Three Years Before:
Hannibal didn’t often enjoy having to commute to DC –what with the traffic, the rude drivers whose identities he’d never learn, and the utterly impossible FBI he oftentimes consulted with, he would often not reach his lovely home until the late hours of the night, far too long after a proper dinnertime.
That, and if he did find the time to stop for a relaxing glass of wine, the waiters were just snippy enough that he found himself contemplating the many ways in which their bodies could be carved into a lovely form of art.
All in all, not entirely relaxing for a Tuesday evening. Not when one couldn’t very well murder all of the wait staff of Belle Bleu and get away with it. No, no; if one is going to kill, they have to be patient about the entire ordeal, otherwise they end up like the last gentleman he’d aided the FBI with: Terry Dougan, a clumsy sociopath that cut his way through a Denny’s in a pique of rage after he’d eluded the law for four years and twelve other known bodies.
It truly was a troublesome state of affairs.
“I’m off, Will! We’ve just got that guy in the corner, and two tables just over there. Those guys I just followed up with, they’re fine, and Dr. Lecter is a regular. Just make sure he’s got a good wine, and he’s not too much trouble. Don’t put him out or anything, right?”
“Remember your eyes, right? Eye contact, dude, eye contact. That’s half of tips. If you want tips, you gotta act like you care.”
“I do care.”
“Show me, don’t tell me, ‘kay?”
“Have a good night, hun!”
Hannibal watched his bumbling waitress grab a bag out from behind the bar before she disappeared down the hall where he assumed a break room lay. She wasn’t entirely too much of a problem for him, unless he asked for a wine she wasn’t familiar with. To compensate for her lack of knowledge, she tended to bluster, and although commendable, it was mostly just annoying.
He glanced to the side where a young man struggled to pin his name tag on straight, and he let out a quiet sigh, unable to help himself. The young ones, while aesthetically pleasing to look at, knew next to nothing. On a day where he felt charitable, he’d help them learn their own menu, but he wasn’t feeling particularly charitable. When the boy, no older than twenty or so, walked over to him with an askew nametag, he took a sip from his bold glass of Syrah to compose himself.
“Good evening, sir,” he said, like Hannibal hadn’t heard his earlier exchange with Cassie. “Cassie is off for the night, but I’m Will, and I’ll be your server for the duration of your stay.”
He had a soft voice, that of an introvert. Hannibal glanced up at him, met eyes that glanced away after not even two seconds, and he hummed lightly.
“Good evening, Will. Are you new? I haven’t seen you here before.”
“I’m newer, sir,” he said, “but I’m learning as much as I can. Are you here often?”
“On and off, enough that Cassie has dubbed me a regular.”
Will flushed at that, the embarrassment of realizing they’d spoken too loudly. Hannibal tracked a hand that twitched and drummed noiselessly against his leg, a nervous habit.
“I’m sorry, sir, if we said anything-”
“Not at all, don’t worry. If you like, you can practice your trouble with eye contact on me.”
A not-so-kind dig, but it did make him feel marginally better about his day. Rude, all things considered, but rather than turning a ruddier shade of red, the boy surprised Hannibal when he looked back up from his tie –a pleasant plaid of red, purple, and black –and met his gaze again.
“I’d appreciate it. Practice makes improvement, or so I’ve been told.”
It was the tone change, Hannibal figured much later, that got his attention. The drumming fingers stopped their twitching, and his back stiffened, an impeccable posture from the youthful and disparate slouch before. The uncertain twist of his lips became an almost-smile, much like his own when he’d told a particularly clever joke no one understood, and his tone was that of something sophisticated, someone that knew more than they let on.
Truth be told, it sounded almost like Hannibal had spoken through someone else for the briefest of moments.
“I do enjoy that turn of phrase, moreso than ‘practice makes perfect’. If one is not practicing perfectly, they may only learn poor habits,” Hannibal replied after a beat. He watched with amusement as Will nodded and shifted his weight.
“If I begin a poor habit, Dr. Lecter, please let me know. I’ll adjust accordingly.” He didn’t wait for Hannibal to say anything on the matter. With a half-smile, he continued, “I see you’re drinking a Syrah. We have four different varieties, if you’d like to try another.”
Bemused, Hannibal couldn’t help but reply, “I’ll try another. Pick your favorite.”
Will left him with a curt dip of his head, and Hannibal couldn’t help but follow him with his gaze for most of the night. He brought a marginally better version of what Cassie brought him, and over the lip of it, he observed as the somewhat-new-but-learning Will seemed to become what was necessary with each of his patrons. For the loud, distasteful group, his voice seemed to grow and take on a dry edge of disdain for society as they made conversation. For the girl with an eager disposition and daddy’s money to burn, he chatted aimlessly and validated her need for attention. For the couple in the corner celebrating their anniversary, he gave them space and laughed at their poor attempts at corny jokes. For Hannibal, he only returned to refresh his glass and finalize his bill.
Hannibal tipped nicely. At the bottom of the receipt, he added, Excellent eye contact, Will. Your tag was askew, but it seemed to only add to the charm you displayed to the rest the patrons in the bar. Tell Cassie that her regular wasn’t put out in the least.
He decided to go back next time he visited DC, simply to see if this Will was some sort of charlatan whose social skills were an excellent façade to make more in tips, or if there was something more to him than met the eye. His own shift and borrowing of Hannibal’s persona made it difficult to decide which was the truth.
He was no charlatan, Hannibal realized. It was something so much more interesting than that.
A new client whose disability gave him weekly, necessary trips to DC took him back to Belle Bleu on a Thursday, and he lingered in order to avoid the six o’clock rush hour and traffic jams. A recent art piece of his design left him with the sort of buzz and tingle in his veins that made him more than happy with the turn of events of the week, and he perused the articles on his tablet with genuine pride.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Lecter,” Will said, and Hannibal looked up from a particularly gruesome photo of his work in order to meet Will’s eyes. He didn’t quite catch his gaze that time; there was a lull in his aura, and the smell of lab chemicals on his skin that suggested he’d been hard at work elsewhere that worked with iodine and silver nitrate.
“Good afternoon, Will. You appear tired.”
There was a fumbling of words as he seemed taken aback by the blunt observation, and he swallowed thickly. To lie or to acknowledge? Indecision warred in his eyes for the briefest of moments.
“It won’t stop me from giving good service, don’t worry,” he assured Hannibal. It was a good reply, professional and distanced.
“Are you in school?”
“Yes, at GWU.” He lifted his small receipt pad as though it were a shield, and he cleared his throat. “What are you in the mood for today?”
“You informed me just this past visit that you had other options for a Syrah. I should like to try another today.”
“Would you like food with it?”
“Oh, no. I tend to prefer cooking my own food.”
Will nodded and jotted his order down. It was as he was turning to leave, though, that his eyes whose stare was fast avoiding Hannibal’s intent gaze caught the tablet, instead. At the sight of the gruesome photo, he stilled, foot struggling for a step before it came down a little too hard on the floor.
Hannibal looked down to the photo of the body, splayed out and impaled with far too many blunt instruments, and he couldn’t help the buzz of pleasure that lit his veins on fire. The Wound Man was one of his favorite medical photos from centuries before, a lovely version of the many wounds and injuries one could sustain during the medieval era. When he looked up at Will again, he was surprised to see a twisted, uncertain expression on his face, something half-pained and half-afraid.
“Had you seen the news?” Hannibal asked. “It appears the Chesapeake Ripper struck again.”
Rather than mention something about how disgusting or terrifying the Ripper was, Will nodded slowly, uncertain. “The Wound Man.” A pause as he licked his lips. “He was found in his shop.”
Perhaps it was something in the way his mouth twisted, but Hannibal couldn’t help but press, “I’m sure they want you to take safety precautions at GWU.”
“They say to travel in groups,” Will said, tone not so much derisive as it was dry.
“You don’t think there is safety in numbers?”
“Sooner or later, you’re alone,” he replied. “And if he’s eluded the FBI for this long, one can assume he would simply wait for the right moment. Patiently.”
“You think he’s a patient man,” Hannibal clarified, pleased. Will wasn’t wrong.
“I think he doesn’t like the name Chesapeake Ripper,” said Will.
“His work is refined enough, I think, that something as easily made as Chesapeake Ripper would be offensive. Yes, he has a name, but names have power, and they gave him one that even a two-bit hack could make with a finger of whiskey and a little bit of ingenuity.”
His eyes didn’t move from the photo as he spoke. There was a certain sort of hunger in them, something that made Hannibal shift in his chair, to better see into his eyes.
“What name would you give him, if you were the one to create it?” he asked curiously.
“…My friend Beverly wanted to call him ‘Vlad the Impaler’,” Will replied. He licked dry lips, cleared his throat. “I don’t…I’m not one that thinks much on names and things like that.”
“…No,” he said, sounding much more like a ‘yes’.
It wasn’t until the page reloaded, reconnecting to the network, that whatever spell it’d woven on him broke. He gave a quick start, then fumbled with his pad and strode away quickly, leaving Hannibal with a heart pounding oddly in his chest.
He was left with a glass of wine, and Will busied himself with cleaning up the bar, washing glasses from a loud and obnoxious crowd of persons. The longer Will worked with them, the more drawn he seemed to become, their emotions bleeding into him with such a force that Hannibal could almost smell the exhaustion wafting off of him. He continued to peruse articles about himself, but there was a stab of bitterness every time his eyes roamed over the name. Chesapeake Ripper. Will wasn’t wrong with that sort of observation, although how he’d come to such a thought process was curious, to say the least. One as young as he seemed to be didn’t stare at a photo of The Wound Man and simply know such things.
No, not a charismatic charlatan. Something more. Something…better.
There was a quick, sharp sound of shattering glass that cut through an otherwise white noise of churning water from the sink behind the bar and the classical arrangement from the speakers overhead. It was enough that Hannibal looked up from his tablet, and in doing so, he was privy to something absolute marvelous. It wasn’t quite extraordinary in of itself, all things considered, but it was the reaction that made Hannibal pause in order to better look, to better understand.
“Shit,” Will muttered, but that didn’t seem quite like what he wanted to say. Held aloft in the glow of the ambient light in Belle Bleu, Will’s hand ran with blood pink from soapy water. The blood didn’t concern Hannibal; at least, not as much as the shards of glass that jutted out in a haphazard way in Will’s skin did. He thought to walk over and see just how bad the damage was, but as he stood up, the surprise on the bartender’s face faded, shifting from a natural, instinctual reaction to something with a hint of curiosity, of excitement.
Any other person would have either screamed, cried, or hurriedly tugged pieces of glass from their hand in an effort to silence the nerves just underneath their skin that complained. Instead, the peculiar expression seemed to darken as the boy turned his hand about and studied the mess, an almost clinical aspect to the way he pursed his lips and slid a finger from his uninjured hand along a particularly savage piece. Hunger was the expression, Hannibal decided, but the sort of hunger that made the room seem too small, that made chatter fall to a stop.
Hannibal, unable to help himself, licked his lips.
“Oh my god, Will!” a waitress exclaimed, and Will looked up. Unlike before, where he’d seemed to snap out of himself and become himself again –rather, the self he seemed to project –Will also licked his lips, mouth too tight against his teeth.
“Just a scratch,” he murmured, and the girl dragged him away, calling for someone in the back to grab a first aid kit. If either worker noticed Hannibal standing like a fool beside his table, they gave no indication. He sat down, fingertips gliding around the rim of an empty glass.
He decided that he, too, was hungry. So dreadfully, dreadfully hungry.
Will returned seven minutes later with a bandaged hand and dilated pupils. Hannibal tracked each twitch of his muscles, each flutter of lashes as he looked down at his pad and finalized the bill.
“Are they sending you to a hospital due to the blood loss, or are you about to leave because customers complained about the inconvenience?” Hannibal asked, withdrawing cash from his wallet.
“I’m sorry if you were uncomfortable, Dr. Lecter,” Will replied, not looking up.
“That wasn’t quite an answer.”
“That’s not really a fair question.” Will paused, a grimace about his lips as he realized just what he’d said. “I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well. It looks like I need stitches.”
“Yet you came to finalize my bill for me.”
“I admire the dedication to finishing what you start.” Among other things. “You must have a rather high pain tolerance. You don’t seem too troubled by your injury.”
Will nodded, an awkward jerk to his head. “I’ll be alright.”
“Keep the change, Will. Go and see a medical doctor.”
As Hannibal was walking out, Will intercepted him, messenger bag across on shoulder, hand cradled to his chest. Blood seeped through the bandage already, but he didn’t seem interested in it, as though it were no trouble to him.
“If I were to name the Chesapeake Ripper, Dr. Lecter, I’d call him Shesmu,” he said.
“He was the Egyptian Lord of Blood, known as He Who Dismembers Bodies,” Will continued. “I think…if I were to name someone like that, that’s what I’d refer to him by.”
“You would lift him to a godhood, Will?”
Will didn’t hesitate. “I think that…someone like that would find it funny. Someone that kills people like that already thinks of themselves as a god, choosing who lives and who dies. They would be amused at the comparison and pleased at the historical ties.”
He walked away before Hannibal could reply, head dipped and pupils impossibly large. Hannibal couldn’t help the small smile on his face as he tucked his hands into his pockets and saw himself out of Belle Bleu, and when he saw a news report later on the television discussing the mind of the Chesapeake Ripper, he found himself smiling even wider.
One Year Before:
“Someone call the cops!”
“Oh my god, I think he’s going to kill him!”
“Dude, get back!”
“Fuck you, I-”
“Will, what are you doing?”
It was the name that pulled Lecter from his observations. Comfortably unharmed beside his vehicle, he watched two college-aged boys rip into one another, fists flying and blood staining two perfectly good work shirts. Well, not perfect –Hannibal noted a low thread count and a messy seam as one of the men went flying and landed nearby, hard.
He looked up at the sound of the name, though, and spied Will just across the parking lot. Looking at him gave Hannibal the same sense of purpose that he always felt whenever he saw him: an odd hunger, a sort of drive that made his blood run just a little faster, his heart beat just a little harder.
A girl beside him seemed to be doing her best to stop him from whatever it was that he was doing. Beside Hannibal, one of the assailants leapt onto the other he’d thrown to the ground, and punches flew, landing haphazardly in the man’s fury. Hannibal wasn’t too concerned with it, though, if he was being honest. People fought, and the two weren’t dangerous enough to do real damage to one another just yet.
No, no, he was more interested in the way Will Graham seemed almost excited to join them.
“Sorry, I…what?” Will didn’t look away from the fight as he spoke to the Asian woman beside him. His breath came short, and there was a wildness about his face as he took another step closer, closer. At a particularly vicious curse beside Hannibal, Will’s breath caught, and his hands curled to fists at his sides.
“Dude, don’t stop them, you’ll get hurt!” She grabbed his shoulder, and that seemed to snap him out of his daze. He looked from the fighting to her, then seemed to realize someone else was watching. His eyes flicked up, then around the crowd that watched with rapt horror, then found Hannibal’s stare just across the way.
Hannibal, unable to help himself, smiled.
Then, with practiced finesse, he shifted around the onlookers and leaned down, hauling up the main assailant by the back of the neck, dragging him away from the other that laid sprawled on the asphalt, coughing and spitting up blood.
“Get the fuck off of me!” the man spluttered, attempting to swing around and hit Hannibal. He’d had enough fight from victims to easily dodge it, though, and he smiled, side-stepping around him.
“Be reasonable. The police are almost here, and you don’t want two charges of assault against you,” he said. His grip tightened on the back of the man’s collar, and he pushed him against a car, leveraging his weight against his back with ease. “If it will make you feel better to hear, he still hasn’t gotten up. You’ve won.”
It probably wouldn’t feel like he’d won, given the usual jail time given for things like this. When the police arrived, they relieved Hannibal of his burden, then left him with paperwork and a slew of questions that made it seem almost not-worth the effort to step in and help.
Will was his waiter, though, so that made it marginally better.
“How are you doing this evening, Will?”
“Are you used to breaking up brawls?” he asked rather than answer. There was an anxious buzz about his skin, something smacking of bad decisions and bar fights. Rather than bother with a pen and pad, he kept his hands free, drumming against his leg with nervous energy.
“In my spare time, I try to keep things interesting. It was better me than you, though.”
“What?” That stopped his tapping. He looked up from the tablecloth, really looked at Hannibal, and whatever it was that he saw made his breath catch.
“You looked as though you were going to try and stop the fight.”
“…I wanted to help,” he managed.
Hannibal, a skilled liar, knew them as well as he knew himself. He smiled politely, nodded. “Yes, but the difference being that you would have been fired, and I would have been thanked. Most restaurants have a policy about their staff not stepping in to stop violence due to potential lawsuits.”
“They do,” Will agreed.
“Therefore, better me than you.”
Whatever Will had been expecting to hear from him, that wasn’t it. He nodded all the same, hitched his pant leg up idly, and ducked his head, breaking eye contact once more.
“Well, thank you, Dr. Lecter. This job pays for school.”
“That’s what you’d mentioned, yes. I’d hate for there to be complications in that.”
He ordered a Syrah, since he was feeling rather nostalgic. As Will walked about, almost in a dream-like state as customers hashed and re-hashed the events outside, Hannibal wondered just what it’d take to make someone like Will Graham unable to stop from joining in the next time –how hard would one have to push to make him snap?
Something to table for the time being, he supposed. Will did have school to think about, after all.
Present Day, Belle Bleu:
Hannibal knew something was wrong the moment Will walked back towards the bar in his regular clothes. There was something in the way his shoulders tilted, the way his mouth curled down. Time had given Hannibal the ability to see each and every twitch of his person, know them for what they were. His general profession had given him the tools to explain the why behind the how.
“You out of here?” Bryan asked. Will glanced at him and nodded, unplugging his phone from a charger behind the bar.
“Yeah.” His eyes were shuttered, expression shutting down. Will didn’t share his feelings well with his co-workers.
“Was he an ass about it, or did he tell you why?” Bryan pressed. As close as he was to the bar, Hannibal heard every inflection, and an odd knot formed in his gut at the realization of what he was hearing.
“It was pretty professional,” Will said, shrugging. He tossed a cherry into his mouth, feigned nonchalance.
“That’s super shitty, man. Teresa over there hasn’t checked up on her people in over twenty minutes, but she’s been getting the best tables for over two weeks,” Bryan groused, and Will laughed bitterly.
“She can have them…I’ll find a new job.”
“Did you hear the cooks talking? They all knew about it before you even got here.”
“It’s fine, I’m just…” Will gestured towards the phone, then glanced about, always conscious of people nearby that could overhear. Hannibal tried to pretend that he wasn’t listening, but the more they spoke, the tighter the knot in his gut grew, twisted and wrenched about.
“Do you have an idea of a new job?”
“I’ll figure it out,” Will assured him. He walked around the bar to leave, leave because he’d been fired, and the idea was just enough that it made Hannibal call out to him.
“Were you let go, Will?” Will looked over to him, gaze pausing just at the knee of his trousers.
“Sorry that you had to hear that,” he said awkwardly.
“On the contrary, I’m sad to see you go,” Hannibal replied, and he lifted his glass of wine, taking a small sip of it. “Who will recommend such fine wines or inform me when something new has arrived?”
“Bryan trained me, so he’ll know just as much as I do, if not more, Dr. Lecter,” Will promised
“I will have to rely upon your word of his expertise, then,” he said, and his gaze flickered from toe to head, eyes settling on his face. He didn’t make eye contact with Hannibal, fixated as he was on the stem of the wine glass. “Will you be looking for another job, then? One without the strains of…social obligations?”
“That’s what was recommended,” Will said wryly, and Hannibal laughed.
“I’d imagine it’s difficult for someone going to school to find such a job. The foundation of the customer service industry was forged by students such as yourself, as they’re the only ones to tolerate the sometimes taxing needs of the general population.”
“We do our best,” he said.
“Will you be able to find one soon? You’d mentioned paying for classes out of pocket.” Will nodded, fingers tapping lazily on the leg of his trousers. A nervous tic, one bred from the worry of no longer having a job. The knot in his gut tightened, twisted.
“I’ll be able to manage, Dr. Lecter, don’t you worry about me.”
“Perhaps it is the occupation, but it is in my job description to worry,” Hannibal replied, smiling.
“Well I’m not your patient,” Will replied. From anyone else, it would sound rude, dismissive. From Will, it sounded like his own blunt form of attempting to convince Hannibal not to worry, that everything would be quite alright without him.
How very wrong he was, though.
“That’s true,” he agreed, and his smile grew somewhat. “Well, if you attain such a job where you work in a place much like this, do let me know. I am particular about just who pours my drink, and you’ve never disappointed.” It was an innocent enough statement, all things considered. It was said with such a turn to the words, though, that Will looked up at him, met his eyes, and as they stared at one another, his pupils dilated.
“Thank you, Dr. Lecter,” he said.
“I’m sure if you inform your acquaintance, Bryan, he’ll pass along the message,” Hannibal added, lips curling.
“I’ll…be sure to do that,” Will assured him.
“Please do.” He turned to his wine and swirled it gently. A dismissal, and Will picked up on the cues of it without thought.
That was what made him so special, though, wasn’t it? He was a person that saw without seeing, that knew without knowing?
He finished his drink, and he lingered for a while at his table, thinking. Hannibal often lost himself to his thoughts, his mind palace filled with many doors and halls and dark things that took thoughts and ran with them, making them something great, something grand. His thoughts were particularly unpleasant, though, as he ruminated on a singular problem:
Will Graham had been fired. He wouldn’t see Will Graham anymore.
That was a troublesome turn of events, indeed.
The knot tightened; tightened as he finally left, tightened as he made dinner and ate alone, tightened as he brushed his teeth and changed into silk pajamas, tightened as he lay in bed and attempted to focus on slow breathing so that he could sleep.
When sleep refused to come, he sighed, changed into one of his few pairs of denim pants and a basic t-shirt, and he went for a drive.
Where that drive took him wasn’t anyone’s particular business, but he did find it odd that colleges were so open about the living arrangements of their students –why post their private information online for just anyone to find?
Still, as he stood outside of Will Graham’s apartment, he supposed it made things far easier for him. There wasn’t much in the way of detective work for him, which was nice, and the lock to the door was picked with relative ease.
Since he couldn’t see Will Graham anymore, it made sense that he would simply have to elevate him to a place where he would forever be able to access him.
He passed through a living room, the air cool on his skin, past a dining room table whose sole occupants were an empty TV dinner tray and cardboard from a Digiorno. Gloved fingertips grazed the wall along the hall, and feet paused just outside of his bedroom door. The knot tightened, twisted, and as Hannibal eased the door open, he wondered just what sort of things someone like Will Graham dreamed of.
Such a thought would have to pause, though, since Will Graham wasn’t in his bed at 2:00 in the morning.
A quick scan of the small apartment told him that no, he wasn’t anywhere within, and with a curt sigh of utmost disappointment, he saw himself out, turning the bottom lock behind him as he went.
As he headed to his car, he reasoned that it only made sense he wouldn’t find him. Someone like Will Graham wouldn’t take termination easily, and as a college student he had access to more than enough cheap beer, cheap bars, and cheap friends to aid him in drowning his sorrows. The thought didn’t sit quite right, though. He didn’t think Will was the type to have many friends, let alone cheap ones.
And sure enough, as he sat outside and waited, ever-so-patiently, within twenty minutes Will was dropped off by a not-so-cheap friend who helped him stumble from her car, drunk. Underneath the glow of the lamplight, Hannibal studied him move about, trip over himself, and fall into her with a low laugh that eased from him, smooth as molasses.
“You drank too much,” she admonished, propping him up. “You shouldn’t have let Margot goad you like that.”
“Margot loves to compete,” he said, waving a hand as he headed towards the apartment stairs. “So when I see her, I love to compete, too.”
“Oh, Will,” she sighed like she knew his burdens.
“I’m feeling a little irresponsible, Alana,” he said by way of apology. “Prob’ly best if I sleep.”
“Yes, probably,” she agreed with a laugh. “Do you have your key?”
“Do I have my key,” he scoffed, and he produced it as they made their way up the stairs. Their voices faded, falling away the farther they walked.
Hannibal waited until the Alana was gone before he also saw himself to his own home, thinking.
Perhaps he wouldn’t elevate him, but instead he could help him Become.
The thought sat rather nicely with him; it helped feed the hunger that curled and twisted inside of him.
And what did Hannibal know of hunger, of the thing that crept deep and nestled far inside?
It needed to be fed.