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Gun Shy

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He stands behind her at the door to her new bedroom. It’s dim inside, lit like the inside of an egg thanks to the old Venetian blinds slatted down over the one window, and as he reaches forward and around her to fumble for the light switch, she hurries forward into the room, shying away from his arm.

“It’s a bit Spartan,” he says, his mouth stretched in a lopsided smile, his eyes traveling over the utilitarian pressed-wood dresser with the blonde veneer, the bed that’s just a box spring and mattress on a steel frame. Abigail shuffles in, pausing at the foot of the bed, tipping her luggage upright and bending sideways to set her backpack on the wooden floor next to it.

He stands in the doorway and when he realizes he’s wringing his hands he drops them stiffly to his sides, where they proceed, as if of their own volition, to start tapping his thighs in a silent staccato rhythm. “I have some money for you, if you’d like to, you know, dress it up a bit,” he tells her, tap-tap-tapping.

She turns and looks at him then and his eyes, practiced at the move, flicker over her shoulder to focus on the blinds again.

“You could pick out some curtains,” he suggests. “The window faces east, so if the light bothers you, you should probably think about that. I’ll put them up for you,” he adds.

Her eyes are burning little points into his forehead. He can’t usually feel someone’s eyes on him so hard but then again he doesn’t deal with teenagers very often. Teenaged girls. It was easier before, somehow.

He comes forward like a racehorse out of a box to the closet, reaches in, pulls the string to the bare bulb, setting it to swinging above, throwing light and scattering shadows. “We could get a curtain for the closet, too. Umm, there are a few boxes still up above, I didn’t have time to do something with them. I’ll get them out as soon as I make room in my, uh, office.” He jerks his head to indicate the open room on the other side of the wall that constituted living room, work room, office, bedroom.

Abigail finally smiles. It is bare, but it is a smile, and it sets off an answering smile in him like a chemical reaction.

“It’s a bit late, but we still have time to go out,” he suggests, looking earnestly at her throat, at the jewel-toned scarf tied there in a blowsy bow. “Get the curtains, get whatever you like.”

Abigail’s shoulders tighten in a shrug. “I’d rather just order stuff online,” she says at last.

He nods. “Right, right. Whatever you like.”

He realizes he’s staring at her neck. The thought creeps in that he hadn’t seen the scar and he wonders how it is healing. And then he realizes he is staring and Abigail is staring back, her pink mouth twisted in annoyance.

He nods again. “Right. Sorry.” And he slips out of the room, palming his beard and feeling the corners of his mouth pulling down into a deep frown.

 

She’s very quiet as they eat dinner together and he doesn’t like the sound of himself babbling so he’s quiet, too. When they sat down the first thing she had said was, “You made breakfast for dinner.” He had opened his mouth to answer when she added, “Hannibal made me breakfast for dinner, too.”

They’re almost done when he says, “Alana’s coming over this weekend. If that’s okay with you.”

She shrugs, turning over her scrambled eggs with a fork.

“We were thinking Saturday,” he says.

She nods, not even trying to meet his eyes, which makes him both grateful and anxious. It’s like she’s avoiding all possible contact with him and it makes him feel like he’s done something wrong but he doesn’t know what.

“I’m not lecturing tomorrow,” he tries again. He speaks slowly as he spreads jelly on his toast. Pear jelly, from Alana, or one of Alana’s friends, anyway. “I’ll be home, available. Is there anything you want to do?”

She’s focused on her food. “I need to unpack and stuff,” she said.

“I was thinking maybe we could go – see a movie or something. Or, you know. Go bowling.” He grins and it’s such a relief when her head pops up and she’s grinning back at him.

Bowling?

He can almost feel the incredulity in her voice.

“Whatever you want to do.”

She ducks down again. “Hannibal wants me to visit,” she says. “He said he’ll come pick me up in the morning.”

He frowns, wanting to say that maybe she should stay home, do the unpacking she mentioned, settle in a bit before Hannibal comes to take her to the city. But he doesn’t say anything, merely nods and continues the meal in silence.

He cleans up afterward, rinsing the plates in the sink, and she doesn’t wait for him to ask but joins him in the kitchen to help. She stays on her end of the counter mostly, drying the things he’s put in the rack, but at one point she sidles up, reaching for the flatware he’d tossed into the rinsing sink. As he drops another fork on the pile the back of her hand brushes against his soapy wrist and he slips, leaning into her, his eyes suddenly wide.

She springs back and he says “Sorry, uh,” and she moves away again, not looking at him.

His brow creases because his heart is pounding and he’s not sure why. He studies her sidelong, watches her studiously not watching him, and his brow tightens. Her movements are almost excessively brisk and efficient and the moment she sets the last spoon in the drawer she towels off her hands and beats a retreat to her room, leaving him to muscle the massive iron skillet around in the sink.

 

They do not go bowling the next day, but neither does Hannibal come; he calls Will in the morning to ask him to communicate his regrets to Abigail and to let her know he feels the offer was premature and that he believes she should settle into her new home first of all. Will is grateful at Hannibal’s good sense but Abigail is nonresponsive. He tries to coax her outside but she shakes her head, not even looking at him as he stands in the door of her room. She’s stretched out on her stomach on the bed, her laptop open in front of her, and she’s typing with the ratcheting rhythm of a tommy gunner. He’s not sure what she’s writing, since he’s always been adamant about not having an internet connection at home, much to his colleagues’ frustration.

But as he’s going she asks him to “leave it open” and that makes him flush up with pleasure, that she’s not cutting herself off with a closed door. That’s a good sign, he thinks; she’s making an effort – but then she adds that “It’s cold in here” and he fumbles and bites his lip and apologizes and she’s still not looking at him. You should come out where it’s warm, he thinks, but he can’t quite bring himself to say it.

 

 

They settle into a predictable routine. He’s at Quantico lecturing on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the rest of the week he’s home, reading, grading, doing what Abigail calls his “handyman things.” On Fridays he drives her to Hannibal’s in the morning and she spends the day there, and sometimes she stays the night there if he doesn’t have plans.

She fills the cramped bathroom with good-smelling things from Hannibal, mature-smelling things that remind him of aged herbs, petrichor, the ozone burn of a storm. Nothing fruity or too floral, no saccharine strawberry or peach, and he finds the scents suit her – clary sage, bitter oakwood, tobacco flower, oakmoss, galbanum, other things he couldn't even pronounce. He makes a little wooden rack to hook over the useless towel bar in the shower so she can organize her bottles better, but they still seem to build up, and the mirrored cabinet fills up with little perfume bottles, jars of more creams than he would know what to do with. He teases her about it once, but only once – “Are you and Hannibal planning on running a perfumery out of our bathroom?” – and when her face gets stormy-looking he shuts up, wishing he knew a way to tell her he really likes it without actually saying it. He’s a bit envious of Hannibal’s tastes and means but he’s glad he’s there for Abigail, even if it means her tastes are getting more expensive by the week.

They cut wide paths around each other at bedtime. He feels like he should breach the wall between them and offer her a goodnight hug, like a dad would, or maybe just press his knuckles into her scalp so she yelps and laughs and pushes him away, but the wall she's built around her is even more tangible than the one between her room and his. So he leaves her alone, they take their turns in the little bathroom, and he disappears out back for a while, giving the dogs a last run for the day so when he comes in sweating, his cheeks colored up from the brisk air, she's in her room with the door shut.

 

He looks up from his grading one afternoon to see her bent double by the door, trying to jam her foot into her teal rubber galosh as a couple of the dogs pester her.

He watches her struggle for a moment, watches her stomping her heel into the hardwood floor, before he says, affecting a friendly sound that came out sounding aggressively cheerful, “Where you heading?”

She doesn’t answer, only acknowledges his voice with a jerk of her head over her shoulder, but then she’s hiding behind her hair again and tipping to the side as her heel finally pops down into the boot.

“Out for a walk,” she says finally.

He nods twice, thrice. Watches her hop around on her booted foot looking for the other galosh. She seizes it and begins the process again.

“Mind if I come with you?” he says at last.

She sweeps her hair over her shoulder. “I kind of want to go alone,” she says. “You know.”

He bites his lip. “D’you – d’you want to take Winston?” he tries.

She doesn’t answer.

He shifts in his chair. “I’d just feel better if you did,” he says, cringing at the paternal anxiety in his voice.

“What, for protection?” she says, whipping around to look at him. She gives a sharp laugh and then drops her rump down onto the wood floor with a hard thump, grabs the sides of the galosh, and jams her heel against the wainscoting, making him wince.

Will isn’t sure how to answer her. He gets up and comes over behind her and pulls open the front closet to dig out her peacock blue pea coat. She’s rolling to her knees and jumping up and scaring away a bit when she realizes how close he’s gotten, and he takes a step back, holding the coat out for her to slip into, but she just takes it from him and pulls it on by herself. He watches as she reaches into the closet to search for a hat.

“I’m the scariest thing in those woods,” she reminds him with a stony look, and then she’s out the door, spinning and wedging her knee in to keep the dogs back as she leaves. Will reaches down and catches a few collars so she can escape.

The door latches behind her and in a moment he hears the squeal and the slap of the screen door falling shut.

 

 

At the beginning of her second week with him, Abigail finds Will’s record player and his collection of vinyl hiding in the low cabinets of the sideboard. He’s at his desk working on a new lure when he glances over to see her cross-legged on the floor, her hands buried in the thick fur at one dog’s neck, absently scritching as she examines an old LP. Other albums fan out on the floor around her and he flicks up his magnifying lenses to watch her.

She tenses a bit as she hears him scooting his chair back across the floorboards and he comes up softly, getting down on his knees beside her, though not too close. “You like Van Morrison?” he says, nodding to indicate the album in her hands.

She shrugs. “I guess.”

He examines the other albums scattered around here. “Looks like you made short work of my Neil Young collection.”

“My, uh.” Her eyes flash up but stop short. “My mom was a big fan.” She’s almost managed to overcome the way her lower lip wobbles when she talks about her mother.

He’s silent and watches her take apart his collection piece by piece. He sweeps the Neil Young aside and shows her the Hank Williams, the Willie Nelson, the Johnny Cash.

“Joan Armatrading?” says Abigail, letting the disc slip out, catching it carefully by an index finger on the edge. On the cover, a plain young black woman, all in black, with an acoustic guitar.

“Good choice,” said Will. “Have you ever used a record player before?”

She rolls her eyes up at him. “I’m not an infant, Will,” she says, and her scoffy, teenage disdain just makes him feel older. But he watches quietly as she pops the clear plastic dust cover up from the old Marantz. She handles the record delicately, slipping it down the spindle and thumbing the switch to start it spinning. Will watches her settle the needle into its groove and after a bright crackle the acoustic guitars float.

She listens for a while and Will talks about Joan, about his record collection, apologetically explaining that his musical tastes ossified somewhere in the mid-eighties, but that she’s welcome to play whatever she likes.

“So: no computer, no internet, no television, but a record player,” she says. “Do you also copy your lecture notes out by hand?”

“Actually, yeah.”

“Like a medieval monk.”

“With a little more hair, hopefully,” he says, and passes his hand through the thick curls at the top of his head. She laughs.

“You’re such a neo-luddite,” she tells him.

He grins, pleased at her teasing tone, pleased at the label of all things, and he flushes up all over, just enjoying being with her in the warmth of his living room, with the thick, ratty braided rug under their knees.

He brings his hand up with the intention of stroking her back, something easy that anyone would do, but she shies back sharply, her blue eyes wide.

He sits back on his heels, his face suddenly slack as he regards her. He’s done something wrong again, but he doesn’t know what, and he doesn’t know how to fix it. He sees her slipping away from him, the way her shoulders turn to block him and her hair slips down to hide her face.

She scoots back and scrambles up, careful of her feet and the albums still scattered around the floor. “Thanks,” she says, and then disappears into the kitchen, where he hears the water start running.

He sighs, gathers up the LPs and tucks them into the cabinet before returning to his desk. It bothers him much more than he cares to admit, the way she continually pulls away from his touch. He recalls how he found Winston, panicky, scared, half-starved, and the way the dog shied away from him, too. He’d wondered then the extent of the dog’s mistreatment, whether the owner that had tied him up with a rope also raised a hand against him. In the end it hadn’t taken much to coax the animal into his own hands, just a bit of food, some kind words.

He’s not sure what he’s doing wrong with Abigail. He isn’t sure what he felt from her. For her he wants to be all gentleness and paternal concern and that anxiety he supposed was common to all new fathers, but the way she looks at him, sidelong, sighing, and the way she comes forward and then dances back over and over again – he just doesn’t know. He will never replace her parents, but he doesn’t know what she wants him to be instead, or whether she does, in fact, want him to be anything.

 

 

Evenings they spend on the couch, quietly reading. She curls up on the opposite end, tucked into the corner, her knees up against her chest and her whole body sort of braced against the arm of the couch. Once she gets in that position she doesn’t move for ages. He’ll feel a fine tremor begin and he’ll get up to stoke the fire, set another log on. He suggested once that she come down on the rug and warm herself nearer the fire but she shook her head, a short and jerky no, and so he gets somewhat creakily to his feet again and returns to the couch.

Even with the fire blazing, she’s still trembling, and he doesn’t know why she won’t just take the afghan hanging over the back of the couch. So finally, unable to bear this small shivering person next to him any longer, he takes the blanket himself, reaches over and drapes it over her. She freezes up but for once she doesn’t protest and, being careful not to actually touch her, he tucks her in like a child.

She’s biting her lip when he’s done, but she’s smiling, so he takes a chance and palms her head, and for the briefest moment he feels the warm, rough texture of her hair before she ducks away.

“S-sorry,” he mutters and returns to his side of the couch. But her smile hasn’t gone, not completely, anyway, and she curls into the afghan, eyes on her book and tooth in her lip but smiling. Will’s heart almost bursts.

 

She cooks for him. Hannibal has been teaching her things, here and there; she visits him at his home in Baltimore one Friday and comes home that evening with a small cooler and tells him she's making dinner. From the cooler she takes a vacuum-packed piece of meat – a heart, he sees, too big to be anything but beef, split neatly in two, and she puts it into a glass bowl filled with salt water. She tucks it into the bottom of the fridge and washes her hands.

The next morning she’s up earlier than him to rummage through his cabinets. He lies in bed, half-awake, listening to the cozy sound of doors opening and shutting and he rubs his face into the softness of his pillow. In a minute she pokes her head through the kitchen door and announces that they need to go shopping.

He drifts off and when he opens his eyes again she’s kneeling on the floor at his bedside, swathed in coat, scarf, hat. He blinks to clear away the fog of sleep.

“It’s going to take all day to cook,” she whispers at him. “We need to go now.”

He presses his face into his pillow again and his eyes flicker shut. “Mm, sweetheart, you wanna just take the car?” he says. He’s awake enough to see her grin at him and she jumps to her feet, flings the word slugabed over her shoulder at him as she all but races for the door. He hears the jingle of the keys as she grabs them from their spot on the desk, and then the door slams and it’s all quiet again.

 

She’s back by the time he’s getting out of the shower. He pads into the kitchen on his long, bare feet to see her at the stove caramelizing two onions, all slithery and slippery around her spoon. She enlists his help manhandling the skillet over the Dutch oven while she scrapes the onions in. He bites his lip and doesn’t quite lean into her but lets her bump into his side when she’s trying to help him tip up the skillet, and his laugh is a bit shivery but he doesn’t think she notices.

She makes him a stew, onions and carrots and celery and potatoes and good browned heart meat, and she seasons it with salt and pepper and simple herbs. She tops the pot off with beef broth and plenty of the dry red wine she managed to purchase without a valid ID. He shakes his head at her but laughs at the way she waggles her eyebrows at him.

 

It’s that night, for the first time, both of them a bit tipsy on the rest of the wine and the success of the stew (and the heart, which was like the most butter-smooth steak Will had ever eaten), that she comes to him at bedtime and embraces him, gingerly but without being asked. He’s never asked because – well, it seemed selfish at the time and he can't bear it when she jerks away from him. But now her arms are around his waist, loosely clasped at his lower back, and he drops his nose to breathe in her fragrant hair, and he has to bite his tongue, hard, to keep from reacting, but he can't help the way his hands come up to her shoulder blades, trembling, on the verge of just crushing her to him.

But she pulls off and hurries to her room, avoiding his eyes, as if she was worried he'd seek them out.

 

 

She comes back from a walk one afternoon to find him finally removing his boxes from her closet. He’d been putting it off for weeks, but he’d finally cleared out a space in the living room cabinets. Between Alana and Hannibal, Abigail had begun to form quite a formidable collection of apparel and he knew she would appreciate all the room available. And on his part he wanted to make the space for her so she could feel like the room was hers, completely, a place she could call home.

He hears the front door open and shut and the next moment she’s standing in the door of her bedroom. He grins down at her from the step stool, over the cardboard in his arms, but instead of – whatever he expected, her face goes white.

He just manages to get off the stool before she thunders up to him and starts shrieking at him to get out get out. He tries to answer her, explain something, but she won’t stop yelling at him, and he’s trying to back out the door when she grabs him by the arm.

He startles so bad he actually drops the box, but she ignores it, half-pinning him against the wall and shrilling something about no privacy, this is my room and he’s not even sure, but he grabs back at her, his hand finding her forearm and clenching. She only shrieks louder, shakes him off, and he snaps back at her, something weakly defensive, and then she’s pushing him, actually pushing him out of the room.

The door slams behind him and the sound rings through the house.

The dogs are tense where they were resting by the fire, and Will’s heart is thundering. His whole body is still tense to defend himself and he wants to force his way back into her room, tell her she can’t do that, make her feel guilty. But simultaneously he wants to gather her up in his arms and let her beat at his chest and sob into his shirt until she gentles down.

He’s still standing there a moment later when she comes out of the room in a flurry and makes a beeline for the front door. He reaches out to her, but she’s out of the house before he can say a word, the front door slamming so that the whole house shakes.

 

His hands are shaking and he fights the urge to sink down into the nearest chair. Instead, he takes a few backwards steps, looks at the empty room in the aftermath, and lets the pendulum start to swing.

He watches himself working, watches her come in from the cold, into the room. Watches the red rise like flags in her cheeks as she pushes him, watches her yank away from his grasping hand, and he can suddenly see it. He can see her. He can see the thing pushing him away, the way she snaps like a feral dog every time he lifts his hand in greeting, the display of teeth and the bristling fur. She doesn't want him to be in charge. She wants to be the one that pushes him against the wall. Needs to be, to feel like she's in control of something in her maelstrom life, because her default setting has been changed to self-defense and everything can look like a threat.

But at the same time he can see the turmoil and the hunger, the wanting, like a whirlpool, sucking him down. The need for him. And there’s something horrible in the wanting and the needing. It’s not like his own desire – he wants to fill every void in her life, be her friend, her father, her – whatever she wants him to be. He wants to give everything. And she wants to take, but it’s as if she doesn’t know what it is she wants, as if she’s going to swallow him whole, really devour him.

He shudders and now he does sink into the nearest chair, bracing his elbows on his knees and clenching his hands together so they don’t shake visibly.

It’s never easy to really look at people and it’s rarely good, the things he sees in them, and he thinks he should be used to it by now but if it was the kind of thing he could get used to Jack wouldn’t have suspended him from field work. But at least now he knows, and he can imagine what needs to be done, and a sliver of optimism flickers through the depths of him like light glinting off a silver minnow. He can fix this, he thinks. He swallows his anger and gets to work.

 

He’s just finishing up at his desk when the front door opens. He stiffens up, turns around to see her come in and head straight for her room. At least she doesn’t slam the doors this time.

He gives it a minute, letting her settle in, before he goes up to her bedroom door and knocks gently.

There is a stunning quiet inside and then the door creaks open just enough for her to glare up at him. “We’re knocking now, are we?” she says.

“Abigail, I’m sorry. I want to apologize for that, earlier. I didn’t know it would bother you so much, although, uh, in retrospect I guess I should have.”

The apology isn’t exactly softening her.

“Anyway, I want you to know I respect your privacy and the sanctity of your space. And that’s… actually part of why I was in there earlier, getting those boxes out, so you could have a space that was completely your own. Maybe,” he suggests, running a hand through his hair, “the plan could have been executed a little better.”

She jerks her chin up and he sees her nostrils flare. “Yeah, maybe.” But the door is creaking open a bit more and she folds her arms over her stomach and waits.

He clears his throat. “Anyway, I, uh, made something for you. Consider it a good faith gift.”

Her arms uncross and she takes what he’s handing her – a pocket-sized Moleskine folio, with a small brassy padlock hooked through the hole he drilled through the outer edge. He digs the key out of his pocket and hands it to her as well.

“You do a lot of writing,” he shrugs, “and, uh, I figure this would be a bit more portable than your laptop.” He leaves it at that, fighting the urge to justify the gift, watching the way her mouth relaxes a bit.

She looks up at him and he dips his head so the upper rim of his glasses subtly blocks her gaze, and at last she says, sounding a little stilted, “Thank you.”

And then she’s stepping back, pulling open the door, and inviting him in with a nod. “Wanna get the rest of your boxes?” she says and turns her back on him while he quietly comes in.

The closer he gets the more prickly she becomes. But something in her is tugging at him insistently and he’s not sure anymore whether he should ignore it.

 

 

She comes home from Baltimore one Saturday afternoon and he can smell something else on her skin, in her hair, as he holds the door open for her. A dark and complex scent, something he didn’t recognize.

"That's a new perfume," he remarks, and her eyes dart to his, connecting for an electric instant until Will's jump away.

"It's Hannibal's," she smiles past him. "I forgot my toiletry kit."

"I noticed. You used Hannibal's...?"

"Yeah, and you know, I think he liked it," she said. “Once he got over my forgetfulness.” She punctuates the last word with a fluid, affected wave of her hand.

Will follows her toward her room. “I was thinking, Abigail,” he says, and she doesn’t stop, so he halts at the threshold of her room and tries again. “Abby, I was thinking about plans for Christmas.”

She’s unzipping her backpack and it gets stuck. He watches her yank at it.

“I, uh, don’t have plans is what I wanted to say,” he says. “And I was wondering what you wanted. We could stay here, spend some time with Alana, or – or with Hannibal if that’s what you want.”

She’s still yanking at the zipper. He wants to move toward her, put his hands gently on hers and ease the tension from them, but he remains stiff in the doorway.

“It’s still a ways off, but give it some thought, okay?” he says. “I want it to be good for you.”

She struggles with the zip, pulling it back and forth, and finally she steps back and says irritably, “Will you help me with this already?”

He comes forward immediately and takes the bag out of her hands and slowly works the fabric out of the teeth of the zipper. It takes him a while and she watches, sidling up to him carefully, until her arm is pressed against his.

“It’s a little weird,” she tells him as he finishes. “You and Hannibal, like you’re my divorced parents, making arrangements for who gets me for the holidays.”

He doesn’t move, because she’s still pressed up against his side and he thinks no matter what he does he’ll scare her off. So he’s stock-still and says, “It’s not like that at all, it’s not about who ‘gets you’ for the holidays, Abby. You can choose. Whatever you want to do, that’s what we’ll do.”

She’s pulling away then and his body follows her for the briefest moment as if clinging by magnetic force. And she sits down on the edge of the bed, heavily so it bounces a bit.

“What if I choose to spend it with Hannibal?” she asks, staring up at him.

Something in the careful blankness of her stare tells him she’s feeling defensive, even a bit hostile, and he just does the one thing that comes to mind, sinks down to his knees in front of her and looks at her folded hands.

“If you want to go to Hannibal’s, then that’s what you’ll do,” he tells her.

“You’ll be alone.”

He smiles. “I’m practiced at being alone.”

Her hands unfold and reach out.

“You make it sound like a skill,” she says, and her hands are cradling his head, and his eyelids are fluttering shut.

“It’s, uh.”

“But if you like being alone, I can understand that.”

Her hands loosen their hold and his breath hitches and he says all in a rush, “Oh it’s not that I like it, it’s….”

“Are you sure?” Her voice is all concern. “I feel like you could use some space. I’m around all the time, you know, getting in your hair…. It might be good if I left for a week. Or two. So you can have the house to yourself.”

Her fingers are combing through his curls and he’s hunching into it a bit, hoping she doesn’t notice.

“I’ve been kind of selfish,” she admits to him, tugging her hands through his hair. “I knew I was gonna be messed up after. After everything.”

“You haven’t been selfish.”

“I’ve taken you for granted,” she continues, and her fingers begin to stroke down the back of his neck. “If you hadn’t offered me this room I – I don’t know where I’d have gone. Hannibal, you know, he really values being alone, too. I couldn’t have stayed with him.”

He doesn’t answer, resists the urge to keen against her arm as she thumbs his earlobe gently.

“I guess I’m just trying to say I know how much you sacrificed for me to come stay here,” she says. “I know your life has been crazy since I came.”

He’s suddenly pulling away, getting up on his feet, hoping he’s not visibly shaken. “I appreciate the sentiment, Abigail,” he tells her. “I do. Just, uh, let me know what you decide and we can make arrangements.”

And then he’s fleeing, locking himself in the bathroom and sitting on the edge of the tub to think, the whir of the fan filling his ears, the golden pressure of her fingers imprinted on his skin.

 

 

It's harder for him on the Friday nights that she stays with Hannibal. The house seems empty in a way it never did before and the soft clicking and snuffling sounds the dogs make aren't quite enough to fill the Abigail-shaped void. There were times before Abigail came to stay with him that he felt these deep pangs of emptiness, and he’d sit on the porch with a dog under his arm and just yearn, listening to the peeper frogs out in the darkness and the saw of the cicadas. Now he finds himself looking for her in the silence of his chilly house, shoulder against the jamb of the kitchen door, surveying the living area and imagining what she’d be doing if she were there. The dogs are lolling by the fire and they observe him with perked ears. Abigail would be down there, using longsuffering Winston as a pillow, her sweater riding up over her pale, flat belly.

Will pinches his nose and goes over to the fire, settling down amidst the dogs, scrubbing at his eyes and grabbing the nearest animal by its floppy ears and talking nervous nonsense to its quiet, attentive face.

 

 

She crawls onto the couch with him one evening and stretches out and then, unceremoniously but self-consciously so, pushes her bare feet into his lap. The key is around her neck, glinting against her pale freckled skin, slipping halfway out of sight beneath the frothy fabric of her blouse, and she smiles down into the little notebook on her lap. She spins the lock around her pinky finger almost absently, then drops it so she can run the barrel of her ballpoint up and down the visible length of her neck.

She becomes aware of his look, the weight of his eyes, and without any preamble she meets them. And for Will it’s like the time when he was a boy and he brushed against the electric fence of his mother’s goat pen and the wire shocked him. The electricity raced through him but it didn’t actually hurt and the sensation was so curious, so different, that he spent the next few days working up the courage to touch the fence again.

She turns back to her journal, smiling, and he to his book, barely able to breathe. And for a long long time they sit in silence and stillness until she starts rubbing her flexing feet together so her cool little heels press into his thigh.

“My feet are cold,” she complains at last and he takes a look at her, not quite in her eyes because he hasn’t got the courage up yet. But he folds his book over the arm of the couch and, not quite believing she’d let him do it, takes her icy feet in his hands. When she doesn’t protest, he begins scrubbing them briskly between his palms until the pink comes back.

“Ooh, that tickles,” she says after a minute, not exactly smiling.

His eyebrows jerk up. So he presses firmer, not scrubbing so much as rubbing, asking, “How’s this? Better?” and her mouth tips up a little bit. And then he’s digging his thumbs into the little arch of her foot, into the hollow behind her ankle, and when his fingers wrap around her heel and turn circles into the flesh there she actually squirms down a little bit into the couch and a warm, contented sound escapes her.

“Mmmmm.”

He’s acutely aware of her eyes on him. Eyes have such a weight, he finds, even when he’s avoiding meeting them, and hers are particularly prickly, like she’s assessing him, slicing him open, turning things over to get a look at their glistening undersides. But he’s aware of her contentedness, too, and that, combined with the way her toes curl and flex in his large, warm hands, sends the warmth rushing through him.

 

She takes advantages of his foot rubs regularly after that, and he doesn’t care that he’s not getting any reading done or that she never reciprocates. She wants and he’s eager to give, though he doesn’t want to examine too closely what he gets out of it; he imagines himself folding her to his chest and – and it stops there. He settles down each evening on his end of the couch and waits for her to join him, for her little feet to work their way into his lap. It’s often enough that she doesn’t need the cold-feet excuse anymore and she’ll sink down into the couch and swing her legs over his, wiggling her toes at him, and he’ll grin and tug off the thick woolen socks and twist his hands around her heel so she squirms and sighs.

Occasionally she’ll settle down and pillow her cheek on his thigh, and the first time he was so hesitant to touch her that it almost didn’t happen, but then he allowed his fingers to trail down to her warm back and she purred into his knee.

 

It’s late one Wednesday night and for once she’s working on something in her room. So he’s stretched out on the couch, his textbook propped open on his stomach and his tortoiseshell glasses settled over the bridge of his nose, when she comes out and pads over sleepily. He glances up and tenses to make room for her at the end but she stops him with a hand on his belly, climbs over his legs and nestles in behind him.

Will goes rigid from his jaw down at the sudden contact, as she stretches out in the nook between his long warm body and the back of the couch. She presses her face into the comfortable hollow where his ribs terminate, and she rubs her cheek into his soft blue Henley, tucking her chin down, bring her knees up a bit next to his lanky legs. Her hands fold and tuck between her thighs.

He's stopped breathing by now. And for a long while he stays like that, the end of the book’s spine digging into his ribs, his glasses slipping down to the end of his nose as he watches her fall asleep. She’s sleeping and he’s just buzzing with the contact, trying not to stare at her jaw hooked neatly into where his belt cinches over the jut of his hipbone and he wonders, pitifully, whether he could stretch without waking her, stretch and relieve the tension corkscrewing his muscles tight, and whether in stretching the hem of his shirt might ride up and press his hot skin to her cool little cheek.

Instead, he folds his book and gently, very gently sets it onto the floor, hoping not to jar her with any sudden movement, and he folds one arm wing-like against his ribs and with the other reaches out to stroke her hair.

She doesn’t jerk away. Her eyes don’t flash up at him; her face doesn’t turn down in a scowl. She actually turns her face into his hand, rubs her cheek against his belly. His heart does a little flip-flop as she curls next to him, her knee slipping over his ankle.

She squirms a bit and he’s not sure, actually, whether she’s really asleep and he hopes she’s awake, that she’s consciously allowing his friendly, gentle touch, because that would be progress for once. He lets his hand go still in her hair and she settles down again, her cheek pressed into his hip bone. If she stays that way she’ll have corduroy print striped into her cheek. He chuckles softly at the thought.

It jars her and she’s moving again and suddenly she’s nuzzling into his groin, which stops the chuckle in the middle of his throat. It stops everything. For a moment he wonders if he actually felt what he felt but then she’s pushing into him, wedging her cheek into the fold of his crotch, rubbing. It takes a long moment to get over the paralysis and it’s only when his cock starts to beat, thickening up, and his face flares with heat, that he finds his voice.

“Abigail honey –“

Her face stills, her chin digging into the tender place of his inner thigh.

And then she’s rearing up on one arm, wiping her mouth, eyes creased shut.

“Oh, sorry,” she says as she opens her sleepy eyes. She barely sees him and then she’s drawing away. “I’m going to bed.”

He lets out a long, shuddering breath. “O-okay,” is all he can manage.

 

 

He dreams about her, about the way she lies in a sunlit patch with the napping dogs; about the way she moves through the kitchen for a glass of water, navigating with her hips; about the way she brushes past him on her way, her hot little mouth finding his inexplicably bare shoulder, dragging exactly three kisses over the skin there. It shocks him awake, so he’s blinking in the darkness, his heart doing these slithery wobbly leaps in his chest at the discovery of the hard heat between his thighs.

He’s distracted during breakfast, distant during the day, until she actually does it later, except instead of her mouth it’s her fingers striping up his shoulder as she walks by. He jolts so bad he spears himself with a lure.

In the evening, he forgoes his usual reading and tells her he’s turning in early because of some fake task he pretends to have forgotten to do for class in the morning. She pulls him in for a hug, a bit demanding, and her arms go around his neck, and she turns his face to his and presses her mouth into the wick of his, soft and clinging for a long moment. She lets him go as if nothing happened out of the ordinary and he disappears into the kitchen to pour himself a drink.

He doesn’t have Hannibal’s nose but she fairly reeks of it, wanting. And it’s him she wants. The thought drops in him like a badly skipped stone and it’s like he never thought of it that way before, or like he’d been skimming over the top of those thoughts and now he’s suddenly down there.

It clouds through him all day Thursday, while he’s lecturing, while he’s scarfing down a midday meal in his office, while Jack stops by and tells him sourly that he looks like shit. Everything else kind of glances off him, and he feels like he’s unwillingly undergoing some arcane alchemical transformation, heating through over and over again, the dross sludging up from the depths to burn away on his surface. He texts Abgail that he’s going to be home late and he eats in his office alone, Chinese takeout boxes wilting on his desk.

By the time he gets home she’s fast asleep on the couch.

 

 

No matter the vividness of his night-terrors, the aftermath is always embarrassingly banal – strip off the wet things, toss down a towel, and shiver uncontrollably until the sweat cools on his skin. Since Abigail moved in, he’s been spared the worst nightmares, but after the stress of the day and the responsive burning that has preoccupied him for endless hours, it’s inevitable that very early that morning he rears up, soaked, freezing, and almost hyperventilating, gasping for breath as if he’s just cracked up through the frozen rind of some pond.

This time, though, someone’s there to grab for him. The bed bounces a bit, tips, and he blinks salty sweat away from his eyes and sees Abigail on the edge of the mattress, leaning over him. He jerks back as her hands find his sides, but she’s firm and while she helps him swing his legs over the side of the bed he hears her whispering it’s okay, you’re awake, you’re okay Will, you’re okay, you’re gonna be okay.

And then she’s the one that peels off his sweat-soaked shirt, helps him out of bed with the brisk efficiency of a nurse, and leads him to the bathroom, her shoulder tucked under his arm and her one hand curled around his bare waist. As the sudden harsh light flares on he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror: his face looks gray and the deep circles under his eyes make him look years older. She helps him sit down on the lid of the toilet, leaves and returns in a flurry with a fresh towel.

She doesn’t speak as she helps towel his hair and pat his face dry. He’s almost aware enough to feel ashamed at the way he leans into her hands, the way the shiver threads through his whole body when her palm spreads over the nape of his neck, the way his every nerve ending flares as she lets the towel drop and strokes long lines over his shoulders. But he keeps his eyes squeezed tight and lets her cradle his heavy head in her arms and tries not to tense up and yearn after her when she leaves him there.

She’s gone and he can barely hear the shuffling and banging in the other room through the noise of the bathroom fan. Shortly she’s standing in the bathroom doorway again with her hands full of flatly folded clothes from his dresser drawers – pajama bottoms, a long-sleeved t-shirt, a pair of faded blue boxer-briefs tucked primly between. He can see Winston peering curiously through her legs as she sets the things on the edge of the sink. She pulls back out of the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.

The bathroom fan fills his head with a dull roar and his head is pounding. He rolls his pajama bottoms and boxers down and kicks them away from his ankles, bracing himself on the sink with both hands. He’s still heaving a bit and the muscles in his shoulders and arms are leaping and jumping under his grayish, goosepimpled flesh. His curls are plastered to his forehead and there are unhealthy spots of color blotching over his face, and his eyelids look swollen and purplish, actually bruised. A glass stands on the counter and he fills it to the brim, drinks it in long aching gulps before cracking it down on the counter. He buries his face in the towel she brought and breathes out hard, trying to catch up with his pounding heart.

When he finally emerges, dry if not especially clean and clothed, he finds she’s stripped his bed down and is in the process of pulling a clean sheet on over the mattress. He stands and watches awkwardly, pulling a hand through the still-damp curls at the back of his bare neck. When she’s done she turns and pads barefoot across to her room, disappearing momentarily before returning with her own pillow. He watches, half-frozen, as she goes and tosses it on the bed.

She turns to him and he swallows. “Your pillows are soaked,” she tells him, not quite looking at him. “You can borrow mine.”

He lets out a long breath. “Oh, no – you don’t have to….”

“I wasn’t using it anyway,” she says. “I never heard you come in. But I heard you dreaming.”

He comes forward and shakily settles down on the edge of the bed. She stands watching him calmly.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he mutters.

“At the beginning, after everything that happened,” she tells him, “I was so afraid of what I would dream. My dreams were bad enough before. I used to have night terrors, too.” She does look very awake and alert, but her arms are crossed over her stomach, as if she’s withdrawing again like a mollusk into its shell. “Sometimes still do. My – my mom would help me clean up, before.”

His hand pulls down his face as if he could make it into a mask by sheer willpower. “Thank you. You didn’t need to.”

She comes forward and her knees are bumping against his. “She’d get in bed with me,” she says, and he looks up at her, a ringing in his ears like he left the bathroom fan on. “Help me fall asleep again. No more night-terrors.”

He wets his lips with a suddenly-dry tongue. “Abigail….”

“You have to get up early in the morning,” she tells him, and her hand’s on his chest, pushing him down. He scrambles back but she follows and even as he’s trying to tell her no, her hands find his face, her thumbs stroking his forehead, her palms sliding down to scrape over his soft beard, and then back up again so her fingers could tangle in his hair. His lashes flicker down and he’s squeezing his eyes shut so the crows’ feet spring up at the corners, and he turns his head into her moving hand. The no melts out of him and the yes firms right up.

She doesn’t speak but hums a little, stroking through his dark, damp curls, sliding up beside him and encouraging him to turn over so that, god, so that she’s spooning him, pressing her slim little body up behind his, her knees slipping into the crook of his, her right arm going around his body to press into his sternum, press and stroke down and trail little circles over his ribs. And he feels her bare face warm against the back of his neck, the maddening flutter of her eyelashes on his skin.

He knows he’s shivering, knows she can feel the fine vibration through his bones, and he hopes to god she thinks it’s just aftereffects of the night-terror, and he hopes to god that’s actually what it is. He tries not to press back into her too hard and disguises his attempt to melt into her as merely an attempt to get comfortable. He clears his throat and it sounds explosive in the quiet darkness.

“Are you,” he begins, but she shushes him and nuzzles into his neck, hooking her arm around his torso, tracing with her finger.

He settles in, listening to her breathing slow, feeling the tension in his own muscles release in little clicking bursts, only to ratchet back up a couple notches whenever she shifts behind him. The movement of her fingers slows, turns dreamy, and for a while he knows she’s drifted off, but then she’s awake again with a little jolt that makes his breath catch, and her fingers are turning those maddening circles on his abdomen once more.

“You wanna talk about it?” she murmurs, her knees hitching up a bit, and his lungs feel so tight he doesn’t think he can talk about anything. And her fingers are doing little figure eights around his navel.

“About the nightmare,” she presses.

He’s able to shake his head. “N-no. I just want to get back to sleep.”

Her hand finds its way under his shirt and then it’s bare skin on skin, her hand going flat on his stomach for just a moment before resuming the tracing. But he can only revel in it for a moment before her fingers are slipping under the band of his shorts.

He freezes when he feels her running the pad of her thumb and then the nail over the rosy crenellations they left over his hip.

He should push her away, he knows he should, but he finds himself pushing into her touch instead, ever so slightly, his lower back flexing.

“Abby,” he moans.

“D’you like that?” she whispers, fingers curling downward.

He somehow he manages to pull away from her, rolling onto his stomach, crushing his erection against the mattress. “Abigail, I need to sleep,” he says, his voice muffled in the pillow, not daring to address the trajectory of her fingers, what she did to him. It’s only horrible because it felt so good.

She’s stiffened up next to him and after a minute she climbs out of bed. He lets out a long shaky sigh as she disappears into her room.

 

In the morning he listens to her in the bathroom, getting ready for the trip to Baltimore. When she’s done he waits for her to go into the kitchen before he slips into the bathroom, hunched up like a guilty dog.

He jacks off in the shower, thinking of her there just a quarter of an hour before, the scent of her filling his head. He remembers the dig of her fingers into his bare groin and his forehead presses into the cool tiles as he comes, his mouth working silently to stifle an aching groan, his breath catching with each spasm of his hips.

 

He calls up Alana that morning after a very uncomfortable drive to Baltimore with Abigail.

“I think she’s,” he tries to tell her, “I think she’s feeling – ”

His mind skips like a scratched record to the memory of her pressing her plump mouth into the wick of his. Will swallows, flushing with heat.

“ –confused,” he finishes.

“Sounds like you’re not doing too hot yourself,” Alana’s voice says.

He passes a hand over his forehead, finds the bruise just behind his hairline, and for a moment he wonders how it got there, that tender aching spot, and then he remembers the fogged shower tiles. “I can’t really help it, can I, the way she’s gotten in my head. It’s like I can see everything and none of it really makes sense.”

“Nothing really makes sense when you’re a teenager,” says Alana. “Keep her out of your head, Will.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“I told you it wouldn’t be, but you didn’t really listen to me.” She is sympathetic, even though her tone is businesslike. “Look, if you like I can come get her, take her out for a girl’s weekend.”

“It’s okay. She’s with Hannibal. I think she’s staying the night there.”

“Maybe I’ll stop by there and see how she’s doing.”

 

He goes out for a jog with the dogs later in the afternoon. He did cross-country for a year in high school, the one year he spent entirely in one place – moving around so often made going out for sports difficult. High school was an eternity ago and he can’t breathe the way he used to, and he runs himself to the breaking point, crashing down into the snow at the end and gasping, his throat raw, his nose burning, his breath coming silvery on the air. The dogs are wheezing a bit too but leaping joyfully around him and rolling together in the snowy field. The skies are thickly clouded over and it’s getting dark, even though it’s not even four o’clock yet. He pulls himself together and goes back inside, his boots clomping heavily over the front porch, and he doesn’t notice as the dogs track in snow and mud all over the floor.

 

It’s past midnight and he’s sprawled out across the bed, half-asleep, when he hears her come in. There’s half a bottle of whiskey and a highball glass, sticky at the bottom, on the nightstand, and that’s actually the first thing he thinks about, that she’ll see it there.

“Will?”

It’s a stage whisper and he hears it across the room. “I – I’m awake,” he stammers, and then rolls upright, scrubbing his fingers hard down into his scalp. He sees her moving across the room, shadow-like.

“Don’t get up,” she says, but he’s already out of bed, the bottle and the glass clinking together in one hand.

“I gotta put this stuff away anyway,” he mutters, although it’s a pretty thin excuse; Will has never been a particularly conscientious housekeeper.

She navigates carefully around the kitchen to pour a glass of water, and as he stands in the doorway she pours another one for him. He accepts it with a nod.

“Been drinking?” she asks him pointedly.

“Couldn’t sleep,” he says. “Achy. Happens when you get old.”

She lifts an eyebrow, like striking out his self-deprecation and his evasion with a quick red pen, before moving out of the kitchen. He downs his glass of water before following her and he finds her sitting in her spot on the couch.

He joins her, like he always does, but there’s something heavy on them, a difference in the air. The dogs are quiet.

“Didn’t know you were coming back tonight,” he says.

She shrugs. He can see her throat working, the long pale line of her neck, and realizes she’s not wearing a scarf. Her hair hides the scar in shadows. “I told Hannibal I wanted to sleep in my own bed tonight.”

Will nods.

“I don’t think he was happy about it.”

His eyebrows go up. “Hard to tell with him, though.”

She smiles and he can tell, even in the darkness, that it’s not a happy smile. “I can always tell,” she says. Then she uncurls and pats her lap. “Gimme your feet.”

It startles a little laugh out of him. But she pats her lap again so he twists and scoots down and stretches out and his bare feet are cushioned in her lap.

For a little while they’re quiet. She plays with his feet, stroking light fingers over the long bones, nipping her fingers between his toes, knuckling into his arches, which tickles him a bit. He finds himself laughing and she hefts up his foot with both hands to place a kiss on the narrow top. Her lips are wet and again Will remembers the kiss she pressed into his mouth, and he prickles all over like a wave.

She’s moving then, crawling up to settle in beside him, her face nestled in the crook of his shoulder. Will bites his lip and asks, “May I?” She looks up at him, sees his hand lifted, shaking, and she rolls her eyes and says “Do what you want.” It’s the kind of toss-off, cavalier answer he’s come to expect from her but she smiles when he sets his hand to her hair.

She doesn’t seem to notice, or at least she’s good at pretending she’s not aware, how the physical contact makes his hand shake.

When her mouth finds his again, he’s aching for it.

She clings to his side, her fingers stroking his ear, his neck, tangling in his hair. The scent of her is what overwhelms him, really, filling him up; the fragrances that cling to her hair and her scarred little throat are not what he’d choose for a daughter. Her mouth is experienced in the way that girls raised by dreamy closeups in films are experienced, all plumped lips and bold tongue. At first he won’t let her in, but she catches his full lower lip between her teeth, bites down so it pinches, and he surrenders with a little agonized sigh.

He’s almost afraid to touch her, to slip his hand around her waist, to stroke her lower back, but her hands are demanding, clenching in his hair, his shirt, and her mouth goes to his neck, sucking hard; his ear, to run her wet little teeth along the outer ridge there. He’s getting hard, the front of his striped flannel pajamas starting to tighten, and he angles his hips away from her shamefully. And when she sits up, slides a knee over his hips as if he should have been expecting it, he jerks back. “Abigail. Abby, sweetheart –“

He raises his hands to her shoulders but she scares away. He drops them, struggling out from under her with some effort, opening the distance between them and pulling his knees up to hide his erection from her. Too little, too late. His forehead is shining and his cheeks are prettily pink and making eye contact is almost too stimulating, like touching the electric fence, but somehow he manages to keep his gaze up.

Her gaze is long and steady and she raises up over him, puts her hands on her knees, and gently pushes down, straightening him out before her on the ratty old couch. She crawls up the length of him, settles down, straddling him just across his thighs, so when she leans down to nose into the open placket of his shirt, his cock is pressing into her soft belly. She squirms on top of him, braced with her elbows, and opens his mouth beneath hers.

He’s hyper-aware of every little exquisite move of her body over his, her palms kneading his chest, her thighs tense and bracketing him, her hips doing a semi-conscious grind into his, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. His hands are claws for her but he keeps them stiff at his sides until she trails her fingers up his rippling ribcage, encouraging his hands above his head.

She breaks for a moment, pinning him like that, her fingers tight around his wrists so that the leather band of his watch pinches in hard. He’s not sure what he sees in her face, but he’s stunned, actually a bit dazed, jaw slack. She tightens her grip and the pinch of his watch band makes him squirm beneath her and hiss through his teeth. His cheeks are a raw pink.

Very deliberately, her blue eyes pointed at his, she rolls her hips up along the length of him. It drags a groan from deep in his chest, and the next hitch of her hips knocks his head back, baring his throat to her.

She releases his wrists one finger at a time, and he keeps them tight above his head as she sits up on him. His eyes flicker open to see her going for the hem of his shirt, and his only protest is to sink his teeth into his lower lip as she slips her hands under and rolls it up over his chest. He crunches up and lets her pull the shirt off over his head and when he flops back down her mouth is already trailing down his stomach.

Her nose finds the groove of his iliac furrow high on his waist, and then follows the wet drag of her lip, her hot pointed tongue. His hands claw into the cushions, muscles in his arms flickering erratically as he watches her dark head move over his lower belly.

When she drags her face down to rub against the hot hard part of him he jerks. She nuzzles into his groin, smelling the heavy salt heat of him, and for a suspended moment he feels the horrible dagger-twist of guilt.

He pushes it away.

She coerces him with her cool hands and his thighs fall open so she can try him experimentally through the thin flannel layer of his pajama bottoms, hooking her fingers around the hard silhouette of him. Her palm presses in, strokes up. She seems pleased with the way he bares his teeth so she does it again, this time harder, so he squeezes his eyes shut and groans.

The twist again. He pushes against her, his head jerking to the side, burying his face in his shoulder. She’s stroking in earnest now, roughly, and his lower back flexes helplessly, rocking him up into her palm.

He tries to say stop but it comes out please. A low, dark whine. Pleeease.

That’s all it takes, really.

She pulls his waistband out and gently down, finally freeing his cock, but not touching it, instead letting the waistband drag down its ruddy warm length until the elastic is rucked up around his balls. He lifts his hips just barely so she can pull them down his thighs and over his knees, so he can kick them off behind her. And he knows better than to touch her, but he groans and his head drops back but he doesn’t take his eyes off her. His cock bobs against his lower belly as he sucks in a deep, hiccupping breath.

And when she finally touches him, when she finally noses down and drifts her full pink mouth over the swollen head of his cock, every part of his body flushes up, seems to swell, tenderize.

Her tongue pokes out to wet her lower lip and then she’s dragging it over the head, rubbing it back, dropping down to smooth her cheek against the silky warm skin. She sits up, her eyes full, and her fingers slip down to stroke his balls, lightly at first. His abdomen clenches tight as she makes a fist around his cock and holds him, just holds him loosely, and then she’s squeezing him and pulling up so that the friction thrums right through his arching hips.

She’s inching down now, settling into a comfortable position between his legs, and then her wet mouth’s on him and around him and she starts to suck and his head ratchets back and he does the opposite of a gasp, breath pushing out like she’s winded him.

“Oh Abigail – baby. Abby. Oh god.”

She looks up to see him, his cheeks bright and his mouth red and plump and his heavy-lidded eyes filled up with her.

 

She licks and sucks and pumps him for a while, but she seems reluctant to use her hands. It’s more of a job than she’s anticipated. Will finds that he's too stressed and too overstimulated to come, his mind over-heated, distracting him, and it’s as if his body knows better than his pitiful struggling heart.

She makes a short, impatient noise, muffled against his abdomen, and he wriggles, biting his lip. He’s starting to feel a bit raw, a bit numb, so finally he stops her with his hands on the sides of her head, gently pulling her off, gently, trying to reassure her with a trembling smile. He wants to pull her up and kiss her senseless. She lifts her face and at her look, her high flush and the red slickness of her mouth, it’s almost enough to make him burst right in her hands. Almost.

“Abby, it’s okay,” he tries to tell her, stroking down her bare arms, but she rips away from him, tumbling off the couch and pounding to the bathroom. The door slams, jolting the dogs awake. Behind the closed door and the roaring fan he can occasionally hear a gasping sob. He grimaces, teeth agony-bright in the fireside gloom, and crushes his knuckles against his forehead.

He looks down at his withering cock, still shiny with her saliva, and it’s getting chilly so he pulls his pajama pants back on, drags his hands down his sweat-shiny face. He can’t just leave her in the bathroom like that and anyway what he really wants is to gather her up in his arms and nuzzle into her hair and thrill in the electric feel of her skin on his and he wants it so bad he knows he’s actually shaking with it. But he can already feel her pulling away from him.

He goes to her door, knocks a couple of times. “Abby, sweetheart, please,” he says, but she doesn’t answer and she refuses to open the door. “Abby, please. I want to – I need….”

After a moment the door opens.  Her hair’s a mess where his hands had twisted in it, and her freckles stand out bright against her pale skin.

“What do you need?” she spits at him. She takes a step forward. “What do you – need?” she says again. Jams the heel of her palm against his bare chest. He jolts back and the backs of his legs bump up against the bed.

“I need you,” he says, hands up, trembling in the empty air. “I mean,” he says, swallowing, “I need to be – whatever you want me to be.”

She folds her arms against her stomach. Suddenly he sees how young she is, how unsure of herself, how angry, and Will bites his lip, biting back everything he feels he should say to her. She tips her head forward so her hair half-hides her face.

“Sit down,” she tells him quietly, and he perches. He reaches out for her with a shaking hand but she steps away and says “Don’t touch me.”

“You – you don’t have to do it like this,” he tells her, voice cracking. Licks his lips. He wants to tell her he’s at her mercy, no matter how she does it. “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I’ll do anything y-you want.” He can still feel the pinch of his watchband on the sensitive skin of his wrist and he presses his lips together, waiting.

She tilts her head at him, considering. Anything. Moves forward between his legs so he has to tilt back to look at her.

“I want you to fuck me,” she says softly, enunciating perfectly.

 

He helps her into the bed, lets her pull him on top of her, kisses her – slowly at first, and then not slowly at all. She pulls off her sweater, and he finds she’s not wearing a bra underneath, and he wonders briefly whether she came from Hannibal’s like that, and it’s a thought he wants to examine even less than the teeth of his own guilt feelings. He takes her warm pink breasts carefully, less carefully when she pushes up into his hands with a demanding noise, and when he bends his mouth to one she shivers beneath him.

She strips off her jeans and underwear in a matter of moments, rolling them down her lean calves. He’s on his knees between her legs, helping her as she struggles to yank down his shorts, and in a moment he’s tense between her thighs and reaching down to the hot hollow of her and then he’s there, he’s in, and her little face goes slack and pink as he eases himself deeper with little sketching strokes.

He hates himself each time he drags out of her. She’s half-crushed beneath him, and her face is beautifully twisted. But after a minute she’s wriggling impatiently so he grabs a pillow – her pillow – lifts her up, jams it beneath her rump and then hunches over her, shoulders curling, hips rolling up, and her eyes flicker wide. Soon she starts clenching around him like a fist and rocking with him, learning.

His hair is clinging to his face, his eyes stinging with sweat, but she won’t let him look away. He’s gasping, little sobbing intakes of breath with every aching stroke, and she doesn’t blink, just drinks him in. “Can I kiss you?” he asks, trembling, and she licks her lips, pulls him down, presses his face into her breast, says, “Bite –“

He sinks his teeth into her small, soft breast, thinking for an absurd moment sometimes victims of sexual assault will have a small bruise inside the bite mark, a suck spot and she’s crying out in pain, but when he jerks away to look into her face she crushes him to her breast again. Her knees hitch up around his waist and he almost loses it then, his teeth deep in unbroken flesh, his mouth sucking. Her fingers tangle in her hair, not for the first time, but they clench and pull and the pain just sharpens him.

He’s driving into her, teeth in her neck, and so close when she tells him to stop. He lets go of her hair immediately and she pushes at him and for a moment there’s clarity – he knows she’s not pushing him away, he knows she has no intention of ending this now. He rolls off of her, onto his back, and she follows and straddles him, only faltering a moment taking him in, her mouth twisting at the tight stretch.

Her hands find his wrists and she pins them above his head, digging down, her hips moving in a tight little grind over and over, and she’s watching him, pinning him with her eyes as well as her hands, and Will feels the coil of release tighten just to the snapping point. She never loses momentum as he tightens up beneath her, tightens, shudders, comes trembling into the tight heat of her so hard that his body crunches up beneath her, contorted where his hands are still anchored against the pillow.

His whine is long and thin like a filet knife and that’s when she breaks, too, twitching, as if set off by his keening sound. She lets go of him and his fingers dig into her; her hot little back arches in his hands, and he watches blearily as she bares her throat, her scar a long pink line between them.

 

They come down slowly, together. She’s on her back beside him, spread out, lazy, and he curls up next to her, exhausted. His whole body feels like jelly except for his arm where it wraps tight around her softly curved belly, his face half-pressed against the ridge of her ribs. His grip on her is – almost desperate, and he feels desperate. She doesn’t want a father. She wants this. And he wants to give her what she wants, he wants to fill the void for her, and it’s bullshit, the thought of her being too young, too hurt. She needs to use someone and – it’s better this way than any other way he can think of.

(Later on he might hate himself for it, for the shaky joy he feels at her touch, for the smeared blood he’ll find on his cock and between her thighs, and he can almost hear the bad feelings rumbling in the distance, but that thought is a very long way away through the haze, and right now he simply turns his face away from it, into her pale ridged side, and above she drifts with a satisfied smile crooked in the corner of her bruised mouth.)

 


fin