Chapter 1: Lesson Number One
Will is in his element at the local dog home. They all know him as their regular ever since he moved into the area. Jenny, lead of the rehoming staff, walks into the room.
“Mr Graham,” she greets him brightly with a habitual push to the bridge of her glasses. “Funny seeing you here. Again.”
Will smiles at the older woman as she stops beside him, hands resting on her hips.
“Hello, Jenny,” he says, glancing around the partitions separating the animals. “What do you have for me today?”
“Well,” she begins to say, eyes narrowing thoughtfully as she watches him. “We do have an interesting fella who arrived three days ago.”
Will feels his eyebrows peaking with curiosity.
“Yes,” she continues to say, brow knitting. “One of the boys found him down on the beach on their way to their boats one morning. Looks like he was washed ashore.”
Will makes a thoughtful noise.
“Any idea where he came from?” he asks and Jenny lifts a hand to itch her blond hair.
“Not the foggiest,” she answers with a shrug. “No collar, no chip. Maybe he fell off his owner’s boat, but we’ve not had any calls yet.”
“You want to meet him?” Jenny asks with a knowing smile. Will can’t help smiling back.
“Sure,” he says, and follows after her.
It’s a long drive back to his cabin in the woods. It’s very quiet inside the car. He prefers not to have anything playing when he drives. The dog hasn’t made a sound. It could almost not be there at all. Will glances into the rear-view mirror, but can’t see anything beyond the back seats. It must still be lying down in the boot. Maybe it’s used to car journeys, Will muses, imagining its black and brown muzzle lying between its paws. He remembers what Jenny had read off the internet: the Lithuanian hound is effective on hare, fox and boar. When hunting, it is very persistent with great speed and vigour. With his family he is pleasant and agreeable. Known for its splendid voice. Will wonders what the last of that means, and whether he will hear a peep from the dog any time soon. Back at the home, squatted down before the unusually large, sleek but muscular animal, his customary greeting of, “hello, boy,” was received without much enthusiasm. It had watched him with its dark, unblinking eyes, and made no attempt to lift its black head from its paws. Not a twitch from those low hanging ears when Will gave its broad head a friendly pat. He also recalls Jenny reading: energetic, free-spirited, with good movement. Owners need to be firm, but calm, confident and consistent. Proper human to canine communication is essential. Despite the dog being slow to warm to him, Will is sure he will be able to bring it out of its shell soon.
Turning off the engine, Will gets out the car and walks round to the boot. Opening it, he finds the dog exactly as he’d left him before he started driving. Dark eyes flit up to meet his. Light brown eyebrows dotting its indifferent expression.
“We’re here,” says Will, watching it lift its head. When it shows no sign of moving, Will starts stepping back from the boot. “Come on,” he calls, leaning over to pat his thighs. The dog looks past Will’s shoulders, and for a moment he expects it to bolt out of the car towards the woods. Instead, it finally gets up and climbs down carefully to stand before Will expectantly. For a strong and sturdy looking hunting dog, his movements are oddly graceful, Will thinks to himself.
“Come on then,” he says encouragingly as he starts walking to the cabin. The dog watches him go, but doesn’t follow. Climbing the wooden steps leading up to the porch deck, Will stops and unlocks the front door. Looking back at the dog, he opens it a crack. He can hear the others becoming alert to a new presence outside, but the hound is unresponsive to theirs. Finally it starts to trot towards him. As it climbs the steps and comes towards Will down the porch, he stoops over and brings his hand up to pat its head as it approaches.
“Good b-” he begins to say, but the dog continues straight past him, pushing through the door. Its long black tail held low and still as it passes him by.
“After you,” Will mutters to himself amusedly with a lofting of his brows. He closes the boot of the car with a click of his fob and steps inside the cabin, closing the door behind him.
When Will walks back into the living space with the collar, the dog has already settled itself across the settee. The others are sat on the floor, watching it. When Will approaches, they all look towards him, tongues lolling as they pant in protest.
“Down,” he instructs, pointing at the floor. The dog flares its nostrils at him and tilts its head. “Down,” Will tries again, firmer this time, aware of the others watching. He can’t have the newcomer showing him up like this, not when he has carefully trained the others up to a standard he consisers acceptable. But the new dog isn’t responding.
“My house,” says Will, laying a hand on that long, sleek back, “my rules.” He tugs, but the dog continues to watch him without intentions of moving.
“Right,” he exhales, using both hands to try and pull the other into motion. He is heavier than Will thought, however, and barely budges. The others are starting to get fidgety, their tails flicking with impatience. Or amusement. “You’re not making a fool of me in my own home,” Will announces in warning. It flares its nostrils at him again. “Fine,” he utters, wrapping his arms around its neck. It feels strong. We’ll see who’s stronger. Will starts pulling and the dog pulls against him with surprising strength. One of the others starts to bark, excited by the spectacle.
“Come on,” he grits through his teeth, pulling harder. He hopes the dog doesn’t retaliate by biting him. Digging his heels into the floorboards, Will attempts to drag the dog off the settee. And succeeds. But only because the dog springs forward.
Before he has time to react, Will falls backwards with the dog on top of him and smacks his head hard against the floor. Eyes snapping shut, he groans in pain as the others begin to bark excitedly. Alpha is down, hail the new alpha! Lifting a hand to the back of his head, Will opens his eyes and freezes. A man is lying on top of him, staring down at Will with hooded eyes. His face is sharp, with high, angular cheekbones. Expression a mixture of contempt and amusement. His hair falling in soft fair spikes across his dark, almost black, eyes. The man is also naked. Shocked, Will inhales sharply, but with a blink, the man is gone, and he finds himself staring at the Lithuanian hound. The dogs are still barking. Hail the new alpha! Shaking the daze from his head, Will spies the collar lying on the floor within reach. Snatching it, he fastens it with practised ease around the hound's neck.
“There,” he announces, pushing out from under the dog. It sits itself down. Will sits across it, arms folding. The others settle down around them, watching closely, tails thumping against the wood. For the first time, Will feels strangely outnumbered. The unease created by the strange vision still flowing through his blood. Despite this new sensation, he has never considered it possible to make a mistake when it comes to rehoming animals, and he is not about to change his mind now.
“Lesson number one,” he says lowly, meeting the other in the eye. “I am alpha.”
Chapter 2: Meet the Neighbours
His neighbour calls not long after. Margot Verger lives miles away, but remains the closest local in proximity. She had welcomed him to the town from day one, and will occasionally visit with something homemade.
“Hello, Margot,” he greets her on the phone, watching the new dog pace around the living space, sniffing at his belongings. She wants to know if she can come over. It’s been a while, she says, although Will hasn’t noticed. “Sure,” he agrees, pacing to the open space kitchen joined to the living room. Functional. Modest. He opens the fridge to see what he has to offer. “Alright,” he says, “see you at six. Bye.” Lowering the phone, he spots the dog watching down at the row of food and water bowls, and opens one of the bottom cupboards. He takes out two new bowls and fills one of them with water from the tap.
“You’d best behave,” says Will as he puts the bowls down at the end of the row and straightens up with his hands on his hips. The dog looks up at him. “I have a guest coming.”
As usual, Margot arrives earlier than the agreed time. Opening the door, Will finds her stood on the porch wearing her coat, boots, and red-lipped smile. Panting at her feet, is her trusty black Alsatian, Alana.
“Hey,” Will greets Margot before bending down to pet her companion. “Hello, girl,” he says, hand barely touching her before she’s already trotting inside.
“Sorry,” laughs Margot apologetically as Will closes the door. “I guess she miss-” Margot pauses. Will joins her in looking over at Alana. The Alsatian is sat on the floor in front of the settee, watching the sole occupant. Her tail swishing back and forth fast enough to polish the wood. “You’ve got a new dog,” she says brightly, leaning down to take off her boots. “What’s its name?” she asks.
“He doesn’t have one yet,” replies Will, watching the way the hound ignores Alana and fixes his black gaze on her owner instead.
“He’s a big one,” chuckles Margot, and Will steps towards the kitchen, drawing her after him to avoid contending for space on the settee.
“Coffee?” he offers.
“I’d love one.”
While Margot watches over the cooking, Will feeds the dogs. When everything is plated up, they settle at the small two person dining table to eat. From the corner of his eye, Will can see all the dogs eating except one. Well, two. Margot had fed Alana before coming out.
“So what’s his story?” asks Margot, forking a green bean and lifting it to her lips. Will feels his brow knitting as he chews. He glances over to the settee to find the hound observing them and continuing to take no notice of the Alsatian now sitting with her muzzle on the edge of the upholstery. Her large brown eyes staring unblinkingly up at the other.
“They found him on the beach,” he says, swallowing and picking up his glass of water, eyes on the dogs still. “They think he was washed ashore.”
“Really? The poor thing,” comments Margot, and Will returns his attention to her perfectly groomed eyebrows and large, almond shaped eyes. “You’re good like that, Will,” she says with a smile, “taking in all the strays.” He looks down at his food, eyebrows lofting.
“Or foolish,” he chuckles self-deprecatingly.
“I don’t think you’re foolish,” says Margot, and he glances up to see red lips parting to the end of a green bean. Her stare a touch too intimate, but he smiles politely nonetheless, saying nothing further as he picks up his glass and diverts his eyes back to the dogs.
Once Margot has left, Will paces over to the settee and eases himself into the remaining space with a sigh of relief. He looks at the dog and finds him looking back.
“You hungry?” he asks, patting the glossy black hip within his reach. “You haven’t touched your bowl.” In response, it suddenly gets up, hopping off the settee and trotting over to the front door. “You need to go?" asks Will, sitting up. "I suppose you haven't been since getting here." The dog glances at him from the corners of its eyes. Then it jumps up and lets itself out.
“Hey!” Will cries, jumping onto his feet and sprinting over to the door just in time to see its large black shape bounding for the trees. He’s about to grab his coat and keys when he hears the distant rumble of a car. Looking towards the horizon beside the thick of the woods, he spots a familiar pick-up truck rolling down the dirt road. Only one person drives a Ford F-150 around here.
Will steps out onto the porch as the Sheriff parks up beside his car and gets out. Wearing his black bomber and cap, Jack Crawford stands there looking up at Will with his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
“Mr Graham,” he says in greeting. “You knew I was coming?”
“I heard your car,” says Will. “And I’ve got an escapee.” Jack follows Will’s line of sight and turns his head to look back at the woods.
“I assume you mean one of your dogs and not the delightful Miss Verger,” Jack says, lofting his eyebrows at Will.
“How did you know she was here?” Will asks with a half frown, half smile, his hands moving to his hips. Jack starts pacing towards the cabin with a patronising smile.
“A good cop never gives away his secrets,” he says, climbing the wooden steps. “How many times have I said that?”
“Too many times,” Will answers, returning the other’s smile as he walks past, but giving the woods another look before turning in. It’ll have to wait.
When Jack calls on Will, it is almost always work-related. Following case discussion, there is occasionally room for ‘any other business,’ and it is during these moments of empty mugs and a lull in conversation that Jack may confide in Will about anything that may be troubling him outside of work. It wasn’t always this way. When Will first arrived in town, Jack had greeted him with the kind of polite suspicion towards outsiders that can only be instinctive to any local who has lived all their lives in the same town. Then, Jack caught wind of Will being a retired empath who had worked big cases, and immediately started to regard him with newfound respect. He never directly asks Will about the cases, but Will knows the other is curious. It is with this affinity somehow inherent between two people working, or have worked, in the same sector of society that Jack feels he can trust Will.
“How is Bella?” asks Will. The Sheriff had been staring in silence at the table for a good half minute now. He lofts his eyebrows at the question without looking up.
“Coping,” he exhales, then adds, “just about,” when he meets Will in the eye. The Sheriff isn’t one for lying, Will has learnt. Still the small-town cop who hasn’t had too many run-ins with politics. That’s why Will likes this place.
A single knock sounds at the door. Five minutes ago, they would have missed it to Jack’s deep laughter at yet another of his own terrible jokes. Often made at Will’s expense because it’s perceived as odd for a man his age to be living alone with a bunch of dogs out in the woods. Jack enjoys teasing Will about Margot Verger because the whole town knows she likes Will.
“Now who could that be?” says Jack, getting up and stepping to the door. Will watches him open it.
“Well aren’t you civilised,” Jack says, still holding the door open. “One of yours, I believe,” he chuckles, looking to Will. He stands up as the dog walks in, pink tongue lolling as it pants. Tail wagging. Clearly the woods did him some good. Will expects it to return to its spot on the settee, but it stays by Jack, watching up as he shuts the door. He catches the dog looking over at him as he continues to stand in the kitchen.
“The latest addition,” Will answers, observing the hound’s response to Jack. The way it puts its paw into the Sheriff’s hand for a shake and stares up at the other when he chuckles, tongue still lolling as it pants. Looking over at Will again when the Sheriff pets its head a second time.
“Well I hope the next one walks on two legs,” says Jack, giving Will a look as he straightens up and steps over to grab his jacket hanging over the back of the chair and his cap from the table. Will folds his arms, grinning his forced grin which the other is familiar with.
“Take care, Jack,” he says as the Sheriff pulls on the bomber. “Tell Bella I send my regards.”
“Will do,” says Jack, putting on his cap and giving Will an appreciative nod. He looks down at the dog. “Watch him for me,” he says, glancing back at Will with a smile before turning to open the door and let himself out, as he is accustomed to do. Will moves to stand at the doorway, watching the other descend the steps and stride back to his vehicle. He waits until the Ford F-150 has reversed and travelled back up the dirt road before closing the door.
“So,” he says, folding his arms again as he turns around to face the dog. “You do have manners.”
The hound sits on the floor as though its natural temperament has been restored. Tail no longer wagging. Those dark eyes regarding Will woodenly.
“Well don’t you know how to behave in front of a cop,” Will scoffs, unable to help an upwards tug to the corner of his lips as he shakes his head in disbelief. “I suppose you must be hu-hey!” Before he can finish, the dog has bounded up the stairs with the others barking after him. That area is off limits! You’re going to be in trouble with the master! Will chases after him, taking two steps at a time and reaching the top of the staircase to see his black tail disappearing through the gap in his bedroom door. Pushing it open, Will stands at the threshold and begins a staring contest with the intruder in his bed.
“Out,” he says loudly, pointing back to the landing. “Now.”
When the dog rolls over onto its back, long limbs akimbo, Will marches over to the bed.
“Right,” he utters decisively under his breath, leaning over the bed and hooking his arms under the dog’s before proceeding to drag him off the cover. It tries to roll over, but Will manages to land him on the floor with a victorious grunt. Straight away, however, the dog leaps back onto the bed. So Will throws his arms around its middle, narrowly missing being whipped in the face by the tail as he pulls with all his strength while its front paws struggle for purchase on the cover. Again, Will lands it on the floor, and again, it leaps back up. The struggle continues, and each time Will thinks he’s won, the dog proves him wrong with its unexpected stamina and sheer determination. Eventually, Will drops onto his back on the bed, exhausted. Arching his neck back, he looks upside down at the softly panting face of the dog.
“Alright,” he sighs. “You win.” He rolls over onto his chest and glares tiredly at the dog past the tossed cover obscuring his face. “But you can't tell the others.”
Mirroring him, the dog buries its muzzle in the cover and stares back.
“Shake on it,” says Will, holding out his hand. The dog continues to watch him for a moment. Then it puts its right paw in Will’s hand. Uttering a victorious noise, Will snatches it and restarts the battle for sole occupancy of the bed. He pulls, the dog pulls, then Will loses his grip on the paw and they both go flying backwards. With a yelp, the dog falls off the bed the same time a curse leaves Will’s lips as he falls down. Lying on his back on the floor, he half groans, half laughs.
“Alright. That was my fault,” he says lowly. “I broke the pact of trust. You get to sleep in the bed.”
The broad head with its floppy ears looms into view from above, dark eyes peering down at him imperiously. Stubborn bastard’s kinda cute. But God, is he a pain in the arse.
Chapter 3: When Wolves Get Hungry
That night, Will has a strange dream. He has another vision of the man with the sharp cheekbones and hooded eyes, but has no idea what could have inspired it. He doesn’t remember seeing anyone in town who looks similar, and neither can he match that face to the faces in previous case profiles. He doesn’t watch television, so it can't be from that. He does pick up the newspaper whenever he’s in town on a supply run, but he doesn’t recall coming across such a man in the small town news. Yet somehow he can see this man’s face as clear as a photograph as he lies there next to Will with his head in the pillow. Facing him. Every strand of his hair as it falls across his eyes in soft spikes bleached white by the moonlight cutting through the bed to illuminate the foreign presence. The features distinctly European – German, perhaps. Or Icelandic. As though a cold climate had chiselled those severe edges out of ice. The stare is black under fair lashes sweeping low as the man peers through them at him, coy and chilling at the same time. Will sees his own hand, lying between them on the sheets, lifting curiously towards the other. His fingers slip into the slither of white light. He wakes up just as their tips are about to graze the edge of one sharp upper lip.
The dog is staring at him when he opens his eyes. Black head lying on the pillow beside him. Will blinks a few times, knitting his brow.
“What are you doing here?” he mutters, remembering as soon as he’s said it. Relaxing, he reaches out a hand to pat between those floppy ears, but the dog scoots back before he can and gets up on all fours. Will watches up at it, stifling a yawn with his fist.
“What is it?” he says afterwards, and those long limbs leap off the bed before he finishes speaking to hurry over to the door. Will sits up in time to watch its black body nudging open and slipping through the gap. Dragging the cover off his body, he gets up with another yawn and shuffles towards the threshold.
He stands back from the cluster of wagging tails and looks over to the hound stood at a distance away from the others and watching on as each one buries its muzzle into a bowl.
“They’ll eat yours too if you don’t come over,” says Will, lofting his eyebrows in warning at the dog before moving to put the dog food away. Straightening up from the cupboard, he walks over to the fridge and opens the top door to grab the juice. He hears the sound of claws against wood. That's more like it. Moving towards the door. Still holding the fridge open, Will looks past the door to see the hound helping itself out again.
“Oi!” he cries, slamming shut the fridge and darting across the room, but the other scarpers before Will can grapple it to the floor. With a curse, Will closes the door to prevent further escapees. Still in his tee and shorts, he runs up to his room, throws on a pair of trousers, runs back down, grabs his coat and keys and exchanges looks with a couple of curious heads which have raised from their bowls before heading out.
Opening his mouth, Will remembers he hasn’t given the dog a name yet.
“Here, boy!” he shouts, tramping through leaves, his eyes scouring the carpet of red and yellow for glossy black. He stops in the belly of the woods, running a hand through his hair.
“Where are you,” he sighs to himself, looking up at the sky framed on all sides by the tops of shedding trees. He hears a distant rustling. Too heavy to be a bird or squirrel. Slowly, he starts to trek towards the sound. Emerging from between two trees, Will stops mid-step in the clearing. He’s found the dog. The dog has found something too. The rustling, he realises, is the sound of prey struggling.
“Here, boy,” he says quietly, taking a step closer, his presence barely acknowledged as the dog continues to pin the savaged fox against the ground with its paw, muzzle lowered to the other animal’s as though in warning. Will wonders how the previous owner communicated with the hound to make it hand over the prey. He has never hunted with any of his dogs before, and can only assume he should be asserting his dominance in this situation. The fox is in a bad state. The dog is calm. His tail held low and still. A professional killer. Will comes closer and stops a step away from both animals.
“Give,” he commands, holding out a hand. He watches down at the dog and the dog watches up at him. The fox continues to pant for its breath beneath the black paw, nervous and weak. Its orange fur matted with blood and gouged sporadically with wounds, as though it had been toyed with. Will does not really want the dog to hand over this wretched animal, but he knows he must be authoritarian.
“Give,” he says again, voice loud and firm and echoing faintly around the clearing. The dog holds his gaze for a fraction longer before lowering its head and opening its jaws. Will moves forward, but hears the yelp and click of bone just as he snatches the collar.
“Bad dog!” he scolds, trying to pull the dog away from the dead animal by its collar, but once again he underestimates the other’s strength. With Will still tugging at him, the dog starts to open the fox with its teeth. The sharp tang of blood escapes into the air and, surprised by its practised precision, Will lets go and steps back. His empty stomach churns at the sight of it burying its muzzle inside the body and chomping its way through bone, muscle, viscera. The dog looks up at him as it eats, as though aware of being watched.
“Was it a fox last night, too?” he asks lowly with a grimace. The dog sinks its face even deeper inside the carcass, and Will sighs, turning his head to look back in the direction of the cabin. Can he take the hound back to the cabin, knowing it eats wild animals? It hasn’t responded with hostility towards the other dogs. Yet. But would he, if Will were to stop him going out? Would he turn on him? Is that what happened to his previous owner? Will continues to muse darkly to himself until he realises the sound of gnashing jaws has stopped. He looks back at the dog who has managed more or less to empty the orange skin in no time at all. He can hardly believe it. Lowering himself to squat in front of the hunter, his eyes move from the leftovers to the muzzle polished clean by a couple of swipes from its tongue. Those black eyes staring back at him from under soft brown eyebrows.
“Alright, you cute savage,” Will murmurs, moving his hand to pet that broad head despite himself. “Can we go back now, or are you going to kill more things?” In response to his question, the dog starts trotting off in the direction of home. Will straightens up with an exhale, takes one last glance back at the remains before going after the dog.
Back at the cabin, Will is sitting on the settee with the dog stretched out beside him, taking up all the space. Its eyes are closed as it dozes. The others, growing used to the state of affairs since the newcomer’s arrival, lie by the foot of the settee. He is holding the cell phone to his ear.
“Sounds expensive,” he says as he listens to Bedelia Du Maurier describe the increasing popularity amongst pet owners of feeding their dogs, as well as cats, a raw meat diet. He finds the sound of her voice reassuring, and can easily picture her tranquil expression.
“I doubt he'd kill enough to threaten the livelihood of the animals around here,” he says.
“What he needs to learn is that you are the master,” states the voice in the phone. “And he must obey, even against his own instincts.”
Will feels his brow furrow as he thinks about how relaxed he has been thus far with the hound.
“Otherwise, you might as well be sheltering a wolf. And when wolves get hungry, Mr Graham.”
With those ominous last words, Will thanks the psychiatrist for her advice and hangs up. Looking down at the snoozing dog, he has a sudden urge to lay down on him. Pulling his legs up onto the settee, he sinks down against that long, black body. It doesn’t wake up. Its chest continuing to rise and fall steadily beneath his cheek. He feels warm, which Will finds comforting.
“What am I going to do with you?” he murmurs, eyes drifting to a close.
Chapter 4: Rude Little Pig
Sat at his desk in the corner of the room, or, as he likes to call it, his fly tying station, Will slowly rotates the plier. The coil of golden wire making up the rib of the lure catches and reflects the afternoon sun, making him squint against the glaring light. He smiles, chuffed with his own handiwork. His best one yet.
“What do you think?” he says, leaning back in his chair and looking over his shoulder. No movement from that head resting on the settee. The dog looks peaceful like that, he thinks with a twitch to the corner of his mouth. Sleeping off his meal. The smile fades as he recalls the mangled body of the fox. Without warning, his cell phone starts vibrating against the table. He sits up. Reading the Sheriff’s name on the display, he accepts the call and presses the phone to his ear.
The voice answering is quiet and sombre, carrying all the weight of ill news. Bella.
“Cody Winter was reported missing early this morning after he failed to come home for two consecutive nights,” Jack explains, and Will searches his memory.
“Volunteer at the dog home?”
“Yes. They’ve found his body.”
Slowly, Will rises from his chair, eyes looking out the window in front of him.
“In a dumpster behind the dog home.”
“Jesus.” Highly unusual. Not local.
“Can you come over and take a look for us?”
“Of course. I’ll head over now.”
Lowering the phone, he looks over to find the hound still asleep on the settee. Should be alright. He’s eaten now. He quickly puts on his shoes and coat, buttoning up on his way to the door. He opens it gently and takes one more look towards the settee before stepping outside and closing the door quietly behind him.
The dog wakes after its lengthy sleep. Opening its eyes and lifting its muzzle from the settee, it takes him a moment to gather his bearings. The room is dim, and when he looks towards the window, he realises it is already starting to grow dark. Below him, a couple of other dogs are lying contently on the floor. Another has taken ownership of the space below the master’s desk. Speaking of. Rising on all fours, he climbs off the settee and paces towards the middle of the room where two more dogs are lying in wait before the front door. He’s gone out. Trotting back towards the desk, he jumps up onto the chair which creaks in protest under his weight. Looking out the window, he can see the master’s car is not there. Trying to get a better look, he climbs onto the surface of the table, eyes on the dirt road in the distance, and accidentally steps on a fishing hook. The pain is sharp, but not serious, and he taps his paw against the edge of the desk to dislodge the offending object. It drops with a ping onto the floor below. Returning his gaze to the road, he settles back against the chair. He doesn’t know how long he has been staring at the road for when a sudden movement from his peripheral vision catches his attention. Muzzle turning towards the woods, he watches closely, unblinkingly, until he sees it emerging from the thick of the trees. His pupils dilating as though to suck the stag straight into them. After three days of composure and restraint, the fox had merely whetted his appetite. Now the real hunger takes hold as he watches the beast sniff the air. So elusive. So majestic. So tempting. Saliva wells inside his jaws, making him swallow convulsively.
His pursuit of the stag leads him further and further away from the cabin. Before he knows it, he has lost his target as well as bearings. The woods end unexpectedly and he emerges on the other side – which side, he’s not sure – panting hard, adrenaline pounding in his blood. He hears running. Four legged. Small. He turns his muzzle towards the sound and sees a dog sprinting up to him across the grass, pale and rotund, and yapping so hard, its entire body trembles. A rude little pig. He barely hears the shout of its owner over the roar of his ravenous stomach.
Opening the front door and stepping inside the cabin, Will is relieved to find the dog in the same position as he’d left him. Easing the door shut behind him, he takes off his coat and shoes and paces towards the settee. Slowly, he sinks down into the space beside the other, hand reaching instinctively for a stroke. His fingers barely land before the dog is up and off the upholstery. Too tired to ask, Will watches it move to his modest bookshelf and paw at a thick volume until it drops out, then proceed to push it across the floorboards towards the settee. Well aren’t you full of surprises?
“You did some reading while I was out?” he chuckles, slowly sitting up when the book comes to a stop at his feet. The dog sits down expectantly before him. Reaching down, Will picks up the heavy title: A Guide On History Across Time. He lofts his eyebrows. The dog touches the hard cover with its paw. Will opens the book.
“What am I looking for?” he asks amusedly, beginning to turn pages. Eventually, the paw interrupts his perusing to rest over one. The Carthaginian Empire. He glances up again to find the dog watching him.
“You're telling me you can read,” he says, voice low and incredulous. The paw taps the page again, drawing his attention to an image of a marble bust. Will reads the caption beneath. “Hannibal Barca.” The paw removes itself. They look at one another. “That your name?” Will asks, knitting his brow as he studies the image and caption again. “Barca?” No response. “Hannibal?” He looks up into dark eyes which continue to stare at him as that brown muzzle lowers to rest between the pages. “Hannibal,” Will repeats quietly, laying a hand on the hound's head.
“Your owner was something,” he mutters smilingly, thumb stroking the spot between its eyebrows. He could be imagining it, but those black orbs seem to be softening with each brush of his thumb until that face looking up at him makes Will start to feel as though he is making some sort of breakthrough.
“Got any more tricks up your furry sleeve?”
The loud buzz of his cell phone interrupts them. The dog pulls its muzzle back from the book which Will closes and puts on the settee beside him. Getting up, he paces over to where his coat is hung, digging the phone out from the pocket and pressing it to his ear.
“Jack,” he answers. Did they find something after he left the crime scene? He had done so feeling perplexed and unhelpful. Stood at the back of the dog home, his pendulum had revealed nothing. Just a blank.
“Frederick Chilton has filed a report on a vicious attack on him and his dog earlier this afternoon.”
The rounded cheeks of the town lawyer and his pug immediately comes to mind. Will can imagine the man has made some enemies in his time.
“It attacked his dog and dragged it into the woods,” the voice continues to read. “By the time he ran over, the assailant had long gone, leaving nothing but blood on the floor.
It. Will stares ahead.
“He didn’t pursue the assailant, deeming it too dangerous.”
“A large black dog. He admitted he wasn’t close enough for anything more specific.”
A pause on Jack’s end, speaking volumes. Then.
“Do you know anything about this, Will?”
“No,” he hears himself answer instinctively. “He’s been locked in all day.”
A moment of consideration.
“Alright. I’ll let you know if we get anything on the Winter case.”
Lowering the phone, Will turns around. The dog is still sat by the settee. Watching him. Will stares back.
Chapter 5: Dinner at Margot's
He looks up from the packet of steak in his hand to find Margot watching him with a wide-eyed smile. How long has he been standing there in the meat aisle?
“Margot, hi,” he says, dropping the steak into his basket. He clears his throat. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” she replies, large eyes combing over him curiously. “How are you?”
“Not too bad,” he answers, eyebrows lofting in his attempt to appear less preoccupied. He lifts a hand to rake through his hair for good measure. “Sorry, was I meant to call?” He doesn’t always remember the etiquette of friendship, especially somewhat reluctant friendships.
“A call would have been nice," she says, smiling.
Will hums apologetically.
“But it wasn’t compulsory,” she adds, watching him as she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “Say, how about you come over to mine for dinner tonight?”
“I’m...not sure about leaving the dogs,” he says, thinking of the one currently sat waiting in the parking lot. Car doors locked.
“You mean the big guy?” she says shrewdly, and for a moment Will panics, staring into those large eyes for signs of knowing. “Is he not settling?”
Will thinks about how best to answer that question.
“You can bring him,” offers Margot. “Alana would be glad for the company. I think she’s taken a liking to him.”
Will forces a smile, realises his hand is still on the back of his neck and lowers it.
“Alright,” he says, acquiescing. Because he’s not very good at saying no to nice people. “What time should we come round?”
The music on the radio floats through Margot’s quaintly decorated kitchen and out into the cosy living room. Food is almost done – a humble homemade lasagne – and she asks him to lay the table. Taking the placemats and cutlery, he steps into the living space and walks towards the round wooden dining table. A quick survey of the room tells him the dogs have gone. But where? Putting down the placemats and cutlery, he walks away from the kitchen, listening for any signs of them above the radio. He passes the stairs and pauses, thinking he heard something. A scuffle of paws against carpet. Slowly, he starts to climb the stairs. Following the noise, he comes upon the landing and travels down the corridor, freezing at the open doorway of Margot’s bedroom.
“What-” he utters, unable to comprehend what he is seeing. Alana is lying on her back on the carpet, her limbs tucked submissively beneath Hannibal. Her pink tongue lolls at the corner of her open jaws – her eyes rolling back into her skull as Hannibal pulls on the curtain sash wrapped around her neck.
“Han-!” he starts to shout before remembering where he is and stopping himself. Marching over, he grabs the sash. When Hannibal refuses to let go, he raises his hand, but the other is unresponsive to the gesture. Will smacks Hannibal who takes it without so much as a blink. Eventually, he lets go, and Will stares at Hannibal as he frees Alana from the sash, willing the offender to stay put with his glare. Once freed, the Alsatian rolls onto her side, gets up on all fours and gives her head a shake like it was nothing.
“You're pushing it,” he says lowly in warning as he pulls the coiled lead from his pocket and fastens it to Hannibal’s collar. Without protest, he lets Will drag him onto the landing and down the stairs.
“Will?” says Margot questioningly as she ventures from the kitchen with the lasagne, looking from Will to Hannibal and then Alana who is following them with her tail wagging.
“Margot,” Will begins to say, inhaling as he thinks of an excuse.
“What’s the matter?”
“Jack just called. I have to go to the station-”
“It’s okay. Do you want to take-”
“No, it’s fine, we’ve got to go.”
Will tightens his grip on the lead and hurries to the front door, Margot putting down the lasagne to follow after him.
“Sorry about this,” he says, turning his face to look at her apologetically as he opens the door. “I’ll call you.”
“Sure,” she says, smiling. “Go do what you do best.”
Will smiles tightly and jerks on the lead, closing the door once Hannibal is outside with him.
Striding to the car, he tugs open the passenger door. Hannibal hops in and climbs up into the seat as Will slams the door shut and gets in the driver side. The lead is wrapped around his hand as he starts the car and pulls away from Margot’s cabin. As he does so, he sees Alana’s black head watching them from the window. Pink tongue still lolling from her open jaws.
Will says nothing as he drives. A sidelong glance shows him Hannibal is staring impassively into the horizon.
“I knew it was you,” he says, returning his eyes on the road. “You were hunting, I get it. But this?” He shakes his head, incredulous. “What were you doing with that sash? Did your owner teach you that?” He continues shaking his head. “You're clever, but there’s only one place for dangerous dogs, Hannibal, and I know you know what I’m talking about.”
Another sidelong glance. Black eyes continue to watch the road. Will breathes in and releases a sigh.
“We’re going to Bedelia,” he utters aloud to himself. “Maybe she will know what to do with you.”
Sat in the armchair opposite Hannibal, Will finds he cannot relax despite the plush upholstery. He sits there waiting for Bedelia to return, back straight, hands clasping the lead in his lap – Bedelia had requested he detached it from Hannibal, even though she could see Will was not comfortable with the idea. But she is the expert after all. Across him, Hannibal lies stretched out across the matching settee. Watching him. The end of his long black tail tapping slowly against the expensive upholstery like drumming fingers. Will did not give Hannibal a reprimand for climbing on the doctor’s furniture. She can witness the animal’s impudence for herself, Will thinks privately. He senses the other's approach and turns his face to watch the dog whisperer re-enter the living room with a glass of red.
“Sure I cannot offer you anything, Mr Graham?” she asks as she walks towards the settee.
“No, thank you,” he says, watching Hannibal’s lack of response to the woman sitting down beside him. “I’m driving.”
“I see. Now then,” she says, crossing her legs and turning her attention to Hannibal. “You’re a big boy. Too big for a standard hound,” she muses aloud.
“Jenny said he’s Lithuanian.”
“Even so, his stature is highly unusual.”
That’s not the only thing unusual, Will thinks to himself.
“Maybe he’s a cross with a dane?”
“Perhaps,” she murmurs, eyes lidding as she tilts her head at the dog. “Now, you said you think you saw him attempting to strangle another dog with a window sash, am I correct?”
“It was clear to me what he was trying to do,” Will answers, maintaining the staring contest with Hannibal.
“Mr Graham,” says Bedelia, leaning back against the upholstery, glass in hand. “I understand you worked with the police force.”
“Then you must be familiar with those instances where a victim or defendant claims to have seen something that is later proven to have not existed?”
Will shifts uncomfortably in the armchair.
“Often, the mind’s perception is altered by the level of stress and anxiety an individual may be experiencing.”
“Are you saying I imagined what I saw?”
“Not imagined, Mr Graham. Mistook, perhaps. A common practice amongst anxious owners.”
She tilts her head at him.
“Have you had any stressful experiences as of late?”
Will thinks of the Winter case. He leans back against the armchair with a quiet exhale.
“Maybe I…overthought it,” he says, breaking eye contact with Hannibal to glance down at the floor.
“If you remain troubled, we can always book you an appointment,” says Bedelia. Looking up, Will sees her watching Hannibal curiously. “I have availability tomorrow evening.”
Will agrees, noticing how taken with Hannibal the doctor appears. The way she looks him over with her eyes and brushes the back of her hand clasping the glass of wine against his glossy black hip. He attaches the lead back to Hannibal’s collar and leads him out of the room.
“See you tomorrow, Mr Graham.”
“Thank you, doctor.”
Chapter 6: Heavy Rain
That evening, Hannibal refused to eat from his bowl. Will had stood over him in the bathroom, arms folded. He didn’t want the others knowing he’d bought meat especially and wasn’t sharing it out between them all. But Hannibal sat there, uninterested. When Will grew tired of standing there in a staring contest, he left Hannibal in the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. He knew the hound could open doors, so fully expected him to let himself out. However, he then went and locked the front and back doors with the keys and hid them in a kitchen drawer. After this, he had gone over to his desk and ended up standing on a fishing hook which had fallen onto the floor. Re-entering the bathroom to sort his bleeding foot out, he found the meat still in the bowl and the dog sleeping in the bathtub. Then, when it was time for bed, Will came upstairs, went once more into the bathroom and attached the lead to Hannibal’s collar. Stirring from his sleep, he had watched up at Will with his dark eyes.
“Last chance to eat up,” said Will. “I’m going to bed.” And that means you too.
At 4am, Will opens his eyes with a feeling that something is wrong. Sitting up in the dark, he senses Hannibal is not in the bed, and his suspicions are confirmed when he reaches over to turn on the bedside lamp. In the yellow light, he sees the lead tied to his wrist has been disconnected from the collar. Climbing out of bed, he leaves the bedroom and crosses the landing to put his head into the bathroom. Nothing there but the meat still in its bowl. He checks the guest room. Then he approaches the stairs and the cool breeze floating up to him confirms Hannibal has escaped – he hurries down – not via the doors, but through a window. Clever son of a bitch. He strides over to the desk and leans over it to pull the window down, shutting out the cold air. Then he quickly puts on his shoes and coat and grabs the torch from the kitchen drawer before stepping outside just as it begins to rain.
Tugging up his coat collar, Will curses under his breath as he tramps through the woods, swinging the beam of light at every sound. The rain grows heavier by the second, and very soon his head is drenched, the dark curls of his hair plastering his brow and the back of his neck. Under the downpour, Will almost loses his bearings. He pants against the beating rain, cold and uncomfortable. Come on, Hannibal. Where are you? Every patch of forest revealed by the circle of torchlight is starting to look the same as the last. The roar of the rain striking the sea of dead leaves covering the forest floor makes it even harder to listen out for noises. As he starts to retrace his steps, he hears it. The sound of struggle. I’ve found you. Squinting against the rainwater trickling into his eyes, he heads in its direction, feet slipping every now and again on mud and matted leaves. As he nears the unmistakable sound of bone snapping, Will swings his torch. What the circle illuminates almost makes him drop it.
Those distinct cheekbones and hooded eyes. The man from his dream. Will exhales harshly in disbelief, but the other takes no notice of him. Naked body wrapped around the felled deer, the man drags his head from the animal’s neck with a mouthful of taut flesh and sinew. Will pushes the hair away from his eyes and rubs the rainwater out of them several times. Each time, the man is still there, eating and smearing blood all over his face and neck and even chest. Wait. His eyes dart back up to the neck. He knows that collar. He stands there with his mouth agape, eyelashes fluttering under the onslaught of rain. Heart beating in his ears, he loses track of how long he spends standing there, staring and tasting the rain through his parted lips. Eventually, he stirs from his stupor. This is crazy.
“Ha..Hannibal?” he utters, voice getting swallowed up by the rain. This can’t be real. Licking his lips, he takes a breath. “Hannibal!” he shouts, and feels his heart skip a beat when those black eyes train on him through fair spikes plastered across his brow. Half of that surreal visage covered in blood. I’m going mad. Hesitantly, Will steps closer. Crouching down by the deer’s head, he is close enough to see the other’s breath leaving his gore slickened lips in puffs of white. He is trembling faintly, Will realises. Cold. Fear relenting in his chest, Will hurriedly takes off his coat and slowly, cautiously, lowers it over those bare shoulders. Staying crouched by the deer, Will wraps his arms around himself as he watches that fair head duck back to its meal. But he is only wearing shorts and tee himself, and within seconds they are soaked through. Unable to hold it back, he suddenly sneezes. The sound makes Hannibal lift his head, another strip of flesh and sinew dangling between his teeth. Slowly, Will straightens up. Under the navy blue light of early dawn, he looks in the direction of the cabin. Without warning, the other has also risen up, and Will cries out in surprise when the man stalks past him, bare legs visible beneath Will’s coat. Wrapping his arms back around himself, Will hurries after, half expecting the other to vanish come daybreak and return to the unfathomable realm of his imagination. I need to see a doctor.
The man does not disappear when he enters the cabin. His presence does not disturb the dogs, making Will believe nobody else can see him, and adding to his suspicions of an acute episode of mental illness. Soaked to the bone, Will goes to fetch some towels, and finds the other following him up the stairs. Stepping into his room, he moves over to the chest of drawers and pulls one open as the man comes in. Taking out two towels, he holds one out towards the other as he approaches. When there is no response, Will steps closer to take the coat from his shoulders and drape the towel over him. Then he quickly peels off his sodden clothes and towels himself down, aware all the while of being watched.
“It’s rude to stare,” he utters, glancing up at the other as he bends over to pat down his legs. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he hesitantly takes the towel from the man’s shoulders and pulls it up onto his head.
“You don’t speak?” he asks, starting to dry his hair, but it’s not received well, and he shakes off Will’s hands and the towel. Shakes off the rain too, covering Will with specks of water.
“Yeah, not as effective when you’re not a dog,” Will snorts quietly despite the absurdity of the situation. All the more reason to laugh, or scream your head off. He stands there, regarding the rain-washed remnants of the other’s bloody face and blood-dappled neck and chest. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” he utters, pacing past him on his way back to the bathroom.
No wonder they keep calling you a big boy. Will clears his throat as he looks away from the other’s manhood. When he took no initiative to dry himself with the towel, Will had stepped in before he could be followed into bed. Granted he often sweats enough from his nightmares to dampen the sheets, but he doesn't want to try falling asleep on wet bedding. Not that it should matter, because none of this can really be happening.
“There,” he says, straightening up. “All dry.” He pauses with his hands on his hips as the other stands there, watching him. Black gaze making him feel uneasy. At least he is clothed now, Will thinks to himself. Should he give the other something to wear, too? But that would probably mean having to dress him as long as he remains standing there, demonstrating the responses of a clueless child.
“I’ll take the settee,” he suddenly says, turning to the door. “You can sleep in the-” He stops when he finds the other following after him. Does he not understand me? The creation of my own imagination does not understand me.
Seeking comfort in the company of his dogs, in the normality of their presence, Will sinks down on the settee. The man comes up and faces the other way as he lowers onto his hands and knees upon the furniture. Will looks away from the bare buttocks. He should have given him something to wear.
“I suppose this is how you usually lie…” he utters, dragging the folded blanket off the back of the settee and shaking it open. Covering that rear end and the rest of him from view, Will leans back against the upholstery with a sigh, eyelids drawing to a half close as he watches the other’s profile half hidden by the blanket. So alien and familiar at the same time. Is he really Hannibal? No. Of course not. He needs to see a doctor. He’ll call tomorrow. When he has woken up from this madness. God. How to begin explaining this one. They’ll probably put him on medication again. Drifting off with his thoughts, Will lays a hand on Hannibal through force of habit, and, immediately comforted by the contact, feels his eyes slipping to a close.
Chapter 7: Bath Time
It’s been a long time since he’s slept at ease. When he feels himself beginning to stir from the morning light glaring in through the windows, he tightens his arms around the solid presence pressing against his cheek, chest, legs, leaning instinctively into the warmth. A hand on the glossy underbelly. The dull thrum of his cell phone escapes nearby, making him scrunch up defensively. The vibration persists, and eventually he opens his eyes and lifts his head from behind the dog. It’s coming from somewhere close. Realising the location, he pushes a hand under Hannibal, fingers finding and closing over the device. As he starts to pull it out, Hannibal rolls over, those long forearms folding against Will’s chest as he opens his eyes.
“Hey,” Will murmurs, pressing up on his elbow and leaning his head against his right hand. “I had the craziest dream about you,” he says, meeting that dark stare as he pulls out the phone and accepts the call without checking.
“Hey,” says a cheery voice in greeting, and Will wishes he had checked first.
“Margot,” he replies, maintaining eye contact with Hannibal as he switches the phone to his right hand. She wants to know how he’s doing. He tells her he’s good, and apologises for bailing on dinner the other night. Hannibal continues to lay there with his limbs tucked, a picture of obedience. What are you after, you criminal? I would’ve reported you to Jack if I had any respect for that lawyer. Laying a hand on that brown chest, Will slowly starts scratching Hannibal. Dark eyes fall to a half close as they continue to stare into him. You like that? Scratching a little harder, Will listens to the background noise on the other end. Margot appears to be driving.
“And since you missed out on the lasagne, I’m bringing a freshly baked apple pie-”
Will’s hand holds still.
“-another Verger secret recipe.”
“You’re coming now?”
“Is that okay?” Margot asks back, tone apologetic. “Sorry, I wanted to surprise you with some breakfast, but if you’re busy…”
Will can’t turn the other’s company down now, not when Margot is already on her way. Even if he doesn’t feel in the right state of mind to be entertaining company. What he really needs to do is book an appointment with the doctor. Dismiss what happened as a dream all he likes, there has to be something very wrong with him for that cold and rain to have felt so real. There is no other way for him to explain the very tangible presence of the man’s head beneath the towel, his body on the settee, his hip beneath Will’s hand as he drifted off.
“No, it’s okay,” he hears himself saying. “I’ll see you in…”
“Okay. See you soon.”
Will sighs, lowering the phone against Hannibal’s chest.
“We’ve got company,” he says, looking down at the other. “Are you going to behave?”
Hannibal touches Will’s hand with his paw as he continues to watch up at him.
“Well, you have no choice,” Will utters, letting go of the phone to grasp Hannibal’s wrist and give the other a look of warning. How am I such a sucker for you? “You’re in enough trouble as it is.”
Will drags his eyes away from Hannibal and Alana to smile at Margot.
“It’s delicious,” he says, looking down at the contents of his bowl. “Best apple pie I’ve ever had.” His eyes flicker up over the rim of the bowl. He had not expected Margot to bring Alana with her, and after what happened last time, Will is extra wary of her presence around Hannibal. Especially while Margot is here.
“They’d make such handsome puppies,” says Margot, drawing Will’s attention back to her. She had followed his line of sight and is now sat with her chin resting in a hand, a fond smile on her red lips as she watches her dog continue to sit with her muzzle on the edge of the settee. Will meets Hannibal’s gaze from where he rests his head on the armrest. Completely apathetic.
“Don’t you think?” Margot asks, and Will makes a noncommittal sound before clearing his throat quietly.
“Would you mind if I had some more?” he smiles at her, his response making her lift her chin from her hand.
“Of course not!” she laughs. “I baked it for you,” she says, leaning over to take his bowl and smile at Will with a peaked eyebrow. He smiles back until she has turned around, then looks back just as Alana lifts her wrist to drape her paw over Hannibal’s. The hound’s head jerks off the armrest, its parting jaws making Will push back in his chair, creating a harsh grating sound which steals Hannibal’s attention enough to make him close his mouth. He holds that dark gaze for a moment longer in silent warning before turning to see Margot looking over her shoulder.
“Have you ever tried having it with cheese?” he asks in the attempt to detract her from his own distraction.
“I have, actually!” she exclaims, flashing teeth in her smile. “Do you like it? I’ll put some on next time. I was starting to think I was the only one in the whole town who eats apple pie with cheese,” she continues to say, turning back to the dish. “I guess I’m not the only strange one.”
“No,” he agrees, eyes returning to Hannibal. “You’re not.”
He uses Jack as an excuse again to bid Margot goodbye, telling her that he’s expecting a call from him soon. When asked if everything is okay, he told Margot about the volunteer at the dog home, and naturally she had been shocked, and said she was glad Will was helping out, and that she hoped they’d find out who did it soon. Standing on the porch, he lifts an arm as she waves from the car window and drives off with Alana back down the dirt road. He’s going to have to let her know, he thinks with a sigh, breath misting in the cold morning air. He’s not looking for anything just now, and it’s not fair to continue giving Margot the wrong impression, even if he is just trying to be polite, and genuinely do appreciate her company – just not all the time.
Suddenly, he hears a noise from the cabin, and steps back inside, pushing the door shut behind him. Looking over to the kitchen, he finds Hannibal stood before the fridge. Its door is open and a number of its contents are scattered over the floor around the dog’s feet, including several punctured cans of beer. But Hannibal doesn’t seem to notice the spray as he bites and pulls at the wrapped meat on the top shelf. The other dogs are starting to gather, having kept their distance when the guests were still there.
“Hey,” snaps Will, sidestepping everything to shut Hannibal out of the fridge. “Stay out of there,” he says, snatching up the cans as they continue to make a mess emptying their contents. Then he remembers the untouched meat in the bathroom, discounting the bizarre incident of the stag in the middle of the night. He glances over at the front door, noting how Hannibal has not made a beeline for it like he usually does. He can even go as far as to say the other is making a conscious effort to behave himself. Maybe. To lead the others away from the fridge, he quickly fills their bowls, waiting until each muzzle is buried before stealthily opening the fridge and grabbing the meat. Having stood patiently, watching on, Hannibal follows after Will as he slips up the stairs.
Hannibal eats both the new meat and the old in under a minute. He has a particularly long tongue that enables him to swipe away bloody meat juices very efficiently, so that his muzzle always looks clean after a meal. His post-eating table manners are at odds with the savage way he tackles his food, and as Will stands there with his back to the bathroom door, arms folded, he can easily imagine Hannibal turning on him. He doesn’t know how much food Hannibal is used to eating – or how often his previous owner let him hunt – but he was going to have to get used to things Will’s way. All in moderation. Hannibal sits there in the middle of the bathroom, watching up at him. Sighing quietly, Will walks towards him and squats down with his arms still folded.
“You’ve been good,” he starts to say, then pauses to sniff the air. Beer. “But you stink,” he chuckles. Normally, there is only one response to the word ‘wash’ in this household. Even his most docile dogs always bolt whenever bath time is mentioned. Hannibal stays sat, although Will can see his eyes looking past his shoulder at the door. Straightening up, he puts his hands on his hips, eyebrows lofting at the other.
“Are you ready?”
To begin with, Hannibal is accepting of the idea of standing in the bath. When Will turns on the shower, he gets a little twitchy, and starts edging away from the spray. But making sure the water isn’t too hot or cold, Will gently pulls him closer by the collar and tentatively starts to wet his chest. Hannibal holds very still.
“There we go,” Will murmurs calmly, giving Hannibal’s head a reassuring pat. “Good boy.”
As soon as he has spoken the praise, however, Hannibal starts to resist, stepping back from the water.
“Hey,” Will continues to murmur, keeping his voice low and soft as he slips his fingers back into Hannibal’s collar. “It’s okay,” he says, pulling Hannibal back and wetting more of him so he may grow more quickly accustomed to the harmless sensation. But Hannibal starts to lean the other way, and when Will doesn’t immediately let go, he begins scrabbling against the sides of the bath. “It’s okay-” Will utters more firmly, and the other starts to pull with earnest against his hold. “It’s just water-” he starts to say, then remembers something Jenny had said: maybe he fell off his owner’s boat. Without warning, Hannibal launches himself out of the bath and into Will. Falling under the other’s weight, Will’s back hits the tiled floor, and Hannibal springs off him towards the door. With a grunt, Will rolls over onto all fours and pounces on the hound just before he rears up for the door handle. Arms cinching around Hannibal’s abdomen, Will uses his weight to keep the other pinned beneath him.
“Alright, I’m sorry, I forgot,” he grunts, tightening his grip when Hannibal redoubles his effort to escape, claws clattering against the tiles. “I can help you get over it, but you need to-” Will starts saying, but stops when he becomes aware of a strange sensation. Hannibal’s hide feels as though it is thinning under his arms. Rapidly. Turning his face, Will stares down at the hound’s back to see black hair disappearing to an emerging skin. He blinks several times, but the transformation continues until he is staring at the fluid glide of shoulder blades beneath a smooth, human skin. Holding his breath, Will slowly lifts his eyes between those shoulder blades, up the back of a neck towards fair strands of hair. Across to that hauntingly familiar profile. Stopping when he meets that black stare watching him from the corners of hooded eyes.
Chapter 8: Fugitive
Realising he is still holding on to the other’s waist, Will quickly lets go and sits back on the floor, staring. Hannibal stares back without moving, as though waiting to see what Will is going to do. Tearing his eyes from Hannibal, Will moves to the bath and picks up the shower head. Turning on the cold tap, he leans over the edge before holding the spray directly over his head, the icy temperature making him gasp. It’s worse than I thought. I should have driven to the doc. Turning off the tap, he catches his breath and slowly swivels his eyes towards the door. Through the soaked curls plastering his brow, Will sees the man – Hannibal – naked and lying there on the floor still, his position a prone and uncomfortable one for anyone else. Lowering the shower head, Will folds his arms on the edge of the bath, one hand running over his face. He sits there watching Hannibal, fingers obscuring his mouth as his lips part in contemplation. Eyes drifting from the other’s face to his body as he lies on his side with one leg bent, exposing his-looking away with a loud cough, Will gets up and grabs the towel he’d placed next to the bath. Stepping closer, he drapes it over Hannibal before reaching for a smaller towel off the shelf and dragging it over his own shoulders. Stood there, hesitantly drying his own hair, Will watches down at Hannibal who pulls himself up into a sit. Black eyes staring so hard at Will that he must look away with a nervous lick of his dry lips.
“I need to lie down…” he utters his thoughts aloud, facing the door and putting his hand on the handle. He’ll be gone again when I wake up. He opens the door, looking back at Hannibal before stepping out onto the landing. But if that’s the case, when did I fall asleep? Walking towards his room, he senses the other following him, and sure enough, when he has entered his bedroom and sat down on the edge of his bed, Hannibal emerges through the threshold, the towel still hanging from his broad shoulders. The sight of him makes Will anxious as he dwells on the magnitude of his suspected mental illness, until the weight of it makes him pull his legs up onto the bed and lay down on his back on top of the sheets. Covering his face with his hands, he starts to dig their heels into his eyes. Why is this happening? The bed dips from a new weight. Hesitating, Will lies there without moving. Then, after a moment, he slowly lowers his hands. Sees Hannibal lying on his front beside him, his head in the pillow. Face obscured by its plushness. Reminded of the dream he’d had, Will gradually slides a hand across the cover. A dark eye, unobscured by the pillow, falls on his approaching hand, lidding as it watches a finger begin to lift towards his face, stopping just before making contact with his bottom lip. Sensing the hesitation, Hannibal leans his face into Will’s hand, eyes closing as he presses his cheek into his fingers. They say it’s odd for a man your age to be living alone in a cabin in the woods, with nobody to keep you company but your dogs.
“Where have you come from?” Will murmurs perplexedly, brow knitting. Does it not get lonely? Suddenly, Hannibal presses up on his hands and knees, and Will lies still with his palms to the bed, watching up as he stalks over, one hand and knee at a time. The bed shifts under their combined weight, and Will realises he is holding his breath as Hannibal lowers his face to his neck. Can hear the deep inhale as he breathes him in. Feel the soft graze of his hair against his cheek. One hand leaves the bed to tentatively begin stroking the back of that head, the familiarity of the action helping to calm and slow down the pounding inside his chest. He feels the faint, ticklish brush of Hannibal’s lips against his neck and closes his eyes with a compulsive swallow. It’s been a long time since he’s shared intimacy with another, and he is confused as to which part of his memory his subconscious is drawing from to spin out this fantasy. Without warning, Hannibal shifts his weight, and Will feels a hand landing on the top of his thigh – on top of another unexpected appendage. Snatching a breath through his nose, Will’s eyes snap open and he instinctively grabs the other’s wrist. At the same time, the sound of knocking on the front door travels up from below. Letting go of Hannibal’s wrist and sitting up against him, Will listens closely, unsure if he has misheard. Hannibal holds still, face turned towards the sound. The knocking returns, and Will gently pushes Hannibal away to climb off the bed and head for the door. He pauses with his hand on the handle, looking back over his shoulder.
“Stay,” he tells Hannibal, before slipping out and pulling the door closed behind him.
Opening the door, Will finds Jack stood on the porch with his hands in the pockets of his bomber.
“Will,” Jack says in simple greeting, watching him with a grave expression.
“Jack,” he returns the formality, stepping back and holding the door open, but the other lifts a gloved hand and shakes his head.
“No need, I shan’t be coming in,” he says, glancing askance. “I need to get back to Bella.”
Will nods in understanding and folds his arms around himself to fend against the cold.
“I was just passing by on my way back and thought to let you know,” says Jack, meeting him in the eye. “We’ve got a witness who thinks they might’ve seen someone at the time of Cody’s death. Had the artist get down as best as he could the description.” He removes a paper from his pocket and unfolds it before holding it out to Will. Eyes lowering to the sketch, it takes every ounce of his self-control not to let his face betray his emotions. He takes the drawing, eyebrows knotting in feigned concentration.
“Not local,” he utters, looking up to see Jack watching the paper.
“No,” Jack agrees. “Where would you say he’s from?”
Will says nothing for a moment as he stares hard at the lines. Before you showed up, my imagination.
“Europe,” he answers, meeting the other’s eye. “Maybe Germany.”
Jack hums and turns his face to the side, looking up in thought.
“Now what would a Western European be doing at the back of a dog home,” he muses aloud, breath misting in the air. “Stark naked.”
He looks at Will from the corner of his eyes.
“That would suggest he could be in hiding.”
Will reminds himself to breathe normally, lest the frigid air gives away his quickening pulse.
“He could be.”
“Question is where,” Jack exhales, looking thoughtful again. “Though a small town like ours won’t make it easy for strangers to remain hidden for long.”
“Someone else will spot him soon enough.”
He holds the paper out to Jack, but he shakes his head.
“It’s a copy,” he says, turning to go. “Keep it and let me know if you think of anything.”
As he turns his back on Will, however, he pauses mid-step.
“I forgot to say, Will.”
He looks up to find Jack watching him from the corners of his eyes.
“Chilton’s description of the dog that attacked him? Sounds a lot like yours.”
“It does,” says Will, “but he was inside.”
Jack nods in thought.
“Alright, Will. Let me know if anything comes to mind,” he says before turning round to begin climbing down the stairs.
“Send Bella my best,” says Will, and Jack holds up an arm. He watches him get into his truck and pull away from the cabin to rejoin the dirt road. It’s not until the Ford F-150 vanishes into the horizon that Will releases the breath he had been holding and retreats back inside the cabin.
Will stands at his bedroom door for a long while before going in. Hannibal is lying on his side, his head resting in the pillow. Walking over, Will sits down on the edge of the bed, the sketch in his hands.
“At least now I know I’m not losing my mind,” he murmurs, glancing down at the other. “Not that it makes any of this less insane.” Hooded eyes slip open to watch him. Will turns the sketch so Hannibal can see himself depicted through the eyes of a local.
“Did you kill the volunteer?” he asks quietly. Black eyes slip back to a close.
They open again.
“Did you kill the volunteer.”
The eyes continue to watch him. Will thinks about everything – that night, caught out in the rain. The shower.
“It’s water?” he asks, lowering the paper. “It makes you transform?” He closes his eyes, a hand moving up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “How is this even possible…”
There’s a murderer in my bed.
He lowers his hand, eyes seeking the collar. It’s still there. Around Hannibal’s now human neck.
“I took you home the next day,” he muses aloud in realisation, and suddenly laughs – a short bark of a laugh, dry and cynical. “Of course I did.”
Hannibal continues to watch him through his lashes. Will feels his own eyes lowering to a half close.
There’s a murderer in my bed, yet…
“…was it in self-defence?”
He imagines Hannibal in hound form, accidentally exposing his true nature to the volunteer, and doing what he must to prevent drawing unwanted attention. From a town where many inhabitants believe in God, and the supernatural, and the notion that the devil can appear in many forms. Maybe he is the devil, and I’m making excuses for his actions without even truly understanding what he is?
“Who are you…?” he whispers.
Slowly, Hannibal lifts up onto his hands and knees. Prowls across the sheets towards Will who sits there very still, and does not move even when the other comes close. His eyes closing with another swallow when he feels the caress of his cheek against his neck, legs hesitantly pulling up on the bed as he slowly reclines under the press of the other’s body. Hannibal breathes him in, his exhale blowing warm against his skin, and he in turn releases a ragged sigh, hands lifting without knowing where to touch. When he feels the press of hips against his own, Will opens his eyes and grabs them with his hands. Squeezing to stay them or in silent encouragement, Will doesn’t know himself. Hannibal lifts his face from his neck and watches down at him, eyes lidded as he leans over Will.
Arms locking, he begins to move, spine making fluid waves with the beginning undulations that grates together their bodies. Biting back a grunt, Will digs his fingers into those hips, but his touch only spurs the other to rut harder into him, and even though he cannot tear his eyes away from that black stare, he feels the stiff shape of Hannibal’s arousal stroking him through his trousers. Grasping the other’s forearms, he arches despite himself into the friction. Feels himself beginning to grow wet as Hannibal’s shaft rubs his trapped erection faster and faster through the material of his jeans.
“Han-” he pants, brow knitting. Hannibal continues to watch down at him, mouth agape to his own laboured breathing. The pressure between their hips proving too much for Will. “You-you’re going to make me come,” he rasps, eyes squeezing shut as he nears the edge. One more stroke, and he digs the fingers of his right hand into Hannibal’s collar, snatching tight. Can feel himself thickening against the tight confines of his garments before, head throwing back with a shaky, guttural groan, he empties himself inside his clothes. Riding out his orgasm, Will feels Hannibal continue to rut frantically against him until, with an animalistic growl, his entire body stiffens. Glancing down, Will sees it exploding from Hannibal’s engorged head – feels heavy lashings of it land across his shirt, sticking the cotton to his chest. Closing his eyes as he continues to catch his breath, Will feels Hannibal collapsing against him to do the same. After a while, he becomes aware of hair tickling his knuckles from where they’re still tucked into the collar. He opens his eyes to see the other lying with his muzzle on his chest, eyes closed. Sighing, Will slips his hand up between those floppy ears, thumb brushing softly between the brown eyebrows.
There’s a murderer in my bed, yet…he’s also my dog.
Chapter 9: Bad Dog
Looking at his watch, Will remembers his appointment with Bedelia. Whilst he knows he cannot give any of this – this madness – away, he does, however, want to know what wisdom the prolific dog whisperer may have on shapeshifting beings. And he also needs to change, he thinks to himself, as he takes note of the damp patches in his shirt. Hannibal is still snoozing on his chest.
“Come on, boy,” he utters, rubbing that black head. Eyes creep open to look at him.
“We’ve got an appointment with the doctor.”
Sat waiting for Bedelia’s return from the kitchen, Will runs his eyes along the many volumes on the shelves of the extensive bookcase. He scans the titles, waiting to find something beyond the boundaries of her profession, searching for words such as mythology, folklore. Nothing. As Bedelia comes back into the room, he looks up and notices a framed picture on the wall behind her. Following his gaze, she turns her face to the wood engraving. Dark ink depicting in bold, stark lines, a cliff’s edge and a tumultuous sea. Below the exploding crests of the waves, to the bottom right corner of the image, is a head above water. A seal. Watching up at the cliff.
“Nice picture,” Will comments idly.
“It was a gift,” says Bedelia, eyes still on the engraving. “From a friend.”
Will hums noncommittally. Bedelia comes over and sits down in the armchair opposite.
“Now,” she says, her glass of wine poised elegantly in a hand. “How are you coping with…”
Her eyes fall on Hannibal who is lying once more across her settee as though he had claimed it from his first visit. Will glances sidelong at Hannibal. His muzzle is on the upholstery. His eyes turned away from them.
“I haven’t named him yet,” Will answers, turning his eyes back on her. “Thought it best not to get too attached if it doesn’t work out.”
“How prudent of you,” says Bedelia, taking a sip from the glass. “So many become attached too soon,” she continues to say after swallowing, her tone thoughtful.
“Is that why you don’t have a dog?” Will asks. He always did wonder why Bedelia did not have her own. Assumes it is down to her being too occupied with her work, perhaps. He can’t, however, really imagine what breed of dog she’d keep. Despite her occupation, Bedelia’s aloof manner seems at odds with the image of a loving and affectionate dog owner.
“Yes,” she answers his question, smiling instead of elaborating. “So tell me about yours,” she says. “Have you made much headway with him since our last meeting?”
In his mind flashes the memory of the ejaculate exploding from the head of Hannibal’s penis, and Will lofts his eyebrows at her.
“He’s eating from his bowl,” he says, hands steepling in his lap as he hopes the heat beginning to creep up his neck goes unnoticed by the doctor. “Beginning to, I mean.”
Bedelia lofts her fair eyebrows in approval.
“Which should mean he’ll stop trying to run off,” Will adds, encouraged by her expectant expression.
“It sounds like he’s starting to understand his place,” she says with a glance to Hannibal who continues to gaze – somewhat dejectedly? – at the floor.
“Maybe,” Will replies, returning his attention to Bedelia and mirroring her smile.
On the drive back to the cabin, it starts to rain heavily. Will stares past the water washing over the windscreen.
“What’s up with you, then?” he asks, his eyes on the dirt road ahead. “You don’t like the doctor?”
He glances askance to find Hannibal sat in the passenger seat, watching out the window. He turns his eyes back on the road.
“I don’t really think it won’t work out,” he utters, voice quiet and appeasing. “Would have told Jack otherwise. Not that he’d believe me. Just didn’t want to mention your name – if it’s really your name, in case…I don’t know…”
He hears the whine of the electric window and looks over to see Hannibal pressing on the button with his paw.
“Hey, stop that,” he says, but the rain is already invading the car through the half open window. “I said stop,” he instructs, letting go of the wheel to grab at his collar. But the window is now fully open, and Hannibal pushes his head out into the storm. Will’s hand returns to grip the steering wheel. Knowing what will happen next, Will tries to work out how long they have until they get back. Nobody else really uses this road except from him and occasionally the Sheriff. But Jack shouldn’t be out tonight, not when he said he had to be with Bella. A cold wet nose touches his jaw. His breath warm on Will’s neck.
“Hannibal,” Will utters without taking his eyes off the road. “Sit.”
He swallows against the ticklish brush of lips and hair on his skin, a hand leaving the wheel again with the intention of fending the other back.
“Sit,” he grits through his teeth, hand pressing against Hannibal’s bare chest as the rain continues to come in nosily through the window, striking and running in cold rivulets down the interior of the car. Down the groove in Hannibal’s back. His chest is warm beneath Will’s palm as he tries to push him back. “Stay in your seat. You’ll make us-” Will stops talking when he feels Hannibal’s hand pressing down on the top of his thigh.
Parked over on the side of the road, the rain continues to fall inside the car, but Will can barely hear it over the sound of Hannibal’s pants. Shallow and urgent against his neck as he paws at Will with his hands and continues to push forward. There’s not enough space for him to get any closer to Will, however. Trapped against the driver’s door, and with Hannibal trying doggedly to squeeze himself between him and the steering wheel, Will feels stifled and far too warm. His trousers are far too tight.
“Wait,” he exhales, pushing off the window into Hannibal. “We’ll go in the back,” he explains, but the other doesn’t appear to be listening. He moves his hand off Hannibal’s chest to clasp the lower half of his face. Feels his breath blasting hot against his fingers as he stares at Will through his lashes. “Hannibal,” he says, and finds nothing but need in those burning black eyes. He bites Will’s hand, catching his fingers between his sharp teeth and making him curse. With a grunt of effort, Will reaches behind himself to pull on the door handle. As the door opens, exposing him to the downpour, Will drags himself away from Hannibal and out onto the muddy grass. He shuts the door before Hannibal can follow, and opens the door behind. Pulling himself onto the backseat, he tugs the door shut behind him, releases a shaky breath from the chill of the rain that has already started to stick his curls to his brow and the back of his neck. Before he can speak, Hannibal is already climbing back and pulling himself towards Will, his body pushing open Will’s legs as he presses their chests together, face burying again in Will’s neck.
“Easy,” Will breathes, hands moving to grip Hannibal’s waist as he begins to rut, hips snapping back and forth against him, the contact stirring massive turmoil in Will’s trousers, until, with a heated pant of his own, he slips a hand down between them to fumble with the belt. Unable to free himself fast enough, he has to use both hands to undo the clasp and tug down the zipper before pushing down his underwear together with his jeans, pausing when the former gets caught on the hard shape of his erection. Continuing to thrust, Hannibal’s hard flesh rubs against Will’s through the taut thin fabric, making him bite back a groan from the friction. He doesn’t know if he will last if he frees himself from the garment, but he tugs regardless on the band, inhaling sharply through his nose as his trapped cock springs free and is immediately met by the abrasive head of Hannibal’s penis.
Will grunts, eyes squeezing shut as he digs his head back into the headrest. Hands returning to grip the other’s waist as those hips continue to piston without tiring. Until his prick feels increasingly wet. Will’s eyes open into slits to gaze down between their bodies. He watches Hannibal’s penis – the top length of it as large and girthy as his own – furiously rubbing their sensitive heads together. Trembling fat beads of precum run copiously from both their slits as Hannibal rubs togther the starkly-veined surfaces of their engorged shafts. At the base of Hannibal’s, Will notices, is a large, bulbous bulge which he guesses to be the other’s knot. He curiously cups the base of it with a hand, getting an idea of the weight and shape of it against his palm. Hannibal whimpers in his ear, the hitched sound of his voice triggering a pleasurable spark deep down in Will’s gut, and sending hard pulsations running through the entire length of him, culminating in the oozing of yet more pre-ejaculate. Seizing their dicks with a hand, Will begins to stroke, even if his fingers don't meet over their girths combined. Panting, Hannibal stops thrusting and leans up on his arms to watch down at Will, his expression ravenous. Eyes lidded and lips parted to his own shallow breaths, Will gazes up into black as he tugs faster, his fingers choking their drooling heads.
“I’m-” he begins to say, and Hannibal lowers his face to lick at his lips. Swallowing, Will closes his eyes as he feels it beginning to build uncontrollably. “I’m going to come,” he pants then makes an abrupt, choking sound. Spine arching, he groans loud and low from the back of his throat as he shoots against Hannibal’s abdomen – his hand, having slipped down over Hannibal’s knot, squeezes instinctively, and with a wild growl, Hannibal snaps suddenly at Will’s jaw, the pain of his teeth cutting through the euphoric waves coursing through his blood, and making him grab the back of Hannibal’s collar. Pull as he might, however, Will cannot stop Hannibal’s biting. He goes for Will’s neck next, and caution chases away the remaining pulses of ecstasy as he pushes at Hannibal’s chest with his hand while pulling on his hair with the other.
“Han,” he grits through his teeth as he struggles in earnest beneath him. “Stop-” he gasps as the pain builds.
Then he feels it. Hannibal’s teeth breaking through the skin in his neck. With a loud grunt of effort and pain, Will twists away, his whole body turning. Hannibal weighs down on Will until he is facing the seat. Hands bracing against the upholstery, knees digging into the edge of the seat, Will lifts up but meets the hard press of the other’s chest against his back. The hard press of his cock between the globes of his arse. With a sharp inhale, Will pushes up, but Hannibal continues to trap him down with his own body. A hand clasps the back of Will’s head and pushes his face into the seat.
“Wait-” Will pants, trying to look back at the other. “Han-”
His throbbing shaft begins to move, pulling out then plunging back in to the groove between Will’s cheeks, the thick ridge of his head rubbing against his skin when it pushes up at the base of his spine before sinking down and drawing back again. Swallowing, Will listens to the hard thwack of the tops of Hannibal’s thighs against his rear as he continues to rut him into the seat. But when, overzealous in his efforts, Hannibal pushes too intimately against Will, he is met with renewed protest. Shoving his back against Hannibal, Will creates enough space for him to roll over. He grabs Hannibal’s leaking cock with one hand and his collar with the other, pulling down on it to bring Hannibal’s face closer until he can feel his feverish pants on his lips.
“Bad dog,” Will grits through his teeth, holding Hannibal’s gaze as he tightens his grip like a vice. Helpless to Will’s frantically jerking hand, Hannibal presses his brow to Will’s. Without thinking, Will bites hard onto the other’s bottom lip and doubles his pace. With a whimper, Hannibal closes his eyes. Cock thickening against Will’s fingers, he comes hard – his semen leaving him in erratic spurts. One hits the underside of Will’s jaw, which Hannibal licks away once he has caught his breath. Half groaning, half laughing, Will tugs up his jeans and sags against the seat.
“That’s disgusting,” he says lowly, fondly, as he watches Hannibal watching him. Then, the other licks his lips, and Will groans playfully, pushing his face away with his hand. When Hannibal brings his face back, he is smiling, and Will hesitates, for it has a strange effect on him. As though realising his own mistake, Hannibal lowers his gaze, and Will puts his hand on his hair.
“Hey,” he utters quietly. “It’s okay,” he murmurs, stroking the other’s head out of habit. “It's just...you have to admit this is crazy.”
Hannibal sits down next to him, body tucking up on the backseat. Facing the window.
“Hey,” Will says, brow knitting at the other's back. Slowly reclining to lean against the car door, he pulls his legs up around the other. “Hannibal,” he calls, quieter this time. “Come here.”
The sound of rainfall fills the car. The passenger side is soaked. It is growing cold. Will wraps his arms around himself.
Gradually, Hannibal unfurls his limbs. He turns over to crawl up the length of him on his hands and knees. He lies down against Will who unfolds his arms. His head resting under Will’s chin.
Will sighs, wrapping an arm around him to fend off the chill coming in through the window. With his free hand, he strokes the other’s hair. They lie like that for a while until, lulled by the sound of the rain and Hannibal’s breathing, by the warm weight and feel of him, Will starts to drift off.
Chapter 10: I Should Know Better
It is late by the time they get back to the cabin. Climbing out of the car, Will opens the back door and Hannibal bolts out without warning. He starts to call after him, but already his black shape has bounded straight for the woods. Will stands there watching after him even when he has long disappeared into the trees, both concerned Hannibal could attack something beyond a wild animal, and disappointed that he still has no sway in the other’s actions – despite what the doctor had said. Exhaling a sigh, he turns and walks up to the cabin.
He has not long made the coffee, but sat on the settee, with the dogs lying at his feet, he can barely feel the mug between his hands. Tugging the blanket off the back of the settee, he pulls it over himself and sits there hunched forward with his elbows on his knees, cradling the coffee. He sits there, gazing at the floor through the swirling wisps of steam. He tries to imagine what his assessment of himself and the situation would be – what the Will Graham who still worked with the police would say. Maybe he would berate himself for letting Hannibal continue doing whatever he pleases without due concern. Coming from someone who ought to be upholding the idea of justice and protecting the innocent from harm. Hannibal should be tied up and brought in front of the Sheriff. Or maybe, since becoming disillusioned with the forced black and white delivery of justice, in the face of the many grey areas covering the grounds of any one case, Will does not want to make a call. Just wants to let things happen.
See where it takes him. Because when he did try to do the right thing, people got hurt, and he can never forget the pain of letting those people down, because it will haunt him wherever he goes. To whichever obscure town he may wish to flee to. Whichever cabin he decides to hide in. Plus, he may have seen many strange and disturbing things in his time, and experienced various difficult and unnerving relationships with criminals, but Hannibal is a completely different animal altogether. Literally – a completely different creature. And Will cannot apply to Hannibal the same rules he would apply to others. Can’t or won’t?
Lowering his eyes, Will knows he should know better than to develop a dalliance with him – it – whatever Hannibal is. He wasn’t even aware he could be that way inclined. Doesn’t even know if he can imagine doing the things he’s done with Hannibal with anyone else. Heaving a sigh through his nose, Will slowly reclines against the settee, eyes turning up to stare at the ceiling. Maybe Hannibal really is a demon. An incubus. Slowly draining away his mental capacity to approach their situation with logic and reason. Making him yearn when he has never yearned for anything in his entire adult life, and filling him with a false suspicion that somehow, somewhere, they knew each other. And Will is not only referring to his preference for dogs. His eyes swivel to the window. It is dark out. And cold. He has no idea where Hannibal is. Slowly sitting up and rising to a stand, Will takes a long, deep gulp of his cooling coffee.
When he can’t hold his breath any longer, he allows himself to surface. Head bursting through the water, he gasps and runs a hand over his face, fingers raking through his wet curls as he reclines against the bath. He feels eyes on him, and turns his face towards the open doorway. Hannibal is stood at the threshold. His muzzle is bloody, as is his hide in various places. Frowning, Will sits up and gestures for him to come. Trotting over to the bath, Hannibal sits down next to it. Leaning an arm over the edge of the bath, Will lightly grasps Hannibal’s muzzle and turns it slowly to find the source of a large, drying rivulet of blood. One of his ears has been cut. Prying more, Will can see the wound is irregular and demonstrative of an animal bite. Hopefully not domestic. Glancing along the other’s muzzle, he can make out scratch marks, a couple of which are rather deep.
“Did you get into a fight with dinner?” Will utters lowly as he leans further out of the bath to inspect the rest of his body, his damp hands running over his glossy hide made tacky in places by drying blood. But apart from scratches, there are no other wounds. Will returns his attention to Hannibal’s ear.
“You wouldn’t get this from the fridge,” he mutters, lowering his hand to the edge of the bath and reclining with a sigh. Despite Will’s chiding, Hannibal starts to climb in. Lips pressing together, Will watches Hannibal without amusement. Grimacing when he gets stepped on. His eyes lower to the water as Hannibal sinks down beneath the waterline, watching the red tendrils of blood grow faint as they swirl and diffuse in a dance around them. Eyes lidded, Will waits for Hannibal to surface. First, the crown of his head. Followed by the spikes plastered over his eyes. Black slits watching him through the wet tresses. The cut on his ear is stark against his human skin tone. As is the blood seeping from it. Relenting, Will lifts a hand and reaches for his ear, forefinger tracing the edges of the jagged wound. Hannibal closes his eyes.
“Does it hurt?” he says quietly, and those black eyes open again. “Blink once for no, twice for yes,” Will adds, and when the other continues to stare at him as though he had mistaken his instruction for beginning a staring contest, Will regards Hannibal flatly. “You show more intelligence as a dog,” he huffs lowly. “Or do you not trust me enough to make your thoughts known,” he adds quietly. Black eyes look down at the water. Looks back up at Will.
“I’m taking that as a yes,” Will murmurs. Hannibal leans forward. Droplets roll off his skin, hitting the surface of the water. He presses his brow to Will’s. The touch pushes against his walls, makes them lower just enough for Hannibal to creep inside. He lifts his eyes to find the other gazing at him through his lashes. Swallowing against the stirring in his chest, Will lids his eyes too.
“…is that a no?” he half whispers. Hand still on Hannibal’s ear, Will watches the other’s mouth. Hesitantly, he tilts his head and begins to lift his chin. Their mouths barely graze when he feels the hot flicker of Hannibal’s tongue over his lips. Slipping his hand down from Hannibal’s ear to his nape, Will bites softly onto the bottom lip in front of him. Hannibal pulls back and does the same to Will in return, mimicking him. Fingers sliding up the back of his neck and into his hair, Will grips the slick tresses there as he tries again to press his mouth to Hannibal’s and is met once more with tongue.
“Alright,” Will chuckles as Hannibal continues to lick his mouth, then cheek. Then ear. “Alright,” he continues to chuckle, voice lower and quieter this time as the sensation sends a little jolt through his nerves. Fingers tightening their grip on Hannibal’s hair, Will lifts his chin as that tongue starts to lap broad strokes over the pulse in his neck. He feels the blood begin to rush at the thought of that relentless wet muscle laving at his ache, and reaches with his other hand for Hannibal’s. Finding it underwater, he pulls it onto his hardening cock with a nervous lick of his lips. Hannibal lifts his face from his neck and watches Will. He starts to lick at his mouth – not in a flurry of motion now, but slower, longer strokes. Slowly, Will parts his lips and greets the other's tongue with a hesitant stroke from his own. Will closes his hand over Hannibal’s and begins to move it up and down. His excited breaths blow warmly against the other’s mouth, and as the friction builds, he bites down on Hannibal’s lower lip, groaning his pleasure around it. Hannibal responds by biting Will back. His teeth digging sharply into him. Then, Will arches his back and pushes up, his hand still clasped tightly around Hannibal’s which he continues to move frantically along his length, breaking the waterline. Chest slowly heaving, Will squeezes shut his eyes.
“Han,” he pants, body tensing as he feels it building. “You feel good…” he breathes, fingers clenching like steel over Hannibal’s. “So good…” he utters breathlessly, words trailing off to small, helpless noises. Suddenly, Hannibal struggles to free his hand, foiling Will’s release. He opens his eyes with a confused and bereft expression, gaze still clouded with his teetering orgasm. He feels teeth on his neck and grunts, snatching tighter at the other’s hair. Not again. Will pushes against Hannibal, and Hannibal pushes back, their combined struggling sending water sloshing over the edge of the bath. Will tries to push past the other and, grabbing the edge of the bath, attempts to pull himself out. But Hannibal folds his arms around Will to restrict his movements as he snaps at his neck again in earnest, the shock of the pain providing enough distraction for Hannibal to push Will back down into the water. Slipping down the curved side of the bath onto his front, Will pushes up to keep his head above water as Hannibal begins to rut between his arse cheeks. Arms still pinned beneath the other’s, Will nevertheless tries to reach for his own cock where it lies trapped uncomfortably against the bottom of the bath. Seizing it with a hand, he presses his brow against the sloped wall of the bath in front of him and begins to furiously tug himself off. But the rapid snapping of Hannibal’s hips keep pinning him down, so he arches his body to lift his hips and create more space for his stroking hand.
The next thing he knows, Hannibal is growling and cinching his arms tight around Will, stopping his actions. His chest presses flush against Will’s back, and something blunt presses hard against his anus.
“Stop-” Will grunts, fingers digging into Hannibal’s arms as he tries to free himself. “I said stop-” A pain explodes from within like a punch to his stomach, making him cry out. It is so intense, it ought to weaken his resolve to struggle, if not for the prospect of it getting worse should Hannibal manage to penetrate him with more than just his head. With a shout of frustration, Will bites and breaks out of Hannibal’s arms, grasping the edge of the bath to drag himself forward whilst kicking back. His foot meets with some part of Hannibal, and he manages to half climb, half fall out of the bath onto the bathroom floor with a grunt. Pulling himself up, he grabs a towel and haphazardly wraps it around himself before hurrying out of the bathroom.
Will lies on his back on the bed. Hannibal lies on his front. Will watches him from the corners of his eyes. His ear is still torn and his face is still covered with scratches, as are other parts of his body. He has not changed back into beast form yet, but Will believes Hannibal is aware of his anger, and does not need drooping ears to show he is remorseful. But then, he could just be assuming too much. After all, the man refuses to communicate with him. Will turns his attention to the ceiling.
“I don’t know what you are and where you come from,” he begins to say quietly, voice low. “But that’s not how we do things around here.” He looks askance at Hannibal. “If you try anything like that again, I will kill you. Do you understand? Even if I touch you, or let you touch me, it doesn’t mean you can try and…” He sighs, looking up again. “No. You’re an animal. I should know better.” There is movement in his peripheral vision and he glances over to see Hannibal pressing up from the bed. He frowns.
“No,” he says, looking Hannibal in the eye. The other pauses, then tries to come closer again.
“No,” Will repeats himself, louder this time, his voice hard. “You should understand at least that much,” he says before rolling over to face the other way.
In his dream, he is Cody. He has started to wash Hannibal, but he makes his escape. Ends up running out into the back alleyway. Will goes to find him, but gets ambushed by a strange man. He fights the other’s grip, but he is strong. And he has a hold on Will’s head. He knows what is coming and struggles frantically to free himself, but it only takes a quick, sharp twist. A click. And Will sees himself being stuffed into the dumpster.
Opening his eyes from the nightmare, Will sees Hannibal lying across him with his muzzle resting on his paws. When he sees Will is awake, he starts to lift up from the bed, but Will swallows thickly.
“No,” he says, voice rough with sleep, and Hannibal lowers his head back on to his paws.
Chapter 11: The Agreement
Lying there with his head in the pillow, his clothes and the bedsheets sticking uncomfortably to his body, Will watches those black eyes across from him. Stares at his own unease being reflected in their unfathomable depths. The nightmare had brought to the forefront what his subconscious has been supressing. That Hannibal is dangerous. He has killed a man. He could kill again. And yet, Will is sheltering him. He refuses to accept the sole reason is because he is a sex-starved adult, behaving like a sexually confused teenager. Nor does he believe he is simply lonely, or trying in his own way to get back at a justice system he has long been dissatisfied with. But if any of these has something to do with him helping a murderer, then he has to reconsider. Because as disillusioned as he is with himself and his role in the past, deep down, Will Graham is a good person, and believes in trying to do the right thing. Even in the face of evil. Which, he admits, is not what comes to mind immediately when one looks upon the Lithuanian hound. Especially not with those ears. Will closes his eyes and lifts his hand to press fingers to his brow. No, Will Graham is not a religious man. He does not believe all strange creatures are the work of the devil. But he does believe in the capacity for cruelty in all living things. And to allow the cruelty to continue would in itself be an act of cruelty – if there was a chance it could have been stopped or prevented.
“Alright,” he utters decisively, lowering his hand from his face and slowly pressing up into a sit. Folding his arms, he leans back against the headboard and watches down at Hannibal who stares up at him before also picking himself up, as though anticipating the weight of the conversation to come. Sat there on the covers, dark gaze on Will’s face, Hannibal waits for him to continue.
“I feel as though I should be saying this to you in your…other form,” says Will, glancing down. “But you don’t respond as well…or at all, in that form, so…” He looks into black again. “I want things to go back to normal,” he states, brow knitting. “I…need things…to be as they were. Before you appeared.” He pauses to consider the other’s expression. Hannibal continues to watch him. Something in his eyes tells Will he is following. He licks his lips before continuing, mouth agape as he thinks for a moment about how to say what he wants to say. “You may share this way of life with me,” he says, pausing as he holds that stare. “But if you’re looking for something else,” he continues to say, looking askance, “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.” He considers giving an explanation. Describing the inexplicable, subversive power Hannibal has over him when he comes close with that look in his eye – as though he knows him from somewhere. Instead, he holds out his hand, palm up. Hannibal looks down at it.
“Deal?” Will asks. Hannibal looks him in the eye. Will looks back. A warm paw slips itself into his hand.
A week passes without event. Hannibal doesn’t try to escape. During the day, if Will is in the house, Hannibal will stay on the settee and watch him tying a new fly at his desk. Sometimes, Will will pause and glance over his shoulder back at the other before turning back to his design. Sometimes, he will hear Hannibal climb off the settee and trot towards him before feeling those paws looking for purchase on the chair – a claw grazing his thigh and pulling away as though Will is fire, then pressing unapologetically on him again as he tries to climb onto the chair with him still occupying it. At first, Will had tried to pretend Hannibal wasn’t there. Focusing on the fly instead of the long limbs getting in the way, pressing into him, making him lean aside even though deep down he would quite happily rest his head against that warm hide as he continued to work. Eventually, Will always has to push him off. The paws would tap their way across the wooden floorboards back to the settee, or over to the stairs. And later, when he’s made a coffee during his break and ventured upstairs, he will find the other sat in the alcove of the bedroom window. For a while, he will stand there, leaning against the doorframe with his coffee, watching Hannibal staring out at the woods.
When Will goes out, he usually returns to find Hannibal asleep on the settee. Occasionally, he falls asleep in the chair by the desk, his muzzle pointing towards the window. Like the time he had come in with company, and Hannibal had leapt off the chair in a show of obedience. Whether it was Jack, stepping through with his cap in his hands, or Margot, unwinding the scarf from her neck, the comments would be the same. Seems like our friend is learning his place. Looks like you’ve got the settee back. Sat between the armrest and a small distance from Margot, Will had looked down at Hannibal lying on the floor, wondering if those dark eyes could read his silent encouragement – you want to come up? – but chose instead to watch him look anywhere but at Margot as she slowly shifted just enough to lean her head on Will’s shoulder.
That evening, having upset Margot, Will had meant to walk her to her car, but her quiet ‘goodnight, Will’ at the door had left him at the doorway, watching her go with his arms wrapped around himself. Through the rain, he saw the car door open and her soaked hair and coat disappearing inside the vehicle. He watched her fumble with the seat belt, smooth her damp hair back from her face. Avoiding looking his way. All the while, thinking of the rain in the woods. Of the first time he discovered Hannibal out there, his naked body wrapped around the felled deer. Wondering how warm the other would be able to keep him if he was pinned similarly beneath him on the forest floor, blowing white clouds with him into the night. The rain sluicing down his shivering skin. Dripping off the pointed ends of his hair and onto Will’s face as he stares down at him with those black hooded eyes. When he turns back into the cabin, he notices Hannibal doesn’t help himself onto the unoccupied settee. Even when Will sits down, he remains lying there on the floor with the others.
“Hey,” he’d said quietly that evening as the rain hammered on the windows in the background. “Are you coming up?” A small pat on the upholstery beside him. The invitation obvious in the lofting of his eyebrows. Hannibal had responded by crossing his paws and continuing to regard him impassively, until Will had finally leant back with a noisy exhale of defeat through his nose and said in a low voice, “please?” Only then did those black limbs unfold themselves and stalk towards him. Climbing onto the settee, facing the other way, Hannibal had settled his large, dark shape beside Will. And, watching that inscrutable profile resting upon the upholstery, Will had put his hand on the glossy fur of the other’s hip. Let it stay there even when those eyes swivelled to study him from the corners. Perhaps he only read in that gaze what he himself wanted, but he thought he recognised the yearning to be comforted, even though both were reluctant to make the first move. It was as though their agreement had made them too conscious of one another – too aware of the attraction naturally bred between their simply being within each other’s proximity. But Will didn’t want to beg. Not when he was supposedly reinforcing the notion of boundaries, and didn’t want to come across as willingly confusing things. Even if it was just a hug with his dog. Well. Of course it wasn’t. But he could keep telling himself that. So he had removed his hand eventually, and Hannibal had looked away. But come bed time, his hand had reached again for that broad head with the floppy ears. Lying on his front, with his head resting on a folded arm, he had pulled himself close to the edge of the bed to watch down at the other curled up below on the floor. Funny how he never realised how empty his bed could feel before he started sharing it with Hannibal. Fingers stroking the top of the other’s head, Will was in half a mind to dig them into his collar and pull – but he pushed the urge down and reached instead to turn off the bedside lamp.
Halfway through the week, Will decided he’d had enough of watching Hannibal gazing longingly out the window, and told him they would be going for a walk in the woods. Stood before the door, buttoning up his coat, Will had watched down at Hannibal sat patiently before him.
“I won’t put you on a lead,” he states. “It’ll be a trust exercise.”
He had stood there for a moment longer, wondering what he’d actually do if Hannibal decided to just run off and not return. Then, taking in a breath and releasing it slowly, Will ran a hand through his curls before resting it on the door.
Hannibal picked himself off the floor, his eyes trained on Will.
Deeper and deeper they trekked into the woods, moving side by side. Their eyes focused on what lay directly in front of them. Their ears listening to the twitter of birds singing from above, their small bodies obscured by dying leaves – the last to remain clinging to half naked branches. One of which had fallen from a tree and concealed itself from view beneath the carpet of red and yellow. Noticing it, Will had stopped and toed at the leaves draping over the gnarly wooden surface. Next to him, Hannibal had also stopped. Bending down to pick up the weighty stick, Will had brushed away the remaining leaves with his other hand before giving Hannibal a self-deprecating smile.
“Humour me?” he’d uttered before leaning back then throwing his arm forward and hurling the stick through the air. Hannibal had watched it land somewhere in the distance with a faint rustling of leaves, but made no attempt to run for it.
“Are you going to make me say please every time?” Will had said, trying not to smile too much – a genuine, twitchy upwards tug at the corner of his mouth this time, as Hannibal stared at him with what Will presumed was silent indignation. As that expressionless face continued to regard him, Will shook his head and chuckled despite himself, and without warning, Hannibal suddenly darted off ahead of them.
“Han!” Will had shouted loud enough for his voice to have echoed all around them. “I was…” he continues to say, but stops when he loses sight of the other. Just joking.
After standing on the spot for a while, with no sign of the other’s return, Will found himself wondering for a second time what his options would be should Hannibal really choose to run away. And all of them brought nothing but a profound sense of unease and regret. He started to call for him, but to no avail. He couldn’t see Hannibal anywhere. Until, pushing himself between two trees, he had just stepped foot into a shadowy clearing when a weight hurled itself at him and, startled, Will had cried out in surprise, stumbled, and fallen over backwards. Landing on his back with a grunt, his hands had grasped instinctively at the other’s wrists as he felt those paws pressing against his shoulders. His chest against his. Moving with his excited breaths.
“Hey,” Will had uttered, staring up into jaws parted to a lolling tongue. To a smile. He felt himself giving those wrists a small squeeze. “You got me,” he said quietly, eyes lidding. Hannibal had closed his mouth then, and looked down at him. Unblinking. His breaths calmer – his chest rising and falling gently against Will’s. The earth was cold beneath him, and Hannibal was warm. He’d wanted to put his arms around him. Keep him close a little while longer. Then something made Hannibal lift his muzzle to the sky, and Will had looked past his low-hanging ear to the gathering grey. Had felt the hesitation when those black eyes returned to gaze down at him once more before Will felt his weight lifting off him completely. Pulling himself up into a sit, he’d watched Hannibal bounding off in the direction of the cabin, waiting until the black shape disappeared from view before lifting his eyes to the growing rainclouds and suppressing the sigh that was threatening to spill from his chest.
Chapter 12: Escapee
Will finishes bathing the last dog and turns off the shower. Putting down the showerhead, he picks up a towel and drapes it over the other. As he starts to rub him dry, he thinks of Hannibal. The only one who hasn’t washed. Will has been putting it off. Doesn’t quite know what to do. It would be neglectful, he supposes, not to bathe Hannibal full stop. But he doesn’t want to trigger the transformation. Perhaps he could start washing him, then stop when he begins transforming? A bark brings him back to the task at hand, and he smiles apologetically at that tilted head.
He stands there at the threshold looking in. Steam rises from the bath, lending the room a humid heat.
“When you’re done, the towels are just there,” he explains, looking at the couple he’s left to the side. “I uh,” he begins to add, hand slipping onto the back of his neck as he continues to watch the bath. “Hope the water’s not too hot.” He glances down at Hannibal, also stood at the doorway. “Anyway, I’ll leave you to it,” he utters, putting his hand on the door and beginning to pull it to a close. Hannibal steps into the bathroom. When Will looks up, he finds the other looking back, and hurriedly eases the door to. “I won’t close it,” he says from the other side.
Downstairs, Will sits at the desk and busies himself with tying a new fly. Securing the hook in the vice, he opens the drawer and takes out some feathers, spreading them on the table. Choosing some, he takes a piece of copper wire, and begins to wrap them to the hook with thread. He takes his time, winding and winding the thread so it’s neat and tight. Focusing on the fly so he doesn’t have to think about Hannibal. After a while, he stops and sits back in the chair, watching his new design. Then he stands and walks over to the kitchen. Picks up the kettle and fills it up at the sink. He leans against the kitchen unit as he waits for the water to boil, arms folded. His eyes drift towards the stairs. What would he do if Hannibal was to step into sight this moment? Turn around to avoid looking at him. Offer to make him a drink. What if he came over? A great rumbling begins to build inside the kettle. Will opens the drawer for a teaspoon with a quiet sigh. He wouldn’t. He picks up the coffee. He knows not to.
The heat has long left the empty mug in his hands. He finally puts it down and stands up decisively from the settee. Climbing the stairs, he walks towards the bathroom and stops before the door. It has not moved. He stands there with his hands at his sides, deliberating. Then he puts his hand on the door and slowly eases it open. The steam has completely dissipated. The water a cold, still mirror in the bath. Hannibal is curled up on the bathmat under a towel. Will can see his muzzle protruding from beneath the terry cloth. Walking over, he squats down beside the other and gently lifts the towel, running a hand along his hide to find him still damp. Exhaling inwardly, he starts drying Hannibal with the towel.
“You didn’t have to stay here,” he mutters, rubbing him all over. “You’re not my prisoner.” No sooner had Will uttered those words, however, does he feel the weight of them on his conscience.
He opens his eyes to the sound of murmuring. The master is in distress. Lifting his head from his paws, he sees the other tossing and turning in his sleep. Caught in the cover like a fish in a net. Writhing in the moonlight. Picking up on all fours, he paces to the side of the bed, nostrils flaring at the heavy scent of pheromones. The master lies on his back, his tee sticking to him like a second skin. There is a deep furrow in his brow as his eyes shift direction beneath the lids. His hands grope distractedly at the bed then suddenly grow still. Whatever he was struggling with seems to have subsided, for now, although his chest continues to rise and fall rapidly.
Hannibal puts his muzzle down on the bed, and his paw on the edge. The master rolls onto his side facing him and presses a quiet groan into the pillow. His arm slides up the sheets – his hand close to grazing Hannibal’s paw as it claws and clutches onto the edge with its fingers. He lets out another groan, louder this time as he rolls onto his stomach. A low growl burying into the down. Hannibal understands this sound. And he should back away, lie down in a corner of the room until it’s over. But all he wants to do is to get closer. To bury his nose into his neck. To breathe him in. Climb on top of him as he ruts desperately against the bed, panting, his shorts clinging to his sweating buttocks and thighs. Watching the master like this, listening to him make such urgent noises as he nears, Hannibal can’t control himself.
Will feels something wet licking at his face and slowly opens his eyes to see a pair of black staring back at him. The sunlight streaming in through the window makes him squint and hold up a hand to fend against its strong rays.
“Hey,” he utters lowly, voice still groggy with sleep. “Good morning.” Pressing up from the cover, he rolls over into a sit and lets out a sigh, eyes lidding at the sight of Hannibal putting a paw on the edge of the bed. Someone’s keen this morning. “Where’s my coffee?” he says quietly, smiling when the other trots out of the bedroom. “Milk, no sugar,” he calls after him, moving to climb out of bed and pausing when he finds a small mark on the front of his shorts. Frowning, he grips the waistband and slowly pulls back, peering down with a grimace.
“Christ,” he sighs, closing his eyes and rubbing a hand through his face. How embarrassing.
He contemplates changing, but decides he’ll wait until after breakfast to have a shower. Something about Hannibal this morning makes him want to join him downstairs. He climbs down the steps with a little more bounce than usual, and greets everyone before opening the cupboard with the dogfood. After filling all the bowls, Will straightens up with his hands on his hips. Hannibal is stood waiting for him in front of the door. His tail is moving side to side. Will smiles despite himself, shaking his head.
“Who taught you that, then?” he chuckles as the other turns to face the door. “Don’t you want something to eat first?” he asks, but Hannibal starts to rear up on his back legs and lean his forearms against the door. “Alright, give me a second,” he adds before hurrying towards the stairs. It’s unlikely they will bump into anyone else in the woods at this hour, but that did not warrant running around in soiled underwear.
Smile deepening, Will peers out from behind the tree. Sees that dark head with its floppy ears lowered to the ground, snuffling after him. Watching his step upon the leaves, he moves stealthily to the neighbouring trunk, pausing to listen for the other’s paws. When all remains quiet, he slips behind the next tree, body pressing tightly against the rough bark to avoid being seen. Unable to resist, he tilts his face just enough to look out. Brings it back behind the trunk again when he sees Hannibal appear, hot on his scent. There’s a small distance between the tree he’s currently hiding behind and the next, but if he’s careful, he can make it. Inhaling, Will ducks and starts to creep towards the tree. There is no sign of the other, and he has almost made it – just a couple more steps – when a sudden explosion of leaves heads straight for him, and before he can even turn his face towards the sound, a great, hurling weight knocks him to the ground. Will groans as his back hits the leaves with a dry rustling, and he opens one eye to Hannibal lying on top of him, jaws open and tongue lolling as he pants in triumph.
“Alright,” he laughs, slowly sitting up and pushing the other back. “You got me. That was good. I didn’t even-”
Without waiting for him to finish, Hannibal bolts off, leaving Will sat on the ground, laughing to himself. My turn, is it? I’ll show you.
They play for a long time in the woods. Each addicted to the possibility of outsmarting the other. Just when Hannibal thinks he can come out of hiding, he gets pounced by Will, who tackles him to the ground with a boyish cry of, “gotcha!” or sometimes just a cry of victory that turns into more echoing laughter. Once, pinned again beneath Hannibal’s weight, Will had been watching up at the gently shedding treetops as he laughed, and closed his eyes. He’d thought of hooded eyes and sharp cheekbones. Of naked limbs clad in a borrowed shirt, one which he’d fold within his own coat as they lay there, because he only has one. Not that the cold ever seemed to bother Hannibal. The sound of birdsong stirs him from his daydream, and Will sits up with a sigh, leaning back on his hands to watch the other.
“Last one,” he says. “Then we eat."
The rain came without warning, sudden and heavy. Will has been searching for Hannibal for a long time, but to no avail. Standing there under the downpour, turning in a circle, he senses the other is near.
“Hannibal!” he calls, eyes scanning the tree trunks and settling on one in particular. He strides towards the tree and looks behind it, but no sign of the other. Running a hand through his damp curls, Will looks helplessly around him again. “You win,” he shouts, “come out!” He waits for a response, listening to the sound of rain striking dead leaves on the ground, and hoping to hear him running up last minute, then remembers he would hear the approach of feet, not paws, and wonders if the other is avoiding him. “Hannibal!” he shouts again. Still nothing. Maybe he’s gone after an animal. It’s been a while. Growing cold standing there, Will shoves his hands into his coat pockets and turns in the direction of the cabin. “You know where I’ll be,” he shouts before starting to head back.
Hannibal didn’t come back. Will had tried not to think too much, telling himself he would be back soon, after he’d had his fill of deer or whatever unfortunate animal to cross his path. That would be crossing boundaries, of course, and Will would have to have words – serious words. Even if he would be feeling relief at the other’s return, he would have to let Hannibal know that his running off is unacceptable. Will would have to punish him in some way, like he would his other dogs, if they were to continue this illusion of normality. After an uneventful day and a quiet meal eaten alone, Will had lain down on the settee and drifted off to the continuing sound of rain and the thought of leads, and dreamt of the first time he came across Hannibal in the woods, except their positions were reversed, and it was Will eating the deer, and Hannibal in his coat, squatting down and pulling Will close by a lead. Biting onto the piece of bloody flesh dangling from Will’s mouth and pulling with his teeth, fighting him for it. Growling. Scratching. Drawing blood. Growing aroused.
His cell phone rings, rattling noisily against the desk. Hannibal. Dragging himself off the settee, Will almost trips over one of the dogs on his way. He’s hurt. He’s hurt somebody. Jack needs me to see the body. Don’t let it be Hannibal’s. Accepting the call, Will presses the cell to his ear, closing his eyes against the glare of the morning.
“Sorry, did I wake you?”
“No, it’s fine,” he says, clearing his throat from sleep. She sounds worried. “Is everything okay?”
“She’s run away.”
Will looks towards the empty settee. Feels a tightening in his stomach.
“I don’t know,” says Margot with a sharp sigh. “The back door was open. It could have been last night.”
Will doesn’t know what to say.
“She’s done crazy things before, but she’s never run away-”
“When she’s in heat-”
“Right,” he says, because he doesn’t know how else to respond except to pretend he understands these things happen. Nothing to worry about. Unless…
“Will you help me look for her?”
Will stands there, staring at the settee. He spots something in the upholstery under the bright natural light and slowly walks over. Squats down to examine something he has not seen in a very long time. Not since the last one was neutered.
Straightening up, he feels the tightening move to his chest.
“Sorry, yes,” he says, swallowing. “I’ll come over now.”
Chapter 13: Who's a Good Boy
They have been walking together in silence for an hour. Will suggested splitting up to cover more ground, but could see Margot didn’t want to be left alone. Starting from her cabin, they headed out into the nearby woods, covering ground that Alana frequented, then venturing onto ones she did not often visit together with her owner. There are questions Will needs to ask Margot about Alana. He just doesn’t know how quite to ask them.
“Do you think they’re together?” asks Margot from beside him. Will stops himself before he answers with what he is thinking: I hope not. But neither can he bring himself to lie and answer he hopes they are.
“Maybe,” he replies noncommittally, brow knitting as he prepares to ask what has been on his mind since Margot’s phone call. “Margot,” he begins to say, and feels her attentive eyes on his face. “How long have you had Alana?”
“Since she was a pup. I picked her out myself from the litter. I’ll always remember she was the first one to come sprinting up to me.”
Will looks over to see Margot smiling at the memory.
“Now she’s all grown up, she’s the spitting image of Poppy.”
The name is familiar. A conversation returns to him with the smell of coffee and the sound of rain on the windows.
“Yes. She was ever so sad after Poppy passed away.”
“Yes…I remember Jack mentioning,” Will utters, unable now to help thinking about Bella without death. “I didn’t know Alana was related to Poppy.”
“Oh. Didn’t I ever mention it?”
“I don’t think so.”
More questions arise. He licks his lips in thought and waits a moment before continuing.
“You said her behaviour changes when she’s in heat.”
“Yes. She gets really restless and starts misbehaving.”
“Like a completely different dog?” he asks, as nonchalant as possible. Margot tilts her head in consideration.
“She’s never so changed that she’s not still my Annie,” she answers. “It’s just biology, I guess. Poor girl.”
Will makes a sound of understanding, suddenly recalling his embarrassing discovery. Embarrassing because he has gone through life without experiencing a wet dream, and does not appreciate his discovery of them now as an adult man. It makes him sound desperate and lonely.
“I should have checked the door was locked.”
“You didn’t know she’d do a runner.”
“At least if they were running to each other, we should find them both at the same time.”
Something about what Margot said doesn’t sit well with Will, but he nods regardless in agreement, his hands curling up like a couple of heavy stones in the pockets of his coat.
Sat at the table, Will feels the urge to have a cigarette. After the case, he’d forced himself to quit and find an alternate coping mechanism before he smoked himself to the grave. Not that taking medication up to the eyeballs proved to be any better. For a time, he thought he could be proud of himself for biting the bullet and refusing to rely on anything, anyone, to help him get through his failure. As it turned out, it did, but not in the way he had expected. Because there was absolutely nothing anything or anyone could have done when they came to him with the news.
Standing up, Will leaves the table and moves to the kettle, keeping himself busy with making another coffee. He thinks about what Margot had said instead of what Margot had done before they finally gave up looking and parted ways. Of what he perhaps should have done – leaned into, not away, from her kiss when they found themselves in an embrace because she became upset, and Will had thought it the right thing to do to try and comfort her. Seems he only ends up doing the opposite recently.
She’s never so changed that she’s not still my Annie.
Filling the kettle with water, Will considers the possibility of Margot lying about Alana. Of Bella, and therefore Jack, being in the know about Poppy and therefore her offspring. The possibility that this entire town is in on a secret about shapeshifting beings which he is not. Which is insane. But so is Hannibal’s existence. Or, Margot is not lying. Alana is just an ordinary Alsatian, as was her mother, Poppy. No conspiracy. Just a small town with an unexpected visitor. Himself not included. Turning off the tap, he puts the kettle on and turns around, hands grabbing the edge of the countertop as he leans back with a sigh. Eyes lidding as he stares at nothing in particular. Maybe it’s him. Bringing problems, no matter where he runs to. They’ll always find him. And hurt those around him. The sound of his phone pulls him out of his thoughts, and he paces back over to the table. Picking up the cell, he reads Margot’s name on the screen and answers the call.
“Hey,” replies Margot, her voice bright despite what happened between them earlier. A little forced, Will notes to himself, more fuel to his greedy self-loathing. Once woken, it is difficult to put back under.
“I found Alana,” she says, and Hannibal immediately comes to his mind’s eye, lying on Margot’s floor with his mate before the fireplace. Tail wagging in earnest. “She was at Margaret’s, you know old Mrs Connolly? Her son’s come home to visit and he brought his dog, Buck, with him. He went out, left her with the dog, and he ran off. Guess he was exploring the grounds and finally came across us and caught Alana’s attention. Margaret said she wasn’t best pleased when she discovered he’d brought another dog with him back to the house.”
The kettle rumbles noisily as the water boils. Will moves away from the kitchen to climb the stairs, too surprised to respond.
“She was waiting for Henry to come back, but he was taking his time, so she just made sure the doors were locked and refused to let them out, even if they were whining the place down. They’d just have to go there on the kitchen floor, she said, and Henry would have to sort it out when he got back because it was his fault, leaving her with the dog.”
“She’s alright?” Will asks, turning around and sitting down on the top step.
“Oh, she’s fine, but I doubt her son will be welcome to visit again any time soon.”
“I mean Alana.”
“Well, madam looks mighty pleased with herself for outsmarting her momma.”
Will chuckles, encouraged by Margot’s spirit and selfishly letting it be a distraction to his own negativity. And yet, if he was being completely honest, much of that had been dispelled by the confirmation that Hannibal had not run away with Alana.
“Do you know if they…”
“No, and Margaret said she didn’t catch them at it, thank god. Poor woman would probably have had a heart attack.”
Will smiles as he listens to Margot continue talking.
“Buck’s a husky, and I’ve already looked up images of Alsatians crossed with huskies.”
“Yes, but probably not as cute as puppies with that hound of yours. Has he come back yet?”
Will is about to answer when the front door suddenly opens and his black shape steps in from the glare of the afternoon sun.
Their eyes meet.
“Yes,” he eventually answers.
“I’d ask you where you’ve been, but…I suppose there’s no point,” says Will quietly as he lowers the mug to the table. Across from him, Hannibal is lying in his usual spot on the settee, looking away. Studying that dark profile, he cannot decide which form of Hannibal he finds more elusive. Then he tries to remember how long it has been since he has seen his human face and glances down at the coffee between his hands.
“I don’t know how it works,” he continues to say, “but I guess I just assumed you went looking for Alana because she’s in heat and…I wasn’t sure if she’s also like you.” He pauses to exhale a short laugh that sounds more like a self-berating sigh. “Started thinking maybe this whole town knows something I don’t.” He rolls the cooling mug between his palms.
“I guess I was worried there’d be a whole hoard of you letting yourselves in and taking over the house,” he adds with forced joviality. Or that you’d be off, and I wouldn’t see you again, except in wanted posters or in the news, with your new family in tow. “We’d probably have no deer left in the woods.”
He stops talking and glances up to see Hannibal staring at the door still, and can’t help wondering when he will leave again. “I assume you’re not hungry,” he says, hoping the other hasn’t returned because he got himself into trouble again and merely needs somewhere to lay low for the time being. “You know I won’t agree to you using my home as a safe-house.”
He continues watching Hannibal until he gives up waiting for a response or some indication that he was being listened to, and rises from the table. Walking past the other, he sits down at his desk. Picks up a new fishing hook and secures it in the vice. As he works, he becomes aware of the sound of movement behind him, followed by the click of claws across the floorboards. He feels a paw on his thigh and lowers his arms as Hannibal starts to climb onto his chair with him still sat in it. The furniture creaks in protest at their combined weight, but Hannibal eventually settles and, despite his awkward physical presence, Will reaches around him to continue tying his fly. After a while, he feels Hannibal resting his muzzle on his head. Breathing in, Will releases a quiet sigh and puts down the pliers to reach up and give the other’s neck a quick scratch – a small I’m glad you’re back that does not linger in fear of it being a short-lived return.
But, despite not trying to run away again, Hannibal grows increasingly restless over the next few days. In the mornings, Will opens his eyes to see the other stood in the alcove of the window, staring out. During the day, he’ll sometimes stand for long periods of time at the front door, as though deep in thought about what is on the other side. A call from Margot tells him Alana has been attracting unwanted attention from neighbouring dogs, some of which have travelled from a great distance. Will believes Hannibal can sense Alana’s heat, and suspects it to be the cause of his restlessness, even if he does remain clueless about the exact biology behind it all, and will occasionally revert to the paranoia of his small town conspiracy theory.
Then, one night, Will rolls over in bed to find Hannibal stood staring out the window again as rain hammers against the glass. The first flash of lightning lights up the bedroom for a split second, and the deep rumble of thunder that follows fills his ears like a physical manifestation of those words again - you’re not my prisoner - whilst carrying simultaneously the weight of the truth. You are.
“Han…” he calls quietly, but the other does not respond, fixated as he appears to be on what lies beyond the window. Pulling himself up, Will climbs out of bed and pads softly over to him. Lowering into a sit next to Hannibal, he lays a hand on his lower back. At the touch, Hannibal also sits, but continues staring ahead. Slowly, Will strokes his back as he tries to locate what Hannibal is watching and finds nothing but rain falling in countless sheets from the black of the night broken intermittently by flashes of lightning. After a while, he puts his arm around Hannibal. When he does not respond, Will leans into him, his head resting just beneath the other’s as he listens to the thunder.
“I found your mess on the settee, by the way,” he murmurs. “Somehow didn’t see you as the humping type. At least, not in this form.”
At the memory of Hannibal’s skin on his skin, Hannibal’s expression when he watched down at him those times they were rushed off their feet with some inexplicable connection, a shared instinctive need, Will feels the blood beginning to rush and presses his face into the other’s neck at the beginning flood that he wants so much, despite everything, to be swept away in.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he half sighs, half whispers. He feels Hannibal lick his ear, his tongue rough and hot, and leans back to meet that dark gaze. Hannibal leans in to lick at his mouth, and Will chuckles quietly, half-heartedly pushing his muzzle away when he doesn’t stop. Pushing forward on all fours, Hannibal starts licking and nipping at Will’s neck until he’s forced to lie back on his elbows. His teeth is sharp, and Will jerks involuntarily when Hannibal bites too hard, his hand moving to clasp over the side of his neck. Yet he doesn’t want Hannibal to stop. And he can see the other holding himself back with the way he hesitates as though he is afraid of going too far. Sitting up, he puts his hands on Hannibal’s face, pulling to bring his muzzle down so their heads may press together. He doesn’t know which words to use for this. Then, the next flash of lightning draws his attention with its blinding light, and, looking towards the window, he realises there doesn’t have to be. As though reading his mind, Hannibal also watches the tumultuous weather raging war on the other side of the glass. Rising to his feet, he steps up and puts his paw on the window pane.
With the window open, the sound of the crashing rain is suddenly amplified in the room. When Hannibal had stepped out onto the balcony, Will had stood up and faced the other way. Heart beginning to pound, he pulls his tee up and over his head before dropping it to the floor. His rapid arousal making him fumble as he removes his shorts. He hears gasping beneath the rain and slowly turns around. Another flash of lightning reveals to him the lines of the other’s body, and those eyes which stare hard into him. Swallowing convulsively, Will turns around and hesitantly lowers onto his stomach against the bed. Turning his face to the side, he looks back at Hannibal with a nervous lick of his lips, then presses his brow against the cover. Soon, he feels the dip of arms bracing either side of him in the mattress, and the chill of rainwater falling off the other’s skin and striking his back. Goosebumps break out in waves over his body and just as quickly subside as a warm chest presses against his back, and hips press an unmistakable heat against his arse. Hannibal licks and bites at his neck again, his human teeth more bearable as he nips at Will’s pulse before sinking deep and puncturing skin.
“Ngh,” Will exhales, body arching beneath the hard press of the other’s. As he struggles to relax from the grip Hannibal has on his neck, Will feels his dick beginning to rub between his cheeks, and stroke back and forth against the sensitive pucker of his arsehole. Shutting his eyes, Will swipes at his dry lips again with his tongue and swallows down the apprehension building from the pit of his stomach to battle against his brimming desire. Without warning, Hannibal bites down hard at the same time he pushes into Will. Groaning in pain, he tenses up and digs his fingers into the cover as that huge cock continues doggedly to open him up – the grunt of effort telling him Hannibal is struggling to penetrate the tight ring of his anus. Gritting his teeth, Will tries to force himself to relax, but the pain of the other’s teeth holding him in place combined with the agony of being forced open dry, is too much.
“Hah,” he pants, and tries again. “Han-” he utters in protest, when a sudden slam from Hannibal’s hips forces his thick head through the ring, wrenching a tormented cry from the depths of his throat. Before he can formulate the syllables, Hannibal pulls back only to spear him straight to the knot.
“Ah!” Will shouts, voice loud and low with shock, his fingers clenching white-knuckled at the sheets as a cold sweat breaks over his body in anticipation of being rubbed raw by Hannibal as he loses himself in the heat of his rut – as he imagines his body being opened up beyond what’s physically possible if Hannibal forces him to take his knot. Listening to the other’s grunts increasing in volume and urgency against his neck, Will isn't sure he can stop him if he tried. He clenches further against the invasion, which proves to be a mistake. Without warning, he feels his body caving under the brute force of his thrusts, and liquid heat beginning to run down the inside of his thighs. As the metallic tang escapes into the air, Hannibal stops mid-thrust and holds still.
The sound of rain striking the balcony through the open window almost drowns out their laboured panting. As Hannibal releases his neck and pulls out of him, Will groans, his voice hoarse from his cries. He feels arms hooking under his own as Hannibal drags him up onto the bed. Rolling onto his side with a grimace, Will feels the warmth of the other’s chest against his back, and wraps his arms around himself. A hand touches his hip tentatively. Apologetic. And Will feels Hannibal pressing his brow to the back of his head, his steadying breath brushing softly through his curls. Heaving a shaky sigh, Will slowly turns over, wincing as he settles on his side to face the other.
Surprised by the expression of remorse pinching those sharp features, Will unfolds his arms and cups that large knot with a hand. Hannibal snatches a breath through his nose as he presses his brow to Will’s – his lips parting to his beginning pants as Will squeezes the bulbous swell and wraps his fingers around the shaft above, the stiff flesh made tacky in places with his drying blood. Spitting a generous amount of saliva onto Hannibal, Will hurriedly smears it down the thick and heavily veined sides before cinching his fingers tight and beginning to stroke. Precum begins to flow, aiding the glide and pace of his grip. Uttering small grunts of need, Hannibal ruts frantically against Will’s fingers.
“That’s it,” he exhales, own breath mingling with the hot blast escaping from the other’s gaping mouth as he pumps him harder and faster until Hannibal is making little helpless noises and fucking his hand uncontrollably.
“Good boy,” Will breathes, lidded eyes holding that black gaze as it crumbles by the second. “Come for daddy,” he commands as he grabs and squeezes Hannibal’s knot with his free hand - his other still stroking, his voice low and authoritative. With an uncharacteristic whimper, Hannibal stares into Will as he suddenly arches. The sides of his heavy rod swelling in hard waves against Will’s fingers as his come explodes from the head of his cock in furious and erratic spurts. Will feels them landing thick and fast over his chest, with the stray glob streaking his face, and slipping past the line of his lips. Chasing it, Hannibal presses his open mouth to Will’s, his tongue pushing in between his teeth, and Will responds by catching the other’s face and holding it in place as he rubs the taste of him between their taste buds. They lie there as the rain continues to fall against the balcony, as the lightning dances across their skin and the thunder roars on into the night. Tasting, biting, breathing one another in.
Eager to test the true range of the other’s obedience, Will snatches handfuls of Hannibal’s hair and pulls to part their sparring mouths. Staring into heavy lidded black, he brings a hand to the other’s cheek and presses his thumb into his lower lip, forcing open his mouth before pushing in two fingers. Hannibal sucks instinctively on his digits, and Will grasps his own erection at the base with his other hand. Pulling out his fingers, he checks he still has the attention of those hooded eyes as he rubs the angry pink head of his cock. Jaw tensing, he rubs himself until a fat bead of precum gathers at his slit. Catching it with his fingers, he shoves them back into Hannibal’s mouth. Sucking on them again, Hannibal touches Will’s hip, the simple contact all the encouragement Will needs. Fisting handfuls of the other’s hair again, Will licks his lips.
“Who’s a good boy?” he whispers, grip tightening as he pulls on his head. Without protest, Hannibal lets Will’s hands manoeuvre him down his arching body until he’s hovering over his sex. Watching down, Will bucks his hips to smear precum against the other’s lips, breath catching when he sees that pink tongue swiping them clean.
“Fuck,” he pants, heart hammering against his ribs. “Make daddy feel good.”
Bucking against Hannibal’s mouth as he holds down his head, Will manages to push himself into that hot, wet heat, groaning lowly as he immediately starts to thrust, excited by the sounds of choking and panting in pleasure when he feels Hannibal swallowing convulsively – each one milking the head of his cock when he slams further down his throat. He can hear the other desperately snatching air through his nose as he fucks relentlessly into his mouth, driven by the need to take the edge off the pain of his torn anus.
“Yes,” Will gasps, fingers snaring tight in his tresses. “Fuck.”
Rolling on top of Hannibal, Will lets go of his hair to brace his arms against the bed. Leaning up on them, and with the other still trapped beneath him, his cock still buried in his mouth, Will starts to piston his hips, fucking that wet hot cavity. Stroking his throbbing shaft against that rough tongue and the sharp edges of his teeth. Pushing precum down his throat. Then Hannibal bites him, and Will cries out in surprise as he finds himself shoved onto his back. The nip was sharp, but not enough to affect his raging hardon. Frowning up at Hannibal, Will licks his lips, chest heaving.
Hands grab and flip him back over onto his front, momentarily winding him. His fingers snatch the cover instinctively as Hannibal pulls apart his cheeks.
“Ah!” he cries in pain, brow pressing to the bed. “Stop-”
A hot tongue starts laving at his sore hole and the inside of his thighs, cleaning him and making him clench defensively.
“Mnph,” he grunts. “Stop-Han-”
When Hannibal shows no intentions of complying, Will lifts his hips and takes himself in hand. Biting onto the cover, he starts to jerk himself off frantically, groaning when he discovers the unexpected power of pleasure mixed with pain, and feels himself teetering right back on the edge.
“Han,” he pants, voice a breathless muffle in the sheets. “Ha-nnn-!” He’s close. Without warning, Hannibal pushes his tongue inside.
Will comes with a violent shudder. Voice so hoarse, it breaks as he loses himself to the force of his release.
“Fuck,” he gasps. “Fuck…”
Slumping onto his own semen, Will feels Hannibal climbing up his body and bending his head down to nuzzle his hair.
Hannibal licks affectionately at his ear, and, turning his face to the side, Will murmurs sleepily with his eyes closed.
The last thing he remembers is the soft touch of the other’s lips on his cheek, and the sound of the rain returning to him as his heart begins to slow, and his breaths begin to settle. Letting the stream carry him fast away, he misses the murmur against his neck. Low and hushed, with a Lithuanian accent.
Chapter 14: Breaking In
He lies there on his stomach, feeling the warmth of the sun on his hair as his face remains buried in the depths of the pillow. His anus throbs painfully. As does his neck. But the first thought that comes to mind is waking up alone. It’s getting hard to breathe, so he lifts his face from the pillow and turns his head towards the open balcony, eyes squinting against the brightness of the morning. The calm after the storm. Even though his chest is all a turmoil as he thinks of the night before, and wonders what came over him to have let things get so out of hand. He expects another phone call from Margot. A fight, maybe, between that husky and the hound, for Alana. Maybe he’ll come back covered in blood, with half his ear chewed off again. Not expecting anything from Will, of course, because he’s not the sort to come seeking comfort. Rather, Will would find comfort in seeing to his wounds, just because he’s there. Because he’s come back to him. Closing his eyes, Will presses his brow to the bed, sighing in frustration. You barely know who or what he even is. Let it go and return to how things were. He was just a welcome distraction, anyway. From her.
With effort, he starts to push up on his arms, and freezes when he looks down at the bed. Hannibal is lying on his side, facing him. His muzzle half buried in the tossed cover, his chest rising and falling with his silent breaths. Eyes closed as he continues to sleep. Slowly, Will lowers back down onto his side, head resting on a folded arm. He watches a paw lying close to Hannibal’s face and reaches carefully across the cover with a hand. Touches the top of a toe with his finger and follows the curve of it down to the sharp tip of a claw. You have me hooked, like a fish on the line. How? Dark eyes open into slits at his touch, and a smile tugs unconsciously at the corner of Will’s mouth.
“Hey,” he murmurs, eyes lidding as he holds that sleepy gaze. “What are you still doing here? Don’t you have tail to chase?” Those eyes drift back to a close, and Will’s smile deepens. He suddenly has a thought.
“I’m thinking of going fishing,” he says, pulling back his hand and tucking it under the pillow as he relaxes and rests his head back into its plush depths. “It’s a nice day. I know a secluded spot,” he continues to explain, voice quiet. “Nobody around.” A pause as Hannibal continues to snooze. Through the window, birds can be heard twittering in the distance outside. The air entering the bedroom through the balcony is fresh, but he doesn’t feel the cold. “So how about it?” he utters, eyes on the other’s face. “Are you coming?” Hannibal snorts through his nostrils with his eyes closed. It could have been a sneeze. Nevertheless, Will chuckles quietly, his eyes closing halfway. “I’m taking that as a yes.”
“It’s Will, isn’t it?” asks a voice, and he looks over to the counter. Kerry-Anne, the owner’s teenage daughter, is leaning over a tackle magazine. Her chin in a manicured hand.
“That’s right,” he answers, smiling politely before turning back to the waders.
“You’re the one who lives with all the dogs.”
“That is also correct.”
“How many do you have?”
“You must really love dogs.”
“I guess I must do.”
He feels her eyes watching him, and despite this shop being near enough his second home, he cannot relax when Ted is not around, making his usual chit-chat from the counter as he leafs through the latest tackle magazine, marvelling at innovative products as opposed to feigning preoccupation to stare at customers.
“Are you dating Margot Verger?”
Inhaling slowly, Will puts his hands on his hips and lifts his chin as he narrows his eyes at a new wading jacket.
“That’s not what my dad says.”
“Your dad says a lot of things, Kerry-Anne,” Will utters, reaching up to feel the jacket.
“Do you know what else he says?”
“And what’s that?” he asks, turning his attention to the grey colourway hung up beside the black jacket. He hopes there’ll be other customers coming in soon. He doesn’t mind sharing banter with teenagers. But she’s starting to disturb some memories he has kept under wraps, and does not enjoy them shifting like the coils of a snake in his conscience.
“The dog whisperer has sex with dogs.”
Pausing, Will turns his face and knits his eyebrows at the slender teenager. Pointedly keeping his gaze above her neckline and accentuated cleavage.
“It’s not nice to spread rumours,” he says, and the girl lowers her hand from her face.
“It’s not a rumour,” she says insistently. “She jacks dogs off. It’s part of her job. Dad saw her doing it.”
“Your dad saw,” repeats Will, eyebrows lofting. Kerry-Anne glances to a corner of the ceiling.
“Yeah he did,” she says, eyes returning to his face. Their green depths clearly withholding. “And she had her hand around Max’s dick.”
“Was it a breeding session?” he asks, and the girl knits her brow at him. “Were you trying to mate your dogs?”
“Well, duh,” she utters, turning her eyes to the magazine and starting to toy with a corner of the page. “I just think it’s gross.”
“Sometimes they need a bit of assistance,” explains Will as he returns his attention to the jacket. “That’s all.”
The girl doesn’t comment and Will resumes his browsing.
“She even brought her own lube,” Kerry-Anne says after a while. Will lowers his eyes to a random price-tag. “A whole bottle of it. In her handbag.”
Will hums noncommittally, holding the price-tag with pretend interest.
“Do you know if your dad has ordered in any more of these in size M?” Will asks, interrupting her. Looking over, he finds the teenager watching him with mild indignation. When he lofts his eyebrows, she rolls her eyes.
“I’ll check in the back,” she utters perfunctorily, pushing off the counter.
Watching her go, Will faces the row of fishing attire, his hands on his hips still. Her own lube. A whole bottle of it. In her handbag. As much as he had berated the girl for spreading rumours, he cannot help wondering. Curiosity killed the cat, a voice says warningly in his head. Well, this could stop me being killed by my dog. He clenches internally at the thought, and allows himself to grimace in pain in the absence of company.
The plan had been to call round Bedelia’s on the pretence of discussing Hannibal. When there was no answer, Will had left the front door to pace around the large property. He wasn’t looking for a way to break in, per say, but a way to break in had presented itself, and he could not turn it down. Pushing up the open window, he climbs into the premises and stands there scanning the bathroom. The décor is clinically minimal with no personal touches except from a couple of potted plants. Pacing to the sink, he observes his reflection in the mirror before squatting down before the cupboard doors. Puts his hands on the handles and pulls. His eyes scan over bathroom cleaners, spare soap and hand towels. Nothing out of the ordinary. He closes the doors carefully with an inward sigh before straightening up. It would have been too easy. He ought to go, but instead, he walks over to the open doorway. Peers out cautiously before stepping over the threshold to stand in the corridor. Debating which direction to venture in, a quiet sound steals his attention and he travels towards it, feet moving stealthily across carpet. Eventually he finds himself approaching the dining room and, hanging back against the wall, he glimpses some items left on the end of the dining table. A syringe and a glass vial. The text on the label too small to be deciphered.
“You are still residing with Will Graham?”
At the hushed sound of Bedelia’s voice, he presses against the wall, brow knitting at the mention of his name. Of his home.
“Yes,” a voice answers. One he doesn’t recognise, and with a distinctly foreign accent. A man’s voice.
“Does he know?”
“Yes. But he doesn’t know about you.”
“Good. I intend to keep it that way, Hannibal.”
Will stares at the picture hung opposite without seeing it.
“Nobody can know.”
“What is it?” Bedelia asks. Despite the intruder hurriedly taking his leave, he had already caught his scent. Will.
“Nothing,” he answers, eyes moving to the vial and syringe.
When he returns to the cabin, the first thing he notices is the scent of smoke. Following it, he crosses the living space with its various canine occupants, and climbs up the stairs. Claws clicking down the landing, he stops at the threshold of the bathroom. The master is sat in the bath with his right arm propped up on the edge. His hand pressing to his brow. A pensive and troubled expression on his face as he watches the water. Between his fingers is the source of the smell. Hannibal stares fixatedly at the tendril of smoke as it dances its way towards the ceiling.
“Get in,” the master instructs, his voice dangerously quiet. Hannibal complies, trotting over to the bath and pausing when he sees the other closing his eyes and tucking up his legs. Lifting up, he puts his paws on the edge and carefully climbs in, settling in the unoccupied space opposite the master. As he changes, he watches blue eyes slip open to stare past his head, the cigarette moving to his lips. He takes a deep drag from it before exhaling a harsh flurry of white. When he’s ready, he meets Hannibal square in the eye.
Chapter 15: Bedelia
When he looks into those dark eyes, he feels a simultaneous loss of innocence and a newfound desire to communicate on a level he did not know was accessible to him. But as much as he had wanted to better communicate with the other, this recent discovery has reminded him of the importance of remaining cautious around someone, something, that had made the decision not to make itself known to him. At least, not beyond the physical. Images from their heated liaisons flock to mind, and Will drops his gaze uncomfortably. Takes another drag from the cigarette.
“Did you kill the boy at the dog home?” he exhales slowly, eyes lifting hesitantly to watch that familiar and unfamiliar face through the smoke.
It is strange, hearing his voice. To realise he had chosen not to speak all this time. Lowering his eyes to the water, Will tilts his head and itches at an eyebrow with his thumb. Just about resisting the urge to smoke the cigarette poised in the same hand down to the quick in one breath.
“Why didn’t you kill me?”
A shift in the depths of those black eyes staring back at him. Will senses hesitation.
“You were not a threat.”
A scornful smile pinches Will’s face as he snorts an exhale and pushes the cigarette back to his lips. Eyes narrowing when he blows.
“But I am now.”
The question spoken as a statement awaiting the other’s challenge or confirmation. Testing Hannibal’s ability to detect human intentions underlying the spoken word. He tilts his head in consideration, hooded eyes downcast. The gesture filling Will with suspicion of the true nature of his intelligence, the sort that ought not to be underestimated. And he feels foolish for having overlooked it. Embarrassed, amongst other things.
“If you choose to be,” Hannibal answers, accented voice plain, open. Non-threatening, and yet Will remembers the conversation he’d overheard at the doctor’s house.
“If I choose to be,” he utters in echo, leaning back in the bath with his arms resting upon the sides. Brow furrowing as he scrutinises that calm countenance.
Will says nothing for a moment, and Hannibal continues to watch him quietly across the water.
“You know Bedelia,” he says eventually.
“What is it that nobody can know?” Will asks, recalling the conversation. “That she's like you?”
Hannibal does not answer, but his unwavering gaze is answer enough. Will inhales and exhales, eyes lowering to watch the withering end of the cigarette.
“Are there others?”
“Yes. But not here.”
“What was that on the dining table.”
“A serum,” explains Hannibal. “It helps to control the shapeshifting.”
“It stops her transforming?”
Hannibal does not answer. His dark eyes focus on a point in the water, and whilst there is no obvious change in his expression, Will senses something adding increasing weight to his spells of silence. Before he knew of his ability to speak, he would have looked upon the other’s face and read it as dejection. Would have responded to it instinctively because that is how he has been responding to Hannibal since he first met him. Without really knowing why, he had let him get close.
“Have you come for the serum? To control it?” Will asks.
“I came looking for her,” answers Hannibal, eyes lifting to meet his. “She was my mate. But she left.”
Will ignores the various other questions pushing to the forefront of his mind. The emotions threatening to disrupt his cold questioning.
“Where have you come from?” he asks instead.
“For a long time.”
“How did you know she was here?”
“I thought I could scent her.”
“From such a distance?”
Will stubs the cigarette out on the edge of the bath and leans over to pick up another from the packet lying nearby on the floor, together with the lighter beside it. Sitting up in the water, he sticks the cigarette between his lips and flicks open the lighter.
“So you’ve come all this way to get her,” he utters around the cigarette, eyes on the flame as he lights up. “Why are you still here.” Snapping the lid on the flame, he puts the lighter down on the edge of the bath and takes a hard drag on the cigarette before exhaling hurriedly, blue eyes spearing black. “Are you debating killing me?”
“I don’t wish to.”
“You don’t wish to kill me.”
“So why are you here.”
Hannibal looks down at the water.
“She likes it here."
“What do you mean?”
“Her way of life. She doesn’t want to come back with me.”
The dejection in his quiet voice feels genuine, and Will drags irritably on the cigarette to try and curb his inclinations to empathise with the other. But his own feelings from before are brimming at the surface, as much as he’s trying to keep a lid on it.
“I thought perhaps she would change her mind when she saw me again.”
"She recognised you the first time I took you to her?"
“And now what, you’re waiting?” Will utters without looking at him, cigarette held close and ready for the next drag. “To see if she’ll change her mind?”
“And if she does, you’ll leave?”
No reply. Slowly, Will looks up to find Hannibal watching him. Something of last night's remorse resurfacing in that dark gaze, and Will shuts his eyes, hand moving up to press against his temples and to shield his face from the other.
“Do you want me to leave?” Hannibal asks. Will swallows and takes a deep breath as he lowers his hand to the edge of the bath and reclines backwards, head tipping back.
“I can’t risk you harming any more people in this town,” he states lowly, staring up at the ceiling. You’re not my prisoner. “So it’s best nobody else knows of your whereabouts.” You are my prisoner.
They sit in silence for a long time. Will finishing his cigarette and lighting up another.
“Is there anything else you haven’t told me,” he utters eventually, eyes watching the smoke reach the ceiling. “About your kind.”
“What do you wish to know.”
“Can you affect the way people behave towards you?”
“To an extent.”
Will lifts his head and watches Hannibal across the water. Sat there still with his back straight and wet hair plastering over his lidded eyes.
“Some humans are naturally fond of our other form.”
“And you use that?” Will asks, trying to sound indifferent.
“I am not sure what it is you are asking,” says Hannibal.
“To take advantage.”
“We take masters,” he explains, voice monotonous, “but serve only ourselves.”
“That’s a very honest answer,” Will scoffs. Shaking his head, he lowers his eyes and smiles self-beratingly. “Tell me you made me do those things because of some…pheromone or something,” he laughs without mirth, pushing the cigarette between his lips for a desperate draw. “Stopping me thinking straight,” he exhales, blowing an anxious white stream into the air between them. Through the smoke, Hannibal’s black gaze avoids his own. He doesn’t answer, and the smile fades on Will’s lips as he takes another nervous draw. Exhales more smoke as though intending to create a screen, his lips remaining parted as he deliberates over the words.
“It has to be,” he finally utters, voice low and unsure as he stares at Hannibal. He feels something touch his foot, and holds very still as he fights the urge to seek comfort and revert to the bliss of not knowing. I wasn’t thinking straight. You made that happen. Hooded eyes slowly lift from the water to meet his.
“May I ask a question,” he says.
“Why were you in Bedelia’s house?”
"I was looking for something," Will utters quickly as he snatches his foot back from the other’s hand. Pushes the cigarette once more past his lips as he turns away and climbs out of the bath.
"What were you looking for?" Hannibal asks, and he pauses to glance back at that serious expression. A sudden defensiveness in those dark depths.
Grabbing a towel from the shelf, Will wraps it tightly around himself, eyes on the floor.
"Lubrication," he answers, voice quiet. "I thought..." We could try again. "...the whole town won't have to know if I stole it instead of bought it from the shops." Swallowing the humiliation, Will hurries out onto the landing without looking back. He made that happen. Reaching his bedroom door, he pushes inside and closes it firmly behind him. He hurriedly dries himself and gets dressed. Leaving the room, he hurries downstairs and grabs his coat and keys. It’s pheromones. Something beyond me. Beyond my control. Pausing, he moves to the desk and leans down to open the bottom drawer. Removes the gun and feels immediately reassured by the weight of it in his hands, a pebble sinking to the bottom of the kettle as it boils over. A small grounding. I don’t have feelings for him. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, only that he needs some air, and to be away. He watches his dogs watching back at him as he pulls on his shoes, their tails wagging. He used me. Grabbing a lead, he fastens it to a collar, any collar, and straightens up. Like a dumb animal, I let him. Turning his back on the stairs, he paces to the front door, opens it, and hurries out with his excited companion.
Chapter 16: Trouble in a Small Town
The dog pulls again at the lead, turning its head from the woods to look back expectantly at Will. Taking one last drag on the cigarette, he stubs it out on the porch before reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out the packet. He needed air. He has air. He needed to be away. He hasn’t made it very far. Behind him, the front door opens and he hears the click of claws on the wood.
“I considered going to Bedelia,” he utters, eyes downcast as he pushes a new cigarette between his lips while fumbling for the lighter in the other pocket. “Thought maybe you’d come out to stop me leaving,” he continues to murmur around the filter, lifting the small flame to the end of the cigarette. Lighting up, he takes a deep draw, eyes lifting to the woods ahead. “I guess you were watching me from the window,” he exhales. The claws click to his side. Glancing down, he sees his black and brown muzzle lowering towards the porch. When it pulls back, he sees his cell phone lying upon the wooden slats, the screen reflecting the white light of the sky. Past the glare, he sees the notification of a missed call. With a quiet scuffle, Hannibal sits down beside him on the step. Will lifts his eyes and watches his profile for a moment, swapping the cigarette to his other hand and picking up the phone. The loop of the leash hangs limply from his wrist, the dog having given up trying to drag Will into action and settling instead to lie across the step below. Dialling the caller, he holds the cell to his ear while meeting Hannibal’s black gaze, his fingers moving the cigarette back to his lips. The line barely manages to complete one ring before his call is accepted and a connection is made.
The Sheriff is quick to greet Will, his curt manner indicative of the urgency of the matter at hand.
“Come to the station, Will.”
The low tone of his voice a calm mask to troubled waters.
“What is it?”
A brief pause.
The line cuts off. Lowering the phone, Will gives Hannibal a hard stare.
“If you know anything about this, you’d best make it known now,” he says in warning, and the other lowers down to lie with his head resting atop his paws. “You have from now until we’re at the station to give me a sign,” he continues to explain, standing up to watch down at him. “Otherwise, if I find out you are connected to this in some way, you’re not coming back here.” He turns around, climbing the porch and stepping towards the front door. Pausing, he looks to the side. “Ever.” His eyes drop to meet black staring back at him.
“Get up,” he utters, facing away. “Jack’s waiting.”
When they arrived at the station in town, Will left Hannibal locked in the car as he went to meet Jack. After an explanation in his office, Jack got in his pick-up with the lieutenant and led the drive to the crime scene as Will followed. Eyes on the vehicle ahead of them, Will reaches for the almost empty cigarette packet on the dashboard, but Hannibal leans forward and snatches it between his teeth. Glancing askance at him, Will tries to grab it back, but Hannibal leans away, so he digs his fingers into his collar and tugs on it hard to bring him closer, only to be fended off by a scratching paw. Jaw tensing, Will makes another grab for the packet.
“Just give me the damn-”
Shaking his head vigorously, Hannibal empties the remaining cigarettes onto the floor, then lets go of the packet so it falls down and joins the rest at the foot of the passenger seat. Exhaling through the nose, Will runs an agitated hand through his hair before gripping the wheel.
“You said there aren’t any others like you and Bedelia here,” he says. “But these small towns have not known any trouble like this until you showed up. Bit of a coincidence, don’t you think.”
In his peripheral vision, he sees Hannibal with his muzzle turned towards the window.
“If you’re lying to me, Hannibal, you’re making a dangerous mistake.”
That head does not turn from the window. Will continues to frown at the road ahead.
“I know what’s important to you now,” he utters quietly, ignoring the stirrings of an uncomfortable sensation rearing within his chest, similar to the one he’d felt stood in the hallway of Bedelia’s house. When he’d first learnt of their allegiance and realised how ludicrous his own intentions had been. You’ve made a fool of me, Hannibal. “And I can make you talk,” he adds, frown deepening.
The family lived on the outskirts of the town, in a small cabin next to some woods. Father, mother, two young daughters and a toddler, all shot dead in their beds. Their bodies covered in irregular bite marks. Will had seen the photos taken by the crime scene investigator. Studied each one closely as he sat there in Jack’s office, the lieutenant stood to the side with his arms folded as he shook his head, unable to comprehend why anybody would do such a thing. The air tense with the disbelief that something like this could have happened in their county.
“It’s a nightmare,” Jack mutters as he and Will slip beneath the yellow tape and enter through the front door. “Have you ever come across anything like this before? Entire families?” An uncomfortable pause. “Kids.”
Will scans an eye over the cramped but cosy living space littered with framed photos and children’s toys before following Jack up the stairs.
“No,” he answers, and the Chief inhales, glancing back at Will over his shoulder.
“Then you’d best prepare yourself if you're about to relive it,” he utters, turning his attention back to the landing.
Will turns his face at the tone of concern to see the lieutenant striding towards him and Jack with a knitted brow.
“Sorry to interrupt you,” he explains with his hands on his hips and a glance to the Chief, “but your dog is making quite a fuss. You might want to check on him.”
Inhaling, Will avoids Jack’s gaze as he excuses himself and crosses the living room to the front door. Ducking under the tape, he marches towards his car and begins to hear stifled barking. Having never heard or seen Hannibal bark before, he stands there upon reaching the vehicle, staring at the other through the passenger window. On the other side, his dark form clambers restlessly between the seats as he continues to bark. Those low hanging ears shaking with the force of each one exploding from his open jaws, and stood up close, Will can feel the vibrating power of his barks blasting through the barrier of the glass. He recalls the description read to him by Jenny, remarking on the splendid voice of the Lithuanian hound. Listening to Hannibal now, he would replace splendid with words which would more accurately describe the way his barking sends a chill shooting through his veins. Haunting. Harrowing. Hellish. Despite suddenly feeling unsure, Will seizes the handle of the door and cracks it open just enough for him to hiss through the gap.
Hannibal stops barking and suddenly pushes at the door. Will pushes back, preventing the door from opening any further.
“Han,” he grits through his teeth.
But he can feel the other’s determination, and try as he might to close the door, he knows he has already given Hannibal an inch, which is far more than he needs to run a mile. Digging his feet into the ground, Will tries to push the door shut, but the other sticks his arm through the gap, and, looking down at the scrabbling paw, Will knows he has lost. Exhaling exasperatedly, Will tugs the door back from the weight pressing against it on the other side, and Hannibal drops onto the ground with a quiet thud. Dropping immediately to a crouch in front of him, Will snatches the front of his collar, blue glaring into black.
“You want to turn yourself in?” he snaps as he digs his other hand into the pocket of his coat and pulls out the coiled leash. “Is that it?” he continues to say gruffly, fastening the lead to his collar. Lifting his paw, Hannibal hooks his wrist over Will’s, but he pulls away and stands up to watch Jack and the lieutenant stepping out from under the yellow tape at the doorway of the cabin. “There he is now, if you want to-” Will begins to say sarcastically, but ends up grunting instead when he is abruptly tugged forward by the lead. “Goddamnit, Hannibal,” he curses under his breath as the other drags him towards the Chief.
“Looks like he wants to help,” chuckles the lieutenant upon their approach, and Will watches Hannibal, his head lowered to the ground as he snuffles his way around the two men. “Old Rory’s going to need replacing soon.”
“Old Rory obeys his master,” states Jack sagely as he observes the hound stepping up onto the wooden stairs beside them to run his muzzle along the edges.
“Hardly useful if the master’s an idiot,” snorts the lieutenant, arms folding as he continues to watch Hannibal sniffing busily at the steps.
“Yes, well,” says Jack with a sceptical lofting of his eyebrows, “I’d rather a dog too dumb to know any better than one with enough wit to take me on.”
“Now that would be dumb,” mutters the lieutenant, and Will forces a small smile in response to the men’s quiet chuckling. The sound is short-lived, however, as faces resume their sombre expressions under the weight of the case.
“Do you mind me taking him up?” Will asks, lifting his eyes to meet Jack’s gaze, but the Chief is staring at the ground in thought.
“No,” he utters. “But keep him on a shorter lead.”
“And make sure he doesn’t leave anything on the crime scene,” adds the lieutenant.
It rains during the drive back to his cabin. He had waited patiently for Hannibal to finish examining the grounds. Even when the Chief and lieutenant had long left, Will remained behind, partly because he couldn’t drag Hannibal away, and partly because he felt perhaps the other genuinely wanted to help. Maybe he was just hoping for the latter as he stood in the doorways of the bedrooms, watching Hannibal hunt for invisible leads. Never once lifting his head from the ground.
“Are you trying to redeem yourself?” Will had uttered quietly from the threshold of the master bedroom, arms folded as he leant against the doorframe. As though too absorbed in his search, Hannibal had continued pacing every inch of the room until, invisible leads thoroughly exhausted, his nose led him back to the doorway. This continued for a good two hours until Will had unfolded his arms and reached down to grab his collar, stopping him in his tracks.
“That’s enough for today,” he’d said, waiting for Hannibal to meet him in the eye. At first, that dark gaze seemed inclined to disagree. Then Will had raised a hand to run it over his face before heaving a sigh whilst watching the bloodstained mattress in the middle of the room. As though sensing his tiredness, and acquiescing, Hannibal had stopped and held still, awaiting further instruction. Now, within the private confines of the car, and the unlikelihood of coming across anybody else on this stretch of the road at this time of the day, Will wants to better understand the level of Hannibal’s cooperation.
“We need to talk,” he says, eyes on the heavy rain hammering the windscreen. “Open the window.”
He waits, but nothing happens. Glancing askance, he sees Hannibal sat in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead.
“Did you hear me?” says Will. “We need to talk.”
Hannibal doesn’t move.
He moves his hand to the master control between them and presses on the button that opens the passenger window. Nothing happens. Looking across, he sees Hannibal’s paw pressing over the window button on the car door.
“Don’t make me pull over,” he says, turning his eyes back on the road. “Until you tell me what you know, you’re not coming back.” He waits for a response and continues to drive in silence for a while, with nothing but the crash of the rain against glass between them. Fingers tightening on the wheel, Will tenses his jaw and suddenly stops the car with a sharp jerk. Grabbing Hannibal’s collar, he pulls the other towards him as he shoves open the driver’s door. Rain immediately begins pummelling his head and shoulders as he tugs with both hands on the collar, feet bracing against the edge of the car for leverage. He almost manages to pull Hannibal out, when a sudden snarl from that muzzle – the feral baring of gums and teeth – makes him hesitate, and he stares at the other for the briefest of moments before masking the hurt with an angry scowl.
“Fine,” he grits through his teeth. “This what it’s going to be? Let’s have it then.” With a loud grunt, he doubles his effort and finally drags the other out into the rain. Falling back onto the wet grass with a grunt, Will wraps his arms around Hannibal’s neck to stop him from trying to take off. His feet fight against his chest, claws digging into him through the coat, and Will quickly rolls on top of him, arms cinching tighter around that stubborn neck as he uses the weight of his body to pin the other to the ground. Hannibal tries to press up on his legs, but Will can feel him starting to transform, and maintains his chokehold. When Hannibal fights to roll over onto his back, Will finds himself staring down at thin lips parted to his pants of exertion. Hooded eyes half drawn as they watch up at him. Their lashes a flutter from the pouring rain. Water droplets fall from the ends of his soaked curls to strike the crest of a sharp cheekbone.
“What did you see in those rooms?” Will asks, arms still trapping the other in a headlock. It is cold, but he can feel the warmth of Hannibal’s bare skin pressing against him through his coat. “Talk to me, Hannibal,” he growls, and feels the other swallowing against the press of his arm.
“I don’t know what I saw,” he struggles to say under Will’s grip which suddenly tightens.
“Stop lying,” he growls through his teeth.
“It’s the truth,” gasps Hannibal, hooded eyes falling to a close beneath the heat of his stare. “Please, Will.”
His eyes slip back open to watch up at him.
“I’m sorry. For everything.”
For a moment, Will says nothing as he stares down at the other. The rain is still falling, matting the hair to their skulls. The silken tresses clumping together and directing tiny but fast running rivulets of rainwater into the corners of their eyes. It adds to the look of remorse on Hannibal’s face, and despite being unsure as to the other’s true intentions, Will recognises the unfurling sensation within his chest, and knows he must nip it in the bud before he makes another mistake. Looking down, he slowly pulls himself up into a stand and turns from the other to trudge back to the car. Reaching the driver’s door, he turns his face to the side. From the corner of his eye, he sees Hannibal standing there on the grass, staring off to the nearby woods. Mud streaking his skin.
“Are you coming?” he utters, voice almost lost beneath the roar of the rain.
“I need to see Bedelia,” Hannibal answers, and there is a troubled look in his eyes. Whatever it is, Will does not feel privy to learning about it. Facing the car, he climbs in.
“I wanted to tell you so you’ll know where I am,” says Hannibal. Will lowers his gaze onto his hands resting on his lap.
“I know exactly where the both of you will be,” he says, glancing over. “With the police, if I find out you have something to do with all this.”
“You don’t believe me, Will.”
He looks hurt and so deceptively vulnerable stood naked in the freezing rain. Will can’t bear watching him for a moment longer. Without answering, he breaks eye contact and tugs the driver door shut. Putting the car into drive, he gives the other one last look through the dappled window – his figure distorted by the rain – and pulls away to rejoin the mud road.
Chapter 17: You Can't Control With Respect
If Will was being honest with himself, he would admit that he insisted Hannibal stayed with him simply because he wants him to. He wasn’t lying when he said he would rather have the other remaining under his roof to avoid him becoming discovered by other townsfolk and therefore opening the possibility of further murders or other sinister methods to keep his identity a secret. But, safety aside, he just can’t shake the feeling that it will hurt him more if Hannibal were to disappear from his life as suddenly as he’d materialised. And the worst thing is, he can’t explain this feeling. This irrational inclination to remain of interest to this strange being – one of many in some previously unknown race of shapeshifting beings apparently sharing their world. Because his own interest in the other won’t go away, as much as he tries to rationalise it. Even if he blames it on Hannibal and the mystery of his ways, just while he tries to understand his own intentions. If it really is something purely biological and beyond his control, he will selfishly not have to justify his actions – his responses. And yet, to whatever extent their attraction is beyond his control, if it all remains, to him, merely a welcome distraction from her, from the case that will haunt him for the rest of his life, he would have made a go with Margot Verger from the moment she revealed her interest in him.
The front door eases open and Will hurriedly drags a hand over his face, smearing the dampness from his cheeks as he taps the cigarette on the edge of the mug. He doesn’t want the other to sense his weakness. Hates it himself, the way he always crumbles when he doesn’t stop himself from thinking of her, and the guilt washes over him like a relentless flood that he can’t defend against. Hannibal steps inside and looks towards him sat at the table. Grey clouds have darkened the sky outside, leaving little natural light for the space of the cabin. Will watches his dark shape for a moment longer before turning his eyes onto the empty whisky bottle on the table. He didn’t have time to discard it. Not that it really matters whether Hannibal sees it or not.
“Hey,” he utters, lifting the cigarette to his lips. The door is eased shut, and he hears paws click their way towards him across the wooden floorboards. He glances down at Hannibal from the corners of his eyes while taking a drag from the cigarette, exhaling irritably when he suddenly pulls up and drapes his forearms over Will’s thighs.
“What are you-” he begins to grunt in protest when he feels the hot stroke of Hannibal’s tongue against his face and grips his collar with a hand. “Stop it,” he murmurs, but does not push him away nor pull away himself as Hannibal continues to lick away all traces of salt, tasting the evidence of his distress. His other dogs, like all dogs, can sense when something is wrong, but Will has learnt to hide it well, even from them, and he knows he shouldn’t fall for the other’s gestures as easily as he is doing so now, as though he is a dog like any other, just showing its owner empathy and offering comfort. He feels Hannibal biting onto the sleeve of his shirt and start to pull. Crushing out the cigarette in the mug, he lets the other drag him onto his feet until he’s staggering towards the settee. Falling down onto it with a sigh, he catches Hannibal’s face between his hands as he rears up to lean his forearms over Will’s lap again. Leaning forward, Hannibal lowers his muzzle and butts his head against Will’s. Gripping him by his ears, Will shuts his eyes and presses against the other’s skull, inhaling and exhaling deeply, harshly, before pushing his head away.
“Goddamnit, Hannibal,” he says quietly, brow knitting at his lowered muzzle and dark eyes watching up at him. “Did she not want you?” he utters, looking away and starting to press off the settee. “I’m not here so you can relieve your-” Without warning, Hannibal jumps at him, his weight and the hard press of his forearms making Will fall back onto the settee with a grunt. “Get off,” he says through his teeth as he grabs his wrists and tries to push them off his chest. Refusing to budge, Hannibal opens his jaws and releases a loud bark, making Will jerk back instinctively. “What,” he snaps angrily, own voice raising, “you won’t take no for an answer?” Jaw flexing, he continues to try and push Hannibal off him, but he is strong, and barely seems to register Will’s increasingly violent efforts. “What you gonna do, Hannibal?” he snarls tauntingly. “Force yourself on me?” Hannibal begins to growl, a low, dangerous vibration from the depths of his throat which spurs Will on.
“It’s what you want, isn’t it?” he grunts, shoving a hand against the other’s muzzle and pushing it away. “Isn’t it?” Pushing it away again when Hannibal brings his face back to stare at him. And again. The growling growing louder each time. “Fuck me with your dog dick until I bleed.” He makes to push Hannibal’s face away and hears a ferocious snarl before feeling the sharp edges of his teeth exploding like a sprung trap over his hand. Crying out in pain, Will grabs Hannibal’s jaws with his other hand and tries to pry them open as his body tosses beneath the other’s. Grunting and growling in his struggle to free himself, Will glares at Hannibal. “Fine,” he grits through his teeth, free hand darting down to the front of his trousers.
“This what you want,” he says, undoing and shoving them down along with the band of his underwear. Taking himself in hand, he begins hurriedly to masturbate, chest heaving as he lids his eyes defiantly at the other. Hannibal lets go of his hand, and Will grabs one of his wrists, fingers cinching tight. Muzzle held close to his face, Will can feel the hot blast of Hannibal’s panting breath, and snaps shut his eyes with a hard swallow. Sinking against the settee, his hand tightens its grip around Hannibal’s wrist as his other continues to stroke. His body burns with the heat of shame, but he imagines those hooded eyes watching him as he pleasures himself. Pretends it is Hannibal’s fingers choking his cock, those same fingers closing into a tight fist into which he begins to pump, hips bouncing off the settee. His heated breath travels from Will’s face to his jaw and down the side of his neck. When he bites at his pulse there, Will whimpers lowly but doesn’t stop. “Fuck,” he pants, getting close. His cell abruptly starts to ring, the sound of it cutting through the heat of intoxication and lust fogging his mind. “Fuck,” he exhales, stopping and frantically making himself decent as though snapping from a spell. Hannibal climbs off him, as though freed from a trance himself, and Will pushes off the settee to search for the phone.
“Margot,” he answers with his eyes closed as he presses a hand over his face. His head is swimming. His cock still throbbing against the confines of his trousers.
“Will? Are you okay?”
“You sound awful.”
“I’m fine, I’m just…”
“Have you been drinking?”
“I heard what happened and wanted to check you were okay…Are you okay?”
“You don’t sound it…”
Will doesn’t say anything, just stands there holding his head.
“Look, I’m coming over, okay?”
“I am. You’re not okay, Will. So I’m coming over. Just stay put. I won’t be long.”
“Margot, it’s not safe…”
“It’s fine. I’ll be there soon. Don’t drink any more, okay?”
The call ends and Will continues to stand there with the cell pressed to his ear. Slowly, he lowers it and gazes at the screen with half-drawn eyes. Turning around, he sees Hannibal stood watching him closely. Tossing the cell onto the settee, Will drags himself towards the stairs and sluggishly begins to climb them.
He stands with his head bowed beneath the spray. He doesn’t know how long he has been standing there, letting his body grow as cold as ice. Sensing eyes, he slowly turns around to see Hannibal stood on the other side of the glass door. They watch each other for a moment, Will’s lashes a flutter from the water sluicing down the tips of his soaked curls plastering his skull. Then, stepping forward, he unfolds his arms and pushes open the door before turning around again to face the wall. The sound of his claws are lost to the noise of the shower, and Will closes his eyes as he presses his brow against the tile.
He opens his eyes at the sound of his voice and turns his face from the wall. Hannibal is stood beside him with his back to the glass, as though wary of coming too close. His hooded eyes downcast as he blinks slowly from the spray hitting his head.
“I would never hurt you, Will,” he says, voice quiet and almost lost to the sound of water striking against their bodies. “Despite what you may think of me.”
Swallowing, Will lowers his gaze and wraps his arms around himself. Stepping from the wall, he leans against the stall, watching the other’s bare feet across from his.
“Will you tell me what’s going on?” he asks, voice also quiet.
“Sometimes it’s safer not knowing.”
“Not knowing gets you killed,” he says lowly, eyes travelling up the other’s body to finally meet that dark gaze. “Are you trying to protect me?” he asks, frowning. “You know I don’t need protecting,” he adds when those black eyes look away. “Unless it’s from you…” His turn to avoid the other’s gaze as he shudders and holds himself tighter. “I’m not myself when I’m with you.”
“Neither am I.”
For a moment, nobody says anything as the water continues to run. Eventually, Hannibal steps forward and puts his hand on the lever. Facing the wall, he is stood closer to Will now as he turns off the water. Stray droplets continue to fall and hit the top of his head as he watches the wall before him with half-drawn eyes. It is cold, and Will can feel the heat emanating from Hannibal’s body. Those sharp lips part and hang agape for what feels like a long time. Then, just as Will is about to push off the stall, he begins to speak.
“You can’t control with respect…”
He pauses, and Will knits his brow as he waits. Hannibal turns his face to look at him.
“…what?” Will half whispers, when the distant sound of knocking makes them both look towards the door. Hannibal steps back, giving Will space to get out. Glancing back at him, Will grabs a towel and wraps it around himself. He stands there for a moment, watching Hannibal as the other gazes at the floor.
“Can’t control what, Hannibal?” he asks lowly, in earnest. Speak to me, damnit. But those eyes refuse to look at him, and the knocking starts again, accompanied by a voice calling his name. Swallowing his frustration, his disappointment, Will turns his face away and walks out of the bathroom.
Sat on the floor of the shower stall, Hannibal listens to the quiet sounds of Will and Margot having sex. Their voices travelling up from below, a pained tremor of a voice mingling with the innocent euphoria of the female. He reaches between his tucked up legs and closes a hand around his heavy ache, like Will had done earlier. As Will and Margot begin to grow more urgent in their lovemaking, the desperation of their voices spurs Hannibal’s hand. He has not pleasured himself this way before. Has never had the need to, until now. He thinks of Will that night when they had tried to mate. The sounds he made then were so different to the sounds he makes now. Perhaps if he had persisted, and claimed Will fully as his own, he would not have to subject himself to this humiliation. But he couldn’t hurt Will. Because, as they had lain there on Will’s bed, almost as one, he had sensed too much hurting already. Something he is not privy to, even whilst his sex had started to penetrate the other’s body. Something dark, that was already there, consuming the man even before Hannibal had his first taste.
Closing his eyes, he remembers Will’s hand wrapped around him. His voice coaxing him closer to completion. Good boy. He slips his other hand over the thick bulge of his knot like Will had done. Bites his lip to stifle the whimper as he squeezes it cruelly whilst stimulating with the tight circle of his fist the throbbing shaft and weeping head of his penis. Come for daddy. Body curling up into a ball, he bites onto his bicep as his orgasm tears through him and explodes from his cock in huge, erratic spurts, each one making him shudder and tremble uncontrollably. Through the roaring of blood in his ears, he catches the sudden, musical trill of the female’s voice as she reaches her climax. And not long after, Will, as he cries out as though in pain, and, curled up on the floor of the shower stall, Hannibal recalls, as he transforms, the way the other had murmured sleepily, contentedly, as he slipped away. Freed, in that moment, with Hannibal’s help, from that elusive weight he carries alone.
Chapter 18: Morning After
MzZombie, I hope you will find my partial depiction of your suggestion pleasing...! I promise to fulfil the rest soon!
Lying on his back on the settee, he watches down at that face resting against his chest. Hooded eyes closed as Will lifts his hand to brush a knuckle to that sharp lower lip. At his touch, he bares his teeth, mouth opening just enough for him to bite onto that digit. Inhaling, Will swallows as that black gaze slips open to meet him through the fallen strands of his hair. Chews unconsciously at his bottom lip as Hannibal opens his mouth and swallows his finger down to the last knuckle.
When he opens his eyes, he sees Margot. Her head on his chest. The bare curve of her shoulder visible beneath her tumbling hair. Her naked body pressing against his own as she breathes. He can’t feel his right arm from where it hangs off the edge of the settee. It’s as numb as the rest of him, and as he lies there, unable, unwilling, to move, he remembers being in the shower with Hannibal the night before. Before Margot arrived. Gradually, the quiet chorus of sleeping breaths draws his eyes towards the huddle of dogs lying across them on the floor. Hannibal is there, the black shape of him curled up amongst the others without touching. The guilt continues to grow within his chest, heavier than Margot’s weight upon him, but he can’t stop staring at his dark shape. Soon, as though aware of being watched, Hannibal opens his eyes halfway. He looks at Will through his lashes. Will looks back, lips slowly slipping open despite his lack of words.
“Mmm,” Margot murmurs, and Will breaks eye contact with Hannibal to meet her sleepy smile. “Hey,” she half whispers, voice husky with sleep.
“Hey,” Will echoes quietly, watching her tuck a strand of tousled hair behind her ear before laying her hand tentatively on his chest. Struggling against the numbness in his arm, he lifts his hand to gently catch her wrist. Swallowing, he lowers his eyes, lips agape as he tries to summon forth an apology, but Margot has already sat up.
“Sorry,” she chuckles, grimacing as she slides her body off his with a soft grunt of effort. “Need to use the bathroom.” Pushing up into a sit, he watches her fold her arms around herself and glance back at him over her shoulder with a smile before tiptoeing quickly towards the stairs. Her hair swaying against the curve of her back. As her naked figure slips out of view, Will reaches for the blanket draped over the back of the settee and drags it over his shoulders. He wants to get dressed, but doesn’t like the prospect of running into Margot alone upstairs. Neither can he stand Hannibal watching him. Standing up from the settee, he paces towards the kitchen, picks up the kettle and begins to fill it in the sink. Setting it down, he stares at it, waiting for the hissing to begin. Slowly, he turns his face to the side. Hannibal has shifted. His muzzle facing the other way. Will doesn’t know whether he should go over and…what, exactly? The creaking of wood makes him look up to see Margot coming down the stairs. The morning light washing over her legs as they slip sensuously towards him. She is wearing one of his shirts.
“Are you hungry?” she asks, leaning her hip against the counter and tugging at the hem of the garment as it rides up her thighs. Will lifts his eyes to her smile and tries to smile back, but it feels too much like a grimace.
“I can make us something,” he offers, but she is already pushing off the counter and opening the door of the fridge.
“I can make it better,” she says, smiling playfully at him over her shoulder. He can feel her gaze burning straight through the blanket, and when she returns her attention to the fridge, she knows he is watching the hitching of the shirt when she bends over.
“Do you mind if I had a shower?” he asks, looking up at the back of her head.
“Of course not,” she laughs, still perusing the contents of his fridge. “It’s your house, silly.”
He thinks he should perhaps put his hand on her lower back to make his escape seem less obvious, but is worried it could be interpreted wrongly, so steps past her on the way to the stairs. A quick glance from the corners of his eyes tells him Hannibal has gone back to sleep, although it’s hard to say with his muzzle hidden from him.
He listens to Margot humming as she cooks breakfast. His nostrils flaring at the scent of fried egg and bacon. Turning his head upon the floor, he watches her move with the happy energy of a satisfied soul post mating. Her skin aglow with warmth that is more than just the morning light. He tries, but it is difficult to remember the last time he had lightened another’s spirit just so. He has watched those blue eyes lose themselves a few times, but never for too long, it seems. His ear twitches at the sound of running water upstairs. As does hers. For a moment, she catches his eye as she finishes plating up. Smiling mischievously at Hannibal, she lifts a finger to her lips secretively before tiptoeing past. Lowering his head back down to the floor, he watches the tendrils of steam rising from the plates still sat on the counter. Thinks of his master sat in the bath, refusing to look at him as he drags deeply on his cigarette.
He stands with his head bowed under the spray, his hands braced against the wall. Leaning his cheek against his bicep, he stares through his lowered lashes at the tile, thinking of the night before, when Hannibal had stood in the stall with him. Dejected and barely meeting him in the eye. And he shouldn’t, but he imagines how it would feel to spin the other around and press him against the wall, feels himself twitch at the thought of Hannibal arching against him. When he senses a presence behind him, he mistakes it for the other until, turning around, he sees Margot taking off his shirt and putting her hand on the door. Stopping himself from folding his arms, he leans back against the wall as she comes in. Keeps his head bowed as she steps close, her painted toes stopping across his. He feels her slipping an arm around his neck, gently pulling him towards her. The grip that closes around his arousal is not as gentle.
After breakfast, Margot has to go, and Will stands at the door, knowing the other is waiting for him to lean in first, and remaining undecided as to which is worse – kissing her because he feels he should, or not kissing her and risking hurting her feelings. The click of approaching claws interrupts the moment, and Will watches Margot chuckle as she leans down.
“Aren’t you a darling?”
Lowering his eyes, he watches Margot take the scarf from Hannibal’s opening jaws. Without warning, he suddenly pounces on her, startling them both.
“Down, boy,” Will grunts, snatching his collar and struggling to pull him back as Hannibal licks at Margot’s face. Catching his paws, she laughs as she shuts her eyes at his persistence.
“I didn’t know you cared,” she chuckles as Will swallows down the rising guilt and pulls harder on Hannibal’s collar.
“Down,” he grits through his teeth, and feels the other allowing himself to be pulled back to let Margot straighten up.
“Do you want to come over tonight?” she asks, smiling. Hannibal tugs against his grip, making him stoop.
“I’m sorry, I can’t tonight,” he answers, lifting his eyes to appear more sincere. “I’ve got a meeting with Jack.”
“No worries,” she says, leaning down to press her lips to his brow before straightening back up. “Tomorrow night, maybe?”
Brow knitting, Will parts his lips.
She turns around and makes her way down the porch, then stairs. Stepping out with Hannibal, he watches her head towards her car. Lifts his hand in farewell as she gets in and pulls out with a smile and wave back before joining the dirt road. He feels Hannibal slip back inside but stays to watch until her car has disappeared into the horizon before moving back inside and slowly closing the door. Turning around, he sees the dogs gathering at their bowls, tails wagging, eyes watching him expectantly. Hannibal is stood watching them, eyes downcast. Averting his own gaze, Will runs a hand through his hair as he steps over to the cupboard and pulls it open, squatting down before it. He fills each bowl evenly, pausing when he sees Hannibal stepping up to the one at the end. He has filled one too many by mistake. That black muzzle holds still for a moment, as though in contemplation, before starting to lower. Will snatches his collar, stopping him.
“You don’t have to do that,” he says quietly, watching those dark eyes stare at the contents of the bowl. Inhaling, he straightens up and walks over to the front door. Opens it and stands there, waiting for the other to join him. Without meeting him in the eye, Hannibal comes to the threshold, and they stand there together, watching the trees of the woods. Then, Hannibal steps outside and climbs down the stairs. Stepping out after him, Will stands on the porch, arms folding around himself as he watches his black shape travelling away. Jaw flexing, he swallows and takes a breath.
“Stay close!” he cries, voice fighting against a sudden gust of wind to be heard. Hannibal stops, muzzle turning to the side. Will tries to meet his gaze, but his head snaps back to face the woods, and those long limbs hurl themselves urgently forward, as though in long awaited escape.
Moving the cigarette back to his lips, he takes another deep drag as he stares through half-drawn eyes at the photos spread out on the table before him. Exhaling irritably through the nose, he lifts his hand to rub at his temples before reaching for the bottle and leaning back in the chair. In the fading daylight, the macabre images stand out the more somehow in their glossy paper, and appear, with each new mouthful of whisky, to shift and spill out of its white borders. He drinks and smokes, smokes and drinks until his head begins to spin. Pushing away the photos, he folds his arms on the table and presses his brow onto them, cigarette in his right hand slowly burning itself to the quick. He doesn’t hear the door opening, and startles when he hears it slamming shut with the wind, head jerking up. At the same time, he gets burned by the cigarette, and drops the remainder of it on the table. In his fuzzy peripheral vision, he sees him pacing round him to the dog bowls, and busies himself with wiping ash from the photos.
“Hey…” he mumbles. The sound of lapping makes him twist round in the chair to see Hannibal with his head lowered to the water bowl. His eyes downcast as he drinks. In the weak lighting, he can see blood in his coat, and rubs his eyes to make sure it isn’t because he has been staring too long at the case. But the wounds are still there. Gaping black, they look like deep punctures from something sharp. Horns, perhaps. Hannibal doesn’t seem to notice them oozing small rivulets down his side as he continues to quench his thirst.
“You’re hurt,” Will utters, standing slowly from the chair. As the other continues to empty the bowl, he steps close and squats down unsteadily beside him, right hand reaching out to touch that wet hide, his fingers pulling back coated. “What happened?” he murmurs with a frown, slipping his hand up to touch his head. But Hannibal moves out the way with a shake of his muzzle, ears swishing before Will can make contact. Brow knitting, he snatches at his collar. “I just want to look,” he begins to say, trying to pull the other towards him, but Hannibal resists, his paws scratching against the floor. Blood running freely off his fur. Will stares as it dots the ground, Hannibal still trying to escape his grasp. Suddenly, he folds his arms around him, eyes shutting. “Please,” he mumbles into his fur, arms tightening. “Stop.” Hannibal stops resisting and heaves a sigh through his nose, the warmth of his breath brushing against Will’s neck. Slowly, he opens his eyes to watch down at the long whip of his tail lying still against the floor. Even this part of him looks bedraggled. “Just let me help you…” he pleads lowly, quietly, hand slipping up to rest on Hannibal’s head. When he no longer fights him, Will leans back to watch those eyes which continue to avoid him. “I’ll be back,” he utters, straightening up. “Don’t move,” he adds as he heads towards the stairs, looking back at Hannibal over his shoulder when he climbs up the steps.
He is gentle with him. Tending to his wounds in silence. But there are many, some worse than others from when he’d stubbornly provoked the stag into chasing after him, and Will touches them all, stroking him with a damp cloth. Each brush of his fingertips making him twitch uncomfortably. Each hard grasp of his hand holding him still making him want to pull away before he embarrasses himself. The hesitation, however, tells him it’s too late, and a darting glance from the corners of his eyes finds that blue gaze staring half-lidded at his growing ache. His body burns with shame, but there’s nothing he can do bar pulling away again. The cloth resumes its motion, dragging itself carefully around his fur. Keeping his eyes on the floor, he senses Will slowly straightening up and stepping away towards the kitchen. Glancing up, he sees the other opening a cupboard and pulling out a new bottle. Without pausing, he clasps the top of it with a hand and, with a sharp, forceful twist, cracks open the seal and tosses the lid aside on the countertop. Hannibal watches him press the mouth of the bottle to his lips, eyes closing as his head tips back with his thirsty gulps. He doesn’t come up for breath for a long time, and when he finally does, it’s as though he is in danger of drowning.
Chest heaving as he catches his breath, Will drags his feet past Hannibal and collapses onto the settee, falling so hard that some of the whisky sloshes out of the bottle and over his hand. Putting it down between his legs, he lifts his hand to his mouth and sucks on it as he looks over at Hannibal. Suddenly, that black stare breaks eye contact as he sprints over and snatches at the neck of the bottle with his teeth.
“Get off-” Will grunts, grabbing the bottle with one hand and pushing at Hannibal’s jaws with the other. He manages to pull it free, only to be knocked onto his back as Hannibal climbs over him to snap at the neck. His teeth misses the glass and catches Will’s hand, and he growls lowly in pain before splaying a hand against Hannibal’s chest. It is warm beneath his palm, and Will can feel his heart thumping hard. His cell starts ringing, but he doesn’t hear it as he stares fixedly at his own hand pressing against the other. Lets his eyes fall on the exposed arousal, the same but different. The knot still huge and throbbing faintly with his pulse. Hannibal pulls away, but Will puts down the bottle and grabs his collar, stopping him. He jerks harder, and Will tightens his grip. His eyes on his own hand still pressing against Hannibal’s chest. Swiping at his dry lips with his tongue, he begins slowly to stroke his palm down the glossy front of his chest as it labours under his agitated breathing. Will can hear the loud snorting of his exhale as he reaches lower still. Fingers barely grazing him before Hannibal wrenches violently out of his grasp and staggers back from the settee with a noisy scrabbling of claws.
“That’s right,” he sighs, grabbing the whisky as he watches Hannibal, eyes half closed. “Stay away.” Pressing the mouth to his lips, he knocks it back, swallowing and swallowing until he’s reclining backwards, until he’s lying on his back on the settee. Some of it goes down the wrong way, and he splutters, lowering the bottle with a thud against his chest as he coughs spasmodically. Rolling away from Hannibal, he lies on his side as he continues to cough.
Unable to relax, he remains standing on all fours, alert to the sound of Will’s breaths as he lies with his back to him. The way they appeared to settle after his spluttering, but not for long. He knows what the other is doing, and he knows he shouldn’t stay. Knows he shouldn’t stare when Will sluggishly pushes down his trousers together with his underwear, baring his skin. Shifting to lie on his stomach, Will turns his face towards Hannibal and presses his cheek into the settee as he watches him through his lashes. His lips agape to his slow breaths as he arches his spine to lift his hips. A hand tugging clumsily at his erection. Hannibal doesn’t realise he is salivating until his own drool falls and hits his paw, and he remembers to swallow. He feels Will’s eyes on his sex, and twitches despite himself. The ache growing unbearable. The need to rut beginning to flood his senses. And Will, thrusting into his own hand, his generous organ engorged and leaking. Nostrils flaring, Hannibal realises too late that he had long lost the battle against what he wants. What he needs. And there is only one who can fulfil it.
Will pants into the cushion as he arches under Hannibal’s weight. Pinned beneath the hard press of his forearms, he feels his body rocking with the other’s frantic thrusts. The friction of Hannibal’s oozing cock rubbing against his perineum making his own dick drool precum uncontrollably, until the whole length twitches each time his swollen knot presses up into that devastating space between his balls and anus. Hands digging into the settee for purchase, he presses his thighs together and feels the hot blast of Hannibal’s breath blowing excitedly between his shoulder blades as he fucks between them. His own streaming pre-ejaculate slicking the way as Will tenses his leg muscles and feels the huge bulb of his knot rubbing rigidly between the tight line of his locked limbs. The harder he ruts against Will, the more his trapped penis is forced back and forth along the upholstery until, friction becoming too much, he suddenly arches.
“Hah,” he pants heavily, unable to say the other’s name in time as he feels it exploding out of him in erratic spurts, body shuddering from the force of each, yet resisting the urge to slump against the furniture. Not whilst Hannibal is still on top of him. His feverish breaths telling him he’s almost there. Shifting under the other’s weight, Will crosses his legs to tighten the grip of his thighs on Hannibal – on his pulsating knot – and just like that, it plunges once, twice more between hard muscle before thickening enough to part Will’s thighs and pumping forth his heavy load with enough force to splatter Will’s chest and hit the underside of his jaw.
Immediately after coming, Hannibal stumbles off Will’s back and onto the floor. He stands there on unsteady legs, panting for his breath, watching Will lying there on his stomach with his trousers and underwear bunched around his ankles. His cheek in the cushion. His lips agape. His eyes closed as he breathes. Stepping closer, he snatches the blanket with his teeth and pulls it over Will before lying down beside him on the floor. The moon is casting its cold light into the cabin through the window, and he stares out of it, willing it to rain. He would like nothing more than to come in from the cold, and slip beneath the blanket with the other, his chest where the cushion is, the weight of him making him feel grounded with a sense of belonging. With something of that mated bliss he had seen in the female earlier that day. He had wanted those blue eyes to look at him like that again. Free and happy. He might have seen it once. The morning after the storm. Hey. His blue eyes lidded with what looked like content. A smile on his lips. What are you still doing here? Don’t you have tail to chase? And it pains him to know Will can only bear to look at him now through the shielding haze of intoxication. But, he tells himself as he lowers his muzzle to the ground, eyes slowly shutting the moon from sight. Rather that, than not at all.
Chapter 19: Congratulations
Eyes creaking open, he sees Hannibal lying on the floorboards. Dark rivulets running freely from the deep puncture wounds littering his naked body. His skin bleached a stark white by the moonlight coming in through the window. His eyes are half closed and unblinking.
Snatching a breath through his nose, Will wakes abruptly, his entire body jerking from the vivid vision of his dream. His hangover catches up with him and he immediately presses a hand to his head with a groan. As he pushes up from the settee, he feels his trousers catching at his ankles, and lifts the blanket with a confused frown. The click of claws against wood draws his attention to his black shape trotting into view from the kitchen. His wounds exposed by the warm morning light flooding every nook and cranny of the cabin. Will watches him open his jaws wide for a yawn before shaking his head with a tossing of those floppy ears. It’s hard not to smile as familiar relief and fondness breaks through the pounding in his skull. Makes him heave a sigh as he leans back against the upholstery.
“I assume you have something to do with this?” he says lowly, waiting for those black eyes to meet his before pulling the blanket back to reveal the stained front of his denim shirt. Hannibal stands still as he watches Will and Will watches back, eyebrow raised. Then, to Will’s surprise, Hannibal lowers until he’s lying down on his side, his head on the floorboards. A paw pressing over his muzzle as those dark eyes peer sheepishly up at him. Unable to help himself, Will laughs suddenly at the other’s show of embarrassment, one hand moving to run through his curls as he exhales through the nose.
“How much did I have?” he asks, and Hannibal moves his paw up to cover his eyes, making Will laugh again with a self-berating shake of his head. Eyes lidding as he sits there, watching down at the other. His paw slips down and Will sees the true colour in his eyes as he lies there in the sunlight. A beautiful dark maroon. Smile fading, he looks away as he makes himself decent beneath the blanket. “Sorry,” he utters, apologising because he should have known better – again. Standing up, he walks past Hannibal on his way to the kitchen. Sees the bowls are empty and hears paws pacing their way over. “I told you not to,” he sighs, hands moving irritably to his hips as he knits his brow at the other. Bending down, he takes the two bowls at the end and puts them in the sink. “You’re not like the others,” he mutters under his breath, hands gripping the edge of the sink, “so stop behaving like…” He pauses, staring down at the bowls. Slowly, he turns on the tap and starts rinsing one of them out before filling it with water and placing it carefully down on the floor. Then he leans over to drink thirstily from the running tap. Holds his face beneath the water before pulling back with a gasp and turning off the flow. Reaching blindly for a tea towel, he drags it over his brow, cheeks, and jaw. Dabs at the stray droplets having slipped down his neck as he hears Hannibal lapping at the water in the bowl and turns his face to look down at him. Putting down the towel, he lowers himself to sit with his back against the cupboard door. He watches Hannibal as he continues to drink. “Your wounds look better,” he says quietly, reaching out to rest a hand on his neck. The lapping stops. Will moves his hand up onto his head which slowly lifts from the bowl. “Be careful next time out there,” he murmurs, letting the other’s slow and subtle movements of his muzzle manoeuvre his hand until his palm is cradling the soft fur of his cheek. As he strokes his face gently with his thumb, Hannibal closes his eyes, and Will feels the warm exhale blowing against his wrist.
The evening comes and Will finds himself out of excuses. Slowly pulling on his coat, he opens the front door to see Hannibal’s dark form returning from the woods. Bounding across the ground like a real dog afraid to be left behind by its owner. Stepping out onto the porch, he heaves a sigh into the night air and leaves the door ajar behind him as he begins to climb down the wooden steps. Hannibal paces up to him, his jaws hanging open to his heavy pants.
“Hey,” Will greets him quietly, stepping down with his hand still on the banister. “Did you stay out of trouble?”
Hannibal turns his muzzle towards his car. Will follows his gaze.
“I’m going to Margot’s,” he explains. “I said I would.” He hesitates as the breeze ruffles his curls and glances down to watch the other’s lashes fluttering against it as he continues to watch the car. Looking ahead to the dirt road, he puts his hands in the pockets of his coat. “Do you want to come?” he finally asks, and Hannibal remains still for a moment, as though deliberating his offer. Then, without looking at Will, he paces past him up the steps to the cabin. “Alright,” Will utters quietly to himself as he starts walking towards the car. Reaching it, he hears the door shutting and looks back at the cabin. Lets himself ponder briefly if he would be happier just going back in before pushing aside the notion in his head and tugging on the handle of the car door with resolve.
In the following weeks, Will spends more time with Margot. And the more he does, the more he finds it difficult to tell her he does not want them to develop into anything further. He had tried, on more than one occasion, to explain this, but had always failed because Margot was extremely good at distracting him from his afflictions. Which only aggravated his self-loathing during and afterwards when, eyes closed and lips parted to his groans, he thought of somebody else.
Sometimes, Hannibal would be gone longer than usual, and Will would find himself unable to switch off from his private thoughts as he stared at the movie playing on Margot’s laptop whilst she shifted her head against his shoulder, or her hand on his chest. Maybe Hannibal was tempting fate with a stag again. Or by paying his own kind a late night visit. Hoping she’d finally change her mind and let him in. They’d probably have sex on her plush settee. Hannibal remaining in his human form with the aid of her suppressants which she’d help to administer. Syringe and vial left aside on the table, they’d proceed to mate like wild animals because, even though she prefers to live like people, she cannot deny the instinctive needs of all living creatures. Her excitement spurring him on, allowing for an easy and natural access. His teeth in her neck making her gasp. Eventually, Will always has to stop himself dwelling on the luridly imagined details before Margot notices, and, inhaling inwardly, he would close his eyes and slowly roll his neck as the movie plays on. Remembering, as he stretches, the sensation of those incisors digging into his own skin.
Hannibal does pay Bedelia a visit in the month to come. Sat in her bath, he runs a hand through his hair as she studies herself in the mirror above the sink. Through the thin silk of her dressing gown, he recognises her slender shape which remains unchanged despite her new lifestyle.
“Have you noticed any further disturbances?” he asks, lifting his eyes from her bare ankles to her reflection in the glass.
“Aside from your own, no,” she answers, eyes downcast as she studies another vial in her hand. “Have they yet to uncover anything new in their investigation?”
Hannibal leans back in the bath, gaze moving to the window which he suspects to have been Will’s point of entry when he was last here. Imagines him stood in the sterile space of the bathroom, hands on his hips as his eyes darted around the four corners in search for something that could aid their next attempt to mate. If he had known, he would have placed a bottle in plain sight near the window, and Will would have taken it and left without ever discovering what he did. And perhaps they would have managed to bond successfully, and gone on that fishing trip he had spoken so fondly about. He supposes he will go with Margot and teach her everything about his lures which he so painstakingly ties himself. He had always liked them, and the pleased expression they left on the other’s face.
“It must get rather crowded with the three of you in that cabin,” says Bedelia. “And all those animals.”
“It’s deceptively spacious,” he explains, glancing up to meet her observant blue eyes in the mirror.
“Do you see yourself as a useful guardian to these people?” she asks with lofted eyebrows, and Hannibal allows his gaze to drift from the underlying disapproval in her seemingly impassive countenance.
“It’s convenient,” he states simply.
“For how long?”
He senses her drawing near and looks up when she perches on the edge of the bath.
“You know I am content with the way things are,” she says quietly, lifting her hand to run her fingers through his slicked back hair. “Even with these strange murderers running amock.”
Eyes lidding, he catches her wrist gently, lowering his lips to press them softly to her skin. The drugs having removed near all of her recognisable scent.
“Is it the same as being happy?” he murmurs.
“It can be,” she answers, and he feels her fingers clasping his jaw. Lets her lift his chin as she studies him with half-drawn eyes. A touch of the old fondness in that cool stare.
“Maybe you ought to consider if it can be the same for you.”
When the Sheriff learns of a second family falling victim to the hands of who they now suspect to be a serial killer, Will is the first to be contacted, and he takes Hannibal with him to the crime scene. More yellow tape flapping in the wind across the entrance of a family home in another nearby town – the stark colour and bold text at odds with the cosy interior glimpsed beyond the threshold into the cabin. More young children with their lives ended prematurely, and despite taking their time in the house, pacing every hallway, every room, neither Will nor Hannibal can come up with anything new to share with the men in uniform as they stand there staring at the makeshift swing on the tree outside with disconcerted expressions. Shaking their heads with a mixture of disbelief and confusion as the wind continues to twist the rope. They start thinking about the next potential target, compiling a list of families sharing traits with the first two, and broadcasting on television to extend the warning to neighbouring towns, asking people to be careful and vigilant at all times. To report anything strange, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Jack also shares with the camera and flashing photography, the sketch of Hannibal, and asks for the public to get in touch straight away if they think they have seen this man. When asked whether he could be the killer they are looking for, Jack explains there is no evidence linking him to the current investigation, however the police need him in for questioning.
One night, staking out in the car as they help keep an eye on a suspected prime target, a noise draws Hannibal’s attention and the two of them leave the car to trek up into the woods overlooking the cabin. It rains whilst they watch on from elevated ground, and Will notices Hannibal slipping away into the trees. Stood on his own with his coat collar up, he waits until his curls have matted damply to his head before finally stepping back and turning his attention from the undisturbed family home. Weaving his way between the tall, gnarly trunks, he spots the other leaning against a tree, his head tipped back against the bark. His eyes closed as concentration knits his brow. He appears to be listening for something, and does not open his eyes when Will approaches to stand beneath the tree beside him. Mimicking Hannibal, he leans back and takes one hand out of his coat pocket to drag it through his wet hair. His half-drawn gaze lingering on the other’s naked form. The healing wounds.
The hushed sound of his voice makes him look up. Clouds have shifted, shielding the moon and throwing the woods in shadow. It is hard to see Hannibal clearly in the dark. Will does not remember sharing the news with him, and suspects the other had overheard his phone conversation with Margot.
“We’re not sure yet because it’s still so early,” he says quietly. “But thank you.”
“You will need more space,” Hannibal adds, and Will listens to his voice as he watches the rain striking and seeping into the ground. “You have too many animals.”
An uncomfortable silence passes as neither says anything further. Will glances up into the shadow where Hannibal should be. Glances away again.
“I’m not asking you to leave,” he says. He doesn’t want the other to go and risk a higher chance of being spotted, especially now that his likeness has been shared publicly by the police. At least, that’s what he would go on to explain if he wasn’t so busy trying to suppress the wave of anxiety and the acute spasm of pain that keeps coming and going intermittently beneath his ribs. The rain continues to fall around them, drumming against the leaves above their heads.
“Are you asking me to stay, Will.”
His lips part as he hesitates, brow knitting.
“I’m not sure I would be a good family dog,” he continues to say as Will struggles to find the words. Swallowing, he runs his hand through his curls distractedly once more. Head bowed as he stares hard at the ground as through for an answer.
“Yeah, well…I’m not kicking you out,” he says uncomfortably.
“I appreciate that, Will.”
The more the other calls him by his name with his familiar, accented voice, the more the restrictive sensation grows within his chest until he can’t stand it anymore.
“Let’s go,” he utters, pushing off the tree and walking out into the downpour.
“I’ll meet you back at the cabin,” says Hannibal behind him, and Will pauses, face turning to the side. Swallowing, he turns his attention back to the direction in which he ought to be going.
“Alright,” he says quietly, hands pushing deeper into the pockets of his coat as he carries on walking back to the car.
Chapter 20: I Need Your Help
When Will takes the bottle with him to the settee, it is with the promise that he won’t buy any more once he has drank his current supply dry. And at the rate things are going, that won’t be very long at all. Just when he didn’t think he could despise himself any further, Margot’s news created a whole new level of self-loathing. It is wrong to feel so rock bottom over what should be a cause for celebration, but parental anxieties aside – because, as unprepared as he feels about being a father, he will still do the best he can for this child – he is riddled with guilt for not being honest with Margot. And now that they are going to start a family together, he feels he never can tell her the truth. Perhaps this was always going to happen. If he remained in this town. Perhaps, like a coward running from his problems, he would have upped and left, taking his dogs with him. But the thought of leaving had never even crossed his mind. Because he had started to like this town and its people. Liked his new friendships, before he messed them up. Because, by some crazy turn of fate, he’d met Hannibal. Someone – somebeing – he has not realistically known for long, and yet whose prolonged absence he cannot bear to even consider. The bottle is heavy in his hand, and before he breaks into it, he knows he has two choices. Put it back, and drive to Margot’s despite it being the middle of the night, and climb into her bed, tucking his body around the mother of his future child and allowing himself to get used to the idea of family. Or use it as an excuse to be near him again. One more time.
He had stayed and watched over the family until he felt himself beginning to drift. Part of him wanted the killer to appear, so he could confirm his theory of a possible partnership between a human and his own kind. Something about the crime scenes gave him this feeling, despite there being nothing concrete to suggest as such. Yet it was strange, how almost unnaturally sterile both homes had been. As though something had rendered his senses useless on both occasions. Perhaps it was this lack of human error, in even the smallest capacity, which made him wonder whether there had been the support of something beyond human. He had meant to explain all this to Will earlier, but was unable to suppress his emotions. He shouldn’t have said anything. Just leave when the time is right, and let the other get on with his life. And yet, a part of him stubbornly looks for any excuse to stay, even if doing so will most likely promise nothing but a whole load of pain as he watches the love of a family grow whilst the inexplicable bond between them wanes. When Will won’t even have time to drink himself into a stupor in order to mask his proclivities. He supposes that would be better for his health, especially as a parent. But right now, Will does not bear the weight of such responsibility. Not just yet. And Hannibal already misses him more than he has ever missed anything in his entire adult life.
Lying on his back with the bottle tucked against his side, Will listens to the sound of Hannibal letting himself in. As the other paces towards him, he pretends to be asleep, keeping his eyes closed and his breaths even. He feels the settee dipping beneath the press of his paws, and the bottle being gently pulled away. The urge to reach out makes him extra conscious of the weight of his own hands lying on his chest, and a fingertip or two twitches as he presses them harder into the fabric of his shirt. For a moment, the weight shifts, and Will hears the quiet thud of glass on wood before he feels Hannibal leaning over him. Is ready to wrap his arms around the other when he feels the blanket being draped over him instead. The weight disappears, and he listens to Hannibal moving away – the quiet scrape of his claws telling Will he is lying down on the floor across from him.
Muzzle resting on the ground, he watches Will sleep. He wants to join him under the blanket and murmur how glad he is not to have returned to the smell of cigarette smoke. Because it worries him how much Will smokes, and he should probably quit if he is to be a father soon. No, he won’t say that. It could make Will remember what he should be doing, and roll away. Worse, push him off the settee. But he hasn’t gone to Margot’s to seek solace tonight. He came home. To wait for him. Ready with his alcohol. A part of Hannibal knew this would be the case, and he didn’t know what to do. Go to him, and spend another passionate albeit fleeting moment together, only to make the loss of it ten times worse afterwards, or wait until the moment has passed to be close to him. In the end, he’d stayed put. And, as he watched the family below from the shadow of the trees, he’d rutted to the thought of Will, until he finally spent the burden of his longing against some cold, hard trunk. It shames him to recall his actions, but at least it wouldn’t be a cause of regret for the other come daylight. If Bedelia should ever learn of his degradation, she would no doubt consider him pitiful and unworthy. Sighing through his nose, he lifts his face and puts his muzzle down so it’s pointing away from Will. Closes his eyes.
Slowly, Will slips open his eyes just enough to see the black shape of him lying on the floor. Moonlight illuminating the long line of his back. Face turned away. Carefully, and trying to make the least amount of noise possible, he sits up, dragging the blanket up over his shoulders. Climbing sluggishly off the settee, he shuffles towards Hannibal and lowers himself onto the floorboards behind him, taking care not to touch him accidentally. Lying there on his side, he watches the back of the other’s head. The floor may be hard, but he already feels better. Closing his eyes, he pulls the blanket tighter around himself and falls asleep.
They are both woken at the same time by the sound of knocking on the door. Will grunts as the noise startles him into pressing up stiffly from the floor, his body only just acknowledging the discomfort from lying on a hard surface all night. Hannibal is pressed against him, a forearm hanging over Will’s waist as Will has one of his own arms slung over the other’s warm body. He can feel Hannibal’s muzzle pushing off his chest as he too begins to stir - his eyes half-drawn and somewhat dazed as his tongue darts out to moisten his nose. Will puts his hand on Hannibal’s head, giving him a gentle and apologetic pat – come on, time to get up – before he untangles himself from the other and pulls up slowly into a stand. Hands smoothing down the creased front of his shirt, he checks himself over for anything unseemly, meeting Hannibal from the corners of his eyes in the process, before running a quick hand through his hair and stepping over to the front door.
Getting up, Hannibal goes over to the settee and picks up the whisky bottle with his teeth. Not knowing where best to hide it, he starts to carry it up the stairs just as Will opens the door. He hears the other greeting Margot, his voice a little scratchy from sleep and sheepish as always. As he hurriedly climbs the steps, he catches sound of her reply and takes note of the sombre tone. By the time he has found somewhere to stash the bottle and paces slowly down the landing, he hears Will and Margot talking quietly below.
“I guess I got a bit too excited.”
Hannibal pauses at the end of the landing and peers down to the both of them sat on the settee together, Will’s hand on top of hers as they rest clasped in her lap.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says quietly, and Hannibal watches him give Margot’s hands a squeeze before he slowly gets up from the settee. “I’ll make us some coffee.”
“Thanks,” Margot replies with a grateful smile, her gaze following Will as he steps into the kitchen. Her eyes lidding as she watches him. Recognising that look, Hannibal wonders if he could somehow slip out without either of them realising; the prospect of being in their proximity as they mate again makes him feel literally like running for the woods. Taking off her scarf and coat, Margot stands up from the settee. Hannibal waits until she has started walking towards Will before he climbs silently down the stairs. Reaching the bottom, he glances into the small space of the kitchen to see Will stood with his back to a unit, his hands gripping the edge as Margot kneels down in front of him. Her hands on the front of his trousers.
“Margot,” he begins to utter, brows drawing together, “what are you-”
“Don’t you want to?” she says playfully as she massages Will through his trousers.
“I-” Will stammers, and catches Hannibal in the eye as he tries to take another step towards the door. I need your help. Hannibal stops. And without thinking twice, he lunges at the nearest victim lying on the ground. His sudden bark makes everyone look over, be it man or dog, and as the smaller animal springs defensively onto its feet, Hannibal snarls until it starts to snarl back.
He hears Will calling for him to stop, and lunges at the dog again, jaws snapping. As Will shouts, his footsteps hurrying towards them across the room, Hannibal receives a smack from the other’s paw followed by gnashing teeth to the muzzle. He’d picked the right dog to start a fight with, that’s for sure. But he needs to do more. He hears Margot shouting now, trying to help, and, despite not being able to make an apology known to the unfortunate animal, Hannibal starts biting back. Soon, Will and Margot have appeared by them, Will grabbing him by the collar while Margot tries to pull the other dog back, and without warning, Hannibal tugs forcefully out of Will’s grasp. Snarling threateningly, he jumps at the smaller dog and catches Margot’s hand when he bites at the animal’s neck. Just enough to make her cry out in surprise. But she is not afraid of him.
“No!” she shouts at Hannibal as Will uses both hands to drag him back by the collar, her own on that of the smaller dog as it continues to bark stubbornly at Hannibal. “Bad dog!” she continues to cry scoldingly, and Hannibal uses the opportunity. Twisting round in Will’s hands, he lunges at him with a vicious growl and teeth bared – sees a flicker of genuine apprehension in those blue eyes as he lets go – before he whips back round to snarl threateningly at the dog, at Margot, his body lowering towards the ground as he prepares to jump.
“Will?” says Margot, eyes uncertain as she looks for him past Hannibal.
“Can you take him?” Will asks, indicating to the smaller dog with his eyes as he grabs Hannibal by the neck with his arms and uses his weight to keep him from struggling free. Margot grimaces as Hannibal snaps ferociously at the air. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” he grunts as he continues to hold Hannibal back.
“Okay, I’ll take him-” says Margot as she starts to drag the other dog away.
“Are you going to be okay with him?”
“Yeah,” Will answers. “I just don’t want you getting hurt.”
Margot smiles before she has to regain her hold on the dog as it tries to jump for Hannibal.
“I’ll keep him at mine and you can come over later to pick him up?” she says above their barking, pulling the dog with her towards the front door.
“Okay. Do you need a lead?”
“I’ve got one in the car. Oh, can you bring my coat with you later?”
Hannibal sees her look towards it on the settee. It is tricky to reach with a large and feral dog in the way.
“Sorry,” Will says apologetically. “You can take mine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’ve got a spare-”
Whilst continuing to make a scene, Hannibal watches her move quickly to grab Will’s coat from where it’s hung up by the stairs before pulling the dog with her back towards the door. Realising she isn’t able to put the coat on without letting go of the dog, she gives Will a helpless smile and shrug before opening the door and stepping out.
“See you later, Will,” she cries over the ruckus. “Come on, boy!”
“Thanks, Margot,” Will cries back as the door begins to close, shutting her smiling face from sight.
Hannibal stops pulling against Will, and he hears the other exhaling from behind him.
“Well that was,” Will begins to utter before Hannibal suddenly bites his hand - just a nip. But enough to make him jerk in surprise. “Ow! What are you-”
Hannibal resumes barking like a crazed animal, and the knot in Will’s brow begins to unfurl as he understands. Sitting down on the floor with his back to the settee, Will leans away with a grimace as Hannibal continues to bark the house down. Then, he suddenly snatches his muzzle with both hands as the rumble of an engine can be heard outside. They sit there on the floor across from one another, listening for the car to pull away and join the dirt road. When only the sound of birdsong can be heard again outside, Will slowly lets go of Hannibal’s muzzle.
Leaning back against the settee, he runs a hand through his curls, face breaking into a smile as he shakes his head and parts his lips, eyes lifting to meet Hannibal’s. Hesitating as, no doubt, the guilt begins to settle, he presses his lips together and clears his throat.
“I guess you wouldn’t be a good family dog after all,” he says quietly before heaving a sigh and letting his head fall back against the settee, his hands moving up to rub over his face before they drop into his lap. “Not that there will be a family,” he utters to the ceiling. “Not yet, anyway…”
Hannibal picks himself off the floor and trots over to the desk in the corner of the room, the other dogs giving him a wide berth as he climbs up onto the chair. Nosing at the surface of the desk, he eventually catches a fly between his teeth and hops back down. As he trots towards Will, he sees the other has sat upright and is waiting patiently for him. Stopping in front of Will, he gently lays the fly down on the floor before lifting his head. Will watches down at his own handiwork as he picks it up and holds it carefully between his fingers. The metal of the bait glinting an attractive gold. Hannibal waits for Will to meet his gaze, and, as they sit there on the floor, basking in the morning light, he lets the other’s smile pry at the gates of his heart.
With the police keeping a close eye on the suspected prime targets, Will allows himself some time away from everything. And, having agreed with Hannibal’s suggestion, he had driven them to that secluded spot which he had originally intended to show the other. Dressed in his bib and brace, he had waded deep into the stream with Hannibal following until, stood in the midst of the current, he became aware of his hair dripping water onto his hands as he leaned over to watch Will attach the fly to his line. Eyes on the lure, he had continued to explain what he was doing. Content just to have the other’s company and enjoying his curious interest in one of Will’s biggest passions.
Perhaps it was Hannibal’s presence which kept the fish from biting – he did, after all, disappear from time to time, swimming off only to emerge further down the river, his fair head breaking through the surface of the water momentarily before ducking out of sight again. Once, he’d stood up in the shallows of the river bank, and Will could not help but watch as the other brought his arms up behind his head and stretched languidly. The sun reflected in the water droplets rolling off his skin like diamonds. As Hannibal slowly ran a hand through the slick tresses of his hair, Will thought he would look over, and quickly returned his attention to the new fly he was fumbling to tie onto the line.
Will pauses chewing on his sandwich as Hannibal crunches through something in the dead rabbit. He lies there at Will’s feet, cradling the dead animal in his arms upon the riverbank as the rest of him remains in water. Eventually, he senses Will staring, and finishes chewing whatever he has inside his mouth before swallowing and licking his lips. His face is covered up to his cheekbones in blood.
“…is it nice?” Will asks, breaking the silence. He doesn’t quite manage to hide the grimace when Hannibal looks up, his black eyes on his sandwich.
“Is yours?” he asks in return and, brows lofting, Will drops his gaze to study the relatively tame ham and cheese wedged between the two slices of bread.
“It’s alright,” he answers offhandedly before lifting the sandwich to his lips and taking another bite. Eyes falling back on the carcass in front of him.
“Would it upset you if I told you I ate its babies first?”
Will stops chewing and looks up.
“…I didn’t really.”
Regarding the other flatly, Will swallows his mouthful and picks up the lid of his flask. Secretly charmed by that smile which slowly starts to fade as Hannibal looks down at the rabbit, fingers stroking absently the fluff of its tail.
“I’m sorry to hear the news,” he says quietly, and Will lowers the lid from his lips, swallowing.
“Yeah…” he utters, picking up the flask to pour himself more coffee. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
“There’s always next time,” suggests Hannibal, and Will cannot hide the knitting of his brow as he murmurs a noncommittal sound in response and takes a sip of the coffee. He does it too fast, however, and burns the inside of his mouth. Pressing his lips together, he cradles the lid between his hands as he thinks of a way to divert attention away from himself.
“What about you?” he asks, meeting the other’s gaze through the escaping steam. “Do you want a family?”
“Most of us are driven by biological instinct,” answers Hannibal as he lowers his face back to the rabbit and sinks his teeth into something visceral.
“Bedelia doesn’t seem to be,” says Will quietly, and Hannibal lets go of the organ to lick his lips, hooded eyes downcast as his face remains bowed over the body.
Will has a sudden urge to reach down and put his hand gently on the other’s head.
“What about you?” he asks, taking a sip from the lid.
“Maybe,” Hannibal answers, slipping back from the bank to sink into the water. When he surfaces again, the river has washed his face clean of blood. His lips hanging agape as he breathes. Hair plastered over his eyes. Will licks his lips and looks down into the lid.
“Does your species…practice homosexuality,” he asks hesitantly, lifting his gaze to watch the other pushing the wet tresses from his lidded eyes to regard him blankly. Will clears his throat, focusing again on the lid.
“Same gender relationships. Male and…male. Or…two females,” he explains as Hannibal folds his arms upon the bank and leans his chin atop them. His lashes low as he studies the grass.
“There is no biological benefit in forming such a bond,” he answers.
“So you’ve never…”
A pause. Then black eyes look up at him.
“…have I what.”
“Ever had a same gender relationship?”
“No,” Will answers, lowering his eyes to the lid. “Well…” he adds with a distracted lick of his lips, “I dunno. I guess we don’t count.”
No further comment is made, and Will becomes aware again of the sound of the river. Uneasy with the lull in conversation, he tries to think of something to say to change the topic when Hannibal suddenly speaks up.
“We wouldn’t be the first human and shapeshifter to develop a sexual relationship,” he says quietly.
“Yeah, well,” Will mutters, head tilting uncomfortably as he knits his brow, eyes refusing to leave the lid. “I dunno if you’d call it that…”
“What would you call it?”
“Friendship?” Will suggests, looking up from beneath his drawn eyebrows. Hannibal is still studying the grass.
“I don’t do what we do with friends,” he says thoughtfully.
“Well…me neither,” Will murmurs, glancing askance.
“I’ve never really had friends.”
A pause as Will continues to watch the trees in the distance.
“I’m glad we’re friends, Will.”
At the hushed sound of his voice, his familiar accent, Will swallows, frown deepening at the ground.
“…me too,” he says quietly.
“…do you wish to touch me?”
His eyes dart around anxiously on the ground as though he has lost something. Looking anywhere but at the other while his lips hang agape to the answer he’s afraid to admit.
“Forgive me,” Hannibal begins to say, but Will shakes his head, eyes shutting.
“No, I…” he stammers, then stops. Chest beginning slowly to heave, he swallows and turns his face to the side, eyes slipping open to stare through his lashes at the grass. “…would you mind?” he eventually whispers.
For a moment, nothing happens as his heart continues to thud in his chest. Then, he hears the sound of a weight being dragged from the water and slowly turns his face as Hannibal reaches him. Their brows pressing gently together. Will closes his eyes as he feels a tiny rivulet of water slipping its way down his face. Parts his lips under the warm stroke of the other’s breath which slowly blows its way to his ear.
“Come into the water,” it whispers back.
Chapter 21: Encounter
It had been a little disconcerting, being watched by the other as he undressed and left his clothes in a pile beside his fishing gear. His firearm tucked beneath his folded shirt. Arms wrapped around himself against the cold, he’d stepped to the edge of the bank. Conscious of those black eyes looking him over as the rest of his face remained submerged in water. Despite the chill, he could not hide his growing arousal, and even when he’d slipped down into the water, the extent of his excitement was merely confirmed by the other’s grasping hand.
Now, with Hannibal pressed against the bank wall, Will blinks against the droplets of water sliding off the ends of his wet curls and into his eyes. Lips agape, they pant quietly in tandem as they rub slowly against one another. Hannibal holding on to Will’s biceps as he braces his hands against the dirt wall on either side of him. Bows his head to press his face into the side of Hannibal’s neck as he arches harder against his body. His movements growing more urgent as he slips his hands down to grab the plush globes of the other’s arse. I’ve missed you.
At the hushed sound of his voice, Will lifts his face. Hannibal’s eyes are half drawn as he glances askance. He holds still for a moment.
“What is it…?” he whispers, brow knitting at the other’s pensive expression. Swallowing the rising disappointment, he leans back to give Hannibal breathing space. “Do you want me to stop?” he asks, not quite able to mask the anxious tone of his voice. Hooded eyes look at him then fall away again. Will watches him lick his lips and hesitate as he tries to find the words.
“Do you want to…” he begins to murmur, when something distracts him and the sentence lingers in the air incomplete as he turns his attention down river.
“…what?” Will utters as he watches the other’s profile, and feels a wet hand pressing over his mouth. A frown slowly pinches Hannibal’s brow, and Will turns his eyes to look in the same direction.
In the far distance, before the river disappears over the edge of the sunken riverbed, a man is standing at the edge of the riverbank, staring into the water. Will does not immediately recognise him, but neither can he see him clearly from where they are. Hannibal lets go to rest his hands atop Will’s shoulders. Pushes down on them gently until Will lowers further into the water with him. The man continues to watch the water, as though lost in his own thoughts, and Will starts to grow increasingly cold the longer he remains in the water without physical contact. Sensing this, Hannibal pulls him closer, and Will instinctively slips his arms around his waist as he waits for the other to stop staring. Can’t help noticing the waning shape of Hannibal pressing against him. He wants to reach down and stoke the fire, steal back the attention, but knows he should wait. Something doesn’t feel right.
Eventually, the man turns and walks away, disappearing from view amongst the trees. Hannibal exhales quietly, and Will realises the other had been holding his breath all this time.
“You know him?” he asks, and sees the furrow deepening in Hannibal’s brow.
“No,” he answers, eyes still staring at the spot where the man had stood. “But he smelt of death. Even from here.”
“What do you mean?” Will asks, own brow knitting. “Like a hunter?”
“Stronger than that,” Hannibal answers, and Will turns his face to watch the trees.
“You don’t think…”
“I’m not sure…”
“We should investigate.”
“We should,” Hannibal echoes him in agreement, “but let me go ahead.” He faces Will, wearing a troubled expression still. Realising his hands have settled on the other’s hips, Will gives him a small squeeze.
“We’ll go together,” he says, and feels Hannibal taking his wrists and gently removing his hands.
“I’ll be less suspect in my other form,” he explains as he moves towards the edge of the bank and begins to pull himself up.
“I’ll be right behind you then,” states Will, following suit.
“Not too close,” instructs Hannibal as he perches on the edge beside him and begins to stand. “He could be dangerous,” he adds, looking once more in the direction in which the man had disappeared. Having pulled himself up, Will also stands and moves quickly towards his clothes.
“Even more reason for us to-”
Gun in hand, he pauses at the solemn tone of the other’s voice and looks up to see Hannibal watching him with a worried expression.
“Stay back,” he says, and starts running towards the trees.
“Wait-” Will begins to cry, but by the time he has stuck his damp legs into his trousers, the other has already disappeared from view. He gets dressed haphazardly, checks his gun, and starts running towards the treeline.
It’s the same scent from the crime scenes. Devoid of any other characteristics but death in its purest form. Hannibal does not understand how it can be separated from natural components, be it plant, animal, human. Unless it is an artificial construct. Nose rendered unhelpful in his pursuit, he treks carefully through the woods, using the trunks of the trees as an obscuring shield as he surveys the spaces occupied by both shadow and light. Alert to the sounds of the animals inhabiting the area and paying attention to tell-tale stretches of silence, or the alarm bell of warning coming in the form of nervous chittering or the sudden rustling of leaves.
The deeper into the woods he stalks, the quieter it grows until it is possible to believe one is utterly alone. And it is here that he sees it. A pair of eyes glinting in the dimness of the shielding tree trunks. Watching him. Hannibal holds still, then steps out into a falling shaft of light. The other copies him, and appears almost as a mirror image to Hannibal, if not for its sharp upright ears and docked tail. But the feature that catches his attention first, is the distortion of its face. In particular, a deep divide in the skin at the front left of the muzzle that runs up to the nostril, exposing the contrasting pink of its gum, and creating the illusion of a perpetual scowl. Those eyes continue to stare at him unblinkingly, and Hannibal is compelled to stare back until it suddenly bolts off with a scattering of leaves. Without hesitation, Hannibal runs after it.
It’s times like this that makes Will wish he had the sort of dependable technology seen in movies. A tracking device, perhaps, that could show him exactly where Hannibal is, so he wouldn’t have to rely entirely on his own fallible senses. Each sound and movement in his peripheral vision making him hesitate as he does his best to remain aware of his surroundings. It has been a while, however, and still no sign of Hannibal.
“Did you fall in the water?” a voice asks, the unexpected sound of it making Will spin around on the spot, hands out at the sides and ready to reach behind for his gun. But the man standing before him is unarmed. His hands in the pockets of his trousers. His blue eyes lidded and relaxed as he regards Will without interest. Will, on the other hand, tries not to stare at the cleft in the other man’s upper lip.
“Yeah,” he answers, running a hand casually through his curls before resting both hands on his hips. “I’m looking for my dog,” he explains, pretending to survey the area.
“So am I.”
Blue meets blue.
“He’s big, and black, and has the most adorable ears,” the man continues to say, his choice of words at odds with the low monotone of his voice. There is a brief pause as he tilts his head before adding, “Have you seen a dog like that around?”
Will has to remind himself to remain casual.
“Can’t say I have,” he answers, holding that unblinking stare. “And can’t say I’ve seen you around this neck of the woods…”
“I travel a lot,” the man says simply.
“Where are you staying?” Will asks lightly, folding his arms.
“Are you offering accommodation?”
“Are you in need of accommodation?”
“No, thank you.”
The man starts to walk towards Will, glancing at him from the corners of his eyes as he passes.
“You should be more wary of offering shelter to strangers,” he says, and Will turns to watch the back of his head. “Without knowing their full history.”
“What’s your name,” Will asks, stepping after him. The man stops walking and turns his face to the side.
“Regardless of what my name is,” he states, “I am not the one you are looking for.”
“I disagree,” says Will lowly, and a smile tugs at the corner of the man’s lips before he starts running. Snatching the gun from behind him, Will aims it at the escaping figure.
“Stop!” he shouts, but the man darts out of range into the trees. Keeping his gun drawn, Will runs after him.
Each time he catches sight of him, he disappears again before Will can do anything about it. He keeps up the pursuit until he’s panting for his breath and finds it difficult to see in these darker areas of the woods. He can only hope Hannibal is nearby to apprehend the man. And just as the thought came to mind, Will rounds a tree and feels the force of something running at full speed colliding square into him. Hears the yelp and glimpses flapping ears just before he stumbles over with a hissed curse. Back hitting the ground beneath the other’s weight, Will immediately pushes up the same time his assailant climbs back onto his feet.
“Hannibal,” he pants, standing with his gun drawn. “Did you see him?” he asks, scanning the tree trunks surrounding them. A quick glance down tells him Hannibal is also busy surveying. His black eyes wide and staring. “Let’s stick together for now,” he utters. “This way.”
Sat in a chair he’d brought into the bathroom and pulled up next to the bath, Will keeps his hands on the plate as Hannibal leans over to pick up the piece of meat. He could have cooked it for longer so it isn’t bleeding so much still, or cut it up into more manageable pieces, but it didn’t seem right. He listens to Hannibal tearing at the steak with his teeth. The sound of him chewing. Watches the pink droplets falling off his chin to rejoin the shallow puddle of blood covering the surface of the plate. Swallowing, Hannibal puts a hand on the crockery.
“I can hold it,” he says quietly. “You don’t have to watch me eat.”
“I don’t mind,” Will utters, and hooded eyes look up at the absent tone of his voice.
“You’re not eating?” he asks, and Will knits his brow at the bloody puddle in his hands.
“I’m alright,” he replies, and Hannibal pauses eating to wait, watching Will expectantly when he finally decides to share what’s on his mind and meets him in the eye.
“I didn’t say anything about Cody Winters because I took your word for it that you acted in self defence,” Will begins to utter as he leans back in the chair. “But really, I chose not to pursue it because I knew the boy had committed a crime which they couldn’t pin him for because of lack of evidence.” He looks down before continuing. “I’ve been working in law enforcement long enough to know most times if someone is guilty. There’s something in their eyes when they look at you. And I knew he did it. But he got lucky.”
There is silence in the bathroom as Hannibal waits for him to continue.
“And somebody else was blamed,” he says, frowning at the thought. “Someone with a previous conviction who’d done this sort of thing before, and deserves to stay locked up,” Will goes on to explain, pausing to heave a quiet sigh. “I guess I was tired of bad people getting away with things, I stopped caring if bad things happened to them. As far as I was concerned, someone who can rape and beat a young girl within an inch of her life like that-”
“Why are you telling me this?” Hannibal suddenly interrupts, voice hard and defensive as he leans back in the bath.
“I’m just saying I can read people,” says Will, straightening up with a frown. “I don’t care that you killed Winters-”
“People,” Hannibal interrupts again, staring unhappily past Will’s shoulder. “But not us.”
“Us,” Will repeats confusedly.
“Well it’s true I barely know anything about you except from what you’ve told me,” Will says, growing defensive also as he watches the other avoiding his eyes. “I’ve just…assumed you’ve been telling me the truth-”
“Because I trust you-”
“No you don’t,” says Hannibal, gaze focusing on Will. “I can see it in your eyes,” he adds, voice quiet yet accusatory.
“Fine,” Will snaps impatiently, putting down the plate to stand with his hands on hips. “Are you going to tell me what this is? Do you have mind control or some other brain washing ability I don’t know about?”
“Your lust for me stems from your own confused biology,” counters Hannibal coolly. “It has nothing to do with me.”
“My confused biology,” Will scoffs.
“I’m not the one fucking a grown man on the side while waiting for the love of his life who actually, for some godforsaken reason, wants to live like a goddamn human being-”
“You could be a father, and yet-”
“What? Say it,” Will barks, heart hammering in his chest. Don’t you use that against me.
But Hannibal doesn’t say anything further, and Will stands there in silence, scowling at the other’s profile. Then, lowering his gaze with a sigh, he runs his hand agitatedly through his hair and sits back down on the chair.
“The man from the woods spoke to you,” Hannibal eventually says, still refusing to meet Will in the eye. “He has put doubt in your mind.”
“If the man I saw and the dog you came across are one and the same,” he says, “it means I can’t adequately warn Jack and the others unless I expose you-” He hesitates before continuing. “-shapeshifting beings, to them. Assuming they know nothing of your kind.” He is calmer now as he folds his arms and hunches over on the chair. Less defensive and more upset they were arguing.
“But you didn’t tell Jack when we were at the station.”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“The evidence is strong.”
“How often do you see dogs and their owners with the same deformity?”
“It can happen.”
“Will,” says Hannibal, standing up in the bath. Will looks up at his earnest expression. “You are not obliged to protect me.”
“I know I’m not,” Will utters, frowning at the wall.
“Don’t make life difficult for yourself on my behalf.”
“Yeah, well…you’ve done that already by killing Winters,” Will mutters, rubbing slowly at his own arm.
“If I remove myself from the equation, you won’t have to worry about endangering me when you pursue the other with Jack and his men.”
Will’s turn to fall silent as the suggestion hangs in the air.
“Maybe there’s another way,” he says eventually, voice quiet. “I don’t want to lose a friend.” I don’t want you to go.
Hannibal slowly lowers back into a sit, his legs tucking up as he wraps his arms around them. Will glances up at the other’s profile. Hooded eyes half drawn as Hannibal stares ahead of him.
“…me neither,” he half-whispers.
Lying on his back, with his hands folded over his stomach, Will stares up at the bathroom ceiling. Following the awkward conversation with Hannibal, they had spent the remainder of the evening checking over the cabin to see if it would hold defensively should they be approached by any hostile man or animal. If not entirely a safe haven, Will was satisfied it would at least buy them some time if they did come under trouble.
Earlier, when they’d stopped by the station following their failed attempt to hunt down the man from the woods, he had relayed the same precautions to Jack who in turn sent men out to spread the word to townsfolk before making some phone calls to towns further afield but still in proximity of potential danger. A sketch was also made based on Will’s description, and put up in the station alongside that of Hannibal. Ready for the mass public once Jack had been in touch with the local press.
He had also called Margot to explain what had happened before driving over to check the security measures of her home. Hannibal had stayed in the car, and when Will had returned and asked if they should call on the dog whisperer, too, the other had merely watched him with a grateful look in his eyes. Again, he’d stayed in the car as Will made the visit. Kept his head low and out of sight from the window until, stood at the door, Will had looked back at the seemingly empty car seat, and regretted mentioning Bedelia during their argument.
“I should have stolen some of those drugs,” he murmurs. “This isn’t exactly convenient.”
“I guess not,” Hannibal answers, and Will turns his face to watch up at the bath. Suspects the other is probably lying similarly in the water, watching up through those lashes. It was his idea to camp in the bathroom. Just in case anything came to mind. He could ask, and Hannibal would hopefully answer. Head shifting in the pillow, he strokes absently at the blanket covering his lower half.
“…are you comfortable?” he asks, eyes on the ceiling. “Water must be pretty cold now.”
“Well, you don’t have to stay in there all night…”
“You’ll probably get all wrinkly and shit…or does that not happen?”
“I don’t think so.”
Will continues studying the ceiling even though it’s too dark now to really see anything.
“Would you ever consider taking those drugs?” he asks.
“I dunno,” Will utters, lifting a hand to itch at his jaw. “Maybe when you want to have a conversation without sitting in a bath.”
“Until today, I’ve not known it to be a common enough occurrence to warrant a change in my chemical balance.”
Will pauses itching and lowers his hand as he exhales inwardly. He doesn’t know if he should apologise for earlier. It might dispel some of this uneasiness between them, or make it worse by bringing it up. Things that Hannibal believed about Will which weren’t true. And yet he doesn’t know how to prove different.
“I had a sister.”
Will looks towards the bath. When nothing else comes, he asks,
“What happened to her?”
A pause and the subtle sound of Hannibal shifting in the water followed by a quiet sigh.
“She was taken,” he says. “By humans.”
Frowning, Will does not comment as he waits for the other to continue.
“She was dead by the time I found her.”
Sitting up, Will folds his arms upon his legs as he looks over and just about makes out the other’s impassive expression in the dark. Those hooded eyes gazing at nothing.
“I’m sorry,” he says gently. “That’s awful...”
“It was a long time ago.”
Will continues to watch the other as he falls silent once more. Pulling towards the bath, he carefully folds an arm atop the edge. “What happened to the people?”
“Justice,” Hannibal answers simply, voice empty of feeling.
“…did you kill them?” Will asks quietly.
“Wouldn’t you,” Hannibal asks in return, “if you found out these people had raped and murdered Margot?”
“You worked in law enforcement,” Hannibal continues to say, interrupting. “I understand that means certain rules are followed. But what if they were shapeshifters. And their lives meant nothing to you but a reminder of the cruelty of their species.”
Will recalls the other’s reaction to his mention of the Winters victim. Realises it must have touched a nerve and reopened a wound. For a moment, there is utter silence in the bathroom. A void opening between their species – between them – if Will doesn’t do something.
“That man spoke as though he knew of your past,” he says carefully. “Do you have any idea how he could have known?”
“I don’t know. But I mean to find out.”
“It’s not safe.”
Hannibal turns his head to look up at him. In the dark, Will can see how close their faces are.
“That is why I must go alone.”
Will begins to shake his head in protest when Hannibal adds, “I don’t want to risk you getting hurt.”
“Yeah, well,” Will utters quietly, face lowering towards the other’s. “That’s not how it works.”
“How what works?” Hannibal murmurs, lips so close, Will can feel his breath on his skin.
“Friendship,” he whispers, and hazards a smile. Small and shy. Raking a hand through his curls, he rests his chin on his arm. Watches the other through his lashes. “Do you want to come out and…we can sleep in the bed? It’s warmer and more comfortable.”
“What if something comes to mind?” Hannibal asks, and Will swallows and clears his throat quietly, fingers drumming a distracted staccato on the edge of the bath as he glances towards the cabinet.
“Well I…could see if there’s anything we could use…”
“If you had more questions, I mean.”
“Oh. Well then…I’ll just ask in the morning.”
Embarrassed, Will stands up and looks for a towel in the dark.
“I’m sorry for what I said earlier.”
Pausing, Will turns to see Hannibal sitting up in the bath.
“It’s fine,” he shrugs, “I said some stupid things too.”
“You’re not just a grown man on the side,” Hannibal begins to repeat what he’d said, and Will coughs hurriedly as he steps over with the towel.
“It’s fine,” he says dismissively. “Like you said, I’m a grown man. I can take it.”
Smiling, he presses the towel into Hannibal’s hands and starts heading towards the door.
“See you in the bedroom,” he says.
“Okay,” comes the quiet response from behind him.
Chapter 22: Rapture
When Hannibal finally comes to join him in the bedroom, his muzzle appears almost apologetically in the gap of the door, and Will shifts further to one side of the bed before patting the space beside him. With Hannibal’s long body tucked against him, Will drifts off with his brow pressed against the glossy back of his head. His arm slung over his side as he spoons the other’s warmth. His fingers curling into the silken front of his chest. And after a while, he loses count of its rising and falling, and begins to think they can settle for the remainder of the night. As he had expected, however, Hannibal stirs, and he pretends not to notice as he slips from beneath his arm and climbs off the bed with a quiet rustling of the sheets. Doesn’t open his eyes until he hears the hushed and distant click of his claws upon the last step of the stairs, and remains lying there on his side as he waits for the sound of the door. They had agreed on keeping any actions which would compromise the security of the cabin to a minimum. That included Hannibal’s coming and going as he pleased through the front door. But tonight he will be going out without being able to let himself back in, now that Will will no longer keep the door on latch for his ease of access. He is putting himself at risk, and Will can guess the reason why. As soon as he hears the door shut, he quickly gets dressed and grabs his gun.
It can be considered a risk, he supposes, walking to Bedelia’s at night, but he feels alert and aware of his surroundings which are familiar enough to him, even in the dark. It also makes him feel better following Hannibal on foot, lest the other comes into some sort of trouble ahead. The route to the dog whisperer’s home is relatively straightforward, and soon he finds himself stood at the treeline, watching the house across the grass. A single light glows dimly from a room above. Will presumes this to be Bedelia’s bedroom, and can’t help entertaining thoughts of Hannibal finally winning her over, and mating with her on her bed. He wonders if the décor of her bedroom would be similar or different to the clinical minimalism of her bathroom. If there are any potted plants in danger of being knocked over in their hurry to bond. If Hannibal would be gentle. Inhaling a breath, he releases a sigh into the cold night air and folds his arms as he leans against a tree. Knows he really shouldn’t dwell on such things, and yet can’t help doing so neither. When he finally sees Hannibal’s dark shape slipping out the back of the house from an exit beyond his view, Will straightens up and waits for the other to notice him as he trips his way across the grass. Meeting his gaze, Hannibal holds still before he reaches the trees. Limbs straight, head raised and alert. Ears stirring faintly in the breeze. He doesn’t look surprised to see Will, and falls into step naturally beside him when he turns from the house to start retracing the way home.
They know the route like the back of their hands, but since their recent dealings with the man, even the most routine of steps has taken on an electric charge of potential danger. Will does his best to stay focused, but every now and then, he finds his mind straying back to the house and the dimly lit room, the light of which had vanished upon Hannibal’s leave as though to signal the end of a liaison. Approaching the cascade in the river, Will pulls the torch from his coat pocket and shines it on the first stepping stone. Beside him, he hears Hannibal dropping down into the water and starting to paddle alongside him as he begins to cross. Head bowed, Will keeps his eyes on the stones even when he senses the presence of Hannibal’s naked body manoeuvring its way through rushing water in the dark. Watching his step amongst the rocks.
“I wanted to warn her,” he says, voice almost lost to the sound of the river.
“I know,” says Will, going for the next step. “Though for a moment I thought you were leaving for good.”
Hannibal doesn’t say anything. Maybe he didn’t hear him.
“I mean,” Will continues to say, raising his voice slightly, “friends usually say bye before disappearing.”
As he prepares to cross over onto the next stone, hands grabs him mid-step, pulling him down into the water. With a cry of surprise, Will almost loses his footing and comes close to falling down against some rocks if not for Hannibal steering him away from them last minute. His torch falls out of his hand and clatters out of sight as the other pulls him flush against himself, but lacks the footing to redirect the force of Will’s swinging weight. Grunting, they stumble down into the water, and Will’s head goes under briefly before he breaks through the surface gasping for his breath. The water is freezing, and he feels the other grabbing him by his coat to pull him towards the dark beneath some overhanging trees along the bank. Clouds continue to obscure the moon, and without the torch, Will relies on touch and sound to help him find his bearings.
“A problem shared is a problem halved, Will,” he says a little breathlessly. The words sound close. He can feel the warmth of Hannibal’s breath reaching through the air between their faces, and his hands holding on to his coat still. “Like me, you carry a weight inside you,” he continues to say, this time into his ear, and Will swallows at the unexpected intimacy as he drops his gaze and leans towards the sound of his voice. The warm puff of his exhale. Eyes closing halfway, he gropes for Hannibal’s arms in the water and pulls him towards himself.
“Help me forget it,” he half whispers, and feels the stroke of Hannibal’s cheek against his own as he moves his face. Their mouths find each other in the dark, and what begins as a chaste and tentative brush soon grows heated as Will channels his earlier jealousy into the contact. Without breaking the kiss, he wrestles out of his burdensome coat before surging forward to press Hannibal against the edge of the bank. Driven by the desire to touch him, to make him feel more pleasure than even Bedelia could, Will grinds his hips into Hannibal as he reaches down to clasp the naked globes of his arse. Resuming what they had started the last time they found themselves in the river, but with unprecedented urgency. Lips finding the smooth expanse of Hannibal’s throat, Will sucks hungrily at his pulse and feels the undulation as the other swallows against his haste.
“It’s not safe to mate in the open just now,” he breathes, and Will presses his face into Hannibal’s neck, the words not quite registering. His heart is hammering against the other’s through his sodden shirt.
“Okay,” he whispers absently, just wanting to stay like this a little longer. The river roaring in his ears. Hannibal in his arms. For a moment, his wish is granted as neither of them move. When Will moves a hand up Hannibal’s chest, he can feel the hard pounding beneath his palm. Thinks perhaps Hannibal is concerned the man could be near, and presses closer still as though to shield him, his hand returning to clasp the smooth round of his buttock. A quiet sigh escapes Hannibal’s lips as Will kneads him longingly with his fingers.
“…I’ll stop us if I hear anything,” Hannibal murmurs decisively, his voice a husky half whisper that struggles to be heard, yet Will leaps on it recklessly, unable to hold back any longer.
“Alright,” he exhales excitedly as he feels hands working on his belt underwater and reaches down to help. No longer conscious of the cool temperature of the water, his breath catches as he immediately falls to rubbing himself against Hannibal the moment he is pulled free from his clinging underwear. And Hannibal moves back in tandem, meeting each of his strokes with a growing shortness of breath that strips Will of any remaining inhibitions.
“I want you,” he sighs into the skin just below his ear.
“Will…” Hannibal begins to utter, hesitating like he did last time, and Will kisses him before he can deliberate. Before he can change his mind. Don’t you want me too? A hand slowly but firmly closes around him, pulling him closer until he’s pressing intimately against Hannibal. Holding still, Will stares searchingly in the dark. Doesn’t realise the other is doing the same until the subtle shifting of the clouds imparts them the faintest glow of moonlight, revealing those hooded eyes and lips parted to his shallow breaths. Will had not expected to see Hannibal like this. Barely meeting him in the eye, and looking as though he is in half a mind to escape. So it is with some surprise when that hand suddenly squeezes, making Will throb in response as that most vulnerable part of the other starts pressing over his ache.
“Wait-” he gasps, snatching his wrist underwater. Hannibal holds still, trying his best not to look stung.
“You don’t wish to?” he murmurs lowly, unsure, and Will shakes his head hurriedly with a frown, dropping water from the tips of his soaked curls.
“No, I,” he stammers, hands moving to grip the tops of Hannibal’s thighs reassuringly as he licks his lips nervously before continuing. “What…what if you turn back? Do I stop?”
“I won’t turn while you’re inside me.”
Swallowing convulsively at the thought, Will releases a ragged exhale.
No sooner had the curse left his lips does he find himself repeating it harshly as Hannibal moves without warning and forces the tight ring of his anus open against the full head of Will’s penis. Moaning uncontrollably from the iron grip of the other’s body, Will braces his arms against the bank as he feels Hannibal labouring for his breath. Every inch of him tense against the invasion of his swollen cock as it lodges slowly inside him. And yet breaching Hannibal is nothing like the time the other had tried to do the same to him. Perhaps they have the aid of water, but Will realises he is able to glide with a surprising lack of resistance in and out of Hannibal’s passage – the thrilling ease of which makes him rut harder and faster into the other’s body like he’s never done before. With anyone.
“Fuck,” he pants into the slick tresses of Hannibal’s hair as his hips snap back and forth on their own accord. “You feel amazing…”
Pushing through the pleasure clouding his awareness, Will opens his eyes to see Hannibal frowning uncomfortably as his body jerks helplessly from his efforts – his hands splayed and groping for purchase on the bank wall behind him until, grabbing one of them, he closes Hannibal’s hand around his own cock. Makes him stroke in rhythm to his thrusts. Watches the furrow of concentration in his brow as Hannibal tries to match his pace.
“Yeah?” he breathes, and all the other can do is nod as Will presses him into the bank and redoubles his efforts. “Fuck-” Fingers digging into the plush of Hannibal’s cheeks as he pulls them further apart and plunges deeper inside. Moving, despite the resistance of the water, like a thing possessed as he marvels at the exquisite sensation of Hannibal’s body. Like he was somehow made just for him.
“Fuck,” he pants, unable to stop. “I’m-”
“I’m going to-”
“What?” he utters confusedly when he feels teeth closing on his ear and biting down hard enough to wrench from his lips a sharp cry of pain.
“Claim me,” Hannibal growls around his earlobe and, recalling their heated moments in the past, Will bites down on his neck. Hears Hannibal gasping abruptly just before his body seizes up around him like a clenching fist, forcing a guttural groan of pleasure from the depths of his throat. It escapes into the cold night air in a frenzied white flurry. Raw and animalistic.
“Harder,” Hannibal pants desperately, and Will complies like he was made for nothing else. Hips smacking brutally into the other and slamming him into the bank as he sinks his teeth deeper. Feels fingers grabbing his curls at the roots and pulling painfully as Hannibal maintains his chokehold – his body squeezing Will like a vice until, pushing apart those impossibly tight walls with his thickening shaft, his orgasm tears through him with unrecognisable force. Hands digging spasmodically at the edge of the bank, his dick explodes, throbbing hard with each spurt and labouring like a second heart inside the other’s body until he has pumped Hannibal full. And if the force of it hadn’t already left him reeling, the sight of the other frantically beating himself off is enough to make him come all over again. Lips agape, lashes low, Hannibal watches Will heatedly as his chest heaves from the build up. Suddenly remembering, Will snatches the swell of his knot with his fingers. Squeezes until Hannibal’s head falls back against the bank with an audible thud-
-and his whole body arches convulsively with an uncharacteristic whimper. Maintaining that taut curvature until he has significantly clouded the waters around them. Then, as Hannibal sags against the bank, Will moves in to catch him in his arms before he can begin to slip down further into the water.
“Hey,” he murmurs, pressing close to keep the other from sinking. Staring at those heavy lidded eyes as they gaze dazedly past his shoulder. “Are you alright…?” He licks his lips before adding, “Was it alright?”
Still catching his breath, Hannibal looks at him blankly.
Will wishes the moon was still obscured by clouds as he clears his throat softly and studies the ripples in the water.
“I mean…did it feel alright?”
“I’ve not had a penis inside me before,” Hannibal answers candidly. “Human or otherwise. Perhaps if I had a point of comparison.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Will utters under his breath before lifting his eyes to meet the other’s thoughtful expression. “Margot says I’m bigger than average…” he offers, not entirely sure if he should mention the other just now, and yet unable to help puffing his chest with the claim. Which is rather unlike him. And without being able to explain why, Will suddenly finds himself harbouring a deep feeling of possessiveness over the shapeshifting man in his arms the longer they stay clasped together. Their bodies remaining physically joined. “Quite a bit,” he adds lowly before letting his gaze fall upon the shape of Hannibal underwater. The depths still somewhat milky with the weight of the other’s release. “I mean…we’re quite similar…knot aside…”
“That would explain the unseaming, even without one.”
“Un…seaming?” Will echoes as Hannibal continues to regard him calmy.
“Bleeding on your first time,” he explains simply, and Will swallows at the thought of being Hannibal’s first-
“But,” he says hurriedly, licking his lips, “you’ve…unseamed females…”
Hooded eyes lower and move askance, the sight of which makes Will hold his breath as he experiences a sudden twinge from deep down.
“It was always my intention to claim Bedelia and Bedelia alone,” explains Hannibal.
“And you haven’t…”
A slightly regretful look appears on the other’s features. Perhaps embarrassment. Whatever it is, Will understands the answer is no. Realises Hannibal, until just a moment ago, had been a virgin.
“We should head,” he begins to say before pausing and blinking unexpectedly at Will, “…that was fast.”
“Sorry,” he exhales before making to pull out of Hannibal’s body, his turgid girth undeniable evidence of his rapidly returning excitement when he hears a gasp and feels hands grabbing his biceps. Resting his own on Hannibal’s hips, Will swallows as he watches the other hold still in the water. Hooded eyes lidding and lips hanging agape. Pulse beginning once more to race, Will leans in to press his lips to Hannibal’s jaw. Emboldened by the look of suppressed rapture and raring to free it.
“…you want it?” he murmurs lowly into his ear, and in answer, Hannibal plants a hand on his lower abdomen before pushing Will back, grunting as the heavy weight of him slides out of his body and twangs back upright and undeterred against the cold current of the water. Turning around, Hannibal climbs up onto the bank. Down on all fours, he presents to Will a view of him from behind. The water gliding in droplets down the skin of his spread thighs. A fresh trickle of Will’s come slipping from the tender and swollen pucker of his entrance.
“Fuck,” Will breathes absently as he stares at Hannibal pushing and clenching until another pearly bead of come escapes, and hastily climbs up onto the bank. His legs still clad in wet and skin tight trousers as he bumps against the backs of Hannibal’s thighs. Holding himself in hand, he guides his head back into the other, letting go when he’s popped past the choking ring of his anus with a sharp gasp from Hannibal to wrap his arms around the slowly heaving chest beneath him. And begins to move.
“That feel good?” he murmurs against the back of Hannibal’s ear.
Too busy breathing, Hannibal does not reply. Tightening the grip of his arms, Will nips the outer ridge of his ear between his teeth.
“Yeah?” he mumbles around the delicate skin, pulling out a notch more before slamming back in. Feels Hannibal arching under the press of his body.
“Y-yes-” he utters, accented voice raspy and helpless. Will grows intoxicated listening to it.
“Good boy…” he pants, going faster. Hannibal bleats in pain, but Will maintains the pace.
“Does it hurt?” he whispers.
“D-daddy’s so big,” Hannibal whimpers lowly, and Will clenches his jaw.
“Fuck,” he grits through his teeth before leaning up and, grabbing the other by his hips, pulls out almost to the head before smacking forward into Hannibal’s rump. The force of his doubled effort making those cheeks quiver each time upon impact. Hannibal starts to moan pleasurably, the sound reaching his ears like a sudden gust of oxygen to the flame, and Will growls lustily from the throat.
“Who’s a good boy?”
“Come for daddy.”
Spine arching low and head snapping back with a grunt, Hannibal suddenly stiffens, and Will utilises this break to plough the tightening depths of the other’s body – loses himself to the spasmodic massage of clenching walls. He grows aware of Hannibal holding on to the grass as he continues to pound into him. Of the fine bead of sweat glistening in the moonlight as it falls into the groove of his spine and slips its way down its length before being scattered by the force of Will’s thrusts. When he comes for the second time, he does so biting Hannibal’s neck – his growling elation muffled by the skin between his teeth. Emptying himself twitchingly into Hannibal, Will eventually slumps atop him as the other in turn collapses against the earth. Their struggling breaths battling in unison with the rushing cascade to be heard.
“…was that good?” he eventually murmurs against Hannibal’s shoulder.
“I think so,” Hannibal mumbles into the grass.
“You don’t sound so sure,” Will chuckles, brows lofting as he watches the back of the other’s head. “Should we make sure...?” He wriggles his hips playfully.
“Mn,” Hannibal groans softly. “Are you sure you’re not really a rabbit?”
“That’s a name for a vibrating dildo, you know,” says Will thoughtfully as he continues to lie with his cheek on the other.
“A dildo,” echoes Hannibal.
“A sex toy?”
“I know of those.”
“There’s one that’s popular with the human ladies. Called the rampant rabbit.”
“You are very rampant.”
“Why thank you.”
“Maybe they should name one after you.”
“What, the rampant Will?” he chuckles.
“Yes,” Hannibal agrees.
“What colour would it be?”
“Check,” answers Hannibal promptly.
“Check?” Will repeats, incredulous.
“You are always in check shirts.”
“Oh,” Will laughs. “I guess…”
As his smile and laughter fades, Hannibal shifts as though he can sense a change, and pushes up against Will before rolling over onto his back. Lying there beneath him, his drying hair tousled and skew-whiff, his hooded eyes lidded and sharp lips softened by the way they lie parted invitingly to his quiet breathing, Hannibal is attractive in a way that defies definition. A different kind of beautiful to Margot. To a man with good looks. Or a handsome breed of dog. Hannibal is, for the lack of a better word, Hannibal. And sharing with him like this now doesn’t make Will question his own sexuality as it perhaps once did. Maybe it’s the post-sex glow, but he feels bonded with this man-being and, despite never having dwelled on the reality of his loneliness, happy and glad to be sharing a connection.
“Is something wrong?” Hannibal asks as he watches Will observantly.
“I just…haven’t heard myself laugh like that in ages,” he explains, eyes studying the ridge of a collarbone thoughtfully. “Just sounded strange.”
“Maybe if you laugh more often, it will stop sounding strange.”
“You’ll have to stick around, then,” says Will, lifting his gaze to meet the other’s with a lofting of his brows. “To make me laugh.”
“Okay,” answers Hannibal. Like he didn’t have to think. Like it was the most natural response in the world. Touched, Will feels the corners of his mouth lifting twitchingly into a smile. A mixture of fear and gratitude as he feels himself falling dangerously. For a moment, they watch one another without saying anything. The night blowing cold against bare skin and wet clothing. Swallowing, Will licks his lips as he lowers his gaze.
“…can I kiss you until you turn back?” he asks quietly.
Holding onto Will, Hannibal rolls them over, trapping him beneath the warmth of his own body to protect him from the cold. The moon slips back behind the clouds, heightening their awareness of warm breaths and slow stroking tongues. The gentle touch of hands as they move in blind exploration of one another’s bodies. The night goes on, and they remain on the river bank. The caution of being out in the open long forgotten along with the acknowledgement of Hannibal’s inevitable return to his other form, and as both tend to one another as though it’s their first and last time, neither takes note of time passing. Nor the lack of fur and tail to appear.
Chapter 23: The Cabin
Please be aware that this chapter contains description of animal brutality.
Hannibal is the first to pull away. Catching his breath, he breaks from Will’s lips to listen. Seeing his reaction, Will does the same, and sure enough, they begin to hear shouting from a distance. Scrambling to a stand, Will looks in its direction. Even from afar, he thinks he can recognise the single syllable echoing in the air around them. Jack. He’s looking for me.
“We have to get back,” he utters, turning his face to frown at the other. But Hannibal is staring down at his hands.
“How long have we…” he begins to say, voice low and unsure. Will feels his brow unfurling with surprise then re-knitting with apprehension. Squatting down beside Hannibal, he grabs his shoulder.
“Let’s go, we’ll figure it out later,” he says, and Hannibal nods dumbly, tearing his eyes from his hands to meet Will’s worried gaze. Something catches his attention past Will’s shoulder. Turning his head to follow the other’s line of sight, Will sees a weak beam of torchlight flickering through the trees ahead. Then another. Followed by shouting that rings closer now. “Come on,” he says, hand moving down to close tight around Hannibal’s bicep before pulling him up. “We have to go.”
He has no idea why Jack is looking for him. Perhaps they had a lead on the man being in the woods, but that wouldn’t explain the Sheriff’s knowledge of his whereabouts. Unless someone had told him. He wants to ask Hannibal what he’d said to Bedelia, but now is not the time. It’s not a massive stretch between here and the cabin, but the shortest way of getting back is to travel straight. And they had to divert from this path when one of Jack’s men emerged suddenly from the treeline ahead of them, causing Will to almost tackle Hannibal onto the ground to avoid being caught by the beam of torchlight cutting through the dark. Their diversion, which took them further out and away from the officer, also came to an abrupt end when a second beam started approaching from ahead. And with Jack’s voice pursuing from behind, it was too big a risk to both hide and run for it. Inhaling as they pause behind some trees, Will lets go of Hannibal’s arm and swallows before leaning closer to whisper.
“I’ll lead them away while you get back to the cabin,” he says, staring into black as he shoves his hand into his back pocket and thanks the stars he didn’t leave them in his coat. “Don’t open the door,” he adds, pulling out and pressing the keys into Hannibal’s hand. The other nods, and Will wants to steady his nerve with a kiss, but already regrets not having been more cautious. Instead, he slips his hand onto Hannibal’s nape and gives him a quick squeeze before hurrying away. He doesn’t yet know what he’s going to say to Jack and the others, but he has to be careful not to raise their suspicions. Looking back over his shoulder, he sees Hannibal has left. Faces the flash of white light ahead of him again as he continues to run. Let him make it back, he says to himself.
Checking from the cover of the trees for unwanted company, Hannibal finds neither vehicles parked beside Will’s at the cabin nor any travelling down the dirt road. He listens for a moment longer before running out onto the open land, breath leaving white flurries in the air as he crosses the grass towards the cabin sat silent and waiting in front of him. Reaching the wooden steps of the porch, he exhales in relief before dragging himself to the door and fumbling with the keys. They feel heavy and strange in his hands, having never used them to enter the premise before. Eventually he finds the right key and pushes it in. The door opens and he manages to take a step inside before something knocks him forward from behind. It happens so fast, so unexpectedly, that Hannibal stumbles over. Arm darting out as he plants a hand against the floorboards to steady himself, he looks over his shoulder at the man closing the door behind him. His eyes surveying the living space of Will’s cabin.
“How rudimentary,” he murmurs, voice quiet and low. Standing up and facing the other, Hannibal glances at the iron poker by the fireplace. Behind him, he can sense fear in the air. Knows the dogs have backed as a body into one corner. While the man is looking at the kitchen, Hannibal leaps to the fireplace and snatches the poker.
“Like I said,” says the other, eyes finding him from the corners. “How rudimentary.” Without responding, Hannibal stands across from him and waits. Watching the man closely. The poker upright before him in his hands. The man watches back blankly. His eyes falling on the instrument.
“You embarrass us,” he murmurs, eyes narrowing at the poker before lifting to stare at Hannibal. “You embarrass us all,” he adds, beginning to walk towards him. Stepping back from his fast approaching steps, Hannibal swings back the poker as he moves to the side and they begin to circle one another in the limited space. “What would your sister say if she saw you now?”
Frowning at the mention of Mischa, Hannibal nonetheless refuses to respond as he makes his first swing at the man whose quick reflexes enable him to dodge the hit and catch the end of the poker with his hand. Jaw flexing, Hannibal tries to pull against the other’s hold, but even one-handed, he is stronger.
“What would she say if she saw you being fucked by one of them?”
His voice is cool. His face impassive. Hannibal leans back, feet scrabbling for purchase on the floor as he feels the other pulling him in by the poker. Then, seizing the metal with both his hands, the man jerks on it hard, and Hannibal feels himself being tugged close enough to feel the warm puff of his breath on his face.
“After what they did to her?” he says, staring into Hannibal. “You make me sick.” Wrenching the iron from his hands, the man lifts it effortlessly and brings it down. Hannibal grunts as the hard edge strikes his upraised arms, staggering back from the force of the hit. When the next blow comes, faster than he can prepare for, it lands against the side of his head, and he collapses onto the ground – his skull an explosion of pain that blurs his vision at the edges. He hears the sound of metal dropping heavily onto wood, and looks up in time to see a fist flying towards him before he feels the hard ridge of knuckles colliding with his cheekbone. Face whipping to the side, he brings it back only to be struck again. Tasting blood, he licks his split lip and watches the other from the corners of his eyes.
“How can you be so weak?” the man asks, brow contorted as he squats before him. Grabs him by the throat. Snatching at his wrists, Hannibal grits his teeth as he struggles to free himself. Tries to kick out, but it’s like hitting a wall. Somehow, the man is too strong. “How could you let them fuck you like a little whore?” he demands to know, voice raising as he tightens his grip on Hannibal’s throat. The fingers on both his hands crushing the remaining air from his windpipe. Spluttering, Hannibal’s eyelids begin to droop as the edges of his vision grow hazy again. “You are a disgrace to us,” he hears the other utter. “A disgrace to me.”
Barking erupts in the silent space of the cabin. One of the larger dogs is first to voice its protest as it steps out from the rest of the pack. His voice loud and resonating within the four walls. It’s a relentless sound which goes on unnoticed by the man as he continues to strangle Hannibal. Soon, however, encouraged by the example, the other dogs also begin to bark until the cabin is filled with the clamour of their combined voices. On the verge of passing out, Hannibal is suddenly released, and his head hits the floorboards dully as he gasps for his breath. Rising, the man steps in front of Hannibal to stand before the dogs. From the corners of his eyes, Hannibal can see Will’s larger dogs stepping closer towards them. Frothing at the jaws as they continue to bark. Rolling over and picking himself up onto all fours, he reaches for the poker lying on the floor, eyes on the man’s back. As he closes his hand around the handle, he sees a change in the figure stood before him. A rapid swelling in the body that strains against then splits the seams of his garments altogether. His naked skin covering all over with hair. The man grows so tall that he stoops as he stands there on his hind legs. The remaining rags of his clothes still falling from his hulking shoulders, beyond which, Hannibal can see the pointed ends of his ears. Despite the spectacle, the dogs continue stubbornly to bark and, without warning, the beast lunges forward and swipes at those nearest. Snatches two dogs by their forearms and bites the neck of one – forcing forth a whimper that ends as fast as it begins when, with a gnashing of its teeth sawing through muscle and the sudden and audible click of bone, the head is pulled and torn clean from its body. Before the spat head even hits the floorboards, it attacks its next victim. Standing slowly with the poker in hand, Hannibal begins to step backwards. Frightened by the monster’s brutality, the remaining dogs have stopped barking and are cowering in the corner of the room. He does not want to leave them, but he knows he is no match for this – could not even defend himself when it was but a man. This is no ordinary shapeshifter. He must get out and find Will. Find the humans. The floorboard creaks beneath his foot. The beast spits another head onto the ground. Muzzle turned to the side, it drips blood from its open jaws as it fixes a vivid blue eye on Hannibal.
Chapter 24: Alpha
Around them, the individual beams of torchlight continue to flicker between the trees as they wave this way and that from varying distances. Will tells the Sheriff he thought he was chasing the man with the harelip, and in return, the other tells him about the anonymous call. Someone said they saw the foreign man, the one wanted by police for questioning, but whose link to the murders has not been made official. Bent over with his hands on his knees as he catches his breath, Will feels eyes on the top of his head and lifts his chin.
“Maybe they got them mixed up,” he says, still a little breathless as he meets that brown stare beneath the cap. The woods a black wall behind his furrowed brow. “It’s dark,” he adds, pinched brows raising.
“It is,” Jack agrees, shining his torchlight at Will’s lack of a coat. “And you don’t have a torch,” he continues to say as he studies Will’s face. “How do you know you didn’t get them mixed up yourself?”
“I saw the harelip,” Will states, straightening up with his hands on his hips. “I got real close, but then I slipped and fell into the water. Lost my torch. Lost the coat too because it was weighing me down.” Knitting his brow, he looks in the direction of his lie. “I tried to go after him. Kept thinking I could hear him running ahead of me.” He stops to look Jack in the eye. “Did the informant say where they were when they made the call?” he asks.
“No,” Jack answers. “The message was brief. Said they saw a naked man in the woods being chased by a man with a gun. Said they thought it was the newcomer who lives in a cabin with his dogs.”
Will frowns at the ground, eyes darting left to right as he runs a hand through his hair.
“And there’s no number,” he says.
A pause as he senses Jack watching him closely, a lie already half formed on the tip of his tongue when he hears the other man exhaling and feels a hand clapping his shoulder.
“Go home, Will. Get some rest.”
He continues to study the floor as he runs his hand over his face to add to the suggestion of being overworked and exhausted, which is what the other’s tone appears to be implying. He doesn’t enjoy lying to a good man like the Sheriff, but needs must.
“Spend some time with Margot,” Jack continues to say. “The men and I are on it.”
Just before breaking the treeline, Will rests his hand against the trunk beside him as he catches his breath. He had made his way home slowly under the watch of the Sheriff and his men, only breaking into a run once he knew he was safely out of range. Across the grass, his cabin sits quietly in the night. The same sight awaiting them following an evening walk, or when one of them returns later than expected. It is uncommon for him to see a light being left on at home, he realises, due to his and Hannibal’s increased time together as of late – the thought of which makes him push off the tree and hurry over towards the wooden steps. Hurry back to him after the scare of the police turning up without warning and almost catching them out. In that moment, it had really felt like they were two animals being backed into a corner, even though the real problem had lain in Hannibal’s inability to shed his human form. But he should be safe now. Waiting at home for Will’s return. Sprinting, he quickly closes the distance between trees and cabin, the wood creaking beneath his feet as he scales the steps and reaches the door in a heartbeat. Leaning against the door, he knocks and grasps the handle.
“Hannibal,” he calls through the wood. “It’s me.”
After a moment, the door opens and Will puts one foot past the threshold. But the hand that seizes the front of his shirt to drag him inside is not Hannibal’s.
The first thing he sees is the other lying very still on the floor. The door shuts behind him, but he is too busy staring at the unmoving body before him to register.
“Hannibal,” he utters his name in shock, gaze moving from battered and bleeding limbs to the headless bodies of his dogs strewn across the floorboards. Their severed parts lying in puddles of black glimmering in the moonlight falling in through the windows. Jaws slack. Tongues lolling. Eyes staring at the ceiling. Will realises their intruder had been waiting in hiding. Had most likely watched him approach the cabin. His eyes dart back to the crumpled body on the floor, the shape of him beginning to waver.
“Is he,” he starts to say as he grabs at the arm keeping him in place, stopping when he hears his own voice breaking.
“Appearances can be deceiving.”
At the familiar sound of his voice, Will’s eyes swivel onto those lips forming an impassive albeit distorted line. Continues up to meet that expressionless stare whilst observing the deep gashes running from hairline to cheekbone and narrowly missing an eye. Half of his left ear is gone, the blood still dripping onto his bare shoulder. A quick glance down confirms the man is unclothed, filling his mind with images of two black shapes fighting in the cramped space of the cabin. Unable to free himself from the grip on his shirt, Will lets go of the other’s arm and closes his hand into a fist. Launching it at that cool countenance, he feels fingers catching his knuckles just before impact.
“Just like your dogs,” says the man, tugging him down by the shirt into the end of his thrusting knee. The blunt end jabs into his abdomen, forcing the air from his lungs, and a hard fist crashing into the side of his head knocks him off balance. Falling onto his knees, Will stares at Hannibal lying across him on the ground as fingers snare themselves in his curls and pull painfully to lift his face.
“You don’t know when to stop,” he states, and Will closes his eyes against the oncoming fist. Feels his lip tearing beneath the ridge of knuckles as his face whips to the side. “And he didn’t stop you,” the voice continues to say, the first notes of contempt colouring its monotony. Eyes slipping open, Will stares at Hannibal, fixating on the line of his back until he sees it rising a fraction – the movement so subtle, he is afraid he has imagined it – and real or not, the sight makes him wait with bated breath, even as he remains on his knees and at the other’s mercy.
“Why didn’t he stop you?”
The rhetorical question falls on death ears as Will sees it. A complete rise and fall telling him Hannibal is breathing. His unblinking eyes fill uncontrollably with water, and he snaps them shut as he chokes back an unexpected sob of relief.
“You’ve made him weak,” the voice hisses, the sudden change of tone making Will open his eyes and look up into a face contorted with hatred. The harelip twisting like an open wound in his sneer, waiting to avenge its injury. As the man lowers himself to his level, Will feels a hand closing around his throat, and grabs at the other’s wrist. His other hand shoves against the stoic face in front of him, fingers digging into the wet gashes until he sees the narrowing of eyes and the clenching of his jaw. The fingers tighten, squeezing on his windpipe until he can neither draw breath nor swallow, and Will feels the other using the same grip to pull him up onto his feet as he begins to straighten. Then, as he claws at the man’s extended arm, he stops feeling the ground beneath him. Watching down from an elevated angle, he tries not to look surprised by the other’s strength as his feet kick in the air. Tries not to look afraid as blue eyes stare up at him with the sort of blankness that heralds only the most chilling resolve.
“But I will force it out of him yet,” he says levelly, his pupils seeming to grow as Will continues to stare. “After I strip you of your bond.”
Gradually his senses return to him, and through the barrage of pain threading through every part of his body, he hears a muffled thud, followed by another. An overbearing scent hangs heavily in the air, caught up with something familiar and what can only be described as comforting under normal circumstances. His nostrils flare as he tries to separate the two, and he grows aware of the thudding growing louder. Rhythmic. Close. Eyes slowly opening, he sees the hulking shape of the beast. Hunched over as he ruts. Beneath him lies Will on his front. Eyes closed as his body rocks limply from the force of the thrusts smacking him against the floorboards. Claws digging into his check shirt as paws pin him down whilst a huge shaft, startling pink against the black of his fur, plunges to the top of its knot into Will’s body through a tear in his trousers. As though the sheer size and force of it alone had been enough to rend the garment apart. To rend Will in two should he attempt to give him his knot. The scene before him begins to quake, the edges blurring as he stares at the raping organ. At the blood coating its turgid girth, the scent of it lost amongst the rest of the wanton bloodshed. Lifting his head from the floor, his hearing grows muted to the hammering in his ears, the same which punches with increasing ferocity against his ribs. Pressing up on his hands, he pants open mouthed at the fire igniting every fibre in his body – the saliva welling in his jaws as a pained shout erupts from deep within and fills the dank air with a harrowing howl of anguish. Strings of it hit the floorboards damply, running red as his face starts to fracture. Deaf to his own agonised cries, he stares, vision throbbing, at the alpha as he stops what he is doing to rear up on his hind legs. Jaws parting as he stares with anticipation at Hannibal. A long tongue swiping over the harelip. Picking himself up unsteadily onto his feet, Hannibal bends his head against the ceiling, muzzle turning to the side so he may see Will more clearly.
“Finally,” says a telepathic voice in his head, and his view of Will is blocked by the alpha as he shifts to face him, the claws on his hind feet dragging against the wood. Hannibal flexes his own unconsciously, knuckles in all paws stretching in a spasmodic wave as a low rumbling builds dangerously in the back of his throat. His front body lowering.
“He’s mine,” he growls, voice unrecognisable as it reverberates angrily within the skull opposite. The other shakes his muzzle as though to rid himself of the sound, and snorts deeply though his nostrils.
As he lifts his hind leg, allowing a glimpse of Will, Hannibal lunges forward before that foot comes down upon the other. Before a claw so much as grazes Will’s cheek, the two are wrestling tooth and nail for dominance across the blood stained floor, and as they tear and shred one another’s flesh, Hannibal tries to find the voice Will knows. Tries to reach into the silent space of that head lying terrifyingly still on the ground. Will. Fending off those snapping jaws with a parrying strike at the other’s muzzle, Hannibal sinks his claws deep into the alpha’s face until his own skull vibrates from the roar of pain, but still his eyes refuse to leave Will’s prone body. Can you hear me? The distraction of his growing distress allows his opponent to successfully bite his throat, and he braces his paws against the body pressing him down against the floorboards. Will, he continues to try. Wake up.
“Why do you call to him?”
Please wake up.
“He cannot hear you.”
“He cannot hear anything anymore.”
It’s my fault.
Steadily gaining strength from the grief bleeding like poison into his veins and choking his erratically pumping heart, Hannibal hooks his claws into alpha flesh and, with a wild spring from his hind legs, overturns and slams the other onto his back.
“If that is true,” he pants, eyes staring down crazed, wet and bloodshot as he looms over the other, “then neither will you.”
Chapter 25: Displaced
Doodle of were-Hound Hannibal can be found: https://twitter.com/willsblackstag/status/1161630954793918464?s=21
The cabin is too confined a space for them to be hurling full force at one another and the fighting eventually spills over onto the grassland outside. Snarling and snorting, their breaths explode as heavy white puffs of steam, revealing their positions whilst their black shapes blend them into the night. The moon is obscured by clouds and the air is thick with the scent of male pheromones and blood.
“You have already lost,” says the voice in his head. “I have Bedelia.”
Exhaling, Hannibal rears up once more onto his hind legs, chest puffing despite the palpitation beneath his ribs. No.
Across him, the alpha pants, bleeding but with a triumphant glint in his eye.
“They took her as I watched you with the human.”
“If you’ve harmed her-”
“Why would I harm my own mate?”
Black stares hard into blue.
“Shame about yours.”
The reminder of Will lying on the floor in the cabin sends a fresh wave of nauseating despair crashing through his being, and thinking of nothing else, he scarpers back to the cabin. Bursting through the doorway, down on all fours, he reaches for Will’s body but recoils before he touches him at the sight of his own claws. Snuffling desperately instead at his hair, at his face, Hannibal hears a strange keening sound and realises it’s coming from his own throat. Will. Pushing his nose under his body, Hannibal slowly rolls him over onto his back. Stares at his chest even as he hears the other’s paws stomping across the floorboards, even when his body stiffens and a growl escapes through his jaws as claws hook themselves deep between his shoulder blades.
“Listen to you,” the voice spits in disgust, but Hannibal pays no attention as he watches the slow rise and fall of Will’s chest – his own heaving with relief at the sight. “Whimpering like a pet without its master.” The claws sink deeper into muscle before Hannibal feels himself being dragged backwards. Digging his own into the wood beneath him, he stares at those closed eyelids. Hold on, Will. “We are our own masters,” the alpha continues to roar, and he feels the hard press of the other’s paw on the top of his skull before his muzzle slams into the ground. Eyes shutting against the claws digging into his head, Hannibal wills with everything he has for the other to hear his human voice. You’re going to be okay.
He hears a voice.
Slowly opening his eyes, he sees Margot’s worried face leaning over him. The moonlight reflecting in her shimmering eyes.
“Oh, Will,” she exhales. “What happened?”
Immediately, he remembers the man – the monster, and Hannibal lying on the floorboards. Remembers struggling against the other’s grasp before being thrown with so much force, he’d hit his head against something hard and passed out. He tries to sit up, but a sharp pain in his chest makes him groan through clenched teeth as Margot puts her hands on him and helps him ease back down. His right leg feels broken and his whole body from the waist down feels bruised. To his confusion, he discovers a horrendous pain coming from his anus and bowels, together with a tackiness sticking the fabric of his trousers to his groin, and for a terrible moment, he fears he has soiled himself if not for the fact that he can only smell blood and thankfully nothing else.
“Who did this?” Margot asks as Will clutches onto her forearms, his eyes scouring the cabin. Hannibal? The last he saw of him, he was in human form. He stares at the bodies of his dead dogs. At each of the heads. Looking for those ears.
“I’m going to call the police,” says Margot, the last word commanding Will’s attention as he fails to find a Lithuanian Hound amongst the carnage.
“No,” he utters, fingers tightening on her arms as he meets her wide-eyed stare.
Swallowing, he starts to shake his head.
“It could put us in more danger-”
“I-I don’t understand. Why would it-”
“I promise to explain later, but you have to leave-”
“I’m not going to leave you. You need an ambulance.”
“This is far from fine, Will. You’re hurt.”
“The ambulance will bring the police,” says Will, shaking his head again. “Please, Margot, you have to leave this.”
The firm tone of her voice makes him look at her.
“Whatever you’re afraid of, the police can help you. Please let me call them.”
I can’t have the police here. Looking in the cabin. Looking outside.
“Margot,” he says imploringly, staring into her eyes. “You have to trust me.”
He could be lying somewhere, unable to change back. “We cannot get the police involved.”
A pause as she stares searchingly at him, wondering fearfully at the strength of his conviction with parted lips.
“Okay,” she eventually whispers, swallowing before lowering her gaze to the floor. “We won’t go to the hospital,” she thinks aloud, “but we can try Tina.” The trainee vet. Her eyes flick up to meet his. “She’s got access to the practice. If you’ve broken something, she might be able to give you an x-ray.” Opening his mouth, Will wants to tell her again to leave so that he may drag himself out into the woods to find him, but he knows he can’t even do that with his injuries. And if that man is still roaming nearby in his beast form, they would have no means to defend themselves against such a powerful creature. As much as he needs to find Hannibal, to know he’s okay, he cannot endanger Margot with the chance that he – it – could return. And Margot won’t leave without him.
Swallowing, he shuts his eyes and nods mutely.
From the passenger seat, Will stares out the window at the grass swaying in the wind. Filtered by dense cloud, the moonlight is weak and he has to really concentrate to try and discern swathes of shadow from what could be patches of blood. But here and there, the blades lie bent and flattened down. Signs that something had rolled around out here before disappearing into the woods. Behind him, the surviving dogs have been bundled onto the backseat by Margot who now leads the last one in before slamming shut the door. Holding on to his side – for he is quite certain he has broken or fractured a rib – Will still wants to go out there and look for him, and must tell himself over and over again not to pull on the door handle and do a runner with a broken leg. His head is throbbing. There are too many thoughts running and tripping through it chaotically. The need to find Hannibal and know he’s alright. The need to find a means of defending against that man and beast. A means of overcoming such a threat. Which ought to mean informing the police and alerting the townsfolk of this danger. And yet doing so could in turn endanger Hannibal. The one against the many. How can he be so selfish? He owes it to Jack and the people to warn them. But not without knowing Hannibal won’t be targeted and caught in the same firing line. He refuses to let another person - another being - he cares so much about leave this world. But the guilt weighs more and more heavily on his mind as Margot starts the engine, reverses the car, and drives away from the cabin and the woods. Facing the dirt road, his mind returns to the scarf he’d not reminded Margot about, draped over the back of the settee. So you know where I am if you come back. So you know I’m okay. And so you know where to find me.
Exhausted, Hannibal stops to lean against the trunk of a tree, painfully aware of his own pitiful, fleshly form in contrast to its stature and strength. His left eye is so swollen, he can no longer see out of it, making it even harder to navigate his way back in the pitch black. It was as though the alpha had taken the moon with him when he had fled, bleeding profusely between the legs. Hannibal had come close to severing that heinous appendage entirely if he had not caved under the other’s attempt to gouge out his eyes. Enraged by his attempted castration, his enemy had fought him with added vigour until, even for a beast of his vicious nature, the blood loss started to take its toll, and Hannibal was deemed unworthy of a fight to the death. Like the alpha had said: he had already won. As he’d watched the other lower onto all fours and bolt away through the trees, he could feel the energy draining from his body, just as the blood continued to escape from his multiple wounds. The moon had imparted its dim light into this bloody clearing, and soon he could see he was changing form. When he’d looked down to see his human hands splayed against the earth, he’d closed his eyes to try and will himself to transform into his four-legged self. The self that had brought Will to him in the very beginning. But his hands remained hands as he pushed himself off the ground and, upon trembling legs, started to stumble his way home.
As he made his way back, Hannibal started to become aware of a feeling. Normally, the ability to scent one another between shapeshifters could span great distances, but he had not expected this trait to apply in the same way for a bond between a shapeshifter and a human. At least, not to the same level. This ability to sense the other’s presence, however vaguely, fills him with hope that the bond between Will and himself has not been broken. But this sixth sense is also telling him of a growing distance between their current locations, and even though it would make sense for the other to get as far away as possible from all this, Hannibal can’t help swallowing against the prospect of abandonment.
Apart from the remains of the alpha’s victims, the cabin sits empty and silent. The front door had been left on its latch, a sign that Will had thought of him before leaving. Stood amongst overturned chairs and books dislodged from the fallen bookcase, Hannibal looks around for something that could possibly ease that sinking feeling within his chest. He doesn’t know if police are coming. But if that were the case, perhaps Will would have left the door locked to keep him away. Suddenly feeling lost, he shuffles tiredly to the settee with eyes downcast and slowly lowers himself onto the torn upholstery. The blanket hanging off the back is also ripped, but he pulls it close as he curls up on the familiar space.
Nose burying in the fabric, he searches for the scent of him and home as he fights to keep his eyes open. He can’t stay here, just as much as Will can’t come back. As long as the alpha keeps his territory unchallenged, this town will only know violence. And Hannibal knows the other isn’t alone if he had assistance to steal away Bedelia, the thought of which makes him shut his eyes with remorse for not having protected her – nor Will – better. Knowing what he is now only adds to the self-loathing both new and old. Why hadn’t he emerged when Mischa was in trouble? What was the use of it coming only after the ones he loved had already suffered? What is the use of a shapeshifter who cannot understand his own nature? Will and those he cares for will have to leave town. At least, until Hannibal tries to somehow remove the alpha and free Bedelia if she has been forced against her will to remain in captivity. And yet he doesn't know how many others are with the alpha. In the long term, it will be inevitable for others to become involved, and he knows Will is friends with the Sheriff. A good man protecting a quiet town and its people. He had started to think he could perhaps settle here and make it his home, too. Brow knitting as the fly-tying station with its knocked clamp begins to waver, Hannibal presses his face deeper into the blanket. Catches her scent. Opening his eyes, he lifts his head and looks down at the familiar fabric caught up in the folds of the blanket. Slowly pulling it free, he lifts the scarf to his cheek. Feels the hot wet rivulets running down his face.
Chapter 26: I Will Find You
When he opens his eyes again, they feel full of grit and his cheeks are caked with the dried remains of his tears. It would seem he had blacked out from exhaustion. Pressing up from the settee, he stares down at his human hands and then looks towards the rain drumming upon the window panes. It is beginning to lighten outside, although he cannot be sure of the precise hour. He has to go to Will. Lifting the scarf still in his hand, he begins to pick himself up unsteadily onto his feet. If he means to see the other, it will be difficult with Margot there, and he doesn’t wish to draw Will out into any potential danger. He doesn’t even know if he ought to be heading their way lest he draws attention to himself from his adversary – or adversaries. Yet he cannot just disappear without at least seeing him one more time.
Shuffling wearily to the desk, he finds paper and pen, the latter feeling strange and alien in his hand as he takes a moment to recall the formation of letters. Practises writing what he wants to say a few times before turning the trembling point to a clean space. The end result isn’t the best, but he believes it should be decipherable. Tearing the note, he folds it into a robust square before reaching up to the collar around his neck. It had come undone at some point during the chaos of his confrontation with the alpha, but he found it again, still relatively intact, and put it back on. He has grown so used to it, he doesn’t even feel it rubbing against his skin anymore. Tucking his fingers into the leather, he pulls to create just enough give for the paper to wedge into place. Flexes his neck a couple of times to check it is secure before turning his gaze once more upon the rain. He hopes it will stay in place and not disintegrate in the rain. But most importantly, he hopes he can transform.
The trip to the trainee vet’s had taken longer than Will would have liked. He had waited in the car as Margot stayed on the phone to her friend, unable to stop thinking about Hannibal, especially when it started to rain. It took a while to reach Tina’s cabin from his, and when she finally came out dressed still in her pyjamas beneath her coat, Will could see the panic in her eyes framed by the haphazard waves of bed hair. Once she had joined them in the car, Margot gave a brief but vague explanation – just enough to express the urgency of the situation and to appeal to the young woman’s charitable if not somewhat anxious nature, which was just as well, thought Will, for it prevented her from asking too many questions as she focused on ushering them into the practice. Under the stark lighting of the consulting room, however, there was no way to hide the extent of his injuries. The two women exchanged concerned and baffled glances when they helped him onto the table and noticed the tear in his trousers and dried blood staining the fabric. Will was grateful they didn’t ask, focusing instead on his leg and side. The x-rays confirmed the first was broken and that he had fractured a couple of his ribs.
Tina was relieved to find the fracture in his tibia to be incomplete, this being the more straightforward to treat as opposed to a clean break. Will was relieved too because he did not relish the prospect of arguing against both the trainee and Margot about going to hospital. Having taken some strong painkillers, he was helped back into the car – for there were no crutches to be found at the practice – and after thanking and returning Tina to her home, they drove to Margot’s.
“She won’t say anything,” Margot murmurs, her eyes staring ahead at the dirt road. “But…”
Sat with his head leaning against the cold glass of the window, Will glances askance at her worried expression.
“You’ll still need to go to the hospital,” she says, then hesitates, wide eyes flicking anxiously towards him before looking away again. “To get checked out properly,” she finishes falteringly. Understanding her concern, Will heaves a quiet exhale, lips parting even though he doesn’t know quite what to say.
“I know,” he eventually utters, voice low and drained. But the thought of being raped by some monster that nobody else has seen is just too surreal, and he cannot worry just now about such things as sexually transmitted diseases. How would he even begin to describe to the doctors? They would not believe he was sound of mind. More likely, they would assess the damage and come to their own conclusions about some very sick minded individuals inflicting pain on others. And whilst the painkillers are beginning to dull the edge of his physical injuries, nothing is helping the dilemma still waging ethical turmoil inside him. The longer he remains tight lipped about what he saw, what he knows to be out there in the woods, the more he is leaving people open to danger. Margot continues to drive without saying anything further, and Will turns his face to press his brow listlessly against the window. He stares through the rivulets of rainwater at the densely wooded landscape. The question on his mind draining him of his remaining energy. Where are you, Hannibal?
When they arrived at Margot’s, Will’s first thought was to look for Hannibal, in case he had got here before them. Without making it too obvious, he had turned his head this way and that, his eyes scouring everything within range – the edges of the cabin, the storage shed, the trees beyond. Fixating on the latter in case he were to overlook a cheek or a hand, and staring doubly as hard when he remembered he could be looking for a black muzzle or low hanging ears. But only Alana was waiting for them, her black head pressed to the window of the cabin. Seeing the other dogs in the car, she instantly began to bark, and Will wondered if she could also sense his absence. He remained stood by the car, leaning against it for support, and only stirred once all the dogs had gone inside and Margot was calling his name for the third time.
Sat in the armchair closest to the window, Will continues to stare out at the woods as Margot goes back and forth, collecting things for her suitcase and bags.
“If these people are dangerous, we have to tell Jack,” she says, climbing the stairs and continuing to speak in a louder voice from the landing. “And he’ll have to warn the townsfolk.” He listens silently to the distracted sound of her footsteps above. “If you’re worried about them finding out, come with me.”
Will feels the knot in his brow tightening and closes his eyes. He doesn’t know if he is simply imagining out of desperation, but he’s starting to feel as though he can sense him. Somewhere out there. He’ll be here. He knows his way.
Eyes slipping open to the sight of Margot’s frown as she stares at him from the bottom of the stairs, he swallows and struggles to think of a response when a sound at the door makes them both freeze. Their eyes meet and Will sees Margot’s darting to her pistol left on the dining table. Then Alana bursts into an excited fit of barking and bolts towards the front door. Breath catching in his throat, Will pushes up from the armchair, gritting his teeth and grimacing against the pain, but Margot hurries past him, snatching the gun on her way to the door.
“Stay there,” she half whispers, but Will begins limping after her, leaning against the wall for support.
“Margot,” he says, stopping when he fails to find the right words to explain the feeling in his chest, the overwhelming hope. Then the surprise on her face confirms it as she leaves the window to open the front door. The dogs all start to bark, led by Alana, and Margot has to hurriedly pull the arrival in by the collar before shutting the door and fending off the excited crowd.
Whilst Margot tries to lead the pack past Will and into the kitchen, he stands there holding on to the wall, mouth agape and eyes growing heavy.
“Hah,” he manages to exhale before his voice cracks and he must swallow at the sight of the other, so battered and bruised. The one eye swollen beyond belief. “Come here, boy,” he rasps, sliding down the wall as he holds his arms open. As though holding back, Hannibal paces slowly towards him, his muzzle held low and his eyes not daring to look up, not even when Will has gently pulled him against his chest and leant back, clutching his face between his hands. “Hey, boy…look at you,” he’d said quietly, choking back a sob when the one working eye blinked in acknowledgement before finally looking at him. The sight of his tears leaking uncontrollably making Will press his lips together as his own eyes ache and threaten to spill.
“What a good boy,” sighs Margot, and Will lifts his eyes to see her coming close to kneel beside Hannibal, her hand touching him gently. “You’ve come all this way?”
Watching Hannibal glance at Margot, Will swallows and clears his throat, swiping at the moisture on his cheek with the back of his hand.
“Margot, would you mind getting him some water?” he asks.
“Sure,” she answers quickly, standing up. “I’ll look for something to clean and patch up those wounds too,” she adds, laying a gentle hand on Will’s shoulder and smiling encouragingly. “Poor thing,” she utters as she hurries away.
Returning his eyes to Hannibal, Will takes a deep breath and changes his mind last minute to pull the other once more into his arms. The need for words gone as he presses his brow against the other’s head, feeling the silken softness of his ear against his damp cheek. He can’t help squeezing, and stops immediately when Hannibal lets out a quiet whimper.
“Sorry,” he whispers into his fur, eyes shutting as he continues to hold on. “I’m just…I was worried…”
Hannibal leans back enough to lick Will’s face, and he smiles weakly.
“I’m so glad you’re,” he starts saying when he notices something wedged into the other’s collar. Reaching for it beneath that upturned muzzle, Will pulls out the folded bit of paper. Reads the unfamiliar handwriting.
Leave town. Stay safe. I will find you.
“Han,” he begins to utter, eyes still on the letters when he feels that tongue stroke his cheek once more before the warmth pulls suddenly from his grasp. “Han!” he cries, pushing against the wall and hobbling after his fleeing body. “Stop-”
But he is already at the front door, and even when Will throws himself forward to try and catch his rearing hind legs, Hannibal has worked the latch. As Will crashes to the floor, Hannibal hops just out of range, and before Will can drag himself forward, the other has pushed his way out through the gap.
“Wait,” Will utters, struggling to get up. Dragging his splinted leg behind him, he grabs and flings open the door before staggering out onto the porch decking. Hannibal’s black shape can be seen bounding into the distance towards the treeline. Wait. Breath catching, he hurries down the steps and stumbles in his haste. Grunting as he lands on his hands and knees, he lifts his head and cannot see anything through the wavering. Blinks and he can make out the blades of grass and the wall of trees again, so close and yet so out of reach.
But Hannibal has gone.
Chapter 27: On the Road
In the following weeks, Will hears nothing. No strange sightings from locals or individuals living in isolation. No further attacks on families. Residing with Margot and her mother, he did as the other had said – stayed out of town, and every day he watched the news and waited for something more than just the sketches of Hannibal and the man with the harelip. Footage, perhaps, from a mobile phone, capturing the great hulking form of an unknown creature stalking the woods.
Then, not long after, a shootout is reported to have taken place between some men who had travelled out to the surrounding woodland from their village after they heard gunshots being fired, and an individual who they claimed to have matched one of the drawings from the news. The man with the hare-lip. Without telling Margot what he was doing, Will borrowed her car and set off for the village. Paid a visit to each man individually to ask their account of the incident, waiting patiently until the end of each one before asking the most important question. Unfolding a piece of paper, he held the sketch out to each pair of eyes, watched them for signs of recognition as he asked the same question as he would continue to do so for the months to come: did you see this man? And when his question was met with creasing brows and shaking heads, he took out another picture. What about this dog?
Will soon spends more time in Margot’s car than in her mother’s home as he travels to all the nearby villages and individual cabins, asking questions and leaving people with missing dog posters or putting them up himself. Eventually, he finds himself travelling further and further afield until one day, driving past a small dealership, he sees a motor-home. Within minutes, he has pulled in to ask after it, and within the hour, he has made the purchase as well as a phone call to Margot, telling her he wouldn’t be coming back to her mother’s for a while. Stood before the vehicle, he thanked her for everything, and said he would see her soon. Naturally, Margot had been somewhat upset with the abrupt decision, but she had also witnessed Will’s restlessness these past few weeks since the incident, and knew from his tone that there would be nothing else to say once his mind was made up. She told him to be careful and that she would always be there if he needed anything. Will thanked her again before explaining he would be paying for her car to be returned to her mother’s residence. Then he put the phone away and stood there watching his new home.
The months fly by even though he travels alone. Margot had promised to take care of his dogs so long as Will promised to return one day, and on more than one occasion he admitted it could get a touch lonesome at times without the familiar comfort of sharing one’s living space with man’s best friend. But this didn’t last very long. During a visit to a cabin located on the periphery of the next village to appear on his travels, he came across an unwanted Rottweiler whose owner had passed. The daughter of said owner saw the interest in Will’s eyes and immediately asked if he was a dog person. It was easy to see the woman was having a hard time dealing with the haphazard remains of her father’s life, and wanted to tend to the eccentric chaos of his cabin without the burdensome presence of an animal which did not appear to like her all that much. By the end, Will had gained a travel companion by the name of Buster. He had a short black coat with brown markings, and a good enough temper. But he wasn’t the dog Will was looking for.
Whilst nothing comes through on the radio about dangerous monsters, Will is nevertheless glad of his slowly growing collection of arms which he keeps tucked away at various points throughout the motor-home, but still within easy access should danger approach him whilst driving or when he is bedding down for the night. The addition of Buster also adds to his sense of security, for it soon became clear that the previous owner had invested time and effort in training the dog for the sole purpose of protecting an old man living alone on the edge of town. Certainly for those less inclined to welcome a visit from a stranger, let alone answer any of his questions, it helped to have a strong and loyal animal by his side. At night, Buster sleeps on the floor while Will lies alone on the bed at the end of the van, gazing at the woods through the narrow window at his feet. Unable to shake the constant feeling that the other is close and yet remaining just out of reach. As though he didn’t want to be found.
After the men’s account of shooting down a man they claimed to be the one with the hare-lip, Will remembers doggedly asking each one more than once if they were certain it could not have been the other one – the man with the European features. After all, they had fired their guns from some distance away. And neither was the man who they had supposedly brought down ever found. But this continued feeling, almost like a sixth sense, of being connected still to Hannibal, told him he was on the move, and fuelled Will’s belief that he would eventually catch up with him. Even if his suspicions were correct, and the other was, for one reason or another, avoiding him. Whenever he contemplated the possibility, he always found himself reaching under the pillow for the tatty piece of paper with the now all too familiar handwriting. The same letters he’d spent months staring at. A promise that cannot be kept now that Will has given up waiting and taken to hunting down Hannibal for himself. I’ll find you, he had written. Not if I find you first, thinks Will.
If he allowed himself to stare too long at the note, he would recall the moment on the riverbank, just after they had sex. When Hannibal had lain beneath him and answered okay. Okay to him sticking around to make Will laugh. And every time, the memory would make him swallow against the knot in his throat rising from his longing to return to that moment. When he was happy and glad to be sharing with the other. This strange man-being who had come into his life. Or rather, Will had taken into his home unwittingly. And of course he had deliberately chucked water at the Rottweiler, just to make sure his new companion wasn’t going to change into a naked being. In those lonelier moments, when it would’ve been easy to find company for a man travelling alone with his own sleeping quarters – a casual invite into the cramped space of his motor-home – Will made do with shutting himself in the tiny bathroom and seeking relief alone. Even as the months roll on into the unknown, adding to his mileage and the number of people spoken to, he still can’t bring himself to hold anybody else in his arms.
Then, one night, under a spell of torrential rain and poor visibility, something collides with the front of the motor-home. All evening, Will had grown increasingly restless as the tiny hairs on his arms and back of the neck stood on end from a change in the air. Buster must have felt it too, for he had confined himself to the rear of the vehicle, and Will heard the noisy clatter of his paws against the floor when his abrupt slamming of the breaks brought them lurching forward. Past the darting wiper blades and continuous crash of rain against the windscreen, the headlights reveal the stretch of dirt road and dense population of trees on either side. Whatever he hit had been flung out of view from the force of the collision. Reaching instinctively for his pistol and torch, he takes note of Buster’s silence behind him, and slowly opens the door. Turning on the torch, he steps out into the downpour. Paces round to the front of the vehicle where the rain is already beginning to wash away a smear of blood on the bumper. Against the drumming of the rain upon the motor-home, Will hears a high pitched whine, and follows it to find a young dog lying in the grass on its side. Its pupils constricting under the harsh beam of the torch.
“Hey,” Will exhales remorsefully, bending down to try and gauge the extent of its injuries. “I’m sorry,” he sighs, frowning at the rapid rise and fall of its ribcage, unable to tell whether it’s pain causing such distress or his presence - the pup appears to be wild, for it wears no collar, and despite the heavy rain striking their faces, it stares unblinkingly at Will. “Where did you,” he begins to utter when something makes him freeze. He becomes aware of a presence from behind. Can hear Buster barking inside the motor-home. The rain has matted his hair to his skull, dragging it across his wide staring eyes, but the sudden and inexplicable sensation breaking out like a new pulse of life under his skin will not be dampened. Breath growing short, he slowly turns around. Too afraid to lift the torch, he keeps its light pointing down as his eyes fixate on the shape emerging from the trees on the other side. He remains rooted as it approaches, stepping into range of the headlights. And Will feels his face crumpling as a ragged breath leaves his lips.
“Han,” he half whispers, barely daring to believe. His voice almost lost to the rain. His hair is a little longer, a little more unkempt. His bare skin littered with more scars. But his face. Will frowns. Hannibal’s face looks more forlorn than he had ever seen – than he ever wants to see. He takes a step forward, but the other moves past him.
“Hannibal,” he utters, still in shock as he watches him crouch down before the pup. At the lack of a response, Will also crouches down beside him. His eyes heavy as he stares at the injured dog.
“I didn’t see him,” he says, voice breaking despite himself. I’ve found you. He swallows and tries again. “I…”
“It’s okay, Will.”
At the sound of him saying his name, Will chokes back a sob of relief. Turns his face away.
“Will you help me?” Hannibal asks, and he hurriedly blinks the tears from his eyes before meeting that worried gaze.
“Of course,” he whispers, staring into black and nodding hurriedly. Anything. I’ll do anything. Now that I’ve found you.