“That would be incredibly cruel. Not to mention dangerous. Are you serious?”
Not for the first time, Will wonders how much of Hannibal’s insanity plea was justified. It’s not that he thinks Hannibal is above trying to make him hurt others; but the madman actually has the gall to be taken aback, now, as if he had anticipated Will liking the idea. Will had always thought that Hannibal knows the difference between cruelty and kindness and simply prefers the two to be balanced, in lieu of skewed towards the latter as most people prefer. But perhaps he’d only ever known that there was a difference for other people. If that’s the case, now that he is separated from the company or input of any human besides Will, the extent to which he is unmoored from reality is finally becoming apparent.
And it’s not even the cruelty of the act that Will is most surprised about: it’s the danger. The danger, for so little reward, and what reward there would be wouldn’t even touch Hannibal. In a way, it’s almost sweet. They’ve been recovering for months, and now that they’re healed enough to walk without pain and blend into the Christmas travel crowds, they’re preparing to flee to Continent. Hannibal would put all that in jeopardy, for what? There is nothing that he could possibly gain from Will’s doing this, Will thinks furiously, and then curses the fact that he’s even thinking about it.
“I am serious,” says Hannibal. “It is is the traditional season, after all, for reaching out to maintain connections with those whose lives we have touched, and who have touched ours. I usually write letters, but seeing as we have unwittingly retreated to a location proximate to your ex-wife, a visit would be entirely polite.”
Hannibal is sitting in the cabin’s only upholstered armchair, but there’s a ledge inside the window that is opposite him that is wide enough for Will to sing down onto, hugging his knees to his chest. It’s an odd facsimile of their old positions, opposite each other in Hannibal’s old Baltimore office. “Do you think I’m going to kill her?” Will asks.
He wishes he hadn’t said it as soon as it escapes his lips, because Hannibal’s gaze grows hungry and for a moment he can see it behind his eyes: Molly’s momentary shock fading into something worse, acceptance, the horrifying fact that if Will did show up to finish the job Hannibal started, it would be what she’s come to expect from life. From him. If he betrayed her, it would be one more in a long line of betrayals and disappointments that she’s never had the luxury of getting messed-up over, not when she has a son to raise and a job to do and a life to rebuild. Molly Foster has always just carried on in spite of everything. Her blood splatters on the inside of his eyelids.
“I certainly would not object,” says Hannibal. “But that was not my expectation, no.”
Now that he’s thought about it, though– his hands wringing Molly’s neck, his knife piercing her delicate flesh– Will feels itchy with it. It’s not what he would do. Of course he wouldn’t kill Molly. But in the absence of knowing what he would do if he saw her again, the image lingers.
He buries his too-long hair in his hands, tugging slightly in frustration. “Fuck,” he mutters. It’s insanity. The absolute best-case scenario, if he goes, is that Molly never tells another soul, and instead of living the rest of her life the widow of a man who could be considered a martyr as long as nobody looks too closely at the details, she will always know that she married a monster. Worst-case scenario, she calls the police, and this time Hannibal ends up on death row.
(The fact that he’s considering the worst-case scenario to be the one that involves Hannibal’s death, not Molly’s, is too large to think about head-on, so he doesn’t.)
“What if I go back to her?” Will says, suddenly reckless, angry. “Have a change of heart? I’ve committed crimes, sure, but none that couldn’t be granted clemency by giving you up. I could return to my old life. What if I see her, and decide this isn’t what I want?”
He raises his head out of his hands, and when he finally lets his eyes slide over to Hannibal’s, he sees something approaching terror in them, and realizes why Hannibal has suggested this, and why Will is going to do it. They have tickets under assumed names to Charles de Gaulle airport departing in a week, and they have spent the past three months practically living inside of each others’ skin, and Hannibal still isn’t sure. He needs to watch Will leave and come back, one more time.
Will stands. “I’ll go tomorrow,” he says. “I’m going to bed. I need to rest up for the drive.”
Hannibal doesn’t join him in bed for what feels like a very long time.
Molly doesn’t scream, and she doesn’t call the police, and as she stands aside wordlessly to let him into her home– a cookie-cutter suburban thing, too big for just her and Wally and as different from their home together as it could possibly be– Will realizes there is a worst-case scenario that he hadn’t even considered.
He looks around almost automatically as he enters the foyer, expecting the click of nails on hardwood flooring and the greetings of the dogs. He hadn’t expected his dogs, necessarily; he and Molly had had a rotating cast of them anyway, as she was better than Will ever had been at finding homes to adopt them out to. But he expects the canine greeting on an instinctual level that doesn’t depend on any particular dog; and when it doesn’t come, he finds himself hunched over awkwardly, hands on his knees, Molly staring at him placidly.
She looks– fine. Will looks around. The house is nice, in a generic sort of way; tasteful furnishings but no art on the walls, no hand-me-down blankets thrown over the back of the sofa. She’s dressed nicely, her blouse the sort of delicate, expensive fabric that he’d never seen her wear before. The sleeves twist slightly as she crosses her arms tightly. “Do you want a cup of coffee?” she asks.
Will nods, because it will be better to have a cup of coffee in his hand than nothing. He follows her into the kitchen; clean stainless steel everywhere, including the espresso machine which she presses a button on. It comes to life with a quiet hum.
Will leans against the kitchen’s island. “This is… nice,” he says.
Molly nods. “It’s been good,” she says. No more, and when she opens the cabinet to find two espresso cups, the matching white ceramic of the plates, bowls and mugs is practically blinding.
He accepts the coffee and sits on one of the stools beside the island, and just for a moment, he feels Molly waver, as if she were peeking out from behind a curtain, from very far away. And that is worse– if he allows her to open, to hope, to love, then she’ll never stop, and she won’t survive that.
She had been surviving just fine, until now. The espresso is amazing, better than anything he’s had in the past little while, even with Hannibal’s best efforts in their stolen cabin’s tiny kitchen. It feels like it takes muscular effort to push the swallow of it down his throat. “I just came to say goodbye,” he chokes out, and Molly’s face slams shut again. Relief washes over him.
Unbidden, he finds himself walking backwards through the last three months of Molly’s life, piecing together the careful, flavourless house and her careful, flavourless expression with the forensic evidence of his own disappearance. He knows all too well that the media had started hounding her almost immediately. There’d been a clip of her, burned permanently into his memory, caught off guard as she closed the door on the garage that used to house his engine parts, waving her hand ineffectually in the direction of the camera and then high-tailing it back up to the house. It had been his last contact with the wider world, on a TV behind a gas station cashier. There is no internet or cell service at the cabin, only a landline registered in someone else’s name, which suits Will fine. He hadn’t wanted to see what came after that.
Now, he sees it even though he doesn’t want to. The media hounding, photographers waiting outside of Wally’s school and in the bleachers of his Little League practices. Molly, looking desperately for a place to escape to. She had a small pension from her first husband’s death; Will wonders if his own savings account had been released to her yet, too. Even so, money would have been tight. This house, and the things in it, are not the thrifty purchases of a single mother on a budget.
She would have needed a lump sum, and quickly. And, Will knows all too well, she would have been offered one.
“Exclusive rights,” he says, looking around, and he hates that the entire feeling of his surroundings slides into place as he says it, and he knows it to be true. “That’s what you offered her, isn’t it? You get the advance, and to trade in the hundreds of journalists hounding you for just one. And she gets…” he grimaces. “It all.”
Molly sips her coffee, and manages to radiate fury so profound that it doesn’t even need to be expressed. She would be debasing herself by even dignifying that with a response– Will, trying to shame her for her choices. “I know,” he mutters. “I know.”
They finish their coffees, and Molly places the cups in the dishwasher. Will watches her do it, thinking of their evening ritual for washing the dishes; how one of them would start cleaning them at the small sink, filling the drying rack, and then bark like a disconsolate dog when they needed the other to come help dry. It was silly. Wally had rolled his eyes at first at his lovestruck mom, but after a while, he’d sometimes joined in.
The dishwasher will probably do a better job, anyway.
“Thanks for the coffee,” he says. He shoves his hands in his pockets, where his fingers twist around each other anxiously. He could say more, but there’s only really one thing he came here to say. “Goodbye,” he adds.
“Goodbye, Will,” Molly says, and this time her veneer doesn’t crack. She is smooth and impenetrable as stone; as emotionless as Will had once believed Hannibal to be.
Will arrives back at the cabin hollowed-out and empty. He allows Hannibal to wrap him in his arms, trying to feel his relief, trying to absorb his love, trying to feel something other than the desolation of a soft breakable life, built back with the fortifications to ensure it would never be broken again.