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This Dark Heart

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TEN

 

‘Hello, Will.’

Hearing his Alpha’s voice soothes him enough that Will can release a slow, shaky breath, and he manages a tired smile as he ducks into Hannibal’s office on Thursday evening. He hands Hannibal his coat, and waits for the other man to hang it up before he leans in to kiss him, resting his hands on Hannibal’s hips before looping his arms around his waist to hug him.

Hannibal holds Will close, nuzzling his curls to soak up the scent of him. It’s dull beneath the residual taint of Beta pheromones, and he sighs, rubbing between Will’s shoulder blades to soothe him after almost two days apart – since the night they hosted Freddy and Abigail. His mate looks exhausted – there’s no rest for an isolated Omega – and his sea-green shirt hangs loose from his bowed shoulders. He’s not been eating and his body is burning through his fat reserves as it prepares for heat…

‘Please, take a seat,’ Hannibal says, guiding Will to their armchairs. ‘Would you like a drink?’

Will shakes his head. He’s tense; he can’t get rid of this need to move, to do something… He sits down as he’s told, grinding his back teeth against the headache crushing his skull, and taps the armrest, rolling his neck and feeling the tendons crunch against each other.

‘So,’ Hannibal says, undoing the button of his burgundy suit jacket as he sits. He crosses one long leg over the other, holding his knee as he looks at his mate. ‘Tell me, Will; how are you feeling today?’

Will huffs, his copper-ringed eyes flaring bright.

‘How am I feeling?

‘Yes.’

Will scoffs, pursing his lips as he thinks of a suitable answer. When he speaks, his voice quivers with anger and fear.

‘I can feel my nerves… Clicking like roller-coaster cogs… Pulling up to the inevitable long plunge,’ he says, and Hannibal quirks an eyebrow.

‘Quick sounds. Quickly ended,’ he replies.

Will jerks his head in an attempt at a nod.

‘Abigail Hobbs ended Nicholas Boyle,’ he says, grimacing at the memory of it. ‘Like a burst balloon.’ He blinks away the ridiculous urge to cry and rubs his fingertips together to keep from balling his hand into a fist. ‘She took a life.’

Hannibal controls his emotional response to the pain etched into his mate’s face. He needs to remains calm and dispassionate; a void for Will to pour his feelings into.

‘You’ve taken a life,’ he reminds him, and Will nods, a muscle jumping in his jaw.

‘Yeah… Yeah, so have you.’

Hannibal watches him for a moment, his expression unreadable, dark eyes piercing through Will’s defenses and leaving him naked.

‘You’re grieving, Will,’ his Alpha says. When Will tries to scoff, Hannibal continues, ‘Not for the life you have taken, but for the life that was taken from you.’

A moment’s confusion creases his Omega’s brow, and Hannibal explains,

‘If Abigail could have started over, left the horror of her father behind, so could you. You could untangle yourself from the madness and the murder.’

Will looks away, his eyes flickering as though seeking an escape. There’s a tightness in his throat, threatening to dissolve into tears, and he hates it. Hates the way his heart is losing its rhythm every few beats.

‘We lied for her,’ he whispers.

‘We both know the unreality of taking a life,’ Hannibal replies. ‘Of people who die when we have no other choice.’

Locking eyes with Will, Hannibal allows his shadow to mingle with the prickling red of his irises and sits forwards.

‘We know, in those moments, they are not flesh, but light and air and color,’ he purrs.

Will smiles sadly and tilts his head.

‘Isn’t that what it is to be alive?’

Hannibal narrows his eyes, considering him.

‘Do you feel alive, Will?’

The question makes him pause, and Will swallows. He wets his lips, blinking to clear the haze from his vision. Because he doesn’t… He doesn’t feel alive… He’s not himself anymore… He’s not anyone anymoreThe dark current always pulls at him, always calls for him, and even though he’s been fighting so hard to stay him, to stay whole, he’s nothing without Hannibal… Without his Alpha…

The words come out before he’s even meant them to; before he can keep his voice from cracking.

‘I feel like I’m fading.’

Hannibal nods slowly. This is to be expected; Will is newly bonded, and suffering from acute detoxification. It’s a testament to his strength that he’s doing so well – that he can remember who he is at all. 

‘Have you experienced any further loss of time or hallucinations?’ he asks, and Will looks away, his gaze distant, scared, before he remembers to nod and answer.

‘… Yeah.’

Hannibal feels a flicker of curiosity at the extent of his Omega’s neurological impairment.

‘I’d like you to draw a clock face,’ he says, rising to fetch his notebook and pen from his desk. ‘Numbered. Small hand indicating the hour, large hand the minute.’

He holds it out to Will, but his mate looks at him suspiciously, lips twitching into a smile as though expecting a joke.

‘Why?

‘An exercise,’ Hannibal replies, and Will obeys, opening the book to a fresh page. Hannibal continues to speak as he returns to his chair. ‘I want you to focus on the present moment,’ he lies. ‘The now. Often as you can, think of where you are, and when. Think of who you are.’

Will checks his watch and sighs. This is stupid. He knows where he is: he’s with his Alpha. He knows who he is: he’s Hannibal’s Omega.

He scrawls a clock face and scribbles down the numbers as fast as he can.

‘It’s 7.16pm,’ he mutters. ‘I’m in Baltimore, Maryland…’ Sighs again. ‘And my name is Will Graham.’

‘A simple reminder,’ Hannibal says, ignoring Will’s sarcastic tone. ‘The handle to reality for you to hold on to.’

He leans forwards as Will reaches out to hand him the book, and looks down at the page, at the numbers off-center and lines overlapping…

He stares at the evidence of his Omega’s suffering, right on schedule.

‘… And know you’re alive…’

***

The next morning dawns bright and cold. Ideal fishing conditions, and perfectly timed with an extra day off work. Hannibal’s coming over this evening, and Will’s been out in the river since seven. He’s caught three big trout; perfect for… whatever it is that Hannibal said he was going to make.

Will’s sweating from the walk back to the house. He kicks the kitchen door open and lets the fish rest on newspaper while he showers and gets changed into a cotton shirt and pants. The sunlight filtering through the net curtains hits his back and he feels fresh beads of perspiration tickle the nape of his neck.

Please don’t let there be a murder today, he thinks, pulling the hook from the trout’s mouth. I just want to spend time with my Alpha… I need some time alone with him

He lays the fish down on the counter and reaches into the drawer for his filleting knife. This is the messy part, but he’s hardly squeamish. He holds the fish steady and begins to slice into its belly, spilling cold, dark blood across the wood.

Alpha…

Will stills. Something’s wrong… He doesn’t feel… Doesn’t feel right…

His shadow whispers to him. Heat licks at his crest, making it tingle and throb. The current rises, pulling him down into darkness as gold flecks dance behind his eyes. He’s sinking… Disappearing into the sickly sweet stench of death…

You’re not my Alpha… You’re not my mate…

‘Oh, darlin’…’

His heart races. It’s deafening. He can’t breathe. Every gasp ripples the air in front of him. Sweat plasters his hair to his scalp and the soft fabric of his jersey top rasps across the ridges of his crest, making his eyes water with pain.

His crest… Oh God… Coby… Samuel Coby… Did he…? Is he…?

Fuck… I don’t… Is Hannibal my Alpha, or is Coby?

No… No…

Blood pours from the Alpha’s face. It’s been split nearly in two. She’s drowning. Her eyes glow red, but she doesn’t look angry; she looks… sorry. And scared. So scared…

I don’t know who you are anymore… I don’t know…

Will’s shaking. Fighting with her as she tries to push him off… As she tries to reach up for his crest –

And then… It’s gone. Will jerks back to himself, freezing cold and staring into the face of his dead Alpha.

Not his Alpha… His victim

What the…? What’s he doing here? He’s supposed to be at home… He’s…

Will drops her arms and throws himself away from the corpse. Slips in the blood on the floor and staggers against the bedroom door. He can’t breathe. He can’t think. Panic chokes him. His brain is spiraling out of control and he can’t stop making these strange whimpering gasps as he calls for Hannibal. For help.

He’s still holding the knife. Will throws it to the side and wrenches open the door. He has to get out of here. He has to… Has to…

Jack, Beverly and her team all look up, startled, when he falls out into the hallway, his arms smeared with blood, eyes wild and panting hard. He’s soaked with sweat and shivering, and Beverly’s eyes flicker red. She’s the first to take a step forwards.

‘Will?’

But Will can’t answer her. His throat has closed up, locked around his gasps, and all he can do is shake. He holds up his hands, half surrender, half plea to let him past so he can wash them, and they step aside for him to stumble his way downstairs.

Rinsing the red from his hands in the kitchen sink, Will tries to scrub the feeling of death from under his nails.

There is something seriously wrong with me.

He hears Jack’s footsteps, worryingly slow and steady, and smells anger sharpening the Alpha’s scent. He glances up, keeping enough of his back to him that Jack won’t see the crest at the edge of his sweater, and watches as Jack glares at him before storming outside.

Follow.

The command is silent, but it rings in Will’s ears, and he shivers as he dries his hands on the dishcloth. He stares at them, at the palms and fingers that he used to kill the Alpha… Sighs and closes his eyes. I didn’t do it… It was a memory

He has to talk to Jack. Explain himself. Will grabs his coat and pulls it on as he steps out onto the porch. It’s snowing, and everyone else is wrapped up in scarves and gloves. The cold air feels good on his flushed skin, but he zips himself up anyway. A layer of protection.

Jack is furious. He clenches his hands in and out of fists, his back to Will so as not to bare his teeth or show him his rage-red eyes. But Will can tell. He can smell it and feel it; sharp waves of black anger pouring off him.

‘What happened in there?’ the Alpha asks, pointing back at the house.

‘I got confused,’ Will mutters, staring down at his shoes. He does not want to deal with Jack right now. He just wants to go home… to Hannibal.

‘I’ve seen you confused, and I’ve seen you upset, but I’ve never seen you afraid like this,’ Jack argues, staring into Will’s pale, shadowed face.

Will shoves his hands into his pockets; he can’t stand the feel of them, like oil coating his skin. Tainted.

‘Well, I’m an old hand at fear,’ he bites. ‘I can manage this one, I just got… disoriented. I can go back in.’

‘I saw the look on your face when you came out of that room,’ Jack growls. ‘Now, what did you experience in there that’s got you… mute all of a sudden?’

‘I can see and hear better afraid,’ Will points out, looking out at the drifting snow, gritting his teeth to keep from snarling at Jack. ‘I- I just can’t speak as concisely.’

‘Will, you contaminated the crime scene,’ Jack says, turning towards him, worry softening the dark rage from his face. ‘You’ve never done that before.’

Will hesitates. He swallows, but he doesn’t know how else to say it.

‘I thought I was responsible for it,’ he explains.

‘What are you saying?’ Jack demands, turning fully to stare up at him. ‘Are you saying you thought you killed that Alpha in there?’

Will sighs. You don’t understand…

‘Sometimes with, er, what I do –’

‘What you do, is you take all of the evidence available at a crime scene,’ Jack says, speaking deliberately so as to remind Will that he doesn’t want any of this Omegan ‘resonances’ and ‘empathy’ bullshit. ‘You extrapolate.’ His eyes flicker red. ‘You reconstruct the thinking of a killer. You don’t think of yourself as the killer.’

‘I got lost in the reconstruction,’ Will snaps, glad that he’s on such good Iris Inhibitor drops because otherwise his eyes would be golden by now. ‘Just for a second. Just a blink.’

Jack nods slowly.

‘I know you don’t like to be the cause for concern, but I am officially concerned about you,’ he says.

Officially?’ Will can’t, and won’t, keep the sarcasm from his quivering voice.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ Jack replies, and Will nods. Descends the steps of the farmhouse as he speaks.

‘Hm. I thought the reason you had me seeing Dr Lecter and not an FBI psychiatrist is so my mental wellbeing stays…’ He narrows his eyes and shrugs, all but baring his teeth at the Alpha. ‘Unofficial.’

‘I just wanna be careful with you,’ Jack says, speaking more softly now that Will’s standing up to him. ‘We don’t wanna break you here… Is that what’s happening? Have I broken you?’

Will considers the question, considers the hallucinations, the nightmares, the loss of time… Grimaces and raises his eyebrows at Jack.

‘Do you have anyone that does this better unbroken than I do broken?’ he points out, and smirks at him when the Alpha has no good answer to that.

Jack sighs.

‘Fear makes you rude, Will.’

Guilt tickles his gut and Will has to wait for a while before he can go back inside. Jack takes himself off to calm down, so, when he can’t wait for his heart to slow down anymore, Will returns, alone, to the bedroom.

Beverly and her team have moved in and are cataloguing the forensic evidence. A camera shutter clicks, and Will hears Zeller’s voice before he sees them.

‘Her name was Beth LeBeau,’ the Beta says. ‘She drowned on her own blood.’

‘And what she didn’t drown on is all over the floor, and under the bed,’ Price says, crouched down to get a better view of the scene. He looks up when Will steps through the doorway. ‘She was trying to hide from him.’

Will shakes his head.

‘He dragged her there,’ he says, pointing to the floral covers. ‘He was waiting under the bed for her.’

‘Fought to claw her way out,’ Beverly says, picking up a torn nail from the floorboards.

‘He knew her,’ Will says, looking down at the smashed and ripped up photographs. ‘Someone who cared about her; or thought he did.’

‘He cared too much,’ Beverly mutters.

‘So, we’re looking for boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, co-workers… The guy who bags her groceries,’ Jack says, coming to stand a short distance from Will. Keeping an eye on him.

‘I’ve got a clean set of prints on the knife handle,’ Price says, holding the weapon up with his blue gloved hands and peering at it with his magnifying glass. ‘I assume they’re yours,’ he adds, looking up at Will.

‘Sorry,’ Will mutters, and Price nods.

‘Mm. There’s other dermal tissue; presumably from the killer’s. The skin is so diseased or damaged it didn’t leave any useful prints.’

‘Victim scratched her killer deep enough to pile tissue under the fingernails,’ Beverly says curiously, holding up the dead Alpha’s hand to examine the fingers. ‘Never drew blood.’

‘Why didn’t he bleed?’ Jack asks, thinking aloud.

‘After he cut up the victim’s face, looks like he was trying to pull her skin back,’ Zeller says, frowning down at the body.  

I don’t know you…

The memory tickles Will on the back of his neck and he turns.

‘Like he was removing a mask?’ he asks, and he stares down at Beth, at the Alpha… I don’t recognize you anymore…

‘Could be,’ Zeller says, shrugging.

Will nods, frowning as something teases him, just out of reach. He scrubs his cheeks and pops a couple of heat suppressants to help with the headache making him queasy, ignoring the look that Beverly and Jack exchange when they assume he won’t notice. Grits his teeth to keep from calling them on it and wanders around the room, instead, looking at the horse models, the equestrian art and the riding boots, still caked with mud, in the corner. There’s a sadness here… A loss…

I want to come home…

‘Will?’

He glances up, his heart lodging in his throat at the sound of Beverly’s voice. Did he lose time again?

‘Yeah?’ he asks warily, and relief is like a knife between the ribs when he realizes he was just deep in thought.

‘We’re gonna get the body out now; you need anything else?’ Beverly says.

‘Er… No… No, I think I’m done,’ Will says, nodding a couple of times, his eyes still searching the room.

Beverly tilts her head and looking up at him from under worried brows.

‘You okay?’

‘Yeah… Yeah…’ Will tries for a smile, but he knows it’s more of an unhappy twist of the lips, and he clears his throat, ducking his head to avoid her eyes. ‘I’m, er… I’m gonna go…’

‘Sure,’ Beverly says. ‘See you tomorrow, Will.’ She turns to watch him go, and as he reaches the door, calls after him, ‘Take care of yourself, won’t you?’

Will pauses and glances back at her. At Jack and Jimmy Price and Zeller… Swallows and tries for a final nod but he doesn’t think he manages it before he’s out of the room and hurrying down to his car.

I don’t need to take care of myself, he thinks, falling into the seat behind the wheel. I have an Alpha for that.

***

The drive from the crime scene is long and it’s dark by the time Will arrives in Baltimore. Hannibal’s Bentley is the only car parked outside, though, so he lets himself straight into the office, already speaking before his Alpha has even looked up from writing patient notes at his desk.

‘It’s getting worse.’

Will jerks his coat from his shoulders and throws it onto the hook. Scrapes his hands through his hair and strides to the window, the couch, pacing back and forth as Hannibal closes the book and sets his pen aside.

Masking his surprise at his mate’s sudden appearance and obvious distress, Hannibal rises from his chair and moves around the desk to perch against it, clasping his hands before him to keep from reaching for the other man. He can tell, from the set of Will’s shoulders and the muscle jumping in his jaw, that his Omega doesn’t want to be touched right now.

‘Tell me what happened,’ he says, and Will looks over, hugging his elbows before shrugging helplessly.

‘I… had a hallucination,’ he admits. ‘I lost time… Hours… I…’ He sighs. Shakes his head. Stares at the ceiling, fighting tears. ‘I contaminated a crime scene.’ He drops his arms to his sides and starts pacing again. ‘I was fishing, and then I went home, I showered, I changed… I was gutting one of the trout and then… I was killing her…’ Chokes and ducks his head. ‘I still have the coppery smell of blood on my hands.’ He turns to Hannibal, his throat bobbing as he swallows down the whimpers clawing up to free themselves from his chest. ‘I can’t remember seeing the crime scene before I saw myself killing her.’

‘Those memories sank out of sight,’ Hannibal says, watching him carefully, his face betraying nothing. ‘Yet you’re aware of their absence.’

‘There’s a grandiosity to the violence that I imagined, that feels more real than what I know is true,’ Will says, pointing at him with both of his shaking hands to emphasize his point. His skin is shining with a thin coat of sweat, and Hannibal recognizes his sweater as being the softest one Will owns; the one he wears when his flesh is tender and stinging. A side effect of his near-constant prodrome.

‘What do you know to be true?’ he replies, and Will’s paces becomes shorter, more frantic. A caged animal, futilely searching for a way to slip through the bars of its prison.

‘I know I didn’t kill her,’ he says. ‘I- I couldn’t have, but I remember cutting into her. I remember watching her die.’

Hannibal releases a slow breath. It will all be over soon.

‘You must overcome these delusions that are disguising your reality,’ he says heavily, and Will sighs. Taps his hand against the rung of the ladder near him. Hannibal tilts his head. ‘What kind of savage delusions does this killer have?’ he asks, grounding Will in the violence. In the darkness.

But Will shakes his head and leans back against the ladder for support, his knees weak at the memory of it. His chest is a gaping hole and he can’t think. He can’t…

He swallows.

‘It wasn’t savage,’ he says quietly. ‘It was… lonely.’ Tears prick his eyes and he flicks them away. ‘It was desperate… Sad…’ He wets his lips, and Hannibal feels his chest tighten as Will continues, ‘I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror… And I looked right through me… Past me… As if I was… Was just a- a stranger.’ His voice catches and he has to stop because the tightness in his throat is too much. Too close to dissolving into tears and he doesn’t want that.

Hannibal pushes up from the desk and moves closer, crowding Will up against the ladder, pinning him with his scent and watching Will’s pulse jump in his throat.

‘You have to honestly confront your limitations with what you do,’ he says, dipping his head towards him. ‘And how it affects you.’

Will takes a shuddering breath, leaning back and baring his throat. I’m yours. He doesn’t want to fight his Alpha on this, but he can’t help but shake his head and speak to Hannibal’s shoulder he replies,

‘If, by limitations, you mean the difference between sanity and insanity, I don’t accept that.’

‘What do you accept?’ Hannibal asks, and Will’s brow furrows.

‘I know what kind of crazy I am,’ he says, his voice cracking with desperation. ‘And this isn’t that kind of crazy…’ He pleads with Hannibal, begging him with his eyes, dipping his head to bare the side of his throat because he needs his Alpha to really listen to him. To hear him. ‘This could be seizures, this could be… a tumor? A… a blood clot…? You said it yourself; too long on heat suppressants can cause all sorts of neurological symptoms; what if it’s the medication?’

Please… Please, Hannibal… Please let me check… Please… Don’t make me do it behind your back…

Hannibal feels Will’s panic, and he knows he will lose his trust if he continues to deny him medical testing.

‘I can recommend an Omega Specialist,’ he replies, and the relief on Will’s face squeezes his heart in a fist of ice as he continues, ‘But, if it isn’t physiological, then you have to accept what you’re struggling with is mental illness.’

Will tries to nod but it’s more of a head jerk, and he watches as Hannibal returns to his desk to find the contact details. His Alpha’s mind is still mostly closed to him, and he can only sense a hint of worry from his mate, mingled with resignation; he can’t read his thoughts. Can he read all of mine, yet?

Hannibal feels Will scratching at the carefully constructed walls protecting his thoughts, trying to pick the lock on his doors, but he won’t allow him entry to his mind palace yet. Will is not ready; they still have a lot of work to do on his own shadow before he can meet Hannibal’s true self.

‘Would you like me to come with you to the appointment, Will?’ he asks, glancing back at him as he dials the number for the healthcare center. A clever distraction, and one that works; Will swallows and nods, pushing away from the ladder and closing the distance between them. He hugs his Alpha from behind as Hannibal listens to the options on the phone, resting his head on Hannibal’s shoulder when the taller man shifts and wraps an arm around him. Pliant and submissive; he’s demonstrating his gratitude at Hannibal’s acquiescence, and Hannibal smiles to himself as he toys with the idea of how else Will could demonstrate his appreciation.

Tucking himself up to his Alpha’s side, Will lets himself relax as he listens to Hannibal’s calm voice and clipped, enquiring words. He breathes in deep, savoring the other man’s rich musk and cologne. Rubs his cheek against the silk of Hannibal’s pocket square and loops his arms around his Alpha’s waist, his heart fluttering and his stomach clenching up as Hannibal makes an appointment for them to see someone called Dr Sutcliffe tomorrow.

‘Thank you,’ he murmurs, nuzzling Hannibal’s cheek as the Alpha hangs up. When Hannibal turns towards him, Will finds his lips and holds each side of his mate’s face, drawing him in to deepen the kiss. He sucks Hannibal’s tongue down, arching his back and pressing his chest up against him, sliding his fingers through Hannibal’s silky hair. He feels Hannibal’s strong hands on his hips, pulling their groins flush together, and moans into his Alpha’s mouth, rocking against the answering hardness he can feel in Hannibal’s trousers.

Devouring Will’s mouth, Hannibal runs his hands over the soft jersey of Will’s sweater, spreading his palms over his chest and then up each side of his throat, feeling the thundering pulse against his fingers. He pushes at the navy vest and Will shrugs his shoulders to help him get rid of it. They break the kiss for just long enough to yank the top up and over Will’s head, and then their lips meet again, brushing and sucking and nipping, sharing breath and spit as Will fumbles with the buttons of Hannibal’s waistcoat.

Moaning at how difficult his Alpha’s clothing is, Will abandons the suit in favor of pulling Hannibal’s tie loose, but he doesn’t get the chance to drop it before Hannibal has taken it from his hands and is turning him, walking him back towards the ladder and pinning him up against it again. His eyes fly open and heat floods him, making every inch of skin tingle when his Alpha takes his hands and puts them together, winding the silk tie around his wrists to bind him.

‘Hannibal…’

Hannibal kisses him again, soothing him as he knots the tie. He nuzzles Will’s cheek and bearded jaw, encouraging him to turn his head so that he can lick and suck at the sensitive flesh beneath his ear, and he purrs when Will whimpers, spreading his legs around Hannibal’s thigh.

‘Do you trust me, Will?’ he whispers, lifting the Omega’s arms above his head and pushing them against a higher rung. Will’s heart skips a beat and his breath catches when he realizes what’s happening; he glances up, hesitates, and then looks back at Hannibal. Looks into his dark eyes, his hungry face, and nods.

‘Yes.’

‘Tap twice if you need to stop,’ Hannibal says quietly, and he waits until Will has swallowed and nodded his understanding before looping the ends of the tie around the rung, securing him there. He steps back, eyeing his prize, and watches as Will quivers, eyes bright with nervous desire. Gives him a predatory smile when Will’s cheeks flush and his curls darken with sweat, and then slowly begins to remove his clothes.

Will can’t stop himself from pulling against his restraint, testing Hannibal’s knots, and excitement battles apprehension as he confirms that he can’t get loose by himself. He takes a deep breath, parting his lips to taste Hannibal’s scent on the roof of his mouth, and the air in front of his mouth shimmers as fire rolls up from his core. He twitches at the amount of slick that spills down his thighs, trembling when beads of sweat trickle down his back.

Hannibal takes his time getting undressed, carefully folding his suit jacket and waistcoat over the back of Will’s armchair so that they don’t crease. His burgundy eyes never leave Will’s face, and he watches as Will’s pupils widen, black swallowing blue, barely hemmed in by a ring of copper.

‘How do you feel?’ he murmurs, toeing off his shoes and socks before unzipping his trousers and pushing them down his legs. He steps out of them, adding them to the growing pile of clothes, and loops his thumbs into the waistband of his briefs, grinning at the way Will flexes his muscles and strains against his bonds.

Will whines, licking his lips at the idea of being the one to stroke Hannibal’s lean chest, imagining running his fingertips across his nipples and then down, tracing the lines of his stomach to his hips… He bucks forward, the seam of his trousers digging into his erection, and drops his head back to bare his throat.

Hard,’ he says, and huffs a laugh. Hannibal chuckles and comes closer, cupping Will through the fabric of his trousers and massaging him.

‘Good,’ he purrs, and he kisses him again, swallowing Will’s whimper at the clink of his belt buckle coming undone. He slides the zipper down, torturously slowly, and Will moans again, reaching towards Hannibal as much as his tied arms allow, trying to encourage him to move faster, to get him naked now so that he can fuck him already. But Hannibal just grins, and keeps kissing him, over and over as he pushes Will’s trousers down tensing thighs so that the Omega can step out of them. He kneels and removes Will’s boots and socks, then licks and nibbles and kisses his way up Will’s legs, striking sparks that fan the flames consuming him as Will shudders above him.

Fuck… Hannibal…’ Will closes his eyes, resting his head back against the ladder as his Alpha kisses over the bulge in his boxers. He can’t keep his hips from jumping when Hannibal buries his nose into his throbbing erection to inhale his scent, and he gasps when Hannibal pins him, gripping his hips hard enough to leave fingerprints.

‘I’m going to taste you, Will,’ Hannibal says, sitting back on his heels to look up at his bound Omega. ‘I want you to hold still.’

He peels Will’s underwear off and rasps his tongue over the lines of Will’s hips, kneading the firm muscles of his buttocks before gathering up some of the wetness and teasing at the very edge of the Omega’s pulsing entrance. His mate smells divine; sweet, sugary slick overlaying smoky musk, and Hannibal’s mouth waters as he kisses up the side of Will’s twitching length.

Will’s breath catches and he freezes in place, acutely aware of Hannibal’s lips on him, closing around the tip before his tongue laps at the sensitive flesh. He can’t stop the little mewls and gasping huffs as teeth scrape so lightly up and down the silky skin, his breath fast and shallow. Hannibal enfolds him in the warm wetness of his mouth, his groan at the taste and feel of him vibrating and adding to the sensation, and white fire licks across Will’s pulsing crest. He can’t stop the shudder that wracks him as Hannibal eases a finger inside him, and he pulls hard on the silk holding him up as his knees threaten to buckle.

‘H-Hannibal…’ he whispers, biting his lower lip because it feels so good, and he’s so trapped, unable to do anything but feel

Hannibal smiles and hums his praise as he feels Will clench around him, bearing down before pulling his finger in deeper. Slick wets his hand to the palm and he cups Will’s balls with his left, tugging and rolling as he dips his head to work his mouth and throat around every inch of his Omega. Will is shaking now, trying so hard to hold still, to obey, his body opening up around a second finger and pulsating when Hannibal crooks the knuckle and pulls against that spot deep inside.

‘Hannibal… Hannibal…’ Will’s close; he can feel it like a tidal wave inside him, drawing in with every suck and stroke. He flexes his fingers, sweat rolling down his chest, and, at Hannibal’s nudge, he spreads his legs as far as they’ll go. He can see himself in his Alpha’s eyes; wanton, beautiful and owned, giving up everything he has because Hannibal wants him to, and it tips him over the edge and he’s coming, pulsing gold light filling him, flowing through him into Hannibal as he spills himself down the Alpha’s throat and bears down around his fingers, squeezing over and over and over as if it’s a knot. He hears himself cry out before his voice breaks off into a long groan and he sags, breathing hard as he fights the dark current rising up to claim him. ‘Hannibal…’

Humming in satisfaction, Hannibal wipes the overspill from the corner of his mouth and rises. Will is shaking from the orgasm, head back and throat beautifully bared, begging to be bitten. Hannibal pushes his own boxers down and kicks them to the side before reaching out and cupping the back of Will’s head, pulling him in for a kiss that makes him strain against his bonds. Will keens into his lips, his deadened scent sharpening with heat hormones, and Hannibal brushes his thumb over Will’s cheekbone before moving his hand back, finding his burning hot crest and squeezing.

He watches as Will’s eyes fly open again, sightless and wide with innocent amazement at how good it feels. He loves seeing his Omega like this; lost to sensation, the most primal he will ever be without killing. Will bares his teeth at him and Hannibal snarls back, crushing their lips together in a bruising, bloody kiss. He shoves at Will’s legs, hooking them up over his elbows so that his mate is suspended from the ground, unable to do anything about the fact that Hannibal is about to fuck him, and Will grips tight to the ladder rung, supporting himself as he nods.

‘Hannibal… Hannibal…’

‘Push out for me, Will,’ Hannibal says, taking hold of himself, his breath hitching at the moment of resistance before he breaches the ring of muscle. And then he’s in, sinking deep until his balls slap against Will’s, and he has to wait for a moment because it’s so hot and tight and perfect… And Will is making all the right noises, calling for him as only an Omega can, pitching his voice to encourage Hannibal to fuck him hard and fast, to own him; to reassert his claim of bonding and dominance again and again. Fill him with his seed and put a child in his belly.

Mine,’ Hannibal growls, rocking his hips in slow, deep thrusts, gripping Will’s crest tight with one hand, holding his hip with the other.

Will wraps his legs tight around Hannibal’s waist, moving in time with him, breathing hard with the effort of holding himself up but achingly aroused at the way it makes his muscles contract and pulls Hannibal’s length in deeper with every rock.

‘Yours,’ he gasps, feeling the sting of the silk tie dig into his wrists as he lets go of the ladder but not caring because it’s so good and he’s so close again and all he cares about is Hannibal… Hannibal inside him, around him, Hannibal’s hand on his crest, his breath on his face, his hand on his hip and his lips on his cheek as he pants into his jaw. ‘Yours… I’m yours, I’m yours.’

‘Come for me, Will,’ Hannibal growls, and he sinks his teeth into the muscle of Will’s chest as his own orgasm rips through him, thrusting up and up as he knots inside his Omega, sealing them together with his seed safe inside. He feels Will spasm around him, the command coupled with a crest pinch and the smell and feel of Hannibal’s release sending him spinning into a second, furious orgasm. He releases Will’s crest to cup the side of his face as Will’s brow furrows at the sharpness of the pleasure, and then he kisses him, slowly and tenderly, as he reaches up to undo the knots securing Will’s bound hands to the ladder.

He hushes him when Will whimpers, and manages to carry him, without staggering, to the blue couch against the wall. Sits heavily, pulling Will to straddle his lap and kissing away his Omega’s tears from the knot pulling at his tender body. Pushes sweat-damp curls back from Will’s forehead and kisses his temples, his eyebrows and his nose as he gently unwinds the silk tie from Will’s wrists.

Hannibal…’

Will’s floating in the current; waves lapping at the edge of his consciousness, and he can feel himself swaying as he watches, from the other side of the veil, as his Alpha kisses and licks the welts around his wrists. He falls against Hannibal’s chest and snuggles against his shoulder, pressing burning lips to Hannibal’s sweaty neck as his Alpha hugs him. Feels Hannibal’s strong hands stroking up and down his back, calming him as he continues to tremble, and, when he hears the quiet instruction to let go, to sink into the darkness, he obeys without question.

Hannibal rests his cheek on the top of Will’s head, listening to his heartrate return to normal as his Omega begins to purr, lost to prodrome. He’ll need to convince Sutcliffe to conceal the truth about Will’s condition, and taking him in for any kind of medical treatment is a risk, but a small part of him is relieved that Will was able to persuade him to give in. After all, he wants a partner, an equal, and Will’s iron strength and innate stubbornness is one of the many things that attracted him in the first place.

It won’t help you, he thinks, kissing Will’s temple as he idly traces the bruises forming around his wrists. But at least I’ll know the extent of the damage I’ve done to you.

***

Noble Hills Healthcare Center in Baltimore, Maryland, has an entire unit devoted to Omega medical care. When Will and Hannibal arrive, they follow the signs for the East Wing, a monstrosity of stereotypical ‘Omegan’ décor; all pastel colors and creams shot through with gold; presumably to remind them of their eye color and therefore calm them. Will notes the way Hannibal raises an eyebrow at him as they sit down on the plush chairs in the waiting area; sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose, fighting a snarl at how cozy everything is.

‘Perhaps I should redecorate your house for you,’ Hannibal teases, and Will snorts, giving him a twisted smile and an eye roll for understanding his unspoken rage. He links their fingers together when Hannibal reaches for him, studiously avoiding the magazines on the table in front of him, the most recent of which features the headline of ‘Crest stacking: the latest trends in Omegan nuchal piercing’.

If he wasn’t feeling so nervous, the sight of Hannibal, in his smart coat, sharp suit and polished shoes reading an article about ‘The joy of nest-making’ from Omega Weekly would have made him laugh, but as it is, Will can’t do more than snort as he taps his hands together, his knee bouncing as he waits for his name to be called. God; he hates this place.

‘Will Graham?’

He’s standing before the receptionist has finished speaking, and takes a step forwards as Hannibal sets the magazine down to follow. The receptionist smiles at him and gestures to the door behind her.

‘Dr Sutcliffe will see you now,’ she says, and sits back down when Hannibal knocks on the polished wood.

Dr Sutcliffe is an Alpha, but significantly less intimidating than Hannibal, and he smiles warmly when he opens the door to greet them. He offsets his tanned skin with a light blue shirt, and his sandy beard and receding hair is lightened with blond where he’s caught the sun from a recent holiday. Clearly, being an Omega Specialist pays well.

‘Good morning, come on in,’ he says, stepping back and gesturing for them to enter his office. ‘Got to say, I was surprised to see his name on the referral, but know that you’re in good hands. Dr Lecter here is one of the sanest men I know.’

‘I would agree,’ Hannibal replies, smiling when Sutcliffe squeezes his arm in greeting. ‘Dr Sutcliffe and I were residents together at Hopkins,’ he says to Will, removing his coat as he speaks.

‘Another life ago,’ Sutcliffe jokes, taking his seat behind the desk. ‘Back when you weren’t afraid to get your hands a little dirty.’

‘I was always drawn to how the mind works,’ Hannibal says, draping his coat over the back of his seat before sitting and crossing one leg over the other. ‘I found it much more dynamic than how the brain works, no matter the caste.’

‘The projected image is more interesting than the projector,’ Sutcliffe replies, nodding to show his understanding of his friend’s decision. ‘Until, of course, the projector breaks down.’

In this analogy, I’m the projector, Will thinks. And I’m broken.

He doesn’t remove his coat when he sits; he’s wearing layers today; a sweater over his shirt, buttoned high, and his glasses, but Hannibal is kind enough not to comment on his defensive behavior.

Sutcliffe turns to him and smiles gently.

‘So, Will… these headaches? When did they begin in earnest?’

Will glances at him, his brow creased. He tries to make himself look at Sutcliffe’s face, but his gaze flickers back and forth to his shoulder. The Alpha is in his element now, and his blue eyes are piercing.

‘Two to three months ago,’ he says, unconsciously glancing at Hannibal for confirmation. His Alpha nods.

‘About the time Will went back into the field, which is when I met him,’ he adds.

Sutcliffe nods thoughtfully, leaning back in his chair, welcoming honesty from Will, swiveling to face him and give him his full attention. Showing him that he matters, even if he is bonded.

‘And the hallucinations?’ he asks.

Will’s frown deepens as he considers his answer.

‘I can’t really say when they started,’ he says carefully, ignoring the tightness in his chest; the lump in his throat. ‘Um… I just slowly became aware that I might not be dreaming.’

Sutcliffe frowns, and gives Hannibal a sharp look, which he returns calmly. Yes, I allowed it.

‘Sounds like you have quite an active imagination,’ the Sutcliffe says lightly, focusing on Will again. ‘When was your last heat?’

Will looks at his lap. Swallows hard. 

‘Er… Five years ago,’ he says quietly.

‘Five years?’ Sutcliffe yelps, and Will shrinks back into the chair, fighting the urge to whine. Hannibal clears his throat and subtly adjusts his body language, turning his chest more towards Will to comfort him.

‘I am fully aware of Will’s situation,’ he says firmly, and Sutcliffe purses his lips. ‘Will knows the risks, and he understands that he must experience his next heat. He was managing his own medication for a while, but he is under my care now, as both my patient and my mate.’

Will scowls at his lap, twisting his hands together. Glances up in time to see Sutcliffe give Hannibal another disapproving look, and his darkness rises up in a wave that makes him want to snarl at the other Alpha.

‘Dr Lecter doesn’t try to control my biology,’ he growls. ‘He respects me enough to accept my decision to postpone my estrus cycle.’

‘Be that as it may,’ Sutcliffe says, a note of warning in his tone, ‘the complications that can arise from an excessively delayed heat cycle are astronomical, especially in male Omegas. When do you normally go into heat?’ 

Will huffs and shrugs.

‘I don’t know; September, maybe October time? It’s never been that regular.’

‘Do you regularly miss heats because of suppressants?’ Sutcliffe asks, sighing through his nose when Will nods. He makes a note on the form in front of him, and then gestures to them both. ‘And you’ve been bonded to Dr Lecter for how long?’ he asks, prompting a blush from Will and an answering smile from Hannibal.

‘Er, about two weeks,’ Will says quietly.

Sutcliffe’s eyebrows climb up to his hairline.

‘And your previous Alpha? What did they think of your, er, irregular heat cycles?’

Will shakes his head, but his voice fails him and it’s Hannibal who responds.

‘This is Will’s first pair bond.’

‘I see…’ Sutcliffe sighs and scratches his beard. ‘Well… I must say, this is very concerning, Mr Graham. The first thing I want to do is run a full blood panel and get you in for an MRI. We need to see what’s going on in that body of yours.’

Wil’s breath catches, and he grips tight to the armrest because he wants to reach for Hannibal’s hand, but he won’t let himself.

‘I assume you’ll be checking liver function and for swelling in the brain with the MRI,’ Hannibal says, giving voice to the questions trapped in Will’s head. He reaches out, his palm up, and Will grabs for him, squeezing tight because Hannibal knows just what he needs.

‘Exactly,’ Sutcliffe says. ‘Bloods should give us a reading of your hormone levels and give us an indication of when you’re due your next heat.’ He gives Will a hard look, his eyes narrowed, and adds, ‘You’re aware that, when you finally do experience a heat, it’s likely to be difficult, having been on blockers for so long? You might experience two consecutively, or one intermittently… There may be other complications as well, which Dr Lecter here will need to monitor. And, of course, you’re unlikely to become pregnant.’

Will grits his teeth and looks away from them both, refusing to acknowledge the assumption that, as a bonded Omega, he’ll obviously want to bear children as soon as possible.

‘We’re acutely aware,’ Hannibal replies, giving Will’s hand another squeeze. ‘No expectations.’

Will can’t help but narrow his eyes at him; he can feel Hannibal’s amusement at his anger and he yanks his hand back from his Alpha.

Fuck you.

‘Let’s get a nurse to take you down to the Assessment Unit,’ Sutcliffe continues, lifting his phone as he speaks. ‘And we can get started.’

***

Everything in the Omega Assessment Unit is warm and gentle, and Will hates that he likes the feel of the soft gown against his sensitive skin. He turns down the offer of numbing gel before his blood is taken, sickness curling in his stomach when the Beta nurse pats his hand and tells him he has nothing to worry about, that it’ll only hurt a little and that his Alpha is right there.

And Hannibal just smirks like a fucking Cheshire cat as Will glares at him, watching carefully as his Omega’s blood flows into three test tubes for analysis. He eyes the room with carefully hidden disdain, noting the lack of posters and healthcare advice leaflets. There is nothing here that could upset or distress the Omegas; it is assumed that such difficult information would be given to the Alpha only. Only floral paintings and pleasant scenes… All childlike naivety and subliminal messaging to remain passive.

‘There we go,’ the nurse coos, taping a wad of cotton wool to the crook of Will’s elbow as she withdraws the needle. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘Fine,’ Will mutters, looking away and bending his arm up, flexing his fist to prove that having a bit of blood drawn is no big deal, even for a delicate little Omega.

‘I’ll be back in a minute to take you through to the MRI,’ the nurse says, jotting Will’s details onto the labels and then smiling at him again. Will represses the urge to bare his teeth at her, but barely, and he rolls his eyes at Hannibal as soon as they’re alone.

‘This is ridiculous,’ he grumbles, sitting forwards in the padded chair, his feet dangling up off the floor because the nurse forgot to lower it. He leans forwards and rests his head on Hannibal’s chest when his Alpha comes to stand in front of him, breathing in the smell of cedarwood, cloves and musk to soothe his frayed nerves.

‘I must admit, I hadn’t realized how patronizing the world can be to an Omega,’ Hannibal murmurs, and Will hums, looking up at him with a sad smile. Hannibal frees one hand from under the coat draped over his arm and cups the side of his mate’s face, stroking his jaw with his thumb before dipping his head to kiss him.

Will moans at the feel and taste of him, grabbing a handful of Hannibal’s suit in both hands. Before he can get carried away and embarrass himself in the thin gown, Hannibal is pushing him back and resting their foreheads together.

‘Later,’ his Alpha purrs, and Will twitches at the promise. He clears his throat and smooths out Hannibal’s jacket just as the nurse comes back in, jumping down before she can fiddle with the bed. She looks surprised at his daring, but doesn’t comment on it because Hannibal quirks an eyebrow at her.

‘If you’ll follow me,’ she says, and leads them down the corridor to the MRI suite.

Hannibal stays a step behind Will, ostensibly to shield his Omega from prying eyes, but thoroughly enjoying the uninhibited view of Will’s backside moving in the silk boxers he’s been provided. Dr Sutcliffe greets them at the door, and the two Alphas go into the monitor room to the right whilst the nurse takes Will into the scanner room through the double doors.

‘Don’t you worry,’ she says kindly, holding out a plastic case with two earplugs in. ‘Your Alpha will be just outside, and it’ll be over before you know it.’

Will hums, too distracted to notice the condescension because this is it; if the scan doesn’t show anything, then Hannibal’s right – it’s mental illness, and that’s much scarier than anything physical.

He slots the silicone plugs into his ears and gets up onto the table, adjusting the gown before lying down. Takes a deep breath as he slots his head into the rest, trying to ignore his fluttering heart.

Please find something… Please let them find something…

He wonders how many times patients have lain here and thought the opposite.

In the monitor room, behind tinted glass, Hannibal feels an echo of Will’s nerves.

‘It’s prodrome,’ he says quietly. ‘Causing swelling in the right hemisphere of his brain.’

Sutcliffe glances up from his notes, giving Hannibal the same quizzical frown he’d worn many times at Hopkins.

‘That’s your pre-diagnosis?’ he teases and Hannibal nods, deadly serious.     

‘Yes.’

‘Based on…?’

‘Nuchal manipulation combined with light therapy and estrogen injections,’ Hannibal replies. ‘The inflammation is no doubt caused by the rapid detox of suppressants.’

Sutcliffe gapes at him. At the casual tone with which he talks about manipulating his Omega’s biology.

‘Okay… Can I ask why you’re doing that to him?’

Hannibal lifts one shoulder in a delicate shrug.

‘I, too, had my concerns about the length of time between Will’s heat cycles. About the possibility of organ damage. I wanted him to stop as soon as possible. Your blood tests will show that he’s due his heat any day now.’

Sutcliffe nods carefully, but he can’t keep from crossing his arms as he asks,

‘If you knew what was wrong with him, why didn’t you say something?’

Hannibal watches as the nurse raises the scanner bed and slides Will inside the machine.

‘I don’t want him to know,’ he says. ‘Will is very against experiencing heat. But I have to be sure as to the inflammation. His symptoms began slowly and gradually worsened, and, yesterday, I asked him to draw a clock.’

He withdraws his notebook as he speaks and opens it to show Sutcliffe.

‘This is what he drew.’

The Omega Specialist puts his glasses on and nods down at the lopsided scrawl.

‘Huh… Spatial neglect…’ Pulls them off again and taps the rim on his other hand. ‘Headaches, disorientation, hallucinations, altered consciousness… It’s all the tell-tale signs… His heat should fix it…’

Hannibal nods, his dark eyes gleaming.

‘It’s so rare to be able to study the psychological effect of Prodromal Phasing on an Omega’s mind,’ he says, deliberately thoughtful. And Sutcliffe, being Sutcliffe, bites.

‘It’s more rare, still, to be able to study the neurological effects,’ he agrees.

‘A doctor has to weigh the ultimate benefit of scientific study,’ Hannibal says, and he knows he’s got him. ‘Even in these times, we know so little about Omega prodrome, and its effect on their brain.’ He looks at Sutcliffe, and his fellow Alpha looks back at him. ‘There are great discoveries to be made.’

Sliding into the scanner is like slipping into a warm bath, and Will can feel the dark current swallow him. He’s under the bed, staring at the slats, waiting… Waiting for the Alpha to come back…

The MRI whirs and hums around him. Starts to bang, and his heart thumps with it, battering his ribcage and sending his temperature soaring.

She’s coming… Creeping closer, her flashlight beam lighting up the floor…

You’re not my Alpha.

He grabs her ankle. Hauls her towards him and she screams.

He turns his head, or maybe he just thinks he does… And she’s there… Her face split in two, teeth on display… The sliced muscles of her cheeks glistening pink…

‘He doesn’t smell like he’s approaching heat,’ Sutcliffe says, looking out through the mirrored glass to where Will is lying in the scanner, waiting to hear if it’s his mind or his body that’s seriously ill.

‘Scent suppressants,’ Hannibal replies, his eyes flicking to the screen where the images are starting to come through. ‘He was taking more than a recommended dose of estrus blockers before; now, he takes pheromone blockers, and no one is any the wiser.’

‘And his eyes? Prodromal Phasing typically presents with gold irises,’ Sutcliffe says. ‘I noticed his are still blue.’

Hannibal smiles, and withdraws a spare bottle of Inhibitor drops from his breast pocket. Sutcliffe takes with a smile and a shake of his head.

‘I must say, your dedication to your field of study is… impressive,’ he says, handing the bottle back. He sits down and points to the first scan. ‘There; you’re spot on. Right side of his brain is completely inflamed. It’s a rare complication of Prodromal Phasing… Until his heat hits, his symptoms are only going to get worse.’

‘I know,’ Hannibal says, memorizing the pattern of swelling in his mate’s brain. ‘It’s unfortunate for Will.’

Sutcliffe looks at him with a mixture of amazement and nervousness.

‘What do you have planned for me?’ he asks, and Hannibal curls his lips into a hungry smile.

‘Opportunity.’

***

‘We didn’t find anything abnormal,’ Sutcliffe says, and the words stab at Will like a knife. He stares at the brain scans on the screen, at the perfectly healthy blue and green patterns of a neutral Omega brain, and he can feel something tearing inside, something breaking as the last of his hope fades.

‘No vascular malformations, no tumors, no swelling or bleeding,’ Sutcliffe continues, his voice battering into Will until he feels bruised. ‘No evidence of stroke…’ The Omega Specialist is sat in his chair, reading from the pages before him. ‘Liver and kidneys are functioning as normal… There’s nothing wrong with you, physically.’

Will holds very still, his throat closed tight around the urge to whimper. To keen for his Alpha. Hannibal is standing just behind him, but Will can’t tell what he’s thinking or feeling. It’s making it difficult to control his fear. Makes him want to cry

Pathetic. Weak. Crazy.

He forces himself to swallow, to look at Dr Sutcliffe.

‘So… what I’m experiencing is… psychological?’ he asks quietly, his voice trembling. Sutcliffe glances at Hannibal and then sighs. Looks away as he replies,

‘Well, brain and body scans can’t diagnose, er, mental disorders… They can only rule out medical illnesses, like a tumor, which can have similar symptoms.’

Will is very quiet, staring off to the side, his shoulders bowed as fine tremors wrack him. Sutcliffe’s stomach clenches at the pain on the Omega’s face and he can’t help but add,

‘Look, we’ll run some more tests. We’ll take some more blood samples…’ He puts Will’s folder down on the side and notices Hannibal looking at him, one eyebrow slightly raised. Sutcliffe swallows and finishes heavily, ‘… But, I imagine they’ll prove just as inconclusive.’

Will nods, his throat bobbing around the lump threatening to dissolve into tears, and Hannibal steps closer. Rests a hand on his shoulder and dips his head down to kiss his cheek.

‘Let me take you home,’ he murmurs, and Will nods again. Takes his coat when his Alpha hands it to him and pulls it on with numb hands, not even noticing the hospital décor as he follows Hannibal out of the Omega Unit and back to the Bentley parked outside.

‘Talk to me, Will,’ Hannibal says, catching his mate’s hand when they get outside and pulling him to a stop. ‘Tell me how you feel.’

Will tries to jerk away, ducking his face so that Hannibal can’t see the tears welling in his eyes, and growls at him when the Alpha pulls him closer, trying to lift his chin.  

Not here!’ he snarls, shoving at Hannibal and stumbling down the curb to the passenger door. He gives the handle a pointed tug and Hannibal sighs, his breath steaming the cold air. Unlocks the car and watches as Will falls into the seat, pushing his glasses off as he scrubs at his face.

Will’s brain is spinning. He can’t breathe. He can’t… He can’t do this…

I was so sure… I was so certain it was something physical…

‘You need to accept this news, Will,’ Hannibal says, climbing behind the wheel and turning to his mate. ‘Fighting the truth will only make it harder. More painful.’

‘I know,’ Will mutters, staring at his bouncing knee. ‘Can… Can you just drive, please? I want to be alone for a while.’

‘Of course,’ Hannibal says, his face schooled to neutral as he starts the engine. He’d anticipated Will’s need for solitude after such bad news; counted on it, in fact, since the isolation will widen the cracks in his psyche further, but he hadn’t expected it to hurt as much as it does.

This isn’t about me, he reminds himself, driving through Baltimore, onto the interstate and then out towards Wolf Trap. This is for Will. To help him.

I’m going to free you, Will. Hold on just a little longer.

***

Sipping brandy before a crackling fire with Jack Crawford in his office that evening, Hannibal sets the next phase of his plan into motion.

‘You knew, from the moment you walked into his classroom, that you were putting Will in a potentially destructive environment,’ he says, allowing a little of his disapproval to color his tone. As anticipated, the other Alpha responds defensively to this.

‘I had eight college girls dead in Minnesota,’ he replies. ‘Will caught their killer for me.’

‘He also caught their killer’s disease,’ Hannibal says, and Jack frowns at the fire when Hannibal continues, ‘He can’t stop thinking about what it is to take a life.’

‘Well, I’d rather he go a little mad than other innocents lose their lives,’ Jack snaps. ‘And I think he would feel the same way.’

Hannibal sighs, controlling the urge to snarl at the ignorant Alpha.

‘Will is an innocent,’ he reminds him, and Jack sighs. Tilts his head and shrugs because he knows it’s true. As an Omega, he is pure.

‘Yes, he is,’ he says heavily. Shrugs again. ‘I mean, Will is genuine.’ His eyes light with a desperate fire. ‘He’ll survive anything I could put him through. He will always fight his way back to himself.’

‘Not always,’ Hannibal replies, and raises an eyebrow at him. ‘So far.’

Jack huffs and rolls his eyes. Consoles himself with more brandy and Hannibal has to crush the urge to smash it into his smug, over-confident face.

You could never protect my mate.

‘He saw an Omega Specialist today,’ he continues. ‘They found nothing wrong with him. He was… very upset by that.’

‘You’re saying he wanted something to be wrong?’ Jack asks, frowning at him in confusion. Hannibal allows a little of his grief to color his eyes red.

‘I think he wanted an answer that wasn’t mental illness,’ he says sadly, and watches as Jack tenses.

‘You think he’s mentally ill.’ It isn’t a question, but Hannibal replies as if it is.

‘The problem Will has is too many mirror neurons,’ he explains. ‘Our heads are filled with them when we are children, Omegas even more so. It’s supposed to help us socialize and then melt away. Omegas are known for having more than Alphas and Betas, but Will held on to all of his, which makes knowing who he is a challenge.’

Jack listens pensively, lips tight and brow furrowed. Hannibal shifts, leaning closer to the other Alpha, his dark eyes locked on to Jack’s face as he pushes the word deep inside his mind.

‘All Omegas are known for their empathy, Jack; they can sense vibrations and memories in a place. When you take him to a crime scene, the very air has screams smeared on it. In those places, he doesn’t just reflect. He absorbs.’

***

He’s not sure why he needs to go back, but after feeding the dogs that night, Will finds himself in the car, driving back out through the snow to Beth LeBeau’s house. Back to the crime scene.

He parks up and switches on his flashlight as he climbs out of the car. Uses his key to cut through the police tape over the front door and lets himself inside.

The house is cold and quiet. There’s a funny smell; like death and fear… Why are you afraid?

Wood creaks under his feet as he heads upstairs, and Will moves carefully, following the beam of his flashlight. Tries to follow the resonances but they’re weak… Not faded, just… Indistinct.

He flicks the light switch on the wall in the bedroom but it’s not working. Gazes around the room, at the dresser with the model horses on top, at the rocking chair with a soft cushion and throw… Across the bloodstain on the floor, dark red against the harsh white of his flashlight, smeared from where he stepped in it… Where he did it…

Panic claws at his throat and Will feels his shirt stick to his back as heat rolls through him. He tucks his flashlight under his armpit and checks his watch. A handle to hold onto…

‘It’s 10.36. I’m in Greenwood, Delaware…’ He looks around the room again, from the net curtains at the window to the side table, onto the bed… ‘My name is Will Graham.’

And then, as the beam of light drops to the leg of the bed, he sees a face, bruised and distorted, with two amber eyes staring out at him. Will’s throat closes up and his heart flips behind his ribs. His thoughts clamber on top of each other, realization jolting him like lightning.

What the fuck? That’s an Omega… That’s the killer… But… That’s an Omega…

He starts to lean down, to check that he’s not hallucinating, and the Omega withdraws with a whimper. Then, in a surprising show of strength, she shoves up from underneath the bed, flipping the heavy double mattress down on top of him as she bolts for the door.

Will brings his arm up, the torch beam swinging wildly, and staggers back, twisting in time to grab the Omega’s arm as she runs past. There’s a sickening tug and an entire strip of dead skin comes away, stinking of rotting flesh, and Will gags, stumbling as black and gold sparks swarm behind his eyes. His vision doubles and then caves in on itself. He gasps for breath, fire roaring up from the pit of his stomach. The current snags his legs and his shadow races through him as the sweet, sugary smell of his own slick rises from between his legs.

Hannibal…

He’s…

Will gasps, jolted back to reality as snow crunches under his feet. He’s… Where is he? He’s outside… It’s cold…

Steam curls from his sweaty skin, billowing in front of his face when he gasps for breath. His heart is thundering in his chest… Not pounding just… Strong. So strong…

He turns a circle, trying to get his bearings. The woods look familiar… He’s not gone far… He can still smell the rotting scent of the Omega…

Grabbing his watch, Will whimpers as he reads the time. He’s lost hours

A handle…

His voice catches when he speaks, and he can’t stop the shivers wracking him.

‘It’s 1.17am,’ he manages, still turning, still looking for the killer. For the Omega. ‘W-we’re in G-Greenwood… Delaware…’ At least, I think we are… I hope we are… ‘And my name is Will Graham.’

And then, because he knows, he knows what she fears, he raises his voice to shout,

‘And you’re alive! If you can hear me… You’re alive!’

***

It’s a trek back to the house, but once he’s there, Will calls Beverly Katz. She answers on the second ring and, when he says he thinks he encountered the killer at the crime scene, she comes straight over, arriving within the hour.

She looks tired, and she smells of her bed; her Omega’s sweet musk is all over her skin, and Will feels a pang of guilt at having dragged her away from her mate for this.

‘I’m sorry it’s so late,’ he says, leading her upstairs, retracing his steps as though he can remind himself of everything he’s forgotten simply by being there again. He huffs. ‘Or early, I suppose.’

‘That’s okay,’ Beverly says, following carefully, her hands in the pockets of her leather jacket. ‘Just… Why did you call me? Why not Jack? Why not the police?’

Embarrassment coils like a snake in his stomach, but Will wants to be honest with her. He can trust her with it.

‘I called you because…I’m not entirely sure what I saw was real.’

He offers her a twisted smile, fiddles with the flashlight and returns to staring at the bed as Beverly sighs, putting a hand on her hip. She considers him for a moment and he wonders if she’ll tell him she thinks he’s crazy, too, before her expression softens.

‘Then let’s prove it,’ she says simply. She wants to believe the best in him, and she’ll do whatever she can to help him.

‘I grabbed her arm,’ Will says, turning and miming the action as he recalls the event. ‘And an entire layer of dead skin separated from the underlying tissue, like… like she was wearing a glove.’

Beverly nods, no disgust or horror showing on her face, which Will appreciates.

‘That’s why she doesn’t bleed,’ she says thoughtfully, and Will hums.

‘Right; there’s no circulation. Nothing alive in the tissue to bind it.’

‘What did you do with it?’ Beverly asks, and Will frowns, trying to remember past the heat that had swallowed him whole.

‘… I don’t know,’ he replies, shrugging helplessly.

‘You can’t remember?’ Beverly asks, worry and disappointment warring on her face. She sighs and turns away, shaking her head as she thinks out loud. ‘Could be a staphylococcal infection… That or leprosy…’

‘The gold of her eyes was discolored,’ Will says, pacing back and forth as heat crackles up his spine. He’s been here too long; he needs to go home… to Hannibal. But he can’t… He’s sleeping alone tonight and tomorrow… He concentrates on the case again. Distracting himself from the emptiness in his chest. ‘She was malnourished… Jaundiced. Her liver was shutting down… She was… deranged.’

‘So, she mutilated an Alpha’s face because she thought it was a mask,’ Beverly says slowly, trying to understand the Omega’s motivation. Something clicks in Will’s mind and he takes a deep breath of realization.

‘She can’t see faces,’ he explains. He sighs. ‘If she did kill Beth LeBeau, she might not even know she did it.’

‘Then why did she come back?’ Beverly asks, looking around the room.

‘To convince herself she didn’t,’ Will suggests, grimacing again. Beverly tilts her head at him.

‘Is that why you came back?’ she asks, but the softness in her tone doesn’t stop his shadow from rearing up inside him, propelling Will to advance on her with a growl.

‘If I wasn’t clear on that issue, I know I didn’t kill Beth LeBeau,’ he says dangerously. Then, when Beverly doesn’t back down, just subtly squares her shoulders to remind him who the Alpha is between them, Will relents. ‘I just wanna know who did,’ he says quietly.

Beverly looks him up and down, a moment of hardness in her face, and then she nods.

‘Me too.’

‘Yeah…’ Will releases a slow breath, willing himself to calm down, to cool down, and ducks his head. His skin is crawling from standing up to Beverly, from challenging her like that. He’s exhausted and his whole body hurts…

Beverly considers him again, her dark eyes gleaming.

‘You’re the subject of a lot of speculation at the Bureau,’ she says.

‘Oh yeah?’ Will replies, trying for casual dismissal of gossip instead of panic, betrayed by the quiver in his voice.  Do they know? Do they know what I am? ‘What are they speculating?’

‘That Jack pushed you right up to the edge, and now you’re pushing yourself over,’ Beverly says, looking him right in the eye as she speaks.

Will doesn’t know how what to say to that. He pauses, looking for the right words, and then swallows.

‘This killer… can’t accept her reality,’ he mutters. Winces and shrugs. ‘I can occasionally identify with that.’ He looks up at the damp patch on the ceiling, at the wallpaper… The shimmer in the air when he breathes out. ‘That said,’ he continues, ‘I feel… relatively sane.’

He turns and begins to walk away, taking his time, feeling the pulse of heat deep inside him, the trickle of slick down his thighs and the throb of his crest on the back of his neck.

‘We should go,’ he murmurs, speaking over his shoulder to Beverly, who hasn’t yet made a move to follow him. ‘Get some rest before work. Thanks for, er, indulging me, though.’

‘Of course,’ the Alpha says. ‘And Will?’

‘Hm?’ Out on the landing, Will pauses to look back at her. ‘Yeah?’

Beverly sighs, noting the defensive hunch of his shoulders, the closed and guarded expression on his face. Shrugs and shakes her head.

‘Just… Don’t go over the edge, okay? It’s not worth it.’

Will looks at her, at the concern in her red-tinged eyes, and feels a flicker of something in his chest. Something warm; different from the heat melting his bones… Gratitude. Because she cares, without knowing that he’s an Omega she’s biologically designed to protect. She cares about him as a person.

But she doesn’t know that he doesn’t have a choice in the matter… That the ground he’s standing on is sloped and loose… That the pit is yawning, endless black and warm, as welcoming as the grave…

But he likes her, so he nods. Offers her a shaky smile to accompany the lie.

‘Both feet firmly on solid earth. I’m not going anywhere.’

***

The rasp of Hannibal’s ballpoint pen on the thick paper of his notebook hurts Will’s ears. All his senses seem heightened; he’s wearing another soft jumper, cut low at the neck so it doesn’t touch his crest, and he hasn’t sprayed himself with any Beta pheromones because he can’t stomach the smell of them today.

It’s a relief to be in his Alpha’s office, away from the noise and stench of the world, from all the emotions battering him. This room has become one of his sanctuaries, and he can’t remember a time when he didn’t feel safe here.

Sat at the big desk, he jots down the numbers of the clock face as he speaks.

‘It’s 7.05pm. I’m in Baltimore, Maryland. My name is Will Graham.’

‘Thank you for humoring me,’ Hannibal says, tidying up as Will performs the so-called “grounding” exercise. He picks up a couple of textbooks and places them beside him as his Omega turns the notebook and holds it out for him, schooling his expression to neutral when he sees the disjointed circle, lines and numbers tumbling off the edge of the page.

Will sits back in the chair, the leather still clinging to faint remnants of Hannibal’s scent and aftershave, releasing it around him with the movement. He places his hands on the armrests, open and relaxed. As worried as he is, he can’t keep hold of the tension when he’s with his Alpha. It just… melts away, because he knows he’s protected. He can let go of everything and be completely honest.

‘I feel like I’m seeing a ghost,’ he murmurs, and Hannibal glances down at him from inspecting the clock.

‘Regarding this killer, or yourself?’ he asks, and Will raises his eyebrows.

‘Both.’

‘Well, she’s real,’ Hannibal replies. ‘You know she’s real. There’s evidence.’ He removes his pen and closes the notebook, securing it with its elastic band as he speaks. ‘When you found her, your sanity did not leave you.’

‘Time did,’ Will points out, rolling his head back to watch his Alpha move. Hannibal looks down at him, a sadness lingering in his gaze.

‘You lost time again?’

Will closes his eyes, nodding almost imperceptibly as his lips curve into a tiny, bitter smile. Hannibal moves again, slipping one hand into his pocket, the other fiddling with items on his desk as he continues,

‘I spoke to Dr Sutcliffe. We briefly discussed the particulars of your visit. Would you like to discuss them with me?’

Will scoffs.

‘There are no “particulars”,’ he replies. ‘He didn’t find anything wrong.’

‘Then we keep looking for answers,’ Hannibal says, withdrawing his scalpel and pencils from beneath his sketchbook. ‘Perhaps you would permit me to run some tests of my own.’

A thrill of fear, tainted with bitter resignation, settles like a razor on the back of his neck, and Will rubs a hand over his mouth and jaw, feeling the rasp of beard beneath his fingers. He’d always admired Hannibal’s restraint when it came to studying him and his empathy disorder; seems the Alpha may just have been playing the long game.

‘You wouldn’t publish anything about me, would you, Dr Lecter?’

Hannibal pauses, and glances at Will as he replies,

‘If there were ever anything that might be of therapeutic value to others, I’d abstract it in a form that would be totally unrecognizable.’

Will watches him, a thumb still balanced on his lower lip as if not sure whether to chew the nail or not, and then he sighs and turns away, more than done with this conversation. It makes him feel dirty.

‘Just do me a favor and publish it posthumously,’ he says, staring over at the far side of the room.

‘After your death or mine?’ Hannibal asks, not looking up from straightening his pencils.

‘Whichever comes first,’ Will replies, swiveling back to face his Alpha. He’s never seen Hannibal so tense; never seen him fiddle so much. It makes him feel guilty, because he knows it’s his condition, his illness, causing Hannibal’s distress. The thought almost makes him huff a laugh, though the sound shrivels and dies before it even reaches his throat, and his expression remains fixed in a sad, pensive stare.

You’re not the only one with a protective instinct, Alpha.

‘Have you considered Cotard’s syndrome?’ Hannibal asks, and Will looks up, curious. ‘It’s a rare delusional disorder, in which a person believes he or she is dead,’ the Alpha explains, still obsessively tidying his desk.

Will snorts.

‘Are you talking about the killer, or me?’

‘The killer, of course,’ Hannibal replies.

‘Of course,’ Will says bitterly. He sits forward, squinting through the pain of another headache as he tries to concentrate through the hot sludge in his brain. Why is this so difficult? ‘Um… She couldn’t see the victim’s face. Or she was trying to uncover it.’

Hannibal, now checking the notebook in which Will drew his clock face, speaks down to the blank pages.

‘The inability to identify others is associated with Cotard’s. It’s a misfiring in the areas of the brain which recognize faces, and also in the amygdala, which adds emotion to those recognitions. It’s more common in Omegas than anyone else.’ He leans forward, resting his hands on the desk, and looks right into Will’s eyes. ‘Even those closest to her would seem like imposters.’

‘So… she reached out to someone she loved, someone she trusted… Felt betrayed… Became violent…’ Will’s heart sinks and his eyes sting with tears at the pain of it understanding. ‘Her Alpha. God… They were bonded… She went home…’

‘She can’t trust anything, or anyone she once knew to be trustworthy,’ Hannibal says heavily. ‘Not even her own mate.’ He looks sad as he adds, ‘Her mental illness won’t let her.’

Will stares up at him, his brows drawing together as fear tickles behind his ribcage. His shadow writhes, sliding through the cracks and filling him with darkness, smothering him until the air grows thin.

‘I trust you,’ he says, reaching across the desk for Hannibal’s hands. But his Alpha withdraws before he can touch, resuming his meticulous neatening.

‘For now,’ Hannibal says quietly, the sound of it tearing something inside Will, forcing him to stand, to make his way around the desk and duck his head to try to look at Hannibal’s downcast face.

Always,’ he promises, reaching for him again and taking hold of Hannibal’s right hand with both of his own. Hears his Alpha sigh and has to swallow down a whimper. He needs to be strong for his mate right now. Hannibal’s always strong for him; now it’s his turn. ‘You said it yourself; we’re going to keep looking for answers, right?’

Hannibal hums, but he looks away, his back rigid, and Will can feel the distance between them and he hates it. Hates how fragile it makes him feel.

He steps closer, pulling Hannibal’s arm around his waist so that his Alpha can rest his hand on the small of his back. Reaches up to cup Hannibal’s face, stroking a high cheekbone and the creases in the corner of his eye.

‘I want you to do something for me,’ he says, and swallows down his apprehension when Hannibal glances at him, curious. ‘I want you to hurt me.’ He presses a finger to Hannibal’s lips when the other man starts to protest. ‘No. Listen. You need to. You need to take control and I trust you. You know me better than anyone. You’re inside my head, all the time.’

‘Will –’

Hannibal.’ Will nudges him, encouraging Hannibal to lean back against the desk and so that Will can straddle his thigh. ‘You’ll never say it to me, but I know a part of you likes seeing me in pain.’ He smiles at the spark in his Alpha’s eyes, the surprise and pride at how clever his Omega is. Dips his head and looks up at Hannibal from under deliberately coy eyebrows, making himself look smaller, weaker… deferential. ‘You like the power it gives you. You like being the one to comfort me, and protect me from it.’ He leans in, brushing the words onto Hannibal’s lips with his own. ‘I do, too… So make me suffer.’

I am making you suffer, Hannibal thinks, turning his head to kiss Will’s fingertips before he closes his eyes and tilts his face into the caress. But he appreciates the gesture, so he lets go of the desk and pulls Will up against his body, their chests and hips flush together, nudging Will to tip his head back. Fixes his teeth, very carefully, over his windpipe and then bites, hard enough to drag a broken gasp from his Omega and make his scent thicken with desire.

Alpha…

Will slides both hands through Hannibal’s silky hair, holding him close, encouraging the dominant grip, and arches his spine so that he’s as open and vulnerable as he can make himself. Shudders when Hannibal pulls his teeth from the indents in his throat and gazes into his face, at the red rings blazing around dark, molten brown irises…

‘Hannibal,’ he breathes, yanking his Alpha in for a desperate kiss. He rocks against his hip, dropping his hands to Hannibal’s shoulders and holding tight as fire scorches him. ‘I’ll say please,’ he whispers, and, when Hannibal’s breath catches in his throat, he knows he’s hooked him.

Will gives him one last, lingering kiss, and Hannibal’s chest tightens at what his mate is offering him, but he can’t find words when his Omega takes a step back and sinks to his knees, arms out to his sides with his wrists and palms up in offering.

‘You can’t control what’s going to happen to me,’ Will says, speaking simply and calmly despite his racing heart. He’s nervous, but he wants to look after his mate, and this is something he can do. Something he has utter power over. ‘And that scares you.’ He tilts his head even further back and keens for his Alpha. ‘But you can control me.’

Hannibal’s eyes flash crimson and he curls his lips back from his teeth in a snarl. Will doesn’t hide his shiver, doesn’t stop his whimper, but he holds very still as the Alpha approaches.

Hannibal nuzzles his hair, moving around him, inspecting him, before coming to a stop behind him. Slides a hand down around the front of his throat and grips tight, hauling Will back against his legs in a choke. Owning him. Threatening his life.

Surrender or die.

Will’s stomach flips and he looks up at his mate, at the starving, dangerous expression on the Alpha’s face.

‘I’m yours,’ he whispers, trembling fingers reaching down to pull his sweater up. Hannibal growls again and changes his grip so that he’s got Will by the jaw as the Omega struggles to get his top off. Lets go for just long enough that the soft wool can slide over Will’s head and then grabs a fistful of curls, tugging hard as he moves to stand in front of his mate.

‘Show me,’ he says, his voice rasping with rut hormones. Watches as Will hurries to unbutton his suit trousers and then yanks his Omega’s head closer to his throbbing erection, groaning as Will purrs at the rough handling and nuzzles him, sucking up his scent.

Yours,’ Will moans, tingles chasing each other up and down his spine. His crest feels swollen, pulsing with his heartbeat and itching to be bitten. He shoves Hannibal’s boxers down and moans as he frees his Alpha’s length, leaning in to lick and kiss across the sensitive tip, squirming as slick dribbles down his thighs at his enjoyment of the salty taste.

Hannibal winds both hands around Will’s head, holding him close, shuddering as the Omega swallows him down in one smooth, eager motion. He purrs at the feel of hot wetness all around his tender flesh, at the muscles in Will’s throat closing and stroking him.

Will purrs again, adding vibrations to the rasp of tongue and the softness of his mouth. Holds onto Hannibal’s hip with one hand as the other reaches down to cup and roll his Alpha’s balls. He stares up at him, pouring all his love for him into his eyes, and tears well when he sees gold fire glow around Hannibal’s face.

I’m yours.

‘Mine,’ Hannibal growls, thrusting into Will’s mouth, holding him in place as he fucks himself on the feeling of owning him, completely. It’s dizzying, and he can feel climax building quickly. He pants, trying to maintain eye contact, to watch Will’s surrender, but he has to squeeze his eyes shut as shockwaves of pleasure rip through him. It’s a brutal orgasm, hard and fast, and he staggers, leaning back against the desk, releasing Will’s head to brace himself because his thighs are trembling too much to hold him.

Will falls forwards, hugging Hannibal tight, nuzzling and kissing him as he softens, licking his lips to catch every drop of seed given to him. He’s floating in heat, drunk on Hannibal’s pleasure, his brain melting in his skull until all he knows is Hannibal, all he sees is Hannibal…

‘Alpha,’ he whispers, spreading his hands over Hannibal’s hips, rubbing his nose through the coarse hair in front of him. ‘Hannibal…

Hannibal hums, waiting to catch his breath. Plays with Will’s hair, basking in the realization that Will really means it; he’s entirely Hannibal’s to hurt, to fuck, to devour. He wonders if it’s always like this with Omegas; if so, it’s no wonder they’re so coveted.

‘Stand up, Will,’ he says, watching as Will hurries to obey, cheeks flushed and lips swollen, hair a mess from Hannibal’s grip and eyes bright with fever. Good enough to eat, Hannibal thinks, and sees Will quiver in response to the emotion he can sense. Hannibal wets his lips and then flicks his fingers at Will’s lower half. ‘Strip.’

Will kicks off his boots and pulls his trousers and boxers down his legs, removing them with his socks and shoving everything to the side. He’s hard, but he makes no move to cover himself; forcing his hands to stay by his sides. He can feel the heat pouring off him, rising around him until he’s sweating with it, but he shivers because Hannibal is staring at him with that same hungry, dangerous look on his face, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.

‘Touch yourself,’ Hannibal murmurs, undoing his shirt cuffs ready to remove his own clothes. Sees Will’s pupils widen and sweat roll down his forehead as the Omega takes hold of himself and begins to stroke, hard down, gently up, gathering pearly wetness from the tip to smooth the friction. Hannibal smirks, shrugging out of his suit jacket and draping it over the desk, followed by his waistcoat. He undoes his tie, running it through his fingers, locking eyes with Will and purring when the Omega shudders at the memory of the other day…

Hannibal waits, his darkness curling in the air between them, swelling when Will’s shadow slips free of its chains and joins him. Baring his teeth in challenge, Will breaks the command and steps closer, still touching himself, reaching for the silk with his other hand.

Please…’ he purrs, daring Hannibal to hurt him. To punish him.

It’s a perfect excuse, and Hannibal’s eyes blaze red as he snarls at his mate’s disobedience. He lunges forward and grabs Will by the throat, squeezing tight enough to feel Will’s pulse flutter beneath his palms. Pulls the Omega close and then shoves him down to his knees again, knocking his legs wide apart with his foot.

‘Arms out,’ he growls, keeping his right hand at Will’s throat as he twists the other into his hair. Jerks Will’s head back, making it hard for him to breathe, and then claims his mouth in a bruising kiss, placing his leg just between Will’s thighs so that the tip of the Omega’s length brushes the fabric of his trousers.

Will shudders, clenching his hands into fists as he holds them out to either side of his body, his hips jumping at the feel of soft wool against his throbbing flesh. But Hannibal shifts away, and he can’t follow because the grip on his curls is too tight, leaving him aching and desperate. He can feel the skin around his neck smarting; there’ll be bruises where Hannibal’s fingers and nails have dug into him, and his scalp is stinging from the hard tugs. He squirms, slick making his ass cheeks slippery, and moans into Hannibal’s lips. When his Alpha breaks the kiss, he falls forward at the loss, but he does nothing to stop the pressure against his windpipe, choking him, cutting off his air.

Alpha…

He stares up at Hannibal, rewarded with another purring growl from his mate at the display, before his Alpha pushes him up again, helping him balance.

‘Very good, Will.’

Hannibal strokes his Omega’s hair, soothing him, and then wraps the tie around his eyes, blinding him.

His sight disappears and, with it, his control over his body. Panic snatches his breath for a second before Will tells himself to relax… This is exactly what he asked for. Exactly what Hannibal needs to do right now…

Hannibal hears Will gasp before his muscles lock rigid as he freezes in place, paralyzed by his Alpha. He leans down to nuzzle Will’s jawline, savoring the sight of him, utterly helpless, hands busy undoing his belt and slipping it free of his trousers as he kisses his mate’s cheeks and throat, coming to rest over his racing pulse.

‘That’s it, Will,’ he breathes. ‘Do you trust me?’

‘I trust you,’ Will whispers, slurring the words because he can’t keep from sinking into the shadows, his control slipping away. His shoulders are starting to ache from holding his arms out to the sides, and pain laps at his consciousness, but he’s so warm and safe… Will can feel himself wading into the dark current, filling his body with golden heat… All he knows is the thick, rich scent of his Alpha... He needs him… He loves him… ‘Hannibal…?’

‘I’m here,’ Hannibal murmurs, walking around to stand behind him again and looping his belt like a noose around Will’s throat. He pulls it tight, letting the metal buckle pinch at his crest. Will whimpers, but Hannibal can smell the sugary sweetness of his slick getting stronger. Sees his length twitch at the threat and groans at how beautiful his mate is.

He hauls Will back against his legs, winding the leather around his hand to use as a handle, giving himself total control over Will’s ability to breathe. Chokes him for a moment, reminding his Omega how very vulnerable he is. He can feel the heat radiating from Will, and he knows he’s fast disappearing into prodrome… The intensity of the session could throw him into heat, but it’s worth the risk – Hannibal wants to take what Will has offered him. He wants it all.

Leaning down, he traces the fingertips of his free hand over Will’s shaking arms, humming with satisfaction when the Omega whines a voiceless plea to lower them.

‘You’re going to ache later, Will,’ he chuckles, nipping at Will’s earlobe and then suckling at the skin just beneath. ‘And you’re going to wonder why.’

‘Hannibal…’

‘Tell me, Will; would you do anything for me?’ Hannibal asks, sliding his hand over Will’s tense chest, stroking and squeezing his nipple.

Yes,’ Will gasps, mewling when Hannibal yanks on the belt again, strangling him. He relaxes his hands, palms up in surrender, and a tear slides down his cheek when his Alpha finally lets him breathe.

‘Would you kill for me?’ Hannibal whispers, bringing his hand around from Will’s chest, over his ribs and through the sweat on his back, up to his burning hot crest. Will’s sharp cry cuts off as the belt snaps tight again, and Hannibal growls, brushing and squeezing the ridges as he counts the seconds. He smells when Will’s scent suddenly changes, thickening to a rich syrup that makes his mouth water, and then he relaxes, allowing his Omega to gulp enough air to respond.

Yes.’

Will’s voice is hoarse and flat. He’s gone; lost to pre-heat hormones, and although his arms are still shaking where he’s holding them out, the rest of him is utterly relaxed.

All mine, Hannibal thinks, placing his hand flat between Will’s shoulder blades, feeling tendons grind as he holds position. Complete submission.

He gives Will a second’s notice and then pulls the leather up, forcing him to stretch his neck and back up, leaving him just enough air that he won’t pass out. Won’t die.

‘And do you still want me to hurt you?’ he purrs, locking his teeth around the burning ridges of Will’s crest. He feels the other man’s throat move beneath the belt as Will gulps at the promise of the bite to come; at the pain… And then, just when he thinks he’ll change his mind, he hears Will speak.     

‘Yes.’

***

Where is he?

Will comes back to himself slowly, curled up in a nest of soft throws and blankets. He knows these smells… Dogs and grass… Fish and Hannibal

He’s home. In his bed… His nest, which Hannibal has clearly added to, given the amount of silk lined blankets and fur throws… Will huffs a laugh, but it quickly turns into a wince when he tries to roll over, to look for his Alpha.

Every part of him is throbbing agony in time to his heartbeat. How…?

Will runs shaking fingers over himself, frowning when he only finds a few scratches, welts and bruises; nothing that should be causing this level of pain.

Where’s Hannibal?

He whimpers when he moves, flexing the cramp from his calf muscles, tears springing to his eyes when he tries to sit up. His crest flares and he cries at how sharp the sting is. His arms go out from under him and he shudders as he snuggles back into the mattress.

Safe. He’s safe here, in his house, in Wolf Trap.

Will fights the exhaustion dragging his eyelids down and tries to remember what happened. He’d been with Hannibal… In his office… They’d been talking about Beth LeBeau’s killer… Her Omega… And then…

I asked Hannibal to hurt me.

Will snorts at his own stupidity, and tucks a blanket closer to his chin, soothing himself with Hannibal’s smell. His Alpha must have scent-marked the bedding, or laid down with him for a while… Will isn’t sure, but it doesn’t matter, just as long as he can smell the other man near him. On him. In him…

I asked him to hurt me… I asked him to leave me… So I could sleep alone…

He slips into a fitful doze, snatches of half-eaten girls and the ebony stag stabbing at his temples until his head pounds. He misses Hannibal; his skin is raw and every little sound jerks him from sleep.

Sweat beads on his skin, trickling like tears down flushed cheeks and soaking into the Egyptian cotton sheets beneath him.

Hannibal…

Will whimpers, clutching at the soft fleece around him, shaking hard enough to make his teeth chatter. His brain is on fire; his bones are blackening, cracking and spilling ash into his blood…

He rolls his hips, panting at the cramp inside him as he tightens around nothing.

Lost to prodromal nightmares, he has no idea he’s being watched by a pair of bloodshot amber eyes staring out from a bruised and distorted face… No idea there’s another Omega at the window, whining at the pain he’s in…

Alpha…

***

‘We matched tissue samples from the crime scene to your daughter’s medical records.’

Sat at the meeting table in his office at Quantico the next day, Jack explains to Mrs Madchen how her Omega daughter was identified as the killer responsible for Beth LeBeau’s death.

‘I was almost relieved when I got that phone call,’ Mrs Madchen says, tears trickling down her cheeks. ‘I thought that you’d found her and that she’d be… um…’ She sniffs, pain brightening her eyes at what she’d thought of saying. ‘Would be at peace…’

‘You thought she might be dead,’ Will says, looking at her from the other side of the glass table. He’s wearing one of his dark shirts, loosely tucked into his trousers so that it doesn’t rub against his bruises and welts. Sprayed himself with Beta scent and slipped his glasses on because the gold in his eyes won’t darken today. Maybe he needs stronger drops, or maybe it’s just because Jack is sitting right beside him, smothering him with his Alpha stench…

Mrs Madchen laughs, but it’s a bitter, desperate sound, and fresh tears drip onto her light blouse.

‘Well, that makes me sound like a horrible mother,’ she replies, and Will looks down, hating how inept he can be sometimes. How cruel. ‘I tried to be a good mom,’ the Beta continues. ‘I tried to do everything that I could.’ She shakes her head. ‘I just don’t want her to be in pain.’

‘No one’s doubting your dedication to your daughter, Mrs Madchen,’ Jack says. And then, because he hasn’t realized it himself, he asks, ‘How well did she know Beth LeBeau?’

‘They were bonded,’ Mrs Madchen replies, sounding surprised by the question. ‘They were best friends; they went to school together…’ She grimaces. ‘Until it was unsafe for Georgia to go to school… But Beth always came to see her… And then, when Georgia was sixteen and she had her first heat… Beth bonded her.’

Jack takes a deep breath, visibly shaken at the idea of an Omega attacking and killing her mate.

‘When did you first recognize that your daughter was struggling with mental illness?’ he asks.

Mrs Madchen’s eyes cloud over and she sighs.

‘When she was nine,’ she says. ‘And she told me that she was thinking about killing me… and said that she was already dead.’

Gritting his teeth to keep from shivering at the exhaustion and pain rolling from the woman across the table from him, Will can’t help but ask,

‘What sort of symptoms did she have?’

Mrs Madchen bows her head, her shoulders hunched and spilling brown hair around her jaw.

‘She had seizures, hallucinations… psychotic depression.’

Jack, sensing Will’s personal interest in his question, glances at him. An Alpha, concerned for the Omega in his care… Will refuses to look at him. I know I’m not dead.

Mrs Madchen laughs again, more tears welling in her eyes.

‘I was grateful when she was catatonic,’ she confesses.

‘Was she ever violent?’ Jack asks, drawing her attention again. She nods.

‘Sometimes.’

Will takes a breath, trying to get his erratic heartbeat under control. Ignores the way his palms are sweating and his leg is bouncing.

‘What did her doctors say?’

‘Not much,’ the Beta replies. ‘She spent months at a time in the hospital… Specialist Omega care… Beth paid for most of it. Blood tests and brain scans, and all of them inconclusive.’

Fear slips like ice down his spine, and his crest prickles. Will blinks, trying to ground himself, and stares down at the photograph of Georgia again… Taken the day after Beth bonded her… She looks so happy… So normal

‘They could never tell me what was wrong,’ Mrs Madchen says wearily.

‘And you still don’t know?’ Will asks, frowning at her. The Beta shrugs, shakes her head and fights a sob, her voice wobbling as she replies,

‘They’d just say it was this or it was that… They would just…’ She sighs and shakes her head. ‘They were just always guessing. And, Beth and I, we did our own research… I wrote down every word that the doctors said… The different terminology… Learned a lot.’ She nods to herself, wiping dampness from her cheeks. ‘But mostly, what I learned, is… um… how little is actually known about mental illness. Especially in Omegas.’

Will can’t help but look at her, at the devastation this disease has caused… At the way it’s ripped a family apart…

‘All they know,’ Mrs Madchen concludes, ‘Is that it’s rarely about finding solutions… It’s just more about managing expectations.’

Will stares at her, but he doesn’t see her. He sees himself, a shaking, screaming wreck in a padded cell, wearing a crest brace to keep him calm and pliant when Hannibal comes to visit… Sees the regret on his Alpha’s face… The unspoken wish that he’d never bonded him…

I can’t do that to him, Will thinks. I won’t… I’d rather kill myself than let that happen.

***

After escorting Mrs Madchen from the building, Will walks slowly back to Jack’s office. The Alpha is waiting for him, leant back against one of the leather meeting chairs, anger and worry etched into the lines of his face. He looks up when the Omega lets himself in, and Will stands a distance from him, his hands curled into fists in the pockets of his trousers.

‘Managing your expectations?’ he asks bitterly. Jack rolls his eyes at him.

Changing my expectations,’ he replies, and Will ducks his head; a silent apology.

Jack sighs.

‘Y’know, when Miriam Lass died, I had to come back here to this office to pack up… But, that got to be too overwhelming. I thought I should just leave, seeing as how I’d gotten a trainee, an Omega, killed.’ He straightens, coming closer to Will as he continues, ‘That lack of leadership on my part, that was my responsibility.’

‘You didn’t kill Miriam Lass,’ Will replies, holding very still as the Alpha’s warm, musky scent wraps around him. Jack’s worried; he looks angry, but it’s not at Will. He’s protective of Will, and it makes Will want to defend him, even from himself. ‘The Chesapeake Ripper did.’

‘It didn’t feel that way to me,’ Jack explains. ‘I pulled her out of a classroom, like I pulled you out of a classroom.’

Will scoffs at the parallel and shakes his head.

‘Oh… N-… She was a student; I’m a teacher.’

‘You’re both Omegas,’ Jack says, barely lowering his voice. Will flinches, but the Alpha plows on, regardless. ‘I’m still just as responsible for you as I was for her.’

You’re not my Alpha, Jack, Will thinks, his shadow swarming him with darkness. He can feel his eyes itching, the gold thickening, and he lifts his chin defiantly.

‘I’ll take my own responsibility.’

Jack’s eyes flash red at the challenge.

‘Well not from me you won’t!’ he growls. ‘We can do it together. I broke the rules with Miriam. I encouraged her to break the rules; I am breaking the rules with you now.’

‘By letting an unstable agent do field work?’ Will snaps.

Special Agent,’ Jack reminds him, the reminder like a slap in the face that makes him turn his head away. ‘That means you represent the FBI. You still represent me.’

‘Have I misrepresented you, Jack?’ Will demands, his throat closing up around what feels suspiciously like a whine, his crest pulsing with heat as a headache slices through the top of his skull. He can’t deal with this right now.

No, no… But you have me curious,’ Jack replies. ‘Why are you still here, when the both of us know that this is bad for you?’

Will looks away, fighting his instinct to submit, to let tears fall from his aching eyes, and squashes the urge to drop to his knees.

‘Do you want me to quit?’ he snarls.

No,’ Jack replies, shaking his head. ‘No; you had an opportunity to quit. You didn’t take it; why not?’

Will hesitates, trying to find the words, but Jack continues before he can speak.

‘Let me tell you what I think. I think that the work you do here has created a sense of stability for you.’

Will nods, considering this, and Jack takes it as tacit agreement.

‘Stability is good for you, Will. All Omegas need it.’

‘Stability requires strong foundations, Jack,’ Will replies, pulling his glasses off because he just doesn’t want anything extra on his body right now. ‘My moorings are built on sand.’

‘I’m not sand,’ Jack argues. ‘I am bedrock!’ He shakes his head in frustration. ‘When you doubt yourself, you don’t have to doubt me, too.’ His expression softens a fraction. ‘I’m your Alpha, Will. For as long as you’re unbonded and you work for me, I am that person for you.’

I have an Alpha

Will can feel bile scratch at his throat, his body responding to Jack’s claim as if the other Alpha had put his hands on him… He’s Hannibal’s

But he can’t say that, because he doesn’t want Jack to know; doesn’t want him to stop him from spending time with Hannibal, professionally. He ignores the sickness churning in his gut and forces a single nod, blinking away the stinging in his eyes. I’m not betraying Hannibal… I’m his… All his…

Jack nods, and gives him once last sigh of frustration before he turns away. Will waits for just long enough that it doesn’t look suspicious and then hurries from the room, bolting into the nearest bathroom and dry heaving into a toilet before the door has even stopped swinging.

Sinking to the floor, he hugs his knees to his chest and rests his sweaty forehead on his forearms. Tries to ground himself in the memory of his Alpha’s hands, his face, his lips… But he’s wearing scent-deadening spray and Hannibal hasn’t touched or washed these clothes… All he can smell is himself, his vomit and urine.

A whimper gets stuck in his throat and he scrubs at his cheeks. Fumbles to pull his cell phone from his pocket and stares at the one photograph he lets himself have of Hannibal… An image downloaded from the society pages of the Baltimore Times, of Hannibal at the charity opera…

Stroking the screen with a forefinger, Will rests his aching head back on the tiled wall and finally lets the tears flow.

I’m yours… Alpha… I promise. I’m all yours.

The evening can’t come soon enough.

***

Hosting Dr Sutcliffe for dinner before Will comes to spend the night, Hannibal has chosen to prepare a special dish for one of his friend’s last meals.

‘The jamón Ibérico,’ he announces, presenting the leg on a chrome stand in the middle of the dining table.

Sitting beside him, Sutcliffe chuckles as his friend carves wafer thin slices of pork from the haunch.

‘Still love your little rare treats, don’t you, Hannibal?’ he teases, smoothing out his napkin and laying it over his lap, ready to eat. ‘The more expensive and difficult they are to obtain, the better.’

‘It’s a distinction that adds an expectation of quality,’ Hannibal explains, but Sutcliffe scoffs.

‘Not always,’ he replies, taking a sip of his wine.

Leaving the carved meat on the leg for his fellow Alpha to help himself, Hannibal returns to his own seat as he speaks.

‘Well, for Ibérico, only a few thousand are selected each year,’ he explains. ‘But is the pig, once fattened and slaughtered and air-cured, really superior to any other pig?’ He gestures to the joint with his knife. ‘Or is it simply a matter of reputation preceding product?’

Sutcliffe nods thoughtfully, and then shrugs.

‘It’s irrelevant,’ he says, holding up a forkful of pork. ‘If the meat-eater thinks it’s superior, then belief determines value.’ And he shoves it all into his mouth, moaning softly at the taste and texture as it melts onto his tongue.

‘A case of psychology overriding neurology,’ Hannibal replies, lifting his own forkful to his mouth and chewing slowly to savor the flavors of Iberian ham and olives.

‘So, we know how Ibérico gets his pigs,’ Sutcliffe continues, narrowing his eyes at Hannibal. ‘How did you get yours?’

Suppressing a growl, feeling his eyes itch with the need to flash red at the casually tossed insult to his mate, Hannibal gives himself a moment before replying,

‘Are you referring to Will Graham?’

Sutcliffe considers him, sensing the offence his quip has caused. Softens his tone as he adds,

‘We know you’re fond of the rarified.’ He returns to scooping olives and pork slivers onto his fork. ‘What makes him so rare?’

Hannibal chooses his words carefully.

‘Even for an Omega, Will has a remarkably vivid imagination,’ he says. His expression softens as he thinks of the darkness and poetic violence that his mate is capable of conjuring. ‘Beautiful… Pure empathy, beyond anything I’ve seen before, even among his caste. Nothing he can’t understand, and that terrifies him.’

Sutcliffe frowns at him, confused by the pride and affection warming Hannibal’s tone.

‘So you set his mind on fire?’

‘Imagination is an interesting accelerant for a heat,’ Hannibal replies.

Sutcliffe pokes at more ham, sighing before he asks,

‘So… how far does this go? When he has his heat, with the swelling in his brain… do you put out the fire, or do you let him burn?’

Hannibal sets his cutlery down and swallows, looking at Sutcliffe calmly.

‘Will is my mate.’ He allows a tiny smile to curl his lips. ‘We will put out the fire… when it’s necessary.’

‘He has asked for more tests,’ Sutcliffe replies, and Hannibal nods. Lifts his glass of Rioja as he speaks.

‘Now that we have confirmed what it is, it’ll be easier to hide from him.’

Sutcliffe watches as Hannibal inhales the scent before taking a slow, delicate sip. Unease prickles the back of his neck, and he lowers his fork.

‘How often does he sleep alone?’ he asks, prompting Hannibal to raise an eyebrow at him. ‘For a pair so recently bonded, you seem to spend a great deal of time apart.’

‘Will values his independence,’ Hannibal replies. ‘I want to give that to him.’

And you know the isolation will increase his fear, hastening his heat,’ Sutcliffe says, prompting Hannibal to smile.

‘Will responds more favorably to anger than to fear,’ he replies. ‘He deals with fear every day; he’s become accustomed at managing it.’

‘He’s quite unusual, for an Omega,’ Sutcliffe comments, resuming eating. ‘You say you met him in the field? How is that possible?’

Hannibal spears an olive with his fork and holds it up to the light, inspecting the sheen of oil on its skin.

‘He works with an unorthodox Alpha,’ he replies, and Sutcliffe chuckles.

‘And he’s mated to another one.’

Popping the olive into his mouth, Hannibal chews thoroughly before looking at Sutcliffe again.

‘When you conduct further tests on Will, what will you tell him?’ he asks.

‘Well… I think they’re going to be inconclusive again,’ the other Alpha replies. ‘Perhaps some elevated adrenaline… Something caused by stress, no doubt.’

Hannibal’s eyes gleam, and he nods slowly.

‘I estimate five, maybe six days until his heat,’ he says. ‘You can allay your fears, doctor. Soon, this will be nothing but a bad memory for Will.’

***

Letting himself into the house, Will finds Hannibal tidying up in the dining room, and drapes his jacket over a chair so that he can help his Alpha carry plates through to the kitchen. Pauses when he sees the leg of pork and platters of half-finished food on the counters, raising his eyebrows at Hannibal.

‘You cooked all this for Sutcliffe?’ he asks, smiling despite the pain in his temples and the churning heat in his gut. ‘You’re aware this is a classic example of Alpha posturing?’

‘A simple case of overindulgence,’ Hannibal replies, grinning at his Omega’s disapproval. ‘Have you eaten?’

‘Er, no, actually.’ Will grimaces, and rubs the back of his head, shrugging at the sharp look his Alpha gives him. ‘I guess I forgot…’

Hannibal abandons the dishes and moves around the counter. Walks Will backwards until he hits the island and pins him with a knee between his thighs.

‘You’re a terrible liar, Will,’ he purrs, cupping the side of his Omega’s face and encouraging him to lift his head so he can place a gentle kiss on his lips. ‘What happened?’

Will tries to shake his head, but Hannibal tightens his grip, holding him still. Slick tickles his ass cheeks in memory of the last time he was pinned in place… Controlled completely… His breath catches and warmth spreads out from his belly.

Hannibal…’

‘You were too upset to eat,’ Hannibal says, dipping close enough that his words flow across Will’s lips. ‘Why?’

Will moans, leaning forwards, trying to get Hannibal to kiss him again. He spreads his hands flat across his Alpha’s broad chest, fiddling with the buttons of his waistcoat, trying to sneak underneath the silk.

‘Just something Jack said,’ he mumbles. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

Hannibal pushes Will’s hands away, squeezing his wrists in warning. Will sighs, his mouth twisting in unhappiness.

‘He… just said that he was my Alpha… Because he thinks I’m unbonded.’

Hannibal hums, and releases one of Will’s wrists to stroke through his hair instead, cupping the back of his head and pulling him closer so that they can rest their foreheads together.

‘You’re mine, Will,’ he murmurs, and Will purrs at the claim, holding onto Hannibal’s hips instead. He snuggles closer and kisses Hannibal’s jaw, his nose and his cheek, until he can get to his mouth again.

‘Yours,’ he promises, hooking his thumbs into the belt loops of his Alpha’s trousers. ‘All yours…’

‘All mine,’ Hannibal agrees, but he catches Will’s hands again and stops him before he can undo anything. ‘Eat,’ he says firmly, narrowing his eyes when Will rolls his eyes and groans. ‘Will. I’m responsible for you. Eat.’

Reaching around Hannibal, Will grabs a sliver of Iberian ham and bunches it up, shoving it into his mouth before kissing his Alpha again. He snorts a laugh when Hannibal growls at him, and dances out of the way when Hannibal tries to pin him again.

‘You can feed me, Dr Lecter,’ he says, backing away very slowly towards the kitchen door. ‘If it’s in bed and we’re both naked.’

‘Whatever I want you to eat?’ Hannibal replies, and Will’s eyes flicker gold. He nods very slowly, his hands rising to undo his shirt buttons.

Anything.’

‘However much I want you to eat?’

All of it,’ Will promises, peeling the thick cotton from his sweaty skin. There’s a flicker of something in the back of his mind, a moment where he wonders why he’s always hot, even in winter, but then his shadow tickles across his crest and he can’t help but whine in longing. It doesn’t matter; all that matters is having Hannibal with him. In him. Owning him. Always.

‘I’ll make you a plate, then,’ Hannibal says, grinning, and Will nods, fingers now working to undo his belt and the button of his trousers.

‘I’ll be upstairs,’ he replies, his cheeks flushing pink as his blood warms his veins. ‘Don’t be long…?’

‘Keep yourself entertained, Will,’ Hannibal says, taking out a fresh plate to prepare a buffet for his mate. ‘Touch yourself and think of me.’

‘Fucker,’ Will mutters, his breath hitching at the order. He hurries upstairs, kicking off his shoes and clothes as soon as he’s inside the bedroom doorway. Hannibal’s already lit a fire, and the crackling flames make shadows dance across the walls.

The bed is made, and Will’s stretches out on top of the silky quilt, his head turned to burrow into Hannibal’s pillow, relishing the scent of his Alpha on the cotton, trailing his fingers through the beads of sweat gathered in the vale between his pectoral muscles and the line running down his abdomen. He can smell his scent rising in the air, sweet and smoky, sugary with slick, and he parts his lips to make a tiny, whimpering sound of need at how hot he feels. How… peaceful.

Alpha…

The current rises inside him, lapping at his crest. Will imagines himself floating in a warm, black lake. Time slows until every ripple expands to the edge of the universe… Shadows coil around his neck, a whispering memory of Hannibal’s belt, and he can see a hundred thousand stars flicker overhead; gold and red against the darkness…

Strong hands slide up his thighs, over his hips, slipping inside him until Hannibal is cradling his beating heart between his palms, owning him. Keeping him safe…

I’m yours… I am your design…

Lying naked beside his prodromal Omega, Hannibal traces patterns around and across his nipples, watching the flickering gold in Will’s blue eyes. He adjusts his weight, supporting himself on his elbow. He’s been watching him for several minutes, waiting for the right moment to disturb him, and then nudges an olive against Will’s lips.

‘Open,’ he murmurs, purring when Will obeys without question, swallowing with barely a chew.

Hannibal…’

Will’s voice is barely more than a whisper, and he struggles to roll his head to the side, staring at his Alpha with a dazed, worried look. Hannibal soothes him, urging him to eat a slice of ham and manchego cheese.

‘You’re going to go into heat soon,’ he says softly, resting the plate on Will’s quivering stomach, making him huff and flinch at the feel of cold china against his flushed skin. Hannibal strokes a curl back from his sticky forehead and leans down to kiss him, rasping his tongue through the salty, sweet Omega sweat until Will moans. ‘A few more days and you’ll start to feel better.’

He holds out a tomato for Will to eat, kissing him and tasting the tangy juice in the corner of his mouth afterwards, before he slips two fingers into the inferno of Will’s mouth and groaning at the feel of his Omega sucking and licking them with the same devotion that he gives his length.

‘That’s good, Will.’ Hannibal pulls his fingers free, replacing them with more ham, and dips his hand between Will’s legs, steadying the plate when Will tries to arch. ‘Easy… Hold still for me.’

Will whimpers, swallowing the meat so that he can concentrate on the feel of his Alpha’s thumb rubbing just behind his balls as his fingers circle the pulsing ring of tight muscle, gathering up slick ready to push inside him. He makes sure to keep his torso completely flat on the bed, though, and breathes slowly through his nose so as not to knock the food again.

Hannibal…’

‘Are you afraid?’ Hannibal whispers, easing his forefinger inside Will as his Omega spreads his thighs, hands clenching in the quilt beside him, a shudder running up his spine to blow his pupils wide and thicken the gold around his irises.

Ohh… fuck…’ Will licks his lips, trying to concentrate, trying to think, but he can’t focus on anything but the feel of his Alpha’s finger rubbing that spot inside him. He wants more, he wants all of Hannibal… He needs him… ‘Alpha…’

‘Answer me, Will,’ Hannibal repeats, adding a second finger and pulling down, over and over until sweat rolls down Will’s temples and darkens his hairline. Until his cheeks flush red and the blush spreads down his throat to color his chest.

‘Yes,’ Will whispers, staring up into Hannibal’s eyes, his brow creasing in and out of a frown. ‘If I let go… I don’t want to hurt someone.’

‘Who?’ Hannibal murmurs, kissing Will’s jawline, nuzzling his thundering pulse and sliding his hand beneath his head to squeeze his crest.

Will cries out, tears mingling with the sweat, and he grabs for the plate as another shudder rocks him. Cries into Hannibal’s lips as his Alpha kisses him, working him with fingers at each end of his body, not letting him come but not giving him a chance to breathe either.

‘Who might you hurt, Will?’ Hannibal breathes, brushing the words across his mate’s scalding lips. Will pants, his breath burning, but he can’t close his eyes. Can’t keep from staring up into his Alpha’s face, into his red eyes, at the face of his everything.

‘Everyone,’ he gasps, bucking again as fire licks him with white pleasure, spilling cold buffet onto the bed. ‘Fuck… fuck, Hannibal!’  

‘Everyone?’ Hannibal asks, rolling on top of him, pulling his fingers out of Will to shove the plate onto the side table and settle, heavily, between Will’s bent knees. ‘Anyone?’

‘Anyone,’ Will groans, grabbing for Hannibal’s flank, trying to pull him closer. ‘In… Please, Hannibal… In, please…’

‘You’re dangerous, Will,’ Hannibal purrs, taking hold of himself and guiding his throbbing hardness as deep inside his mate’s clenching body as he can. He holds his breath, feeling his hair fall over his forehead as he holds himself up, muscles trembling as he barely keeps from slamming into him. Will’s nails dig into his flesh and the Omega whines, begging him to move, to own him, claim him, mark him. Hannibal quivers, leaning down to cover the smaller man’s body with his own, their skin sliding over each other with Will’s sweat, fingers linking and holding tight, lips meeting to share breath and spit as they kiss.

‘I’ll do anything you want,’ Will promises, wrapping his legs tight around Hannibal’s waist, holding him close as his Alpha rocks his hips, fucking him with long, slow thrusts that snatch his breath, sending him spiraling into dizzying blackness. ‘Fuck… Hannibal…

‘I’m here,’ Hannibal replies, releasing one hand to brace himself on the mattress, angling his hips to catch that spot inside Will with every inch. He pins his Omega’s right hand beside his head, squeezing the faded marks on his wrists, and then abandons it to hold the nape of his neck, cupping his crest. ‘That’s it; come for me, come on, Will.’

Hannibal!’ Will chokes on his Alpha’s name and his eyes roll back as his entire body tenses up and shakes with the force of the orgasm ripping through him. He shudders, rocking down and clenching, painfully tight, around Hannibal’s swelling knot. He cries out, panting hard, and spasms at the feel of Hannibal’s seed pumping into him, hot against his throbbing insides. ‘Fuck!’

Hannibal groans a laugh, collapsing on top of his shivering mate, seeing bright sparks before his eyes. Fuck indeed, he thinks. As crude as it is, sometimes Will’s expletive is the only suitable word for how good it can be with him.

Cradling him close, he brushes his lips back and forth over Will’s damp forehead. Will purrs softly, content to be held by his Alpha, no thought beyond the satisfaction of having his mate’s seed safe inside him.

Hannibal takes the time to savor the feeling of peace stealing over him, knowing that, in less than a week, there will be no respite for either of them. He traces Will’s cheeks, his shoulders, collarbone and down his arms, lifting himself up to stare down into gold-blue eyes as Will stares, adorably unfocussed, at him.

‘You’re all mine, Will,’ he murmurs, kissing him again when Will nods and then dipping his head to whisper into his ear, ‘Make me proud.’

***

Will returns to the Omega clinic the following evening; a special late-night visit that Hannibal arranged just for him so that he doesn’t have to take any further time off work.

Knowing that his Alpha is waiting for him at home, and that he trusts him to do this alone, lessens the pain in his chest. Even without Hannibal by his side, the empty waiting room and lack of patronizing Beta nurses makes it a much easier experience than before.

Dr Sutcliffe greets him at the doors to the MRI suite, and shows him into a small changing area just off to the side, where Will strips and changes into the soft Omega hospital gown. He gets up onto the padded table, refusing to acknowledge the way his belly is writhing with nerves and his skin is crawling from how close the other Alpha is.

I’ll be back with Hannibal soon… Nothing’s going to happen…

‘Put these in,’ Dr Sutcliffe says, holding out a little case. As before, Will screws silicone plugs into his ears to deaden the noise of the scanner, and then lies back, his breath catching at the way the Alpha’s eyes travel over his face and neck. He can feel his pulse in his fingertips, and sweat beads on his forehead. His crest tingles and he’s acutely aware that the gown and his boxers leave little to the imagination, but Sutcliffe is respectful, and keeps his eyes above waist level.

‘This’ll be over before you know it,’ he promises, smiling down at him as he presses the button to start the machine.

Sliding into the scanner, Will has the strangest sensation that he’s being watched by someone other than Sutcliffe. It’s unnerving, but he can also smell slick sweetening his scent because it’s familiar… Heat rolls through him, making him dizzy, and black swarms his vision, sparking white and gold in the air above him. He can feel the tide pulling out in his head and Will closes his eyes, ignoring the red light of the scanner frame over his head.

He imagines Hannibal’s scent, rich and musky, caressing him. Imagines his voice, soft in the quiet of the room. A strong hand squeezing his thigh. Comforting him.

Let go, Will. That’s it… Just let go…

He’s floating. Peaceful. Will lets the current rock him to sleep, tension draining from him as he obeys his Alpha’s voice. The whir and bangs of the MRI fade and he’s nowhere… He’s nothing… No one

He comes back to himself after several minutes of silence. The table slides out of the scanner and he sits up. Is it over?

Will frowns. Looks around for Dr Sutcliffe, but the room is empty. Where is he? How long has he been in there?

Pulling the earplugs out, he gets down from the table and wanders into the monitor room. Nothing, though the clock on the wall says he’s lost almost two hours. Will goes to the door and peers out into the corridor, but there’s still no sign of Sutcliffe. Of anyone…

Maybe he’s gone back to his office to wait for him…

Unknotting his gown as he walks, Will returns to the changing room. Dresses in his own clothes but leaves his coat draped over his arm because it’s really warm in the hospital and he’s already sticky with sweat from his thick shirt and jumper.

As he approaches Dr Sutcliffe’s office, his crest throbs and bile sours his throat. He can smell something sickly sweet and rotten… A resonance and a scent… His stomach flips when he sees a smear of blood on the handle. He doesn’t want to open it, doesn’t want to see, but he has to…

I had to…

His shadow whispers to him, purring into his ear as Will uses the sleeve of his jacket to turn the handle. He pushes the door away from him, following the hum of violence in the air, the ripple of darkness that smells achingly familiar… A memory, just out of reach, too faint to understand… His brain burns and Will’s breath shimmers in front of his face as he approaches the desk.

‘Dr Sutcliffe?’

The Alpha is there, leaning back in his chair… But there’s something wrong… Something very wrong…

Will draws closer, his brow furrowing as he realizes what he’s seeing…

Sutcliffe is dead, his jaw sawed nearly off in a sick copy of Beth LeBeau’s Glasgow smile. It’s bent back over the chair, a twisted parody of the Alpha’s cheerful grin, and, despite the heat boiling the blood in his veins, Will can’t help but shiver.

Did I do this?

He stumbles out of the office, bracing himself against the wall outside. Tries to catch his breath, his brain spinning.

Hannibal. He needs to call Hannibal. Before anyone, he needs his Alpha.

Fumbling for his cell phone, he pulls it from his jacket pocket and hits the speed dial for the other man. Hannibal answers after three rings.

‘Hello, Will. How was the scan?’

‘I need you,’ Will replies, his voice tight. ‘Something’s happened.’

Hannibal is quiet for a moment, and then,

‘I’ll be right there. Stay where you are.’

Driving from his townhouse, the Alpha arrives in minutes, running down the corridor and sweeping him into his arms when Will begins to shake at the sight of him. Will grabs onto Hannibal’s shoulders, drowning in the panic that’s rising like a tidal wave inside him. He can’t keep from pulling him close and nuzzling his jaw, sucking up the smell of him, trying to ground himself.

‘I… I didn’t… I couldn’t…’

‘Sssh,’ Hannibal whispers, stroking Will’s curls from his clammy face. Checks his temperature and pulse before shrugging out of his coat and wrapping it around Will’s shoulders, allowing the distressed Omega to comfort himself with his scent and the feel of soft wool.

‘Sutcliffe’s dead,’ Will chokes, jerking his head towards the office door, his teeth chattering hard enough to hear. ‘I-I called Jack. He’s on his way. I just… I didn’t know…’

Hannibal stills, and Will whimpers in grief for him. He steps back and ducks his head when strong hands push him away, and Hannibal peers around the door into the office, at his friend’s dead body.

‘What happened?’ he asks, inscrutable eyes searching Will’s face.

Will shakes his head.

‘I don’t know,’ he mutters. ‘I’m not sure… I don’t know if it was me…’

‘Will!’

Jack’s voice rings out and Will flinches, shoving Hannibal’s coat back at him. Pulls his own jacket back on, instead, and puts some distance between him and his Alpha.

‘Here, Jack.’

Ten minutes later, he’s sat on the small couch in Sutcliffe’s office, holding very still as Beverly checks him for traces of blood spatter or other DNA from Sutcliffe. Tries not to flinch every time Zeller’s camera shutters snap, and studiously avoids Jack’s worried frown.

‘You’re clean,’ Beverly says, finishing the scan. She rests her hands on her thighs, leaning closer so that she can speak quietly. ‘You couldn’t have done this without getting something on you, and there’s nothing on you.’

‘I don’t feel clean,’ Will says, staring at Hannibal’s shoes, just visible behind Katz.

Hannibal schools his expression to neutrality so as not to betray his satisfaction at persuading Will to believe himself capable of murder.

Rising from beside Sutcliffe’s body, Jimmy Price holds up a pair of scissors and addresses the room.

‘The murder weapon has the same sort of diseased or damaged tissues that we found at Beth LeBeau’s house.’

‘What’s this guy got to do with the other victim?’ Zeller asks, looking confused. ‘I mean, is she just going after Alphas?’

Will clears his throat, gesturing to himself.

‘They have me in common,’ he says.

Beverly crosses her arms, taking in the business cards and medical certificates on the walls.

‘He was an Omega Specialist,’ she says. ‘Why were you getting an MRI from an Omega Specialist?’

‘Dr Sutcliffe was a good friend and colleague of mine,’ Hannibal explains, saving Will from lying. ‘He owed me a favor, and he specializes in neurology – of all kinds.’

‘Huh…’ Beverly nods slowly, but her dark eyes don’t leave Will’s face for a while. To ignore her and his thundering heart, Will pays attention to the change in Jack’s scent just before the other Alpha asks,

‘What do you remember?’

‘I remember coming here,’ Will replies. He taps his fingers together, shoulders hunched and head bowed as he tries to piece it together. It didn’t feel like losing time… Not like last time. ‘Going into the MRI, getting out and… finding Dr Sutcliffe’s body.’

‘No confusion,’ Jack checks, and Will huffs bitterly.

‘Well, not that I’m aware of,’ he says, but he gives Jack a pointed look to remind him that his memory is hardly the most reliable source these days.

Jack nods thoughtfully, his eyes flicking from Hannibal to Will.

‘Was your Dr Sutcliffe in the habit of seeing patients after hours, when he’s the only one in the office?’ he asks.

‘He was very… accommodating,’ Will says, and Jack narrows his eyes at him. Will can all but hear the thought.

Of course he was; he was an Alpha, and you’re an unbonded Omega. He’d do anything you asked, especially for the chance to get you alone with him.

Hannibal fights down a growl at the assumption written all over Jack’s face, shifting his weight to be subtly closer to Will.

Out loud, Jack says,

‘Georgia Madchen followed you here, and while you’re ticking away in the MRI, she does this to your doctor… Why him?’

‘She can’t see faces,’ Will replies. ‘Maybe he treated her at some point? Maybe she was angry about it… I dunno… Maybe she thought he was me.’

‘Alright; while we’re at it… Why you?’ Jack says, and Will has to turn away, has to stretch out the tightness making his back and shoulders hurt.

‘I don’t know,’ he says, shoving himself to his feet. ‘I have a habit of collecting strays.’ He starts to pace, scrubbing the back of his hair, wishing he could give his crest a squeeze to relax himself. Wishing he could hide in Hannibal’s arms. ‘I- I told her… Tried to tell her the night I saw her… I tried to tell her she was alive… Maybe she heard me.’ He pauses, and then grimaces at Jack. ‘Maybe that thought hadn’t occurred to her in a while.’

He shrugs, wishing he could add that she may have listened to him because he’s a fellow Omega; someone she could trust in spite of everything… Someone who understood her…

Silence settles for a moment, and Will feels himself listing closer to Hannibal, before there’s a loud rustle of paper. Zeller is flicking through a pamphlet for services provided by the Omega clinic as he waits for Jimmy to finish bagging up samples. 

‘Huh… Warm massages , sensory manipulation, hydrotherapy, mud baths… Man, I wish I was an Omega. We Betas don’t get any of this stuff.’

‘You’d have to give up most of your fundamental human rights to get it,’ Price replies, sealing his final evidence bag. ‘Personally, I prefer the freedom to do whatever job I want and the ability to vote.’

Will can feel Hannibal’s eyes on him, and the shaking starts again. He needs to leave; needs to be alone with his Alpha.

‘Are we done, Jack?’ he asks, his voice quivering. ‘I’m, er, I’m really tired.’

‘Yeah,’ Jack replies softly, noting the shadows under the Omega’s eyes, the tightness of his jaw and the tremble in his hands. ‘Yeah, sure; get some rest.’ He looks at Hannibal. ‘Dr Lecter, would you mind driving him home?’

‘Of course,’ Hannibal replies, inclining his head to Jack and then touching Will’s elbow. ‘Shall we?’

Will hums, and he follows his Alpha from the room, keeping step behind him as officers step aside for Hannibal.

They don’t touch or speak until they are alone in the elevator, but as soon as the doors ping shut, Hannibal twines his fingers with Will’s and pulls him up against his body, nuzzling his hairline before kissing him.

‘I’m sorry,’ Will murmurs, brushing the words across Hannibal’s lips. ‘Are you okay? He was your friend.’

‘It’s a shock,’ Hannibal replies, cradling the back of Will’s head and holding him close enough that they can share breath. ‘But I have to take care of you.’

Will stiffens, and Hannibal is careful not to react when he pulls away with a scowl.

‘You don’t,’ the Omega replies. ‘I’m not the one who lost someone…’

‘I’m your Alpha,’ Hannibal reasons, and Will reacts just as expected. Hannibal sees him visibly swallow as he squashes down the cramp in his gut, sees him square his shoulders in defiance of his biology. Of his need to be physically close to Hannibal this close to heat.

‘My car is here,’ Will says firmly. ‘I’m going to my house and I’m staying there, alone, tonight. You need to focus on yourself. Grieve for your friend.’

‘Will…’ Hannibal adds a sound of hesitation to his voice, and Will kisses him again, pushing him back against the side of the elevator as he devours his mouth.

Stop trying to protect me, Dr Lecter,’ he growls, blisteringly hot breath puffing over Hannibal’s face when he pulls back. ‘I’m fine.’

‘You never fail to amaze me, Will.’ Hannibal cups each side of his Omega’s face, staring into the gold-ringed irises and wide pupils. As dampened as Will’s scent is, this close to him Hannibal can smell the first hint of his heat aroma – a spicy, earthy aftertaste to his sweet musk.

All he wants to do is take Will home and wait with him until the heat hits, but he needs him to be alone. After all, this diseased Omega-killer has taken an interest in him, and is likely to attack tonight.

Hannibal strokes Will’s hair one last time before they step out of the elevator. He walks Will to his car and holds the door open for him, checking that they are alone before leaning in for one final, lingering kiss. 

Take her life, Will. She’s more innocent than Garrett Jacob Hobbs… Her death will set you free.    

***

The further from Baltimore he gets, the worse he feels. Will clenches his hands on the steering wheel, gritting his teeth against the headache pounding behind his eyes, the sickness in his belly and spasms deep inside as his body tries to tighten around nothing.

I’m fine… I’ll be fine…it’s just for a night…

It’s already late, so he feeds the dogs as soon as he gets in and then lets them out while he changes into a t-shirt and pajama trousers. His eyelids are heavy and the sockets are gritty; Will cracks his jaw with a yawn as he snuggles up in his nest, bunching a pillow behind him to imitate Hannibal’s body.

The dogs are in their beds by the fireplace. Will layers sheets and blankets over him, his nose buried in Hannibal’s pillow. He needs his Alpha to sleep here again soon; his scent is faded, and Will shivers with the feeling that he’s being watched. It’s not comforting this time; and he’s surprised when he wakes up a while later, because he hadn’t expected to fall asleep.

Why is he awake? He frowns as he comes back to consciousness. Realizes that Underbite is growling, creeping closer but staying low to the ground with fear, her tail tucked between her legs. Winston and Buster are tense, and even Rudy is rumbling deep in his throat.

A sweet, rotten scent wafts up to him and Will’s stomach twists. Fear snatches his breath and his ears ring with the effort of trying to hear past the thud of his heart.

She’s here… She’s under my bed…

Trembling, his skin shiny with sweat, Will very slowly leans over, looking down past the edge of his mattress…

A dirty, bruised face stares back at him, glowing amber eyes widening in surprise as Will throws himself out of bed. He lands on his front, scrabbling to get his feet under him in case he needs to run or fight, and feels his own eyes flood gold as her fear and pain wash over him. She’s exhausted, and confused, curled up underneath his bed, her thoughts like sludge in her brain.

‘I see you, Georgia,’ Will says, staring hard at her face, trying to push the knowledge into her. ‘Think of who you are.’ He glances at the clock and then says, ‘It’s midnight. You’re in Wolf Trap, Virginia. Your name is Georgia Madchen. You’re not alone. We are here together.’

The other Omega trembles, rubbing the soft fleece of her cardigan against her cheek, and a tear trickles across her nose as she whispers,

‘Am I alive?’

She extends her arm, fingers stretched and reaching for Will, and her desperation makes his chest too tight to breathe.

Will reaches for her, stretching out across the cold floor, across the emptiness between them, and brushes his fingertips against hers. An unspoken promise; a connection in the darkness that makes his body pulse with warmth.

You’re alive. I see you. I’m here for you.

***

‘She’ll recover?’ Jack asks, waiting in front of Dr Lecter’s desk the next day. Will is at the Omega Care Unit with Georgia, having accompanied her in the ambulance from his house the night before. He is refusing to leave until he knows she’s safe, so Jack wants to let him know as soon as possible, so he can keep his distance from her.

‘Risk of infection is high,’ Hannibal replies, flicking through the notes in Georgia’s patient file. ‘She’s lost most of the vital fluids. Even some bone mass. She’s being treated like a burn victim.’

‘But she’ll recover mentally?’ Jack asks.

‘She has Cotard’s syndrome,’ Hannibal says, ignoring the other Alpha’s aggressive stance and the flicker of red in his eyes. ‘Almost all sufferers of this delusion recover with treatment. In extreme cases, like this one, electroconvulsive therapy. Of course, there’s also the psychological trauma of losing her Alpha, when she remembers.’

‘Her Alpha, who she killed,’ Jack growls, and Hannibal nods. He looks to the side, clasping his hands so as not to fiddle with anything.

‘I’m more concerned about Will,’ he says.

‘I thought you’d be more concerned about your colleague, Dr Sutcliffe,’ Jack replies, adjusting his weight and glancing at the file in his hands.

‘I am grieving Dr Sutcliffe,’ Hannibal says. He looks sad. ‘But Will is very much alive. He’s still desperate for an explanation that can make everything right again.’

‘I’m, er, pretty desperate for some explanations myself,’ Jack agrees. ‘Really wanna talk to this Omega when she comes to.’ He glances down, pauses and then looks at Hannibal. ‘How much do you think she’ll remember?’

Hannibal sets his hands flat on his desk and then gets to his feet, smoothing out his suit jacket as he stands.

‘I sincerely hope, for her sake, she doesn’t remember much,’ he replies, leaning over to switch off his lamp.

He thinks back to the night he murdered Dr Sutcliffe. Will had been so pliant, lost to prodrome as he lay in the MRI, oblivious to the screams down the hall. Georgia had come into the office as Hannibal had been sawing open Sutcliffe’s face, and he’d had to improvise. He’d handed her the scissors, knowing she couldn’t see his face. Or, at least, not clearly.

But all memory could be recovered, and Georgia might identify Sutcliffe’s killer with enough treatment. Not worth the risk, no matter how attached Will had become to her.  

If only he had killed you, Hannibal thinks. Then I wouldn’t have to.