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Keeping Canis Major

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Ten year-old Hannibal Lecter is too thin, all sharp angles and glassy eyes. The wind tosses his hair and pulls at his sweater, once elegant, now tattered and stained. His eyelids droop just slightly, and with an exhale visible in the cold air, rolling hills of green replace the snow around him, a castle forming in the distance.  The air glitters with the sound of peeling laughter.

The boy stands absolutely still, breathing in the memory. Mischa is beside him, pulling at his hand, blue hepatica flowers tucked into her hair. He smiles at her, a crooked, broken thing, and doesn’t see the punch coming.

It connects with the side of his head, breaking the memory with a jolt of pain. At once everything is white again, snow blinding in his daze from the strike, and Hannibal stumbles, as much from the shock of it as the force of the blow. A swift shove easily knocks him from his feet.

The snow isn’t deep enough to cushion the fall. Hannibal's palms shred on the gravel beneath as he tries to catch himself, chin connecting with the ground. His teeth clack together. The boy pulls his face up slowly, snow clinging to his chin, quickly melted by blood. He's silent.

“Surprise, weirdo,” his attacker jeers above him, and Hannibal knows the voice.

Saulius is fourteen years old and laughing, bouncing his foot up and down on Hannibal’s back. Hannibal cranes his neck to look, and is unsurprised to see Tomas and Ausrine standing a few steps back. They're smirking down at him with hands in their pockets. Rarely participants, but always amused. Hannibal catalogs their facial expressions.

“What were you staring at this time, hm?" Saulius asks, "What the hell are you looking at when you do that?”

Hannibal says nothing, his large, blank eyes blinking back at the three of them. Sometimes he's angry at these attacks, but just as often, he feels nothing. Only cold. Like brittle ice, shuddering and quaking between his ribs, suspended, ready to fall.  He makes no attempt to get up.

The heel of the older boy’s boot stops bouncing and starts digging into Hannibal’s thin sweater.

"What's wrong with you anyway?” Saulius asks with rising anger, working himself up over the non-reaction. “Damn freak!”

Hannibal blinks again and the nothingness shatters. Swallowed by a wave of rage, so strong it chokes him, he twists like a cat, hands seizing Saulius’ leg. He claws the fabric up to expose flesh before the other boy can do more than shout. Hannibal sinks his teeth into the pale, exposed skin and locks his jaw.

Saulius screams.  Warm blood trickles past Hannibal’s teeth, copper tang staining his mouth inside and out.  His eyes fall closed.  Saulius attempts frantically to shake the boy off of him, smacking at his head and shoulders with panicked fists.  Tomas and Ausrine rush forward with tripping steps to pull at Hannibal.  The boy refuses to let go, anger gradually ebbing with each rush of warm blood. He sinks his teeth deeper.

Hannibal hears Gabija shout from the kitchen window, and he cracks his eyes open. She’s slamming through the door, rushing towards the pack of them, worn apron billowing, cheeks instantly pink in alarm.

Qu'est-ce au nom de Dieu qui se passe? Arrêtez, arrêtez, vous tous!

Hannibal yanks his head back, tearing a bit of flesh from Saulius’s leg, swallowing without thought, and rips himself away from Ausrine and Tomas’s still grasping hands. He shuffles back quickly on his hands and behind, stopping only once he has several meters between him and the sobbing Saulius.  

A twisting coil of satisfaction and fear warms Hannibal's chest.

Gabija drops to her knees in the shallow snow beside the sobbing teenager, quickly assessing the damage. Her wide eyes jump from the wound to the snow flicked with red, then to Hannibal.

His hair is wild from the tussle, eyes bright and sullen. A bruise is already forming over his temple, reaching toward his eye. Blood is smeared across his lips and chin. His tongue flicks out to taste it again.

Dieu ait pitié,” the matron breathes. Her eyes shine with an emotion Hannibal cannot identify, but he knows he doesn’t like it. He bares his teeth, stained pink, and she shakes her head, looking away quickly to remove her apron and wrap it tightly around Saulius’s bleeding leg.

“Get him in the house,” she tells Tomas and Ausrine in accented Lithuanian. “You tell me what has happened there.”

The boys obey, casting wild looks back at Hannibal. Hannibal pushes himself to his feet as Gabija does the same. The boy takes small steps back, cut hands held behind him, head titled slightly down and to the left. He wants to retreat but fights the impulse.

Que vais-je à faire avec vous?” Gabija asks quietly.  She only speaks French when she’s upset or when she doesn’t want the children to understand.

She doesn’t know that Hannibal understands. He knows she often wonders whether he can even understand Lithuanian.  The coil in his chest tightens, intensifies, and his eyes drop.

“Will you tell me what happened here?” she asks. Her hand goes up to catch a greying lock of hair, caught in the breeze and crossing her face. “If you tell me, maybe I can help. Then these fights won’t happen.”

Hannibal says nothing. His eyes are darkening, dulling again, with each passing second. He raises an arm to wipe blood roughly from his chin and looks back at her.

Gabija waits a few more moments, staring at Hannibal with that same unwelcome emotion, now mixed with frustration - Hannibal identifies it with a spike of victory - before sighing.

“I wish you would talk with me,” she says. “It's been four months, Hannibal. Four months, and only your name, you’ve told me. Cela ne veut pas facile. Je ne sais pas quel est le problème avec vous, enfant.

Hannibal’s gaze narrows minutely. Some of the anger is returning, but twisted up, confused and unpleasant. His hands pull at the front of his sweater, flexing in the fabric before letting go.  His palms sting.  His eyes drop again to the pattern of red decorating the snow and exposed gravel.

“You know it’s bad to hurt people like that, Hannibal,” Gabija says to him, tone wavering.

His tangled anger crystallizes and hardens into certainty. His lips quirk up at the corners.

Gabija is wrong.  Hannibal knows what he feels, and it had not felt bad to have blood wash against his teeth.

He breaks into a run, past Gabija, who makes an aborted grab for him. Then he’s through the open door and up the stairs of the orphanage, alone, lips crimson.