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Eleuthera

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Her phone lights up, buzzing audibly in the quiet of the first class lounge: an incoming call from Hannibal Lecter. The name sends her pulse racing and her stomach churning. Curiosity guides her thumb to press the button, like a spirit moving the planchet of a Ouija board.

The voice on the other end is not Hannibal’s. Feminine and cat-like, Chiyo purrs at her insistently, “You must come. Quickly. He needs you.”

Bedelia laughs, empty and hollow, provoking raised eyebrows from the other well-heeled passengers in the lounge. “Chiyo, there is nothing I must do for him now or ever again.”

“I have stopped the bleeding and sutured the wound as best as I could, but he requires proper medical attention.” There is a pause and Bedelia can hear a deep masculine groan in the background, the sound of an animal in pain. “I fear he will die.”

“And I fear I will die if I ever cross paths with him again. His recipes made his intentions quite clear.”

There is a muttering, a garbled back and forth in Lithuanian and Japanese. “A life for a life. His life for yours,” Chiyo promises, a square deal. “Do you accept?”

The world seems to narrow in on Bedelia’s own moment of decision. She feels the leather of the lounge seat cushioning her thighs and the slight weight of the paper boarding pass in her hand. A direct flight to Vancouver and then on to Auckland. By tomorrow night she’d be as far away as one could possibly be from the Chesapeake and its Ripper. But something flutters in her chest with tiny hummingbird wings, a weak hope she thought she had crushed long ago.

“I accept.”

*

She finds the Sprezzatura moored at the yacht club in Chestertown, indistinguishable in design from other million dollar playthings of the rich. The neighboring yachts sit idly, rocking in the icy waters of the Chester River. A lonely place this time of the year, the weather far too cold for a pleasure cruise, but just right for a rendezvous with a wanted fugitive.

She had not known that Hannibal owned a boat. He had hardly seemed the type—his person suit never had much of a nautical flair. But perhaps, she thinks, thoughts turning sour, he had not bought it to share with her in his Baltimore life.

Her heels wobble as she steps aboard the craft and she must fight to keep her balance as it bobs and sways in the river. The door to the main cabin is unlocked, and so she descends, once back into the familiar decadence of Hannibal’s underworld.

But the Hannibal she sees is no prince of darkness, no creature of the pit. A middle-aged man, skin a whiter shade of pale from blood loss, his features twisted in agony. Chiyo has stripped him to the waist and his frame is lean and spare, so much thinner than the comfortably-fed predator she once knew. For a moment she feels something like pity, chased by revulsion. It is unnatural to see one so strong look so weak.

Hannibal’s breath is ragged, his pulse low and sluggish. “I gave him morphine, for the pain,” Chiyo says, forgoing any pleasantries. She hands over the small rudimentary first aid kit—it is stocked with a store of antibiotics, painkillers, and bandages and has much of what is needed to save Hannibal’s life. But the yacht’s cabin is not an emergency room and she is not a trauma surgeon. She will have to improvise—sprezzatura, Hannibal’s favorite virtue.

“He’s lost a great deal of blood, you understand that,” Bedelia says, fishing in her own medical bag for the plastic tubing she needs. “He requires a transfusion.”

Chiyo frowns; a tear threatens to well in her eye. “I will rob a doctor’s surgery…whatever it takes.”

“No need.” Bedelia rolls up her silk sleeve and ties a tourniquet around her arm. She pierces her arm with the butterfly needle, letting out a small hiss of pain. She connects the other end of the tube to a vein just inside Hannibal’s left wrist, needling and threading as calmly as if she were working a piece of silk embroidery. There is now a long red ribbon of blood connecting her to Hannibal, a metaphor so on the nose it’s practically cliché.

“I’m type O Negative. The universal donor,” Bedelia says. She’d always found that an odd bit of biological irony, as she was not by nature a giving person.

“I will start us on our way, unless you require anything further.”

Bedelia nods, reclining on one of the slim camel-colored leather couches opposite Hannibal, flexing her arm over and over. The boat begins to move, its motions almost hypnotic. At one moment Hannibal stirs in his sleep and opens his dark eyes. His gaze holds hers, and he smiles at her with deep fondness through his drugged haze.

“What is this, Bedelia?” he asks between labored breaths.

“A gift,” she tells him.

He closes his eyes and falls back into sleep, a contented smile on his lips, secure in her care.

They are two very complex people, but it had always been very simple between them.

I will help you because you ask me to.

*

The pleasure yacht chugs along at a stately twenty-six knots, hardly speedy. It’s five hours before they round Cape Charles, six before they pass through the harbor channel and into the open Atlantic. Bedelia lets out a breath she had not realized she had been holding when they finally put Norfolk and its armada of naval cruisers and battleships in their rear view.

The dawn turns the waters around them champagne pink and orange-gold, reminding Bedelia of a frothy sherbet punch. She joins Chiyo in the pilot house, still a bit lightheaded from her impromptu blood donation. “He’s stable but will need to be monitored. I’ve prepared a saline drip to offset the fluid loss and redone the suture. Hannibal is fortunate the bullet did not pierce any vital organs.”

“Hannibal is often fortunate,” Chiyo replies, a wry smile threatening the corners of her mouth.

“So I have noticed. But he should take care—he could be on the very last of his nine lives.”

Chiyo merely shrugs, as if she knows better.

“How did…all of this come to pass?”

Chiyo maintains her silence, but Bedelia is quieter still. She knows by experience how to wait a patient out, to let the question hang heavy in the air until the weight of it is unbearable.

“I was staying at the Chesapeake house, after Florence,” Chiyo explains. “I heard of Hannibal’s escape on the news and expected he would make his way there. I prepared the boat and I waited. Saw Will Graham push them both to their deaths and send them tumbling off the cliff.”

“Did it occur to you try to save Will Graham—or did you just not want to?” Bedelia asks, making no effort to hide the steel in her voice.

Chiyo shoots her a sharp look. “I agreed to let Will Graham cage Hannibal—not kill him.”

“Loyal to the end, it would seem.”

“Not to him, but to his aunt, Lady Murasaki. He is all I have left of her,” Chiyo says, voice catching again in that odd plaintive whine. “You have been loyal, too, in the end. You leave and return, over and over.”

To that Bedelia has no dignified answer, at least not one she would choose to share with Chiyo. Her eyes roam over the glass paneled instruments, sparkling in the dawn. “Where are we headed?”

“South,” Chiyo says laconically, making it clear their conversation is at an end. Leaving Bedelia to the man who once again is her one and only patient.

*

Chiyo guides the ship into a marina somewhere south of the curve of Hatteras—Cape Fear, the name comes to her unbidden and she fights back a ghoulish laugh. They tie up the boat without too much trouble. According to Tattlecrime.com, Will Graham’s body washed ashore sometime around midday. There is a nationwide manhunt for Hannibal Lecter and the FBI are stationed at every airport on the Eastern seaboard. No one seems to care at all about two women in a boat.

Chiyo sleeps in the yacht’s narrow little aft cabin while Bedelia continues her solitary vigil over Hannibal’s silent form. Bedelia’s eyelids begin to twitch from lack of sleep and an overabundance of caffeine from the small Nespresso machine in the galley. It is that queasy feeling of being both wired and exhausted at the same time, a sensation she recalled well from her residency days and had never had the desire to revisit since.

Hannibal sleeps restlessly, fitfully. His color is a bit better, but still his body appears fragile and weak. His hair has turned to grey in the years they have been apart—hers would be more silver than blonde, too, were it not for monthly appointments with her colorist. There will be new scars to add to his already impressive collection despite her best efforts. His wrists, his torso, the ugly brand on his back…it makes her shiver in repulsion, anger. A waste, she thinks, of such a fine human form.

A form she had once been very fond of, that had held her close at night and kept her warm in a way no one had done before. Or since.

She pushes down the heat that had begun to rise in response to that memory. Such tender feelings should not be allowed to bloom, as they would never survive the frost of rejection, certainly not a second time. Hannibal had made his choice and it was not her. He had chosen Will over his own sanity, his own safety—and most especially over Bedelia herself. Her care for him was nothing in comparison to whatever Will in all his twitchy empathy provoked. And perhaps Hannibal would be in thrall to him forever, even in death.

She felt like a ghost in chains, in her own life, in Hannibal’s. He could never really see her, no matter how much she had tried to make herself be seen.

A sense memory of a lazy summer afternoon, the tinny sound of her father’s AM radio hums at the edges of her mind. And I will never be set free as long as I’m a ghost you can’t see.

“What are you thinking of, Bedelia? You seem very far away.”

“The lyrics of an old song. You wouldn’t know it.”

“A sad one, I think, from the expression on your face.”

“Yes. About two lovers falling out of love and not knowing where they went wrong.”

Hot tears spill over her cheeks, but she is too tired to keep them from falling and too ashamed to look back at Hannibal. He makes a grab for her hand, but she withdraws it, leaving him to snatch at the empty air. “Bedelia,” he pleads.

“I’m just very tired,” she says, all formal and stiff propriety once again. Another half-truth.

*

Bedelia claims the narrow cabin with its single bunk for her own, falling into a long and restless sleep, exhaustion at last washing over her. She awakens at one point during the night (or is it day?) and considers rousing herself to check on Hannibal, before flopping on her side and letting herself drift back to sleep with a guilty huff. She reasons that Chiyo will waken her if she is needed.

Not even in the depths of sleep can she escape him. She’s tormented again by the nightmare she’d had since the first of Hannibal’s letters arrived. A candlelit dinner party, where she is both the guest of honor and the main course. Diamonds drip from her ears, lace scratches at her breasts, and her flesh steams upon the table, honey-glazed. It is revolting and beautiful, grotesque and sublime. As her life has been ever since that glorious moment when she plunged her fist into Neal Frank’s throat.

Hannibal gazes at her, adoring, from the other end of the long table. But he is there, as well, gloating, scruffy face riotous with laughter. “Meat’s back on the menu, Bedelia,” he toasts.

You,” she hisses, grasping for any weapon at her disposal, which turns out to be a lonely escargot fork. “Your recklessness brought us to this. This was your design.”

Will takes a sip of champagne, swishes it around in his mouth before swallowing, deliberately uncouth. “It was my design to kill him. And me. Your design brought him back to life. Guess you just missed him that much.”

Fueled by fear and anger she leaps across the table, plunging her fork into Will’s jugular. Water spurts from the wound instead of blood, warm and salty. It threatens to drown her, to drown the world. And soon the whole dream dissolves around her, and she wakes gasping into consciousness. No water anywhere save the tears on her face.

*

The craft has slowed, no longer moving in swaying, seasick motion. Bedelia creeps to the bath, or head, as she supposes it is called on this kind of vessel, to reapply her makeup and make some attempt to brush her tousled hair. The face in the mirror is tired and she is without her usual silky, icy armor. The only consolation is that Hannibal’ person suit likewise resides at the bottom of the Atlantic.

She finds him in the pilot house, hands steady upon the wheel, basking in the warmth of the sun. His shirt is unbuttoned and she can spy his winter-pale skin and the bandages across his abdomen. Before the wheel, in command of the ship, he seems both masterful and carefree. Sprezzatura, in the flesh.

“Good morning,” he tells her.

Bedelia eyes the sun overhead, sparkling high above beautiful sea green waters. A spit of island, edged with palm trees and pink sand beaches, looms over the starboard bow. “From the looks of things, I believe good afternoon would be more accurate.”

“You were asleep for a long time. You were very tired, as you said,” he tells her gently.

Bedelia’s cheeks threaten to burn at the memory of their last conversation, at her obvious display of weakness. “Where is Chiyo?” she asks, swiftly changing the subject.

“Making her way back home. She left us when we took on supplies at New Providence.”

Bedelia blinks, shocked she had slept through all of that. “You should have woken me.”

“To say goodbye?” Hannibal asks with a tilt of his head. “I had no idea you and Chiyo were so sentimental to one another.”

“To tend to you. You are my patient, are you not?” She crosses her arms, her long-sleeved blouse already beginning to feel sticky in the tropical air.

“There was no need.” He gestures to his chest and his covered wound. “Very fine work here, Doctor, one surgeon to another.”

She nods, silently accepting the compliment—to refuse it would be rude. “Where are we?” she asks, peering again over the bow. The waters sparkle in jewel tones, sapphire shading to topaz and emerald as they wash upon the unspoiled shore. A warm sea breeze ruffles her hair like a caress. It’s so beautiful as to be surreal, like she had gone to sleep in the cold damp hell of a Baltimore winter and awoken in paradise.

“That is the island of Eleuthera,” he indicates. “It takes its name from the Greek word for freedom.”

The word hangs in the air between them. Bedelia stubbornly says nothing, waiting for Hannibal to continue, as she has done in numerous therapy sessions.

Hannibal’s hands glide over the silver wheel. He pulls a lever, slowing the boat to a crawl, before shutting off the engine and dropping the anchor, more reticent than usual. She can see him drinking her in, shining palely in the bright tropical sun. Finally, he says, apropos of nothing, “I think sometimes of Hades and Persephone. Do you suppose Hades ever imagined Perhaps this year will be different? Perhaps this will be the year she will stay?

His remark flusters her. “I don’t understand what you mean,” she lies.

He takes her gently in his arms, a loose hold that is impossible to break. “You do,” he says, eyes dark and calm, the sky just after a storm. “Chiyo has already taken her freedom. Will you take yours? Say the word and I will let you off at the dock here in Eleuthera and promise never to call on you again.”

“And what about you? Are you free, Hannibal?” she shoots back.

Now it is Hannibal’s turn to play the innocent. Not very convincingly. “To what are you referring?”

“Will Graham.”

Hannibal’s eyes shadow over, and he does not attempt to hide the pain in them. He pulls away, searching the horizon for a man who isn’t there. “Will is gone. Like Mischa. I will not see him again, save in the chambers of my memory palace.”

“And how many hours will you spend there searching for him?”

“I don’t know. Why do you ask?”

“Because to do the same thing twice and expect a different result is commonly referred to as the definition of insanity.”

“Bedelia,” he begins, having the audacity to look wounded.

But the emotion is rising in her like a tide that cannot be contained. The words spill forth, all of the things she never said in Florence, all of the words she spoke alone to herself after he had gone. “You ask me to run away with you for the second time. But I will not spend my days with you while you look for him on the other side of the veil.”

Once she has said her piece, it goes oddly still and silent between them. But instead of a crackling tension, there is only release. Hannibal visibly crumples, putting her in mind of a deflated balloon. His eyes well and the lost look in them is genuine, none of the crocodile tears he had shown her so many times before. He takes her hand, very tenderly, very gently, and she doesn’t know who he is trying to console more, himself or her. “You were right about Will. You said he would be the patient that took my life. If you had not come, he would have succeeded.”

She inclines her head in an attempt at graciousness, but her posture remains stubbornly firm.

“More than that, he rejected me—three times. It has a certain Biblical finality to it.”

Hannibal lets out a kind of strangled sob, wincing as it causes his injured muscles to contract. Instinctively, she reaches out to him, pressing her hand against the tender wound. The closeness, the contact, her nestled close to him sends a charge straight from her fingertips down to her spine.

Part of her knows she should pull away. But she is already too close to him, the warmth of his bare skin beckoning her fingertips, and she cannot help but let her hands wander up to explore the firmness of his pectorals. Before she knows it, his lips have captured hers with the speed of a lightning strike and their bodies are pressed against one another, fitting together, hard and soft, large and small. He kisses her deeply, tasting her with a desperation and a hunger he had never shown before, and she finds herself surrendering, muscles gone slack, melting and wanton in his arms. Her fingers rake through his hair, nails scratching at the tender nape of his neck, bringing him to her, her body for once unapologetic in its need.

When they break the kiss at last, they are gasping, breathless, starving.

“You musn’t hurt yourself. Or all my hard work will have been for naught,” she says, a halfhearted attempt at a joke.

“You will have to be more gentle with me, then,” he says, mock-chiding, the devilish look in his eyes implying he desires the exact opposite. He advances on her with that familiar predatory grace, pressing himself against her in the narrow confines of he pilot house. With a single deft finger, he tucks a curl of her hair behind her ear and whispers, “What do you choose, Bedelia?”

Her blood all but leaps at his touch, yet she still fights saying the words. “Where are you planning to go? Cuba?” she hazards, knowing its lack of extradition.

“That was the original plan.” He takes her palm and presses it to his lips before laying it on the wheel. “But we can go wherever you wish.”

She accepts this, the unspoken promise that this time will be different, that his wish for now is her command. It leaves her almost smiling, strangely free.

“I’ve been to Cuba. You wouldn’t like it.” Now she is deliberately teasing.

“Oh?” he asks, nonchalantly, fingers threading underneath the buttons of her blouse, threatening to pop them one by one.

“But for right now, I have other plans for us,” she whispers into his mouth before kissing him full on the lips again.

Heedless of his injuries, Hannibal scoops her up in his arms and carries her into the dark of the cabin, like a bride over the threshold. Happy in her return, confident that this is the time she will stay.