Word Count: 2,506
She'd done it.
Fallen from grace. Took a bite from the poisoned fruit. Given into temptation. Slept with the enemy.
She loved every moment of it. Again and again. He was insatiable and it seemed she was, too. The bed was the most comfortable and more spacious than the shower had been but the cramped space hadn't bothered either of them. The scrapes along her back from the wall would heal. The hickeys would fade, some far slower than others.
There was something extra arousing about giving him the freedom to bite her like that – for both of them.
He knew she trusted him not to hurt her. He clearly got off on that knowledge.
Eventually, they slept. Not for long. Naps they'd wake from only to find one another again. Breakfast was welcome, eaten quickly so they could resume.
The time to check-out came, bringing with it their separation. She left with sadness and excitement filling her heart.
The first thing she did on Monday at work was put in for a leave of absence. There was always the chance it would get rejected, but she was okay with that.
Ardelia was her next step.
"I'm sorry. You're going where?"
"What the hell is in Montana, Clarice?"
"My only family. I haven't been there in years. I need a break, Ardelia. The case, Krendler, Will."
"I thought you were getting along, on the verge of getting back together."
"What good is going out there going to do?"
"I figured some fresh air and hard, manual labor would help me sort things out."
"Then why do I have to find another roommate?"
Here's where it got tricky.
"I may not come back."
"I don't know, okay? All of this stuff has me doubting everything. I just don't know this is what I'm supposed to do anymore."
"And if you come back?"
"Then I'll find another place or crash on your couch until I do."
Will was the toughest, for a few reasons. He knew about Pilcher, but he had such an insane ability to read people she was afraid he'd know the truth. The reality behind her lies.
They met at the bar where they'd had their first drink years ago. It was strange to think of spending time without him. She knew in ways she was holding him back, though.
This wasn't the first time they'd seen each other since New York, but it would be the last.
"We haven't been here in a while," he said, ordering her a beer and a whiskey for himself.
She took a sip of her beer when it came, regarding the bar. She didn't even remember who she was supposed to meet that night. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Things had changed so much. She had changed so much.
"How've you been?"
She shrugged. "The usual. You?"
"The same. Agent Krendler actually called me into consult."
"Oh?" she asked. "Are you going to?"
"I'm thinking about it."
"Good," she said, relieved to hear it. "What is it?"
He grimaced. "He thinks it's Lecter."
She swallowed her beer wrong. "I'm sorry?"
"I'm surprised you haven't heard. There's been a series of Chesapeake Ripper-like cases down in the Keys."
"When?" she asked.
"I don't think it's him, Clarice."
She didn't either.
"Is that why you're thinking about it?"
"To be sure you're safe? In part. I wouldn't get involved if I truly believed it was him. Once was enough."
She breathed a little easier when he revealed that the estimated time of deaths for the victims was during The Phantom of the Opera performance. It couldn't have been him, and Lecter didn't kill in mass either.
"About keeping me safe."
"I'm surprised Krendler didn't tell you if he has been talking to you."
"I wouldn't say we're friends."
"I've put in for a leave of absence."
"I just need a break, to figure out if the Bureau without Crawford is what I want."
"You think it's not?"
"I think things have changed. I've changed. I don't want to believe the job has changed, but maybe it has, too."
"What will you do?"
"I'm going out west to Montana for a while."
"Your cousins, right?"
"Yes, I figured the fresh air and open space would do me some good."
"Well, I guess my long distance bill will be a little more than usual then."
She smiled. "I can't do that, Will."
"What?" he frowned.
She set her hand over his. "I need time away from everything. What we're doing. It's not fair to either of us. You need someone who can be all you want and need."
"But if you leave the Bureau."
"Will, we're better off apart. Friends. You need to get better. Those scars, they shouldn't make you. Define you. There is nothing wrong with you, but you use them to define you. You are alive. You are brilliant. You could do so many things, but you've got to put the bottle away."
"When I come back from my leave, I hope you're working. I want you happy."
"You make me happy."
She smiled at that. "You need to find someone else to do that."
"You aren't planning on coming back to stay, are you?"
She shook her head. "I don’t think so, no."
"And you think ranching is your answer?"
"For now. I've had one goal for so long. I need to step back and decide."
"I love you, Clarice."
He grew quiet then, regarding her closely. What did he see?
"Just tell me that he's good to you."
"Whoever he is. A leave of absence wouldn't stop you from saying you love me. Even when you went out with the guy from The Smithsonian you still said it."
"I just think that we need to stop. How can we move on if we keep doing this?"
"I'd hoped when you got to this point, questioning your calling we'd work through it together."
"I need to do this on my own."
"You've changed, Clarice."
"I'm growing up I guess."
"So when you get back?"
"I'll let you know, Will. I'm always your friend."
He told her more about the mass murders. Knowing Krendler called Will in and didn't even mention the case to her let her know she was doing the best thing for her. She was still not entirely certain it was the right thing.
She would miss this, watching Will while he worked. Just listening to him talk like this wasn't quite the same but it was close. He got so focused, saw nothing else. Working the case would be good for him actually, a distraction to keep him from thinking about her and where she was. Or wasn't.
She booked tickets to Montana, took the flight there. That was the plan. Will, Ardelia, and Krendler had to know she made it that far. She made sure to cross the path of more than one security camera.
From the airport she checked into her hotel room. A hotel that used old-fashioned keys. No electronic or digital key cards to monitor her comings and goings. She took the elevator to the lobby, leaving to get herself some dinner.
She was on her own for this part. She got that and why it had to be that way. He couldn't risk her having a change of heart. Or anyone catching on to what her plan really was.
Ensured between the airport, the rental car agency, the hotel's lobby, and the restaurant that she was seen by many she felt better. Physically or on-camera didn't much matter. She even stopped at a drug store and talked with a pharmacist about something to help her sleep after a long flight and a drive ahead of her tomorrow. She returned to her room, confident there were many witnesses to her having been here. A telephone call to Ardelia to ease her friend's mind completed the façade.
She dyed her hair that night. She hated to do it, but he'd told her the papers she'd have waiting for her here would be for a blonde. The car was parked in the long-term parking area at the airport. The keys to it were the only thing he'd sent directly to her. An odd set of keys would mean nothing to anyone who happened upon them.
Early the next morning, she took the stairs, going out a side door with her carry-on. She drove the rental car to her "new" car being sure she knew exactly where it was and that it was, in fact, there. She stopped at a fast-food restaurant, emptying her carry-on of trash showing that she'd dyed and trimmed her hair.
Back at the hotel, she parked the rental car out of the way as she knew it would be there for a while. It was crucial no one suspected she ever made it out of Billings. She'd take only her carry-on with the essentials and a change of clothes.
She flagged a cab a few blocks away, taking it to her car. She paged through the envelope, glancing at the picture in her passport. The picture was her, but not quite. Altered just enough that it wasn't flat-out obviously her.
From Billings, she drove east through North Dakota and then north to Winnipeg. Getting across the border hadn't been difficult. She used her night in Winnipeg to wipe the car down completely. The next morning she did the same to the room, not trusting housekeeping to get things like the TV remote and alarm clock.
It was weird to think of a scene from the mind of the one fleeing, hiding. It was a little exhilarating she had to admit. She was using her expertise and training to destroy evidence instead of recovering it.
The ride from the airport once she arrived in Peru was long. She followed his directions and found the place easily enough.
She stared at the house for a moment. It wasn't at all what she pictured. She got out of the car and went inside. It was empty. She figured it would be, cautious to a fault he'd be sure she was alone.
She took the opportunity to shower, changing into some clothes he already had there for her. He'd told her to leave everything behind.
"Comfortable?" she heard him ask. She'd fallen asleep evidently. In his bed despite there being a spare one made up.
"Obviously," she murmured.
"Good," he said. "How was your trip?"
"Long. If I never see the Great Plains again I'll be happy."
He chuckled. "Fair enough. You followed my instructions?"
"Yes. The hair dye box and clippings are in a trash bin with a million hamburger wrappers. My suitcases were left. I talked to people, made sure I stood out to them and found lots of cameras."
"Good. How did it feel?"
"Do I have to stay blonde?" she asked, running her fingers through her hair.
"For a while, yes. You cleaned everything?"
"Yes. Car. Room. Used napkins to hold cups on the airplane."
"You're good at this. I'm not sure I would have thought of the cups on the plane."
"I have to be."
"I know," she said, growing quiet. She'd been too exhausted when she got here to really think. She'd done it.
"What's on your mind?"
"Please. We must have honesty between us for this to work."
"I was thinking of my cousins."
"Oh?" he asked. She'd surprised him with that; he probably assumed she was thinking about Ardelia or Will.
"Admittedly, a little, yes. Why them over anyone else?"
"I haven't seen them since I left there."
"Hardly even talked to them. A Christmas card here and there. They seemed so," she shrugged, turning onto her side to look him the eye. "Happy I contacted them."
"I just wish I didn't have to include them in this."
"It was necessary. No stone unturned."
"I know, I just hate they're going to be dragged into my being missing."
"You're human, Clarice, but they're strangers. Tied to you through blood, nothing more."
"How long do you think it'll take?"
"I guess that's up to your cousins and how long it takes them to realize you should have arrived. The hotel, too, of course. A day or two. Maybe three or four."
"Regretting your decision?"
"No, I just dislike causing anyone pain."
He leaned in, kissing her which she accepted and returned.
"Where were you?"
"Well, believe it or not, a few hours ago I was delivering a baby."
"Yes, and then, of course, I had to be sure you weren't followed. Or came with company."
"Was it a boy or a girl?"
"A girl. Underweight. Limited pre-natal care, but she's a survivor."
"She had help."
"Why are you thanking me?"
She shrugged, feeling her eyes getting heavy again.
"For caring that the baby came into the world. Had a chance, a better chance with someone as gifted as you."
He chuckled, drawing the blanket around her snuggly. "Laying it on a little thick. Now I know you're tired. Sleep longer, Clarice. I'll be here when you wake up."
"Thanks," she murmured. "Stay with me?"
"For a while, certainly. I noticed you chose this room."
"You're sure about that?"
"You think I had sex with you and now want to sleep separately?"
"I think you had sex with me so that I'd know you truly had made this decision. I know lovemaking isn't something you participate in casually."
"It took me a while to figure that out, too. You're okay with that?"
"Yes, of course. I enjoyed it. Do I expect our physical relationship to start off right where we left off? In light of the reasoning, no. The pace shall be up to you."
"Just let me get a nap."
"That's all you require?"
"Very well, Clarice. I look forward to your waking up then."
She slept well. Too well in fact. She woke hours later, padding through the house in her barefeet in search of him, realizing for the first time in a very, very long time there'd been no crying lambs to wake her.
She watched discreetly as he took a sip of what she presumed was wine. His hands graceful even in that simple, common gesture.
No matter what this man had done and was still capable of doing. For whatever reason, Clarice had found home in him. It wouldn't be easy or traditional, she knew this. There would be no kids. No true friends to gossip with about their respective lovers. Life as she knew it had ceased and was now all about the two of them.
He turned then, his maroon eyes focused on her. The smile genuine.
And she knew that just the two of them would be just fine.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com