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Aftertaste

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Each first step through the prison doors is like a hit of the best drug. Or— how else to phrase it? 

It’s like turning on the radio to find they’re playing your favorite song. Like ducking inside a warm shop to escape a downpour. It’s like coming home from school to find your mom making your favorite meal for dinner, the smell thick in the air. Thick enough to touch. To swallow. 

He inhales as deeply as he can, and follows the smell to its source.

 

 

He doesn’t have anyone to explain it to, but he knows how he would, if they asked: why make the dish yourself, why waste time gathering the ingredients, measuring them and dicing them and braising them, why suffer the waiting as the oven beats its steady heat, when he could just go to a restaurant, and have a chef serve him on a silver platter? Or— everyone’s been there, haven’t they? After a long day, it’s easier just to go for the drive-thru. 

Sure, sometimes he wonders if it’d taste different if he held the knife himself, but it’s not quite the thrill of a hunt and kill that he’s after. No, instead he likes to think of himself as a connoisseur, seeking out the best new flavors. 

It leads him down a natural course. He begins like any curious, clumsy child, in the garden stalking cats that stalk birds, licking the air for their triumph and the bird’s despair as teeth find feathers. In his youth he chases ambulances, always the first good samaritan to pull to the side of the road and rush to help the stunned victims, but if he doesn’t do more than soothe them, run his fingers through their hair as the EMTs grab their useless kits and gurneys, no one blames him— he’s just a civilian, after all. But all that listening for sirens gets exhausting, and so he watches the red and blue lights splashing the evening sky and figures, why not just let them call him?  

So he joins law enforcement, and for a while hostages are satisfying enough, when they go awry, but he won’t be allowed to keep it up for very long if he stays bad at his job, which is what he needs to be if he wants to feed. He can’t eat if he saves the day. 

But then he hears about the BSU, and it’s like the heavens opening to shine down on his salvation, or the neon sign pointing right to the diner’s shiny front door. Here is the buffet, already cooked to perfection. All for him.

 

 

He doesn’t know what he is, but he knows this is the first time he’s been here. He’s not some old, mythic monster— he’s just Holden, whatever Holden is, though he doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to be that. 

Feeding makes him stronger, but whether that strength will translate into years lived, well. There’s only way to find out. 

He remembers how angry he was in the beginning, when he first realized what he was and what he needed to survive. Sitting in history classes and flipping through textbooks of crusade after crusade and war after war and he was furious that he hadn’t lived in a time when death had run rampant— but even though he’s angry, he’s not worried. It would have been easier, back then, to feed when the hunger pangs struck, but he knows there is plenty more to come. 

 

 

He learns step by step. After all, no one teaches a butterfly how to break out of its cocoon. A creature in isolation still knows to trust its instincts. 

He learns that the more senseless the death, the better— so serial killers are delicious.  

They don’t care for rhyme or reason. In many ways, they’re actually like Holden himself, giving in to the whimpering keen of desperation in their gut: the itch to wrap fingers around a knife, a gun, a neck, and squeeze until the last drop hits the floor— for Holden to lap up. 

As the BSU achieves more success, they start getting their feet in the doors of the cells of more and more prolific killers, and Holden’s nostrils flare and his mouth waters when he hears the jingle of keys, like a Pavlovian trigger. 

And he learns they can feel it, when he feeds. 

That’s that look they give him, once he starts speaking their language and giving them their words back to them. Disbelief melts into eagerness to share, the headiness of their kills bubbling up and pouring out for Holden to revel in, feel it seeping into his veins, stoking the fire burning deep inside of him. He likes listening to them describe it all. Dinner and a show. He savors their excitement, but he closes his eyes and plays out the scene, to better identify the notes: cinnamon arousal, lemon zest fear, peppery insecurity, honeyed satisfaction. 

They mistake his buttering for understanding, confuse gluttony for empathy, and maybe he’d pity them, if he cared. 

They don’t always respond to him, but it doesn’t really matter if they resist— it’s just sweeter when they don’t. Salt versus sugar. Sometimes he even craves the salt, the tang bursting across his tongue, and that’s when he’ll lay a word wrong, make the room boil when it should simmer, and they panic. All animals panic when they feel the phantom touch of teeth at their neck.

 

 

Don’t mistake him— he knows what it’s like to be hungry. Truly hungry. He’s gone days, weeks, months without a decent meal, because it isn’t always up to him when they schedule an interview, or if they find their unsub.

Like everyone he gets snippy when he’s famished, and it takes every ounce of his strength not to bite back when people snap at him, because that can backfire, end up with him kicked out of the field or ordered to hold back in a session, and that just won’t do. 

So his weight swings like a pendulum, the angles of his body sharpening like the waning of the moon and he gets used to Bill shoving extra airplane snacks his way, or boxing up their truck stop leftovers to coax him into joining him for a midnight snack in their motel room, but that pale, flavorless, human food is never enough. 

Because sometimes, well— sometimes the claws in his stomach don’t feel like his. Sometimes Holden feels like he could eat and eat and eat and never feel full, like there’s something else taking up the space in his abdomen and swallowing everything before he can get a taste. 

He wonders what might happen if one day it gets too hungry. If it’ll eat him, too.

 

 

He approaches every interview with a giddy, ravenous delight. Bill doesn’t question him. Wendy suspects something but she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be looking for. 

Holden smiles at them, all innocence, then licks his lips, and clicks on the recorder.