He knows the words were only actually uttered once, but in his mind, they repeat endlessly on a loop, sometimes in the correct order, sometimes jumbled together nonsensically; regardless, they are unceasing, much to his dismay.
“I'm not going to miss you. I'm not going to find you. I'm not going to look for you. I don't want to know where you are or what you do. I don't want to think about you anymore.”
At the time, he could immediately feel all the cliches occur at once - he felt the earth stop turning, he felt his heart stop beating, he felt as though he were being flayed alive. The impact was such that Hannibal doesn’t immediately recall what happened after that; there was a delayed reaction between the detonation of Will’s bomb and its impact. He begins to feel the impact fully while standing in Will’s backyard, and he notices, with a clinical detachment, the tremors in his arms, his stomach moving in and out like he’d been running for miles, his heart beating as if he were a rabbit. These join the throbbing of the brand on his back, the irritation and cuts from the rope that had been around his limbs and his neck, and the soreness of his upper body from carrying Will for miles. He has to sit down, as he is starting to get dizzy.
Clinically, he knows what he is experiencing; he’d treated it, shock at least, many times in the past. Emotionally, however...he hadn’t previously thought he was capable of feeling this way, under these particular circumstances. Or, capable of feeling this way a second time. How foolish he’d been. How soft. He’d thought he’d protected himself, after all these years, to keep this from happening again. He was clearly mistaken. Once...once was enough.
Hannibal closes his eyes and knows what’s coming next, and he is helpless to stop it. He sees flashes of memories kept locked in the depths of his memory vault - a smiling girl, laughing, hair shining in the sun. Other, far less savory memories bubble to the top, the ones he never sees if he can help it. He squeezes his eyes shut and wills himself to take deep breaths. They don’t provide much relief. He is in so much pain from so many sources. He feels as though he is nothing but pain.
He can sense that the fault lines of his life have been disrupted, and are currently moving over each other with abandon - an emotional earthquake, registering at least an 8 on the Richter scale, perhaps higher. Major, catastrophic damage.
He comes back to himself and sees he’s torn into the palms of his hands from squeezing his fingers and nails so tightly. His muscles all over his body are cramping from being clenched so tightly for such an extended period. He tries to keep breathing. It doesn’t seem worth the effort. But he tries anyway. He still, after all this, has the instinct for survival, though he doesn’t have a clue as to why.
After some time, he doesn’t know how much, Hannibal feels slightly less shaky, and stands up. What does he do now? Where does he go? Where can he go? He has no answers, but he knows where he can’t be right now, which is next to Will’s house, knowing the living, breathing man is a short distance away (physically, perhaps; mentally, they are an ocean apart). Hannibal’s self-control is a well-trained muscle but right now it is weak, and he doesn’t like that. He feels vulnerable. He hates it. He swore he’d never be vulnerable again, and until now, he hadn’t been. Vulnerability means pain, to him.
He shakes his head. He knows if he stays here he will think himself into a hole, one deeper than the one in which he already finds himself. He looks around him, noticing the wide expanses of land, hearing the wind through the trees, and tries to let the calm nature of his surroundings assuage his frothing trauma.
He steps away and starts walking. He has no particular destination in mind, it’s just something his body does. Hannibal suspects his brain knows he is useless right now, so it is taking control of his executive function for a period. Hannibal, who would otherwise hate this, is actually fine with it (and isn’t that the biggest sign of how deeply Will’s words have affected him?).
If he had to recall, Hannibal wouldn’t be able to tell anyone which route he takes, or what he sees. He just walks. Walks, and tries to breathe. The basics. He can work up to thinking later. It will take time for the massive tear in the fabric of his carefully crafted universe to begin to come together again (and when it does, what will it look like?).
He walks, and time passes, though he can’t say exactly how much. The sun stays in the same place in the sky. Clouds pass overhead. He keeps his eyes to the ground and tries to feel all of his different body parts, all of the different muscles that have to work together for him to walk like this, the heart which is pumping blood throughout. His lungs, filling up with air, then expelling it. He tries to come back to himself.
Hannibal notices the grass under his feet slowly give way to gravel. He looks up, and sees he’s walked into the parking lot of a dark wooden structure, a weather-beaten, out of the way bar, from the looks of the neon signs. No windows. The air around him is hazy, almost liquid. He looks to his right, and sees only one car in the parking lot, an old Saab which looks like it hasn’t moved for decades, the tires are so low.
He sees a small sign above the front door that says “Jack’s Piano Bar,” and has a rainbow flag symbol on it. In the back of his mind, Hannibal wonders how a gay piano bar can survive economically out here in Wolf Trap; he knows he’d remember seeing it before, yet he has no memory of it. His detached, clinical self begins to whisper in the background about how perhaps this is an illusion, but Hannibal quickly ignores it.
As he continues to stare at it, someone exits the bar, and Hannibal turns and watches as the blurred figure disappears behind him. Curious. Hannibal looks down at his legs which are now moving him closer to the entrance, though he has no conscious thought of doing so.
He opens the door and stands near it as his eyes work to adjust to the dim interior after the door closes behind him. It’s quite empty inside, and dark, from the lack of windows - just a bartender, a patron who obviously hasn’t moved from his stool in hours if not days, some empty tables and chairs, and a piano player in the corner, quietly riffing on melancholy tunes.
An inner voice tells him this isn’t real; he wonders how in the world he dreamed this up, as it is quite detailed, and not a place he recognizes. The human mind is truly remarkable, he thinks, as he steps up to the bar. He nods at the bartender, who doesn’t seem to have any detailed facial features, or any basic description of any kind, and Hannibal finds this does not alarm him; the bartender nods back. “What’ll it be?”
“May I see a wine menu, please?”
The faceless bartender is gruff. “Don’t have one. I have a red, and I have a white. And if you’d have come yesterday, I wouldn’t have had those, either.”
Hannibal purses his lips. He supposes it would be too much to ask his psyche to have recreated one of his favored Florentine establishments for this little exercise. Very well. When (clearly not) in Rome….
“I see. In that case, I would like a glass of your finest whiskey, on the rocks.”
The bartender goes to pull an unimpressive-looking bottle off the shelf. “Hope you like this one, it’s all we got.”
Hannibal stifles a sigh, but manages, heroically he thinks, to thank the bartender when his glass is slid towards him. (Ah, his sense of taste, what others might call snootiness, is gradually coming back. His systems seem to be slowly coming back online.) He looks to the other patron slumped over the bar, who doesn’t appear to be in the mood for rousing conversation, then looks down as he slowly swirls his glass around.
The bartender’s throat clears, and a finger is pointed past Hannibal, to the corner with the piano. “Think he wants to talk to you.”
Hannibal follows the finger and takes note first of the piano in the back, level with the rest of the bar, and then of the figure on the piano bench: a broad, African American man who looks suspiciously like Jack Crawford, though he is quite overdressed for this particular crowd in a dashing dark purple suit, white shirt and black bowtie.
A small but very vocal part of Hannibal’s subconscious is alerting him to run, to leave, to save himself, or at least find a weapon to defend himself; he idly wonders if perhaps this entire place is a setup by the FBI to apprehend him. He starts panicking and tries to slowly back up to the door to make his escape.
The bartender notices him and says, bored, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Hannibal quirks his head. “You'll be able to leave when you’re ready.”
“I see,” he responds slowly, taking it in. Well.
He looks around and his eyes reach the piano player’s face, who is watching him, though he doesn’t visibly recognize Hannibal; he smiles at Hannibal and motions with his head to come over. Hannibal does, and takes a seat at the table nearest to the piano.
“Haven’t seen you in here before,” the man says kindly, while still riffing on music Hannibal doesn’t recognize. Hannibal has been to numerous piano performances in his life, but has never been to a place such as...this, so he can’t say he’s familiar with the repertoire, such as it is.
“It is my first time here. I must say I didn’t realize this place existed; it’s curious, I’ve been in Wolf Trap many times, yet have never come across it.”
The piano player smiles. “No, I don’t suppose you have.”
His resemblance to Jack is uncanny. “I must also admit, you look remarkably like someone I know.”
“I get that a lot, too, though I assure you, we’ve never met. What’s your name?”
“Hannibal. It’s a pleasure to meet you…?”
“People call me Rolf.”
The piano player looks at Hannibal expectantly, but nothing comes to mind. He continues. “You know, like from the Muppet movie?”
“I’m afraid I’m not familiar.” He will have to ask Bedelia later about these “Muppets.”
“Ah. Well, suffice it to say, I’d rather you call me Jack. People only call me Rolf because I play the piano and, well.” He gestures to a picture taped to the side of the piano showing an anthropomorphized brown dog puppet. Curious.
“I see. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Jack.”
Jack reaches over with his right hand, and Hannibal grasps it firmly in his.
“So, Hannibal, do you know why you’re here?”
“I’m beginning to get an idea, yes.”
Jack nods. “Enlighten me.”
Hannibal takes a long sip of his whiskey, and notes as he places the glass down that there still appears to be the same amount in his glass. How odd.
“Intellectually, I believe this to be an environment that was quickly crafted by my mind in the wake of experiencing what I believe is the,” he pauses, takes a deep breath, and continues, “the second most traumatic experience of my life.”
Jack chuckles. “You’re a quick one, Hannibal.”
“So I’ve been told. I’m curious, then, what that makes you - are you my psychiatrist?”
Jack laughs. “No no no, no. No, I’m definitely not your psychiatrist. I would not sign up for that. No offense.”
Hannibal quirks a corner of his mouth. “None taken.” He wonders idly what Bedelia would think, to be replaced by a fantasy Jack Crawford piano player in a gay bar. He wonders what Bedelia would make of any of this.
“Just consider me...someone you can talk to. Someone who can...give you advice, be a sounding board.”
“I do not wish to be insulting, but, surely you are not...my conscience?”
“Not that, either. That’s our first go-to in these situations, but to be honest, we...had some difficulty finding yours, so I thought I’d do this one myself, using a stand-in avatar from your real life as my human form, of course.”
“You had difficulty...finding my conscience?”
“Yes. It is rare, but you wouldn’t be the first.”
Huh. Will wonders never cease. “I must admit I did not know I still had one.” Now, that’s not entirely true, but Hannibal was feeling pithy. (A sign of progress, no doubt.)
“Well, you certainly do, though it’s quite oddly-developed and running around doing its own thing as though it’s not attached to you. Hence, no luck when we tried to wrangle it up for this song and dance.”
“Where is it, may I ask?”
Jack gives him a pointed look. “Let’s just say it’s in a place where we don’t have any...jurisdiction.”
Hannibal looks down and smiles. “I see.” He sips more of his drink, and again notices that it has no effect on the amount in his glass.
Jack catches him noticing. “Neat, huh? Well, technically it’s on the rocks.”
Hannibal emits a huff of amusement before he can stop himself. “That sounds like a joke I would attempt and for which I would be appropriately booed.”
“You hang around here as long as I have, you pick up some jokes. Some bad ones, I might add. Anyway, everyone is served as much as they need. And when you’re finished, your glass will be empty. Not a moment sooner.”
“Fascinating. It’s a shame about the selection, however.”
Jack shrugs. “Budget cuts.”
Hannibal has no idea what that means, nor how an operation like this one would even be funded, much less have the funding cut, but the intellectual part of his brain cuts in again and tells him that thinking about that is not the purpose of this visit.
Uncharacteristically for him, Hannibal decides to open up a bit. “I can begin to sense...I can begin to feel the different parts of my brain starting to come back online, bit by bit. It is an odd experience. I would like to write about it, as a kind of psychological case study, but,” Hannibal pauses to study Jack’s face, “I suppose I will not remember this when I return, will I?”
Jack shakes his head. “You won’t. This place,” he gestures all around him, “and your journey here were created for you, for this moment in time, for as long as you need it, and not a second longer. It will serve its purpose, then disappear. We are here to get you on the right track. Sometimes people need a little help with that; when they do, we show up.”
“Functioning as a kind of protective casing, a mental shelter during times of complete disruption and utter collapse.”
Hannibal sits in thought for awhile as Jack continues his piano riffing. This place, despite its dilapidated furnishings, lack of windows, and poor alcohol selection, does, in an odd way, feel safe, somehow without being claustrophobic. It’s so absurd that he has to accept it. Knowing it’s here as long as he needs it, then it won’t be, sparks that all too rare feeling for him - comfort. He feels held here, safe, by this laughable fantasy spurred by a near mental breakdown. He finds he likes how it feels, foreign as it is.
He hasn’t felt held in a long time, for so long that he doubts whether he ever has. He hasn’t trusted anyone enough to let them hold him (though he might have - though he did; though he yearned for it; though he thought he’d found someone after accepting for decades that there would be no one, though he thought he was okay without, and though he realizes, he was not).
Hannibal takes a long pull from his glass and tries to retreat from that line of thinking, else he will sink further into that gaping pit of despair and never leave this place.
Jack draws him out of his reverie. “Tell me something, if you don’t mind: have you loved before?”
“Yes,” he whispers automatically. “I have. Once. Now twice.”
“And you are surprised.”
“I am.” He bends over, putting his arms on his knees, and studies the floor. “To be perfectly honest, I did not entirely realize I still had a heart left to break, until it was already broken.” The sheer sincerity of it stuns him and he shudders. He realizes what he said is explicitly true, though he’d never admitted it out loud before, never even let himself think it.
“You were swept away.”
“He swept me away. I let myself...be swept. I didn’t realize. I thought I was still captain of my ship, but...he got on my vessel without my knowing it, and inserted himself so totally and completely that when he separated from me, it was as if he took half the boat with him. I couldn’t function. I no longer knew how to function. I’m sinking. I shouldn’t have let this happen.”
“I don’t think that’s the right approach, Hannibal.”
Hannibal grips his glass and sounds as irritated as he feels. “Are you psychoanalyzing me, Jack?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Jack says with a small smile. “Just having a conversation. Bringing up other possibilities.”
Hannibal groans and tells his psyche that this is all too obvious, but he quickly realizes he doesn’t care.
“And what do you suggest would be the right approach?”
“Hmm.” Jack pauses and takes time to consider. “I think...we should take a step back, and consider what it is you really want right now, and how you can achieve that, in the situation that you’re in.”
Hannibal can’t help but raise one of his eyebrows. “You may not be my psychiatrist but you are certainly acting as my therapist.”
“Just making suggestions, Hannibal. Seeing as how you can’t exactly leave yet, maybe you’ll play along.”
Hannibal is rather annoyed at this and starts to feel trapped, but sighs, as he knows Jack is right.
“What is it that I want?”
“You don’t have to tell me, just picture it in your mind. Let yourself go.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea right now.”
“I’ll bail you out if you start to go under; it’s what I’m here for.”
What does he want? Hannibal closes his eyes and images come unbidden across his psyche, from fantasies he’s never verbalized, tried to not even think about, but here they are. He and Will. Will. Will with him. Will always with him, and with him in all ways, all parts of his life, and Hannibal in all parts of his. They are one, and they will not survive separation; he already feels like he’s dying, felt it as soon as Will said those words. The words initiated a severing of a major artery that ran between them, and he was quickly bleeding to death. Part of him wanted to let it come. The other part, with the ancient survival instinct lodged in the deepest recesses of his brain, took him here. A 50/50 chance.
Hannibal opens his eyes and says roughly, “I know what I want.” To see him again.
Even just once, one conversation, before he dies. Breathe the same air again. Look into his eyes, one more time. Touch...Hannibal shakes himself. Focus.
“Good.” Jack pauses and says carefully, “Now, can you think about what you need to do to get it?”
Hannibal thinks. His first instinct, the one he’s cultivated all his life, is to run; his highly developed sense of self-preservation demands it, but it would be extremely difficult to see Will again if he tried to escape the FBI a third time. If he does manage to evade them, he might be able to catch a glimpse of Will once in a great while, at great personal risk to himself, but he already accepts that would not be enough.
It might take...years. It might take years. It might take a decade. He hurt Will so much. It will surely take a very long time. But there is a better chance, better than zero, if he. If.
His mind stutters around the unspoken thought like it's an invader that needs to be destroyed. His credo has been self-preservation above all things. Was. And yet. He was changed. He has changed. Without even realizing he let it happen, until it did. Until he did.
“I think I do.”
Jack considers him carefully. “It’s difficult, isn’t it? Like working a muscle you didn’t know existed. You’re out of practice. But you’ll get there. The first time is always the hardest.”
Hannibal nods and takes another sip of his endless drink.
At the sound of a bell tinkling, Hannibal turns around and sees that someone else has come in; she looks around, confused. He remembers the feeling.
He turns back to Jack and sighs, not knowing what else there is to say.
Jack gives Hannibal a long look, then says, “I think you know what to do now.”
Hannibal one last sip of his drink, then studies the now empty glass in astonishment before he stands up. He looks down at the table for a few seconds, and nods. “Yes, I believe I do.” He gets up, leaves a 20 on the table, more out of habit more than anything else (it won’t make much of a difference to their alleged budget, but he wants to feel charitable), and says, “I won’t see you again, will I?”
Jack smiles a little. “No, I imagine you won’t.”
“Thank you, Jack”
“Take care, Hannibal.”
Hannibal pauses. “I am curious about one more thing, if you wouldn’t mind. Why a gay piano bar?”
Jack laughs. “Budget cuts, again. We got a deal on this one. Ideally, we do individual designs for each person, but times are tough. You know how it is.”
Hannibal does not know how it is, but he nods as though he understands anyway.
He claps Jack on the shoulder, then slowly walks to the door. The woman who walked in is arguing heatedly with the bartender. “I don’t understand, why can’t I leave? Am I being detained?”
Hannibal approaches them. “Pardon me for interrupting, but you may want to talk to the gentleman at the piano.”
The woman looks irritated at the interruption. “Excuse me? Who the hell are you?”
Despite the rudeness, Hannibal puts on the most warm, comforting human face he can manage, and with his most golden, rumbly voice says, “Please, just trust me. I think you need it. You’ll be able to leave when you’re ready.”
She studies his face for several moments; he can tell when it’s clear she understands he’s being sincere, and she visibly relaxes. “Alright. Thank you.”
Hannibal gives a small nod, then easily opens the door to leave.
He walks about a quarter of a mile through an empty field before he looks back, and sees the bar is no longer there. He checks his watch - no time has passed, not in this reality, anyway. He sighs, then keeps going, back to his beloved’s house, back to face the difficult decision he’s made, the one thing he thought he’d never do, until that curly haired, sweaty, irritated, beautiful, magnificent dog fanatic came into his life and upended everything. But, if he’s honest with himself, he knows he wouldn’t have it any other way.