To Hannibal’s displeasure, Clarice was a lanky-haired child.
She did not have Will’s chocolate curls; in fact, she had little of Will in her looks at all. She rather resembled Hannibal’s grandmother and he was not necessarily pleased by that fact. Yet, in personality, she was quite similar to Will and in that, Hannibal found delight.
She was quiet, inquisitive, and terribly shy. Her eyes—the blue long faded to a sort of smoky gray—always open, searching, questioning. Sometimes when she looked at her fathers, she rather looked as if she had known them for years rather than the two the three of them had shared together in their little cottage by the lake.
Aside from her somewhat uncanny stares, Clarice was a normal toddler. She maintained a proper weight, grew as was to be expected, learned to speak and walk at the appropriate ages, and cried when her first teeth came in. It was all so normal and domestic. Will was certain it was not to last.
Hannibal had not killed since before Clarice’s birth and Will wondered if Hannibal had determined that creating life was more interesting than destroying it. Or perhaps he was simply being careful. After all, it was no longer a solo act; if Hannibal had to run, he had two others to carry along and toddlers have a most annoying habit of making a scene just when one wants to be inconspicuous.
Still, Will reasoned, it would be easier to run with a toddler than a five, ten, or thirteen-year-old—someone who would have a life and a personality and plenty of questions.
His stomach rolled and he turned onto his side, staring out the bedroom window. It was raining again, ferociously, and Will remembered that it had been raining the day Hannibal had given birth to Clarice. Had that been an omen of some sort? He remembered his mother telling him it was good luck to have it rain on your wedding day but he knew nothing about birth days. Well, those were all old wives’ tales, anyway.
A soft cry from across the hall sounded and before Will had a chance to move, Hannibal was already up.
“I’ve got her,” Will insisted. “Go back to sleep.”
“I don’t mind,” Hannibal said.
“Go back to sleep.”
Hannibal watched Will leave the bedroom and close the door behind him. He sat on the bed and waited.
Clarice was sitting up in her tiny bed, rubbing at her wet, red face and coughing. Will felt her forehead first and satisfied that she was not feverish, he gathered her up into his arms.
“What’s wrong, darling?” he whispered. “Bad dream?”
Clarice nodded and hiccupped, wrapping her short arms around his neck.
“There are no bad dreams here,” he replied, rubbing her back.
She quickly calmed and settled against his bare chest as he rocked her gently. He sat on her bed and hummed a tuneless melody, watching the rain whip against the windows. It had not been this fierce of a storm when she had been born, he remembered. And had it stopped raining when Hannibal delivered her? He couldn’t remember, he realized. Will closed his eyes and nosed at Clarice’s lank hair, sighing gently.
“You did not return to our bed last night,” Hannibal said.
Will poured a cup of a coffee and kept his back to Hannibal and Clarice in her booster chair, happily munching on cereal.
“This is not the first time you preferred sleeping in Clarice’s room than ours,” Hannibal continued. “Any particular reason why?”
“She had a bad dream,” Will replied and sipped at the coffee, wincing at its strength.
“She has had bad dreams before,” Hannibal observed.
“It was also storming.”
He heard Hannibal stand and walk towards him at the counter. Hannibal began washing his cup at the sink but Will knew it was merely a formality.
“We haven’t been intimate in weeks either,” Hannibal said softly.
“For God’s sakes,” Will groaned. “Do we have to do this right now?”
“I did not realize I was upsetting you.”
Will ignored him and turned back to their daughter, who smiled up at him, her fingers in her mouth. He smiled in return and sighed at the now familiar sense of sadness enveloping him.
“What is it, Will?” Hannibal asked. “You are disturbed.”
“You stopped being my psychiatrist a long time ago.”
“And when you became the father of my child, your well-being became even more important to me.”
Will gazed at Clarice as she awkwardly used her tiny spoon to bring cereal to her mouth. She was concentrated completely at the task at hand and Will realized that for all she knew, the entire world had always been this bowl of cereal right here in this kitchen.
“What are we going to tell her?” he whispered as tears pricked at his eyes.
Hannibal was silent for a long moment. He placed the washed cup in the drain board and turned, his eyes following Will’s gaze.
“Parents keep secrets from their children all the time,” Hannibal replied finally. “It is a universal constant.”
“Not like this.”
“On the contrary,” Hannibal said, “I know of many cases of criminals going on to raise families. Sometimes they do it quite well.”
“All she has to do is go on the internet and do a quick search and she’ll discover the truth about us,” Will continued, as if he had not heard. “She’ll discover that she never even knew the real names of her parents, let alone what they were capable of.”
“We will protect her.”
“How?” Will asked firmly, whirling to stare at Hannibal, fury and sadness in his eyes. “How can you possibly say that? What do you want to do? Never send her to school? Never let her travel or leave this country? Chain her in the basement and keep her in captivity like so many other sick, twisted men have done to young girls?”
Only Will could have noticed the slight flinch on Hannibal’s stoic face and a dark part of him rather enjoyed seeing it. He knew he had struck home.
“What do you plan to do, Hannibal?” he whispered.
“You were happy once,” Hannibal said, ignoring the question, “when Clarice first came. You were overjoyed.”
“Has the novelty of parenthood worn off?”
“No,” Will said. “The novelty of fugitive life has.”
“Well, you have a simple solution in front of you.”
Will blinked and stared at Hannibal in confusion.
“You merely have to contact the FBI and inform them that you and your daughter have been held against your will by Hannibal the Cannibal. You will probably receive a substantial reward and that can go towards your new life with Clarice.”
“The FBI has a price on my head, too,” Will gasped, realizing he had tears in his eyes.
“I will admit to whatever you wish. Brainwashing you, perhaps? Blackmail? Anything.”
“Why are you saying this?” Will whispered. “You’ve told me yourself we can’t live apart.”
“That was before Clarice,” Hannibal said simply. He looked up and smiled at their daughter. “All finished?”
She nodded and lifted up her empty bowl proudly.
“All done!” she sang.
“Thank you very much,” Hannibal said and retrieved the bowl and spoon from her, placing them in the sink, and then returned to lift her out of her booster chair into his arms. “Shall we get dressed now?”
“I pick!” Clarice said, nodding happily. “Please.”
“Yes, you may pick your outfit out,” Hannibal replied, kissing her on the side of her face.
Will watched him carry Clarice down the hall and into her bedroom and he exhaled shakily. He ran a hand over his face and closed his eyes. All he could see in the darkness was Clarice’s smiling, pale face and her arms reaching up for him. It did not occur to him that the faces of Wally and Abigail had long ago faded into the blackness.
The day passed in a haze of overcast clouds and silence. Even Clarice was quieter than normal, her playtime barely punctuated with her usual laughter and squeals of delight. Hannibal had once said that children were sponges and extremely intuitive. This only resulted in Will feeling even more guilt.
It was evening when he returned to the house after walking the dogs and he was not surprised to find the entryway and living room dark. Yellow light spilled out down the hall and after herding the dogs to the mudroom, he walked to the source of the light. Sitting on the closed toilet seat was Hannibal and he was drying Clarice down with a fluffy towel.
Will stood in the doorway and watched as Clarice sat on his lap and sang a nonsense song about sheep and puppies. Her hair was darker when it was wet and it hung limply in her face. Hannibal looked up and asked, “Mind grabbing the comb?”
Will opened the cabinet door and pulled out the wide-tooth, plastic comb and began slowly and carefully running it through her hair. She hummed and closed her eyes.
“Feel good, love?” Will asked and Clarice nodded, yawning.
“Almost time for bed,” Hannibal observed and together, they dressed her in her pajamas, helped her brush her teeth, and tucked her into her tiny bed.
Hannibal told her a story about a fisherman and his wife and a magical fish but Will barely listened. He watched Clarice’s eyes grow heavy until they closed completely and her breathing steadied. Hannibal kissed her gently and waited for Will to do the same before following him into their bedroom.
“Have you made a decision?” he asked.
“Was I supposed to?” Will replied, unbuttoning his shirt.
“I assumed you spent the day weighing the benefits of alerting the authorities about our whereabouts,” Hannibal said and sat on the bed, watching Will carefully.
“Don’t be an idiot.”
Hannibal quirked his head to the side and stared.
“I was never going to do that and you know it,” Will said gruffly.
“You merely wanted to know if you had my permission.”
Will shot Hannibal a withering glare as he finished undressing. Hannibal reached out his hand and Will hesitated before taking it.
“We are still conjoined,” Hannibal whispered. “Now more so since Clarice.”
“Us against the world?” Will replied, stepping closer and running his free hand through Hannibal’s long, gray-streaked hair.
“Yes.” Hannibal closed his eyes and leaned forward into Will’s touch. “As it always has been.”
“I worry though,” Will confessed after a few moments’ silence. “We chose this life. Clarice didn’t. I don’t want her to be isolated forever.”
“She will carve a place for herself in this world; with our help. That is what parents do.”
“You always make everything sound so simple,” he said and leaned down to kiss Hannibal.
“Everything is simple,” Hannibal sighed between kisses. “We merely complicate things.”
Will deepened the kiss and curled his fingers into Hannibal’s hair.
“Stop talking,” he whispered against Hannibal’s lips. “You always talk too much.”
Hannibal’s laugh broke off into a low gasp as Will pushed him gently down onto the bed.