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Dread and Hunger

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Chapter 9: Riesling

            Naturally, Hollin’s had to let him go.

            “Our customers are terrified,” the manager said woefully. “They’re worried being served by you will…well. You understand, don’t you?”

            Will understood. Painfully.

            “It’s fine,” he said, his smile a grimace.

            “Put us down for a reference, and I’ll make sure you get a job for certain, Will. With our clientele, though…we can’t be too careful. A reference I can certainly give, though. I can do that.”

            That made three of them.

            Hannibal wasn’t there to watch him collect his things, nor did he bump into him on the way out. Back in the alley, he unlocked his bike and wheeled it onto the sidewalk, and it seemed that the heavens themselves were out to punish him as they let out a thunderous crack and split wide open, a downpour so abysmal that it drenched him within seconds. Will thought about being upset by it, but he decided that it was fitting. Everyone was in the mood to dump on him.

            He wheeled his bike the long way home, a morbid sort of punishment he took in stride.

-

            The letter waited patiently at his door when he reached the apartment. Will paused, considered pressing his sodden foot to the thing, then reconsidered. He scooped it up gingerly, and he went inside, locking the door behind him. The other letters had been taken away by Jack for study, as well as the flowers, seeds, and gravel. He lamented their lack of space occupying the center of his table, and he slumped into his chair, dripping dismally onto the floor.

Dear Will,

The first three hours of night were almost spent

The time that every star shines down on us

When Love appeared to me so suddenly

That I still shudder at the memory.

Joyous Love seemed to me, the while he held

My heart within his hands, and in his arms

My lady lay asleep wrapped in a veil.

He woke her then and trembling and obedient

She ate that burning heart out of his hand;

Weeping I saw him then depart from me.

            Would you eat my burning heart? Would you take the seven seeds that I offer freely? Would you be brave enough to peek behind the veil? I lie awake, and I wonder.

                                                                                                                                                                          Yours,

                                                                                                                                                                          -C.R.

            He turned the envelope on its side, and petals of jasmine fell into his palm. They were still damp and smelled of rain, and he wondered if the Chesapeake Ripper had also walked without an umbrella.

            A call on his cell distracted him from calling Jack; with a poem, there was surely a body. Was it four now, or five? How many until they were rounded out to another sounder of three? What did that say about him that he couldn't recall just how many bodies the Ripper was piling up just outside of his door?

            Why three?

            Why not?

            “Hello?” He answered the phone distractedly, brushing one of the petals along his bottom lip. The Chesapeake Ripper mentioned dreams; jasmine in dreams foretold good luck and romance.

            “Will,” Hannibal said, and his voice pulled him from his thoughts muddled by the dipping and swaying of words that cut to the quick. He dropped the jasmine petal, somehow guilty.

            “I didn’t realize you had my number,” he said, which wasn’t what he wanted to say at all.

            “I saved it when you called my office,” Hannibal explained. He didn’t sound defensive.

            “I was let go,” Will informed him, answering a question he was sure would be asked. Hannibal sighed quietly, and it was the sort of sigh that spoke volumes more than anything he could ever say.

            “Not enough eye contact?”

            “Not enough assurance that my admirer won’t harm another customer of theirs,” said Will, pushing the letter away.

            “If one measured luck, I would say you don’t seem to be in possession of much of it,” Hannibal said kindly.

            “Was it the dead bodies or the steadily growing resume that clued you in?” Will dug his fingernails into the grooves of the table, a savage, unpleasant smile on his lips.

            “Are you in need of another distraction?”

            “Are you looking to up your bounty?” Will retorted.

            “Fear makes you rude,” Hannibal noted, and Will slumped into his chair, guilty but unable to quite pry the snark from off of his tongue. Fear did make him rude because it was either fight, flight, or freeze, and fleeing made predators give chase while freezing gave them the perfect angle for his throat. All he’d ever known in his life was how to fight.

            “What did you have in mind?” Will asked after a moment.

            “I have finished with my client in DC, and I find myself hungry. Allow me to cook dinner for you?”

            Will hadn’t managed to dry off by the time Hannibal arrived with bags of groceries, and it was apparent in the firm set of his lips that he wasn’t pleased with it. Unlike Will, he’d had an umbrella. When Will opened the door, clothes sopping and water still dripping from his limp curls, he stepped into the small entryway and observed the lack of light with a peculiar expression in his eyes.

            “You are having a difficult day,” he decided and he led Will to the table, easing him back onto his chair. Will watched as Hannibal looked about, spied the hall and headed down it, pausing to open several doors before he found the correct one and returned with a towel. He dropped the towel onto Will’s hair and rubbed it in gently, thumbs pressing and rotating against his skull with the skill of a masseuse.

            “You should change,” he said, sliding the towel around his shoulders. “You don’t want to catch a cold.”

            Will nodded and headed to the bedroom, pausing at the door to stare at the small pen mark near the knob, as though the Chesapeake Ripper had marked the space where he’d debated kicking it in. Will stopped and stared at it every time he went to his room.

            When he returned, dry and prickly, Hannibal had found the light switch and was well underway, chopping onions and laying them out alongside a long stretch of meat on the cutting board. Will observed him in the small kitchenette before he sat down again, eyes drifting from Hannibal’s capable hands to the letter on the table.

            “Did you read it?” he asked.

            “I admit that I was curious to see what he’d have to say.” Hannibal glanced up at him and smiled briefly.

            “What do you think? Being a psychiatrist.”

            Hannibal mulled it over as he worked, leaving Will to slide all of the jasmine petals together into a small, chaotic pile. He pressed one down with his thumb and crushed it, then instantly regretted it.

            “He’s not shy,” Hannibal decided. “His reasons for reclusive behavior and remaining aloof are purely by choice, not necessity.”

            “He’s not shy,” Will agreed. The definition of shy wasn’t lurking in someone’s house and passing notes underneath their doorway. He could have spoken, but he chose a medium in which Will had to pay particular attention with more than one sense attuned. That was many things, but it wasn’t shy. Manipulative. A bit narcissistic, if he was being honest.

            A little romantic, if he was being too honest with himself.

            “He is a romantic. He is a fan of the classics –did you see that was Dante’s first sonnet, La Vita Nuova?”

            Will nodded, still trying to fix the petal he’d broken.

            “They’ve all been classics,” he said, and at the hiss of spiced meat, he pulled his gaze away to watch Hannibal work, making use of the too small kitchenette with a poise Will hadn’t expected. There wasn’t enough room there for him to help, but more than enough room to watch.

            “Does that mean there is a body?”

            “Not every letter is a body,” Will said evasively. Not every letter, but so far every poem. He should call Jack. He reasoned Jack would call him when he found it.

            “And even so, you have no business seeing it. Agent Crawford taking you directly to a crime scene was mildly off-putting, in my opinion. Either he sought genuine insight, or he wished to gauge your reaction by placing you in such a shocking position that he’d see whether or not you already knew of it.” He tossed something in the pan, and it screamed.

            “You think Jack Crawford believes I’m behind this?”

            “From what I know of him, he is a suspicious man, prone to bullying his way through things if reason can’t stand.”

            “He told me that he genuinely wanted insight because of…” He didn’t feel like saying it anymore. He was tired of everyone talking about it.

            “Your way of thinking?” Hannibal glanced over to him, a note of sympathy in his voice.

            “…Yeah.”

            Hannibal didn’t push for more, and Will was glad. He was tired, strung out and far too limp to bother with anything more than watching Hannibal create something of rich decadence and smell. He laid out a bold red beef curry on two only mildly chipped plates, and somehow it made them look less shabby with the presentation.

            “This is by far the nicest thing I’ve seen in this house,” said Will, turning the plate around to inspect it.

            “Mostly microwave pizzas, I’d imagine?”

            “Oven bake pizzas, thank you.” He watched Hannibal pour the wine, studying the color of it.

            “You shouldn’t eat so much processed food,” Hannibal chastised lightly, like he was commenting on the weather.

            “It’d probably make it hard to outrun a killer if the grease in my arteries decided to kill me,” Will agreed. He smiled, but it was more than a little self-deprecating, more than a little savage.

            Hannibal looked like he had a profound thought at a statement like that, but whatever it was, he held it in. Instead, he set the wine bottle down and adjusted his fork by his plate, a clever smile on his lips.

            “Not everyone pairs a Riesling with red beef curry, but I like to live somewhat dangerously,” Hannibal said, presenting the glass to him. Unlike the restaurants and bars, it was one of Will’s stemless glasses, something Beverly had reasoned would be perfect for nights when he was too drunk to be delicate. “This particular brand does nothing but heighten the taste.”

            “I could live with your sort of danger,” Will replied. He took a sip of the wine and nodded in affirmation to his statement.

            “It doesn’t quite capture the full aroma in that sort of glass, but it is the taste I was looking for.” Hannibal watched him and seemed to be content to make sure Will ate most of his meal before he spoke again. “Have you given it any thought?”

            He knew what Hannibal meant without having to ask.

            “I like no labels,” he said after he swallowed his food. He wanted to savor it, but his stomach was a vacuum, and in the back of his head there was the faint whisper of his forgetting to eat all day. “Out of everything going on right now, it’s the one thing I don’t feel pressure for.”

            “Nor should you.” Hannibal took a bite of his food.

            “Fear makes me rude,” Will agreed with his earlier sentiment. Hannibal smiled a little, a crafty sort of thing.

            “Fear for you, or fear for me?”

            “A bit of both. I don’t want to pull you into anything.” He finished his plate and stared down at it, then to the side where the jasmine petals were piled. He was startled at the touch of Hannibal reaching out to grasp his hand, and he held it tightly.

            “You can’t pull someone if they’re already wading in willingly.”

            They tried to watch the news, but at the first mention of the Chesapeake Ripper, Hannibal changed the channel. They watched a quarter of a cheesy lifetime movie before Will found himself laughing, then Hannibal started laughing, and somewhere in between him catching Will’s eye and Will letting their legs press together side by side, he found himself on his back with Hannibal sliding on top of him.

            “No labels,” Will said, and it sounded much firmer in his head, less breathy and wanting. Hannibal smiled lightly, and his hands slid along Will’s sides, each inch carving a delicious path of heat that made his heart pound in longing. He wanted to touch. God, he wanted to touch.

            “No labels,” Hannibal agreed, and he dipped his head down, breath warm and tingly on his skin. His nose traced along Will’s collarbone over the ratty white tee, and he paused with his lips pressed to the hollow of his neck. Will shivered when he inhaled deeply, as if Hannibal was committing his scent to memory. He kissed his way along the column of his throat, paused at the curve of his bottom lip, and his smile was just devilish enough to make Will groan in anticipation.

            His kisses were enough to get drunk on. The taste of Riesling was on his lips, the scent of his cologne was arousing, and Will’s arms were tight around him before he knew what he was doing, before he could pause to listen to the voice in his head that said the Chesapeake Ripper would surely kill them if he knew.

            He told that voice to kindly shut the hell up. He was going to let someone else take control for a little while.

-

            The pounding on the door of his apartment woke Will at 7:00 A.M. the next morning. He sat up in a daze, sliding the warm, wiry arm out from around his hip with more than a little reluctance, a yawn punctuating his half-attempt at a muttered curse. Beside him, Hannibal turned his head and shifted, stirring but not waking.

            It was Jack.

            “I’ve been calling your phone,” Jack said, walking in. He cast a predatory gaze around the front room, searching, assessing. At the sight of two plates and two wine glasses, he arched a brow and turned to survey Will critically. “You have a guest last night, Will?”

            “Not really your business,” Will hedged, shifting from one foot to the other. He had the sudden urge to put on pants over his boxers.

            “It is when I’ve got a body and I can’t get a hold of you,” Jack said, dangerously quiet. “Where’s your phone? Didn’t I tell you I’d be in touch?”

            “I left it out here,” Will said, and he shambled over to it, peeking down at it. Sure enough, multiple missed calls the day before, as well as a couple earlier that morning. He scratched his side, mildly uncomfortable. He really should keep it in his room, since the last time he’d kept it out in the front room the Chesapeake Ripper saw fit to waltz into his house like he owned it.

            He’d been a little distracted though, what with elegant way Hannibal had in removing articles of clothing and tossing them about. Very distracted, in truth.

            “Is that a note?” Jack asked, stalking over to it as Will cleared the notifications. He snatched it up without waiting for a response, casting quick, furious glances along the lines. “You got another note and didn’t call me?”

            “I was drunk,” Will lied. Somehow, he didn’t feel guilty about it.

            “Drunk.”

            “I had a guest last night, and I was drunk.”

            “Who did you have over last night, Will?” At that, Will faltered, and something on his face made Jack’s stance shift, his weight moving to his other foot as he placed his hands on his hips. Something whispered in Will’s ear that it was not the sort of stance he wanted to be in front of.

            “I think you ought to tell me,” Jack said, dangerously quiet.

            “There should be some aspects of Will’s life that are private, don’t you think, Agent Crawford?” At the sound of Hannibal’s voice, husky from sleep, Will felt his face heat up, spreading from his ears all the way down to his neck. He glanced back at Hannibal in the hallway, clad in an unbuttoned shirt and loose, unbuckled slacks, then to Jack whose face showed that out of all of the things he’d expected, that was not one of them.

            “Dr. Lecter, I…”

            “I know this may seem untoward, but no one here would dare ask about your intimate affairs. I think he should expect the same courtesy.”

            If there was one thing Will Graham wished for in that moment, it was that he’d been smart enough to lift his phone up to capture a photo of the utmost embarrassment on Agent Jack Crawford’s face. As it was, he too was embarrassed, and he shifted from one foot to the other, crossing his arms over his chest.

            “There’s a body?” he prompted, trying to redirect.

            “…Yeah. Yeah, there’s a body.” Jack’s eyes leapt from Hannibal to Will, and he let out a short breath of surprise, running his fingers through his short, cropped hair. A remnant of when it was longer. “We’ve already got it at the lab, and I need you down there.”

            “…I need to shower,” Will said when Jack made no move to leave. He motioned back towards the hallway, back to Hannibal and the scattered clothes that, if Jack looked hard enough, would definitely see strewn about recklessly.

            “You know where it is,” Jack said, and he waved the note towards Will before turning and walking out of the apartment, the door slamming shut behind him.

            “Fuck,” Will said decidedly, turning to lean against the back of the couch. He buried his face in his hands and let out a short, miserable laugh, the kind that sunk down deep and left you feeling sick after.

            “He suspected you of being in bed with a killer,” Hannibal said pleasantly, walking over. Will rubbed his eyes, and between the kaleidoscope of colors exploding in his vision from the pressure and his fingers, he eyed the stretch of skin that led down towards Hannibal’s naval. He’d purposefully not belted or adjusted the slacks, allowing the full effect of his half-nude presence to say what his words couldn’t. The impulse to tug them down further almost overcame him.

            “I know.”

            “I’m somewhat appalled at his suspicion. It almost seemed like he supposed you couldn’t attract anyone else to entertain for an evening.” His small, playful smile belied the claim at offense as he walked over and stood in front of Will, nudging a thigh between his legs so that he could scoot closer. Will let him, hands lowering as he glanced from his mouth, full from rather abrasive bites, then back down to his naval where there was just the barest hints of a bruise the size of grasping fingertips.

            “Was it very entertaining?” Will asked. He glanced up at Hannibal’s face again, a whisper of the night before made apparent by the mussed hair and faint suck mark just behind his ear.

            “Very. I rather enjoyed the encore, too.” His hands slid underneath Will’s shirt, cold fingertips making his muscles twitch. “If you require assistance in the shower, I’m sure I’d even enjoy ACT II just as much as the first, if not better.”

            There were many things that Will Graham was, but strong in the face of such blatant desire was not one of them. When Hannibal’s hands reached his shoulders, shirt hiked up to expose his bare skin, he allowed it to be tugged off of him, and he followed Hannibal towards the bathroom.

            The dead body wasn’t going anywhere, anyways.

-

            Much later, when both parties were efficiently clean to standard, they were let into the FBI HQ and down towards the labs by Jack, whose eyes still cut suspiciously between the two of them. Will wondered if he could see the places on his skin where Hannibal had worshipped particularly well, the places where he still felt his touch like a brand. He shook the distracting thoughts from his head and tucked his hands into his pockets so that he didn’t tap them along anything.

            “He was found just outside of campus, at one of the entryway arches. They think it has ties to Dante’s Inferno, which is why it would have been nice-” he cast a particularly scathing glance at Will, “-for someone to have told me they had a letter.”

            “I’m sorry,” Will said, and that’s all there was to say. Jack grunted, Hannibal let out a quiet sigh, and they were let into the lab where Will had to stop and stare for a moment at the man on the slab.

            To say he’d been gutted would be completely accurate. Like the man by the river, his insides were spilled out, laid out beside him in an unpleasant sort of rendition of the game ‘Operation’. Eyes were wide and frosted with death, and horrendous, large bruise marks snaked about his neck, small rips and tears in the skin a costume shade of red.

            “He was hanging from the archway with his entrails hanging out. His name’s Rinaldo Pazzi, a foreign exchange student from Italy who worked on the newspaper at school. He’s the reason they were able to get columns in some of the other newspapers around town for particularly interesting articles.”

            “He worked on the newspaper?”

            “Yes. He went missing about the time that article about you and the Chesapeake Ripper was published.”

            Jack led him to the tables of grotesque and gory photos, his own insides squirming. The blood and guts had fallen onto the pavement by the time authorities had arrived, and their discoloration in the cool spring air was putrid, hideous. Underneath the flickering, loud lights of the lab, they were even uglier.

            “We questioned Freddie Lounds, and she said we should bring you in for questioning,” Jack said, standing at his shoulder.

            “I’m right here. Question me if you want,” Will said, touching one of the photos. “This is how Judas died,” he added.

            “Judas committed suicide for betraying Jesus for thirty silver. His sin was so grave he couldn’t handle his life,” Hannibal said behind them. At Jack’s nod and gesture of invitation, he walked over to the photos and grimaced.

            “What did he take from him?” Will asked.

            “His heart.”

            “‘She ate that burning heart right out of his hand’,” Will murmured. Unable to help himself, he drummed his fingers along the long profile shot of the image, fingers pausing at the stomach. “It’s an offering to me. This person allowed the article about me to be published not only in the school newspaper, but managed to find ways to coerce other newspapers of running it, too. He betrayed the oath of reporting actual news in order to boost numbers. Something tasteless for someone…tasteless.”

            “Why not go after Freddie Lounds, if she was the one to write it?” Hannibal inquired.

            “She was also writing about the Chesapeake Ripper,” Will said sarcastically. “He’s anything if not very happy to read about himself.”

            “This one managed to get other newspapers to post the work,” Jack said, motioning to the body.

            “And it got me fired,” Will informed him. “He doesn’t want me to suffer because of his affections. At least, if I’m going to suffer, it will be at his hands and his hands alone.”

            “That is someone that values their ability to maintain complete control of their situation and surroundings,” Hannibal noted.

            Will nodded, staring down at the photo. He glanced from it to the body, then back again, swallowing heavily. He’d much rather have just stayed in bed with Hannibal, put responsibilities aside to do something stupid and lazy. This, though…he shook his head, rubbed his face. Was he going to carve up anyone that looked at him wrong? Was he going to start laying bodies outside of his apartment like a particularly pleased cat?

            “He’s…going to keep doing it,” Will said. “He knows you’re speaking with me, he knows my friends, he knows my acquaintances. I don’t know what he’s holding off for, but sooner or later, he’s going to speak to me. This is…testing the waters, almost. Like he’s seeing just what you or I will ‘let’ him get away with.”

            “Is that what you want from me? You want me to willingly take your hand, knowing the full ramifications of what I’m doing when I take that step?”

            Yes.

            “I don’t know if I can do that,” he whispered, and he closed his eyes. “You’re hurting people, and I…I see every single one behind my eyelids. I close my eyes, and I see them. Does your admiration only extend if I give in full? Does it cease if I can’t condone what you do in my name?”

            I don’t ask for you to condone my actions, only to understand them and refuse to stand in my way when I make such choices in the future.

            “I’m two seconds away from putting you in a safe house and tossing the key,” Jack said darkly.

            “If you do, he’d burn down the city to find it,” Will replied absently. “And he’d keep killing until I was returned.”

            That night, he dreamt of a burning heart searing his lips as he obediently consumed it. Jasmine petals were pressed to the wounds to heal them.