floor in a sprawl, hand pressing against his smarting cheek, eyes wide and lips parted as though to protest the treatment, or confess his confusion at such a show of brutality.

I came to keep it, his mind whispered, I came on my own, to you...

He made a very soft sound, like an animal in pain, before shifting to obey, one hand out, splayed, in a futile attempt to calm a temper he couldn't harness or control, his other still fisted gently against his cheek. Will moved as one would around a wild animal, carefully and slow, keeping eye contact. This time he could see the moment before Hannibal lashed out again, hand rough and tugging Will's hand away from his face, twisting it enough to feel, and in a bright moment of pain, Will understood: Hannibal did not see his submission as willing, he did not see it as Will was offering it to him. He saw it as every defiance Will had presented to him before.

He parted his lips to explain, apologize, plead peace for just a moment, and felt his jaw forced down, Hannibal's thumb between his teeth and back far in his mouth to prevent him biting.

"If you bite me, you will bleed."

The voice was ice, low and almost frighteningly calm, and Will felt himself nod, quickly, before his eyes dropped to follow the motion of the master's other hand as it worked the knot holding his hose in place, widening when Hannibal drew the fabric down and removed his hand from Will's mouth only to replace it with something else a moment later.

Will's initial reflex - to bite - was quelled quickly, lips moving to cover his teeth as the hard, heavy organ pressed further into his mouth. He wanted to shift away, to fight, to ask what was happening, why it was like this when he had done what the master had wanted, when he had come to his bedchamber prepared to share his bed. He managed another helpless sound as he gagged and nearly choked when Hannibal pushed in harder and gripped his hair so tightly that Will was certain he would have a handful of it when he finally let him go.

How long it lasted, he was uncertain. His hands up again to push the man back, hoping for mercy or a reprieve and finding neither forthcoming, his eyes closed and lashes wet with tears as he tried to hold composure. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move, and the terror he had felt when he had been pinned to the floor of the studio returned to engulf him like a long-gone lover, and with it, the strange spark of arousal.

Will swallowed air like he'd been drowning when Hannibal finally yanked him away and he stepped back, coughing, bringing up a hand to press to his lips to stave off more panic. Will had never done this, had never even known this could be done. He felt used, and dirty, and absolutely weak with the knowledge that his cock ached for contact between his legs.

He shrank back quickly when Hannibal stepped closer again, a quiet whine the only plea he could manage before he was forced to his feet as he had been forced to his knees. He stumbled once, felt the sharp yank against his hair to hold him upright, before the softness of the bed met his front and he scrambled up onto it, able only to get his knees under him the way he was held.

His loose pants were forced down his thighs, just enough, and Will found his voice at last, if it was his at all - higher and trembling, and scared.

"Don't... please don't I've—" he swallowed, closing his eyes as his words went unheeded, his legs forced apart wider as his head was pressed held to the sheets, Hannibal's ungentle hand smearing something cold on him in preparation for the final despoilment. "I've never..."

 

The crack in Will's voice was like a snapped cloth, veering the charging bull away from the precipice, and though Hannibal's eyes were open, he suddenly saw the boy beneath him. Hand clenched around the base of his cock, the swollen head of it pressed against Will's puckered opening, Hannibal was unaccountably shocked into inaction. However, his lust simply barrelled him forward regardless.

As he quickly shoved aside his breathless confusion, he slid the greased length of his cock between the pale moons of Will's ass, forgoing the sweet plunder of penetration and instead working himself to orgasm against the younger man's warm, oiled furrow. In only a few strokes, the head of his cock sliding upwards with every panted thrust, he felt the hot, liquid wave of climax seize him. With a deep growl he watched, teeth bared, as he sent a jet of thick cum up and onto Will's back, followed by another, and another.

Breath heaving from Hannibal's chest as the last of the pulses shook a low moan out of him, he bent over the younger man, leaning against him lightly for a moment, one hand against Will’s hip. A bead of sweat dripped from the tip of his nose to mingle with the cooling mess that puddled along the younger man's spine before he pushed himself away. In a few motions he had stripped himself naked and, eyes averted from the young man still kneeling motionless on the bed, he slid under the covers and faced away, intent on turning his mind from the reason behind why he hadn't accomplished what he had set out to do.

After a few minutes, he felt the bed shift and heard Will's swift footfalls as the younger man fled from the room. Hannibal sat up and stared at the open door but, despite the agreement that Will would share his bed for the night, the master made no move to call him back. Brow furrowed, he turned back to the rumpled coverlet that still bore the imprint of Will's knees, and his heart skipped a double beat. The sheet was wet, and not from his own desire.

Throat dry from the blatant evidence of Will's arousal, the master reached for the small cup of sweet wine and downed the remainder in one swallow.

Lying back, Hannibal closed his eyes, but sleep would not find him that night.

+++

Panting and safe behind the door of his own cold room, Will's head swam with the staggering realization that the tears on his cheeks came not from fear nor any pain, but from exquisite, breathless release.

Chapter Text

Will frowned, transferring his brush to his left hand so he could flex his fingers and regard the little figure. The man stood just outside of the crowd, close enough but not quite within, eyes directed subtly enough to appear to be watching the young artist. Brows stark, cheekbones sharp and high, eyes dark.

He turned away, wiping his hands on a rag before standing to clean the brush. Beside him, Leo continued working, just as immersed in his own figures as Will had been with his.

Their technique differed in detailing; where Will worked on faces and hands, making them expressive, equally delicate as they were flawed, Leo concentrated on the folds and shadows of the fabric. He was very good, his work mesmerizing, and Will wondered, again, where he had come from to apprentice here.

Giacomo had simply shaken his head when Will had asked him the same. But there was only the childish teasing of play in his expression, nothing to suggest that his apprenticeship had been something forced on him or was a last resort to escape a life worse. He had given just as little information about Leo.

The young boy wasn't now in the studio, called away by the master to run an errand with Nico to make sure the new servant not only found the market but also returned from it. Giacomo had toed the floor, eyes darting shyly to Will's when he came to tell him he would be gone for an hour, and Will had found the boy's need to reassure him about his absence both amusing and charming.

Putting his brushes down, Will turned to the master's empty desk and frowned.

It was the second day since he had fled Hannibal's room for his own, heart hammering and air coming in pants and gasps that shook his entire form. He had stayed awake all night, unable to forget how it had felt to be forced, handled and ordered. Unable to forget the relief that had washed over him when he'd found his completion so soon after the master had.

He had scrubbed himself in the big metal tub so hard that it had left him red for hours. And yet still, now, he could feel the heat of the thick fluid pooling on his back as though it were still there.

The bruise on his face had bloomed purple, dark enough to notice, though he made no mention of how he had gotten it. Leo hadn't cared. Giacomo had fussed, his eyes wide and lips parted in sympathy for the pain. Hannibal had not even looked at it as he issued Will his tasks for the day. The man hadn't even seemed surprised to see that Will had remained.

Still, now, the man would not acknowledge him beyond professional calm. Will felt his heart hammer faster, some sick desire to have the man touch him again, even if it was to push him aside. Or perhaps it was just the aching need for closure. Explanation. He had gotten neither, and his confusion had festered to a living thing, writhing and screaming its frustration.

+++

 

Hannibal stood at the rear of the studio, his eyes on the young Englishman. No one had yet realized that the master had returned, and it afforded him the chance to observe Will without being seen. He watched, curious, as the slender dark-haired man frowned at the empty table where Hannibal would generally be at this time in the morning. It was the third time Will had done so in the mere ten minutes that the master had been standing in the shadows. Hannibal felt his chest tighten slightly; this was unlike any hunt he had known previous.

When Will had appeared in the studio at the regular time the previous day, the master had experienced something unexpected: relief. It had quickly become overshadowed by the same churning confusion that had kept him awake all night.

Will meant to keep his end of the bargain, that much was clear. Otherwise the boy would have been gone before morning, not standing in the studio days later, anxiously casting his blue-grey eyes at the master's empty chair. Was that longing he saw in his gaze, or were Hannibal's desires colouring his perspective?

The master knew he was buying Will's submission, as surely as he had bought that of the others' - though this time with bright pots of paint and hard lessons rather than gold trinkets. Then... why had the result been so different this time? Was it the boy's innocence? Knowing that he had misjudged just how untouched the younger man was, the ravishment was now even more bewildering in its conclusion.

Hannibal was not a man used to uncertainty; attributing some of the hazy confusion to a night of little sleep, he had decided to step back and try to understand what it was that had stayed his hand, steering clear of the young painter until he knew for certain that his mind was his own again.

Standing in the shadows, watching Will's eyes turn yet again to the other side of the room, the master smiled softly at the conclusion he had finally come to.

He wanted to see Will on his knees, begging for the master to take him, without any avarice or pretension.

And now he knew that Will would.

If Hannibal had been hungry for the boy before, he was now utterly starving.

Letting his step echo on the marble tiles, the master crossed the studio.

+++

 

Will felt his heart beat in rhythm, two beats for every measured step, and closed his eyes on a sigh. He ached, suddenly, for the distraction of something in his hands, another brush, pigment to grind and mix, anything to avoid standing like a statue and pointedly averting his eyes from where they had sought out the master before.

He could feel Hannibal's eyes on him, not the hot, claiming glance of before, but a steady, pressure, like a hand between his shoulder blades that he couldn't shake. Will thought, again, of that night, remembered how he had been held down. He hadn't managed to remove that hand print from his skin either.

He cast his eyes to the painting again. Leo hadn't moved when the master had walked in, beyond shifting his position to work more closely on a particular fold of cloth - he wasn't affected by the man's presence at all besides simply knowing he was there. Will had observed that the two talked only on the occasions they had to, and both completely civilly. There was no interest or affection from the master directed at the boy beyond praising him for his work or chastising him for some wrongdoing.

Will wondered if he had ever punished Leo for the message he'd delivered Will the first day he had been here, and then decided he that didn't want to know.

Only when he heard Hannibal shuffle papers on his desk did Will move, and then just far enough to gather some charcoal and paper, eyes determinedly on his task so as not to stray to the left and look.

Hannibal had set him the task of studying both apprentices, watching how they worked, their technique, and to learn from them. Outside, of course, of completing his assigned painting. Will could not continue with the figures while the paint dried, but he could study, he could divert is attention from the master across the room and instead settle at Leo's side - his left, so as not to hinder his painting - and study his work with folds and shadows.

Leo looked sidelong at him for a moment, one eyebrow raised, but went back to painting, either uninterested in commenting on his technique or simply unable due to lack of vocabulary.

It hardly mattered, Will's mind wasn't in his work.

He started with studies, selecting a figure Leo had completed and copying it. He forced his mind to slow, to take in every bend and fall of the fabric, allowed himself to almost caress it as he drew, defining the lines smoother for silk, rougher and inconsistent for fur, heavier and thicker for velvet.

The pages filled with one fold or another, some far more defined than others, as Will worked. However, he soon found his thoughts straying to other textures he had very recently experienced.

Eyes barely open as his hand shifted slowly over the page, his mind went back to the master's room, feeling once again the roughness of the rug against his knees, how hard he'd fallen against it and how he thought he would bruise from the impact. He remembered how warm and dry Hannibal's hands had felt against his skin when he'd pushed him down, forced his hips up and his thighs to spread. He remembered how the covers between his fingers had felt thick and rich, taking his warmth and radiating it back to him when he had barely touched them...

He shook his head and blinked, fingers black to the second knuckle with charcoal where he'd been blending the strokes and adjusting mistakes.

On the page was a smudged image, dark as his mind had remembered it, with perhaps only one candle lighting the room, and showed only two hands, muscles straining on the arms as the knuckles grip hard, stark, with soft thick sheets between them. There was little else, just the hands, just the sheets, a hint of curled hair by the edge of the page before it ended, a slight shadow suggesting a chin, just the thought of parted lips, but nothing more. It rendered the image incomplete, dream-like.

Will swallowed, licked his lips and sat back.

At his side, Leo glanced over again, eyes just skimming the picture, seeing nothing of import beyond, perhaps, an accurate rendering of muscles and hands - something Will was already good at - before returning to his own work.

Will pushed back the stool, scraping it along the marble floor before he stood, set the charcoal and the drawing aside, and excused himself to wash up before the afternoon meal. He felt Hannibal's eyes on him again as he moved, felt the way they took in his entire posture, his hands, the slight trembling in them that could suggest he held the charcoal too tight or that he was remembering something he had told himself to not think of.

It hardly mattered why, but Will looked up, met the master's eyes with his own, wide and dark, lips parted as though to speak again before he thought better of it, curled his tongue to press to his top lip instead before turning away and taking the stairs to his room.

 

In the studio, Hannibal let himself smile wide; enjoying the quick thrum of his heart against his ribs, he stood and straightened his tunic, whistling a soft melody as he went to see about preparations for the noontime meal.

+++

 

Lifting the forkful of broiled fish slowly to his mouth, Hannibal let his eyes wander over the features of those across from him: Giacomo's snub nose, the way that Leo's top lip curled inward at the corners, how dissimilar their hands were. However, as his eyes were filing these details away, his other senses were concentrated on the young man seated to his right.

The master could feel the heat of Will's body next to him despite the warm day, a subtle shift in temperature that skimmed along his ribs and thigh, brushing along his arm as Will reached forward to take the little pot of herbed almond-cream sauce from Leo. With the faint heat came the scent of the young man's skin, warmed by the patches of sun that shone through the leafy trellis that shaded the terrazza where they were sharing the midday meal. Will smelled of musky, clean sweat and of the dry plaster that settled over everything in the studio, of linseed oil and charcoal, and something else. Hannibal closed his eyes, his mind bringing up that distinctive scent as it had filled his nostrils the night he held the boy down on the floor of the studio, and again as the master had pushed himself against the younger man in the candle-lit twilight of his bedchamber.

Will's breathing sounded measured; it was as if the boy was counting his breaths as he sat pushing his food around in his plate, and Hannibal fancied he could hear the muted beating of his heart. Opening his eyes, he turned to look at Will's profile and saw that the young Englishman's features were drawn in tight lines, a look of nervous tension on his young face. Hannibal could see the pulse dancing below the thin skin of Will's neck, and he found himself remembering the copper richness over his tongue; he wanted to press his open lips against the younger man's neck and taste the salt and sweat on his skin.

Smiling at the mild stiffening in his groin, Hannibal shifted his posture to study Will more comfortably, their close proximity rendering his gaze automatically more intimate despite the others' presence.

 

Already labouring under the anxious strain of being seated next to the master, being so close he could just reach out and brush his knuckles along the older man's tanned forearm and feel the fine hairs against his skin, Will was completely unprepared for the words that followed the dark stare that stroked his cheek like a phantom touch.

"Signore Graham, before I forget: The young Benedetto Accolti has recently been promoted bishop of Cadiz and would like a portrait painted," said the master, finishing the wine in his cup and standing, patting down the padded black velvet tunic he wore. "Congratulations on your first commission." Hannibal's eyes held Will's for a moment longer, and then the man simply walked away, as if disinterested by the reaction wrought by his extraordinary pronouncement.

Will just stared, eyes wide and lips parted, though he was fairly sure he was no longer breathing. A commission? He had been Signore Lecter's apprentice for just over a week and he was already allowed to work on something so important?

He turned back to his meal, once the master had left, and picked at his food as his heart hammered against his chest. In front of him, he heard Giacomo translate the words to Leo, his tone awed and obviously pleased. The other boy repeated one word, tone quiet, and left the table soon after, his plate next to Giacomo where he had left it, meal unfinished.

The rest of the meal passed in a strange sort of haze, with Will forcing himself to eat everything he was given - his avoidance of food was starting to catch up with him in slight pangs of hunger as he worked - and Giacomo bombarding him with questions, half in one language half in another, almost more excited on Will's behalf than Will was for himself.

He thought again of how it was so wonderfully endearing that the young boy liked him so much.

He also noticed how Giacomo very carefully ate everything from Leo's plate when he had finished his own, giving Will the sheepish but contented look of one comfortably full and happy after their meal. No one seemed to protest, and Will wouldn't tell. He grinned, and the other returned the smile, leaving table first.

+++

 

Will finally entered the studio again with his heart pounding faster and a frown on his face. He had nearly walked into Nico, in his daze, just at the foot of the stairs. The boy had said nothing, but his eyes had met Will's with a strange sort of knowing that had left Will utterly unnerved. He didn't want to let himself believe that the boy had stayed within earshot that night, not coming to Will's aid when he had clearly been begging for help; but, his look had suggested he'd been there, quiet, just outside the door.

Nico had heard, at least, if he had not seen.

Before Will could dredge up enough Italian to ask him - trying to think of the words for 'master's room' and 'evening' - the boy's mouth had curled into an ugly leer, pushing past Will to make his way down the corridor.

The encounter had left a bad taste in his mouth.

 

The studio was warm, the afternoon sun whitening the marble and filling the room with the slow dance of plaster dust motes. Leo was nowhere to be seen, though Will supposed the boy wouldn't risk the master's ire over jealousy; perhaps he was simply on an errand. Giacomo was admiring the scene Will had been helping to paint before, stepping close to look at the fine detail both he and Leo had been touching up that morning.

The master had gessoed a new canvas, large, and already set on its easel, and was busying himself with selecting his tools for the work. Will's heart beat quicker, wondering what the commission was, what he would be required to do. He wondered how long the master would spend at his side, criticizing, helping, distracting. He shook his head and collected his sketch, setting it away with the rest of the work that he kept in a leather folder. For reference, perhaps, or simply for sentiment.

"Giacomo."

Will straightened at the sound of Hannibal's voice, the soft fondness there so far removed from the sentiment he had shown Will thus far. The young boy went obediently and stood with his hands behind his back, bouncing just barely on his toes as the master spoke quickly to him in Italian, issuing instructions and sending the boy on his way.

Will closed his eyes, and waited for his name to be called just as quietly.

"Signore Graham," the master said instead, tone almost businesslike in its indifference. "If you would strip, please, to your waist. Stand over there where the sun will fall just behind you."

Will turned, brows furrowed even as his cheeks warmed with a blush. He had never been asked so nicely to pose for the master before. It felt wrong, somehow, for the man to be so gentle, though Will did not push his luck by stretching the man's patience - he did as he was told.

This time, at least, the studio was warmer, his skin did not immediately run with goosebumps once his light shirt was set aside. Will braved a glance at Hannibal and found the man simply considering him before he stepped closer, holding out a hand, palm up.

"May I?"

What was happening?

Will nodded but felt nothing but confusion. He couldn't understand what had turned the master so cool towards him, when he had been fire merely days before. Had Will done wrong when he had left the room that night? Had he been expected to stay, after such treatment, and pretend he hadn't lost all semblance of control? He felt disappointment seep into his blood, a strange lingering feeling of failure.

And then Hannibal touched him.

It was a soft gesture, merely a brush of his palm over Will's arm to guide him to where he wanted the man to stand. But Will felt the heat of his hand as though it were searing hot. His lips parted in silence. The older man didn't seem to notice.

Will allowed himself to be guided, to be moved so his arms were raised over his head, Hannibal's fingers locking just briefly over both his wrists to suggest he keep them just so; he allowed the man to run his flat palms down his sides and turn Will's hips, disappointed when they did not linger, when they did not even brush where they had held him so firmly not two days ago.

It was when Hannibal touched his face, to tilt it as though in penitence, or resignation, that Will sighed, just a soft barely-voiced sound between his lips that made Hannibal pause, for just a moment. Will held his breath. With an achingly soft touch, the master drew his thumb lightly over his cheekbone before letting him go. Heart stumbling over itself as it raced in his chest, Will forced himself to take a breath, and another, mouth dry as he watched the master's face for any suggestion of what the man was thinking... feeling, if anything.

Hannibal didn't step away far, just enough to see if Will's pose was how he wanted it, before stepping closer to adjust, a gentle hand through his hair, setting some curls down over his eyes in soft disarray, another against his back to straighten him just a little more.

Will arched, bending as he was told, but pushing closer, enough to feel his chest brush against Hannibal's, to gasp quietly at the contact, to bring his lip between his teeth on instinct before his eyes flicked up to the master's, to see, perhaps, if he had noticed that, or if Will would have to sink to his knees again to get his attention.

He was desperate enough, perhaps, to try.

 

Hannibal's chest had tightened painfully at Will's soft exhale, the boy's skin so smooth and warm against his palms as he coaxed him into the pose. It would be nothing to curl his fingers in the young painter's dark hair and tug his head back to press his lips against that pale throat, to feel the quick pulse against his tongue... the boy's eyes closed and mouth open in a shuddering sigh.

Heart beating quickly at that image in his mind, Hannibal instead allowed himself a simple, gentle touch of Will's cheek, one that left his hand tingling and his breath caught high in his throat. He had to back away quickly before his inner struggle was made known to the young Englishman.

One breath. Two.

Stepping forward again to adjust the soft, seal-brown curls over Will's forehead, Hannibal put his hand slowly on the younger man's lower back and let out a silent breath at the suppleness beneath his fingertips. His lust was a steady, almost painful, pulse at the brush of Will's bare chest against his shirt - the sharing of heat, a slow and sensual dance. He could almost taste Will's confused torment.

When Hannibal saw Will's eyes on him, he clenched his jaw, almost dizzy with want.

"Don't look at me," he said softly.

He tore himself away from the younger man's side, turning his back on Will, the blood hot in his face. Swallowing, he repeated himself, explaining.

"Don't look at me, Will." Hannibal was glad that his voice sounded so calm and unmoved despite the tempest howling inside him. "Look up, Will. You are St. Sebastian, looking to the heavens, praying for salvation from certain death." Hannibal reached for the brush and dabbed at the Terra di Siena pigment, rendered almost translucent with oil, and lifted it to the canvas.

Raising his eyes, he saw that Will had followed his instruction and averted his eyes, lifting them to the vaulted ceiling of the studio. The light streaming in from the high windows bathed the younger man in a warm glow and, for a moment, Hannibal just stared, stunned into complete stillness by the exquisite scene before him.

A cloud passed over the sun and the spell was broken.

The master almost laughed aloud as some of the tension leached from the room, like steam from a kettle. His paintbrush slid easily over the canvas, the thin paint capturing the essence of the pose as Hannibal worked quickly. The arched back, the strong jaw, the tilt of the pelvis, the smooth curves of the younger man's lightly muscled chest... Hannibal could already see the painting at its completion and knew that it would be beautiful beyond beauty; it would make men's souls ache and women weep to behold it.

Soon Hannibal could see that the difficult pose was beginning to wear on Will by the way his limbs began to tremble; he painted faster, wanting to outline as much as he could before the young man was unable to hold his arms above him any longer. As he worked, he began to speak softly to keep Will's mind off of his straining muscles.

"You have some of his... tenacity, Will," he said, the shape of the younger man's ribs appearing on the canvas in the red-brown pigment. "He was a rather satisfyingly resilient saint - surviving, though his flesh was violated and pierced through by deadly arrows, to come back and personally face the Roman emperor who had ordered his death."

Frowning, the master realized that he was inadvertently drawing parallels, triggering images in his mind; the boy was once again beneath him... though this time the dark-haired young man sobbed and begged to be pierced by Hannibal.

He quickly put the brush down and stepped back, his eyes flicking between Will and the forms on the canvas.

"Sebastian was clubbed to death in the end," the master admitted hastily, and smiled, trying to make his voice sound light. "An ignominious death, really, though it still makes for an interesting story." He wiped his hand on the rag and turned to leave before those stormy blue eyes could have a chance to capture his own.

"Thank you for posing for me, Will. You're free to go." Hannibal's strides were quick as he left the sunny studio, but not nearly as swift as the frantic beating of his heart.

Chapter Text

Will was glad for the roughness of Hannibal's hands, of the way the plaster and paint and oil had weathered them and turned them into hands that had experience, that had lived a life.

With those hands against his skin, Will could feel everything.

He twisted, fairly sure that he made a sound simply because he felt it vibrate in his throat - his heart was pounding a smooth rhythm against his ears and nothing else mattered - he only knew Hannibal had said something because he could feel the man's lips whisper over his throat.

He was hot, his skin just barely damp with sweat, the sheets beneath him bunched with his moving; he could feel them press against his back. He wondered if it would leave as memorable an imprint as his knees and hands had.

Above him, the man laughed, another vibration, not a sound, and pressed closer, drawing rough palms down Will's thighs, encouraging them to spread, drawing the backs of his knuckles up the soft insides when they had.

Will was dizzy, eyes closed and pleasure thrumming through his system. He wanted to say something but found that even just sighing seemed enough to move the master where he wanted him to be.

It was exquisite, a level of control Will had never experienced: submission.

The hands moved to grip just behind his knees, drawing them up and bent, still spread, and Will's breathing stuttered, eyes opening suddenly to blink up at the ceiling, feeling the warm tickle of exhaled breath against his stomach, then just under his navel, then lower still.

Air brushed over the head of his cock, already swollen and sensitive from waiting, from what the clever hands had done before, and Will whined, biting his lip and arching.

When hot lips pressed against the head, then slowly slid lower, Will moaned, the heat unbelievable and enough to bring him so close... so close he could almost weep from it.

He bucked, trying to get deeper... and suddenly the heat was gone. The air against his skin was cold, and the sheet that had been wrinkled under his back was now tangled at legs that were still spread and bent, held open only by his own will.

He blinked, twice, three times, and groaned, drawing a hand to rest against his eyes as he shivered in the early morning chill in his barren little room.

He pressed his palm harder against his eyes, enough to hold the image of Hannibal there, still, as his other hand ventured lower, between his legs, to tug himself quickly, finding completion in a muffled moan and a straining of muscles.

When he dropped his hand away, he kept his eyes closed. He wondered what the time was and whether he could go to the kitchen yet and take a piece of fruit before going to the studio. He wondered if the master would be there this early, if he could catch him alone.

+++

Looking up at the sound of footfalls coming from the far side of the studio, Hannibal watched Will enter the room and start to cross the floor towards him. However, at the sight of Leo at the master's side, Will's step faltered slightly. Making the misstep appear intentional, the young Englishman came to a stop instead in front of the unfinished Roman forum and made as if to study the painting. Hannibal felt his lips turn up in the merest hint of a smile; there was something wild in the younger man's eyes this morning, something that made the master almost wish that he had not called Leo in for an early morning meeting about the state of supplies.

Almost.

The fact that Leo was there, his eyes hot as he looked at his rival, meant that Hannibal could not take the few steps across the studio to curl his hand in the soft, dark hair that lived like a memory in his fingertips.

It also meant that he could continue the charade of his indifference.

Lips pressed together, Hannibal turned away to continue listing out what was needed and how much Leo should pay for each item, watching the boy scribble quickly on the narrow sheet of cheap paper. At the edge of his vision, he saw Will's shoulders slump slightly, and he wondered what it was that had spurred the younger man's hasty, early morning arrival to the studio.

"Don't let Vincenzo swindle you. Tell him that if I find out that he even tried, I will take my business elsewhere," said Hannibal with a tight smile. He squeezed the small calfskin pouch of coins before dropping it into Leo's open hand. "You may go once you're finished detailing the rest of the figures on the forum. The painting needs to be finished for Giovanni de'Medici election to Gonfaloniere and that is in less than three weeks."

Leo looked down at the money in his hand, the muscles working in his long jaw. When he raised his eyes to the master's, the young apprentice looked starkly furious.

"Why not get your star pupil to finish it, if you think his work is so exceptional?" said Leo between clenched teeth.

Narrowing his eyes at the young Medici bastard, Hannibal took a slow breath before answering.

"Before you allow yourself to say something you will regret, I suggest you bury that jealous heart of yours deep, Leo. While you are here as a favour to your father, you are a gifted painter. Otherwise, I would not have bothered with you," growled the master. Softening his tone to continue, Hannibal placed a hand on Leo's arm. "What makes you think I do not have a commission lined up for you as well, you silly child? Instead of painting an ugly young man, I had assumed that you would be more interested in doing a nude portrait of a very well-placed mistress. Was I wrong?"

His words were met with a widening of Leo's eyes and a flush of the younger man's cheeks. Licking his lips, the gangly redhead shook his head once, a crease between his thin brows.

"No, Master," said the fiery tempered youth. "That would suit me just fine. Thank you, Master. I apologize." Though his words were spoken contritely, Hannibal could sense that it would take far more to mollify Leo.

Dismissing the apprentice, Hannibal looked over at the young Englishman who stood motionless, oblivious to the rapid-fire Italian. The master crossed the studio and came to stand next to Will, close enough that he could feel the heat of the man's skin against his own; it was absolutely intoxicating and took every ounce of his restraint not to close the gap between them further. Breathing in Will's unique scent, Hannibal could smell the soft muskiness of lust, quickly scrubbed away, and he felt his body react. Had the boy lain awake, beset by a desperate need at the thought of sharing the master's bed again?

"Your detailing is very good," he murmured, his eyes on the painting. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Will tense slightly at the master's softly-spoken praise. Turning, Hannibal reached for the brush in the younger man's hand, letting his thumb skim Will's palm as if by accident. "But you persist in making your shadows too stark. They are in the distance, Will. More subtle please." Leaning forward he demonstrated by smudging a dark line. The young painter's breathing sounded a little hoarse, and Hannibal smiled to himself as he handed the paintbrush back and walked away.

Every little action was a like a breadcrumb dropped by Hannibal's skilled hand, leading Will inexorably forwards along a path of desire and wanton depravity.

+++

Will spent the day in almost feverish anticipation for the night.

To keep his mind off the evening's impending engagement, he worked at adjusting the shadows slowly, allowing himself to take his time and forcing his muscles to relax into a semblance of calm and indifference.

The master spent the day in the studio, initially behind his large marble table, then in front of the canvas that held the sketched outline of Will's pose from the night previous. Will hadn't chanced a look at it, had not attempted to approach the master again as he worked.

The master did not speak to him again.

Will found that the longer he spent in the same room as Hannibal, the harder it was to look the other way, to keep the silence between them. He gratefully took the time offered for his personal work to escape the studio, to leave the floor entirely and go into the garden, finding a tree to sit under as he put charcoal to paper to see what his mind would allow to be drawn.

He thought again of his dream, of the way the morning had been so cold, waking his own bed, instead of in the master's - regardless of how unwelcoming it had felt when he had last been there.

Will couldn't understand. He couldn't shake the feeling that he had done something very wrong that night with his admission of innocence. Perhaps Hannibal wanted nothing to do with him because of it? Or, perhaps this time he would not be so lenient?

The thoughts chased through Will's mind at a pace he could not control them.

He finally left for the midday meal, fingers dirty with charcoal and with nothing of value on the pages of his sketchbook.

 

Seated again at Hannibal's right, he obediently ate everything on his plate. There, at least, he felt some strange feeling of accomplishment when the master looked at him with approval. In truth, Will was growing used to the richer meals, his stomach no longer clenching in hunger or attempting to reject food he was unused to. However, when Hannibal's knee brushed against his under the table when the master reached for the bottle of olive oil, Will started to come apart again. It was done with such casualness that Will spent the remainder of meal tense, wondering if the older man had done it on purpose or if he truly was as indifferent as he seemed. It was utterly maddening not to know what was expected of him.

Returning to the studio after, he helped to mix pigments to Hannibal's specifications for the St Sebastian painting with Giacomo. Leo had returned, but was occupied elsewhere; Will was certain the young man would not forgive the master's favour towards him quickly, and yet, for all his show of it the day before, Hannibal had not bestowed Will with any further preferential treatment. Apart from the words softly spoken to him this morning, Hannibal had said nothing else to Will.

He ached, he realized, for a word, kind or harsh. Cheeks flushed at the thought, Will furrowed his brow as he bent to his task. A word... or a touch?

 

When the household supped together, Will could barely sit still. The night had loosed the leash on his worries and they scrambled inside him like wild dogs; he had waited three days, he did not think he could wait three more. Almost nauseous, Will felt a dire need for something to happen. Anything to end this waiting.

He did not look at anybody as he ate quickly, and when he returned to the studio to await the master's summons, his hands trembled unless he held them pressed together, his breathing quick and mouth dry.

He waited.

+++

 

Hannibal adjusted the doublet over his white shirt, the slashed sleeves and embroidered collar of it picked out in the same burgundy that accented the black velvet and satin of the padded farsetto. His black hose were close-fitting and smooth, showing off his attractively-muscled calves to advantage and, swinging loose down his back and ending just about mid-thigh, was a short red cape that he had draped over and pinned to his shoulders. A pair of slashed calf-skin slippers with thick soles and side-ribbons, and a soft, gathered, black hat with a garnet brooch completed the outfit. Picking up the perfumed leather gloves from the small table in front of his glass mirror, Hannibal studied his reflection and smiled to himself.

He had sent Nico to find out Will's whereabouts and report back to him, explicitly ordering the servant not to approach the young man, or even to let his presence be felt. When the dimwitted servant had returned with news that the young Englishman was pacing the floor of the studio as if he meant to wear a furrow in it, Hannibal had felt a momentary reluctance to go forward with his plan. How far did he want to go with this?

However, standing in front of the mirror, Hannibal decided that hunger was indeed the best seasoning.

 

Steps echoing down the corridor, the master entered the studio from the far side. Purposefully averting his gaze from the tense figure at the far side of the room and furrowing his brow, Hannibal went directly to his table, as if to find some terribly important document. At the sound of hesitant footfalls approaching, he looked up with an air of distraction.

"Will? Are you working on something late? The light is terrible in here right now. You should ask Nico to bring you more candles," he said, shuffling the stack of papers on his desk. Picking up an old bill of sale for some sailcloth canvas, he looked up and smiled as he tucked it into the breast of his doublet, making sure to seem slightly confused by Will's silent stare. The younger man's jaw clenched, jutting forward slightly as his dark brows sat pinched over his blue-grey eyes. "Are you feeling quite all right? Yes? I will be gone all evening - some silly ball of little import, but I may be there until morning. If that is the case and you arrive at the studio before I do tomorrow, please tell Leo that I will need him to stretch another two canvases of the same size as the previous ones we made up for Signora Barberina." With a brisk nod, he pulled a thin leather glove over his hand as he began to walk away.

 

Will faltered a moment, speechless, before his voice came unbidden.

“But didn’t you want…?”

The master barely turned. "Hm? Didn’t I want what?” Will blinked and swallowed, but before he had a chance to speak, Hannibal waved a dismissive hand. "Nevermind - I have to go or else I will never be invited out again. We can discuss it tomorrow."

Will felt the air pushed from his lungs with a barely voiced moan of confusion. He pressed his lips together before the sound grew longer, before he did something idiotic like beg the man to stay or raise his voice at him in frustration.

He watched the man make his way out of the studio, scarcely answering with a quiet "yes, master" before Hannibal left completely. He saw the man pause, the words new to him from Will's lips that had only before called him by his name or title.

Will held his breath.

Hannibal only nodded, adjusted the glove on his hand and left.

He seemed to talk Will's control with him. When the master's footsteps no longer echoed on this floor, Will rested his weight on Hannibal's desk and hung his head.

What was going on?

He allowed his voice to leave him here, the sound almost anguished if it wasn't so frustrated. He was confused... he was furious! The man pulled him with an invisible rope to venture closer, he had tethered him and tightened the noose, and now when Will lay at his feet, he merely stepped over him and continued on his way.

Hannibal had not revoked his promise; he still helped Will develop his technique beyond what it was and tutored him as a master should - as would any master that hadn't three days prior held Will down in his bed to paint him with his seed.

He didn't understand.

Will dropped further, on bent elbows over the cold stone, forehead against his wrists as he closed his eyes and breathed through gritted teeth.

He didn't understand!

How long he stood there, he didn't know. It was colder, what few candles remained in the studio had burned so low he could barely see by them - it barely mattered, his eyes had adjusted to the dark as he'd held himself, curled over and exhausted, at the table.

When he stood, Will drew a hand through his hair to resettle it behind his ears.

The master was out, he would be gone until the morning, he'd said. And it was the third night, once more, when Will had to honour his arrangement.

He thought back to the night Hannibal had accused him of reneging, when he had punished him cruelly for misunderstanding Will's intent. His brows furrowed with a new-found anger. He would not allow the man to misunderstand him again.

Will would not back out of an arrangement.

+++

Hannibal's room was cool and dark, no candles here as they would be unnecessary with the man's absence.

It looked much as Will remembered, though perhaps more papers on the small table Hannibal had here, the bed neatly made and prepared for the man's return.

Will lingered in the doorway, hand against the doorframe in hesitation before he stepped forward, drawing his hand along the door to gently push it closed behind him, just enough to leave a small ribbon of light across the floor from the candles still burning without.

He considered the space, let his eyes linger on the floor where he had fallen, where he had been held so cruelly on his knees. Will felt his face redden, his cheeks warm from the memory, the bottom of his stomach warm from the desire to feel it again.

He did not hesitate, now. Pulling his shirt over his head and folding it carefully. He removed his boots next, setting them aside as well.

When he crawled between the sheets, they were just as soft and just as heavy as he imagined.

He would have the bed if he could not share it. The bed smelled of Hannibal.

Will felt himself fall to sleep faster than he had ever here, and didn't dream.

+++

Hannibal smacked his palm against the side of the carriage, sending it back on its long way down the winding road towards town. The moon's face shone full over the chilly night and cast a wan light that robbed the greenery and marble of his villa of every colour but a deep hue somewhere between blue and grey.

Like Will's eyes, blown dark from passion...

His face hurt from holding it in a gracious smile all night, and he was weary and short-tempered from hours of banal conversation. The pleasure of drawing out Will's torment now seemed like such a silly thing; he could have spent the evening sharpening his desires on the whetstone of the Englishman's innocence rather than socializing with what he just couldn't bring himself to consider his peers.

Rubbing a hand over his face, he sighed and made his way quietly through the darkened villa to his chambers; his bed called to him like a siren through the haze of his fatigue. Pushing open the door and plucking the cap off his head, Hannibal ran his fingers over his short salt-and-pepper hair. He carelessly threw his gloves and hat onto the small marble table beside the door and started to unfasten the pins holding his cloak when he froze.

His skin prickled in alarm.

Standing motionless in the gloom of his bedchamber, Hannibal turned his head slowly to the great fourposter bed. There it was again... a soft sigh of breath, as if from someone sleeping. Heart pounding out a dizzying rhythm, he approached the bed on quiet feet.

There, nestled among the blankets, was the young Englishman in the soft embrace of sleep, his chest rising and falling beneath a limp hand thrown across his ribs. The moon outside the window painted the boy's skin in pale hues where the heavy covers had been pushed back, the graceful curves of his musculature picked out in the stark brushstrokes of shadow.

Hannibal breathed deep, trying to force his speeding heart to slow as he stared at Will, the boy's face soft and serene, so very young in the safety of slumber.

He would have laughed if he wasn't so shocked.

Brow furrowing, Hannibal retreated to the far side of the room, throwing his cloak hastily over the back of a chair and pulling apart the fastenings of his doublet. Never once had he imagined that the Englishman would be so audacious as to claim Hannibal's bed for his own. It was baffling, alarming... divine. Ridding himself of the rest of his clothing, Hannibal stood naked and motionless in the cool space, a sculpted form of graceful muscle and long limbs, his tawny skin bleached by the moonlight.

He was... uncertain. It was a strange feeling, uncomfortable and curious at once. Running a hand over the soft, furry thatch on his chest, down over his stomach to what hung heavy between his legs, he felt himself stiffen only slightly. Frowning and shaking his head in wry amusement, he tried to lift the doubt from his mind.

It is my bed, after all, he thought with a tight smile.

However, when he walked forward to take his rightful place, he faltered again, mouth dry and pulse quick. Will hadn't moved, but now Hannibal could see that the young man had awoken, his eyes sparkling in the dark as he silently watched the master approach.

Hannibal's pulse sang in his ears as Will, staring at him a moment longer, slowly stretched out his hand, pulling the coverlet aside in unmistakable invitation.

Chapter Text

Will felt his heart beat faster when the bed dipped and Hannibal joined him under the covers. They didn't touch, but they were close enough that Will could feel the slightly cooler residue of the air outside seep from Hannibal's skin to his own.

Neither spoke. Will could almost taste the tension coming from the other man, the unmistakeable effort it was taking to hold back, and again he wondered what was happening. Why this was suddenly so complicated when their arrangement had stated so clearly what would happen?

The human aspect always made transactions so complicated.

Will swallowed, lips pressed together gently, and edged closer. He had come to the master's bed of his own volition, to honour an agreement even when the other had apparently forgotten it. Perhaps his pride would damn him.

He turned, first to his side, then to rest on his chest, watching Hannibal carefully as the other did nothing more than follow the motion with his eyes. Will blinked. The other didn't.

He raised his hips, just enough to notice, to see Hannibal's eyes flick to the movement, his eyelids lower as though to blink but never quite close. He looked like a predator, just waiting for his prey to relax, to get closer and let down its guard.

Will arched just a little more and sighed when he rested against the bed again. Hannibal made a sound that wasn't audible so much as felt, like a growl, and Will remembered his dream, wondered if the man's hands would be just as hot, if his mouth would press to his skin and leave marks.

"Is it morning?" he asked softly, seeing if perhaps his voice would garner a response that his body so far hadn't. He was unsure how to proceed, and he was beginning to lose his nerve.

Finally there was some movement from the older man; Hannibal frowned and shook his head slowly but didn't speak. Another long moment passed, the older man's eyes like chips of black glass reflecting the light of the moon.

 

Hannibal could feel his pulse against the soft sheets, his entire being tense with a breathless electricity. Parting his lips to speak, nothing came out but a soft sigh - he could not think of a single thing to say. The boy was just inches away, obviously trying to get a response from him and, for once, Hannibal had no idea what he wanted.

No. That wasn't entirely true.

Hannibal felt the heat of Will's body under the blankets, smell the warmth of his skin, so close. Part of him desired nothing so much as to send the boy away, back to his own room, where he could not infect Hannibal with this maddening self-doubt. It would be cruel, a blow to Will's pride... and it could cost the master his apprentice.

Not just your apprentice. Your muse, came a gentle whisper in his mind.

Licking his lips, Hannibal tried again to voice something in the dark. Something concrete. A counter spell for his bewitchment. Crude words and commands came to mind, but they stuck in his throat, and Hannibal left them unsaid. He clenched his jaw as the younger man shifted, obviously uncomfortable with the master's continued inaction. Images of the boy struggling beneath him flickered through Hannibal's mind; however, though they kindled the fires in his loins, they did nothing to shake loose what kept him paralysed.

Will was in his bed. It should not have been such a shocking thing. No, far from it. He had, after all, hoped to use the boy's body for both his art and pleasure, to strip from him all pride and watch him lose his mind at Hannibal's hands.

Yet, here he was, just staring at the boy while his mind teased the edges of a terrible yearning. It was infuriating! He wanted to punish Will for making him feel the way he did. It was... insulting? Embarrassing? There was no reason why he should be made to feel such weakness. It was utterly galling.

However, as much as the thoughts of Will's exile or punishment appealed to him, they were not what he truly wanted. Not right now.

Letting out another soft sigh, a word finally escaped his lips:

"Will."

Will's eyes quickly moved to Hannibal's own, searching them for something more than just his name. There was so much weight in that word, in the single exhaled syllable.

Will had no idea what to say.

He let out another breath, blinking slowly, forcing the exhaustion out of his limbs and from behind his eyes - if the master wanted nothing from him, he would allow himself to relax back into slumber, but for now...

Will reached out under the covers, finding Hannibal closer than he thought, his fingers pressing gently against the man's side, feeling the lines of his ribs, the slight shudder that ran through Hannibal at the touch. He splayed his fingers and slid them further, through the warm hair on the master's chest, up to rest over his heart for just a moment, surprised to find it beating as fast as his own.

In the wan light, Will could see a crease form between Hannibal's brows at the soft touch; a vibration against his palm told him that the older man had made a sound so low he hadn't heard it. However, Hannibal still made no movement, did not pull away but did not invite further touch. Maybe this was a mistake.

Will started pulling his hand back but was startled when Hannibal's long fingers quickly caught his wrist.

"Don't," said the master, his voice rough-edged and quiet as he placed Will's hand back down on his chest. "Continue."

Shocked motionless for a moment, Will felt dizzy with the frantic beating of his heart; it was like a bird was caught within his ribcage, struggling to get out. Closing his eyes, his cautious fingers ventured higher, to run fingertips just over the jutting lines of Hannibal's collarbones, to press soft in the hollow between.

Will let out another quiet breath and opened his eyes, moving closer still, lying so that his hips touched Hannibal's - he could feel the heat of him through the fabric of his pants and suddenly regretted still wearing them.

The new position offered him more leverage, and he stroked his palm up the master's neck to cup his jaw, to draw his thumb over the man's stubbled cheek and study his response. Still, no movement, just a deepening line between his brows and a brief jerk of his top lip as though in a snarl.

Will ducked his head and drew the tip of his nose gently over the stark muscles of Hannibal's neck, tilting his head to press lips there next, soft and dry, eyes closing again to slowly to savour another shudder. It should be him shaking, he thought in wonder, it should be him holding himself tightly wound and immovable.

 

The boy's hand stroking his skin awoke something humbling inside Hannibal. It wasn't the violent drive to use another's body simply for release, or to subjugate another to his will. No... it was a slow-burning desire to feel flesh upon flesh, a sharing of breath and passion. It was the all-encompassing need for another human being… a need for the talented and prideful young man that had stolen into his bed like a gypsy and who touched him with a gentleness that pulled an ache from his chest.

Mulling that staggering thought in his head, Hannibal closed his eyes tight and felt himself shake as the younger man's lips opened against his neck. With a low growl, he was finally released from his stasis by the touch of Will's tongue to his skin.

Hannibal clutched at the younger man, hasty fingers pulling Will's shoulder and pressing into his skin to coax him closer. Mouth open in a slow pant, he felt the younger man's chest brush his own and then settle down, the weight of Will drawing another sound from deep within. It was glorious madness, and he brought an arm firmly around the boy's waist, Will's hips still half on the bed though he pressed down against Hannibal's chest, the master's hot palm against his back.

It was Will's turn to freeze, tense and shaking in Hannibal's embrace, his lips hovering above the master's, mouth open in a gentle sigh. Opening his eyes, Hannibal looked into Will's face and saw conflict there, confusion over the desire that coursed through him, and the master realized that the younger man mirrored the breathless emotion that shook him to his very core.

Will blinked, eyes down to Hannibal's lips, making them appear closed, the lashes dark and fanned out against his light skin.

The hesitation was barely a moment more, before something snapped, pulling a heavy, short breath from Will and bringing his lips, finally, to Hannibal's.

 

The kiss was uncoordinated, Will turned just a little too awkwardly for it to fit well, but it seemed enough to loosen Hannibal's muscles from their rigid tension to something more human, and that was enough to draw Will closer, his leg sliding over Hannibal's hips so he was straddling the older man.

The kiss broke for a breathless moment of adjustment, and then there were fingers in Will's hair, not cruel like before, but just as demanding, and he found his breath shared briefly before Hannibal kissed him, harder, this time, but leaving him just as vulnerable to it.

Will moaned. He could feel the hard ridge of Hannibal's naked cock against his pelvis, the thin material of his pants the only thing keeping that hot, rigid flesh from resting against Will's bare skin.

He ached for it. It was shameful. Utterly sinful. Yet, Will could not shake from his mind the memory of Hannibal stroking himself, thick and hard, against Will's sensitive flesh.

Whimpering softly against Hannibal's lips, Will wished he knew how to make things happen... even the thought of moving against the older man seemed like such an alien, immoral act that he just couldn't allow himself to do it, though he craved the contact it would bring. He closed his eyes tight and did the only thing he could think of.

"Please," he whispered, his lips still touching Hannibal's. "Please." His voice sounded broken and breathless to his ears, and he groaned softly at how completely debauched he sounded.

 

Please.

It was the final push that Hannibal needed, the barely uttered word stoking the fire within him, rendering his lust volatile and immediate. With a harsh sound, Hannibal pushed himself to sitting, savaging the younger man's lips with his own, his cock hard against Will as he crushed the other against him. In an instant he had Will down on his back on the bed, kissing him roughly as his hands yanked at the younger man's pants, his motions clumsy in his frenzy to see Will stripped. Finally the material gave way and, with a growl, he closed his hand around the rigid shaft of Will's cock, his gasp at the hot flesh against his palm echoed by the hoarse cry of the man straining up against him.

Will moved under him, bending his body to adjust to the new sensation, turning himself, arching up, and pressing close in such uncontrolled pleasure that Hannibal could barely concentrate on what he was doing - studying Will kept his entire mind silenced to all and everything else.

He was exquisite. Cheeks flushed, hair a gentle tangle against the sheets, so dark it was near-invisible in the shadows. His eyes remained half closed, barely slits, catching what little light there was; the silver glint was the only indication that Will hadn't yet closed his eyes entirely to this.

Hannibal's kisses moved lower, from Will's mouth to the corner of his lips, to his cheek and down his jaw; Will arched into that too, bending his back up off the bed as his legs scrabbled, where Hannibal held them pinned with his own body, to spread wider, hands clenched tight around the warm sheets under him. The master lifted himself, pulled away enough to yank the pants completely off the boy beneath him, to allow Will to draw his knees up on his own, seeking pleasure in the most base and innocent way.

This. This Hannibal wanted.

He chuckled softly, staring down at the panting boy beneath him.

Will opened his eyes, a look of dismayed confusion on his face as he obviously mistook Hannibal's quiet laugh for something cruel. Wanting to allay the younger man's mistrust, Hannibal covered Will's body once more with his own, mouth seeking out the lips that met his with an equal fervour. Shivering with the force of his ardour as his cock slid against Will's, the master felt himself approach the brink of recklessness, only to pull back. The younger man's soft sounds of arousal against his lips sent delicious pulses of lust into his loins and, while he played with the temptation to turn Will on his stomach and take him savagely, he felt an unaccustomed need for caution.

This would not be the culmination of an act. No, it would be simply the beginning of something... something strangely valuable that required a patient hand. Letting his teeth graze against the underside of Will's jaw, Hannibal pushed away the enormity of that realization, focusing himself on the moment.

"Say it again," he said, his voice just a hush against the younger man's neck. Without an ounce of hesitation, Will replied.

"Please," he breathed, his thighs squeezing Hannibal's hips tight.

Chest constricting from the desperate note in Will's voice, Hannibal bit into the younger man's neck with a smile, teeth gentle, before pulling himself up and reaching over Will's head to the bottle of thin olive oil he kept by the bed. Sitting back on his heels, he thrust his hands beneath the younger man's buttocks to slide him against the bed and up onto the slope of Hannibal's knees. Will watched, brow furrowed and breath heaving out between parted lips, tense and unsure of the master's intent as Hannibal poured oil into his palm.

Licking his lips, Will lifted his head, his face drawn in fear.

"Wait, I didn't mean..." whimpered the young man, his hand coming up to ward off Hannibal's advance. The slight panic in Will's voice brought with it a new surge of hunger in Hannibal, and he leaned forward to push the younger man down.

"Hush. You needn't fear this," said Hannibal softly. "You needn't fear me. Put your legs around my waist."

Will waited a moment before moving, a leap of faith as he closed his eyes and obeyed, the pulse jumping in his neck.

When Hannibal pushed his cock against Will's, his oiled hand encircling the two shafts to stroke them as one, the younger man let out a surprised gasp that shuddered to a moan, his hips moving wantonly in time to the master's touch.

Leaning over Will, his elbow locked and hand splayed on the bed next to the younger man's shoulder, Hannibal worked his hand over the heads of both cocks, hearing himself groan as Will threw his head back with a soft cry. It was a gorgeous sight.

"Open your eyes, Will," he said, his voice roughened by lust. "You're close, I can feel it. Look at me." He wanted Will to be there, in the moment and acknowledging that it was Hannibal who was pushing him over the brink of ecstasy and no one else. He wanted to watch the shattering pleasure steal all reservation from those serious blue-grey eyes and fill that gaze with complete and total abandon.

Eyes open to Hannibal's, Will's brow creased as if in pain, bottom lip snagged between his teeth as he bucked up against the older man's hand. Will let out a desperate, needy sound, reaching up one hand to grasp at Hannibal's shoulder.

"Yes... that's it Will, give in," breathed Hannibal, his own passion climbing quickly, sweet and aching in his loins.

With a strangled cry, Will went rigid, his fingers digging into Hannibal's skin as his cock pulsed and swelled in the master's grasp, the thick cum landing in hot streaks over his taut stomach and covering the hand milking and stroking him. The sounds of Will's undoing were wanton and primal, and Hannibal gasped, feeling himself reach his own pinnacle as the other man's cum slid against his cock, slick and warm on his palm. Letting out a hoarse groan, Hannibal watched as his own seed surged out of him, the throbbing tempest of his orgasm robbing him momentarily of self and rendering him blind, breathless, and shuddering with its violent intensity.

For a long moment, neither man moved, concerned only with finding breath again as the chilly air cooled the sweat on their bodies. Hannibal was the first pull back, sliding off the bed to pad barefooted across the room to fetch some water. When he returned, Will's eyes were wide, the expression on his face one of apprehension again; however, when the master wiped him down with the soft cloth, the younger man's eyes closed in subtle pleasure. Beneath his hand, Hannibal could feel the slowing of Will's heart, and he pressed his lips together at the quick pain in his own chest.

This was naive and foolish; what was the boy to him?

Sliding between cool sheets, he faced away and pulled the coverlet up over his shoulder, closing his eyes. The words he normally spoke to his conquests were at the very tip of his tongue.

Be gone when I awake.

Instead, Hannibal heard his voice break the silence with quiet words.

"Stay the rest of the night."

Behind him, Will said nothing. The sheets moved over each other with a gentle hiss, but the boy didn't get up.

A moment later, he felt Will's forehead press up between his shoulder blades, hair just a little damp from their exertions, breathing cool air against Hannibal's skin.

He still said nothing, but as his breathing evened out in sleep, it was answer enough.

Chapter Text

Will did not wake shivering. He did not wake in a cold sweat with the frigid fingers of a nightmare caressing his face.

He woke wrapped in heavy blankets, face buried in a soft pillow that smelled of Hannibal. And he woke late.

The sun had drawn bright lines across the floor, and over Will's eyes, a heavy, late morning warmth that Will had grown accustomed to working in, in the studio. It took a moment to sink in, where he was, why he was here, why he was still in bed instead of working on softening his shadows as the master had told him.

He felt his face heat, cheeks pink as he blinked his eyes further open.

The room was empty. There was no sign of the master, no indication that the man had left anything for him here, no news, no note. But he had left him and allowed him to slumber for longer, in his own bed that Will had - he groaned when he remembered - stolen into because his stupid pride had dictated he should.

More than pride.

He remembered the night, the way the master had handled him so gently, had brought him such exquisite pleasure, had watched Will come apart...

He cursed quietly and drew a hand through his hair, fingers catching in the tangles there.

He needed to get up, he needed to dress, and make himself presentable, and face the master in the studio. He wondered if the man would be just as cruelly indifferent today as well, if he would not look at Will, or touch him, if he would deny him any contact as he had, until the next three days had passed.

Will's cock stirred at the thought, and he drew his knees up to rest his arms around them. His need hadn't quelled, it had grown.

Three days now seemed a life sentence instead of a welcome reprieve.

He sat a moment longer, allowed himself to take in the room in natural light, to feel its shape and space, to see the master move within it, imagine his form turning here or there as he reached for one thing or another. It was a soft daydream, a safe one. And when he'd allowed himself to watch the master long enough for the image to fade, he forced himself out of bed to dress.

+++

 

Lifting his eyes at the soft step, Hannibal suppressed a smile as he watched Will enter the bright space. The young man's hair was wet, the dark curls sticking to his forehead, and he breathed a little heavily as if he had quickly thrown water over his head before running for the studio. Will's face was drawn in its usual tight lines, so very unlike the relaxed serenity that had graced it when Hannibal stood beside the bed this morning getting dressed. The boy had looked so peaceful that the master had decided not to wake him before he left.

Will obviously thought that it had been done as a deliberate ploy to make him late. Blue-grey eyes flicked to Hannibal's and quickly away again, suspicion and shame in equal parts in Will's gaze.

Pressing his lips together and sighing softly, the master wondered what it would take to get the the young man to actually trust him other than when he was skilfully stripped of pride, naked and panting, lust opening his soul and body to Hannibal's touch. The master felt a surge of desire quicken his heart as his mind played back to him the image of Will coming apart in his hands, his eyes wide and sightless, mouth open in a broken-voiced moan.

Will's eyes met the master's once more - wide, as if he had suddenly caught a glimpse of Hannibal's thoughts - before Giacomo pressed into his hands the leather case that the Englishman kept his brushes in. Face creasing into a quick, relieved grin, Will thanked the boy and ruffled Giacomo's hair before he turned his back on the master to approach the nearly-completed painting.

Turning his head, Hannibal watched Leo give the two a long, tense stare. Before Will had joined them, the charming little apprentice had hung on Leo's every word, looking up to the gangly redhead like he was an older brother. Shaking his head before looking back down at the brush in his hand, Hannibal knew that unless Will found something to endear himself to Leo, the relationship between the two apprentices would always be fraught with resentment.

The master was curious to see how Will would handle himself concerning Leo's growing ire.

Frowning, Hannibal began to meticulously add more contrast to the figure's ribs. The painting was well-composed, and the elements and forms were right... but there was something wrong. Tilting his head, he let his eyes lose focus as he weighed light versus dark, trying to catch what it was that was bothering him about it.

When he had posed Will for the St. Sebastian piece, Hannibal had seen a work that would surpass his previous attempts. However, he had somehow lost that vision. By incorporating some of Will's stylistic unconventionalities, the master had hoped to produce something that was both classic and new, but the result was falling short of that. He grit his teeth; the suspicion that the young Englishman was the better artist reared up once again in the pit of his belly, making him feel tense and irritable. The solution was to have Will take a look at it and offer advice, but the thought of that was completely mortifying.

He'd simply have the boy pose for him again and see if that wouldn't rekindle his vision.

+++

 

The midday meal came faster, perhaps due to the extra rest that he had been allowed that morning; when Will followed the other apprentices outside to take it, he walked as though in a haze.

Hannibal had not spoken to him, but he had not seemed determined to hold cold indifference over him like a shroud.

The entire morning, Will had watched the master work on his own painting, knowing that his likeness was being given flesh and skin on the cold canvas. He wondered if Hannibal thought of him in the throes of pleasure as he painted, if he would give St. Sebastian the same look of terror and pure ecstasy as he had given Ganymede. The thought brought unwelcome heat to his face.

He did not dare a look at the work, despite his burning curiosity.

In the late afternoon, with the sun low and warm against Will's lower back as he worked on completing his own work, he noticed subtle changes in the way he was handling his figures. They were small things - sometimes the shadows were smudged to be softer, or the fabric had been adjusted to lie better - things that he was learning from the others were finding their way into his technique. He was glad; his work benefited greatly from it.

Sweeping his eye across the painting of the broken stones of the Roman forum, Will spotted the figure that he had set apart from the others, the one he had given the master's likeness to, still watching him with hooded eyes. The eyes that had inspired those had gone darker still in the warm twilight of the large bedchamber...

His heart beating swiftly, Will had to step away, wishing suddenly to seek out Giacomo just to see the boy smile, to watch him squirm in a childish sort of discomfort and pleasure at having Will so near.

Seating himself on the marble floor a few minutes later, once more grounded in his own comforts and realities, Will took up his charcoal to draw the young boy as he continued working. Giacomo interacted with his environment with an energy the Englishman envied. Easily pulling a smile from Leo - who had once again grown sullen in his work - the snub-nosed little boy also drew the strangely fond gaze of the master. Will found himself wondering anew who the boy was.

 

Later that day, he was scrubbing his hands again in preparation for the evening meal, the rough soap unexpectedly pleasant against his skin, when he heard Hannibal approach him. The man stood back far enough to suggest respect of Will's space, though done in a way that made it clear he would not wait long for Will to turn on his own.

Will wrapped a soft rag around his arm to dry it and turned, addressing the master by his title, watching, once more, as the word drew a strange shiver through the man.

+++

 

"Yes, Master?"

Hannibal let out a slow breath, the word from Will sparking something deep within as it had the evening before. Bringing his arms back to clutch his hands behind him in an attempt to hide his sudden discomfiture, he wondered what it was about hearing the word "master" from the young Englishman's lips that made him feel an almost breathless tension.

Licking his lips, he let his mouth stretch into a guileless smile.

"I have a... proposition to make," Hannibal said, watching Will pass the cloth over one forearm and repeat the motion for the other. The younger man's sleeves were rolled up, and the dusting of hair on his arms was dark and fine; the master quelled an impulse to reach out and take one of those lightly muscled arms in hand to bring Will's naked wrist to his lips.

Will stared at Hannibal with solemn eyes, waiting for him to continue; the older man guessed that the gravity behind that guarded expression hid the Englishman's apprehension and confusion.

And hope?

"If you're not completely famished, I would ask that you stay here for a short while longer so that I may use you as my model again," explained Hannibal, lifting his shoulder in what he hoped was an amiable shrug. "In return, I shall feed you at my table. Would that suit you?" His eagerness to bed the boy again was strong, almost overwhelmingly so. However, he forced himself to hide his intentions, desiring that Will find his own way back to Hannibal's bed. A repeat of the previous night would not be amiss... though this time perhaps the master would be able to better understand the driving force behind his attraction to the young man.

Draping the rag carefully over the edge of the basin, Will then rubbed a hand over the top of his head, mussing his dark curls further. Nodding once with his lips pressed into a tight line, Will let his eyes meet Hannibal's for a second before the younger man turned his back to pull the linen shirt over his head.

Yes, he thought. That's most assuredly hope, buried beneath all that shame.

With a hidden grin, Hannibal took his place behind the canvas and watched as Will stood in the same spot as before, remembering with amazing accuracy the pose that the master had put him in. It was only when Will lifted his head that his dark brows came down, as if belatedly realizing that by posing himself, there was no opportunity for Hannibal to touch him; the master nearly laughed out loud. Instead, he picked up his brush and tilted his head.

"Your pants this time, Will," he said, watching the slow blush suffuse the younger man's cheeks and neck. "If you please."

+++

 

The kitchen smelled of something Will could not place, a spice or herb he had only ever smelled while running through the market, something exotic and sharp, pleasing enough that he found himself taking deep, measured breaths.

Again, Hannibal worked alone, moving through the space with great confidence and calm, the weariness - and Will supposed, wariness - drained from him with the sound of pots being shifted over the bricks of the wood oven and the wonderful smell of the food cooking. Perhaps the master enjoyed the activity so much because it was utter control, he could make the repast taste fantastic or mediocre, as his choice and pleasure. He could choose who he fed with it.

He was making life, in a way, by sustaining it with his meals.

A power indeed.

The pose had not taken long, as Hannibal had promised. He had had Will stand in the same way, only this time just his thin braies, tied up at the knees, being the only cover over his form. To Will's great agitation, nothing had happened. The master had not seen fit to move Will, to change his position, and he had felt no desire to touch Will after, when he was told to dress and join him in the kitchen.

Will wondered if perhaps next time, he should adjust his position to be wrong, just to have the man approach him and correct him with a steady, soft hand.

Or a harsher one, if he moved again, deliberately unhelpful in the master's work.

What has become of me that I should yearn for the man's debased savagery? he thought miserably.

He swallowed and raised his eyes to Hannibal when the other turned, taking a small sip of wine and licking the taste slowly from his lips. Despite his misgivings, he relished the way the man watched him, and he realized that he was growing bolder with how he moved, purposefully trying to draw the master's eye. Hannibal looked at him now, his expression affable but maddeningly reserved; Will was unaccustomed to being so unsure of someone's motives before.

"I thought you might like a little taste of home," said the older man with a smile, gesturing to the deep pan atop the wood oven from which came the mouthwatering smell.

Raising his eyebrows, Will shook his head slowly.

"It doesn't smell like anything I've ever eaten back home," he said, watching Hannibal's brows dip low over his deep brown eyes.

"It's called Pikkyll pour le Mallard. I was told it was a common dish for the English," muttered the master, looking back at the stove with a little dismay.

Will let out a short laugh and immediately covered his mouth, aghast at his reaction. He hoped that Hannibal didn't think he was laughing at his cooking and quickly moved to explain.

"It might be, but I wouldn't know. I wasn't raised with the most diverse diet," he said, knowing that he sounded a little bitter. Frowning at yet another admission of ignorance, he stared down at the cup in his hands. As always, his poverty chafed at him. He looked up in amazement a half-heartbeat later when Hannibal's voice rang out with laughter.

"I'm sorry, Will," chuckled the older man, his face creased in a wide smile. "Here I was thinking to make you feel a little more at home, and I've gone and made a small mess of it, haven't I?" The amused expression sloughed years off the master's age, and Will couldn't help but smile back. "Well, it will be a novel experience for the both of us then. At least I won't have you telling me that the English do it better," laughed Hannibal, reaching for his own wine cup.

Will ducked his head, his grin widening slightly as he nodded. Lifting his eyes back to Hannibal's, he tilted his head and tried to force himself to relax.

+++

 

Hannibal watched the younger man take another bite of the duck, and he smiled thinly. It was cooked to perfection, and the other obviously appreciated it, but the master was becoming quickly frustrated by Will's short replies. The other was making little effort to carry the conversation; no matter what questions Hannibal put to him, Will's answers were short, to the point, and laughably poor of detail. He couldn't decide whether the Englishman was trying his patience on purpose or if he was really this lacking in social graces.

Frowning down into his cup, the master held the wine against his tongue, savouring the rich taste as he mulled over his thoughts in silence. What would it take to pull the boy from his shell? Hannibal realized he was in strange territory when he looked up and saw Will watching him with guarded eyes. It had never mattered to him before whether his conquests really desired him or not. Nor had he made any effort to learn anything about them beyond how much gold their submission would cost, and whether or not they had kin, should they go suddenly missing. Yet, here he was, trying to coax blood from a stone, feeling like a fool.

Having intended the gift of a meal to segue into an invitation back to his bedchamber, Hannibal felt like he was floundering as the younger man seemed more and more uncomfortable as the evening wore on. Finally, he couldn't keep his words at bay.

"Will, what is wrong?" he asked, his eyes on the dark-haired painter. Will's chewing slowed, and he blinked slowly, averting his gaze as he swallowed.

 

He felt, for a moment, an urge to be truthful. To turn the question on the master and ask him instead if something was wrong. If there was a reason that one moment the master had Will on his knees, his hand a rough fist in his hair, and the next moment he approach Will like he would any apprentice.

If there was a reason why he would deny Will the chance to keep his arrangement, deliberate in his avoidance, and yet be so pleased with Will taking initiative to follow through regardless.

He wanted to know why when he saw Hannibal's eyes darken, his heart raced, and yet when the master's hands proved soft and patient, Will's body gave in just as quickly. He wanted to know what it meant.

He wanted to know what this was for.

Will parted his lips to speak and found himself unable even though he felt as though his questions would not go unanswered, were he to ask them. That the master would explain them with the same patience and care with which he explained the softer shadows and perspective.

With the same indifference.

Will jaw locked in thought, he stilled.

He did not want to risk indifferent, direct answers. He wanted to catch the master unawares, as he had when he had crawled into his bed, to see that spark of curiosity and pride soothe his features.

"Remembering home," he said finally, a small shrug to accompany the gentle tilt of his lips, "Perhaps it's in my blood to remember such things. Purely English."

He hated the taste of the lie and sipped some wine to wash it away.

He would ask. But he would wait to.

 

Hannibal recognized the lie for what it was and breathed out slowly in frustration. What was this ridiculous impasse that they seemed to reach all the time? Where did it stem from? Turning his cup around in his hand, Hannibal pushed back his plate and levelled his eyes at Will again.

"Perhaps you would do better if you were back there?" he asked, immediately annoyed at himself for trying to goad the young man so crudely with his words, but unable to stop. "Have you considered that it was a mistake coming here?" What was he even trying to get Will to say?

I want you...

This was not the way to do it. Downing the rest of his cup in one swallow, he watched in dismay the effect his words had on the Englishman.

Will's mouth had come open involuntarily at Hannibal's callous suggestion, and the younger man's hands had flattened palm down to each side of his plate. There was torment in those eyes, and enough confusion that Hannibal made himself bite back another acid suggestion.

What was the purpose of this? Hannibal felt strange, angry, insulted by his own confounding need for this boy's... This boy's what? Adoration? Complete submission? Willingness? He clenched his teeth, his mind was a complete mess.

What if he was seeing things that weren't there? What if Will rising to his feet slowly was not an act of outrage but one of sheer stupefaction at Hannibal's seemingly random attack. Before the master had a chance to say anything, anything at all to fix this before it was too late, Will spoke in a slow, quiet voice.

"If you will excuse me, Signore," said the young man. "I am obviously undesirable company." Will stared at him hard, his dark brows low over his eyes and muscles working in his strong jaw before turning to leave.

God in heaven be damned, swore Hannibal to himself, watching the Englishman go.

"Wait," he said to the man's retreating back. Getting to his feet he took a few steps into the hallway to follow Will and stopped. The younger man paused and turned his eyes to Hannibal, his face drawn once more into tight lines. The master heard a small sound of chagrin escape his lips at the look from Will. "It doesn't have to be one out of three nights," he said softly.

In response, Will's averted his eyes, nodding curtly before continuing down the corridor.

Hannibal leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, feeling a bigger fool than ever. After a few long minutes, he straightened and smoothed his padded tunic down. Re-entering the kitchen, he stared for a long time at the remains of the meal.

With a low growl, he swept everything aside, and the dishes flew off the edge of the table to shatter on the stone tiles below. At the sound, Nico came running, staring in open confusion at the mess on the floor.

"Clean it up," said Hannibal. "I am retiring and shan't be disturbed."

+++

 

"Perhaps you would do better if you were back there?"

Will dropped his head back to gently thud against the wall behind him, eyes closed and teeth grit so hard his jaw ached.

Do better.

Do better.

It was as though the master had seen through his lie, as Will had once seen through Hannibal's own, as though that act alone had angered him more than anything Will had said or done.

Perhaps he should have been honest. Perhaps he should have suffered the indifference for a few days before that, too, passed like it had once before.

Will licked his lips and bit the bottom one, teeth pressed hard against it until he could feel his pulse there before he let it go.

Will swallowed and drew a hand through his hair, resting his weight forward against his drawn up knee as his other leg dangled just above the stone floor.

What have I done?

He wondered at the man's parting words, how Will should not consider three days anymore. How he should, perhaps, not come to him at all.

Will frowned, stilling all motion as he remembered the softness of the tone, something so unlike how one would sound when dismissing another, when removing them from their space.

He had heard Hannibal dismiss others, had been dismissed himself. The sound of the master's voice, so low, a rough thing that was a beast in its own right that made him tremble to remember. This had been nothing of the sort... this had been a caress where the other had been a strike.

Had he misunderstood? he thought with growing unease.

Will lifted his closed knuckles to gently run over the bruise that had all but faded on his face, bringing up just the faintest twinge of the pain that he had felt the morning after he'd been so harshly set in his place.

His eyes didn't focus, his blinking slowed to nearly none at all as Will thought, breathed, forced the night to go faster and found his pleas unanswered.

It was late, and it was cold. The house silent around him, and his heart beating in that trapped-bird struggle as it had the night before.

Will dropped both feet to the ground and stood.

+++

 

The corridors were easy enough to navigate. His eyes used to the darkness, Will made his way on swift silent feet to the master's chambers, after finding the kitchen empty.

The door did not stand ajar, but barely open, as though carelessly closed and left alone.

Will stood. He waited, hands flexing into fists and relaxing to shaking fingertips, over and over.

He had been honest, once, when he had snuck into the room before. He had felt freedom then.

Without a word, he allowed the door to open enough to accommodate his slim form and closed it fully behind him.

 

Hannibal read over the same passage again, the book on form and figure doing absolutely nothing to soothe the cold anger that flowed through his veins at the damn, infernal pride of that prickly, uptight, cacasodo...

At the soft creak of the door, Hannibal turned his head, startled. The room wasn't well lit, the only candle he had bothered with burned low next to the bed, and it took him a moment to see the lithe form of Will standing on the knotted rug in the middle of the room.

He was completely astonished, and his pulse skipped, crashing over itself in its hurry to speed up.

If the boy had spurned his invitation to share his bed earlier, why was he here now? It made no sense. Hannibal stared openly at the Englishman who stood like a tense shadow in his room.

Frowning in confusion, Hannibal's mind reeled, playing back the exchange from earlier, but this time focusing on the strangely defeated look Will had given him at his words.

It doesn't have to be one out of three nights.

Hannibal almost groaned as he stood, realizing his mistake.

It doesn't have to be only one out of three nights...

The boy had obviously taken his words as a dismissal, yet, here he stood, trembling slightly as he stared at the master with his soul in his eyes. Hannibal barely heard the word when it finally came, spoken quietly through numbed lips.

"Please."

Chapter Text

As Hannibal's anger at being spurned made way for relief, he fought the urge to crush the boy against him, or shake him, calling him a foolish thing. However, as quickly as it rose up in him, that urge was eclipsed by curiosity.

Will was here.

He had said please.

Smiling inwardly, the master realized just how much he enjoyed the proud Englishman saying that word.

Taking a step toward the boy standing pale in the darkened room, Hannibal felt again that unmistakable, breathless crackle of electricity between them. There was something so compelling, so irresistible about that pull; it was addicting.

Crossing his arms over his bare chest, the master stared at Will, his expression set and serious as he watched the younger man shiver in the dark. The boy's face was a mask of despair.

Do you not know what you want? mused Hannibal. Foolish boy indeed... like a rabbit entering a lion's den, hoping to become a meal.

For a moment Hannibal wondered if St. Sebastian knew he was courting certain death when he faced Diocletian.

"Strip," he commanded, tilting his head to appraise the young man standing like a sacrifice in his master's room.

 

Will felt the word like a strike, though it was not spoken harshly. He remembered the first time he'd stood in this room, how impatient the master had been for Will's fear and apprehension.

He felt no fear of the master today.

Eyes up, his hands moved to his shirt first, careful with it before ducking his head and pulling it off to toss it to the floor. When his eyes returned to the master, the man seemed almost surprised that Will would initiate eye contact again, voluntarily, so soon.

In the wan light of the low-burning candle, Will said nothing.

Throat working in a swallow - the sound inaudible - Will's eyes stayed fixed, focused on Hannibal's as he unfastened the cord holding his pants and let them drop.

He broke eye contact only to bend and slide his underthings down his thighs and away, stepping out of them and setting them with the shirt.

Lifting his eyes to Hannibal once more as he stood naked, Will dropped his shoulders back - a stance of confidence turned seamlessly into a presentation, an offer, though his nervousness was like cold fire crackling through his veins.

 

Hannibal could see the boy's pulse jump in his throat, and it kept his own heart speeding to match. Will's body was sleek and graceful in the dark, his smooth skin shining in the light of the moon, the shadows rendering the beauty of his musculature in stark chiaroscuro. Stepping close enough to feel the heat of the boy's skin on his own, Hannibal's eyes swept over the proud Englishman's face, charmed by the nervousness that warred with the desire he saw there.

Turning around Will as if he were a marble sculpture, Hannibal let his fingertips graze the younger man's skin, cool to his touch as Will held himself still. Chuckling softly to himself as he watched the goosebumps prickle the younger man's skin, Hannibal let his thumb slide softly over one puckered nipple, gratified when Will let out a soft sound.

"I want none of your pride," said Hannibal quietly, as he came to a stop behind the younger man, murmuring his words next to Will's ear. "I want none of your bitterness." His breath was warm against his own lips, Will's neck close enough to brush his lips against if he so chose. "I have given you my name to use, Will... but when I have you in hand—" He reached around to grasp the softness between the younger man's legs and squeezed hard enough to elicit a small whimper from Will. "—the only thing I shall hear from your lips is 'Master'." In his hand, Will started to harden, the boy's shoulders trembling against his chest as Hannibal leaned against him for a moment. "Now let's see if you have learned your first lesson," he said softly, giving Will's cock and balls another tight squeeze. "Who am I?"

With only the barest hint of hesitation, Will's voice spoke out in a hush.

"Master," said the younger man, letting out a small sigh when Hannibal loosened his grip.

With a smile, the master let his lips rest against the boy's neck, now warm from the flush of lust that darkened his skin.

"Good boy," Hannibal said, and stepped back, releasing Will. Undoing the sash on the loose, Egyptian-linen pants he wore, Hannibal slid his hand against the stiff shaft of his cock. The lust that heated his blood was heady, demanding; he let his eyes slide down the curve of Will's spine to the cleft of his buttocks, remembering the soft plea that had stilled his hand and kept him back from the sweet tightness of the boy's virginity. With a delicious shiver, Hannibal let the rough pads of his fingers slide over the flared head of his cock.

Stepping out of the linen trousers puddled at his feet, he circled the younger man again, pleased when Will's eyes met his before lowering to watch the master stroke himself, the Englishman's lips parted in an audible, slow pant.

"On your knees, my pet," he murmured. "You have more lessons yet to learn."

There was a pause, but it seemed less a hesitation and more the need for Will to take a breath, to ground himself and obey properly.

Hannibal watched as Will lowered himself first to one knee, then to both, a hand out to keep his balance against the floor by the tips of his fingers, before he curled them into a light fist and rested the hand at his side. His other lay splayed against his thigh, fingertips pressing white circles into the skin. Will hadn't raise his eyes yet, kept them hooded and distant, his chin up so that his lashes made shadows fanning out over his cheeks.

Licking his lips in a quick nervous gesture, the younger man swallowed and sat as if tense with contained energy that had nowhere to go. The tremors that Hannibal had felt through the boy's shoulders were just as obvious now as he sat on his knees before him, the shadows shivering across his skin.

"Eyes up," Hannibal murmured and watched as a deep breath shifted Will's shoulders before he obeyed, the pools of blue now dark and stormy grey, only a whisper of their true colour. They flicked between Hannibal's own, a barely discernible movement, before he blinked, lips parting on another soft exhale.

Beautiful, beautiful boy...

Hand moving slowly, almost lazily over his stiff cock, Hannibal reached down and touched the boy's curls, stroking them back off Will's forehead before sliding his fingertips along the curve of his cheek, the line of his strong jaw. With his fingers curled lightly around the younger man's chin, the master let his thumb slide softly against Will's bottom lip.

If you bite me, you will bleed, he had warned before. This time, Hannibal didn't think the words necessary, as Will looked up at him with blatant desire. His thumb pulled lightly on the younger man's lip before he skimmed it along Will's bottom teeth. When he felt the boy's soft, wet tongue touch him in response, Hannibal felt a pulse of lust tighten his skin as it surged hot in his groin.

The master stepped closer and shifted his hips to stroke the head of his cock softly against the boy's lips, his thumb coaxing Will's mouth open gently. With a shuddered sigh, Hannibal watched the younger man lean forward to slide his lips over the dark, swollen head. Without being asked, Will brought his hand up to touch Hannibal's shaft timidly with his fingertips, pausing as if to ask permission. With a low sound deep in his chest, the master moved his hand away and let out a slow breath as Will's unpracticed fingers closed around his cock.

 

It was strangely both foreign and familiar. Will had touched himself many times before, knew where to turn his wrist, how tight to press his fingers; he knew just how to brush against the head to elicit a harsh breath from himself, a moan...

Hannibal was thicker in his hand, bigger, and Will didn't know what the man enjoyed beyond watching him submit. Yet, there was something so intoxicating about being on his knees for him, feeling the man allow him the touch, the time to find his own pace. As though Will had asked for this himself and hadn't been directed to his knees.

Above him, the man made another soft sound of pleasure, and Will's heart beat faster, moving him to take Hannibal deeper into his mouth to feel how heavy the head lay on his tongue, to smell the unfamiliar musk of him.

He twisted his wrist a little, drawing the master's cock further into his mouth, and moaned softly, raising himself on his knees a little more, the hand against his thigh shifting closer to his own cock but not yet touching. Will felt the fingers in his hair tighten but not cruelly, not how he had been held and forced the last time his knees had touched the floor.

He closed his eyes and pulled away, tonguing around the thick head and trying to move back fully - the master seemed pleased with his submission here, surely he'd done enough now. He doubted such force and cruelty that had had Hannibal's cock so far down his throat would be necessary here, with his obedience.

And he found, as his hand snuck closer to his cock and finally encircled it in a soft grip, that he was unsure if he wanted that cruelty again or if his mind was simply bringing back the dark whirlwind of that night and the pleasure he had felt then - that ultimate, breathtaking release.

Opening his eyes, Will looked back up at Hannibal and saw that the older man was watching him with a slight sneer on his chiseled face, his gaze dark and hungry. Something in that naked stare made Will's breath catch in his throat suddenly.

It was more than just this sinful act of placing mouth to cock...

Hannibal wanted him. Hungered for him. The man had hidden it well under a guise of indifference, but there was no mistaking what Will saw in the master's eyes, what he had seen before but hadn't really understood until right now.

Will was an object of desire.

The thought made Will feel weak, and his hand stilled for a second as he kneeled on the hard floor, the hot head of Hannibal's cock resting against his lips. Swiftly on the heels of weakness came the realization that there was subtle power in this. If he wanted the cruelty all he had to do was balk, and he was sure Hannibal would take from Will what he desired. If he wanted it...

Heart beating a swift staccato rhythm that made the blood sing in his ears, Will closed his eyes and took a gamble.

"No," he said quietly. Please see it for what it is, he thought desperately.

 

Hannibal's eyes widened. The boy said no but everything about him screamed yes. Holding back his anger for the moment, the master tightened his grip on Will's hair and watched with fascination as the younger man opened his eyes in a gasp, his cheeks ruddy with desire, visible even in the wan light. Even more interesting was that, breathing quickly, Will shifted his hips to bring his back into a deeper curve, graceful and unmistakably wanton, as his fist continued to slide over his own cock.

Hannibal felt almost dizzy. He tightened his hand around his shaft and, with a growl, forced Will's head back further.

"You disobedient little cur," he said and almost smiled as Will's mouth opened in shock at the master's words. If Will wanted to play at being coy, then he would take what Hannibal would give him. Pressing his cock against the younger man's mouth, the master felt Will try to pull back involuntarily.

"Open your mouth like a good boy, Will," hissed Hannibal, staring down at the Englishman struggling in his grasp. "Or I will open it for you."

After another token moment of resistance, Will let Hannibal slide his cock between his lips, voicing a soft whimper as the master cupped the back of the younger man's head to pull him in closer. Hannibal could tell that Will felt fear, his eyes wide and pleading as they looked up at the older man, but that this fear was fuelling a desire that the boy did not understand; it was a glorious thing to behold.

Feeding his hard shaft deeper into the younger man's mouth, Hannibal was rewarded by the glimmer of tears in Will's eyes as the boy started to choke and struggle anew. His cock surged with the feeling of Will's throat convulsing against it, and he held tight to the back of the younger man's head, not letting him move. When he finally released Will, Hannibal watched with satisfaction as the younger man fell back on the floor, chest heaving as he fought for breath. Will stared up at him with the eyes of a wounded animal, yet his cock remained a hard curve that bobbed in time to his hoarse panting.

Finally letting himself smile, Hannibal beckoned with a finger.

"Again, Will," he said. "Until the word 'no' is stricken from your vocabulary."

 

Will swallowed thickly, lips parting immediately after to pull in more air. Heart hammering, he could feel the slow crawl of adrenaline down his spine. He wanted to disobey as much as he wanted to do the opposite - he was terrified of what more would come if he resisted again.

At Hannibal's beckon, he curled his fingers into claws against the floor. He could say 'no' again, could anger the master further...

Or he could placate. Get his desires and serve Hannibal's.

"Master, please," he whispered, voice hoarse and low, eyes still wide with residual panic of being unable to breathe.

He slowly pushed himself up, but he did not sit closer.

Hannibal stared hard at him for a few seconds, his face still and expressionless, features cast in sharp shadows as he stood like a terrible god in the darkened bedchamber. Then he spoke softly.

"You will obey, or you will leave," said the master.

 

A whimper came unbidden to his lips at the words, and his eyes slid down the man's body to the hardness protruding from Hannibal's fist, glossy and wet from Will's spit. There really wasn't a choice to be made. The truth was that he had made his decision the moment he had closed the door behind him and entered the master's bedchamber like a thief in the night: this was where he belonged.

Crawling forward slowly on hands and knees, Will looked up at Hannibal as he straightened to sit on his heels once more, his tongue reaching out to lap gently at the hard, lust-swollen flesh. When the master's eyes closed with a sigh, Will wrapped his fist around Hannibal's and let the head of the man's cock push again into his mouth. This time, instead of touching his own aching hardness, he stroked his hand up the back of Hannibal's thigh. When the man breathed out a low sound at his touch, Will felt a keen pleasure.

As the master reached down to touch Will's hair with gentle fingers, it felt as if Hannibal had decided to let the younger man take his time. A reward perhaps, for obeying. Thankful for the respite, Will let his mouth learn the shape of the organ that held it open: the thin, veiny skin of the hard shaft that moved with the pressure of his lips, the way that the flared base of the glans was textured while the curve of it was taut and smooth against his tongue. At the very tip, the slitted opening wept a saltiness onto his mouth, and Will realized this was the taste of Hannibal's arousal.

His own cock jutted stiff from the dark nest of hair at his groin, wet with his own desire.

His thighs trembled, sitting as he was, not quite kneeling and not sitting on his heels. He sat up a little higher but spread his knees to keep his head level as it was.

Will was growing bolder, taking Hannibal deeper into his mouth before pulling away, feeling the uncomfortable tightness in his throat when he pressed just too far. He allowed himself to feel everything: the way the man's breathing grew hitched, how he held himself still when it was obvious he wanted nothing more than to force Will as he had before, perhaps simply push him to the ground and take everything.

The thought made Will shiver, and he felt Hannibal's fingers curl and tighten in his hair, a word passing the man's lips Will didn't recognize. The sentiment was clear enough: again.

Will pulled away, just enough to draw his tongue along the underside of Hannibal's length and keep it extended as he raised his eyes, slowly sucking the head back between his lips - this was becoming addicting, a power Will had never felt before.

He arched his back, closed his eyes again and moaned around the cock in his mouth.

More, he urged, pushing to sit higher and simultaneously bending further forward, I want more than this...

 

As inexpert as Will's handling was, the boy's obvious eagerness was intoxicating. Staring down at Will, half-lidded as he gorged himself on Hannibal's cock, the master felt his pleasure mount quickly, and he let out a sharp gasp. Will opened his eyes in response and stared up at Hannibal, his eyes wide and wet; it was a breathtaking sight. With a low growl, Hannibal threaded his fingers through Will's hair, the silky curls dark against his skin, and cupped the back of the younger man's head.

Quickly he began fucking the younger man's mouth, holding him in place as he became rougher with his strokes. Feeling Will's noise of surprise and dismay vibrate over his cock, he brought his other hand forward to wrap around the boy's slender neck, feeling the movement of his cock through the soft flesh beneath the trapped man's jaw. Will struggled, digging his fingers into Hannibal's thighs as he tried to pull his head back. With a groan, the master withdrew his cock, panting and close to release.

Will heaved a shuddering breath, his lips slick with saliva and eyes wild as he clutched at Hannibal's wrists. The master could feel Will's pulse fluttering against his fingers, light and fast like a bird in flight.

"Hush," murmured Hannibal. "You're a good boy. You'll be rewarded... but only once I get my pleasure. Now: again, my pet."

He released Will, and the boy's hand went up to his throat, his breathing quick. For a few seconds, Will's heaving chest was the only motion; and then, to Hannibal's utter delight, the younger man reached for the master's hands to place them back as they had been, one buried in the thick curls at the back of his head, the other around his throat. Eyes up to Hannibal's, Will's lips parted in a sigh.

"Please."

Without hesitation, Hannibal slid his length into Will's open mouth and groaned. Tightening his hold, he used the the younger man's mouth to bring himself close quickly, relishing the way that Will whimpered at being used so roughly. However, the boy's gaze stayed locked on his, tears running down his cheeks. Finally, exquisitely, Hannibal felt himself reach the peak and nearly cried out with the force of his release. He came hard, holding onto Will as his cock pulsed with his orgasm, the pleasure sluicing through him, a hot, liquid ripening of lust that laid his mind bare and shook him to his very core.

Will had gone still in his hands, fingers locked around Hannibal's wrists once more, his eyes shining in the dark, sightless, an almost rapturous look on his face. For a moment the master wondered if he had gone too far, but no... the boy's heart beat strong and fast against his palm. When Hannibal released him, Will slid to the ground, his mouth working on a swallow as he passed a hand over his lips. Laying on his side on the scratchy rug, the boy did no more than take in shaky breaths, a hoarse, panting sound in the dark. Will's cock was rigid curve against the boy's inner thigh, but he made no move to touch it.

With a soft chuckle, Hannibal leaned down and scooped Will up easily in his strong arms and took the few steps to the bed, laying him down on the soft sheets. He stretched out next to the younger man and stroked his hair back; leaning in to press his lips to Will's, Hannibal could taste himself on the boy's mouth.

"That was perfect," he said softly, Will's stubble sharp against his sensitive lips. "Now let me give you this..." Hannibal reached down and closed his hand around Will's cock, stroking the hard shaft slowly. Will arched his back and whimpered against Hannibal, his arms coming up to clutch the master to him.

"That's it, darling boy. Let me hear you," whispered Hannibal as he moved his hand faster, his smile spreading wide as Will trembled and let out a long, low moan.

Chapter Text

The candle must have gone out only recently. Will could see the smoke from the burnt-out wick bend and curl itself into sensual shapes against the backdrop of the moonlit room. He wondered if the wax would still be soft if he reached out and pressed his fingers against it.

Beside him, Hannibal lay sleeping. He could feel the slow inhale against the mattress, feel the exhale against his shoulder. It was a hypnotic pattern, steady and grounding, and Will found his eyes drooping again with the desire for sleep.

He couldn't even name the reason he had woken. Could not remember how long he'd slept.

His body lay exhausted and relaxed, warm and heavy under the covers, as naked as the one that pressed close behind him.

Will smiled.

The master had certainly rewarded Will for his obedience, for his desire and openness. Will's cheeks darkened thinking of the sounds he'd made under Hannibal's clever, deft hands, remembered the pleas that had dropped from his lips, the soft whimpers and needy whines.

He'd been wanton. He had been nothing like himself.

Or, perhaps, he had been exactly as he should be.

The master's words still echoed in his mind, that he was most honest here, that it was easier for him to be, when he was held and touched and commanded into obedience. Into an obedience he craved to prove again.

So soon?

Will swallowed and shifted minutely, just enough to turn in the warm embrace of the heavy arm draped over his middle. He turned to his stomach first, then pressed his shoulder to the bed as the grip turned possessive. Even in sleep, Hannibal seemed wont to let Will go.

Will allowed himself a breathless moment to just watch the master, to take in how his features smoothed and his face looked younger in rest. There was no heavy anger here, no problems weighing on his mind. In sleep, Hannibal was contented.

Will's lips tilted again in a smile, brows furrowed at the strange emotion tugging his heart to beat a little faster. He pressed his lips together and sighed, a long, slow exhale between them.

 

Hannibal opened his eyes slowly as the sun came over the trees, a warm ray of light on his skin, rousing him from slumber. Blinking slowly to clear away the fog of sleep, he looked at the young man nestled against his side. A small smile playing over his lips, the master thought about how strange it was to wake up with someone in his bed. Strange... and nice. He tightened his hold on the younger man slightly, pleased with the way his sun-darkened skin looked against Will's pale chest, visible above the warm blankets. The young painter made a little sound in his sleep, his eyes moving rapidly beneath his eyelids, and Hannibal wondered what Will dreamt about.

And then he wondered why he cared.

Breathing deep, measured breaths, Hannibal watched the light move slowly over the younger man's features. How quickly he had gone from wanting to break Will and tear him asunder with cruelty and control, to aching for the willing submission that opened the boy up like a long-held breath. It was still an urge to possess the younger man completely, but now it was tempered by a need to protect him and a desire to keep him close.

Strangest of all was this eagerness to fill the boy with breathless pleasure.

As if Hannibal's thoughts were spoken aloud, Will let out a small moan and moved in his sleep, his brow furrowed.

With a silent chuckle, the master slid his hand slowly beneath the blankets, fingers skimming softly over Will's smooth, sleep-warm skin until they came into contact with the boy's cock, half-hard with morning arousal. Wrapping his hand carefully around the younger man's erection, Hannibal felt his heart quicken as Will let out another soft moan, his eyelids fluttering at the gentle contact. The master moved his hand and felt the slim shaft buck against his palm, hardening quickly in his grasp.

Will's brow creased again and he let out a sigh, his pink tongue licking his bottom lip before his mouth closed in an audible swallow. His hips moving subtly with Hannibal's caress, the boy's eyes opened, a soft blue in the morning sun.

The master smiled at Will's sleepy confusion and desire. Sliding back the boy's foreskin part way, he stroked gently across the sensitive head with the ball of his thumb and was rewarded with a shudder and a low groan. As Hannibal moved his hand back down the hard, curved length, he felt his breath catch in his throat as Will arched his back gracefully, his lips parting in another sigh of pleasure. There was something so utterly beguiling about how the boy reacted unselfconsciously to his touch, a subtle blend of wantonness and innocence that coaxed uninhibited sounds from Will's throat and turned his body into a pliant object of desire in Hannibal's hands.

Pulling himself up on one elbow to look down at Will as he stroked the younger man, Hannibal felt himself harden, but there was no urgent need to his lust. Instead, he took his time, slowing his hand when it seemed the other would climax, or changing his grip to increase the intensity of his touch when the boy's whimpers became needy, breathless little things. It was enough to have this creature shuddering and moaning against him, his head thrown back and eyes shut as he let out another soft cry at Hannibal's skilled handling.

As Will's body began to tremble hard, Hannibal found himself making small noises in response to the boy's sounds, a drunken, almost syrupy desire warming his loins as he watched Will get closer and closer to release.

"Cum for me, Will," he murmured finally, leaning forward to brush his lips along the curve of the younger man's jaw. Will gasped and let out a low whimper in response to Hannibal's words, his head rocking against the pillow, cheeks flushed. "Let yourself go over, and cum for me."

Will cried out, his body rigid for a moment, and Hannibal lifted his head to watch as the boy's seed spilled forth from his cock, landing on the younger man's chest in pearly spatters and running hot down the master's fist.

His hand slick with the boy's pleasure, Hannibal groaned softly as Will arched back, his throat in a long, pale curve that moved with the wanton sounds that burst loose from him, his blue eyes open and sightless.

Slowing his hand, Hannibal felt a moment of utter elation having watched the boy climax at his command; this was the ecstasy of a saint, the sun on Will's face basking him in a halo as he had writhed and panted in pleasure that seemed to border on pain. This was pure release.

It was St. Sebastian, riddled with arrows, looking to the heavens for salvation. It would be a masterpiece.

Hannibal stilled his stroking and squeezed gently at Will's softening cock, smiling at the younger man's low whimper. This was beauty and desire plucked with his fingers, and he knew the fruit would hang plump and ripe again soon enough, solely his for the taking.

Mine, he thought, as he closed his mouth over the younger man's and quieted his panting with a soft sound. Will's hand came up to tangle in the master's hair as Hannibal savaged the boy's lips with his own, heedless of the mess as he pressed their bodies together in the warmth of the morning light. With a low, pleased growl, Hannibal felt Will's fingers close around the hard shaft of his cock, and he smiled into the kiss.

For the moment, however, the painting could wait.

+++

Will dozed, the morning warmer now, but still early. They had missed the shared morning meal, the time Will would usually be in the studio beginning his work, but Hannibal had paid that time no mind.

Rest, he had said, I will have Nico draw you a bath.

The implication had been clear that Will would go to the studio once he was washed and dressed. He would not be exempt from work simply because his knees felt weak whenever the master turned his eyes to him.

Will grinned, pressing a hand to his eyes and smiling wider still.

His entire experience in Italy had been one surprise after another, completely unexpected and strangely exhilarating. He had brushed with death, felt a man's ire bring forth a deep want he had never known was there, felt the same man's gentleness draw his voice so thin it was barely his.

The door to the chamber closed suddenly, and Will jerked up, one hand behind him to balance as he sat up in bed, eyes wide and directed to the sound.

Nico stood with his fingers on the handle, that same, strange look on his face that had unnerved Will before. It brought the same feeling of dread as it had then, only now there was a closed door between the two of them and anyone else.

Will blinked, swallowed, and felt the boy's eyes flick to the movement of his throat. He had a sudden, painful urge to run, which he resisted.

"Buongiorno," Will ventured instead, trying for the language the boy understood instead of using his own. His Italian was getting only slightly better; he spoke in English with everyone in the household but only listened when they spoke Italian amongst themselves.

Nico made no response, though it was obvious he had heard. For a moment he didn't move at all, eyes skimming Will's form, over the skin that wasn't covered by the soft blankets and the bruises pulled up there by Hannibal's mouth the night before, or the evening before that. The servant's lips tilted into a crooked smirk, eyes dark under his brows.

The scrutiny was hungry, and Will felt his heart hammer, staying still as one would when faced with a snake or an angry dog. Don't move. Don't break eye contact. Attack will come if you run.

As quickly as the unease had seeped into Will's skin, the boy turned his gaze, stepping away from the door to set some folded clothes on the chest at the end of the master's bed.

"Bath," he said, the word accented but obvious enough. Will swallowed again and nodded. Nico gestured vaguely out the door, implying it was ready and Will should go, before turning to watch the Englishman again.

Will hesitated, for a moment wanting the safety of even the thinnest sheet around his body, before he thought better of it, before his pride pulled through the lingering unease, and he rose from the bed nude.

He didn't thank Nico, kept his eyes aloof and away as he hoped someone of the master's standing might. He took up the clothes left for him and, without another word, made his way to the door and out.

He forced himself to believe he had imagined the strange laugh that followed him, the sound like a whine, pleased and almost ravenous.

+++

Will felt heat in his face as he entered the sunny studio. When Giacomo and Leo looked up, he was sure that they knew what he had been up to only an hour or so earlier, sure that they could smell the musk and sweat on him though he had bathed thoroughly. Self-consciously tugging the collar of his shirt to hide the marks on his neck, he pressed his lips together in the semblance of a smile and walked across the room, head held high. Letting his eyes slide to the master's usual spot, Will was both relieved and disappointed to see that Hannibal was nowhere to be found.

"Are you feeling better?" chirped Giacomo, appearing at his side. The boy's brown eyes were wide as he looked up at Will, a small comma of concerned dimpling his smooth brow.

Will frowned, confused. Then he smiled.

"Yes. I am feeling much better," he replied. "Signore Lecter told you I was resting because I was unwell?" When Giacomo nodded and smiled back, Will saw that the boy had lost an upper canine. Reaching out to grasp the boy's chin, he tilted back the little apprentice's head.

"Well, well, well," said Will, grinning wide. "I see you've lost something. Tell me, Giacometto... did you burn your little tooth yet?"

The boy's eyes widened again at Will's words, and he quickly shook his head.

"No, Will. I have not! Why do I burn the tooth?" Giacomo asked.

Will glanced up and saw that Leo was staring at him, his expression anything but friendly. Dropping his hand from Giacomo's face, Will looked back down at the little boy.

"It is nothing. Forget I said anything. It is a silly superstition," he said quickly. It was becoming painfully obvious to Will that the more he nurtured the growing friendship between him and the little boy, the more Leo's contempt for him grew.

"A silly superstition indeed," said Hannibal as he walked through the door, a smile lifting his lips in a graceful smile. "The English believe that if you burn your baby teeth, you are saved from suffering in the afterlife."

Will stared down at his hands for a moment, nodding. When he raised his head again, the master's warm brown eyes met his in a look that was for him and him alone. Will had to glance back down again quickly before he embarrassed himself.

"Signore Graham, I've received word from Benedetto Accolti to visit him at his uncle's villa. We must go today for you to sketch his likeness before he leaves for Cadiz," said the master, his tone entirely businesslike. "I've packed us a lunch and have hired a carriage; we will eat on the way. Please take with you anything you think you may need, we'll be leaving as soon as you're ready."

Will glanced down at his paint-stained linen shirt with dismay. What was one supposed to wear when meeting a bishop?

Hannibal let out a short laugh.

"You're there to sketch the bishop, Will, not sit at his table," said the older man, turning to leave the room.

Will's eyes went to Leo again as he reached for his small leather drawing case and a sheaf of papers. The red-haired apprentice stared daggers at him as he quickly got his things together, hot, spiteful points against Will's back as he nearly stumbled in his haste to follow the master out.

+++

It turned out that painting the bishop was perhaps far more taxing than presenting himself at his table.

Though the man was tall, with interesting features and wide eyes that would grow to either be stern or kind, he had the impatience of a much younger man. Will found himself catching details of him on separate parts of his page, when he stood long enough for Will's study to prove fruitful.

The master had come in with him, had made the introductions in quick Italian, most of which Will could not comprehend, and then he had left Will alone. Perhaps he had made a point to inform the bishop that Will spoke only his own native tongue, or maybe the man saw himself as above talking to anyone lower than his own rank, and Hannibal's - he hadn't said a word to Will.

Will found, after a few moments of panic when the man would sit, then fidget and shift his position, that instead of choosing one pose to work on for him, he would capture the man's essence instead. He had adjusted his way of seeing, no longer saw a body move through space, but the worry within it, the pride of his position, the heaviness of a burden carried at such a young age.

So Will sketched that. He sketched the quick flicks of the man's eyes when he turned, sketched the way the man's hair lay - after his hand had gone through it in a moment of frustration - he took note of his robes but only in outline, they didn't matter.

Will was so caught up in following the man within the shell, that he startled when the bishop indicated that he leave.

Outside, it was well past late afternoon, the warm hues of the sun barely caressing the buildings Will could see from the window. He swallowed, turned his page quickly so as not to present his rough sketches that looked nothing like the portrait he would eventually paint, and bowed before leaving the room.

When he saw Hannibal in the corridor, he offered a small smile.

"Perhaps certain virtues are learned," he murmured, "Not innate." When Hannibal let out a laugh in response, Will let himself smile wider.

He had been glad, after the initial few moments of terror at being left on his own, that Hannibal had not been within the room to watch him. Being in his company now set Will's heart quicker and, he was certain, his cheeks redder.

The master stared at him a moment longer, the corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement. There was no doubt in Will's mind that the older man knew exactly what effect he had on him. For a moment he wondered what would happen if he stepped forward, closer to the master in the darkened hallway; could he unbalance Hannibal and cause those lips to part in a quiet gasp? Just the thought made Will's pulse leap and his skin feel tight and flushed.

Before Will could test his theory, Hannibal held out a soft package to him, the master's head tilting as he watched the younger man take it from him.

Brow furrowed, Will pulled back the plain cloth covering and saw that it held a snow white shirt with delicate embroidery on the collar, a beautiful, padded doublet in a deep, rich blue, and soft, charcoal grey hose. Blinking in confusion at the gorgeous clothing, Will shook his head.

"What are these?" he asked. Hannibal had said that he wasn't eating at the bishop's table. Maybe there had been a change in plans? The thought of an awkward dinner where he couldn't understand anything made his chest ache with frustration.

"Get dressed, my beautiful one," said Hannibal softly, reaching out to push back one of Will's wayward curls. "Tonight we dine at the opera."

Chapter Text

The master had laughed when Will had told him he had never heard of the opera.

As he dressed, Hannibal explained the concept, and Will found himself utterly fascinated by his words. Nothing like this existed in England. From what Hannibal told him, nothing like this existed anywhere, yet, but in Florence. It was the first of its kind.

Will's heart beat all the faster in anticipation for experiencing this with Hannibal.

Straightening his shoulders, he regarded himself again. The clothes sat comfortable, warming to his skin quickly. He didn't know when Hannibal had had the time to get him measured, or how, but the way the man looked at him now was enough to set Will's smile to a soft, grateful thing as his heart pounded beneath the new doublet.

Hannibal reached forward, his deft fingers quickly straightening the embroidered collar of Will's shirt. With a smile, he tucked one of Will's unruly curls back behind his ear and stepped back.

"I'm pleased with the colour. You look like a lordling. You're missing a hat, but it would be a shame to cover that hair," said the master, chuckling.

Will reached up and tugged self-consciously on the curls at his neck. He'd been meaning to get a haircut, short like the men wore their hair here, but hadn't had the time; now, he was glad for it. Slipping his feet into the soft leather shoes Hannibal passed to him, Will felt decadent. His wide grin pulled a quiet chuckle out of the master, and the man stepped forward to wrap his arms around Will.

It was becoming easier, this familiarity. He stared wide-eyed into Hannibal's amused gaze, a little breathless from the sudden embrace.

"You look good enough to eat," murmured Hannibal, brushing his lips slowly across Will's cheek. The master's hands slid confidently over the younger man's hips, pressing himself tight against Will. "Now let us be off before I undo all the work you have just done."

+++

Sitting facing Will in the carriage, Hannibal watched the younger man take in the beauty of Florence. All reservation was gone as Will gasped and pointed to the passing architecture; Hannibal nearly burst out laughing at the look on Will's face when they turned a corner and the Duomo of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore came into view.

"It is quite something, isn't it?" said the master, nodding. "I will take you inside one day, Will. There are frescos within that were done by myself many years ago. Ah... here we are."

The carriage had stopped in front of a large private house, a villa that was kept by Pope Leo X for his visits to Florence, currently lived in by his young lover, Marcantonio Flaminio. Tonio, as he was known to his friends, had used the pope's coffers to put together a group of performers with the intent of reviving Ancient Greek drama. This opera, as it was being called, was something that Hannibal had had the privilege of seeing before the previous month. It had been an extraordinarily lush sensory experience, and he was hoping that after more weeks of practice, the second viewing would outshine the first.

Taking Will's arm, he helped him out of the carriage and led him towards the door.

"I believe that one day these performances shall be seen by the public at large," said Hannibal to Will as he presented his invitation to the doorman, "but for now it is just those who hold sway in court or, like myself, those who are in favour with the Medici that get to see and hear such beauty."

Will followed him up the staircase where he presented his invitation again to a second man. The door was opened, and Hannibal ushered Will inside.

Right away he noticed that there had been changes made to the set, in this small teatro. More sumptuous decor, better lighting. Looking around he saw that Giulio de' Medici was already here and seated to a meal. With a smile, Hannibal nodded to the cardinal and walked over to join him.

"Will, this is Cardinal Medici," he said in English.

"Please, Hannibal. So stuffy titles!" chuckled the man, wiping his mouth on a corner of the tablecloth and extending a hand towards Will. "Call me Giulio, young man."

 

Will took it carefully, bowed his head regardless of the request to not be so formal. But his smile was genuine.

"It's a pleasure, Signore," he murmured. The man's accent was strong, but his English good. An educated man, to be sure, and somehow familiar. Will withdrew his hand and straightened to stand prouder next to Hannibal.

The man's eyes lingered on Will a moment more before turning to Hannibal.

"I am pleased you accepted the invitation," Giulio said, "The last time you could not take your eyes from the stage."

"I was quite enamoured," Hannibal agreed, his tone dipping just barely enough to suggest the display would have to quite spectacular to keep his attention so this time.

Will turned to regard the stage, to take in the beautiful set, to begin to imagine what would be presented on it that had apparently once held Hannibal's attention. He felt the man's hand settle warm and splayed against his lower back, his own cheeks starting to warm from the feeling. Surely he could control himself here...

He was grateful when Hannibal guided him to his seat, took the opportunity to busy himself with getting comfortable, to direct his attention elsewhere until the master settled beside him and placed a warm hand on Will's thigh.

"Remember to breathe, Will," he murmured, amused. Giulio had turned to greet another guest, just as warm and welcoming as he had been with Hannibal. It slowly dawned on Will just how highly regarded Hannibal was, what an opportunity this was for him, and now, how terrified he was of doing something wrong.

He offered only a small smile in reply. The master hummed.

"I wonder how genuine the man's warmth is," he said, drawing Will's attention back to the man in front of them. "Giulio is a smart man but a proud one."

Will watched Hannibal's eyes slide from the Cardinal back to him, so far a warm brown, no threat, no darkness there, but curious. Will drew his brows gently together in question, and Hannibal's lips quirked.

"I think perhaps he expected to see his son accompany me here. Leo gets his pride from him."

Will blinked. Turning his eyes back to the dark, swarthy cardinal, he could, for a moment, see no resemblance to the fiery, ginger-haired apprentice, but then the cardinal's face went serious as he looked back down at his meal. Yes... there was where Leo got his dark brown eyes. The sensual bottom lip. The well-shaped eyebrows. When the apprentice finally finished growing into his gangly frame, Will didn't doubt that he would be as broad-shouldered as his father. Leo, the son of a Medici cardinal. It explained a lot about his arrogance.

It must rankle the boy to be hidden away as such, he thought with a frown. At least he's well placed for a bastard.

Choosing tact over more questions about Leo's parentage - like the question of who the boy's mother was - Will pressed his lips together and nodded, trying not to stare at the powerful dark-haired man they were seated with.

With a start, it suddenly dawned on him why the cardinal seemed so familiar. Just prior to his voyage to Italy, Will had seen a reproduction of a painting done of Pope Leo X by the painter Raphael and, while the copy most likely did not do justice to the original artist's talent, the figures were said to be recognizable. He remembered now that to one side of the doughy pope stood a tonsured cardinal with dark, piercing eyes and shapely lips bent into an almost arrogant sneer. This must be the pope's cousin.

Suddenly Firenze, and all of Italy, seemed to be firmly under the thumb of these Medici. How far reaching was their power?

When Giulio lifted his eyes to Will again, the man's lips parted slightly, as if startled into taking a shallow breath. Will's cheeks grew warm; there was no mistaking that look. He smiled, jaw tense, in response and turned his eyes to the stage, heart beating a swift cadence in his chest.

 

Hannibal frowned at Will's profile; the flush on the boy's neck had nothing to do with the fact that Hannibal's hand sat possessively on this thigh. Turning his head, he saw that the cardinal's dark eyes were fixed on the young Englishman and were narrowed with a hunger that the meal before him would not begin to sate. Perhaps it had been unwise to bring Will with him after all. With a small smile he caught the cardinal's eye and inclined his head slightly. When the man's brows lifted slightly, Hannibal knew that his meaning had been understood.

He is mine. You may look, but he is mine.

Running his fingertips along the inside of Will's thigh, he was gratified to hear a small, surprised noise come from the young man. Yes, it was ridiculous pride that had made him bring the boy with him to a den of aristocrats who lived above the laws of god and nature. He'd wanted to display Will, but hadn't thought ahead to the consequences of this action. With a slow grin he thought about how Will would react if he knew what else went on between these walls.

A dish of sirloin beef - done in the Florentine style with onions, raisins and plums - was placed before him, and he breathed in the heady scent of the wine and spices it had been cooked in. Glancing at Will, Hannibal saw that the young Englishman had already picked up his knife but was waiting for the cue to begin eating; Will's eager appetite was utterly endearing. Picking up his cup of wine, Hannibal held it up to the young man. Will smiled sheepishly and put down his knife to lift his own cup.

"Uz veselību! Priekā!" said Hannibal with a grin. When Will's brow pinched together momentarily, the master repeated his goodwill cheer in English. "In happiness, Will."

The young man's quicksilver grin, a flash of white teeth and the crinkling of his eyes, was utterly guileless, and it made Hannibal laugh softly as he brought his cup to his lips to drink deep.

"Now eat, Will. Eat your fill. The music will start momentarily," said the master and pierced the hunk of meat on his plate with his knife with a wide smile.

 

Will took the words to heart, not having eaten since the morning.

He had slowly begun to train his body to accept food at a slower pace, now that he was certain he would not have it taken away on a whim. The meat was tender, everything complimented it on the plate, and the wine brought forth flavours Will was unaware even existed before him. It was certainly a feast. Enough, apparently, to hold his attention until the first notes of music jarred him to turn to the stage, expression almost sheepish at having let his mind wander so far from why they were really here.

He saw the stage was not over populated, just two people in simple costume to compliment the simple set. The music was pleasing; he found himself relaxing into dinner further as he listened. Beside him, Hannibal had turned his attention to the stage entirely, though his thumb ran gentle circles on his thigh still in an absent manner. It was strangely endearing, as though the man had no idea he was caressing Will, touching him so softly, as his focus lay elsewhere.

Will forced himself to not think so much.

Then one of the men on the stage began to sing.

Will had heard music before, he had witnessed it in passing in the busy markets, high pipes and quick drums, castanets and tambourines. Riling quick music that set the heart beating a certain way, sometimes brought up an inexplicable urge to move, to have his body join the music until it set him free. This was different, slower, and the singing unlike anything Will had heard before.

It was a narration to music, he realized, the story told through the elongation of common words, exaggeration of gesture, yet there was something utterly compelling about it to him, something that brought the voices and the music together in such a way as to have Will's back straight, tight as a bow string pulled full. He was rapt, eyes wide, barely blinking.

He didn't realize his response had been so physical until Hannibal's hand gently tightened as though to steady him. The man hadn't turned, had done nothing at all to show his concentration had wavered, but Will knew that the man was no longer listening as he had been, that his entire being had turned in tune to Will's body as Will was tuned to the music.

He couldn't catch his breath, so held it, lips parted in an almost childish look of awe. He couldn't understand the words, he didn't know what was happening beyond what his mind could piece together from the gestures and subtle adjustments of position of the people on stage. It hardly mattered. His heart beat quick against his throat, he could feel the beginnings of a familiar heat against his face, wondered almost absently how something as simple as music - music! - could pull such a response from him.

He swallowed, brought one hand to clasp the back of Hannibal's to ground himself, to feel something familiar when he felt as though he was losing his entire self to the music as it swelled, to the voices it carried. He felt the warm hand beneath his turn just a little, just enough to curl with Will's and give him the anchor he so sought. He knew he was trembling, knew that he had never before been drawn to follow music as this was drawing him, it was enveloping his entire being.

 

Will made a soft noise, like a sigh, barely voiced, but it was enough.

Hannibal's hand tightened on the tense fingers within his grasp, and he smiled, watching the rapt look on Will's face from the corner of his eye. The young man's reaction was breathtaking, and it keenly heightened his enjoyment of the music. However, as he turned to reach for his cup of wine to wet his dry throat, he noticed something that immediately put a damper on his good mood.

Across the table, Giulio watched Will as though he had seen nothing like him. He watched him with the same hunger and wonder that Hannibal had when he had drawn pleasure from Will's body for the first time and had felt him willingly give in.

Slowly turning his eyes back to the stage, Hannibal clenched his jaw against the monstrous fury that swelled in his chest. Next to him, Will cleared his throat, and Hannibal realized he had begun to crush the younger man's hand in his. Loosening his fingers, he tilted his head in apology to Will, lifting the boy's hand to his mouth quickly to press a kiss against his knuckles before pulling the hand into his own lap.

Closing his eyes, Hannibal tried to let the music soothe away the possessive demon that had risen in his soul, turning Will's hand palm-up against his thigh so he could run gentle fingers along the patterns of creases and calluses that he felt there. When Will leaned into him with a soft sigh, Hannibal felt for the boy's pulse against his fingertips and found that it ran swift; and, as the aria on stage reached its swelling crescendo, Will trembled and gasped again. Smiling when he heard a hushed moan come from the young man at the conclusion of the piece, the master felt himself stir in response.

The cardinal be damned, this enchanting creature belonged to him.

 

Will barely heard the applause, his heart still full of the music, the voices, the words that he hadn't understood but didn't have to. He blinked to return himself to the present and quickly brought a hand to his eyes to wipe the tears that had gathered there away. He felt in equal parts embarrassed by his own response and strangely... loose. Free. It was catharsis like no other, and he turned to Hannibal with a smile when the lights were once again restored to their earlier brightness now that the performance had ended.

He still felt the ghost of Hannibal's fingers against his palm, his lips against his knuckles... his skin nearly sang from the touches he wanted again.

He turned, enough to perhaps finish his meal, and found his eyes caught by the cardinal's dark ones across the table, the expression there now openly hungry. Will's lips parted in surprise, teeth quick to worry the bottom one before he belatedly realized that that reaction drew even more attention. He felt his heart skitter, in a way not unlike it had during the opera. He averted his eyes, nodded briefly in as polite a gesture as he could manage, and turned away again.

Will felt like he had that morning as Hannibal had left, flushed and sated, energized in the most unusual way. It worried him, briefly, that perhaps it read clear on his face, that he had done something wrong in responding as he did.

When Hannibal's eyes met his own, he swallowed, unsure how to read the expression there.

He missed, suddenly, the dulled lights and the all-encompassing music, when Hannibal had touched him like he was made of glass.

Watching in a daze as Hannibal turned away, the man's countenance flashing to a courteous smile as he faced the cardinal, Will heard quick words that sounded like an apology. His hunch was confirmed when Giulio clasped the master's arm and nodded, looking over Hannibal's shoulder at Will.

"It was so pleasant to meet you," said the cardinal as he gently pushed past Hannibal, his dark eyes on Will's in a way that made him feel too warm. "I do hope you are feeling better soon, yes? And we shall meet once again? I would like that."

Obviously an excuse by Hannibal to make them leave immediately, Will just nodded mutely, unsure what his illness was suppose to be. Will watched as he extended his hand to clasp the cardinal's outstretched one, and was pulled into a quick embrace, a dry kiss to each cheek but with a meeting of hips that left no ambiguity to the man's interest. Stepping away quickly, Will let himself be led away by the master, his heart hammering in his chest and mouth dry.

All the way through the villa and outside, climbing into the narrow carriage, Will kept trying to catch Hannibal's dark eyes but the man's gaze eluded him, his expression that of distraction. It was only when the door had closed and Hannibal's fist pounded the roof of the carriage that the master let his eyes settle on Will.

"I did not bring you out with me so that you could be a shameless slut," said the master in an icy voice. The swinging lantern cast strange shadows on Hannibal's expression, starkly rendering the planes and angles of the man's face in shifting light and dark.

 

Will blinked, utterly taken aback by the harsh words, the coldness of them. Surely Hannibal was not blaming him for how the evening had ended? Surely he understood...

Will's brows furrowed, eyes seeking answers from the man in front of him. His heart hammered with the terror of this being genuine, of this being over because he hadn't... hadn't what? Hadn't stayed stoic in the face of something so beautiful? Hadn't held back his responses? Because he hadn't warded off the advances he hadn't even wanted from a man he didn't know?

He blinked. That was it.

The master's ire was seeping from him because Will had simply taken the attention, accepted the words, the glances, the insinuations...

Will felt that strange jolt of power again, the same as he'd felt on his knees for the master the night before. He was an object of desire for a man who was a slave to his desires.

"You did," he murmured softly, voice almost awed with the realization. You're jealous...

Hannibal's brows lowered, his eyes narrowed in an expression that sent adrenaline cold through Will's veins. He said nothing, but his anger was almost physical in its intensity. Will forced himself to hold his ground, to play this out just a little longer. To take another leap of faith.

"You brought me with you to show others I was yours."

The words seemed to catch Hannibal by surprise. He blinked, eyes searching Will's face for an explanation, perhaps for justification. He looked no more pleased with this revelation than he had been knowing that Giulio's eyes had been seeking to undress Will where he stood.

Will's lips spread in a slow smile.

"You brought me to see if I would remember that I was."

Hannibal's lips twitched in a snarl and that was enough for Will, enough of an answer, enough proof. He stood, stooped over, and leaned his weight against the back of Hannibal's seat, bringing his lips hard against the master's. Hannibal's hands came up around his waist, a low growl against Will's mouth as the master let himself be kissed.

Pulling away from the kiss, breathless already, Will felt reckless, wanton. He smiled wider now, though no less teasing.

"You think I'd forgotten?"

The carriage jerked over an uneven cobblestone, and Will insinuated himself closer, setting his knees on either side of Hannibal's thighs, gripping the back of the padded seat with one hand, the master's shoulder with his other.

 

Hannibal gasped at the forwardness of Will's actions, the blood thrumming in his ears as the supple waist between his hands bent back as he pressed his open mouth against Will's neck. The boy smelled of excitement and nervousness, of desire. Desire for him? Desire for the cardinal?

With a growl, Hannibal pushed the lantern outside the carriage, letting it crash behind them on the cobblestones lest they be seen. In the darkness of the carriage, Hannibal bit into Will's neck, pulling harsh sighs and whimpers from the boy in his grasp.

He wanted more.

He could feel Will's pulse like a hummingbird's wings against his lips, and he moaned against soft skin of the young man's throat.

In response, Will gripped hard at his shoulder and let himself down completely onto the master's lap, thighs splayed and moving his hips to rub himself eagerly against the hardened length beneath the thin material of Hannibal's hose. Moving one hand beneath Will's tunic, Hannibal felt how hard the younger man was and let out another sigh; gorgeous and perfectly needy.

"I... want to... feel you," whispered Will urgently, the words sending an electric thrill through Hannibal. The master needed no further coaxing.

He let his hand tighten over Will's covered cock again, hot and hard against his palm, before he lowered it to tug down his own hose, pulling at the laces impatiently until the material parted and he was exposed. Reaching around Will, he lifted the boy's hips slightly and simply grabbed the finespun material in his fingers, pulling hard and ripping the seam open in one motion. Will let out a startled sound, his mouth open against Hannibal's neck.

Pushing Will back down on this lap, he felt the boy's skin warm against his cock, and he ripped the seam further, completely separating the hose so that Will was exposed from back to front. Grabbing the slender cock that fell free from the material, Hannibal inched his hips forward slightly, slouching down in his seat and pushing back on Will's chest so that he was upright. Will resumed moving over Hannibal, the skin-on-skin contact delicious and frustrating at once. To fuck the boy here now...

With a groan Hannibal stroked Will's cock, his hand moving with the motions of the boy's hips. It would be so easy to lift him up, but to impale him here and now would be a cruel act. Not here, not yet... instead Hannibal worked at bringing Will close, stopping only moments before he climaxed. The carriage was filled with the sounds of Will's breathless whimpers and pleas, and Hannibal chuckled despite his burning desire.

"Ah gorgeous one, you can beg but I will not give you relief. Not yet," murmured the master, his palm slick with Will's frantic arousal. Reaching around he stroked down the furrow of Will's buttocks with a fingertip, coming into contact with the puckered hole. Above him, Will froze with a gasp, pausing for a second before he began pushing himself back against the master's finger. It was almost too much. Hannibal groaned loud at Will's breathless eagerness. Maybe it would not be cruel after all..

When the carriage stopped suddenly a breath later, Hannibal realized with alarm that they had arrived. Quickly, he pushed Will off, the boy falling back on the bench in a panting daze, his hand coming around to grasp at his naked cock in confusion.

 

It took longer for Will to understand why the carriage was no longer shaking around them. No motion. They'd arrived.

He fumbled quickly to cover himself, best as the long tunic would allow. He only hoped his legs would carry him.

At a glance, he wondered if Hannibal's would carry him. His blood still thumped hot under his skin, throbbing in the bruise at his neck, in his cock... He could barely breathe. Hannibal's last words still coursing through his veins.

Will grinned, giddy and pleased, and stood shakily, leaning only close enough to whisper "then I will have to beg louder" before climbing out of the carriage before the master, holding his chin up and walking towards the door, mussed and rumpled but every inch the lordling he was dressed as.

Chapter Text

His shadows lay lighter, as he'd been instructed. The figure that had held his mind captive, with familiar dark eyes and stark brows, seemed softened, pacified perhaps for the moment, contented to look away from Will to the scene he had been painted into.

The final touches to the Roman scene before Will could work on his painting.

His sketches lay ready, tidy on one of the corner tables by the wide windows. He'd chosen an unconventional space, where the sun would fall upon and crawl over his work as he painted throughout the day, but the master hadn't chastised him, had not made him move.

Perhaps because the way Will stood presented a pleasing silhouette to Hannibal when the other sat at his marble table.

Perhaps because the sun would paint Will's cheeks a pleasing pink that the master had so grown to enjoy seeing in him.

Will sat back to regard his work, fingers flexing as his other hand took up the brush to hold it away.

He had not slept till early morning, after having finally earned his relief at the master's clever hands. There was something about the knowledge that he had pleased Hannibal, had brought him his own completion with nothing more than his body lying pliant and open and willing for him, that had Will's back setting straighter, his shoulders back.

Presenting.

He rolled his neck, bringing up a hand to squeeze some of the knots from his muscles, and groaned. A display, certainly, but he hoped that this evening Hannibal would let him sleep just a little more.

Beside him, Leo worked with a grin on his face. It had unnerved Will initially, to see the youth so happy, to see his usual frown of disdain replaced with a strangely knowing look. He'd worried, for a moment, that Nico had said something, that perhaps Leo had heard something himself. But then Giacomo had explained, with an amused tilt to his words, that Leo had his first commission today.

"She is said to be very beautiful."

Will had laughed, putting together the rest.

Leo's mood had, at least, made it less of a chore to work on the large painting - they were in closer proximity as they completed the last of the detailing for the master to check.

"Leo," called the master from across the studio.

The ginger-haired apprentice straightened and smiled, turning towards the master with enthusiasm. However, as the young man approached Hannibal, his face fell slightly at the words spoken. Will couldn't understand what was being said, but he thought he grasped the gist when Leo's answer was tinged with disappointment. Leo would be sent off to paint by himself; it was obvious to him that Leo had expected to be accompanied by the master as Will had been the following day.

He turned quickly back to his canvas to avoid the young Medici's eyes when Leo strode back quickly towards him. As Leo grabbed a few clean brushes and a small bottle of linseed oil, he muttered under his breath. The only word Will understood was finocchio. Will's cheeks burned; he didn't know whether the fiery young man was calling him or Hannibal a homosexual, but the word was extremely vulgar and it set his teeth on edge. He stood still, achingly uncomfortable with Leo's fury brushing against him as the younger man thrust the brushes into a leather case. Shoulders high, Will didn't say anything when Leo took one his spatulas; he just wanted the boy gone and the awkward moment ended.

Leo finally walked hastily out of the studio, and Will breathed a sigh of relief. He turned to Hannibal and met the older man's eyes. The master's face was set in serious lines; Leo's behaviour was not winning him any favours today. After a moment Hannibal smiled, but it had a brittle edge to it. The master's temper was something that both thrilled and disturbed Will, simmering like molten metal beneath the man's composure at all times.

Hoping to shift Hannibal's mind away from his displeasure, Will lifted his hand and slowly pulled aside his wide shirt collar, exposing the kiss-bruises that ran along his neck and collarbone. When he saw the master's eyes widen, Will smiled and tugged the open shirt further down, displaying the soft skin of his chest and one pink nipple. Hannibal's lips parted with an inaudible sigh, and Will felt his heart stutter; the man's look was searing, blatant hunger. Caught up by his own flirting, Will felt himself stir and blushed, amazed by his own behaviour. He blinked, remembering that they were not alone in the room, and turned away.

The master's gaze lingered.

Will continued the painting in silence, allowing himself - forcing himself - to return to that comfortable space his mind slid into when he let the painting process overcome him.

At one point, Giacomo came to his side, at Hannibal's soft insistence, to finish some of the work Leo had left incomplete, and the atmosphere grew warm and comfortable again. There was something about the younger boy that Will just found enchanting. He was wide-eyed and innocent, clever and quick to learn. He had never heard, if he could recall, Hannibal raise his voice to him. Nor had he seen the man raise a hand to the boy in anger. But, to his credit, Giacomo never once did anything to warrant the master's anger.

Figures complete, Will stepped back. His knuckles were dark with smudges of paint where he had leaned too close. They were dry now, no danger of doing damage to the painting in front of him, or his own when he started it. He stepped back, enough to take the entire thing in, and grinned, with a sense of accomplishment. This work would be seen, for years, decades, and his brushstrokes had helped make it happen.

He set the brush between his teeth, wont to clean it just yet, and drew his arms over his head in a stretch. His back bowed, one foot out behind him for balance as he arched, groaning softly at the feeling of his muscles pulling straight, his bones gently clicking at the motion.

He turned, just enough to see Hannibal, and felt his skin prickle with the scrutiny, with the way those dark eyes seemed to almost consume him where he stood, stretched back and vulnerable, lips parted around the brush. Will's cheeks darkened, the strange inescapable desire to tempt the man, to push him, back in his blood.

When he stood straight, he pulled the brush from his lips and then bent over to unnecessarily check something at the very bottom of the painting.

Long moments passed before he stepped away from the large canvas and approached his own, sifting through the sketches he had to work with, with a look of feigned indifference, as though no exchange had passed between them, no spark that still warmed Will's blood.

He'd barely set charcoal to paper when he heard the master call Giacomo's name.

 

Hannibal shifted his gaze away from Will's tauntingly lithe form to the boy who approached him with wide, nervous eyes. With a smile, he beckoned the boy closer and ruffled Giacomo's hair, soft and nearly black like his mother's had been.

"Little bird," he murmured in Italian, "I need you to fly down to the market and pick up some olives and bread from Maria and then go see what Old Nario has fresh from his garden." He pulled a few coins from his pocket and pressed them into the boy's palm. "You should have enough to buy yourself a sweet if you bat your eyes and haggle with Maria for the olives."

Giacomo's face split in a thrilled smile. He loved to run to the market for errands; the shopkeepers all adored the sweet tempered boy, and Hannibal knew that Giacomo was often spoiled with treats, regardless of his haggling.

"Yes, Master," piped the boy, sketching a shallow bow, and then he was gone on swift feet, leaving Hannibal and Will alone in the studio.

From the way that Will held himself erect, head slightly tilted, Hannibal was sure that the young Englishman knew that the little apprentice had left; yet, he persisted with an air of concentration and disinterest despite the little show he had just put on. The neck of Will's shirt still hung loose, sliding nearly off one shoulder. Then, as Hannibal watched, a sunbeam lit the younger man from behind, and when Will lifted his arm to make a soft mark on the new canvas, Hannibal could see the outline of Will's side through the thin material. The master put down the papers he held and stood slowly; stepping forward in his soft leather slippers, Hannibal approached Will quietly from behind.

Hannibal stopped when he was near enough to smell Will's sun-warm skin and smiled when he saw the boy's hand slow in its drawing. A beautiful flush began creeping up Will's neck as he stood with his back to Hannibal, obviously and acutely aware of the master's presence. A step took Hannibal closer still; he could see the fine hairs on the back of Will's neck lift as the younger man felt the master's breath on his neck.

As he reached around Will, Hannibal pressed himself up against him and lowered his mouth to the crook of the boy's neck, warm and soft against his lips. Will's hand slowly dropped as he let out a low noise, pushing back against Hannibal. The master's hands slid down the front of Will's shirt and up under the loose hem where his fingers sought out the boy's sensitive nipples. Pinching them between thumb and forefinger, Hannibal felt Will's moan against his tongue as he kissed his way up the young painter's throat.

Hannibal's mind revisited the previous night when he'd had Will on his knees on the bed, still fully dressed save for the gaping rip in his hose. He'd cut away more of the material so that he could fuck himself to climax between the boy's oiled thighs, his passion enflamed almost to the point of delirium by Will begging over and over for release.

"Is this what you wanted?" asked Hannibal, his voice husky against the rim of Will's ear as he nudged his hips forward, pushing the hard ridge of his cock into Will's backside. He pinched down harder on Will's nipples and laughed at the boy's gasp of pain. "Was this what you were hoping to provoke out of me?"

"Yesss," breathed Will with a slight whimper of pain as Hannibal bit into the side of his neck.

"You're all but panting for it, aren't you," growled the master, one hand stroking down Will's chest to curl around the solid heat that pressed against the front of the younger man's pants. When he felt his own cock surge in response, Hannibal let out an almost helpless laugh. "Why in God's name do you have me nearly enslaved with desire for you? How do you do this to me?" He squeezed Will's cock through his pants and sank his teeth into the boy's shoulder; the sound that parted Will's lips tugged directly at his loins.

Knowing the boy was a virgin made him harder still, and it was only a matter of time before Hannibal succumbed to his mounting need to plunder and take what he coveted. However, for now it was a game of mouths and hands, cocks oiled and stroked, Will teased to the point of breathless tears. With a smile, Hannibal fumbled for the fastenings on Will's work pants and let out a low growl when he curled his hand around the slim shaft that bucked against his palm.

He really was exquisite in pleasure. It soothed his features as pain did, into something far younger, vulnerable, open. He was just a slave to it as Hannibal was to him.

Against him, Will sighed again, chest rising and falling faster as Hannibal stroked him, turned his palm to rub just against the head to feel the boy twitch and buck into the touch. One of Will's hands had dropped to grip Hannibal's wrist, a gesture that had perhaps started with the intention of pulling the master away; now he simply held, thin fingers curled around to feel Hannibal's pulse under the soft skin.

His other he'd drawn back to twist behind Hannibal and grip lightly to the back of his shirt, twisting the fabric as he would usually tangle his hands in Hannibal's hair.

"Master... please..."

Hannibal growled, a low, possessive sound, and it took considerable effort to not splay the boy over his own easel, to pin his hands at the top and spread him, take his pleasure and deny Will his own. He had not considered Will's back as a canvas for a while, had not thought of steel piercing the smooth skin to draw blood and watch it flow. Not for a long time. Not since the boy had come to him willingly, knelt and said those very words.

He would, perhaps, cover it in bruises, sucked harsh from his lips when he held the boy down as he drew his taut body to trembling, held Will mercilessly on edge until the other sobbed his pleas, forgot the 'master' and whimpered Hannibal's name.

He was trembling now.

Hannibal could feel the slick warmth of Will's arousal against his palm, knew that he would soon have Will bent forward on his own, the small shifts of his hips back against Hannibal not quite as erratic, much more demanding. Greedy, hungry boy. He soothed Will with warm breath, a press of his cheek against his, though his hand never slowed, though he gave Will neither relief nor mercy as he held him, pulled him back harder against his own cock so Will could feel...

"Earn it," he breathed, delighting in the desperate whimper it drew from the boy in his arms, in the way that his body responded to the words as well, preparing to give, to allow anything to please. Hannibal drew a hand up, nails light against Will's chest, and tilted his head back with a palm splayed against his throat.

"You will earn this, Will. You will wait."

"Yes..."

The breathless agreement, the willing surrender was enough to draw a sound from the master again, a softer thing, though his fingers curled tighter against Will to feel him gasp for lack of air. He held him this way, watched his lips part as his eyes closed, lashes damp with frustrated tears that would only brighten Will's eyes, not fall and redden them. When Will struggled against him, breath hitching in genuine effort to draw it into his lungs, Hannibal released him, curled an arm around the apprentice's middle to hold him steady until Will could find his own balance again.

"I want paint on that canvas before you leave the studio," Hannibal whispered against him, a promise and a command both. He withdrew his hand from Will's pants when the other nodded his understanding, pressing his open lips, hot and possessive, against the back of Will's neck before stepping away to let the boy work. Though his own need strained hard against the laces of his pants, Hannibal forced himself to turn away and stride quickly out of the room.

+++

 

Hannibal looked through the basket that Giacomo had brought home earlier that day. Everything was fresh and perfect, and Hannibal had to smile; the boy knew how to charm every stall keeper into providing their very best. Nario had even tucked in a few of his small yellow tomatoes, a variation on the small red ones that he had grown the previous year. He had promised Hannibal a taste and here they were. The master sliced into one and lifted the dripping morsel to his mouth. It was sweeter than the red yet had a tart note that the other didn't have. As he chewed, he wondered about pairing it, raw as it was, with a sharp cheese.

Lifting his eyes when he heard an unexpected noise, he saw Nico lingering in the doorway, and he straightened, frowning at the young man. It seemed like the peasant boy cleaved to the shadows as if he were one of their own. With eyebrows raised, he watched the boy narrow his gaze at Hannibal. Though the boy was not bright, there was an animal intelligence in that gaze; something savage and primordial stared back at Hannibal through the eyes of the village boy. With a flick of his hand, the master dismissed Nico. Despite himself, he felt a little disconcerted by the look in the servant's eyes. Perhaps it was already time to seek out a new one.

With a slight shake of his head, Hannibal stroked his fingers over the fresh wealth in the basket: peas, asparagus, and artichoke... and here was a little fresh thyme. With renewed good humour at the bounty before him, he pulled out the vegetables to begin preparing a hearty spring soup.

Anything to take his mind off the young Englishman working in the studio above.

+++

 

A short while later, he was transferring the artichokes from the lemon water they'd been soaking in when he heard a soft footfall in the hallway. When he raised his head, he let out a slow breath at the sight of Will stepping into the kitchen. The boy was disheveled and paint-smudged, with a feverish gloss to his eyes. Hannibal straightened and wiped his hands on the white cloth tucked around his waist, watching his apprentice approach the high table where the master worked to prepare the evening meal.

Will's brows pinched over his nose, and he swivelled his head, taking in the presence of the kitchen girls as he did. With a subtle twist of his lips, Will turned his eyes back to Hannibal.

"Dismiss them," said the younger man quietly.

Hannibal's hands ceased in their work, and he tilted his head at Will. Had he heard correctly?

"I'm sorry?" he asked, curiosity and amusement colouring his tone.

"Dismiss them, Hannibal," repeated Will, placing his paint-daubed hands palm-down on the high table. The muscles worked in his strong jaw as he lifted his chin to appraise the master, his eyes tormented and hungry. "Unless you want them to bear witness to the perversions I have worked to earn. The... debauchery I crave at your hand."

The last begat a catch in Will's voice, and Hannibal widened his eyes in astonishment. Wanton as the boy had been thus far, it was keenly obvious that the vice that existed between them still sat heavy in his soul; Will had had the afternoon, painting a worthy bishop, to think over the sins of the flesh, and it was as if the Englishman had suddenly realized that he had thrown away his virtue in favour of the baser calls of the flesh. Yet here he was, a willing participant in his shameless cupidity, eyeing the master like he was the antidote for the fire in his blood.

After giving Will a long look, the master turned away without a word, speaking gently to the kitchen girls in Italian and sending them away. Used to Hannibal's peculiarities, the girls bowed and left the room immediately.

As he turned back, the master noticed that Will had not moved and was still and silent as he merely ducked his head and kept his eyes barely open, seeing - or unseeing - something in the middle distance that the master was not privy to. There was an unmistakeable tremble in Will's shoulders.

In the silence that followed the girls, Will lifted his head but not his eyes, lips parted on soft breaths until the edges of them tilted up into a strange smile, and he raised his eyes to Hannibal's.

"You asked me earlier why you were a slave to your desires, and I counter," Will said softly. "Why have you made me a slave to mine?"

Hannibal frowned as the younger man's hands curled into fists before dropping down to his sides.

"Why is it," asked Will as he took a step back, quickly tugging up the bottom of his shirt to pull it over his head, exposing the graceful planes of his chest, "that I cannot force my mind away from the thought of your hands on my skin? Are you a demon set on this earth to drive me mad? What have you done to me?" Will dropped the stained shirt to the ground.

Hannibal smiled, though his brows sat low with caution at the sudden departure from Will's usual paradox of meekness and pride; he watched as the Englishman stepped around the counter to approach him, his mind sharp with fascination. When Will reached forward to grab handfuls of the master's shirt to pull him forward, Hannibal let out a startled laugh.

 

This kiss was not meek; it was not a shy, gentle attempt to gain understanding or garner mercy. This was a kiss filled with the hunger that been building in Will since the morning, since Hannibal had touched him and forced him to resume his work.

This was a hunger that came with knowing that he had willingly done it, that he would willingly do it again.

Will didn't smile when he felt the laugh against him, though it wasn't for lack of amusement. He was certainly pleased. But he could not rationalize, could not understand why this man had the hold on him that he did, why his words, his hands, the very promise of either had Will's knees weak and his heart racing.

He pulled back with a gasp, a thick swallow and stepped closer to press his hips to Hannibal's.

"What have I earned?" he breathed, his eyes locked on Hannibal's dark eyes.

The master stared at him a moment, unmoving. Hannibal's lips were curled slightly, but much of the merriment in his chiseled face had been replaced by a blatant hunger, one that Will could feel growing stiff against him as he met the master's eyes unblinking.

Without warning, Hannibal's hand came up and with it the knife he had been holding when Will had approached. Will felt as if he were falling suddenly, a pit of abject fear opening up in his stomach as the master quickly pressed the sharp blade against his chest. With a low sound, Will went to step away, his senses confused, but the older man's hand on his lower back prevented him from moving. Then, as swiftly as his panic had arisen, it made way for a yearning that felt razor edged in its intensity as the blade slid softly over his skin; the cut was shallow, swiftly done and just a mild, stinging pain before Hannibal lowered his hot mouth to cover it. Will let out a cry, one that painted his passion in near notes of grief, so great was the staggering desire that shook him.

Will gasped and shook, a low moan escaping him as Hannibal's teeth closed over his nipple. His hands twisted in the cloth of the master's shirt, caring not whether he damaged the soft silk as he arched his back with a choked sob, submitting to Hannibal's barbarism. When the master pulled away, there was a red stain to his lips, and he pressed his bloody mouth to Will's in a savage kiss.

It was horrific and sinful beyond words, yet Will opened his mouth as willingly to this kiss as he had to every other, bent his back just as pleasingly against the master's hand.

He could feel his pulse where the knife had stung, knew the skin would be hot there the next morning as it healed, knew the master would press against it with fingers and lips to draw breathless sounds from Will at the sensation.

"Please," he gasped, eyes closed when he pulled back this time, holding on to Hannibal to ground himself. "More, please more..."

 

With a low growl, Hannibal lifted his hand to curl it tight in Will's hair. With the boy's blood on his lips, his heart pounded hard in his chest, a hammer against the anvil, his passion being forged in heat and darkness. Laughing as he watched tears spring to Will's eyes from the pain in his scalp, the master pushed the boy back against the hard edge of the high table and turned him over roughly with the hand that had wielded the knife.

"This is what you want, Will?" he breathed, his fingers tightening again in the boy's dark curls. Pressing Will's head down towards the tabletop, Hannibal pulled at the fastenings of Will's pants, yanking them down roughly once they were loose enough.

Will's hands scrabbled over the wood, a low whimper and gasp bursting out of him as his head hit the table. In struggling, Will knocked the plate of artichokes to the floor, and Hannibal kicked it away.

"Please," moaned Will again.

This time Hannibal was not sure if it was a plea to continue or to cease. It didn't matter either way; he didn't care. He stroked the white curve of Will's buttock and let his nails drag against the skin on the return. Will's narrow hips pressed into the edge of the table in a way that had Hannibal's heart beating faster. Soft flesh. He pulled his hand away and slapped the back of the boy's thigh hard, hard enough to sting his palm.

Will let out a sharp cry and renewed his struggles, trapped as he was against the table by Hannibal's strong hand in his hair. First a copper pot went crashing to the floor as Hannibal smacked the younger man harder, pleased with the pink and red appearing on Will's pale skin, then the bottle of olive oil was the next casualty, tipping over to pour its contents along the seam of the counter and pooling to the tiles below.

 

Will writhed, like a fish out of water, twisting and struggling against the harsh grip in his hair, the sharp sting against his thighs that seemed to grow hotter and sharper with every passing moment.

It was humiliating, it was degrading, Will wasn't a child anymore, he was above this. He didn't deserve...

Oh, but you've earned... his desire purred, this is what you wanted.

He sobbed loudly, curling a hand back to grip Hannibal's wrist again, nails digging into the flesh, leaving sharp half-moon marks from his nails. He wasn't sure if the words coming from his mouth were pleas anymore, or demands, or just loud wanton sounds of need, but he could barely control them. His free hand cut similar marks into the table in front of him, arm stretched far in an attempt to escape the punishment.

His hips were bucking against the table before he realized the onslaught of strikes had stopped, either back into the hand that hurt him, or forward trying to gain friction from the empty air. He slid his hand between his legs to stroke, the wail utterly anguished when he found his hand pinned to the tabletop as well. He was shaking, cock hard and leaking after the brutal treatment.

A moment to catch his breath with Hannibal's name against his lips in a voice too low, too needy to be his, surely.

 

"No," murmured Hannibal leaning over the boy pinned to the table. "Your cock is mine, and as such I am the one who decides whether or not you get to play with it." He brushed his lips against Will's shoulder, the welts on the back of the boy's thighs hot against his own legs even through the thick brocatello fabric. Blood sang in his ears, his skin tight and feverish as Will whispered the words he craved like air.

"Yes, Master."

When Hannibal let go of his wrist, Will bent his elbow, arm folding tight against his ribs and hand pressed over his mouth. Will's eyes were closed, a high, dark blush on his cheeks as he panted beneath Hannibal. Hannibal moved his fingers against the wood counter, noticing at last that they were covered in spilled oil. Instantly his mind latched onto an idea, and he nearly gasped with the heady lust that took him.

He straightened, admonishing the boy to stay still, as he coated his fingers more thoroughly. Shifting his grip from Will's hair to his shoulder, Hannibal then kicked the younger man's legs apart as far as they would while still bound at the knee by his pants. At this Will pushed up against his hand, startled. His cry was muffled by his hand so he lifted his head, trying to see the man behind him.

"No... no not like this," gasped Will. "Please Master. Take me like you did last night... don't pierce me through. Please. Please, Master. I'm not ready."

With a smile, Hannibal shook his head, shoving Will back down.

"Your cock is mine. This gorgeous culo is mine too," he growled. Placing a greased finger against the opening between Will's legs, he pushed, sliding its whole length inside the younger man slowly. The moan that panted from Will's mouth was long and low, and he felt the muscles squeeze involuntarily around his finger.

"You may not be ready yet, but you must be made ready, no?" breathed Hannibal as he slid his finger back to push it slowly again into Will. The boy trembled and gasped at the foreign intrusion, but he did not try to pull away. In fact, Will's cheeks blushed further as he relaxed into the caress, shoulders no longer tense under Hannibal's hand. Pleased, Hannibal pressed a second fingertip to Will's puckered entrance and pushed it inside him, eliciting a pained whimper that ended on soft groan.

Hannibal's cock throbbed against his pelvis, caught in the tight confines of his pants. He knew if he were to part the material now, he would find himself wet with arousal. It would be impossible to keep himself from simply taking the boy hard and cruel against the table. Closing his eyes, Hannibal reached inside himself for the patience that was quickly deteriorating.

Tonight, at least, the boy would be left whole.

Pulling his fingers back slightly, Hannibal felt the hard, dimpled nut of Will's prostate against his fingertips and began to stroke this sweet spot in earnest, curious to see what Will's reaction would be.

He was not disappointed, though the boy had yet to disappoint him with much. Will jerked, a gasp pulled from his lips again as his eyes opened, wide and bright and unseeing in his pleasure.

The sounds that came from him now were weaker, soft, barely voiced things that took all the breath Will had. They left him panting, twisting, pushing back against Hannibal's fingers, seeking more. He said nothing, alternated between biting his lip to contain the moans and parting his lips to release them. His whole body flushed, all muscles taut, stark in his neck and thighs.

He was exquisite.

Hannibal spread his fingers, rubbing just around the spot until Will pressed his forehead to the table with a low moan.

"Yes... please..."

It was fascinating watching Will tumble through his own responses, unsure yet how to beg pleasure or what to do to expect it. Unsure even what pleasure was to him yet. Hannibal's smile widened, imagining what depraved things he could do to the boy still, what his responses would be. He remembered how shocked Will had been to be forced to his knees and take his cock the first night he had come to him. Remembered the look of utter betrayal and terror, and yet that fear had driven him mad with lust, enough to put himself back into Hannibal's space, enough to bring him here.

Will's hands were clasped in front of him, as though in prayer, knuckles white with tension as he rested his forehead against his wrists, hips pushing back in demanding urgency.

Hannibal slowly released Will's shoulder, his palm slick with the sweat that covered the boy's body as he panted and groaned at the master's inner caress. After sliding his hand down to the boy's waist, Hannibal pulled Will gently away from the edge of the table so that he could reach around and grasp Will's cock in hand. However, when he realized how wet Will was without having been touched, he splayed his hand against the taut muscles of the boy's stomach instead.

Will began rocking back into every shallow thrust, his head shaking back and forth as if fighting against his pleasure. Not once did he ask to touch himself as his breath began sobbing out of him, every exhale a shuddered, lust-drowned thing. Soon he began to cry out with every pass of Hannibal's fingers, and the master realized that the boy would soon spill.

"Please Hannibal, please, please, please...."

Drunk with his own passion, Hannibal pressed his lips to Will's back with a growl as he fucked the younger man with only his fingers. It was everything he could do not to push his cock into the boy instead.

With a sudden, harsh cry, Will's body shook, and his muscles pulsed over Hannibal's fingers as he climaxed. Hannibal let out a soft sound of his own and breathed deep against Will's skin, rocking against the shuddering boy as he whimpered and groaned, repeating the master's name over and over again as if he could not stop.

Finally he stopped moving, and Hannibal turned his head to lay his cheek against Will's heaving ribcage; the master blinked and felt the tears in his eyes spill over to muddle with the boy's sweat. Hannibal slid his fingers out of Will and felt a final shudder take the body beneath him.

Slowly he pushed himself away in a daze, his lust sharp yet tempered with awe and something that made his chest feel too tight to take in breath. It was exquisite and damning at once. A slave. A slave to this boy.

He raised his head and saw that Will had turned, his blue eyes wet with his own tears. Without a word, Will dropped to his knees in front of Hannibal and swiftly unlaced the brocade that bound him tight. When the warmth of Will's mouth finally enveloped him, Hannibal's impassioned cry rang out loud.

Chapter Text

Hannibal untangled himself slowly from Will, lifting the other's limp limbs up so he could get out of bed. With a smile he looked down at Will, so deeply asleep on the soft mattress. He'd woken the boy twice in the night to take his fill again, his hunger insatiable. By the time Hannibal had been finished with the younger man, Will had been sobbing so hard from relief that it had taken a glass of warmed wine to soothe him back to sleep.

The master pulled the blanket over the naked young man, covering up the bruises and welts that marred his smooth skin. Humming to himself while he pulled on a loose painting blouse, Hannibal then made his way to the kitchen to get something to eat before going to the studio. The night's activities had inspired him, and he wanted to put paint to canvas before the images faded from his mind.

 

As he approached the entrance to the studio, Hannibal frowned. It was very early, only just past dawn, but he could hear noises coming from within. It sounded like a low, heated argument, but Hannibal heard only one voice. At a loud ripping sound, he hurried his step and walked through the entrance, his eyes turning to focus on the furtive movement at the far side of the room.

Immediately Hannibal saw the damage.

Will's painting of the bishop sat crooked on the easel, its canvas shredded into tattered, torn pieces that hung limply from the wooden frame. Outrage boiled up in him at the sight, and he dropped the cup he was holding, striding quickly to the destroyed work of art. Hannibal reached out and touched the limp canvas where the bishop's dark eye was bracketed by deep gouges. It looked like someone had sliced into the painting and then used their fingers to tear at it... an act of pure savagery.

Hannibal heard a shuddering breath and darted to the side.

Before Leo could run for the door from where he hid, Hannibal's long fingers closed around his bicep and pulled him from behind the easel. The boy's eyes were wide with fright but quickly darkened with anger as he stared into the master's fury.

"What is the meaning of this?" hissed Hannibal through clenched teeth as he tightened his grasp on Leo. "What have you done, you little cur?"

Leo struggled against Hannibal and let out a frustrated, pained cry when the master's hand tangled in his hair, forcing his head back.

"Speak, you ungrateful bastard, or I will strip the skin from your hide!" Hannibal shook the boy in his grasp and coughed in surprise when the gob of spit hit him in the face.

"Fuck you," growled Leo, his eyes narrowed in anger. The boy fell back with a grunt when Hannibal's fist connected with his jaw, and he crawled backwards across the marble floor.

Hannibal wiped his face and grabbed at the boy's shirt, hauling him again to his feet.

"It's not FAIR!" screamed Leo, red-tinged spittle spraying Hannibal. "Do you know what they did? DO YOU? After I painted that FUCKING WHORE they made me sleep in the pigsty. WITH THE PIGS, you cocksucker! No food, dirty water. That WHORE laughed at me when I asked her if I could sleep in the house. You know what she said? That she couldn't trust me not to steal anything." Leo's voice broke, and he let out a sob. "You weren't FUCKING there, Hannibal. No one stood up for me. No... you... you take that little cunt with you and feed him sweets and suck his goddamned cock and the world is his fucking oyster. FUCK!" Leo swung his fist, the punch glancing off Hannibal's cheek.

With a roar, the master threw the young man into the wrecked canvas, and Leo tumbled against it, limbs falling through the damage he had wrought. Leo's words meant nothing to Hannibal; he barely heard them above the howling tempest that called for the boy's blood.

Leo held up his hands in a plea as the master approached him; clutched in one of Hannibal's fists was the knife Leo had used to gut the painting.

"I WAS HERE FIRST!" shrieked Leo. "That little shit's commission should have gone to me, Hannibal! ME! Let HIM sleep with the fucking pigs. Go ahead. Kill me. My father will destroy you and your career!"

Hannibal pressed the knife to Leo's throat, hard enough to dimple the skin before he heard a strangled cry behind him. The sound was enough to freeze his hand, a cold shock coursing through him.

Will stood in the middle of the room, pale and wide-eyed.

"What... is this? My painting. Leo? Hannibal what is going on?" he asked, his voice hoarse and unsteady.

Clenching his jaw, Hannibal pulled the knife back, taking a few quick breaths through his nose. He turned back to Leo and growled quickly in Italian.

"Leave with your life. Now."

 

The red-haired boy stared between them, directed one final look to Hannibal that was more filled with pained remorse than it was with hatred, and scrambled back and away, getting his feet under him before stumbling from the studio.

Will let him pass, numbly staring as the master slowly straightened to stand, his fingers flexing around the handle of the knife and his throat working as he swallowed. Watching as the cool mask Hannibal wore to cover the monster slipped back into place, Will frowned.

"You would have killed him." It was not a question, and Hannibal made no effort to answer or deny it. He simply drew his brows up to clear his expression, jaw working as his breathing slowed.

The young artist shook his head.

"It's just a painting, Hannibal, it can be—" he sighed, keeping his eyes resolutely away from the damage done to his work. "I can do it again." His voice had grown quiet, the upset at the loss of his work, his efforts, creeping in to overtake the panic he'd felt walking into the studio and seeing Hannibal so close to killing his apprentice.

He thought back to the night he'd been pinned to the ground, blade at his throat.

"You would have killed him." The emphasis shifted effortlessly, and his brows drew together as he waited for Hannibal to say something, anything.

Will watched as anger rippled over the master's face again, like a dark shadow, and then it vanished, replaced by what Will's clever brain registered as something close to amusement.

"That was ridiculously imprudent of me," said Hannibal with a wry twist of his lips as he looked at the knife. Placing it back on the tray next to the easel, the master picked up the destroyed painting and set it gently back up on the wooden tripod. "It was very good, Will. Very." His fingers touched a hanging shred of canvas before he turned to look back at Will. The crazed beast was back in its cage, and it was the passionate, cultivated man who gazed at Will now.

Will crossed an arm over his chest and curled his fingers around his bicep, hunching his shoulders up as he slid his eyes away from Hannibal's.

Finally the master answered him with a sigh.

"Yes, I would have killed him had your presence not stopped me." The words were spoken gently, the master's voice soft but nowhere near apologetic. Will curled his lip and looked down at his bare feet, cold on the marble floor. Was it anger or fright that he felt? Confusion or betrayal?

"You want to know why I didn't kill you that night," said Hannibal.

Will nodded. When he looked up, the master's brows were low over his eyes as he contemplated the spot on the marble floor where he had pressed his knife to Will's throat.

There was a crash from outside and Will started, turning to the window. Rain began pelting the glazed windows, the sound like a high, fast drumroll in the large studio.

 

Habnnibal looked at the storm-grey skies, so like the colour of Will's eyes.

Why? Why had his hand stopped before slicing into the young Englishman's neck? "Why" was a question that he had stopped asking himself; did there need to be a reason for doing the things he did? He simply did them or did not, but he knew the sombre boy at his side needed an answer.

Hannibal turned to Will and extended his hand, palm up. After a long moment, the young man placed his hand slowly on the master's, his expression wary. Hannibal pulled Will's hand to him, sliding it up under his shirt to rest against his chest, right over the heart that beat slowly beneath muscle and bone. Just the touch of Will's skin to his was enough to spur the organ to thump more swiftly, but when Hannibal leaned forward to touch his lips to Will's, his heart began a frenzied rhythm. When he pulled back, Will's eyes were wide, his lips parted in a slow sigh. The master dropped his hand, but Will kept his palm pressed to Hannibal's strong chest, his fingers stroking along his collarbone.

"That's not an answer, Hannibal," whispered Will, but the sorrow in his eyes held no accusation.

"I know, Will," answered the master. "But it's the only one I have."

The young man stepped closer, just enough to rest his forehead against Hannibal's shoulder, accepting the hand that carded through his hair before he dropped his hand and stepped away. Will would need to stretch a new canvas, gesso it.

With a sigh, the young English painter removed the ruined work from the easel again and set it by the window.

Hannibal let him.

+++

 

The weather made the entire day appear to crawl. Despite the unintended early start, Will's hand did not move over the canvas as it had the day before, no energy ran through him to coax him to work faster, to render the likeness of the bishop as Will had seen him, with the desires and exhaustion, the life in his eyes.

He left the eyes alone, turned to work on the tone of the skin, the set of the lips, the hair visible from under his cap.

He had kept the ruined canvas, stating it was for reference. Will doubted the master believed him; he barely believed himself. Knife and hands had rendered the painting impossible to save, the slashes savage, cruel on skin that had appeared almost real just hours before. The blows had been aimed at him, but his work had just taken them for him. He felt cold at the thought. What had he done to draw such anger from the young apprentice?

Will's mind lingered, for a moment, on the image of Leo on the ground, the knife to his throat, the lack of fear in his eyes before Hannibal had pulled the blade away. There had been nothing beautiful there, nothing divine in the boy's face contorted in anger. He had been as much a beast as Hannibal, but he was weaker, had presented his throat in a challenge when it should have been defeat.

Will imagined those features smoothed in pleasure, how that pale skin would flush when touched, redder than his own, warmer...

He swallowed and bent to begin working the folds of fabric carefully, wanting to bring them to life, to softness on the still canvas. He refused to let his mind return to the image of Leo on his back, refused to let himself believe that the painful burn in his chest was jealousy. Guilt, his mind pressed, trying. It's just guilt.

Today didn't seem to be a day he could believe his own lies.

+++

 

Hannibal leaned against the banister of the loggia, looking out over the rain-soaked gardens below. Deep in thought, he held the beaten-metal cup clasped in his hands and watched as the rain dripped into it to dilute the wine within.

It would have been more prudent of him to kill Leo; there was no telling what would happen now. The Medici held the city in the palm of their hands, even the little bastard held power over Hannibal. Killing him would have been better. Now there was an unknown variable...

He tilted the cup and watched rain drip from the edge, some of the wine splashing out in the process, like spilled blood. Putting the cup to his lips, Hannibal took another sip. The question of "why" was still winding its way through his brain like a parasite. Why was it that Will could, with a look or a word, muzzle the beast inside him?

For a moment Hannibal's anger rose up inside him like a black tide at the thought of being so... weakened by Will's very presence. Emasculated. Tamed.

With a laugh he let go of his fury and opened his palm to the rain. No, it wasn't so straightforward. There was danger in the boy, and in the hold that he had on Hannibal; but it was a danger tempered by the soft, needy sighs that breathed warm against the master's lips as he milked the pleasure from Will's body. Hannibal turned his hand with a low chuckle and let the water that had collected there join the spilled wine below.

When the knock came at the door a few hours later, Hannibal was prepared for it.

+++

 

"We must make a trip back to town," said the master with a tight smile.

Will widened his eyes and turned to look at his painting. It was nowhere near done; it would not be completed before the bishop left for Cadiz.

"It can wait."

There was a note in Hannibal's voice that pricked tiny holes of worry in Will; something had happened... something to do with Leo? As if following Will's thoughts, the older man nodded.

"We have been summoned to see Giulio," explained Hannibal. "The cardinal wants an apology for how I treated his son, as well as a... sign of good faith."

Will didn't like the way that Hannibal's words were clipped, nor the way the master's eyes glittered with some terrible emotion that made his fists ball themselves at his sides.

Will shook his head slowly.

"I don't understand. Why am I to go?" he asked softly. Will's eyes caught the tiny twitch that moved Hannibal's lips before the master ducked his head. When Hannibal looked back up, the lines of his visage were sleek and cold, and Will felt another pang of worry.

"Giulio has taken an... interest in you," said the master.

+++

 

Will tugged absently at the bottom of his doublet as the carriage rocked over the uneven road. The rain had dropped the temperature of the air enough to draw heat from his skin where it wasn't covered. His cheeks were pink with it, his nose the same. He kept his eyes resolutely out the window, watching the swinging lamp.

In front of him, Hannibal sat just as still, but his attention was as deliberately on Will as Will's was deliberately away. The apprentice could feel his eyes on his skin as surely as he had felt the man's hands the last time they had shared this carriage. He swallowed the memory away, felt it sink like a stone in his stomach.

 

"Giulio has taken an... interest in you," the master had said, the words drawing Will's brows together. "He has asked you to join him for supper."

The words had held far more weight than they should, the implication clear, and Will had swallowed again, ducking his head as shame and anger coloured his cheeks.

"Will you send a carriage for the morning?" he'd asked, tone bitter, and his answer had been the master stepping close, fingers curled under his chin to tilt it up.

"You are not going alone." The words had rung harsh, the anger aimed beyond Will, away from him. The kiss had been just as bruising. "I will be there... Will, the cardinal is not a cruel man; he will be... gentle with you." Will had felt a slight tremble in Hannibal's fingers and had watched the muscles in the man's jaw bulge as his teeth clenched before continuing. "You are paying the price for my rashness... but you will save me, save us by doing this."

Will's eyes had closed, his breathing stuttered but steady before he'd nodded, feeling the warm palm still holding him. The bitter edge to his words had suggested how hard this was for Hannibal, how it was pulling at the very core of him to do this. As Hannibal had taken the cardinal's pride by dismissing Leo, so Giulio would take the master's pride by taking Will.

"He will drive me from my home, and no Medici will ever commission from me again, Will. My career, my reputation... it is finished without this small thing you do." Hannibal's eyes had bored into him and, for a brief moment, Will had thought he could sense the man was pleading silently for him to say no.

However, it was Hannibal's pride or his reputation and, despite how Will felt, he refused to see him stripped of the latter.

"Let him have his meal," he had finally said in a broken whisper, eyes down as Hannibal brought his free hand up to stroke warm knuckles down his cheek.

 

The carriage bumped over the slick cobblestones as Will tugged at his clothing again, so nervous he felt ill. This doublet was far richer than the first, deep purple and embroidered with thin gold thread. His hose were darker too, his soft leather shoes warm and snug against his toes. Will felt like an offering.

He pressed his lips together briefly and narrowed his eyes in thought. He could endure supper. He could endure the company and the forced conversation. He could smile - would smile - duck his head, peek through his lashes and stay demure. He would entertain. The thought made his stomach roil, but Hannibal could be shamed, his name, his work, his amazing talent dragged through the muck because of one boy, one mistake...

He would do this for the master, no matter how much it galled him that he was paying for Hannibal's lack of self-restraint.

When Will finally turned to look at the master, he saw that the man's hands were fisted in his lap, and his stark face was set in serious lines. Hannibal stared right through him, lost in his own thoughts, but it was obvious to Will that his mind was on their destination.

Will's heart started to thud hard a moment later when the carriage stopped; they had arrived.

Smoothing down the material once more over his knees, Will took a deep breath, trying to slow his pulse. When the master blinked, his eyes finally finding focus - dark and glassy in the wan light - Will was aghast at the change in the man. Hannibal looked drained, vulnerable; it was the face of a man who was out of options. A bitter pill to swallow, Will knew that Hannibal wouldn't be asking him this if it wasn't their only choice.

As he tried to push away his fear and anger, Will forced his mouth into a semblance of a smile and leaned forward to touch his lover's hand.

"As you said, Hannibal. It is a small thing I do."

Chapter Text

Will was glad he could excuse his shivering by claiming he was simply cold from the rain. He held his hands clasped in front of him, shoulders back, head down to watch where he was going so he could avoid looking at anyone until he absolutely had to.

Next to him, he could feel Hannibal keep in step as they followed the young valet through the long, richly decorated corridors, the reassuring form of the master close enough that Will could feel the heat of his body against his arm. It took a lot to not lean against him and seek comfort.

Not here.

He had thought they would be going to Giulio's home, but he found, after a few familiar turns, that they were in the same villa where he had experienced the opera just a few days before. It felt shockingly silent when it was empty, and Will thought that their steps could almost be the heart beat in an empty chest.

Will forced his mind not to linger on the few moments in the carriage they had shared before stepping out into the rain together, forced his eyes to the floor instead of letting them stray to see if that pained expression was still written on Hannibal's face.

His nerves chewed against his insides, pushing Will's heart to his throat where it sat like a lump he couldn't swallow down. He hoped he could eat, even a little, he hoped it would distract him.

The wide dining room was welcoming, warmly lit and richly set; but, it didn't put Will's heart at ease, it brought it hammering harder. His lips parted on a brief gasp before he pressed them together and breathed slowly through his nose.

His smile was convincing and warm when he heard his name called by a familiar accented voice, and looked up, the picture of cherubic perfection. A small thing. A sign of good faith.

"Ah Signore Graham... Will. I am so pleased to see you! Welcome, welcome," said the cardinal. Dressed in the long red robes of his office, the man beckoned him forward, and Will took another step into the room, praying that his smile didn't slip. "I hope you will enjoy the meal I had specially made for us tonight."

Will didn't know how to answer, so he dipped his head a little, taking the time to draw in a shaky breath as he did so.

"Hannibal, you can go. I don't want you at my table."

The words were spoken curtly, purposefully in English so that Will could hear and understand his master being dismissed like a servant. Will's heart lurched in his chest at the thought of being left alone with the cardinal. He glanced over at Hannibal and saw that the man held himself ramrod straight, a feverish glitter in his dark eyes; he looked both furious and absolutely wretched. The master's lips worked together for a moment before he nodded sharply once and turned to go. Hannibal's eyes locked with Will's for a heartbeat and then he was gone, his short cape swirling behind him.

Will thought he was going to be ill.

He let himself be led to his seat by the gracious cardinal. Giulio's long fingers touched his lower back, a soft slide across his ribs, before he urged Will to sit down. Will's face burned with the intimate touch, and he clutched the edge of the table, willing himself to relax. It was to be a meal and then... and then something that would be over quickly. And he would be back in Hannibal's arms, all wrongs righted by this... sacrifice. Will wouldn't let this touch him.

He lifted his eyes to the man who sat across from him and bent his mouth into another smile.

"Thank you for inviting me," he said softly, hoping he sounded sincere.

The cardinal leaned back in his chair and appraised Will, his dark eyes amused in his handsome face. He pursed his shapely lips, and then spoke again.

"Your master did a very, very bad thing, Will. I know that my son has a lively temper, but there was no cause for what Hannibal did to him. I seek to punish him for his mistake. However, I was hoping that you would want to be here, that you wouldn't consider this your punishment. Because, my dear boy, you are blameless. I extend my hand to you in friendship." Will saw that the cardinal's teeth were white and even when he let out a small, self-effacing laugh. "Shall we be friends, Will?"

He could almost believe the cardinal's words, but the lie of Giulio's intent was blatant in the way man's eyes watched Will's lips as he replied in a hushed voice.

"Yes. I would like that."

The cardinal's smile widened, and Will was reminded of a cat, dangerous and hungry. He lowered his eyes in a way he hoped was demure, shy. Something appealing when what he wanted to be was anywhere but here, when his muscles screamed run, and his heart hammered to comply.

He sat still.

The table was set already, plates gleaming clean, and Will couldn't help but think himself just as suitably prepared. He took a breath and shifted, setting his shoulders straighter.

"Your home is beautiful," he said, sincere. "I've yet to find any place in Florence that hasn't awed me."

This was easier. Truths were easier because Will could bury himself in them, pull them close like a cloak.

"It's almost as though I've entered another world," he admitted softly. "Where people see beauty, revere it."

He met the cardinal's eyes again and felt his smile waver. The blatant hunger radiated from the man as Hannibal's anger did from him. It was suffocating, inescapable. Will bit his lip lightly before letting it go.

"And collect it," he added softly.

The cardinal's sudden bark of laughter startled him. Clapping his hands once, Giulio smiled wide at Will.

"Yes... collect it," said the cardinal, amused. "You're a very smart boy, Will. I can see that in your eyes, the way they capture everything."

The cardinal motioned with a hand, and a servant came forward to pour some wine into his cup before doing the same for Will's. The older man lifted up his wine and held it aloft, coaxing Will to do the same with an upward of his fingers.

"To intelligence," said Giulio, his smile white against his swarthy skin.

Will nodded and pressed the rim of the cup against his lips, a pantomime of drinking, as the cardinal took a deep swallow.

"Can I share a little secret with you, my dear boy?" asked the man as cuts of meat were slid onto his plate by sumptuously dressed servants.

Will licked his lips, tasting the kiss of wine on the lower. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear this man's secrets, but he nodded again once, letting his eyes follow the movement of the servants putting food into his plate.

"I have not been able to remove you from my mind since our last meeting," murmured the cardinal. "You are a maddening creature that has been crawling through my thoughts all day."

Will's pulse throbbed in his ears, the words sliding over his skin like cold fingers. For a few moments, he simply held his breath. He knew the dinner was arbitrary, that the entire scene was orchestrated to torment his master who was outside the door imagining the horrors going on within.

Or worse, Will supposed, the pleasures.

It frightened him beyond words to be here alone, to anticipate and wait and worry. His imagination tormented him as he read the tone encasing Giulio's words, felt it smooth as velvet.

He thanked the servant quietly, to force his voice to return, to force air into his lungs, and took up the wine again to steady his hands.

"I'm sorry to have pulled you from more important thoughts," he murmured, bringing his eyes up to meet those of the man across from him, holding his gaze before his lips softened to a smile.

A small thing. It doesn't matter.

Will made his smile widen to reach his eyes.

"I hope I can make amends."

+++

 

Hannibal glanced at the door at the end of the hallway and breathed quickly through his nose, his jaw clenched so tight it had begun to hurt. His hands were clasped behind him, otherwise he thought he might begin to tear the art from the walls and rip the curtain from the window. Swallowing back the burning anger that held his throat like a clawed hand, Hannibal paced again down the hallway, his steps measured, eyes focused on nothing.

What did he care? It was such simple thing. It didn't matter. It was something that would save him. It didn't mean anything. Why was his gut twisted and his mouth dry? It was only flesh.

It was his flesh. His heart. It was his hope on the other side of the double doors. He stopped pacing and let out a low groan between his teeth, face set in a rictus of pain. Damn Giulio. Hannibal was forced to wait, hoping against all hope that Will would refuse, come running into his arms, eyes wide and wet with emotions for him and him alone.

But no. Will was a good boy. He would do this... this thing.

I am the one who is damned.

The master resumed pacing, every footfall counting time on a clock that had no hands. How long must he wait for the deed to be done?

Hannibal reached the end of the corridor and turned with a low, impatient growl. Razor blades in his chest and acid in his blood.

I am a fool. A fool for agreeing to this, he thought in fury, in anguish.

Yet, he resumed his slow patrol of the upstairs corridor, ears pricked for sounds that he did not wish to hear.

+++

 

Will didn't taste the food he was eating, he went through the motions and forced his stomach to still. Across from him, he could feel the hot gaze of the cardinal slide over his skin, much like a caress itself with the weight it held.

He lifted his eyes as he placed another morsel into his mouth, slowly closing his lips around it to draw it off the fork. Giulio's smile spread like warm butter, eyes on Will but not seeing him. Will, just as dinner, was arbitrary. It was what he represented, what pressure he exerted over the man outside the door.

Will didn't matter.

In a way, it made it that much easier. To pick up the wine and take a genuine sip, to lick his lips clean of the liquid, red and heavy as blood in the glass as he set it back.

It made it easier to part his lips on a sigh, eyes still down, to school his expression before lifting it to the man in front of him.

Please, he thought. Just take me, don't make me suffer waiting.

As if hearing Will's thoughts, the man across the table pushed his plate back, meal unfinished. Will glanced up as Giulio wiped his mouth with the corner of a napkin and then tilted his head, watching him.

Will took another slow bite, eyes back down on his meal, his heart stuttering in his chest. The cardinal said nothing as Will chewed the food that turned to ash in his mouth.

He speared another piece of the roasted meat with his fork and looked up at the cardinal. Was he supposed to keep eating? What was he to do? The man in the red robes stared at him, his dark eyes serious and expectant. The two locked eyes for a long, silent moment, and Will understood.

After he lay his fork down gently on the plate, Will stood slowly. Letting out a silent sigh as he stared down at the table, he then straightened and pulled his shoulders back, praying that his knees would not give way. Will stepped back from the table, his eyes darting to the servants who stood against the walls. Would the man dismiss them, or would Will be made to suffer the ignominy of being put on display? A few steps took him around the end of the long table. Giulio watched him approach with a small smile on his narrow face, a hand on each knee. The silky red material of his robes dipped down in the wide space between the man's spread thighs.

Will's eyes darted away from soft slope of red when he realized what they outlined. His step faltered, and he heard Giulio's low chuckle.

This was a man of God. The fact that he was leering and primed like a satyr disturbed Will, disgusted him. He licked his lips and took another step forward, hoping that the man would take his halting approach as timidity and not what it truly was.

If it disturbs you so much, why do your eyes keep sliding back to the man's lap? he accused himself. If you are so disturbed, then why do you look at his hands, his lips and feel your heart beat with something that resonates more closely with excitement than disgust?

Heat rose in his face as Will took the last two steps, shame and confusion making it hard to breathe as he stared down into the cardinal's face. Something of his thoughts must have shown in his eyes; the man nodded with a sly smile, his eyes amused.

"Sometimes we find pleasure where we thought to resist, my dear boy," murmured Giulio in his melodic accent. "There is no shame in that."

With his breath held behind lips that trembled, Will sank down to his knees, a mockery of prayer. When the cardinal's hand touched his head softly, the long fingers stroking his curls, Will let out a sound that could have been a sob... or a gasp of pleasure. He didn't know himself.

His hands shook enough to almost tangle in the robes, cheeks hot with humiliation as he forced his breath to slow. Here, at least, he knew what to do, what to expect. Yet knowing and doing were far removed from each other, and Will found himself nearly paralyzed with confusion.

The position was familiar, the implication clear, the instructions he had been forcing his mind to understand, remember, accept, still present against his ears with every throb of his heartbeat... but he felt lost. The man holding him gently, caressing his hair, was not Hannibal, was not the man who had brought Will down with cruelty and raised him up with praise.

He swallowed thickly and pressed his lips together, as his body shivered the fingers in his hair turned just enough to send a sharp heat through Will's body to his groin.

His mind didn't want this but his body ached.

Will made another soft sound, parted his lips to breathe.

Do this, you have to do this. It is a small thing to swallow your pride to save your master's.

His fingers slid over the satin, the rough pads catching on the silky fabric as he fumbled with it, pulling it up over the cardinal's knees, pushing it over the man's thighs. Giulio's skin was a rich hue like his face and hands, his legs long and muscular. Will resisted the urge to press his forehead to the cardinal's knee for fear the move would be mistaken for one of affection; he just needed to take a breath and collect himself. Will felt keenly sensitive, his agitation threatening to send him into a panic. However, he forced his hands to stroke up the cardinal's thighs. Slowly he lifted his eyes and saw that Giulio watched him with a lustful expression, a dark blush diffuse on his cheeks and neck as he coaxed Will further with gentle fingers in his hair.

There was no urgency in the cardinal's touch, just anticipation and a lusty craving. No hint of the danger that clung to Hannibal like a dark shadow. Will frowned, thinking, as he shifted the material further, uncovering the cardinal's thick, curved cock. It was darker than the rest of him, the head wide and purple with a deep cleft on the underside. It stood stiff and proud from the nest of dark hair, a needy, solid thing, waiting for Will's touch.

Without the danger, Will felt his anxiety begin to recede. As he looked up again into the cardinal's eyes, letting his lips part wantonly, Will realized that this was power.

He stroked his fingers along the inside of the man's thigh, tilting his head at Giulio's soft moan, and closed his fist around the hard shaft. When the cardinal let out another breathy sound, Will smiled.

Then, it became easy. To close his eyes and part his lips against the soft skin of the man's thighs, to arch his shoulders and press his head into the cardinal's palm.

His body understood the motions, went through them, followed them along as he spread his knees a little further, dropped a hand to press against his own thigh, nails pushing against the fabric to ground himself, to feel some harshness there that was missing in the soft sighs and gentle touches against him. He felt his stomach twist again, forced his eyes closed as he stroked harder, conjured images of Hannibal instead, of nights when the master was too tired, too sated and pleased to be cruel as he pushed Will further.

Though that coaxing was cruelty in itself.

Above him, Giulio made a breathless sound and murmured something in Italian that Will couldn't understand and then he just...couldn't. Will gasped, bit his lip and pressed his nails harsher against his thigh. He couldn't do this.

In a daze, Will allowed himself to be pulled closer, to feel the fingers tighten in his hair and tug the strands uncomfortably taut before he shook his head.

Not him. Not this. It was no small thing.

"No—"

He pulled back, felt the resistance, and then stilled for just a moment, before struggling in earnest.

With eyes closed, the fingers felt harsher, familiar, the sounds of displeasure just as low, the level of danger skirting the edges of it... it was easier; he could pretend. Will felt his lashes damp against his cheeks, felt the sob that was trapped in his throat like a bird. And after a moment, Will parted his lips to it, choked it out, and moaned.

+++

Hannibal stared at the dark wood doors, hands balled at his side, knuckles white and shoulders tense. It was no easy thing to stand waiting for his lover to be defiled. Fingers not his pressing that pale skin, strange lips opening Will's mouth in a penetrating kiss... the cardinal's cock taking what was his. A tremor shook the master, and he leaned into the door, palms flat on the carved wood.

Will was doing this for him. Paying for Hannibal's reputation with his body. Suddenly the master felt sick to his stomach with the sheer wrongness of it. Innocence was poor currency for his mistake. Stepping back from the door, Hannibal had a sudden, appalling thought. Would this destroy what had taken root between him and the young English painter?

Have I already damaged it by asking him to debase himself?

His mind reeled, the fury shifting to a cold foreboding as he stood locked in frantic indecision. However, he sprang forward a moment later when he heard the unmistakable sound of Will's voice in a sob or a moan on the other side of the doors, and he flung them open without pause.

Down on his knees, between the cardinal's thighs, was Will, his lips stretched wide around the man's turgid cock. A thick nausea bubbled up inside him at the sight, and he let out a harsh noise.

Giulio, his eyes wide at the intrusion, stared at him in shock; Will continued to bob his head, unaware that Hannibal had burst into the room. The master closed the distance and grabbed Will by the back of his shirt, pulling him away.

A long string of saliva linked the boy's bottom lip with the shiny purple head of the cardinal's cock, detaching as he fell back on the rug. Will blinked in surprise, a tear dislodging from his lower lashes to make a shining path down his cheek. The sight made Hannibal's chest hurt. He felt ashamed.

"Come. We're leaving," he said quietly and offered his hand to Will. The younger man continued to stare at him in confusion.

"You are finished," growled Giulio in Italian, his hands twitching his robes back in place as he lurched to his feet. "You are through. Do you hear me you foreign jackal? I will make you regret this..."

"Hannibal, it's all right," Will stuttered. The boy probably couldn't understand half of what was being said, but it was obvious that he had caught the gist.

After hauling Will to his feet, the master pulled him tight against his chest. Will immediately pressed his face to Hannibal's neck. This was where he belonged... not on his knees servicing fallen church men, no matter who they were.

"No. It's not all right. It was never all right. I should have never asked this of you, Will," he said through clenched teeth. He glared at the cardinal over Will's shoulder. "Take your commissions and your grasping power games, and burn in hell."

With the last, he turned Will in his arms and propelled him quickly out of the room and down the corridor. The younger man was silent as he kept in step with Hannibal, but the master could almost feel the relief radiating from him.

They climbed into the carriage, and he banged on the roof. As they pulled away from the villa, Hannibal licked his lips and swallowed.

"Will... I am so very, very sorry," he said softly.

 

Will understood the words but didn't respond to them. He felt ill, he felt guilty, and further down, deeper, he felt angry. Angry that Hannibal had asked this of him, angry that he had agreed... angrier still at the fact that once he had forced himself to do this, had found a way to make the experience bearable, Hannibal had taken him away.

All that anticipation, that nausea, that terror, all of it settled in heavy sediment in his stomach. And all for nothing.

Hannibal had damned his pride, his reputation, despite the taste still lingering in Will's mouth. He felt used. Filthy. He wanted nothing more than to reach across and strike the man, with the flat of his palm, with a fist. Wanted to see the shock write itself onto Hannibal's features when Will retaliated, when he showed himself to be more than a tool, than a thing to sell and trade and use.

He curled his hands in Hannibal's shirt, sitting forward quickly as the carriage jolted along the road, catching himself with his knee against the cushion of the seat; but, it was his lips that met Hannibal's, not his fist, not his anger. He kissed him as though the mere act would keep him alive. He kissed him to push the taste of his mistakes against his tongue, to make Hannibal see, understand what he had done.

When he pulled back his eyes were closed, lips pressed together and brows furrowed to keep his upset at bay, to hold himself together.

"You will never ask that of me again," he whispered.

Chapter Text

The master and Will nearly tumbled out of the carriage in their haste to accomplish what their fingers and mouths had started during the short trip back. Hannibal clutched at Will, pulling him up the stairs, a fever of want burning hot in his loins as he yanked at his own clothing. A rip, a tear; in the darkened hallway, furious with need, he pushed the younger man against the stone wall. Again he savaged Will with his kisses, grinding himself hard against Will's body, hands in his hair, mouth open to his moans. He tongued kisses down his neck; a sharp tug, and the material of his shirt ripped apart, exposing Will's graceful collarbone, the pale curve of his shoulder.

His. Forever his.

Will let out a gasp and a groan as Hannibal closed his teeth on skin, the master's fingers scrabbling to find access to the warmth beneath the boy's clothes. He could feel the hardness of Will's cock and pushed his own against the solid ridge, the friction driving him mad. With a growl he thrust his hands beneath Will's buttocks and lifted him, slamming him back on the wall in his fervour. Will's legs came up around his hips, a tremble in his inner thighs, his fingers tugging at Hannibal's hair as he returned the master's kisses with matching frenzy. Hannibal let his head be pulled back and panted quickly as Will's hot, wet mouth slid over his throat.

"You would have let him take me," murmured Will against his skin.

"Never," whispered Hannibal. "Never."

"You would have let that man, an almost complete stranger, push himself inside me," Will accused him, his teeth nipping the thin skin of his neck hard. "You would have let him use me like a whore."

"Never," Hannibal said hoarsely. Despite the shame he felt at Will's words, his lust swelled at hearing the younger man speak so. "Never."

"All for your pride, your goddamned pride," Will's voice shifted, for a moment, from anger to something softer, something just barely helpless, before another press of teeth to Hannibal's neck rendered it forgotten.

 

Will felt exposed in a corridor in a house where the walls had ears, but it fuelled him, drew his hands harsher through the master's hair, his body closer to him, surrendering his balance and weight to the trust that Hannibal would hold him where he had so recently almost let him go. He imagined what would have happened had Hannibal not burst through the door. Imagined how the cardinal would have soothed him with empty words, hands disheveling his curls with their patient insistence. How Will would have gone, obedient to his master's words, tethered by the affection there, despite the nausea, the terror of this exchange. Would have bent over, allowed himself to be unclothed, bitten his lip against the pain of it, against the shame of feeling himself grow harder from that—

"I imagined it was you," he breathed, eyes closed and lips parted just above Hannibal's where he held his head bent back still, to see. "I couldn't do it otherwise, it had to be you."

He gasped, feeling the master press closer to him, harder now, than before. A strange warmth stirred in Will, seeing the power his words had, despicable as they were. He felt his lips curve up.

"If I couldn't see him, I could pretend."

A sound escaped the master, part whimper, part growl, and Hannibal lifted a hand to Will's neck, pulling his head down to close the gap and savage him with another rough kiss. Will moaned into the embrace, his lust spurred on by the frantic need that had Hannibal straining against him in a fury of passion. He let go of the master's hair and clawed down his back, curling his arms around Hannibal, holding tight as the kiss robbed him of breath and whipped his pulse into a maddened frenzy against his ribs.

At the sound of a door slamming somewhere below, Hannibal stepped back, letting Will regain his footing with a steadying hand; the master's broad chest heaved as he stared wide-eyed at Will, his expression bordering on agony. Without a word, the older man fisted a handful of tunic and pulled hard. The fabric, already rent in a few places now, came apart, snagging hard on Will's shoulder until he brought his own hands up to help Hannibal divest him of it. Bare-chested and panting, Will felt his skin prickle at Hannibal's stare. His cock was a blatant swelling at the front of his hose, tenting out the material in an almost ludicrous way, but he didn't care.

With a breathless smile, he stroked his hand down his own chest, lower, and wrapped his fingers around the hard ridge at his groin. The master's eyes tracked his hand, his lips parted in a soft sigh at Will's wanton display. He could feel the material wet against his palm where his cock leaked with his lust, the hunger in Hannibal's eyes coaxing him to further displays of abandonment as he slid his hand beneath the silk to touch himself.

The feeling of his own fingers, after hours of soft fabric friction and hours of denying himself, sent Will’s back rigid in pleasure, his lips parted on a quiet gasp.

He could feel Hannibal's eyes, like hot fingers against his hips, down lower to his trembling thighs, and he stroked himself harder. His heart still raced from the kiss, from the emotional upheaval of the entire night, from the vague memory of a door closing somewhere where there had been no wind to push it...

Another soft noise, and Will shifted his wrist enough to draw the heavy fabric of his hose lower, to let just the head of his cock peek through—swollen, wet, disappearing between Will's fingers almost obscenely.

He bit his lip and rolled his hips.

"Please."

 

The sight of Will stroking himself sent a fresh flood of desire through Hannibal; it was gloriously uninhibited, and he found himself glued to the spot, his own cock aching to be touched. He watched the slick head slide through Will's wet fingers, the younger man making small, needy noises with every lithe move of his hips. It was a beautiful display: his skin turned a rich hue by the candles lit along the hallway against the gloom of the rainy evening, his lips parted on quiet gasps, his eyes so darkened with desire that they seemed black in the wan light. As Will worked himself harder, he tugged the material further down, presenting his entire cock to Hannibal. He repeated his plea.

"Please."

It was everything Hannibal could do not to sink down on his knees in front of this ravishing, shameless version of Will and take that gracefully-curved cock between his lips. Instead he pushed himself against the younger man again, kissing and biting at his lips as his hand joined Will's.

"Tell me," he murmured against the underside of Will's jaw. He kept his fingers locked over Will's, deliberately slowing his strokes. "Tell me what it is that I should do to you. I want to hear you say the words, amore mio. I want to hear you say it." His words came out more choked than he had intended; he closed his eyes and breathed quickly through his nose, riding the wave of emotion that washed through him.

 

Will trembled, the pleasure already coiled in his belly, filled his cock with the promise of the heat of it. Hannibal stood so close that Will would make out every gilded thread, every fold of fabric. He watched him like he did his paintings, taking in all details, allowing them to fill his mind and overflow it.

He made a helpless, needy sound as Hannibal stilled their hands, and lifted his eyes. His cheeks flushed, lips parted, his entire body trembling with the need for this, and with the sudden humiliating demand that he ask for it, blatantly.

"I don’t want to pretend," he admitted, voice soft, barely above a whisper. "I don’t want to close my eyes and bend for another."

A single stroke. It was encouragement... a reward; Will moaned.

"I want your hands, to spread me open, to curl your fingers like you did, like—" His throat clicked on the swallow, parting his lips in wanton pleasure as Hannibal stroked him again.

"I want you to take me to bed. I want you to... take me." His voice failed him for a moment; unsure exactly what Hannibal wanted to hear, Will groped for the right words. "I... want you to lay me down, to take what's between your legs—" he panted, face burning, "—to... push yourself inside me and finally make me yours."

His words ended on a hushed groan as Hannibal's hand tightened over his once more. The master's eyes were narrowed in amusement, but he captured Will's lips again with his own, forcing his head back against the wall with the force of his ardour. When he pulled back, Hannibal's graceful lips were curled into a pleased smile, his dark eyes glinting in the candlelight. He stroked the side of Will's face gently, his fingers warm, possessive.

"Yes... mine," the master said, and brushed his thumb against the head of Will's cock before he let go and took a step back. Will let out a strangled sound, and reached for Hannibal, but the master took another step back. "Come, Will."

In a daze, Will let himself be pulled along the hallway, his heart in his throat.

No sooner had they breached the door to Hannibal's bedchamber than the master was upon him again, hand in his hair, fingers rough on his cock, stroking him quickly until all he could do was sob out one word: "Yes."

He found himself at the edge of the bed, then pushed down on his back; the master's knife, pulled as if from the air, began to cut through the material of his hose. The cool blade slid along his inner thighs, down his calves, but did not harm him. Soon he was naked on top of the remains of his clothes and straining up against the man who pinned him to the soft mattress. It was frustrating; Hannibal teased him with light kisses, the edge of the blade resting against his neck so that he could not deepen the kiss. His cock spilled slowly over his stomach, sensitive and engorged, and he craved the master's firm touch; but, Hannibal would only graze his fingers along his length slowly, driving him mad with want.

Will became frantic. What was Hannibal waiting for? He had confessed that he wanted the man to take his virginity, to push the heavy organ that lay hard against his side deep inside him. To fuck him... Burying his shame in desire, Will spread his legs, eyes closed tight as Hannibal kissed along the curve of his jaw slowly. He whimpered when this brought no further relief, and he looked up searchingly at Hannibal. The master's eyes were half-lidded, his face flushed with his own desire. Suddenly, Will understood the slow torment: Hannibal was taking his time, savouring the moment. He was seducing Will thoroughly to bring him to the very peak of passion. He wanted to make sure that Will was ready. Will could see it in his eyes. The realization brought a tight ache to his chest.

He reached up and twined his fingers through Hannibal's short, dark-blond cap of hair and brought the man's lips down harder on his own. Mouth wide open to the kiss, his tongue pushed back against Hannibal's before he coaxed it slowly into his own. As they kissed, Hannibal discarded the knife, his hand finally closing over the hard shaft that bobbed up from Will's stomach with every panted breath. When Will's whole body shook with a deep tremor, Hannibal pulled away with a smile.

"Bring up your knees," he said softly.

Will's heart stuttered in his chest, his desire suddenly shot through with fear, but he obeyed. The master placed a two fingers against Will's bottom lip, and Will opened his mouth obediently, wetting them with his saliva. He knew that the master meant to do. He closed his eyes when the first finger stretched him open and let out a quiet moan. Quickly, his fear was evaporating as he remembered the way he had felt with Hannibal's fingers inside him.

 

Hannibal took his time. It was important. He felt Will's resistance give before adding another finger, sensitive to the changes in Will's face, to the way his gasps turned from pleasure to pain and back again. He moved, reached for the little pot of oil to ease the slide of his fingers, to make it more bearable for the boy beneath him.

Will was a sight to behold: eyes barely open, the line of blue there so dark, like an evening sky, cheeks flushed with arousal, anticipation, fear... perhaps just with his own youth and even that was beautiful. This was a boy to be cherished, to be kept and cared for, his artistic skills honed, his desire and achievements rewarded in the bedchamber.

Will arched, lips parting on another gentle noise, and drew his knees up further as Hannibal added to the stretch with another finger.

The boy's body was alive with movement: quick breaths and trembles, muscles tensing and releasing as the sensations seemed to pour through him with his blood, from heart to limbs and back again.

Hannibal wondered if Will would have been like this for the cardinal, if he would have bent so and twisted, held his lips open on a shuddered sigh, his eyes closing; would his imagination, his exquisite mind, have taken him this far in his desire and remain Hannibal's in any way he could control?

The thought made him ache, pulled at him to lean closer and press his lips to Will's, to draw them lower to his neck, parting wider and sucking a dark bruise there—claiming, reminding, reassuring Will that that would never happen again as long as he lived; and it wouldn't.

Will suddenly arched up with a groan, his body slick with sweat, the tremors shaking him so much that Hannibal thought for a moment that he had taken him too far. He quickly stilled his fingers, and Will opened his eyes, the plea for release pulling his pupils wide even as it etched a deep furrow below the sweat-soaked curls on his brow. Will's hand curled around his own shaft, but he didn't stroke it, just squeezed it tight in his fist. Hannibal could feel a throbbing deep inside Will as he fought to get himself away from the brink.

"Please," gasped Will, "I want you. All of you."

Hannibal pulled away and stood, breathing heavily as he undressed. He could feel his pulse in his cock as he freed it, the cool air almost a shock against the heat of it. Will lifted his head, the tip of his fisted cock glistening in the candlelight, his knees up and thighs parted as he watched Hannibal stroke oil down his length. The sensation of his own hand was enough to pull a soft sigh from the master, and he wondered how he would keep from spilling the moment his cock pressed into Will.

He lowered himself down on his knees, his body above Will's, and his hips between the boy's thighs. For a moment Hannibal simply rested on his elbows and kissed Will slowly and deeply. Will's hands slid up his sides and held him close, their cocks touching but hips stilled.

"Just breathe, my beautiful boy." Hannibal's lips pressed the words against Will’s. When he pulled himself up, Will moved as if to turn onto his stomach, but Hannibal stopped him.

"No... like this," he said with a smile. "I will take you often on your knees in the future, but for this, I want to see you. Bring your thighs up, Will."

He watched Will clutch the back of his knees to bring up his legs, perfectly obedient, open and ready. The young Englishman closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath.

Hannibal fingered him open again, spreading the oil and stroking at the sweet spot inside him a few times before he brought the head of his cock into contact with the tight, puckered entrance. He felt Will tense and relax, heard a quick pained gasp as he pushed past the tightness. He knew he was hurting Will as he forced his cock deeper, and part of him revelled in that. However, when Will's hands scrabbled at him to stop his plunge a moment later, he relented and fucked him with a few shallow strokes before continuing.

Will was exquisitely tight, almost unbearably so, and Hannibal let out a long sigh as he sank his cock slowly into him. It was almost torture to hold back so, but at a loud whimper of pain, Hannibal paused again, half out of concern for Will, half out of fear that he would spill his seed too soon.

When he felt he could move again, Hannibal leaned forward and tucked his hands beneath Will's head to kiss him gently as he pushed the last inch into him. When Will's body trembled beneath him, Hannibal began to fuck him with long strokes, a soft groan punctuating every languid, tight plunge.

 

A fear gripped Will that there would be no enjoyment in this, that whatever breathtaking release Hannibal's hands had previously granted him would not show its face. So for a time, he endured, eyes closed and lips parted, and forced himself to take pleasure in the pleasure the master was feeling.

His muscles were tense, his lungs felt constricted, and Will moaned softly. He tried to pull away by stretching his body further up the bed... and gasped in astonishment. The pain had subtly shifted to something different; the same white-hot pleasure that had overtaken him in the kitchen, at his own wanton insistence, began to flow through his limbs, through his mind, and from his lips in a shuddered groan of need.

Above him, the master grinned, threaded his fingers through Will's hair, and tugged until his neck was revealed in a pleasing curve, pale and vulnerable to Hannibal's teeth, to his lips.

Will's fingers let go of his thighs, legs wrapping around Hannibal on their own as his hands slid over his back, drawing harsh lines only to soothe them after. He was frantic, desperate to feel that spark again and moaning his pleasure when he did.

"More," he breathed, blinking his eyes open. "Hannibal—"

"Mm?" the master breathed against Will's throat, sounding drunk on lust. Hannibal's cock slid back deep into him, pulling a whimper from Will. "My god, Will. You're perfect... You feel—" He pulled back slightly, and Will trembled as Hannibal's cockhead pressed at the point of pleasure inside him. "—I don't know how long I can..." The master trailed off as he moved slower still, his teeth sharp against Will's neck.

Will shifted his hips, trying to quicken the pace, and was rewarded with a low growl and a few soft words in Italian that he didn't understand. He strained up against the master, the word please falling from his open lips as his cock slid slowly, trapped between them, slick from his desperate arousal.

"More," he repeated, digging his fingers into the meat of Hannibal's buttocks. "Fuck me harder," he whispered hoarsely.

With a choked groan at the shameless words, Hannibal finally complied, pushing himself up on splayed knees, his rough hands tight around Will's waist as he began to pound into him.

Gone were his inhibitions. Gone were his doubts. Gone was his sense of self. This delicious, mindless pleasure was his whole existence. He wrapped one hand around his cock, the other grabbing a tight fistful of coverlet above his head; in only a few quick strokes he felt the hot throbbing start low in his groin, a liquid fire driven hotter by every furious plunge of Hannibal's thick, oiled cock inside him.

Will threw his head back, his mouth open in a sharp cry as the cum surged out of his cock, hot jets landing on his chest and spilling over his fist as he stroked himself quickly. Above him, Hannibal let out a deep groan, his thrusts wild, as he came inside Will. The master let himself fall forward to cover him again, his mouth seeking Will's out, panting breaths shared as he fucked him quickly, the two clutching at each other as they rode out their twinned orgasm.

Will's body shook, synapses in his brain snapping from the pleasure, the pain underlying it, the adrenaline still running cold through his veins. He felt undone, he felt complete and ravished and utterly spent. He bit his lip and moaned quietly, drawing his arms around Hannibal as their bodies slowed and finally stopped, setting his feet back on the bed, flat and comfortable, knees still pressed against the master's sides.

He knew he was flushed, cheeks dark and lips red, his hair a mess, tangled against the sheets.

He knew that he would limp in the morning, force himself to sit still at the afternoon meal, and feel Hannibal's eyes on him, the master knowing he was the cause. He swallowed, wondering if he would be able to make it a day without finding himself pinned to a surface, his mouth bitten roughly, the master's heavy weight pressing him down.

He shuddered in pleasure at the thought, drawing hands through Hannibal's hair, dishevelling it further, tugging lightly to get the man to look at him, offering a smile when he did. Hannibal looked younger with his hair in disarray and eyes bright from shared pleasure. The master returned the smile and brushed his lips to Will's with a soft laugh before pulling his head back again to look down fondly at him.

Again, Will's mind hummed, wanting more, suddenly ravenous for it. Instead he just swallowed and arched up to kiss Hannibal softly again.

"Yours."

Hannibal laughed throatily and nodded once in agreement before opening his lips to Will's gentle, yet insistent kisses.

"Mine."

Chapter Text

It was still dark when Will finally allowed his eyes to open, having lain awake for what felt like hours. Everything ached, and yet he had never felt so content, body inexplicably and undeniably drawn closer to the man sleeping comfortably at his side.

He had now seen the master asleep often enough to know when he was truly resting and when he was plagued by dreams or thoughts that wouldn't leave him. Now, Hannibal slept soundly, expression entirely clear and lips barely parted for silent breath. Will watched him with a soft smile.

They had not gone to sleep immediately but had lain together, hands curious and mouths hungry. The sweat between them hadn't yet dried, as Hannibal carefully and deliberately coaxed Will to climax again, pulling his voice from his lungs, wanton, loud, and raw.

Will shifted again, wincing at the stretch in muscles he had not known existed or could ache, a very obvious throbbing against his bladder threatening to bring the cold floor against Will's feet sooner than he wanted to feel it.

He curled closer for a moment longer, breathing in the warmth of the man at his side, mind still languid with the early morning, and refusing to remember the reason for their hurried departure from the villa.

But inevitably, silently, Will slipped from the bed, standing on his toes even on the carpet as he sought Hannibal's shirt to cover himself with, his own torn and thrown aside in the dark. He would go quickly, relieve himself, gather some clothes from his room and return. Perhaps the studio could wait. Perhaps with only Giacomo, their absence could be more easily excused. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Will didn't close the door behind himself as he left on swift feet, keeping to his toes to avoid the worst of the cold.

-

Will rummaged through his meagre collection of clothing, trying to find some clean pants to wear. He was just turning around to check under the bed when he heard the slight whisper of a stealthy footfall on the stone floor.

"Who's there—" Will's world exploded in bright light and pain, and then he was gone.

+++

Hannibal woke from a dream of being irritated by a carpenter's hammering to the sound of someone banging on the door. Blearily, he sat up. Will was nowhere to be seen. He slid off the bed and yanked the door open. On the other side was one of the kitchen maids, her little fist raised to hit the door again. When she saw the master's state of undress, her cheeks flushed a deep-red, and she looked away, dropping her hand.

"Yes?" asked Hannibal, amused despite his annoyance at being woken up in such a way.

"Master, there are men at the door," she said, barely above a whisper. "They are asking to see you."

"Have you let them in?" he asked. There was no doubt in his mind that they would be the cardinal's men.

The maid shook her head quickly.

"No, Master. When they would not state their business, Rosa and I put the beam in the door," she said, looking up at him, her eyes wide.

He smiled gently and cupped her cheek.

"You're a good girl, Isabella," he said reassuringly. "You did well." The flush made its way down her neck, and he felt the heat of her against his palm. He patted her softly and leaned forward, looking down the hallway.

"Have you seen Signore Graham?" he asked, hoping the young Englishman hadn't decided to make a sudden trip out of the villa.

"No, Master," she said. "But... What do I do about the men at the door?"

"Ignore them," he replied. "Pray for more rain to shoo them away, wet and miserable. Doesn't matter, just keep the door locked, and let me know when they leave."

"Yes, Master," said Isabella with a little curtsy before turning to run down the hallway.

Hannibal frowned and went back into his room to dress quickly, smiling softly to himself as he realized just how sore he was. Taking Will had brought him the most exquisite pleasure, and he was hungry for him again. His need for Will was overwhelming, body and soul. The way the boy's eyes had brimmed with tears when his cock had spilled a second time... Hannibal had felt himself swept up in the breathless, helpless, passion of it.

Mine. he thought, sharing a wide grin with his reflection in the small looking-glass. All mine.

Despite the men at the door, Hannibal left the bedchamber with a lightness in his heart as he went off to find his wayward lover.

+++

Will awoke to pain and darkness. He was on his side, hands bound tightly behind him, his cheek on naked dirt. He lifted his head, but a pain exploded in his skull, and he felt instantly nauseous. He set it back down carefully and waited. After a few deep breaths with his eyes and lips clenched tight against the rising sick feeling in his guts, he took another look around. The slanted beam of sunlight was alive with the swirling dust motes he disturbed as he shifted on the cold ground. Shelves. A large stone urn in the corner. When he slowly turned his head, he was startled to see what looked like a disembodied arm on a low table. It took him a moment to realize that it was a larger-than-life marble arm, probably broken off from one of the antique sculptures that littered the garden.

The garden!

He used his feet to turn his body, slowly, slowly as not to feed into his nausea. Yes, there in the corner of the small, dark room were the long shears that he had seen the gardener use to trim the foliage back when it ran rampant. He was in the small gardening shed that was nestled between the wild rose bushes. With a groan, he inched himself forward until he had enough leverage to sit up. His vision swam in blackness for a moment, and his mouth filled with thin, salty saliva. He leaned over and spat it out, breath heaving. Leaning back against the wall, his eyes closed once more, Will tried to remember what had happened. After a moment, he recalled the sound of someone in his room.

Will's eyes flew open. Nico.

He had smelled onions on the servant's breath seconds before something hard had slammed into his head, rendering him unconscious. The little bastard must have dragged him here; he was obviously stronger than he looked. Will glanced down at himself and realized in dismay that he was clothed in nothing more than one of the Master's long white linen shirts, now smeared with mud from the waterlogged garden. What in god's name did Nico want with him? Will felt panic finally take hold of him. He let out a shout, trying to remember the word for "help" in Italian. After a few minutes, head pounding from the noise, he stopped and listened. Nothing.

Eyeing the shears again, Will let himself fall forward so he could inch his way towards them.

+++

Hannibal left the kitchen, his brow furrowed. Giacomo tripped down the marble corridor ahead of him, the boy's mood as light as his step. No one had seen Will this morning, and though he hadn't yet checked the small bathhouse or even the young painter's quarters, something about his absence kindled a tiny flame of worry in his mind. He tried to shake it away as he made his way to the studio, hoping that he was just being foolish. Will could have woken early and, taken with inspiration, could have made his way to the studio to sketch or paint.

The pounding at the main doors downstairs had stopped finally, but Hannibal was sure that the cardinal's men would be back before the day was over. He needed to come up with a better solution than just staying holed up in the villa. There wasn't food enough to outlast the cardinal's ire. He rubbed a hand across his mouth, deep in thought as he crossed the threshold to the airy studio.

"Leo!" exclaimed Giacometto; Hannibal's eyes widened at the sight of the apprentice in the middle of his studio. "Where have you been, you terrible redheaded monster? I shall never forgive you! But, where have you been Leo? You are filthy! Master, look how filthy Leo is!"

Hannibal nodded and ruffled Giacomo's dark curls.

"He is filthy indeed," he said, glaring at the redheaded, bastard boy. There was something so utterly broken about the way Leo stared at his feet; Hannibal could see little tremors shaking the boy's lanky bird bones beneath his dirty painting smock. He sighed. "Giacomo, please go find a wet washcloth. And some bread. Quick, quick, little sparrow."

The boy nodded briskly, happy to have something to do to help, and took off at a run.

"Leo," said Hannibal softly. "What are you doing here?"

Leo lifted his dark eyes slowly, and Hannibal saw a fresh bruise on one high cheekbone.

"I didn't know where else to go," he said meekly. "I... can help. I can do something to help. Master, please. I was wrong. Forgive me. Please don't send me away. I have nothing."

The master cupped Leo's chin and tilted his face to the light. The boy flinched but didn't try to pull away; he looked terrified. The edge of the new, mottled bruise overlaid the fading bruise that his own fists had placed on the boy's fair skin. He frowned.

"Your father did this?" he asked. His anger was gone. This was just a foolish, prideful boy. What was done, was done.

"Yes," whispered Leo. "He threw me out. He doesn't want me either. I... climbed in through the studio window to have somewhere to sleep."

"What did you think? That he would legitimize you? That he would call you son and everything would be all right?" Hannibal shook his head. "You are the bastard son of a cardinal and a nameless whore, Leo."

"Master, I realize now how lucky I was to be granted this apprenticeship with you. I will never, ever do anything to jeopardize it again. If only... if only you give me another chance," stammered Leo. "Please, Master. I am nothing. I am a worm. I am the dirt beneath your shoe."

Tears ran freely down the boy's face; Hannibal pressed his lips together and breathed a slow sigh through his nostrils.

"You will never defy me again, Leo. Never," he said softly. Leo nodded quickly. "What's more, you will work under Will from now on. As penance. If he needs a ladder to reach the sky and there is none, you will bend your back so he can climb upon it. If he runs out of carmine, you will open your veins to let him paint red from your blood."

At Hannibal's words, Leo's eyes flashed to anger, but he swiftly extinguished it and only gave another mute little nod.

"Yes, Master. Thank you, Master," he murmured, chastened.

"What is wrong, Leo? Why do you cry so?" piped Giacomo in his high voice. The young boy stood uncertainly holding a dripping rag in one hand, a bundle under his arm, and a basket of bread in the other hand.

"He will be all right," smiled Hannibal, taking the bread from Giacomo.

"I looked all around for a clean shirt for you, Leo. I could find none. I went to Will's room and got one of his. I hope he doesn't mind. Do you think he'll mind, Master?" said the little apprentice, his dark eyes guileless as he held out the shirt to Leo.

The feeling of unease returned.

"Will was not in his room?" he asked; Giacomo shook his head quickly. "Nor in the bathhouse either, I take it." He eyed the wet cloth and tried to force the worry away.

"Maybe he went to the market to see Dame Addolorata for some bandages," shrugged little Giacomo.

Hannibal went cold. He grabbed the boy's shoulder in one hand, squeezing a little too hard in his agitation. Giacomo gave a little pained sound.

"Why would you say that? Why bandages, little one?"

"I found blood on the floor, Master," mumbled Giacomo, his eyes wide with hurt. "Will must have cut himself. Please, you're squeezing me too hard."

+++

Will grunted in frustration as the shears thunked to the ground behind him. He was dizzy and, when he lifted a shoulder to wipe the sweat from the corner of his eye, he saw blood on his shirt.

I'm going to kill the bastard, he thought, furious. Anger was better than fear, and failing over and over again to cut his bonds with the shears was a great way to feed into that anger. He was so intent on dragging the gardening shears closer again with the tips of his fingers that he nearly missed the sound of the approaching footfalls. He tensed and looked up just as the door opened.

Nico was outlined briefly in pale-grey light that was so bright it made his eyes water. Then Will was plunged into darkness again, and his vision danced with ghostly shapes. Above the sound of his own heart beating itself frantically against his ribs, Will could hear Nico breathing heavily.

"What do you want?" Will rasped, his voice hoarse from shouting for help.

"Shut mouth," growled Nico, squatting down on his haunches to peer into Will's face. The boy's face was flushed, and his breath smelled of wine. Will's pulse trebled at the mindless, predatory glaze in the servant's eyes. Nico reached forward and hooked a thick finger into the collar of Will's shirt and yanked; the thin material came apart with a soft, dry purr, exposing Will's chest.

"Please, Nico," begged Will, his mouth leached of moisture by fear. "Don't. I will give you money. All my money."

The servant boy grabbed the shirt with both hands and tugged again, ripping it completely apart. With an ugly chuckle, Nico prodded at Will's limp cock, his fingers pinching at the loose skin as Will tried to shield himself with his knees. Will's efforts earned him a hard slap across the mouth, and he let out a startled cry, tasting blood. He decided to change tactic.

"Hannibal will hurt you if you hurt me. Do you understand me? Maestro saro... ah... sarà arrabbiato!" he growled, hoping that he made sense.

Nico paused in his investigation of Will's cock and looked up, his eyes uncertain for a moment.

"Yes, Maestro. Angry. Very angry, Nico," said Will, praying his voice wouldn't break. "You leave me... free me, and I won't tell."

Nico's brow furrowed slowly, the dull animal intelligence behind his murky brown eyes mulling over Will's words. The servant boy then brought his shoulders up in a shrug and he smiled. When he spoke, it was a long, guttural string of Italian that Will didn't understand. With a jab of his fingers into Will's scrotum, Nico laughed again. This time, when he spoke, Will understood a single word: culo.

Will let out a whimper as Nico straightened and stroked a hand over the straining bulge at the front of his bright red hose.

+++

Hannibal stared down the long hallway in despair, hoping that any moment now one of the staff would cry out, having found Will somewhere safe. The villa wasn't huge, but it was old and built on top of earlier ruins. Some of the rooms on the lower levels led to unused, labyrinthine, underground storage areas that dated back to the Ancient Romans. Maybe Will had wandered in there, confused, lost.

The pounding at the front door had resumed. Hannibal clenched his jaw and ran his hands through his cropped hair. He needed some air; he couldn't breathe. The worry over Will's absence was ridiculous. Overwhelming. Crippling. If Will had simply run to the market for bandages as Giacomo had assumed, then he would laugh. No. He would first punish Will for making him worry, and then he would laugh.

Hannibal staggered down the corridor to the covered loggia overlooking the garden. From one side of it, he could see the men hammering at the front door. They were doing it in shifts, thick fists drumming against the thick wood.

"Knock all you want, you fucking mongrels," he bellowed. "You're not stepping foot inside my home. Go tell your master that he can fuck himself in the ass!" The three heavy-set, dark-haired men looked up at him, and Hannibal wondered if they were yet more bastards that the cardinal had fathered. The pounding resumed with yelled insults, and Hannibal growled, his fingers clenched tight on the marble railing.

Everything was going to shit.

"Where are you, Will?" he muttered. He straightened and looked back towards the open bedroom door. "Nico!" He needed wine. Something to calm him and turn his mind from thoughts of the cardinal having somehow spirited Will away. "Nico!" The master yelled again when there was no answer. Where was that dimwitted servant anyway?

He turned to go back into his chambers when he saw something strange in the mud at the edge of the garden.

+++

"Please," whimpered Will. He'd been pushed onto his belly on the dirt floor by Nico. He couldn't see what the boy was doing, but he could hear his hoarse breathing; Nico was almost panting. Will had never thought of himself as religious, but he prayed now for a miracle. Nausea took him again when Nico's thick, dirty fingers squeezed his ass; it was like he was a horse being judged for its worth. He hoped he was found wanting. The light shifted and Will lifted his head to look over his shoulder, weak with fear and revulsion. He saw that Nico had pushed down his hose and was stroking his thick, oddly short penis as he leered at Will.

"Go to fuck you," grinned the servant, his lips shiny and thin like twin earthworms. "In you culo, eh? Nico is Maestro, eh?"

Will let out a low, long moan as Nico dropped to his knees between his legs. He pressed his face to the dirt floor and closed his eyes, wishing it to be over soon.

Nico touched him.

His fingers were hot but surprisingly gentle.

 

Then there was a loud crash, a grunt, bright light; Will struggled to turn onto his side and saw with staggering relief that Hannibal held Nico's throat in both hands. He was shouting in Italian so fast Will couldn't catch anything. Nico struggled, his stubby cock flopping about wildly as he bucked and kicked like a trapped animal. Will pulled his knees up to his chest and watched wide-eyed as Hannibal bared his teeth and let go of Nico only to grab the sides of his head and twist.

There was a soft popping noise, and Nico went limp. He slid in a boneless heap to the dirt floor of the shed and blinked twice at Will before his eyes stopped moving; a rattled sigh escaped from between his lips.

The master stood staring down at Will, his chest heaving. Shock and relief washed over Will. He was glad. He was glad that Nico was dead. Numb, he let that sink in as he watched Hannibal pull down a long knife from the top of the wooden shelves. Quickly, Hannibal freed Will's hands and pulled him to his chest, pressing fervid kisses to his cheek, neck, temple.

"He was going to—" Will whispered. Then, the tears finally came, and he sobbed against Hannibal's shirt. The master's voice rumbled against his ear, soft meaningless words for the most part. One was repeated more often: Safe.

Yes, he was safe. Forever safe in Hannibal's arms.

+++

Hannibal grunted as he lifted Will, not sparing a backwards glance at the crumpled corpse on the floor. As he carried his young lover slowly back to the villa, he followed the deep furrows that Will's heels had made in the mud when Nico had dragged him to the shed. Seared into his brain was an image he knew would never leave him: Will lying filthy and bloody with his legs spread for rape. Until the day he died, he would remember it in his nightmares. Hannibal lowered his lips to Will's sweat-damp curls, and he realized that the deep pain in his chest had brought tears to his own eyes though Will's had finally dried.

Chapter Text

Will eased himself into the bath slowly, wincing as the hot water covered the abrasions on his body. Hannibal held onto his hand, one arm around his shoulders to help steady him. With a little, pained gasp, he sat down and leaned back against the marble tiles of the low, Roman-style bath. The master quickly stripped and stepped into the water to sit down beside him.

Closing his eyes, he breathed deep. The laudanum that the master had given him made Will feel a little odd... Floaty. Being in the water intensified that feeling. Though he'd stopped shaking, Will was still rattled by the day's events; but, just when he thought he couldn't get the sight of Nico stroking his short, fat, little cock (that leer) out of his head, the laudanum would pull his mind away into its dozy embrace, shielding him from the horror.

"Will?"

Will opened his eyes and turned, realizing that Hannibal had said something.

"Sorry. Pardon?" he asked softly.

"I just asked if your head feels any better," replied Hannibal with a small smile.

Will thought for a moment.

"Yes," he said. "I think so. I feel strange."

Hannibal gave a nod and reached for a piece of fine, white soap. He took one of Will's hands in his and frowned at the mottled bruising and scrapes caused by the rough rope he'd been tied with. Gingerly, he began to wash away the dirt and blood.

Will watched him quietly.

"You were just in time," he said.

The creases in Hannibal's forehead deepened and the corners of his mouth turned down slightly as he kept working for a few moments. When he finally lifted his head, his dark eyes were wide with terrible emotion.

"No, Will," said Hannibal. "I was too late. You should have never been there to begin with. I should have never kept that miserabili pezzo di merda in my employ. If I could kill him again for touching you, I would. But this time I would make it slow, so he would suffer. I should have been there before he hurt you. I should..."

The older man grit his teeth and let out a huff of frustrated breath, shaking his head.

Will curled his fingers around Hannibal's hand and held it.

"You were just in time," he repeated firmly. "You saved me."

Hannibal's eyes took on a glossy sheen, and he looked down, nodding mutely once before resuming his task.

The room was quiet except for the sound of water dripping, echoing off the marble. When he was done with Will's wrists and arms, Hannibal moved to his chest where there was a wide abrasion, and gently cleaned that too. Will closed his eyes and leaned his head back, soothed by the master's tender ministrations.

The peace was disrupted a few minutes later by a loud crash somewhere in the villa. Hannibal turned to the door, his face taut with anger. The sounds of shouting were quickly followed by a banging on the door.

"What is it?" yelled Hannibal in Italian.

The door flew open, and one of the kitchen maids took a few timid steps in. With her head averted, the young woman stood wringing her hands as she spoke rapidly, her words punctuated by short, breathless sobs.

"What's happening?" murmured Will, clasping Hannibal's arm.

"The cardinal's men. They're inside. Broke the door down," the master replied, lifting a hand to stop the maid from speaking. "They're emptying the studio. I owe money for supplies... far too much money, to be honest. I have been letting things fall by the way, and now Giulio has pulled his weight with my suppliers to make all my bills due immediately... figlio di puttana!" Hannibal looked weary as he pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. The kitchen maid cried into her sleeve, waiting for him to respond. Finally, the master said a few terse words.

"Maestro?" stammered the young woman, turning to Hannibal with her eyes wide. Hannibal said the words again, his voice a low growl. Then he translated for Will's benefit:

"Let them take it all. I don't care."

+++

Hannibal smoothed the sheet over the young man's back, and leaned down to press a kiss to his shoulder before turning to leave. Will would sleep until morning; the laudanum and sheer exhaustion would see to that. At least he hoped so. He quietly shut the door behind him and padded down the corridor, deep in thought.

He made his way to the studio and looked around at the mess. The only things remaining were of no value or, like his massive antique marble desk, too heavy to carry away. Bills were strewn all over the floor, as well as small pieces of old sailcloth and the linen tarps they used to keep the plaster splashes to a minimum. Hannibal smiled, remembering the way Will had scrubbed and scrubbed the floor. He went down on one knee to start rolling a piece of tarp and spotted something. He lifted up the cheap piece of paper and tilted the sheet into the moonlight to read Will's letter. Not everything of value, then. He tucked the paper into the waist of his pants and heaved the rolled tarp over his shoulder before heading to the rear door of the studio.

On one hand he was utterly, and impotently furious. He wanted nothing more in the world than to slip into the cardinal's villa and take the man apart, piece by piece, using nothing more than a dull knife and sheer force. He clenched his fists as he descended the stairs and took the narrow, barrel-vaulted stone hallway to the kitchen. He crossed the dark space and found his way to his collection of butchering knives. By the light of the moon, he took up the big meat cleaver and his sharpening stone and started working on it. The repetitive motion was soothing, the sound of the knife on the stone calming.

Soon, Hannibal was satisfied that the edge was sharp enough and he took up the smaller boning knife and worked that one to sharpness too. When he was done, he reached above to the hanging bracket and grabbed the largest meathook. With his tools in hand, tarp over his shoulder, he exited the kitchen through the back door and walked quickly over the damp grass to the gardening shed.

No, he could not pay the cardinal a visit. The man was too well guarded, too highly placed. If Giulio suddenly went missing, there was no doubt in Hannibal's mind that he would be killed by assassins before the week was through. The cardinal's many cousins and extended kin would know of the grievances against him; the Medici were a tight-knit family.

With a grim smile, Hannibal yanked open the door to the gardening shed and saw the twisted shape of Nico on the floor. He kicked the corpse onto its back, rolling out the tarp on the floor beside it. He wrapped it quickly and let out a grunt as he sunk the meathook into its right shoulder through the material. Thinking about a particular pork recipe he liked that used egg, wine, and lots of pepper, he began to drag the meat behind him, making his way to the stairs that led down to the old cellar. What was done, was done. The cardinal could take his supplies, his money, his pride. But, he could not take his talent away.

Will was safe now, and that was the only thing that mattered.

They would make do.

+++

Upstairs, Will frowned in his sleep as his mind replayed the incidents of earlier. In particular, it was the coldness in Hannibal's eyes and the startling ease with which he broke Nico's neck that frightened his dream-self. Both suggested considerable past experience with killing and Will, now on his feet, found himself backing away slowly. He bumped into something soft behind him and turned, startled. Piero hung from a hook on the wall, his neck also at an unnatural angle. Will wanted to scream, but a hand closed over his mouth... and in the way of dreams, he was shown by the man who held him gently that the dead body was only hanging clothing, and that he had been mistaken. Relieved, Will laughed and realized they were in a glorious villa where every second room was a studio filled with the most expensive of supplies....

 

+++

Hannibal crossed the studio to Will who stood rubbing his eyes tiredly. The young English painter had been giving painting and sketching lessons four times a week to young noblemen to supplement the income the master received from the meagre estate he had inherited on his father's passing. The lessons were difficult and slow for Will because, though his Italian had improved over the long summer months, he still couldn't keep up with his students.

Will looked up at the master's light tread and smiled wanly.

"I lost another student today," he said with a slump of his shoulders.

Hannibal reached out to grasp the younger man's shoulder reassuringly. In the other hand he held a basket with a few overripe and spotted vegetables. Tucked beside them were a few sealed envelopes that Hannibal didn't have the heart to open. More bills that he couldn't pay, no doubt.

"It's the fucking cardinal," said Will quietly between clenched teeth. "His minions have been threatening families to keep their sons and nephews away from us. You won't believe the latest set of lies that—"

"It's nothing, Will," said the master with a soft smile. "We'll get through it. Come. Have they all gone? You can help me make something to eat. I'd love the company."

Will closed his eyes with a sigh and nodded.

"Yes, of course," he said. When he opened his eyes again, the storm clouds had lifted. "I'm sorry, Hannibal. I've just had a rough day. Of course I'll help."

The master squeezed his shoulder again with a smile before he led them down to the kitchen.

+++

Will slumped at the table, his feet sore and head aching from having to speak Italian to a bunch of rich snobs who treated him with thinly veiled contempt. He knew that most of them came just to see the ruin of the villa or catch a glimpse of the once-revered Master Lecter, now treated like a pariah by anyone with means ties to the Medici; and, in Firenze, that meant nearly everyone. It was a wonder that Will was granted the modicum of respect he got. He thought perhaps that it was the cardinal's way of trying to lure him back. He closed his eyes and rested his forehead on the worn wood for a moment, just listening to the birds outside the mullioned windows.

When Hannibal deposited the basket next to his head, Will started and sat up. The older man smiled at him. His face looked more lined now that he was a little thinner, their diets reduced out of necessity, but he was no less handsome. The summer sun had darkened his skin further as the master worked in their small garden in the back, growing vegetables that he sold to stall keepers in the marketplace. The sad looking ones in the basket, and a little money were what he took back in exchange. Every coin counted.

Will pulled the produce from the basket and took the vegetables to the basin of water Hannibal had pulled from the well. Since they could not pay them anymore, the servants had been dismissed, and Will missed the chattering and laughing of the two pretty kitchen maids. It was a quiet little existence they had.

Leo sent word from time to time about his adventures in Spain. Shortly after the cardinal had publicly proclaimed Signore Lecter a "lover of boys", Leo had taken some of the money Hannibal had left and ran away with a pretty young gypsy girl. The young, former apprentice now painted pictures for tourists while his princesa emptied their pockets. The master had been furious at the loss of money but, to his and Will's complete surprise, when they received their first letter from Leo, it had contained a sum of money that surpassed what he had stolen.

Giacomo had been sent away to live with the Dominican monks to spare him the taint of the slanders spread against Hannibal. The big villa felt empty without the boy's boundless energy and good spirits. Will made it a point to visit him once a week, but it broke his heart when the little painter would press his hand at the end of each afternoon with a whispered plea to come home. Will frowned as he washed the vegetables in the cool water.

They couldn't continue like this.

Will placed the clean vegetable back on the table and watched Hannibal begin to peel and chop. The master would make a delicious stew from them using the rest of the cured pork and some simple spices. They would eat and then retire for the evening. Only then would the troubles plaguing Will begin to fade away; peace was found in the desperate fire that would burn between the two men as they rediscovered passion and pain together. As Hannibal worked, Will flipped through the mail. Maybe Leo had written again.

There was one envelope that was rougher than the rest. It was bent and crinkled like it had come from a great distance, and the wax seal was picked almost clean off. He turned it around in his hands and frowned at the letters.

Mister Will Graham

It was not in any handwriting that he recognized, and the seal was too damaged to be of any use in identifying the source of the missive. With a shrug, he took up one of Hannibal's knives and slid it beneath the wax. The sheet of paper that he pulled out was fine and smooth to the touch... expensive. With his heart in his throat, he read the words scrawled there. And again.

And once more. His mouth was dry.

"Will?" asked Hannibal, his voice touched with worry. "What is it? You're shaking..."

"It's from. Oh god. It's from King Henry. Well, not from him. From someone in his employ. I'm going to be sick," Will stood up, faltered, and then sat back down again. Hannibal rounded the table quickly and placed his hand on Will's back, his eyes wide. He pulled the letter from Will's numb fingers, his eyes skimming quickly over the half-dozen lines.

The import of the message began to sink in, and Will clasped his hands together to keep them from trembling. He took a few calming breaths, already drafting a reply in his head.

It was the end of their troubles.

"Will you go?" asked Hannibal quietly.

Will glanced up, startled by the raw quality to the master's voice.

"Of course! Hannibal, how can I possibly refuse, even if I wanted to? Don't be daft. Of course! Holbein is on his deathbed... I can't believe the king saw my portrait of Bishop Benedetto Accolti. Through the queen, do you think? She's Spanish... maybe..." he trailed off when he realized that Hannibal was staring at him mutely, his dark eyes cold.

"What is it?" asked Will, confused. When Hannibal didn't reply, Will rose to his feet and took the letter from him, reading it again to see if he had missed something. "What is wrong? This is the answer to our problems. Why are you looking at me like that?"

As he spoke, he realized what Hannibal had said: Will you go?

Will grabbed a handful of Hannibal's shirt, pulling the master against him, and he chuckled as he planted a kiss on his lips.

"Yes, I am going. And you're coming with me," he said with a smirk. "Think of it. The court painter... Me! Oh, stop looking at me like that. What on earth is wrong with you?"

Hannibal curled his hands around Will's wrists and squeezed until he let go of his shirt with a gasp of pain.

Will licked his lips, brow furrowed in confusion. He watched as Hannibal pressed his knuckles to the table and bent his neck, eyes closed.

"I can't come with you," muttered the master. "Don't be so foolish."

"Why not?" replied Will, a little angrily. His head was spinning, and he felt a deep hurt beginning to blossom in his chest at Hannibal's reaction. "Why the hell not?"

"What will I be? Your valet? Your penniless uncle?" spat Hannibal, his eyes like burning coals as he glared at Will. "What? Do you think they'll let us bed together in the palace? Are you really that naïve, Will?"

Will's heart thudded, uncomfortably aware that everything Hannibal said was true. He hadn't thought that far. Swallowing, he shook his head.

"You'll be my... friend. My fellow painter. You'll have a whole new world to paint. We can find ourselves a small place, out of the way. We don't need servants—look at how well we've done by ourselves these last few months. Hannibal, it can be done. It won't be ideal... but neither is this! For god's sake, I won't go without you!"

Thin-lipped, Hannibal stared at him for a moment, but the tension seemed to ease out of him somewhat with the slight rounding of his shoulders. He then turned his eyes and looked around the kitchen slowly, his gaze resting on the huge brick stove and the shiny copper pots, the vines at the windows and the high vaulted ceiling.

"With a well-equipped kitchen," Will smiled softly.

Hannibal gave a short laugh and nodded. However, when he looked at Will, his eyes were still distant.

"I've been here for so long, Will," said the master. "Still I'm a foreigner here, though I made my name known. Now, I'm to be a foreigner again elsewhere? Start over at my age?"

Will reached for him again, this time running his fingers through the short, ashen hair at his nape, the other arm firm around Hannibal's waist when the master relented and let himself be pulled forward.

"You're having to start again anyway, Master," said Will softly against Hannibal's cheek, his hand stroking down the older man's hip and buttock with easy familiarity. He nudged his pelvis forward and was rewarded with a husky, amused laugh.

"What? You're going to bribe me with your body until I give in and agree? Is that your intention?" asked Hannibal, pulling back to look down at Will. When Will blinked slowly at him, Hannibal sighed and pressed his lips to his forehead.

"Shall we open the last bottle of wine, then? To celebrate?" asked the master after a moment.

Will smiled.

Chapter Text

Will stood motionless, the words refusing to settle in his mind as he stared at Hannibal.

A son?

The older man's stark brow raised slowly, a slight curve of a smile puckering the corners of his mouth. He looked amused and a little embarrassed.

"Is that so astonishing? It's not like I was a celibate man before you came along," said the master, folding his arms across his chest.

"Yes, but I thought you..." replied Will in a choked voice; he was unable to finish so he gestured weakly to his groin.

Hannibal let out a low laugh.

"...only liked men?" he said. He tilted his head and shook his head at the stricken young man. "Man or woman... it's never been an issue for me, Will."

Will let out a helpless laugh and sat down on the bed.

"Of course not," he said, with an exaggerated shrug. "Why should that matter?" He felt a little wounded that it had taken Hannibal so long to tell him. He hated how peevish he sounded.

Hannibal pressed his lips together and let his arms drop to his sides.

"You're being absurd, Will," he said softly. "How does this change anything at all?"

Will rubbed his jaw, the short stubble rough against his palm.

"I... I don't know," he replied in a small voice. "It's just a bit of a shock, I guess. All this time, and it never once occurred to me." He looked down and frowned, thinking.

"Giacomo doesn't know he's your son, does he?" he said, raising his eyes.

Hannibal slowly shook his head again.

"Ah," replied Will. He thought of the little snub-nosed painter, and how Hannibal always had a kind word for him. The extra sweets. The way he would ruffle the boy's hair. The master had always displayed affection for the talented orphan that now, suddenly, was not really an orphan. "Why not?"

With this, Hannibal's brow creased and he looked, to Will's clever senses, a little shamefaced. After a moment, the older man let out a long sigh and turned to sit down next to Will on the wide bed.

"I never wanted a child," he said simply. "What would I do with a child? No, I took every precaution, and yet..." Hannibal stared down into his hands, silent for a few moments. When he resumed, his voice was quiet with a subtle sadness. "There was a beautiful young painter named Gabriella who came to me. She wanted to learn to paint, but of course her father wouldn't hear of it. I don't even know if she had a mother; she never spoke of her. Gabriella had a fierce, independent spirit, so she decided to take matters into her own hands. She showed up here one day and, when I wouldn't let her in, slept in my doorway for eleven days. Eleven!" Hannibal let out a small chuckle at the memory.

Will tried to push his jealous thoughts aside, and kept his eyes on Hannibal's profile, reminding himself that this would have been nearly a decade ago. Regardless, he still felt betrayed by the unexpected confession. He swallowed thickly.

"Giacomo gets his dark hair from his mother, but his eyes, he gets from me. His mother had green eyes like that of a cat." The master turned and finally realized the effect his words were having on Will; he put his arm around him and sighed quietly. "All that to say that we were indiscreet and a child resulted. I'll spare you the rest, but Will... though she was beautiful and very talented, I did not feel for her the way I do for you. Not even close."

Will forced himself to meet the master's eyes, and was gratified by what he saw there. The man spoke the truth. It took some of the sting away. He cleared his throat.

"Ok. Then what happened?" he asked, honestly curious.

"She didn't want the child. She left here when she was beginning to show. She holed herself up in some dreadful convent to have the child in secret and then left him there when he was only a few days old. I didn't know of his existence until nearly three years later when I received a letter from Gabriella. It said, in astoundingly plain language, that her father had died, and she had no other kin. She gave the name of the convent where she had left the child, and that was the extent of it. When I wrote back, my letter was returned with a note stating that Gabriella had taken her own life," Hannibal rubbed his hands together as he spoke; Will took one into his own and lifted Hannibal's palm to his lips. It was such a morbid tale... sad for such a happy child as Giacomo. After a small sigh, Hannibal shrugged it all away. He smiled a little contritely at Will.

"What was I to do? Of course I was curious. This child... born of two talented painters. I had to see him for myself. I went to the convent, a poor and dirty place in a small village a dozen miles from here, and met this elfin little boy. He looked so much like the sister I had lost as a child that I was taken aback. He couldn't speak though he was almost four years old, and the nuns thought there was something wrong with him. However, when I gave him a stick and asked him if he could draw a bird in the dirt floor," Hannibal said, his eyes wide with the memory. "Will... this filthy, mute, tiny boy drew the most beautiful bird on the floor of this horrible little room we were in. I knew then that I had to bring him home with me." After a pause, Hannibal laughed to himself. "And... as you can see, he eventually learned to talk. Too much, I fear sometimes."

Will's eyes were filled with tears, and he crushed Hannibal's hand.

"Why didn't you tell him you were his father? Why be so heartless? You made him call you Master all these years?" Will dashed the tears away and stared furiously at Hannibal. However, despite the anger he felt, he was overwhelmingly thankful that the master had taken Giacomo from the convent. What would the boy's life have been like otherwise?

You mean, what would his life have been if he hadn't proven his worth as an artist that day? asked a tiny voice inside him. Will ground his teeth together. No. He refused to believe that Hannibal would have been so cold to his own blood. And yet... He waited tensely for Hannibal's answer. When it came, it surprised him.

"Fathers are supposed to love their children," Hannibal said softly. "What if he called me father, and I could not love him? What then? At least if I was just his master, he wouldn't have any expectations..."

Will let out a sharp laugh.

"You're the most intelligent man I know most of the time, but in this, Signore Lecter, you are an imbecile."

Hannibal's brows came down over his eyes, and he flared his nostrils. Will wouldn't let him have his hand back. He lifted it again to his mouth and kissed a callused fingertip.

"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard," he said with a sad smile. "Fathers are supposed to love their children, hm? How very naïve of you." He thought about the day the letter came in from his Majesty's court and was glad he could turn the word around and use it on Hannibal. "Really? That's your whole reason? And... are masters not supposed to love their apprentices then?" This time he bit the tip of Hannibal's finger and watched with amusement as the man's brows came up, incredulous.

Will let his smile spread, amused by Hannibal's reaction. He nuzzled the palm of the master's hand again, and saw that Hannibal's eyes had narrowed. However, there was something in his demeanour that suggested that he was only playing at being irritated at Will's teasing. Will quickly straddled the older man, and locked his hands behind Hannibal's head.

"Tomorrow we will go get Giacomo. He's coming with us, and I am not taking no for an answer," he growled. When Hannibal nodded once, Will realized then that the master had been hoping for this; it was the reason he had confessed to siring Giacomo to begin with. Hannibal leaned forward to try to capture Will's mouth with his own, but Will pulled back.

"You have to tell him," he said, his face serious. Hannibal looked skeptical for a moment, but nodded again. Will laughed. "Trust me. He'll be overjoyed."

Hannibal smiled. Then, without any warning, the master shoved him, and Will lost his balance, falling awkwardly and somewhat painfully to the marble floor. He grunted and quickly brought himself up on his elbows, shocked by the sudden change in Hannibal. The man's eyes had gone flinty, and he stared at Will with blatant desire. Hannibal crouched over him and snarled his fingers in Will's hair, tilting his head back. With the other hand, Hannibal pushed down his hose, exposing his soft cock. He stroked it a few times and then tugged hard on Will's curls.

"Now, if you're quite finished telling me what to do, I want you on your knees," murmured the master, dropping this hand.

Will felt his lust quicken at the quiet power in Hannibal's voice and moved immediately to obey. He scrabbled to his knees and pressed his lips the master's cock before lifting it to slide it into his mouth. He tongued along the edge of the wide head as it swelled in his mouth, his hands coming up to grasp the hardening, thick shaft. Hannibal stroked Will's hair back.

"I want to see your eyes," said Hannibal quietly.

Will obediently looked up. The master's hands were once again in his hair, palms cupping the sides of Will's head as he shifted his hips forward. Will breathed rapidly through his nose a few times as he blinked up at Hannibal, mouth stretched wide over the man's cock. The master's eyes were cast in shadow, his face stern as he slowly pushed himself deeper into Will's throat. Will gagged and shoved back on Hannibal's thighs; though the master pulled away momentarily, his cock slid immediately back down the cradle of Will's tongue.

The master's face wavered for an instant in Will's vision as tears rose up in his eyes. It was always like this in the beginning... his body rebelled, his mind and heart raced and then something clicked in his head. He fell into the rhythm, made eager with the knowledge that he was pleasing Hannibal. There was a thrill to surrender and a strange feeling of relief. It was like shrugging off a heavy mantle that he hadn't known he was wearing. Will became his mouth, his tongue... warm and wet and completely Hannibal's to use. He struggled to take in more of the master's thick cock, pulling on the man's thighs rather than pushing him away as before. It was hard to keep his eyes up, watching Hannibal through his tears; but, the bestial, open-mouthed, lustful look on the master's face made him feel weak, and the heavy organ that widened his throat incited his own fevered excitement. Will's cock strained hard against the tight material of his pants, and he curled a hand around it, thumb stroking the head of it lightly. He let out a small moan and felt Hannibal's fingers tighten on his scalp as the master fucked his mouth slowly.

With a groan, Hannibal finally pulled his cock out and rubbed it over Will's lips. The master had a dark flush to his neck, eyes half-open in pleasure as Will lapped along his hard length.

"I want to take you on your hands and knees," murmured Hannibal with a subtle smile.

Will's heart skipped at the master's words, and he nodded quickly; divesting himself of clothes, he felt breathless with excitement. His cock swung between his thighs as he took his place on the marble floor and then gasped as Hannibal's hands grasped his ass and spread him further. Then Will felt the master begin to kiss him... wet, tongued kisses that ended with teeth closing over the skin of his thighs, his buttocks, up along the furrow where Hannibal's tongue shockingly touched his sensitive hole and back down to the soft sack between his legs. The master's fingers dug into his flesh as he sucked softly back up along his skin, only to lick at him again, lick into him, a warm, wet kiss that opened him up. Will let out a small whimper. It felt like nothing else, a slick, moving heat inside him, and he pressed back into it. Hannibal's hand closed over Will's cock and pulled it back between his legs; the master's tongue slid further down again, over his scrotum and then he quickly swallowed Will's length from behind, down to the root in one slow glide.

Will breathed hard between clenched teeth, every exhale a soft groan as he lowered himself down to his elbows, head against his forearms, eyes shut tight. Hannibal's breath was warm against him as he pulled back, his stubble brushing the inside of Will's thigh and back up along the curve of his backside before he slid his tongue back into Will. After only a few breaths, Hannibal slid his mouth down again to take Will's cock between his lips once more.

It was an almost excruciating build up of pleasure, and Will shuddered as Hannibal worked him slowly and thoroughly. When the older man pushed one finger and then a second deep inside him, Will let out a strangled moan and rocked his hips back. He heard Hannibal chuckle before he bit into one cheek, his fingers stroking quickly over the hard nut of his prostate.

The master's other hand reached beneath him to curl tight around his cock, and he slid his hand along Will's length. Will sobbed out a breath, jerking his pelvis in abandon at the master's caresses. All thought had fled his mind, replaced with a pulsing, liquid-hot need for release.

+++

Hannibal let out a soft sigh as he felt Will tremble against him. The boy would never stop amazing him with the way he completely gave in to pleasure. The eager, lithe movement of his hips, the way the wanton little noises that poured from Will's throat coaxed groans and sighs from the master's own. The master pulled his fingers from Will and stroked himself slowly. Hannibal's cock throbbed in his fist, his fingers wet as his arousal made slick trails down his cock and over his knuckles. He spat hard on Will, thumbing the saliva into him, and watched as his wide thumb slid into Will, opening him up. Then he pulled down, holding Will open slightly and spat again and once more. With a groan, he leaned down again to push his tongue back into Will. Beneath him, Will shook as he panted.

"Please," choked Will, his voice ragged. "Please take me. Fuck me. Please. I want you. Please please please—"

When Hannibal pulled back and quickly pressed the wet head of his cock against the rough little puckered mouth of the boy's ass, Will went rigid with a cry. Greedy and almost frantic, he pushed into Will's body hard and gasped as he slid in. This was pure pleasure. His hands fit so well curled over Will's hips to pull him back into every tight plunge as he fucked him shallowly.

Sweat dripped from his nose onto Will's back, and Hannibal realized how hard he was breathing. He soon dropped forward and rested his head on Will's shoulder blade, one arm curled under Will's waist, and he slowed. The change in pace brought a small noise of frustration from Will, something Hannibal felt rather than heard, but soon Will's hips moved in time to the master's long, slow thrusts.

This was no longer simply fucking. Hannibal felt his chest tighten as he pressed kisses to the back of Will's neck, his shoulder, with his cock buried to the hilt inside the younger man. Will shuddered and gasped. Suddenly the master realized it was too much: the crush of their bodies together, the almost languid, deep rhythm. With a low growl, Hannibal let himself be carried over, eyes shut and his whole body shaking he came, the pulses exquisite and sweet as he spilled over into Will. He thrust into the younger man harder, letting his cock nearly slip out before forcing it back deep into Will to milk the last of his pleasure from him. Under him, Will cried out, and at first Hannibal thought it was from pain, so sharp was the sound of it. Then as the boy tightened over his length, the master realized that Will had reached his own pinnacle and he shifted his hand to cover Will's as he stroked his cock.

"Amore mio," Hannibal whispered as Will sobbed. "My muse. My life." He quickly pulled Will into his arms, cradling him against his chest, and with soft kisses and slow hands, he soothed the boy until his trembling had finally passed.

Forever his.

+++

"That is a very big ship," observed Giacomo solemnly.

Will laughed and nodded, looking up at the square-masted merchant galleon owned by the Hanseatic League. It would take them from Germany all the way to England. After weeks of tediously slow travel by road, the idea of a relatively quick sea voyage was very appealing.

"It is big indeed, little sparrow," said Hannibal with a smile. "And I should think that the captain would appreciate a painting of it against a backdrop of your fluffy clouds? What do you think?"

The little painter's face creased into a wide grin, and he nodded.

"Oh, Father. Do you think he would?" chirped Giacomo.

Hannibal ruffled the boy's hair and winked at Will; Will laughed again.

Suddenly, there was a loud cry. It was time to board; their new life awaited them across the North Sea. Will felt sad and excited all at once. The time he spent in Italy would forever be etched in his memory.

With a thrilled laugh, Giacomo slipped one hand into the master's, the other into Will's, dragging both men forward in his impatience to climb the wide gangplank.

Will glanced again at Hannibal and smiled to himself as he watched the man scold Giacomo good-naturedly. Though it seemed that fate had decided to bestow upon him the fame and fortune he had travelled so far from home to find, he had discovered something richer and far more worthy.

Something that made him whole.