mightily beating wings

Hannibal has known for a long time why monsters like to lurk in the dark.

It’s not to snatch victims– victims don’t come into the dark. They need to be stalked through the light, persuaded, cajoled, prodded until they step into a pool of inky blackness where they can be carried off unseen.

No, the only companions of one who enters a dark alleyway, a deserted parkette after midnight, a car park with a good blind spot, all the unattended patches of the world where murder comes to the mind of even the most carefree– those are the places where monsters go to feel themselves secure. Because the only reason to lurk there is monstrosity; and in lurking, you must feel yourself, or convince yourself, to be the most monstrous of all the terrors imaginable.

So he likes to walk through the streets of Baltimore, sometimes, and see what else comes out to play. Other little monsters, scurrying past him, ignoring him– knowing that he is not for them. Not a victim, not an equal, something larger with sharper teeth. Once upon a time, another monster had not scurried past him; that one is still locked in the cellar of the castle and of his mind. But that was the last time. It feels sweet to be reminded.

It smells sweet. Decay, a perfume of sweat so salty it becomes sugared, through unstudied chemistry unelaborated in medical textbooks. A scurrying sound like a rat, and then he is kind of, almost, being pressed against the alley wall, a small and dull knife hovering unsteadily near his throat.

“Give me all your– um– bus fare,” says the man holding the knife. “I need– shit– no bus. Give me gas money, I need to– more money than that– or else– shit, fuck it’s–”

The useless knife clatters to the ground. Hannibal’s would-be mugger just stands there, breathing laboured, breath smelling of acetone, skin radiating unreality.

Hannibal reaches into a pocket and pulls out a penlight. He points it directly at the man’s face before turning it on. The little white light illuminates a tangle of overgrown curls like a halo around his face, and eyes rolled up that take no notice of the new brightness irritating them.

“You’re having a mild seizure,” he informs the attacker. “Does this happen to you often?” Unsurprisingly, he makes no reply.

He’s very beautiful. The slackness of his face in the throes of the mind’s forced absenteeism is almost relaxed. Hannibal grasps the light in between his teeth, and picks up his knife– he has a sharper one in his pocket, of course, but this one is uglier– and picks up the man’s hand in his own, making a little nick with it just over his wrist. The attacker jerks at that, coming back to himself, at least as much as he was himself before the seizure.

Monsters don’t lurk in the dark to find victims there– usually. But he can always make an exception.

He pulls out his wallet, and starts counting out twenties. “Gas money,” he says, stopping pensively when he has $140 in his hands. “Well, this will get you a tank of premium, at least– but then, that’s assuming you have a car, and know where it is.”

He can see the panic in the attacker’s eyes. Hannibal holds up the knife. “Where did you get this?”

“Mugged someone for it,” the attacker mumbles. “I think– I’m really bad at this… oh god…”

There are tears gathered where the inside of his eye slopes towards the bridge of his nose. Hannibal wants to touch them, but there will be plenty of time for that later. “I think,” he says gently, tucking the money into the pocket of the man’s jeans just to see his confusion, “I had better give you a ride.”

It’s a good thing he chooses that moment to grab the man securely; he starts trying to step back the moment he hears it, his steps too uncoordinated to really call it an escape effort. “No,” he moans, “No, please, oh god I can see it, I see you, I can touch them, I can feel the prick of your teeth, your claws are hurting me, I can hear your mightily beating wings, please don’t–”

“Shh,” Hannibal soothes him, a grip that is half a hug holding him steady. For a moment the man’s hallucination seems realer than reality and Hannibal can feel it himself, claws long enough to sink through fevered skin and into organs, wings sprouting from his shoulder blades, monstrous. “You’ll come with me, and feel the shape of my wings, won’t you? Run your fingers over their feathers?”

The man comes. It is a little bit of a walk to Hannibal’s car, the licence plate switched out for one he’ll have to stop and change back to his usual one before he gets to his own neighbourhood. But after a few moments the attacker goes quiet and docile and Hannibal just holds his wrist, in case it is only some kind of ruse, but he doesn’t try to get away. He climbs into the passenger seat of the Bentley and is immediately asleep.

Hannibal sits behind the wheel for a moment with the keys in his lap, looking at his catch. It feels more like he has been fishing tonight than hunting, and pulled up something from deeper in the ocean than ought to be trawling for bait at the surface.

The basement room is occupied. He has been keeping Jack Crawford’s little trainee there, waiting for the right moment to give her back to him. He’d expected it would be something to do with the FBI, that would have her prove her worth– if Jack ever got too close to the Ripper again, he could choose a scapegoat and teach her to recognize the fall man before sending her on her way. But perhaps Miriam was an anomaly; the only one of Jack’s little helpers who would ever even begin to see him. After all– what kind of insane person would want to work for Jack Crawford, after what happened to her?

Yes, he can afford to set her loose. He has something more interesting to keep close to him now.

The other man wakes up once when Hannibal stops at the side of the road to switch licence plates, and is quickly coaxed back to sleep; he wakes up again when they pull up in Hannibal’s garage, pitch-black and soundproofed. There’s an entrance to the upper floor from here, and a hidden entrance direct to the basement. But the basement room must be vacated first, of course, so he must take the man into the house proper. Not very prudent. But he finds himself rather pleased by it.

“This isn’t where I live,” says the man tremulously, rubbing his eyes as he comes back to awareness.

“How do you know?” asks Hannibal.

He shrugs, conceding the point.

“What’s your name?” Hannibal says.

“Will. William. My dad used to call me Billy-boy when I was really in trouble. I think I might really be in trouble.”

Hannibal coaxes him from the car. “Everything will be all right, Will,” he says, and Will actually giggles.

“Well, sure,” he says, “for you,” and Hannibal smiles because that is in fact exactly how he meant it.

He puts Will in his own bed, instead, and watches the way he rolls around on the soft sheets, rubbing his face against the pillow. The sweet smell is everywhere, now. Hannibal’s entire house smells of fever.

He touches Will’s cheek. “You’re very sick,” he says. “Did you know that?”

The tears are still there, unshed. Will says nothing, and Hannibal gives into temptation and touches a fingertip gently to one. It comes unstuck from its resting-place at the corner of his eye and rolls down his nose instead, dripping off and making a small dark patch on Hannibal’s sheet.

“Should I bring you medicine, Will? Or just watch you and see what you do?” He realizes, as he says it, that he’s actually asking. Why not do what Will says? Why not just try it?

“Whatever you want,” says Will, and when Hannibal climbs into bed beside him and clicks off the light, breathing in deep the long-remembered smell of madness, he still doesn’t know what that is.