“...It's just that sometimes I get so lost in the places the words take me to, I forget where I am.”
- Exodus, Julie Bertagna
“Mischa’s already up.”
Three words and Hannibal’s already lost himself, blinking blearily at the figure in his doorway. He can hear the smile in her voice and there’s a deep ache in his chest he can’t place.
Then the figure leaves and he’s left wondering why he’s being woken, when for more than thirty years he had woken himself.
He stretches, a hand up to rub his eyes of sleep before he finally opens them and surveys his surroundings.
A clean room, white, large, with a slanted ceiling on both sides, though one is steeper than the other. Within that is a skylight with the blinds drawn. A careful glance to his left shows a large desk - also white - strewn with papers and a half-open laptop, the light still on where the screensaver must be playing. On the wall behind it is a pinboard, filled, flyers and photos and business cards of unknown origin.
Nearby stands a sound system, lid open where a record had been playing the night before, the clicking still audible where the needle had settled at the end of it.
Brown eyes return to the ceiling and Hannibal closes them.
A strange sensation of being exactly where he should be, and somewhere utterly foreign.
Certainly he isn’t on a plane. Certainly he isn’t in Paris.
Another sigh, another slow blink and survey of the bedroom and Hannibal pushes himself to sit, arms hooked over his knees, brows furrowed.
A dream, surely. Brought about by the stress of the flight from Baltimore, the pain of leaving behind everything Hannibal had, the one thing that mattered. He brings a hand to his face again, concentrates on the feeling of his fingertips against his skin, rough as he remembers them, the right shape, the right size. He is himself, at least, in this, not a proxy, not an avatar that his mind had conjured to keep him pacified.
And yet -
The stranger at the door had not been a stranger. The voice familiar and warm, the same lilt on certain letters, the same gentleness on the softer consonants; a voice that has not left Hannibal’s mind for his entire life.
She spoke English to him, but his mother’s voice conjures the same feeling of safety that it always had. And then of course, Mischa.
Hannibal pushes out of bed, nearly trips on the pants that are too long for him, sitting too loose on his hips and turns mid-stride to catch a look at himself in the tall floor-length mirror that rests between the table and his sound system, and then he stops breathing.
Young, certainly, a face he remembers but never this well cared for, never this well fed. His seventeen-year-old self was gaunter, thinner, paler, sicker in heart and soul and body all, yet the young man that stares wide-eyed at him is broad-shouldered and well-fed. Smooth stomach and strong arms, hair perhaps a little too long but there, not falling out or lank from his lack of desire to eat or sleep.
The bags under his eyes are gentle, they’re not bruises.
“Unpleasant trick,” he says, and he knows that voice, already broken though he had been reluctant to use it, not quite the voice that welcomed guests to his dinner parties, not the one that soothed Will in his fitful nights, or held conversations with him in his office.
Thinking of Will brings as hard a pang to his chest as the thought that his mother had greeted him this morning. He swallows and turns from the mirror, groaning softly when he sees the clothes available to him in this dream, the lack of silk and suits.
By the time he’s selected what best he can from the meagre offerings, his mother is calling him again, voice sterner though no less welcome. Hannibal doesn’t check the contents of his bag before he swings it over his shoulder, closes the door behind himself. He notices only belatedly, once already on the school bus - thankfully a place he could think in relative peace instead of attempting to navigate this neighbourhood to a school he isn’t aware of - that his cellphone must still be at home.
“The good thing about starting senior year is that I no longer require you to write me a paper on what you did over the summer.”
A general murmur of laughter from the class as Miss Lounds - to Hannibal’s bemusement - sends them all a smile.
“However, the flipside is that I will require a lot more work from you this year. AP English is twice the work the regular classes will have. We will study works they don’t cover, poetry and world literature, plays written by more modern playwrights than Shakespeare.” another wave of amusement from the class, “You are with me 6 hours every week. But you’ve had me long enough now to know it’s closer to 8.”
The rest Hannibal ignores, it doesn’t matter. The dream is realistic in all its details but he won’t be long to wake. Soon the fact that Freddie Lounds is his teacher, the fact that the only thing he’s wearing that he’s comfortable in is a vest over a crisp dark shirt, the fact that his mother woke him this morning, will all be gone, faded with the passing of a 13-hour flight.
The correction comes unbidden, reflexive, and Hannibal has to blink to realize that the laughter is directed at him this time, and the smile Freddie - Miss Lounds - sends him is one of patient amusement.
“Perhaps after graduation.” she tells him, “Until then you are Hannibal to me and the rest of us.”
Hannibal blinks, decides not to argue. Miss Lounds watches him long enough to direct her eyes away and back to him, expectant.
“Your copy of Camus,” she prompts, and Hannibal is at a loss. He has read him, years ago, in the original French. But he had not been listening here, had not allowed himself to care. He doesn’t know which book is being discussed, which he should have with him and why he doesn’t. He’s spared the potential embarrassment of admitting so when said book thuds onto his desk from one nearby.
“It’s first day after summer, Miss,” and this voice Hannibal knows, it tenses his shoulders, curves them, has his hands pressing together and his wrists aching. “Be nice to us, we'll be good tomorrow.”
“An attitude that hasn’t changed over summer, Mr. Brown.”
Matthew grins. “One that’s kept me with above average grades till now.”
“Till now.” Freddie smiles, gives Hannibal a gentle look before turning to the board, hand up already to begin the lesson with the title in her impeccable hand and black ink.
Hannibal doesn’t turn to the boy beside him, simply works on keeping his breathing even. It hardly seems to matter, though, apparently he’s used to such inattention and it isn’t something that discourages him from continuing a conversation.
“You will save me in psych for this.” he murmurs, and Hannibal finally forces himself to turn to him.
“As you always do.” comes the confirmation, that insufferable crooked smile, “Gideon will ride my ass if I fail that paper again, you know that.”
Hannibal’s lips part in surprise he can’t quite contain. Matthew shrugs, crossing his arms over the corner of his desk and resting his chin on top, seemingly unperturbed by Hannibal’s response. As though this is normal between them, as though they talk regularly, as though they’re friends.
Now that notion brings this dream fairly close to a nightmare and Hannibal groans. Matthew snorts and raises an eyebrow.
“Missed your favourite teacher that much huh.”
“I’ve had a less than coherent morning.” Hannibal responds, taking up the book in front of him for want of something to do with his hands, a distraction of any sort. There are words on the pages when he turns them, though he’s never read L'Étranger before. A fairly impressive trick of his mind if Hannibal concentrated hard enough to care. But he’s growing dizzy with the way his mind has twisted this reality, with the people it has chosen to include, and which it has blatantly ignored.
Three people he had so nearly gotten killed, now all here to haunt him.
“I’ve had a less than coherent summer.” comes the response, teasing, “I still remembered my book.”
“Where’s Will?” Hannibal asks suddenly, and finds his heart beating oddly quick when the other merely furrows his brow.
“Dont know him. New kid?”
Hannibal swallows, turns back to the book in his hands.
He doesn’t answer, and Matthew doesn’t care to ask again.
By the time he gets home, Hannibal needs two aspirin. Italian with Bella Crawford had been, thankfully, less stressful than maths with Bedelia. The entire lesson Hannibal had spent trying to catch her eye, trying to understand if she was trapped in this as he was, or if she was merely his projection here, as everyone else was.
Psychology with Dr. Abel Gideon had been as much of a nightmare as Matthew had predicted it would be. By that point, disturbingly, Hannibal had not minded his company.
Perhaps two aspirin and a shot of something. Instead, he finds his mother in the kitchen with a bowl of fruit and a sandwich for him.
She looks just as he remembers her, though there are lines in the corners of her eyes where she has laughed to earn them, the same dimpling the corners of her lips. She looks happy, and Hannibal finds he can’t quite swallow the lump in his throat at seeing her. For this, he thanks his mind, knows he held the image deep enough to recreate.
She tells him about her day, a calm and quiet thing, apparently, involving little more than a short trip to work before a grocery run and picking up his sister from school.
Hannibal has yet to see Mischa. He hopes he gets to before he wakes from this.
For now, he watches his mother, every movement she makes, every gentle brush of her hands against the cookbook laid out in front of her, every bend and tilt and motion, to memorize her as his mind has allowed him to bring her to life.
Without a word he wraps his arms around her, rests his cheek between her shoulders.
A beating heart, a warm body, and then she turns in his hold and embraces him in turn and Hannibal could cry for it, it’s so welcome. But he’s tall here, not the small boy who had clung to her skirts and nuzzled her stomach. Now she rests her head against his shoulder, not he to hers.
“I need to finish the pilaf, sweetheart, you know how long it takes to cook.”
Hannibal can already smell the cardamom, the saffron and groundnut oil. He has made the dish so many times in his life it has never occurred to him that his mother had been the one to introduce it to him as a child. Perhaps he did remember. Perhaps he simply chose not to allow his mind to think back that far.
He’ll wake soon.
“Hannibal! Pick up your damn Skype calls!”
“Mischa, language!” Hannibal allows his mother to return to cooking, turns his head, instead, back towards the stairs from which comes the huff of displeasure and the correction.
“Pick up your darn Skype then!”
This voice, Hannibal doesn’t know, she had been too young when Hannibal lost her, too little to have developed her voice to what it sounds like now. And still he feels the tug in his chest to go to her, to see her properly, to hold her as well before his mind pulls him to consciousness. And it will, he’s certain of it. His mother lets him go with a soft touch to his hair, and Hannibal keeps his chin down as his eyes raise to the top of the stairs when he can see them.
Long-limbed, short-haired, Mischa Lecter looks much like she had as a child, only she has grown into her round face and wavy hair. She looks at Hannibal as he has seen siblings look at each other when they’re this age, in his office, in a life far removed from this - as though she can’t figure out why it is that her brother won’t stop staring.
“In your room,” she says, as though its obvious, “tell your friends to learn to send a da- darn text message.”
With that she’s away, quick on socked feet to her own room which she closes the door to with a snap, and Hannibal is left winded.
He makes his way up the stairs slowly, finally able to take in the rest of the upstairs landing where he had missed it in his morning rush. Notices the bookshelves that line the walls between the bedroom and bathroom doors, much as they had lined the upper walls of his office, notices the antiques and paintings so familiar and welcome.
He spares a glance to those shelves he assumes to be his own, in a small alcove just in front of his bedroom, and finds them filled with not only his usual choices but books he would never have in his possession. Things a young adult would read, now, things that Hannibal had never read, even at this age. He frowns, considers briefly that he would rearrange the shelves were this his life and not his dream, and enters his room again.
The laptop rests as he remembers leaving it in the morning, and the distinctive swish and bubble dial tone plays through the speakers, announcing a call. He hesitates, considers what other nightmarish appearances might be on the other end of the line, which people he had maimed and mutilated who would slip unbidden into this dream that feels almost perfect, if not for the lack of one more person he is aching to see.
In the end he answers simply to stop the dialing, standing to the side and waiting before making himself seen.
“You are twenty-eight minutes late, Hannibal,”
Hannibal releases a breath, settles in his seat and regards the image on the screen. Slightly delayed motions due to distance, he assumes, vaguely blurred at the edges with the quality of the camera, but before him waves a boy about his age, hair a tangled mess of curls, eyes intensely blue with the way the light falls against his face.
The same check shirts, the same thick-framed glasses.
Hannibal feels himself smile, feels that gentle not to a grin but to something loving, familiar.
“Will,” he sighs, and the boy he watches grins back.