For most of her life, Abigail lived in a brown house. It stood at the end of a winding street, all faded beige siding, sand-colored stone, and great gaping windows framed by cream curtains. The trees were brown, and they dropped a carpet of dead leaves to match when winter came. The muddy stream was the color of fresh tea, though it always ran ice cold.
Abigail hated her house.
She’d been constantly away from it for many, many months, but she could still see it, empty and colorless now. Like the body of someone dead but not buried. Like her mother on the doorstep, her blood running red against the concrete and the fallen leaves. Dead like Abigail very nearly had been.
She’d heard, once, that ghosts appeared in a place they loved at the moment of their death. A brief, transitory flicker before the soul moved on. She wondered whether her mother had been there in the kitchen with her, watching helplessly as Abigail choked and drowned in her own blood. Or maybe she’d gone somewhere far away from the husband who had betrayed her.
Abigail hadn’t gone anywhere. There’d been no bright light, no feeling of separating from her body. There’d been nothing but pain in her neck, sickly cold in her extremities, panic in her gut. A blurry vision of Hannibal and Will, the sensation of pressure at her throat — and then darkness falling like a heavy curtain. She’d gone nowhere at all. She wanted to carve herself as empty as the house where she’d grown up, turn herself dry as the withered leaves, cold as the stream, and never think of her life there again.
Her dreams wouldn’t allow it. Abigail’s memories came to her in the only time she couldn’t guard against them. When she slept, her brown house was the wash of color and sensation against which her mother smiled and her father brooded. She remembered breakfasts and dinners eaten together, decorating choices argued and conceded, old photos she’d memorized after seeing them every day. She hated the dreams in the same way she hated her father, resenting both presence and absence alike. Internal bleeding was so much harder to bandage than the physical variety.
Abigail dreamed of her mother frowning at her across the dinner table, cutting slowly into her plate of roast. The dream-memory was impossible to place. She couldn’t tell how old she was or whether her feet reached the floor. Her mother looked the same as always: restrained, calm, polite.
“What kind of question is that, Abby?” she reprimanded. “I love you and your father equally.”
Dad was focused on his meal. He never talked much until the business of eating was out of the way. He believed in savoring food.
Abigail believed in poking at sore spots until someone jumped.
“Marissa’s mom said that parents have to love each other the most and their kids second,” she teased. “So who would you save, Mom? If me and Dad were both hanging over the edge of a cliff.”
Mom didn’t usually like jokes. Maybe because she knew when Abigail wasn’t really joking. Her smile was thin.
“I’d save you both, because I love you both.”
And that was that. She went back to her food and Abigail watched her for a moment, trying to decide whether she was disappointed that her mother could snap the neck of any conversation.
Dad broke his usual concentration to smile at Abigail across the table. “Eat up, Abigail,” he said.
Abigail obediently took a bite of the roast, but she couldn’t taste it. Her skin had gone as cool and brittle as ash. She knew Dad would save her first as surely as she knew he’d need to go hunting soon. As surely as she knew she’d help him when he did. All because she was afraid.
Her memory shifted and evaporated as she woke. She blinked at the ceiling of Hannibal’s guest room, ignoring the pang in her chest as she remembered where she was. Remembered who was dead, who was alive, and who was suffering for it.
Abigail wondered if love saved anybody at all.
Days after her death, Abigail stood, alive and mostly whole, on a remote bluff overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The salty wind stung her cheeks and grasped her hair, tangling it over the large bandage where her left ear should have been. She clutched a copy of TattleCrime in her fist; a photo of Will's haunted face was mostly crushed under her fingers. The angular house beside her was a maze of white strips of wall running like veins between massive windows. The sky behind it was silver with clouds and the threat of rain.
"What's this?” she asked when Hannibal came to stand beside her. The house, the water, the bandage, the look on Will’s face in the photo — she wasn’t really sure which one she was asking about.
If Hannibal was confused by the ambiguity of her question, he didn’t show it. His face was perfectly smooth when she turned to look at him. In the pale sunlight, the dark vest under his suit jacket was the dull color of dried blood. He reached into one of the vest’s pockets and pulled out a key so bright it must have been newly made. Extended it to her.
“A necessary evil,” Hannibal explained with the ghost of a smile. “But an entirely temporary one.”
“I had hoped to teach you to play the harpsichord,” Hannibal said as he removed the plastic dust sheet from the grand piano in the living room. “But we will begin with what we have. Sit,” he said, indicating the piano bench.
The house of white veins and glass walls gave way to dark wood interiors that were nearly as elegant as Hannibal’s Baltimore home, if much less ostentatious. It was an inherently musical space, Abigail thought. All hard surfaces, like a concert hall. Wood floors and ceilings, walls of brick, drywall, and glass. The piano was made of a dark-stained wood, with gold pedals and lettering. Hannibal lifted the curved lid and propped it open carefully, revealing a long row of metal strings and felt hammers.
Abigail realized she was still carrying her crumpled copy of TattleCrime. She uncurled her fingers carefully, leaving it beside her on the bench. Will’s face stared upward, past Abigail and Hannibal both.
“The harpsichord,” Hannibal began, “was the pinnacle of instruments in its time. Mechanically intricate, capable of melodies, harmonies, and the most complex polyphony, all executed by a single performer. They were signs of status and wealth, objects of both decoration and performance.”
“Practical and beautiful,” Abigail said with a tiny smile. “No wonder you like them.”
Hannibal’s answering smile was subdued, but Abigail felt its warmth. “Many of Bach’s greatest works were written for the harpsichord,” he continued after a moment, running his fingers lightly over the glossy finish of the wood. “It had its limitations, of course. The tones of the harpsichord decay very quickly and a performer cannot alter his volume through touch alone. The instrument was supplanted when Cristofori, an ambitious Italian harpsichord maker, built an instrument that would eventually be called the pianoforte. Named for its ability to play at varying volumes. The soft-loud, essentially. We will begin with some simple finger work.”
Hannibal sat down beside her, demonstrating a curved, compact hand settled over five white keys. Abigail mimicked him, and with a few moments of difficulty, was soon playing a simple pattern.
“You fingers are agile,” Hannibal observed with a smile. “Good. Your years as a hunter have developed your finger strength and dexterity.”
She felt as gray and cold as the clouded sky beyond the windows. All at once, the glass walls were a cage, trapping her away from air and water and light. But Hannibal wasn’t looking at her bloodless expression; he was waiting for her to lift her hands to the keys again. After a moment, Abigail did.
They played short phrases of increasing complexity. Hannibal corrected her hand position and required her to execute patterns correctly three times in a row before moving on, but he never lapsed into impatience. Once she had played a full scale forte and then piano to his satisfaction, he nodded and stood up, gently closing the lid.
“That’s enough for today. Practice what I’ve shown you.” His manner shifted into something more distant. “Are you hungry?”
He was already moving toward the kitchen.
“You said you wanted me to begin with the harpsichord,” Abigail said, halting his steps. “What’s the difference?”
Judging by the light in his eyes when he turned back, Hannibal loved lecturing on antiquated subjects. She suppressed a smile.
“The harpsichord and the piano are entirely distinct,” Hannibal explained. “The piano is an instrument of tone variation and interpretation. Not only are various volumes possible, but tone shape and quality are primary concerns. The technique is one of weight as much as agility.
“The piano's sound has the quality of memory,” he said softly, looking as though he had wandered into memory himself. “It can impersonate other instruments and evoke emotions through tone quality. The harpsichord is immediate and unadorned. It is only what it is, and nothing else. No sweet dreams, no fantasies or lovely imitative implications and evocations. Only stark, immediate sound. The harpsichord requires a light, finger-based technique. Very difficult to achieve that sort of speed and coordination if you do not begin playing as a child.”
“Did you start as a child?”
Hannibal’s smile inched toward a smirk. “No.”
Abigail raised her eyebrows at the challenge. Her eyes drifted back to the piano, shining and silent in front of her. “The pianoforte. It’s a shame the name was shortened. It’s so beautiful.”
“The Italians had a gift for names, and a fluid language with which to apply them.” Hannibal paused, considering. “Italians also invented opera.”
“The piano and the opera,” Abigail said with a grin. “Your favorite things.”
Hannibal dipped his head in a nod. “My favorite things,” he murmured. But he wasn’t looking at the polished surface of the piano. He looked between Abigail and the crumpled photo of Will.
Hannibal was absent far more than he was present. The drive from Baltimore to the secluded house on the coast was a long one, and he could usually only make the trip once a week. He was balancing a full schedule of patients alongside his rapidly increasing consulting work for the FBI and his frequent visits to Will.
Abigail could always tell the days when he’d been to see Will. Hannibal was different on those days. Contained, as always, but pressing against the carefully-stitched seams of his public persona. Will was very angry, Hannibal said. He seemed untroubled by the fact. Abigail imagined Will sitting behind cold steel bars, burning with the anger, white-hot like a star. On the days Hannibal had seen Will, his eyes reflected a little of that fire. She wondered whether he felt any concern over the fact that fire burned everything within its reach.
Hannibal sat at the piano with her each time he came, bringing new music, demonstrating new things, watching as she copied notes and counted rhythms, listening as she played what he demonstrated back to him. He wasn’t easy to satisfy but he wasn’t unreasonable either. As long as she practiced and gave the full weight of her attention to the problem at hand, he seemed pleased.
Sometimes he played in the evenings after dinner had been cleared from the table and before he drove back to Baltimore. She suspected he wanted to be on hand in case of developments in Will’s trial. Or maybe he felt the distance from Will like a too-taut string. He played passionate music so often that she began to wonder about the nature of his fascination with Will.
Maybe she’d ask him, if the right moment came along.
One evening, long after dinner had been eaten and cleared away, Hannibal played something like bursts of bright color, settling and stirring, mixing and melding. The notes floated in the air like the dying sparks of fireworks, leaving burning afterimages and smoke in their wake. He held his hands suspended above the keys as the final sparks faded slowly. He lifted the pedal and they disappeared altogether.
“Did you write that?” Abigail asked from the armchair she’d begun to think of as hers.
“I did,” Hannibal acknowledged.
She waited a moment, gauging the mood hovering around him. Hannibal was always difficult to read, but she had gotten reasonably good at picking the time for questions.
“Is it about someone?”
Hannibal considered, regarding the silent keys thoughtfully. “Not about someone,” he said at last. “Dedicated to someone, perhaps. Inspired by them, certainly.”
“Will,” Abigail stated, sculpting her tone into just enough of a question to pull a nod from Hannibal. “It was very passionate,” she hedged, feeling the heady rush of stalking through the underbrush, zeroing in on a passing deer. She waited for one breathless moment — and then pulled the trigger. “Are you attracted to Will?”
Hannibal didn’t so much as blink when he turned to look at her.
“‘Attracted’ is a word with many shades of meaning, Abigail. Some very impertinent.” He leveled an evaluating look at her. “Prying is rude.”
That wasn’t a no.
“So you are,” she concluded, only slightly disappointed by the fact that he wasn’t giving her much to go on. His stillness was as deep and unreadable as ever, but he seemed to be waiting for something.
“You know he's not gay,” she tried.
Hannibal didn’t react, beyond standing up to rifle through the contents of the piano bench. There were several thin books of music stacked neatly inside. Abigail couldn’t see very well from her distance, but she thought the titles looked German and possibly Polish. Hannibal closed the bench, a slim volume with a cream paper binding and black lettering across the front. Chopin was the only word she could make out.
“Do you know that?” he asked, settling himself on the bench and the book on the music rack of the piano. He flipped through the pages with an air of distraction. Abigail wondered whether she or the music was holding his attention the most.
“I guess I don’t know. But I’ve seen the way he looks at Dr. Bloom. It's kind of pitiful.”
Hannibal seemed to settle on a piece at last; the book of Chopin fell open easily and laid flat, as though he’d played this particular piece very often.
“F minor,” he said to himself. “A common key for both tragedies and declarations. Will is isolated,” he replied at last, studying something on the page, “and he doesn't always enjoy it.”
“Like you,” Abigail pressed, staring at him just as surely as he stared at the page.
“And you,” Hannibal returned, swift and smooth as a professional tennis player. She could almost hear his remark hit the floor behind her, scoring points. She smiled and tried again.
“He looks at you, too.”
That froze Hannibal’s hand as he reached up to turn the page before him. No points for him this round. Abigail suppressed a grin.
“And how does he look at me?” he asked, completely controlled. But Abigail knew that listening required even more energy than speaking. She could feel how intently he was waiting for her reply.
“I'm not sure,” she answered honestly, relenting at last. Hannibal was always playing, but she knew on an instinctive level that it wasn’t always wise to play back. “Like something, but I couldn't tell you what. He was always so tired and sad.” She paused a moment, swallowing against the guilt spreading inside her chest like a stain. “Is he...is he sad that I'm dead?”
“Very. It's difficult, sometimes, to watch.”
Hannibal had a disconcerting way of stating emotions like facts.
Abigail sighed, sinking into her chair. “I’m sorry for that. I don't want him to suffer.”
“He'll be very glad to see you again,” Hannibal answered, making it sound like a solution.
But will he forgive me? she wanted to ask. Will we all be okay?
Abigail had been living one moment at a time since her “death.” Moments she could handle. The future was too much. She twisted away from its weight and asked an entirely different question.
“Who taught you to play?”
Hannibal looked at her, but he was very far away. “A woman in the orphanage where I lived for some years as a young man. She was my first teacher. In years after, when I was somewhat better provided for, I studied with private teachers. With that foundation, I continued studying on my own.”
“Did you enjoy it? Practicing.”
“I did. The act of creation is often as fulfilling as the creation itself.”
He blinked and she almost felt the moment he was back in the room with her. A subdued smile warmed his face just slightly. “Are you not enjoying your practice time? Perhaps it’s time to give you some greater goals. What would you like to play?”
Abigail considered, only to discover that she had no real answer. Classical music? Pop songs? The options tangled in her mind, discordant and jarring. Here in the house by the sea, nothing felt solid. No weight or substance or consequence. Maybe it was because, as far as the world was concerned, Abigail Hobbs was dead. More likely, she thought, it was because Hannibal hadn’t finished deciding what to do with her. She’d float through her afterlife a little longer, by his good grace.
What would she like to play? It was a question without an answer, or at least not one of any importance. Not yet. She thought, just for a moment, about telling him she'd like to play tunes from The Phantom of the Opera, just to see his face. But a far corner of her brain warned her against it — the primitive part that shrank from shadows and screamed danger when she looked into zoo exhibits full of predators. He waited patiently for her answer, head tilted in genuine curiosity. He looked almost fond.
But Abigail knew all too well that fondness, affection, and even love itself were nothing like protection. She'd loved her father and he'd loved her; the thick pink-white scar traced her jugular all the same. She strangled back the urge to touch it, curve her hand around it, an effort to hold together the split skin she could still feel, to hold back the phantom blood flowing out far too fast. She knew what it was to love someone and fear them all at once.
She liked Hannibal, but she wasn't stupid enough to think that he was safe.
So she smiled blandly as she said, “Whatever you think is best” — and wondered whether her life would ever be anything other than blind wandering through the labyrinths of other people’s minds.
“I believe we can now try Chopin,” Hannibal announced. Abigail turned on the piano bench to watch him retrieve a large, nearly flat paper bag from the table. There were several thin books of music inside, but the one Hannibal selected had a glossy white cover printed with a reproduction of an old oil painting of the Regency Era. Preludes, the cover proclaimed, followed by a short list of opus numbers. Abigail raised an eyebrow and mentally translated: Baby’s First Chopin.
Hannibal studied the table of contents thoughtfully, his eyes growing unfocused. “It would be ideal to begin with Bach,” he said, almost to himself. “But perhaps not wise. Yes, we will begin here.” He spread the book over the music rack, and Abigail looked at the sheer number of notes in dismay. Hannibal settled into the chair he’d pulled beside the piano. “There will be time for Bach later,” he said, still conversing mostly with himself. “Bach is perfection. And perfection takes time.”
He smiled at her then, in the odd way he sometimes did: as though she wasn’t Abigail at all. As though he was looking at her and seeing someone else.
Abigail practiced. She was able to play the prelude competently by the time Hannibal returned a week later, bearing groceries and more music. He made corrections when she played and finally inquired about her practice habits, nodding approvingly at her answer. He looked down at the bench often. Abigail had gone through its contents many times in the months she’d been living in the house; she knew about the well-worn volumes of Bach’s Wohltemperiertes Klavier and the newer, barely opened book of Bach’s Inventions. That one, she was almost certain, had been purchased in anticipation of her readiness for it.
He didn’t proclaim that she was ready, though. Not yet.
He looked through her more often these days. So much that she began to feel like a window to another world. A window Hannibal looked through eagerly, seeing something she couldn’t perceive.
It reminded her of Dad.
She wondered if she should be watching for the change she'd seen on her father's face when his fingers tightened on the knife and he lunged at her and Mom. The paper-thin difference between making dinner and bleeding out on the kitchen floor.
Hannibal wasn’t quite the same, she tried to convince herself. He had plans for himself, for her, for Will. Sometimes, when he was in an expansive mood, he’d mention the tiniest of details about where they might go or what they might do together. She knew he had Europe in mind. There were houses he owned, apartments he kept in readiness. A whole new life waiting across the sea.
Hannibal was warm. (But Dad had been warm, too.) Affectionate, even. (“I’m sorry,” Dad whispered, cradling her carefully…and dragged the knife across her throat.) Abigail watched and waited and tried not to feel either fear or hope.
The change came the day Hannibal arrived to take her back to Baltimore. The plans, so long in the making and slow in the execution, were finally ready to be put into motion. Abigail had a small suitcase of clothes waiting by the door. Tucked inside, she’d hidden the book of Bach’s Inventions. She’d practiced a few on her own. Hannibal had mentioned that he kept a piano at each of his homes, and a harpsichord in at least one. He’d be surprised when she sat down and played Bach. She’d already planned the moment. Perfection takes time, she’d say. So I thought I’d get a head start.
She smiled when he opened the door, but it froze on her face. His expression was as smooth as ever, but the air around him seethed. For the first time in months, Abigail was powerless to feel anything except afraid.
“Hi,” she said. Her voice came out hoarse. “I’m ready to go.”
“Good,” said Hannibal. Something was cracked in his voice and behind his eyes. She imagined him, sometimes, like a monster, hidden behind a veil, at a great enough distance to be mostly out of sight. As he stood on the doorstep, framed by glass and dark wood and the white wall of the cloudy sky, Abigail thought she saw the veil. Behind it, much, much too close, something moved. She swallowed hard.
But Hannibal only bent to pick up her suitcase and stepped aside so she could walk past him to the car. She walked away from the glass-walled house and the sea-salt air and realized too late that she would miss this place.
Hannibal placed her suitcase in the trunk and disappeared into the house. Abigail buckled her seatbelt and watched the clouds shift out over the bluff. After a moment, movement drew her eyes back to the windows. Inside, Hannibal was closing the piano and unfurling the plastic dust sheet. He draped it slowly and with reverence, like closing the eyes of someone who’d died.
He locked the door on his way out.
They drove mostly in silence as Hannibal negotiated the narrow, winding roads that led away from the house on the bluff. A violin was singing through the car speakers, distant and mournful.
“What are we listening to?” she asked.
“Bach’s Chaconne,” Hannibal answered. He seemed ready to lapse in more heavy silence. Abigail was unspeakably relieved when he continued a moment later. “One of the greatest works ever written for the violin.”
He was lightening, warming to the subject. Opening to her. She chased the warmth. “Do you play the violin?”
It was the wrong question. She could almost see Hannibal become unreachable again. “I don’t,” he answered. “I don't regret many things, but I do regret that. There simply wasn't time.”
Abigail looked at him and tried not to be afraid. She wondered, for the briefest of moments, whether she should try to run away. She decided against it between one mile marker and the next; she wasn’t sure about the meaning of Hannibal’s strange shift. Besides, there wasn’t any other place she could go. Hannibal had ensured that when he’d involved himself in her secrets and spirited her away from what remained of her life. Officially, she was dead. Hannibal had seen to that, too.
“There's never enough time,” she said quietly, and lapsed into silence. There was nothing else to say.
Hannibal's face changed. In the fading light, Abigail made out both sadness and defiance. Eventually, the shadows swallowed up both.
Glass, Abigail thought, broke almost as easily as bodies.
Rain fell in crystal drops beyond the jagged edge of Hannibal’s window, streaking what remained of the glass. A few of the streaks ran red.
The steps to the window felt like hours and like no time at all. On the concrete far below, Dr. Bloom was moving. Just tiny, helpless twitches of her fingers and deep gasps for breath, but she was alive. Abigail wasn’t sure whether she was relieved by that. She knew what it was like to go on living after someone had killed you.
She remembered all the girls she’d helped her dad to find, remembered gripping the handle of the hunting knife buried in Nick Boyle’s gut, remembered helping Hannibal spray a jar of her own blood as proof of her death. Red memories, all of them. So much death running together in her mind, on her hands. Like the raindrops, like the blood. She blinked, trying to see the room around her in place of the endless red.
The memory of pushing Dr. Bloom through the window was already far away and surreal. Adrenaline and anxiety had clouded it, forced it outside her close thoughts, as though someone else had done this, driven by fear and inevitability. She trembled as she walked down the stairs and past the blood seeping from under the pantry door.
The blood crawled across the floor as she waited for Will, for Hannibal, for someone. In a far corner of her mind, she thought about wandering into the den where Hannibal kept his harpsichord. He’d promised to teach her. Maybe she could play one of the inventions, show him she’d already begun to learn…
Will stepped into the kitchen. The rain had plastered his hair against his face and his gun was raised. It faltered and dropped when he saw her.
“Abigail,” he said. She watched the understanding break over his face like a cold, pale dawn. He looked hollowed out, fiercely exhausted, but he was there, not lost behind a fever. The naked anguish and relief in his eyes wiped away the memory of their last, terrible meeting. She wanted to hug him, but her muscles were locked, her eyes burning.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” she explained, desperate that, whatever happened, Will would understand. “So I just did what he told me.”
Hannibal was behind him now. Will turned, and they looked only at each other. Abigail felt intrusive, but there was no escape. Not from this room, where Hannibal blocked the hallway. Not from the blood pooling dark under the door.
“You were supposed to leave,” Will said, voice shaking.
“We couldn’t leave without you.”
It was a private argument, and Abigail didn’t understand all the shades of meaning between the words.
Hannibal moved so quickly that she heard the blood hitting the floor before she saw the knife. The light glinted harshly against both blade and blood when Hannibal curled his arm around Will, holding him tightly as he convulsed with the pain. Their private argument continued in rough whispers and strained gasps for air. The blood spilled and dripped, flowing fast across the wooden floor. It would stain, she thought distantly. So badly there’d be no cleaning it up.
Will fell to the floor. The wound in his abdomen was long and deep and gushing blood. Abigail’s head was full of static.
Hannibal loved Will. She knew he did. She looked at Hannibal’s stony expression and flat eyes and wondered about the fine line between making dinner and bleeding out on the floor. The raised scar on her neck itched.
Who would you save? she’d asked her mother so long ago. She wondered if Hannibal’s answer would have been myself.
When Hannibal reached for her, she went to him. There was, after all, nowhere else to go.
Who do you love most?
Will, she realized, painfully and all at once. He loved Will most.
They were facing Will when he pressed the knife to her neck. Hannibal was going to kill her to punish Will because he loved him more than anything. Abigail felt herself tipping over the cliff she’d asked her mother about. The blade was sharp, but it hurt all the same. She was on the ground before she understood that she’d fallen.
The blood was hot on her skin as it pulsed from her neck in a way that was all too familiar. Hannibal was speaking to Will again, but his voice faded into an indistinct hum in her failing ears. She felt only the heat of her blood and Will’s where it soaked into her clothing.
Will's hand clutched at her throat, trying to hold the wound closed. She tried to look at him, wanted to speak, but there was too much blood in her throat. Will was panting in pain; he wouldn't hear her, even if she could muster a whisper. And what was there to say? Meaningless comfort, dissolution of guilt?
It’s not your fault.
But it was. It was his, and it was Abigail’s. It was Hannibal’s fault, too. All of them playing games and paying for them. They were stained with guilt, even more than blood.
She felt light-headed as Will put pressure on her jugular. But his grip faltered and slid away and her vision flickered as the hot gush continued. She was dying.
The last time she'd felt this way, Will had saved her. But that wasn’t quite true — it had been a joint effort. She remembered Will's hands pressing frantically at her throat, remembered her vision blurring. A figure in the doorway, coming closer, kneeling down to gently displace Will's shaking hands and hold her torn throat together with steady ones.
Her vision cleared for just a moment. Hannibal was standing in the doorway, gray and distant.
He turned and walked away.
This time, there wouldn't be any life after death.
Abigail’s sight and hearing were dwindling into nothing, but she could still make out Will's labored breaths, could still see the spectral paleness of his skin as he bled all his blood onto the floor between them. Hannibal had looked nearly as pale.
Will’s hand was limp against her arm. She wanted to reach for it, to reach for him, but her arm wouldn’t move when she tried.
She’d told him once that he wasn’t her father. She turned her head until she could see his blood-soaked face and erratic breaths where he lay in the expanding puddle of their mingled blood.
She wondered if she’d been wrong about that.
Maybe a father wasn’t the one who claimed love and cut her throat. Maybe a father was the one who dragged himself bleeding across the floor and took his hands away from his own wounds to cover hers.
It was getting difficult to breathe around the blood in her throat, but she was too far away from her body to really care. The fear was fading. She could see it, like a wild creature snarling behind a pane of thick glass. Present, but untouchable. She drifted away.
Abigail wandered through Hannibal’s house, not quite sure whether she was moving or imagining, and not sure why the difference might be important. She drifted at last to the harpsichord, beautifully engraved and painted, shining in the soft light of the room.
She wanted to sit and play, to feel the keys under her fingertips, coaxing out that stark and immediate sound Hannibal had described so often. The piano has the quality of a memory. Abigail didn’t want a memory. She wanted the present. She’d hoped for a future.
Or she thought she did. It was hard to remember just at the moment. But she looked at the harpsichord and managed to remember that Hannibal had wanted to teach her. She wished he had.
The light was fading. A thought flittered past, almost visible in the gathering darkness around her eyes. She wondered if love saved anybody. She lifted a hand to trail her fingertips across the harpsichord keys, so similar to a piano’s, yet producing an entirely different sound. Heard Will’s voice as if from a great distance, calling her name. And all at once she knew.
She pressed one key, shutting her eyes to absorb the pluck of the hammer against the string. The sound was as sharp and metallic as the blood in her mouth. The tone decayed into nothing, there one moment and gone the next.
Abigail realized, as darkness fell around her, that she preferred the pianoforte.