The next morning, Will was taken out for another walk. He wasn’t quite sure if was Lecter’s plan to give him walks, feed him three times a day, and give him mental stimulation simply to keep him compliant; he debated tossing around something snarky about having a new role akin to a pet, but that reminded him of Winston and his being left behind when Will was taken.
He fervently hoped Jack took him in before he was taken to a pound.
His caretaker was Molly –Hannibal wasn’t going to be kind, apparently. He was allowed just along the line of trees in the backyard that stretched and stretched. Sunlight clawed its way over the rooftop behind him, fingers of gold highlighting pink cirrus stratus.
“That’s far enough,” Molly said when the tips of his shoes brushed against the fallen leaves. Not too many had dropped yet, but enough. Enough to look like autumn. Enough to feel like a sense of change was brimming, something that could only foretell death. He dug his shoe into one, disappointed when it didn’t crackle and come apart.
“Who is the kid?” he asked.
“My son,” she said after far too long.
“I didn’t know you had a son.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Will,” she replied curtly.
Will hummed an assent and bent down to retrieve the leaf he’d stepped on. “I’ll agree to that.”
They continued on in silence broken only by his occasional stepping on a twig or her short, curt coughs in the cold air. He wondered if the entire duration of his stay would be filled with such pregnant pauses, words left unsaid due to far too many necessary to share. There wasn’t enough time in the world to make this comfortable. There wasn’t enough space in his mind to find solace in their lies.
“I’m curious,” he said finally, walking along the perimeter of the trees. “How did you find him? Did he find you? Did you write to him?”
It took a long time for her to reply –Will felt it was as much her way of trying to find the right words as it was her trying to decide if she’d even answer him.
“He found me.”
“What…drew you to him? So much that you are willing to bring your child into this?”
“Oh, Will,” she sighed. “You won’t use my child against me to make me feel guilty.”
He turned back to her, twisting the stem of the leaf around in his fingers. It spun wildly, fluttering about. It make the air smell like bitter, crisp maple.
“I’m not,” he said. “One of the others…she had a boyfriend and a son. She walked into a police station and was willingly shot down. Beverly had asked me why she would do that when she had a soulmate, but I can see the question is a stupid one, now. She knew why and how and what. I don’t. I don’t have a child, Molly. I don’t know what motivates, what moves you.”
“Dr. Lecter saved me, Will,” she informed him. “You had a great gift in being one of his patients. You told Beverly that it was more calming than she thought it’d be. Isn’t that enough of an answer for you?”
“No,” he said bluntly. “No, it’s not. Not after I found out just who he was beneath his skin…what motivated him. It wasn’t calming after that.”
“Life motivates, Will,” she said. “We are, for being such capable, powerful beings, are fragile people. Every day, we walk the line between life and death, and Dr. Lecter revels in it. He takes as he likes because he can see that line, and he rejects it. We don’t have to fear death if we control death.”
“I’d have never asked you on a second date if you’d said something like that on our first,” Will informed her.
“People spend so much time trying to survive life when we should embrace it,” she continued, ignoring him. Her gaze traveled along the lawn, pausing on a few figures in the distance that were also enjoying an early morning stroll. “How many times did you tell me that you woke up and felt like you were drowning?”
“Too many.” He looked to where she stared, and her back stiffened perceptively. She looked like one of the toy soldiers in the toy shops his father often took him to, at attention and aware of all that surrounded her. He’d stared at their neat, straight lines and ached for them, these beings that stood patiently still, waiting to die in the end.
“You told me that you were just trying to survive.”
“I did,” he agreed. “I had to survive Dr. Lecter. No matter what I thought, what I tried to feel…I had to survive him, like Jack Crawford had to survive him, like everyone that had to be in his presence when his person suit was gone had to survive him. I’ve spent six years surviving him. I’m trying to understand so that I can keep surviving him.”
“That’s your problem, Will,” she said with a forlorn sigh. She looked away from the figures in the distance and fixed him with a cold stare. “You’ve spent so long trying to survive while I have spent my time trying to overcome. It’s made all the difference.”
He mulled that over as they took a final lap of the house and he was returned to his room. He kept his bruised maple leaf and turned it over in his hands as he sat on a bed too comfortable for him to sleep well in. His palms were damp from the cracked edges of the leaf, and he pressed them tight together, letting the scent carry over his skin to seep in.
He took the stick of gum from his pants pocket and popped it into his mouth to chew. He chewed and chewed and chewed until he no longer felt the grit of sugar rubbing on his teeth, until it became smooth and hard to chew on. Just before he was fetched for breakfast, he opened the door and poked his head out, looking around. A guard stood just at the bottom of the stairs, but that was alright. He took the chunk of gum and stuffed it into the opening where the deadbolt would go, fitting it so that it wouldn’t be noticed right away. Then he closed the door once more and sat down on the trunk at the foot of the bed, fiddling with the maple leaf.
He rather liked the notion of Molly’s statement, how she’d stood at stiff attention and stared to the distance with a challenge in her eyes. She’d decided that she wasn’t going to merely survive. She was going to overcome.
Will figured he could try something much like that, too.
While Will Graham stood outside in the early morning light and questioned his tumultuous ex-lover about her dubious actions, Abigail Hobbs sat beside her father at the breakfast table and watched the room with rapt attention.
Not everyone was gathered there, but that was alright. Dr. Hannibal Lecter sat at the head of the table, and that made the meal special. She took a large bite of the carefully cubed fruit and savored the taste of a honeyed, sweetened glaze. Beside her, her father ate with his head ducked and his eyes half-lidded, not quite awake but not quite asleep. He’d had the night shift guarding the perimeter of the house.
She glanced back down the table where Dr. Lecter sat and chatted amiably with Beverly Katz, remarking on the food and the general house. Beverly was something of a saint, she figured, the way that people watched her. Abigail supposed it was because she’d kept so close to Will Graham of all people, befriending him and ensuring that when the time came, he’d be alright.
His appearance throughout the house was somewhat ghost-like, but her father said that was normal. Some people needed time to adjust.
Abigail wasn’t just ‘some people’ though. She’d been more than happy to join the house where it was safe. Secure. When she’d stood on the steps of the house, she’d watched Will Graham’s arrival with something like the starved desperation of a person seeing a life line extended. Will Graham meant hope. She hadn’t pressed to him, touching him with a wild desperation like the others had, but she’d certainly felt like it. Everything she’d been working for, since that day she first wrote to Dr. Lecter…
Things were going to be alright.
“Quit staring at him, darlin’,” her father murmured good-naturedly. “He’s not going anywhere.”
Not anymore he wasn’t. Now that Dr. Lecter was free, he could be the leader they’d all been so patiently waiting for.
“I just want to hear him speak to us,” she said quietly.
“He will, don’t worry. Morning and evening meetings will be done by him rather than Mr. Brown, now that he’s here.”
And sure enough, at the end of breakfast, when chatter and the morning noises of clinking silverware and mouths gulping down freshly made, gourmet coffee faded, Dr. Lecter stood up and surveyed each and every one of them with something much like kindness on his face.
“Today…is a special day,” he said, and everyone nodded along. This was what they’d been planning for so long, after all. “Not only am I here before you, able to thank each and every one of you personally for what you’ve done not only for me, but for everyone here…we also have Will Graham.”
There were shared smiles, mouths wide with the truth and realities of what they could all enjoy and hope for. Abigail tracked each and every one, noted them and nodded along.
“The FBI has no idea where we are; there are no leads, no witnesses to our actions. Like a shadow, we moved with swift action, and look at what that’s brought us: success.”
“Yes!” someone agreed, their head bobbing with the emotion behind their words.
“Success,” another murmured humbly.
“To you, I have only this home of safety and my words of encouragement to offer; the world that has turned away from you, bruised and broken you, given you nothing but sorrow and weighted minds is of no consequence. Together, we are made whole, stronger with our unified minds and ideas that live, adapt, and grow.”
Another bout of nodding, eyes wide. Abigail looked from them to him, a small jolt of shock and pleasure zinging down her spine when she saw him watching her in turn.
“You brought me Will Graham,” he continued –did she mistake a sly, quick wink tossed her way? –and turned, lifting his glass up to them. “It was only through you that my own happiness, my own soulmate could be brought to me. Though his eyes are unchanged now, he will see just what we can offer him, what we can help him Become.”
She met eyes with a man that couldn’t quite keep her stare, and she smiled encouragingly at him. After a beat, he looked away from her and smiled, too, eyes cast to his food as though it could give him an answer.
“And now, with it having come to pass, I will give what each and every one of you have desired since the very beginning, when we first dared to believe in more than just our flesh and bone and the bonds of mortal men: The Red Death.”
“The Red Death,” everyone murmured, and Abigail murmured along with them, the low thrum of their voices creating the sort of hum that settled low and deep in her gut, warmed her like a quick sip of hot chocolate.
“And to the time that comes after,” Hannibal added, and there was a smattering of laughter before everyone began applauding, eyes bright, turned towards their future.
Their future stood at approximately six feet in height and wore twill suits in summer.
As if on cue, Francis Dolarhyde entered the room, primal and mildly terrifying to behold with the dark set of his gaze. Abigail wasn’t one to be intimidated so easily, though, no matter quite what she projected to the world. When his stare fell to her, she shifted in her chair and met it head on, nodding subtly, just once. He nodded back, thin lips compressing tightly.
“Welcome, Francis,” Hannibal greeted warmly as the applause died down. He passed another smile over the table, then sat down in order to resume breakfast. “And truly, thank you you; all of you.”
Francis dipped his head to Lecter, then circled the room at an idle, lazy pace. To anyone else, it appeared that he searched for an open chair, a place in which he could sit to eat. Abigail wasn’t just anyone, though. As he walked behind her chair, she swung a hand casually around the back of it so that she could hold up four fingers.
“He’s always late to these things,” her father noted quietly. He buried his face into his coffee and made no other comment after.
Breakfast came to an end, and Abigail remained, feigning aid in cleaning up the mess from the meal. When she saw Francis lingering by the door, she glanced about to ensure that her father had already left to go to sleep, then walked out into the empty hall.
“Dr. Lecter would like to see you in his study,” he said. He had a quiet manner of speech, but Abigail wasn’t fooled –two years of living in the house had given her a thorough knowledge of each and every person, their strengths and their weaknesses. Although quiet, Francis was by far the most dangerous –moreso than her own father.
Barring Dr. Lecter, of course.
When she walked in, she was greeted with a firm handshake and a brief hug that made her clothes feel too tight. Years of wondering over his person gave her the scent of cedar wood and whispered promises, the after tang of cloves just under her nose. Before the fireplace, tea for two had been set, and she accepted her cup with a dip of her head. Her heart pounded a rough staccato against her chest, creating random divots. She’d been waiting for this for years –longer than she’d even been in the house, longer than she’d even first heard the words ‘Hello, Abigail,’ come out of the good doctor’s mouth.
“By far, you are one of the most resourceful people I’ve come to know, Abigail,” Dr. Lecter began, and Abigail felt her cheeks burn red. He sat down across from her and got comfortable, one leg crossed elegantly over the other.
“I try,” she said, and he waved a hand lightly.
“You succeed where many before you have failed.” He paused to take a sip of his tea. Despite the years of prison, Dr. Lecter was a refined sort of man –a far cry above her own father who’d all but fallen into his drink. “Francis informed me that you counted four?”
“Yes,” she said with a nod.
“And you’re sure it’s four.”
“Yes,” she affirmed. “I checked once more, just to make sure.”
Hannibal Lecter nodded thoughtfully and looked to the fireplace. It wasn’t yet cold enough to have it going, but he studied the wood in the grate all the same, like it could tell him the solution to his problem. Four. Four wasn’t necessarily bad, but it wasn’t quite good.
“I think that I know why,” she said after a beat, and he looked back to her. His brow was deep-set, his cheeks gaunt. At that angle, she could see a hint of his time as an inmate, a whisper at the edge of his jaw that said he hadn’t eaten so well then.
“Tell me your thoughts,” he said, and she sat forward, on the edge of her seat. She’d been waiting for this, a chance to share her thoughts and impress him. If he was impressed, she wouldn’t have to worry for a thing.
“Will Graham…when he arrived here, many people were overcome. They reached out and tried to touch him, and he was afraid. For some that witnessed that, they whispered that it wasn’t quite right to bring a man here against his will.”
“He hasn’t yet seen enough to understand,” Hannibal assured her.
“Oh, I know,” Abigail replied immediately. “But…those that may have already doubted or been unsure of themselves, to them see someone so scared –did Francis tell you that they actually grabbed him and held on?”
“He did.” Hannibal sounded mildly amused at that.
“I understand why they did that, but it not only made him afraid of us, but it made any doubters uncertain, too. It was supposed to be a warm welcome, but Mr. Graham looked prepared to run if he thought he could have gotten away fast enough.”
“What do you suppose should be done?” he asked. Abigail had an answer for that, too.
“A dinner to welcome Will Graham officially, to show our best side. If he doesn’t look so afraid, or if he can as least see that we’re not all quite like that, it will soften him towards our cause. His ease would probably ease their doubt, as well.”
“And what if that doesn’t quite work, Abigail?”
“Then we kill them,” she said, and the stare she fixed on him was intent, unwavering. “That was the deal, wasn’t it? You protect me from my father trying to kill me, I find your weak spots within our cause and silence them if necessary.”
“That was the deal, yes.”
Abigail busied her hands with her tea, turning the cup about in its dainty, delicate saucer. Spying a Lady Finger, she grabbed one and nibbled on it, her jaw set. She’d killed before. Perhaps if she asked someone else nicely, they’d hold a rag for her to clean her hands with after.
“When you first reached out to Francis on the internet, I had my misgivings because of your age,” Hannibal said when she could say nothing else. He had a way of staring that pierced through you, fixing you to the spot. Abigail chewed furiously at her biscuit, staring down at his shoe rather than meet his gaze. “But not only are you intelligent, you know just how dangerous it can be to fail, even with a singular misstep.
“Tell me, did he make you kill your mother to come here, or did he do it?”
Abigail washed the crumbs down with the tea and cleared her throat. “I killed her.”
“All for protection and amnesty against him.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Dr. Lecter,” she said, redirecting but not-quite changing the subject. “He listens to Francis, but…he respects you more. When we heard word that your plan was set into motion, he said that he’d want to honor someone for you. It wasn’t in reference to me, either.”
“And just how is your father?” Hannibal wondered.
“More night shifts wouldn’t hurt, Dr. Lecter,” she replied after a moment of thought. “He can’t kill me if he’s too tired to think about it.”
“I’ll take him with me for a tour of the grounds today,” Hannibal decided. “After he’s woken up.”
“Thank you,” Abigail said sincerely.
They finished their tea, and she was sent off to socialize, to better glean more information from those that doubted. They weren’t necessarily bad people, Abigail thought, as she sat down and played checkers with the boy that’d smiled at her during breakfast. In reality, their questioning of their place in Dr. Lecter’s following was a sign of just how not bad they were, that they could see the flaws in his designs on someone not interested in him.
Still, though. If there was one thing Abigail had learned about herself when she first began searching for people online that could kill her father before her father killed her, it was that self-preservation was far more important than flowery things such as morals or integrity.
And if there was a way to make use of her father’s talents without someone having to stick a knife in his neck, so much the better. He made a relatively good deer steak.
Will ate breakfast and lunch alone in the kitchen, which was fine by him. Beverly tried to coax him to the dining room, but he’d quelled her with a look that sent her away. Lecter was busy with something, although the what of it wasn’t entirely clear. It was fine, though. Will preferred eating alone rather than having to endure someone with one of his eyes staring at him and waiting for him to take theirs in return. Day three in the house, and he still had two seafoam blues.
He shuddered at the thought of one day waking up and that changing.
He wasn’t given direction to go anywhere or do any specific thing after eating, so he sat out on the outside steps with one of the guards just behind him. The front lawn was just as beautiful, a serene world in which nothing but the house and its secrets survived, cut off from the rest of the world and its struggles. The entire idea was surreal, and there was a sort of disconnect to Will, an idea that this couldn’t be true –wouldn’t he wake up soon? Surely this was all just a dream?
A car came up the drive, and Will stood. Just behind him –Howard? Matt? Glen? –moved around him to track their slow, awkward progress as the car jerked, stopped, then continued in a crooked line.
“Matt, you’ve got visual?” the man said into an earpiece at his ear. Not Matt, then. Howard or Glen, probably.
The car shuddered to a stop, gave a whining lurch, then turned off. It was the action of it that was unsettling to Will, worse still the silence that followed as the guard calmly removed the gun from his holster. The look he gave Will was chilling and clear: don’t move.
When a man stumbled from the car, though, covered in blood, Will found himself distinctly disobeying that silent demand. He rushed down the steps and caught the man before he could fall to the gravel. His skin was cold, clammy, and he didn’t seem to truly see Will as he moaned, low and pained.
“H-he needs medical attention!” Will shouted, hauling him towards the steps. The guard hurried after him, whatever shock that’d frozen him thawing at the sound of Will’s panic. They each took an arm over their shoulders and carried him, the guard barking orders as the doors opened to admit them entrance.
“G-Got…got…Alyss,” the man said, teeth chattering.
“Don’t talk, Nate, just wait,” the guard urged, and looked at Will around Nate’s head. “Follow me.”
“He needs to go to a hospital!”
“No he doesn’t,” the guard snapped. “Follow me.”
Will reluctantly followed him deeper into the house, past the doors to parlors and living rooms and drawing rooms. At the far back of the house, in one of the rooms Hannibal hadn’t let him see, the guard stopped to fumble with his keys, unlocking the door with shaking fingers. It opened to admit them, and Will followed him into a room that, for all intents and purposes, was more along the lines of a torture chamber than a hospital room.
“Here, put him…I need Clarence in the medic room right fucking now,” he growled into his earpiece. They hauled Nate onto a gurney, and Will made quick work of removing his shirt, ripping it off of him so that they could see the damage.
He’d never been much of a hunter, but even he could recognize what a shotgun wound looked like.
“I’m here, I’m here,” a man said, striding into the room. He was followed by three others, each of them skirting around Will as they rushed towards a sink at the back and washed their hands, chattering all at once as the guard informed them of what little he knew.
In the midst of the hubbub, Will was pushed, pulled, and gently but firmly booted from the room. As the door shut and locked, all that he could see was the pale, clammy skin of a man that most certainly wasn’t going to make it through the day, let alone the night.
He was left in the hall with its dim lighting and oil paintings, and Will stood there for some time, staring down at his hands. Blood was an ugly sort of color, the kind that muddied everything it touched, turned it old and aged. A door slammed in the distance, and he jolted, shuffling along the hall, but when he reached the end and turned back, he found that he’d tracked some of the blood into the carpet, oblong and disjointed steps of red that spelled the end for Nate.
“Oh my god, are you alright?” he turned around at the voice, pausing on the face of a young woman who couldn’t have been older than eighteen. She was wind-chafed, the kind of pretty like the old America Dolls with shiny blue eyes and rosy cheeks. Kewpie dolls, he remembered them as being called, and the only cousin he’d ever met had a hoard of them that she put wigs on whenever she wanted to play Tea Party.
“It’s not my blood,” he informed her, as though that made it any better.
“Is someone hurt?” she asked, and she looked genuinely afraid. Her brows knit over a genuinely terrified expression.
“Oh, yes,” he said, and he took stock of his blood-stained shirt and skin. There was a smear of it along his arm, curling over the elbow to stop just at the wrist. The man had leaned on him. Not knowing who he was, the one-called-Nate had leaned on him in his weakest moment, even as Will felt him dying.
“I’ll…I’ll go get someone,” she managed, and she hurried down the hall, shouting for help.
Help had already come, he reasoned, as he made his way up the stairs in order to shower the feeling of dying off of his skin. Help had come for Nate, but if those wounds were any indication, it wasn’t there fast enough. He wondered if he’d have saved Jack Crawford’s life so easily if Hannibal had taken a shotgun to him rather than a knife used for cutting linoleum and the like.