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No One Falls the Way We Fell

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"Daddy?"

Hannibal stirs, wiping over his eyes and blinking blearily at the halo of light surrounding the silhouette of his daughter, peering in nervously from his cracked-open bedroom door. He clears his throat, voice hoarse and rasping, and reaches out to turn on his bedside lamp.

"Yes, darling, what is it?"

He sits up as she shuffles into the room. Her hair sits in a mane of wispy disarray around her head, slung in a loose braid down the side of her neck. Her sleep shirt is far too large for her and drops almost to her ankles, her feet bare, the collar of the shirt sagging in the middle. She's yanking at it, wrinkling it further, and fixes Hannibal with the adorable puppy eyes she inherited from her mother.

"Mommy's in my room again."

Hannibal sighs, and viciously tamps down the urge to snap at her, to scold her for waking him up with her flights of fancy again. He should be used to it, but this time of year leaves him raw and abrasive. It's almost the anniversary of his mate's death, and he could do without his daughter testing his patience with her ridiculously active imagination.

He rubs his hand over his face again, absently pushing his flat hair from his forehead so he can see better. At first, perhaps prone to some desperate surge of hope himself, he would go to investigate, the same way he might check under the bed for monsters. She did it so sparingly, that he had been unable to fight back the fierce, awful desire to, perhaps, actually see him again. That somehow he would have risen from the grave, or that the doctors pronounced him dead too soon and he woke up coughing and gasping on a mortician's shelf. That during his autopsy, they cut and found fresh blood, and nursed him back to health.

But it was always the same; nothing but fleeting shadows and soft wisps of air and his terrible absence, that gouged and clawed at Hannibal's insides as freshly as the day the wounds were first made.

He sighs again, and reaches out to her, inviting her to join him in bed. She walks over and climbs onto the edge, settling in the little divot where her mother used to sleep. Hannibal hasn't had the heart to flip the mattress, or buy a new one. His scent has long-since faded, even to Hannibal's sensitive nose, but sometimes, when melancholy and loneliness hit him sharper than normal, he can close his eyes and pretend.

"Abigail," he says gently, brushing a wisp of hair from her face. "Your mother isn't with us anymore. He can't come visit, no matter how much we want him to." She blinks at him, eyes wide and watery – she inherited her mother's eyes, that soft and glacial blue, and the lower half of his face, and his hair color, though it's straighter, like Hannibal's.

"But he's there," she insists, tugging at her shirt again. "I swear, I'm not making it up. I woke up and he was standing by my bed."

Hannibal clenches his jaw, cups her face a little less gently than he meant to. "Abigail," he says again, sharply. "Enough of this nonsense. I won't hear any more about it."

She whimpers, soft and sweet and trembling, and Hannibal immediately gentles his hand, sighs and pulls her close to his chest. She's so small, waif-like, able to curl up neatly against his chest, and he nuzzles her messy hair, taking in a deep breath of her scent and glad, for the most part, that she smells more like him than her mother.

 

 

Loss has followed Hannibal like a panting, feral animal for most of his life. When he was a boy, the loss of his sister was not so much the cause, but certainly the catalyst to becoming the kind of monster he is today. Since then he has felt similar, though far less terrible losses; lives he was forced to release on his operating table; friends who moved on or perished through natural causes. The loss of home, not once but many times, until he had settled and made a place for himself on the outskirts of Baltimore.

He had considered it a calm, quiet life, being alone. That was before he'd met his mate – that beautiful, sharp-eyed man who showed his teeth as often as his neck, who held such allure for him with his brilliant mind and snippy, cynical outlook. The man who tamed dogs and hunted monsters, who quite literally saw the beast in Hannibal, and loved what he saw.

The man who gave himself entirely to Hannibal's desire, who allowed Hannibal to pierce his throat and his body and who, eventually, gave him their first daughter. When Abigail was four, he fell pregnant again, but it was a difficult pregnancy, and in the fifth month he'd woken with blood between his thighs and a terrible pain in his stomach. They'd lost her, and Hannibal thinks it was fitting that they were going to call her Mischa, too.

He got sick, and then sicker, the doctors unable to stop the hemorrhagic bleeding. There was nothing they could do, they'd said. No matter what Hannibal tried, his own prowess as a physician and an Alpha had failed him as well.

He'd been there the moment his mate passed, on a cold October morning, in the early hours. He'd held his mate's hand and swallowed the last exhale from his sweet mouth. It had taken hours, and three orderlies, to finally separate him from his mate's bedside.

He could not fail at raising Abigail – she was part of his mate, after all, the last shred of his legacy he'd left behind after Hannibal put his things in storage and his scent faded from their home. He doted on her, and made sure she never wanted for anything, and sometimes she smiles in a way that reminds Hannibal so starkly of her mother that it robs him for breath.

It's been five years since his death, and every time the year passes, and he sees that same day on his calendar, that same loss lunges for him, digs into his throat. He cannot shut out the loss of his mate like he could his sister, for to do that means shunning Abigail as well, and he could never. As a result, he continues to feel it openly, a raw wound lined with salt and lemon juice that throbs in time to the beat of his heart.

He cannot control how he feels about it, but he also cannot continue to bear Abigail's frantic insistence that her mother is still with them. Every time, it beats at the walls and fortifications of Hannibal's mind, and leaves him a little weaker, and little less steady. He might crumble to nothingness if he lets it continue.

 

 

He knocks on the frosted glass of the office door, and waits for the soft 'Come in' before he enters. He gives Alana a tired, thin smile, knowing he likely doesn't look his best, but it has been long enough that she only answers with a soft, muted sympathy. She knows how badly this time of year wears on him.

"Hey," she greets, and stands, going to him and giving him a short, friendly hug. He hugs her back, finding solace in the scent of his friend, before she pulls back and tilts her head. "I didn't think I'd see you today," she adds, gentle and kind.

Hannibal sighs, and looks away from her. It seems all he does nowadays is sit and sigh and avoid eye contact. Perhaps some shred of his mate lingers in him, affects his mannerisms and demeanor during the time of year when he was lost.

"I was hoping to get your insight," he says. "About Abigail."

Alana blinks at him, and nods, gesturing for him to have a seat. The only option is a thickly-stuffed, red corduroy couch, and several of those little plastic chairs reserved for children, so Hannibal takes his seat at one end of the couch, flattening his coat over the armrest.

"Would you like something to drink?" Alana asks. "I have tea, and water."

"I'm alright, thank you," he replies. She nods, and fetches a to-go cup of coffee from her desk, taking a seat at the other end of the couch. The scent of the coffee is overly sweet, chai syrup and almond milk. She used to drink green tea, flavored with mint and lemongrass, but she stopped years ago. The same time Hannibal's mate passed away. His scent was similar.

She sips at it, always so patient, content to wait until he's ready to speak.

Hannibal presses his lips together, and turns to face her. "Abigail has been having…dreams," he says, hesitating over the word, for it's not correct to call them nightmares, or hallucinations. He doesn't believe she's suffering any kind of mental disorder, just the normal imagination a child would have. "She keeps insisting that she's seeing her mother, in her room at night. No matter what I say or do, I cannot persuade her that it's just her imagination."

Alana nods sagely. "That happens a lot," she says gently. "Children who don't understand the consequences and limitations of death. I've seen it several times, especially when the child was not given proper closure, or the separation was dramatic."

Dramatic. That's certainly a word for it.

Alana pauses, and says carefully, "Has she claimed to be seeing her sister, as well? Or just her mother?"

Hannibal fights the urge to wince, and shakes his head. "If she has, she hasn't told me," he replies. She nods again, pressing her lips together, and takes a drink. "I'm at a loss of what to do, and I'll confess, it's wearing on me to keep having to insist that she's making it up. I don't want her to get to the point where she continues to suffer, but no longer seeks my help."

Alana nods. "It's certainly worth being worried about," she says. "If she doesn't recover, her chances of later-stage depression, anxiety, and underachievement in school are all possibilities and valid concerns." She folds one leg over the other and sips at her coffee again. "If you'd like, she can come see me. Having someone to talk about it with would be a major help."

Hannibal considers it, face impassive. He doesn't want to argue that Abigail can talk about her mother with him, because truthfully, he's not sure he could bear it. Years ago, if someone had told him he would become so attached that, this far on, he would still feel his mate's loss so starkly, the idea would have made him laugh. The notion of being so dependent and in love seemed impossible. Even more so, fatherhood, and how much he loves his daughter. Yet another way in which his mate irrevocably changed him.

Alana eyes him, and says just as slowly; "Have you sought out any counselling, Hannibal?"

He shakes his head. "I am self-aware enough to know what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling," he replies, somewhat petulantly. Her lips twitch in a sad smile, but she doesn't argue. "I have a handle on it. Abigail lacks the skills that I have, however."

She nods. "I have an opening later today, at four, if you're able to bring her. You can leave her with me and I can drive her back to your place if you're too busy to wait."

Hannibal blinks at her, surprised by the offer. "That would be wonderful," he says, and he means it. "I'll make dinner for all of us, as a 'Thank you'."

She smiles, and stands when he does. "I'll see you later," she says, and gives him an affectionate pat on his shoulder. "Let me know if you need to reschedule. And…" Her head tilts, and she sighs. "Maybe look into getting something to help you sleep. I say this with all the love and respect in the world, but you look like shit."

He cannot help it; he huffs a laugh. "Duly noted," he replies, and she grins at him, and sees him out.

 

 

Abigail knows Alana, so brightens visibly and seems excited to go visit her. Hannibal brings her back to Alana's office building, past other frosted doors with labels for the names of her peers. She works in family therapy, with an emphasis on those with young children. Abigail is on the older side of her normal spectrum, but given that she has known Hannibal for so long, he imagines meeting Abigail doesn't even register with her as making an exception.

She was, in fact, the person who introduced Hannibal to his mate, all those years ago.

He knocks on the door and opens it when she bids him enter, a hand between Abigail's shoulders as he gently leads her inside. He smiles in greeting, and Alana returns it with a bright, happy one of her own. Abigail runs to her and throws her arms around Alana's shoulders where she's sitting behind her desk, and Alana laughs, squeezing her tightly before letting her go.

"You're growing up so quickly," she praises, cupping Abigail's cheeks. "Soon enough you'll be running your father ragged keeping boys away."

Hannibal huffs, rolling his eyes. He doubts Abigail, if she's anything like her mother, will tolerate any kind of unwanted attention once she's old enough to receive it. He pictures her older, brow arched in that same haughty way, showing her teeth to anyone who tried to get too friendly with her. Along with the pulse of pride comes more melancholy, for he has no doubt that Abigail will, inevitably and in a way beyond his control, grow up to be far more like her mother than like Hannibal.

He will have to make sure he is prepared for the presence of another spirited, blue-eyed wildling in his life, and feels hollow at the thought.

Alana gestures for Abigail to have a seat, and she stands and approaches Hannibal at the door, speaking to him quietly; "Are you going to stay, or leave?" she asks, a hand on the edge of the door, prepared to welcome him in or close it behind him.

Hannibal shakes his head. "I will go see to dinner," he says, and gives her a faint smile. "Let me know when you're on your way."

Alana nods, and bids him farewell, closing the door behind him. Hannibal sighs, and leaves the building as quickly as possible, lest he get caught looking at the photos of happy nuclear families, children's drawings and newspaper articles of successes both from the practice and in medicine in general.

 

 

He hunts, simply to give himself something to do. He remembers his first kill, hands dainty and small with youth clawing through the belly of a full-grown man, listening to his screams of pain in a language Hannibal would only learn later as he'd torn the beast to pieces. Remembers, later, hunting in France and then in Italy, refining his palette and negotiating his tastes versus his curiosity – a sampling for the main course. Testing whether age or gender or sex changed the state of the meat. Learning what cirrhosis smelled like, and cancer, and glaucoma. Learned that type one diabetics have the sweetest blood when untreated, learned that he preferred Alphas – not just for their taste, but because killing them was always so much more satisfying, his primal urge to prove himself as the apex predator appeased more fully when it was an Alpha he killed.

Today, he picks an Omega. He picks him on a whim, after catching sight of his tousled, mud-brown hair, his bright eyes, his charming smile. He picks him simply for the offense of daring to look so much like his mate.

He kills him quickly, attacks in a dark, unmonitored corner of a parking garage, snaps his neck, quick and painless. He is not entirely without mercy, and knows it's not this sweet thing's fault that he just happened to look so much like the mate Hannibal lost. Still, it's a good kill – he is young and smells healthy, unblemished, neither a mating mark nor the scent of an Alpha claim staining his skin.

Hannibal takes him home, carefully saws and cuts until he can remove his femur from his hip socket, detaches the knee and strips the bones so he has a hoard of his flesh. He leaves the rest in the cold basement to deal with later, and goes upstairs to prepare his roast.

By the time Alana comes inside with Abigail, a cursory knock heralding her arrival, the food is almost done. Abigail greets Hannibal with a wave and a bright 'Hi, dad!' before she heads upstairs to divest herself of her coat and shoes, as well as her bag, and Alana comes into the kitchen.

"I have more of the brew you like," he offers, and her eyes brighten, and she nods eagerly. He pours her a glass and returns his attention to the food as she sips at it, giving a hum of appreciation. She is silent, and Hannibal smiles down at his hands. "Should we address the elephant in the room now, or after dinner, when Abigail goes to bed?" He meets her eyes. "I don't want to keep you out too late."

Alana sighs, and shakes her head. "It would probably be better when she's asleep," she replies. "So that we can talk as freely as necessary."

Hannibal nods, accepting that. He could use a glass of wine himself, and he wipes off his hands on a towel, and pours himself a large glass of his most recent gathering from a Linden winery. The wine is a pale golden color, sweet with harvest peach flavor, and fills his mouth like he bit straight into the fruit.

"Do you need help with anything?" Alana offers.

She used to play sous-chef for him, often. She was doing it the night Hannibal's mate first visited, invited by her, at her insistence that he meet her mentor. Hannibal knows there is chemical and scientific support for the notion of 'Love at first sight', but he had thought himself beyond it, before he met his mate. One look, one deep breath of his scent, one playful, teasing argument over what kind of wine to serve with fish, and Hannibal had been gone; hook, line, sinker, he'd fallen to be swept away in the rivers of his mate's love. How lucky he had been, to see that affection returned. How lucky, to have been given even the short amount of time they were allowed.

Lucky, lucky. Hannibal's upper lip twitches and he swallows back his growl.

"I believe I'm near finished, actually," he says, and it is not a lie, nor an excuse to ward her away. "If you don't mind, the table needs to be set." He pauses, and adds; "Everything is in the same place."

She nods, and sets her glass down, walking to the dining room where the tablecloths, cloth placemats, napkins, and the finer silverware is kept. Hannibal sighs to himself, trying his best to shrug off his sour mood, and finds it is easier as Abigail trots downstairs and skips into the kitchen.

"Hello, darling," he says, and cups her head when she bounds over to him, hugging her shoulders briefly before she pulls away to get herself a glass of water. "How are you feeling?"

"Good!" Abigail chirps in reply. "I miss Doctor Bloom. Why doesn't she visit more often?"

"I'll take the blame for that," Hannibal replies lightly. He wants to ask her what she talked about with Alana, how it made her feel, his own psychiatric training pricking at his brain, eager to dissect and exhume, but he resists. He will wait until he has spoken with Alana, at least. "We've been very busy, but I'll make sure we all get to see each other more often."

Abigail smiles at him, and her eyes fall to the baking tray as Hannibal pulls it out and sets it on the hob. She breathes in deeply and Hannibal smiles at her when she takes the heat protectors from him and slides them on, cradling the dish carefully in her small hands, and marches towards the dining room. She likes setting the table herself, as the true lady of the house.

For side dishes, Hannibal has prepared steamed broccoli and buttered carrots, in no mood to make anything to his normal standard of cooking. He brings them in, exchanging places with Abigail as she fetches plates, and then returns for Alana's glass, and his own, while Abigail gets her water. They all settle, Abigail on his right side, Alana on his left. He dishes out portions of the roast and the sides, and sits.

Alpha eats first, that's always the tradition, and so he quickly separates his first bite and eats it, and Abigail follows suit soon after, eagerly tucking into her food. Hannibal hears her chair creak as her legs swing wildly under the table, and he smiles at her, glad that she is so much more resilient than he is. Or maybe she was just too young to miss her mother as much as Hannibal does. Either way, there is mercy in that.

Alana lets out another pleased sound at the flavor of the food, and smiles at him. "Delicious as always," she says. "I've missed your cooking."

"Abigail was just mentioning a similar sentiment," Hannibal replies, and looks to her. "I shall have to invite you over more often. Forgive me for being a less than attentive friend."

"It's no trouble at all," she says kindly. Sympathetically. Hannibal used to hate that look, and would so-often receive it the months after his mate's death. He finds it less aggravating now, though perhaps it's simply because Alana is the only other person who can come close to feeling the loss so starkly.

For a while, there is only the sounds of clinking silverware and the occasional swallow. It's a static kind of silence, a cat with its pupils wide and fur bristled up, waiting for the moment to lunge. As strange and impossible a thought it is, Hannibal cannot help feeling like they're simply waiting for his mate to show up. He would often work late, and insisted Hannibal not delay feeding their daughter or guests if he was held up somewhere. Any minute now, he might come strolling through the door, looking harried but relieved to be home, and settle Hannibal with his sweet scent.

It's impossible, and just makes him ache to think about. He sighs into his wine, and drinks, and tries to push the thought out of his mind.

"It's been so long," Alana says, when the silence goes from tense to unbearable. "What grade are you in now, Abigail?"

"Fourth," Abigail replies, and Hannibal smiles. She's ahead of the rest of her age group by a year, and has proven a sharp and interested child, an eager sponge for all the world's knowledge. Alana gives her a warm smile and nods. "Miss Katz gave me a bunch of books to read, since she says I'm ahead of everyone else and didn't want to hold me back." She sighs, looking very put-upon, and Hannibal hides his smile into his glass of wine.

"That's good," he encourages. "I'm glad Miss Katz isn't trying to make you keep pace with everyone else. Everyone learns at different degrees, and it's just as important to indulge the children who are ahead as much as assisting the ones that need extra help."

Abigail nods, and sighs down at her plate, pushing the few bites left around. "I guess," she murmurs. "I just…"

Hannibal tilts his head.

Abigail meets his eyes, and seems very reluctant to add; "I miss mama reading to me."

Hannibal swallows, and sets his glass down. "I know, darling," he murmurs, and catches Alana's sympathetic eye. Putting Abigail to bed used to be a stream of battles and negotiations. She would not take a bath until she'd been read a story. Would not brush her teeth without her mother reading her another. Would refuse to go to sleep except when he would sit in bed with her, stroking her hair as he read to her. As she grew older and tired of her books, she would insist he make up stories, new ones, and the occasional song. It was a rare night that the hours after bed were not filled with the sound of his mate's voice, parlaying with their spirited daughter until she finally surrendered to sleep. Hannibal didn't have the heart to continue the tradition after he died, and he lacked the imagination to entertain her the same way her mother had.

He sighs again. "I miss him too."

Alana looks distraught, and sips at her beer so she doesn't have to speak. Hannibal doesn't begrudge her inability to soothe – grief, and dealing with those afflicted by it, is such a delicate thing, and manifests in so many ways.

Abigail perks up, then, and says; "Do you still have some of mama's recordings?" Hannibal blinks at her, frowning. "Maybe I can record them and save them in the doll."

His frown deepens. "The…doll?" he repeats.

Abigail nods, and leaps from her chair, hurrying up the stairs. He looks to Alana in question, and finds her flushing guiltily. "I gave her a present," she explains, but before she can say anything further, Abigail has returned clutching a doll to her chest. It's quite large, certainly no Barbie or anything else Hannibal has given her to play with in the past. She goes up to Hannibal, turns it, and presents the doll proudly.

Hannibal blinks at it. Its face is reminiscent of older porcelain models, with pale skin and big, blue eyes, a vacant smile showing a slip of painted teeth. Its hair is brown, and made of fine-looking hair-like plastic so it can be styled and combed. Its body is limp, but articulated, so that it can be positioned and moved, and it's dressed in a plain-looking vaguely worker uniform, like that of a teacher, with a polo shirt, sweater vest, slacks, and simple black shoes.

It also, Hannibal notes with a small pulse of discomfort, bears a striking resemblance to Abigail's mother, in the color of its eyes and hair. Even the smile is lopsided.

He breathes out, and takes it, testing the give of its joints and the softness of its middle area. There's a hard piece towards the back, and he turns the doll, pushing up its stitched clothing to reveal a seam at the back, held by Velcro, so the fabric casing can be removed and washed.

"It has a recorder inside," Abigail tells him, rocking on her heels. "You can record phrases and it'll say them back to you."

Hannibal's head tilts, and he breathes in, frowning at the scent of lavender that greets him. He opens the seam of the doll to find the aforementioned recording device, as well as a small satchel that is the source of the scent.

He clears his throat, and hands it back to her. "Make sure to take good care of it," he tells her sternly. She nods solemnly, and cradles the doll like a child, and it's large enough to rival the size of a toddler and looks huge in her arms. The doll smiles up at her, and she carefully sets it down on the chair next to hers, before climbing back into her place to finish her meal.

Hannibal doesn't mind dolls – he can certainly appreciate good craftsmanship, and Abigail owned similar toys when she was much younger. They're all in storage now. They would have been given to Mischa when she was born, but alas, that never happened. He thought her past that age, but of course, has no intention of telling her something as silly as that she's too old to play with dolls.

Alana seems nervous, her scent somewhat sharper than normal, and they finish the rest of their meal in silence. After, Abigail has homework, and so she goes upstairs to work on it, taking the doll with her, and Alana helps Hannibal with gathering the dishes and bringing them back to the kitchen.

"A doll," he says, once the sink is full of soapy water and he can begin cleaning.

Alana nods. "You told me that you didn't want her to feel like she couldn't talk to you, but that her daydreams were troubling you." She lifts her shoulders in a shrug, and helps him with drying and putting away the dishes when he hands them to her. "The recording device has a Bluetooth connection and can be streamed to your email, so you can listen in on what she says to it. And it gives her someone to talk to."

Hannibal hums. "I don't want to invade her privacy," he says.

"And you won't be, not really," Alana replies. "But it relieves the pressure on you of having to put up a front for her. You can listen to what she's saying, and if you hear something troubling, address it on your own terms." She clears her throat, and adds; "It's a proven technique for children who might be dealing with repressed issues. And the lavender sachet will help calm her, and help her sleep. You can get refills at most pharmacies."

Hannibal considers this, but can't deny that there's an attractiveness to being able to hear what Abigail is saying without having to, as Alana said, 'put up a front'. If she is truly having trouble, then the doll is an outlet for her, someone to speak to who won't yell at her for having dreams of her mother.

He sighs, and looks down at his hands. "Did you have to give her one that looked so much like him?"

Alana pauses, biting her lower lip. She shakes her head. "I didn't think about it," she murmurs. Hannibal nods. "If it's going to bother you that much, I can take it away. Give her a stuffed bear or something."

"No," Hannibal sighs, "she's already attached to it. It's no trouble."

She smiles at him, and squeezes his shoulder. "I'll show you how to set up the stream," she tells him, and Hannibal nods. They finish with the dishes and Alana walks him through setting up a link between the doll and his email – the Bluetooth recorder connects easily, and she tells him that the batteries should be good for a long while, but that the doll may sound garbled when the batteries are dying. "They should be easy to replace," she adds. "Just remove the recorder and change them out. You'll get an email each morning with everything it picked up, though I'll admit I'm not certain how clear the receiver is."

"I'm sure it will suit," Hannibal replies evenly, setting his tablet to one side. He offers her a refill, which she accepts, and they both settle in the study. "Is there anything I should be on the lookout for?"

Alana sighs. "Well, she misses her mother, that much is obvious," she says, and Hannibal nods. "Like I told you before, it's not unheard of for children, or even adults, to cling to an image of their lost loved one because they were robbed of some sense of closure. Her mother was taken from her without any warning, and even now I'm not sure she really understands what, exactly, happened."

"I'll admit some fault on that," Hannibal says with a sigh. "It's…difficult to talk about."

Alana nods, her eyes dark and soft. "I understand, but I wanted to suggest…. Maybe you should seek some counseling too. You're a textbook case, Hannibal, even if you don't want to admit it. Isolating yourself and only paying attention to what's left of your pack is a common Alpha response."

"Would it have been better for me to mate again?" Hannibal says, sharper than he intended. She winces. "Are you suggesting I'm not enough to raise Abigail?"

"You know I'm not suggesting that, don't be deliberately obtuse," she replies, and Hannibal's lips twitch in a smile. She never was one to just sit and take his sour moods, nor those of his mate. She has the luxury of being a woman, and above the basic things that make Alphas and Omegas lose their minds over each other, but that also means she will never know what it's like to be so bonded to someone – God willing, she'll never know that kind of loss, either. Even in his darkest hour, Hannibal would never wish that upon her. "I'm just saying that maybe you need someone to talk to, as well. Someone who's removed from the entire situation."

"Like a doll," Hannibal mutters.

She lifts her brows, and her chin. "If that's what it takes," she replies primly, and then grins. "Maybe you could do with someone eavesdropping on you from time to time."

He forces himself to laugh, though it's somewhat flat. "I appreciate you talking to her," he says. "And if you recommend she sees you for regular sessions, you'll find no protest from me. But let's focus on her, for now." He sighs, and rubs a hand over his knee. "I'm not the one hallucinating him, after all."

Alana's head tilts. "Did you ever?" she asks, and sounds more curious than anything else.

"I'll admit, when Abigail first started this whole exercise, part of me wanted to believe it," he says. "I would go to her room and check under the bed, and the closest, and foolishly thought maybe…. That maybe he would be there. I wanted him to be there, but of course, he never was." He swallows. "In the end, practicality won out."

"Grief is like a ball bouncing around inside our chests," Alana murmurs. "At first, it's huge, and knocks against us constantly. Time shrinks it, but every now and again we're hit with it as if it's brand new." She looks down at her drink, and takes a sip.

"Does it strike you often?" Hannibal asks.

She nods. "I went to therapy for two years after he died," she tells him. "I guess you could say, of the five stages, anger affected me the most. I was pissed – with him, for leaving. With you, for getting him pregnant. At myself, for introducing you two in the first place." She swallows, and takes another drink. Hannibal meets her eyes – it's the most he can remember them ever speaking about that dark time. Though all times seem greyed-out, for him, since that day. "But I couldn't stay angry, for my own health. And I owed it to my friends, myself, and his memory to try and move on."

"Moving on can be awfully close to forgetting," Hannibal says. He doesn't know whether he's deliberately trying to aggravate her, but deliberate or not, her eyes flash, and she fixes him with a scolding look. He sighs again. "Forgive me. I think I'm projecting."

"You will never forget him, because you have Abigail," Alana says, and then looks around the room, "but at the same time, it's like he never lived here. You've robbed yourself of your own closure."

"Would you rather there be a shrine?"

Alana huffs at him, and rolls her eyes. "I can tell you're in a mood to piss me off," she says, but she's smiling. "I suppose it's only my own fault if I let you. I'm just saying that maybe letting him in once in a while wouldn't be the end of the world. Like it or not, Hannibal, you're as human as the rest of us. You have to let yourself feel it, if you're ever going to be happy again."

He can't think of anything to say to that, and so he merely sits quietly, drinking as she does. When her glass is empty, he offers her the guest bedroom. When she refuses, he offers to call her a cab, and she refuses again. She seems steady enough to drive, and so he relents once she promises to text him once she's home, and he walks her to the door.

"Thank you for dinner," she says with a smile, and embraces him. He hugs her back, nose in her hair and arms wrapped tight around her shoulders. He releases her after a moment, and she leaves. He holds the door open until he sees her get into her car, and then closes and locks it.

He's exhausted, and wants nothing more than to sleep, and he heads upstairs. He passes by Abigail's room, and hears her laughing, and it warms him and settles his disquieted thoughts. If nothing else, he will not fail her – whatever his reservations are about Alana's methods, he will hold his judgement until he can see the effects of them.

Even if the doll does nothing more than give Abigail someone to talk to, and tell her dreams to, and it stops her coming into Hannibal's room at night insisting her mother is still with them, then that's still progress. Even if he never ends up moving on, and dies old and alone with heartbreak still fresh in his chest, at least he can leave this mortal coil knowing he did not pass that sadness on to Abigail, and will meet his mate in the next life. It will have been worth the wait.