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Cocky, cocky, she says, a vicious whisper inside her head. Each syllable matching a scrape of her foot along the concrete path, slowing and uneven. What she means is stupid but she's trying to be kinder on herself, these days. She's trying to be sure of who she is.

A young couple approaches, stepping into the generous spill of light from one of the odd, old-fashioned lamps that light the park's winding paths, and Abigail forces herself to move more smoothly, hold herself more upright. She's already transferred her scarf from neck to head in order to hide the worst of the blood that's matting her hair, and her coat is a good dark material that shows no stains, so all she has to do is keep her face in order. She's practiced. She's fine.

They're barely older than she is, these young people. The girl meets Abigail's eyes for less than a second, too involved in laughing at some joke that Abigail's French is not yet good enough to comprehend. The boy has a mobile, well-made face that reminds Abigail fleetingly of Will. He nods at her, catching her gaze with an interest that's half tipsy courtesy and half instinct for danger, and Abigail makes herself nod back without hinting at the throb of agony that this calls up in her skull. Then they're next to her, they're passing by, and she's alone again with the shadows.

She exhales as slowly as she can. Her entire chest still shudders and aches. Creeping up on her is a niggling worry that she won't make it back to the apartment; she could collapse and be found by kindly strangers, or--oh, the fucking irony--by some other predator. One less dangerous than herself and hers, but also less injured. Scavengers will attack a dying lion as mercilessly as anything else.

Abigail pulls to a halt and leans against a tree, in a dark pocket between lamps. It's that or stagger. The dizzy throb of her head is getting worse, and every deep breath she takes to force oxygen up to her brain's blood supply causes knives to embrace her chest. She's never been in this much pain. Even when she was chasing her own death on a kitchen floor, staring up at the two men whose hands have since made and remade her in their own images, she wasn't in pain. A clean cut and the numbing euphoria of shock.

And since then she's known little hurts, good hurts: burns and cuts on her fingertips from Hannibal's kitchen tutelage, her body stretching too eagerly in her desire to accommodate Will's hungry thrusts. Blisters on her heels and toes from beautiful shoes worn for the first time. The deep, satisfying ache of muscle as she learned to defend herself.

Learned, but not well enough.

She pushes away from the tree and keeps walking. Every step, too, is a lesson, the pain conditioning her body. She is uneasily aware that she is alive and her prey dead, instead of the other way around, only because she had the presence of mind to play little-girl-lost even as he cracked her ribs. Forcing him to hesitate in the face of her wide eyes and her pleading voice, just long enough for her to pull the second knife out of her boot.

She was cocky. She was--no, not stupid, Abigail. Rash. Ambitious. Showing off, wanting more than anything the proud quirk of Hannibal's lips when she gave him her trophy; craving the desperate shiver of Will's fingers on her neck as she whispered songs of death into his ear and let his heart take up the beat.

The apartment is only two streets away from the edge of the park, but it takes all of her energy to make it there and to fumble her way through the street door, her keys striking up a minor din in her misbehaving hands. The stairs up to the second floor defeat her. She sits down on the first-floor landing and leans her head gingerly against the expensive paint and breathes, in and out, contemplating sleep while the world goes softly grey.


She cries out when someone slides their arm under her shoulder, and dislikes herself for crying out, but it feels as though her ribs are slicing into lung. Though they aren't; she knows what that looks like, on a living human being.

Her scarf has slipped down again, and is loose around her neck. But it's Will, so she doesn't feel too bad about bleeding all over his shirt. He guides her up the last set of stairs, his grip just tight enough to provide the support she needs, and then he opens the door with his foot and they're home.

It's so quiet. No music, she realises; this time of night there is always music playing in their lovely apartment in this lovely corner of Paris, and there are always delicate wide-lipped glasses holding splashes of sweet brown spirits, and Hannibal reading by lamplight with Will's curls in his lap.

Hannibal is standing. His face is uncreased but she can read something in the way his shirtsleeves have been folded back, the way his presence fills the room and sweeps over her. And the silence, into which a clock ticks with soft and fretful precision.

"Abigail," he says, just like Will had said, and his eyes take her in. She wants to stand straight for him but she's so tired; she leans against Will and waits for him to walk over to them, instead.

"I didn't bring you anything," she says. "I tried, but--it was messy. I left it."

Her hands were shaking with adrenalin and she'd mangled the initial incision, gone too deep and ruined the surgical planes.

Hannibal gives her a fond and subtle lifting of his lips and unwinds her scarf, lifting it clear without causing any further pain. The blood from her scalp has trickled down the side of her neck, and it itches now as it's exposed to the air.

Hannibal bends his head with eyes the colour of nothing, of promises and invisible ink, to bite gently at her skin. She can feel the maddening rough scrape of his tongue, can feel it when he presses his lips hard against her pulse and creates a mark. As though having tasted her spilled blood where it lies, he wants to suck it to the surface and have it again.

"My dear girl," he says. "We would not lose you yet."

Will shifts at her side, leans down and kisses her, and there's a new burn beneath the old when she tastes paprika and red wine on his lips. She wants him, she always wants him, the crooked heat of his mouth and the way he makes her nerves trill like a tongued flute. Her body is a battered collection of flesh wrapped around the hardy steel of her bones, she hurts as she has never hurt, and she wants these men to squeeze her between them until she bleeds anew.

"I'm sorry," she says, though she's not sure if it's true. "I'll be more prepared, next time."

Next time she will remember this painful stretch of her self, like a muscle held too long in one position, and be the stronger for it. Next time she knows that Hannibal will talk her sternly through the plan of the hunt until her throat is dry. Next time Will might be twenty steps behind her with a protective gun in his hand and the terrible roar of a mythical beast in his mind, the fire of dragons in his beautiful eyes.

Right now she accepts their anger, their investigation of her dented anatomy, and the love that lies beneath it. She closes her eyes as Hannibal kisses blood from her temple; as Will undoes her clothes and lays his hand flat along her ribcage, soothing and cold over the place where the bruises will bloom.