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More Than One Way to Skin You

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Hannibal is a cat.

He wasn’t a cat when they went to bed last night, and he definitely wasn’t a cat when Will had Hannibal’s knees up by his ears, fucking him so hard the headboard slapped against the wall while Hannibal made the most delicious noises.

He is definitely a cat this morning, a silver tabby with sleek black stripes who’s lying curled up atop Will’s chest.

In all the stories you read, if you read those kinds of stories, someone always spends a lot of time trying to ascertain if the new animal in the house is actually their loved one. There’s a lot of are they/aren’t they, and all in all everyone wastes a lot of time. It’s not like you can blame people for being unsure. Most relationships are fraught with miscommunications anyway, even without the cat thing, and it’s not like people turn into animals everyday. It’s probably sensible to have some questions. It’s probably normal.

But, well. Will takes one look at Hannibal, and he just knows. Maybe it’s the way Hannibal is looking at him, smug and predatory and just a little offended. Maybe it’s the way he digs his claws into Will’s chest when Will dares to try to gently shift him to the side. Maybe it’s the fact that even on his best day, Hannibal isn’t all that different from a cat anyway.

Whatever the reason, Will takes one look at him, sits up in a swift motion that dislodges Hannibal with an undignified meow and says, “Good morning, Hannibal.”

Hannibal blinks slowly.

* * *

It’s actually a lot easier being nice to Hannibal when he’s a cat. Will doesn’t know why he’s surprised. The worst part of Hannibal (besides the serial killing and cannibalism, but Will had given up his moral high ground on that years ago) has always been the fact that he won’t shut up. It’s the way he pokes and prods at Will’s psyche, always looking for some new, raw bit of him to expose to the light. It doesn’t matter that Will loves him for it; it’s perfectly possible to love someone and hate them all at the same time—Hannibal had taught him that too.

But as a cat, Hannibal is easier. There’s no incisive tongue laying the depths of Will’s heart bare, no one goading him to new heights of depravity and malice. There’s just this—a soft, fluffy weight on his lap while he pages through a book he’d grabbed off the shelf at random. Steppenwolf. He’s read it before, surely, but it takes on a new relevance when he reads it now, stroking idly down Hannibal’s back. Hannibal purrs like a boat motor, and when Will gets too absorbed in the text of his book—when he stops petting in favor of turning the page—Hannibal jars him back into motion with a sharp prick of claws in the back of his hand.

Hannibal the cat is just as fond of sharp objects as Hannibal the man, and no one is surprised by this. There are pros and cons to either form, really. Hannibal the cat can’t hold a knife, and on the whole, Will figures he can inflict a lot less damage this way. On the other hand, Hannibal the man didn’t have a set of razor sharp little needles affixed to all four of his hands and feet.

You win some, you lose some, he supposes.

Hannibal starts yowling to go outside on the third day. Will doesn’t exactly blame him—it can’t be particularly interesting staying indoors round the clock without much to occupy your time. Hannibal may look like a cat, but he’s still Hannibal in there. Will can see it in the intelligent, preternatural glint of his eyes.

Hannibal is bored.

It’s not that Will doesn’t want to let him out, exactly. It’s just that every time he thinks on it, he gets the most vivid mental images of Hannibal being caught by animal control services. He’d be hauled off to the local animal shelter hissing and spitting, and while Will finds the idea kind of funny, he can’t stomach the thought of Hannibal being microchipped or worse still, neutered. No one is allowed to change Hannibal’s body but Will.

And so he doesn’t let Hannibal outside, but he does do his best to entertain him. He picks a few of Hannibal’s favorite records and lays them out on the floor.

“Here,” he says. “Pick one.”

He wonders if Hannibal can still read like this. He’s heard that dogs are colorblind, but he’s not sure if the same holds true for cats. He wonders what the colored text on the record covers looks like through feline rods and cones.

“Can you read?” He asks finally.

Hannibal sneezes at him. The gesture is positively dripping with disdain, so Will decides to take that as a yes. Hannibal sniffs the records and finally sits down before one, batting it gently with his paw.

Will picks it up. “Chopin. You got it.”

Hannibal leaps up onto the sofa, pads over to the section currently bathed in sunlight, and curls in on himself while Will starts the record. When Will looks back at him, his eyes are closed, but his ears twitch every so often, turning toward the record player, and Will likes to think Hannibal is enjoying himself.

He wanders down the hallway, meaning to spend some time tying lures. A painting catches his eye, the Rubens reproduction. Will had always thought that Saturn Devouring His Son was a little on the nose, but Hannibal seems to find it terribly funny.

He rubs his chin and looks at it. He doesn’t figure Hannibal can see it from his new, considerably lower vantage point. After a moment’s deliberation he lifts it up off its mount and sets it on the floor, leaning it against the wall so it won’t fall down. He does the same with every other painting in the house but stops shy of putting any of the objets d'art on the floor. He doesn’t need any more stubbed toes. Hannibal gets underfoot often enough as it is.

Meow, Hannibal says very loudly, startling Will. He pads over to the nearest painting and sniffs at it delicately before meowing again.

“They’re your paintings,” Will says. “I figured you should at least be able to enjoy them.”

He has no idea if that’s the right answer to whatever Hannibal just said—for all he knows, what Hannibal just said is cat for ‘why are you putting my expensive art on the ground, you fucking moron?’—but Hannibal is purring and winding in a figure-8 around his legs, so he figures it must be alright.

* * *

Hannibal slips out the front door. Of course he does, because Hannibal is an asshole.

“Hannibal!” Will calls after him, a sleek, silver blur darting beneath a row of hedges, before he realizes that shouting the uncommon name of one of the FBI’s most wanted is potentially not the smartest course of action. “Hannibal,” he hisses, softer this time, but Hannibal is long gone, and there’s no response.

Will could go out and look for him, he supposes. He doesn’t. He should just lock the door, let Hannibal deal with the consequences of his actions. For a few blissful seconds, Will enjoys the mental image of Hannibal locked outside the house, plaintively meowing to be let back in.

He doesn’t do that either. Will has never been particularly good at letting Hannibal deal with the consequences of his actions—he loves him too much for that. So he goes back inside, but he leaves the door cracked open, just enough that a particularly clever cat could wedge a paw in it and pry it open.

He walks into the kitchen and starts dinner.

* * *

Hannibal has been a cat for a few weeks, and in that time, several things have happened. A small cat door appears at the bottom of their back door, installed by Will while Hannibal looks on imperiously, a little furry overlord surveying him with a critical eye. Hannibal’s ears flatten against his head at the loud sound of the power drill whirring to life, and Will laughs a little. He drops a kiss between Hannibal’s two twitching ears and is not scratched for his troubles.

Will’s also had the chance to expand his cooking repertoire. It’s not that he can’t cook—he can. He’s passably good at it, and he even enjoys it on occasion. Hannibal just enjoys it that much more, so it’s always made sense that he should do the cooking. It wasn’t something they ever discussed so much as a habit they slipped into like a particularly cozy coat. But now Hannibal is a cat, so. Will does the cooking.

He doesn’t bother trying to feed Hannibal canned food, let alone kibble. He doesn’t think for half a second Hannibal would even entertain the thought of eating it. He’s just as snobbish a feline as he was a human. Anyway, Will’s always cooked food for his dogs, and he wouldn’t offer anything less to Hannibal. The only thing is, he has no idea what cats are supposed to eat beyond some vague idea that they probably eat birds and mice—two things Hannibal has brought home aplenty, since the cat door was installed—so he spends an afternoon with Google, getting himself acquainted with the ins and outs of feline dietary needs.

“You’re an obligate carnivore,” Will tells Hannibal, who levels a slow blink at him. “Yeah,” he mutters to himself. “Of course you are. Would’ve served you right getting turned into an herbivore, you know.”

He scrolls down the page. There’s a picture of two particularly cheerful looking cheetahs ripping apart the ribcage of some animal. It actually doesn’t look that different from the rib meat of a human. He turns the screen so Hannibal can see, although he’s still not clear on whether or not Hannibal can see things on computer screens.

“Says here that you’re specifically adapted to eating raw flesh. You have the shortest digestive tract compared to body size of almost any mammal. Not that having a human-sized digestive tract ever stopped you, did it? You have the devil’s own luck. I can’t believe you’ve never gotten food poisoning.”

Vivid memories flit across his mind’s eye, he and Hannibal standing over a kill, victorious. The two of them kissing over the pooling blood of a dying man, sticky fingers twisting in one another’s clothing. He shakes it off, wistful. No sense wanting what he can’t have. He presses another kiss to the top of Hannibal’s furry head and breathes in the light animal smell of clean fur.

* * *

Will has an idea. He’s pretty sure it’s the sort of idea that means there’s actually something wrong with him—it isn’t the sort of idea that nice, normal people have—but he’d given up on trying to categorize anything he or Hannibal do as right or wrong a long time ago. There’s just no sense in it if he’s staying, and he is staying. Trying to tally up his sins paves the way to madness.

Even so, he’s aware, as he baits the trap, that this isn’t something that normal people do.

He’d bought the cruelty-free traps off the internet, even set them down so Hannibal could examine them after they arrived. Hannibal hissed and spat at the wire trap as soon as he saw it, and Will gentled him. It’s so much easier to be sweet with Hannibal when he looks like this, ten pounds soaking wet.

“It’s okay,” Will says. “It’s not for you. I’m bringing you a present.”

Mrow? Hannibal says.

“You’ll see.”

He drives around and sets the traps places they won’t be tampered with—places where they won’t catch any of the neighborhood cats, hopefully, and he baits them with canned cat food. He sets up three and drives back home with an empty backseat and a whistle on his lips.

He goes back to check the traps the next day and the next. Hannibal looks curious every time he comes home. He sniffs Will’s pants and rubs himself against them, and it brings a smile to Will’s face.

“Still just as possessive when you’re like this, aren’t you?”

Mrow, Hannibal agrees. He butts his head into Will’s hand and purrs.

That night, Will lies awake in bed and wraps his fingers around his own cock. He and Hannibal hadn’t talked about it. He supposes they couldn’t talk about it even if they wanted to, not really. But they’ve had an unspoken agreement between them all the same. When Will masturbates, Hannibal hops off the bed, weightless and graceful, and saunters into the other room to do… whatever it is that he does when he’s not by Will’s side. Lick himself, stare at the paintings, bat Will’s socks around the room. He doesn’t know if Hannibal is as uninterested in Will’s body in his current form as Will is in Hannibal’s. Maybe turning into a cat affects libido too, or perhaps Hannibal has just been trying to give Will his privacy.

If he is, it’s an uncharacteristic kindness. Will almost wishes he would stop.

And maybe Hannibal senses that, or maybe there’s still enough understanding between them—maybe they’re connected by star stuff after all, thoroughly conjoined, embedded in each other’s pasts and futures. Maybe Hannibal is just a cat and he likes that Will is warm, but tonight he stays. He lets Will thread his fingers through soft fur as he pants and jacks himself off. He doesn’t take his time, and he isn’t precious about it. He comes quickly and quietly, and after, he buries his face into the pillow to suppress a sob.

Hannibal is a fucking cat. Will misses him terribly.

Will feels a soft paw patting along the curve of his ear, and he lifts his face from the pillow.

“Yeah?” he asks, voice rough.

Hannibal doesn’t say anything. He just licks a tear from Will’s cheek with the dry rasp of a sandpaper tongue. He tucks himself tightly against Will’s chest and purrs like a phone left to ring.

* * *

One of Will’s traps finally yields results. The cat that gets stuck is a scrawny thing, white with black spots and charming golden eyes. She hisses at Will when he goes to pick up the handle to the carrier.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Will says. “Don’t worry, you’re fine.”

He spreads towels in the backseat of their hatchback, and he manages to get the trap in the car without getting scratched, although it would’ve been easier if he’d had gloves. He’s still not sure how he’s going to get the carrier out of the car without freaking out the neighbors or getting himself bitten. He’s pretty sure he’s not up to date on his tetanus shots, and it’s not like he can just pop into the Minute Clinic to get a booster.

He throws a towel over the cat trap, although it doesn’t seem to help any. The stray cat is pacing, throwing herself against the bars and growling softly. She hasn’t stopped by the time Will gets in the driver’s seat and starts the engine.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’ve been in jail before, too. I know it’s not very nice. It’s not a far drive back to my house, though. I’ll let you out soon.”

He knows, of course, that this cat probably doesn’t understand a word he’s saying, but he’s had a lifetime of talking to small, furry companions. It’s a habit that’s only been brought to the fore by all his recent one-sided conversations with Hannibal.

The cat finally settles down by the time they’re halfway there, and Will puts on the radio, keeping the volume turned low.

* * *

He hadn’t really thought through what would happen when he brought another cat home. He supposes he distantly assumed it would be fine. That it wouldn’t be a big deal, and Hannibal wouldn’t care. Holy shit, was he wrong.

Hannibal’s fur is standing on end before he even sees the other cat. He scents the air and hisses, making the creature in the cage skitter and struggle. Will puts the trap down in a hurry; it’s that or let it fall to the ground and potentially hurt the animal inside.

Hannibal is on the cage in an instant, yowling and hooking his claws through the wire slats. He tries to scratch the other cat, who shrinks back to the far side of the cage and hisses back.

“Hannibal, no!”

Hannibal turns on Will, scratching him deep, even through his pant leg.

“It’s not what it looks like,” Will says. “If you’ll just calm down and give me a minute, I’ll show you. Please,” he adds.

Hannibal looks at him skeptically. His fur is still slightly puffed, but he visibly settles, with one last grumble in the direction of the caged cat.

“Will you go wait in the bedroom?”

Hannibal considers this. At last he acquiesces, sauntering down the hallway with his tail and chin both lifted high in the air. Will watches him go.

“That could’ve gone better,” he tells the white cat in the cage, who currently looks very freaked out. “Now what are we going to do with you?”

What they’re going to do, as it turns out, is Will is going to slice a few small cubes off the block of cheddar in the fridge, and he’s going to open the cage and sit on the floor, very calm and very still until the cat decides to come out. It’s considerably easier now that Hannibal isn’t in the room making an already tense situation even worse.

He doesn’t keep track of how much time passes, but eventually the stray ventures out of the cage to nose at the cheese. She takes a cube between tiny, sharp teeth and retreats, eating it while keeping her eyes on Will the whole time.

“Yeah, I get that a lot. I wouldn’t trust me either.” He nudges another piece of cheese closer to the cat with his toe. “This is good stuff, you know. Hannibal bought it. He’d be horrified to know I was feeding it to you. You don’t seem to like him very much, so you ought to get a kick out of that.”

The cat doesn’t actually care, and he knows this. She creeps forward to take another piece of cheese. She’ll inch closer to Will as long as he doesn’t move.

When all the cheese on the floor is gone, he takes another piece from his closed hand and tosses it on the ground, a little closer to him this time. He does it again and again, repeating the process until the cat is eating right beside him, so close he can feel her fur tickling the bare strip of skin on his ankle where his pants are riding up.

She doesn’t come close enough for him to pet her, and he doesn’t try. He doesn’t deserve that, after all, but he does like to think there’s a moment of mutual regard that passes between them. Something like acknowledgment. They look in each other’s eyes and for just a moment, there’s a shared sense of being two living creatures alive on this earth.

And then Will reaches out and snaps her neck.

Gutting and skinning a cat both is and isn’t different from breaking down a fish. The parts are different, but the mechanics are more or less the same. The feeling is different, though.

He’s surprised to find that killing a cat feels somehow worse than killing a human. The people they kill—it’s easy to tell himself that they deserved it, one way or another. His and Hannibal’s criteria might be different, but there are criteria all the same: rudeness, cruelty, the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This cat is just a cat.

It wasn’t a bad cat or a good cat. It was a cat.

Well, he thinks as he cuts the meat into fine red slices, at least Hannibal will be happy. He plates the dish as nicely as he can, layering the meat on one of the pristine bone china plates. He tries to fold the little fillets into an approximation of a rosette, mimicking the sashimi he half-remembers from a restaurant they visited back in Kyoto. He dresses it up with a sprig of parsley and hopes to God parsley isn’t poisonous to cats.

It isn’t as nice as what Hannibal would’ve done, but in the end, Will thinks it looks quite passable.

“Hannibal!” he calls.

Hannibal is nowhere to be seen. He’s angry, probably. Jealous. Somehow the thought can still make Will smile, in spite of everything. That’s okay. He spent the whole afternoon waiting. He can wait a little longer. It’s not like the food’s going to get cold.

Eventually Hannibal comes padding down the hallway. He looks at the empty cage. He looks at the plate of raw meat. He looks at Will.

Will smiles and watches Hannibal eat.

* * *

Will goes to bed with a mid-size cat curled up on his chest. He wakes up crushed underneath roughly 180 pounds of cannibal.

“What the fuck—Hannibal?”

Hannibal will deny it until the day he dies, but Will swears the first thing out of his mouth is something halfway between a croak and a meow.

He clears his throat and tries again. “Hello, Will.”

Will stares at Hannibal like he’s lost his mind. And then he laughs. He laughs and laughs until he thinks it might actually kill him. Hannibal doesn’t laugh along, but he holds Will tightly, arms (arms!) wrapped around his back, and Will can feel the curve of Hannibal’s smile pressed against his cheek.

“You spend six months as a cat,” Will says once he gets his breath back, still gasping in the aftermath. “And the first thing you say is hello.”

“It’s only polite,” Hannibal says, teasing.

“Fuck.” Will pulls back to look at Hannibal. “Fuck, it’s good to see you.”

Hannibal brings a warm, solid, human hand up to cup the side of Will’s face. He rubs a thumb under Will’s eye. It comes away wet, and Will realizes he must be crying.

“It’s good to see you too, mylimasis.”

Will crushes their lips together before Hannibal can get another word out.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he says into Hannibal’s mouth. “Don’t you fucking dare.”

Will’s hands wander lower, to appreciative murmurs from Hannibal, and he thinks how convenient it is that cats don’t wear any clothes.

It’s a while before anyone bothers to say anything else.

They’re not sated, after—never that, not for a long, long time, Will thinks—but they’re sore and running up against the limitations of being humans in bodies. Their skin is sticking in the places where they touch, sweaty and hot, and they stare at the ceiling with their fingers entwined.

“How much do you remember?” Will asks.

“All of it and none of it,” Hannibal says. He sounds thoughtful. “The memories are there, but they have a different quality, like looking through a clouded amber glass.” He shakes his head and brings their joined hands to his lips, so he can press a kiss to Will’s knuckles. “I remember you, caring for me. It was a novel experience.”

“I always care for you.”

“Not like that, you don’t.”

“No,” Will agrees. “Not like that.”

He shifts onto his side and so does Hannibal, so they can rest with their foreheads pressed together, breathing each other’s air.

“Did you enjoy it?”

“Oh, quite a bit,” Hannibal says, sounding pleased. Satisfied, as if all of creation exists solely to amuse him. The hubris in it is staggering, and Will is struck by an overwhelming wave of fondness. It’s good to have him back.

“I don’t think I’ll miss it, though. It’s too useful having thumbs.”

Will chuckles.

Hannibal’s face changes into something in the key of puzzled. He blinks. “Did you feed me a cat?”

“Your memory’s not that cloudy, I see. I did.”

“Why?” Sharp, but not accusatory. Curious. Fond.

Will lets his lips curl up into a crooked, sharp smile of his own. “It seemed aesthetically appropriate. I thought you would appreciate the gesture.”

Hannibal closes the space between them and kisses Will with a tongue that’s perfectly smooth and ordinary. Perfectly human.

“I did.”