As Hannibal continues to stand there, still not saying anything, Abigail feels herself start to blush.
"Good evening, Hannibal," she finally says, voice wavering slightly.
Maybe I misunderstood, she thinks, almost wishing she had put on a scarf after all.
"Good evening, Abigail," Hannibal replies smoothly, as if nothing is amiss. "You look lovely."
"Thank you. You look nice as well, though that's nothing new," she rambles.
Tonight Hannibal is wearing all black, quite somber compared to his usual bright displays of color.
We're dressed for a funeral.
As the thought occurs to her, Abigail realizes that in many ways it is correct. Tonight they are celebrating the death of her old life and the birth of her new one.
Like a phoenix she will rise from the ashes, shiny and new.
"Shall we?" Hannibal asks, offering his arm to her.
She takes it unhesitatingly and lets him lead her from the bedroom and downstairs into the dining room.
The table is elaborately set, even moreso than usual, and Hannibal pulls a chair out for her directly across from his place setting.
"Do you need help with anything?" she offers.
"No, of course not. You are the guest of honor, just relax and let me serve you."
Hannibal sweeps away into the kitchen leaving Abigail on her own. Fidgety, she reaches out to inspect the table centerpiece. She recognizes figs and split open pomegranates among the contents, but she can't place the red flowers. She rubs a velvety petal between her fingers.
She swears she recognizes it from something.
"Red Anemone," Hannibal pronounces, startling her as he reenters the dining room carrying their first course.
"From Greek mythology," Abigail says, more for herself than Hannibal, releasing the petal.
"You know the story?"
Abigail nods and recounts it as Hannibal serves them.
"Adonis, loved by both Aphrodite and Persephone, was out hunting alone one day when he wounded a fierce boar. Enraged the animal stabbed him with its tusks. Aphrodite heard the cries of her lover and went running to him, but it was too late, and red anemones sprouted from where the drops of Adonis' blood fell."
Hannibal nods approvingly as he takes his seat across from her.
"Christians later adopted the symbolism of the anemone," he adds. "The red representing the blood of Christ. These flowers are often depicted in paintings of the Crucifixion."
Blood. Death. Resurrection.
Is everything in his house a metaphor?
Abigail looks down at her plate and finds a bowl of what looks like mushroom soup. Her face must betray her thoughts because Hannibal chuckles lightly.
"No psychedelic mushrooms this time, Abigail. I assure you."
She smiles sheepishly and picks up her spoon.
"It's delicious," she insists.
They eat in silence, and Abigail can feel Hannibal studying her every move. She is careful to keep her back straight, displaying perfect posture, and tries to hold his gaze whenever she catches him watching, but ultimately ends up being the one to look away first.
When they start on the second course, some type of sausage and pepper dish, Hannibal tells Abigail about his day.
He visited Will in the hospital, and apparently Will is doing remarkably well despite the gunshot wound Jack inflicted. The doctors, however, have discovered that Will is suffering from encephalitis and think that may have been a contributing factor in his erratic behavior.
Abigail listens patiently, but can't help but wonder if Hannibal knew about Will's condition. The way he speaks about it, so casual, makes her think he did know. If he had missed something as big as this, she doubts he would sound so nonchalant.
He's been planning this for Will for a while now, she realizes. How long has he been planning… whatever this is, for me?
"What is your plan for me?" she blurts, accidentally interrupting whatever else Hannibal had been saying about Will.
"Sorry," she apologizes. "I just… can't stand this not knowing. You said you wanted to reinvent me. What does that mean? What is wrong with me the way I am?"
Abigail knows she is being dangerously rude, but she's feeling a bit reckless.
Hannibal sips his wine leisurely before responding.
"I do no think there is anything wrong with you, Abigail. I just want you to see what I see. You have so much potential in you. I merely wish to help you unlock it."
She refrains from rolling her eyes at the ambiguous answer.
"What about after that?" she asks. "When you've finished 'unlocking my potential'? What happens? The world thinks I am dead. I can never return to my old life. Am I expected to spend the rest of my days in this house? You said I wasn't a prisoner."
"You aren't a prisoner. I am protecting you."
Yeah, and yourself, she thinks bitterly.
"You will start a new life," Hannibal tells her. "I have a contact who forges records for people. I've already hired him to create one for you. A whole new identity. You will have a history, a birth certificate, passport, and even a social security number. This forger is so good you could apply for a job with the FBI, like you once said you wanted, and they wouldn't be able to prove you were anyone but who you said you were."
Abigail's eyes widen and she feels a small spark of hope in her chest.
"I can start over?"
"Yes, Abigail, you can start over, but you must let me help you first."
They fall back into silence after that, not speaking aside from Hannibal explaining each course and Abigail complimenting it. After they finish dessert, chocolate silk pie with fresh made whipped crème, Hannibal escorts Abigail into his study.
They sit on a loveseat by the fireplace, arms and legs pressed against one another, leaving Abigail feeling even more exposed than earlier. Hannibal's eyes are burning into her and she shivers under their weight.
She looks up to meet his gaze.
"You said you want to help me unlock my potential," she says quietly. "How do you plan to do that?"
Hannibal takes a long time to reply, reaching over to take Abigail's hand, and tracing her fingers with his own. Goosebumps prickle her skin and she finds herself thankful of the long sleeves hiding them.
"Tell me about the girls," he finally answers.
"The girls you helped your father catch and kill."
"W—what about them?" she asks startled.
"How did you select them?"
"I didn't, he did… because they looked like me."
"Did that make you feel guilty?"
"You know it did," she says, getting angry.
"But not guilty enough to stop?"
Abigail pulls her hand from his.
"If I hadn't helped him, he would have killed me! It was about survival."
"Was killing Nick Boyle about survival?"
"At the time I believed it was," she says quietly.
"How did it feel killing him? Did it make you feel powerful?"
Abigail stands up and walks across the room, her back to Hannibal. She pretends to study the spines of the books on his shelves, trailing a finger across them.
She can hear his footsteps behind her; feel his breath on her neck as he speaks.
"How did it make you feel?"
"I felt vindicated," she answers. "At the time I thought he murdered my best friend."
Turning to face Hannibal, Abigail's breath catches in her throat. He's much closer than she anticipated. She takes an involuntary step backwards, her spine pressed against the bookshelf.
"I suppose I wasn't though, since it was you who killed Marissa," she says.
Hannibal places a hand against the bookshelf, just over her shoulder, and leans in.
"How would you feel killing me then?" he asks, tone low. "Would you feel vindicated?"
Abigail swallows loudly as she meets his dark stare.
Would I? He killed Marissa. He ruined Will's life. He's taken mine.
"I would feel… lonely. Not just because you are the only person who knows I'm still alive, but because you know me. You know every dark thing about me and you don't care. You know I'm a monster, but you are still here."
"Some monsters play well with others. Perhaps ours are compatible."
Hannibal leans in even closer, his eyes drifting closed, and Abigail can hear alarm bells ringing in her head.
When his lips graze hers it's like an electric shock zaps through her body. Abigail inhales sharply, her lips parting and giving him the opening he needs to deepen the kiss. Despite her will to not surrender, Abigail's eyes close and she feels herself leaning into Hannibal.
His hand comes up to caress her shoulder and she shivers. Hannibal smiles and nips at her lower lip. He traces his index finger along her collarbone and up to her scar. Her skin burns when he touches the angry slash on her neck and she gasps, her arms flying up automatically to push him away.
She covers her scar with her own hand. She knows it didn't actually hurt when he touched hurt, but it felt like an invasion nonetheless.
"Abigail—" Hannibal starts, voice surprisingly apologetic, but she doesn't wait to hear what he has to say.
Abigail slips past Hannibal and marches upstairs, heading for her room, her head a mess of confused, swirling emotions.
She's pleased that Hannibal doesn't follow her, not sure if she wants to talk to him or not.
Had he meant what he said about wanting to help me start a new life? Or was it all just a line?
Abigail closes her door loudly behind her and immediately tears her dress off. She slips back into her robe and seats herself in front of the vanity to take down her hair.
She's just started to clean the make-up from her face when there is a light tapping on her door.
She doesn't answer, but Hannibal opens it anyway, standing formally in the doorway watching her.
"Abigail, please forgive my behavior downstairs. That was extremely rude of me. I never intended for that to happen."
Abigail still doesn't reply.
"I hope you can forgive me. Good night," he says, and closes the door, locking it behind him.
Abigail sighs and stares at her own reflection. It's not that she's mad at Hannibal, not really… she's mad at herself, over her reaction to his kiss.
How can I stay a step ahead and play this game if I lose myself like that?
When she climbs into bed she finds herself wondering if he really slipped up when he kissed her, or if this is just another part of his game?
After finally managing to fall asleep, it doesn't take Abigail long to slip into a nightmare; all the talk tonight of the dead girls and Nick Boyle opening old wounds.
She wakes up to Hannibal shaking her. She must have been screaming.
"Abigail! It's just a dream. Wake-up!"
When she finally opens her eyes there are tears streaming down her face and she throws herself into his arms, realizing too late Hannibal is shirtless and she is cuddling his bare chest.
The ghosts of her nightmare linger on her peripheral vision, not daring to attack with Hannibal present.
"Are you all right now?" he asks, stroking her hair.
"Please don't go," she begs, hating her weakness. "Don't leave me with them. Please."
"Shh," he soothes. "I'll stay."
Abigail finds herself snuggled securely against Hannibal's chest once again, blankets pulled up around them. She clings to him, too relieved to be ashamed, and slips into dreamless slumber.
Author's Note: Reviews are much appreciated, as always! On a side note I just wanted to give a heads up I may not get another chapter up next week (though I will try). I'm getting ready to move 1300 miles cross country and my schedule from Monday until next Sunday is a little hectic. I'm also in the process of promoting an original story of mine being published in July. For more information please check out my official website, linked from my profile page. Thank you!