It was more than a little troublesome trying to wheedle her way into the dungeon at four-fifty-five in the morning.
Chilton certainly wasn't having it; his face, dry and drained in his fatigue, was alive and flooded with colour in his frustration. "You can come back at a reasonable time, Miss Starling."
"Doctor Chilton, I have information that needs to be confirmed by Doctor Lecter. I have shown you my badge and the front of my document, Sir. Do I have to call my superior at the FBI?"
"Are you threatening me, Ma'am?"
Starling set her face. She was a shade under average height, but Chilton was short enough to be shy of intimidating. "Doctor Chilton. I have driven for over an hour at a time when I would much rather be in bed. I work for the government. This is not a field that you can navigate."
"This is my hospital," Chilton almost hissed, leaning into her space, his eyes bulging comically out of his cartoonish face. Starling might have found a little fear in her heart at the freakishly bright white in his eyes in another life.
"I have to do my job." A beat, "Doctor Chilton, be reasonable. Don't let your feelings for any personnel of the FBI get in the way of justice."
His eyes flashed like hematite.
His "fine" was long and simmering. "Allow me to escort you down to the cells."
"That won't be necessary."
"Oh, I think today we can't have an officer going down in the dark. He'll be asleep, you know, and he won't see you."
Starling forced the bright, harsh smile onto her face. "He's always been up to help us before. Let's go."
Chilton seemed to steam as he led the way down to the dungeon. He didn't leave a chair for Starling, nor did he alert Barney as to the lack of one. The look that he threw back at her over his shoulder with his terrible, shining beetle-eyes was full of smouldering reproach, and it rested on her for a breath too long.
Quiet in the dungeon at the minute the great bars scraped shut after his back. Now that Chilton was gone without so much as a murmured word of parting, Starling almost dropped to sit before the plexiglass, scrambling onto her knees and shifting the bag from her shoulder. Staring out into the wallow of black, silent as water under a moonless sky, she yearned with her eyes for a face. "Doctor Lecter, I know it's early, but I need to ask you something and I don't know if it can wait. Are you up and decent?"
The cell at night, carefully concealing its deviant moon, beckoned her into the dark. From amongst the black, a milky face pushed forward until the slim, white figure of Doctor Lecter stood before her, looking down into her face. Starling had been sitting for a while in her awkward, sprawling position and her legs had began to complain. "Thank you for seeing me, Doctor."
"You're up awfully early, Clarice. Do they have you working through the night now?"
"No. I woke at home. I- needed to talk to you. To tell you about something, that is. Will you listen?"
The inner corners of Lecter's eyes were free of sleep, and the Catherine wheels of maroon light in their centres spiralled hypnotically. "Are you asking for some sort of therapy?" A pause for her thoughts; his were already lined up, concise, ready. "... The lambs?"
"No," Starling did not shake her head with it, "I had a dream. After what we discussed yesterday, I saw a... a girl, very young, light colouring, and she was running through the woods at nightfall."
A soft, almost inaudible no. "I think it might have been Mischa." She took a shallow breath before her name, less for a boost of courage and more as a backbone to the gentle lilt of her voice in the early morning, softer than when she talked with Chilton.
The name took an immediate effect on the sharp, slightly smoothed visage of Hannibal Lecter. His eyes widened as if he had witnessed God, and his dry mouth parted at the unfaceted edge of the sword that was her name. The change would be indiscernible to anyone except for Starling, so close she was, who as she looked into the shifting, terrible historical face saw nothing but a gargoyle; an evil thing to ward off evil things.
"What was her role in the dream?"
"She was running... in the woods. She was crying, she was upset, and she was running away from something."
"I don't recall describing Mischa. What alerted you to who she really was?"
"I just knew intuitively,"
Doctor Lecter showed Starling his hands, palms open as if he was weighing twin hearts in them. The gesture was open, inviting, and there was no hint of any trouble in his eyes, no matter what shadows were being cast inside his mind. "Tell me; what was she running from?"
"I don't know. I never saw it. Something... terrible. Alive."
"A human being?"
"Just a- a thing." Starling's gaze was distant.
"If I may ask, Clarice, what is it that troubled you so deeply about the dream? We dream of faces we pass on the streets and of anything the mind can conjure... Why did Mischa scare you, in her... plight through the woods?"
Starling's breath shook like steam exhaled into cold air, far too shaky to come from her strong, stricken face.
"I think that she was me."
Lecter's eyebrows raised and his hands rotated elegantly around his wrists, encouraging her. Just a little more... Just something more.
"She was so young and she was taken advantage of. I'm scared that I've been tricked and twisted my whole life."
He felt that he knew her mind too well to ask if it was the death, the axe that she feared.
"The inevitability of her capture- this child in the dream, this mixture of Mischa and yourself, do you feel like that is being reflected in your life at present? Do you feel as if one day, the teacup will fall and you will not be able to mend it?"
"I don't know. That's why I'm here, if I'm frank- it's your issue, and I think that you're more likely better equipped to deal with it than I am,"
A pause. "You want to pass the burden. You're carrying too much." It was an offering, but most people would take it as fact.
"That's probably true. Doctor Lecter, I am not a weak woman. I don't want you to pity me,"
"Clarice, I wouldn't dream of deigning to pity you. Pity, separate from empathy, does not drive. Humility can tell us that." His voice had an earnest quality about it, and Starling was almost soothed by it.
"I'd like to talk to you again soon, but I don't know if I'll come back for a few days. I need to think some things over."
"You need to sit with your career. The way that you allow yourself to be treated will end in nothing but a loss of faith."
Starling shrugged, a smile tugging her lips, taut, rueful. "I love what I do. I'd love to do more of it."
Lecter's eyes opened up for her, holding her answer and showing it back to her. "Your career is the culmination of your life so far, and you worry that it is becoming the toy of somebody else's. If you'll pardon the histrionics for a moment, Clarice; you are aware that you are not weak. You know of the strength of your soul more than most." Most. "And I believe that in order to make progress, you will have to prove to yourself as fact that you do not have to be cruel in order to make people pay for it."
Starling felt it then, felt the waft of smoke that sets off the alarm, the last, late ring of the phone that brings the news of loss. She felt alarm, in some dulled-down form - alarm that gripped the good heart that she had inherited like a vice. The alarm was not unwarranted, no, for it fled into Starling's mind with the knowledge that they, opposite in station, were not so different.
Because Starling sure knew how to make people pay for it.