Word Count: 1,964
Clarice had no reason to be here so late in the evening. No good one anyway. She'd called ahead, pleased Barney was working tonight. He was by far her favorite of the staff she'd met.
She told herself that was why she was there. Dr. Lecter had it; Clarice and the FBI needed it to save Catharine Martin's life. A woman not much younger than she was had her life hanging in the balance.
The chair was there as it had been on previous visits. Miggs' cell was still empty. Quiet. She imagined one day that would change.
"Another after-hours visits, Agent Starling? I'm beginning to think you hold a similar opinion about Dr. Chilton as my own."
"I've dealt with worse."
"No dinner plans?"
"No. I'll pick up something on my way back to D.C."
"And Will Graham? He is okay with that?"
"Good question. Why both, of course. Eating on the run, and an out of office hours visit to me."
"Will doesn't control me, Dr. Lecter."
"Of course not. You're far too smart and independent for that. It's good to hear my presumption was correct."
"How did you know?"
"About your relationship with Will? I sensed it. His scent was all over you your first visit. I presumed, apparently correctly that was the case."
"Oh? Trouble in paradise? I'm sorry."
"You shouldn't have called him, Doctor."
"Of course I had to, Clarice. I had to congratulate him on such a catch. I honestly didn't know he had it in him."
"I didn't come here to talk about my relationship with Will, Sir."
"Why are you here?"
"Tell me more about your patient."
"I much prefer talking about you. You said not anymore. Who did the breaking up?"
"Why does it matter?"
"Wondering if I should call my old friend again. I heard he is one-step away from needing a twelve-step program."
"I'm not going to talk about it with you."
"Was he good to you?"
"Were you in love with him?"
"I don't think that's any of your business."
"I'll take that as a yes. You deserve better."
"Better? You don't even know me."
"I know enough to know I speak the truth. Who doesn't deserve a complete person?"
"If he's incomplete it's because of you."
"Me?" He frowned at that. "What on earth did I do to make him incomplete?"
"Do you really believe his problems all stem from some physical scars? You know better, I'm sure. The scars are just one layer."
"We shouldn't be talking about him."
"Your patient, Sir. Why didn't you tell anyone the storage unit was there?"
"No reason to," he shrugged casually.
"Why now? Why me? And don't tell me it was because of Miggs. I know better."
He smirked a little then.
"Alas, Clarice, your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps I was just feeling chatty at that moment."
"Doubtful, Sir," she said, surprised he'd dropped the formality between them tonight. "What else can you tell me?"
"Not much to tell. I told you what I know that night."
"Not all of it."
"Look. Don't you want him stopped?"
"Why should I care one way or another?"
"If he isn't caught and you were that'd be an insult to you, wouldn't it?"
He clicked his tongue and shook his head.
"I'll think on it, Clarice. For now, I think I've had enough socializing for the day."
"Good night, Agent Starling. Drive safely."
She stood slowly from the chair. There was nothing she could do to make him talk. She would not talk about Will with him, which is what he seemed to want.
"You could save her life, Dr. Lecter. A young woman could be asleep in her bed tonight because of you."
He said nothing. She didn't really expect him to, but it was worth a try. She'd really hoped he'd give her something else to work on tonight. Another clue. Something!
She shouldn't have gone to the graduation party with Dr. Pilcher. He got the wrong idea. She should've guessed that would happen. It was a pretty big deal, graduating, and neither she nor Ardelia wanted to attend stag.
She wasn't ready for another boyfriend, and she realized when she got home from the party that she wasn't ready for dating again.
She knew for certain when she saw the card and flower lying in front of her door that was true. She recognized the handwriting immediately.
He'd been here.
Had he seen her graduation ceremony? Had he come to be with her, knowing she had no one, only to see her with Pilcher? She felt bad that could have been the case. They'd talked a few times since the night they broke up, but they hadn't seen one another. His choice not hers.
The rose was lovely and she put it on her desk. There was nothing personal about the card other than his signature. No endearment or anything.
There was a cashier's check with the card, though. It wasn't a lot, but it would pay for a few things for the place she and Ardelia were getting together.
She thought about crumpling it up and throwing it away, or driving over to his place and giving it back. There was a reason he had done it this way, though.
She went to the hallway and the communal phone there. She dialed the number by heart, hoping he'd be home. At a bar drinking was always a possibility with him.
"Hi, it's Clarice."
'How are you?'
"Fine. Feeling rather stress-free for the first time in years."
He chuckled softly. 'I imagine so. How is Miss Martin?'
"Recovering. I imagine there's a ton of therapy headed her way."
'I hope it works for her.'
"Me, too," she answered. Unspoken was that it hadn't worked for him.
'You have a place picked out?'
"Yes, Ardelia and I got a duplex together."
'You're welcome. I know you don't have much to start out with. Rummage sales are fine, Clarice, but you deserve more.'
"It's still too much considering."
'I still love you, and I want you well. It's not your fault I can't handle your chosen calling in life.'
"I love you, too," she said softly.
'Once you're settled, call me with your new number and address.'
"Okay. Maybe you could come over for dinner."
'You can cook?'
She laughed. They both knew she could not cook well at all. Macaroni and cheese and hot dogs were the extent of her culinary skills.
"I can try. Or, to be safe, we could order in."
'I'd like that.'
'Are you okay?'
"I'm fine. You asked me that already."
'I mean with Lecter having escaped.'
"Yes," she replied simply. She knew he'd understand her reason for thinking she was safe even less than Ardelia had. "Are you?"
'Yes, I can't deny I've looked over my shoulder more than usual, but I suspect he's content with the mental and physical scars he's already left me with. Plus, he seems to be aware I've lost you, too.'
"I'm sorry about that."
'No need, I'm sure you had your reasons. If it helped find Catherine Martin, I can't complain too much.'
"Well, I should go."
'A line forming?'
'All right. Well, call me whenever you want to do dinner.'
"Thank you, Will. Good night."
She wasn't sure about calling him, if it'd be weird but she was glad she had. That they could still talk. Maybe they could be friends after all was said and done. Neither of them had an abundance of those. Plus no one but her knew what his scars looked like.
One last night here, then tomorrow she'd be in a more permanent place. Her first one of her own. She was excited and a little nervous. Will had made a joke about her cooking skills. It was true, though. She knew next to nothing about living on her own away from institutions.
In bed, her thoughts turned to Dr. Lecter and his phone call earlier that day. The one she hadn't told anyone about. Crawford probably assumed it was Will. She didn't even want to know how he knew where she'd be to take the call. She'd known even without his verbal assurances that she was safe from his handiwork.
She glanced at her hand, briefly holding it in the air above her head. He'd touched her. She knew what he did to his victims. Will wasn't the worst of them. Yet she'd been unable to draw herself away from his touch.
He was difficult, but she sensed his being so was a test for her (and others) more than anything. If they were smart enough to unravel his riddles and clues they'd get the answers they sought. She was not sure what it said that she was the one able to do that.
Where was he?
Free when he'd never expected to be free. Would he have had an escape plan? She imagined if he hadn't before the transfer to Memphis, he had come up with one. Clearly, despite the warnings and specific instructions, Memphis PD wasn't equipped to handle him. He had to have suspected that. Chilton may have been a buffoon, but he knew how to handle his prized inmate.
So, where would he go?
If she knew that.
Well, she'd pretty much guarantee herself a spot in whatever area of the FBI she desired.
That held a huge amount of appeal to her. Writing her own ticket. For once. The opportunity to be someone elite because of her hard work. Accomplished. Successful. Recognized. Finally, she'd feel like her dad's death hadn't been for nothing.
Would she still be here if he hadn't died? If her path hadn't crossed with Janice and thereby violence and death, would she be an elementary school teacher?
She didn't know. She couldn't recall any realistic job aspirations as a child. Ballerina and astronaut didn't count.
She was not going to fall asleep thinking like this. She needed to relax instead of looking for clues where there weren't any on where Lecter might be. It was an intriguing question, though.
He'd told her everything to catch Gumb was in his case file. Was the same true for finding Dr. Lecter? Would Jack give her the access to see if she could do it?
"You're ridiculous, Clarice. You think you're better than Crawford's other agents? Then the rest of the agents in the FBI already looking for the man? And why, because you essentially got lucky. Lecter's clue helped, sure, but if someone else had put two-and-two together regarding the pattern on Frederica's dress and what Buffalo Bill was doing. Well, maybe there'd be an earlier survivor than Catherine Martin."
She did have a slight advantage over anyone else. She'd spoken to him recently where no one else had for years, outside of the hospital staff. Surely, that should give her some insight that others lacked.
Tomorrow when she'd settled into her place, she'd review her notes. She'd do it now except they were packed away already for the move tomorrow. Was it possible? Was there something there that could give Clarice a clue where Lecter went?
Even if Jack wouldn't let her work on it on FBI time, she could do it on her own time. She would not blame Jack for preventing her. Too close. A second prominent case so close to catching Gumb could take its toll. She should learn to be an agent first.
All good and valid arguments, but she couldn't just let him go. He couldn't really not expect her to at least try.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com