He didn’t remember the fall- not in its entirety. He remembered pieces, remnants of it, like the negatives to a film- shadows where the light should have been, white where it should have been black. A distorted image of the truth.
He remembered the feel of Will in his arms, soft and pliant in a way he had never been. When fever and distrust made him twitchy and uncertain; when wrath and vengeance made him bitter and sharp. He had never been soft until then, sinking wholly into the solid lines of Hannibal’s body as if he had nothing left to give, his hunger sated on the blood that stained his lips and the adrenaline that coursed through his veins. He was a new Will, though not really he supposed. He was new and yet at all once the most original Will. The true Will, sinking into repose like a wolf napping after a hunt.
He embraced Will, inhaling his scent. The smell of dog and sweat and cheap aftershave and salt from the winds of the Atlantic and the bitter, metallic clang of blood. In another time, another world, it would have been offensive, a foul combination of unpleasant odors. But in this time and this world, it was perfect, intoxicating and heady and he thought of how smell was the strongest sense, the one that dug its claws into your memory and refused to relinquish its hold and he was pleased to know that this scent would always call to mind this moment, this feeling unfurling in his chest-
He was falling before he even knew he was pushed, wind whipping harsher against his face than before as he made his descent, stomach flipping inelegantly and head swimming with sudden vertigo. One hand reached out in a pathetic, half-hearted attempt to find purchase only to clutch at the air.
So he clutched onto the only thing he could, the only solid and real and grounding thing he had as he plummeted down the bluff. He held Will tighter.
The bar was loud, as bars tended to be. Music thrummed loudly, a living thing. Its pulse undulated through the air, compressing and retracting, thudding through the floor. Laughter broke through, scattered among the crowd, the cheers and the whooping as a good evening turned into a raucous night. Debauched and inebriated, faces red and waxy as Michael strode through them, his own eyes sharp and alert.
A predator gazing at his prey.
Each predator was different, just as each prey was different.
Some hunted in packs, separating the weaker, the more vulnerable from prying eyes and helpful hands. Enjoying the thrill of isolating their prey almost as much as the carnage itself. Some focused on the superior prey, the wary ones. The ones who felt the ghost of a gaze trail down the delicate slope of their spine, drool pooling between sharpened fangs. The ones with talons of their own, venom sitting in their mouth as they waited for the moment to bite in defense.
They were fun, too. Fun in the way that driving recklessly was fun. A little bit of danger, a slight loss of control.
Michael was neither of these predators.
He could see the appeal, of course. Had engaged in such hunts in the early hours of his youth. But when the period between hunts became smaller, and his hobby shifted into a career, his values changed. He had to be pragmatic. Smart.
It was still fun if a little dull in the way that things often became when they were a responsibility.
He raised his drink to his lips, eyes not once lowering from the crowd. His hand gripped the neck of his bottle, sweaty with condensation and making his palm damp. Cold.
There was a little danger in this hunt. It was the offseason- the warmth and sun of the tropical season fading with the winter. Still mild by most standards, but not worth the time and money of the tourists that would flock in droves to the little island in a few months' time. Spring break was the more...lucrative time. The safest time too. Young, self-centered party-goers, too drunk and absorbed to notice the predator prowling his prey. Too crowded and busy to be remembered. Too hedonistic for the hunt to be immediately seen as suspicious.
The bar was busy- it was a weekend, after all. But the bartender would remember his face if prompted, might remember him pulling an unsteady body against him as he made his way to the exit.
His heart raced at the thought, pulse thudding in his veins and he swallowed thickly.
He continued his scan, resting his back against the bar, arms spread over the Formica counter. Sticky, the residue of old drinks clinging to his skin. He tried not to grimace.
His eyes finally settled on someone, head tilting almost imperceptibly. The prey was alone, tucked into an alcove. His arms were folded on the table, one hand wrapped around the near-empty glass before him, head tucked into the crook of his elbows. There were no other chairs- filled or otherwise- around his table. They were pulled away by bigger crowds, gathering groups that did not have enough and found plenty surrounding the stranger, drunk and alone in a bar.
He knew better than to approach his prey right away. A good predator observed, watched carefully for anything that might prevent the hunt. A late arrival companion that would join in for the rest of the night, a concerned partner arriving to drag them home.
Twenty-seven minutes passed before Michael had sighed with impatience. The man did not even pull himself up from the cradle of his arms- he might have already drunk himself into unconsciousness, only to be awoken by the barkeep anxious to close down in the morning. Abandoning his own half-full beer- he was on the job, after all- Michael left his perch and strode to the stranger.
“Hey, man,” Michael said when he was close enough that he didn’t have to yell, risk being overheard by prying ears. The man didn’t so much as twitch.
“Hey,” he said again, louder this time. He raised a hand, curling it over the shoulder and giving a soft nudge. Slowly, the man responded, pulling his head up as though rising from molasses, heavy and weighted and looking for all the world like he belonged more properly on a gurney than a barstool.
“Hmph,” he muttered incoherently, head moving slow, gaze moving slower. Hazy and listless, his eyes- green in the low, golden light of the bar, amber thread cutting through the irises- slid as he glanced around him. Michael inhaled sharply, pleasantly surprised with his prey.
He was pretty.
Michael smiled, his glee slipping through the veneer of professionalism he wore. “Hey, man. Need some help getting home?” he asked, bending at the waist. Eye contact bred trust, bred familiarity. It made it easier to soothe and lull his prey.
Made the snap of his jaw all the more satisfying when he saw the fear mirrored in that shared gaze.
The man blinked, the action sluggish, as though fighting away sleep, and his gaze slanted after only seconds of holding Michael’s own.
His smile fell.
“I could call the cops if you’d prefer. You can sleep it off in a cell,” he said, infusing warmth into his voice so as to not sound like a threat. Trust. He wanted- needed- the man to move willingly, see that Michael was the better option.
“No, no, s’fine,” the man slurred, rubbing a hand over his face. He made to stand, chair clattering as it pulled with his weight and he stumbled.
“Whoa, hey,” Michael said, reaching out with one hand to catch him and the other to steady the table that shook as it bore the uneven tilt of his body. “Come on, let’s get you somewhere safe,” he said, pleased when the man didn’t protest as he snaked an arm across his waist and tugged him close. He used the other to grab his hand, looping it over his neck so it looked more compliant. Less forced.
The man fell into the position like a marionette.
They began to weave through the crowd, and Michael chanced a wave at the bouncer as they approached the door. It was a risk, but just enough of one.
Men were easier prey. A paradox, created by the far greater chance of women falling into unscrupulous hands. Pulling a drunk, barely conscious girl from a bar would garner concerned glances at best, obstacles at worst. They were more prepared for this sort of crime, traveling in groups, establishing codes and rules to not separate- to not leave without a thorough vetting. Some women even stepped in on behalf of a stranger, pretending to be a long-estranged friend and offering an out- if needed.
Cruelty and unfair persecution made women shrewd and calculating, preparing for war and a party in equal measure. Men were lazy in this regard, like a creature made fat and sleepy as winter crept into their bones. They allowed a perception of safety to cloak them, unaware that their shroud of security was just as much a funeral shroud.
To any onlookers, Michael was just someone who finally found his friend after a night of perusing the local bars and club, pulling him away from his bad habits and whatever plight had forced him to sink into the bottom of a bottle.
Some even gave him soft and approving smiles as he departed.
He was such a good friend.
They walked two blocks before the man spoke. “My car-”
Michael huffed a laugh. “You’re in no position to drive. My hotel is nearby,” he said, surprised when the man offered no further protests. Even the most inebriated men often stumbled at that suggestion. Typically for the wrong reasons.
Masculinity was so delicate. More concerned with their wrongful interpretation of their sexuality than the obvious trap they were practically waltzed into.
They arrived at the hotel; motel, really, a run down and dingy joint with no cameras and outside entrances to the rooms which afforded him greater privacy. It was with relief that Michael shifted the man so he was held between him and the wall, his weight growing more and more burdensome with each step, and he pulled the key from his pocket. They were the old-fashioned sort, physical keys swinging from old keychains that once upon a time had the room number emblazoned but had since faded, the raised impression the only reminder of where it belonged. It was practically a relic, and Michael held the plastic keychain in his mouth to grab hold of the key before fitting it in the lock. The door clicked, swung open, and he grabbed the man none too gently and pulled him into the room and deposited him on the nearest full bed, the ruse almost entirely forgotten.
Not as if the man minded, grunting once or twice but otherwise silent to the rough handling.
Michael closed the door, huffing out a breath as he switched on a light and finally looked at his prey in the artificial halo of light created by low-energy bulbs.
He really was pretty- prettier than he found most men to be. They weren’t really his preferred sort, falling into a category somewhere between convenient and good enough. But this man was different- slim and narrow despite the firm contours of muscles that he could see beneath the few buttons of his shirt, popped open. The sharp bow of his clavicle, the firm lines of his toned pectorals, the rope-like tendons of his neck. Sharp and angular in the way most fit men were, though the slightness of his form, the long and unruly curls smoothed him, made him soft. Feminine, almost. A contradiction he could not explain yet understood all at once. Gorgeous and soulful eyes- half-lidded, glassy though they were- were set above his well-groomed stubble. The certain lines of his jaw, tapering to a strong chin, met his soft and round cheeks.
Yes, he was pretty for a man. Too delicate to properly be called handsome, but not so delicate he was androgynous.
Michael offered an appreciative nod, stepping back from the bed the man was haphazardly thrown on, one leg bent as his toes brushed the carpet.
He pulled the cellphone from his pocket. It was brand new and would be tossed in a trashcan fifty miles from here at the end of the night. In his other pocket, he pulled a folded piece of paper, soft and worn from sitting against his thigh all night, and dialed the number scrawled messily over it.
It rang seven times before the phone clicked, a tinny breath exploding against his ear before the man on the other line, known only to Michael as Paul, though he suspected it was a false name, spoke. “Got some goods?”
“Yeah. At the place now,” Michael answered, offering a glance at the man sprawled on the bed. He stirred at the voice but nuzzled against the pillow with a pleased hum. Michael's groin tightened at the sight, warmth spreading into his belly.
“What kind of goods?” Paul asked.
“It’s a guy,” Michael admitted after a seconds hesitation.
The other man sighed. “You know that’s not what most of my clients want.”
Michael bristled, a snarl dying on his lips. How easy it must be, to be the broker criticizing the predator’s catch as though he were a mere house cat dropping a half-dead bird at his feet. Instead, he said, “Tell them to come back in a few months. Spring break, you know.”
He knew Paul would be displeased by the answer, but he said nothing, a beat passing between them before adding, “Well, alright. How old? I’ve got someone who might be interested-”
Michael winced, glancing at the man once more. “Not sure...mid to late thirties maybe?”
A gush of air, mechanical and sharp, filled his ear as Paul let out a short, humorless laugh. “Jesus Christ, Mikey, really?”
“Look, when you see him you’ll get it, alright? He’s pretty-”
“Oh, well I’m glad you find him pretty-”
Michael clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Listen, I’m not an idiot, alright? I know what you want and trust me, you won’t be disappointed.”
Paul sighed in resignation. “Alright, alright. I’m sure we’ll find someone for him. Got a nice face though, right? That’ll look good on the website. I’ll be there in half an hour or so. You’ve got him until then?”
Michael scoffed, aborting the laugh that sat on his tongue. “Yeah, I got him. Might test him out for you a little bit, if that’s okay,” he said after a moment, letting his hungry gaze slide down the form of the man before fixing back on his eyes, closed in a veil of sleep. He would wake him up- those eyes would look stunning gazing up at him as Michael shoved his cock down his throat.
Paul groaned, his words coming out twisted with his barely contained frustration. “I swear, Mikey, you’re testing me today. Don’t do any damage or anything that will depreciate his value.” A pause, then, “And you’re paying for it. Don’t expect the full cut.”
He hung up before Michael could argue.
Michael scowled, pulling the phone away and glancing at it with twisted face before smoothing his features and tossing the device to a nearby table. He turned back to the man- his prey, his pretty prey- and smiled. His lips had parted in his sleep, as though in an invitation, and Michael licked his own, swallowing as he walked to the head of the bed, head tilted as he gazed at the face. Smooth in sleep, the creases that would frame his eyes and mouth ironed out in peace. And yet, a thin line ran-
Michael frowned, noticing for the first time the scars. Hardly noticeable- the thin sliver that ran across his forehead obscured by the curls that brushed his brow, and the one slanted on his cheek was hidden by the trimmed facial hair. He wondered if the styling was intentional- if the man allowed his hair to grow unkempt to cover the imperfections. Paul wouldn’t be happy when he saw them and Michael rolled his eyes in anticipation of the chewing out he would receive.
Well, he might as well have fun while he could get it.
The sound of his zipper sliding down sounded obscene, sending a shiver down his spine and only making his erection grow. His cock was warm and heavy in his hands, and he hummed at his own touch before shuffling onto the bed, the rough path of his knees tugging at the corners of the bedsheets until they pulled off. He straddled the man’s shoulders, one hand gripping the base of his member as the other wound into the mass of curls, holding the man’s head in place as he guided himself forward.
“Come on, pretty boy,” Michael teased, his voice thin and worn with arousal. His eyes fluttered shut at the sensation of chapped lips against the crown of his cock, and he pushed forward, sighing at the soft and warm and wet mouth.
When he opened his eyes, it was to stare into an unwavering gaze, now more blue than green in the white light. His hips stuttered on a thrust, and he blinked, startled by the clarity in the eyes that had only half an hour earlier been dim and glazed. He inhaled sharply, cock twitching as he flicked his sight down to the lips wrapped around him, swallowing him.
His lips twisted into a crooked grin, and the hand that gripped himself slid along the curve of the man’s jaw, thumb smoothing over his cheek in a perverse gesture of love and comfort. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to this soo-”
His words were cut short, strangled on a gasp and shout as the man bit down sharply. “Hnnh- Fuck! Get off!” he yelled, making to pull out only for the motion to halt abruptly when the man continued to clamp down, effectively trapping his cock between teeth. The fingers that were curled in his hair tightened, flexed and tugged sharply on the roots- but not too sharply; too frightened of what might happen if he pulled him off with his teeth still in place.
With a snarl, the hand that smoothed over the man’s cheek pulled into a fist and swung in an uneven, clumsy arc. Desperate and weak, but not unsuccessful, as the man let his jaw separate and Michael pulled back, tripping in his haste to move from the bed and the very much awake man.
“What the fuck!” Michael yelled, pulling himself to a shaky stand as he looked to his sore and abused member. He was no longer hard, though the tip was swollen, blood smeared along the shaft and mottling his pubic hair. He gasped, groaned in pain as jolts of agony shot like electricity into his groin, shockwaves radiating up into his stomach. But his self-perusal was short-lived, his gaze darting from his bleeding cock to the man that shifted on the bed. A predator made prey.
The man moved with a steadiness he did not possess earlier, sitting up on the bed almost gracefully- as gracefully as one could with their hair mussed and blood dripping from his lips. He met Michael’s gaze once more, and this time he smiled, teeth red with blood.
“Not good for you?” the man crooned, voice saccharine in the mockery of a lover. “It was good for me.”
Michael huffed, anger flaring in his chest, uncurling like a snake that rose from slumber. Lazy, he had become lazy in his role as predator. Like a bear who pulled food from the dumpsters and neighborhood trashcans and became fat and slothful on scraps. Allowed the prey to evade him in his laziness.
The man stood, and Michael was displeased to find he instinctively shuffled back at the motion, trembling hands fumbling with his zipper even as his cock ached at the constriction of his jeans. He felt too vulnerable, too exposed. Blood seeped into the fabric of his jeans, warms and uncomfortably wet.
“This was a trap, wasn’t it?” the man asked, though Michael knew he did not want- or need- an answer, his head tilting curiously so his curls shifted along the crown of his head. “Though the question is- who for?”
He didn’t remember the fall. Or the break of water beneath him. There were moments that punctuated his memory, quick and frantic and forgotten within seconds. Less a recollection of events and more a recollection of himself within that moment, suspended outside the universe.
The hard press of water, bearing down on him. The sear and burn of his lungs as he struggled to breathe- as he drowned. The cold that bit into his skin and pinched him numb. The tight grasp as he held onto Will even as the crash of waves threatened to pull them under and apart, clutching to him as though he were a life preserver.
He didn’t remember the fall, or the crash or the pull from the waters. There was a gap, moments stolen, where there was nothing but darkness and drowning and crushing breaths that spilled out into the night sky, dark and velvet. The moon, full and looming cast an ethereal glow on the world. A different world, as the veil of night was nothing like the world that existed in the harsh glow of the sun. This world was darker, more forgiving. Secrets hidden away in the darkened shadows and tucked within the center of twinkling stars. Dimly, he was aware of something sloshing through water, the slight and comforting rocking of his body as he gazed upward. An ache deep within, not from the pain of his wounds but from something more profound. As though he had forgotten something, gutted and eviscerated and his chest empty with a nothingness he could not place.
‘It really does look black under the moonlight,’ Will had said, and Hannibal wished to see him under the moonlight once more, blood made black as though he were being consumed by the shadows, swallowed into the night.
It was only then that he realized the source of his ache, registering the absence of something warm and soft and solid within his arms.
‘Will,’ he gasped, the sound more of a croak than a recognizable name.
The sloshing stopped, a soft and familiar voice coming to him, muffled and distant. ‘I left him on the rocks. I saw him push you over and got to the boat as quickly as I could. I didn’t leave him to drown, I thought he would enjoy it too much. Hypothermia will get him instead,” a woman muttered, and the sloshing resumed, the boat- he was laying on a boat- careening forward with her rowing.
“Go back,” he pleaded, his eyes remaining fixed on the moon as though the celestial body itself would do his bidding. Command the waves to follow her undeniable pull, carrying Will to him over the crest of its waters.
A second passed, broken by a sigh. And then he was moving backward, the little boat dragging back through the path it came. Back towards Will.