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Astronomical Odds

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Will is halfway between Las Vegas and Nelson, trudging along the side of the road, humming tunelessly to himself, when the sole of his left shoe finally detaches from the upper and starts flapping and collecting tiny rocks. He’s been walking for long enough that his backpack is starting to weigh heavy on him, his feet hurt something awful, and he’s started to wonder if he wouldn’t be better served by catching a little sleep by the side of the road and trying again in the morning. He hasn’t seen a car for over an hour.

He’s just finished picking stones out of his shoes when he hears the purr of an expensive engine. Will stands up straight and sticks his thumb out. He’s not optimistic. People in nice cars don’t pick up hitchhikers.

Against all odds the car slows and stops. A window glides down and Will bends over so he can see in. The driver is a middle-aged man, good-looking, nice polo and khakis, probably a tourist though god knows what he’s doing out in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night.

“I’m headed south,” Will says.

“As am I.” The man leans over and opens the door for him. “Is there somewhere specific?”

Will shrugs. “However far you’re going will do,” he says. It’s a line that’s worked before. No one really wants to drive out of their way for a stranger. He slides into the passenger seat, tucking his backpack into the footwell.

“I’m going as far as Nelson,” the man says, but he’s already pulling back onto the road. He’s foreign but Will can’t place where from. Northern Europe maybe? Eastern Europe? He doesn’t know enough about Europe to say one way or the other. Shit, he doesn’t know much about Europe at all.

It is a really nice car. Definitely a rental though, it has that rental car smell. Rental car means out-of-towner. Out-of-towner means if it all goes sideways, Will can always kill him and use the car for at least the rest of the night.

“I’m Will,” he offers.

The man nods courteously. “Hannibal,” he says.

Will can’t help it. “I’m kind of surprised you stopped,” he says in joking tones. “How do you know I’m not a serial killer.”

Hannibal glances at Will but keeps his attention on the road unspooling ahead. “Well,” he said. “The odds of two serial killers being in the same car are rather long, don’t you think?” The corner of his eyes crinkle up, and his mouth quirks a fraction at the corners which is pretty much the only indication that he’s smiling. He’s very handsome in a deeply unusual way. The little bit of light from the dash casts his face in stark shadows.

Will barks out a laugh. “Real long,” he says, relaxing.

There’s a corpse, probably quite cold now, in a Vegas motel room that Will left there. It wasn’t his first. It won’t be his last. He hasn’t decided if he wants to kill Hannibal yet. Depends on what happens next.

He figures he could probably win in a fight. Hannibal’s a little taller than Will, and a little bigger, and he’s got decent biceps, but Will’s been murdering people up and down the continental United States for the better part of fifteen years. He’s gotten pretty good at it.

There’s a knife strapped to his ankle, a loaded gun in his bag, and he’s not above using his teeth if he has to. He also has mace. He met a nice butch lesbian truck driver who picked him up off Interstate 20, drove him as far as Abilene, bought him dinner, and insisted on giving him her mace. She’d been so worried about him and his ‘pretty face.’”

“Honey,” she’d said, over burgers and shitty diner coffee, “girls like you find trouble without even looking. Take it for my peace of mind.”

He’d realized she thought he was a sex worker. Will hadn’t tried to change her opinion of him. No one was looking for a serial truck stop male prostitute. He’d run that angle for a while, down in Louisiana, but it was too much trouble. The clothing was hard to hunt in, and he didn’t like men pawing at him while he got them to the secondary location.

He wonders if Hannibal thinks he’s a sex worker. Hannibal has nicely manicured nails, strong-looking hands, and fantastic arms. Will’s not sure he’d complain if Hannibal made a move on him. He hasn’t decided if he wants to kill Hannibal or not but on balance he also hasn’t decided if he wants to try for a roadside quickie or not. It has been an absolute age since he got laid and he’s usually pretty picky but Hannibal looks like he could be fun.

“Are you going anywhere in particular or are you just travelling?” Hannibal asks, distracting Will from his increasingly inappropriate thoughts.

“Travelling,” Will says. “How about you?”

“Business trip,” Hannibal says.

“You know you’re headed away from Vegas, right?” Will says.

Hannibal glances over at him. His eyes are nothing but a pinprick of light in the dark of the car. “I have an errand to run.”

“In Nelson?” Will says skeptically. There’s no way Nelson – population of less than a hundred people – has an amenity that Las Vegas does not.

“I’m meeting an old acquaintance for dinner,” Hannibal clarifies, which makes more sense, but not much more because it’s nearly two in the morning. There’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell Hannibal is going to dinner with someone, Will figures Hannibal just wants him to mind his business. It might be a booty call. Only…it doesn’t feel like Hannibal is lying or putting him off.

“Is your friend Count Dracula?” Will says. “Making you haul your ass out in the dead of night? Seems kind of rude.”

“She’s not especially polite, no,” Hannibal says, but he’s still got a weird tone in his voice, like the whole thing is a big fucking joke.

It’s got to be a booty call.

Will realizes he’s a little bit disappointed. He can’t think of anything to ask that won’t make Hannibal ask a reciprocal question: where are you from, where are you going, what are you doing out at this time of night. He doesn’t want to come up with a whole lot of lies in return for whatever Hannibal tells him.

“How’s the conference?” Will asks.

Hannibal looks at him sharply. “I beg your pardon?” he says, quiet and flat. It’s like all the air in the car has been sucked out. He puts his eyes back on the road but his attention is all on Will.

The hair on Will’s arms is standing up. He’s a predator, he knows what that change in the air is. It’s the feeling of a storm running in, it’s the sway of the bushes that isn’t the wind, it’s the shine of eyes in the dark when you’re alone and unarmed. Hannibal, nice out of towner in a nice rental car, picker upper of strangers, is a dangerous man.

“You’re from out of town, you’re staying in Vegas, and you said you were here for work. Most likely scenario is that you’re staying there for a conference.” Will explains. Hannibal doesn’t change his posture at all, but all of a sudden that threat in the air is gone. “Sorry,” Will says. His heart rate has kicked up and he lets on hand fall casually to his side, so it’s closer to the knife strapped to his ankle. “I didn’t mean to pry, I’m just…”

“You make connections,” Hannibal says, sounding worryingly interested. “Leaps of intuition and imagination.”

“Oh yeah, I’m a real big thinker.” Will tries not to sound bitter about his fucked up brain and thinks he mostly succeeds.

Hannibal relaxes a little more. “You’re right,” he says. “The Trauma, Critical Care, and Acute Care Surgery Conference.”

“You’re a surgeon,” Will says.

“Correct again. Number five on the list of professions for serial killers.” He actually winks at Will. Or at least that looks like what he’s trying to do. It’s more of a wonky blink. Will finds it weirdly endearing.

“You probably shouldn’t tell that to strangers if you’re trying to stay under the radar,” Will says. He realizes how flirtatious he sounds after he’s said it. Jesus, the guy goes stone cold crazy on him and his stupid dick thinks that’s the best thing he’s seen in weeks.

“Maybe I’m going to murder you and steal your shoes,” Hannibal says.

Will wiggles his toes. The sole of his shoe flops about. “You should rethink your life choices,” he says. He actually has a semi right now. What the fuck is his life.

Then Hannibal draws a breath, a slow steady inhale through his nose. The car slows.

“What…” Will starts, but Hannibal is pulling the car over.

“Would you like to…” Hannibal says.

Will is already unbuckling his seat belt. He’s over the gear stick and into Hannibal’s lap with only a little squirming. “Yeah,” he says. And then they’re kissing.

Will’s not stupid enough to fuck a stranger bareback, but he also doesn’t carry condoms on him.

“I don’t suppose this rental of yours comes with condoms?” Will says in between kisses.

Hannibal bites gently at his lower lip. “I’m afraid not,” he says and sounds a little regretful. But he’s unbuckling Will’s belt and making quick work of his button fly.

“Okay,” Will says. “How about a mediocre handjob?”

Hannibal pushes Will’s t-shirt up so it’s bunched under his armpits, pushes him back against the steering wheel so it blares out a distressed honk, and licks one of his nipples.

“I do not give mediocre handjobs,” Hannibal says primly and then bites the same nipple.

He sure doesn’t. He gets his hand down Will’s pants and it’s warm and surprisingly rough, which Will kind of likes. Will clutches at Hannibal’s shoulders and tries not to make too much noise. After a while, Will manages to stop moaning and squirming long enough to open up Hannibal’s trousers and return the favour.

They end up forehead to forehead, sweaty, barely kissing, one of Hannibal’s arms around Will’s back, holding him close, their knuckles occasionally grating together as they jerk each other off.

When it’s all over, Will expects it to be awkward. But Hannibal is just as strange and courteous as he was before. He has wet wipes even though he doesn’t have condoms, and he’s oddly sweet about cleaning Will up before they pull back onto the road.

Maybe Hannibal is a sex addict. Maybe that’s why he’s driving around at all hours, jerking off strangers at the side of the road. Probably not. But maybe.

“I’m not a sex worker,” Will says.

“I didn’t think you were,” Hannibal replies calmly. “Which is why I did not offer you money.”

Will decides he’s not going to kill Hannibal. He’s a weird dude, sure, but he’s nice enough and Will’s shaky moral code can’t find any reason to hurt the man who just pulled his brains out through his dick. Will bets he gives great head. He’s kind of sad he won’t get to find out.

They’re in Nelson before long. It’s barely a town. It’s barely a place at all. But there’s a diner, and Hannibal pulls up outside it so Will has somewhere to go that isn’t just the side of the road.

They sit there for a minute in silence. The car doesn’t smell like a rental any more. It smells of sex, and sweat, and Hannibal’s delicious cologne. Will doesn’t want to get out. He wants to travel around and make bad jokes about murdering people and see how long it takes for Hannibal to catch a clue. He likes this man and he’s not sure why.

But he has to go, so he puts his hand on the door.

“This is going to sound very invasive,” Hannibal blurts out, “and I apologize in advance, but I have an acute sense of smell and-”

Will winces. It’s been a while since he washed up and reapplied deodorant. “Shit, I’m sorry-”

“I can smell disease,” Hannibal says, cutting him off. “Sometimes. I’ve detected cancer before.”

Will clutches at the straps of his bag. “What.”

“You have…some kind of…” Hannibal spreads his hands helplessly. “I’m not sure. I’ve never smelled anything like it so it must be rare. You should seek medical attention. I think it’s some kind of inflammation. You smell of fever.”

Hannibal isn’t wrong; it’s probably the most invasive thing anyone has ever said to him. But Hannibal seems genuinely concerned. And it’s so weird that it doesn’t make sense as a lie.

Will nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Thank you.”

“I mean it, Will.” Hannibal reaches out and touches his hand. Not grabbing or holding him in the car, just a soft pressure on his skin. “You’re an interesting person and the world would be poorer without you in it. Take care of yourself.” He takes his hand back and then says: “Have a good night. Don’t let any more serial killers give you rides, generally we’re an unsafe choice.”

Will grins, a big, goofy smile that he can’t quite help. “Thanks, really, and don’t go picking up any more serial killers, we usually like to murder our good Samaritans and steal their rides.” He shuts the door and heads towards the diner without looking back.

Several hours later, Will is scoping out potential dump sites. Sometimes he leaves bodies at the scene, sometimes he moves them. It keeps investigators guessing. He wasn’t planning on murdering anyone in Nelson, but all that talk about serial killers put him in the mood. It would be pretty stupid to kill someone in a town with less than a hundred people in it but he’s feeling reckless. Something about his interaction with Hannibal makes him want to escalate just a little.

He’s in a likely spot when he sees movement. Will ducks behind cover and peers out.

Hannibal. Hannibal is standing there in a plastic onesie that goes over his clothing and he’s got body parts lying around him. He is disposing of a body. He has, by all appearances, killed someone and is getting rid of their remains.

“Holy shit,” Will says, standing up. “Are you kidding me?”

Hannibal startles, and then startles again when he realizes who Will is. “What are you doing here?” Hannibal demands, like he’s not standing there in a plastic murder onesie.

“Looking for a good place to dump a corpse,” Will says. “Because I’m an actual fucking serial killer. How about you?”

Hannibal appears to be at a loss. There are body parts on the ground next to him. He gestures vaguely. “As you see,” he says.

“So,” Will drawls, “an actual serial killer too, then?”

“I…Yes.” Hannibal doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself.

“Well,” Will says. He’s having visions of going back to Hannibal’s Vegas room and fucking until they can’t move, and he’s having visions of killing with someone else for the first time. Jesus, his dick is so broken, he’s got a semi again. Will grins at Hannibal. This looks like the start of a beautiful friendship. “Seriously, what are the odds?”