The sun set a few minutes ago. The last rays of sunlight are dying in the distance, disappearing behind the naked trees and the branches covered in snow. This is Will’s last chance.
The rabbit putters in the snow, pressing its head down on the ground, sniffing around, and straightening up again, humming the air, sometimes turning in circles. Will lifts his rifle, aims at the white fur, barely noticeable in the blanket of snow. He exhales and inhales slowly, quietly, his finger on the trigger. He holds his breath.
A bang rips through the quiet of the forest.
Will lowers his rifle, looking wide eyed at the rabbit lying still in the snow smeared with droplets of blood. He did not pull the trigger.
He steps forward gingerly, looking around. He stops in his track at the sound of someone trudging through the snow. And then he sees him. A man, older than him, rifle at his side, pointed down, looking entirely out of place in clothes that probably cost more than a year’s worth of Will’s salary.
The man bends down to take the rabbit by its hind legs, and straightens up again to examine his catch. He turns his head in Will’s direction and their eyes meet. Will lowers his chin to hide his face further under his hood. The man smiles at him.
Will’s eyebrow twitches. “You just ruined mine.”
“Apologies for being faster.” The man looks down at the two rabbits tied to Will’s belt. “Although, between the two of us, you’re clearly the better hunter.”
Will snorts. “You know what they say about flattery.”
“Flattery is the rudest of courtesy.” The man slightly lifts his chin in disdain, as though affronted by the very notion. The charming smile is back on his lips when he says, “But going by your reputation, I can safely say that you’re indeed the better hunter here, Mr. Graham.”
Will tilts his head in inquiry. “Do we know each other?” he asks, though he can guess what the answer is.
“No. But the hood was a dead giveaway.” The man lifts his rifle to let it rest on his shoulder. “I think it is customary to show your face when greeting someone.”
“I’m not one to bother about customs.”
“That makes two of us. Would you satiate my curiosity instead?”
“How demanding. Very fitting for someone of your status,” Will says, looking the man up and down, lifting an eyebrow at the expensive clothes.
“My status doesn’t put me above begging. If you’d like me on my knees, asking is worth a try.”
Will huffs out a laughter. That has to be the worst come on he has ever heard. The man smiles at him, pleased to have drawn a laugh out of Will.
“Maybe some other time,” Will says. He grabs the end of his hood and pulls it back to reveal his face. He shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair to push back the curls falling on his eyes. He sees the man’s eyes roaming his features appreciatively, drinking in every detail, his smile widening ever so slightly.
“Red suits you lovely,” he practically purrs out.
Will chuckles. “Now, that’s blatant flattery. How very rude of you,” he says, his tone light with amusement.
“You’re not used to compliments. A shame. Allow me to correct that.”
Will can’t help the smile gracing his lips. “You could start by telling me who you are.”
“Dr. Hannibal Lecter,” he says, inclining his head slightly. His eyes roam Will’s form again, before settling on the rabbits tied to Will’s belt. “Can I invite you for dinner? As an apology for stealing your prey.”
Another smile tugs at Will’s lips. “Well, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, you might think you’re being subtle.” He inclines his head, feigning sorrow. “But it is my deepest regret to inform you that you aren’t. I’d rather people be straightforward when trying to bed me.”
“Would you be amenable?” Dr. Lecter arches an eyebrow, his smile turning playful.
Will grins. “No.”
“Then I’m glad I went for subtlety.” Dr. Lecter shifts on his feet. He looks down to tie his rabbit to his belt, then back up at Will. “In all straightforwardness, can I invite you for dinner?”
Will shrugs. “Depends. You any good at cooking?”
“Would you like to find out?”
Will offers him another smile, intrigued and willing to let himself be seduced. He looks over Dr. Lecter’s shoulder, at the last rays of sunlight dying behind the trees. He turns on his heels, tilting his head to indicate to Dr. Lecter to follow him. “Why not?”
“Okay, you win. Your cooking is delicious.”
Will leans back on his chair, sighing in content. He can objectively say that this rabbit was the best meal he has ever eaten. He looks down at his empty plate as he lifts his cup to his lips, slowly sipping at his wine. He rarely breaks out the wine, preferring whiskey himself, but the occasion seemed appropriate.
“I’m glad it was to your taste,” Dr. Lecter says, swirling his own wine in his cup, “Although, I’d love to invite you for dinner in my home.”
Will hums into his glass, looking at the fire crackling softly a few feet from them, casting soft orange hues around them. “Not enough spices in my cupboards?” he asks facetiously.
“Careful, Dr. Lecter,” Will says, a mischievous glint to his eyes, “I might throw you out before you have a chance to push me on the mattress.”
“I apologize,” Dr. Lecter says, setting his cup on the table, and rising to gather their plates. “Far be it from me to criticize your untrained palate.”
Will tilts his head to the side. “You just did,” he says, the amused smile still clinging to his lips, as he watches him bring the plates to the sink.
“And I feel I’ll be apologizing soon again, and you’ll tire of that eventually. I’ll try to use apologies sparingly.”
Will puts his cup on the table and stands as well. He joins Dr. Lecter at the sink.
“I don’t often eat meat. Water’s enough to wash the plates, usually. Soap’s for baths.” Will plunges their plates and cutlery into the water and rinse the remnants of food before setting them on the side for Dr. Lecter to wipe with a dishcloth.
“Even though you’re a hunter?”
“I sell most of what I hunt. Especially in Winter. There is so little to sell, I have to make the most of it.”
Dr. Lecter does not answer. These are probably the kind of things he does not have to bother with, what with being a doctor, and having a considerably more significant income than Will.
Once all the dishes are washed and dried and placed back into their cupboards, Will goes back to the table to pour some more wine in both their cups. He takes his own cup and goes to stand near the fireplace, leaning sideways on the wooden shelf over the hearth. The buzz from earlier has faded. Will is realising the mistake he made by inviting the doctor in his home.
“Uncle Jack sent you here, didn’t he?” Will says, his eyes fixed on the flames dancing over the dying logs.
Dr. Lecter stays by the table, observing Will. “He’s worried about your well-being.”
“He should worry about Aunt Bella instead. She’s been very ill for the past few weeks.” Aunt Bella is a lovely woman. It hurts to see her wear that mask of indifference and hide her pain from Uncle Jack and everyone else. Will takes a sip of his wine to wash down the spike of sadness. “I’m not ill, doctor.”
“Illnesses aren’t always physical.”
Will glances back at Dr. Lecter, although he still does not meet his eyes. “You want to fix my mind? Good luck with that.”
“There’s nothing to fix. I merely wish to understand it.”
Will scoffs into his cup. “There’s nothing to understand, Dr. Lecter. And I can’t afford your services, anyway.”
“You’re not my patient. I wouldn’t charge you for a simple conversation.”
Will sees the man swirl his cup in his hand, before taking a sip of it, never taking his eyes off Will. “It would have been easier,” Will says slowly, “if you’d kept on pretending you were trying to court me.”
“I can go back to that if it makes you more comfortable.”
Will huffs a humourless laugh, and looks back at the fire. “I don’t like being lied to, Dr. Lecter. Keep your masks off,” he orders drily.
“You want me to be honest with you. But you haven’t looked me in the eye once since we met.”
“Payback for the stolen rabbit,” Will retorts, going for a light tone, but ending up with a cutting one instead.
But it succeeds in eliciting a quiet chuckle from Dr. Lecter. “Honesty works both ways,” he says, sending a fond look at Will. “Won’t you look at me?”
Will closes his eyes and sighs softly. He looks at his cup of wine, and downs the last of it. Out of the corner of his eyes he sees Dr. Lecter put his own cut on the table and step closer to him, stopping a metre away from him.
“What are you afraid of?”
Will turns his head towards the fire. “Why do you think I’m afraid?”
Dr. Lecter ignores his poor attempt at eluding the question. “Do you fear what you’ll find behind the mask? Or what you’ll see being reflected?”
Will does not answer, only takes a sip of his wine. This one struck a little too close to home for his comfort. “Tell Uncle Jack I’m okay. Thank you for the dinner,” he says instead of answering.
Dr. Lecter ignores the clear dismissal and steps closer to Will, leaving a few centimetres between their bodies. He gently takes Will’s chin in his hand, to make him look at him. Will tilts his head to free his chin and turns his body further away from Dr. Lecter.
“I told you to drop the act,” he says softly.
Dr. Lecter takes one more step, closing the gap between their bodies, bringing his chest against Will’s back. One of his hands settles on Will’s hip, pulling him back into the cradle of his hipbone. “And that is what I’m doing,” he whispers near Will’s ear.
Will breath hitches when he feels Dr. Lecter’s mouth trace the column his throat, and press a kiss on the junction between his neck and shoulder. Will puts his cup on the shelf above the fire and places his hand on Dr. Lecter’s, over his hip. He tilts his head to the side to give him better access. He feels the doctor’s mouth place soft, lingering kisses on the way back up, stopping behind his ear to nuzzle his hair, inhaling deeply. Will does not know if it is because of the fire, or the wine or Dr. Lecter’s proximity, or a combination of it all, but he feels his cheeks heat up, taking on a rosy colour that spreads to his ears.
Dr. Lecter traces the shell of Will’s ear with the tip of his nose. “Red suits you lovely, Will,” he says again, his voice no louder than a whisper.
“I don’t recall allowing you to call me Will,” he says, his voice tight with his increasing arousal.
“Payback for the lack of honesty,” Dr. Lecter says playfully, his smile audible in his voice. He leaves a trail of kisses on Will’s jaw, circling his waist with both of his arms.
Will feels a smile tug at his lips. He puts his hands on Dr. Lecter’s and tangles their fingers together. He turns his head, his eyes briefly meeting Dr. Lecter’s eyes, and immediately straying to his mouth and staying there, not daring to go further up again.
“Will, look at me,” Dr. Lecter whispers against his cheek, a plea rather than an order.
Will swallows the lump in his throat, and closes his eyes instead, tilting his head upwards for a kiss.
A blood curdling scream rips through the silence, startling them both. Will breaks from the embrace and rushes to the window. He looks at the first trees of the forest, near his house. Dr. Lecter joins him, looking through the window as well. Will does not see anything in the dark of the night, but when another scream resounds, weaker, ending in gurgles, Will turns on his heels. He grabs his hood and his rifle, and storms out of the front door.
He trudges through the snow, pulling his hood over his head, and holds his rifle up when he makes it through the entrance of the forest. He looks around himself, straining his ears, trying to find the source of the screams. He processes slowly, his rifle on his shoulder, ready to fire.
The further he walks into the depth of the forest, the quicker his heart thrums against his chest. Soon, all he can hear is the blood rushing in his ears, fear twisting his gut.
After a few torturous minutes, he finally finds the source of the screams. Will lowers his rifle.
There, lying in the snow, is a man, or rather what is left of him. His head almost severed, his limbs and organs torn off and strewn around in the snow, smearing it with blood, black in the moonlight. A little further away, a second body, a woman, mutilated in the same way, making a second pool of blood in the blanket of snow.
He hears Dr. Lecter join him, armed with his own rifle. Will sees him take in the carnage.
Both of them stay silent.
“I’d say a wolf or a bear,” Pr. Katz says, examining the wounds of the two bodies laid out on the tables.
“Leaning towards wolf,” Pr. Price straightens up and moves on to the second body again.
Will crosses his arms and leans against the wall, tilting his head back and closing his eyes. “Wolves and bears don’t eat where they kill. It would’ve dragged them off,” he says in a flat voice, as though reciting a lesson.
“Agreed,” Pr. Zeller pipes up, “Evisceration, dismemberment, yet everything accounted for,” he turns to look at Uncle Jack. “It’s undoubtedly the Wolf’s newest victim, Mayor Crawford,” he concludes, to which Uncle Jack only nods.
Dr. Lecter comes to stand beside Will. “Rabid animals attack their victims at random and don’t eat any part of them.”
“There were human tracks near the body,” Will says.
“Could it be someone training wolves to attack people?” Pr. Katz mused aloud.
Will looks at the two bodies, taking in the wounds. He lowers his head, and closes his eyes.
Behind his closed eyelids, he sees himself, silent and still, shrouded in the coat of the night amongst the naked trees. A few metres away, in front of him, a couple. Two lovers, giddy and delighted to be together, be it for a few hours. He sees them trudge through the snow hand in hand. A wolf appears beside him, growling, showing his teeth. Will hears his own voice, cold and merciless. “Kill.”
Will opens his eyes again, with a silent gasp. He rubs a hand over his face, presses the heels of his palms against his eyelids, taking in deep breaths discreetly. When he lifts his head, he catches Dr. Lecter looking at him intently. Will promptly looks away. “It’s not an animal,” he says, catching the attention of the other people in the room, “It’s a man who wants to be an animal.”
The other professors look at him, frowning, then at each other with puzzled looks.
“He doesn’t believe he’s an animal but that’s what he imagines,” Will soldiers on, under the growing confusion of the professors, “He’s meticulous. Clean and organized. He doesn’t know his victims. Doesn’t need to. He only needs them to satiate his urges to maul.” He feels Dr. Lecter’s eyes boring into his head but he still stubbornly refuses to acknowledge him.
“This behaviour wouldn’t have gone unnoticed,” Uncle Jack says. And Will is relieved that he is not being dismissed entirely.
“This kind of… rage would have been easily noticed in anyone,” Pr. Price says.
Will shakes his head. “It isn’t rage. Rage is an emotional response to being provoked. This is something else.”
“What is it?” Dr. Lecter asks.
“Instinct. It’s the way he thinks.”
Uncle Jack sighs deeply, and shakes his head in dismay. He circles the tables to stand beside Will and Dr. Lecter. “Return them to their families,” he says. Pr. Zeller and Pr. Katz promptly pull the cloths over the bodies.
“You have a very particular way of thinking.”
Will’s hand stills, plunged into the rabbit. He looks over his shoulder, at the approaching form of Dr. Lecter, trudging through the snow.
He turns back to continue skinning and gutting the rabbit. “So I was told. In less forgiving words.”
“Is that so?”
“People have argued with Uncle Jack to have me sent to an asylum.”
Dr. Lecter scoffs in disdain. Once on the porch, he comes to stand beside the pillar near Will, the wood creaking under his steps. “What a waste it would have been. Such a beautiful mind can only thrive unfettered,” he says.
“If you’re trying to bed me again, you can stop right there. I don’t know why I even allowed it the first time.”
“You weren’t yourself when I dined at your home. At least until a certain point. You were being me, weren’t you.”
“I may have been… influence by the mask you were wearing. Until you dropped it, I guess.” Will throws the fur into a basket, the innards into another, and places the rabbit beside the other ones. The heart, kidneys and liver, he sets aside, on another pile. “Would have appreciated if you didn’t put it on again.” He takes another rabbit.
“It isn’t just me you won’t look in the eye. You wouldn’t even meet your uncle’s eyes.”
“Eyes are distracting. You see too much, you don’t see enough.”
“You’re still afraid.”
“Isn’t everyone? With that Wolf running wild, a cloud of unease has been shrouding the town.” Will puts the rabbit down on the table to grab another knife. “Give me a hand if you’re going to pester me.” He plants the knife on the table near himself.
Surprisingly, Dr. Lecter does not protest or hesitate. He slips his coat off his shoulders and drapes it over the back of a nearby chair. He rolls up his sleeves and comes to stand beside Will, leaving a few centimetres between their shoulders.
“You know how to do that?” Will asks, gesturing at the table and the viscera and fur strewn about.
“Yes.” Dr. Lecter grabs the knife, turns it in his hand once and takes a rabbit into the basket. He gets to work, quite expertly. Honestly, Will did not expect the man to know how to skin a rabbit, since he let Will do all the work for their first dinner together. Will would think a man of his status would have people at home who would do this in his stead. When he sees that Dr. Lecter does not need any help he goes back to his own rabbit.
“It’s not the Wolf you’re afraid of. It is yourself.”
And here Will thought he had managed to shut him up. “I’m not afraid of myself.”
“You fear what you see, what you’re capable of. It’s the price of your imagination.”
“I’m not a child, Dr. Lecter. I’m not afraid of the monsters hiding in the closet.”
“You’re afraid of the monsters hiding in your head.”
Will stops abruptly, his hand still inside the rabbit.
“You tell me off for hiding, but you’re no different,” Dr. Lecter presses on, taking the fur off the legs. “What an invaluable gift, to be able to assume anyone’s point of view.” When he is done with the skinning he places the fur in the designated basket and starts gutting the rabbit. “All the things you could achieve with it…”
Will side eyes him, although not meeting his eyes. “If you’re trying to get something from me—”
“I’m not looking to exploit you,” Dr. Lecter says tightly, as though appalled by the very thought. He turns to look at Will, searching his elusive gaze, in vain. His eyes soften ever so slightly when he says, “I merely wish to see the extend of your perception. And as I said, such a beautiful mind can only thrive unfettered.”
“Last time I checked I’m not interned. My mind is thriving just fine. If you’re expecting anything more you’ll be disappointment.”
“No shackles heavier than the ones you inflict upon yourself.”
Will clicks his tongue. He looks down at Dr. Lecter’s hands to find something to criticise about his work and change the subject. Instead he notices the scars on his forearms. One raised red line on the inside of each arm, cutting into the veins. Will tilts his head to get a better look. He reaches out to touch one of them.
Dr. Lecter turns his arm to give him better access. “An unfortunate hunting accident,” he says. He does not seem to mind Will spreading blood on the tender skin of the scar, as he slowly traces it with the tips of his fingers.
“What kind of animal makes wounds so precise?” Will muses aloud, frowning slightly.
“The most desperate ones,” Dr. Lecter replies, which explains nothing really. He lets Will examine the scar some more before asking, apropos of nothing, “Why do you live so far from town?”
Will lets go of his arm and goes back to his rabbit. “It’s not uncommon for hunters to live near or inside forests.”
“A convenient profession, to meet your needs.”
“And what do I need, doctor?” he says in a sharp voice, not liking the patronising tone of the man. He cuts through the fur with a little more force than necessary, and wince. He should not take it out on the rabbit.
“Isolation. Silence. No mind around but your own. Nothing to stimulate that imagination you so fear.”
Will does not answer. When he finishes taking off the skin, he places the rabbit in front of Dr. Lecter for him to gut it. A silent incentive to get back to work, since the man stopped working when Will touched his scar.
“That Wolf, terrorising the town. How do you see him?”
Will latches onto the question, relieved at the change of subject. “A man. Young, alone. Trapped into a body that isn’t his. He thinks he’s an animal born into a human body.”
“I concur to what your Uncle said, such behaviour wouldn’t have gone unnoticed.”
“His parents tried to fix him. Discreetly. It didn’t work. Only taught him to fit into the mould, and hide to satiate his animal instincts. And now that he’s grown, he doesn’t feel that he has to hide to meet his needs.”
“He doesn’t believe his metamorphosis could physically take place. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to achieve it.” Dr. Lecter places the heart and kidneys onto the little pile of organs. He takes one look at the liver, and promptly throws it into the basket of innards, to be disposed of. “I hope your input will help catch this Wolf soon. So the peace can finally return to the town.”
Will laughs humourlessly. “Getting rid of one wolf won’t make the forest any safer.”
“Indeed. But this Wolf has been particularly voracious. A lone hunter, unafraid of humans because he grew up amongst them.”
“This Wolf is nothing compared to the one that’s been lurking in there for years,” Will mutters under his breath, more to himself than to Dr. Lecter.
“Is there another one? A man who thinks himself an animal?”
“No. This one very much thinks himself a man.” Once again, Will gives the doctor his skinned rabbit, to let him gut it. “He doesn’t hunt other humans to satisfy a savage need. He hunts because… I don’t know. Because he thinks his victims are unworthy. They’re pigs to him. I think—” and here Will hesitates. People usually look down on his speculations—at best they laugh at him and at worst they call him a lunatic and try to have him interned. But so far Dr. Lecter has not shown any bafflement or disgust regarding Will’s thinking. On the contrary, it seems to fascinate him. So Will swallows his doubts, and says, “I think he’s eating them.”
Dr. Lecter does not answer for a long time, but Will does not sense anything hostile coming from him. Only curiosity. “An entirely different kind of illness than that of our current Wolf,” he says at last.
“It’s not—I don’t know whether he’s ill. Everything is so flawless,” Will carries on, encouraged by the man’s openness, “He’s an intelligent man, particularly a sadist. He stages his kills to make them look like wolf attacks, butchers the bodies, takes organs.”
“A murderer who disguises himself as a wolf.” Dr. Lecter sets the rabbit aside and takes the one Will hands him. “Have you talked to your Uncle about this second Wolf?”
That was the last rabbit, so Will puts the knife down, and watches Dr. Lecter’s hands working efficiently. “I doubt he’d believe me. A man who hunts and eats other men? They’d send me to the asylum without asking any question. That’s too horrifying a possibility for them to even consider. I’m surprised you’re even listening to me anymore.”
“In my profession I hear and see all kinds of horrifying things on a daily basis. I don’t reject the unusual. I’ve learned to seek the unknown rather than fear it.”
When Dr. Lecter is finished. Will gathers the last bits of innards on the table and throws them in the basket. He rinses his hands and his knife in a bucket of water.
“You’re not afraid of that murderer lurking near your property?”
They rinse the table of any remaining viscera and take back the skinned and gutted rabbits to cut them. “I’ve never felt in danger in the forest,” Will says, washing the rabbit into a bucket of clean water.
“I’m safer in there than in my house, to be honest.”
“And why is that?”
Will only shrugs, eluding the question. After a moment, Dr. Lecter drops the subject and starts cutting the front legs.
“Another victim of the Wolf,” Dr. Price mutters as he prods at the wounds.
The man lays on the table, his body already cold and stiff, his skin taking on a blue-violet hue. His head is almost severed from his body. His limbs lay on the table where they should be, but unattached to his body. The skin of the chest and stomach is shredded to bits, the organs exposed. The cold slowed down the decomposition process, so the scent of decay has not hit yet.
“This isn’t the Wolf,” Will mutters from his chair pushed against the wall. All the attention of the room focuses on him and he dips his head down, hiding under his hood.
Pr. Zeller turns to him. “Evisceration, dismemberment, everything accounted for. This is the Wolf,” he says with finality.
“This isn’t the Wolf,” Will repeats. He takes a deep breath. This is going to be tiring. “Our Wolf kills to satisfy an instinct. An instinct to tear and maul and destroy,” he tilts his head towards the body lying on the table. “There is no savagery here. Everything is controlled, measured. Cold-blooded.”
Pr. Zeller sends him a baffled look. He indicates the body with his hands, both his eyebrows raised in disbelief. “No savagery?”
Will nods once. “Only disdain. And the person who did this is impersonating the Wolf.”
“Now we have two killers?”
“Yes.” Will says firmly, standing his grounds. “This is someone a lot more experienced than the Wolf. He’s been here a long time. He’s been doing this under our nose, and we saw nothing. This may be the first time he imitates the Wolf. This may be the last.”
“Will, you’re saying that aside from the Wolf, there’s a killer that’s been running free for what—months? Years?” Uncle Jack asks him, surprise and dread lacing his voice.
Will shrugs. “Maybe decades.”
The tension rises in the room as they all exchange alarmed looks. Dr. Lecter only looks at him with interest, standing beside his chair quietly.
Pr. Zeller takes a step towards Will, hands raised in front of himself. “Wait, wait. Where do you get all that from?”
Will’s shoulders slouch ever so slightly. He knows he has lost. “The bodies,” he says simply, because it is the truth, but it will certainly not convince any of them.
“The bodies,” Pr. Zeller repeats, “And? We see the bodies too. We see the wounds too. What makes you say it was done in rage or in cold blood? What makes you say it was made by someone else?” He points at the body with his hand. “All this tells us is that it’s been done in the exact same fashion as all the other victims. There is no proof of another killer,” he says slowly and clearly, hammering his point home.
“It was made to look like that.”
“And what makes you say that?”
Will bites the inside of his cheek. Pr. Zeller, just like his colleagues, is a man of reason. He builds arguments on physical proofs, only believes in what can be observed and tested, has been taught to question everything he sees or hears. Will’s little mind tricks do not hold any weight in his eyes.
“Just… a gut feeling,” Will says in a quiet voice. The words leave an acidic taste on his tongue, a quiet anger simmering in the pit of his stomach.
Pr. Zeller shakes his head, and turns to Uncle Jack. “Mayor Crawford, we can’t tell the townspeople two killers are running around without any proof to back it up.”
After a minute of consideration, Uncle Jack nods once. “The tension is already high enough as is. If we mention a second threat without any information, it will only create an aura of suspicion.”
“As there should be,” Will says, the anger seeping through his teeth.
“Will,” Uncle Jack cuts him off with a sharp voice. Will’s mouth clicks shut. He hides his face further under his hood, feeling a vice tightening over his chest, and a leash constricting his throat.
Dr. Lecter’s hand settles on his shoulder gently, tracing comforting circles on his upper back.
Will rolls his eyes, walks faster, his feet drumming against the pavement, his distorted shadow merging with the dark of the night. “What do you want?”
“Excellent observation skills, doctor. Congratulations,” Will says, not bothering to look behind himself. He is aware that he is being unnecessarily rude to the doctor. The man did not say anything to aggravate him back in the town hall. But he also did not say anything to support him.
“Will, let me help you.”
“If you were so eager to help, you would’ve said something earlier,” comes Will’s scathing reply.
“You know there was nothing I could’ve said. My opinion does not have anymore weight than yours against those of the professors. I can’t agree with nor disapprove your insight. I don’t have your gift.”
“I don’t have a gift,” Will spits out over his shoulder, anger turning to rage, his hand twitching to reach for his hunting knife, “I have a curse. A cross I’ll have to bear until I die, or until they put me down for being insane.”
“You’re not insane, Will.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
“We don’t have to talk.”
“Perfect. Now leave me alone.”
“Will. Please, look at me.”
The pleading tone makes Will stop. He turns on his heels, looks the man up and down, and around at the almost empty street. He steps forward, grabs the man’s arm and pulls him into a dark alley between two buildings. Dr. Lecter does not resist, letting himself be steered into the alley. In the middle of the alley, where the light barely reaches them, Will stops. He holds the doctor at arms length, his head dipped low, taking slow, deep breaths. After a minute of staring at Dr. Lecter’s clothes, he suddenly feels all the tension leave him and he leans forward, still clutching at the doctor’s upper arms, until his forehead rests on his shoulder.
Dr. Lecter’s arms wrap around him, holding him close. One of his hands comes up to tug lightly at his hood, and Will lift his head a little to let him push it back. Will feels a hand settling in his hair, stroking his head slowly. Dr. Lecter nuzzles his curls, inhaling deeply, and Will buries himself further into the cradle of his arms.
“I’m not insane,” Will whispers against the man’s shoulder, grinding his teeth together to hold back a sob. “I’m not insane,” he repeats, a note of desperation in his voice, whether to convince himself or Dr. Lecter he does not know.
“No, you’re not,” Dr. Lecter says, his tone sure and steady, a crutch of balance for Will to hold onto.
The sun has set hours ago. The only light the few moon beams coming through the branches. This is Will’s last chance. But his rifle hang limply in his hand, pointing downwards.
The stag is standing still amongst the naked trees, his antlers indistinguishable from the low branches, his even breathing forming clouds around his nose. Will is standing a few metres away, holding in his breath, not moving an inch so as not to make any noise. But he knows the stag is looking at him, his eyes boring into him. Will can see his eyes, two points of light amongst the dark of the night and the shadows of the trees. Will instinctively lowers his head to further hide his face under his hood.
The stag exhales once. Will can here it in the silence of the forest. Slowly, soundlessly, the stag takes a step forward, towards Will. And another. And Another. Will tightens his grip on his rifle but does not lift it. He steps back, one step to match each of the stag’s. The snow and twigs and dead leaves creak under his boots.
And then his back is against a tree trunk and he can’t retreat anymore. His heart thrums against his chest, blood rushes to his ears. His breath comes out short and uneven the closer the stag gets. He should lift his rifle. He should kill the stag.
He does not. He is not afraid. He is thrilled.
The stag is but a few centimetres from him, and Will can clearly hear his breathing, in sync with own, he can see the feathers strewn in his coat. Will looks into his eyes for a minute. For an hour. Maybe for an eternity.
He lifts a hand, shaking with anticipation, and lets it hover over the stag’s nose, not close enough to touch it, but close enough to feel each warm puff of breath. The stag pushes his nose into Will’s hand.
Will opens his eyes.
Moon rays stream into his house through the windows. He did not close the shutters. He hears wolves howling in the distance, and turns his head towards the window near the door. The wind makes it rattle on its hinges. He sits up on his bed, pushing the covers down.
An uneasy feeling grips Will, twisting his stomach. He swallows hard, and gets up from his bed. The wood creaks ominously under his feet. He does not light any candle. The wooden slats creak again as he walks around blindly, not bumping into any piece of furniture. His hands have no difficulty finding the rifle in the dark. He slowly steps backwards, never taking his eyes off the front door. His back meets the opposite wall, and he tightens his hold on the rifle.
The house is silent, save for the sound of the wind, and his own slow, quiet breathing.
The window on his left breaks as a dark figure jumps through.
Will sits on a chair against the wall, holding his red cloak tightly around himself, his face almost completely obscured by his hood. His body is shaking, as the high from the fight slowly seeps through him. Uncle Jack is talking but Will can’t hear him. His eyes are fixed on the body of the man he just killed.
Pr. Katz and Price and Zeller are examining the skull the man had fixed around his head, mostly destroyed by Will’s hands. The professors still have their night clothes under their coats, having been roughly roused from sleep and dragged to the town hall by Uncle Jack.
Will tightens his hold on the folds of his cloak, feeling the sting of his injured hands.
Dr. Lecter is standing beside him, looking impeccable as always, his hair not even slightly dishevelled. As a doctor, he must be used to be called at ungodly hours of the night. Will envies him his preparedness.
Uncle Jack comes to stand beside them. He asks in a hushed voice, “So he was a patient of yours?”
“Yes, Randall Tier. He would often get injured as a child,” Dr. Lecter says in the same hushed tone, “His parents didn’t give me details of how exactly he got injured, but from the wounds I could say he tried to mingle with wild animals.”
“And he didn’t display any feral behaviour when you were treating him?”
“Most of the time he would withdraw into himself. He wouldn’t talk to me. Or even his parents.”
Uncle Jack releases a long sigh. “I’ll make an announcement tomorrow. Tell the town that the Wolf has finally been stopped.” He turns to Will, lays a hand on his shoulder in a fatherly gesture. “You can go rest now, Will. You’ve had a terrible night. You can go to my house if you wish, your Aunt Bella must still be up.” Uncle Jack leaves their side to go talk to Pr. Zeller.
Dr. Lecter turns to Will. He leans down to press a hand to Will’s forehead under his hood, pushing back his curls. Will leans into the man’s warm hand. “Let me look at your wounds first,” he says softly.
Will nods once and takes the proffered hand to stand.
Dr. Lecter’s house is everything Will would have expected, prolific amount of antlers mounted on the walls and all. Although Will is surprised that the man leaves alone, no housekeeper, no maid, no valet, no butler.
He leads Will into his kitchen, pristine and heavily furnished. He takes Will’s cloak to lay it on the back of a chair, and sits Will near the counter, laying out a porcelain pan filled with warm water and bandages to treat Will’s injured hands. His touch is gentle and reverent, treating Will’s hand with care and an unmistakable tenderness. Will momentarily lets himself be swept away by the soothing atmosphere their next conversation will undoubtedly rip to shreds.
“Was that your idea of comforting me?” Will says softly, not quite willing to break the cocoon of warmth they created for themselves. “Giving me the glory of defeating the Wolf?”
“Did it work?”
Not even trying to deny it. Will resists the urge to roll his eyes. “It would have, hadn’t you been so transparent. Your little act is so obvious I can hardly believe how anyone could be fooled.”
Dr. Lecter takes out Will’s hand from the warm water to dry them. “Mayor Crawford surely was. As were everyone else. You would be the exception.”
The exception. Right. “You said you weren’t looking to exploit me. Was that a lie too?”
“I’ve yet to lie to you, dear Will.”
Will stares absently at Dr. Lecter’s hands. The same hands that cooked for him, and treated him, and killed for him. “Why then?”
Dr. Lecter considers this a moment. “Curiosity,” he says simply.
Will raises an eyebrow in surprise. “And? How was I?” He hisses at the sting of the salve Dr. Lecter applies on his knuckles, rubbing it into the open wounds.
“You certainly didn’t disappoint,” he says, his voice laced with pride and delight. He carefully wraps Will’s hand with bandages, then looks up at him, searching his eyes. He lifts a hand to rub his thumb over Will’s cheek. Probably to wipe drops of blood. “Red suits you lovely.” Or spread them further.
It dawns on Will. He meets Dr. Lecter’s gaze, and for once, holds it. “You were there. When the Wolf attacked me.” He should be horrified. He only feels vaguely annoyed.
“I was there,” Dr. Lecter confirms serenely. “And I was rooting for you.” When he is done bandaging Will’s hand, he does not move, still holding it lightly, running his thumb over his fingers. “You had your rifle at the ready. Why not use it?”
“It wouldn’t have been… intimate.” Will should leave, now that his hand is treated. He does not. “He was your patient long ago, right? Why discard him now?”
Dr. Lecter stands up to put the warm water and the vials away. “I didn’t discard him. I was encouraging him into evolving into his true self, cultivating his becoming. It unfortunately ended in his demise. The hazards of experimentation.”
Will does not bother to turn around when Dr. Lecter passes by him, disappearing from his line of sight. He is not afraid of having his back to him. “Is that what you’re doing with me? Am I your new toy, now that I broke your last one?”
He does not flinch when the doctor’s hand lands on his nape, his thumb rubbing circles onto his skin. Will looks up at him, slowly so as not to dislodge the hand. “Dearest Will, I would never claim you. I did say that you could only thrive unfettered. And how beautifully you thrive.” His eyes are brimming with worship, and Will finds himself equally unnerved and tempted. He swallows hard.
“There were others like me. Others like us.” Will keeps his eyes locked to Dr. Lecter’s, looking for the answer there by himself. “How many patients did you kill?”
“None,” he says without missing a beat. “How many of them drew death upon themselves? Many. But you’re not my patient Will.” He sits back beside Will.
“I’ll be your first unrelated victim then?”
“Why would you be?”
Will raises an eyebrow. “I could tell to Uncle Jack what you are. What you do.”
That does not seem to bother Dr. Lecter. “You’re the only one looking for a second killer,” he says lightly. “For your Uncle Jack and everyone else in this town, the peace has been restored. Thanks to you.”
“I found you. One material proof and you’ll be tried.”
“Too bad they think you insane.”
“I’m not insane,” comes Will’s immediate answer, more a habit than a real retort.
“You’re not, indeed. But it doesn’t matter to them. They don’t need material proof to label you as such.”
Will looks down at Dr. Lecter’s hand reaching out to lay protectively—or possessively—over his own bandaged one. Reason would have stopped him from crossing the threshold. Reason would have urged Dr. Lecter to slit his throat. “Maybe we’re both insane.”
“Maybe we are. But at least we’d be two. We can fend off boredom together.”
“I don’t think I would be good company,” Will says, shaking his head slightly. He tries to take his hand back, but Dr. Lecter’s grip tightens.
“I disagree. So far, I find your company delightful.”
“You’d be the only one.”
“And honoured to be.”
“Still want to bed me after all this?”
“More than ever.” He brings Will’s hand to his mouth and brushes his lips to the back of his fingers. “Although carnal pleasure alone would hardly satisfy my hunger, I’ll be content with whatever you’ll trust me with.”
“You’ll understand that I have some reservations regarding a long term relationship with you, given you just tried to have me killed,” Will says, although he feels a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
“We may have started on the wrong foot.”
Will does roll his eyes at this. “And whose fault is that? You’ve been terribly rude, Dr. Lecter.”
“Hannibal. What’s to be done about your outrageous behaviour?”
Dr. Lec—Hannibal brings his hand to his mouth once more, this time inhaling deeply. Will did not think anyone could look so blissed at the scent of—whatever that salve was. Or maybe it is the underlying smell of blood that delights him. “Do you mean my behaviour in general, or are we talking about a specific moment in time?” This time he does not let go of Will’s hand, pressing his lips to the back of his fingers, and keeping it there.
“Both. Dishonesty. Pretence. Manipulation. I told you I don’t like being lied to, didn’t I?
“And once again, I’ve yet to lie to you.”
“Which means you might.”
Hannibal presses his thumb briefly on the bandage over his knuckles and Will hisses at the needle of pain. “You haven’t been completely honest with me yourself. What you demand from me, I’m entitled to expect from you as well.”
“I let you peek into my mind. That’s more than anyone’s ever had from me,” Will admits reluctantly.
“Just as I let you see and know me.” Hannibal presses another kiss to his hand, an apology of sort. “I’d say we’re even.”
“I’d have to send someone after you, to make us even.”
“Or you could do it yourself. The intent would be there. That’s all that matters.” With a flick of his wrist, Hannibal produces a scalpel from his sleeve and lays it on the table between them, looking at Will expectantly.
Will barely spares a glance at the proffered weapon. “I’m injured. That’s hardly fair game.”
“I’ll only use my left arm if that—”
Hannibal grabs Will’s wrist just before the scalpel pierces his eye. Will tries to push his arm forward, but Hannibal’s vice like grip does not allow him any movement. Will lunges forward, and the next thing he knows he is flat on his back on the table, the air chased from his lungs with the force of the impact. A hand closes around his throat, not tight enough to completely cut off his air way, but enough to be a discomfort. He looks into Hannibal’s eyes, finds his amusement reflected at him.
“Are we even now?”
Will manages a short laugh around the hand on his throat. “We were until you fought back.”
“I believe you did fight back against Randall Tier.”
“But not against you.”
“And what are we doing right now?” Hannibal smiles down at him.
Will mirror his smile with a wide grin. “You’re insufferable.” And he swings his hunting knife at Hannibal, not expecting to actually cut him, but make him recoil enough for Will to free himself.
Will rolls to the floor on the other side of the table and jumps to his feet. They look at each other, the same malicious glee glinting in their eyes.
Hannibal slowly circles the table and Will matches each of his steps to keep the same distance between them. When he passes by one of the cupboard, Hannibal reaches inside without taking his eyes off Will and grabs a knife.
“I believe I owe you an apology. My gift wasn’t to your taste.”
“Yes, you do. I’ve rarely seen more barbaric courting presents.”
“It was a means to an end. A feast for your beautiful mind.”
The door leading to the dining room is a few paces away from him. “I think it’s safe to assume that you’re terrible at picking gift. Look where that lead us too.”
Three more steps.
“I’d say it lead us exactly where I wanted it to lead us.”
“Alone in your home?”
Two more steps.
“You in my arms.”
“Aren’t you romantic.”
One more step.
“So I was told. Although I admit I was expecting more pleasurable circumstances.”
“Why, doctor, how scandalous.”
Will turns on his heels and bolts through the door of the kitchen, into the dinner room. He does not dare look over his shoulder and makes a straight line to the front door, bumping into a few pieces of furnitures, overturning some in the process. He barrels into the door, grabs the handle. It rattles but does not give. Will curses under his breath, and runs deeper inside the house, to a grand staircase. If Hannibal is following him, Will can’t hear him. The only sound around him are the steady thud of his feet on the floor, and his own breathing.
He storms into a random room, and slams the door close. It is some kind of study or library. Although the room’s only source of light is the moon light streaming in through the windows, he can see bookshelves all around the room, a desk, chairs, a fireplace with a couch and armchairs in front of it. Will grabs a chair and slots it under the door handle. He slowly walks backwards, his eyes fixed to the door, until he is standing in the middle of the room.
The handle moves once but the door does not open. Will holds his breath, strains his ears. Deprived of his vision, he feels and hears and smells everything—the creaking of the wood, the leather and the silk, the tension crackling in the air, the fear, the excitement—with pinpoint accuracy. It prickles his skin and Will savours the feeling like the finest of wine.
“I have to say you’re quite a good hunter for a doctor,” he says, his quiet tone booming in the silence of the room. He does not know where, but Hannibal is inside. Will holds himself still, his grip tightening on his knife.
“The fruit of decades of practice.” The voice comes from somewhere behind him.
“On a quite resourceful prey too.”
“And quite stubborn.”
“The perfect combination for the most troublesome of preys.” Will slowly turns around, his eyes roaming the dark corners of the room. “No wonder we hoisted ourselves on top of the food chain.”
Will hears Hannibal snorts from his right. “Presumptuously.”
“Now, don’t go belittling your own species. Or do you believe yourself above humans?”
“I certainly do not lower myself to the plebs’ level.”
“Ah yes, it’s rude to play with your food.” There, on the right of the bookshelf furthest from him, a shadow moves. “On the bright side, this leaves me some hope, since you’ve been playing with me from the day we met.”
“Dearest Will, you don’t deserve the disrespect of hypocrisy.”
“How kind of you. How terribly hypocritical too.” Will whips around and strikes.
Hannibal catches his arm to stop its course towards his head. Will tries to wring his arm free but the rip only tightens. Will throws his knee at Hannibal’s stomach. Once again he is stopped, but it was enough a distraction to take his arm back, something in his wrist pops bringing a spark of pain, and his knife falls to the ground. He jumps over the desk and between two bookshelves finds the second door. He throws himself at it and it gives easily. Hannibal did not lock it.
He dashes down the hall, colliding against the walls and bumping into the furniture, blind and thrilled. It has been a long, long time since he has been the prey in a chase. This time he can hear Hannibal running after him, closing in on him. He slams into a set of double doors at the end of the corridor, blindly searches for the handle and wrings it open. Before he can get inside, he feels hands grabbing him by the waist and hoisting him up.
Will can’t help it, he burst in laughter, a full body laugh, loud and clear in the silence of the night. He struggles in the hold, pushing at Hannibal’s head and shoulders as he carries him into the room. Hannibal grabs his wrist and gives a hard tugs. It pops back into place, and Will makes a high little sound of pain, soon drowned in another bout of laughter.
Hannibal drops him and Will bounces on a soft mattress, way nicer than his own back in his little house. Hannibal leaves him there to go somewhere else in the room. A smile still stuck to his mouth, Will runs his hands on the bed, marvelling at the cool and velvety fabric under him. “Nice bed,” he says.
A match cracks and soon the room is illuminated by the soft glow of a lamp. Will rolls out of the bed, and goes to stand near the window, his back pressed to the cold glass, still smiling like a loon.
Hannibal turns to him, mirroring his smile. “You seem very pleased by the situation.”
Will tilts his head. “Are you complaining?”
“Not at all,” Hannibal says, shaking his head. “Allow me to court you properly.”
“If that’s your idea of proper courting, please don’t be surprised if I refuse.”
“Would you be amenable for dinner?”
Will huffs out a laughter. “You put me in your bed and then you ask me for dinner. Remember what I said about you being subtle?” He slips his hands between his back and the window, searching for the handle.
“Yes, and once again I’m straightforwardly inviting you to dinner. I only relocated us here for the lamp.”
“Is dinner an innuendo for cannibalism?” Will finds the handle, grips it tightly with his good hand. “Do you intend to kill and eat me?”
“Nothing of the sort. I think we’ve established that I prefer you alive.”
“Well. Why not then? But I provide the food. And we dine at my house.”
“Starting over.” The handle clicks. They look at each other for a long moment. Will still feels giddy but he does not dare turn his back to Hannibal.
After a solid minute of staring, Hannibal turns to his desk and says, “The gutter is pretty sturdy.”
Will nods his head. “Thanks.” And he turns around, opens the window and climbs out.
“I didn’t know you were also a fisherman.”
“It’s not that different from hunting.”
“One you stalk. The other you lure.” Hannibal serves Will first, and then himself. “Beautiful fish, Will.”
Will hums around his cup of wine. He will have to buy some more soon. He doubts Hannibal would tolerate one of his meals served with whiskey. “I didn’t think you’d manage to make something of it with my cruelly empty cupboards.”
“I’m not one to back down from a challenge. You’re proof enough of it.” Hannibal takes his place in front of him, raising his cup, which Will mirrors, before taking a sip.
Will digs in without waiting any further. He already had to wait an eternity for Hannibal to finish cooking, although he had fun moving around him while he cooked, asking random questions, picking up ingredients he has never seen in his life, and dipping his fingers in any pan he saw. “I don’t know what you did to this fish, but it’s delicious.”
A smile tugs at this corner of Hannibal’s mouth. “I’ll have to do something for that palate of yours.”
“Good luck with that.”
“I could teach you how to cook.”
“I can cook just fine, thank you very much.”
Hannibal dips his head slightly in a silent apology. He considers Will’s plate for a moment, then his hands, lost in thought. “Foreign dishes will both broaden your palate and sharpen your sense of taste,” he says, going back to his own plate.
“Do you travel a lot?” Will asks around a mouthful of fish.
“I used to, in my youth. I wasn’t born here.”
“I could tell by your accent. I’d say the East? Or the northern countries maybe.”
Lithuania. Will has never been there. Never heard much about it either. “How is it there?”
Hannibal pauses, looking for his words. He settles for, “The winters are harsh and unforgiving. I left when I was very young, and haven’t come back since then.”
“I see.” Will would like to ask more about it. He can tell that it is a sensitive topic for Hannibal. Maybe next dinner. “Where else did you go?”
“Many countries in Europe,” Hannibal says, his tone lighter with the change of topic. “I’d love to show you France and Italy.”
Will chuckles lightly, bringing his cup to his mouth. “I can’t afford to travel outside of the country.”
“I have enough for us two.”
“I know you want to be generous, but I grew up poor, and if there’s something I hate, it’s pity.”
“I apologize. That was presumptuous of me.” He tilts his head in apology again. “But I assure you there is no pity in my offer. I want to show you Florence. I only spent a few years there but it brought me so much.”
Will holds his gaze from under his eyelashes, still sipping his wine. “You’re telling me too much. You hand me weapons to hurt you.”
“And I trust you not to use them.”
“Still trying to manipulate me?”
“I can only hope.”
Will considers him a moment. He opens his mouth, closes it again, swirls his wine in his cup. “You want to be seen,” he says eventually.
“Who amongst us doesn’t?”
Will huffs out a laugh. He lowers his cup, picks up his cutlery again, a smile still hanging on his lips. “I thought the need to be understood was a human trait. Aren’t you above humans?” he says teasingly, arching an eyebrow.
“God created man in his own image.”
“You want to be God now?”
“I don’t wish to become God. I want to overthrow him.”
Peculiar statement coming from a peculiar man. Will tilts his chin towards Hannibal. “What has he done to you, for you to hate him so much?”
“What does he have to do to humans, for them to finally hate him?” Hannibal says without missing a beat. “Last week, in the neighbouring town, a church collapsed on the heads of sixty five people during mass,” he says, his tone neutral, as though he were not speaking of the death of several people. “God loves to play with humans, give them life and then take it when they least expect it. He creates and he destroys as he pleases. That’s how he knows he is powerful.”
“And we, created in his image, also crave that heady feeling of power, right?”
“Destroying is easier than creating. Murder is easier than forgiveness.”
“Then aren’t humans stronger than God, for forgiving him his murders?”
“There’s a difference between forgiving and powerless.”
“And you want to be neither.” Will pushes his plate aside to make room for his arms on the table. He leans forward. “God took someone from you,” he says quietly. “Someone you loved dearly. Someone who didn’t deserve his wrath.” He tilts his head, looking for answers in Hannibal’s eyes. “A child. Were you a father?”
Hannibal seems unfazed by Will’s insight. “No.” But Will knows he saw right. He smiles, gently urging Hannibal to continue. “I had to care for my sister when we were young. It made me learn so much about myself.”
Will considers his answer, staying silent for a long moment, looking at Hannibal’s hands. Eventually, Will leans back in his chair, picking up his cup again. “Love creates and it destroys. Much like God. It is a powerful thing.” He brings the cup to his lips, smelling the wine without drinking it. “But love’s purpose is to create, it only ever destroys when paired with fear. Or greed. Humans would rather destroy in the name of God than build in the name of love. It’s the easiest way to power,” he takes a sip of his wine as Hannibal picks up his own cup.
“But unlike God, love rewards you. With clarity,” Hannibal says, smelling his wine before taking a sip. “It allows you to be fully aware of another human being. It makes you realise the potential in your beloved, makes them aware of that potential, and makes it come true.”
Will can’t help the gentle smile gracing his lips. “What does it make you see in me?”
“A predisposition to righteous violence. And the willingness to explore it.” Hannibal looks at him intently over the rim of his cup. “You should have talked to your uncle about me, and about what I do. But you didn’t. Something in me appeals to you.”
Will stands from his chair to escape Hannibal’s scrutiny. He takes his cup with him to the fireplace, leaning in the shelf above it. The flames crackle softly, swaying and dancing, slowly devouring the logs. “You and I are just alike,” he says, so softly he wonder if Hannibal can hear him. “You don’t want to see me caged. I don’t either.”
Hannibal comes up behind him silently, leaving but a few centimetres between their bodies. He pushes a strand of hair behind Will’s ear, leaves a kiss on the shell.
Will puts his cup on the shelf. He closes his eyes when Hannibal mouths along his jaw, rubbing his cheek against Will’s stubble. “I wasn’t sure whether you would try to kill me tonight,” Will whispers, taking a step back to bring their bodies together.
Hannibal’s arms snake around Will, search for his hands, and he tangles their fingers together. “And now?”
Will turns his head, locks his eyes with Hannibal’s, and tilts his head up for a kiss. “Now I know,” he whispers against his lips.
Will lies on his stomach, his legs tangled with the sheets and blankets. He takes greedy gulps of air, trying to even his breathing. He rubs his face against his pillow, seeking the coolness to sooth his heated skin, flushed red from his ears to his chest. Beads of sweat roll off his back, leaving glistening trails behind them. He needs a bath. With soap. A whole bucket of soap.
He hears the rustles of the sheets as Hannibal moves closer to him, the mattress dipping under his weight.
Will sighs when Hannibal settles against his back, running his hands up and down his sides, his thumbs tracing circles and patterns on his skin. Hannibal leaves a trail of open mouthed kisses on his shoulders, laving his skin with broad strokes of his tongue. He nips at the base of Will’s neck, eliciting a few moans, before leaving a path of lingering kisses up his neck. Will reaches blindly with one hand to tangle their fingers together. Hannibal buries his nose into Will’s damp hair, inhaling deeply.
“What do I smell like?” Will asks quietly, basking in the afterglow.
“Pine. Earth. Salt.”
“I don’t smell like you?”
“You smell of us.” Hannibal leaves a kiss on the shell of his ear. “Red suits you lovely.”
Will hums contentedly, and slides his hand against Hannibal’s arm, stroking the scar with his thumb. “You never told me how you got these.”
“What were you hunting?”
“There’s only one species that could leave wounds so precise.”
Will huffs out a laugh. “Of course.”
Hannibal moves down again, slowly, reverently kissing each bump of Will’s spine. Will arches his back with a content sigh. He makes it to the small of Will’s back and Will’s breath quickens in anticipation, eager for another round, when a howl catches their attention. Hannibal straightens up, sitting on his heels, and Will props himself on his elbows. They both look in the direction of the howl. Uncharacteristically near.
Will turns his head to look at Hannibal.
Hannibal climbs over Will to get off the bed, and leans to grab his pants somewhere on the floor. He goes to the window near the door. Will reluctantly extricates himself from the warmth of the bed. He finds a shirt flung on a chair and puts it on. It hangs low on his shoulders and ends somewhere around mid thigh. That is not his shirt. Oh, well.
He joins Hannibal at the window and looks outside, at the entrance of the forest. He latches onto his arm to steal his warmth. Payback for abandoning him on the bed. Hannibal does not seem to mind being robbed of heat, only wrapping his arm around Will’s shoulders instead to press him onto his side, not looking away from the window. Will squints to see past the falling snow and the dark of the night.
A pack of wolves is advancing on his property, leaving the safety of the tree. Will can see them showing their teeth and though he can’t hear them he knows they are growling. They tread slowly, leaving neat trails in the blanket of snow. Will chances a look at Hannibal. He has a neutral look on his face, but Will knows a million thoughts are running through his head.
When the wolves are but a few metres from his house, and step into the circle of light coming from the windows, Will leans back from the window, shakes off Hannibal’s arm, and heads to the door, putting on his boots. He feels Hannibal’s eyes bearing into his back, following his movements.
Will does not answer, does not look at him either. He unlocks the front door and steps outside on the porch. The night air is a hundred times colder on his sweaty skin. He wraps his arms tighter around himself to fend off the cold. His breaths come out in little clouds, promptly swept away by the wind.
He has not even made it to the little step of the porch that he feels two hands latching onto his upper arms and pulling him back from the snow. He tries to shake them off, but Hannibal only tightens his hold, wrapping his arms around Will’s chest, entrapping his arms in the process. The wolves move closer, growl louder. Hannibal holds Will tighter against his chest, takes another step back towards the door.
And then Will chuckles. He turns his head to look at Hannibal, a smile playing on his lips. “Aren’t you curious what I will do?”
“I am. But I’d be more comfortable if you at least took a knife with you, whatever you’re about to do.”
Will shakes his head, still smiling. “I don’t need it.”
“You’re about to put yourself in harm’s way, stark naked—”
“I’m not naked.”
“—And although I admit to being very intrigued by your actions, I must insist that you take this.” He produces Will’s hunting knife from somewhere, still in its sheath, and puts its into Will’s hand.
Will scoffs, looking at his knife in his hand. “I’m not the one in danger here.” He grabs Hannibal’s arms to try and free himself. The hold only tightens.
Will sighs and turns his head towards him again. “You let me see you. I let you see me,” he says, patting Hannibal’s arm in reassurance.
After a while, the hold loosens ever so slightly and Will extricates himself from it. With no belt to tie the knife to, he slips it into one of his boots. He will not need it anyway. “Stay here,” he says over his shoulder. “Don’t approach them, whatever happens.”
He steps into the snow. Snowflakes gather into his hair, and he feels his nose and ears reddening up with the cold. The wolves are still growling, looking at Hannibal, still on the porch. Will stops a few feet away from the wolves and kneels, hissing at the cold.
The wolves lunge forward. The first one barrels into him, almost knocking him over. The next seconds, seven wolves are on him, licking his face, and climbing over him, falling all over themselves in the process. Will buries his hands in their fur, a wide grin stretching his lips. “Hi, hi, how are you?” he manages to say, in between enthusiastic licks on his face.
He makes sure to pet each of them, before turning his head back towards the porch. Hannibal is still standing at the limit of the snow, looking at him with a neutral look on his face. Will knows the man has just been robbed of his words and his grin broadens even more.
“I believe we have a few things to discuss,” Will says lightly, his hand absent-mindedly stroking the heads bumping into him.
Will stands and takes a step towards him, the wolves circling his legs, and Hannibal’s hand tightens on a knife Will just noticed. He smirks, still petting the snouts pushing into his hands. “If I smell like you then you smell like me. You’ll be fine,” he says. When Hannibal still does not move, Will sighs. “Could you, uh, throw me a fish or two? Or three or four,” he looks down at the wolves circling him expectantly. “Make it five.” Even from afar he can feel Hannibal’s eyebrow arching. But eventually, he does go back inside and comes back to throw the bag of fishes at Will. Will gives them to the wolves, and manages to free himself from the pack.
When he makes it back to the porch he pushes Hannibal backwards into the house. He closes the door, sighing at the warmth inside. He steps out of his boots, leaves the hunting knife inside. Does not need it here either. He leans back against the door, smiles at Hannibal. “I don’t really know where to start, so you can just… ask me questions instead,” he says, making a vague gesture with his hand. His eyes drift to Hannibal’s hand, still gripping the knife. “You can put the knife away, they won’t attack you if I’m here.”
Hannibal does not look away from Will, steps back until he can put the knife on the table, and stays there, close enough to reach for it again. Will supposes that is the closest he will get to trust in this situation. “Go on. Ask away.”
Hannibal considers him a moment. “You’re the one who killed that second man we found.”
“That’s not a question.”
“Because I know the answer,” Hannibal says. “Why did you tell Mayor Crawford it wasn’t the work of Randall Tier? You could have got yourself arrested.”
“I was trying to get you arrested,” Will says, tilting his chin towards Hannibal.
“What made you stop?”
“I think tonight is explanation enough,” Will says, arching an eyebrow, looking at them both and at their state of undress. “I didn’t know it was you back then,” he amends, shrugging. “I was trying to get the cannibal lurking in the forest arrested. I was afraid he was going to hurt the wolves.”
“You had to make Mayor Crawford aware of the existence of a second killer first. Words wouldn’t have been enough. You needed a material proof. So you made one.”
“Yes. Too bad it didn’t go as planned.”
“That was reckless of you.”
Will shrugs again. “Desperate times,” he says simply. “It never took me so long to chase another killer. I thought I’d hasten the process by involving Uncle Jack.”
“This isn’t the first time you do this.”
“Oh no, it isn’t,” Will gives him a mischievous, boyish grin. “You were right about the righteous violence. But you needn’t had to worry. I explored it on my own a long time ago.” The grin turns into a deceptively innocent smile.
Hannibal returns his smile. “What had that man done?”
“Abducted and killed multiple girls in town. The last one was supposed to be his own. Since the bodies couldn’t be found, people blamed it on the wolves. I couldn’t let that pass.”
“How do you know he did it?”
“I just know. His wife died giving birth to their daughter. She was all he had left. Loved, cherished and treasured her. But she was reaching the age of getting married, and he couldn’t stand to lose her too, so he wanted to consume her. Protect her by keeping her inside him.”
“Did he kill her?”
“No. I killed him before he could.”
“What happened to the daughter?”
“Who knows? I don’t know who she is. But I hope she’s still alive and well.”
Hannibal tilts his head, mulling over Will’s words. “How do you know he has a daughter then?”
“I just know,” Will repeats. He really does not have any better explanation.
But that seems to be enough for Hannibal. He smiles at him, fascinated and charmed, his eyes brimming with the same tenderness and affection. “There only ever was one Wolf in this forest.”
“And he happens to be very territorial,” Will says, preening under Hannibal’s adoring gaze. “You recklessly trespassed on my territory, Dr. Lecter. What’s to be done about that?”
Hannibal glances at his knife on the table, and back at Will. He arches an eyebrow in challenge, still smiling blissfully.
Will snorts. He folds his arms behind himself, gripping the lock of the door. “Wolves are known for their loyalty. You kill me, they kill you.” As if on cue, the wolves start scratching at the door, demanding to be let in.
“Two killers executing each other.”
“At least we’d be two,” Will says, returning Hannibal’s words to him. “We can fend off the boredom together in the afterlife.”
Hannibal considers him for a long moment, his eyes shamelessly roaming his body up and down. Will raises an eyebrow at the open stare, though he knows this is not just an indulgence. Hannibal is assessing him, trying to make some decision. “May I extend my invitation again?” Hannibal says eventually.
“Florence. Europe. New places to see, new people to meet, new rooms to fill your mind palace.” He makes a broad gesture to indicate Will’s house, or the forest and town in general. Maybe the country as a whole. “This place is no better than the asylum, cold and isolated. Barren lands for your mind.”
“There’s a reason why I stay in this cold and isolated place.”
“Yes. To refrain your impulses, in the fear of getting caught,” Hannibal says, nodding once. “But with me you won’t have to. And again, I’ve yet to lie to you.”
“And again, it means that you might.”
“I can’t promise to never lie, but I can promise to cherish and protect you.”
“Saying your vows already?” Will says with a huff of laughter.
“If you want me to.”
Will hums softly, considering his words. “I don’t want to leave the pack. They’d think me dead and mourn me.”
“We don’t have to leave forever,” Hannibal says. “We can come back here anytime you wish.”
“You sure seem eager to elope with me.”
“The need to be understood is more intoxicating than the feeling of power.”
“It is.” Will smiles, and unlocks the door.
It rattles as the wolves push at it from the outside, but Will keeps his back to it, keeping it closed. Hannibal reaches for the knife again.
Will chuckles and shakes his head. He steps forward, and the door opens enough to let the wolves slip in. Once they are all in, he closes the door again and slowly approaches Hannibal, keeping an eye on the knife. The floor creaks under his feet and the paws of the wolves. He keeps his eyes locked with Hannibal as his hand reaches for the knife. “I want them to know you’re mine. So they don’t attack you when you roam the forest, and so you don’t have to kill them.” He puts the knife back on the table, presses his body to Hannibal.
The wolves circle their legs, rubbing against them, pushing their snouts onto Will’s thighs and pulling at his shirt—well, Hannibal’s shirt, technically. He pulls it more securely on his shoulders, and reaches behind Hannibal to take one of the plates. He gives the content to the wolves and they stop trying to tear his clothes.
He puts the plate back on the table as Hannibal reaches for the second plate and gives its content to the wolves.
Will runs his hands over Hannibal’s chest, tangling his fingers in the fine hair there, then moves his hands to his shoulders, and up to his neck. “I don’t know if I’m ready to leave now, but the idea sure is enticing.”
Hannibal puts his hands over Will’s and turns his head to nuzzle one of his palms. “I’ll wait,” he whispers against his skin.
He turns to Will and leans forward for a chaste, lingering kiss. “Decades.”
Will smiles in the kiss. “What will we do in Florence?”
Hannibal reaches under Will thighs to scoop him up. He turns to press Will on the table, until he is lying flat on his back. “We’ll hunt together.”
Abigail lifted her rifle at the sound of footsteps in the snow. She aims in the direction of the sound.
A figure appears from behind the trees, pushing the lowest branches out of the way. A man in a red cloak, the hood pulled low over his eyes. Abigail lowers her rifle, her eyes wide with awe. “You’re Will Graham. The hunter who killed the Wolf.”
Will Graham grabs the front of his hood to pull it back and look her in the eye. “And you’re Abigail Hobbs, the daughter of the Wolf’s last victim.”
Abigail offers a small awkward smile. “Yeah. That’s me.”
“I heard you got married after your father’s death. It’s good that your spouse still lets you hunt.”
Abigail freezes. A spike of fear pierces her chest. She swallows. “Um. That’s not really that,” she says, pulling on a mournful expression. “My husband to be—Nicolas Boyle—disappeared in the forest, a few days ago, before we could get married. Mayor Crawford thinks he was attacked by wolves.”
“Your husband was attacked by wolves?” Will Graham repeats, tilting his head.
Abigail swallows. “That’s what Mayor Crawford thinks. But he also said there’s a chance he would still be alive. And maybe injured. So I’m… looking for him.”
“Is that so?” Will Graham lifts an eyebrow, his eyes piercing through Abigail like a knife. She feels exposed, her ribcage cracked open, her secrets out for the world to see. The silence stretches on for a long time, and eventually she can’t bear it. She dips her head as a goodbye and turns on her heels.
“The wolves didn’t attack anyone in the last few weeks.”
Abigail stops in her track. Closes her eyes tightly, takes in a slow breath to calm herself. She turns around to face Will Graham again, an expression of surprise and hope plastered on her face. “You think so?”
“I know so,” he says. “But there were some trails of blood in the snow, by the brook near the outskirts of the forest. They stretched towards the north from there.” His lips curl into a knowing smile and Abigail’s grip tightens on her rifle.
Abigail swallows again. Unable to find her voice, she only nods to thank him, and turns again, in the direction of the brook.
Abigail stops again, her eyes wide with fear. He knows. He knows about her father. He knows about her. He will find Nick, and Nick will tell everyone. He is going to tell Mayor Crawford.
She will be hanged.
Abigail closes her eyes tightly again, clenching her teeth. No, she is not dying like this. She takes in another deep breath, determination settling in her bones. Her grip tightens on the rifle, her finger ready to pull the trigger. If he threatens her, she will not hesitate. She looks over her shoulder. “Yes?”
Will Graham lifts his rifle to let it rest on his shoulder. He sends her an easy smile, his eyes glinting with pride. “I’ll help you hunt him.”