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Abigail will forever remember the relentless churn of waves breaking when she recalls the twelve weeks she lived alone at Doctor Lecter's cliffside house in Maryland. She'd adapted to the time zone change from Minnesota easily enough at Port Haven; her body adjusting its circadian rhythm while she drifted in and out of consciousness.

Learning not to take offense at the chilly, reserved Baltimore social culture had taken longer, and of course she'd done it all through a post-traumatic haze. Now, having put her bags in her new bedroom, she leaves Doctor Lecter cooking in the kitchen and steps out onto the porch, pausing to breathe in the salty air, not sure whether she should collect her thoughts now or leave them for tomorrow.

It's still hard to keep herself organized. Her mind likes to skip around; she’s losing time and talking to people who aren’t there.

The pines bow in the wind and she shoves her hands in her coat pockets. Doctor Lecter's Bentley dominates the driveway. She turns away, crossing the concrete patio towards the cliff edge, flinching against the cold. The flat gray sky matches the color of the water below, and foam lines the crest of each wave; she had meant to wander up to the edge and look down, but is caught instead by the sight of water stretching to an indistinct horizon.

It looks like it goes on forever. Her heart skips a beat as the sight of it makes her feel off balance, and she’s reminded of the moment just before her father drew the knife across her mother's throat, and she had thought, so clearly, that she should leave them both and sprint for the front door.

But she hadn't moved, just stood frozen, as she stands just now, frozen. Adrenaline, cortisol, and noroepinephrine flooding her system, she thinks. I have been triggered.

She imagines Doctor Lecter's voice in her head, helpful and reassuring. "The brain downregulates the parts that aren't necessary for survival, Abigail. It's a perfectly normal response to trauma."

It's sometimes hard for her to hear her thoughts over the buzzing, but Doctor Lecter’s voice usually comes through loud and clear. She hasn't told him about how disorganized and alien her mind feels now, but she doesn't think she needs to. He knows. He's been so calm and willing to answer every question calmly, that sometimes she thinks he's doing it on purpose to give her another soundtrack to use when things get bad.

She knows she's broken. Also, she's starting not to care. It feels good to be reckless. Out of control.

"That's why everyone thought I didn't remember," she whispers aloud.

"Yes," she imagines Doctor Lecter saying. She can see him in her mind's eye, sleeves rolled to his elbows, his hair falling over his eyes as he folds thin strips of meat into thin strips of pastry.

"The hippocampus is responsible for accessing and storing memories," she imagines him saying. "The limbic system and the amygdala play a role in emotional control. Your brain is a remarkable organ; it has prioritized the physical survival of your body over the well-being of your mind."

She doesn't feel remarkable.

"It's been keeping you alive, Abigail," she says out loud. He reassures her most when he's in lecture mode; he makes her feel like he's giving her the tools she needs to survive.

She focuses on the relentless waves below. Her body feels heavy these days, like she’s just borrowing it from someone else, and all her natural reactions are just a second later than they ought to be; she remembers frustrating one of the nurses at Port Haven, an unsympathetic woman who would ask her a question and then wait impatiently for an answer that came just a little too slow.

Feeling stupid, Abigail wishes she hadn’t thought of it, but she’s reminded that she's been bumping into things. She touches the world around her more, now, one hand always on a wall or table as if to physically anchor herself. She needs her body to tell her where she is because her mind shies away from things, repeatedly insisting she isn't safe.

"I don't feel alive," she says aloud, but there is no reply.

She's alone on the bluffs while Doctor Lecter prepares dinner in the house behind her, in the house where she'll be staying while he plays his game with Will. She pushes her hair back and presses one hand to the bandage covering her ear, and the pain forces the world to recede.

She can hear the patio door slide open behind her. Her eyes have adjusted to the gray and white, and she can spot the faint outline of a cargo ship passing between two bobbing buoys. Her ear throbs and her breath catches in her throat. She should turn to greet Doctor Lecter, but she can't seem to move.

"Look at me, Abigail," he says, his voice low and quiet, and that breaks the spell. She does. He steps forward and puts one hand on her shoulder, brushes her hair out of her face with the other. His fingertips press against her throat and she knows he's checking her pupils and pulse, but she feels like he's turning her inside out, leaving no doubt who's in control.

He seems satisfied by what he sees and says, "I made breakfast for dinner, Abigail." She shudders a laugh, which makes his face soften and his lips twitch in an infinitesimal smile. "Come inside," he murmurs.

She nods jerkily and he slides an arm around her shoulders. They cross the patio slowly, together, and Abigail can hear the waves crashing in the back of her skull.

They step into the house and he pulls the door closed behind them.

He seems taller and wider in the enclosed space, and she can smell his aftershave for a brief moment before the coiled velvet aroma of bacon and eggs starts her mouth watering. He guides her towards the table and pulls out her chair; he serves them both, placing a glass of water and a handful of pills beside her plate before he pours himself red wine.

Dinner is quiet. She swallows the pills and watches his eyes glitter in the dim light.

She changes into new pyjamas and he comes in to tuck her into bed, tells her he's headed back to Baltimore. Will she be all right? She nods, opens her mouth. He waits, unjudging, while her throat and tongue catches up with her intent.

"I want to live," she whispers. His face softens and he draws the blankets up higher, rises and bends over her to press a kiss to the top of her head.

"My dear," he murmurs, and she's lost to sleep.

---

 

She has no idea what day it is; doesn't care, either. She sleeps, wakes to use the bathroom, sleeps again. Once, when she wakes, it's pitch dark and she does nothing but lie in the bed and stare at the ceiling. The next time, it's faintly daylight and a faraway phone is ringing.

It's an iPhone on her nightstand and she struggles to connect with her body enough to reach for and answer it. The name in the contacts is Doctor Lecter, so that's what she says aloud when she answers it.

It takes a moment to realize she's held it to the wrong side of her head, and her stomach turns over. She closes her eyes.

"Sorry, wrong ear," she says, riding a surge of spite, and puts the phone to the other side of her face.

Doctor Lecter sounds unperturbed. "Good morning, Abigail. How are you feeling?"

"My head hurts."

"There are painkillers on the dining table with instructions. You may use the phone alarm as a reminder to take them on schedule."

"Okay," she says, because she should say something. "Thank you."

He sounds pleased. "You're welcome. You'll find prepared meals in the refrigerator and freezer, clothes in your room, fresh blankets and sheets in the hall closet, and the wireless internet password on the dining table. The library is yours to explore; considering your interest in the psychological, I provided a collection on trauma recovery."

That's a lot to process. Abigail pulls her feet up under her on the bed and struggles to say the one part that sticks out: "Internet password?"

"Yes," he says simply. "No climbing the walls, Abigail."

It's as much a warning now as a reminder of how pleased and reassured she felt to be his partner in crime back in Baltimore.

"I won't, Doctor Lecter."

Stockholm Syndrome, here she comes.

"Hannibal," he replies. His voice is warm and Abigail imagines he's doing that thing with his eyes where they crinkle at the corners, soften, and he doesn't seem at all unyielding just then. He seems like he just wants what's best for her. "You may text this number any time you wish, but I may be slow to reply. I will come to visit as often as possible. Whatever you need, you have only to ask."

She doesn't have the first notion what she wants or needs, but a place with locks on the insides of all the doors is a good start. At least there's no schedule or mandatory support group.

"Thank you," she says again, and adds, hearing a little waver in her voice, "I mean it. Thank you."

"Certainly." She hears the satisfaction and breathes a little easier. "Don't be ashamed of sleep, Abigail. Rest is the best thing you can do for your recovery. You may bathe, but keep the bandage in place and dry. I will inspect and care for the wound when I visit."

She doesn't want to thank him again, but can't think of anything else to say. He's merciful, asks her whether she needs anything else.

"No," she says, "I'm all right," and that must satisfy; he lets her go.

She stares at the phone, becoming aware of the silence all around her, the windows closed up tight. She gets up and wanders from room to room, sliding all of them open until she can hear the waves’ relentless churning everywhere. In the living room, she slides open the patio glass and looks out at the still-dark sea.

Doctor Lecter is back in Baltimore and she's here. She could run, but to where? She won't, and he knows she won't. Part of her wants to fight, to enrage him. She imagines poking him with a stick, like a grizzly bear. It’s funny, until it’s not. She didn't ask for this.

The other part just wants a hug and endless painkillers.

She remembers the terrible disapproval in his face when she dug up Nick Boyle's body, though, and the memory thrills and terrifies... as does the moment she lied to Agent Crawford, when Agent Crawford saw through her deceit but could do nothing about it.

The cold wind off the bluff has her sliding the door closed and turning the lock back and forth twice to hear the reassuring click, but she doesn't close the windows.

Precise directions accompany the pill box on the dining table, written in equally precise cursive which takes more concentration to read than she really has. Still, it's just another sign of how much time an attention Doctor Lecter has taken to care for her. She thinks again that he works extremely hard to seem effortless and she reads in that care an unyielding reminder that he's taken his time here, that there's probably nothing about this situation he hasn't thought of.

She gets the gist of the instructions, pops open the appropriate lid, and downs the pills. Then she sets her phone alarm, eats a hard-boiled egg and a bowl of cold curried carrots, finds an extra comforter in the hall closet, and wanders back to bed as the meds kick in.

Weighted down under layers of blankets, Abigail hears the waves as a faint, dull roar, indistinguishable from the sound of steadily streaming cars on an interstate.

---

Doctor Lecter is true to his word, keeping up his end of a threadbare conversation by text for the first week she's alone at the house. Friday morning, her phone dings an incoming message just before noon.

Do you prefer peaches or nectarines?

Plums,she replies, to be contrary, and feels her stomach twist as soon as the phone makes the swooshing sound that means it's out of her hands. She's been swinging back and forth between reckless and exhausted, but she's tired of the roller coaster.

Nevertheless, he seems unperturbed. I will join you for dinner at six o'clock.

She retreats to the couch and her pile of blankets, and only wakes, head pounding, to the sound of the Bentley pulling into the driveway. It’s still light outside; he’s early. She helps him carry in the groceries and then lingers with the last armful, standing on the porch, looking out at the ocean.

Back inside, she finds him trimming leeks.

"What's out there if we sailed straight forever? Spain?"

"From here?" Doctor Lecter looks past her out the window, considering. "We are facing somewhat to the southeast. Likely Morocco."

"Casablanca," Abigail says, slowly, racking her brain for the other. Facts come slow, just out of reach.

"Yes, and Marrakesh."

"I bet Agent Crawford wouldn’t think to look there."

"No," he agrees, with a hint of something in his smile. She thinks he might be smug. "It is unlikely."

"As unlikely as us going there?"

"Precisely," Doctor Lecter agrees. "Our Jack knows better than to waste his time."

"So where would he look?" For some reason, Abigail’s stuck on North Africa. Tunisia, Libya... Mali? She can’t remember. She knows Egypt’s furthest to the east.

"Western Europe," is what Doctor Lecter says. Of course, that makes more sense. "I lived for some time in France and Italy. Canada is unlikely, as it is so close, but Central and South America offer a number of possibilities. Argentina. Brazil or Peru. Cuba."

He's forthcoming tonight, willing to indulge. So, probably his plan has succeeded and Will's totally convinced she's dead. Mission accomplished. Abigail doesn't reach up to touch the soft bandage covering her ear.

Instead, she lets him point her at the groceries and helps unpack the perishables, a colorful assortment of stone fruits, tomatoes, and squash. He has indeed brought plums.

"Would you like to travel, Abigail? You never considered any colleges outside the Midwest.

"I considered them," she admits, sliding onto the bar stool across the counter, watching him slice onions and set lard to sizzling in a cast-iron pan. "I didn't apply for any."

"Because of your father."

"Yes, because of my father." She thinks, calm, that in some ways Doctor Lecter is very much like her father. He won't ever let her go and she wouldn't be free of his influence in any case, no matter where she went. Now, that's all beside the point anyway. She's so far past freshman orientation, she might as well be on Mars.

"Where did you consider?"

"The University of Washington," she admits. "I had a 3.8."

"To study psychology?"

Abigail considers. "I might have ended up there eventually. I wasn't sure. I was really just thinking about how far I would have to go to get away." Abigail remembers sitting in the school library, browsing university admissions websites. "I think I'd study neuroscience now, if I could, but I was really into wildlife biology for a while."

Doctor Lecter slides two pieces of halibut into the pan with a small, pleased smile.

"A side effect of your father's outdoor interests?"

Abigail shakes her head, but she knows it’s a reflexive protest. How much of her is really just her father? After all, it hadn't been her mother who'd shown her how to track or shoot.

"I was really into wolves for a while," she says, instead. "I always wanted to go out on Lake Superior to Isle Royale, where Dave Mech did his wolf and moose study. My dad was pleased when he found out I was interested. He always said..." Her throat closes over the words and she suddenly feels terribly exposed and self-conscious. She opens her mouth again but just makes a rasping sound in the back of a throat unable to form words.

Doctor Lecter pauses in slicing tomato and turns to fill a water glass and place it in front of her. She nods, jerkily, and whispers "Thanks," and sips as he finishes the salad. It has pomegranates in, she notices. Of course.

"Your father saw the world, and his and your role in it, in terms of predators and prey," Doctor Lecter suggests.

She swallows hard and tries to imagine she’s talking about something else. The words come slowly. "He always said we needed hunting seasons to manage the deer, that people had disturbed the ecosystem so much the natural predators couldn't do it all alone, and it wasn't right to leave the deer to die of starvation."

When she presses her flattened hand on the tile countertop, she imagines she can feel the doe's coarse hair under her palm. She thinks of her father, his arm around her, and smells the curling, spicy scent of a spent shot.

Doctor Lecter hands her the salad bowl and she watches him deftly plate the halibut, then joins him at the dinner table. The pomegranate seeds burst in her mouth.

"You're very quiet, Abigail," he says, which makes her flinch. She can’t look at him, but his next words contain only mild curiosity as he asks, "Where have you gone?"

She'd always known the University of Washington was a fantasy. She'd never even applied. But Abigail had thought she'd go somewhere. She'd been pretty set on U of M at Ann Arbor until her father had joined her on the campus visit and they’d taken the long way back to their car, following a girl who looked like her through freshly raked piles of crisp yellow leaves.

Abigail bites down on the pomegranate seed's center just to hear the crunch, so she can roll them against her teeth. Doctor Lecter sips a glass of red wine as he watches her, his face performing mild interest.

"I'm never going to get to go to college," she finally says, but it feels as if she's watching the sorrow well up from a great distance. It's there but not overwhelming.

"Why didn't you apply for UW?" There’s a slight scrape of his knife and fork on the plate. "It's an excellent institution."

"I thought he would let me go to college as long as I didn't go too far away. It's only a two hour flight to Ann Arbor. I could go home some weekends." Abigail feels as if everything is far away. Someone else’s hand spears a sliver of tender halibut on her plate. She thinks she’s whispering, but can’t be sure. "He wouldn't have to feel like he was losing me."

"You were afraid of what he would do."

Abigail nods. Her eyes ache and she doesn't know why she can't seem to cry. Should she be crying? She wants to tell Doctor Lecter that she knows he's not really like her father, but that he still makes her feel trapped like her father did. She also thinks bringing it up is a really bad idea.

Hysteria rises in her chest; it’s a good thing she’s apparently a survivor.

Finally, she asks, "How long do I have to stay here?"

Doctor Lecter tilts his head. "You are not a prisoner, Abigail. I told you the truth in Minnesota; I couldn't protect you in that life, but I can protect you in this one."

"Can we leave now? The two of us?"

That question seems to catch him off-guard, but he shakes his head and deftly folds over a forkful of salad.

"I’m afraid not. Not yet."

"When?"

"When Will is willing to join us."

So Will hasn’t committed yet. Abigail remembers the way he’d wanted to make things right in the hospital and doubts he ever will commit. She's got to think about this later.

"Where will we go when he does?" she asks, to keep the conversation going, so she won’t accidentally say any of the other things she’s thinking.

"Wherever we like. Far from here. Far from Jack Crawford."

"Where we can be a family?"

Doctor Lecter looks pleased, his eyes reflecting the lamplight. "Yes."

She takes a long, slow breath in and then exhales, reaches for another sip of water and chases another pomegranate seed with her fork.

"You can go to college, Abigail. Though, likely not in Marrakesh."

She can’t help but smile a little at the joke, though her stomach twists. "Where did you go to college?"

He smiles, then, and his eyes soften. "From my boarding school in Paris, I went on to university in Florence, in Italy."

"For medicine?"

"Preparatory work for medicine, yes. I focused on anatomy and physiology, and eventually earned a place at Johns Hopkins." He pauses. "I would love to show you Florence someday, Abigail, even if we do not settle there."

"But you'd like to settle there."

"Very much."

"With Will and I."

"I would have you attend university and study the subject of your choice," he says. "Is the internet working well?"

She nods, certain he knows she's barely been on it, but something still bothers her.

"Won't the FBI be looking for us in Italy? Two men with a one-eared college girl?"

She’s pleased him again, and she feels a chill as she remembers how it had felt to earn the look of approval on her father’s face. She’d learned well how to make him feel like she was a willing participant.

"Agent Crawford will look, but he will not find us. We will have aliases and you," and at this he nods at her, his eyes finding her ear. "After dinner, I will tend your ear, and I will take measurements. You will eventually have a prosthetic. To the world, you will be made whole."

"And you'll protect both of us. Will and I."

His eyes return to hers and he looks like he means it when he promises, "I will either find a way, or make one."

Finding her way slowly through the conversation, she asks about Florence and he indulges her; she finds that hearing him tell stories makes him seem human, the usually-reserved facade lowered. He appears to relax as he describes his favorite cathedral and how he would walk the halls of his school; he lectures on the importance of securing an internship. He would like to be a mentor, she thinks. To feel like he is leading the way... somewhere.

Neither of them finish everything on their plates, and she helps him wrap the leftovers for her lunch.

In the bathroom, he unbandages and cleans the wound, leaving her exhausted. He tucks her in.

"Please leave the windows open," she asks, and he promises, pressing a kiss to her forehead. She's not sure, but she thinks he sits with her as she falls asleep.

---

Overall, he doesn’t give her much to complain about.

Her ear improves, the cupboards are well-stocked, and the food is excellent even without comparing it to Port Haven. She finds the music app on her phone and hooks it up to the Bluetooth speakers. She relaxes into a mindless study mix, backed by the white noise of the waves outside. She still can't read for long without getting tired, but she starts working through the stack of trauma recovery books Doctor Lecter's left for her.

It’s slow-going, between the headache and the content; the books have a dense, distinctly neurobiological bent. It’s a change from the somatic, body-oriented therapeutic approaches they’d favored at Port Haven. Also, she picks up the Count of Monte Cristo for the hell of it; when she mentions she's reading it at their next dinner, Doctor Lecter sounds genuinely enthusiastic and encourages her to continue their discussion by text message as she goes along.

Her life has been a performance, but here she has no one to perform for when Doctor Lecter’s in the city. She walks along the cliffs and wonders, if a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody to see it, has it really fallen?

She’s not sure, after everything, if she’s ever been unguarded around her father; it makes her question whether she’s ever been authentic with anyone, or if she’s always aware of being different and instinctively needing to hide it. Her father certainly never saw through her performance, but she’s pretty sure that she doesn’t have the energy for acting anymore, not to mention, she doesn’t think trying to be what Doctor Lecter wants would work on him.

After their next weekly dinner, when the sound of the Bentley has faded and she’s checked the locks on all the doors, Abigail walks slowly into the master bathroom and examines the sink. She finds mascara and makeup in the vanity, but leaves it untouched.

It takes a long time to raise her eyes to see herself in the mirror. When she does, she automatically raises one hand to the ragged line across her throat and realizes that she hasn't ever worn a scarf since she got here; she’s not even sure there's one in the house. It means she’s sat in front of Doctor Lecter and he’s never made her feel self-conscious about it.

When she can look away from the scar, she gives herself a critical once-over. She’s wearing a dark gray sweater and hasn’t been taking care of her hair except to shampoo in the shower and a quick brush through after. Whose body has she been living in, these past few weeks?

She pulls back her hair and looks critically at her bandaged ear. Her eyes are puffy, though she hasn’t shed any actual tears yet, but she can’t look away from her eyes once she’s met them, because her eyes are the eyes of the dead girls she helped her father kill; she looks down, away, then back up as she tries to see what Doctor Lecter sees when he looks at her. Does he see her father? A baby monster? He must; or why would he care if she were just a victim? He made you an orphan, she thinks. He is responsible. And even if he feels responsibility, how far does that responsibility extend?

If Will spurns his offer of a family, would Doctor Lecter take her with him when he flees?

She looks at her reflection and whispers, "Why would he?"

Her hands are shaking as she washes them, then retreats to the patio. At the door, she pauses, turns back, imagines the three of them on a regular morning in Italy. They would live in a beautiful house in the city, she thinks. Doctor Lecter – no, he would be Hannibal to Will – up at dawn, making his ridiculously complicated coffee in a ridiculously complicated suit, and Will eating breakfast at a table by the window.


They would turn to look at her, wish her a good day, and she imagines stepping out of the house onto an Italian street, book bag over her shoulder, the sound of cars, bicycles, and voices carrying as she walks to class. Two ears, no scar, whether she wears a scarf or not. An American exchange student, an American student here with family for a year, or something, and so on.

She doesn’t feel like a victim in that fantasy, but neither does she feel like a baby monster. She feels… loved, she thinks. Safe.

The wind is cold and it clears her head in the dark. Abigail walks past the patio floodlight out toward the bluff, unafraid of the steep drop-off; there’s no moon, and she can make out the sea only as an absence of light.

It feels wrong, discordant, to think of Will sitting across from Doctor Lecter in Florence like nothing’s wrong. Today, Will thinks she’s dead, that Doctor Lecter is the serial killer and cannibal who killed her, who blew up Will’s whole world before he even shoved her ear down Will’s throat.

Of course. Will thinks Doctor Lecter probably ate the rest of her.

Abigail wants to laugh. They are both Doctor Lecter’s walking wounded, she and Will. From the very first moment when he and Doctor Lecter came into her room at Port Haven, Will has struck her as walking around in a perpetual state of shock, but she doesn’t think it’s just from the trauma of her father’s death. Abigail thinks Will is broken because he’s not really meant to be part of this world of monsters. He was brought into it and now he’s stuck in it.

She wonders if he’s like her, frozen, unable to find a way out.

Maybe that’s why he feels obligated to her, if he really does. If he meant to protect her, though, then Doctor Lecter murdering her isn’t going to be forgivable just because Doctor Lecter wants it to be. She doesn't understand why Doctor Lecter can't see that. Is it just that he's crazy? Because he definitely is. But is it the same kind of crazy as her father?

Maybe it is, she thinks, remembering the wistful look as he described his time in Florence, Doctor Lecter’s just blinded by wishful thinking. In any case, she doesn't realistically have many options. Even if she could run, or if Doctor Lecter would let her, she doesn't have anywhere to go.

And the longer she stays here, the less anyone will believe she wasn’t here willingly.

Okay. Time to make the best of it.

Shivering, Abigail retreats to the house and curls up in the living room with the iPad and a heavy blanket. She’s exhausted but unwilling to sleep, mind returning relentlessly to how she’s going to get out of this alive. She needs more information, to know what’s going on out there between Will and Doctor Lecter, with the FBI investigation.

Of course. Why didn’t she think of this before?

She pulls up TattleCrime.com, bookmarks it for later, and settles in to catch up on what she’s missed, murmuring, "Don't let me down, Freddie Lounds."

The headline screams, FBI STAR PROFILER PLEADS NOT GUILTY OF GRUESOME CANNIBAL MURDERS BY REASON OF ENCEPHALITIS.

Freddie hasn't.

---

Another week and the number of pills in the organizer is reduced by half; almost as if they’d been waiting for her guard to drop, the nightmares return. Abigail wakes that night gasping for air from a dream where she'd been laid out on the workbench in the cabin, freshly gutted, looking up at Doctor Lecter's face as he casually lifts a blood-soaked hunting knife.

She opens her eyes in her own bed, twisted in the blankets, but the room’s pitch black and she can still see Doctor Lecter standing over her with a blank, utterly impassive face, regarding her as he would a freshly killed doe, except that she's just meat, not even something to be honored.

Abigail wriggles to get an arm free and knocks the lamp off the bedside table; following it to the floor, she manages to get her shaking fingers around the knob and flood the room with warm orange light. It doesn't help; there's a space under the bed where she's not willing to directly look and the closet door is shut, surely containing an ax murderer: her mind helpfully presents several completely plausible possible faces right off the bat.

Hyperventilating, she flings back the covers and stumbles into the bathroom, locking the door behind her; the shower curtain rattles as she pulls it open, and she sags onto the toilet. Her pyjama pants cling to sweaty legs and she's suddenly chilled by the breeze through the little window.

The cold anchors her, the goosebumps on her arms reminding her where her physical body ends.

This is totally absurd. She has never been afraid of the dark in her whole life; she never had to be. Her nightmare made waffles for breakfast and casually mentioned weekend hunting trips before handing over her allowance. She’s spent nights at the cabin listening to her father’s soft snores and the unidentified thumps and calls of animals in the dark. In Port Haven, too, the nightmares faded as soon as she opened her eyes. They didn’t linger.

"This is my body processing trauma," she says out loud, pressing one hand to her forehead, trying to recall the words in the textbook she'd been reading just hours earlier. "My body feels unsafe and my brain is making up reasons why I feel that way. But I know why I feel this way."

She can’t seem to form words properly. Her mind is fuzzy, collapsing in on itself, until a stunningly clear thought crystallizes – is it possible Doctor Lecter has bugged the house? Well, probably. And quite possibly with video, not just audio. It's a shock to realize that, for all her gratitude for not having to put on a performance anymore, she probably has had an audience this whole time.

Abigail puts her head between her knees and breathes, then pushes herself up and fills the sink with cold water, pressing her face into it to blunt the panic's sharp edge.

It takes curling up on the couch with a cup of cocoa with all the lights on in the house until daylight for her to calm down enough to doze.

Doctor Lecter texts around ten in the morning and says he'll be there for dinner. She naps, then goes for a long walk in the late afternoon along the winding cliffs.

The textbooks she’s been reading are frank in their discussion of physiological responses to trauma, but it seems like every author has their own set of F’s. Fight or flight. Freeze. Fawn or fuck. She tries to think of others, resentful that this is even her problem. Flail, for one. Fritter. Fan. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck you. Fuck all. She flings rocks into the sea until her shoulder hurts.

It’s when she’s back at the house and finds herself lingering outside the sliding glass doors that she realizes she’s avoiding going back inside. Definitely a freeze type, then.

In that moment, able to articulate something true about herself, she feels empowered, like she’s excavated one more brick in what might actually be a solid foundation. She means to go inside, but doesn’t reach for the door, and, the next moment, without warning, she’s overwhelmed with fear and shame, and the textbook conjecture about survival responses feels like utterly useless knowledge.

Doctor Lecter finds her perched on a lawn chair on the back patio at sunset, watching the gulls. He doesn’t say anything as he drags over the other lawn chair, but she watches him sit, cross his legs, fastidious.

He doesn’t presume on her personal space. He’s been careful not to push her too hard, so she’s left feeling like an unreasonable teenager. He’s giving her so much space it makes her feel like she’s got to make the first move, and every move will be wrong, so she’s frozen in place. She’s not used to being treated with care like this; her father’s need always preceded him into her personal space, and lingered long after he’d physically moved on.

In comparison, Doctor Lecter reminds her of the cat she’d had as a kid. Around and available for the attention he deserves, sure, but not needy.

"How are you, Abigail?"he finally asks, voice quiet. The waves churn below them and a far-off gull cries, and she feels like they’re the only two people left on earth.

"Really not good," she admits. Her eyes sting with the start of tears, but she doesn’t move. "I’m afraid to go inside."

"Ah," he says, as if this makes complete sense. "Is it so difficult, being alone here?"

Abigail closes her eyes, unable to visualize words in the gray fog thick in her mind’s eye. She means to answer his question directly, but what comes out instead is, "My dad always watched me. Never in the bathroom or anything, but everywhere else. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and he’d be standing in my bedroom doorway, staring."

Enmeshment, her mind whispers, but Doctor Lecter doesn’t go all meta lecture on her. Instead, he seems like he wants to find out where she really is.

"Do you dream of him here?" he asks.

"Yes," she whispers. "He never meant to hurt me. He was just always ... watching. Even when he wasn’t around, it’s like I knew as a little girl that I needed to pretend that he was, so I’d know exactly how I looked and never be caught unaware. I never knew when he could see me, or see through me. And now I feel like he’s still watching, like there’s a part of me that will always be him watching, no matter where I go."

"Hypervigilance in childhood is often correlated with heightened empathy in adults." Ah, there’s the lecture. But after a brief pause, Doctor Lecteradds quietly, "You spoke of nightmares. Is being alone at night in the house distressing?"

It’s the cameras, she doesn’t say. She can feel him trying to bridge the gulf between them, to put together what she’s thinking, but mostly she’s just exhausted. Andfreezing.

He lets her sit until the silence becomes uncomfortable, then stands.

"You’re shivering, Abigail. Come inside and help me mash the potatoes."

She looks up at him and he’s like an uncle, strands of hair falling into his eyes, and soft around the edges. Understanding and supportive, but sensible.

"I’m not afraid of the dark," she says. "I just can’t stop thinking that there are cameras everywhere, looking at me."

He blinks, eyes fixed on hers, and his face goes utterly blank for one brief moment, not even longer than a blink, and then it passes and he just looks compassionate; it’s possible she really has surprised him. Whatever he intends at first, he stops himself, shakes his head, and then says, directly and simply with eye contact, "There are no cameras in the house."

She looks at him. There’s no trace that he’s mocking or thinking less of her.

"The tablet tracks your internet activity, but I promise there are no interior cameras on the property. There are several cameras in the woods and on the drive, each of which alert me by text message when activated." He pauses for a long moment, then steps forward and offers her a hand.

His fingers are warm and she lets him pull her to her feet, then into a loose hug. She could step away if she wanted, but she doesn’t.

"My dear," he murmurs into her hair. "You don’t have to perform for anyone anymore."

They walk together to the Bentley. She helps him carry the groceries into the kitchen and pulls organic produce out of soft cloth tote bags for him to sort and put away. He casually hands her a sharp knife and sets her to slicing potatoes, and she feels herself relaxing a little into the familiar routine.

Doctor Lecter is more at home in the kitchen than anywhere else she’s seen him. He moves between the cutting board and roasting pan like a dancer, precise and graceful and self-assured.

He catches her watching and smiles like they share a secret.

"I like watching you cook," she offers. "It’s like you’re not performing for anyone else when you’re in the kitchen. You don’t have to be anyone but you."

"I would rather be no one else," he agrees, and slides the pork chops into the oven before coming around the counter to pour himself a glass of red wine. "Who would you like to be, Abigail?"

"Safe," she says, watching him. It’s true. "A regular college girl with friends who doesn’t have nightmares."

"Tell me about the nightmares," he says, and there’s something about sitting in this brightly-lit kitchen with him that makes her feel safe in a way her father never made her feel, so she does.

"I wake up in the dark and it’s like the nightmare isn’t over. The monsters wake up with me. I see them in the room around me, even though I know I’m awake. I know my eyes are lying to me, that they’re not real, but I’m still terrified. I just want to turn on the lights and look everywhere in the room to be sure I’m really alone."

Doctor Lecter nods as if this were completely ordinary. "And you have never been afraid of the dark before, even as a small child?"

"Never." Abigail pauses, grasping for the words. "I grew up always going camping or up to the cabin. I never had to be afraid, because I knew my father was there to protect me. Things didn’t start out wrong. He was loving when I was a kid. I was safe."

She’s already doubting the truth of her words, even before Doctor Lecter speaks.

"I disagree, Abigail. A child is concerned with survival first, before all else. The self-monitoring behavior you describe is a maladaptive coping mechanism that served its purpose to keep you safe. It is now a hindrance, maladaptive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary and useful when you were a small child. You knew to be wary of your father."

Abigail remembers that feeling of keeping one eye on her dad. The memory brings with it a taste of fear that she’d never known was there. "I knew," she says."But it’s not--" she stops, afraid to speak. He waits for her. "I want to blame him for making me--" making me do it, she thinks. "Making me ... help him. But he was so loving when I was little. How do I know it wasn’t me that brought out the monster in him? If I hadn’t--" but she can’t finish the sentence. Hadn’t what? "What did I do to make him crazy?"

"You did nothing to make him who he was." Doctor Lecter thumbs the burner on the potatoes to low and turns to her, wiping his hands on a dish towel, emphatic. "We are shaped by our environment but we act according to our natures. You were shaped by your father, but you came into this world your own person."

"I’m afraid I’m a monster." She’s still terrified by the thought, but it’s a relief to speak these words out loud.

Doctor Lecter looks like he understands completely. "My dear, never be ashamed of being a monster. Monsters are labeled such by the neurotypical, the normal. Your father was not normal, as you are not normal. I am not normal. Will is not normal." She can hear the contempt in his voice with each repetition of the word. "There are many ways to earn the title monster, and many of those ways have nothing to do with being wrong. There being something wrong with your father does not mean there is anything wrong with you."

Abigail leans against the kitchen counter and lets her breath out in one long, slow sigh.

"Will said that to me, too."

Doctor Lecter looks like he wants to smile. "Then I believe you should defer to his expertise. He has more experience with monsters than most."

The kitchen island separates them and Abigail feels like it’s enough of a buffer. She’s started to speak and nothing bad has happened. A pit hasn’t opened to swallow her up.

"You want him to run away with us."

"Very much."

"Why?"

"Will Graham is also a monster, alienated by the people who should have raised him and also by the people who use him now."

"People like Agent Crawford."

"Precisely. Monsters are also people looking for love and belonging. The world will not greet us with love and belonging, so we must find it in our own ways. We can make it for each other."

"You want us to be a family."

"Yes." Doctor Lecter pauses, considering his words. "I will not hurt you, Abigail. You have found yourself in the dark; I have been there. Children who are raised in an unsafe home may miss developmental milestones; they reach out to be seen and are rejected. You have learned to watch yourself, to police yourself, to protect yourself. This doesn’t make you a victim; it makes you a survivor."

When he’s certain Abigail is listening, Doctor Lecter moves carefully to take the potatoes off the heat. She hands him the colander.

"To be safe," he continues, "You learned early and well how to be your father, to anticipate his narrative, to learn his moods, to know him from the inside. This is empathy. We spend our lives searching for for others who can understand our lived experience. No one reaches out to us so we can teach them how to behave better. They reach out to us because they believe in our capacity to know our darkness well enough to sit in the dark with them."

Abigail feels a surge of emotion rising up from her belly into her chest and throat. She thinks it might be grief.

"I think that’s the difference between you and Doctor Bloom," she says, catching his complete attention, earning her a direct, curious look as he pauses in straining the potatoes into the sink.

"In what way?"

"You don’t mind sitting in the darkness with me, but she always wanted to turn on the light."

He looks at her like she's Christmas and his birthday all rolled into one.

---

Abigail decides to trust, but verify; to treat Doctor Lecter like a somewhat creepy uncle who’s taken her in after a catastrophe. She decides to be okay with feeling really stupid later, and convinces herself there are no cameras, that her paranoia is the last vestiges of a maladaptive coping mechanism from her childhood. She first imagines Doctor Lecter saying this, then repeats it out loud on the cliffs, far from surveillance that, she repeats to herself, is definitely not there.

When she tires of reading the trauma therapy books, she turns to fiction, mostly the classics, providing Doctor Lecter live commentary by text message. It gives them something to talk about; though she knows they both read TattleCrime.com every morning, she never brings up the investigation, the FBI, or Will.

Doctor Lecter replies faithfully, though he scrupulously avoids emojis. He plays the straight man to her boundary-pushing, parries her word play, and, on one memorable occasion, ignores her efforts completely when he steps into the house to find she’s loaded a playlist of a violin quartet covering the catchiest pop songs she can find.

Abigail’s starting to be able to read his face. She likes to think the one she gets just inside the door is exasperated deadpan, and she’s not sorry for laughing at him. She makes up for it by getting him to tell her stories about Florence.

----

Hanno Scienze Biologiche all'Università di Firenze, she texts, after an afternoon of reading travel advice for American expats in Italy. They have Biological Sciences at the University of Florence.

Immediately, her phone rings, and she lifts it to her ear. "Ciao."

Doctor Lecter sounds amused, but distracted. "Using Google Translate will do you no favors, Abigail. I'm afraid I must reschedule our dinner. You have another two days of medication in the organizer, and I will join you as soon as I can."

"Okay," she says, and he ends the call.

Feeling conflicted and a little rejected, Abigail sprawls on the couch and fires up the phone’s internet browser. A moment later, she texts him, Porterai più cacao? Will you bring more cocoa?

Her phone dings, and she can’t help but smile.

Sì.

His attention warms and comforts like a house fire.

---

JUDGE KILLED!, screams the Tattler, the next morning.

Abigail looks at the photos before remembering not to, then flings the tablet away to smash against the kitchen tile. She closes her eyes and sees the judge behind her eyelids, suspended on chains, his black robes open... the top of his skull sawed away.

She has one brief moment to note that she’s been triggered, she feels unsafe, until the rush of shame and grief and self-hatred overwhelms. How could she have been so stupid? She knows better, should know better, and here she is, duped again. How many times did she promise herself it wouldn’t be another dead girl after each weekend at the cabin? And how many girls did she go on to help her father kill?

We act according to our natures, she thinks, and stumbles to the sink to bring up her eggs and toast.

She stands in the shower until the water turns lukewarm, careful to keep the place where her ear was -- from where Doctor Lecter cut away her ear -- out of the spray.

Psychopathy. It’s one of the personality disorders. He is a psychopath. He is totally insane.

She gets dressed in clothes for a long walk, pulling on the blue jeans and fleece-lined jacket like armor, but she freezes again before she can make it out the front door and falls onto the couch instead. The stack of psych textbooks leans precariously on the corner of the coffee table.

Doctor Lecter’s given her all the tools to fix herself. He’s said she’s not a prisoner, that he will never hurt her, that she has nothing to fear in the dark. He’s said he just wants them to be a family.

But now he’s killed and mutilated a judge. Those hands that have stroked her hair and sliced onions in the kitchen also strung up chains and carved out bloody brains in a courtroom.

He’s risked both their lives, and for what? How is he not totally insane? And how is she not insane for going along with it? Aren’t they both really just constructing an alternate fantasy world in which to live? What if everything he’s said has been a lie? What if she’s always going to be on the outside with him?

She’s seen how well-controlled his face and body are, has seen the act working on the people closest to him. If it’s all an act, if even smiling at her is an act, then everything he does is calculated to make her feel a certain way. To keep her under his control. But is the goal to control her, in the end, or is it to control Will? Or both? She doesn't know.

The problem is, Abigail desperately wants to trust him. She’s thinking about how real and alive she feels being seen by him, really seen, and how that’s probably something she and Will have in common. They’re just little alienated monsters all grown up, still looking for love and belonging in all the wrong places.

At least this time, she knows she doesn’t have the judge on her conscience; she didn’t bring this out in him. Doctor Lecter’s been like this since long before she met him. After all, he was already a cannial serial killer when he called the house, and he did that right under the nose of the FBI, in the middle of an investigation.

If he really killed a judge in plain sight in his courtroom, even if it was after hours, Abigail can see how he might be convinced he’s untouchable. She remembers how he’s made her feel provided for here at the house; is there anything he hasn’t thought of?

She has to get out of here.

She remembers how terrifying and satisfying it felt to uncover Nick Boyle, to take some agency back in a life gone crazy, but she hadn’t had much to lose then. She has more to lose now, but she still considers for a split second that she could lift the phone to her good ear and call Freddie Lounds.

It’s just that Doctor Lecter would never forgive her, and she’d be giving up on this new dream of a family and college and an escape route. She clutches the phone, still frozen, mind racing. The call probably wouldn’t even go through; she’s only ever used the phone to receive calls from Doctor Lecter and to text him. Even if she could get Freddie’s contact number off TattleCrime.com, she wouldn’t be the least surprised if she pressed ‘Connect’ and Doctor Lecter answered.

Certainly, even if she used the phone to call a cab or started walking up the road to meet it, Doctor Lecter would know. There’s got to be a tracker on the phone, even if there’s no data plan, and she has no money to pay the cab, and so on. He’s thought of everything.

Except, not everything. She’s certain he’s grossly underestimated Will.

Thinking of Will brings her back to herself, and she sags as she comes down from the adrenaline.

Exhausted, she drinks a glass of water and retrieves the tablet from the kitchen floor before settling back onto the couch. The smashed corner has sent spider-web cracks across the tablet’s screen, but she can still tap it enough o refresh TattleCrime.com, covered though the site is in an obnoxious tabloid-style BREAKING NEWS!!!!! banner.

Still one edge, she taps it and reads the latest: In light of this mutilation confirming the Chesapeake Ripper is still at large, FBI Special Agent Will Graham will almost certainly be released.

As abruptly as the fear and panic had come, they’re gone, leaving her to pull the blanket tightly around her and close her eyes, feeling utterly wrung out.

Doctor Lecter risked all of this for Will, to give him an alibi.

Of course, it’s his fault Will’s even having a trial, but Doctor Lecter probably thinks he’s being magnanimous. He’ll probably think Will owes him.

Abigail doesn’t see how this is going to be survivable. Will might get lucky and catch Doctor Lecter, and what then? More likely that they’ll kill each other, leaving her alone, or that Doctor Lecter will kill her before fleeing and then she'll just be dead. She has no money, no escape hatch, no way to start a new life; she'd have to come back from the dead and then Jack Crawford will have her arrested and put in jail, and no, no.

"I can’t," she whispers aloud, hyper-aware that, all protests aside, Doctor Lecer might very well be watching her on a hidden camera. "I can’t, I can’t, I can’t."

The only answer she can think of is to help give Doctor Lecter what he wants and find a way to get Will to run away with them. Doctor Lecter, Will Graham, and Abigail Hobbs. One perfect little murder family; just what the doctor ordered.

She feels the hysterical laughter crawl up and out of her throat. Of course they're going to get caught eventually, since Florence is the first place Abigail would look if she were Agent Crawford, but maybe he won’t look there for long enough for her to get a different passport, the prosthetic, start college, and make some money.

Maybe she and Will could run away together. It would be so much easier to make this work if she could just reach out to him and talk to him where Doctor Lecter couldn’t hear them. Even if they had to play him for a while, just long enough to run for it, they’d have each other.

Abigail can’t stop her mind racing, but she knows too well how to handle that: a handful of painkillers later, and she’s gratefully passing out on the couch.

It’s after dark when she wakes. The house lights are low and Doctor Lecter sits calmly in the armchair, one leg across the other at the knee, looking composed and serene. Abigail pushes herself up on her elbow. There are audio tapes for an Italian language course on the coffee table, and a handful of Italian children’s books.

"I saw the photos on TattleCrime," she says to him, skipping a greeting. She doesn’t have the energy for pretense. She’d thought he might look dangerous or set her on edge, but he really just looks pleased with himself. Maybe a little worried about her, but she thinks that might be wishful thinking.

"Will is to be released and all the charges dropped," he says, folding his book closed and replacing it with the others. "Back to the mercies of Agent Crawford."

Abigail sits up slowly so as not to set her head to pounding, and lets the blanket fall from her shoulders. The house is warmer than she’s been keeping it.

"You know, you're not so different from him, really," she says. "You're not letting Will have his own life, either."

Doctor Lecter doens’t look like he buys this. "I am not coercing Will into any action he does not wish to take. I am merely providing the circumstances for Will to discover his true nature. A boy of the boatyards, always on the move, must acknowledge the trauma beneath the empathy."

"Is trauma necessary for empathy?" Abigail thinks about riding along up to her father’s hunting cabin as Doctor Lecter stands. She’s a little slow in following him into the kitchen. "What if he’s just fine the way he is?"

For the first time, Doctor Lecter looks a little disappointed in her. It makes her feel like a badly behaving puppy, which just makes her angry.

"Perhaps he could live as he is, as you say, fine," he says, "But I believe Will would never come to an understanding that allows self acceptance on his own, particularly in the presence of Agent Crawford. Our dear Jack doesn’t see him as anything but a tool."

"What do you see him as? Family?"

"Yes. A kind of kindred spirit." Doctor Lecter takes down two tall glasses and pulls two unlabeled, dark brown bottles out of the refrigerator. "We’re having pasta and prosciutto with cider this evening." He pours from the bottles and offers her one of the glasses. "No alcohol in yours, Abigail. Made from local Virginia apples, freshly picked."

She accepts the glass and sips slowly. The juice is crisp and slightly tangy; it coats her mouth and leaves a complicated aftertaste. This is almost certainly the best juice of any sort that she’s ever had.

Doctor Lecter savors his own glass, lingering with eyes half closed before he places it back on the counter and takes out a pot for the pasta.

"Everyone must choose for themselves, Abigail. Will must choose his family. He already sees you as a daughter, though he has no wish to replace your father. He will come to an understanding and we will find our way to Florence."

"Wouldn’t the FBI follow us there? Wouldn't they think to look?"

"They will look, yes." Doctor Lecter waits until she’s swallowed another mouthful of cider before offering her a prepared plate of thinly sliced proscuitto ham.

What goes unsaid, she thinks, placing the plate on the table, is that they're all going to get caught. But when she’s with him, his confidence is infectious. They both know she’s not going to run. She tries to figure out how to say what she needs him to hear.

After dinner, which Doctor Lecter makes so casually and which is again among the best meals Abigail’s ever eaten, he follows her into the master bathroom and she perches on the edge of the tub while he removes her bandage.

She can still hear, though not as well, which he assures her is due to the earlobe’s role in capturing and shaping sound into the ear canal.

"The wound itself will have to completely heal for the prosthetic to be applied," Doctor Lecter explains. "There’s no need to continue to bandage the wound in the meantime."

"It's not so bad," she agrees, looking at herself in the mirror. He stands behind her, a proud parent, but she carefully avoids making eye contact until he sighs.

"You’re still angry with me, Abigail."

"Yeah. I didn’t know why you did it, at first," she admits. "And all I could think of was that you’d get caught."

"Do you understand why I did it now?"

"As a favor, to get Will out of the hospital?"

"Of course. And as a peace offering, which he has accepted. He will resume his therapy."

Abigail twists to look up at him, suddenly desperate. "To keep an eye on you," she insists. "To catch you."

"Yes, but only for the moment. He still fears his gift. He will learn to accept himself and, eventually, he will join us."

Abigail makes a small noise that sounds too much like a frightened mouse for her liking.

Doctor Lecter tilts his head. "You don't agree?"

She doesn't. "You said he thought of me as a surrogate daughter."

"He feels obligated to step in where your father is no longer able, yes."

Abigail's heart hammers as she asks, timid, "Does one small favor to undo the damage you caused in the first place outweigh you having killed and eaten me?"

Doctor Lecter looks at her for a long minute, and she's almost afraid that she's gone too far, except that she's right and she thinks he knows it.

Finally, noncommittal, he puts one hand on her shoulder and says, serenely, "We shall see."

---

The days pass and Abigail watches helplessly as her two crazy uncles escalate. It’s a shame she’s not a psychology major, she thinks. The evolution of their relationship is worthy of an honors thesis.

Doctor Lecter cancels another dinner and she approaches the tablet warily the next morning; her trepidation is proved right and TattleCrime.com offers up more photos she doesn’t want to see, but Abigail doesn’t fling away the tablet this time.

Instead, she takes a long walk until she can’t feel her fingers anymore. She wonders if she’ll take long walks like this in Florence through the streets and marketplaces, crossing the Amo River on the Ponte Vecchio, and debate as she does now whether it’s the right time to make a run for it.

Back at the house, she sits at the kitchen counter and reads about Randall Tier, killed and mutilated and posed, and she knows this is Will’s work, not Doctor Lecter’s. It scares her, because she never would have thought Will would ever go this far.

Freddie breathlessly reports this latest twist, describing in lurid detail how the Chesapeake Ripper has exposed himself and now finds himself hunted by the much-maligned Special Agent Graham.

Doctor Lecter makes pork dumplings with a sesame-ginger dipping sauce for their next dinner, and Abigail tries to calm herself by picking out certain spices among the complex flavors. He’s in a good mood, relaxed and seemingly happy to wax eloquent on the history of ginger, nutmeg, cumin, cinnamon. She keeps up through a brief tangent on the spice trade and waits until he’s reached a lull to steer him back to Will.

"TattleCrime says you’re both consulting."

"Yes." Doctor Lecter doesn’t seem concerned. "With only some small prompting, Will and I have come to an agreement."

"You made him kill Randall Tier?" This earns her a knowing look, like they’re both in on some master plan. "I haven’t made him do anything, Abigail, merely provided an environment conducive to self discovery."

Abigail mirrors his knowing look right back, like she’s on board with this crazy plan. "Who else will you provide him the opportunity to kill?"

Doctor Lecter takes another sip and savors it before answering. "He is considering Freddie Lounds."

For a moment, Abigail feels brilliant; she can see her way in. How can he be so blind?

She forges ahead with the plan, reckless, and start with a try for his attention. "I think you’re a lot like my father," she says. "You only see what you want to see and you're going to get caught."

Doctor Lecter looks skeptical but interested at the same time. Humoring her. Abigail wonders if she’d be able to learn facial expressions the way she’s learning to tease out each individual spice in a dish.

"Will thinks you killed me," she insists. "If he thought I would be his daughter, then you took that away from him. He would hate you, but he would never kill Freddie."

"No? He has said, and I agree, that Freddie would deserve it."

"No. Even if she deserves it, Will would never in a million years kill Freddie."

"Perhaps you don’t know him as well as you think," Doctor Lecter suggests, but he makes a welcoming gesture with one hand. "Please, continue."

Abigail ignores her pounding heart and presses on. "I think Will is playing along to catch you. If he tells you he kills Freddie Lounds, there’s no way it would be true. It’s so crazy that Agent Crawford’s even letting him get away with-- with doing what he did to Randall Tier."

She can feel the moment when Doctor Lecter dismisses her, taking up his fork and turning his attention back to his plate. "You're very sure," he says. It’s patronizing.

"You said his motivation is rooted in a desire for love and belonging, for family. Well, you gave him that for a moment. You gave him me. And then you took it away. He thinks you killed me." Abigail struggles to accept that Doctor Lecter can be loving, kind, and attentive in one moment and completely unearthly and alien, a consummate predator, in the next.

She’s starting to think that, just maybe, Doctor Lecter wants a family so badly that he gets caught up in the fantasy and forgets that Will is a separate human being with his own wants and needs. She’d thought Doctor Lecter was a psychopath, but she’s starting to think she needs to do a deep dive into clinical narcissism instead.

In any case, she’s recaptured his attention.

"You want us to be a family, a real family," she says, and can see he agrees. "Families are built on trust, but you’re making him into a liar to catch you. I bet he’ll lie to you and tell you he’s killed Freddie, and once he tells that lie, he’ll know leading you on and getting your hopes up is the most devastating betrayal he could make, but it won’t matter because, to him, you deserve it." Her voice breaks a little, she’s thinking so hard about Will’s point of view. "You’ve already betrayed him in the most devastating way you could have. You killed me."

Doctor Lecter considers all of this. His face is very still, and she’s suddenly glad it’s a fork in his hand, not a knife. Her heart’s hammering, and she can’t bring herself to reach for her glass of water.

"You seem very sure," he says, finally.

"The Will I knew would never kill and pose and, and eat Freddie Lounds."

"Is it possible you don’t know Will as well as you think?" Doctor Lecter isn’t dismissing her out of hand, just exploring her scenario. "You never knew Will when he wasn’t under the influence of encephalitis. In the hospital, he accepted that he had killed you. Clearly, on some level, he believes himself capable."

"You said the encephalitis had nothing to do with what he would do. He knew, even in the hospital, you said he knew it wasn't him."

All she has to do is sow the seeds of doubt today; it’s such a tiny thing, but she feels like it’s working.

"And if you’re right," Doctor Lecter says, "And he does at some point come and tell me he’s killed Ms. Lounds?"

It’s a fantastic question, and one which Abigail has given a lot of thought. "You should immediately forgive him for lying, tell him you understand, and then tell him I'm alive and ask if he'll forgive you. You’ll both be even and and we can all leave together before it’s too late."

"And if I don’t confess?"

"Then you're as self-destructive as my father for not giving him a way out."

Maybe Doctor Lecter really has been listening the entire time and it’s just at this moment that he decides to really show it, but he softens and looks at her like he sees her, not a version of her off in his head with his imagined Will Graham, but sees her physically sitting at the dinner table with him.

Until that moment, she hadn’t realized how far away he’d been.

She’s aware she still doesn’t know if everything he says and does is just an act.

"Do you hate me, Abigail?" he asks.

Yes, she thinks, but says aloud,her voice smaller than she’d like, "You said you would protect me."

"And so I shall."

She doesn’t trust him and it makes her so frustrated she wants to cry, but she doesn’t want to seem weak. She’s afraid tears will make him dismiss her as just the little girl she’s still afraid she is.

"The only way to protect me is to tell Will I’m alive so we can run. I just want this to be over." And, a moment later, she adds, just because they’re putting it all out on the table right now, "And I do hate you."

Doctor Lecter sounds unsurprised, as if she's being completely reasonable. "Hate is a perfectly normal response. You have been traumatized, Abigail. And remarkably, after all that has happened, you had just begun to trust again." He shrugs as if it's perfectly obvious. "As with Will, I have betrayed your trust. To trust a third time is to go against all common sense. Your body is still afraid, even while your mind can see the need to risk once more."

They finish the meal in silence, but Abigail’s stomach has clenched so tightly that she doesn’t eat much. Again, she joins Doctor Lecter in the kitchen and they bump elbows at the counter, spooning leftovers into glass dishes for the week ahead.

"When will I get better?" she asks, shoulder to shoulder with him.

"Your body must learn not to be afraid." He glances down at her. "It will take time."

"I wish all of me was on the same page," she admits. "Half the time I hate you, and the other half I just want a hug."

Doctor Lecter puts his arm around her and squeezes, and it makes her want to cry.

"What would you have me do?" he asks.

"Forgive him first, before he has a chance to lie. Tell him about me."

"It may not be that easy, Abigail. He may never forgive me."

"He will, because I’m still alive." She rests her head against his shoulder. "You won’t know what he’ll do unless you give him a chance. Tell him so we can all leave together and be a family."

Doctor Lecter doesn’t promise to do so, but he’s stays longer than usual that night, careful and attentive, and tucks her into bed.

"No bad dreams tonight, Abigail."

"Good night, Doctor Lecter."

He pauses at the doorway and she realizes what she’s called him, that he’s asked her to use his given name but she’s still unable to think of him as Hannibal. He doesn’t mention it, though, just gives her a slight smile and pulls the door closed behind him.

She hears him lock up the house before he leaves.


---

Abigail never asks how he and Will come around; she only knows Freddie Lounds is reported missing, presumed dead, and she’s retreated to her pillow fort on the couch to fail at Italian pronunciation when her cell phone rings.

She thinks she can pass off the sharpness in her greeting as a bad day, not bitterness.

"Salve, come posso aiutarla?" An inappropriately formal hello if we’re friends, how can I help you?

It’s Doctor Lecter and he sounds warm but brisk. "Gather your things, Abigail. Clean the house, toss out all perishables, and be ready to leave with two duffel bags at four o’clock."

She suddenly forgets how to speak, even though he’s using in English. After a moment, she manages to ask, "Is Will coming?"

"Indeed. Will has accepted an invitation to dinner at six. You need not wear a scarf."

Abigail doesn’t even care if there are cameras; when she gets off the phone, she shrieks, "YES!" and pumps both fists at the ceiling, then channels all that energy into an obsessive clean of the house until quarter to four, when she drags the duffels out onto the porch to wait for the Bentley to purr up the drive.

She thought Will might be in the car, but he isn’t. They leave the place without fanfare, but Abigail can’t help but look back at the house as they wind down the drive, feeling like she’s been there twelve years, not twelve weeks. She rests her head against the window once its out of sight and dozes as Doctor Lecter drives. Mercifully, he leaves her to her thoughts.

They’re having dinner at Doctor Lecter’s home in Baltimore, and Abigail feels her heartbeat quicken as they pull up; she lingers at the car while Doctor Lecter pulls out the duffel bags.

Will meets them at the door.

Abigail doesn’t know what she expected, but she’s just overwhelmed as she steps inside and sees that Will looks okay. He’s here and alive and he looks really, really tired, which is probably exactly how she looks now that the adrenaline’s won off, but she’ll take alive and here and okay.

"Will," Doctor Lecter starts, but Will is already shaking his head.

"I can’t deal with you right now," he says. Abigail feels as if her heart stops, but Doctor Lecter merely inclines his head as if this were a completely understandable reaction.

"I will prepare the meal," he says smoothly, reaching for Abigail’s other duffel. She gives it up as Will steps to the side, still radiating hostility as Doctor Lecter passes into the dining room.

"I’m sorry," she says, at the same time as Will says her name, and they fall silent. She pushes the front door closed behind her to keep the cold air out. She feels like a teenager with a crush, with so much she wants to say and no idea of where or how to begin.

"Can I--"

"I don’t--"

This time, they have to laugh a little. Will ducks his head and murmurs, "You first."

"I’m so sorry," she says, making no move towards him. She thinks she might turn to ice completely if either of them touch her before they’ve all got on the same page. Right now, she’s not even sure if they’re in the same book. She realizes abruptly that there are no lapping waves to be heard in the background here, and Doctor Lecter hasn’t yet started some quiet classical piece she won’t recognize. It’s a sharp reminder of how things change.

"I’m sorry, too," Will says, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Has he been taking care of you?"

"Yes," she says. "He’s been visiting and we’ve been texting. He has me learning Italian."

Will closes his eyes briefly, but Abigail can’t read his agonized expression. She wants to rush ahead and tell him that she didn’t mean to hurt him, that she couldn’t get away, that she’s been doing the best she could with what little Doctor Lecter gave her, but she doesn’t know where to start.

What she says is, "I wish I’d seen how sick you were, and told someone besides him."

"And I wish I had told Jack no," is what Will replies, finally. "I wish I’d seen what Hannibal is before we brought you into this, Abigail. I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you."

"I was already in this," she whispers. "I’ve been in this my whole life. You both saved me. Doctor Lecter says," and here she pauses, trying to put it all together. "He promised a fresh start. I can go to college, get a passport, save some money. I’ll have options. Even before Nick Boyle, I didn’t feel like I had options here."

Will’s eyes flicker to the side of her head and she reaches up to sweep back her hair and expose her missing ear, still a gruesome sight, but clean. "He promised a prosthetic."

Will looks relieved as he nods in the direction of the dining room. "One of my conditions was to let you and I talk alone before dinner."

"What were your other conditions?"

"To let you and I talk alone before dinner," Will says, and they both have to laugh a little as Abigail follows Will to the table. She feels like maybe this will work out, like she and Will might be coming to the same page. He does know Doctor Lecter better than anyone else.

He’s a good person. A monster, maybe, only by having been around them for so long.

"You convinced him to come clean with me?" Will asks, as soon as they’re seated, and she nods. "I don’t think you know how close we were to the end. His plan now," and here he drops his voice, "His plan is to stay to meet Jack for dinner tomorrow night and have me help murder him. The three of us will fly out immediately afterward and eventually end up in Florence. With Jack out of the picture, it’s much less likely the investigation will cause us any trouble."

Abigail’s still stuck back at the image of Will and Doctor Lecter murdering Jack Crawford in this house, in the kitchen or the dining room or the entryway.

"Are you all right with doing this?" Will asks, eyes searching her face.

"I’m all right with getting away and being a family," she says, picking her words with care. "I’m all right with learning Italian, going to college, making friends, and having a new life where nobody knows who I am. I’m okay..." she pauses. "I’m okay with the eating people, but I don’t want to be a part of the killing people." What she wants but doesn’t say is, I want to be normal.

Will sighs. "I’m hoping to get him to stop the killing and eating people," he says.

"We can manage him together," Abigail offers. "At least, we can try. I keep thinking about being in Florence with you and him, living in the same house, studying, having him cook breakfast. I’m okay with all of it. There’s nothing for me here, but there’s also--"

Will waits as patiently as Doctor Lecter.

"It’s more than that, though," she says. "I keep thinking about logistics, but it’s more than that. Doctor Lecter talked about how empathy isn’t sympathy or compassion. He said, we’re all looking for love and belonging, and we reach out to people who we believe know their darkness well enough to sit in our darkness with us."

Doctor Lecter has said a lot of things to her that she’s reluctant to believe, but this is the one thing she knew instinctively was true from the moment she heard it.

Will sits in silence, processing this, and she can tell she’s scored with him, too.

"I think he’s right," he says finally. "I will sit in the dark with you if you asked me to, Abigail. I don’t know if I can help you find a way out, but I can be there with you."

Abigail’s already shaking her head, though. "At first, that’s how I thought of it, that it’s me needing you and him to walk into the darkness to keep me company, but that’s only a part of what has to happen. Doctor Lecter needs you and I to go into the dark with him. That’s what he wants from you."

Will is looking at her like he can see something new about her, something that he admires.

"Are you planning on majoring in psychology?" he asks, and she feels a wave of relief.

"Will you help me with my homework?"

"Absolutely."


They sit in silence for a long minute, listening to Doctor Lecter bang around in the kitchen. Abigail remembers the night she loaded up that playlist of Vitamin String Quartet covering terrible pop songs, and the way Doctor Lecter had looked at her with fond exasperation.

"When I’m around him, I feel like he really sees me," she tells Will, who nods.

"Same here."

"I don’t feel like my father ever saw me," she adds, remembering what Doctor Lecter had said about the boy who followed his dad through boatyards. "We have to do what we can to save him from himself, if we’re going to be able to make a life."

She sees Will thinking about it, until finally, he purses his lips and looks up at the ceiling, then back down at her as if making a decision. "Do you trust me, Abigail?"

"Yes," she says.

"There are things I haven’t told him about Jack and the FBI. Trust me, and we’ll let him take us somewhere safe."

"Okay," she says, feeling tears at the edges of her eyes.

"I see you, Abigail," Will promises, and holds out a hand across the table. She takes it, and that’s how Doctor Lecter finds them when he enters a moment later with the main course.

"Roast duck with orange and ginger," Doctor Lecter says. "Parmesan scalloped potatoes, and a blood orange panna cotta for dessert."

It’s unlike any family dinner Abigail has ever experienced; they pass the serving dishes and load up their plates. Doctor Lecter finally raises his wine glass in a toast. "To Florence, and a fresh start."

Will says quietly, "To family," and lifts his own.

Abigail raises hers and quips, "To getting out alive," which makes Will quirk a grin at her as they knock their glasses together.

The meal is fantastic. She knows, at least, that she will never not be spoiled when it comes to food. Doctor Lecter basks in a job well done as they’re quiet, distracted by the spread. It’s Will who breaks the silence.

"Do you know what the imago is?" he asks Abigail.

She does, though she’s not sure where she learned it. "It’s the last stage of a transformation, isn’t it? In insects? It’s the stage where you become who you will be?"

"Partly. It’s also an image of a loved one, buried in the unconscious, carried with us all our lives."

"An ideal," Abigail says.

"The concept of an ideal," Will agrees.

Doctor Lecter agrees. "I have a concept of each of you, just as you each have a concept of me."

Abigail twists a smile. "None of us ideal."

Doctor Lecter doesn’t contest this, but continues, unconcerned. "And I have a concept of the three of us, as a family. We all are too curious about too many things for any ideals."

There's a pause while Will searches for the words. He’s clearly brought the topic up for a reason. "Is it ideal that Jack die?"

Hannibal tilts his head and sips his wine. "It's necessary. You, yourself, know that Jack Crawford would pursue us to the ends of the earth."

"You're not so worried about Alana."

"Not at all."

Will makes eye contact with Abigail, and she purses her lips, gives him a jerky nod. I trust you.

"I have an alternative suggestion," he says. "Let’s leave tonight." Abigail sees him register and ignore Hannibal's knowing, warning look as he continues. "I fed my dogs and scheduled a sitter. We can leave a note for Alana. There are too many variables tomorrow; too many things that could go wrong. Jack is exceedingly unlikely to come alone."

"What do you suggest?"

Will glances at Abigail again, for reassurance. He doesn’t want her to be hurt, she knows, suddenly and completely. Hannibal might throw her under the bus at the slightest provocation, but she’s pretty sure Will would die for her.

"We can deal with Jack when he comes for us in Florence. Tonight, let's have an alternative. One last taunt from the Ripper."

Hannibal inclines his head, entertaining the idea. "Who did you have in mind?"

"Frederick Chilton."

Abigail knows Hannibal’s on board immediately; Will doesn’t flinch from his intensity. "He's still alive, hidden in a private post-surgical center. He’s lost an eye and part of his jaw, but he'll live." Will lifts his glass and raises it in a toast to Hannibal, who raises his own. "Let's leave him for Jack to find."

---

 

After everything he's done, Abigail had expected Frederick Chilton to have the same strength of physical presence as Will or Doctor Lecter, but the hospital director just looks thin and broken in his nest of blankets, wires, and tubes. He isn’t even conscious. She’s deathly afraid for a moment that this will not be enough of a trade for Jack Crawford, but then she sees the way Doctor Lecter orients in the room, like a moon orbiting a planet, everything about him defined entirely by Will’s gravitational field.

Abigail pulls the private room's door shut but doesn't take another step inside. As far as she's concerned, she's done her part in all this. The car's idling outside and she's used up any goodwill she had by convincing Doctor Lecter to knock out and tie up the security guard.

She’d seen the biology textbook on the security table and felt her heart stutter; Doctor Lecter either saw the book or her face, because he choked out the young man and had her help stash him in the supply closet, restrained with his own cuffs.

Now she watches her would-be fathers come together over their quarry, one on each side of the hospital bed. Will looks stiff, one hand on the railing, his face moody as he thinks unreadable thoughts. Doctor Lecter, still in his three-piece from dinner, presents the picture of innocence and normality. He clasps his hands behind his back and checks over the equipment, noting the numbers while watching Will out of the corner of his eye. Abigail thinks he looks curious, like a little boy holding a lighter to a cat's tail to see whether it will catch fire.

She hopes this isn’t going to go all wrong, now that it's clear Chilton has no idea he even has visitors. It’s undoubtedly a mercy; his face is a mess of bandages and tubes, part of his jaw and eye clearly missing, and the nursing staff has got him so high on painkillers he doesn't stir.

Doctor Lecter slides out of his jacket and drapes it over the back of a chair; with an unflappable air, he unbuttons and does the same with his waistcoat, then calmly rolls his white sleeves to his elbows and slides a scalpel from his pocket.

He offers this to Will.

Abigail waits for the small, shrill voice in the back of her head to start screaming.

"This isn't ideal, Hannibal," Will says, voice low, making no move to accept the scalpel.

"What would be ideal?" Doctor Lecter asks, his voice offering nothing beyond mild curiosity. Abigail isn't sure what she expected. Recrimination for Will's hesitation, maybe, or chastisement for not immediately appreciating and making the most of this gift-wrapped opportunity to indulge, to prove to Doctor Lecter how much his efforts have been appreciated.

Doctor Lecter, though, seems willing to give Will the time he needs, understanding but unyielding. They all know he'll get his way in the end. After all, they all know who’s the patriarch of their little messed up family. Her head remains quiet in the silence, but Abigail has no doubt that Doctor Lecter will kill them both if Will doesn't come through.

She keeps one hand at her side, ready to grab for the doorknob, and watches their eyes meet across Chilton's prone, blanketed body; she knows Will knows the stakes here, too.

When Will speaks, he does so slowly, like he's tasting every word. "Ideally, he would be awake, to know. To understand the error of his ways." His voice drops to a whisper, rough. "To see."

"Not ideal in that way, no," Doctor Lecter agrees. "But in another: Jack Crawford will see. And there is some justice here in saving the world from dear Frederick’s continued existence."

Will considers this and then, reaching some conclusion, whether he agrees with Doctor Lecter or not, lifts one hand to accept the scalpel.

Doctor Lecter hands it over and produces a screwdriver from another pocket, turning precisely to tend to the wires behind the machines. Another moment and the machines go quiet, the breathing tubes exhaling in a long hiss of air. Abigail can hear her heart pounding in the sudden silence; on the bed, Chilton jerks, and Will smoothes a hand over the patient's soft, messy hair, then presses his shoulders firmly into the bed as Doctor Lecter reaches across to pull the tubes from the man's throat with a sucking, meaty sound.

Abigail feels like a doe who's just caught sight of an orange-clad hunter, frozen in the moment that stretches before the trigger drops; she watches because she can't look away, present but not in control of anything, not the situation or her body or her mind, which she notes is still eerily quiet. A totally normal response to trauma, she hears Doctor Lecter say calmly in her head. There is nothing shameful about a victim using the tools and techniques at her disposal to survive, Abigail, no matter how unorthodox they are, and you must never doubt that you are a survivor.

Doctor Lecter and Will work quickly as if they've done this a thousand times, even though she knows it is their first together. Will mirrors the surgical precision of Hannibal-as-doctor even as Doctor Lecter transforms into his nurse, holding down the patient – really, very soon, he’ll be the body, the corpse -- as Will peels back the blankets. They move together like dancers, partners who’ve passed beyond the need to speak, like two halves of a finally-completed whole.

Will's face changes when they have Chilton stripped, lying pale and flaccid and defenseless. Doctor Lecter sees it, too, and raises his eyes to meet Abigail's as Will leans over Chilton and presses the scalpel into the man's chest above his heart. This isn't Doctor Lecter’s sprig of zest for death; Will's face and body reflect a feral glee for destruction. She has no idea whether he’s performing for Doctor Lecter or not, but what she sees in the deep, careful incision is contempt, disdain, and revenge.

They're going to get caught.

Abigail closes her eyes and wraps one hand around the doorknob. They are going to get caught, this is unsustainable, they are going to egg each other on until they’re found and captured and taken away. Her father was so careful, so meticulous, and he was caught, and when they come for them, Doctor Lecter will kill Will, will kill her, and leave their bodies, and flee, because that's just the way he is.

She is suddenly calm in the dark behind closed eyes. There is no screaming in the recesses of her mind, no buzzing, and Doctor Lecter’s voice in her head does not speak. She can hear the rasping, hacking seizing of their victim, but she does not want to wake at night, screaming, with that image in her head.

She opens her eyes and finds Doctor Lecter looking at her with no hint of recrimination. She is accepted completely as who she is in that moment. You don’t have to perform for anyone, anymore. He will kill her, she knows, and he probably knows she knows, but he will not then, nor ever after, make her feel wrong or bad or flawed for choosing not to look.

---

 

They board a red-eye to Toronto, the first of several flights, and Abigail claims the window seat in coach. Hannibal dons a mask of extreme politeness that makes Abigail laugh and keeps his legs pointedly out of the aisle, while Will orders alcohol between them.

Once safely in the air, Hannibal slides his glass Tupperware container out from under the seat in front of him and offers it to both of them. The cold salami is delicious, spiced and fatty. Abigail takes a handful and passes the container back, soaking in the way Hannibal’s entire body communicates how comfortable he is, how fond and pleased.

Life charges everyone a different price for the same thing, Abigail thinks. Maybe getting caught is the price she, Will, and Hannibal will have to pay to have a family.

---

Rain beats down on the car and Jack's nerves the whole way to Doctor Lecter's brownstone. He has a bad feeling deep in his gut and finds himself with one hand on the wheel, the other checking he's still carrying the pistol. He takes the freeway exit and navigates the blurred kaleidoscope of street lights through well cared for well-groomed homes and elegant front yards.

Jack tells himself he's not ignoring that bad feeling, that he's noted and considered it, and decided to work through it anyway. The thought isn't comforting. He makes the last turn onto the street and slows, putting off the inevitable moment, giving himself time to summon the part he'll have to play.

Cheerful, steady, just coming over for dinner just like all the times before, and poised to pull the gun from the moment he steps through the front door.

Maybe he ought to have it in his hand under his coat and get it over with, surprise the good doctor with the first shot even as he opens the door, before either of them can say anything. He imagines Hannibal swinging the door open and saying, calmly, "Jack," like the consummate host he is. "Please, come in."

The house is dark. For a moment Jack thinks he spots a shape in the upstairs window, but then the breeze catches it and he sees the window's open and there's a curtain swaying.

Jack pulls into the driveway and puts the car in park.

There must be some mistake, but he already knows there isn't.

Sliding the pistol from its holster and crossing the yard at a brisk walk, he takes the steps, pauses under the overhang and tries the door. It's unlocked. It swings open with the slightest nudge, without the slightest sound.

Jack, he thinks aloud, hilarity rising in his throat. He can't tell whether it's the urge to laugh or howl. Please, come in.

He pushes the door open further with his elbow and slides his cell phone from his pocket, clearing the foyer with the pistol before pausing with his back to the coat rack to dial Will.

The shrill ring of a phone answers him from the kitchen. Christ, he thinks. Jesus H. Slowly, methodically, Jack clears the rest of the house, turning on every light until it's blazing, but he knows the place is empty. He leaves the kitchen for last, finds the refrigerator empty of perishables but the cupboards full of things that will last.

He tries not to make eye contact with the cell phone lying on the counter before he has to, but eventually, finally, he can't put things off another minute and so he tries Will's number one more time.

The phone lights up, vibrates as it rings.

They've gone, Jack knows, and he can think of nobody else to call.