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Dread and Hunger

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Chapter 12: Pinotage

Dear Will,

We die,
Welcoming Bluebeards to our darkening closets,
Stranglers to our outstretched necks,
Stranglers, who neither care nor
care to know that
Death is internal.

We pray,
Savoring sweet the teethed lies,
Bellying the grounds before alien gods,
Gods, who neither know nor
wish to know that
Hell is internal.

We love,
Rubbing the nakednesses with gloved hands,
Inverting our mouths in tongued kisses,
Kisses that neither touch nor
care to touch if
Love is internal.

                                                                Yours,

                                                                -C.R.

            Will called Jack, and it went to voicemail.

            “Jack, it’s Will Graham…I think there’s a body. It’s…it’s a poem, but I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what to look for. He says everything is internal, everything is…no matter what another does to you, they won’t truly know because it’s internal. I don’t know what he’s trying to say to me. Is he saying I’m an exception? Is he saying I did something and can’t see it because it’s on the inside?

            “I looked up the Pazzi family, though. I think he did that to him because the Pazzi’s in Italy have an ancestor that died the same way, a shameful person with a shameful past and a bad family reputation to go with it. He came here to get away from that. I think he was toying with you as much as he was trying to defend me, killing him that way. I don’t know…I don’t know anymore. I don’t wonder why three. Why three? Why not?

            “…I think there’s a body, though. Every poem a body, right?”

            He dragged his fingers through the lavender, picking up one that’d become bent in transit. With slow deliberation, he placed it on his tongue and savored it.

-

            The body was found by a student in the forensics lab at the university, splayed out on a table with almost every single tool accessible in the room pierced through his skin. Will and Beverly were stopped before they could enter the building by a stern police officer that informed them that class was cancelled. The whispers of the students nearby revealed why.

            “Gross, someone got a picture of it,” Beverly said, holding it up. Will grimaced at the grotesque image, looking to the sidewalk instead.

            “It’s the wound man,” he said when he could catch his breath. His tongue tasted like lavender.

            “That old school picture? I…wait, I see it,” she said, tilting her head. On an Iphone, the resolution of the picture was almost as good as seeing it in person. Almost. “Hasn’t he wound man’d someone before?”

            “He has,” said Will, stuffing his hands into pockets. He clenched them into fists, considered calling Jack again. Reconsidered since Jack would find a way to him.

            “Running out of inspiration?” Beverly asked.

            “Running out of patience,” Will said, and the glance Beverly gave him was equal parts concern and curiosity. “Death is internal,” he added.

            “Not for this guy, it wasn’t.”

-

            Tobias was at Nectar when he clocked on, and he smiled pleasantly at Will, like they were somewhat good friends.

            “Will Graham, right?” he asked hesitantly. His eyes still looked as flat as they had at the theater.

            “Yes, what can I get for you this afternoon?”

            “Do you have a good pinotage on hand? I’ve been aching to try one,” he said, and maybe it was the way his lips curled on the ‘a’ and his lashes fluttered at the curl of the ‘ing’, but it set Will on edge.

            “We do,” he said, and he walked around the bar without pausing to ask if he wanted a glass or a bottle. Will decided for him in the back that he’d only get a glass.

            He set the glass down and drummed his fingers along the server tray, casting a glance back towards Abigail who chatted with a few regulars at the counter.

            “You seem nervous,” Tobias said, taking a sip of the wine. He let out a quiet sigh of appreciation, and he nodded in thanks. “Lovely. Lovely.”

            “Let me know if I can get you anything else,” Will informed him.

            “There is, actually. I didn’t want to ask while we were at the ballet of all places, but you’re that Will Graham, aren’t you?”

            “…Yes.” Will studied the edge of the table. That Will Graham. Good grief.

            “So you’re the one the Chesapeake Ripper is keenly interested in,” Tobias said, and Will heard a tinge of awe in his voice. It made his skin crawl.

            “I wouldn’t call it that.”

            “You’d call it something more?” Tobias asked.

            “I’d call it something less.” Will glanced to Tobias’ flat, steady stare, and he looked over his shoulder instead.

            “Oh, I wouldn’t sell yourself so short,” Tobias said kindly. “I’m sure there’s something about you that has him running around town with a fire lit under him.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “Well, he must have some motive, doesn’t he? Something about you to inspire him?”

            “Are you a reporter?” Will asked, taking a half-step back. He looked about for Freddie Lounds with her looming camera and trademark red hair.

            “No, I’m an owner of a string shop for musical instruments,” he said, and he lifted a hand up, like he could ease the panic starting to build just under Will’s skin. “No affiliations with any reporters, either.”

            “Okay.”

            “I suppose I just find myself thinking about it every time the news reports another case. After that leak from the FBI about love letters and symbolic murders, I had to wonder just what would drive a serial killer to the point that their work is a homage for someone else and not themselves. When I saw you, that curiosity grew.” His eyes raked over Will, assessing.

            “Will?” At the sound of Abigail’s voice, Will turned, eager for an escape. “I need you to do some inventory in the back, like you said you would?”

            “Sorry,” he said to Tobias. Then, “I’m on it, Abigail.”

            He stayed in the back until Abigail gave him a thumb’s up to come out. When he did, there was no sign of Tobias, and Abigail scrutinized him with a pitying expression.

-

            That night, he found Hannibal waiting beside his bike, jacket laid over his arm as he looked up to the stars. Will absently waved goodbye to one of his co-workers, a guy named Jake, and he studied Hannibal in profile; the clean lines of his suit, the elegant turn of his cheek. As if sensing the study, he turned and studied Will back, a faint smile gracing his lips.

            “Good evening,” he greeted warmly.

            “Late night stroll?” Will asked, walking over to him.

            “I thought to admire the stars, but it’s difficult in the city. Do you want to go for a drive?”

            Twenty minutes out of the city there was a park called Wolf Trap, and they parked in a public space by a gathering of picnic tables. Nothing but the wind and the trees encircled them, and Will laid down on a table to stare up, Hannibal seated just to the side of him. His clasped hands brushed Will’s shoulders as he shifted.

            “He killed someone again,” Will said. He marveled at the stars that he could so vividly see when just before they’d been dimmed, quieted by the city light.

            “I saw the news. Did you receive another poem?”

            “I’m trying to understand it. It’s…internal. Everything he’s done, everything he’s said, it’s internal. It’s in him, it’s…digging into me. People hurt us without realizing, and they don’t care to see because it’s internal. We prostrate ourselves to them, torture ourselves with the designs of others, and the struggles we face are unknown. I don’t know if he’s telling me I’ve hurt him, or if he’s realizing how much he’s hurt me.”

            “Does the knowing matter so much to you?” Hannibal asked. He looked from the stars to Will’s face.

            “It shouldn’t.”

            “But it does.”

            “It does,” Will agreed. “I think that means there’s something fundamentally wrong with me.”

            “Wanting to understand the motivations of a person that arguably holds control over you is completely understandable, Will. You may not ask him ‘how high’ when he demands that you jump, but you do find your thoughts consumed with him. Your nights are spent turning what little words he’s given you over and over again in your head until you’re dizzy from it.

            “How many nights have you fallen asleep in a drunken stupor, needing the alcohol to give you the sort of calm to rest?”

            “Too many,” Will admitted.

            “And here you are, staring up at the vast beauty of a clear night sky, unable to appreciate it because of him.”

            “I think…constantly worrying about what he’s going to do next has given me a better appreciation of things like this, actually” said Will after a moment of tracing Cassiopeia with his eyes. “It gives me a great appreciation of time spent with you and my friends.”

            “I’m glad to be a part of it, even if my romantic attachments are in competition with the Chesapeake Ripper,” Hannibal said lightly. Will ignored the barbed joke.

            “How do you see him, as a psychiatrist?” he asked curiously. “You said your work wasn’t all depression and mid-life crisis.” His teeth worried over his bottom lip. “You said you’ve had your fair share of darkness.”

            “You want me to summarize the Chesapeake Ripper in so many words?” he asked, surprised.

            “Choose them wisely,” Will replied, turning his head. He studied Hannibal’s jawline, the dip of the collar into his neck as he swallowed heavily.

            “I always do. Words are powerful. How they are delivered, how they are received is everything. We can both create and destroy with words, and that is a very powerful tool.”

            “Could you use them on him?”

            “I don’t know if I want to,” Hannibal confessed. “The thought lends itself a very…slippery slope. Will you take on my thoughts of the Ripper as your own, or will you cast them aside because you have a better idea?”

            “You think I’d have a better idea?”

            “He is interested in you for a reason, isn’t he? He trusts you to see the truth of the matter, all bias aside. You assume his point of view, and you empathize with his feelings for you.”

            “And what a thought that is,” Will murmured. He looked back up to the stars, trying to pinpoint the satellites among them. “When he…held a knife to me, I couldn’t see his face. I told him…that it felt like we were bleeding into one another.”

            “What did he do?”

            “He didn’t speak, but his hold on me tightened. That excites him; the idea that we will blur so far into one another that one cannot live without the other.”

            “Why haven’t you told Jack?” Hannibal reached over and clasped Will’s hand to stop him tapping his fingers along his ribs.

            Will didn’t answer for a long time. He stared at the stars, found comfort in the shushing noise of the wind through the leaves. He opened his mouth several times to try and force the words out, but they were dirty on his tongue, and he didn’t want to ruin the taste of the air he breathed with them. Hannibal waited, patient, like this time that dripped around them held no motive but to hold its breath until he was ready.

            “I feel…defensive of him,” Will said at last, squeezing Hannibal’s hand tightly. “He sees what this does to me, how it makes my mind…” His voice trailed off. He tried again. “How unstable it makes me feel. To see and understand these things, he knows that it makes me afraid of myself, of my capacity to understand these things like they’re my own thoughts and designs. Despite his choice in putting me in such an unbalanced state, it’s like…he wants to contain the mess he’s creating for me. Like an oil spill.”

            “He wants you to rely on him, even though that reliance is a direct correlation to his actions done to you in the first place,” Hannibal said. “He is concerned ultimately with power and control. By keeping you imbalanced, you rely on him for stability.”

            “You said that you see me as the mongoose to have under the house when the snakes slither by. I don’t feel that useful. I feel more like…a chipped mug, passed through too many hands before it becomes what the youngest child in the family gets to put their toothbrush in.”

            “I don’t know about that, Will,” Hannibal replied kindly. “Anyone with the power to take a merciless serial killer and make them write poetry instead has a rare, powerful gift.”

            “He’s still killing people, even as he writes the poetry,” Will pointed out.

            “Even so; I believe you hold more sway over him than you think.”

            Hannibal had chosen his words carefully indeed. When they finally headed to Will’s apartment, he thought of the many ways and times that the Ripper had delicately moved about his needs, passing notes to calm him in his presence, pressing mouth to mouth in apology, wondering at his ability to dream.

-

Dear Will,

            I see you’ve acquired another admirer that lurks about your place of work. First the doctor, now the musician –do I have to fight for your attentions? Or are they only a distraction because I have not been forthcoming enough? How very rude of me, my dear Will, to leave you in this state of suspense. I will have to remedy that.

                                                                                                                                              Yours,

                                                                                                                                             -C.R.

            Will uncurled the odd, thin material from the letter, confused. It was no flower; that much was obvious. It looked more like the strings to a violin, and he dropped it to the table with a sharp hiss of breath when he realized that he must have gotten it from Tobias Budge’s shop.

-

            “Hey, Jack, it’s Will. If you don’t answer next time I call, I’ll just go to the FBI and talk to them in person. I think there’s a man who’s taken an interest in me that is now a target of the Chesapeake Ripper. His name is Tobias Budge. If you could make sure he doesn’t die, that’d be…well, I’m tired of thinking about all of these bodies. I’m just tired.”

-

            Tobias made a habit of Will.

            He tried, Will supposed, to be like Hannibal, asking about his welfare and the Chesapeake Ripper over his favorite pinotage. The difference was in the tone, the eyes, and the way his mouth curled around the glass. When Will could bring himself to look up at him, the delivery and the speech seemed rehearsed, the sort of tone-practice that one does in front of a mirror in order to sound sincere when they’re not.

            He didn’t like Tobias making a habit of him.

            He was never there when Hannibal was, and for that Will was relieved. He didn’t want to have to explain that his patient’s friend had taken a liking to him –better yet, he didn’t want to have to explain that his patient’s friend had taken a liking to the Chesapeake Ripper, and by proxy, him. After he’d seen the note pinned to Will’s door, there were times that he’d survey Will with a certain sort of expression bordering on possessive. When they had sex, no matter whose house they ended up at, there was an edge of something unsettling in the way his hands gripped Will’s hips, in the way he whispered praises in his ear. After, he’d sleep with Will’s back to his chest, his arm wrapped around his waist with his hand pressed insistently to his chest. Hunger. Hunger was a good word for it.

            As was the way of all things, though, such luck could not last.

            “Do you work tomorrow?” Tobias asked, standing up from his usual table.

            “I don’t think so,” Will hedged. Abigail wasn’t there to rescue him.

            “I’ll stop by all the same. This place is quaint, and I wish I’d discovered it sooner.”

            Tobias placed a hand on his shoulder, meant as a gesture of comfort or solidarity. Will flinched from it, and as he turned away, he saw Hannibal in the doorway, watching.

            “Have a good day,” he said to Tobias, staring at Hannibal.

            “I think I know why the Chesapeake Ripper is after you, Will,” Tobias said, ignoring the polite dismissal.

            “I leave that to the FBI to figure out.” Will felt his face flush, and he looked to the tile beside Tobias’ shoe.

            “I think he sees such resilient resistances that you have, and he wants to break them,” he continued, either not hearing Will or ignoring him. He looked over to Hannibal who walked over to them casually, and he smiled. “Don’t you think so, Dr. Lecter? There’s something so humanely satisfying about shattering the unbreakable.”

            “I rather prefer the Japanese method of kintsugi; the art of using gold lacquer to fortify and strengthen the pottery to make it like new after a break,” Hannibal replied. He sat down at Tobias’ table, unheeding of the dirty plates and glasses.

            “Good to see you,” Tobias said with a smile.

            “And you,” Hannibal agreed.

            Tobias left, and Will busied himself with clearing the table, heat spreading from his ears to his neck. When he reached across to grab the wine glasses, Hannibal slid his fingers along Will’s inner wrist.

            “An elevated pulse,” he noted. “Is that excitement or fear I smell, Will?”

            “Unease.”

            “Guilty?”

            “Uncomfortable.”

            Hannibal hmm’d thoughtfully, stroking his wrist lightly before letting him go.

            “He just started showing up after the ballet,” Will continued, standing straight. His skin tingled. “I don’t know why.”

            “Perhaps he looks to replace me,” Hannibal mused. The spark of possessiveness flickered across his face, then was gone.

            “He can try,” Will retorted derisively.

            “Are you so confidant in us with our non-labels?” Hannibal asked, amused.

            “At the very least, myself,” Will said, turning away to take the dishes to the back. He didn’t miss the expression of utmost delight on Hannibal’s face.