Hannibal: The Patient

He's insane.

I know it the minute he sits down in the chair. I know by the wild, crazy look in his eyes. He fidgets, playing with the cuff of his sleeve. His hair is slicked back but now and again, he runs his hand over it, a nervous habit.

Hannibal, what have you gotten me into?

Referrals are always appreciated… but not this kind of a referral.

Crossing my legs is instinctive, a defense mechanism, a way of making me smaller. I put my writing pad in front of me and smile. "Tell me about the nightmares."

He twitches and eyes me dubiously. "What do you want to know about them?"

It's hard not to tap my pen against the pad. "Dr. Lecter said you have a lot of them, but you won't seek medical treatment."

"What can a doctor do, drug them out of me?" His lip curls into a sneer and his eyes harden. "What can you do?"

The clock moves at an abnormally slow rate… I only have to last an hour with him. Tucking a strand of blonde hair behind my ear, I shrug. "Dreams can be manifestations of your subconscious mind. We can't deal with the solution until we know the problem."

"Yes, that's what Dr. Lecter told me… he said you're good at this sort of thing."

Chills run up my spine and I tap the pen once, catching myself. "I'm only as good as what people are willing to share with me."

"What else did he say about me?" He tenses in his chair, prepared for flight.

Light trickles through the blinds. I'm as still as he is jittery. "He didn't discuss you with me."

"Oh, I doubt that." Dark eyes smolder at me and he shakes his head.

I glance at the door of the office, wondering how to attract my secretary's attention. "Anything said in a therapist's session is under doctor-patient privilege, even among referrals."

"So he didn't tell you what's in my dreams?"

I shake my head.

He relaxes slightly and shifts in his chair. "Someone is watching me… chasing me… Lector said it's an inferiority complex combined with paranoia. Is that what you think?"

"Do you ever see his face?"

Shrugging, he loosens his tie.

"What was your relationship like with your father?"

Fingers drum on the arm of his chair. "Why?"

"Father-child relationships can sometimes explain our fears. Much of the time, our upbringing impacts our emotional development. What was your father like?"

Again, he tugs at his tie. "He drank… broke things… screamed at my mother."

I nod. "And you felt… threatened by him?"

Biting his lip, he glances out the window into the parking lot.

"Did he ever hit you?"

One hand moves to his arm instinctively and his face darkens. "He said I deserved punishment."

"Why?"

He sits up straighter, drawing his legs together. My brow goes up and I ask, "What about your mother? Is she still with him?"

"She's dead… he strangled her."

My heart skips a beat. "Do you have nightmares all the time or just once in awhile?"

"Every night… whenever I shut my eyes, I just want them to go away."

Glancing at the clock, I say, "I'm going to prescribe sedatives for you… they won't make you sleepy but they'll quiet your mind. Will you take them?"

Cars pass on the street. The patient nods. I fill out a prescription and send him off with relief. I have one more session today, but not for a half hour. I duck into the bathroom and breathe deeply.

Calm down, he just unnerved you, that's all

Running my fingers through my hair, I step out into the office. Hannibal stands at my desk, staring out over the street. He turns and welcomes me with a warm smile. "I came to see how your session went with our patient."

His accent sets my ears to tingling. I lift a brow. "Our patient? Unless I'm mistaken, you handed him over to me."

"What did you prescribe for him?"

I circle the desk and sit down. "You know that's privileged."

"Do you at least agree with my assessment?"

The secretary's voice drifts in from the hall. I lean back in my chair. "Paranoia and insecurity driven through an abusive father-son relationship, with sexual deviations on the side… am I close?"

"That was my assessment."

"It's not what you told him."

Hannibal sits on a corner of my desk. "Do you always tell your patients the truth?"

"I try not to lie to them." I close his file and lock it in my desk.

Glancing at the clock, Hannibal says, "Maybe we could continue this discussion over dinner. How about I cook for you at your house… around seven o'clock?"

"That sounds lovely, so long as it isn't veal."

He gets up. "I think you'll like what I have planned."

The door shuts behind him. I spend another hour with an equally fidgety patient who cries every five words and goes through an entire box of tissues.

"I'm going home early," I tell the secretary on my way out. "You can too, if you like."

She flips off her computer and sets the answering machine. "Are you having dinner with Dr. Lecter?"

"I pay you to screen calls and schedule patients, not pry into my personal life." But I laugh.

Tossing her red hair, she shrugs. "He's such a gentleman… so polite… he cares about the opera… he knows about art and culture. You could do worse."

"He's a colleague."

She slides her purse strap over her shoulder. "There's no rule about dating colleagues. He's not a patient, is he?"

"Good night," I answer, and step into the elevator.

It's nearly dark by the time I've run my errands. Parking in the driveway, I walk up the ornate steps and get out my keys. Wind stirs the leaves and I glance behind me. The courtyard is quiet, only the occasional passing car breaking the silence.

Shivers run down my spine. I quickly stick the key in the lock and twist.

"Dr. Du Maurier?"

The keys hit the cement slab at my feet. I glance around. The patient stands behind me.

"What are you doing here? This isn't appropriate." I fumble for the keys, not taking my eyes off him.

He shrugs, his collar undone and his jacket loose. "I had something else to say."

My fingers catch the key ring. "Then you can say it in session with me next week."

Uncertainty crosses his face and he rubs the back of his neck. "Can I call a cab, at least?"

I inch the door open behind me. "I'll call one for you."

Fear grips me as I enter and shut the door. His foot jams in it and he forces it open. The push knocks me to the ground. My keys slide into the wall.

"I'll call one myself," he says.

We stare at one another. I see him tense and kick my shoe at him as he lunges for me. I twist around and aim for my keys. Strong hands grip my legs and drag me back; I fight, lashing out with my fingernails. One hand flails wildly and closes around the key ring. I twist around and slice his face open with them.

He backhands me and my head bounces off the marble tiles.

"You asked me all the wrong questions," he hisses, straddling me. He bashes my hand against the floor, weakening my hold on the keys. "Psychologists always assume it's a daddy complex! Oh, daddy must have beat me! Oh, daddy must have drank! You're so arrogant you think you can fix anything with a bottle of pills."

He takes a bottle out of his pocket and shakes it over my head. I wriggle and he pins me down.

"Mother always said there was something wrong with me. She called me a little deviant. That's what you think I am, don't you?"

My heart pounds in my ears as he closes a hand around my throat.

"Isn't that right, Dr. Du Maurier?"

Shadows shift around us, the streetlamp illuminating his face as he pulls his tie out of his pocket. "There's a moment just before a woman dies when her soul leaves her body. It's… beautiful, particularly with someone as lovely as you are."

I dig my nails into his hand and slam my knees into his back; he lurches forward and I twist out from under him. I lunge for the door and he knocks my feet out from under me. Kicking him in the face, I run for the stairs.

Upstairs, in my dressing table, is a revolver.

He scrambles after me. I skid around the corner and slam open the door of my room. I try to shut it, but he forces it open. Somehow, he wraps the tie around my neck. I scratch him as he forces me backward, onto the bed. My hand gropes for the clock on the nightstand, knocking over the lamp. It smashes as I start to choke.

Closing my hand around a hardback, I bash him in the head with it. Blood drips down the side of his face, wetting my lips. He tightens the knot. His face swims above me and I convulse.

"That's it… give in…" he whispers.

My fingers loosen their hold and slide to the coverlet.

"James?"

A figure stands in the doorway, silhouetted against the light. The patient jerks as if bitten and stares at him.

Hannibal!

"Do you want to strangle Dr. Du Murier?"

That luscious, thick voice drifts into my swimming subconscious. He moves closer.

"Don't come any nearer, Dr. Lecter," the patient hisses.

His face enters the light, calm, almost… curious as he looks at me. Placing a hand on the patient's shoulder, staring at me all the while, he lowers his lips to the patient's ear.

Something happens.

The patient listens with increasing horror; his hands slip just enough for me to gasp in air. His eyes widen and he starts to choke. Hannibal smiles at me, a devious twinkle in his eyes.

Convulsions take hold and the patient staggers off me. I gasp for air and fall to the ground, tearing at the tie. I hear gagging sounds. The patient writhes until he drops.

Hannibal turns to me. I shy away from his hand. "Are you all right?"

"What did you say to him?"

Gentle fingers pull me free of the noose and carry me into the bathroom. He flips on the light and reaches for a hand towel. Wetting it in the sink, he wipes the blood off my face. I lean against the counter, shaking and still gasping for air.

Hannibal looks at the back of my head and tilts me back to look into his eyes. "You'll be all right. It's just a slight concussion."

Light spills into the bedroom, across the prone form.

"What did you do to him?"

I stagger toward the bedroom and he puts an arm around me. A red, bloated face falls into the light, the mouth at a grotesque angle. Hannibal says, "He went into a seizure. I couldn't help him. He swallowed his tongue. And now, you need to call the police."

Wiping my face, I stare at the blood smeared on my hand. "You can't be here…"

He places the phone in my hand and sits me on the edge of the bed. "Of course I can. I came up the drive and found the door open… I saw blood on the floor and came upstairs."

I stare at that awful face. "He had a seizure?"

Kneeling in front of me, his hands grip mine. "Yes."

Shivering, I dial the phone… and believe the lie.