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***Part One***
Word Count: 2,938

Clarice Starling didn't have many friends. She was unlike the other teenagers in her West Virginia orphanage. The others didn’t put much stock into schoolwork or the idea that their dreams could come true.


They all had them, just the same as the kids they went to school with who weren't orphans. Those who had parents and siblings. Real homes. Difficult for most to believe their dreams could come true, believing God had already let them down.

Clarice aspired to be better than that.


She wasn't going to marry the first guy who came along and offered her a better life. A chance for the family and completion that so many lacked. And craved.

Some didn't want to get married at all, they wanted the family – a baby – without those permanent ties. Afraid that they wouldn't be able to build a family having had no example to go by.

Clarice Starling and Janice Behrens vowed to keep their legs shut and remain single for as long as possible.

The two of them stuck out like sore thumbs compared to the others. Janice wasn't as smart as Clarice, but she made up for that by studying hard.

They didn’t drink or party either; another temptation for those who lived as they did to succumb to. Numb yourself to the reality that was your lot in life. Escape. It was easy to resist knowing someone else thought like she did. Someone out there was counting on her to succeed.

So when Janice Behrens didn't come home one night, Clarice worried.

When Clarice woke the next morning from the (very) little sleep she'd gotten to find Janice's bed hadn't been slept in, Clarice called the local police immediately. Instinctive. Her dad had been a good cop, so she wasn't scared of them.

She watched with rabid interest as the investigation unfolded. From searching Janice's bed and the area around her bed that was her space to interviewing the other orphans. An orphan going missing wasn't out of the ordinary. People did run away. Clarice knew Janice wouldn't do that, not at least without saying goodbye.

Clarice's world started to become a little less focused when Janice's body was found. Body. That meant Janice wouldn't be coming back. Ever. Clarice was on her own from that point forward with no one else to count on.

Eventually, her friend's killer was caught. Clarice then got to watch the legal process on the other side of the investigation. Trial. Conviction. She heard some terrible things about her good friend, things Clarice knew weren't true but sadly it was on the record so it's what people would think of her. No one believed the teenaged orphan who had been Janice's friend and confidante. The medical examiner had to know some of the things were false, Clarice imagined, but he wasn't called by the prosecution to rebuttal the witnesses slandering her friend's reputation.

To say she was hooked was an understatement.

Clarice Starling had found her purpose.

She never wanted someone else's friend or loved one to be ignored when they made a report of foul play. Treated as a second-class citizen because of who they were (or weren't) and where they lived. That was how she'd been treated, as if because she was an orphan a real friendship couldn't have been forged.

If anything they were closer because of the fact that they had no one else. No one else at the orphanage had much information to provide the police either so it came down to just Clarice.

Since the day Janice went missing, even before she was found, Clarice knew what she wanted to do.

Had to do.

Clarice Starling had found her direction that day. She only wished her friend hadn't died to give her the insight.

Forget following in her daddy's footsteps. She would do better. She would make him proud and put the Starling name on the map instead of having it mean nothing to anyone but her.

She was relentless from that day on. A high school student, and later college student, on a mission. She had no time for friends or boyfriends. Having nothing to her name she had to ensure that she got the grades to get accepted where she wanted to go.

It was at UVA that her direction took on a clearer, more focused, path. There, listening to Jack Crawford's seminar on criminology, Clarice found her calling in life.

Not just the FBI.

The Behavioral Science Unit.

Putting her Psychology and Criminology degrees to work catching the worst of the worst.

Her drive to succeed increased now that she had an ultimate goal. Women still weren't so welcome in the FBI, let alone the BSU. Fresh out of college and training, she would have to work extra hard to stand out to the likes of Jack Crawford.

She developed a few friendships at UVA, men and women. Mostly people in her majors who took their studying as hard and seriously as she did. Requests for dates were turned down most of the time. Occasionally, she'd take in a movie. Always she was careful not to lead anyone on, to make them think she wanted more than a night out.

One day when she was an agent and her career was on the path toward achieving her goal of a spot on Jack Crawford's team, she would think about more serious entanglements.

Having others to study with was a godsend. Not that she needed the help often, but it was nice to get confirmation she was on the right track, verification that she was correct in her problem solving or case study quotations.

It was during her senior year at UVA that she first met Will Graham. Only she didn’t know who he was at the time. Once she found out, she realized he was almost as impressive to see in person as Jack Crawford. He had single-handedly caught Hannibal Lecter. Clarice knew enough about Jack Crawford's unit to know that no one – perhaps not even Crawford himself – could have caught the Chesapeake Ripper alone.

It had cost him, though, she knew. She'd never read the Tattler, but she'd heard rumors to know the pictures Freddie Lounds had published were not beauty shots.

She met him by accident one night and didn't realize until much later exactly who she had been spending time with.

It was Saturday night at a bar when the cute – if not kind of nerdy – guy three stools away bought her a refill on her tap beer.

She didn't normally strike up conversations with strange men at bars. Let alone accept drinks from them. That just led to ideas and signals she didn't want to give off.

Tonight, though, she was waiting on a friend who was running late. So late that Clarice wasn't entirely sure she'd show up at this point. Sadly, Liz had a tendency of doing that.

So she accepted the drink and by doing so accepted the unspoken invitation for conversation.

He was smart. Real smart. Smart enough she knew he would challenge her. It was that realization that led to her accepting his dinner invitation when it was clear Liz wasn't going to show up for whatever the reason was tonight.

"So what are you planning on doing with dual degrees in Psychology and Criminology?" he asked.

"It'll probably sound unbelievable to you."

He smiled a little at that, and it was a nice smile she noticed. He had little lines next to his eyes that became prevalent when he did it. So by default she noticed he had nice eyes, too. Very nice eyes.

"All right. Don't say I didn't warn you. I want to become an FBI agent."

"And do what?" He didn't appear at all phased by her declaration. That was strange. Men especially seemed to find her aspirations more humorous than sincere.

"I'd like to eventually become part of the Behavioral Sciences Unit."

"Really?" This time he did sound surprised. Not in the usual way, though, of people thinking she wouldn't have the stomach for it.

"Yes, really."

"And you think you're up for the challenge?"

"I know I am."

"Then, Clarice, I wish you all of the luck in the world. It's not an easy job. Makes for a very difficult life."

"I don't presume it'll be easy."

"You don't know until you've actually lived it. Actually walked through and around in the mind of the worst of the worst."

She took a sip of her beer, regarding him over the rim of the beer stein. Why was he warning her off?

"Listen if this is about my being a woman. I assure you that I can handle myself."

He set his hand over hers lightly. Barely a grazing of his fingertips over the top of her knuckles. She didn't flinch or draw away from it as she usually did. Maybe she'd had one beer too many while waiting for Liz.

"I assure you that's not my implication at all. I apologize if I've offended you."

He settled the palm of his hand over hers, grazing her thumb with his own.

"It's just not all the text books, horror books, and true crime novels make it out to be. You're forever changed from the first glimpse into the mind of a psychopath. No one knows either how it will affect them. Some things don't change that much. Some can leave it at the door when five o'clock rolls around. Some can't do anything but live and breathe it."


"I'm a Special investigator." He lifted his hand away as if that admission brought with it a desire for him to put space between them again.

"And here I am rambling away, sounding like an idiot."

"I wish ninety percent of my students had your enthusiasm."

"You teach?"



"Is that a good 'wow' or a bad one?" he asked.

"Rethinking having dinner with you."

"Whatever for?"

"You could potentially be one of my instructors at Quantico in a couple of years."

"We didn't know that when we started having dinner. I doubt I'll be teaching there by then anyway."


"They tend to rotate so the lessons are the most current topics available. My specialty today," he shrugged. "Could be outdated or unnecessary to the process by then."

It was a legitimate sounding reason, but she suspected somehow that there was more to it than that. The way he avoided looking into her eyes as he spoke just now as compared to the rest of the night when he kept good eye contact with her.

"Have you actually caught anyone?"

He smiled at the question, but this smile wasn't as nice as his earlier ones. It didn't reach his eyes this time. In fact, his eyes turned cold. They looked haunted. Deadly. And for the briefest moment, scared.

She wasn't sure whether to comfort him or get up from the table at that moment and leave. Run. Get out while no harm had been done.

Instead she ordered another beer while he avoided answering her question. The subject got changed. She pretended not to notice that they strayed back to day-to-day conversation.

She didn't take guys home with her. She didn't do one-night stands either. It just wasn't her thing. Truth be told, she didn't really get why everyone she knew was so excited to be in college, away from their parents rules, and able to hop into bed with whomever they pleased. Whenever they pleased. Sex just wasn't that great of an experience.

Perhaps that meant she was doing something wrong. Or maybe she'd been with the wrong person. Not that her experience was vast. So, when he invited her back to his place, claiming it was walking distance from the restaurant, for another drink she surprised herself by agreeing.

True, it didn't mean he was expecting sex, but she had to admit the idea wasn't offensive. There was far more to his story and life than he was willing to tell her tonight. Maybe there'd be a next time and she'd get more pieces to the puzzle.

His house was small. Nice, but clearly not made for a family. Maybe one with a child, starting out. Not that she knew about things like families and starter homes.

He mixed them each a drink and they sat on the couch in his living room. He turned on some music, something classical which surprised her. He struck her as more of the classic rock type. It was nice, though. Not intrusive.

There, in the privacy of his home, in the dimly lit room, he told her stories. She knew he was holding back, but she didn't press him. She was listening to someone talk of working with Jack Crawford and the BSU as if it was commonplace.

She touched his knee as he talked. She sensed he, like her, wasn't used to being touched by people. She got that and let him get used to her hand there.

He laced his fingers through hers.

"I'm probably boring you." There was that nice smile again. Not full-on nice, but not the scared one.

"Not at all. Hopefully, in a few years, I can tell you a few stories of my own if I run into you again."

"I'd gladly listen."


"Sure. You have a nice voice."

She chuckled at that. It was a line. She could accept a compliment on her appearance, but her voice was odd.

"Thanks," she said just the same. Alcohol talking or not she enjoyed hearing it.

He leaned in to kiss her then, taking advantage of her being caught off guard by his compliment.

It was a little awkward as she always found kissing to be. She assumed it was her until he drew away a little and chuckled almost sheepishly.

"That always plays out much better in my head."

"Always? You kiss women you just met on your couch often?"

"Oh, every day at least," he said with a nervous laugh. She was glad she wasn't the only one out of her range of normalcy.

"Well, as long as it's not two a day."

"I'm not that good."

She laughed at the implication behind those words, though she was sure that wasn't how he meant them.

She wasn't good at taking things to the next level, so she was very glad she didn't have to. He moved a little, positioning them both on the couch so kissing wasn't quite as awkward this time. They stayed like that for close to two hours. Kissing. Some touching, but clothes stayed on and unmoved. It was the first time she'd ever really felt anything from kissing. Her body reacting as she'd heard other women talk about in locker rooms over the years.

"You don't have to go," he said when they both glanced at the clock on his VCR.

"I know, but I should. I have church in the morning."

He chuckled a little at that.

"You could go from here."

"I don't want to go wearing the same thing I was last night. Not that the pastor would know."

"Good point."

Another twenty minutes and she drew away a little more this time. She really had to get home. Certainly she could blow off church if she wanted to, and he must have thought the same thing, but it was a valid excuse for her not to take things further than she was comfortable with tonight.

Regardless of what he said the likelihood of it happening; their paths could cross again in a couple of years. She didn't want a one-night stand clouding their minds, affecting her grades.

"Can I see you again?"

Her eyes flickered to meet his, surprised. She wasn't expecting that.


"Do you want to set up a date now? Or I could get your number."

"I can give you my number."

They both stood then, he didn't seem all that willing to any more than she did. She rattled off her number when he had a pen and paper. After a minute or two he gave her a piece, too. His number. Now she had no excuse not to see him again, other than she supposed if neither of them called.

They made it to his front door where they spent another few minutes kissing. She was certain her lips were swollen from all the kissing she'd done over the last few hours. It was nice, though, and she didn't mind the butterfly-like feeling she had in her stomach just then either.

He opened the door finally and he walked her back to where her car was.

"Good night, Clarice. It was nice to meet you."

"You, too."

"Would you have stayed if you didn't have church in the morning?"

She shrugged, glancing at her hands. "Probably not."

"Honesty, I like it."

"It's just not my thing."

"Mine either usually," he said.

"Well then."

He opened her door for her, letting her get in.

"Until next time."

"Yes," she said.

She watched in her rearview mirror as she drove away. He stayed there, watching until she couldn't see him in the mirror any longer. She ran her fingertips along her lips, surprised they didn't feel any different. They had to! She'd never been kissed like that before.

It wasn't long before she was home, getting ready for bed. She set her clothes for the morning aside before turning off her light and sliding under the covers. She wasn't thinking much about God when she drifted off to sleep that night.

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***Part Two***
Word Count: 1,044

"Hello," Clarice said. She was late coming home. She volunteered at a local women's shelter a few times a week. Monday's always seemed to be busier days. Women making their escape after a bad weekend she supposed.


"This is."

"This is Will. From Saturday night."

"I remember."

"Good. How was church?"

She smiled a little at the question.

"It was fine. The sermon was a little long."

"Sorry to hear that."

"It may have been that last drink I had."

"I suppose I should apologize again."

"Are you actually sorry?"

"For the last drink? Not in the least."

She wasn't quite sure what else to say.

"Are you?" he asked?



"So," she said, wrapping the phone cord around the tip of her index finger as she looked through her refrigerator. She still had to make dinner.

"Are you busy tonight?"

"That depends."

"On what?" he asked?

"Are you just being curious or did you have a specific reason for asking?"

"Well, I've heard there's this thing called Monday Night Football."

"I've heard tell of this, yes."

"Would you like to join me for a beer? I'll even spring for dinner."

"Wow. Twice." She closed the fridge door. No cooking tonight it seemed.

"I know, right?"

"Sure. Where would you like to meet?"

"Or I could pick you up properly."

She paused at that, leaning back against the wall near the phone.

"It's probably just easier to meet you."

"Fair enough."


"No problem. A girl can't be too careful," he said.

"Do I need to be careful with you, Will?"

"Not in the least."

"I'd expect you to say that."

She laughed a little. They said a few more things and hung up. The game started at nine o'clock. She had time to change, fix her hair, and touch up her makeup.

She spotted him immediately as she entered the place. His hair was a little scraggily, she noticed again. Did Jack Crawford allow that in his unit? She hadn't really thought on it, but assumed everyone would be clean-cut, professional.

Will looked like, well, a professor.

He was polite anyway. He stood when she got to their table. She brushed off his attempt at pulling her chair out for her.

"Thanks," she said.

He didn't say anything at first. He was quiet as he studied her from his spot across the table from her.

"Hi," he said finally. She wondered what he saw, realizing somehow that it was probably too much. Had she done too much? Her hair and makeup were always minimal, but she'd added lipstick tonight. Did he know, despite this being the second time seeing her that the lipstick was unusual?

"Hi," she said with a smile.

She did let him order her beer for her. He seemed to want to, and she had to admit it was kind of nice. Politeness. Manners. Things the people at the orphanage tried to teach the guys, but some just couldn't be taught.

They both ate burgers and one beer turned into four then five as the game progressed. They didn't talk much.

He walked her to her car when the game was over and they finished their last beers.

"Thank you for coming."

"Thank you for inviting me."

"It certainly is an improvement over drinking alone."

"I see."

She hadn't stopped to think on the fact that he'd been sitting at the bar alone the night they met. Did he do that often? And if so, why?

He reached, hesitating for a minute as if making sure she'd be okay with him touching her. She didn't flinch or pull away, so he must have realized she was okay with it.

He tucked a few strands of her hair behind her ear. She smiled a little as he did it, and then he touched her cheek.

Her breath caught a bit, realizing he was going to kiss her. Her back pressed against her car, she welcomed him as he kissed her. She slid her arms around his neck, noticing as she slid a fingertip along the nape of his neck that in addition to her heart beat increasing and her breath catching, her palms were also sweaty.

What was wrong with her? She had never reacted to a kiss like this before.

All thought left her mind when she moaned softly into the kiss and his tongue snuck in between her slightly parted lips. His tongue met hers and she responded in kind, exhilarated at the freedom she was giving into.




His body pressed firmly along hers, against her. This was far more intimate than making out on his couch the other night had been despite standing outside at the moment.


Her or him?

She wasn't sure, didn't care, and found it exciting.

Hands that hadn't strayed under clothes Saturday night reached under her blouse. A hand against her hip. Warm flesh to warm flesh.

Her palms weren't the only ones sweating.

Good to know.

She mirrored his movements, reaching under his sweater.

He flinched and hissed simultaneously, drawing away then.

He was breathing heavy, resting his forehead against hers as he swallowed hard as if calming himself.

"Thank you for looking nice," he murmured.

"You're welcome," she said. She should be insulted maybe that he was suggesting she would not look nice ordinarily. She knew he didn't mean it like that, though.

"I should let you get home. It's late and I'm sure you have classes tomorrow."

"Yeah, okay, I do," she said, confused. He was sending her home? She hadn't mentioned classes or needing to go. Had she done something wrong?

"Maybe a movie next weekend?"

"Sure," she said.

"I'll call in a few days then."


He kissed her again, but there was no attempt to deepen it or anything.

He took her keys, unlocked her door and opened it for her.

"Thanks," she said.

"Good night, Clarice."

She smiled a little.

"Good night, Will."

It wasn't that long of a drive home, but she spent all of that drive wondering why things had gone from smoldering (in her mind anyway) to ice cold in a matter of seconds.

"Men," she murmured.

She doubted highly she'd ever understand them, despite her Psychology degree.

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***Part Three***
Word Count: 811

Somehow Clarice closed out the year and rang in the new one with a boyfriend. She'd never had a boyfriend before. The take-home-to-Mom-for-Christmas-dinner kind anyway. One she actually thought about a gift for instead of buying any old thing.

He was super understanding about her busy schedule. She still wasn't sure why he wasn't working. She asked once and he, skillfully, changed the subject. He wasn't borrowing money from her or asking her to pay for their dates, so she didn't press too hard.

She spent the night at his place most weekends now. Sometimes during the week, too. She wasn't ready to leave clothes or a toothbrush there, but she didn't feel like a stranger in his house either. Her nights there served to confuse her more than anything else in their relationship.

Other than the night they'd met for dinner and football game, he'd never tried to touch her under her clothes. She wasn't complaining exactly, but it made her wonder. And a little self-conscious. She was used to guys being touchy-feely, always pushing for a no to change to a yes.

They went to Boston for New Year's. Her idea not his, but he didn't complain. She could tell he wasn't a fan of crowds. She figured for sure things would get to the next level on the trip. She even bought a silky nightie to wear.

He clearly liked it when she came out of the bathroom. She loved the feel of his hands on her as he stroked the fabric. She assumed it wouldn't stay on very long. That was kind of the point behind them.

He kept it on her, though, as he touched and kissed her everywhere. God it felt incredible! A few spots he did more than kiss, leaving a mark or two under the silk. One on a breast, one a little lower along her stomach. And then he wasn't marking or even kissing her anymore. Between her legs, he licked and sucked, finding her sensitive spot and bringing her over the edge.

Hours he brought her to that point, stopping occasionally to touch and caress or just hold her. She couldn't remember a time she felt more cherished.

She'd say love, but they hadn't gotten to that point yet. She sure felt loved, though.

Until she tried to return the favor. Fair was fair. All of the attention he'd shown her, he deserved some as well. He stopped her, though, hand settling over hers at the hem of his shirt. He stopped her from touching him any further. He settled her hand over his shirt.

"Will," she whispered a couple of hours after her attempt to touch him.

"I thought you'd fallen asleep," he murmured. He ran his fingers along her arm.


"Did I not relax you enough?"

She laughed at that. "No complaints."

Who was she kidding? She finally had a sexual experience to brag about. Not that she was the kiss-and-tell type.

"All right."

"Well, maybe one."

"Dare I ask what?"

"You did so much for me. I wanted to make you feel as good. But you stopped me. You always do."

He breathed out sharply and she wished she had more clothes on. He didn't stop his gentle touch, though.

"I'm just not comfortable."

"Why? I mean I feel foolish asking. Sounding as if I'm complaining. Especially after tonight."

"I have some things, Clarice. That's all. I'm trying to work through them."

"Trying? What kind of things?"

"Long, painful. Ghosts of jobs past, I guess."


She rolled onto her side to face him, settling a hand against his forearm. The bathroom light was on with the door mostly closed so she could see the outline of him and that was about it. She slid her hand along his chest.

"And these things stop me from touching you?"

"You can touch me all you want."

"Only with your shirt on. You even come out of the bathroom after your shower dressed."

"For now."

"For now?" You think it will change?"

He laughed. "I am trying, so yes for now. I assure you that you will be the first to know."

"The first?"

He leaned in and kissed her. "You may even know before I do."

"That'd be nice."

"I'm beginning to suspect it'll be more than nice."

He helped her adjust the nightie a little better on her before drawing the blankets around them.

"Here's to a Happy New Year. New beginnings, right?"

"Yes, Out with the old, in with the new."

She turned onto her other side then, snuggling against him. Her back was snug against his chest. Her ass pressed firmly against the evidence that he was still affected by what he'd done with her earlier. She took comfort in that, knowing he wanted to even if he couldn't now for whatever reason.

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***Part Four***
Word Count: 757

He should never have gotten involved with her. It was too soon, and he didn't need his keen insight to know he was probably hurting her.

He tried, really hard. He enjoyed spending time with her. He loved going to sleep with her when she spent the night with him.

He'd avoided getting physical with her since New Year's Eve. While he enjoyed pleasing her and could easily do it every night, he knew she didn't understand.

How could she?

Why should she?

He didn't truly get it either.

Realistically, he knew her seeing Hannibal Lecter's handiwork wouldn't change anything. Deep down, not in the pit of his stomach exactly but somewhere more primal and basic, his soul he supposed. There he knew that it would change everything. He'd always wonder if she stayed out of pity.

He'd seen just about every inch of her more than once. She was perfect from head to toe. No flaws, no scars. Just one hundred percent softness. The night she wore that nightie he thought he was going to have a heart attack.

She probably thought he was the biggest fool out there to turn down her blatant offer. Or gay. He repeatedly contemplated his sanity.

She probably threw the thing away, too, after his apparent rejection of her.

Part of him, too, was afraid the truth of exactly who he was would scare her. There would be no question who he was once she saw them. Then she'd want to know. And not just about his run-ins with Lecter either. There were more cases that had achieved media awareness status. She'd want to talk about them, not realizing he didn't. He should have stayed away the night they met and she told him what she wanted to do.

Curiosity, though, is a powerful thing. He wanted to know what would inspire someone so young and smart who could do anything to want to surround herself with criminals.

And now?

He was still curious, but there was more to it now. Somewhere along the line he'd grown to care for her pretty intensely. This intelligent and attractive woman had accepted his drink. He knew now that wasn't usual for her.

What was more, she didn't press him about his nightmares. When he woke screaming and a sweaty, mumbling mess she gave him a shot of whiskey. She got a cloth from the bathroom and wiped his forehead and neck until the whiskey kicked in and he fell asleep again.

He relied on the whiskey far too much. He knew it, was pretty sure she did, too. She never said a word though. Even the nights she had to drive home because he'd had one too many with dinner. She seemed to understand he rested better when he was so sauced passing out was inevitable.

It was those nights, the ones she ended up driving home that he was most tempted to let her see the freak show she'd gotten herself mixed up with. He was usually too drunk for sex, the actual act, those nights. It was the reason he held back, if he was going to embarrass and expose himself, he may as well get laid. Assuming she still wanted to after seeing all of him. She didn't strike him as being that superficial, but one never knew.

It boiled down to him being too scared to find out. He believed she was happy, and it was nice to have something good in his life after so much death and destruction. He deserved it as everyone did.

The sad part?

There was a piece of him that would love to talk to Dr. Lecter about this. For a while there, before Will had caught him he had not just respected but liked the man. Enjoyed their insightful conversations. Surely the psychiatrist would have words of wisdom for Will on how to put the past – and the scars – behind him.

He wasn't sure what that meant, a desire to talk to the man who'd mutilated him and sent his existence into the nearest bottle of whiskey.

He finished his drink, there was even a little left in the bottle tonight. That didn't happen very often. He walked the short distance from kitchen to bathroom and finally to bedroom. He slid into bed next to Clarice, wondering when they'd gotten to the point of having particular sides of his bed.

He'd think on that tomorrow maybe. For tonight, he'd enjoyed having someone on the other side of it at all.

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***Part Five***
Word Count: 1,199

"Best graduation present ever," she said, sipping on a glass of champagne.

"I was hoping you'd like it."

"Like it?! It's going to be difficult for me to go home. Quantico awaits, though."

"Well, we can enjoy the time you're not a student."

"If I didn't know better, I'd say you're trying to tempt me to stay out."

"While I won't deny the idea of keeping you safe has merit, you'd hate me if I tried to stop you."

"I'm perfectly capable of keeping myself safe, Will."

"I know that, but I still maintain you don't know what you're signing up for aiming for Jack's unit."

It still blew her away that he was on first name basis with Director Crawford.

He'd given her a seven-day Caribbean cruise as a graduation gift. Neither of them had any family ties to keep them anywhere. It was the most lavish thing she had experienced.

Even here, though, he didn't go shirtless when other guys did near the pool. It drove her kind of crazy, but she was trying to get used to it. Accept it.

There were nights when he'd passed out over the past few months that she thought about looking to see what he was trying so hard to keep hidden from her. In the end she couldn't betray his trust like that.

"Well if I finally agree with you then you can tell me you told me so."

"I will gladly do so, too."

She laughed. "I bet you will."

It went unsaid that if she got to the point of agreeing with him she may not live to tell about it.

"I noticed you said if not when."

"Will, I don't know what happened to you. You've never said and I try to respect your wishes not to talk about it and press you on it. I do know that not everyone leaves feeling the way you do. So, it can't be completely bad."

"You may be right."

She set her flute down completely for the first time in a while. It wasn't often that she had access to good champagne. She was a college student after all, so she was enjoying this stuff.

"You're agreeing with me?"

"I'm admitting you may be right. Not everyone has the bitter taste in their mouths I do."


"You got some sun today," he said, grazing her cheek with his thumb.

"I did. I laid out for a while when you were gambling."

"Wearing the two-piece number I spotted in your suitcase?"

"Play your cards right, Will Graham, and I may let you see my tan lines."

His lips quirked into a smile. "Oh really? I look forward to that."

"Good," she said, tugging on his tie to draw him close enough to kiss. "I look forward to it, too."

She still got a complex at times from the fact she'd to this point not done anything sexual to or for him other than hand jobs.

Listening to some of her girlfriends talk, she was actually pretty lucky. Some would get oral done to them only if they did it to the guy first (or simultaneously). And sometimes the guy wouldn't give back.

While it was a bit frustrating, she knew she could do far worse as man problems went. He was fantastic with his fingers and tongue. There was something to be said for those skills.

He was kind to her, generous as he could be, and despite a sadness and pain that never completely left his eyes he could be funny, too. She hoped her father would like him if he was alive.

And her mom?

She had no memories of her at all. So it rarely, if ever, entered her mind to wonder about things like that. She assumed her mom would want her to be happy, and she was. She'd graduated from college and been accepted to the FBI despite the odds.

"What would you like to do now?" she asked.

"I think I read there's a magician performing."

"You want to sit through that?"

"Why not? We're here, may as well enjoy all of the perks."

"If you're sure."

"You don't think I would like a magic show?"

"I don't know, I guess. We don't go to magic shows or anything like it usually."

"Well, I guess I can try and make a habit of it. I didn't know it was a big deal to you."

"It's not a big deal, but once in a while I think I'd like that."


"No pressure, but I'd enjoy a formal date once in a while."

"Fair enough."

"Unless you had something other than the magic show in mind."

"I have lots of things in mind, Clarice. They can wait until later."

"You assume when they turn out the lights I'll be leaving with you," she said saucily.

"I do assume so, yes."

"You're probably safe in that assumption."

He ran a hand along her thigh, fingertips pushing the hem of her skirt up a bit so he could touch her bare thigh thanks to the stockings she wore. Her breath caught a bit at the touch.

"That's good because I love that song and I can't wait to get you behind closed doors."

She was tempted to say forget the magic show, knowing what he could with his hands. She was determined to enjoy every minute of this cruise. She wasn't getting another one any time soon. Will had cashed in some stocks or something to pay for it. She had been both flattered and a little mad he'd done that.

"Now I'm going to have that song going through my mind all night."

"Hopefully, I'm more attractive than Charlie Rich."

She laughed softly. "A little."

"A little, huh?"

"That's all I'll admit to now."

"I'll see what I can pry out of you later."

He ran a fingertip higher along her inner thigh. So high, in fact, she almost pushed it away. She didn't, though. It did feel good in a kind of naughty way. People close by.

He leaned closer, grazing her cheek and ear with a kiss.

"You haven't stopped me."

"I thought about it."

"And what stopped you?"

"I like when you touch me."

"That's it?"

"That's not enough?"

"To risk public indecency, it's questionable."

"It feels good."

He chuckled at that. "That's better, Clarice."

She turned her head a little to kiss him.

"Besides," she whispered. "You only live once, right?"

"Yes. So they say anyway."

"And there's nothing wrong with touching me."


"Or illegal."

He chuckled. "Not yet anyway."

"You'd go that far?"

"Maybe. Right place and time. A few more of these," he said, shaking his tumbler full of whiskey.

"Not tonight, though."

"No," he said, realizing that she was hoping he wouldn't drink too much tonight.


"You look beautiful by the way," he said.

"So do you," she said, laughing a little uncomfortably at the compliment.

"A simple thank you would do. You don't have to lie."

"Not lying. It's true, Will. You are to me."

"I'll take your word then. Thank you."

"And, well then, thank you."

"Now, let's go see some magic."

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***Part Six***
Word Count: 1,276

She couldn't believe her luck. Weeks she'd been at Quantico, hoping to catch a minute of Director Crawford's time. She wasn't going to be a pest, but she had to let him know she was here. Interested in his unit.

Today, though, she'd gotten way more than a minute of his time. He remembered her!

She'd barely had time to tell her friend Ardelia what it was Jack called her to his office for. She'd laid out clothes for the morning, her best ones. They weren't great, had seen better days but it was all she had on short notice.

Will brought her dinner despite short notice. She didn't usually see him during the week. She didn't want anything to get in her way, and he respected that despite not agreeing with her choices.

So she absolutely did not expect his almost violent reaction to her news about her assignment.

"I'm sorry. You what?"

"Okay, forbid is too strong of a word. I'm sorry for the phrasing."


"Jack has no right to ask you to do this, Clarice. He knows better. That's why he's sending a trainee to do it. You're expendable."

"Wow. Talk about a vote of confidence. He may have chosen me because he thinks I show promise."

"Of course you do and he sees that, Clarice. That's not what I meant."

"Then what?"

He stood then from the couch in the community area, grabbed her arm, and dragged her toward her room. Whether he realized they were already alone didn't seem to matter just then. He slammed the door shut. For a moment as he practically threw her to the bed she was terrified. The look in his eyes was primal, out of control. Even going through an entire bottle of whiskey in a night she'd never seen him look like this.

"Will," she said, voice shaky as he started taking his shirt out from his jeans.

"Do you have any idea what Jack is setting you up for?"

"It's an interview."

"Nothing is as simple as it seems with Dr. Lecter, Clarice."

"You know him?"

He let his button-up shirt fall to the floor and reached for the undershirt.

"Some might say intimately," he said, drawing the undershirt up and off.


He smiled a little, but it didn't reach his eyes at all.

"Not in the way you're thinking."

He took her hand and brought it to his side. It took her a second to even realize he was naked from the waist up for the first time.

"Look, Clarice. Look good and close. This is what the man Jack's sending you to see did to me."

She ran her fingertips along the jagged and rather lengthy scar there.

"That was you?" she asked.

"I'm surprised you hadn't figured it out before now."

"Well, I hadn't read as far as his capture before you got here."

She leaned in and followed the path of the scar with her lips.

"I'm sorry."

"I don't want your pity, Clarice."

"Is that what this has been about? You thought I'd what? Be grossed out?"

"It crossed my mind, yeah."

"Never. I could never."

"This is why I'm so strenuously opposed to you taking this job."

"He's behind bars, Will. He can't hurt me."

"Physically, Clarice.'

"Director Crawford ran down the rules with me. I'll be fine."

"Jack has never truly had the pleasure of having Hannibal Lecter in his head. He can be just as deadly."


"Have you met Mason Verger?"

"I've read about him, one of Lecter's victims. He survived."

"If that's what you want to call his current existence. Lecter didn't have to lay a hand on him to get him to do his dirty work."

"I know. Verger wasn't trained."

"And you think I'm not trained?"

"I know you are, Will, that's not what I was implying. This is a good thing. Director Crawford," even in the privacy of her bedroom with her boyfriend who was on a first name basis with him, she couldn't think of him as Jack, "knows me. Can't you be happy for me?"

"Jack throwing you to the wolves without a safety net under you? You want me to be happy about that? Knowing what that psychopath did to me?"

"I'm glad you showed me, so I guess for that I can thank him. There's nothing wrong with you."

He scoffed.

"You aren't the only one with scars, Will."

"You have none, Clarice. I've looked very carefully."

She smiled a little at that, she knew he spoke the truth.

"I'm just saying."

"Yeah, well, I'm one of the few Freddy Lounds published pictures of my deformities for the world to see."

"There is that, but I didn't know."

"I know."

"Not everyone else does either."


"Is this all?"

"What do you mean all? This isn't bad enough?"

"Are there others?"


"Are you sure?"

"Positive. You don't believe me?"

"I didn't say I didn't. I wouldn't mind seeing for myself."

"Clarice," he said as she worked the zipper of his jeans.


"This doesn't change how against this assignment I am. I still think it is a horrible idea."

"I know, and I understand. I do. This is what I want to do, though. I can't let your past effect my decision making."

"I know. I just want it clear."

"Loud and clear."

He must have believed her because he didn't say anything else for a long, long time. Nothing decipherable anyway. She learned quickly that he didn't like her to focus any more attention on the scarred area over the others. Not that there wasn't plenty of unscarred area to cover.

She should have told him to leave. She had lots of material to cover before tomorrow's appointment. When he started reciprocating and mirroring her touching and kissing she couldn’t imagine a reason to be doing anything else but this just then.

She'd been right in being satisfied before tonight, but this was so much better. Especially discovering he seemed to enjoy pleasing her as much as her doing things to him. It was better. More. Fulfilling.

His hands kept busy, bringing her closer to the point he was at. He whispered things into her ear. She didn't catch all of them.

He was as good and thorough tonight as every other night. Only this time she didn't feel strange that she was the only one to orgasm. He was on top of her when he finished. She'd panicked for a moment that she'd have to stop him. She wasn't sure they should be having sex yet. There was still too much between them that was uncertain and sex wasn't casual to her. He hadn't even tried, instead finishing on her stomach. Wet and a little sloppy, but at least she wouldn't have to worry about being pregnant.

He moved as if to slide off of her, but she wasn't ready for the intimate contact to end yet.

"Not yet," she murmured.

He complied.

Later, beside her he sighed heavily.

"Just promise me, nothing personal, Clarice."

"Crawford," the closest at informality she'd come, "already told me that."

"I'm driving home the point."

"Understood." She yawned and stretched. "You distracted me from finishing my research."

"Where'd you leave off?"

She told him and he proceeded to fill in the story of Doctor Hannibal Lecter's rise, descent, capture, and fall far better than any generic black and white dossier ever could.

She wasn't sure how much she'd remember in the morning, and wondered more than once as he relayed the story if it wasn't a little macabre being naked together while talking about it.

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***Part Seven***
Word Count: 1,894

Clarice was fairly certain within five minutes of talking to Dr. Chilton that he was a creep. She wasn't so sure he didn't belong at the Baltimore State Forensic Hospital as a patient himself.

Even before his come-on, he made her skin crawl. It had nothing to do with the fact she was involved with someone either. He was just a creepy pervert. Thinking Mr. Crawford chose Clarice because of her appearance versus skills was ludicrous. She was nothing like Dr. Lecter's choice in women.

Barney's sincere politeness was refreshing once she'd managed to escape Dr. Chilton's company. She hoped she'd placated him, flirted back enough, to make it easy to return if she had to. Crawford's instructions were just vague enough that she wasn't sure what he wanted in her report.

She'd seen photos of her subject. She'd read about, and through Will heard more things about him than she probably knew about her own father and mother. She still, as she hung her coat on the spot Barney indicated, wondered what type of man he was.

He was a killer, obviously, first and foremost. He was immensely smart and skilled. Everyone who knew him both personally and professionally expressed shock once the real man was revealed and exposed.

How had he managed to go undetected for so long? Years. Who knew how many victims there were really. Clarice suspected there were more no one knew about. And that was just in the United States. He hadn't always lived here, she knew. Was there a trail of victims from Europe to the shores of America, leading straight to Baltimore?

So, why was she doing this? Interviewing a man who could fool the likes of Jack Crawford and Will Graham right under their noses? She was excited as Barney gave her the final instructions on how to approach Dr. Lecter's cell. Only it was like no cell she'd seen before this point.

Hannibal Lecter wasn't sure what to expect when Dr. Chilton told him someone from Jack Crawford's unit was coming to speak to him.

He was surprised, really. Without Will Graham's keen, unworldly, insight on the Buffalo Bill case, Lecter was sure they would never get to him. Jack was no slouch, Lecter knew, but he wasn't the one who'd tripped Lecter up. While one of the best, Jack Crawford wasn't in the same league as Will Graham. He'd been saddened, though not surprised, not to read Will's name in conjunction with the Buffalo Bill case. He'd looked forward to crossing paths with the young man once again.

The young woman who appeared in front of his cell was not even close to what he'd expected Jack to send him. Young was an understatement, which was part of the reason he had asked to see her identification. He wouldn't put it past Dr. Chilton to think of some sort of scheme to try and get Lecter to talk.

He discovered more than the fact she was not an actual agent when she approached his cell. Her attire was the biggest clue to that. While not blue jeans, her clothes were not like anything he'd seen an agent wear. While inexpensive they at least suited her. He gave her that.

It took him a moment to put his finger on what was familiar about her scent. He didn't know how it was he had such a keen sense of smell. Long ago as a boy, he believed it was a gift from God. As an adult, one who couldn't find suitable answers to his questions from theology or God, he turned to science. So, somewhere in his gene pool another Lecter down the line had to have had one as keen, if not more so.

If he hadn't just been thinking of his adversary, he was ashamed to realize it may have taken him longer to identify the familiar scent that was distinctly Will Graham.

He was tempted to ask her how she enjoyed his handiwork, but sadly she had been nothing but polite and respectful to him. No disdain was evident in her tone or posture. No look in her eyes of seeing him as evil as he saw in so many. It was one reason he elected not to receive visitors. Because of her attitude, and the rudeness of Miggs in the cell next to Lecter's, he refrained from even mentioning the information he'd gleaned.

That didn't mean he wouldn't store the information away for another time if needed. Did Will know she was here? The scent clung to her, suggesting intimacy not just casual contact.

Interesting indeed.

Intriguing even.

Clarice hung up the phone, digesting Crawford's information about Miggs' death. Crawford said she didn't need to feel anything and yet she felt as if she was supposed to. A man was dead because of her. Dr. Lecter had done it for her, taunted the man so relentlessly as to result in his death. She should feel ashamed, but she couldn't find it in her to be upset someone would stand up for her. Even to someone crazy.

"You're an idiot," she murmured. Lecter did it for his own amusement, nothing to do with her. She was reading far too much into it. Letting the psychiatrist into her head just as Will and Crawford had instructed her not to do. Not that she lost sleep over it. Other than the name he'd dropped at the end of her visit, but that was a clue to catch a killer. Wasn't that what she was here to do?

The clue had led to her unraveling a piece of the puzzle that was Dr. Hannibal Lecter's mind. She had figured out one of his codes. Not a huge piece of the puzzle, but still she felt good about it.

The storage unit. She'd been confused at first, until she realized Lecter wouldn't send her on a wild goose chase with absolutely no pay off possible. So, she refused to do as the storage facility owner preferred she do and return the next day. She had to get in there now. She was excited, but also a little afraid it was now or never and anything in the unit would be gone tomorrow.

His keen sense of smell astounded her once again when he commented on the fact her cut was no longer bleeding. It should have been creepily revolting, but he sounded so sincere in asking after her.

The towel he'd offered her had floored her. For one, she hadn't been able to see him, though she knew he was there of course. Another, she wasn't expecting kindness from him. It wasn't as if she was soaked to the bone.

Going to him had apparently been a mistake. She hadn't even thought about it. It was his clue that led her there.

Will didn't understand her reasoning, though.

"You find a severed head and visit the serial killer who led you to it instead of me. Or Jack?"

"He'd clearly wanted me to find it. He knew what was in the unit, Will. He told me so."

"During your visit tonight."

"Does it really matter?"

"Yes, Clarice, it does. It's exactly what he wants. He has managed from behind bars to immerse himself in a serial killer case."

"We don't know that for sure."

"Do you really believe otherwise?"

"I don't know, Will, I really don't."

"And why is he willing to talk to you over anyone else anyway? Don't fool yourself into thinking it's your skills, Clarice. It's because he can manipulate you due to lack of experience."

"Wow. Is that really what you think?"

"I don't think, I know. Jack wasn't a fool to send you. Young, attractive, green and wet behind the ears, and an orphan."

"He doesn't know that."

"You don't think he can find out? He's incredibly resourceful even incarcerated. He's managed to get my home address to send Christmas cards."

"I'm not you. He's already imprisoned. He has nothing to gain. He's never going to be free. He knows that."

"Clarice," he whispered, looking defeated and hurt. "I can't do this." She noticed tears forming in his eyes and realized this was serious. This wasn't just an argument.

"Do what?" Tears were beginning to fall from her eyes now.

"I thought I could. I didn't want to be that guy. The one who lets my misfortunes try and dictate what the woman I love does with her life. Working for Jack, well, that was just a theory until now."

"You didn't think I'd do it?"

"I thought you were one of many who wanted a spot in his small, elite unit. I had no idea you were truly on his radar."


"Do you realize I had to stop myself from leaving your room the other night and telling Jack I forbid you from doing this?"

"You what? You wouldn't dare," she said indignantly. She had no clue he would have thought to do that.

"I didn't, all right, but damn it, Clarice. This is more than dreams and theories now. And I can't get sucked back into that world again by Dr. Lecter. It's a world you evidently want more than me."

"How can you even think that?"

"I don't need to think it. You're already on your way. Did you tell him anything about yourself?"

"No! I know how to follow the rules."

"Funny. There was a message on my machine asking me if I really thought I had what it took to keep an up-and-comer happy."

"What? Why didn't you say something before now?"

"Because I was mad. I thought you'd betrayed me to the one man I'd just assume think I'm dead."

"Will, I didn’t."

"When this is done. We can talk if you still want to, but I can't have that man picking his way through my life and mind again."

"So that's it? What about the other night? That meant nothing to you?"

"It meant everything to me, Clarice. I love you."

"I love you, too, I do."

"I know. I see it when you look at me. It's the only thing that stops me from never finding the bottom of the bottle. I just can't. Jack. Lecter. Killers. I left it behind for a reason."

"You knew what I wanted to do."

"I thought I'd have some time to adjust to you being an agent first. Jack's not going to let someone like you slip through his fingers. Just one piece of advice."


"Get out before he chews you up and spits you out. I don't know when that'll be, but I pray you will. You're too good to end up like me."

He kissed her then. It was like one of their kisses at the beginning of their relationship. Tentative. Holding back. The emotions couldn't be hidden by either of them though.

"Good luck, Clarice."

"Thank you," she said, feeling stupid for saying that.

She stared after him at the closed door. Should she go after him? Except it would solve nothing. Change nothing. She'd come too far to change paths now. She was on the verge of getting what she wanted.

No FBI. No BSU. No justice for people like Janice.

She collapsed on her bed, letting the tears flow freely. God it hurt. Love. What a crock.

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***Part Eight***
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?"

"With what?"

"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."

"Not anymore."

"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?"

"The scars."

"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."

"Agent Starling."

"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."

"Dr. Lecter."

"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."


"Thank you."

'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.'

"Me, too."

'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."

'Night, Clarice.'

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.

Return to Top

***Chapter Nine***
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."

"I know."

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.

Until now.

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?"

"It is."

"I tried to choose something you'd like. This seemed a safe bet."

"It was."

"Thank you."

"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."

"And now?"

"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?"

"Just noticing."

"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."


"You disagree."

"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."

"Would you?"



"No, if I was with someone and was thinking about someone else. Well, I'd fix it or get out."


"Would you?"

"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."

"Nothing romantic?"

"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?"

"Yes, immensely."

"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."

"I'm sorry?"

"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?"

"Honestly, no."

"Then why send me the clothes?"

"Temptation, Clarice."

"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 see."

"I wanted to make a difference."

"Tell me."

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."

"I'm sorry?"

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 suppose."

"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."

"I know."

"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 am."

"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.

No Krendler.

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 don’t 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?"

"That much?"

"Yes, Doctor. Orders and all."

"Well, then, happy to oblige."

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***Chapter Ten***
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.

"I know."

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."

"You what?"

"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."

"Thank you."

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?"

"Odd. Exciting."


"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.

"You're surprised?"

"Admittedly, a little, yes. Why them over anyone else?"

"I haven't seen them since I left there."

"I remember."

"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'm sorry."

"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."

"Not long."


"A little."

"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."


"Thank you."

"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."

"Mm hmm."

"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."

"Me, too."

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.

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***Chapter Eleven***
Word Count: 1,453

Seven Years Later

It was a habit he tolerated, though he didn't completely understand it. She always checked the Baltimore and D.C. newspapers when she woke up every day. Always in the back of her mind was the thought that something could happen to Ardelia or Will and it was the only way she'd know. There wasn't anyone else from that life she cared about really.

Today the computer was on and her breakfast was there waiting for her. Usually, he made her separate her two morning rituals. He didn't like her to be holed up in her home office any more than necessary. Working for the Federal Intelligence Service she didn't have a lot of work to bring home with her, but there were times that she couldn't sleep because information she'd come upon refused to be forgotten until the next day.

She digested the article, knowing he would leave her to initiate the conversation on this particular subject. Breakfast finished, she set the bowl aside and sipped on her orange juice – fresh squeezed, of course – as she read the article once again.

She brought her bowl and glass into the kitchen where he was cleaning up the few dishes he'd used that morning.

"Good morning," he said calmly. He was astute and clever, though, assessing her mood no doubt due to his keen senses.

"Good morning. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

She rinsed her things and set them in the sink before leaning against the counter. Days like this, she wondered how she even got to be here. So far removed from her dreams and goals. There was nothing wrong with her job or anything. In fact, she enjoyed it most days. The fake credentials and paperwork she had set her up for it. He really had thought of everything when he created her identity for this life.

"So," she said softly.

"Yes," he replied dryly.

"I'm dead."


"What does that mean?"

He shrugged. "It means that Miss Mapp and Will Graham provided enough evidence to prove that they searched for you over the years with no results."

"So, I cease to exist."

"Well, from this day forward, yes. If you were to show up again, of course, there'd be a legal process to reverse it. It happens from time to time."

"It's so odd."


"It means that they both think something happened to me."

"I would assume so."

"They don't believe I ran off with you."

"I would think not or my profile would have been updated to traveling with a female companion."

"Right, and it hasn't been. We know this."

They knew this because about a year after she'd left she'd logged into the FBI database from an Internet cafe when they were traveling. Untraceable. They'd only been in that particular town for about three hours. She'd walked to and from the cafe. She'd been kind of surprised Ardelia's password was still the same, but she supposed her friend had no reason to change it. There was nothing in his file about her being with him. She'd checked it again at work when she got the job, a bonus of dealing with international agencies in her line of work. There was nothing indicating she was with him.

Ordinarily she wouldn't think that meant anything except she knew Paul Krendler. Paul would crucify her if he could get away with it so if he had an inkling, a glimmer of foresight that he believed suggested she was with Lecter he would have used it and plastered the information and her face along with it all over. Nothing would have given him pleasure as humiliating Clarice would.

It had never happened.

A few weeks or so after she'd gone missing there'd been articles with quotes from Will, Ardelia, and Krendler. Crawford had never been quoted. She wasn't sure what that meant, if he'd never been interviewed or if he just had nothing to say about her disappearance. She liked to think she made more of an impression on him than that.

"So, I'm free."

"Yes, but the hair still has to remain."

The hair was a source of contention for her at times. It was long, longer than she'd ever worn it in her life. Down to her ass and blonde. Not platinum blonde like Marilyn Monroe's, kind of a dirty blonde, but the color, length and the curl in it due to the perms she got just weren't natural for her.

"I understand that, but it's done for the most part."

"It is," he said simply.

"I'm glad," she admitted.

Cautious. They were both nothing but. While they lived well neither tried to be overly pretentious about it, not wanting to draw attention to themselves. They never spoke English outside of their home. He'd known all along that they were going to end up in Germany so from day one of them together he'd worked with her to perfect a dialect so that she wouldn't stand out as someone speaking the language as a second language. Writing, reading, speaking, and listening.

Today it was second nature to her. She enjoyed their time at home when she could just be Clarice, but even here they never called one another by their real names. They hadn't in years.

"Will's married," she said.

"I saw that. Does that bother you?"

"No! I hope she is for him what I couldn't be."

"So he'd stop drinking, you mean?"

"I didn't know at first, you know. I mean, he drank a lot, but I just didn't think someone so intelligent would be an alcoholic." She shrugged. "Stupid thinking."

"You were younger and smitten. Not just with him but with the idea that someone knew what you wanted to do. Who could blame you?"

"But I enabled him."

"You aren't the first or the last."

"I know. I just."

"He had his own path to travel just as you did. You're where you're supposed to be as he is."

She walked up to him, hugging him which he accepted easily. It still blew her mind that they could have moments like this. Simple intimacy. She'd never had married parents to observe day-to-day so this was all new to her. At first, the sex had been amazing and so frequent there were times she thought there was something wrong with them. Frequency wasn't an issue even today, but there were other ways they expressed their feelings for one another that didn't require clothes being removed.

"So, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?"

"I don't know. I guess just keep doing what I'm doing."

"That's a good answer."

"I thought so."

There'd been a time or two she'd wondered at her decision. She doubted she'd be human if she didn't. Living this way wasn't easy. It wasn't glamorous. Despite the nice things they did they still had to look over their shoulders and be careful every minute of every day. Even something as simple as eating a meal out could be catastrophic if a fingerprint was left on a glass or the handle of a fork or knife. It was just the two of them and always would be. The days of doubt were long behind her, though. Life wasn't perfect, but they solved their problems easily enough. Clarice couldn't recall a time ever going to sleep mad at him.

Neither believed in things like soulmates, but Clarice had found something with Lecter she'd never had before. A life worth living for more than her goals and career. She worked not because she had to necessarily but to blend in. Eventually, she'd stop but for now someone her age would be suspect without a job.

He'd expanded her horizons tenfold. She liked to think she'd done the same for him, but she knew better. His horizons hadn't needed broadening except perhaps when it came to love.

His extracurricular activities?

She didn't ask and he didn't tell. Sticking her head in the sand perhaps. She wasn't in denial. She knew. It was one of the reasons she did not take a job with local law enforcement. She didn't want to be faced with hunting him or having to hide or destroy evidence in order to help him survive. She'd reached a point now that she didn't want her time with him to end a moment before it had to.

They both knew he'd never be incarcerated again. He'd said so in not so many words. The idea of someone so brilliant taking his own life saddened her, but she knew he was careful. More careful than last time.

How did she know?

This time he actually had something to lose.

~The End~

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