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A Hunter's Feast

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For some reason, people loved to read about serial killers and crime. After his interview with Cletus Kasady, Eddie kept getting calls for interviews with serial killers, over and over again- he was sometimes requested directly by the killer themselves. Apparently, word got around in those circles that he’d reported fairly on Cletus. Which, that was true. It wasn’t like he was going to lie to his readers. None of Cletus' story required embellishment to be morbidly fascinating. 

Serial killers turned into his niche; a development he wasn’t sure how to feel about. No one deserved fame for murdering someone. It’s not like murdering someone was even hard. He pushed for more interviews with those behind solving the murders, rather than the people behind crimes.

They weren’t in any danger from interviewing killers, though. Better they than some poor reporter that could get shanked in the middle of an interview. Venom could dispatch any of them easily even if it would be inconvenient.

His fame grew as a true crime reporter in general, which Eddie didn’t mind. Once his following was big enough, he was confident enough to throw his weight around and start showcasing those that worked to put the serial killers behind bars. He changed names sometimes, for the protection of those he interviewed, but the public ate it up as much as they ate up the grisly details of the crimes themselves.

Because of his focus on serial killers, it made sense to do stories on the FBI, since so many serial killers crossed state lines. Of course, this led to him branching into unsolved cases, as well as those with arrests and currently in-progress investigations.

Sometimes, all it took to solve a case was an outside perspective.

So, in a journal that he never planned on showing to anyone, Eddie kept a record of solved serial killing sprees that he took care of himself. The FBI was busy; their red tape took too long to get through... and, besides, a guy had to eat.

Still, his work with the FBI offered him a wealth of information on cases he might follow up on himself, and which he needed to steer clear of if he didn’t want any trouble with the government.

It also made for interesting connections. Will Graham was one of those connections: a man who solved crimes by sympathizing with monsters, hot on the trail of the Chesapeake Ripper. That was an interesting case that seemed to be evolving into a copycat. It was a mess that Eddie would love nothing more than to get to the bottom of, but work rarely took him near the the Capitol. For good reason, Eddie was afraid an endless parade of lying, cheating politicians would be too tempting snack for them.

He didn’t need to get on the FBI’s radar for eating a senator.

Yet, he couldn’t say no when an opportunity to shadow Will Graham working an actual case came up from his editor. As far as he knew, the man was a teacher more than a field agent, so he had no idea if this chance would come again. He didn’t expect the trip to involve a totem pole of bodies.

“What do you say to that, V? Pile of bodies, huh.”

It’s overwrought. And missing a pile of heads. Pile of heads is the best part.

“A tasteful art critique.”

Of course, the latter comment was what Will had heard and commented on. His odd comment seemed to entertain the man... at least, he thought so. Maybe Graham was just glad to be around someone weirder than he was. He didn’t get much one-on-one time with the man at that scene, but enough to get his number and meet a few interesting members of the BAU team.

… which is how he ended up getting a series of confusing texts about a Dr. Hannibal Lecter at midnight months later. Eddie replied to that, of course, and got eleven more long-winded, confusing texts in response. Part of it was an attempt at coherent explanation, other parts just boiled down to him saying ‘stupid hot therapist bastard’ over and over again.

He had to meet this guy. Graham was a pretty put together man in all of their previous interactions. Something had to have gotten under his skin in some kinda way to get this response.

Graham, of course, was very apologetic the next day for the texts. Eddie told him not to worry. Sometimes all you needed was someone outside the situation to talk to, which seemed to make Graham feel better. He was able to cash the new level of friendship in for a few tips and favors along the line, and Graham’s confidence was worth its weight in gold.

So, when he was back in Baltimore, he made time to 'wander' into Will’s office and inquired after the doctor, then laugh at the blush it caused.

“If you met him, you’d understand. It’s very frustrating,” Graham said, which of course led Eddie to make it his mission to meet this elusive doctor.

“Wouldn’t know about that,” Eddie said, scratching the back of his head, and wouldn’t you know it: that’s when Hannibal walked into Will’s office like he owned it. Instantly, he could see the appeal. He wasn’t really his type, but it was certainly a type, and it offset Will’s bookish woodsman hunter vibe perfectly.

Venom perked up, as well, when Hannibal entered the room. Neither of them could put a finger on why, but something about this man screamed danger.

Interesting.

“Ah, Will, I was unaware you had an appointment.”

Eddie intervened, “Not an appointment, a friend. Eddie Brock.” He didn't offer a hand. 

Dr. Lecter nodded to him, “Ah yes, a proper reporter. You have some interesting insights on the events taking place around the Bartram Park murders.”

“One of my speculative pieces. I’m surprised you’re familiar with my work, Doctor,” Eddie leaned forward, that was an interesting series of murders. Not light reading.

The man offered a beatific smile, “I see my reputation precedes me.”

“Somewhat. Will often talks about his colleagues.” He wasn’t about to put the man on blast for 3 AM text conversations, but Will didn’t look very convincing when Hannibal looked to him for confirmation. In fact, he looked a little red in the face. Maybe he was worried that Eddie was going to spill the beans about calling Hannibal a stupid sexy bastard man.

Do it. Say it for me, Eddie.

He rolled his eyes. Venom knew that he wouldn’t start trouble for no reason.

“Well, I was just here to invite Will to dinner. Perhaps you would be willing to attend as well? There’s enough for one more plate.”

One plate was hardly going to satisfy their appetite, but Eddie nodded, “I’ve been interested in picking your brain about a prospective interview. There’s a few stories working on about the issue of jurisdiction and FBI procedures. An outside opinion on how the BAU team works would be invaluable.”

Dr. Lecter glanced at Will, “Unless Will has an objection, that sounds like a wonderful evening.”

“No! I mean, no objection,” Will ran a hand through his hair, “I was hoping to get through some information on this case over some takeout tonight, but actual food sounds nice.”

“I could see if I could help you run through some information?” Eddie offered.

“Well, since you already have the clearance for most of this, I don’t see why not.”

“I’ll see you both around seven, then,” Hannibal said on his way out the door.

Will just looked out the door like some kind of lonesome retriever deprived of a chance to jump in its favorite mud puddle. He let him have a moment to process whatever thoughts he was having as he opened his phone and made a note about the dinner on his calendar.

Graham groaned and rubbed at his face with his hands, “What just happened?”

“I think I just agreed to wingman you tonight,” Eddie said, glancing up from his phone.

“Oh, god,” Will said, putting his hands in his hair. Oh, he was pulling it now. This was fun, he should really get more friends he could tease about their love lives.

“Don’t worry, I was engaged to a lawyer that was way too good for me once. I know how to behave with some decorum.”

Venom snorted internally, which tickled.

“You don’t understand, Eddie. There’s… it’s. There’s a lot of stuff. Going on. I’m working through. And a lot of the cases-”

“Speaking of cases, toss some at me. We should actually try to get work done before quitting time.”

They worked until about six, when Will said they should probably stop if they wanted to make it to Hannibal’s house for dinner, given the traffic in the area. He was right, of course. They arrived just in time.

The house was a perfect reflection of Hannibal; he hadn’t expected anything different. Maybe dining with Anne’s parents hadn't prepared him for this. Hannibal’s house was lavish in an understated way that made his hackles rise. It wasn’t gilded, but the smooth dark oak furniture was worth tens of thousands of dollars, easily.

And that was just the first room.

Maybe it was the expense all around him, but the whole place set his teeth on edge. Granted, the good doctor seemed to do that anyway just by walking into a room.

Will seemed to be having a totally different experience, though, showing some familiarity with his surroundings, enough to drape his things on a table by the door and kick his shoes off. Was this a shoes-off kind of house? He had a hard time imaging Dr. Lecter walking around barefoot in his kitchen.

It had been awhile since he’d had a home cooked meal. They were both hungry; he hoped it wasn’t apparent to their host.

“Ah, you’ve arrived. I’m setting the plates out for the appetizer.”

He definitely didn’t assume the dinner would be fancy enough for courses. This was someone’s house. Who cooked like that unless it was a special occasion?

Maybe having Will over was a special occasion to Dr. Lecter.  

“It smells wonderful,” Will said, following a path through the home that led Eddie to believe he was already intimately familiar with the house’s layout. Just how close was he to Dr. Lecter already?

He had to agree, though, the food smelled amazing.

“I can’t remember the last time I had a home cooked meal. Never been much of a chef myself,” Eddie said, reaching out to help Hannibal place the evening’s silverware. There were two forks. Who had two forks for a dinner with their colleagues?

The smaller one was for salad, if he remembered right. It also went closer to the plate. Hannibal’s expression gave him no indication if he’d guessed right.

“Cooking puts the mind at ease, I’ve found,” Dr. Lecter said, returning to the kitchen by side-stepping a massive island with a marble counter top.

Man, people with money were crazy. At least Dr. Lecter seemed like he was dedicated to helping other people with his money. He grinned to himself as he thought what Anne’s parents would say about him associating with a man of such ‘high breeding;’ they had never liked how rough around the edges he was.

I love your edges.

Eddie sent a pulse of gratitude to Venom in lieu of making the effort to communicate mentally. It showed on his face whenever he did that; he still needed to get better at it. V said that it would come with practice.

“I’ve got some cheese to start your appetites tonight. Fresh, of course. I have a friend in Italy that ages them delightfully. I recommend the mild herbal goat cheese; it’ll go well with the raspberry walnut salad in the main course.”

Will nodded along, leaning forward to grab a few slices of cheese with his fingers. Eddie opted for using a toothpick he had living in his pocket encased in plastic from a restaurant ages ago. Venom liked the goat cheese, which led to Eddie promising they could try eating a whole goat later... though, it might be a one time treat, due to the cost. How much did a goat even cost?

They were seated around a squared off table, with Eddie on one end and Will across from Hannibal. There were slats to extend the table, but they’d been put away for now, clearly to make the whole affair more intimate.

The silver candelabra was a nice touch, if not a bit Dracula-inspired in its design.

“I’ve got a riesling for now, and a nice Bordeaux for later,” Hannibal said, bringing over two different shaped wine glasses and a pair of bottles that had been chilled enough to collect condensation from the bayside air.

Will tossed back his glass of riesling in record time, while Eddie made a show of sniffing his and swirling it around as he paced himself with the cheese. Alcohol wasn’t one of Venom’s favourites, but he realized the need for them to appear normal. If he was going to claim sobriety, he should have done so earlier on when it wouldn’t have been an imposition on their host.

“What have you prepared for the main course to go with the salad?” Eddie asked, as he kicked Will for staring at Hannibal for an uninterrupted span of five minutes.

“A Vlaamse karbonades, where the meat is stewed and braised in a beer and wine sauce with pearl onions and morels,” Hannibal said as he went to retrieve the food, then continued talking as he plated it, “It is often called Carbonade flamande in the French style, but I learned the recipe from a Dutch chef, and thus have a softness for its Dutch name. I’ve decided to serve it with chopped roasted potato topped with Gruyère. More traditional versions call for it in a more stew-like consistency, but...” Hannibal said as he set Will’s plate in front of him, “I’ve never been bound by tradition.”

Huh, seemed like Will had a chance... if he could just stop mooning at Hannibal long enough to eat. Hannibal seemed to be looking back at him just as much, though. There was a lot of prolonged eye contact going on between the two of them there.

Eddie took a bite of his salad. It had a sweet vinaigrette that complemented the raspberries and the walnuts. Trust Dr. Lecter to make a salad delicious. He hoped that he was using the right fork.

After a few bites of salad, Eddie took his last sip of riesling, then pulled the glass of red wine closer.

I want the potatoes. Potatoes are good, Eddie, and we like cheese.

He adjusted the course of his fork last minute and popped a potato in his mouth while Venom hummed happily in the back of his mind. It wasn’t a tater tot, but Venom liked it all the same. He’d have to get some of these fancy cheeses when he got home.

Cutting a piece meat, Eddie dipped it in the cheese per Venom’s request and took a bite. It was delicious, as he expected given how good the rest of the meal had been. It was tender, and as Eddie chewed it over, he was puzzled on why this reminded him of something else.

A full half minute passed as he tried to make sense of what he knew.

Eddie… Eddie, this is people.

Yeah, yeah, he realized that. He swallowed the bite, because really, he was never going to turn down nutritional supplements for Venom that he didn’t have to kill himself. Had it been a mistake from the butcher?

Really, his first thought should not have been he needed the name of the butcher, if that were the case.

Both Hannibal and Will were halfway through their meals and making conversation with each other, then Hannibal looked up and caught his eye with a smile.

“Is it to your liking?”

That son of a bitch. He knew!

“I usually take mine more on the rare side,” Eddie blurted. Ball in your court, motherfucker! I know it’s people.

Eddie, this is childish. Why do you not just say that you know it is people? You said that people don’t eat other people.

Because then I’d have to explain in front of Will why I know what people tastes like and that’s a weird dinner conversation! Eddie shot back mentally.

Hannibal was leaning forward now, intrigued. “Is that so?”

He was flipping through the information at hand in his mind and came to three conclusions.

One: Hannibal was either the copycat or the Chesapeake Ripper. Seeing as how the man was so unique in all other manner of ways, copycat seemed unlikely. Two: he was very good at hiding in plain sight, and Venom and Eddie could probably learn a thing or two from him. Three:  Will Graham suspected Hannibal was the Ripper, and he knew exactly what he had probably just eaten, if the worried pinch to his brow was anything.

Eddie just smiled, hoping that he wasn’t bearing too many teeth. He didn’t think of himself as much of a hunter, but he had to admit, this went beyond professional curiosity now. Were the people the Ripper killed worth killing? They must be, in his eyes, but did that mean they were good people or bad people? There was no way to tell.

We are only supposed to eat bad people. It was what we promised.

Yeah, we did, but journalists and college students have a saying: you don’t turn down free food.

The person was already dead, and cooked. They never ate cooked human. It required too much handling of the corpse. Too many chances to make a mistake and get caught. They’d already been sloppy once, at Mrs. Chen’s. It was only her contacts that prevented the whole ‘leaving a headless body on her floor’ thing from becoming a problem, which she had lectured him at length for. Leaving a body behind was bad news for everyone.

It’s kind of nice, cooked, but there’s no brains. Heads are better.

Privately, he had to agree the crunch was something he enjoyed, which was something he would never, ever say out loud.

Eddie cut a bigger bite of the roast and ate it while making direct eye contact with Dr. Lecter, before glancing at Will, who was very much looking like a kid who had been caught shoplifting.

Man, how did people without symbiotes keep secrets? They were so bad at it.

He wanted to say something so badly, if only to see what both of them would say.

Eddie couldn’t help himself. “They’re very good- I mean, it’s very good.”

He was pretty confident that Venom could take the Ripper, if it came down to it, and they did eat serial killers. He didn’t know if he was ready to bite the head off of the man currently somehow holding Will’s affections, though.

Hannibal’s smile was blander, more guarded this time, “I’m glad you enjoy it. It’s not often I have people for dinner who appreciate the delicate balance I try to strike with each meal.”

It’s not often he has people for dinner. God. How did the whole BAU not know this man was a cannibal?

Will was slowly inching towards putting his hands over his face.

I’m not sure if we have the moral high ground here.

It’s a quandary, for sure.

He finished off his plate  and his wine, though, and he only just restrained himself from asking for a second helping. Hannibal would probably oblige him with annoying politeness. And true to his word from earlier, Eddie didn’t let the night’s revelations stop him from picking Hannibal’s brain for his articles. The man was knowledgeable, and his quotes were articulate enough to use directly. His readers were going to love this when it came out.

And if Hannibal ever got caught, well, Eddie would be ready with a no-holds barred look on the man and how he got away with it until he didn’t. But that was an if, not a when, he could recognize another predator.

“I must have you for dinner again,” Hannibal said, seeing him to the door.

“Oh, I don’t know if I’d agree with you,” Eddie said, “Without Will as a buffer for our conversation. I’ve been known to come across as brash.” There were so many cannibal puns and layers to this conversation, he wanted to laugh.

“But the dinner did agree with you?” Hannibal inquired.

“It did. I’d try and relieve you of your leftovers, but I’ve already imposed enough.” He bet that Hannibal probably wasn’t even going to eat the brain! And if he did, it would be cooked to death.

You’ve learned so well.

Yeah, well, I live with you.

“I must say this evening has been rather enlightening, Mr. Brock.”

Eddie grinned, letting a bit of sharp show in his smile, “For both of us, Dr. Lecter.”

On the way to the car, Eddie pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked at it. Will was saying goodbye and waving at Hannibal until the door closed.

He had to say something. It was only morally right. What if Will didn’t know? He couldn’t just let the man go around eating people without knowing, right?

Eddie waited until they reached the car to strike. “So, you know Dr. Lecter is a cannibal right? You have the hots for a guy who really knows how to beat human meat. You do know that, right? It’s important to me that you know this.”

That isn’t how I would have said it.

Liar.

Will sighed and looked at the sky, clearly bereaved by it all, “I regret meeting you.”

“Don’t worry, I get complex relationships. My significant other prefers we take our human flesh still warm and uncooked,” he said, sliding into the car.

“What?” Will asked, scrambling into the driver’s seat.

“How else would I know from the first bite that it was people?” Eddie said with a loose smile. “That was nowhere near the first person we’d eaten.”

Will gripped the side of the steering wheel, “Yes, I know. Well, I suspect . There’s no actual proof, and even if there was, I’m a killer too.”

“Killing in self-defense is very different than killing because someone offended you. Take it from someone who’s done both. The eating someone is a whole other thing entirely. Though, the first person I’d eaten was someone who had just had me hit by a car on purpose.”

Will was looking a bit like he was going to hyperventilate if Eddie kept talking.

“It’s just that, should you decide it’s still worth it. I can’t judge, because I’m dating a symbiotic alien that shares my body and sometimes eats people- don’t look at me like that, Graham, you know the man’s a cannibal and still find him attractive. This cannot be the weird part of the conversation. Also, don’t tell anyone, or we’ll eat you, then Dr. Lecter might try and kill us and there’d be a mess.”

Hi,” Venom had the courtesy of forming a head and popping out.

Will slammed on the breaks and brought the car to a stop on the side of the road. “Okay, okay. Cool. Weirdness aside, as you could tell from the texts I sent you that one time, I’m in over my head here. Talking sounds good.”

He put the car in park and turned, “It’s nice to meet your, um, symbiote?”

“My name is Venom.”

“Nice to meet you, Venom. Eddie, can you explain what you meant by saying killing is different in self-defense versus when someone’s offended you, ’cause I need context for that. I need to know what cards I have in my hands.”

“Well, it’s different when you kill someone to save the world and when you kill someone for threatening the little old Chinese lady who runs the corner mart. You see…”

So much for awkward dinner conversations- awkward car conversations were so much easier.