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Dread and Hunger

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Epilogue:

Six Years Later:

            Will stepped into a house that smelled like freshly cooked veal.

            He hung his keys on a hook and put his wool coat in the closet, considering the smell with a mild annoyance, something coupled with exasperation. Of all of the times, of all of the foods at a time like this

            It was a good smell, all things considered; the things considered were mildly unsavory, though, and it was with trepidation that he headed down the hall to the kitchen, the smell wafting from the door hitting him in the face when he nudged it open.

            “Welcome home,” Hannibal said warmly. He stood poised before a masterpiece of plates, shirtsleeves rolled up, vest protected by a stark white apron that hadn’t seen a stain on it once in the six years Will had witnessed it in use. Aesthetics and all, he supposed, that Hannibal wore it. Hannibal positively drowned in aesthetics.

            “Are you serious?” Will asked, tossing a file down on the counter.

            “It is an honest, warm welcome,” Hannibal assured him. He glanced up from delicately placing parsley alongside a piece of meat cooked to perfection, eyes bright and lip quirked in the smallest of smiles.

            “I’ve got a case with four dead bodies, and you’re cooking this?” Will demanded.

            “It’s veal.”

            “It’s veal?” Will snorted derisively.

            “This time, it’s veal,” Hannibal assured him. He circled the small island and headed to the fridge, withdrawing a bottle. “Coupled with the beer I fermented in a chardonnay wine barrel, it will be a lovely addition to the table.”

            “…That is good beer,” Will allowed. He glanced from the veal to the bottle that Hannibal was pouring into a glass for him, and he sighed, rolling his shirtsleeves up. “How can I help?”

            He was allowed to mince a few greens and assist in setting the table, although the presentation of the food was always left to Hannibal and Hannibal alone. It was part of the delight in cooking, or so Will had been told. It was with suspicion that he bit into the veal, but after a few smooth cuts, he allowed himself to believe that it was veal and he ate with far more gusto. His palette had gotten better with time and practice, although once upon a time he wouldn’t have been able to distinguish a beef patty from a veggie burger after it was cooked.

            “Did you not believe me?” Hannibal asked, watching him cut another bite.

            “I didn’t.” He paused, chewing slowly, savoring the herbs it’d been rolled in before being cooked so slowly that it melted in his mouth. “Work is hell,” he said around the food.

            “A long day. You’re in need of a treat, I think.”

            “I need bodies to stop showing up by the Trevi Fountain,” Will muttered savagely. “…He’s calling himself Il Monstro, you know.”

            He noted the subtle changes in Hannibal’s stance; his shoulders tensed, his hand gripped the fork tighter. He didn’t stop cutting his food, although there was such precision and focus on it that it seemed mildly overkill.

            “Is he?”

            “It’s a copycat, Hannibal.”

            “You’re sure it’s a copycat?” Hannibal asked. “Or are you gauging my actions to see whether or not I appear particularly pleased with my behaviors as of late?”

            Will took another pointed bite of food. “It’s veal,” he said. “Your last kill was four hours from here, twenty-seven days ago. You cooked the leg in clay.”

            “A copycat,” Hannibal murmured.

            “He’s claiming your kills from seventeen years ago, you know,” Will said conversationally. “From Florence.”

            He took a sip of the beer, tracked the pulse thudding in Hannibal’s neck.

            “You’re enjoying the sensation of needling me, dear Will,” Hannibal replied with a tone of utmost politeness.

            “I am.”

            “Are there any leads?” he wondered. “Or are the police as baffled as they ever were?”

            “They’re as baffled as ever,” said Will, taking another bite of food. “He’s taking surgical trophies, but what’s he doing with them?”

            “Is he eating them?”

            “No.” Will watched Hannibal chew with delicate care. “I think he’s selling them and using your work to hide his work.”

            “Clever,” Hannibal praised, and Will couldn’t be sure if he was complimenting the copycat or Will. He paused before taking a sip of his wine, closing his eyes as he inhaled the bouquet with a forced measure of calm.

            “I can see you,” Will said quietly. “You’re furious that he’s stealing your work.”

            Hannibal smiled faintly around the glass. “Mimicry is the best form of flattery.”

-

            Much like Hannibal enjoyed surprising Will with food, various books, fishing tackle, and musical compositions, Will enjoyed sometimes surprising Hannibal, too.

            “What is this?” Hannibal asked, staring. There was something in the way that his shoulders were tilted back, his chin lifted, that told Will that Hannibal knew exactly what it was –his need to make himself appear bigger, almost preening before what Will had managed to do for him.

            “Meet Matthew Brown, the Il Monstro Copycat,” Will said. He cleaned his hands idly on a small rag, surveyed the man bound and gagged before them on a chair. The basement of the house they lived in served as a lovely place for Will to sequester serial killers that he helped the police hunt throughout Italy, as the sound was much deafened and no one ever suspected Inspector Graham of any sort of ill intent to ever have cause to search the house, let alone the secrets held underneath.

            “How ever did you find him?” Hannibal wondered. The smallest indications of his pleasure were obvious in the faint smile, the light in his eyes turned black in the glow of the basement bulbs.

            “Detective work and a little bit of ingenuity,” Will replied with a shrug.

            The man in question, Matthew Brown, stared at them with the sort of expression Will supposed one would have when they’d been caught by someone other than an officer of the law –a wary sort of fear bred of the knowledge that there was no rule in place that said they couldn’t do whatever they liked with him.

            “Clever boy,” Hannibal said, and once again Will had to wonder if it was intended as a compliment for him or for the copycat.

            I thought it fitting for our deal,” Will said, and Hannibal lifted his chin slightly, ever-so congenial.

            “Our deal,” he murmured, and he stepped forward to remove the gag from Matthew Brown’s mouth. It wasn’t anything fancy, a rag twisted and shoved far back enough to choke, and he tossed it to a work table as the copycat worked his jaw and mouth slowly, loosening the tenseness to it.

            “Do you know who I am, Matthew Brown?”

            “I’m not a copycat,” Matthew said.

            “You are,” Hannibal disagreed.

            “The only person in the world that could say that with conviction would be the real Il Monstro. Just gauge his tone, Matthew,” Will said, leaning back against the work table. There was a suggestive sneer to his lips, something just dark enough that Matthew managed to tear his eyes away from Hannibal’s face to stare at Will, all but drinking him in as his words sunk in.

            “You’re saying he’s the real Il Monstro?” Matthew asked. He glanced between the two of them, lip curling into his mouth as he bit down on it, hard.

            “With utmost certainty,” Hannibal replied.

            Matthew nodded, the information reeling around his mind as he took Hannibal’s appearance in a second time, starting from his shoes and working his way up along trousers, vest, dress shirt and oddly patterned paisley tie. Whereas before, there’d been the uncertainty of a cornered animal, Will saw the moment that awe and adoration took over his expression, like the flipping of a switch.

            “I’m a fan,” he said at last, meeting Hannibal’s stare.

            “I noticed.”

            “Really, I only took credit because it seemed that you were inclined to remain reclusive. They didn’t want to connect the two series of killings, but the second string was a homage to you, after all. They had to be connected.”

            “Did you think that it would bring me out of ‘hiding’?” Hannibal wondered. His eyes lightened perceptively, a refined eagerness to his tone. “That you would at last meet me?”

            “I figured if not that, you’d see there was someone willing to continue the work you were inclined to leave behind.”

            Will snorted at that, unable to help himself. “He didn’t leave it behind. He just found a new name.”

            Silence fell in the basement, save the pulse thudding in Will’s throat that he heard like it was pressed tight against his ear. Matthew seemed content to look and look well, unheeding of the tight binds against his skin like this was an everyday sort of occurrence. Will looked from Matthew to Hannibal, and he reached behind himself, grabbing a knife and offering it to him, handle first.

            “He’s all yours,” he prompted Hannibal.

            Hannibal looked from Matthew to the knife, then back again. There was a long, odd pause that didn’t sit right with Will, and he didn’t care for the passing of emotions along his eyes before he took the knife and hefted it casually, not with purpose.

            “Maybe we should keep him,” he said, clever eyes flicking over to Will.

            “What.”

            “He’s demonstrated an ability to remain elusive despite seven bodies now,” Hannibal pointed out lightly, like they were discussing what groceries to go and purchase. “Perhaps he could be useful to us.”

            “We’re not going to keep your acolyte underneath our house,” Will retorted. “You know the deal.”

            “Yes, your deal,” Hannibal sighed like it was a heavy sort of burden to bear. “If we’re to kill, we kill serial killers, and only after we’ve found out with perfect assurance they’re serial killers.”

            “I kill the rude,” Matthew said, and if the discussion of his demise bothered him, he kept it well hidden.

            “I eat the rude,” Hannibal replied. His expression of interest at Matthew’s words were not lost on Will. It was a scab that he had to pick at, and he scowled.

            “What the hell would you do with him? They always mess up, that’s the difference between you and them. What happens when he messes up and it comes back on us?”

            “Do you think that would happen?” Hannibal looked to Matthew archly. “You only found him because you were able to become him, dear Will. He seems meticulous enough that he won’t make a mistake.”

            Will gaped at Hannibal, at a loss. He looked between the two of them, then to the knife held in Hannibal’s hand without any sort of intention for use, and he let out a strangled, indignant noise.

            “Unbelievable,” he muttered, and he stalked around them, heading for the stairs. “You’re fucking unbelievable, Hannibal.” As he walked up them, he tossed back a short, curt bark of “you’re welcome,” and he slammed the door leading to the pantry behind himself, twelve shades of mad.

            He didn’t hear it, but he could imagine Hannibal laughing downstairs like he’d told the best sort of joke.

-

            Matthew Brown was a resourceful sort of person, and Hannibal let him live –not because he liked the copycat attempting to take credit for his work, but because it drove Will to the sort of jealous anger that made him act out in somewhat irrational ways.

            Ways like storming back down to the basement two weeks later and interrupting Hannibal’s conversation so that he could snatch a knife from the work bench and drag it across Matthew Brown’s throat with a short, quick jerk of his arm.

            The blood sprayed in an arc that was mesmerizing in the old, buzzing lights, and Will stared at it, the way it spattered across Hannibal’s lap, sitting as he was, then the way it continued to pour, red, red, red along the concrete floor. Furious for reasons he didn’t want to explain, he let go of Matthew Brown’s limp head and glared at Hannibal, gesturing towards him with the bloody knife pointedly

            “He’s a serial killer, Hannibal,” he ground out. “Not a patient you get to crack open like a walnut.”

            Hannibal didn’t seem upset at Will’s actions; if anything, he looked from Matthew Brown’s limp form, then to Will with skin crinkling at the edges of his eyes with the sort of pleasure that made a small thrum drag its way down Will’s back. Six years, and he still had the power to make his knees weak with just a glance.

            “Are you pleased now, Will?” he asked, standing up. He didn’t try to wipe away the blood that greedily soaked into his suit; as he stepped around the growing puddle on the floor, he reached Will and stood before him, nose-to-nose and radiating the sort of pleasure that made Will almost want to kick him.

            “How long were you going to keep playing with him down here?” Will demanded. “How long?”

            “Jealousy makes you rude,” he said, and he slid a hand along Will’s skin to tangle into the hairs at the nape of his neck. “I haven’t seen you take someone’s life with such ease, such precision. Just what did you think I was doing down here with him?”

            “What you always do.”

            Fingers gently caressed the tender skin of his neck, combed through his curls lazily. “Oh?”

            “Get so far into his head that he thinks he has a chance of survival due to your esteem, then you’d let him go and kill him when he wasn’t expecting it.” A pause, and Will’s grip on the knife slackened ever-so-slightly. “Rather, get so far into his head that you’d make me think you wanted him to live so that I’d kill him for you.”

            “Not for me, Will,” Hannibal corrected. “For you.”

            “Bull shit,” Will snapped, and he pushed against Hannibal’s chest, shoving him. Hannibal allowed it, allowed him to keep shoving and pushing until he was pressed back against the basement wall, Will poised before him with a knife in one hand, the other knotted into his tie with a rather obscene shade of pink on it. “You wanted to see how long it’d take me to get jealous, you ass hole.”

            He dropped the knife to kiss him, hands reaching and grasping for him, holding him in place as he dragged his teeth along his lips and bit, hard. Hannibal gasped against his mouth, and Will grinned savagely.

            “Happy now?” He pushed at his shoulders, pressed him tight against the wall. “Happy?”

            “I’m taking an inordinate amount of pleasure from this, dear Will,” Hannibal murmured against his lips. “Make no mistake of that.”

-

            Long after they’d cleaned up Matthew Brown’s body, cleaned the floors of the last of his blood, they lay tangled in bed, only a thin sheet between them and the air that smelled of sex and fancy essential oils. Hannibal drew lazy designs along Will’s skin, and Will listened to the sound of rainfall outside.

            “There is only you, Will,” Hannibal said in the calm quiet.

            “What?”

            “Your jealousy is quite charming, but I find it pertinent to inform you that there is only you.”

            Will looked away from the balcony doors that sat ajar to let a cool breeze in, the air turning wet and fresh from the rain. “…Okay.”

            “I wouldn’t have let Matthew Brown live. He thought that he could have replaced you.”

            “…You still wanted me to kill him for you.”

            “You once desired me to kill Tobias Budge for you.”

            “You could have just asked rather than piss me off enough to do it,” Will said, jabbing his side. He rolled onto his stomach and propped his head up with the pillow, scowling at him. “It costs nothing to ask politely.”

            “Six years and you still get jealous if I so much as give another man too much attention,” Hannibal said affectionately.

            “Trying to be responsible about how you gain your meat products isn’t jealousy,” Will retorted. “One less of him makes my job easier.”

            “Did you enjoy it?” Hannibal asked. He rolled onto his side and stared at Will, gliding a hand along his hip. There was a faint whisper of something that ghosted with his touch, something that no matter how much time passed, it never ceased to reach deep beneath his skin, burrowing.

            “My necessary evil keeps your evil from becoming unnecessary,” Will finally replied. “We put barriers in place because I’d much rather have you in the here and now than behind bars, not because we haven’t seen what it was like to cross them.”

            “If I were arrested, my dear, I would find a way to you.”

            “I know.”

            He knew, like the vases of flowers that dotted throughout the house; he knew, like the pomegranates that Hannibal liked to include in their morning breakfasts, a man that drowned in symbolism and aesthetics so much that Will found metaphors in everything now. Will huffed out a short laugh and rolled onto his side to better look at him.

            “I enjoyed it,” he admitted. “But you knew that.”

            “It is always better to hear you say it, though,” Hannibal replied. He reached over to turn off the lamp, darkness shrouding them in a blanket of secrets.

-

My darling Will,

Here, where the world is quiet;

         Here, where all trouble seems

Dead winds' and spent waves' riot

         In doubtful dreams of dreams;

I watch the green field growing

For reaping folk and sowing,

For harvest-time and mowing,

         A sleepy world of streams.

 

I am tired of tears and laughter,

         And men that laugh and weep;

Of what may come hereafter

         For men that sow to reap:

I am weary of days and hours,

Blown buds of barren flowers,

Desires and dreams and powers

         And everything but sleep.

 

Here life has death for neighbour,

         And far from eye or ear

Wan waves and wet winds labour,

         Weak ships and spirits steer;

They drive adrift, and whither

They wot not who make thither;

But no such winds blow hither,

         And no such things grow here.

 

No growth of moor or coppice,

         No heather-flower or vine,

But bloomless buds of poppies,

         Green grapes of Proserpine,

Pale beds of blowing rushes

Where no leaf blooms or blushes

Save this whereout she crushes

         For dead men deadly wine.

 

Pale, without name or number,

         In fruitless fields of corn,

They bow themselves and slumber

         All night till light is born;

And like a soul belated,

In hell and heaven unmated,

By cloud and mist abated

         Comes out of darkness morn.

 

Though one were strong as seven,

         He too with death shall dwell,

Nor wake with wings in heaven,

         Nor weep for pains in hell;

Though one were fair as roses,

His beauty clouds and closes;

And well though love reposes,

         In the end it is not well.

 

Pale, beyond porch and portal,

         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands

Who gathers all things mortal

         With cold immortal hands;

Her languid lips are sweeter

Than love's who fears to greet her

To men that mix and meet her

         From many times and lands.

 

She waits for each and other,

         She waits for all men born;

Forgets the earth her mother,

            The life of fruits and corn;

And spring and seed and swallow

Take wing for her and follow

Where summer song rings hollow

         And flowers are put to scorn.

 

There go the loves that wither,

         The old loves with wearier wings;

And all dead years draw thither,

         And all disastrous things;

Dead dreams of days forsaken,

Blind buds that snows have shaken,

Wild leaves that winds have taken,

         Red strays of ruined springs.

 

We are not sure of sorrow,

         And joy was never sure;

To-day will die to-morrow;

         Time stoops to no man's lure;

And love, grown faint and fretful,

With lips but half regretful

Sighs, and with eyes forgetful

         Weeps that no loves endure.

 

From too much love of living,

         From hope and fear set free,

We thank with brief thanksgiving

         Whatever gods may be

That no life lives for ever;

That dead men rise up never;

That even the weariest river

         Winds somewhere safe to sea.

 

Then star nor sun shall waken,

         Nor any change of light:

Nor sound of waters shaken,

         Nor any sound or sight:

Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,

Nor days nor things diurnal;

Only the sleep eternal

         In an eternal night.        

                                                            Forever yours,

                                                            Hannibal

            Will glanced from the letter, written on three pages in a neat, flowing hand, to the pomegranate seeds that sat in a lovely array on a breakfast platter. He’d have laughed at the set-up, that this was Hannibal’s way of saying he was out early and wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast with him, but it wasn’t funny to him so much as it was endearing.

            He wondered at a time when this wouldn’t have been a comfort, but instead a terrifying sort of thing, the sort of thing that crept close and filled him with dread.

            It wasn’t with dread that he sat down to eat though, fingers brushing over the penmanship with reverence. It was with a hunger.

            And what do we know of hunger?

            It needs to be fed.