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Dad doesn't hide the girls. Abigail thinks in a numb place in the back of her head that he should put them in the trunk so they can't be seen, but they do look peaceful when they're arranged properly in the backseat, like they're taking a road trip and one of their passengers just decided to take a nap in the back. Maybe it never occurred to him that they might wake up and be upset, because they came with Abigail. Maybe she's expected to calm them down if they wake up. The dread of the idea pours down her spine.

"Something wrong, sweetheart?" Dad asks her, slightly looking her way as though he's noticed.

"No," Abigail answers easily, the lies fluent by now. "Everything's fine."

"I'm going to drop you off and then head to the cabin," he explains, as if she doesn't already know where this is all heading. "Tell Mom I'll be sleeping there tonight."

"Yeah, of course." She manages a light smile, and feels like a liar. How can everything feel so utterly normal and yet twist her gut with anxiety the way this does, all at the same time? Why can't she say something? Why is she such a coward?

"Dad?" she asks, toying with the cuff of her hoodie.

He sends a faint, worried smile her way. "Yeah?"

"I love you." And in a way it's a plea: I love you. Don't let this swallow you, our family, whole. More than anything: Don't get caught, and that makes her feel the worst of all, as if she'd never stared at her phone wondering if she should make the call.

"I love you, too, Abigail," he says, and there's a way he always says it that is almost distant, like just saying the words makes him contemplate something incomprehensibly huge, like it overwhelms him every time how much he does. "More than you could ever know."

She smiles, automatically, but she wants to look back at the girl. She has a snub nose and shorter hair, but she's still fair, dark-haired, slender, eighteen years old. She loves Morrissey, she had said as they chatted, walking between the campus halls, and they'd shared earbuds to listen to a song before she lured her out from the campus.

Abigail may never listen to Morrissey again. She knows it'll remind her of this, now, and it's too glossy and polished for the muffled breathing of a girl who will --

It's them or you.

She closes her eyes, and brings herself back with a breath, a memory of pine needles under her feet walking home, the scent, a happy memory.

"Why don't you take a nap," Dad says before she opens her eyes again. "We'll be there soon."

She curls up against the car door and pushes it back, all of it back.

One day it'll be you . Enjoy living while you can, Abigail.

--

Nobody in their house ever says, Did you see on the news, about the girls? It would be too sick a joke. Even Mom doesn't raise the topic, and she doesn't know anything for sure, as far as Abigail knows.

Still, she suspects Mom knows more than she would ever say. She's lived with Dad for over twenty years, and there's no way that this only started now, right? What could he have been doing before Abigail came along to be his obsession?

But, no, that's the problem: she can't start thinking about it. About Dad. When she pushes it back, the guilt creeps in. Then, worse than the guilt: the apathy, and even worse than that creeping along at the edges.

Whatever. She's not going to be the one who says it and causes a single act play at their table. She hates the pretense. It feels like a lie, and she has too many sins to carry for a girl her age anyway.

"Pass the venison, Dad," she says, with a quick smile, and doesn't wonder what else he's doing to the girls who nearly share her face.

--

Dad holds her so tightly, just this much off from loving pressure, and whispers, and she barely registers what he's saying, because the reality is crushing her: this is how you die, Abigail Hobbs, no college for you, no marriage or kids or career, you die now, now, now

The sick thing is she wants to say I love you, Dad .

The blade bites into her throat and she gives up, even though the cop shoots her dad over and over it doesn't matter because this is the end of everything and it's all because of her, those girls died because of her, her face, her smile, her dad's boundless, obsessive love for her.

She gasps for air as the cop holds her, the warmth of the blood gushing from her neck, until her vision goes black.

--

Abigail thought things were complicated before she almost died. Now there's the FBI. Now the question is just how much she knew. The key word now is accessory . They have no proof, just hunches, and she lives for those spots of doubt, though the guilt eats away at her.

It was one thing to be the reason those girls died if she'd followed suit, but now she's survived them all and that may be the law of the jungle but it doesn't feel fair.

She can't be cold about it. Not in front of the FBI, to be sure. No matter what haunts her at night, during the day it's all doe eyes and pleas and I didn't, I couldn't, I swear it . It's survival. What is she supposed to do, tell the truth, go to jail? What would they do to her in jail, to someone who handed teenage girls off to her father to be eaten?

Something strange is finally fully crystallizing inside of her: something at the core of her is becoming cold, calculated, while the rest of her is wild, upset, confused, and some muddled mix of it comes out of her mouth every time she talks. There's no one to talk to, no one she can trust. It is what it is.

She misses her mom; her mom wouldn't have judged, she would have helped her get grounded, to focus, would have listened to anything she said. The more surprising thing is she misses her dad, in between the bursts of fear that are probably some form of PTSD from the whole thing, until she gets angry, and says to the hospital ceiling, Fuck you.

She never asked for any of this. She's just a girl. She doesn't deserve to go to jail just because her dad was crazy.

I'm not like him. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to.

--

When she kills Nick Boyle, everything comes into sharp relief, the way she knew how to rip his stomach open and hit vital organs, the familiar warmth of blood but human this time, the way she's horrified but she's not, like she's two people, she's two people and no person should be two people, especially if one person is --

The body is on the floor. She stares at it. And before she can pull herself together at all, Hannibal Lecter is there.

"He was gonna kill me," escapes her mouth.

Lecter doesn't look convinced. "Was he? This isn't self-defense, Abigail. You butchered him."

She doesn't hesitate, because she can't admit the truth (what is the truth?). "I didn't."

Lecter appraises her with skepticism, a tilt of his head. "They will see what you did and they'll see you as an accessory to the crimes of your father."

Abigail is on the verge of being overwhelmed, blood on her hands, desperation burning the back of her throat. "I wasn't."

Hannibal appraises the situation, then meets her gaze. "I can help you, if you ask me to," he says. "At great risk to my career and my life. You have a choice. You can tell them you were defending yourself when you gutted this man." There's a pause where Abigail thinks the nausea might overwhelm her, the choice he presents. "Or we can hide the body."

But there's no real choice, she realizes, surrounded with boxes of her father's insanity, insanity they think ( but they don't know ) she helped him feed, literally. He's pushing a choice at her, but he's right.

--

One day she's lying on a couch in Hannibal's opulent apartment and she thinks, Maybe you're just a killer. Maybe you're like him after all.

It doesn't stick; she doesn't obsess. It's a single thought that reverberates through her head like the ringing of a bell, for days, and she doesn't voice it, not even to Hannibal, especially not to Will, though she trusts them both what she thought was implicitly. Maybe she can't trust anyone.

Something is wrong with Hannibal and she knows it, she knows he was too ready to get rid of the body ( Nick Boyle , her mind reminds her, not letting her just call it a body, a corpse, nobody ) and with too much ease, even if it was for a supposedly innocent girl he still barely knew -- but it doesn't come together until the cabin.

I was curious what would happen.

I was curious what would happen when I killed Marissa.

I was curious what you would do.

Because Hannibal knows, she realizes numbly. Just like Dad knew.

She isn't innocent.

"Are you going to kill me?" she asks, keeping her voice even.

"I'm so sorry, Abigail," he answers, his eyes glittering with something she can't name. "I'm sorry I couldn't protect you in this life."

When he grabs her to shove a needle in her neck, she doesn't resist.

If it's over, it's over.

--

He has the decency to put her under when he carves off her ear, which she only finds out when she wakes up with bandages on the side of her head.

"Wha," she mumbles.

"Please do relax, Abigail," Hannibal says, where he sits with a sketchbook, calmly drawing. "May I get you something?"

She realizes she's starving. "Food." A pause. "Please." Another pause. "What happened?"

"I removed your ear," he answers, as though it's a normal thing to say. "I have medication for any discomfort you might be experiencing. Please, relax. I'll prepare you something."

"Th," Abigail starts, feeling stupid saying thank you to the guy who just carved off her ear for some reason, then she touches the bandages, cringing. She thinks she's in a room in Hannibal's apartment she's never been, and for a brief snap she thinks, He's left me alone. She can escape. Or there might be a phone she can use --

To call who? To escape where?

Where are you going, Abigail?

"Fuck," she mumbles, and closes her eyes tightly, tries to think of pine needles under her shoes, laughing with Marissa, but it's all poisoned and stupid and she is where she is. Reality hasn't let up on her in what feels like a decade but is only a comparative handful of weeks.

She wants to get up, walk around, but even sitting up makes her dizzy so she just sits back and tries to be optimistic, though that awful part of her just laughs and laughs and laughs.

It's about forty-five minutes before Hannibal brings a meal in for her, something that looks like liver, and she stares down at it with an educated guess of exactly what it is she's looking at. She looks up at him, measured, and he looks quizzically back at her.

"Dr. Lecter," she starts carefully.

"Yes, Abigail," he returns, in a tone like he's humoring her.

Abigail considers how to put it. "Are you like my father?"

Hannibal mulls it over, then says thoughtfully, "Your father and I shared certain proclivities."

She doesn't think she can ask it. "Dr. Lecter," she repeats, with a bit of an edge.

He tilts his head slightly. "I will answer any question you have, Abigail, if you only ask it." It's frustrating how apparently sincere he can be when it's obvious he can lie on a dime.

"You know what I'm asking," she says with a burst of courage, and pushes the meat around on the plate as though to bolster the question.

Hannibal half-smiles. "I think I do," he says. "Will an answer ease your mind?"

"Yes." She needs to know, for some reason, though it'll change nothing. "Just tell me."

"Yes," he says simply. "Now, you should eat, and rest. I will check on you soon."

Abigail stares at the meat, unsure of what exactly it is but knowing exactly where it came from , then her mind kicks back the thought: who cares, you don't even know how long you've been eating people so far anyway.

Ugh, she's starving. She eats.

--

Abigail has come to terms with the idea that her life is a cycle. Things are what they are; a threat closes in on her; things get worse; things are what they are again, but worse. A downward trend. She falls into the pattern with Hannibal more readily than she should, her anger too displaced by a sense of fate to be useful in keeping her head above water.

This is what it's like living as Hannibal Lecter's pet.

The food is good. Her bed is comfortable. He offers her books, and sometimes she reads, sometimes staring half-past the words as she thinks about nothing in particular, her consciousness fading as she automatically brushes her hair past where her ear once sat on the side of her head. She thinks about hating Hannibal, sometimes, but it's just too much energy to expend on something that would do no good in the long run.

Instead, every handful of days, she drinks the tea and counts down with him as it takes effect.

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

Tea and sympathy , some part of her thinks, darkly, and she laughs, a distant disconnect breaking the amusement from the intense weight of her body.

"What do you see?" Hannibal says, gently intent.

It comes clear. The air is crisp, November snows underfoot, trees climbing into the skies above her; she walks in the woods, and the familiar pathway presses on ahead of her. "I'm going home," she murmurs. "I had to come home from Marissa's early."

"Keep going, Abigail."

She has no choice; there is no changing what happens next. She twists the key in the door like a knife in Nick Boyle's gut and opens it. She hears the sound, muffled but plain, from the kitchen, and she wants to shake her head, but she can barely move.

"I want to wake up," she mumbles.

"What do you see?" Hannibal repeats himself, miles away from her.

"My mom," Abigail says finally; has she spoken about her mom in the last week? Month? Will all good memories of her die once Hannibal decides Abigail isn't entertaining anymore? "She's crying."

It's not a brief, gentle cry, mere stress relief; it seems endless, like she's pulling from a well of desperation that will never dry up. She knows. She knows, Abigail.

"Did you speak to her?"

"No." She swallows, and it feels like it takes forever to manage. "I went into the woods. I hid."

"I see." There is a too-long pause before Hannibal says, "She knew, Abigail. She may not have known everything, but she most certainly knew the sort of man your father was."

"We could have said something." If Abigail could move, feel, she would be panicking. "But we didn't. Neither of us did."

Hannibal doesn't hesitate to speak. "It happened as it did, Abigail. We are not here to change the past, merely to explore it."

"To torture me," she manages.

"Do you think I mean you harm?" Hannibal's mild manner coats the near-threatening tone and she hates him in that instant.

"You hurt me." She wonders why she drinks the tea, why she lets this happen. "To hurt Will."

"I saved you." He seems almost surprised, in his tone. "Do you not understand that?"

"No." Abigail is tired all at once. "I don't understand."

Hannibal barely sighs. "You are now free to live your life free of the baggage of Abigail Hobbs. One day we will explore those possibilities. For now, we must wait." He says nothing for a long pause, and she can't think of a response to that. Then: "Rest, Abigail. Think happily of your mother. I will be back with food in time."

She tries to dredge up something, anything: a birthday, her mother's broad smile when she sees Abigail grin at the sight of the books in the box she opens, the moistness of her chocolate cake. Her mom was happy, sometimes, she had to be. No one can be miserable all the time and survive so long under the conditions they lived in.

Abigail falls asleep, eventually, and doesn't wake until dinner. She eats without hesitation, now, barely a thought to the source of the food at all.

--

Abigail's gotten into the habit of listening when Will comes over. Just the sound of his voice, even when he's drawing closer to Hannibal, reminds her of a time when she liked herself better, felt more comfortable in her own skin, less cold and numbly terrified at all times. Sometimes she thinks she might wander out and greet him, but she knows Hannibal would get upset, kill her, maybe, no matter how gentle and sincere he is to her on a daily basis.

Instead, she listens, and she knows she can't believe Will when he implies he knows what Hannibal is, implies he doesn't care, implies he wants to join Hannibal, all of it. There's more to it, and Hannibal knows that, too (doesn't he?) so she fears for Will, what will eventually come, the death of what feels like her last chance at freedom.

She escapes into her room when the conversation draws to a close, and Hannibal is there a moment later. "I have a project for you," he says. "Come."

She climbs off of the bed and follows him, then halts as they reach the door to leave the apartment. "Hannibal," she says, unsure, gripping the cuffs of her hoodie in her fists.

"Pull up your hood," Hannibal says, and half-smiles. "We're taking a trip."

Abigail pulls up her hood automatically, obedient as any pet, and exhales. "Are you sure -- "

"Abigail." His tone is firm, but strangely loving, reassuring. "Let's go."

No one notices them as they go out to the car, and they drive. They reach a group of storage units soon enough; the place is empty, so she manages to breathe, not sure why the idea of people, any people, seems so toxic and claustrophobic. Hannibal turns off the car and gestures with his head that he follow her out of the car.

He unlocks the unit, and the tableau is strange, unsettling; there is plastic sheeting everywhere, a long table, and a naked dead man on top of it. He gestures to another table, which has what look like surgical scrubs. "Get dressed," he says.

"I don't…" But she does understand. There's a better choice of words: "I don't want to."

"You won't find it as objectionable as you think," he answers, a new coldness to his voice. "He is meat, Abigail. You know this. You have indulged as much as me."

Abigail raises her eyebrows. "Not really."

He fixes a look on her that makes her sick to her stomach with fear, nothing aggressive, simply… cool, inhuman. "Try," he says, to the point. "For me."

She has no choice. She pulls on the scrubs, bunchy and large on her, and waits for Hannibal's instructions. He presses something that looks like a thin knife into her hands and says, "It's not dissimilar to an autopsy at first. We draw an incision here, then here, and here." He indicates where to cut with a single finger down the man's chest. "Then we may draw what we can from him."

"What do we…" She breathes. "Never mind." She ignores the dizziness, the blurriness at the edge of her vision, and begins to cut. His flesh gives way, and it's just like gutting a deer, except this was a person before Hannibal broke his skull. A son, possibly a brother, a father, a friend.

And now he's meat.

She breathes. She's breathing. This is the price she pays to live. This is what she does to survive.

--

Most nights, she doesn't dream. Tonight is different. She dreams that she's standing at the table in the storage locker with the tenblade in hand, with Marissa on the table in front of her, eyes wild with fear, body somehow frozen to the table, legs splayed awkwardly. Dream logic. This is a dream.

Still, her heart races.

"I don't get it," Marissa says, voice nearly cracking. "I thought we were friends."

Abigail thinks she might vomit. "I don't want to," she mumbles to Hannibal, who looms behind her.

"I see," Hannibal says thoughtfully, and draws closer to her. "Is this better?"

Now Nick Boyle is on the table, gaze angry, and he speaks pointedly: "You had no reason to kill me. You're a fucking murderer. Sicko."

"No," Abigail forces out, the nausea intense. "Stop it."

"You need to accept what you are," Hannibal says, tone smooth as ever. "If you plumb the depths inside you, you will find that you are... strong. A better, more important person than most."

"I'm not special, I'm not important." She's crying, now, tears dripping awkwardly onto her nose, to her lips. "I'm just a girl."

"Abigail." She turns, still shaking with sobs, to see Will Graham standing there beside Hannibal, gaze soft and intense. "Do it. For us."

It's too much. It feels too real to be a dream, and she owes it to them, doesn't she, to give them what they ask from her?

Abigail turns back to the table. Her mother is there, a warm smile on her face.

"Do it," Mom says firmly, and her chest breaks open without the touch of a blade, blood, muscles, bone. "Become what you're meant to be."

She looks back at Will and Hannibal, who nod, and Will offers an awkward smile. She draws closer to her mother, and plunges her hand into her body, ready to draw something, anything to her mouth to --

She wakes, sweating, and manages not to weep.

This is what you are. You should have died.

--

It changes her, the stupid dream. Abigail wants to see Will, sit at the table with him and Hannibal, to see if his face looks less haunted now than before, now that his brain isn't on fire, but never so much as when she hears him say the words long pig to Hannibal in this bitingly sarcastic way.

For the first time in weeks, she feels a press of tears against her eyes, her throat raw.

It's over. If it's true, what he says, that he's done what he says he did, it's all over. The dream is true, because she's always known the truth. If Will has joined him, Abigail will never be free.

Even if you went outside, you wouldn't be free. No one can save you from yourself.

Killing Nick Boyle was the biggest mistake of her life, and she'll never understand why she did it. No one will understand, no one will believe her, no one will believe she didn't flee to Hannibal and hide from prosecution. She has nowhere to go. Will would believe her, would have taken her in like one of his dogs (pet that she is) but now --

She doesn't cry, shakes it off, and goes back into her room to read.

Hannibal finds her there about an hour or so later, and takes a seat on the bed. "Soon," he says, a lightness in his tone, "everything will be better. You must trust me."

Abigail has never been stupid enough to trust him. "How?" she answers promptly.

"We will be together," he says firmly, and strokes her hair behind her ear. "You, me, and Will."

"You think so?" she says, and a lump in her throat threatens her voice. Is she happy, is this what she want? She doesn't know.

"I think there is a chance," Hannibal says, thoughtful. "Soon enough all will become clear."

"I hope so," Abigail has to say, wants to say, doesn't know. "I don't know how…" No, she can't say it. I don't know how much longer I can take this.

It's as though he hears what she can't say. "You're doing very well," he says, all gentleness. "I am so proud of you, Abigail."

"What will it be like?" she asks, letting herself drift into the fantasy that this is normal, that she is loved and not a pet awaiting potential slaughter. "When it all changes?"

Hannibal offers his idle smile. "We will go," he says. "Far away from here, where no one knows us. We'll fend for ourselves, take care of each other. All will be well, our pasts behind us."

It makes her bristle, at first. She knows that your past is never behind you; it permeates you, affects everything you do. Then she meets his gaze. "What if he -- " She realizes she shouldn't say it right as it half-escapes her mouth, then she tenses.

"Soon enough we will know for sure," he says, and touches her face. "Don't worry."

Don't worry. It makes her want to laugh, but she's too afraid to do anything in that moment, even move. "I'm here," she says, and manages to keep her voice level. "No matter what." Like she has a choice.

Hannibal nods slightly. "And I'm grateful to you for being my companion," he says. "You are very special to me."

"Hannibal." Abigail takes a deep breath; she's dizzy with fear, and it lets the words escape her mouth more easily. "Please."

"What?" he inquires. "What can I do for you?"

"Promise me," she says, though she knows all promises from him can be broken in an instant, she knows that he is just too inhuman to ever be sincere. "That you'll keep me safe."

"Have I not?" Hannibal says; he sounds surprised, even, which she's rarely heard from him.

She doesn't want to ask it. "You have," she says. "I just... I want to be free. One day."

"Soon," he says, and offers that light smile. "Let me bring you some dinner."

"Thank you," Abigail says quietly, not trusting herself to say more than that.

She needs to be careful. Please don't kill me could get her killed.

--

Hannibal has changed in the last week or so, in a way Abigail can't describe. The knife's edges that warn you this man is not safe flash more and more often in his eyes, the predatory stalk through the apartment, and she knows something is going to happen. She fears for Will. She fears for her current life which she has now sickeningly embraced. Everything is going to change.

She's taken to hiding when she's not in the storage container hacking up bodies for Hannibal's meat locker. Sometimes she shakes for no reason besides the obvious. Sometimes she aches to hear anyone's voice, Will's, please, please, please , she begs silently to the dark.

It's a night like this when she sees someone. She recognizes her silhouette, her hair, and she has no choice. She shoves her out the window with barely any hesitation.

I had no choice , she wills Alana Bloom to understand as she lies on the pavement below bleeding, dying.

Her mind reels, her head spins, she wanders out, because Hannibal will know what to do, he'll have a plan. He'll be proud and that's what she needs right now, because she is sick, a murderer, folie a deux , always, her psyche with no protection against a man like this, so perfectly built to be followed by weak people like her.

Something inside her cracks, a hairline break, then her face twists before she stands still and starts to cry.

Will is there an instant later. She sees him, and he sees her, and she wonders what he sees in her, if he can tell that she's just like Hannibal now, worse maybe, because she knows better and Hannibal just doesn't care. He looks different, but he reminds her of a time before cutting up human bodies like cattle, a time when she nearly felt loved and safe, and her knees are weak as the real Abigail wins out.

"I didn't know what to do," she manages. "So I just did what he said."

"Where is he?" Will presses her intently.

She looks up to see Hannibal there behind him, and she knows, then, that this is it. This is where it all ends. This is where the dream of freedom shatters.

Her knees somehow don't buckle when Hannibal guts Will; she stands strong, her eyes wet but her face impassive. Maybe she's learned something from Hannibal, a lesson that will allow her to die with dignity.

When Hannibal slits her throat, he does so lovingly. You are not prey , it says, this is mercy .

Maybe it is mercy. Maybe I deserve this.

Death is deep, like a pool.

What do you think happens when you die, she'd asked her mom after luring one of the girls to her father.

I think death leads to a kind of sleep, her mom had said. And we dream of the people we loved and who loved us, and of the places and things that make us happy.

You really believe that?

I do. There may not be a heaven, but all that Heaven has is inside us, inside our heads and hearts. When you die, you'll know I loved you, that your father loved you, that you were never alone.

Her father's voice: I love you. I love you more than anything. But I have to do this. I have to, I'm sorry.

She does not emerge again.