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All art is quite useless

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There are places in the world that make you feel disconnected from mortality and time itself. Open fields. Empty cellars. It’s nothing but unsettling, where you cannot help but feel alone in the most delectable ways.

The train rumbles beneath Hannibal like a beast in its slumber. The tracks are rusted ahead, dusted with a thin layer of frost that threaten to topple them over if not for the carriages’ behemoth weight. He presses his cheek against the cold glass, numb, but yet somehow soothing to the heat of anger burning deep within his chest. It rattles his skull.

Mischa is quiet, her presence faint beside him. In his fatigue, she only stays in her periphery, but disappears just as Eurydice does when he looks. So he doesn’t. He stares at the wintery landscape whipping past them instead.

It’s a blur of white. Occasionally, his eyes will catch a deer that he can only acknowledge after they are long past. He sinks into the feeling, allowing time to wash over him like the cold batters into his frail body, just being in a wash of calm and otherworldly calm.

Hannibal remembers a time when they were on a train. It was the last time, the only other time, when they were younger, right when the war heightened and they had to hide. He doesn’t know when that became ‘fleeing’ instead. 

He’s handed a blanket. It’s warm.

The train rumbles along its tracks and Hannibal goes under, safe, at least in his mind and empty compartments.

“Mischa, settle down,” Simonetta chides half-heartedly. She hands off her extravagant feathered hat to a maid as she folds her outer coat over an elbow. “We are in public, dukrytė, do behave.”

Mischa blinks, eyes wide and innocent. She nods with a giggle. “Yes, Mama.” Her words are slurred, that of a child barely starting to understand where to slot their tongue and teeth and lips. The maid carrying her readjusts her hold then heads into the cabin with Simonetta, leaving Hannibal with his father.

Hannibal stands, hands behind his back. He waits for...something, but his eyes trail behind Mischa’s shadow.

“Hannibal,” Count Lecter says, “when we arrive we will not have the luxury of maids for you and your sister.” He pauses and Hannibal nods curtly. “Good, because Chiyoh -- while capable -- is primarily your guard, not someone to wait on you.”

“I understand, father.”

But there is something else, something else he hasn’t quite said. “I expect you to care for your sister.”

“I understand, father.”

“And that means--” his voice drops dangerous low, stern as if Hannibal isn’t as learned as he is “--I do not want to see any of your freakishness, do you understand? If you hurt her and upset your mother in any way, I will see you disciplined.”

Hannibal quietly processes this accusation, but perhaps his reaction confirms his father’s worst fears of all -- the fact that he has none. He can see it, the shock and appallment seep into the eyes of Count Lecter, the face of an old-world nobility facing down what he must perceive to be the devil wearing his son’s face.

Hannibal smiles politely. “I will not hurt Mischa, father, do not worry. She is the most precious thing to me, more precious than gold and silver. No one will take her away,” he promises, not caring if his father registers the genuine protectiveness there. But it would make matters much simpler if he does.

Without another word, he bows curtly then brushes past almost rudely. There are no servants, and his father is in shock. It will not matter. 

He finds Mischa easily in their compartment. As maids and attendants of the train itself carry off their luggage and bring them wine and sticky sweet cakes, as if there are not millions starving across the world at this very moment, as if war isn't being waged and men dying by the second, Hannibal slips past the busy bodies with ease. They give him a wide breadth, purely because of his station. Soon, when he hones his skills, everyone will part for the mention of his name.

“Mother,” he greets simply.

She looks up with a sweet smile, away from Mischa. “Hannibal, do sit.”

He does, but his attention is not on her. He takes a small rattle from his pocket, hand-carved from fragrant hard-wood, complete with delicate beads that dangle and hit the sides of the drum when shook. 

“Saulytė, do you like it? It is for you,” he says as he strokes Mischa’s soft curls. He demonstrates, twisting his wrist this way and that. 

Mischa stares, enraptured by the soft sounds it makes -- it is as clear as the brook behind their home, the hollowness of the drum providing wonderful fullness. “For me?” She laughs. She’s delighted, clapping her hands and already grabbing for it without an answer.

Hannibal does not mind her rudeness, for it cannot be rude from the face of such an angel. He places it in her fist, carefully wrapping her fingers around it. “Yes, it’s for you. Hold tight, now.”

Eyes lit up with glee as she tries it out for herself, Hannibal’s heart rushes with pride. And he continues to sit there, fondly, pushing the curls back from her eyes when it droops, until the train starts and takes them far, far away from home.

He wakes slowly, to the rumbling of the train. He yawns, stretching, before patting down his pockets. Rations. Water. A few coins. Nothing missing.

The sun is bright now, reflecting off the white snow and bringing tears to his eyes, but it isn’t warm nor inviting -- not the type of sunlight Mischa loves. Hannibal still forces himself to look for a little while longer. 

A buck bounds out of the treeline. Hannibal’s eyes dart over to the warm flash of mottled brown and black, welcome against the starkness of the landscape. Hannibal imagines there can’t be much of anything in terms of food out here, but the buck doesn’t seem perturbed nor starved. Such a brilliant creature. Surely it must have a way. Its antlers are a glorious rack, stretching out to the sky, yet never tangling in the underbrush and low-hanging branches of naked trees. Grace. Power.

It blinks at Hannibal. Hannibal nods in acknowledgement, feeling silly.

But then it nods back and bounds off into the woods and Hannibal chokes.

Despite himself, Hannibal is out of words and out of breath. Not in shock, but rather from the feeling of having touched some god. It needn’t be real; he just has to feel it. And in his heart he knows it is true.

There is no one waiting at the station. Hannibal doesn’t expect there to be. A few passengers step off here -- it is a prominent town after all -- but Hannibal stays put. His destination is close, but not yet here.

The woman from before steps off as well. She blends into the crowd. Alone.

Hannibal’s eyes widen, unbidden. Despite himself, he presses his nose to the frosty glass, not unlike a child watching their father leave for war. He searches not unkeenly. The woman is jittery. Her eyes dart around, guilt flushes her cheeks and colours her eyes red, but there is a sense of relief in the way she hurries from the train and never casts a single look back. And the baby is nowhere to be found.

The pieces click and Hannibal finds himself rising from his seat. The boy had temporarily left his mind -- fatigue and Pan’s messenger greater distractions than he thought -- but the seed of intrigue had been planted deeply between his ribs. The absence of Mischa for what must be hours now has driven him close to a panic. He cannot imagine never seeing those crystalline eyes ever again, no matter whose face they are set into.

He curses himself now. It was an oversight not to remember where the woman sat, but it should be before him. 

Unfortunately, while his section of the train is empty the rest isn’t. There will be strange looks towards a strange boy with ill-fitting clothes, perhaps even a sweet offering of a home that will soon turn sour.

The very first thing he hears is -- “Where are your parents, son?” Then a large hand clamps down on his shoulder, and all he can smell is cheap alcohol and sweat and greed.

Hannibal steps aside. The man allows him to.

“They are waiting at the next stop, sir,” he says, face flat.

There’s a flash of something as the man calculates his odds, then decides it likely isn’t worth it. He cannot run and the next stop is fast approaching. There is no way for him to take Hannibal without someone noticing, and Hannibal isn’t a particularly young child. The reward is unattractive, suddenly, even in the chaos of war.

He makes a choice.

“Alright, sonny, just wanted to make sure you were safe. Awful cold today,” he mumbles gruffly, grunts like a savage, then sits back down.

Smart, Hannibal decides, but no less disgusting.

The rest of the journey down happens relatively quickly. Most people had the senses to mind their own business and not get involved, which Hannibal appreciated. Without sheep, being better meant nothing. 

The seats are rough beneath his palms as he steadies himself, a steadfast reminder that he is in the gaping maw of a dangerous beast. Each step grew harder and harder as he tried not to gaze around too desperately, lest someone take advantage of his desires, but it’s harder said than done. He is only human. He can be afraid as well.

The rationality of his fears provide a small comfort. He is not sheep. He has every right to be afraid, even if it disgusts him.

He pushes forward, one step at a time.

Hannibal has a habit of noticing things. Many people have called his eyes unsettling as he picks up on small, unnoticeable facts about everyone he meets, but they do not realise his sense of smell is far more uncanny. 

He searches for the smell of mother’s milk. He remembers it on Mischa -- it’s deeply rooted in his mind palace, comforting, just a little ways past their childhood room, right into a small nursery. It’s a sweet smell, almost sickeningly so, chokingly thick with vitality and innocence that clings to every piece of Hannibal that indulges.

Then it hits him with such subtlety he wonders if it’s a product of his wishful thinking. 

A curl, as soft the scent itself, wends its way around Hannibal. It goes up, up, up through his nose and settles heavily in his veins, down, down, down to his curling toes. His nostrils flare. He pulls his jacket closer. It consumes his very focus and reasoning as he trails after the lead, desperate to cling to a very small possibility. This must be what they warned children of: hedonism, because at the moment Hannibal is drunk on his desires.

The seats are empty before him, rough linen and peeling paint but no sign of breathing life. Hannibal shakes his head. He refuses. He refuses. Those blue eyes will be his and if for nothing else, he will see them one last time and firmly commit them to memory. 

But even now he knows the child will be his. 

The child was his the moment Hannibal laid eyes on those eyes.

A soft gasp.

Hannibal’s eyes whip over the source of the sound -- the storage beneath the seat. He treads forward carefully, conscious that the car before him is as empty as could be, but senses are often lacking in the cold. Smell cannot travel as well as in the summer heat. It’s unnerving to lose such a large part of himself.

His fingers are still and rough with dry cold as he crouches and reaches for the handle. The round knob fits nicely into his palm.

He pulls.

With a small puff of dust it pops open.

Crystalline eyes blink up at him, unafraid and intelligent; Hannibal smiles, startled.

“Oh,” he gasps, stroking against the child’s forehead. He makes a decision then and there. “I think I will keep you. What do you think about that?”

The child giggles and mouths at his thumb.

Hannibal beams. “Wonderful. Truly wonderful.”