Word Count: 7,382
She was a woman on a mission. She would find him and see to his capture. It wasn't her fault he had escaped. If Memphis PD had done their jobs correctly, followed the strict rules and guidelines in place he'd still be behind bars. She knew this.
Still, though, she felt somewhat responsible for his having escaped. If she hadn't delivered Crawford's fake deal to Lecter, which led to his transfer when caught. If she'd told him what he wanted to know about Will and their relationship perhaps people would still be alive. And he'd still be safe behind bars.
Safe was probably not the appropriate word.
Except she didn't feel as though she was in danger. He hadn't mentioned Will's safety in his brief telephone call to her, but she didn't think he'd come after him either. He'd already tried once, like Mason Verger, he would enjoy allowing Will to suffer through the rest of his life with the damage Lecter had already caused.
At least that's how she justified traumatizing the man she loved when she asked him to tell her everything he could. She didn't have access to the case files anymore. The FBI had put more experienced agents on the hunt, and since it was assumed he wouldn't stay in the country long the international assistance those more experienced agents could finagle. Will, though, was a living case file. He'd lived and breathed the Chesapeake Ripper case, knew it better than anyone else. She was sure of that. The DOJ and Paul Krendler couldn't take that away from her. Crawford would have let her work on it as a side job, she was sure of that due to her tenacity with the Gumb case. Crawford was on leave, though.
She recorded their conversation so that Will wouldn't have to repeat it yet again, transcribing it when she got home. Will wasn't happy about doing it because he knew it meant she was going to hunt for him herself. He did it, though, recognizing evidently she was going to do it with or without him so he may as well arm her with as much knowledge as he could.
Knowledge was power after all.
"Just promise me one thing, Clarice."
"If you have a credible lead, take back up. Don't go alone. If Jack isn't back and you can't get the attention of anyone at the DOJ you call me."
"Will, I couldn't do that to you."
"You think I'd just rather mysteriously not hear from you ever again?"
"Well, no, put like that."
"The man you met wouldn't be the same as the one now free, Clarice. You have to know that, commit that fact to memory above all others. Freedom. He has it now when he never thought he'd get it again. He's not going to give that up easily. Not even to you, no matter how much you think he may have liked you during your brief visits."
She'd never told Will her opinion about Lecter and his thoughts about her. How did he know? She wasn't stupid enough to think he'd fallen in love with her or anything, but he was definitely fascinated by her. Will knew things no one else did, though, so it didn't surprise her he knew that, too.
That had been six months ago. She was no closer to finding him than she had been that day. He, on the other hand, knew exactly where she was apparently. Three times now she'd received gifts that could be from no one other than him. Flowers twice, a wonderful bottle of wine for the third just this week. She knew who the gifts were from. Ardelia assumed the flowers were from Will. Her roommate didn't know about the bottle of wine. She'd shared it over spaghetti with Will. Certainly not what Doctor Lecter would have eaten with it, but it was excellent just the same.
She and Will?
They were friends. Nothing more. Sometimes they'd cuddle on his couch while watching a movie, but that was as far as it went. No kissing, no touching beyond general holding. It'd be easy to fall back into that. She wanted to because she missed it. Love wasn't the problem neither was a lack of wanting to on either of their parts. Her job was and she had come too far to turn back now. Even if she was getting shit jobs currently.
She'd assumed after Gumb her future was bright. Six months later, though, she was no longer so sure. Crawford's hands were tied to some degree when Krendler said who could and couldn't do assignments. As Mrs. Crawford had gotten sicker, eventually dying, Krendler had immersed himself as the one in charge more and more. Hopefully, Crawford would be back soon and things would go back to normal. He couldn't be the only one who saw her potential, but Krendler seemed to think her only potential consisted of bedroom activities.
So, she and Will got together every couple of weeks. They ate, they talked (avoiding her cases because Will didn't want to hear about them), and they both got sad when it was time for her to go. Eventually, something would give and she imagined she'd no longer have Will in her life. Until then, though, she planned on enjoying his company because no one else's company appealed to her.
Six more months passed and she was no closer to finding him. Her jobs were getting worse and worse, though. She was fairly certain that she was becoming an expert on Hannibal Lecter the more miserable she was with her workload. His likes and dislikes. Habits could be changed or altered enough not to be recognizable, but other things tastes - could not be.
The gifts continued and yet she never mentioned them to anyone. She hated to admit it, but the flowers were her favorite. There was something about them that brightened up her bedroom. She always took exceptional care of them, changing the water frequently, so that they would last as long as they possibly could.
He'd never crossed a line.
The gifts had always been rather innocuous and certainly nothing she could return. Was she supposed to throw the flowers away? Pour the bottles of wine down the drain?
Perhaps, but she couldn't. She knew how much these things cost and while money apparently didn't matter to him even after his lengthy incarceration, it mattered to her.
She cut back on her time with Will. She was afraid he'd turn his keen sense of insight onto her at the wrong time and he'd know. She couldn't bear to see the look in his eyes when he realized the bottles of wine he'd shared with her over the past year had been courtesy of his adversary.
What line had he crossed now?
A ticket for Phantom of the Opera in New York arrived. He was a fool to think she'd go. And yet, he wouldn't reveal himself to her. He wouldn't be that stupid, or easy to catch. So why shouldn't she go?
There were a million reasons not to.
And only one reason to go.
She wanted to. She was curious enough about whether he'd actually show himself to her a mere two hundred miles away from the office heading up the manhunt for him. She'd only been to the theatre once before with Will and she did enjoy it enough that she wanted to see a show everyone was talking about.
The next day a telegram arrived with details she'd need for her stay in New York. The day after that several boxes arrived, containing she discovered, everything she could ever dream of wearing to a night at the theatre. How he knew her sizes, even down to correct shoe and bra size, was astounding.
She should return all of it, cancel the ticket, and from this day forward not accept anything else from him. This was crossing a line even she couldn't justify. This wasn't flowers that would die in a few days or a bottle of wine that would be gone in a few hours. This was a weekend away courtesy of him. He'd taken it too far. To think she'd what? Go to dinner and a show with him? Not reveal to Jack Crawford he'd likely be in New York on that date even if he didn't show himself to her. She had no illusion he'd be there any longer than need be.
God strike her down, but she went. Paul Krendler was actually the deciding force. He pulled her off of an assignment that she was somewhat looking forward to for a change lately. Nothing of substance, but better than what she'd been getting recently. And then he took it away from her. On purpose, no doubt, reminding her yet again if she'd slept with him she wouldn't have the table scrap assignments.
She did lots of the tourist stuff, except a trip to the Statue of Liberty. Some other time she'd do that when she wasn't rushed. She could've spent more than the three hours she did at the museum as it was. She'd been to New York before, but it was on a case so she'd never had the chance to do any sightseeing.
She got back to her room in plenty of time to get ready for the evening. A bottle of champagne sat on the table, chilling in a bucket and next to it was a single red rose in a bud vase. It was lovely. The cork was already loosened so all she had to do was wiggle it out the rest of the way, pouring herself a glass before taking her shower.
The dress was exquisite. She'd expect no less from something he'd picked out, though. Strapless and backless (the reason he'd included a bra with the outfit she imagined because she didn't own one like the one she currently wore until now). The weather was nice enough she didn't need a coat beyond the wrap he'd included. It was almost as if he had arranged for the weather to cooperate as well. She doubted even Hannibal Lecter had that much power, though some might argue with her.
Her heart skipped a bit as she stepped into the elevator and the man already in the car regarded her appreciatively. She'd gotten dressed up before, sure. Never like this, though. From head to toe, hair to feet she was made up and she had to admit it was kind of nice. The man couldn't see her painted toenails, but she knew they were painted and completed the picture she was presenting of being made up right.
The car was waiting for her where she'd been told it would be and soon she was on her way to the theatre. She found her seat, not surprised at all for some reason that it was one of the boxes. She felt more than just a little on display and wondered if he'd done that intentionally. A lone woman sitting by herself was rather conspicuous on a Saturday night. She had an excellent view, though, of everything from the stage to the house. It was fascinating to watch the people as they found their seats. How many of them did this sort of thing every Saturday night? She knew even the regular tickets on the floor would cost more than she could spend. Not everyone was in her financial position, though. Still, even if she had the money she'd rather spend it on a gun than theatre tickets.
The lights were dimming, ready for the show to start when he joined her. She hadn't seen him, eyes focused on the orchestra. She sensed him, though, and knew without a doubt that he would look even more exquisite than she did because he was far more practiced at it.
She didn't turn around, hoping if she didn't he wouldn't really be there. Of course, her coming here implied she wanted him to be here.
He took the seat to her left once the lights were down completely and the chandelier was in place. Had he seen the show before to know that happened? Or did he just know? He'd only been free for a little over a year. She wouldn't think catching up on theatre would be a priority.
Then, what did she know?
As Carlotta was singing, ironically about Hannibal, he leaned toward her.
"You look lovelier than I imagined," he whispered.
This close she took in his cologne, nothing she recognized but it smelled great on him. She also got a whiff of peppermint when he'd spoken to her.
She didn't respond her eyes and ears focused on the stage and the events unfolding. She was familiar with the story, having read Leroux's novel in high school. She'd recently read a newer book, covering the Phantom's past. It was rather engrossing yet painful. It made her appreciate the actions playing out on stage a little more.
He moved to a seat further back as the house lights came up for Intermission.
"Separately we aren't so remarkable. Seated side by side, I'm not so sure," he said smoothly, though she hadn't asked for an explanation.
"I'm surprised you're even here."
"Why would I miss out on the opportunity to see you here?"
"I could have told Crawford."
"He's busy mourning the loss of his wife. You are under the supervision of Paul Krendler now. How is that working out for you, by the way?"
"You already know judging by your tone."
"He's rather crude and classless, isn't he?"
"That's an understatement."
"Are you enjoying the performance?"
"How can you even ask that?"
"Is that a yes?"
"I tried to choose something you'd like. This seemed a safe bet."
"You're thanking me?"
"For being honest. In your position it must be tempting to feign having a terrible time in the hopes I'll leave you alone from now on."
"I'm not here as a date."
"Of course you are. You think I go through all of this trouble and expense for a mere acquaintance?"
"I came here to have a nice weekend."
"At my expense."
"I didn't even know for certain you'd be here."
"Understandable, but still you came. You knew there was at least a chance I'd show."
What could she say to that? He was right?
"Your silence is revealing, no need to respond."
"I enjoy watching the people," she finally said after audience members made their way to their seats for the beginning of the second act.
"They like watching you as well, no doubt."
"I don't think I look anything like I did in those shots after we caught Gumb."
"No, I'm just exercising caution."
"Coming here is cautious?"
"I needed to see if you'd show."
"I almost didn't."
"Almost doesn't count, Clarice."
"It does to me."
"You can explain your rationale on that over dinner."
"You think being seen together at a restaurant is safe?"
"Of course not. That's what hotel rooms and room service is for. I already took the liberty of placing our order. I merely have to stop at the front desk when we've returned to let them know we expect dinner."
"Oh," she said, somehow surprised. She was not planning on being completely alone with him. She'd assumed he'd be in New York; watch her from a distance perhaps. She hadn't counted on this. Alone time, dinner in her hotel room, with Hannibal Lecter.
"Does that frighten you?"
"No," she answered honestly. He wouldn't go to such great lengths to impress her only to kill her. However, his expectations of her that was frightening.
"Did Will ask you to quit for him?" he asked once it was over. They'd both moved further back in the box to wait until the crowd below had dissipated before leaving themselves.
"I know you heard me."
"I did, but I'm not sure where the question came from."
"It dawned on me as the show unfolded that there are some parallels."
"You assume Raoul would ask her to stop performing."
"I can safely assume that yes, once they were married. He was a man of wealth and station, had title and lands once his brother died anyway. He wouldn't allow his wife to perform. Maybe for a while, but certainly once the first child came."
"And you see Will in that?"
"I see Will wanting you, but not wanting the job that comes with the package that makes up Clarice Starling. It would be difficult for someone like him to be around it, however, remotely. He can't turn it off."
"He didn't ask me to quit, no, but he did tell me he couldn't deal with my working in the BSU."
"Why do you care?"
"You presume that's why I'm asking."
"Why else would you ask?"
"Mere curiosity. Do you think she made the correct choice?"
"No. Yes. Sort of."
"Explain, please," he said, stepping away briefly to check on the status of the house below them.
"Had you asked me that question in high school after I'd read the book, I would have said yes without batting an eyelash."
"I know what you said about Raoul's expectations of her once they married and with Philippe dead. Well, she was scared. He, the Phantom, shouldn't have killed the guy. The one he hung. Until then, I think he had her. It was too much for her, though."
"Her ultimate choice?"
"She chose wrong. He would've made her dreams come true. Given her a career that she and her father could be proud of. Raoul can't give that to her."
"I am not Christine."
"I'm aware of that fact."
He offered her the wrap as he started toward the doors leading out of their box.
"Thank you," she said in response to him holding the door for her.
She noticed then his hand had been corrected. Of course he would do that. While not entirely uncommon, being a polydactyl certainly was distinct. Something identifiable.
"Storing away information, Agent?"
"They'd wonder how you know if you reported it."
"Yes, though it's a reasonable assumption you'd do it to blend in better. One aspect of your profile you can change with relative ease."
"And yet you haven't located me."
"No," she said. Her time was limited to find him and she wasn't rich. Calls to foreign countries were expensive.
"Do you foresee them having a chance at happiness?"
"Christine and Raoul?"
"Marriage wasn't about happiness then," she said, as he handed her into the car.
"They were clearly marrying for love, which equates in most people's minds to happiness."
"At first, yes. I think eventually, no."
"I think if she was unable to perform she'd be miserable. He'd see that, but be unwilling to budge. I think, too, he'd realize another man could have given her what she not just wanted but needed."
"Assuming he stops her from performing, I do. He may surprise us. Who knows? He does love her."
"But he knows The Phantom is still out there."
"Would she stray?"
"Cheat? I wouldn't think so, but mentally maybe."
"No, if I was with someone and was thinking about someone else. Well, I'd fix it or get out."
"I've never strayed when I've been committed to someone, no. That's not to say I only entertained one woman other times."
"Of course not," she replied dryly. She knew that much about him. She knew of no long-term relationships from her research on him, but that didn't mean they never happened.
"If Will knew you were here?"
"With you? He'd never forgive me."
"Yet you came."
"We're not together. I told you that when it happened. I see him, but it's not romantic. That would stop if he found out."
"No. It won't work. We both get that, but we still care and enjoy spending time together. I don't have a vast amount of friends, so I'm not going to push him away because he has a problem with my career. One day I imagine he'll think it's too much even being friends."
"Do you hope it'll become more once again?"
"I don't know. I know him. Us. I know his secrets."
"You now have some from him."
"And that pretty much tells you whether it'll become something again. I couldn't be with him knowing I was withholding this weekend."
"And my gifts."
"Those, too. Which need to stop by the way. Sooner or later Ardelia's going to realize they're not from Will."
"I have no one else to send me things. My life has been all about getting me here."
"You do have someone else."
"No one I can admit to."
"Technicalities. The fact remains you have someone who admires you enough to give you gifts."
"You're not going to stop, are you?"
"Of course not. You should be thankful I've limited my gifts to being sent to your home."
"Oh God, I'd never hear the end of it or live that down. Krendler in particular would have a field day I'm sure."
He handed her out of the car once they'd arrived at her hotel. Was he staying here, too? She wasn't sure she should ask. He probably wouldn't tell her anyway. She wouldn't stay at the same hotel if it was her.
"Go on up, I'll be right there."
"Okay," she said, watching him as he walked to the front desk. Here, looking at him when she could without him observing her she took him in briefly. He looked nice. He always did from photos she'd seen, though, so that was nothing new for him. He'd lost some weight. His hair was a little longer and he'd colored it, subtle but the grey that had been evident in his cell was no longer there. She wondered what everyone in the lobby would do if they knew who he was.
She hung the wrap over a hanger and contemplated taking off the shoes. While beautiful, they were still new shoes. Hours of wearing them had caught up with her. He'd find that perhaps amusing she had no doubt, but overall rude. So, she left them on.
She answered her door when the knock came.
"Debated the wisdom in letting me in?"
"A little," she admitted, glad he knew why she had taken so long to answer the door without her saying so. This wasn't easy for her.
"A little different us here then at the Majestic."
"More than a little."
"I'm grateful that you let me in."
"You're paying for the room."
"Is that the only reason, Clarice?"
She tried not to react to the way he said her name. It was impossible not to, though. He made it sound far more elegant than anyone else did.
"What other reason should I admit to?"
"You wanted to?"
"There's nothing about this weekend that falls under want to."
"Come now, Clarice. I didn't force you. I didn't hold you at gunpoint and make you come here."
"I know. It doesn't mean it's right or that I don't still wonder why I came."
"Have you enjoyed your weekend?"
"Was it relaxing?"
"In most ways."
"That was my intent, nothing more."
He answered the door without looking through the peep hole, allowing their dinner to be brought in on a cart. Of course it was on a cart.
"Awful confident I didn't call in your location."
"You would have a lot to explain had you done that."
"I could have figured it out."
"Why didn't you then?"
She shrugged as he rolled the cart over to the table.
"When I do it, find you I mean, I want it to be because I actually caught you."
"Some might say that you already have, Clarice."
"Come sit and eat while it's hot. I assure you everything you'll eat tonight is deliciously prepared. Tell me of your decision-making process that led to your accepting this weekend get-away."
"There wasn't one," she said sitting in a chair.
"Of course there was. Something happened to cause you to come."
"You didn't think that I would?"
"Then why send me the clothes?"
"Krendler," she said while he set a plate of food in front of her, pouring them each a glass of wine before setting a plate for himself in front of his place setting.
"What about him?"
"He's the reason."
"Yes, ever since Crawford's been out. Well, I can't get any decent assignments."
"You not only showed him up, but made him look foolish on top of it."
"He's made passes at me."
"Yes, I've lost count."
"And Will has done nothing about this?"
"I asked him not to. I can fight my own battles. I thought I could handle it."
"It's gotten worse?"
"Not worse necessarily, but I assumed it would get better. As time went by that he'd get over it and put our differences aside." She laughed. "Or find another new agent to hit on. Then I'd get assignments I deserve."
"So this weekend?"
"I was supposed to be involved with a kidnapping case. Not a huge case, mind you, but better than arson and rape cases for a change."
"I'm sorry, and kidnapping is a step-up for you?"
"Well, sure, assuming it goes right and the child comes back home. The Bureau investigates rape cases and arson cases when they become federal, meaning cross state lines or more than a serial perpetrator on the loose. He pulled me last-minute to talk to someone suspected of insider trading."
"Not glitzy enough for you?"
"That's not it at all. And you know that."
"I do indeed, Clarice."
"It's just that any agent could do that interview. It could've waited until the kidnapping was resolved."
"I wanted to make a difference."
And she did. They ate at a leisurely pace and drank their wine while she told him more about her father, her time at the orphanage, Janice, and her quest to get where she was today. She revealed things to him she hadn't to Will for whatever reason. Too personal.
A bottle of wine finished, a second one opened and on its way to being polished off as well they ended up on the couch continuing their conversation. She had to admit that he was an excellent listener.
She didn't have it in her to balk at the unspoken intimacy his arm behind her on the couch presented. He'd done it during the show earlier and she hadn't stopped him then either.
His kiss surprised her. She hadn't expected it at all. Frankly, she saw herself as a plaything to him, someone that intrigued him. It was nothing like her first kiss with Will. No hesitancy or tentativeness on his part. He was all in, expecting a response.
Perhaps it was the wine or simply because it'd been so long, but she kissed him back. She and Will never had a problem getting this part right. She tensed a little when he nipped her lower lip.
"Relax," he whispered. "I'm not here to hurt you."
Easy for him to say. She'd just told him things about herself Will would never know. She was exposed in a way she didn't much like and he was giving her a closeness that softened the raw and wounded feeling she was experiencing.
Lips against her jaw had her breathing hard. Lower along her neck and bare shoulder and she was on the verge of hyperventilating.
"So soft," he whispered.
"Thank you," she answered softly.
"I've been unable to get you off of my mind, Clarice."
He chuckled, running a fingertip along the shoulder he'd just kissed.
"It has proven inconvenient. I never imagined Jack would find or be the cause of my Achilles Heel. I never dreamt you'd respond to me, treat me the way you did."
"I didn't treat you any special way."
"Exactly my point. It'd been a long time since someone looked at me like I was a person. Who showed me respect."
"You deserved it."
"Chilton would say otherwise."
"I suppose he would, but he was a fool."
"I couldn't agree more."
His hand was warm against her skin. He wasn't touching her suggestively, but it was hard not to be affected by him. She'd reacted to him the very first moment she saw him. Maybe before that, agreeing to take Jack's assignment knowing Will's reaction. He challenged her, though until tonight she'd assume she was more of a play thing to him.
"What do you want from me?"
"I'm not sure you really want an answer to that tonight, Clarice."
"You can't keep doing this. Someone's going to catch on. I can't afford things like this dress or the shoes."
"You're entitled to receive gifts."
"You're going to get caught."
"That would bother you?"
"I should say no, but it would."
She shrugged, touching his hand the first time she'd touched him.
"I don't know. It goes against everything I believe in, have faith in, and have been taught."
"Hearts are tricky things."
"They are," she agreed.
"That moral compass you have doesn't need to be used in the FBI you know."
"What do you mean?"
"Police work, catching criminals, and making a difference in victims' lives. That's why you've got this drive, isn't it?"
"You could do that anywhere, surely you realize that."
"I realize the FBI is the ultimate, but I'm not so sure Jack will come back. If he does, I wouldn't expect him to be the same man he was when you last saw him."
"I'd thought of that."
"Krendler is not going to lighten up on you."
"You'd think no one's said no to him before."
"Not someone like you, I'm sure. Your reasons were honorable, theirs probably not so."
"Why don't you go somewhere where you can be wanted or at the very least make a real difference to the people."
"I've never thought about it."
"I could offer you that."
"Come with me and find out."
"I couldn't just up and leave."
"Why not? Your job is not satisfying to you. You are clinging to a former lover so that you have someone in your life."
"You make it sound as if I have no life, no friends."
"You have no family, Clarice. Like me. No one who will really, truly miss you. Your roommate and Will would, of course, but eventually they'd accept you're gone and move on."
"You're asking me to give up my life for the unknown. The promise of a job I'll find more fulfilling but no details. I don't even know where."
"I'm asking you to give me a chance. I am in one of many places for me to choose from. You don't like it, it doesn't fulfill you then you would be able to leave."
"You'd just let me leave?"
"I'm not going to keep you prisoner nor am I going to force you to stay."
"If I leave, I couldn't come back."
"You could get another job. Assigned to an FBI office not in DC, away from Krendler. Some wouldn't blame you after what you went through with Mr. Gumb for burning out, requiring some time away from the job. It happens to the most experienced agent or officer involved in a killing, justified or not."
She ran a fingertip along the space where his extra finger had been. Even knowing it was there, it was hard for her to tell it had been. Of course, he would pay top dollar to ensure the job was done correctly. Very little scarring even.
"I don't know."
"I can't come back here, Clarice. It was very foolish of me to even this once."
"I know that."
"So, the question becomes then, are you willing to let me go?"
"That's my only option?"
"You lay a lot on a woman on a first date."
"If our circumstances were normal I would court you properly. If that's what you desire, courtship, I can give that to you only if we're in close proximity to one another."
"Doesn't the idea of weekends like this appeal to you?"
"Of course. It was lovely, but that's not what I want or need. It's the day-to-day I wonder about."
"What's to wonder?"
"I can't go from barely knowing you to sleeping with you."
"I'm not sure I stated that was an expectation."
"Eventually perhaps, certainly. I'm a man, so of course the thought's crossed my mind. Have I given you the impression my short-term goal is merely to bed you?"
"Well, no, but you're talking about me being with you, living with you. I would assume that'd be part of the deal."
"Short term, to investigate whether the move and lifestyle suited you. You would be my guest. If you stayed and decided independence in the form of your own place was required we'd deal with that. It'd make fleeing together difficult, but I suppose we could agree upon a meeting place in the event that became necessary."
"And you can't give me a hint?"
"No, but I assure you that an honest police officer would be welcome and you would make a difference."
"What are you doing there?"
"Helping in my own way."
"You're practicing medicine again."
"I need to think about this."
"Thinking about it is better than no."
"If Krendler wasn't in charge it would be no. I don't believe he'd allow me a transfer. He'd claim he wouldn't want to give someone else his problem. Funny how things can change so fast. Damn Crawford's wife."
"I can give you a few months to decide."
"Then what happens?"
"I will continue sending you flowers and perhaps the occasional gift until I come to the conclusion it's time to stop. This weekend will be the last time you see me."
"And you haven't come to that conclusion in a year?"
"No, and I doubt I will anytime soon, but I will not risk everything again for you to be uncertain."
"I know and I can't blame you. I wouldn't blame you if you left here tonight and gave up."
"I won't be this blatant again, Clarice, but I won't give up."
"Scientifically, I don't put much stock in the heart or letting it control rule you. However, to have someone you look at me the way you did knowing what you do about me. Well, I want that. Please don't tell me I could get that from anyone. It's not anyone I want to look at me in that way, Clarice. It's you with your moral compass and quest to save the world from the bad guys."
"I'm not sure that makes sense, but I get it."
"Not the most romantic proposition, I suppose. I would take care of you, provide for you of course."
"I'm not asking for that."
"I know you aren't, but if I'm asking you to drop everything, leave those you care about behind, and sacrifice everything for me. Well, you need to know. And you would be taken care of in the event of my demise."
He chuckled softly. "I have no one else to leave any legacy of mine to, Clarice. It's all in your name already. The Lecter estate among them, owned by dummy companies and identities now, of course, but me just the same. The old lands aren't worth so much any longer, but they still exist. Regardless of what you decide, you will likely outlive me so they are yours."
She sat up a little, cradling her head in her hands. Not as easy to do with the contraption she wore that was a strapless, backless bra. She jumped a little at his touch.
"Relax," he whispered, resting his hand against her bare back. Easy for him to say. He probably touched women like this all of the time. A finger along her spine helped keep her grounded, her thoughts in the present instead of straying too far from what she needed to be focusing on.
He was offering her the chance for a fresh start.
No Buffalo Bill case casting a shadow over her career. Her life. No matter how much she wanted to deny it, the shadow was there. She'd even heard whispers in the Bureau's halls that she'd somehow exchanged sexual favors with Lecter for information. How she'd accomplished that she wasn't sure. It wasn't possible, but not everyone would know that. Not everyone had visited Lecter to know what limitations there were in place to know how impossible the idea was.
A fresh start.
What a concept.
Lecter was right, Crawford wasn't going to be the same. If he even came back. That meant the chances for advancement she sought would have limits. More limits than before.
"Away from the States?"
"Yes," he replied simply.
Because really, no matter where she went the Gumb case would follow her. She'd never get a fresh start no matter if she was in California, Florida, or anywhere else. It would always be there. That case. If she left the FBI and went to a local police department, they'd think she'd failed or couldn't hack it with the big boys.
"I can have a month?"
"To do what exactly?"
"Put in for a leave of absence. Allow Ardelia the chance to find a new roommate."
"Leave of absence?"
"I think it'd be less suspicious."
"If I go and decide I can't do it?"
"You're free to come and go as you please, Clarice. I told you that. You wouldn't be able to come back for visits or to maintain contact with someone like Ardelia, but I'm not planning on holding you captive."
"If I go for good?"
"Leave me, you mean?"
"Then at least I'd know. We'd know."
"That would be the end?"
"Presumably, yes. I'm not going to chase you."
"You aren't now?"
"This is different. I had to tempt you, get your attention, and proposition you somehow. Should you join me and then choose to leave it would be a pretty done deal. The decision made that a life with me isn't what you need. My will wouldn't change."
"That doesn't concern me."
"I know I just don't want you to think I'm trying to use that as an added enticement. Whether with me or not it's yours. Either way, it eases my mind knowing you're provided for."
Both were silent as if processing the fact she was actually going ahead with this. Was her answer surprising to him? Was he imagining more of a long-term hunt than she was giving him?
"So, a month?" he asked.
"That should be enough time."
"Why say yes?"
"No matter where I go, I'm not going to get a fresh start. You and Gumb will follow me forever. It shouldn't, but it holds me back and will forever. No one wants me along on the big cases because they think I'll bully my way to the lead or take the spotlight away from them."
"You wouldn't believe some of the rumors I've overheard about us."
"Evidently someone from Memphis noticed that spark between us, Clarice."
"Or Barney," Clarice said.
"What did I get out of you in these rumors?"
"You know what I'm asking."
"Oh it varies. Unrealistic, of course, but it's out there. It will always be out there."
"And now, you leaving and dropping off the face of the earth. They'll know, Clarice. That sits well with you? That these people whose approval and acceptance you've for years sought out with all your might will know you're sleeping with the monster they hunt."
She shrugged. "The only one that concerns me is Will. He'd probably wonder why I was willing to give it up for you but not for him."
"It's different. None of the rest of it would change. I'd always be Clarice and coupled with him, you would always be in the background anyway. A constant reminder, festering. I can't live like that. He couldn't live like that, but yes, it'd bother me to some degree what he'd think about my choice. It bothered him that I couldn't seem to stay away from you, visited you in Memphis. In Baltimore when I really didn't need to."
A hand at her hair, stroking it gently. "I'm sorry, Clarice. It'd be there whether the attraction was there or not. The rumors. The doubt in Will's mind."
"There were times I wanted to come out with Will so the rumors would stop."
"Why didn't you?"
"It probably would've been worse. They those who had those thoughts would probably use Will to make things even more perverse. The three of us you, Will, and me would make people crazy I'm sure. They'd probably say I was with you both."
"Except anyone who knows me, Clarice, knows I don't share well."
"I'm going to say goodbye to him."
"I expected as much. As long as you don't come to me fresh out of his bed I have no right to dictate how you spend your time."
"Fresh out of his bed?"
"Not that I could stop you if that's what you need to do."
She stood from the couch then.
"Clarice," he said, hand touching her hip. "If I offended you somehow just now that wasn't my intent. I was just saying that I understand."
She turned to face him then, hiking up the skirt of her beautiful gown none too ladylike to slide onto his lap.
"You would understand?" she asked. She slid her hands to his shoulders, further in to the nape of his neck. While she'd remained dressed, including her shoes, he had removed his suit jacket. "It wouldn't bother you if I agreed committed to going with you tonight and went back to Will and his bed before leaving?"
"I said I would understand. That's, I'm sure you realize, not the same thing as being bothered."
"So it would bother you?" She kissed him then, his mouth and jaw.
"I'm a man, Clarice. Of course the idea of you with anyone else is bothersome. The past year especially while I got my life in order. I couldn't have sent for you sooner even had I wanted to. So, following your career, watching it grow stagnant while I was helpless to do anything for you was in a way a continuation of imprisonment. Knowing Will Graham could provide some relief for you while my hands were tied until my new life was set."
"They're not tied now."
"No, and I'm not exactly sure why you're doing that while holding a conversation with me," he said in reply to her lips at his ear.
"I like hearing you talk."
"Is that right?"
"I could think of better things to talk about."
"You can? Such as?"
"Well, for instance, your bed would perhaps be a more comfortable place for this."
"Mm," she said, kissing his neck. "You don't like me on top? Too aggressive for you?"
He chuckled lightly. "I like you aggressive, Clarice. It was your tenacity that garnered my attention and respect first. I would love the view of you on top of me in the throes of ecstasy most definitely."
"We're both a little overdressed."
She took hold of his hand, sliding it to the top of her zipper for the dress. "Easily fixed," she said.
"Are you sure, Clarice? I dont want to wake up tomorrow to regrets, indecision, guilt, or even less preferable a gun to my head."
"You presume," she said, working his bow tie off. "I'm going to allow you to sleep."
"Oh indeed, Hannibal. I've made my decision, prove to me it's the right one."
"How much proof do you require, Clarice?"
"What time is check-out?"
"Yes, Doctor. Orders and all."
"Well, then, happy to oblige."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com