First there is the fight, which takes no time at all, considering, and then the fall. After, there is recuperation, which takes its own grating time. Not enough time for them to heal completely -Hannibal is still using a cane when they arrive at Bedelia’s home- but less time than the fall itself, which never stopped.
Bedelia opens her door to them, her eyes gone owl-wide. Shocked, but somehow unsurprised. She looks at them there in the dark, at their matching mortician‘s grins glinting in the sodium arc lights, and knows they are at the end.
“Good evening, Bedelia,” Hannibal says.
Bedelia turns her full attention to him and they share a long moment in which Will does not exist. The phrase marinated long enough zips across the vault of her mind like an ill portent.
Hannibal tilts his head and closes his eyes to take in her delicate perfume, the same scent still after all this time. Such memories in that scent. They bend towards each other, like flowers towards sun, pressing briefly cheek to cheek without taking a single step.
Will swallows hard against the acid climbing his throat.
“Please,” Bedelia begins politely and gestures with her arm as though to throw the door wide and welcome them in.
Hannibal leans back a touch in rare surprise and in that gap of opportunity Bedelia shoves the door hard towards the frame with both hands and pivots on her heel, the edge of her silk dressing gown blurring into smoke as she turns to run.
She is fast, but Hannibal moves faster. Faster than Will has ever seen anything move and he saw a starving panther at a roadside zoo once. At feeding time.
Hannibal puts his cane into the closing space and the door hits it with an impotent clunk. A bare moment later his hand slaps the heavy wood and he swings the door open again. He darts forward, letting the cane fall unnoticed, and catches Bedelia by the arm. There is a second of stunned silence in which everyone is still and Will fancies he can hear the desperate thumping of Bedelia’s heart and then Hannibal is slipping a needle into her neck and soothing her as she drifts into sleep.
Hannibal lifts her as though she‘s weightless and cradles her in his arms like a bride, her dark silk robe spilling over his wrists. He carries her into the house, his bad leg dragging a step behind. Carries her down the long corridor and over the kitchen threshold.
Will marks the empty street on either side of the open door then closes it behind them. Locks it and follows, Hannibal’s cane in hand.
Hannibal lays Bedelia gently on the steel-topped kitchen island and puts a soft folded hand towel under her head, for comfort. He arranges her dressing gown modestly and folds her hands on her chest like Snow White.
Will watches him consider whether to place one of the fragrant yellow roses from the vase on the counter into her hands, for effect, then decide against it. And then Hannibal is walking and working and buzzing around the kitchen like a great white bee. Talking about removing the leg at the joint versus above the joint. About the necessary sharpness of the blade. His cane quickclicks on the floor in counterpoint and Will blinks at him. He is moving so fast, but his voice is dragging slow. Submerged. Thick and wavering, like the echoey-inside of a diving bell, like a ghost call from a great distance, and Will can‘t quite make out all that he is saying.
“What?” he says.
“Observe or participate?” Hannibal asks him again. Crisp and expectant and full of irritated good humor.
Will looks down at Bedelia’s still form and licks his lips. They’re so dry all of the sudden. Parched.
“Participate,” he says.
Hannibal smiles. And Will smiles. Or he thinks he‘s smiling. His face feels like it‘s smiling.When Hannibal turns his back again, Will surreptitiously touches the corners of his own mouth with his fingers. Yes, he is smiling.
Bedelia‘s eyelids flutter and Hannibal pauses in his bustling for a moment. Glances silently from his inventory of Bedelia‘s spice rack to her placid face, watching to see if his artificial night will hold.
Will puts a hand on Bedelia‘s hand, as if he might comfort her in her sleep, then draws back with a little hiss like she’s burned him. He doesn't want to kill her, truly. Truly he doesn't. Even when he hands Hannibal the bone saw he‘s asked for. And the scalpel and the plastic sheeting. Even when he‘s holding Hannibal’s cane for him so he can start cutting with a little more precision now if you don‘t mind, Will.
Bedelia should pay for what she did, Will thinks as he watches Hannibal’s scalpel sink slowly into her flaming flesh. She should pay for what she is, just a little. But he doesn’t mean to kill her.
Hannibal though. Hannibal means to kill her. Eventually. Not until after supper of course, but perhaps before dessert. Depending on which will suit his mood. And Will finds that he’s just fine with that. It surprises him, to be fine with that.
He has been bleached bone-white by the siren-sea, relieved of his heart. Let the sea keep it, he thinks. It will calcify there and turn to stone. It will grow barnacles like jewels. It will be safe. He can’t be what Hannibal wants him to be, with his heart.
Hannibal sets out his little mis en place on the kitchen counters—bowls and knives and cutting boards. Will chooses a pink wine and empties the bottle into a swooping glass decanter, pours them each a glass.
He hands Hannibal sutures and gauze and morphine. Honey and spices and salt. He puts pressure on Bedelia’s femoral artery as Hannibal cauterizes all the little bleeders with her own kitchen torch.
“In Louisiana, we‘d use filé and molasses,” Will comments as he grinds spices with a mortar and pestle. He is vaguely upset to find that his mouth is watering. “True Louisiana barbeque. Low and slow. Molasses and sassafras.” He draws the last “A” out a bit. Ends on a hiss and a chuckle.
Hannibal’s knife pauses in its endless rocking through the stack of scallions and he looks up at Will, concerned, a faint frown creasing his brow. “I appreciate your suggestion, Will, but kalua generally doesn’t call for a simmering sauce; the pit-roasting gives the meat a natural sweetness.”
He glances over at Bedelia, still and silent and stretched out along the steel counter at his elbow. Smiles slightly and draws the tip of his tongue along the blades of his teeth. “But we will certainly cook it low and slow.”
In the brief interregnum between carefully curated little doses of morphine and Versed, Bedelia sees flashes of Hannibal fluttering around her kitchen—whisking and stitching and dicing and bandaging. Fussing with his apron. Her apron. It’s as though she’s looking at him through an inverted telescope.
Hannibal tosses something into the sink outside her fuzzy round field of vision. It makes a horrid clattering splack. Then the wet sound of liquid down the drain. Will says something in response, low and thoughtful, testing words like flesh between his teeth. And Hannibal agrees happily. And Bedelia wrinkles her nose in disgust at them both.
Hannibal leans over her then. Looks into her slitted eyes and smiles gently. The needle pricks her arm.
Bastard, she thinks again as she fades out. I hope you choke.
When he is done with her, Hannibal scoops Bedelia up off the counter and carries her upstairs to rest and to change for dinner.
“Am I changing?” Will calls after him.
Hannibal pauses in the hall for a moment, glances back over his shoulder. Will is backlit in the kitchen door and the shadow he casts is double.
“Yes,” he replies, “but not just yet. I need you for something else first.”
* * *
Will helps Hannibal dig the imu in Bedelia’s luxurious back garden and line it with koa wood and smooth dry rocks. Hannibal kindles the fire and Will splits the banana stalks that Hannibal brought with them, bashing them with a heavy iron bar until his damaged shoulders are screaming in distant agony. He sprays the cut stalks with frigid water from the garden hose and spreads them out in the pit oven.
Hannibal kneels to lay Bedelia’s leaf-wrapped leg devoutly on the deep green bed and Will packs a layer of sandy soil around the limb so it will steam beautifully, Will, in its own juices.
Will presses his hands firmly into the rich black earth to form the top of the oven. He looks at his handprints there for a long while, then stands and brushes his hands off, as though it is nothing. There is pale steam rising through the cracks his hands made in the earth and he can smell the meat beginning to cook already, a wonderfully deep and savory smell that roils his stomach.
Will turns to go back into the house to check on Bedelia -only to check on her- he feels certain that he should check on her- but Hannibal stops him. The briefest touch of bloodgrimed fingers to his shoulder.
Hannibal puts his red-streaked palm to Will’s ruined cheek and looks into Will’s mirrored eyes. Joy is smeared across his mouth like blood.
Will puts his filthy hand over Hannibal’s and presses it to his face. The fall turned Hannibal to glass and Will can see everything now. Everything. He says everything Hannibal wants to hear exactly the way he wants to hear it.
Hannibal doesn’t know if Will is lying; the fall took his eyes and all he sees of Will now is what Will tells him. Will doesn’t know if he’s lying either when he says yes and now and love. When he closes his eyes and parts his lips. But Hannibal is proud of him, he knows that much. He is proud and glowing like stained glass at sunset. So hot with pride that Will can feel it searing his skin where Hannibal touches him.
“Beautiful Will,” Hannibal murmurs, branding Will’s mouth with his own.
* * *
Hannibal sends Will to upstairs to put on the somber blue suit he commissioned for him, the one that compliments his eyes beautifully. He returns fresh-faced and clean-handed. Just in time to place the roses, and the ferns, and the orchids just so on the white china serving platter. Just in time to set the table and fetch the wine. To put out the myriad little side dishes, and the icy centerpiece, and the flower garland per Hannibal’s extremely specific murmured instructions. It is so hard for him to carry things just now, Will, with his cane. Reasonable, but entirely false. Will knows it is not his more recovered dexterity that Hannibal wants at the moment, but his continued willing participation in this Grand Guignol.
With Will appropriately occupied, Hannibal retires to Bedelia’s guest room to dress for dinner himself. It’s not quite a tuxedo- Will absolutely put his foot down at black tie, more’s the pity- but it’s not far off. When he’s done polishing the matte platinum cufflinks against his sleeve, he returns to Bedelia’s bedroom.
After he’d removed her leg and carried her upstairs, he’d draped her in the beautiful black lace gown that he’d found in her closet and then laid her down to sleep. Now he sits her carefully in the arched back chair at her vanity and sets extravagant diamonds in her ears and gold around her neck. The plunging neckline of her dress highlights her delicate collarbones like wings.
Bedelia’s morphine begins to wear off while Hannibal is arranging her hair in lovely soft waves. Before he can dose her again, Bedelia grabs his wrist and digs her nails in. Yanks him down into the armchair next to hers and makes him wait there so she can do her own makeup. He has skills and skills, but she’s certain this isn’t one of them and she will not go into the night cloaked in amateur beauty.
She glances along the spread of makeup brushes lined up like soldiers across the top of the vanity and then looks down at her lap, her head teetering on the fragile stalk of her neck. There is a precise and pristine white bandage where her left leg used to be. It’s pointlessly, stupidly, cinematic. Like a Civil War reenactment.
Her eyes blink out of time like a cheap doll’s as she stares at herself in the mirror, eyebrows raised and vision syrupy. She carefully curls and blacks her fine blonde lashes, smudges soft kohl over her eyelids, and swipes shimmering pink across her lavender lips.
The tube of gloss slips from Bedelia’s slackening fingers as another slender needle slides into her vein. Hannibal encircles her narrow shoulders in the crook of his arm as she collapses against his chest and then he carries her carefully down the stairs to dinner.
* * *
Will lights all the candles in the dining room and brings in the last of the flowers Hannibal selected from Bedelia’s garden. He arranges them around the centerpiece as Hannibal arranges Bedelia at the head of the table. Their table.
He glances at her again and again out of the corner of his eye as he decorates, his teeth buried in his lower lip. Hannibal tilts her head gently to the side to check her pulse and then injects her with a little something to help her wake up, Will. Will’s hand clenches unbidden around the last fistful of pale lilies, crushing their fragile green stems.
Hannibal crosses to Will’s side of the table, gently unfolds Will’s hand and takes the bruised blossoms away. “It won’t be long now,” Hannibal reassures him.
Will glances at Bedelia, stirring fretfully. “Let me help you in the kitchen.”
Hannibal looks into his eyes, brushes the backs of his fingers along Will’s tense jaw. “No. I’d like to finish it myself, Will.” He gestures graciously at the table. “Please. I’ll only be a moment.”
He squeezes Will’s shoulder briefly as he passes, cane clicking towards the kitchen, and Will smiles after him, just a little. The scar across his cheek pulls at the corner of his mouth, giving him a lean and hungry look. He slides his chair out and takes his place at Hannibal’s right hand.
Bedelia wakes slowly. She glances down the table, taking in the flowers, the fruit, the waiting icy centerpiece, before catching Will’s eye. She stares at him for a long while, as if trying to decipher who he is. Her face is soft and her eyes are wide. She looks small and hopeful and afraid, like a child lost in the woods.
Will wants to go to her then. To... to soothe her. To save her.
He crumples the pale blue linen napkin in his fist and shoves the impulse away. Gathers her cruelties closer to him like a blanket of thorns—her time behind the veil, with Hannibal, reckless and amoral and decadent. Her immaculately unscathed body and her pristine bloodless kitchen. He stifles her I believe you, which saved his sanity in that dark stone box. He stifles her revelation of Hannibal’s love for him and her suggestion that cruelty born of a high degree of empathy might save him in the end, which remains to be seen. He sips his wine and considers her proposal that not all killers deserve compassion. He finds that cuts both ways, frankly.
“What have you gotten yourself into, Mr. Graham?” Bedelia murmurs, struggling towards herself. “And how ever do you plan to get out?”
Before he can even try to respond, she’s cutting him off with a dismissive wave. “I would have liked a bath,” she says, patting at the stiff gold waves framing her face. “A last bath.”
She breathes deeply and sighs, reclining regally back in her chair. “Where are you staying now? Does it have a bathtub?”
Will clicks his tongue against his teeth and shifts uncomfortably in his chair. Looks around for Hannibal. “It does,” he responds finally, reluctantly resigned to managing at least a little perverse dinner conversation without backup.
Bedelia reaches for her wine, swirls the liquid in the glass, and admires the way the light turns it peony pink. She takes a long slow sip and fixes Will with her slowly sharpening gaze.
“Does he wash your hair for you?” she asks, leaning towards him. “In the bath? He likes to do that.”
Will drains his glass silently and sets the crystal down with a sharp clack.
“You can tell me,” Bedelia urges in a stagey, conspiratorial whisper. “It’s just us… girls now.”
“Bluebeard’s wives?” Will spits, pale cheeks blooming pink.
He glances away, ashamed, and in that distracted pause Bedelia slips the little silver oyster fork off her plate and secrets it in the folds of her glittering gown.
She watches Will curiously through narrowed eyes. Waits for him to look at her again, then pushes a little more. “Would you like to know what else he likes? Would you find that…helpful? In your new life?”
Will swallows seething breath. He won’t hate her. It’s pointless to hate her. As pointless as this little passion play Hannibal insisted on staging. Pointless, this acid scorching his throat. And he doesn’t need to hate her to do what they came here for, as Hannibal had said before they set out. Better that he doesn’t. Cleaner.
“What was it like,” Bedelia presses on relentlessly, “dying with him? I saw some of the footage of you going over the cliff.”
“You and everyone else, it was all over the news.” He pauses, mouth turned down in distaste. “After Freddie got the scoop.”
For a moment he thinks of Freddie. Of her desperate fear. Of grabbing her by her vicious hair and dragging her through her car window. Of lomo saltado and love. Perfume and fire and what if no one died.
The faint sounds of Bach stirring on Bedelia’s stereo interrupt their single combat before Bedelia can thrust again and puncture Will’s reverie. Hannibal appears in the dining room doorway, sagging slightly under the weight of his pièce de résistance. He pauses for effect as the music swells, so they can admire the crisp-crackling roast ribboned with evergreen ti leaves. The fragrant smoldering wood chips fanned along the edge of the platter. Garden roses and split-glistening fruit garnish.
He limps into the room and Will starts to push his chair back so he can stand. So he can help. But Hannibal smiles and shakes his head. This is his presentation and his alone. No one, not even Will, will deprive him of the full satisfaction of it.
He consigns the growing ache of his shattered leg to the back of his mind and levers the heavy platter of sweet roasted meat as carefully as he can onto the chipped ice centerpiece. It starts to sublimate immediately, blanketing the table briefly in a cold white curling mist.
He arranges an errant rose and steps back to admire his scene. There is a half-hollow pear stuffed with pomegranate seeds that he is particularly proud of. It catches the candlelight like a clutch of rubies.
Bedelia takes in the combination of charred wood and chipped ice and laughs under her breath. She offers Will a slim sharp smile in response to his quizzical look.
“Do you know what the lake of ice in Dante’s Inferno represents, Mr. Graham?”
“Treachery,” Will murmurs, watching the icy fog crawl across the white spread of lilies. “Betrayal.”
“Treachery and betrayal,” she confirms brightly. “How appropriate for you both.”
“We are all Dante’s pilgrims,” Hannibal begins, quite seriously.
“Making our way through the inferno,” Will finishes, before Hannibal can expand on this idea.
Hannibal takes up the sharpening steel and grinds the carving knife down along its gleaming edge. The scrape of steel on steel is monstrous in the quiet room.
“It was grainy,” Bedelia says, pulling Will’s fascinated gaze back from the fatal glide of the blade. “Mr. Dolarhyde’s film I mean. But clear enough to see you were happy. Are you still? Do you think you can stay happy with him?”
Will’s silence spins out until it fills the room. Hannibal gazes at him expectantly for a moment, then returns to his work.
Will and Bedelia glance at Hannibal together, as though choreographed, and Hannibal takes advantage of their renewed attention to carve into the tender roast. Savory steam pours out of the first cut. Fat and blood and seasoning sliding down the knife and spilling across the platter. It smells divine. Will and Bedelia lick their lips together then swallow against a wave of revulsion.
Will forces himself to look away from the meat. He is so very, very hungry.
“Were you happy with him?” he asks Bedelia, desperate for distraction.
“I wasn’t careless enough to be happy with him,” she smirks.
Will pours himself another glass of wine, holds the stem with overblown precision, and sips. “He didn’t care enough about you to make you happy.”
“Oh,” she sighs with pointed languor, “I don’t think that’s true.” She closes her eyes and inhales deeply, remembering the feel of Hannibal’s mouth on her neck and letting it show in loose limbs and a rising blush.
Will stops with his wineglass halfway to his mouth, a furious flush flooding his cheeks.
Bedelia opens her eyes and smirks at him again. “Do you like dancing, Will? I wonder if he’ll ever dance again, with whatever it is you’ve done to his leg.”
Hannibal looks up from his carving and glances calmly between them. “I think that’s quite enough, don’t you?”
“Not really,” Bedelia responds, turning her attention right to him. “But we can talk about you instead, Hannibal. If you’d like. It’s your hour after all.”
She tilts her head, looking between Will and Hannibal, searching for a crack to dig her fingers into. “Or we could discuss Mr. Graham. He almost killed you, Hannibal. Again. And yet here you are, still in his company. Would you like to talk about that?”
Hannibal’s mouth thins in anger before he smooths his features again, gliding the carving knife through the roast. He arranges several delicate, juicy slices of meat over a bed of jasmine rice on a china plate at his hip. Fans them out in Bedelia’s general direction and drizzles them ostentatiously with the drippings from the platter.
Bedelia glances down the table at Will, looking him over as well as she can though the persistent haze of sedatives and painkillers. “What could the draw possibly be, Hannibal? I really can’t see it.”
Will slams his napkin on the table. Shoves his chair back and stands. Hannibal startles in the wake of Will’s sudden rage and sways back, unsteady without his cane to hand. Will’s face softens and he moves quickly to take Hannibal by the elbow before he can stumble.
“Let me,” he says softly. “Let me finish this.”
Hannibal lets Will help him into his chair and pour him a glass of wine. Smiles affectionately up at him as Will brushes his silvered hair back from his forehead. Will’s smile is cruel and it is cold and it is finally all for him.
Will takes Hannibal’s place at the carving platter and finishes plating Bedelia’s dinner. Under Hannibal’s watchful eye, he dresses the roast with a red compote of tropical fruit and spoons an uneven line of brightly colored vegetables around the edge.
He stalks towards Bedelia, holding her plate like a threat. She wraps her fingers around the little oyster fork and readies herself. She watches him come with a manufactured air of weary waiting, then turns her attention back to Hannibal, relaxed and royal at the foot of the table.
“He is an obsession,” she says to him. Her diction is crisp and clean and she uses all of her strength to shove the savage words through Hannibal’s calm surface. “He is. An. Infection.” She leans forward, looking at him quite seriously. “My advice to you, as ever, Hannibal, is to… eliminate it.”
Will drops her plate on the table in front of her with a brassy clatter. “But you’re really not in any position to give advice, Dr. DuMaurier, are you?”
Bedelia looks down at the plate of her own perfectly cooked flesh then up at Will’s desperately impassive face. She holds his nervy gaze, flashes him a grinning little snarl, then swings for him as hard as she can, bringing the sharp little fork around in a blind silver rush.
Bedelia was fast, once, but Will is faster.
He slips the little fork deftly out of Bedelia’s fingers before she can stab him with it, presses her wrist down against the arm of the chair, and plunges the fork through the back of her hand, pinning her to the wood.
The pain pierces the lingering morphine haze, but before she can cry out, Will covers her mouth with her napkin, muffling the sound of her screams.
She stares up at him in shock, eyes rolling to the whites.
With his free hand, Will yanks the oyster fork out of Bedelia’s flesh and tosses it onto the table. Thin red lines race away from the tainted tines, wicking along the fibers of the tablecloth.
He lets her go when she’s stopped screaming.
Her head falls forward, forearms braced on the chair, and she stares across the table at Hannibal, panting, panicked.
“I understand,” Hannibal tells Bedelia kindly, draining his wine and setting the glass aside. “Completely. And I don’t hold it against you even a little bit."
Will is looking down at his hands, stunned, as if they’d acted alone. Hannibal has to call his name twice, sharply, before he looks up, blinking and dazed.
“Bandage our guest’s hand please, Will, and then come sit. Your dinner is getting cold.”
Will nods and shakes Bedelia’s napkin out. Folds it with trembling fingers and wraps it tightly around her injured hand.
Hannibal beams at him when he returns to his seat. He fills Will’s plate with a little bit of everything. Takes his hand and runs his thumb across the back of it.
Will glows in the warmth of Hannibal’s proud regard. He raises his fork to his lips. A drop of the savory-sweet fruit sauce drips from the steel tines and hits the china plate like a stone dropped into a pond, rippling outwards.
Will sinks his teeth into the meat and the red glaze coats his tongue. He looks across the table at Bedelia and chews, smiles. She is delicious.
* * *
“Will you be staying with us for dessert, Bedelia?” Will asks, wiping his mouth with his napkin and setting it beside his empty plate.
“You know, I don’t believe I will,” she says calmly, setting her fork down. “I’ve never been a big fan of sweets and I’m… I’m quite tired now. But I would like a little drink before we conclude this truly gruesome bit of theatre, Hannibal. If you wouldn’t mind.”
Hannibal doesn’t mind at all. He gets up, leaning more heavily on his cane now. “What sort of digestif did you have in mind, Bedelia? Would a cordial glass be appropriate?”
“Just a wine glass, I think. You know where. Over in the breakfront. There’s a particularly good ice wine in the cellar.” She giggles, a short, snorting, hysterical little sound. “I was saving it for a special occasion.” She runs a finger along the faint lingering depression where Lydia Fell’s wedding ring had once been and starts laughing in earnest.
Hannibal waits politely as she trails off into a hiccupping cackle. “Oh,” she sighs finally, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye with the edge of her bloodied napkin. “Be a darling won’t you, Hannibal, and get it for me?”
“Anything you like, Bedelia.”
Hannibal clears Bedelia’s dessert plate and fork and spoon, and sets them on her sideboard. He returns with a new wine glass, which he sets within reach of her uninjured hand. Next to that, he places a little jeweled box he’d taken from her dresser. Inside, two tablets of Seconal.
“Oh,” she says, morbidly delighted. “You remembered.”
Hannibal smiles slightly and pours the sweet thick wine three times. They lift their glasses to each other.
“L’chaim,” Bedelia toasts and downs the Seconal and the wine before Will or Hannibal can even taste theirs. She laughs at the exquisite irony and holds out her glass for another.
Hannibal pours for her with marvelous magnaminty and watches her toss the pale liquid back. When her eyelids begin to flutter, he plucks the glass from her hand, before it can fall and shatter.
Bedelia slumps back in her chair, magnificently relaxed as the Seconal does its work. Hannibal steps behind her and takes her head in his hands. His long fingers wrapped around her jaw. He is concentrating intently. It is crucial to crack her neck just so. He wants her paralyzed, not dead, for the finale.
Bedelia tilts her head back and looks up dreamily into his eyes of her own volition, so she can watch. So he must watch.
Hannibal’s hands tighten and he settles his weight, but before he can execute the short sharp snap Will stands suddenly and reaches for him.
“Wait!” He takes a long slow breath. “Just. Just wait.”
“I know we can’t leave her alive,” he continues. “But the rest…”
“We’ve discussed this already,” Hannibal chides gently. He lets go of Bedelia’s jaw and turns towards Will. “Many times.”
“We have what we came here for,” Will insists. “Your… your vivisection spectacle is reckless and it’s unnecessary. It will be obvious to everyone that we’re still alive.”
“And you don’t want that.”
“You know I don’t. As much as I know you do. You hate being ignored. You’d probably love being pursued across the globe by a pack of dogs,” he grumbles. “I wouldn’t.”
“But you must know she deserves it,” Hannibal says impatiently. “She’s almost entirely amoral.”
“Bedelia was the only one who really believed me about you, you know.” Will taps his fingers nervously against his palm, waiting for Hannibal’s reaction. “She saved my fucking sanity when you had me locked up. She never hurt you,” he presses. “Or me for that matter,” he adds, as though it’s an afterthought.
“Oh, but she would have,” Hannibal replies quickly. “Or, more accurately, she would have stood by and allowed me to hurt you. Allowed me to kill you and Uncle Jack.”
He is grinning like a skull.
“She knew I was waiting for you. She would have watched with greed and curiosity, and never lifted a finger to stop it. She was desperate to see it all. She’s the one who suggested that I had to eat you in order to get over the pain of losing you. Did you know that? Yes,” Hannibal chuckles, “while she was ‘behind the veil,’ as she liked to say.“
“It’s still unnecessary,” Will argues.
It is a reasonable position, but his voice is sharp as a harpy now. He rubs his hand unconsciously along the deep scar of the bone saw creasing his forehead.
“To you perhaps,” Hannibal purrs.
“Yes. To me.”
“Tell me, Will, how many monsters are you content to allow to roam around in the world?”
Bedelia has had quite enough. She is tired of being spoken of as though she’s already a ghost and she absolutely will not go out listening to these two debate her death. She shoves herself forward in her chair with her injured hand, using the pain to give her a last little bit of lucidity.
“It’s true you know,” she slurs loudly, startling them both. “I would have let him eat you, Will. It really would have been most therapeutic for him. He might have avoided all those dreary years in prison.”
She turns her wavering gaze to Hannibal. “How was prison, Hannibal? You haven’t said. I imagine the food was altogether horrible. Were you able to confine all the clinically intimate touches to a safe corner of your memory palace? Did you drop them down into the deep with all the other bad memories? The persistent little violations of your mind and the vainglorious power grab by those unworthy of you? Everything you suffered just for the hope of seeing this… this… this impossible boy again?”
Hannibal goes still and his mouth is tight.
Will eyes him warily. Hannibal hadn’t said anything about his time in the hospital, but Will has some idea. He certainly has that. He’d spent his own ghastly time in Chilton’s cozy little murderers’ hotel. Gritty food and strip searches and supervised showers. Courtesy of Hannibal.
Bedelia forges ahead, sleepy Seconal smile widening with every word until her mouth is split in a shrieking grin and her gleaming teeth are showing.
“It’s a shame you didn’t eat him, Hannibal. I very much would have enjoyed seeing you destroy the second thing you ever loved. Just like you destroyed the first. How did your baby sister taste? You never did answer that for me. Does it echo in the halls of your mind? The screaming of your first spring lamb?”
There is an immaculate pause and then Hannibal’s face goes white with fury and he races towards Bedelia like a flood, hands outstretched. But before he can reach her and snap her neck, Will braces his hip on the table, jackknifes forward, and drives the silver carving skewer through her heart like a stake.
Bedelia dies with laughter bubbling red on her lips.
Will looks up at Hannibal, panting. Teeth bared and eyes blown black. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It was for you.”
Hannibal cups Will’s scarred cheek in his palm and smiles with real gratitude. “Oh, Will. People will say we’re in love.”
* * *
They leave Bedelia in the cold black morning and drive south to a little regional airfield where they catch the red-eye to Cienfuegos and a taxi back to their villa at Rancho Luna beach.
It’s strangely anticlimactic. To be home. The house feels hollow, in need of a haunting, and it makes Will restless and unhappy. Hannibal seems immune. He unpacks, cooks dinner. Unconcerned. Will hears him humming in the kitchen. Faust again. Faust, Faust, always Faust when he is particularly pleased with himself.
Will drinks heavily before dinner. And at dinner. And after dinner. Drinks until he is nearly staggering. Hannibal marks it, but doesn’t scold him.
Will sleeps in the guest room and Hannibal does consider pressing that issue, but in the end he lets that go as well. He’ll come around in time. Hannibal is confident of that.
Will sleeps deeply but uneasily, drowning in a haze of whiskey. And as he sleeps, he dreams.
And the pendulum swings behind his closed eyes.
Bedelia has been displayed—an ice queen in a hall of mirrors. Her arms are extended like wings and she is being held up on either side by attendants, two slightly blurred and less beautiful versions of herself. Hastily sketched charcoal duplicates.
Her black silk robe hangs over her shoulders and down her back like a winter waterfall, puddles in a tarry pool beneath her feet.
Her hair is frozen spun silver and she wears a crown of icicles. There are rivulets of icemelt running down her cheeks like tears, but she is far from crying.
Her beautiful face is calm and still. Cruel and regal and distant.
Hannibal has sliced her open from throat to navel. Her insides are brilliant red, juicy as a ripe pomegranate.
Her skin is painted gold, Will can see the brushstrokes, and her open chest is lined in crimson silk like a treasure box. Her organs are bright soft flowers carved from living jewels. He can see them pulsing, asynchronous.
As Will watches, Hannibal kneels like a courtier at Bedelia’s feet and circumscribes one of her slender thighs with his sharpest scalpel. The light bouncing off the surrounding mirror maze makes the entire length of the steel tool sparkle like a diamond. Bedelia’s delicate flesh parts beneath the blade like peachskin and then her leg simply comes away in Hannibal’s hand. Bloodless, as though from a mannequin.
Hannibal reverently sets her leg aside on a shiny obsidian tray and then replaces it immediately with a false one of carved ivory chased with gold, two crossing circlets of tiny exquisite rubies indicating the bend of the knee. Instead of a match to her remaining foot, this new leg terminates in a dainty vicious golden spike.
Hannibal stays crouched at her feet after he attaches the new leg, as though waiting for permission to rise that she continues to deny him. He is in attendant worship here, entirely unaware that Will is watching.
Bedelia is not so rapt.
Slowly, creakily, she turns her head to look at Will, pinning him with her mad eyes. “You,” she accuses him.
She looks down over her radically disassembled body then back at Will.
“You!” She shrieks, yanking her arms away from her attendants and teetering unsupported on her mismatched radiant legs. “You! You!”
She balls her fists and bends forward and screams like a hurricane. A glistening blackness begins to pour from her mouth like paint. It flows over her body, over Hannibal kneeling, over her makeshift attendants. It shatters the mirrors, fills the room, rolls up Will’s legs, searing his skin.
Will wakes gasping and choking, his heart straining against his ribs as though it will tear itself from its moorings. There is someone beside him and he scrambles backwards in a panic. Crams himself in the corner of the narrow guest bed and slaps his hands over his mouth to stifle his screams.
“Shh, shh,” he hears finally over the deafening surf of his own pounding heart. And then, “Easy, Will. Easy. You’re all right. It’s only me, mažylis.”
Hannibal. Only Hannibal has ever called him mažylis and only then after a nightmare. Will has never asked him what it means. It is part of their dream language.
“Shh, shh,” Hannibal hushes him again, stroking his arm in the dark. “You’re safe.”
“Please,” Will whispers in return. “No more.”