When Will gets out of the hospital, he sells the house in Wolf Trap and finds a place for himself and Abigail, even further away from civilization than before. They don’t have a landline, and the cell phone Alana insisted he keep with him is turned off and shut away in the back of a neglected kitchen drawer.
“If you don’t keep it on, how will they get a hold of us?” Abigail asks, sitting on the edge of the small kitchen island they use to prepare fish. It still bothers him, seeing her in the kitchen, as far-removed as it is from the one in Baltimore.
“That’s the entire point. We don’t want them to get a hold of us.” He says it with a conviction that steadies him.
They spend some of their days among the trees, gathering stray bits of wood and feathers to construct lures. Will teaches Abigail to make her own, and she listens attentively and doesn’t comment on the obvious associations.
It doesn’t matter. Associations are everywhere and endless. He can’t escape them no matter how hard he tries.
They subsist mostly on fish, though once a month Will takes the old pick-up truck he bought from the house’s previous owner to the nearest town to stock up on supplies—fresh produce, frozen meat, toiletries. It’s a two-hour drive one-way. Abigail never goes with him, preferring to remain cloistered at home, fiddling with her lures. She’s getting better and better every day. “Bring me back something nice,” she’ll say with a soft smile thrown over her shoulder.
They don’t talk about Hannibal until they do, and then it’s only because Abigail brings him up.
“Do you think he would’ve liked this?” she asks one evening a year into their stay as they sit together by the fireplace. She tears at the corners of the fashion magazine Will got her the last time he went to the store, throws the tiny pieces into the fire. Will watches the paper shrivel and burn, recalls watching stacks of meticulously penned notes being eaten by flames.
“No,” Will says, lips quirking dryly. “It doesn’t seem quite his style, does it?”
“You think we would’ve liked it there? Wherever he’s at now?”
Will draws in a slow breath, noting the tightness at the back of his throat that wasn’t there a moment ago. “I think… that’s something we’ll never find out.”
Bedelia Du Maurier was missing the last time Jack came to see him. There were reports of a man resembling Hannibal Lecter boarding a plane to Europe with a beautiful blonde woman who matched her appearance. Hannibal’s found at least one other companion to take Will’s place. To take their place.
“He didn’t choose her over us, you know. The psychiatrist.”
Will darts a sharp glance her way. “How do you know about that?” He’s never mentioned what Jack told him to Abigail and he doesn’t think Alana would, either.
A light shrug, her eyes reflecting red and orange as she stares into the fire. She feeds it more magazine pages. “I eavesdropped. Doesn’t matter. What matters is he would’ve taken us instead. If you’d let him.” Her tone makes the words an accusation.
Will’s gaze returns to the old truck manual he’s attempting to decipher, but he doesn’t see the letters printed there—only sees Hannibal’s face, streaked with blood, a single tear slipping down his face and dripping onto the floor. “I’m sorry.”
She flicks her eyes up to look at him. “Would you go now, if he came to find us? Have you forgiven him?”
“What about you, Abigail? Have you forgiven him for what he’s done to you?”
She presses her lips together for an instant before she answers, earnestly defiant. “There’s nothing to forgive. I know why he did it. I understand.”
Closing the manual at last, Will stands and walks over to her. He places a hand on her head, stroking through soft strands before pulling away. “He won’t come, Abigail. He’s gone. If we’re very lucky, we’ll never see him again.”
In his dreams he watches the feathered stag tread calmly through the forest by the house until it gets to the stream. Peering down into the roiling water, the stag gives a great shudder, its feathers bristling audibly. Then it bends its head further into the stream. It drinks. Through its eyes, Will sees a shadowy reflection.
The face, dark and framed with antlers, stares back at him. It smiles, and the sight is oddly comforting. Will allows himself to drift back to consciousness.
He opens his eyes to Abigail sitting in the armchair by his bed, the ends of her scarf clutched in her hands.
“What is it?” he asks.
She nods to the window, the whites of her eyes moving visibly in the dark. “I hear something. Out there.”
Will’s pulse quickens. He goes to the window and listens. There’s a faint scratch, scratch, scratch. Something advancing through the brambly path along the side of the house. Footsteps. “Stay back, Abigail,” he whispers. And then he recognizes the cadence of the soft footfalls. Something like memory stabs at his senses. With a rising sense of panic, Will turns back to the armchair, a warning on the tip of his tongue.
But Abigail is gone, not even an imprint on the cushion left to show she’d ever been there.
Because she never was.
The revelation hits with a hollow note that only manages to elicit a small sigh from him, grief and despair settling in the pit of his stomach, heavy but no longer sharp, no longer knife-edged.
Behind him, the footsteps come to a stop. The windowpane, which he hasn't bothered to lock out here in the woods, slides open.
Will releases a shuddering breath, slowly turning. He swallows, mouth dry and still tasting of sleep, of the half-remembered images in his dreams.
“Hannibal,” he says, not able to keep his voice from trembling. He traces the outlines of Hannibal’s face with his eyes, every curve and angle familiar. “You were gone.”
A small, barely-there nod. “I was.” Hannibal’s hand reaches through the window, palm upturned, outstretched. It's not altogether steady. “I came back for you.”
A dozen conflicting emotions rush through Will until one fights its way to the surface, bloody and triumphant. He isn't very surprised when he recognizes it.
Lifting his hand, Will reaches across the empty space.