It’s a far cry from her usual mail, and she’s somewhat surprised it hasn't been mis-sorted into Margot's correspondence. As she reaches for a silver letter opener and tears open the heavy paper the card falls out face down on the antique desk.
The perfect writing on the back is in a hand that is entirely and chillingly familiar to Alana, although it's not signed.
She rises and closes the door of her home office, locking it for good measure. She returns then to read and examine the card. In recent months she's begun to wonder if her obsession with Hannibal is one-sided. Indeed even as Margot had refused to fund Alana's search further, and she settled into a semblance of domesticity, a part of her mind has been restless, wondering at the fare of her once mentor and lover, one who deluded her into believing her his captor.
The other side of the card is a picture postcard of an astrological clock.
'Dearest Alana, You have two things that belong to me. I would like to discuss them, if you will, on the anniversary of a harpsichord kiss. If you come alone, you will be safe.'
Nothing more is written.
The clock she knows. Hannibal always told her of the beauty of Prague, and although she has never been she hung onto his words like the wide-eyed innocent she had once been, counterpoint to his wealth and experience.
It takes her less than a minute to make her decision.
Margot will be furious, of course. But Alana is bored with small minds and small problems.
The next day she purchases her plane ticket in cash, careful to leave no paper trail. As the weeks elapse there are arguments and bruising make up sex but nothing Margot can say or do can deter Alana from her purpose.
She lands in Prague the morning of that fated day, trailing her small suitcase behind her as she gazes up at the gilt arms of the clock.
Hannibal is sitting at an outside table at café in the Staroměstské náměstí, one that commands a view of the famous medieval astrological clock, sipping a strong Czech coffee. He wears light-coloured trousers, a darker sweater, a casual jacket, sunglasses. His hair is longer than it ever was in Baltimore, his chin silver with stubble; his skin is bronzed.
He spots Alana immediately from a distance, by her posture: upright, shoulders back, that slightly hip-first stance that always gave her an air of confidence, even when that confidence was put on to hide insecurity or naiveté.
He smiles. Alana Bloom is no longer naive. But that confidence is as assumed now as it was then. This time it's to cover up fear. But he admires her for it, as he always admired her for it in the past.
Smoothly, he stands, leaving behind coins for his coffee on the table, and walks across the square to stand behind her, face slightly raised, breathing in through his nose to catch her distinctly remembered scent. He stands behind her for a moment, observing. Then he steps up beside her.
Alana smirks, unsurprised by his ability to sneak up on her in the crowd of tourists. As he turns to face her, she wonders just how long he's been standing behind her. He's a sentimental creature, but she doubts he'd allow himself to feel too much in such a public sphere.
She takes in his greeting with crimson lips pursed. "Hannibal."
She feels her heart begin to thrum with excitement and fear. Even in this most public of places she can never feel truly safe around Hannibal. The upshot to that is she feels more alive than she has in many months—not a comfortable thought, but a truth she must acknowledge.
"You've summoned me. I assume there's a reason." Not that Alana wants her time with Hannibal to be over so soon but his cryptic engagement with her has piqued her curiosity.
His gaze flickers down to her suitcase. “You’ve only just arrived. I know the Verger family flies first class, but you are surely in need of some refreshment.”
Gently, but with cordial authority, he takes the handle of her suitcase from her and leads her across the square, to the café he has just left. He gestures her into the seat he has vacated, still warm.
Alana allows him to take the case. She’s spent the overnight flight plagued with uncertainty which was only compounded by the complimentary whiskey.
"I could eat," she confesses as she follows Hannibal across the square and takes the proffered seat.
Her attire is somewhat more formal than she'd usually don for a transatlantic flight, but Hannibal is special to her, so she's donned a favourite grey boucle suit and red blouse. Her hair is still a dark, fetching bob.
"Can I trust you to order me something without people in it?" she quips in a low voice. "I could murder some sausage, maybe eggs?"
She's very good at pretending that dining with Hannibal is the most natural thing in the world. But if that's how he wants to play their encounter for now, she can put his crimes to the back of her mind.
Ignorance is bliss, even when it's a fallacy.
He smiles at her. In perfect Czech, he orders from the waiter: grilled klobásy and poached eggs. He remembers that Alana liked them poached, when he would cook her breakfast, Saturday mornings when she would wear his shirt and dip her toast in perfect golden yolks. He orders them both coffee and, for himself, a plate of trdelnik pastry.
And then he turns his attention to her. “How is the family?”
"About as well as can be expected when you tell your wife you're going to Europe for an unknown period at the start of summer leaving her in charge of a precocious seven year old boy." Her lips curl into a smirk. "Is that what you were hoping to hear?" She shakes her head. "I care for Margot, I do, but she doesn't understand that I get bored shitless without my work."
“Is that what this meeting is, Dr Bloom? Work?”
"Well that's what I told Margot. But you haven't yet revealed to me whether I lied to my wife or not."
“I wondered how you would get her to allow you to see me. I didn't think you would go to the extent of deceiving her. You are nothing if not adaptable, Alana,” he says with barely-concealed relish.
"There's no way she would've let me come otherwise. In the end she was pretty insecure about our affair." She sips her coffee, blue eyes peeking up at Hannibal over the rim of the cup.
Maybe with good reason, Alana thinks.
Hannibal speaks thoughtfully, aware of the connotations of his words. “You have changed in so many ways, Alana, and yet in others, not at all. Your clothes, your hair, your makeup, your job, your life--all different from when you and I were friends. And yet you still use the same shampoo.” He draws in a long breath of it. “I remember the scent of it on my pillow.”
"It was you who triggered all of this. That night in Baltimore. I had to grow up, fast. I had to become stronger or you would've destroyed me." She gives him a sour look. "Life is so complicated now, I almost wish I could be blind again."
“Complicated, Alana? How so? You are beautiful and intelligent; you have a stunning wife and a precious child; you have wealth beyond most people's wildest dreams, and an international reputation—though perhaps for different reasons than you might once have hoped. I should have thought all these complications were welcome ones. What are your regrets, Alana? Why would you wish to be blind?”
Their food arrives, but Hannibal hardly acknowledges it, he is so focused on Alana.
"Mostly it's the responsibility. To look after my son who was born into this world with a price on his head. Making that up to Margot. Learning to live with cooks and cleaners and a butler. Watching Margot smother Morgan and get mad at me if he so much as skins his knee."
She reaches for her plate, slicing off a sliver of sausage and putting it between her red lips. “Just because we're the poster children for lesbian America in the tabloids doesn't mean that translates into real life."
“I expected you to be much more guarded about your life with me. For three years, when you were my keeper, you never told me your son's name. Even though I had a hand in making him.”
"I've come all this way. If I clam up now, to what end will it be? We exchange pleasantries, you crack a joke about eating me I go home none the wiser as to what game you're playing. Think of it as a gesture of trust." Alana leans back, folding her arms. "Are you ready to tell me?"
“Patience, Alana. You've come all this way; you can't begrudge me a little more of your time. Especially when you kept me captive for three years. And it's a reward in itself, to spend time with an old friend. Besides, now that you mention it, I haven't made a single joke about eating you yet.”
He lifts his pastry to his mouth and takes a bite.
Alana rolls her eyes at Hannibal. How could she have expected any less of him. At their last meeting she held all the power. Now, Hannibal has lured her into a strange land against her better judgement.
Perhaps it was nothing more than the thrill of the cat and mouse game they enjoyed. Once strictly intellectual, Alana now imagines it unfolding on a grander scale. Yes, after all these years, knowing Hannibal still gives her a thrill, her fear a keen edge on desire, tinged with inevitable self-loathing.
Alana breaks the yolks of her eggs, watching the yellow pool on the thick bread before she eats it.
“Also,” Hannibal adds, “I've been flirting with you outrageously. And yet you haven't even mentioned how good it is to see me. Or expressed any surprise that I've apparently returned from the dead.”
"I know as well as you do how capable you are of faking your own death. I chose not to believe it until there was a body in evidence. You've taught me that much. As for the flirting, did you summon me to relive the glory days of our love affair?"
Her tone is harsh, caustic, but Alana can't help but grow misty-eyed. She really loved him, probably always will.
“Relive our love affair?” Hannibal reflects on the interesting choice of words, and the way that her expression belies her hard tone.
He had assumed that fear and curiosity would bring Alana to him. And they have.
But there is still this tug of attraction, the frisson of the intimacy they once shared. Even after all this time, and all that has passed.
Alone, in this city, both of them having slipped away from unknowing lovers...he wonders if he suggested a hotel, if she, against her better judgement, would accept.
This is not why he wanted to meet her. But it is unexpected and interesting. It gives him another point of leverage, should he need it. And it is, overwhelmingly, enjoyable to flirt with this beautiful, desirable woman, in a medieval square, under the watchful eye of the clock, and time, and Death.
“Perhaps not 'relive', no. But to reminisce…” He sips his coffee contemplatively. “You remembered the date.”
Alana the student to Hannibal's mentor would've blushed at his his words. But the cocky confident woman she is now merely levels her gaze at Hannibal, a smirk playing on her lips.
"I had a crush on you since my residency. Can't go past an authority figure. As if I could forget the day you first turned your desire towards me."
She can feel a wave of heat rise in her chest at the memory. There will exist always between them an attraction, as impractical and downright dangerous it is for both of them.
The smirk, but then the blush. It makes him think of her as he first met her: the student, as she says.
“Will thought that I initiated an affair with you to threaten him,” he says. “To use you as a hostage in our game of chase, because he cared about you. But I cared about you too, Alana. I always have.”
So it wasn’t all a lie. "Will..." She’s wanted to ask after him, but they've gotten bogged down in their own tangled past and it’s slipped her mind. "How is he?"
At the name, a genuine smile warms Hannibal's features. “He's well.” He touches his overgrown hair, ruefully, and then his scruff of beard. “He's been giving me style tips.”
"You're letting yourself go. You must be really happy together." She toys with her cutlery on the empty plate, looking down. "I'm glad you found someone who could follow you the places I couldn't go."
Her voice is tinged with something akin to regret; if fate had twisted slightly more conventionally she could've devoted her life to this man. And yet, she realises with a snort, in a way she has. If not romantically, than in a pursuit to contain his darkness from the world.
“But you could go there, Alana, with the proper motivation. Your brother-in-law being a case in point. I doubt that regret over him ever keeps you awake, nights.” He smiles at her. “It's extraordinary what we will do for love, isn't it?”
"I somehow doubt most of your victims are as deserving of death as Mason Verger."
Alana swallows. The truth is her part in Mason's death did used to keep Alana awake. Not because she felt guilty for killing him, but because she felt guilty for enjoying it. It made her feel powerful like nothing else, though playing Hannibal's keeper was a close second.
Hannibal looks swiftly around the café to see if they have been overheard. “Would you like any more to eat, or shall we walk?”
"Let's walk. It's too nice a day to just sit here." Alana gets to her feet. "Where shall we go?"
Hannibal also stands, leaving money on the table for their meal. “Let's walk along the river. Unless you'd like to drop off your case, at your hotel?”
"It's not heavy, it can wait." In truth Alana is still a little anxious at being alone with Hannibal behind closed doors. She trusts his word when it comes to her safety, but doesn't trust him not to worm his way around it to his own ends, whatever they may be.
The sunshine feels good on her skin, the ancient buildings adding an atmosphere of grandeur. And despite it all she couldn't imagine a more fitting companion for the day than Hannibal. After all, he always talked to her of Europe.
He takes her case again. A crowd has gathered, and as they walk across the square, the clock strikes eleven a.m. Hannibal stops and points out the clock to her.
“That skeleton striking the time represents Death. The figures flanking the clock face are Vanity, Avarice and Lust. They're shaking their heads because they haven't yet been banished from the world.” He looks down at her with a smile. “Death, Vanity, Avarice and Lust. You and I could almost write the book.”
"Almost," Alana agrees, once again reflecting on how much she has changed since that first much-longed-for kiss. And yet her fascination with him still taints her thoughts to the detriment of her relationship with her wife. "Is that why you asked to meet here? So we could reflect on our mutual sins together?"
“I know my sins, and I've come to peace with them. Indeed, I enjoy them.” He gives her a wry look. “Vanity has perhaps gone by the wayside recently, while I'm on the run from the law. Have you reconciled yourself to your sins, Alana?”
"When I got pregnant Margot made me promise never to tell our child what happened with Mason, with you, any of it. I've spent seven years trying to protect him without being able to explain why. Shielding him from the truth that he will one day undoubtedly uncover. Trying to live up to the ideal domestic bubble that Margot wants to live in. I think she assumes, even though she knows better, that somehow she has the lion's share of the issues. Perhaps that's why my work is so important to me; it allows me to engage with something...darker."
"So no, I haven't made my peace with my sins because I'm not even allowed to acknowledge they exist." It is a bitter realisation, and her red lips twist into a pout.
They start walking again, away from the crowds.
“How is Morgan? Is he more like Margot, or more like you?” He glances at her, his expression carefully wiped blank, but noting hers: the pout, the line between her brows. “Has he shown any resemblance to his father?”
"Not behaviourally." Alana says in relief. "He's got my colouring but he's going to be tall like Margot." She smiles at the thought of her son. "He's smart, loves animals—Margot has been teaching him to ride. He's stubborn as all hell though. I think he gets that from me."
He smiles at her as they walk. “Aristotle said 'Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.' He has the seeds planted in him already that will lead to his future self. Seeds planted from many people. You, Margot, Mason…“
"I suppose you feel like you have a hand in it somehow? And in a way you do." She watches the ripple of the river. "Do you ever regret not having children?"
“To my thinking, I had a direct hand in Morgan's conception. Quite literally. And Will...you know that Margot once chose him to be the father of her child. Mason prevented that, unfortunately. But I planted that seed, as well. I'll admit that there's a large part of me that would very much like to be a father. I would like to help form a person. Pass on what I know. Share that bond with another human being. A love that's unconditional and giving.”
He takes a deep breath. “I had hoped that Abigail might be that person. But it was not to be. I miss her very much. As does Will. Will's paternal urge is very strong. He longs for family.”
"I suppose one of the disadvantages of being on the run is you can't register for surrogacy or adoption. I'm guessing you already have a pack of dogs." She takes a minute to study Hannibal. She could imagine him as a father.
“Dogs. Yes. We have...several. He finds strays, Will. He has a talent for it. And I can refuse him nothing. My happiness is entirely bound up in his. It's an emotion which I thought I would never feel.”
"And yet you summoned me. I imagine the time for my influence on your happiness has passed."
“It hasn't passed at all. On the contrary, I'm very glad to see you, Alana. This feels like a moment out of time. The two of us, together, both free, neither blind. It means a great deal to me to know that you are happy and well, and that you are glad, on some level at least, to see me too.”
They are strolling along the broad, brown Vitava, with a view of the statues on the Charles Bridge. It could almost be romantic.
Alana can't resist Hannibal's warmth. He was one of the constants in her life. Learning to live without him was like being paralysed - and she would know.
"I am happy to see you, Hannibal, to know that you and Will are safe." She even flashes him a broad smile.
“Of course,” he says, “I haven't forgotten my promise to you.”
"You said I'd be safe, and I know you're a man of your word. Are you going to give me advance notice of when you're going to collect?"
“If it's in my advantage to do so. I may prefer surprise, or I may prefer you to anticipate your fate. But I will collect, Alana. Even if it pains me. Even if it hurts Will.” He tilts his head. “Are you afraid?”
The bright day suddenly seems dark to Alana.
"Afraid? No. Regretful that it will come to that one day. If you get your way anyway."
Though Alana knows how capable Hannibal is. As long as he's at large she and her family are at risk.
“One should never have regrets,” he says. “They're a waste of time. You had your choice, and you took it. The rest is fate.”
For the first time in a very long time, Hannibal touches her. He brushes a dark strand of hair back from her face, carefully, and with tenderness. “I know that you will be delicious.”
Alana shivers at the touch, a knot forming in her stomach at how good yet how strange it felt to be touched by him. She stops short, blood running hot and cold at the same time.
"What are you playing at?" she whispers.
He feels her shiver, and sees her pupils dilate. Deliberately, he pushes back another strand of her hair.
“It takes two to play a game, Alana.”
Despite herself she leans into the touch. "Hannibal... " It's a fevered whisper, her hand rising to stroke his stubbled cheek.
“Alana.” Slowly, he inclines his head and kisses her cheek, near the corner of her mouth.
Alana turns into the teasing kiss so their lips connect. It's so wrong and yet she can't resist.
Damn him. Damn herself.
Alana lets the kiss linger, losing herself to the memory of all they once shared.
Hannibal enjoys the kiss. This beautiful woman, in this beautiful place; the memory of all the many intimacies they have shared; the tenderness he still feels for her; the fact that this is forbidden to both of them. It's a simple pleasure with a complexity of meaning, and he lets his lips linger on Alana's before he gently pulls away.
He almost regrets what he has to do next.
“I want a child,” he says.
She is slightly disoriented as he pulls away, his words taking her mind a moment to process.
"Hannibal, no." It isn't a judgement of what he asks of her but rather a denial of hearing it. "Please tell me you're not going to ask me what I think you're going to ask me."
Her hair has become dishevelled by their kiss. He strokes it back. “What do you think I'm going to ask you?”
"Well, you want a child. I imagine the list of people you could ask that of is pretty short."
“The list of children whom I have helped to create is even shorter.”
"No. No. Not Morgan." Alana backs away slightly. "He's my son, Hannibal. My son."
“He's your son, yes. But your life belongs to me.”
He takes a small step forward, closing the distance Alana has made.
“Will misses Abigail,” he says. “He misses Walter. He has his dogs, yes, but he longs for a family, and a family, to him, means a child. I have told you: I will do anything within my power to make Will happy.”
"And what? You just expect me to give up my child? I couldn't do that to him, to Margot, to myself. Not even for Will."
She begins to cry, looking for a way out of the isolated stretch of river bank they find themselves on.
“I wouldn't take away a child from his mothers, Alana. Even I would not be that cruel. I'd like you to send him to me for an extended visit. A month, perhaps, to start, during the school holidays. To stay with his uncles Hannibal and Will. He's old enough, as you say, to begin to know about his origins, and his family. We could teach him a great deal. And it would make Will happy.”
Perhaps. He is still not entirely able to predict Will. But he is confident that, given time, that Will could learn to love another child, after the three he has lost.
Alana releases the breath that she's been holding at the prospect of losing her son completely. Still, she is wary of entrusting Morgan's wellbeing to Hannibal, though deep down her rational mind knows he would not harm the boy.
She drops onto a nearby bench, her face falling into her hands as her mind ponders the logistics of Hannibal's proposal.
"What am I supposed to tell Margot? How am I meant to lie about this? How can I tell the truth?" It is one thing for Alana to entrust her own life to Hannibal, quite another to send her son into his lair.
“It's quite simple, and from what you say, it could also be advantageous for you. You've wanted Morgan to know the truth. So this is your opportunity for him to learn it. Tell Margot that if you don't send the boy to me, I will kill you. It's quite true—though of course I intend to kill you anyway, so perhaps you may feel that you have little to lose.”
He looks at her contemplatively.
“Although there does appear to be another option,” he continues; “one that I didn't anticipate before seeing you again. Interestingly, it seems to be the first conclusion that you reached when I said I wanted a child.”
"Perhaps it was simply that I assumed you'd want a child with your blood, devoid of the same complex past as Morgan." She sits back against the bench. "What you've proposed sounds reasonable. But when you finally collect on your promise it's going to put my son in a delicate position."
She shakes her head at the absurdity of the situation "Would you prefer that I gave you and Will a child of your own?"
She is hardly going to abandon any child she mothers, but she is worried for her son.
“You find it easier to contemplate growing my child in your body, and giving it up, than sending your son to me for a holiday?”
Her head drops back in her hands.
"I don't know," she sobs, knowing that giving up any child of hers would break her heart and yet...
"If I gave you your own baby, would you call off your intention to kill my family and me?"
It is rare for Alana to hold a bargaining chip when it came to Hannibal, and she isn't about to give up the opportunity.
“A life in exchange for a life. It's something to consider.” He tilts his head. “And yet the child would be a part of you out in the world, under my nurturance. It would be loved, very much. But I would teach it all I knew, Alana. This baby would live in a world of exquisite monsters, nourished on human flesh, a beautiful life of love and horror. My child. Would you sell a child to Will and me, in exchange for your own life?”
She feels a monster. She knows it would break her heart to give up any child. Would her life be worth living knowing she has sold this child to Hannibal?
"I need to see it. Once a year. On your terms." She sniffles, looking out at the water. "And Morgan and Margot will be safe too."
“Do you really think that Margot will be more understanding of you carrying my baby, than of sending Morgan to me for a time?”
"Of course not. But if I can guarantee our safety, even if she hates me for it, isn't it worth it?" Her eyes peek up at him, bright and clear. "I'm not ready to die."
He sits beside Alana on the bench, watching the broad river go past.
“You've surprised me, Alana. I didn't expect you to be so desperate, or so generous. I have to think.” He pauses. “Will doesn't know I'm here. As a psychiatrist, what do you make of that fact?”
Alana exhales sharply as she tries to calm herself.
"I'm trying to make a rational decision about something that is inherently, inextricably emotional,” she says. “I'm trying to do what's best for myself, and for my family."
She pulls out a business card, scribbling something on the back.
"That's where I'm staying for the week. Don't think too long, I might change my mind."
“I won't need to think for long.” He stands, tucking the card in his pocket. “There's a decent restaurant down the street from your hotel. I'll make reservations for us for eight o'clock.”
He looks down at her, with concern. “Get some rest. You must be tired. And these are big decisions.”
He tells her the name and address of the restaurant, and then stoops and kisses her forehead before walking off briskly, leaving her alone to think.