Chapter 1: hunter/hunted
It isn’t the family Will imagined but he tells himself, rather convincingly, that it is the family he needs.
Making himself believe this isn’t terribly difficult; for all he knows, it’s true. Abigail had emerged from the congealing shadows like an offering, a lamb—that kitchen floor was the altar, and Hannibal’s palms so tight around her neck were the hands of God, claiming mercy. Will can still remember her eyes, so startled and blue, as they poured into his and begged him to save her. He failed, but he is not going to fail again.
Will can also recall the hot slickness of her blood, the wet life of it gurgling across the floor. I’m sorry about all of this blood on my hands, he’d almost said. I wish it was mine instead . But he hadn’t told her this, of course, and he doesn’t tell her the truth now: that in the instant he killed her father Will felt that he became him. The fact that these feelings—if that’s what they are, something as tiny and inconsequential as feelings —render him clumsy and grappling and tactless is not important to Will, not really. He is sure that all new fathers feel much the same: burdened with this new gift, fumbling helplessly with the enormity of the concept.
Yet, he acknowledges, Hannibal does not fumble. The other man has glided gracefully into this surrogacy, from the very moment his hands had wrapped around Abigail’s slim neck to staunch the flow of blood. Will is grateful to him and sees it as a debt that could not possibly be repaid. How does one reimburse life, but with life? And so they work in tandem, sometimes saying little aloud (but plenty with their eyes), while the dark-haired, nearly-grown creature they chose to take on stirs restlessly beneath them.
She isn't the model of grace, Abigail, but she is essentially a study in perfection to Will. Even the long scar marring her neck is a mark of perseverance, nothing more.
It does not occur to him that this may be a perversion of fatherhood, a pantomime of love. But who are we to judge what love is, standing so safe and unspoiled on the other side of the street—who are we?
Strange, Will thinks as he stands on Hannibal’s doorstep that Saturday, how saying nothing sometimes says the most.
When the psychiatrist opens the door there is a flood of evening light over his left shoulder; Will feels the weight of darkness on his own. In the throw of shadow Hannibal’s amber eyes look colder than usual, the cut of his cheekbones almost hideous in their severity. Then he leans out of the stain of light and his features at once become more distinct.
Will, always too quick with words or too fearful to assume the proper ones, is grateful when Hannibal simply steps aside to welcome him into the relieving warmth. The lamps are low beneath their traps of glass; all looks untouched, as it ever does, and coming from the kitchen there is a scent that Will can’t hope to identify.
Abigail is scuffing her toe against one of the counters in Hannibal’s dark kitchen, and something both uncomfortable and sweetly pleasant tightens in Will’s chest at the sight, even as he warns himself against it.
(“You brought back a surrogate daughter…”)
That’s not the only thing that Will brought back.
When Hannibal brings them dinner at the long dark table and names it lamb, no one chooses to comment on the irony, and the sheep among them, half a sacrifice, shorn of her ear, simply ducks her head down as an unidentified flush blooms on her cheeks.
Abigail eats in a way that makes Will think of her skinning her kills. Methodical, slow. With careful purpose. Much, Will realizes, like Hannibal.
Will finds himself beginning to slow as he eats, to cut the lamb in the same way as Hannibal does, to not drink the wine too quickly. Two of them, the three of them, the three of them against everyone else in this cruel and dreadful world. Across the table Hannibal’s gaze brushes against Will’s for a moment, butterfly-light, and maybe it’s the alcohol but Will feels vaguely as if he has just been kissed.
"More, Abigail?” Hannibal asks, and though Will knows when Abigail eagerly nods she means the wine, the doctor responsibly offers her more lamb in its place.
Later they retire to the sitting room, three fingers of whiskey in Will’s glass on one side of the sofa, Hannibal neither drunk nor drinking at the other end. Abigail is deep in luxurious dark carpet, low lamplight painting her dragonfly limbs honey-gold, her chin on her knees as the warmth makes her face vulnerable and her eyes black.
And in that moment, Will feels as mad as everyone always says he is.
Father and father, blue-eyed daughter? The three of them sewn together, unable to resist, unable to leave? Unable to ever, ever leave?
Something in Will’s chest gives way.
He puts down the glass of whiskey.
How different the two of them look, he thinks: Hannibal, elegiac and lupine like some long-limbed creature in a too-small cage, and Abigail, the delicate upward tilt of her nose and always-red mouth, the stolen ear, stolen life.
And what is he to them? Who? Disheveled and papery-pale, twitchy, too slow to smile and too quick with that nervous laugh, wearing his expressions across his face like a map? Smudges on his glasses, thin and anxious and half in love with some of the men and women he’s hunted. Half in hate with the others. For some of them, neither, or both.
Not so much a difference, when it comes down to it.
Will leans back against the sofa, feels its gentle give. He presses the heels of his hands against his eyes and sees the stars bloom in the blackness. He is thinking of other times. Hotter summers and gentler winters, a house--a house?--on a hill, Abigail crouching in long sun-blown grass to hug Winston around the neck. Two cups of black coffee steaming into young light. Espresso in the morning, wine at dinner, whiskey at midnight. On the porch with Hannibal until the stars sway dizzily through the veils of remaining light and the two men retreat to the bedroom, and Will undresses in an entirely unselfconscious way that he has never experienced before. With anyone.
Madness, he thinks again. Madness.
And a slow sad pearl of a thought unfurls in his hand, the acknowledgment that hopes have no responsibility at all to become true.
He opens his eyes again, hazy, soft with dreams. Abigail is leaning towards Hannibal with her head tilted, and she’s smiling that rare smile, and Will can see the beautiful long mark of her scar. He will not fail her again. He will save her from the loneliness, from the abyss, from the madmen that murder their own daughters because they can’t bear to be without them. Because Will himself is nothing like that, he tells himself. Not at all.
When Abigail rises and turns from him, he will let her go.
Hannibal leans forward and brushes away at the hair in Abigail’s face, gentle as only a predator can be. She lets him, Will knows, because she knows it means nothing. He says something quietly that Will can’t hear, and then turns to Will and smiles faintly, and Will feels that rebellious warmth rising and surging and plateauing once more in his chest. It leaves him off balance.
Abigail’s adolescence was denied to her, Will thinks, but her adulthood will not be.
Eventually something emerges from their comfortable silence.
“I know you fish, Will, but what I do--what I did --is so different.” She is chewing her full lower lip and casting them evasive glances from underneath the fan of her dark lashes. “One you stalk and one you lure. I know. I do. But…”
Hannibal says nothing.
“But it’s not the same,” Abigail continues, voice strengthening to a sharpness as it always does, drawing on her own certainty. “Because I’ve hunted, and that makes you feel…” Her blue eyes flicker to Will. “That makes you feel…”
“How does hunting make you feel?” Hannibal asks with gentle, almost-sweet patience, and Will realizes in this moment that Hannibal could tell him all the lies in the world and he would believe every single one.
Abigail looks at them each in turn, flower-like lips slightly parted, eyes as blue as anything Will thinks he’s ever seen, bluer than the heart of the sky.
“It feels like,” she says slowly, shifting from her spot on the floor, limbs doll-like, vulnerable for one of the first times that Will has ever seen, “You’re starving and ravenous but the more you eat, the hungrier you become.”
Hannibal does not answer; in place of words is a simpler reassurance. He extends his arm with the lazy grace of a practiced predator and draws his thumb beneath her eye, cups her cheek very briefly. When he finally speaks it is with a new gravity.
“You can live your life hungry, Abigail. I have.” Will sees the flicker of his dark lashes, breaking like a wave against his tawny skin, and thinks that this is how it would sound if a leopard could speak. “There are worse things than being a hunter.”
She looks painfully young as she looks up at him, and Will feels a queer chill, like winter has bloomed inside of him. “Like what?”
“Like being hunted for all of the things you have ever done.”
Chapter 2: savior/saved
Alternate Universe: Canon Divergence
As night draws thin and the two men must mutually acknowledge that Abigail is not, in fact, their daughter, the light changes in Hannibal’s careful expanse of space. Abigail self-consciously tucks the loam-dark hair behind what used to be her ear; when it falls forward again, she blushes in both anger and embarrassment.
Her eyes go to Hannibal. You did this , she so clearly wants to say, you tried to make me into the lamb you always were afraid I was. The only comfort I have is knowing that you don't make mistakes.
Will grasps that Hannibal, on some level, somewhere deep in those brilliant synapses, wants to give Abigail back the power her father stole from her.
Will also knows that it may not be possible to do so, as Hannibal has taken quite a bit from her himself.
But Abigail is both hunter and hunted, stalker and stalked, and deeply ingrained are such instincts. Lush carpet instead of downy leaves; stifled cologned air in place of the wildest wind, instead of smoke’s perfume. Even as she leans into the warmth of Hannibal’s hand on her cheek, there is something in those bluest eyes (a child’s eyes, lonely eyes, eyes bereft of tears and full of pride) that reminds Will of the wild dogs that mate beyond his gate.
You can't hope to break someone and expect that they will rise again, whole.
And a fierceness blooms in Will now, that Abigail was scarred by her true father and surrogate father both and emerged a hunter-victim, not an oxymoron at all, nor an unusual phenomenon in the least. This is, he’s beginning to understand, what it means to be a girl.
If you can't ease your suffering, he wants to tell her, then you have to bear it.
Abigail, still childish in more ways than one, falls asleep with her elbow tucked under her pale cheek, more innocent than complicit victim. Maybe both.
Will sits in the chair across from her, the slight rise-and-fall of her chest, the shorn ear, the sliced neck. Some people rejoice in the destruction of beauty, but Will isn’t one of them. Hannibal had told him that Abigail only goes without a scarf when she is around the two of them.
This should not have made Will happy. It did.
Scarves are for autumn, for the low cool tumble of wind, for the white blank sky of winter. Scarves are to be unwound when you return home, taken off a lovely unmarred neck and hung with the jackets in a closet that smells of old dried flowers.
Home, a place of safety and love and compassion and where no one can ever, ever hurt you. Where no one would try.
Will startles when he feels a hand on his shoulder.
“She’s asleep,” Hannibal says, dimming the great projection of his voice for Abigail’s sake. “Perhaps we should go elsewhere.”
Will rises, a little more unsteadily than he’d been expecting, and for a moment Hannibal holds him there, quietly, in his eyes.
“What is it?”
“Come with me,” says Hannibal, after drawing a blanket up to Abigail’s chin. “It is clear something is weighing on you.” And it’s clear that you know exactly what that is, Dr. Lecter.
Will expects to be led into the kitchen, but Hannibal says he doesn’t want to wake Abigail, and takes the first of one many winding steps upstairs. At once there’s that familiar staccato of blood in his veins-- no, no, no --and the thickening of an already-tightened throat. Shame washes him in a beautiful heat; Will wonders if he wears it on his skin.
The door to the bedroom is open. Maybe this shouldn’t surprise Will. Maybe he shouldn’t feel an all-too-familiar ache at the mere sight of it. Maybe he should be reasonable, tell Hannibal he must leave, feed the dogs, feed Winston, bury himself in his lonely bed which has none of the sharp angles and perfect contours as Hannibal’s. Close his eyes to the darkness and sweet loneliness of his life.
But he doesn’t.
Hannibal sits at the edge of the great dark bed and sighs, and for the briefest of moments his shoulders roll forward, as if he is letting go of something heavy.
“Come here, Will.”
It is not a question, and both of them know that.
Will settles at the edge of the bed, eyes cast everywhere but the man beside him. And then, shockingly, Hannibal murmurs his name, the shape of his lips giving it meaning at last.
Will doesn’t meet his eyes--Will never meets his eyes--but takes off his glasses, agitated, rubbing at them with sleeve, a nervous tic. He feels the strength of Hannibal’s gaze on him like a searchlight, cold like the hearts of stars.
“What is it, Dr. Lecter?”
“Something is troubling you.”
“ Plenty of things are troubling me.”
“I am referring to the one who’s sleeping on my sofa right now.”
Will says nothing, just feels the comfort--comfort?--of that warm hand on his shoulder again, almost uncomfortably hot through the material of his shirt.
“You were not the one to put the knife to her throat,” comes Hannibal’s voice, soft and close and warm. “And you were not the one who took her ear. In that--in that, you were a victim as much as she was.” There is almost something like fondness in his voice. Almost. It drips over Will like honey.
But that’s it, that’s all it takes--Will is remembering the tube down his throat like the worst of violations, the lost months of his life, without Hannibal, without him . Without his betrayer, his deceiver, the Judas who delivered him like the perfect sacrificial lamb. Like Abigail.
Hannibal, in his way, seems to understand. “I never left you, Will.”
“You did,” Will says, feeling a hot rush of shame at his own weakness. “You did. You let me go.”
And then Hannibal is turning, taking him in his arms as Will has only ever seen him to do Abigail, and Will is too bone-weak from betrayal to resist. It doesn’t happen slowly, or gently, or softly, or, really, in any of the ways Will has imagined. One moment Will’s face is cradled against Hannibal’s smooth untainted throat and the next, Hannibal’s hand is at the back of his neck, drawing him just far away enough so that he can kiss Will hard, teeth-tongue-lips.
Nothing but a hunger with a mouth.
Will exhales one sweet gasp of need before parting his lips against the other man’s, feels the serpentlike lick of Hannibal’s tongue against his teeth, in his mouth. It shouldn’t surprise him that Hannibal is good at this, he dimly acknowledges from somewhere far away. And it doesn’t.
“You took,” Will mutters, one hand tight on both of Hannibal’s shoulders as they struggle, “So much from me.” The other man’s lower lip is wet with saliva; the beaten-gold hair is like a fox’s pelt in perfect disarray. At his most beautiful, Hannibal is almost always animalistic. “You took,” Will continues, “So much.”
“Now give me something back.”
It doesn’t long for Hannibal to slip to his knees, and at the mere sight Will feels ill, sick with desire, twisted up and inflamed from the same place that had so recently harbored his broken sorrow. Suddenly Hannibal’s eyes look very dark. A hunter’s eyes, Will knows--oh, he knows--but hunters can be discerning, too.
He’s already harder than he’s been in weeks, almost agonized by it, when the other man dips his head and takes him deep in his throat. Will makes an eerie sound, half-pleasure, half-pain, the sensation rolling over him like bliss.
Should he be surprised that Hannibal has clearly done this before? No, he thinks--tries to think--as his hips roll against the unbelievable sweetness of the other man’s mouth on him, as he holds Hannibal steady, tilts his head back, again and again, so that they look one another in the eye.
“Don’t stop,” he begs, commands, through the groans he tries to quiet--for Abigail is sleeping downstairs, and the night has a smell of sanctity about it, and because he wants to remember the feeling, the sight of Hannibal on his knees before him, forever.
In one swift movement his hips jerk helplessly, rock forward, and he loses everything inside of his cock into Hannibal’s mouth. Hannibal doesn’t break eye contact, but Will sees him swallow, the most obscene act the doctor has ever cared to reveal. It makes Will shiver.
“God…” Will murmurs, reaching a hand to touch the mussed silver-gold hair, body lax with the aftereffects of bliss. “I just.."
And it’s then of all times that he realizes it, with Hannibal on his knees before him, tasting Will’s come, made vulnerable at last. Playing at submission with the same hand that shorn Abigail Hobbs’ ear, slit an unwilling throat.
What brings you to life also has the power to destroy you.