Charles was in his first year at Oxford, and there had never been anything more heady or frightening. Back in Westchester there had been his sister- and the servants- but mostly drafty rooms and old pianos and endless stacks of books. That had been nice.
And then there had been his private school, which had been nice too. Dull rich boys, smart rich boys, rebellious rich boys. All of which Charles had tried out being. (Raven had playfully asked him, once, who slid more easily in and out of skins that did not belong to them.)
Of course there had been times-
He'd been on a street in New York, shopping for Christmas presents with his mother (before she found the bottle)- he'd been waiting with her for the cab when something had hit him violently, a completely alien need that felt- not even wrong at first, simply intense and natural, and it had taken him a while for his mind to reject it as foreign. A man across the street was staring at a woman quite near Charles, mind a thick stream of bitchcunt sex fuckthosetits good show-her-damn-right-
The worst thing had been climbing quickly into the cab and realizing, as he was driven past the woman, that the lady was the man's wife.
He'd come to expect worse. Oxford had been a... step. There were so many people he didn't know. But Raven had pushed him, and he'd pushed himself, and here he was, uncertain and ambiguously social, with a shy, nervous smile that female seniors seemed to like (they liked his tolerance to alcohol as well- or his lack thereof- they liked encouraging him) and a dedication to his chosen field that people alternatingly doubted and envied.
That was one part of it. The other part was-
So many strangers, and strange minds. And he'd gotten good at shielding, really he had, but sometimes when he was just a little buzzed and feeling chatty, he... slipped.
And then- oh.
The man probably noticed him staring.
Scratch that. The man most definitely knew he was staring.
Charles couldn't stop. In a room of colorful paintings, this mind would be a loudspeaker. It was unexpected and strange and jarring. He'd met people with mental disorders before, but this was very little like that. The man's mind went everywhere, but in one direction...
"Oh, stop," Charles breathed, dismayed. He touched his head. "No, no, no." Stop focusing on him!
The man was leaning forward (Hannibal, his name was Hannibal Lecter, Charles' gift supplied relentlessly), looking fascinated. He couldn't make out Hannibal's eyes at this distance (red, not quite the color of blood, a deep maroon in the right light) but felt his gaze on him-
Charles had something to fear from this man. He thought that most people in the world did.
"Napkin," someone said, and he was being handed a wad of them.
"Spilled your drink."
"Thank you," Charles said automatically, finally tearing his gaze away. His hands shook as he wiped the table and then his lap.
"Say, you free tonight?"
It was a sophomore he vaguely recognized. French Literature, he thought. Angie- something? She was smiling at him in that confident way pretty older women had when they were propositioning nervous freshmen.
Of course Charles was nervous. He was quite possibly going to have to run for his life. He smiled back, shakily. "No- no. I have to go right now. See you around?"
"Sure," she said, with little trace of disappointment. "See you."
Perhaps the smart thing to do would have been to stay there, pretend he'd seen nothing wrong- of course he'd seen nothing wrong, how could the man know what Charles could do, what Charles knew? But Charles had shown terror.
Had he really eaten-
He shivered and wrapped his scarf more tightly around his neck. The furious November wind buffeted his clothes and dragged his coat back. Charles fought the paranoid urge to look behind him.
The man named Hannibal Lecter (he had many aliases, but his real name had glowed like a beacon when Charles had automatically searched for it, fiercely tied into the yes this is what I amportion of themselves most people didn't really know they had) had no reason to come after him. Charles had gleaned little coherent details from the focused mess that was the man's mind, but he was fairly certain that he'd never done anything to deserve-
But just in case, he took a long route to his flat. Just in case. He even dipped by a bookstore to shake off an imaginary pursuer.
He reached his flat (third floor, a small cozy thing with a good heating system) with something like relief- yes, there were plenty of strange mad people in the world, no, he did not have to meet them again- when he became aware of something muted, hidden, and hideously familiar. It was behind his door. Now it was shutting his door behind him. It was wrapping cold, dry fingers around his throat.
Charles' keys dropped from his suddenly nerveless fingers.
Hannibal Lecter breathed intently into his ear. What did you see.
"Are you going to kill me," Charles said, voice pitched flat and lifeless. He barely recognized it. He knew, suddenly, without terror, that if Hannibal chose to kill him he could not stop him. Telepathy notwithstanding. There was very little he could do to a mind like that.
Hannibal had knives, but he wasn't holding them. His hands were wrapped around Charles' throat, but not to strangle- the touch was gentle, almost wondering. Charles found himself guided in the same way, by the throat, to the kitchenette- Hannibal sat him down, and stood behind him, index fingers pressed lightly against the veins of his neck (jugularis externa, Hannibal thought). He meant to check if Charles was telling the truth. He evidently believed it would work. Maybe it did. Charles couldn't imagine lying naturally just then. It was a nonthreatening gesture (Charles was in a unique position to know), but Charles felt how easily those slender, capable hands could render flesh gaping from ear to ear.
Thumb in trachea, ripping through the middle thyroid vein-
"You're a doctor," Charles said in that same flat voice. "I didn't see that."
Hannibal smiled at him. Il a fréquenté... Charles' mind automatically dragged the knowledge into its home language: He had attended the Institut de Medecine St. Marie, at Paris. He had been a scholarship student... He was a youth with a long, pointed face and elegantly arched brows. A dimple in his left cheek, almost invisible right now because he wasn't smiling. But he knew, from memories that were not his own, that this man was breathtakingly beautiful when he smiled... Charles looked at him and tried to see a murderer. The only thing he was able to process, through a fear that was quickly settling into blank numbness, was that he was so painfully young.
You can read minds.
"I'm sorry. I try not to, but I noticed you today. You're taking this very well." But Hannibal had seen worse.
What do you know about me?
"Nothing at all," Charles said, and closed his eyes against everything. He felt a tear slip down his cheek.
Charles could not tell if Hannibal were mute, or if staying silent was his conscious choice. He caught several rapid memories in which Hannibal, not much younger, had spoken to people. But Hannibal seemed not much inclined to talk to anyone right now, and that included Charles.
He tried desperately to stay out of Hannibal's mind- it was not so much that it was a dark, violent place to be in than it was a foreign one. Hannibal's violence was measured, directed, and Charles, once he came out of his daze of terror, realized that the direction pointed nowhere near him.
But still, he didn't dare tell Hannibal he wanted him to leave.
It was well into midnight, and they'd gone through half a bottle of inexpensive Pinot Grigio when Hannibal said, suddenly, have you met anyone else like yourself?
"No," Charles said, and moved a pawn.
Hannibal smiled, and leaned over. Touched the side of Charles' neck. (He stopped himself from shivering- just.) Again. Have you met anyone else?
Raven, Charles thought, terrified, and repeated: "Never."
Hannibal quirked his lips at him and let it slide.
He did not talk about Raven. He was asked about his family- as if Hannibal were some new friend, coming over for a drink and a chat- but he did not speak of Raven, not because of her mutation, but because he saw how vivid the pain was. What sister meant to Hannibal.
You are fascinating, Hannibal told him once or twice through the night. He was- Charles couldn't tell if he were intoxicated or not. His eyes were bright and he smiled, once or twice. And he didn't quite know when it happened, who touched the other first (that was also a paradox)- he thought it might be Hannibal, trapping Charles with his hips against the sink, thinking with clarity: if you truly knew everything about me, you would know not to be afraid.
"I," Charles said, trembling violently. "I'm not afraid."
He held still to prove it as Hannibal's lips brushed over his own. He almost expected the taste of blood, but there was- was there- no, of course there wasn't, don't be stupid-
Hannibal's skin was cold and smooth, but his fingers were warm, gliding up his thighs, gripping his hips. Have you ever...
"I've," Charles said, quivering a little, "maybe? I don't- you're- yes."
"Oh fuck," Charles whispered. And then he found the courage to add, "In the kitchen? Really?"
Hannibal's hands tightened on his waist, and in the next instant Charles found himself being bodily dragged to his bedroom. There was a heady swirl of focused excitement that was not his own, and there were his own feelings, too complex to properly untangle. He was aware that he was erect. He was also stiff with fear (not of sex, but of Hannibal himself, the closeness of his body and his mind). And Hannibal, too, all around him in waves, utterly unafraid of Charles' abilities.
His back hit the bed at some point, and Charles' trousers were stripped from him so quickly that he thought Hannibal might have cut away the buttons. When he raised his head to see, Hannibal's mouth was already closing around his cock, and-
Charles whimpered and clutched at the sheets. He wondered if Hannibal could feel his fear. When Hannibal raised his head in the next second and gave Charles a grin that showed all of his teeth, Charles knew that he did.
You taste very good.
"You are unbelievable. Get off my prick," Charles said. His erection had wilted. Along with the words had come a vivid memory of Hannibal sinking his teeth into a dead man's cheek. It was not to be borne.
Hannibal looked unperturbed, and let go of Charles' cock. But Charles was mistaken if that meant they were going to stop: Hannibal's hands gripped Charles' hips again, and dragged him down the bed. Charles' head slid off the pillow. He'd gone oddly boneless again. His fists clenched helplessly as Hannibal slid a spit-slick finger into him, twisted it expertly, scissored him open in degrees just short of uncomfortable.
Charles spread his legs, lifted his hips, and watched Hannibal's eyes (black in this light) narrow as he widened Charles. Spit shouldn't have been enough, really, but he made it enough- somehow- and Hannibal made it feel more comfortable than some people managed with lube. Charles had no idea. He found that he enjoyed it quite a lot if he kept away from whatever Hannibal was thinking- if Hannibal had something urgent to say, he could stop fucking Charles to say it- and just concentrated on-
Hannibal's slide in was just right, in a way Charles really hadn't felt before, slotting in at a decent angle, hurting just enough to be good. Charles bit his lip and clenched around Hannibal, and the groan he drew out of the other man was glorious. Hannibal's fingers were bruisingly tight on Charles' ass as he pushed in. His dark, elegant brows arched almost quizzically as Charles gasped and squirmed, bearing back on Hannibal's cock.
It wasn't until Hannibal made a soft, irritated noise that Charles started listening in again (reluctantly). Finger yourself.
Alongside. It will be good.
Disobeying hardly seemed to be an option, especially when Hannibal was looking at him like that (impossibly focused while fucking him). Charles reluctantly hooked an index finger into himself, and thought he felt a vein on Hannibal's cock repeatedly brush against his second knuckle as the man pounded into him. It was a stretch, and it honestly hurt now- a real pain, even as, at the same time, Hannibal changed his angle and nailed, ever so precisely, his prostate-
Charles came, and had a second to be truly, utterly shocked.
I'm a doctor, Hannibal thought smugly and thrust once, twice, thrice into Charles' spent body before throwing his head back and coming. And it's easy to see how you love being hurt.
Hannibal made breakfast. He was a very good cook.
Charles struggled not to think about that. He found it unexpectedly easy. It had been little more than twelve hours, and he was already learning how to think around Hannibal- skirting around some topics, diving straight into others, and struggling continuously to accept the rest.
"Thank you," he said, limping into the kitchen. He blushed a little when he saw Hannibal was wearing Charles' clothes. They left an inch or so of extra skin at his ankles. "I'll make the coffee."
It seemed best not to talk about what had happened.
They were midway through the meal (bacon, Hannibal had assured him with an amused look, even when Charles hadn't done anything to imply he thought otherwise of his food) when Hannibal suddenly told him, I am in this city to look for a man named Henry Daugherty.
Charles wondered what Hannibal expected in answer to that. He thought he knew perfectly well what Hannibal planned to do to Mr. Daugherty. "Oh."
Hannibal smiled, but he looked restless. I heard he was in Oxford. His real name is Bronys Grentz. He-
"No," Charles said, dropping his fork. He found himself oddly angry and afraid/unafraid. He was not frightened of Hannibal's wrath. But he was afraid that Hannibal would misunderstand him. "I won't help you. Do you understand? I won't- help- you."
Hannibal frowned. I thought you understood.
Charles was no god. He was no judge of what man did and thought. Usually human beings confused him so much he preferred to close his eyes and pretend he was like the rest of them, the people who knew no minds other than their own. His telepathy simply gave him more information than most people received, but it only told him of how beautiful and terrible the world was, and most people, if they bothered to look, could see that.
I want to help you. I want to stop you. I want to fix you. Somewhere, I even want to kill you, except that's horrifying...
"Look for him in your own time," Charles said tightly. At least knew better than to ask him to stop.
Hannibal stared at him, his mind slamming shut to him for a second. (Not even Raven could do that.) Charles waited for his judgment, fork poised above his buttered asparagus. What now? Would he silently leave, or would he dice him up as well, for being impolite? (Rudeness is epidemic, Hannibal had once said, in a world not so far away.)
But Hannibal said to him, will you let me draw you?
Draw and quarter? Drawn along a chariot, as Hector's corpse had been? Charles focused his gibbering mind. "You mean, like, sketch."
The dimple on his left cheek deepened when he smiled.
"I have class, you know."
I don't need you to sit for me, Hannibal said. Just your permission.
Asking, Charles figured, was a huge deal here. "Sure."
Hannibal was good. Hannibal was very, very good. While Charles was away, he produced fifteen or so sketches of Charles- sleeping, eating, studying, in the bar- and one where he was sprawled out, cheeks dark with pleasure.
I hope you don't mind that I'll be taking all but one of them, Hannibal said. I have someone to show them to.
Hannibal stayed with him for three days. Charles never told him to leave, and Hannibal never offered to go. In between them lay a deep, inhuman gulf, and the duration of one's stay, and what common etiquette dictated it should be, seemed too petty to be discussed across it.
Hannibal was gratuitous about sharing his memories- he was not ashamed of them. Charles briefly received impressions that Hannibal thought (thoughts running in trails so alien to his own) that Charles' abilities marked him out as uniquely suited to bear testimony to Hannibal's actions, as Hannibal's experiences suited him for murder. So Hannibal did not hide- was not ashamed- and on the second day curled his body around Charles', handed him a cup of cocoa, and waited it out until Charles reached out without being prompted.
It was like a sore tooth. Dreadful, and agonizing, but somehow compelling- hurt yourself on me...
The first man Hannibal killed- a fish, retrieved from a leather satchel- a cook, telling him the cheeks were the most savory part of a carcass-
half rotted heads with holes torn double on their
Hannibal broke off at one point and asked him, solicitously, if Charles were about to throw up. "No," Charles said. There was little danger of that. Charles was no stranger to vicarious violence, and Hannibal's own perceptions and memories were so untinged with regret or disgust that Charles felt disembodied, as if he had become the scientist Hannibal was.
"Tell me," he said, emboldened. "Everything else you splay out for me, but what's the thing you aren't telling me? What's so much more terrible than the murder and- and consumption of your sister that you actively seek to distract me with other images?”
Hannibal's thumb stroked along his jugular in warning. Charles shut up. But a part of him thought, do you expect me to sit horrified and be an empty confessional booth for you? Dear chap, despite appearances, I cannot be that person.
Will you listen to the end, Hannibal asked him.
Charles could not say no.
I know someone like you, Hannibal told him at the door. There was no accompanying picture of a man, but there were sensations-: muscle under scars, gray-green eyes, an anger quite different from Hannibal's. A leather jacket... I will bring him next time. I think you might like him.
"Someone like me- next time?" Charles said.
Hannibal gripped his chin and drew him close. Charles thought he was going to be bitten or kissed, and squeezed his eyes shut in anticipation of either. But there was nothing. Hannibal traced circles around his left eye with a thumb that was more accustomed to knife hilts than human skin.
And, well, that wasn't the sort of thing you shook off.
Time whetted November into December and gave the air bite that Charles had missed in New York. Winters were actually warmer here, but often (usually just in the mornings) it felt colder- perhaps because of the humidity. Charles had plenty to worry himself with; there were women and there were men, and then there were professors and papers. And parties and drink and sports. But all throughout (for the first month after Hannibal left, at least) Charles kept remembering the feel of his mind, the graceful strength of his slim fingers, and wondered where precisely in Oxford Hannibal had located and then butchered his prey. Near or far, it was something that Charles had let happen.
He thought of Hannibal, sidestepping arterial spray.
Charles looked behind his shoulder for strange shadows or familiar smiles for a while, and then let it sink in the depths of his mind. He had an unfortunately good memory, and he'd remember, at the most inopportune of moments, what it was like to view a person as a switch with two functions, on or off, and oneself as a giant hand...
He went back to Westchester for the holidays, back to Raven and the big quiet house and his books, and among these familiar things quietly turned twenty years old.
There was cake, and a toned-down drinking game with Raven, and laughter and an affectionate exchange of presents.
Raven- his sweet, beautiful Raven, whom no one had ever eyed with the intent of a butcher- asked if he had met any interesting people in Oxford.
"Oh, yes," Charles said, and then changed the subject to talk about her schooling.
The January of 1955 did not bring Dr. Lecter back to Charles' door. The month was like a milestone, and Charles succeeded somewhat in forgetting about the thirteen sketches of himself that Hannibal had carried away (It was disturbing, like a piece of him had been carted off, free to roam the world and bring back the damage onto himself). Hannibal was busy. Hannibal led a dangerous life. Hannibal might be dead.
Halfway through February, though, he came back to his flat and met with a nasty shock.
Happy Valentine's Day, thought the mind with too many edges. I brought you chocolates.
Charles paused at the door. "Who's in there with you?"
Open the door.
Charles obeyed. He almost immediately saw two people sitting in his kitchen. The strange man's back was to him, but Hannibal met his eyes. There was a smile there. He had indeed bought chocolates. They were expensive Belgian ones with cream and praline and strawberry seeds. Charles dithered.
Hannibal reached out and poked the other man's shoulder.
It was odd to see Hannibal communicate with another person without words. Obviously 'like you' had not meant 'telepathic'. He will introduce himself, Hannibal told him, as if they were two adults talking over the head of a recalcitrant child.
The other man snarled quietly at the touch, and twisted in his chair to look at Charles. His chin jerked a little (in recognition, Charles gleaned from his mind, and a fleeting Hannibal captured his features well). He did not quite turn his back on Hannibal, who looked pleasantly amused at them both. "I am Erik Lehnsherr," he said. His voice was hoarse, as if he did not talk very often, but Charles took a closer look at him and saw he had a circle of bruises around his throat. Someone had tried to choke him, and not playfully either. He had a heavy German accent. "If you tell anyone about my presence here, or my name, I shall not be good to you."
Hannibal thought: He means it. And I hope you were not indiscreet about my stay here.
"I'm plenty terrified," Charles said wearily, wondering whether to touch Erik Lehnsherr's mind as he did Hannibal's, and deciding against it. One was quite enough. But even from this distance, he could feel a fundamental difference between them. Erik was terrified, and ready to strike out, ready to flee. Hannibal was nothing like that. But Erik, too, had that everywhere-in-the-same-direction feel to his mind, of something shattered having been reconstructed. Like magnetic domains; tiny pieces of metal reorienting their fields to one...
"Oh," Charles said. His brain was trying to tell him something. "What can you do?"
Erik eyed him suspiciously. "I can kill you."
"I can read your mind, and it's not a threat." Charles sat down. "Didn't Hannibal tell you?"
"I don't talk to him very much," Erik said curtly.
Charles looked at them both. He had no idea what they were to each other. He felt a headache coming on- in no way aided by a flash of Hannibal's thoughts (Lehnsherr’s teeth bared as he emptied a gun into a man’s dead body). "Hannibal," he said carefully. "How long would you be staying?"
As long as it takes for Erik to recover, he heard, and took his first good look at the right side of Erik's torso, which was twisted away from him.
"Oh," he said, and felt a little ill.
Erik Lehnsherr had been shot on the eleventh of February. Hannibal had carted him over the border of East Germany (what, Charles had exclaimed) and trekked through Western Europe at breakneck speeds-
"To get to Oxford? He needs a doctor!"
"Hannibal's the best one I know," Erik Lehnsherr rasped. He seemed deeply uncomfortable when he realized how easily Charles could communicate with Hannibal. Between him and Hannibal existed the buffer of paper, if they communicated at all. Erik was as perturbed by Hannibal as Charles himself was. That distrust seemed to translate to Charles himself, because Charles was allowed an access to the other man that Erik did not have, or want to have. "It was fine. We stole a jet. It was fast."
He looked ill at ease in Charles' flat. He kept eyeing the exits, as if he could move fast enough to escape if someone attacked him here.
"You can stay as long as you like." Sending them off on their way seemed- well, irrational. He wasn't sure if he dared refuse Hannibal anything yet. (Erik actually seemed less dangerous. His anger had not been quite forged into Hannibal's glassy monolith of violence. It was still somehow human.) And it seemed cruel to deny Erik shelter. Hannibal was honest about his chances. Erik needed rest. And they had nowhere, really, to go...
"Can I trust you?" Erik said flatly.
Any answer would be a wrong answer. "I dunno."
Erik gave Hannibal a wide-eyed look of sarcasm.
Charles busied himself with clearing up his flat. "Erik must take the bedroom. The futon is for Hannibal. I can pull out of a mattress in that corner for myself-"
The bed's large enough for both of you, Hannibal thought at the same time Erik said "you needn't, really."
"I couldn't, I'd jostle him," Charles replied.
"What?" Erik said suspiciously.
Charles did have a large bed.
Charles opened his refrigerator, saw impending disaster, and swiftly donned scarf, coat, and hat to get more groceries. Things with protein for Erik. It could be from illness that he was so haggard and unkempt-looking, but Charles secretly doubted it. Unlike Hannibal, who sleekly glowed with health despite the life he led, Erik looked like he deliberately ran himself ragged to keep his body on just the right edge of desperation.
Not under Charles' roof, he wouldn't.
He poked at three different kinds of cereal, and several types of fish that looked all the same to him. He'd better not risk the fish. They also sold vitamins, and fruit- the fruit was expensive- Charles threw it all blindly into his cart and hoped for the best. He rarely cooked for himself, but obviously he couldn't drag Erik to a bistro whenever he was hungry.
Charles was fairly sure he could cook.
And if it turned out he couldn't, well.
There was Hannibal.
When he came back, Hannibal had the pieces of a gun all over his Astrophysics assignment. Charles dropped a melon. "Hannibal!"
The man barely looked up. He had two intricate metal pieces in his hands. The bedroom door was open: Charles saw the curve of the sheets over Erik's prone body. It was Erik's gun. He knew this, because Hannibal never used guns. He'd said he never did. His tastes ran to the weapons that could connect him to his prey.
"Hannibal," Charles repeated, and was surprised to find within himself an iciness that seemed to spread out to the tips of every limb. "Put those away right now."
The man looked up and glared at him. Charles was surprised to find himself completely unafraid. I'm fixing-
"I don't care," Charles said. "There are bags in the drawer, put the pieces in and give it to me."
Hannibal stared at him. Charles stared back. There would be no guns in his house. It was a crappy little flat with too many books that smelled vaguely of beer and coffee and collegiate desperation, but it was his, and while he was here he would have no truck with anything of murder-
Hannibal extended a knife in a flash- it came from underneath some layer of his clothing. (Or his hair, his boots, underneath his skin: it was all the same to Hannibal.) It was not a threat.
"You are guests right now," Charles said in a whisper. Hannibal would hear. "And while you are guests, I expect you to make a few concessions. Guns. Knives. Anything. Hide it if you will, or put it somewhere in the flat we all know about. But you don't hold it. You don't take it out. You are not here to kill."
Hannibal's eyes were flinty, and Charles wondered if he were making a terrible mistake. But this was his sticking point. He was astonished to find it.
"It's polite," he said.
Hannibal went for the plastic bag.
Hannibal patted Erik down with little ceremony as Charles watched. Erik moaned with pain, and his lashes flickered. "What are you-"
There were a lot of places to hide a pistol on a man's body, Charles found out that day. Even on a wounded man who was half-dressed.
"What," Erik ground out when Hannibal managed to convey what Charles had demanded. The pain of his awakening was like a heat wave. "What if they come after us, then? Are you mad?"
Then I will take care of it, Charles told him flatly.
Erik looked five times more awake and ten times more dazed at the same time. He hadn't quite believed Charles when he'd said he could read minds. "Oh."
"Go back to sleep, Lehnsherr," Charles said gently. "You can, you know?"
Erik frowned at him fuzzily. (My shoulder is on fire-) Charles heard Hannibal rummage in his kit for morphine. "Ich kann nicht-"
Hannibal was there in a flash, smoothing a palm down the harsh plane of Erik's forehead as he located a vein.
The bed was large, true, but Charles was deathly afraid of jarring Erik, who poured of waves of confused pain even in sleep. He took a pillow and curled up on the floor. But Erik woke up in the middle of the night, blinked down at Charles. He was obviously disoriented and trying not to be.
"Hey," said Charles, who was used to getting up at obscene hours in the morning. He knew it was a nightmare and not the pain that had woken Erik up. He could do something about the latter. He'd been thinking about it all night. Except that he might get it wrong and do something terrible to Erik's brain. "Do you want some water? You should keep hydrated."
Erik squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again. "Uh," he rasped.
"Water it is."
Warm, with honey and minced garlic.
Erik seemed to appreciate it. His eyes unfogged a little as he sipped. Charles had to hold the glass steady for him. "How did you get shot?"
"You could read my mind."
"Some people might take offense."
Erik gave a short bark of laughter. "Some people?"
"Well," Charles said, a little stung, "Hannibal doesn't mind." He was the first, actually. It might be that he knew his mind was a place Charles would not traipse around in casually, but Charles suspected that it was that he really did not care. Hannibal was ashamed of little, secretive of little. The fact that there was still something he tucked deeply away, from himself as well as from Charles- well, Charles didn't know what that meant.
"Hannibal. Is he your- reference point for humanity?"
Erik spoke like someone who hadn't been around people for a while. He was perfectly coherent, even with the thick accent and the debilitating wound. Neither was language the problem, although Charles could hear snatches of German (and French, occasionally. Hannibal used French with Erik when they communicated, and Erik had gotten used to that) when Erik struggled for a word in English. (Bezugspunkt, he'd thought when he'd looked for 'reference point', and had paused. Charles wished his German weren't so poor. And of course he did not speak Yiddish at all.)
It was, in fact, in the modulation of his voice- Erik spoke as if he weren't quite sure if Charles would hear him, and then as if Charles were right in front of him.
"What's yours, Lehnsherr?"
Erik stared at him flatly, clutching his glass of water. Charles longed to run a finger down the knobs of knuckles, siphon away the tension that whitened them. Instead, he got up and stood in front of his bookshelf. Erik would never turn his back to Hannibal, Charles remembered. But he was quite comfortable with turning his back to both. There was that knowledge that both could quite easily kill him whichever way Charles was facing at the moment. Also, there were rules that Hannibal seemed to respect.
"I'm sorry," Charles said after a pause, although he didn't really feel sorry. "Never mind me. You should go back to sleep. Get some rest."
"I'm not tired." It was true. Erik's restlessness rustled against Charles' own mind, potent proof.
"That's a pity, because someone shot you and just missed your right lung," Charles said pleasantly. His pinkie caught on the spine of a book. He pulled it out. It was the only book in German he had. He and Raven had gotten tutoring at the same time. He remembered this...
"You convinced Hannibal to give up our weapons," Erik was saying. "How did you do that?"
"Hannibal likes people to be polite," Charles said. "I said it would be polite not to have those things in my flat. Hello, have you read this? Kinder-und Hausmärchen. I have the seventh edition, all the way from 1857. It would have been quite valuable, but my sister and I scribbled all over it. We hoped like hell our parents wouldn't find out."
"You have a sister?" asked Erik, who apparently had an unerring instinct for trouble.
Charles closed his eyes. "Well- yes."
Erik shrugged. "Go on. Yes, of course I know those fairy tales. Die Brüder Grimm. I remember... I don't-"
Charles turned around in time to see Erik scrub at his eyes, looking a bit wretched. He was twenty-three, Charles knew.
"Forgive my accent," he said, turning on the bedside lamp. "It's been three years since I gave up on German."
"You're going to read to me?" Amusement was better than the wretchedness. Charles knew he wouldn't have seen it if Erik hadn't been so ill, anyhow. The lamplight glanced off the sweat that sheened his face and lit his fever-glassy eyes.
"Aschenputtel," Charles said. "Do you remember?"
"Of course I remember."
Charles was fairly sure he didn't. He sat on the edge of the bed and, self-consciously, started to read. He distinctly saw Erik's mouth twitch at some of the mispronounced words, but Charles stumbled along.
Erik actually fell asleep about one third of the way through, but woke up a few minutes later, even though Charles had lowered his voice. He looked vaguely embarrassed, and listened to the rest of it. He smiled and frowned in turns, although the only sign of it appeared on his forehead. His mouth, always, was quite still.
"That's not how it turned out," he said when Charles finished with a dramatic Ende. "It was horrible. I remember that it was horrible."
"Well, this is Aschenputtel as written by Raven Xavier," Charles said, and showed Erik the first page, where someone had written Raven Xavier in dark blue ink, where an author's name would have been under the title. "She was very determined that everyone should make up and be happy at the end. And that no one should have to cut off their feet."
"Is she like you?"
Charles thought about that. "How do you mean that?"
"She is less afraid of violence."
Erik was sleepy, but he was fighting to hold on- Charles could feel him fighting to hold on. "And how afraid are you?"
"I'm terrified," Charles said, and stroked the hard line of Erik's knuckles with his finger. "Go to sleep, now."
Erik kept his eyes on Charles as he slid back under the covers, minding his shoulder. He was still looking when Charles snapped off the light.
Hannibal made breakfast. It was exquisite.
Charles was there when, prior to calling Erik to the table, Hannibal unwrapped the gauze on the gunshot wound. There was the stink of disinfectant and illness, but that was the extent of it. Nothing necrotic. Charles fought not to turn his head away- he, too, had found his calling in the human body, and he was not squeamish of blood. But he was squeamish of pain.
Erik slurred something in German, and Charles only caught it... well. It's healing well? It's better now?
Hannibal did that thing again, brushing his palm widely over the upper slopes of Erik's face. Erik restlessly turned to it, butting against Hannibal's hand like a cat. Ask him how bad the pain is.
"How badly does it hurt?" Charles said.
"...Nein," Erik said, too exhausted to formulate a coherent response, and then surged, struggling, to full consciousness. He seemed to register where he was. "I mean- Not much."
"Are you going to give him drugs?" Charles asked Hannibal, who shook his head. "Then may I try something, Erik?"
"With your mind?"
Hannibal poked him.
"No," Erik insisted.
Do it. He is too stubborn.
So Hannibal trusted him.
The way Charles was going to do it, it would either help or do no harm. So he breathed in, focused, thought of himself at his best, and reached out, drawing on the wholeness of his own body to wipe away the jagged surface of Erik's pain- (just the surface, and this was important)
"Ohhh," Erik said, and slumped with relief.
Hannibal released a sound that sounded like hahh. He looked at Charles with approval, and Charles felt his stomach flutter.
"I told you not to," Erik said, sounding twenty times more lucid than he had just a second before.
"Don't be an ass," Charles said in a friendly way. "Come for breakfast. You should get up from bed." Or at least, Hannibal thought so.
Charles was gratified to see Erik scrutinizing his food, (It's not just me-) before it gave way to subtle horror. Had Hannibal ever-
Hannibal's even teeth flashed white. He'd noticed their paying attention. I gave him food when he was too ill to appropriate rations for himself during our way here. He never asked. But it was only veal.
He didn't seem hurt that both of them seemed to think he was capable of doing something like that. This was because Hannibal had done it before, Charles realized. He was vaguely pleased to be with two people who had accurate assessments of his character.
Charles still had classes, and often used the chance to escape. He quit partying for the meantime- it was that he couldn't quite bear to stagger home drunk and... well, they'd hardly condemn him, but it seemed rude to them, somehow. He played chess with Erik when Erik could manage, and talked about all sorts of things with Hannibal. It was Hannibal's job to take care of Erik, and Charles' to keep them both amused for the meantime. But he was also fascinating to them. Hannibal asked repeated questions about his abilities, and so did Erik, while remaining close-mouthed about his own.
Charles was aware that he was an earnest but inexperienced host, and at any rate his flat was too small to house three people. But there were no complaints from anyone- in fact, none of them talked to each other very much at all. Hannibal, of course, did not speak, although indeed most of the communication in the house telepathically took place between him and Charles. Erik rarely spoke to Hannibal. In the first few day after he recovered proper lucidity, Charles saw him speak to Hannibal once, a gruff thanks in French. And Erik did not seem to like talking to Charles, although in the rare occasions Charles brushed against Erik's he received the impression that Erik was shy.
And, although Charles thought Erik spoke perfectly serviceable English- well, halting and heavily accented, but serviceable (and he found the accent attractive, really), Erik thought-
"You do not sound silly at all when you talk to me," Charles said one evening, setting down a chess piece. Erik avoided his eyes. "Why do you think so? My German is atrocious, but I do use it."
"Only to make me laugh," Erik said. "I would not speak English to make you laugh."
"I don't find it amusing. I like your voice."
He swore he saw Erik blush. Erik was not like Hannibal- Erik as he showed himself to Charles was not the same Erik who could put together a gun in seven seconds. But Hannibal was always the same. Hannibal would never blush. Hannibal did not hesitate to think of the arterial pressure under the flesh he kissed.
Charles thought about Erik saying I don't talk to him very much, and wondered.
On the third day after Erik started waking up in the mornings by himself, Charles came back after stepping out for a moment and heard Erik's voice rise hoarsely in anger, snarling in French. Charles found, in his bedroom, a silent Hannibal, listening rather thoughtfully to it all. Erik shut up sharply when he came into the room.
"I heard all that," Charles said. "And you should know by now I speak quite passable French."
A grin curled Hannibal's mouth.
"Is it that we're both men?" Charles asked.
"I-" Erik's mouth pursed tight. "I care little about that."
"Then why are you angry that we slept together?"
Erik turned his entire attention to Charles. Recovered and lucid, Erik had a gaze whose intensity only Hannibal's rivaled. Charles felt his eyes go wide. He'd never met two people so focused.Like something had whittled away all the extraneous things about them and had reassembled them... "Did he force you?"
Hannibal hadn't. So Charles wondered what his flash of- not remorse, but- culpability? Recognition? was. "No," he said. "Of course not. Why would you think he did?"
Because Hannibal was who he was, and Charles was- not willful? Or because Erik automatically believed the worst of Hannibal?
Erik thought, so clearly that Charles could not avoid hearing, he cannot have touched you. It was more an emotion than a thought, rising only halfway out of the heart, not rooted enough in reason to have taken a language.
"He was a perfect gentleman," Charles said, suddenly unable to look at either of them.
He wants you, Hannibal thinks. It's very strange for him. But not for me. He was reading Charles' essay upside down, looking critical. Charles felt a rush of animal intelligence that turned around, suddenly, into a scientific one- except with Hannibal, there was no difference. Hannibal was an animal of science. Hannibal was staring at him right now, reading Charles' thoughts without telepathy.
He wants you, Hannibal said again.
"Fine, yes, he does." Charles glared at him for two seconds before dropping his eyes. Glaring at Hannibal was difficult. That edge of violence was always present. He thought that in a wolf pack, he would have gotten to eat his leftovers. "What do you want me to do about it?"
Hannibal shrugged, snagged Charles' pen, and underlined a citation mistake in his third paragraph.
That was how, later that night-
That was not how. Hannibal had nothing to do with it. It happened quite naturally, by itself, when Erik (who did not know how to ask) reached out and ran a thumb along the crease of Charles' collar with his lashes dropped, and Charles chose to lean forward and kiss the awkward-graceful mouth that curved in astonishment under his. But of course Hannibal had everything to do with it. Charles kissed him silly (Erik's mind a muddle of color and electricity) and then told him to stay still and not exert himself as he slid his mouth down over Erik's hard body, nipples and furred groin and firm, leaking prick. There was no way Hannibal missed the sound Erik made, a short, sharp cry of terrified pleasure.
Erik was twenty three, and had killed more people than he had fucked.
"Don't buck," Charles said. "Right? If you jar your shoulder, I'm going to stop." Running his thumb down the line of dribbled precum, using the moisture to fleck Erik's perineum and rub it in.
"Oh," Erik said hoarsely. "Yes."
And he carefully did not move at all, although Charles saw the neck muscles that ran dangerously close to the wounded area tense as Erik fought not to jerk. Charles liked Erik's cock- liked the circumcision scar, the leaking slit, the heavy hotness of it on his palm and mouth. He liked the way licking it made Erik melt and tense in cycles. He liked the gorgeous, desperate noises that Erik made, the bright, pained wonderment of his mind.
Neither of them remembered, later, which language Erik used when he said I'm going to-. Charles drew off and lipped at the slit once before Erik came over his face, his jaw and nose and his left cheek. Erik drew a finger through the streaked seed dumbly when they were done, as if he couldn't believe whose cum it was.
"Your shoulder," Charles said.
"Never serious," Erik said, the great liar, and after Charles wiped his face, kissed him like he wasn't quite sure how it was done. How Charles liked it. There was none of Hannibal's coiled confidence here.
Charles caught a thread of never- but he's a man- still good- I don't know- not good- and thought about talking about it, but Erik gave him an angry, slitted look. There was a rush of shame, of a furious stay out of my head, and Charles shut his mouth against the reassurances he could give and settled for rubbing circled on Erik's hip and belly. You don't have to be ashamed of being ashamed, he almost said, but Erik was torn enough as it was.
"I actually thought you," Charles started, and stopped. The light of his lamp played against the smooth, pale planes of Hannibal's face, illuminated the hidden color in one eye and not the other. Erik lay sleeping in the other room.
Why would you think that?
"Because you two are-" so tightly bound up in the other, so similar, so different, he's so vulnerable and you always take what you want. "close."
Hannibal brought up a memory- hot, close, personal, my lips brushing against his, the heat of his chest, a backward jerk, playful jeering in French from the barmaids, who were used to such displays and then followed up with a swift montage of the days following, Erik acting like he'd been scalded every time Hannibal touched him.
"Was it fear?" It had been fear, for Charles. When Hannibal had pinned him to the sink, erection pressing into Charles' backside, Charles had been turned on and terrified and utterly frozen.
Erik cares little for style, Hannibal dismissed. And resents it in others. Or lack thereof, depending on your point of view.
"It's kind of- Hannibal, it's not gauche to eat people." Charles had never said 'eat people' in his life. It was hard, getting the words out. His mind was stuck on the treadmill of incredulity still. Absurdly, after he got the words out, he wanted to apologize: I'm sorry for judging you. But that was ridiculous.
Careful. If you start thinking too much about it, you'll have to kill both of us in our sleep.
"Not funny," Charles said, voice a little too high-pitched, and felt Erik almost awaken in the other room. "I don't see why you can't just-" Be less... gaudy.
He broke off, staring at the cannibal in his living room, and felt distorted, like his mind was twisting itself into a double helix just to deal.
A week after they crashed Charles' flat- and it was crashing, bullet wound or no, chocolates or no- Erik came home with a black eye after 'taking a walk'.
Hannibal looked, for the first time, sort of freaked.
"It was an utterly normal bar fight," Erik snarled in French. "No one died, someone punched me for no reason at all. Then I hightailed out of there."
Hannibal's lip was curled. No reason at all? Bar fight?
He did not look at Charles to speak for him, so Charles kept his mouth shut. He could feel Erik's shame and anger and confusion, and closed his eyes to try to make out what had happened-no one at all, but he'd reminded Erik of someone he'd seen when he was twelve, and then he'd turned around and smacked his girlfriend, and it had been none of Erik's business, at all- and when he closed his eyes, Hannibal was eloquently making his point about Erik's recklessness with his hand and the nearest wall.
"No," Charles said. He moved, but only in his mind. In reality he stood quite still, frozen, unable to act.
But he somehow must have, because Hannibal's arm suddenly dropped and he was propelled several feet back by his own legs. Charles was treated for the first time to the sight of Hannibal shocked. Utterly unafraid, but shocked. As if he'd never expected that of Charles.
Erik stood straight, wincing. His throat was already red.
"I said nothing like that here," Charles said hoarsely. "Nothing like that."
You took away my knives and his guns, Hannibal thought, so savagely that Charles briefly looked at Erik to see if he had heard. The mental message was so loud that it had seemed impossible that Erik had not. But Erik was only staring at the floor. What will you make of us? You do not have the right.
"It's a crappy little place, but this flat is mine," Charles said aloud. "And while you're here, you- don't. Okay?"
Hannibal raised his head so that the light brought out the strange color of his eyes, and part of Charles' mind rebelled against meeting that gaze, and immediately ran through a list of eye mutations to distract itself. Most of him, to his own surprise, stood his ground. Not here, not when he could stop it, because most of the time he couldn't, and Hannibal needed to understand that there were limits.
"He's right," Erik said in English. His voice was hoarse. Hannibal had choked him tightly. "I did... endanger us. There are people searching, and what I did was quite recognizable. I'm sorry."
He used his abilities. He always does, when he's angry.
"They won't recognize him," Charles said. "And if they do, I'll take care of it."
Hannibal looked contemptuous. You?
"I can do things."
You don't have the strength for execution. And a part of you thinks that we deserve to be caught.
"Hannibal, shut up. Okay? Shut up. No, you know what, I'm not going to listen to you anymore. Take a walk. Something." Charles regretted having rented such a small place. There was no real privacy here. "He's hurt, and you tried to strangle him."
Hannibal shrugged, slim graceful face tight with rage, and shouldered on a jacket as he walked to the door and slammed it shut behind him. Charles turned back to Erik. "Are you all right?"
"Look," Erik said, painfully, and raised a hand. Spare change rattled out of Charles' pockets and started flying around the room. And then they dipped, fell to the ground in a dull copper cascade. "Look."
"What am I supposed to see?" Charles asked politely, moving towards him. Erik's body was stiff when Charles cautiously put his arms around him. "I knew that, you know. Hannibal told me you were like me. You can do things. So can I. I'm not afraid."
"I didn't think you would be."
"Okay," Charles said, stepping back. "He'll be back. Do you- want a drink, a book, a game of chess-"
Erik shook his head. "We should leave."
Charles stared. "What? They'll never remember you. Everyone's too pissed at this hour, anyway."
"Drunk, not angry," Charles said.
"It's not because of that." Erik stuffed his hands into his pocket and slipped into rapid-fire French. "You do too much. You change things. We can't stay here. It's been too long. You don’t like what we do, anyway, and I can see how uncomfortable it’s making you, always. We have things to do, and we should have left days ago. We've imposed too much upon you when you're busy, and a student. You've had your hands tied while we've been here. We're very grateful, but-"
Charles kissed him, and Erik immediately shut up to kiss him back on instinct. But his mouth tightened a split second later and he gently pushed Charles away. "I can't stay here."
And what the hell was you change things supposed to mean?
"Erik," Charles said. Don't go- stop hunting them- it'll never stop hurting, I know, I- no, I really don't know, but I do know that this will never bring either of you peace.”
“I’m not looking for peace,” Erik spat, and angrily leaned in to kiss him.
They were necking in the bedroom when Hannibal came back in, a silhouette in a rectangle of light.
"What-" Erik sputtered- "Lecter, get out!"
"He says no," Charles said. "Er-"
Hannibal had gotten lube somewhere, proper lube. He's never fucked you, has he? he asked.
"Oh," Charles said, turned on as fuck. "No. We've never."
It is time that he did. The door slammed shut, and in the next second Hannibal was there, groin grazing against Charles' ass, pressing Charles' own erection against Erik's. Erik's mind was a sea, waves crashing onto waves, washing out and bringing back in turns emotions such as disbelief, desire, and trace amounts of horror. Hannibal cupped the spot between Charles' legs, behind his balls, and pushed his body gently up on Erik's own to get at Erik's erection, straining at his briefs underneath.
"Oh," Erik said quietly when Hannibal pushed the cloth down to slick him up. "I- oh. Oh."
Violence, thought Hannibal pensively, and showed Charles what was on his mind. It is, oftentimes, something you cannot stop. Tell him to finger you.
Charles' body felt like a badly-made harp, thrumming from the heat of Erik's body and twisting out of tune. "Erik," he cried out, "your fingers- put them in me."
Erik's mind was flat with disbelief. "Ich kann nicht-" (I cannot-)
"Please, please," Charles whispered into his mouth, "you said you were going to leave, I just want you to, before you go.”
Perhaps that was unfair. But Erik's hand was cupping his ass, squeezing and stroking, and as the first long finger penetrated him, crooked inside his walls, Charles hissed with anticipation and clenched. A second finger followed, too soon, and- Erik hadn't pulled out to come back with two. So the second finger was Hannibal's, drizzling lube down on both of their hands.
"Hannibal," Erik said, sounding conflicted. Except no, he’d actually slipped and said Annibale, the name he usually called the other man. "He's not- we can't-"
"Erik," Charles said, and kissed him. Three fingers. He didn't know whose the third was. It was going a little too fast, and he loved it. "Erik, my dear, Erik, Erik-'
Hannibal was fisting Erik below Charles' body, hand a tight ring around the base of Erik's cock. Erik was jerking a little, entire body hot and hard-soft under Charles', intoxicating- intoxicating- and Hannibal was humming as he prepared them both. "Are you fine with this," Charles whispered into Erik's ear, licking a line up the tendon on the unwounded side of his neck.
Are you? Erik thought, and in response Charles let Hannibal guide his body down onto Erik's cock.
Hannibal had prepared him just short of enough, and it was blazingly perfect- pain spiraled up his nerves with the pleasure, and Charles muffled a scream from it. Erik halted instantly underneath him, entire body trembling, eyes screwed up as he fisted the sheets and tried to control his urges. "Charles," he said, sounding distracted and angry, "you are hurting."
"No, you don't understand," Charles said, and started to fuck himself on Erik, forced his badly trembling thighs to support his weight as he moved. "I- ah. I... No. This is good. This is good."
Erik met him with shallow, shuddering thrusts, and Charles had just about gotten used to the rhythm when he felt Hannibal press his cock to the place where they were joined. Charles felt his legs cramp a little, his body seize with panic- was he going to- Charles had heard about- but Hannibal only rubbed the tip of his cock in between the cheeks of Charles' ass, and then downwards to Erik's own prick. Hannibal's mind was open but silent, almost calm with pleasure that was not totally consuming, as Erik's was. When he's finished, he told Charles, I will have you. Don't come.
"Oh," Charles said, and had to blink rapidly. He wasn’t sure he could, and that was… that was good. "Oh god, yes.”
The hardest part was batting away Erik's hands when he reached out, gasping out a "not yet- not yet-". Erik came shortly after that, mind dissolving into messy fireworks of astonished pleasure, and he'd barely drawn out when Hannibal was there. Erik took a second to realize.
"Hannibal," he said incredulously, but Charles was already being drilled forward and down. He'd ridden Erik, but this time it was Hannibal doing all the work, pressing his body flush onto Erik's as he fucked into him, just a little too hard, a little too vicious, as it had been last time- but calculatingly vicious, solicitously vicious, slotting his body in where Erik had been, fucking through the streaks of Erik’s cum inside him.
"Ahh," Charles said, and felt Erik kissed the tears streaming down from his lashes, and came, clutching at Erik’s arms beneath him, feeling Erik kiss his neck. "No-" (He didn't know whom he was addressing) "-it doesn't hurt- it could never hurt, after everything else that did-, and I'm sorry."
Hannibal paused in his rhythm, and Charles ridiculously thought he'd done so to answer, but he was cumming instead, resting a hand on the back of Charles' neck (a muscle twitch away from snapping or stroking), making only a small ragged sound to betray his ecstasy.
They slept together that night, all of them- Hannibal’s hand on Erik’s stomach, Charles’ face in Hannibal’s neck, Erik’s arm draped over Charles’ torso. It was almost comforting. It should have been comforting. But Charles only found himself stifled by the violent weight of their dreams.
Charles slipped out at 4 am in the morning, because there were some things he could not quite bear.
He was shivering under several thick layers of clothing (how cold they'd been, that winter in 1944- how cold, how famished, how ill...) in a park not too far away when he felt Hannibal's mind stir, precisely, from sleep to full consciousness.
Hannibal, he reached out across space. I saw.
And what did you see?
I saw what you were hiding. The memory where the man tried to rape the woman who taught you how to hold a blade. I heard what he said.
He felt Hannibal snap in the flat, heard it as distinctly as he would the sound of someone pulling back a hammer in his ear. He said nothing to Charles, but his rage was overpowering. His shame was even stronger, and the two became a miserable fury that called for blood.
You will say that it was not my fault, Hannibal said. He was thinking of the spot he knew Charles had hidden the knives in. That I could not have known. Because what are you, after all? You think your role here is always to forgive. Give and forgive.
"Hannibal Lecter," Charles said aloud to the cold wind. "Hannibal Lecter."
How did you take it from my mind?
You dream about it and don't remember. But when I share them and wake up, sometimes I do.
Why remind me, then? Hannibal was very nearly pleading.
You should know... you have the right to know that I know. Especially when you tried so hard to hide it from me.
They'd fed her to her brother as well. Why had they kept him alive? Food had been scarce, the girl had died, and they needed to survive- so why had they saved him? Why hadn't they killed him, too? It would have been easier. It would have been kinder. Charles put his head in his hands and rocked his body back and forth, trying to think of all the decisions he was glad he hadn't needed to make. He was aware that he was weeping, and was ashamed.
Come back, Hannibal said. Charles wondered if he'd caught any of Charles' thoughts. Come back now.
Just a moment. I need to be out.
I will not harm you.
I know. But it's very cold outside. I would like to feel it for a while.
Yes, it was cold. When Charles came back, his fingers were numb. He dropped his key thrice, trying to come in, until Erik opened the door.
"Thank you," Charles said through chattering teeth.
Erik swept him inside, drew him close to the unnatural heat of his own body. His mind was a rush of multilingual anxiety- Hannibal was angry, he was uncertain, Charles was unsafe... and through it ran the strain of unhappiness. Unhappiness was new for Erik- there was blank misery, many times, but unhappiness was new. "He says that we must leave."
"Yes. I think so."
Hannibal was sitting in the living room, studying a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon that he had not yet touched. His mobile mouth was flat and thin. Quite blank. The last time he'd let himself think about what Charles had brought up, Charles knew, he'd carved into a man's chest before stabbing his throat. And then it had been silence- long, ringing silence in his head and his mouth as he chased... Canada, Italy, China, and back to France, where there was a warrant out for him... he'd met Erik in France... the United States, England, East Germany, and back to England. And many countries in between. Fleeing or capturing?
"And he said soon," Erik said quietly, and Charles touched the arm he knew Erik's tattoo occupied. Another thing he was utterly helpless about. Erik- Erik. An equally prolific rush of countries...
Our weapons, Hannibal said. You are the host. You will return them to us.
That was polite, considering that Hannibal already knew where they were. Or, more likely, he just wanted to make a point. Or wanted Charles' sanction, somehow- here is your edge that I took, you may go back now. Charles felt a surge of helpless... not fury, that had been washed out of him by now, by the cold if nothing else. Blank helplessness, then. He went into his room and retrieved the bag from the little crevice outside his window, in between the wall and the heat pump. It had been too obvious, of course.
He could feel Erik, in the living room, having a wordless argument with Hannibal.
The knives were icy from having been left out in the winter air. Charles handed them one by one to Hannibal, hilt-first. Hannibal slotted them into the right places in his body- had either replaced the sheaths under his clothes or had never taken them off to begin with- and smiled coolly at Charles. (Oh God, he hates me now, Charles thought.) Thank you.
Some of Erik's guns were in pieces, and he frowned at them. He didn't remember when that had happened. He sat down at the table and started putting them together, fingers suddenly lethal and graceful where they had been clumsy on Charles' hips. This was his ground. Charles stared at the place where the shirt of Erik's collar had shifted aside to reveal the new pink skin over the bullet wound, and thought briefly of selkies. Briefly.
To pay you for our stay here would be an insult, Hannibal started, and Charles said "yes" in agreement to shut him up, and leaned over to daringly touch his cheek. Hannibal's face shuttered, and Charles took away his hand. Sorry, sorry. Didn't mean to. Except that I did. "Yes, of course you shouldn't pay me."
"I thought, it would be polite?" Erik said uneasily, accent deepening. It had been his suggestion.
"No," Charles said. "You shouldn't. And you could only pay me with Nazi gold anyway, isn't that so?"
Hannibal nodded, and stood up. Erik juggled the pieces of the last gun (a Walther) in the air for a moment with a pensive, unhappy expression before slotting it all together in a series of neat clicks that left Charles feeling cold. He stood up as well. Evidently neither of them believed in prolonged goodbyes.
All Charles honestly wanted to do in that moment was to sit there, not look at them until both of them were out of the door, and then... he didn't know. He would have called Raven, but for the first time in his life something had come up that he could never tell her about. He hated them both a little for that, and wanted them to leave.
But it would be impolite to stay seated while they left. He got up and followed them to the door, putting on a smile for a moment before deciding not to. Hannibal picked up a satchel that made him look like a student. Erik had a briefcase. Charles looked at them both and imagined them on trains and stolen jets and ships, never settling- it sounded nightmarish. "Will I ever seen you again?" he asked, trying not to sound... the way it would be easy to sound, just then.
"I'll come back," said Erik, after a moment. 'I', not 'we'. But Charles stared briefly at Hannibal all the same. The man quirked his lips. Erik added, a little desperately, "...do you want us to?"
Charles squeezed his eyes shut and said, "yes. Come back. You have to come back."
Hannibal stepped closer and kissed him tenderly on the lips. Tell me, said Hannibal, and smiled like it was a joke. Is there anything left in me to love?
"Hannibal," Charles said, and reached out, dipped his thumb into the dimple in the left cheek of his smiling face. "Hannibal, yes. In everyone."
Silence. It got long. And then it got longer...
Until Hannibal drew him close by his shoulders and whispered aloud into his ear, hoarsely: "Ah, but there you are absolutely wrong."
His voice was pleasant, accented, just a little lower than Charles would have expected it to be. Erik was staring, mouth parting slightly in astonishment. Hannibal gave them both a cool little smile and turned on his heel, striding out of the door.
"He..." Erik said.
Charles remembered Erik saying I don't talk to him very much again, and felt his mouth trying to smile against the rest of his face. He reached out and grasped Erik's arm. "I'll hold you to that. Right? And take care of him."
"He's the one that takes care of me," Erik said. He's the one who knows everything about people-
Charles thought about saying many things to that, but chose "you shouldn't leave him, even when you think you must," and kissed him on the cheek before sending him away.
And that was how Charles adequately proved to himself that he was of no use in a moral argument.