IV. Hannibal II
Hannibal’s first response was the thrill—the thrill that when his private number rang, Will was on the other end. He had just finished a particularly gruesome session with one of his least favorite patients, one Franklyn Froideveaux, and was taking a moment to sketch the lines of Will’s face in sleep. His scalpel rested on the end table beside him, both tool and physical nostalgia from his days as a surgeon—his days when he still existed in slavery—his days before Klara was left in a hotel room and a manicured hand slid him the room key—his days when his only joy was in saving lives since he would never be able to save his own.
“Darling,” he greeted when he saw the name flash over the screen. “I hope this means you’re coming home early.”
There was a long pause and then Will’s shaky voice came through—“I found Abigail Hobbs.”
A sense of disgust immediately clawed up Hannibal’s throat but he forced himself to remain composed although it took him a moment too long to answer. “She’s awake then?”
Twenty-four hours earlier, Alana Bloom had reported Abigail Hobbs missing. Apparently, Alana had been going and visiting the girl although she was still in a coma, reading Flannery Connor or similar gothic nonsense. None of the nurses had noticed as the machines had been rigged somehow not to alert anyone to the loss of heartbeat when Abigail Hobbs had been disconnected from them. The last nurse who had checked on the comatose patient had been over five hours before said patient was noticed to be missing.
There had been two theories.
The first was that Abigail had woken and that no one noticed when her pulse rate picked up. Then, potentially in a “fight or flight” situation, she had gotten out of her hospital bed and escaped undetected. It was unlikely but medically possible. A shy girl in borrowed clothes might make it out without anyone being none the wiser, as no one expected Abigail Hobbs to wake up and walk simply away.
The second theory was that someone had kidnapped Abigail. This was more plausible and would be more medically plausible. Abigail undoubtedly went for tests: if someone dressed as an orderly and appeared calm—then it could be done. Abigail, as a patient, was registered under her own name. Therefore, anyone with decent hacking or detective skills might be able to find her.
Hannibal, however, dreaded the first possibility. If Abigail Hobbs was awake, Hannibal feared that with a single look she would be able to tell what he was. She had made her father into the same malformed creature that was only emptiness and hunger wrapped up in the skin of a human man. If Abigail Hobbs was awake, she could whisper into Will’s mind with his beautiful imagination and then Will would realize that Hannibal wasn’t worth it. He would walk away with the shreds of Hannibal’s heart falling from his magnificent fingers. And what was almost worse is that Hannibal would have glimpsed his redemption, only to find himself alone in the shadows of this purgatory once again.
“No,” Will shakily stated through the phone, bringing Hannibal back to the present moment and conversation. “She’s still in a coma. I—I’m afraid to drive.”
Hannibal looked down at his appointment calendar and saw he didn’t have another client today, as he expected. He was only in the office to gather his thoughts and to finish patient notes before going and picking up Klara from a playdate just before dinner. “Text me your address, and I will get there as soon as I can.”
Fortunately, Will seemed to be in Elk State Park, which had been the location of a recently discovered human graveyard turned mushroom garden. It was only about an hour from Baltimore.
On the drive, Hannibal tried to clear his mind, focusing on the positives instead of the uncertainties of the situation.
Will had called him. Will trusted him to come and rescue him. Will wanted him when he felt vulnerable.
Music from a Rachmaninov C.D. washed over Hannibal as these thoughts washed through his mind, and when he arrived, it was easy enough to find the F.B.I. presence with the flashing lights and the crowds. Will was leaning up against a tree away from anyone, past the yellow tape, but with a preternatural talent that sent another small thrill through Hannibal, Will seemed to sense him immediately. Their gazes met almost instantly upon Hannibal’s arrival at the scene.
Will pushed himself off the tree, hands shoved into his jean pockets, and he made his way past the obvious crime scene (that was devoid of mushrooms) and then up to the yellow tape. With a nonchalance no doubt bred in his years as a New Orleans cop, he lifted it up with one arm to stretch the tape upward and simultaneously bent his body under it, meeting Hannibal’s gaze with the smallest of smiles.
“Do you need to tell anyone you’re leaving?” Hannibal asked, placing a hand on the small of Will’s back, delighting that Will no longer seemed to be surprised by this small intimacy.
Shaking his head, Will responded, “They know. I rode in with one of the techs so I don’t have my car—” He ran a hand over his face as he inhaled, stopping briefly when they were away from the crowds. “I kind of forgot that part when I called you.”
“There is no need to apologize,” Hannibal assured him, looking down at this wondrous angelic creature whom he loved and already cherished. “I do not need to pick up Klara for another hour and a half—we should have just enough time.” He didn’t bother to check his watch but led Will to his Bentley, opening the passenger door for him before getting in behind the wheel.
The two of them didn’t speak as they exited the park and Hannibal carefully looked over at Will, who was now gazing out the window. “You said they found Abigail Hobbs.”
“Buried,” he offered, “buried alive.” He didn’t’ reveal anything about the case and Hannibal wouldn’t expect him to. They were partners in life, not partners in the field, and Hannibal preferred it this way.
Some nights when Hannibal held Will close and breathed in that strange sweet smell of his, Hannibal wondered what it would have been like if they had not met before he was called in to give a consult for the F.B.I. If he first met Will as a potential patient or as a psychological marvel. If he had not given himself permission to love Will. If Klara hadn’t asked for him for her birthday. If she couldn’t because Will had never met his daughter, professional and personal having been kept separate. The possibilities tortured Hannibal, but even though he entertained the thoughts as he did not wish to repress his natural fears, he attempted not to dwell on them.
“They recovered her, though,” Will then murmured, turning to look over at Hannibal. His eyes were such a sharp blue as he had taken off his glasses and was fiddling with them in his hands. Hannibal wished that he could hoard Will’s gaze, that stunning blue, but he reminded himself again that Will would not be the man he desired if he were stifled and locked away in any form of cage. “I got there just as the ambulance was taking her back to –wherever she was taken from.”
Pausing to consider, Hannibal decided to comment on the substantive instead of the emotional. “They will most likely take her somewhere that is more secure. I wonder at the purpose of burying her alive as she is already in a coma.”
“Mycelium,” Will spat. “The mushroom farmer is forming neural connections using mushrooms of all things.”
A shiver ran through Hannibal at the very thought. “I can think of few people who would wish to form that sort of connection with Abigail Hobbs.” He looked over at Will briefly before returning his attention to the road.
“Garrett Jacob Hobbs certainly didn’t want it.” Will spoke a truth that they both knew but rarely vocalized. “Will I never be rid of her?”
Hannibal’s thoughts mirrored the sentiment. “She may never wake up, especially after this,” he stated as unemotionally as he could. “The mind can endure great trauma, but the body is not necessarily as resilient.”
He let them fall back into silence as he drove down I-95, only glancing over every once in awhile to see that Will had returned his gaze out the window.
It was only when they got off the exit ramp that Will spoke again. “The weather’s supposed to be nice on Saturday. I thought I might go fishing off the Potomac—I was recommended a nice spot.” He waited a long moment as if slightly worried.
Hannibal looked over again and took in this curious man whom he loved more than anything. “Of course, my darling,” he responded. “I can pack a lunch basket for you.”
Fortunately, that seemed to be the opening that Will needed. “That’s the thing. I was wondering if you thought Klara too young to come, if only for a little while. She likes watching me make fishing lures and I thought maybe I could get her a fishing rod day after the next—” He drifted off, clearly nervous, but Hannibal looked over and smiled widely.
“Can you get her a pink fishing pole?” he mused, thinking of his daughter and her love for pink despite his best efforts. “She has rainboots with sparkles if that’s acceptable.”
Will laughed, small but happy. “The spot is good for kids. The sparkling rainboots should be fine with a nice warm jacket.”
“Then we’ll have a family picnic,” Hannibal agreed, the thought pleasing him. “And if you or Klara catch something, I can prepare it for dinner.”
Will didn’t respond and as Hannibal shifted gears, he glanced over in worry.
Tears were glistening in Will’s eyes, but he reached out and let his fingers touch the back of Hannibal’s hand. “You said family.”
“Of course,” Hannibal whispered, his voice suddenly hoarse from emotion. He glanced over at Will and wished he could sketch him just at this moment, the moment when Hannibal realized that Will intended to stay. “Aren’t we?”
“Yes,” Will agreed, laughing again, his voice watery. “Yes, Hannibal. We are.”