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Dread and Hunger

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Chapter 15: Old Fashioned

            Abigail found him on campus that Monday, perusing help wanted ads pinned to one of the community boards.

            “Hey,” she said, shifting from one foot to the other. Will pulled a phone number tab from one of the papers with a little too much force.

            “Was it Tobias Budge that complained about me?” he asked.

            “…Yeah.” She made a face, and they walked along the sidewalk, shoulders occasionally bumping with uneven steps. Somehow, he didn’t mind it. “He made a huge deal about being charged wrong, you using foul language whenever he came in, and things like that. Even when I said it was a lie, she got a hold of that Freddie Lounds article and it was all downhill from there.”

            “I’m giving up bartending.”

            “Your dream?” she asked, brows lifted in mock surprise.

            “I’ll make a new dream…dog walking.” He held up the scrap of paper to show her.

            “You need a bachelor’s degree for dog walking.”

            “…Then I’ll make a newer dream.” He snorted and tucked the paper into his pocket for later. When they reached one of the coffee shops on campus, he grabbed drinks for the two of them and sat down, staring off towards the crowds of students going to and from class.

            “How are you doing?” Abigail asked.

            Will opened his mouth to tell her that he was fine, just fine, but his eyes fell to the chiffon scarf tied into a bow at her neck. His mouth fumbled with the words, discarded them. She was the only one who could possibly know what he was going through.

            “I’m…wrestling with a moral dilemma,” he admitted. He turned the iced coffee about in his hands, thumb wiping away a streak of condensation on it.

            “About the Chesapeake Ripper?”

            “About a lot of things, but him too.” Tobias Budge. The Ripper’s note. The fact that Will had sex with the Chesapeake Ripper. Just thinking it sent tendrils of chills down his back.

            If you truly wish for me to kill Tobias Budge for you, you only have to ask.

            “Are they any closer to finding him?” Abigail asked.

            “No.” He took a sip of coffee and laughed bitterly. “The body count is rising, too,” he added.

            “That’s not your fault.”

            “…What if it was?” Will asked. “What if…you were upset with someone, and your father had offered to kill them for you. Would that be your fault? Or would it have been his?”

            “He killed a store manager once because I’d mentioned him leering at me and my friends,” Abigail confessed quietly. She watched her coffee much the same way Will did. “When people are sick in the head, they’ll make it about you no matter what you do. They’ll make you think you put the thoughts in their head, not the other way around.”

            “You loved him,” Will said quietly. “Even when he was like that.”

            “I loved him, but I was afraid of him,” Abigail replied. Her hand passed along the scarf, an unconscious gesture.

            They enjoyed their coffee in silence, and when the large clock tower chimed the time she left him to head to her next class, hair cast about wildly in the breeze. Will watched her go, then stared up at the sky, the hint of a forlorn sigh on the tip of his tongue. Only his blunt refusal to be cliché stopped it.

            Abigail loved her father, but she’d been afraid of him. Will wasn’t afraid of the Chesapeake Ripper. He was afraid of himself.

            If you truly wish for me to kill Tobias Budge for you, you only have to ask.

-

            The dog walking gig fell through, but a seedy bar at the edge of the city snapped him up right away. Mingles had a reputation for bikers, a strict code about not cheating at pool, and a perpetually dirty bathroom. The tips were phenomenal, though. Even on training night, Will walked away with a stuffed pocket of cash.

            The idea of Hannibal ever showing up to such a place didn’t cross his mind. It smelled of sweat, well-whiskey, and the acidic aftermath of vomit. The loudness was brash, moreso for Will, and he found that more often than not he was detaching himself from customers male and female alike that just ‘wanted to take him home to mom’.

            The noise helped him drown out the thought of asking the Chesapeake Ripper to kill Tobias Budge.

            This town isn’t big enough for two serial killers.

            In reality, he should just call Jack and tell him to look closer at Tobias. How could he explain that, though? There had to be probable cause to go snooping without a warrant, and it’s not like Will knew where Tobias kept his human remains. Could they test the strings? Would there be a difference between cat gut strings and human gut strings? Would Tobias Budge walk, and in doing so walk right up to Will and gut him in thanks?

            It wasn’t lost on him that with all of the surmounting evidence he had on both the Chesapeake Ripper and Tobias budge, he was in no way capable of presenting it to the authorities in a way that wouldn’t condemn him, too. That is, if they even believed him.

            The bar also distracted him from the random sparks of memory that slid along his mind’s eye in a macabre fashion. The sounds he’d made as the Ripper touched him. The sensation of their members rubbing along one another, the way he kissed as though he could inhale the very essence of Will by desire alone. It was not concise, organized memory, but sporadic pieces that he had to stitch together to get the full story. He’d gotten home, drunk, to the Chesapeake Ripper in his house. In his loneliness, in his desperation, he’d –what, asked to fuck him? Begged him?

            “What do we know of hunger?”

            “It needs to be fed.”

            “Why did you change your aftershave back?” Hannibal asked, sliding onto the barstool in front of Will. He looked up, surprised, rag in hand as he attempted to get a particularly vicious lipstick stain off of the rim of a martini glass. Some of the girls sported matte lipstick that boasted at its ability to never come off. He learned the truth of that after a sorority came through and decimated the daqueri glasses with merciless precision.

            “…Didn’t think you’d notice,” he said, setting the glass back down into the water. He’d fight with it later.

            “Now that I have?”

            “How did you find me here?” Will asked, looking about. It wasn’t terribly crowded, a few bikers in a corner and a few fraternity brothers drinking by the dart boards. Hannibal’s clean-lined, tweed suit stood out in sharp relief to the dim, dirty backdrop of the bar. He stuck out like a sore thumb, but if he noticed the clash of his presence in the general ambiance, he certainly didn’t care.

            “Not everyone is as difficult to find as your secret admirer is. Your friend Abigail was more than happy to help me out.” A pause as he looked about, eyes maroon underneath the bar lights. “This is far from your normal places of work.”

            “Well, the ‘normal’ places are all terrified that I’m going to bring a psychopath in tow that will kill their customers,” Will groused, and with nothing on the menu resembling wine, he started making Hannibal an Old Fashioned.

            “I suppose, given the assumptions about people that frequent these places, a psychopath is the least of their worries.”

            “Assumptions?”

            “Most of it, I’m convinced, is a societal stereotype. More often than not, the one that appears the least capable of kindness holds it in endless quantities, while the one whose face is a shining pillar to the community keeps the darkest secrets.”

            “If you say it a little louder, you’ll make friends with everyone here.”

            “I am always searching for new acquaintances.”

            He set the drink down for Hannibal, a little harder than intended at his mentioning of new acquaintances, and he accepted it with a nod of thanks. A waitress came back with orders for the men in the corner, and Will busied himself with filling pitchers of beer, pointedly ignoring the way the girl was eyeing Hannibal.

            When she left, he looked to Will, taking a sip of his drink. He nodded in appreciation at the taste and set it down lightly.

            “Were you going to tell me that you got a new job?”

            “I thought about it.”

            “I’m relieved to find that I was given some consideration.” He smiled, canines showing.

            “…I’m not sorry,” Will said.

            “Don’t be,” Hannibal replied pleasantly. “You are your own person, equally capable of making bad decisions just as much as good ones.”

            It was a fair sting, and Will nodded, setting clean glasses on the rack to dry.

            “In your own way, was changing your aftershave a way to cut some aspect of me out of your life?” The words were accusatory, but Hannibal wielded them with a small, knowing smile. Will shifted from foot to foot, looking out over the room again.

            “You didn’t call me, either,” he pointed out after a moment. He didn’t have a serving tray to hide behind like he’d had at Sangre. He didn’t have an Abigail to make him go do inventory like he did at Nectar.

            “I didn’t,” Hannibal agreed. “I supposed that you were upset with me, given how our last call had ended.” A pause. “And the one before that.”

            “I wasn’t.”

            “You were,” Hannibal quipped.

            “Alright, I was,” Will said. His shoulder jerked into a shrug, and he drummed his fingers idly on the bar.

            “Therefore, I thought that space was best for us and our ‘non-label’.”

            It didn’t sound so nice that time, when he said it. It sounded dry, an overused word with a meaning Will didn’t even know anymore. Someone walked up to close their tab, and he used that as an excuse to not answer, head ducked as he swiped the card and went through the motions. Hannibal idly sipped his drink.

            When he returned, he said, “I think Tobias Budge killed the musician from the Baltimore Symphony in order to try and reach out to the Chesapeake Ripper.”

            Whatever Hannibal was expecting, it wasn’t that. His brows lifted, curious, then he smiled slightly and set his drink down.

            “It was just dinner, Will,” he said kindly.

            “I don’t know if Jack will take me seriously, though,” he said, ignoring the barb. “There’s something…wrong about him. That murder wasn’t the Chesapeake Ripper, although Agent Crawford thinks it is. It was from one killer to another.”

            “How could you tell?” Hannibal asked.

            “It felt…different. I’ve seen enough of the Chesapeake Ripper’s work to know when it’s not, and this wasn’t it. The intestines were removed, but it was messy, not as meticulous as the Ripper is. No, this…this was…a serenade. He was reaching out to the Ripper.”

            “And you think Tobias Budge wants to reach out to the Chesapeake Ripper?”

            “Serial killers wouldn’t like sharing, I don’t think,” Will said.

            “I don’t imagine so, no,” Hannibal agreed, amused.

            “So I think that…unless the Chesapeake Ripper knows, he won’t realize he’s in danger.”

            “Does it trouble you to think that he could be killed rather than apprehended by the FBI?” Hannibal asked. “Given how defensive you feel of him?”

            “That’s not justice, and it allows another killer to walk free,” Will hedged.

            “That’s not truly an answer,” Hannibal murmured, finishing his drink.

            “That’s not really a fair question,” Will replied.

            Hannibal waited until his shift was over to walk out with him, and when they reached the sidewalk his hand ghosted the small of Will’s back, a light caress that he didn’t want to admit how much he’d missed. The neon lights outside of the bar lit up different angles of Hannibal’s face; his jaw green, his cheek red, the hollows of his eyes blue. They loaded Will’s bike into Hannibal’s vehicle, and they headed back to his apartment.

            “Did you change your aftershave because you were intimate with someone else?” Hannibal asked in the car. Will balked at the question.

            “What?”

            “It’s not an unfair question, Will.”

            “…It’s not,” Will agreed. He sighed quietly and propped his head up, staring out of the window. He thought of Beverly’s warnings about dating someone far older than you, how it always ended up ‘messy’. He thought of the way the Ripper’s skin left an aftertaste of copper on his tongue, and how it’d excited him in his drunken state. If it’d been Jack Crawford asking, he’d have immediately jumped to conclusions that would have, for once, been entirely spot on.

            “I don’t remember it,” he said slowly, tasting the lie. It was a good one, delivered with as much hesitance and confusion as it deserved. “I don’t even know who it was,” he added.

            “Then you’re ashamed of it,” Hannibal noted.

            “I guess I’m realizing just what I’m capable of when I feel like I don’t have a lot of control,” he said morosely. Apparently, fucking serial killers was one of those newfound capabilities. He rubbed his forehead, trying to push the images out of his head.

            “Was I part of the reason you felt a lack of control?” Hannibal asked.

            “I was rude to you,” he said by way of apology.

            “Fear makes you rude,” Hannibal reminded him. Will laughed, covering his face with his hand. It did. It really, really did.

            “I think I want us to have a label,” Will said, unable to look over at him. He didn’t want to see Hannibal’s face twist, didn’t want to see the inevitable expression of a person that didn’t want the same thing he wanted. “I’m tired of the way we sound without one.”

            “What sort of label would you give us, if given the option?” Hannibal asked. His tone revealed nothing.

            “I think the kids call it boyfriend, or at the very least, partner,” he replied. His mouth was decidedly dry. “If I butchered that, though, I…understand.”

            “Jealousy makes you rude, too,” Hannibal said cheerfully.

            “Yeah.” Will nodded and looked out of the window, letting lights blur to streaks in the dark. He thought of lavender on his tongue, and the way Hannibal smiled at him at Sangre, counting the many times he was able to meet his eye. On a particularly good day, five.

            Hannibal reached over and took his hand, holding it to stop Will’s damned tapping on his knee. At a red light, he twisted his wrist and lifted Will’s hand up to his mouth, pressing a delicate kiss to his inner palm. Will looked at it, then up at his mouth. His teeth worried over his bottom lip as he watched, waiting. His heart gave an irregular, pointed thump.

            “If you change your aftershave back, I think that ‘boyfriend’ is a label I can certainly live with,” he said. When he caught Will’s eye, he kissed each one of his fingertips, as delicate as the petals of a flower.

            After Hannibal left that night, he tossed the bottle with the ship on it in the trash. He told himself it was because the other one truly did smell better; in reality, he was better at lying to Hannibal about his memories than he was at lying to himself.

-

Dear Will,

            Did my last letter trouble you? Is the ease in which I fulfil your every desire something that you shy from out of perceived moral obligation, or is it because you have an instinct to reject aid in any form?

            I think I want to meet you, face to face, without the darkness. After the way you placed your hands on me, I think you feel the same.

                                                                                                                        Yours,

                                                                                                                        -C.R.

            “Hey, Jack…it’s Will. I hope your wife is alright. I know you said you’d spoken with Tobias Budge, but I…I really think you should look deeper. There’s something about him that I can’t see, but I think that when we do, it’ll be too late. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

            He turned over the flower petals: iris, rose, dianthus, carnations, freesia, amaranth, forget-me-not, and verbena. The same petals as the first letter, the same petals as the bouquet the woman held, clad in her wedding dress. Will thought about what it’d be like to pull back the veil covering the Chesapeake Ripper. He placed the rose petal on his tongue and smiled.

-

            It rained the next few days.

            Will didn’t mind the rain as much as he minded walking home in it. After work, the sheets of water went sideways, and he pulled the strings of his raincoat tightly to keep the hood over his head.

            The sound howled in his ears, and he hunkered his shoulders, making a beeline for the overhang of various shops, small landmarks until he could get to a place where a taxi lurked. Honestly, it was worth it to just get an Uber. He hated them, the mundane conversation of the driver, the tense atmosphere of sitting in the back of a car that belonged to someone else. With a twenty minute walk home, though, he’d risk the uncomfortable social obligations of small talk. Hannibal would be proud.

            It was at that moment, though, when his thumbs tapped over the screen of his phone to get to the app that a needle punctured into the back of his neck. He wasn’t quite sure how he knew it was a needle –it’d been years since his last shot. He figured it was the angle, coupled with the sensation of something entering his veins, sinking deep as each heartbeat spread it farther, farther. He whirled about, but his feet tripped over one another and he stumbled, arm flying up to grab at the person behind him, trying to find his footing.

            He didn’t recall hitting the concrete with an unforgiving thud. He didn’t even recall the sound of someone soothing the confusion away as he tried to slur what was happening.

            All that he heard was the sound of the killer’s serenade, the mellow notes of a cello that hungered. Then everything went black.