what monsters are

Abigail knows what this is. How this goes. What a mother, if she had one, would tell her: this is what being a teenager is.

It’s normal. Well, none of this is normal, but this, at least, is: the fact that she is terrified of him and yet when she sees him, when she hears his car coming up the driveway of her castle, her prison, her house overlooking the ocean where every day she walks along the bluff and wonders how it would feel in the first moment after she jumped off– she can’t help what she feels.

It’s exactly the same thing she’d felt in Mr. Daschuk’s tenth-grade English class, wanting simultaneously to be very smart and good but also to do something– anything– to stick out, make him look at her. His neat clothes and small glasses and particular way of saying “So,” at the beginning of each class to indicate that he was about to begin speaking, with complete confidence that he was going to command the attention of the entire room. Wanting him to touch her fingers as she handed in an assignment. Wanting him to say her name and look at her.

Or the leader of the Guiding troupe that she’d briefly joined, before the thing had become defunct for lack of interest. But there had been five girls, and the leader, Jeff– he’d been leading the Scout group, and someone had insisted that there ought to be something for girls too, so he’d volunteered. Jeff had a neat beard and a loud laugh and was probably barely older than the kids he was leading, maybe in his mid-twenties, but he might as well have lived on a different planet of experience and confidence. The girls had tiptoed around him, nobody wanting to look like they were obsessed with him, nobody wanting to be less interesting than the others, command less of his attention. So they all wore the nicest clothes they could get away with without drawing comment, and the kind of makeup that makes you look pretty without making you look like you’re trying to look pretty. Abigail had been the only one to work up the courage to add Jeff on Facebook, after the group had disbanded. He’d rejected her. She’d suspected he would; it was the professional thing to do. There was probably a guideline in the leaders’ handbook or something telling them not to add their charges on social media. It would be inappropriate.

And neither Jeff, nor Mr. Daschuck, nor any of the other teachers or babysitters or inconsequential figures of authority that Abigail had ever had a crush on were that kind of man. The kind who sees the special regard of people they have power over, and reaches out towards it. They were all good people. The kind who would, and probably did, discuss the wide-eyed crushes of their students with other staff, and shake their heads, knowing that it would dissipate in a few years and their charges would go on to happy, healthy lives, their psyches intact, their teenage crushes merely embarrassing but nostalgic memories.

Or at least, most of them would. Abigail’s friends. Her classmates. The other girls, who didn’t sleep on pillows stuffed full of human hair, or eat meat that had once talked, or watched their parents bleed out in front of them. Those girls. It was a good thing that those girls had crushes on good men, who would never do something like that.

Abigail isn’t one of those girls. She never was; and so now, with Hannibal cleaning up from their meal together and asking her for details on the correspondence courses he is making her take under a false name, she only has half her mind on what she’s saying as she tells him about her studies in mathematics and Italian and literature. The other half is busy asking why the fuck not.

Abigail no longer has an intact psyche to ruin. She is never going to be whole again, never going to be normal. And Hannibal is no moral and career-minded high school teacher. If he turns her down, it won’t be because she’s too young, or he’s too scrupulous, or it’s too wrong. It will be solely and completely because he doesn’t want to.

And that will hurt like hell, but maybe she wants to hurt like hell, right now. Maybe that would be better than what she’s doing now: still trying to be a good kid as if there were any point to the performance.

Kids who come on to unattainable authority figures are, Abigail knows, most frequently said to be acting out. Having a phase. Working through hormones. And she had tried so damn hard to not be like other teenagers. She had tried so hard to be worthy of her own life: if other girls had to die for her to keep living, the very least she could do was be worthy of the sacrifice.

Now, finally, she doesn’t have to be worthy of anything. She is– she knows, she’s not stupid– a pawn in Hannibal’s game. She is alive because he wants her to be, no other reason, nothing she can do or fail to do to earn the privilege of her continued existence.

So she helps Hannibal load the dishwasher, and then she stands in front of him and looks at him, wondering. Working up the courage. Trying to figure out how this is even supposed to go. She’d kissed a boy once, sitting on the back steps of someone’s house as the party went on inside. He’d touched her breast, and she’d felt nothing but vague discomfort when he squeezed too hard. She’d kissed a girl, too, at a sleepover with two friends where they had pricked their fingers and held them together to become blood sisters, then played truth or dare that was really just “dare or dare.”

None of that seems like relevant experience, somehow, standing here in the kitchen of the house that she thinks of as “hers” because it is hers alone for most days of the week, looking up at Hannibal, who must know what this is about. He must.

She leans in towards him, tucking her head into his shoulder, because that at least she knows is allowed. She can lean into him and he will wrap his arms around her and hold her, like a father. Maybe. She tries to remember if her father had ever hugged her quite like this, all-encompassing, like she could climb into his skin and live there and be safe forever. Even if the thing she needs to be safe from his him.

“Can we have sex?” she asks. It’s not like she’s ever going to come up with a more elegant way to say it. And a more appealingly vulgar way to say it would be completely beyond her; she cannot imagine, in a million lifetimes, saying the word “fuck” in front of Hannibal Lecter.

Hannibal keeps stroking the back of her head with one large thumb for a moment. She’s trembling, and she can’t stop it. “What brought this on?” he asks.

Abigail swallows. “Teenage hormones, obviously,” she says with a bravado she doesn’t feel.

“Hmm.” Hannibal pulls back, cupping the back of her head so that he can hold her in place as he stares into her face. “I left you a credit card, and I know you have been availing yourself of it to order some small personal items. If mere physical sensation were the ultimate goal, surely my participation would be unnecessary.”

Abigail can feel her face flushing, and although she hopes it’s an attractive glow, in reality she is almost certainly turning beet red. Of course she had assumed that Hannibal was investigating the credit card statements before paying them. And of course he knows that the vibrator in a box in her bedside cabinet has less than nothing to do with this.

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” she mutters petulantly. She has already asked, after all, and that is what he likes. Being asked. Surely she shouldn’t also be expected to explain.

But she is; and he hasn’t said no, so she just needs to give him this one more thing. Just one more, and then she will get what she wants. Hannibal runs his hand up and down her back. “Just the truth,” he says soothingly.

“Because,” she grits out, “You– this– this feeling, for someone who’s responsible for me, who controls me– it’s supposed to be a teenage phase– I’m supposed to get over it. But I never will, will I? I’m never going to move past this. So I can do the thing I’m not supposed to do. I can at least have that.”

The capitulation in his stance, his limbs, is obvious; he was never really planning on refusing her, only on getting what he wanted first. He presses a kiss to her forehead, then releases her. “Go to your room,” he says. “I’ll be there in a moment.”

He releases her, and Abigail’s legs feel suddenly shaky, her muscles tingling. Dazedly, she climbs the stairs to her room and sits down on her bed, looking around the space. She tries out the thought: I’m going to lose my virginity in this room. It’s more something she thinks she should think than something that is really weighing on her; she has had enough first times in the last year that this one no longer looms large in her mind, most of the time. First time watching her parents die. First time being a murderer. First time in a mental hospital. First time digging up a dead body. First time faking her death. First time being the prisoner of a serial killer. It feels like a remembrance of a simpler time, to regard first time having sex as anything of import. It feels good, to be nervous for this.

Hannibal enters the room, and he places a condom and a bottle of lube on the bedside table, watching her carefully. She knows where they’d come from; she had explored every nook and cranny of the whole house first thing when he’d left her here, including the spacious but unadorned bedroom that must be Hannibal’s when he stays here, although he never has at the same time as her. She’d wondered, then, if the supplies in his bedside table were intended for anything or anyone in particular, of just the standard things that an intensely hedonistic man would consider essential furnishings for any place he might spend time. Now, she’s pretty sure it’s Will Graham that the condoms in Hannibal’s bedroom are optimistically lying in wait for, on the off-chance that Will actually cares about safe sex, which seems kind of unlikely to her given all of the other circumstances of his and Hannibal’s relationship.

Even if he and Will are sleeping together as part of whatever game they’re playing, back in Baltimore, Hannibal doesn’t seem disturbed to be doing this now with her. He sits down on the bed beside her, and brushes her hair away from her shoulder. Even that light touch, a finger trailing over the bottom of her neck, feels like fire on her skin, and she briefly fights down a wave of panic. His hands, like that, all over her body– she can’t. She’ll burn up.

“Have you done this before, Abigail?” he asks, and fear makes her rude.

“Does it matter?” she snaps, and at the lightest touch of his fingers underneath the hem of her shirt, she yanks it off, like ripping up a bandaid, revealing the plain white bra underneath.

“Not in the sense you mean,” Hannibal answers as he methodically works on his buttons. “First times are no more inherently important than any other occasion; they do, however, often turn out to be memorable. Do you have memories of intimacy you wish to reproduce, or to overwrite? Other children, boys or girls from school, fumblings in darkened bedrooms or the backs of cars–”

“No,” says Abigail. Hannibal, somehow, looks both obscenely dignified wearing nothing but briefs and an unbuttoned white shirt, and also just plain obscene, as if seeing him this way was more intimate than seeing him naked. “Nothing like that.”

Abigail remembers, once, seeing some women’s interest talk show with a segment where some sort of expert came in to do a workshop where she taught middle-aged women how to look sexy while undressing. She’d watched, fascinated, as the ladies onscreen gyrated their hips and rubbed their legs together and generally made a production of it, and assumed that that must be how people undressed before sex. Now, it is painfully obvious that it is not, and that perhaps daytime television was not the best place to be looking for that kind of information. She wants to get it over with, cross through the liminal space of being naked but still dressed in front of Hannibal as quickly as possible, without being perceived going from one state to the other. She reaches for her bra strap, and his hand twitches out to grab her wrist.

“Sit back,” he says, an order and not a request. “Allow me.”

He crowds her back onto the bed until she has no choice but to scoot back and prop herself up, just barely sitting but almost horizontal, against the pillows. And Hannibal follows, crawling in a way that would look like a silly imitation of a predatory stance on anyone who was not literally at the top of the food chain. When Hannibal does it, though, it means that she can feel the heat of his body, his calves coming to rest on either side of her thighs and a curl of greying chest hair poking through his half-unbuttoned shirt. She feels like prey.

He reaches behind her with one hand, and somehow manages to unhook her bra with nothing more than a twist of his fingers. Far from doing it quickly, Hannibal draws it out; pulling the thing down and the straps off her arms painfully slowly, watching as her breasts are uncovered to the air.

(Is there anything good to eat in there? She thinks wildly, almost panicking. Have you drank human milk before? You must have. It’s a revolting thought, but she already knows that revulsion and fascination live right next to each other in the mind.)

As if he can read her mind, Hannibal bends down and licks quickly, almost workmanlike, over each nipple. It barely feels like anything except the shock of cold when the air touches the wet skin, but then they shrivel slightly and peak, pointed and reddening. Hannibal’s fingers are warm as he slips two of them in between the elastic of her panties and the skin of her hip and then those are coming down, too: slowly, catching at her knees and then he shifts to pull them all the way off, and then she is naked.

She stares up at him. Hannibal’s face is angular but is eyes are soft, and he’s looking at her like he’s trying to read her, as if her reaction is important to him. She wonders what this is to him. Is he devouring her, like one of his victims? Is he taking care of her like a father would? Or is he just doing her a favour, like she asked?

He’s still boxing her in with his knees as he removes his shirt, and then he lowers himself down: Abigail sinking down to lie fully against the mattress, Hannibal pressing every inch of her body against his skin– with the sole exception of his groin, still covered by briefs. She can feel his cock straining against the cloth.

“It doesn’t scare me,” she says.

The corners of his eyes crease. “I should hope not. It would not be an auspicious beginning if you were afraid of the organ you want inside you. Assuming, of course, that is your desire?”

“I asked. I’m not changing my mind,” she says, somewhat insulted that he thinks she would back out now.

“I only meant that there are many ways of having sex that do not involve penetration.”

There is no way to respond unambiguously to that that doesn’t involve actually naming the body part in question, so Abigail just squeezes her eyes shut and shakes her head, and hopes he understands.

(He always understands. Sometimes he makes her ask anyway, but he always understands what she needs.)

Hannibal makes a noise that sounds amused, and then her thoughts are interrupted by a sensation so intense that for a moment she fails to categorize it, like the first moment of touching something too hot, when you have the fleeting impression that it is, in fact, freezing cold. Her eyes fly open to see Hannibal’s fingertips just hovering over the peaks of her nipples, and the sensation of the pinch blooms and washes over her body like being submerged.

Ah–” She can’t help the tiny squeak that escapes her, and in that moment the sensation expands to her entire body and she can feel the sudden wetness between her legs, and then he does it again.

“Stop it,” she says instinctively, but Hannibal just looks at her.

“Are you certain?”

She doesn’t answer– can’t answer– but she thrashes a little, arches her ribcage up towards his hand and squeezes her thighs together, as good as asking for it. Suddenly she wants that sudden shock of pain more than she’s ever wanted any feeling before, but he obeys, dammit– of course he does– and instead, brings one hand down to grab at her thigh, caressing the tender flesh on the inside of her leg and then slipping slowly upwards.

“Something to return to, perhaps,” he says contemplatively, like she is a new instrument he is just learning. Perhaps she is. Every muscle in her body feels tensed, waiting, focused on his hand getting closer and closer until finally he just cups her pelvis, his palm warm over her mons and his fingers tucked in between the tops of her thighs where the tip of his middle finger is just barely above her entrance, so close to breaching her body but just barely resting outside.

She waits, breathing. She is acutely aware of how she looks, suddenly: young, vulnerable, innocent, shocked by the sensation and the forthrightness of what is happening to her. Her innocence, or at least the appearance of her innocence, had always been a kind of tool: first to lure other girls to their deaths, and then to get away with it. But perhaps the fact that she used the tool means it was never more than a mirage in the first place, an overlay underneath of which lay something darker and more dangerous.

“Yes–” she says and she has barely spoken when his finger pushes just slightly, dipping into the her wetness and spreading it over her clit. She jerks and grabs Hannibal’s shoulder, the touch nearly too intense. He eases up and starts stroking her, two slippery fingers up and down over her clit and then dipping farther and farther inside her with each stroke. It’s just on the edge of too light, and it’s infuriating; she tries to push into it, get more, and he pulls away a tiny bit more, keeping her just on the edge of the sensation she really wants.

She thinks back to his initial reaction; the knowing, half-joking suggestion that any sexual pleasure she wants, she ought to be able to give herself. But this, of course, is what another person (him, him in specific) can give her that she can’t give herself; the slight edge of fear fed by uncertainty, the refusal to give in even when she wants to beg for it, the unmistakable otherness of his hands, the alchemy of adding in someone else’s desires to her own. The feeling of being completely in his hands, even her reactions barely her own.

Hannibal repositions himself, lying alongside her instead of on top, giving him better access without his hands being trapped in between their bodies. He gets two fingers fully inside of her, and it doesn’t feel like much until he curls them and pushes the pads of his fingers against her walls, towards her belly. Then he strokes hard, and Abigail’s eyes go wide with the pleasure that radiates from deep inside of her. For a suspended second it just feels weird, like she has to pee but in a way that she needs more of, and then it slots into place, as if an entirely new space has been make in her mind for exactly this sensation, and she moans.

Hannibal does it again, stroking hard enough that she can feel it not just inside but as a tight bulge in her lower belly, then forces a third finger inside of her to help. It feels like a stretch, strange and an little forced, but it doesn’t hurt. He keeps it up for what seems to her a long time, the force of his hand surging in and out of her shifting her infinitesimally up the mattress with every stroke. The pressure builds, but with him mostly avoiding her clit, there is nowhere for it to go. She has a sudden vision of one of Hannibal’s victims, tied up and screaming with pleasure instead of pain. He obviously prefers to inflict pain, but from the way his face is still and calm and fascinated, she wonders if maybe pleasure isn’t all that far behind.

She wants his cock in her. It’s a strange thought, since she’s never had one before and can’t possibly know what it would be like to crave it this badly, but clearly this was the effect that his current ministrations were intending to have: she can’t think about anything other than getting him on top of her, getting him inside of her, getting even more girth and pressure where his fingers are now. He wants her to beg for it.

Instead, she reaches down and pulls at the waistband of his briefs. She can’t quite pull them down, and the elastic snaps back against his hips; a strange, ridiculous thing, to contemplate that Hannibal has elastic in his underwear like anyone else. It makes her feel a little bit better about how utterly breathless and helpless she is right now.

Hannibal looks amused; it’s a tiny expression, but one that she has been practising taking note of in the last few months. He pulls the underwear down, then reaches for the condom on the side table.

Abigail watches him rip open the foil. She has never so much as seen one up close before; they were supposed to learn how to put them on in health class in school, but the tenth-grade class the year before hers had ended up blowing them up like balloons and throwing them out of a third-floor window onto the football field when left unattended for a few moments, so the entire hands-on condom unit had been unilaterally canned by the gym teachers responsible for teaching sex ed.

A part of her wants to tell Hannibal that. Perhaps if she were having sex with a man who she suspected was trying to forget who she was to make himself feel better– a child, a victim, a captive– then she would, just to remind him. But this is Hannibal, and she doesn’t need to.

He has to push himself up to kneeling in order to roll the condom on, so she takes the opportunity to look at his penis, as if knowing more about Hannibal– knowing this, in specific– could somehow protect her from his whims. Unlike the few dicks that she’d seen pictures of, giggling with her friends as they dared each other to make increasingly more explicit web searches, Hannibal is uncircumcised: she watches him pull back the foreskin from the head a little and grip the root with a loose fist as he rolls the condom on. Then he settles his knees in between her spread legs, and leans forward over her.

“Are you ready, Abigail?” he asks.

She just nods. How is she supposed to know if she’s ready or not? He knows what’s best for her.

(He probably does know what’s best for her, but he only and always does what’s best for himself. Abigail is already aware from long experience that knowing and doing are not the same thing; but it’s nice to pretend, for a little while.)

He presses the slick, polyurethane-covered head of his cock against her entrance, and for a moment it feels like it won’t go in, and then it does. A stab of pain comes with it despite the preparation of his fingers, but despite being inside her the pain feels shallow, easily ignorable.

“Relax around it, Abigail,” Hannibal says, his arms squeezing on both sides of her shoulders. She looks at the ripple of muscle, his biceps bulging slightly with the strain of holding himself up, then tries to do as she’s told. She breathes out and relaxes, and he pushes a little bit farther in. She wonders whether if is odd to refer to a part of one’s own body as it, but then, from her perspective that is what it is. Perhaps Hannibal does have empathy, even if his particular brand of it is only a linguistic trick.

She breathes, and he pushes in slowly, and when finally he is seated fully inside of her the main feeling is warm; their skin pressing against each others’ in ways that wouldn’t be possible without penetration. It feels nice, even if the driving pressure of his fingers inside her and the sharp need of stimulation to her clit is gone. It feels intimate.

“I’m okay,” she says, an ambiguous statement if ever there was one (in what sense, exactly, could she ever be said to be okay?) but he understands the limited domain that it lives in, that all she really means by it is move.

So he does, pulling out and then slamming back into her; no coddling or easing into it or even worry for whether he’s hurting her. She is fenced in by his arms on the side and the pressure of his body on top of her and the only way she can really move is her legs, so she wraps them around his back just because she can and then oh, his thrusts manage to recapture some of the overwhelming pressure that he’d found inside her with his fingers but it’s not enough, every movement just barely touches what she wants.

“More,” she says, “Faster–” and Hannibal obliges, driving into her with all his strength. (No, she thinks deliriously, not all of it– she’s never seen that, not even when he’d picked up Nicholas Boyle’s body like it was nothing.) He looks down at her, as he does it, his eyes unfathomable, giving nothing away. She has no idea if the blankness is just a cover for what’s really underneath, or if the blankness is what’s underneath. She just watches and feels, feeling small and helpless and finally, finally, entirely unaccountable for what she is doing, what is happening to her.

He drives into her and plucks at her nipples until she’s not sure if she’s making sounds or not, and when he gives a final thrust and holds himself inside her she can just barely feel the pulsing of his orgasm through the condom. But instead of stopping or even resting, he puts a hand on his own cock to hold it on as he pulls out, pulls the condom off and ties it before throwing it carelessly onto the mattress behind him, then dives in between her legs and puts his mouth on her.

It feels raw, more intense than anything that had come before for his mouth to be suddenly right there where she is tender, soothing and warm and incredibly wet and slick and filthy over her clit. She can’t do anything but gasp, the surprise completely unfair but she hadn’t known it could feel like this. Hannibal licks and sucks and shoves two fingers roughly back inside all at once, and Abigail’s body arches as she comes in a moment that feels like it exists suspended outside of time.

Hannibal pushes himself up. His lips are shiny and slightly parted as he pants, catching his breath. Then he lies down beside her, not reaching for her but allowing her to come to him.

Abigail does; her entire body feels shocky and like it might not quite belong to her, and she welcomes his arms around her and how he lets her bury her face in his chest. He smells like salt and musk and something like nutmeg, maybe. It is too earthy a smell, too insistent a feeling when the hair on his chest tickles her eyelashes, to think of him as anything other than a man. He is a human body just like the ones that she’s eaten. A man.

And for some reason it is that, the realization that there would have been this moment even if she’d slept with any of her other teenage crushes, from before-- Jeff or Mr. Daschuk or her mom’s friend Ron who sometimes came by to do the eaves-troughs or school guidance councillor that everyone pretended they wanted a meeting with only to sort out their timetable, any number of men who wouldn’t because it would ruin both their own lives and Abigail’s– it is the sudden realization that Hannibal is a man just like all those other men that undoes her. She tries, for a scant few seconds, to rein in the tears that are threatening to spill out of her eyes, but they overflow and then it is too late, she is undeniably crying, and he can surely tell. There’s no point in hiding anything from Hannibal.

She looks up at him, because it is better to get this over with now. He watches her tear-stained face, then gently reaches up to smudge a tear off of her cheek with a thumb. “Do you regret your request, Abigail?” he asks gently, and she realizes that he isn’t offended by the idea in the least. If she said yes, he would be merely interested in the process that had led her here. He would bear no guilt; naturally, since he has no guilt over anything he’s done already, this wouldn’t be the thing to tip him over the edge.

“It’s not that,” she says, because it isn’t. She doesn’t wish this hadn’t happened. Now that she knows it’s an option, a part of her is already looking forward to the next time.

She looks down, shakes her head. There is no way to say this out loud that doesn’t sound ridiculous.

“It’s real now,” she says finally. “My life hasn’t been normal for a long time, I knew there was no going back for me, but. I don’t know.”

Hannibal, of course, does. He runs his fingers through her hair, lies down fully on his back, and lets her rest her head on his chest, her face turned away from him so that she can hide her expression as he talks. “If the circumstances allowed,” he says, “You could have gone back to the normal world and known that everything you did up until this night, you did because you needed to.”

“You told me once that you know what monsters are,” Abigail says. “And I’m a victim.”

“So you were,” Hannibal says. “Your father’s victim, and mine. You will always know that to be true, despite anything the world tries to tell you about yourself. And yet you will also always know, Abigail, even if the world were to tell you exactly what tonight makes you–”

“I wasn’t your victim tonight,” Abigail whispers. “I chose this.”

Hannibal wolds her close, and Abigail closes her eyes. You once said that you and Will were going to protect me, she wants to ask him. Did you mean it? Will you, still?

She keeps quiet instead, no longer certain that she wants to hear the answer.