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Dread and Hunger

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Chapter 10: Moscato

            Beverly cornered him at his newest job, Nectar. It was an odd, new age blend of old socialites wanting the latest buzz of wine and aesthetics and young college kids wishing to refine their palates with something not bought off of the Wal-Mart shelf. The hiring manager told Will that there was something vastly appealing about his messy hair and puppy-dog eyes –she had the overwhelming urge to hug him and reassure him of his place in the world. Will was more than relieved when she didn’t.

            “I’m off work,” he said, staring down at her.

            “That means you can drink with me.” She motioned to the bottle of moscato she’d ordered. Will went back to the bar, requested another glass and sat down on the patio outside, eyeing her warily. The air was warm, the breeze was light, and every flower bed held the promise of bright, cheery splashes of aquamarine and lemon yellow. The time of tulips and serial killing. Spring cleaning all of the apparent ass holes in Will’s life right out the door, one noose or disembowelment at a time.

            “I don’t know if I like moscato,” he said, and she poured it anyway.

            “You’re keeping a lot of secrets from me,” she said, sliding the glass to him. He took a sip and made a face at the almost too-sweet taste.

            “I think a rosé would be better.”

            “I was fine with it when it was just that you’d been fired, or you were maybe seeing some kind of person that you weren’t sure whether they’d last long enough to be bothered with introductions, but I do draw the line at life and death situations.” She gave a pointed look to his hand on the glass, and he obediently took another drink.

            “That’s fair.”

            “Are you going to tell me that you forgot?”

            Will had supposed she’d heard every word of theirs out on the lawn, but he’d been hoping he was wrong. Rather, he was hoping she’d pretend she hadn’t.

            “That was rude of me,” he admitted. Fear made him rude.

            “Margo said so, too. Alana said you were just troubled. I said that no one is ‘just troubled’ by a stalker and a body count.”

            “The FBI is looking into it; they want to catch him as much as I want them to catch him.”

            Tone was a funny thing. The words came out right, but the sound was off, his mouth not curving to fit the shape of sincerity. Will heard his own words echoing within his head, and judging by the expression on Beverly’s face, she’d heard it too. She crossed one leg over the other and considered him, squinting in a way he knew as her ‘analyst’ look. During lab, whenever she came across something particularly wonderful, she’d mutter ‘gotcha’ with that same exact look. She had him. What she’d do with him, Will wasn’t quite sure.

            “You’ve always been weird,” she informed him, “so it’s hard to guess what’s Will Graham weird and what’s weird for Will Graham. You’re not okay, though. I know that much.”

            “I’m trying, Beverly,” he said, turning the glass around in his hands.

            “I know. It’s just funny because trying for you and trying for someone else are two different things.”

            “I’m seeing someone,” he informed her, half confession and half distraction.

            “That older guy?”

            “He’s not that old,” Will hedged. “Ten years or so.”

            “I guess the older we get, the less weird that is,” she said thoughtfully. “He was cute,” she offered as an afterthought, the compliment teasing. She shook her head at whatever thought came next, finishing off her drink and pouring another glass rather than share it.

            “He helps me not focus on what’s happening around me. It’s nice.”

            “I bet with age comes experience, too,” Beverly said, wagging her eyebrows at him. Will choked on a laugh and looked out at the people driving by, not wanting to get into that conversation.

            She wasn’t wrong, though. Not in the least.

            “Is it serious?” she asked when he didn’t elaborate.

            “We both like not labeling things.” It was an answer without an answer. Was it serious? He thought of Hannibal’s hands, how quick they were to each part of his body, how worshipful and sensual his kisses. He was giving, and the way he held Will after sex made it seem like they’d been doing this for far longer than they had. While he didn’t exactly notch his bedpost, Will had had enough lovers to feel the difference between a fling and something like Hannibal.

            Hannibal was nothing like a fling. That in itself was a little terrifying.

            “Look, I’m not here to pry, Will. We’ve been friends for years, so I’m somewhat of a professional reader of the Graham-isms that other people may or may not see. But next time someone gets it in their head to start sending you Valentine’s with real, human hearts, tell me. Don’t make me find out through Margo Verger, or god forbid Freddie Lounds.” The last name was given with a withering, pointed stare.

            “Pig hearts are okay, though, right?”

            “A pig heart for a pig,” she said, kicking him under the table. Will laughed, and he was forgiven.

-

Dear Will,

            Nectar is nice. They seem to hold you as one would a wounded dove, with care and adoration at the delicate and fragile beauty in their palms. You took my order with shy eyes and a wavering stance, and for the time that I was there, I saw you as, perhaps, others see you. Gentle. Afraid. The cat you pick up in the pouring rain because the box it was hiding under has collapsed and it’s soaked through to the bone.

            They don’t see the parts of you that are so clear to me they resonate like the finely struck chord on a piano. They don’t see your penchant for dark thoughts and even darker fantasies. They don’t see the fine line you walk like an acrobat. I do. I think of our conversation, heartbeat to heartbeat, nothing more than a door between us. One day, dear Will, you will open that door willingly.

                                                                                                                        Yours,

                                                                                                                        -C.R.

            Nectar didn’t believe in cameras. They didn’t want their guests to feel like they were being watched.

-

            “I’d like to take you to the ballet,” Hannibal said as Will set his glass down.

            “I’ve never been,” Will replied. Nectar was happy to allow him to chat with his customers, and Will was happy to let them think Hannibal Lecter was just a customer. It was a good, even balance.

            “I wondered. Swan Lake is at the theater, and if one is to see a ballet for the first time, that would be one of the ones to see.”

            “Is it a date?” Will asked. Hannibal smiled around the rim of his glass, eyes flicking up to meet his stare. Will knew what he thought about labels. Hannibal knew how much Will liked the lack of labels. He looked down and brushed imaginary lint off of the edge of his black button-up. This time, the slacks and the shirt were his. Nectar couldn’t give a shit as long as they wore all black.

            “It’s next Friday, seven o’clock,” Hannibal said, setting the glass down. He turned and adjusted it so that the sunlight from the window hit the color and made small, refracted teardrops of ruby scatter across the table. Will studied the colors, resisted the urge to reach out and drag his finger along one. Times and days were dates, but he wouldn’t say it, and Hannibal knew he wouldn’t say it.

            “I’ll go.”

            Back at the bar, while exchanging dirty glasses for clean ones, tossing napkins and filling orders, Will brushed shoulders with a girl a few years younger than him. Her brown hair was mousy, pulled back into a messy bun, but her blue eyes were sharp, assessing.

            “You’re Will Graham –the new guy,” she said.

            “Yes.”

            “I’m Abigail Hobbs,” she said, and out of the corner of his eye he saw her stare down at his hands rather than her own.

            “Nice to meet you,” he said.

            “Yeah,” she agreed. “We’re closing together tonight.”

            “You’ll have to show me the ropes.”

            “Yeah,” she said again, but he could tell that wasn’t what she wanted to say. Her eyes flicked up to meet his, then away quickly where she busied herself with garnishing a few drinks.

            It wasn’t until closing, when they were the only two left that she managed to say what was on her mind. Will had been expecting it, tensed for the blow that would probably make him lose this job after only a week of being there. Job number four, meet your end at the hands of a girl that appeared too young to legally drink.

            “The Chesapeake Ripper is killing people for you,” she said, and he paused, chair poised midair to set on the table top.

            “…Yes.” He set it down gently, rocking back on his heels.

            “You didn’t react to my name,” she added when he didn’t say anything else.

            “…I didn’t,” he agreed.

            “Most people do. You see, my dad killed people for me, too.” She flipped a few more chairs over onto their respective tables, avoiding his stare. Will tapped his fingers along the table beside him, watching her smudge move behind the bar. The low, dim light of the lamps behind the bar cast dark, wicked streaks along her face as she finally looked back at him. He couldn’t see her dagger eyes or her wind-chafed skin in the dark.

            “How many?”

            “Too many. He almost got me, too.” She motioned to her neck, to the lovely floral scarf she’d worn all throughout her shift despite the heat of the kitchen in the back or the sun outside. “I don’t like people seeing the scar.”

            “What happened to him?”

            “The FBI shot him when he was sawing into my neck. The Minnesota Shrike. I had to get out of Minnesota after that.”

            “Did they make articles about you, too?”

            “And a few books.”

            They shared a grim stare with one another, the kind of look one can only give to another that knows exactly what it’s like to have that kind of target on their back.

            “This is my fourth job this semester,” Will confessed, and Abigail nodded.

            “Six in one summer, until one of them made the mistake of telling me to my face that serial killers just couldn’t sell clothing in their store.” She smirked, pleased with herself. “I made a lot of money with the hours they had to give me in the settlement.”

            “Did you have to work with that hiring manager?”

            “Part of the deal was that she was fired…I think they called it rash incompetency.”

            “Did he say that he loved you in the end?” Will asked. A much darker question.

            “He said he loved me, he was sorry, and that it was all going to be okay soon.” She smiled a little, counting the till as he grabbed a broom and began sweeping everything out from under the tables. “The guy looked a little like you, the one that finally got him. His name was Will, and we were checked into the same psychiatric ward for a bit. Guess even at my father’s worst, it still messed a guy like him up that he had to be the one to kill him, even if he deserved it.”

            “You moved on, though.”

            “I did. I got my GED, I moved, and I made money off of one of the books because it was pure slander. Easiest libel case they’d ever had in court,” she boasted, but the thought sobered her up in the silence after. “…I guess I’m telling you this because there is a life after. It feels like forever, like there’s no…end. There’s no end and you just keep going because that’s what people do, no matter what. We keep going. But there is an end, and then it’s a new beginning, and I’m doing great.”

            When they finished closing, Will studied her in the red glow of the streetlight they waited under so that they could cross the street. She had a wind-chafed, lightly freckled face, the kind of girl people would have made fun of when they were young for the spots on her skin, the kind of face that grew up pretty and all of the boys regretted it. There was sorrow there, though. The kind of lines around the eyes and nose that don’t go away with time, merely soften. She noticed his scrutiny and smiled like she understood exactly what Will was searching for.

            “Was there ever a time you thought you wouldn’t live to see the end?” he wondered.

            “Every night that I closed my eyes while living in that house,” she replied.

            Will could relate to that part, too.

-

            He woke with a knife to his throat.

            It wasn’t the kind of waking that made him leap to the blade in surprise, and for that he was grateful. It was the sort of waking that was much like the way he’d realized he was even in this sort of mess with a serial killer –slowly, then suddenly all at once. He inhaled shortly, and in the back of his mind he recalled having the lamp on when he’d fallen asleep. It wasn’t on anymore, and the curtains had been drawn. It was just him, the darkness, and the Chesapeake Ripper.

            “Are you going to kill me?” he whispered against the knife. It was cool against his hot skin, a fear sweat breaking out along his temples. The Ripper shifted beside the bed, then he was straddling Will, the kind of stance that spoke of intimacy, both in life and in the taking of it. His eyes, still adjusting to the dark of the room, couldn’t see whether or not the man shook his head or nodded. His panic, starting in his stomach and worming its way everywhere else, wouldn’t let his eyes adjust.

            “If you are…I’d like to see your face first. Please.” Silence. If the Chesapeake Ripper spoke, Will would know him –why else would he be silent? He’d been to Nectar, and no matter how much Will scrambled to try and remember each and every customer, no one ever stood out to him. The only words he’d ever knowingly heard from him had been, ‘don’t move,’ and it was guttural enough he’d not recognized it. A forced voice. A fake voice.

            “I met someone today…someone like me.” The words came, and he swallowed convulsively, the tip of the knife digging in. He shuddered against it, eyes closed tightly. He wet his lips and tried to make his tongue work. “Her father killed girls in her name. I looked it up online after –couldn’t help it. The Minnesota Shrike, who impaled his victims on the antlers in his trophy room in order to gut them properly.

            “She told me that it was going to be okay. She said that he loved her up until the end. She’s in college now, going to classes, working. He died, though. He was killed in the moment that he was going to take her life, the final victim.” He opened his eyes, and in the stillness he could make out faint shapes, outlines. Broad shoulders. Baseball cap. Faceless shadow.

            “It was alright, though, she said. She lived, and there was an end. I didn’t know how to tell her that I didn’t like the ending. Why did he have to die, just so that she could live? Why did he have to end so that she could have a new beginning?”

            The shadow shifted, thighs tightening around Will’s waist. He flinched from it, from the closeness. Their weight dug into his guts, and he tentatively moved his hands, inching them forward until he was able to grasp the Chesapeake Ripper’s knees, gripping them tightly.

            “Why did he have to die just so that she could live?” he whispered again. “Why does everyone think that the happy ending is when the FBI kills you?”

            Silence. Poised above him, the Ripper didn’t brush his hands away, merely held still. Waiting. Waiting for what? Will swallowed convulsively, cleared his throat.

            “I feel…like I’m bleeding into you. That if something happened, I wouldn’t know how to move on, how to have a life where you weren’t somewhere behind me. Can one of us exist without the other? Can one of us live while the other is dead?”

            The knife’s pressure lifted, albeit only a fraction of an inch. Will gave a start when a hand, warm and gloved slid along his jaw to cup his cheek, but when it only caressed his skin, he found himself leaning into it, letting out a quiet huff of breath.

            “Did you kill that man because he not only got me fired again, but because he made me a target in all of the major newspapers?” he asked.

            Very deliberately, the thumb sliding against his cheek tapped once.

            “One tap yes, two taps no?”

            Another tap.

            “Am I to only suffer if you are the one to cause it?”

            One tap.

            “Did you hang him like Judas because you felt he shouldn’t be able to live with himself?”

            First one tap; as an afterthought, two more taps.

            “Yes and no,” Will murmured thoughtfully. He slid his hands along coarse jeans, pausing at the middle of the thighs before sliding back down. “You didn’t kill Freddie Lounds because you love the kind of stuff she writes about you. Even before me.”

            One tap.

            “Jack Crawford wants to put me in a safe house until they catch you. I told him no, and where you haven’t…tried to kill me yet, he can’t. That he knows of…we don’t communicate. I told him you’d burn the city down to find me.”

            One tap.

            “You’d start killing more until I was returned to you.”

            One tap.

            “You’re going to kill me one day.”

            Two taps.

            “You’re going to devour me, though. Until there’s nothing left but the parts of me that ache for you.” Will slid his hands back up the length of his legs, and underneath his touch the muscles clenched.

            One tap.

            “Is that it? You want me to ache for you?” He thought of his poetry, of his prose that made his knees weak. “You want me to feel a stab of hunger at the thought of you and find nourishment at the very sight?”

            A soft sigh, then one tap. Against his stomach, he felt the growing signs of arousal, and he closed his eyes tightly, tensing.

            “You want me to eat your burning heart,” he whispered, and the Ripper’s hand slid from his jaw to his chin, wrenching his head up. His kiss was rough, needing, and Will’s hands tightened on his knees, dragging their way up to his thighs where he gripped furiously, willing bruises from his fingertips to sink deep. It smelled of dirt, of secrecy and a musky undertone, although if that was from a bottle or from the man himself, Will couldn’t say.

            He broke the kiss and pressed his forehead to Will’s, the knife sliding into his skin enough that Will winced and tried to pull away. The Ripper’s breath came sharp, his hips rolling down against Will, and Will trembled, with fear or with want he couldn’t say.

            “Please don’t,” he whispered, and the Ripper stiffened above him. His thumb brushed Will’s bottom lip, as though he could feel just how hard he’d pressed against him, and he brushed his nose against Will’s as he pecked lightly once, twice. It seemed odd, coming from him. Gentle. Apologetic.

            “I don’t think I could do…that…not knowing all of you. Please don’t make me.” He forced the words out, lips brushing against the Ripper’s, and after a half-held breath, the Ripper nodded.

            He sat up, and the knife disappeared. Will exhaled a heavy breath and laid his head back deep into the pillow, relief a balm that spread through his skin to the muscle below. The Chesapeake Ripper placed a hand over Will’s fingers that lightly drummed against his leg, stilling the motion. What had Hannibal called it? Unease? The Ripper seemed to sense it, too.

            “Thank you,” Will said sincerely.

            He wasn’t quite sure how long they lay like that, Ripper poised over him, holding his hand against his leg. It was enough that the fear abated, but only just. It was enough that when he finally slid off of him and departed, Will missed the contact, the warmth.

            He tried very, very hard to ignore just how much he missed it.

-

Dear Will,

            I long for the day that you ache for me.

                                                                        Yours,

                                                                        -C.R.

            It was pinned to his bedroom door, and Will stared at it for a long time. He thought about taking it down, but in the end he left it there, for reasons he wasn’t entirely prepared to explain.