Abigail wakes up in the middle of the night and finds herself thirsty. She throws the covers back and gets out of bed – the mattress is so plush, she must always more or less roll herself off of it – and pads down the hall and downstairs to the kitchen.
She’s within arm’s reach of the cupboard when she hears a noise coming from the adjacent living room. It could be interpreted as a noise of distress, and yet hearing it sends a thrill down her spine of a different nature. Nonetheless, she slides a kitchen knife from the block on the island, holds it the way she was taught. She moves completely silently now, along the wall, where the wooden floor does not creak. She checks the pattern of light and shadow on the ground, and finds that yes, if she were to peer around the doorway, into the living room, she would remain obscured.
What she sees nearly makes her drop the knife. But she is a hunter; she knows how to keep still and silent when startled by the sight of something extraordinary and wild.
Light from the street lamps streams in from the window, and clearly illuminates Will and Hannibal’s bodies, which glow with perspiration. Both are entirely naked; there is a scattering of clothing on the floor around the sofa. Will holds Hannibal between his spread thighs, and clutches at his shoulders with both hands, seeming to desire all the physical contact possible. Hannibal obliges him, arms under and around Will’s shoulders, face buried in Will’s neck, murmuring something Abigail cannot discern. Every muscle in Hannibal’s body seems to flex as he ruts: his shoulders round, the curve at the small of his back deepens, his thighs and buttocks tighten, even his toes seek purchase against the sofa as he plows Will with perfect rhythm. Will’s own toes curl as his legs swing in the air, in time with Hannibal’s thrusts. “Yes,” he gasps; whether it is in response to what Hannibal is saying to him or to what Hannibal is doing to him, Abigail does not know.
She can’t seem to focus on just one or the other of them for more than a moment, on Hannibal’s efforts or Will’s ecstasy. They move as one being, one entrancing, writhing entity. The strained grunts, the slapping of skin against skin, it’s not just noise, it is a connection, something meaningful.
Hannibal shifts to make a little room between their bodies, and Will reaches down with one hand to touch himself. It occurs to Abigail that, for the several minutes she’s been watching, she hasn’t seen either of their penises. Just about every other part of their bodies, yes, but that one part, the part that according to her peers was supposed to be the focus, possibly even the sole recipient, of sexual attention paid to a man, has been absent from her sight and her thoughts. To see them both laboring so, and to hear the sounds they make – whether because of the hard work or the resulting pleasure – she thinks only of love, of a physical joy that engulfs the entire body, the entire mind. Something she has never experienced, and envies these two men for.
Will’s breathing is much louder now, and ragged. One of his heels digs into the back of the sofa, the other down into the cushion beneath him. He pushes his hips up; he wants Hannibal to penetrate him more deeply. Hannibal honors his wish, snapping his hips. It looks a little rough to Abigail, but she better understands when Will cries out and she sees an arc of fluid spurt from where Will is gripping himself. He’s wound up so tight, but then something releases from deep within him, and he sighs as his thighs fall open. Hannibal slows his thrusts, but becomes more deliberate, and then stills, his mouth open. He looks down into Will’s eyes.
It is only then that Abigail realizes that she is aching. She needs to get back up to her room, for two reasons, one of which being that she does not want to be caught, now that Will and Hannibal are no longer so wrapped up in each other. She does not want to risk making any noise by trying to replace the knife in the block in near darkness, so she takes it with her back to her room, setting it carefully on the nightstand without so much as a click before diving under the covers, ready to replay in her mind many times over what she has seen.
In the past, Abigail would up first and be fiddling in the kitchen with cereal and milk at this time on a Saturday. These days, she comes downstairs always to find Hannibal already showered and dressed and halfway through a cup of coffee, reading perhaps, or drawing. Abigail wishes she could catch him more often when he’s still in his pajamas and robe (“dressing gown,” he calls it, and she likes that because it sounds sophisticated). Sometimes Will is also up and around before her, but not today.
“Time for breakfast, then,” Hannibal says, closing his book. Abigail notices that he never uses a bookmark.
Abigail follows him to the kitchen, perches herself on a stool across the island from him. “Shouldn’t we wait until Will is up?” She still addresses both men by their names, and not with paternal titles. She’s practiced doing that alone, but it didn’t sound right. Maybe one day.
“I will prepare something for Will later,” Hannibal says mildly. “I hesitate to wake him when he looks as peaceful as he did this morning. He has a lot of lost sleep to catch up on.”
“Do the trick,” Abigail says when she sees Hannibal pluck an egg from the carton. She mimes holding the spatula sideways with one hand.
Hannibal humors her, tossing the egg up and catching it on the blade of the spatula. The egg white and yolk slide down into the bowl, without a fleck of shell or a drop spilled. Abigail almost does a little giddy clap, but Hannibal is always so dignified, she stops herself so that she doesn’t look silly. Instead, she keeps her palms pressed together, bringing the tips of her index fingers to her mouth to obscure her delighted smile.
As if it were the natural thing to say after performing such a feat, Hannibal looks her directly in the eye and says, “I know that you watched Will and I make love last night.”
Abigail presses her hands to her mouth harder, paralyzed with fear. She was always a well-behaved child, and getting in trouble was a rare occurrence, so much so that her mom and dad hardly knew what to do when she misbehaved. They would look at each other, as if to say, What do we do? Do we send her to her room? Their instantaneous disapproving glares, however, would already be more than enough to make her wish that the ground would open up and swallow her down.
And this was not swearing at the dinner table, or bringing home a C on her report card. And Hannibal was not her parents. His punishment for what he had caught her doing could be anything.
Hannibal takes his eyes off her and nudges the egg around in the pan. “Some would consider that quite rude,” he says without inflection. Abigail can feel the sweat trickling from her armpits and down her sides. Hannibal continues: “I know you were careful about it, and I am appreciative of that. I think it would upset Will if he were ever to find out.” And that’s all he says on the matter. He asks Abigail to get up and put on some music.
Abigail chooses Schumann; she can’t remember the name of the song she likes, only the track number, and she skips right to it. The first time she heard Hannibal play it, she identified it aloud as a song from a movie called Milo and Otis that was a staple of her childhood. Hannibal was not familiar with the film.
All three of them are avid readers, and some evenings are spent in a fine collective silence, each of them with their own book, nestled into their own space. There is a plush armchair that only Hannibal ever sits in. Abigail noticed once that, while every other space on the ground floor was essentially communal, Will never, ever sat in that chair. So one evening she sat in it, to see what Hannibal would do. Entering the room with a book in hand, he’d said nothing about it, walked right by Abigail without so much as a raised eyebrow in her direction, and took the wingback chair closer to the fireplace for the evening. After that, although she was not sure why, Abigail wished she hadn’t done it, and never touched the chair again.
This evening, Hannibal is in his chair reading, and Will is supervising Abigail’s tying of her first fishing lure. He praises her patience and precision all throughout, and proudly plucks the finished product from the vise, crossing the room to show to Hannibal. There is no effusive praise from him, but she remains confident; she knows that Hannibal respects all endeavors whose success depends on meticulousness and artistry.
Possessing this new skill is exciting. “I want to make another one,” she says.
Will looks at the clock. She can tell that he thinks it’s too late.
She says to Will, “I can do it on my own. You don’t have to stay up just to supervise.”
Without looking up from his book, Hannibal says, “You’re not tired yourself, are you? Fatigue will compromise the quality of your work.”
“I’m not tired,” she insists. Hannibal closes his book and sets it aside, rises.
“I think we can leave Abigail to it,” he says, and his tone indicates that that is the end of the discussion. He draws nearer to Will, touches Will’s wrist. Abigail watches the blush rise just under Will’s cheekbones. Her eyes flick to the right, and she sees that Hannibal was watching her watching Will. The look Hannibal gives her is just as subtle and loaded with suggestion as the brush of his fingers over Will’s skin.
“Good night, Abigail. Don’t stay up too late.” He turns and walks toward the stairs. Will says good night to her as well. It’s curt, but she knows it’s just because Hannibal overrode his objection. He thinks Hannibal spoils her.
“You let her do whatever she wants,” he says as they climb the stairs.
“Everything she wants to do is within reason,” Hannibal replies, and then they are too far away for her to hear any more.
Abigail sits back down at Will’s desk, gets as far as placing the shank of the hook level in the vise, before she accepts that she will no longer be able to focus on the task, is too curious about what she’ll see if she climbs the stairs. She can tell Will tomorrow that she took Hannibal’s words to heart and decided that she was too tired after all and went to bed.
When she climbs high enough to look over the top stair and down the hallway, she sees a faint light coming from the open door at the end on the right, the master bedroom. She smirks at this; there is no way they weren’t going upstairs to have sex, and she wonders what measures Hannibal took with Will to ensure that he wouldn’t notice the door and insist on it being shut.
Beyond the door, the bed is just to the left. The light in the room comes from a lamp opposite, which is on a rheostat. It has been turned down very low. There is only a sliver of illuminated carpet in the hallway; the door keeps the rest in shadow. Abigail considers the shadow, and then the wall, the top half of which has a light wallpaper and the bottom half of which is dark wood. She crouches down and slips into this shady space.
She is certain that it is no accident that both Will and Hannibal are fully visible from this vantage point. Hannibal stands – as straight-backed and pompous as ever – at the side of the bed, and Will is on his knees in front of him, his hands on Hannibal’s thighs, worshipfully fellating him.
Abigail had seen this act performed once, in an internet video. At home, her old home, the computer was in the family room, but Marissa had her own laptop that she was allowed to use in private, and once when Abigail went to her house, they looked at a porn site. In the video, a man had forcefully put his penis into a girl’s mouth. The girl looked about Abigail’s age, and had long dark hair like hers, and whenever the penis was in her mouth, she looked like she wanted to cry, or throw up, or both, but she could not escape the discomfort, because the man held her head in place with his hands, while saying a lot of crude things to her. Abigail was repulsed, but found herself becoming aroused nonetheless, and this filled her with shame and confusion. She and Marissa never discussed what they had seen.
What she sees now is nothing like that video. Hannibal’s hands do not hold Will’s head in place, but they do flit about in the vicinity, playing with Will’s hair, pushing a few errant strands behind his ear. Occasionally he reaches down to tilt Will’s chin so that he will look up.
From where she conceals herself, Abigail cannot see much of the actual act, but watching the muscles of Will’s back and arms, he seems comfortable and not in any distress, allowed to take as much as he wants, and no more, and also to pursue his own rhythm. The noises he makes are soft and prosaic. Hannibal also hums with approval on occasion, but says nothing nasty or mean to Will. There are long periods of quiet. The utter silence makes the sight almost unbearably intimate. Love scenes on television and in the movies always have soppy music playing over them. The silence now is so real and wonderful.
But Abigail hears her own heartbeat pounding in her ears when Hannibal fixes her with his piercing stare, holding the eye contact for several seconds while Will suckles obliviously. Abigail is reminded that she really should not be there watching. This is the most private thing that two people can do together. It’s not meant for others to see. But a lot of strange things happen in this house, and if Hannibal approves of her being there, she accepts that she is supposed to be there.
Hannibal is unfathomably powerful; Abigail has always understood this. He tirelessly protects and provides for her and Will, and the price of this is their submission. There is nothing in their lives that he does not control. They are merely extensions of his will. But they accept this, because he has gifted them with another type of freedom, one that ordinary people will never know, and a kind of thrilling joie de vivre that ordinary people would never dare pursue. Will and Abigail have been wholly consumed by Hannibal, and they are grateful for it.
To watch such a man, who wields this colossal power, tenderly stroke Will’s hair, asking him only for what pleasure he could comfortably provide, was heartbreakingly beautiful to Abigail.
Hannibal soon lowers his eyes and returns his attention to Will, acting as though his long gaze meant nothing. He gives Will a tap on the shoulder before uttering a soft sigh, at which point it dawns on Abigail that he is climaxing. In Will’s mouth, not all over his face.
Afterward, even such an imposing physical specimen as Hannibal is a little wobbly-kneed, and he pivots so he can sit on the bed. Will stands up, stands over Hannibal and gives him a kiss, which Hannibal gladly accepts, even though Will’s mouth has just been where it’s been. Abigail does not think it is an accident that Hannibal sits in such a way that in order to effectively share the bed, Will must continue facing away from the door.
For the first time, Abigail gets an unobstructed view of Hannibal’s penis, and is momentarily perplexed by it, until she realizes that that is what a foreskin looks like. She had heard the word, and had the vaguest idea that some men still had theirs, but neither her parents nor the Minnesota public school system had ever bothered to explain what one looked like or what it was for. She thinks it looks like his penis is wearing a turtleneck sweater, but Hannibal never loses his aura of dignity, not even at this moment, and so she can’t bring herself to see it as “funny-looking.”
Will’s nakedness is more soft and vulnerable, closer to what Abigail imagines a person should be like when they’re naked. When he stretches out on the bed, it does not escape her notice that he has a very nice body. It’s not overtly athletic – and eating three of Hannibal’s meals a day is giving him a little bit of a tummy – but it is still on the distinctly masculine side of lovely.
While Will reclines, Hannibal climbs fully onto the bed and over Will’s body. Will’s penis is standing straight up – he was aroused by what he was doing to Hannibal. Now Hannibal takes this erection in his hand and nuzzles it, brushes it with his lips and all the way up and over his cheekbones. It’s a long while before it actually goes in his mouth; prior to that, it gets kissed and licked and stroked.
It makes Abigail smirk that Will is allowing his penis inside the mouth of a man who delights in the consumption of human beings. She is not worried for him. Will belongs to Hannibal now, utterly. And everything that Hannibal chooses to possess, he chooses because the thing enriches his life, gives him contentment. So long as Will remains loyal and compliant, Hannibal would no more be inclined to physically harm him than he would to key his own Bentley. Either type of damage would accomplish nothing, satisfy no destructive desire of Hannibal’s. Hannibal does nothing without purpose.
That is why Abigail doesn’t think that Will and Hannibal are evil, or that what they do is evil. She thinks, rather, that – each alone, or together – they are…elegant. What they do extracts ugliness from the world and leaves beauty in its place. And she knows that they think she is beautiful too, and not a monster.
“I’m gonna,” says Will, softly. “Right now, I’m—” And he arches as he breathes, “Oh.” Hannibal has likely never flinched in his life, and he certainly does not do so now. Abigail watches his throat working. He is relishing it, continuing until Will twists his body so his penis slips free; he is too sensitive now to be in Hannibal’s mouth anymore.
She thinks that, of the two of them, she would prefer to be in Will’s place, even though he had to wait longer for his pleasure, because he could just relax after he was finished. Hannibal might have gotten to come first, but he had to collect himself immediately afterward, and focus on reciprocating. Thinking about this, and then thinking about that video she’d watched, fills Abigail with an enormous sense of relief; to be able to choose whom to identify with was not at all like watching the video, where it was inevitable that she should think of herself in that poor girl’s place.
A few minutes later, safely ensconced in her own bed, she imagines herself as Will for a little while, but then imagines being Hannibal. The she just contemplates the two of them, how natural it looked, when Hannibal was standing and Will kneeling, but then, when Will was on his back, happily making himself vulnerable, and Hannibal was so careful and attentive, that also seemed right. Abigail ponders this for twenty minutes or so, until she exhausts herself and her wrist aches. Only then does the feeling float back to her, that what she did might have been wrong, even considering the somewhat unorthodox definition of “wrong” that existed under this roof.
This is just another secret, she thinks, to console herself. Everything is a secret these days. The little “family trips” they take together are a secret. The food they eat is a secret. The things that Will and Hannibal are teaching her, in lieu of a proper college education, are a secret.
Most of these secrets are shared between the three of them, but having a new secret that’s just between her and Hannibal makes her feel giddy. And momentarily frightened. What if this was some sort of test? To see whether Abigail would willingly and continually betray Will’s trust? What if Hannibal uses this new secret as leverage against her?
Let him, she thinks. If he tries, she might just decide to tell Will herself about what Hannibal allowed her, encouraged her, to do. Regardless of how Will finds out, if he does, it will be on Hannibal’s head too. He might try to convince Will that he knew nothing about it, but that won’t work, because Hannibal always knows about everything. One thing that he can never, ever plead anymore, not to Will and Abigail, is ignorance.
But anyway, what would Will do about it if he did find out? This thought begins as a rhetorical product of Abigail’s arrogance, but it soon becomes a genuine curiosity. If it is a test, perhaps it is not for her at all. Perhaps the test is for Will.
This possibility does not startle her back into wakefulness; it is, rather, the dreamy thought lolling about in her mind as she drifts to sleep.