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A Damn Slippery Life

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Hard to have anything, isn't it, Dr. Lecter? Rare to get it. Hard to keep it. A damn slippery life.

-Abel Gideon, Futamono

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Molly remembered a time when she didn’t hate hospitals. Back when the worst experience she’d ever had was Wally’s bout of pneumonia as a baby. In those days, the bland gloom of hospitals was something easy to ignore, something she could shake off when she stepped back into the sunlight. That was before her husband died, of course.

She’d had her fill of hospitals in the awful months right before he passed. The oppressive, hushed halls. Artwork that seemed sapped of life and color because no one really looked at it. The air smelling of death and disease — or at least the sanitizing agents that were supposed to eradicate them. It was hard to tell the difference, after a while. Molly avoided hospitals with a vengeance after it was all over.

She should’ve known it was about time for karma to kick her ass, she thought wearily, and shifted in the rock hard seat beside Will’s hospital bed. No matter how she arranged herself, she couldn’t find a way to keep the pressure off the bullet wound in her shoulder. She ignored the pain and focused on the steady, insistent beep of the heart monitor instead.

Will was barely recognizable underneath all the bandages and bruises. He’d taken a knife to the face, the doctors said. And to the shoulder. Those wounds were accompanied by assorted lacerations, perforations, and contusions, all from some sort of fall. The doctors didn’t know the precise origins of the injuries, and the FBI agent stationed in the hall wouldn’t tell her anything. She wanted to talk to Jack Crawford, the man who’d convinced Will to get involved in the shit show, but nobody seemed willing to give her his number. He’d come by, they kept saying.

Molly slid lower into the chair, gritting her teeth against the flare of heat in her shoulder. She was glad Wally wasn’t here, at least. He’d been through enough in the past few days without having to set up camp in a Baltimore hospital. He was much better off with her parents for now.

She wanted to lie back and sleep until the fierce ache behind her eyes faded, but the reclining chair was broken and there wasn’t really room to stretch it out anyway. She slumped her head against the thin mattress beside Will’s arm, curved her hand over his wrist, and stayed still long enough to let exhaustion drag her under.

A hazy, indefinite amount of time later, she woke to the sound of yet another doctor accessing the terminal displaying Will’s charts. There had been an indistinct parade of specialists and nurses, all with warm smiles and absolutely no new information; she almost didn’t bother looking up. But her shoulder and her spine clamored for attention, so she pushed herself upright and forced her eyes to focus as she stretched.

The doctor had turned away from the terminal, one gloved hand curving over the bed rail. He wasn’t anyone she’d seen before, of that much she was certain. He was tall, and his white coat didn’t seem to fit him properly. The ID badge claimed he was a dark-haired man named “Dr. Nathaniel Thomas,” but the man in front of her had fair hair flecked with gray, and high, sharp cheekbones. His face jarred in her memory, strange and wrong.

It was because she’d never seen him in person, she realized, a rush of adrenaline shooting through her veins as her stomach dropped. She’d only ever seen him in photos on tv, underneath the words FBI’s Most Wanted. It only took her a few seconds to recognize him; he was looking at her by the time she did.

"Don't scream, please," Hannibal Lecter said pleasantly. "I would stop you before anyone heard. I don’t think Will would enjoy waking to a mess."

Somewhere deep in the most instinctive part of her brain, Molly registered that he was every bit as dangerous as his threats despite the benign expression he wore and the quiet, accented voice. She swallowed convulsively and gave a single, sharp nod. Hannibal the Cannibal, they’d called him in the press. He didn’t look like a monster.

"You're his wife,” Hannibal said after a moment, running his eyes over her critically. As though she was a hanging piece of art — in a style he didn't find at all pleasant. “He loves you.” She wasn’t sure if it was meant as a statement or a question. If it was a question, he didn’t wait for her answer before providing his own. “He does, I think. You have a son?”

This time he waited for an answer. When none was forthcoming, he folded his hands in front of himself. Trying to minimize the perceived threat, Molly thought faintly. “I don't have any ill intentions toward the boy, if that's your concern.”

She nodded faintly, still staring.

“Will has an affinity for fatherhood,” Hannibal continued, almost as if she’d never answered at all. “He once told me he'd make a good father and I am inclined to agree with him.” His look grew pointed and evaluating. Molly fought the urge to flinch away from his dissecting gaze. “I imagine that was part of the draw.”

He glanced back at the screen displaying Will’s charts and treatment plan. “How did you meet? If I may ask.”

Molly’s anger finally surfaced from under the cold current of adrenaline. “You can ask,” she answered in a low tone. She crossed her arms, a half-conscious attempt at a protective barrier, even though the bed already stood between them. And Will, of course.

“But you will not answer.” Hannibal smirked at her. “You are brave, Mrs. Graham.” Something caught his eye when he leaned back toward the terminal; his expression sharpened. “You are listed here as a Ms. Foster.” His eyes flicked back again, pinning hers. “You didn't change your name?”

The answer rattled off her tongue automatically. “I’d already changed it once.”

Realization, cold and slightly smug. “A previous marriage.”

“Will doesn't care.”

“About names? Certainly not. I wonder if you know all he does care about.” A shark’s smile flashed over his face and disappeared again. He tilted his head, considering. “Will is too unsociable for a conventional meeting. Fishing,” he concluded. “Or perhaps you have dogs in common.” How dull, he didn't say, but Molly heard it all the same.

He was alarmingly close to the truth. They’d met in the marina where she’d been working at the time, and they’d spent a lot of time at the dog parks around Moosehead Lake in the early days. Not that she would give him the satisfaction of confirming it.

“Are the dogs well?” Hannibal asked as he scrolled through pages of Will’s x-rays and stopped to study each one.

“What?”

“The dogs,” he prompted patiently. As though she was particularly slow and he was particularly benevolent. “I was concerned the Great Red Dragon might kill them in his zeal to get to you and your son. He had a habit of disposing of pets. It would have been unfortunate.”

“They're fine,” she answered icily. No thanks to you, she wanted to add, but didn’t.

Hannibal frowned at the list of Will’s medications, and turned to inspect the IV drip.

“Winston?” He asked, reading the plastic IV bag with a slightly furrowed brow.

“Winston's fine. They’re all fine. How do you—“

“Winston is Will's favorite, I believe. Although he professed not to have any favorites. Certainly the most loyal and perceptive of the pack.” He released the IV bag and looked at nothing — except memories Molly couldn’t see. “I’m happy to hear he's weathered yet another storm.”

Molly was seized with the desire to ask about the storms of the past, but she strangled back the urge as Hannibal leaned over Will’s face. Images of news reports from Hannibal’s trial rose in her mind and paraded in front of her eyes. Images of bloody crime scenes censored enough to be shown on tv. Dozens of victims, their bodies carved like meat. Her breath caught because he was too close and there was nothing she could do to stop him. The scream he’d warned against was building in her throat. But when he peeled back the gauze taped over Will’s right cheek, Hannibal only studied the stitches beneath the bandage. Molly released a shaky breath and the scream dissolved again.

“The doctor did good work,” said Hannibal. He sounded a little miffed, as though he’d been waiting to find fault. “With the proper attention this won’t scar very badly.” His eyes trailed across Will’s sleeping face and landed on the pale line that marched across half his forehead. Hannibal’s face went completely still; his eyes lingered much too long.

"Will has a lot of scars,” Molly whispered, pieces clicking into place in her mind. “I know some of them must be yours."

“Mine, yes,” Hannibal murmured. He looked at her sharply then, as though catching the scent of danger in the wind. “He told you about them?” She hadn’t yet mustered the wherewithal to answer, but Hannibal had already relaxed and looked away again, as though her body language was communication enough. “He didn’t,” he concluded, almost to himself. “He wouldn't speak and you guessed at the truth. I thought so.” The look he leveled at Will was almost tender.

He settled the gauze and the tape back against Will’s cheek with infinite care, fingertips grazing across Will’s temple. In his drug-induced sleep, Will pulled in a deep breath and turned into the touch. Molly watched Hannibal’s chest freeze when his breath caught.

All at once, she understood. There was only one thing that had ever made her breath stumble at a touch, or held her gaze so long and so intently.

"You love him,” she said, and knew it was true even before Hannibal’s face went perfectly blank and still.

“Love is a reductive term,” he said at last, trailing his fingertips across Will’s cheekbone, “particularly in English.” His fingers wandered just slightly into the wild curls framing Will’s face. “Confining,” he continued, brushing the hair gently from Will’s forehead. “Inadequate.” His thumb grazed Will’s slightly parted lips. Hannibal curled his hand into a fist and retracted it with mechanical precision, tucking his arm gingerly against his ribs. The FBI agents who’d briefed her said he was probably injured. He certainly looked pained. His face was nearly unreadable, but his eyes gave him away — whatever he was feeling had very little to do with physical suffering.

Molly had no idea what to say.

The silence grew heavy. Hannibal turned to Will’s charts again and scrolled rapidly through the pages. He seemed satisfied, but continued to stare. Molly wondered if he was reluctant to leave. She wished he’d get on with it. His silence dragged on until her anger began to outweigh her fear.

"You tried to kill us,” she said, low and dangerous. “Me. My son.”

Hannibal glanced at her for the briefest of moments before returning his attention to the chart. “Yes,” he answered in a tone so bland and bored that he might have been replying to a comment about the weather.

"And Will still worked with you,” Molly pressed. Hannibal looked at her properly.

“He was angry, of course. But I'm his friend. And he is mine.”

Molly was taken aback to discover that it was possible to sound so polite and so malicious all at once. His smile was close-lipped, but there was still something fanged and poisonous about it.

“I forget that you haven't known him as long as I have,” he said. His tone was a complex alchemy of condescending and delighted. “Will’s urge to protect those he cares about is absolute. As is his commitment to his own standards of righteousness. After we killed the Dragon he tried to kill me as well. Along with himself.”

Molly’s vision wavered for an instant when her pulse spiked. He was lying. Will wouldn’t kill himself.

Would he?

Hannibal was still standing much too close to the bed. Will had tried to kill him, and here he was hovering at Will’s bedside — he could only have one objective. Molly dismissed the intangible fears swirling around her like phantoms and focused on the danger directly in front of her. She didn’t have any weapons, and Hannibal could stop her from screaming simply by wrapping both hands around her throat. She scanned the room in her peripheral vision. There were always the chairs. She could hit him with one if he tried to hurt Will.

“Are you here to kill him?” she asked, as calmly as she could manage when fear and adrenaline were making her hands shake.

“No,” Hannibal answered, amused. As if she was a very stupid child dabbling in something far beyond her comprehension. His expression shifted. Burned. “Never.”

His eyes dropped to Will’s face again, as though he couldn’t be bothered to continue looking at anything else in the room. As though Will was solid and Molly was a ghost. “I was in no condition to take him with me,” Hannibal said quietly, “and he was in no condition to go. I'll ask him to come with me when he is able.” Without warning, he met her eyes again. “I suppose we will have to wait and see what he decides.”

Something behind his eyes shifted and turned dark; a corner of Molly’s mind screamed at her to run. The logical conclusion that he’d reach the door first kept her in her seat. She couldn’t run, and more importantly she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t abandon Will.

Hannibal smiled like he could read the frantic rush of her thoughts. He didn’t move, but something in his manner receded like the tide, leaving the room emptier and safer than before.

“No need to look so pale,” he said, almost cheerfully. “Will is going to live and I'm going to leave now. You have nothing to fear from me, Molly Foster.” His eyes flicked to Will. “I'm not one who will hurt you, one way or another.”

He stepped away from the bed, reached for the door. “You’ll take care of him,” he said, not quite a question and not quite a command. He spoke with the authority of one who had every right to make demands, and with the subtle implication that it was not a significant request because it would be such a temporary arrangement.

“A pleasure to meet you,” he said with a nod that resembled a bow, and disappeared into the hall. The closing click of the door was deafening.

The silence swirled, settled, and pressed against Molly’s skin. She stared at the door, her breath frozen in her lungs, thoughts nonsensically sticking on the moment she’d heard the dogs were sick. Only a few days ago — it felt like a lifetime now. She’d worried that Will would be hurt that she’d been so careless. Angry, even. She'd never seen him properly angry. He got distant sometimes — withdrawn, snappish — but never angry. He had two gears: annoyed and guilty. He jumped right past anger every time. He always interrupted when she tried to apologize for something, with a smile that was sad at the very edge.

Molly, it's really okay.

Everything was okay. Nothing was a big deal. She’d wondered about that, about how and when he’d been hurt deeply enough that normal wounds didn’t register. Wondered about the person or people responsible. The realization broke over her gently; she’d felt it coming since the moment Hannibal Lecter first spoke. It was him. It was all him.

Her heart was still pounding, adrenaline relentlessly urging her body to run, run, run… But the danger was over.

Wasn’t it?

She turned and looked at Will, covered in blankets and bandages, his face creased with unease, even in drug-induced sleep. He always looked so troubled when he slept. Sometimes he woke in the middle of the night, gasping for air and sweating bullets. Old cases, Will always said, and never more than that.

For the first time, Molly wondered about the content of those dreams.

Her eyes fixed on the pale strip of scar tissue that lovingly traced his forehead. She thought about the vicious, caressing twist of the scar across his abdomen. He’d never explained them when she’d asked. He pulled away every time, and she’d always let him. He’d had a hard job, as a cop and a consultant for the FBI. He’d suffered for it. He deserved a little mercy, she’d thought. Deserved the chance to escape.

I wonder if you know all he does care about.

Molly wondered, too.

She stood up, reached for the doorknob. Leaned slowly into the deserted hall. The FBI agent had wandered to the nurse’s station where he was chatting quietly. For a long moment, Molly couldn’t make her voice work. She stared past the blank white walls, past the dated, scuffed tiling. Lights blinked, call buttons blared. The confining halls absorbed every sound; everything smelled of disease and disinfectant.

She hated hospitals.

When she finally yelled for help, she decided it was delayed shock that turned her voice into a scream.