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Kinda Outta Luck

Chapter Text

A newspaper was slid next to Clarice’s coffee cup as she typed away at her report on her laptop. She finished the sentence before finally looking up, unamused at Agent Jameson as he set his tray down across from her in the FBI cafeteria.

“What do you want, Jameson?” she asked with a sigh as she took a sip of coffee. “I’m busy.”

He just grinned at her as he unwrapped a tuna sandwich, leaning back in his seat. “Did you read the news, Starling?”

“What happened?” she replied, playing along for now. Jameson chuckled to himself as he bit into the sandwich and pointed at the headline.

“There was a pretty gruesome murder found in the outskirts of Quantico, I got put on the investigation,” he declared, as though that would phase her in some way. “Flesh peeled off the back so they look like wings or some shit. Pictures are up on Tattle Crime if you’re interested.”

“I’m not,” she said flatly. Agent Brigham, her partner on the Evelda Drumgo case, came up behind them and sat his own tray down at the table. He craned his neck and scanned over the headline before shrugging and biting into an apple, wiping at the juice on his mouth before speaking again.

“Come on, Jameson, an especially complex murder means especially complex paperwork, and you hate that shit,” Brigham reminded. “Why so interested?”

Jameson bunched up the Saran wrap from the sandwich and left it in a corner of the tray. “Because my case is being directed to the Lecter investigation, did you know that? I’ve been waiting to find an opening.”

Because you didn’t sign off on my recommendation, goes unsaid, but Clarice easily picked up on the subtly.

Yes, she had been Jameson’s supervisor on a previous investigation where he had done fairly well; yes, as of this moment, she was still technically his boss; and yes, he had put in an application to be placed on the Lecter case. Not only did she know that he wanted in because first of all, there was nothing to go on. It was an easy job, in a sense. It was the federal government's equivalent of a crazed individual with a map of red threads and magazine cutouts: hundreds of theories, barely any evidence. Sure, the amount of press and notoriety and fanfare that was promised for the one that could dredge the literal and metaphorical sea of the world was a great motivator, but deep down, everyone knew they were running in circles.

And Jameson had applied. And Clarice was asked for her opinion, as his supervisor. All she had to do was sign off.

She did not sign off.

Not because Jameson was incompetent (one could make an argument, however) or because he was lazy (again, arguments could be made.) She didn’t sign off because for all his rude, brash, and annoying qualities, she knew him. She knew him, they were in class together, and she wasn’t going to send someone she knew down that trail.

Technically, no one outside of the higher-up was supposed to know of her involvement. It was leaked to Jameson by one of his buddies, and it didn’t surprise her when that happened. There were snide comments, and little whisperings of rumors, but Jameson was all bark and no bite. It didn’t bother her much. She knew that he was just jealous that her career had accelerated while he was stuck trying to get there by himself. He made it no secret that he was pleased when Senator Martin’s term came to an end and was not reelected, as Clarice no longer had any sort of supposed pull in Congress. All of this, she could tolerate.

It didn’t mean that she appreciated the sneer he tried to hide behind a sip of Dr. Pepper. “Jealous?” he asked, almost innocently. Clarice just shrugged.

“Not really,” she answered simply.

“Aw, come on, Starling, don’t you wanna find them?” Jameson teased, leaning back farther in his seat. “Come on, spill, did Lecter get you to open up about your daddy issues or - awaken more of them? Did he-”

“Shut up,” she bit out, tapping hard at her backspace key before taking a breath to calm down before stating calmly, “Then sign off on the papers so you’re off my case and drop them off in my mailbox, please.”

Jameson got up as she said that, and didn’t even bother to hide his distaste as he looked down at her. “Yes, ma’am,” he mocked with an exaggerated bow, before picking up his tray and walking away. Clarice rolled her eyes and went back to her reports when Brigham nudged her shoulder. When she turned to look at him, he was smiling at her.

“He’s jealous, it doesn't matter what he thinks,” he said, picking up his can of Sprite. “He’s just bitter that you’re his boss and you’re famous.”

“Yeah well if he wants the fame, he can have it,” Clarice shot back. “It gets annoying to deal with. I never asked for it.”

“That’s because you’re the best at your job,” he reminded her. “And come on, if you want, I’ll take the credit when we get Drumgo, give you a little space. As long as we go for a steak dinner on your dime.”

Clarice couldn't hold back a laugh of her own, and he laughed as well. “Thank you for the gracious offer,” she thanked, sarcastically, “but we have to find her first.”

“Well, we’re getting close, Clarice. That’s half the battle right there.”

“Yeah,” Clarice nodded, eyes scanning over the one clear picture she had of Evelda Drumgo, the notorious drug kingpin that she'd been tracking all year. “Half the battle, right.”

 

 

Clarice had hoped to arrive at the apartment she still shared with Ardelia and take a long shower to relax, but when she checked the mailbox as she always did before Ardelia could get there first, there was another package for her. It always seemed hand-delivered, never a return address, always the same elegant script.

She ran through the other ones that had come since the first one was sent three years ago along with a phone call. There had never been another call since, but there had been several more packages.

Thankfully Ardelia wasn’t back, her own work in the FBI tended to run late. When she worked, she left it at work. She never brought it home. Clarice always brought it home, like gum stuck to her shoe. She couldn’t help it. So she went into her bedroom, shut the door, and used her pocketknife to cut through the tape at the top of the box before opening it.

A letter, folded over once, was inside, beside a small, handcrafted jar that contained lotion. The scent of roses and apples was strong enough to leak through the jar and she placed it on her bedside table before unfolding the letter to read.

 

 

Dear Clarice,

Did you know that that starlings first came to America because an individual wished to have at least one of every bird mentioned in Shakespeare in the country? Ever since, they have never left. I find it quite fitting; a desire to bring beauty and art to a blank canvas of a land. An apt metaphor for your placement in the FBI. They have severely lacked a bright spot for quite some years now.

I write to you to congratulate you on your accomplishments, and to reassure you to avoid the criticisms of your peers and from outsiders. Fairytales continue even after the happy ending. Every hero loses their way after their initial journey, but you are still staying true. I would advise, however, keeping your eyes and ears open. There are always those looking to use you as a pawn in your game. You are not a pawn, Clarice: you are always the queen on the chessboard.

I do hope you enjoy the lotion, it is handmade. It is important to take care of yourself, Clarice, even when the job seems too much to handle at times. Sometimes I wish that it were possible for you to contact us in return, but I know that you will turn in that information as soon as the opportunity presented itself. A pity; I should like to see you again, soon. Perhaps we will, one day.

Regards,

Hannibal Lecter

P.S. Will sends his best, as well.

P.P.S. Happy anniversary, Clarice

 

Shaking her head, she takes that letter, folds it back up again, and tucks it away in an old shoebox with the others. She could never predict when they letters or packages would be sent, it was seemingly impossible to track.

But today was the day she had first walked into the BSHCI. This was a day she could track, if she so chose. It would be futile to look for them, she knew that. They enjoyed toying with her. but she doubted they would show mercy if she managed to track them down.

Instead, she took a hot shower, put on the patterned silk robe from Romania that she had never bought and probably cost triple the fluffy blue one from Target in her closet, and went out to the living room. Ardelia was home, she had picked up Chinese takeout and they ate it on the couch as they watched TV and giggled and laughed together.

“Anything happen today?” Ardelia asked in between bites of orange chicken. Clarice shrugged, fiddling with her chopsticks.

“Not really,” she responded as she lifted a piece of stir-fried beef to her mouth.

She was getting better at believing her own lies.

 

 

“What do you mean, you want to talk to Starling?” Jameson whined over the phone, checking to make sure the bathroom door was locked as he talked. “I thought I was your guy, doc.”

“Would you like me to let go of my strings and stop helping you rise the ranks? Quid pro quo, Aaron,” the smooth, measured voice slightly threatened. “I would like to speak to Clarice as soon as possible, and I’d like you to find an excuse for her to do so.”

“But - but -”

“One million dollars,” the voice reminded. “A million, Martin.”

Jameson sighed, leaning against the door. “Alright, you got it. I’ll deliver Starling, you help me move through the ranks.”

“Thank you. And remember: an extra two million if you find them. Dead. I don’t want them alive.”

“You got it, Dr. Bloom,” Jameson agreed, unlocking the door and heading outside to finish his sentence. “But why do you need Starling, I can probably find him with the evidence you’ve collected.”

A pause, then Alana Bloom spoke again. “You can’t just shoot at the water, Martin. We need to bait the hook to draw them out.” Then she abruptly hung up on his, and he scoffed at the phone in his hand.

Typical, he thought.

To make an already great day even fucking better, his car was in the shop and he had to take the goddamn bus back home. Fuck.

He paid the fare, nodded to the bus driver, and turned to look for a good seat. It was fairly busy, which was just worse. He could either sit beside the woman with a bratty child screeching every five minutes, the guy taking up another half a seat with his guitar case and his dirty shoes off, or the guy in the back with sunglasses and an expensive-looking black coat staring off into seemingly nothing. He could have been asleep, and honestly, Jameson’s best option was to take the seat beside him.

The guy said nothing when he sat down beside him, so Jameson broke the ice: “I get off in three stops, you?”

“The same,” the man said smoothly. “You’re at Quantico.” It was a statement, not a question. Jameson nodded.

“Yeah, I am. How could you tell?”

“Your badge is about to fall out of your pocket,” the man pointed out, and Jameson quickly adjusted shoved it back down, deeper than before.

“Oh, thanks.”

“Not a problem. Tell me: do you work in cases or are you the one that does all the paperwork?” the man questioned, and that touched on a rather sensitive nerve for Jameson.

“Cases, thank you,” he snapped before he could stop himself, then he quickly covered that with a smirk. “And I’d love to tell you about my current case.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Because if I told you,” Jameson condescended, his smirk turning joking, like he was enjoying this little power play over the well-dressed man on the back of the bus. “Then I would have to kill you.”

Jameson didn’t notice that when the man smiled, the cheek scar well-hidden under his beard crinkled ever so slightly.

Chapter Text

Clarice supposed that the only thing she actually enjoyed about the whole spectacle of her employment at the FBI was that she had been granted her own office. It was a small one, sure, but it was a private space from the hustle and bustle of the job and she was grateful for it. The tiny space was overflowing with papers and pictures and one or two old coffee cups, and a wilted fern in the corner that she always forgot to water. It was cramped when Brigham was standing over her shoulder and discussing Evelda Drumgo, it was even more cramped when Jameson stood in the doorway, leaning on it.

“Starling, I need a favor.”

“What do you want?” Clarice responded, not even looking up from her computer as she scanned through drug reports. “I have the raid on Evelda’s operation to plan in two days, I’m busy and you know it.”

“I’m aware,” he snapped back at her, leaning against her wall. “I just need you to sign off on a new job for me.”

“You’ve already found the loophole where I don’t have to sign off for you to be placed on the Lecter investigation,” Clarice reminded, sipping her coffee. “What do you need from me?”

Jameson sighed and leaned back, his head hitting the door frame. “Look, the Verger-Blooms have reported that they currently fear for their safety right now, ‘cause some copycat that might actually be the Murder Husbands worries them a hell of a lot and they want an FBI detail on their house. I was asked, I agreed, and they want to meet you this afternoon at their house. So are you going to do me a solid or what, Starling?”

Brigham looked up from where he was staring at the screen over Clarice’s shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “You might wanna stick a ‘please’ in there, she’s still your boss for two more days.”

Jameson sneered before finally he finally said, “Please, Starling.”

Clarice took a deep breath, then said, “Fine. Fine, I’ll go, just give me three hours, okay?”

“You’re the best, Starling,” Jameson lied. “And my car’s still busted, you’re driving.”

“Sure, fine,” Clarice rolled her eyes as she agreed and watched him leave. Brigham breathed out in frustration as he reached into the bag of trail mix they were sharing and lifted a blue M&M to his mouth.

“God, at least he’s going to be out of our hair, Starling. We can be thankful for that.”

Clarice sighed, drumming her fingers on the desk. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

 

 

Thankfully, the ride to the Verger estate was silent except for the classic rock station Clarice used for driving music. The drive took a little over an hour out of DC, and they were down a long, winding driveway with the trees branches blowing in the breeze as they drove.

When they got to the front, there was already a valet waiting outside for them. Clarice hopped out of her Chevy and Jameson did the same. The valet gestured towards the door and told them to walk in. And when they did so, Margot Verger was waiting at the top of the staircase for them.

“Hi,” she said in greeting, nodding in their direction. “Alana wanted to have the meeting in her office. This way, please.”

The two agents follow along behind her, quietly observing the surrounding vast halls of the mansion before coming to an office door.

“Wait here,” Margot told Jameson before she opened the door to the office for Clarice. She didn’t even knock, just opened the door and led them in. Alana Bloom was sitting behind her desk and stood up to greet the agents as they came in. She walked around her desk with an outstretched hand and a smile. “You must be Agent Starling,” she stated, and Clarice returned the smile and shook her hand.

“Yes ma’am, Dr. Bloom. Good to meet you. And it’s Clarice, please.”

“Alana, then,” Alana corrected as she looked Clarice over, almost subtly but she still noticed it nonetheless. “It’s good to meet you as well. Your reputation precedes you.”

Christ, Clarice had been afraid of that. She kept the smile on. “I expected it would. Freddie Lounds keeps a running counter on Tattle Crime that goes up every time I shoot someone. I understand there’s a few betting pools going.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised about anything Freddie Lounds does,” Alana murmured, rolling her eyes. She gestured for Clarice to sit down in the opposite chair from the desk while Margot sat in the back on the leather couch, studying her phone. Finally, Alana sat back at her desk, folding her arms and studying Clarice. “Well. I understand you are Agent Jameson’s supervisor.”

“At least currently, yes ma’am.”

They then got into a long discussion about Jameson’s positive and negative qualities, and as much as Clarice wanted to tell her exactly what she thought of him, she played diplomat. Jameson had an excellent record on the range and had a cool head, and knew all the FBI protocol. He was crude and brash at times, but if that became an issue, Alana or Margot would be more than welcome to contact Jameson’s new supervisor and report behavior or request a new FBI agent on call.

Alana seemed impressed with Clarice’s level head and professional demeanor and told her as such. “You’d never guess from what the tabloids say.”

“Or Guinness Records,” Clarice joked. It fell flat, but that comment had pressed on a rather sore nerve of hers. “Rest assured, Alana, I want nothing more than for you and your family to be safe. I’d be happy to do what it takes to ensure that.”

Alana smiled again as she stood up along with Clarice after their meeting concluded. “That means so much to me, Clarice. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Not a problem, ma’am. Now, I understand you’d like to conduct your own interview with Martin, so I’ll wait outside and bring him in.”

Alana nodded, and Clarice went out the door and opened it for Jameson. She managed to smile at his smirking face. “Well, I’ve signed off, they’d like a quick interview with you before we leave. Go ahead.”

She kept the door open for him to slip past her and into the office, and took a seat in one of the fine leather chairs outside the office in an almost imitation of a waiting room. She rested her head back, and had just closed her eyes to relax when she heard the tiniest sneeze.

Suddenly awake, Clarice turned around and caught sight of a flash of a small figure in a red shirt crouching behind another chair. She blinked twice, then called out, in a lower voice, “Hello?”

The small figure peeked his head out from behind the chair and laughed. “You found me! What’s your name?”

Clarice couldn’t fight the smile that pulled at her lips. “Hey there. I’m Clarice.”

“I’m Samuel Verger. Are you the FBI agent that’s coming to stay with us?”

She raised an eyebrow at him that made him giggle. “No, sorry, I’m your FBI agent's supervisor. How do you know there’s going to be an agent?”

“‘Cause I’m a spy and hid while Mommy and Mama talked about it,” Samuel declared proudly. “I’m the best at hide-and-seek, Miss Clarice. The secret is to hide under Mommy and Mama’s bed, they always look there last. Do you want to play hide-and-seek?”

“I’d love to,” Clarice said with a bit of a sigh, “But I have to wait out here for now.”

“Ohhhh,” Samuel said, nodding like he already knew all that. But he brightened up again soon enough. “I’m eight and my birthday’s in April. I want a stuffed triceratops. When’s your birthday? Do you have a favorite dinosaur?”

Before Clarice could even start to answer his questions, the door to the office opened and Margot stepped out, shaking her head but smiling as the door closed again behind her. “Kiddo, let a lady breathe for a bit, will you?”

“Mama!” Samuel squealed and ran round from behind the chair and Margot got down to his level to hug him tightly, kissing the top of his head and running her fingers through his hair. “Mama, I drew another picture today, wanna see?”

“Of course I do, let’s go,” Margot agreed, letting Samuel take her hand and pull her down the hallway. Clarice smiles after them, the pleasant domestic scene warming her in a way. She was around so much coldness at work that this was a welcome change. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

She didn't hear Margot’s phone ring and hear her answer it as Samuel held onto her hand, swinging from it off and on. Margot smiled down at him before changing her tone when she spoke into her phone, “Agent Crawford. Yes, we’re still going through with it. the  coal mine canary is outside Alana’s office as we speak.”

 

 

“I just don’t get it,” Jameson whined as he fell back onto the leather couch in Alana’s office. She narrowed her eyes at him from her desk. “What does Lecter want with Starling?”

“I don’t know, Aaron, and I don’t need to know.”

“Well, you think he wants to kill her or fuck her or eat her alive?” he offered, and Alana somehow managed to look more unimpressed. So he added: “Or she like Will Graham, and it’s all three, but we don’t want to think about in what order?”

Alana’s cold glare was enough to shut him up on that subject. He changed it instead. “...Okay, doc, how do you think you’re going to get them to come near her? She lives near DC, works FBI. They’re not that dumb.”

Alana pressed her lips together before speaking. “Hannibal is attracted to distress like a moth to a flame,” she declared. “He likes to see what happens when people are pushed to their limits, whether or not he does the pushing.”

“Okay. So you bought Senator Martin out of office to push her?”

“If enough things get under your skin you’ll eventually start to feel them. People are like teabags; you put them in hot water and you see the true colors that were  hidden before.”

Jameson just blinked, apparently confused as to what she meant. Alana opened a briefcase that she had behind her desk, and emptied the contents out on her desk. “Tomorrow,” she mentioned, almost casually as though this hadn’t been planned down to the letter for weeks. “Clarice Starling is going to be in a crucial meeting on the Evelda Drumgo case. She will be making her case for the position as leader of the squadron for the raid in a few days. This is important as she’s a controversial figure in the press at the moment. In order to pull this off, she cannot afford to appear anything less than calm and collected.”

“So what do I have to do?” Jameson asked, having gotten up from the couch as Alana talked and now stood beside her at her desk. Alana wrapped a wire mic so the cord wouldn't tangle, and handed it over along with a folder and tightly bound stack of cash. She gave Jameson an expectant look and a smile to match.

“I want you to put Clarice Starling in some hot water.”

Chapter Text

Clarice adjusted her light blue button-up shirt in the mirror of the women’s restroom outside the conference room, the smile of cheap pink hand soap still clinging to her hands. She applied a bit of the rose-apple hand lotion to cover up that horrible chemical aftersmell, and placed the smooth clay jar back into her shoulder bag. She adjusted her vest again, deciding to leave the buttons undone and loose. Luckily, her short brown bob-cut hair makes it so that she doesn't have to spend much time on it. She has to look confident, yet approachable. She has to pull this meeting off without a hitch.

She smiled at her reflection, and she could almost mistake it for a real one. Perfect. She clipped her badge to the front of her vest and turned on her heels to leave the restroom. As she did so, however, she found that she was not alone by the facilities where the men and women's restrooms were in the long stretch of the hallway. Jack Crawford was in the process of entering the men’s room as she was leaving the women’s. There was an awkward moment where they nodded a greeting to the other, having had very little contact with the other for some time.

“Starling,” Jack nodded.

“Agent Crawford,” she greeted in return with a slight head tilt.

Jack appeared...uncomfortable. It was not an emotion Clarice had noticed in the past, so she supposed there was a pressing case at him mind. She wondered if he would ask her to consult, even though she was banned from his division after the events of the Buffalo Bill case. However, when he next spoke, it was as though he was on skates on a verbal equivalent of thin ice.

“So you’re having a meeting with a few directors today,” he stated, almost like he intended it to be a question but his personality got in the way. She nodded again.

“Yes, sir. It’s crucial for me that it goes smoothly, Brigham and I have been working the Drumgo case for months, now. Raid is scheduled for Friday, if our sources are right she’s expecting a new shipment of methamphetamines then. It’s our chance to snag her before she dives back underground.”

“You’ve got it all planned down to the wire, Starling. Drumgo’s dangerous, she’s not known for going down easily.”

“I’m prepared to handle it, sir.”

“I would-”

“All due respect, sir,” Clarice pressed on, firmer than she had intended, “You no longer have the authority to tell me what I can and can't do.”

Jack looked at her then, startled, but not entirely surprised. He shook his head. “I was never able to tell you what to do when I had the authority.”

A small smile escaped Clarice’s lips. “No, sir. Excuse me.” With that statement, she turned away from him and walked down the hallway to the conference room, mentally prepared for the meeting.

Jack turned back to the restroom and ignored the gnawing feeling at the back of his mind.

 

 

The conference room smells like freshly printed paper, black coffee, and a lot of male cologne, and Clarice could smell it before she walked in the doorway. She took a moment before she walked in to take a deep breath, and as she did so Brigham came up to her from the other end of the hallway. His smile was as bright as it always was. He was always glad to see her, to try and get her to smile back at him. Once or twice, her smile had been real.

“You ready?” he asked as he stepped in view of the doorframe. She nodded and joined him in walking in, taking their seats at the designated spots. The room grew quiet as Clarice removed her notes from her bag. She could see a few of Jameson’s higher-up friends watching her set up camp at her table, and briefly regretted not grabbing a jacket as well.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” Brigham said with a smile, opening the case files printed for everyone in the room. He was at ease at this, he was good working with others.

Clarice was not.

But she opened her file, ready it appears calm and collected, only to find a different print out on top of her file. A full color picture from Tattle Crime on the human trafficking case he’d busted a year ago. She’d had to shoot a man to get him to let go of his hostage, and Freddie Lounds had splashed her photo of Clarice wiping blood off of the poor girl’s face and trying to calm her down.

Guinness Records had called that weekend to congratulate her on her new record. A Pyrrhic victory if there ever was one. She bit her tongue, worked her jaw, and hid the picture underneath all of the other pages in the file. They were trying to rattle her, it would not work. She couldn't crack now. Instead she smiled up at the pairs of eyes staring at her.

“Good afternoon,” she repeated as she straightened her notes again. “We don’t wish to take up too much of y’a - too much of your all’s time. But this is incredibly important and I understand that this matter will take careful consideration.” The words felt weird in her mouth, like they weren’t actually hers. But she’d practiced her lines for this, she could do this.

“Evelda Drumgo has evaded FBI capture for over eight years, and the local law enforcement longer than that,” Agent Sanders stated as he adjusted his lapel pocket, staying at her intently. “How do you propose going about finally getting her?”

Brigham leaned forward. “You see, Sanders, we’ve been tracking her drug shipments for months now. We have reason to believe that if she’s on schedule she’s expecting a new shipment on Friday from her suppliers in Florida. Starling’s been on it for the past year and I’ve dedicated all of my ten months with her on this. We’re sure. We just need a squadron to confirm our suspicions, maybe even get her in the process.”

“And yet, in the reports we have in front of us, Brigham, you have not offered yourself as the squad leader. Instead, you’re supporting Starling.”

“That’s right.”

“Why not you?” Sanders pressed. “You have three more years of experience over her.”

“She needs the chance to prove herself a leader,” Brigham explained. “She does well in teams but I think she could shine as a leader.”

“You say that,” Agent DuBois interrupted, “But she also went against direct orders back in April to engage in the sting.”

“All due respect, sir,” Clarice interjected, “But I did not want to engage in a suicide mission. Whole storage facility was wired to blow when the wrong door opened, we’re lucky we caught that.”

“You didn’t catch it, Starling.”

“I didn’t say that, sir,” fuck I need a cigarette, she thought. “All I said was that I thought it was too easy for us to move in.”

“Well thank fuck for that, or you might have just gone in a blaze of glory, isn’t that right?”

“No sir.”

“You’ve got an itchy trigger finger, Starling,” Sanders stated boldly, and Clarice worked her jaw before she made her response.

“Sir. I do what needs to be done when I am placed on dangerous assignments.”

Sanders hummed, adjusting his lapel pocket again as he read over the notes in his file. “Let me ask you, Starling: do you think that just because you went up against Hannibal Lecter one time behind glass that Evelda Drumgo is a cakewalk for you?”

Prick. “Quite the opposite, sir. Hannibal Lecter never hid dirty hypodermic needles in his hair during an arrest ten years ago like Evelda has been known to do. And also, Hannibal Lecter is not the subject of the meeting.”

“But I think that what Sanders meant to say,” DuBois explained, shooting a look at the man in question, “was whether you are mentally capable for this.”

“I’ve taken the behavior analysis test several times, sir, and I’ve come up as clean as I could be.”

“Clean, given what you’ve done.” Done, not accomplished, made it hurt more. “You know I can do this, sir, you can look at my records.”

“Yes. One record in particular. It’s not great for the Bureau, Starling, it’s a stain.”

“Will Graham was a stain on the Bureau, sir,” she said coldly, just barely opening her teeth enough she didn’t grit it out. She forced her smile back on. “The most you can call me is a blemish.”

Brigham interrupted this by giving her a calm look, one to reassure her. “Hey, easy, everyone. Look, I’m with Starling: Lecter and whatever past that they have is not relevant to Evelda.”

“Come on Brigham, you know that Hannibal Lecter is gum on the shoe of everyone who got into contact with him: sticks to you forever and you can’t shake him off.”

“Would you not use metaphors from Dr. Chilton’s pedantic attempt at an analysis in his latest book?” Clarice snapped back, fuck, she was supposed to be keeping it together. Sanders, and frankly, everyone in the room looked a little taken aback. “Sir, I apologize, but I want to discuss the squadron and I don’t need y’all provoking me at every turn when I’m just trying to do my job.”

That did it, her accent always got thicker when she got emotional. She was glad she wasn't mad enough to cry. She was an angry crier. She could feel her mask cracking, she wanted to snap. God, she wanted to tell him to kiss her fucking ass, that she could handle this, that he didn't have the authority to disrespect her like this.

Fuck him.

Sanders kept fiddling with his lapel pocket when he said with this smug tone that didn’t settle well. “So Hannibal Lecter didn't get inside your brain and toss it like stir-fry when you sat and blinked at him through the glass? Do you think you’re special for that?”

This time, as he fiddled with the stupid fucking lapel pocket, Clarice noticed that it wasn’t the pocket he was messing with, he was touching something in the pocket. His head dropped down when he spoke, almost into his chest at times.

Motherfucker.

She stood up while he waited for the answer, starling everyone. She vaguely heard Brigham tell her calmly to sit back down, that it’s okay, don’t get worked up, but she was already moving around the table to stand in front of Sanders.

“Problem, Starling?” he asked, as though she wasn’t good enough to stand in front of him. The anger and bitterness swirling in her ears had come to a roar and she reached forward and pulled a black microphone out of his pocket before he could stop her. She locked eyes with him and smacked it down onto the table with her palm, crushing it into pieces.

In a very, very, calm voice, she stated, “This is a private meeting, and I will file a report for this security breach. Thank you.” Then she turned on her heels and sat back down at her chair. Her face was hard, and the room grew quiet now.

“Now,” she ordered in her clearest voice, Appalachian accent shining right through. “I want to discuss the plan for the raid with y'all.”

Nobody questioned her.

 

 

Clarice almost broke as soon as the meeting was over, but kept it together long enough to shake some hands before walking out of the room and didn’t stop walking until she got outside. She pulled a cigarette out and lit it, leaning against the wall and breathing out the smoke with her frustrations. Brigham stepped outside soon after, placing a bit of chew tobacco under his bottom lip and shaking his head.

“You okay?” he asked. Clarice just shrugged.

“I fucked it up,” she muttered. “I couldn’t keep it together, I’m sorry, I was-”

“Hey, hey, don’t beat yourself up,” Brigham reassured, chewing the tobacco. “They were tapping on your goddamn nerves, therefore they were irritating me. I would have said something if you hadn’t.”

“I shouldn’tve,” Clarice muttered again. “That was fucking awful.”

“It’s okay, Starling. They shouldn’t give you shit still.”

She just coughed on her smoke, closing her eyes. Brigham tried another tack.

“Do you, uh, want to grab dinner? Let me buy, you’ve had a shitty fucking day, Starling. Let’s get out of that tiny-ass office for a bit.”

Clarice laughed a bit, taking another drag. “I’m not going to go on a date with you.”

“Who said it’s a date? I’m just starving. Come on, it'll be fun.”

Clarice tossed her cigarette on the ground and stubbed it out with her shoe, and she smiled at Brigham. At least she had someone on her side for the raid on Friday. He’d told her that she would lead, and he had faith in her. They could pull this off. She could pull this off.

“You’re not buying, you bought last time,” was her answer, and Brigham’s smile grew wider.

“I’ll hold you to it.”

 

 

Clarice got home from dinner and put her leftovers in the fridge. Ardelia had Seinfeld playing on a low volume in the background as she had her files spread out over the cofffee table, her reading glasses pushed back on her nose. She looked up as Clarice poured a glass of cran-apple juice.

“Hey girl. How was your date?”

Clarisse snorted out a laugh as she poured two shots of vodka into the juice. “Please. Like I’d go on a date with Brigham.”

“You think he really wants to?” Clarice asked, eyebrow raised as she poured another cocktail for Ardelia.

“Who wouldn’t?”

Clarice laughed again as she rummaged around in the cupboard for the sour cream and onion chips. “Thanks.”

“I mean it. That vest? Damn, girl.”

“You’re so full of it,” Clarice joked as she took all of her food and drink to the couch and dropped down beside Ardelia. They clinked their glasses together and took a drink as the canned laughed played in the background.

Ardelia set her glass down first. “So, would you? If it was a date.”

“No way,” Clarice reassured. “I mean I promised him a steak dinner on my dime when we nail Evelda on Friday, but that’s not a date, right?”

“Not in my book,” Ardelia agreed, flipping through the pages on the table. Clarice shrugged at nothing in particular, head falling back as her eyes closed. Ardelia decided to ask another question. “So how did the meeting go?”

Clarice's answering groan is answer enough to make Ardelia laugh in sympathy. “That bad?”

“Well, I’m the squadron leader, that’s the only positive. I looked like a fucking crazy bitch in front of three directors.”

“You are a fucking crazy bitch, that’s why I love you.”

Clarice grinned as she swatted at Ardelia’s shoulder. “Thanks, girl. Yeah, I kind of - I kind of went off on Sanders today. But he wore a fucking wire, they were trying to get my ass today.”

“They don’t matter, girl.”

“Yeah they do, Ardelia. I’m just stressed for Friday.”

“You can always look over my counterfeiting ring assignment. Or is it too boring for you?”

“I’d fucking love some boring,” Clarice smiled, slouching so she was now leaning on Ardelia’s shoulder. “But I gotta get in the mindset for the raid.”

“Well let me give you an incentive to get Drumgo’s ass on Friday,” Ardelia offered, relaxing her head so it rested on top of Clarice’s, and she could smell the remnants of a rose-apple lotion. “When you get her ass in a jail cell, I will take you on a fucking date, hell or highwater. We tried six months ago but you took a goddamn case and forgot.”

“I’m sorry again,” Clarice reminded, still smiling. “But I promise this time: we’re going on that goddamn date after Friday. Swear on my life.”

Ardelia kissed her roommate/best friend/not-quite-girlfriends forehead, and they settled against the couch. And at least for these few moments, Clarice felt a sense of peace and quiet she hadn’t had in a good while, before the pressure started building up inside her head again.

Chapter Text

It was a chipper morning down on the street that crucial Friday, with the local fish market setting up their weekly event. Piles of ice were dumped onto the fold-out tables along with fish of every color, size, and species. A few other stands were being set up, some with fresh vegetables and fruit, another with some homemade preserves, still others with hand-me-down and hand stitched clothes. There was a hustle and bustle atmosphere in the air, and everyone was busy with their own tasks as a mixture of Latin American, rap, and Top 40 bumped in the background. Including the hidden FBI agents in cars and vans at the front of the fish market, setting up their own tasks inside. Clarice, for her part, was loading up her Glock 22 in the cramped quarters with five other agents, Brigham included. They were all stressed and tired but amped-up all the same. Clarice knew that none of them trusted her except Brigham. The walkie-talkie went off in the van.

“Starling, you got sights on Drumgo yet?” Agent Harding asked, his voice sounding scratchy with static. Clarice picked up the walkie talkie and peered through the little window.

“Not yet, keep your eyes peeled, the shipment’s always at nine-thirty,” Clarice responded, leaning against the door. She let out a breath to try and relax her nerves, but it didn’t help much. Her team stared at her, and she tried to smile at them.

“Y’all ready?” she asked. She got the impression that they didn’t think she was. “Now you’re on my call, you know? Nobody acts until I give the call. Brigham’s with me, and you all partnered up beforehand. So, we clear?”

“Clear,” everyone responded. They weren’t too enthusiastic about it, but she’d take it. She knew they weren’t thrilled she was leading instead of Brigham, who quickly grabbed her shoulder and squeezed it once in solidarity. It got a smile from her.

Suddenly the static came in through the walkie talkie. “We got eyes on her car. She’s pulling up now, Starling. She’s right on fucking time.”

Yes, Clarice thought. Finally. A year of fucking tracking and working and interrogating had finally led to this. She pressed her back against the van and watched as the black Cadillac pulled up just a block down the street with other black cars alongside it. Two men hopped out of each car as the Cadillac’s passenger door opened and the man inside jumped out and opened the door to the backseat, and Evelda Drumgo gracefully stepped onto the sidewalk, her short black heels with silver-colored fabric roses on the top avoiding the muddy puddle. She was easily over six feet tall without the heels, and was even taller than her apparent bodyguards. Her black trenchcoat swirled around her ankles, but the severe, cold expression that was seen on every single picture of Evelda wasn’t there. As she got closer, not only could Clarice make out a warm smile, but she could make out a bundle in her arms.

A bundle of a pale blue blanket with little giraffes on it.

Oh shit.

“Harding.”

“Starling, you want us to-”

“Don’t move,” she stated firmly, trying to keep the dismay out of her voice. “She’s got a baby with her.”

Everyone in her van stared at her in shock, even Brigham. “What the fuck?” came in from Harding’s voice. “Are you - yeah we see her, oh my god. How the FUCK did you miss that in your fucking research, Starling?!”

“I - I-” she stuttered as she watched Evelda smile and coo down at her bundle and felt her head start to ache. Her team started scoffing at her, rolling her eyes. She’s losing control of the situation, and even Brigham's reassurance that Evelda’s child was never in any of their research whatsoever didn’t help at all.

Shit fuck damn fuck shit damn

“Starling, listen, we cannot blow this fucking opportunity.” Clarice could see the back of the other van opening. “We’re moving out.”

“No, you are not, that’s an order from me!”

“Listen, we’ve been tracking her for fucking years, Starling, your fuck up is not stopping this.”

“At least don’t use force, we can't afford-”

“YOU can’t afford more shit on your record, Starling, I don’t. We’re out, we’ll need backup.”

“Roger that,” one of the other agents in her van responded, getting up even as Clarice tried to keep control. But before she could bark out her own order, there was the unmistakeable sound of gunfire.

Immediately, everyone filed out of the van, too late to see Harding bleeding out on the sidewalk, as Evelda’s men were firing away with their guns they had hidden under their coats. The ice and fish splattered to the ground as tables were flipped over, and patrons were running away screaming at the top of their lungs. Fish and FBI and drug dealer blood, three types of blood, they all ran out over the street and mixed with the melted ice. It was a hellstorm of a gunfight, with the FBI taking a goddamn beating and a few dropping to the ground. Clarice and Brigham fired their rounds off and reloaded, but then Clarice saw Evelda starting to run away, so she shouted out orders to her squadron. They went unheard, everyone kept firing blindly. She nudged Brigham’s shoulder, and they ran after Evelda, slipping in blood and water and going down street after street until they were a full five blocks away from the mess at the marketplace and turning down an alley. Clarice knew this place, they were close to a Drumgo hideout.

“Evelda Drumgo, stop!” Clarice shouted, her and Brigham cornering the woman in question in the alley corner.

“FBI!” Brigham called out, his finger right on the trigger. There was fear in Evelda’s eyes as she clutched her bundle tighter, and it hit Clarice right in the heartstrings. She took a deep breath.

“Evelda,” she said calmly, “Listen to me. I’m not going to hurt you or your child. We just want to take you in peacefully. Evelda, I need you to -”

There was the sudden unmistakable sound of three rapid-fire gunshots, and when Clarice turned to her left on instinct, she was unfortunately just in time to see Brigham drop to the ground with two bullet wounds to his chest and one to his neck, making barely a sound other than a thud when his body hit the ground. He didn’t stir and Clarice’s heat shattered as tears welled up in her eyes from anger, shock, and sadness, but when she moved to look back at Evelda, she saw the baby blanket flutter to the ground, but there wasn’t a baby in Evelda’s arms at all.

It was a Glock 22. And it went off just as Clarice registered that information.

Then it was just searing, burning pain right under her ribs, and then another shot and her leg felt like it was burning combined with being snapped in half as she dropped. She felt a scream rip through her but the sound didn’t register in her mind. Her gun slipped from her fingers and she tried in vain to reach for it, which forced her to look at the body of her partner getting cold in the grime of the street. She felt the tears streaming down her face which made her breathing even more difficult. But as she feebly fumbled for the gun a sharp heel stepped down hard on her hand, and she gritted out more gasping breaths. The heel moved from her hand and kicked the gun away.

Clarice couldn’t see Evelda’s face well through the haze of pain and deep grief and despair but she knew there was a smile there.

“See, the media would have me believe that Clarice Starling is the FBI’s main bitch, oh yeah, she’s got thirteen notches on her gun and she doesn't buckle for nobody, yeah, she’s stared down Hannibal Lecter,” Evelda sneered, seemingly amused by this whole situation. “But see, I knew there’s a heart buried underneath all dried blood. Like a scab, just pick off and flick it away, all that ugly shit under there, all those raw nerves. Right, little bird?”

Clarice couldn’t speak. She just choked out more sobs and breaths as she felt like she was simultaneously burning alive and freezing to death all at once. Failure was sitting on her chest and crushing her, like it was trying to get her to completely collapse.

There’s another voice, one of Evelda’s guys. “Ma’am, what do you want to, uh, do with her?” Evelda scoffs again.

“Put her out of her fucking misery, look at this shit.” A sharp kick to the other side of Clarice’s ribs. She can’t even choke out a sob or a scream. It’s just tears and whimpers of pain. “Pathetic.”

However, when the next gunshot is heard, a body collapses beside her and Evelda swears and hisses after another one goes off. “Fucking shit, what the - you know what, Gary, Mike, just take her back, okay? After all she’s supposed to be the bargaining chip, right? Now move before that happens again.”

Heels click as Evelda walked away, and Clarice managed to focus her vision for a few brief moments. She can see the sky. Way, way up into the sky, all the way up there. And that right there is fucking rock bottom, and she buried under it.

She’s in excruciating pain in the dirty alley, bleeding into her surroundings, and too weak. Far, far too weak. She can’t move, can’t speak, can barely breathe, and she wanted to give up so badly.

She focuses her vision again and the world explodes in front of her.

And she doesn't remember anything but quiet murmurs and hums and coughs and swirling, swirling black enveloping her.

 

 

“Daddy!” Seven-year-old Clarice Starling squeals as she races down the porch steps of her West Virginia house and jumps right into the arms of her father as he exits his squad car. He laughs and catches her before spinning her in the air and hugging her. The air smells like honeysuckle and gasoline.

“Hey there, darlin’, miss me?” he drawled, grinning like a maniac, and she laughs as she hugs him around the neck.

“Of course, Daddy. Catch any bad guys today?”

“Naw, they all already in jail, your old man got ‘em all.”

“So that means they can’t get you?”

“Hell yeah, Clarice. I gotta stick around to catch you, right? You’ll always have someone to catch you, okay?”

“Promise?”

“Promise on my life, darlin’. Love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

The water is cold and full of ice, and it slowly becomes thicker and thicker and tastes more and more like iron when Clarice breathes it in, and now it’s filling her lungs and her eyes are tinted red and she’s drowning and she’s hearing screaming and gasping and she's drowning, she’s drowning, she’s drowning-

 

Clarice was surprised when she suddenly woke up then, her breathing shallow and painful. The surprise wore off shortly, however, and was soon replaced with confusion.

The bed she is currently laying on is much better than the one back at her apartment. It’s a good mattress, no need for a mattress pad like her own bed. And the sheets are deep blue, almost navy, and the thread count seems to high to waste by letting her pass out on them.

This is not her bed.

It’s sure as hell not a hospital cot, and she doubted that Evelda would go to the trouble of making her comfortable if she was bound and determined to try to get more information out of her and have her brought back to a hideout. She’s still dressed in her raid clothes, the blood soaked through a long time ago, but she had to have dried off before she was placed in this room, as there’s no stain on the sheets. She reached up through her shirt and feels that the bullet wound under her ribs is carefully dressed and bandaged, and there’s the faint feeling of stitching underneath. Her leg hurts but the wound feels cleaned off.

She sits up and looked around the room she was in. There's the door to presumably a bathroom, another that looks to lead to a closet. There are lace curtains around the window’s and the window seat is a deep maroon color with white pillows on the cushions, while the walls are wallpapered with the same color as the bedspread with Saint Augustine baroque medallion designs printed in the same pattern over and over. It’s late evening outside through the window, and so she must have been out all damn day.

Where the fuck is she?

She notices the crystal glass pitcher of water on the bedside table, and the equally fancy glass beside it. She resists the urge to drink it, her mouth is dry and her tongue tired from disuse. Instead, she decides to get up and find out where the fuck she actually is.

She threw the sheets back and gets out of the bed. However, due to the pain from the wound in her leg and also having not moved in hours or even days or who knows how long, she collapsed onto the wooden floorboards, making quite a thud. Muttering curses under her breath, Clarice manages to sit up enough to catch her breath when she hears footsteps coming up the stairs outside her door. Panic settled low in her gut, so she just...reacted.

She reached up and grabbed the crystal pitcher and dumped every drop of water out onto the Oriental rug on the floor, and slipped the glass into her lap. With the pitcher clutched tight in her hand, Clarice watched the doorknob turn and just when the door had opened barely six inches, she threw the pitcher at the door with all her might. And damn, it felt good to watch that perfect Waterford crystal shatter against the carved wooden door and it was pulled shut again. It wouldn’t stay closed for long, though. She smashed the glass on the side of the table so she was clutching a sharp, jagged half of a glass in her shaking hand, as she couldn’t stop her breath from quickening as the door slowly opened again.

This time, when Clarice looked up, she saw two figures in the doorframe, and she rolled her eyes and groaned.

“Fuck,” she muttered as she looked up from her awkward position on the floor into the eyes of both Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham. Both seemed bemused, which just made her feel more angry and even more scared.

“Good evening, Clarice,” Hannibal greeted, calm and collected as she was trying not to melt down on the floor.

“What do you want?” she managed to say, then interrupted both herself and Hannibal’s next train of thought when the floodgates of stress opened and left her mouth. “You know what, I just - I don’t care.”

Will remained by the door, his hand resting on the doorknob, and Hannibal took a step forward. Feeling stupid and desperate, Clarice reached out her broken glass as though that would keep them away. “Don’t you dare come near me! Either of you! Don’t you dare! If - if you’re going to kill me just - just let me fall back asleep, I don’t - I don’t want to feel it, can I at least have that?” Her words sounded shrill even to her own ears, and Hannibal cocked his head to the side, studying her but looking as gentle as he had looked the last time when they had seen each other, when she told him that the lambs would not stop screaming.

“Clarice, we’re not going to hurt you,” he soothed. “Clarice, listen to-”

“I don’t want to hear it!” She’s being rude, she knows this, she knows it’s upsetting and not what they want to hear but she can’t stop.

“Clarice. I want to help you. We want to help you.”

It took all the effort in the word to not let the glass shatter on the ground and let herself collapse. Clarice managed to say in a voice that was nearly cracking, “I - I don’t want help. Not - not just from you. From - from anyone. Go - get - get away from me. Please. Please.”

It was a futile request, she knew it would be, they were going to come in and do whatever it was that they-

Will’s free hand rested on Hannibal’s bicep, squeezing gently, and they both were communicating a way Clarice couldn’t understand and it was making her even more nervous. But then Hannibal stepped back into the doorframe with Will, and nodded at her.

“Would you care for a hand up from-”

“I can get up,” she gritted out through her teeth.

Both men nodded. “Of course, Clarice. Excuse us.”

She shrugged, and the second the door closed she scrambled back into the bed, and laid back down. She stared at the ceiling, waiting, waiting, waiting for them to come back in and put her out of her misery. Any minute now. Soon she had lost track of the minutes.

She was so focused on this thought that the sudden knock at the door scared the hell out of her.

“Are you decent?” a woman’s crisp, no-nonsense voice asked from the other side of the door. That was a surprise.

Such a surprise, in fact, that Clarice stuttered out, “Y-yes?”

The door swung open, and a Japanese woman in neat clothes entered the room with purpose, shutting the door carefully behind her. Clarice sat up fully when she entered her bedroom. The woman’s eyes gleaned over Clarice, assessing her, then without another word, walked straight to the en suite bathroom and disappeared from sight. The sound of a faucet being turned on was surprising, and then the woman was back in the doorframe and had crossed the room to stand at Clarice’s bedside, her arms at her sides with her piercing gaze making Clarice turn away.

“Lift up your arms,” she ordered. Clarice looked up and blinked in surprise.

“What?” she responded. The woman’s gaze didn’t falter.

“Lift up your arms, I have to check your stitches. Now move.”

Too tired and confusion influenced Clarice’s motions, and she lifted her arms up but then flinched away when the woman’s fingers went to move her shirt up. “No.”

The woman seemed to look more unimpressed, yet not unsurprised. “If you worry about me harming you,” she said dryly, “I have had plenty of chances to do so. I have no intentions to begin now. You may raise your shirt yourself.”

“Can I -” Too much was happening at once, Clarice needed to know some basics. “Who are you?”

Just the slightest bit of a smile ghosted the corner of the woman’s lips for a moment before she settled back into her neutral expression. “My name is Chiyoh.”

“Oh. Um, hi. I’m -”

“I know who you are, Clarice Starling. Lift your shirt and show me the bandage before I lift your shirt myself.”

Clarice breathed out an annoyed sigh before she could stop herself, then tentatively raised her shirt just enough to reveal the bandage. Chiyoh took a seat with perfect posture on the side of the bed, and touched the outline of the bandage. And then, in the time it took Clarice to blink, Chiyoh had ripped the bandage clean off her skin and Clarice hissed through her teeth at the sting that action caused.

“I’d have appreciated a warning,” she muttered, even as she watched Chiyoh gently touch the perfect stitching on her bullet wound to check it.

“If I had told you beforehand, you would have tensed up and therefore made it more painful than necessary,” Chiyoh responded coolly before touching the wound on Clarice’s leg. It didn’t have a bandage, it has just been cleaned well. “The bullet only grazed the top of your skin, you were already falling when the other bullet hit. It just skimmed the outer layer. You are lucky.”

“I don’t feel lucky.”

“You are,” Chiyoh told her, getting up from the bed and walking to the bathroom again, shutting the door behind her once again. That faucet was turned off, and when the door reopened a bit of steam escaped and disappeared into the air of the room. Draped over her arm was a dark-colored men’s suit jacket, stained all over in dried blood. It made a chill go down Clarice’s spine. Chiyoh focused her steely gaze back onto Clarice. “I drew a bath for you, go rinse off. Hot water is good for the soreness. You may leave your clothes outside, there’s a robe inside the bathroom. Is there anything I can get for you?”

There were too many thoughts rolling around Clarice’s head, so she spoke her mind. “Can I get a cigarette?”

She half-expected Chiyoh to deny it, but she only nodded. “Any brand in particular?”

“Pack of Camels?”

“Very well. After you finish your bath, dinner-”

Clarice stopped her right there before she could speak another word, panic rising in her voice again, “Oh, no, no, no, no, I - I’m not eating anything. No way in hell.”

Chiyoh raised her eyebrows just enough to show an emotion. A specific one, though, Clarice couldn't name. “I see. Well, I’ll leave you to yourself for the moment. Excuse me. Would you require help to the-”

“I can get there myself,” Clarice bit out. Chiyoh nodded and left the room as quietly and efficiently as she had entered. With her gone, Clarice took a few breaths to try and regather herself.

Stand up, Clarice. You can do that, at least, she told herself, and then she gingerly got to her feet. Everything hurt. Absolutely every part of her, including the internal parts, ached. It took a effort, and clinging to the walls and furniture, but she managed to make her way to the bathroom. She clung to the doorknob and stared at the huge bathroom and carved-out marble bathtub with bubbles and everything. It was like a hotel, complete with a robe on a hook by the shower, completely separate from the bathtub. The air was hot and steamy and Clarice picked up the bottle of bubble bath left on the counter. The label claimed that it was scented with apple, clove, sage, and a ‘touch’ of sweet lemon balm. It just smelled like a warm apple spice scent to Clarice, and she felt too tired and her nerves too shot to really resist it. She did as Chiyoh said, dropping her clothes off in the bedroom (locking the bathroom door behind her afterwards) and carefully eased her exhausted body into the hot water.

She felt all of the tension start to melt away, and she let out a deep breath as her eyes closed.

She felt a little bit like the side of a glacier melting and collapsing into the sea. Because even as the soreness of her muscles popped and started to finally relax, all of the memories of her failed turn as a squad leader started flowing back in her mind. All the pain, all the anger, all the noise, all the blood...it all came crashing back down onto her shoulders and the tears were dripping from her eyes before she could even register that she wanted to cry. The emotions that she had been repressing for fucking weeks just came out at once, and she sunk deeper into the water and kept crying. Her tears popped the bubbles in the bathwater, and time was lost to the water.

She didn’t know how long it had been when there was a sharp knock at the door, and Chiyoh’s voice came through. “Are you asleep?”

“N - no,” Clarice answered back, hearing her voice crack. She cleared her throat and spoke again. “No, I’m not.”

“Good. Don’t drown. I have your cigarettes on the your bedside table when you are ready for them.”

Suddenly the thought of sweet, sweet numbing nicotine crossed Clarice’s mind and that’s all she wanted in that moment. So carefully, she got out of the tub, uncorked the drain, and dried herself off. She put on the robe hanging on the hook, and then checked her face in the mirror. Because of the bath, she could probably pass off the redness in her eyes as caused by the steam. She wrapped her hair in the towel and limped out of the bathroom, and Jesus Christ, she hadn’t been so happy to see a pack of Camels in her entire life. There was even a little silver lighter on top of it, and she snapped them up and collapsed heavily onto the window seat. She opened the nearest window, settled back onto a pillow to support her lower back, and she lit up a cigarette and took a long, long drag before breathing the smoke out the window. It felt good.

It was late evening, and she could hear the crickets chirping and the breeze rustling through some trees. In the morning she’d have to look out the window again to see where exactly she was. But for now, she finished the cigarette, flicked the butt out the window, and slammed it closed as Chiyoh came back in with a sharp knock, carrying a box of books with grace and ease. She set it down on the desk and began to arrange them on the bookshelf. Clarice carefully got up from the window seat and looked at the ground by the bathroom door. Her clothes were not there.

“Um, Chiyoh?” she asked hesitantly. Chiyoh looked up from her task and gave her an expectant look. “Where - where are my clothes?” I swear, she thought. If I have to run out of this house with a bullet wound and ass-naked, I will. I’m not staying trapped here.

“In the closet,” was the abrupt response Clarice got, and Clarice made her way on shaky legs to the closet, and was shocked when she opened it and revealed that it was a walk-in. There was even a small bench inside like something out of a movie, and had to sit down and stare at all the clothes around her. Dresses, blouses, pants, and every article of clothing in between she could need, they were all there. And they were nice clothes, too. Every color, in her size and everything. Immediately, Clarice got to her feet and leaned on the door and called out to Chiyoh. “Excuse me?”

“Yes?”

“Whose - whose clothes are these?”

“Yours.”

Clarice swallowed hard. “I mean - I mean where are my clothes?”

“Oh, the ones from before? I disposed of them, they were beyond repair. I saved the contents of your pockets and placed them in your bedside table drawer. Get dressed, I will be back in a moment.”

Clarice closed the door to the closet and turned back to the closet, frankly overwhelmed with her entire situation. She chose the simplest items she could find: a soft flannel sleep shirt and red sleep pants to match, and made her way back into the bedroom, and noticed a card table set up in the middle of the room with two chairs as well. The door to the bedroom opened again, and Clarice watched as Chiyoh entered the room again with a platter and cover, and the smell of something cooked filled the room as she set the platter down on the table.

“Did the bath help?” she questioned as she took off the lid and set it down on the desk to reveal bowls filled with some sort of soup on the platter. She arranged the bowls and laid out spoons and folded napkins. Clarice nodded. “Good. What would you care to drink?”

“Tap water,” Clarice proclaimed. “Where I can see what you’re putting in my glass.”

“Do you think I would poison you?”

“I think you’d drug me.”

“I am not,” Chiyoh countered, but she left the room for a few moments, and then her footsteps were heard coming back up the stairs, and she was back again. She had a teapot in hand, and two cups with two teabags and two sugar cubes in the other hand. “You may have tap water if you wish but I am having tea. I collected the herbs myself, it is mint with rosehip and hibiscus. If it were drugged I would not partake. Now, sit.”

Clarice shrugged and sat down at the card table, staring down at the bowl. It smelled delicious, but she didn’t think she could eat it, knowing whose house this was. “What is it?”

“A lentil stew with lamb and red pepper,” Chiyoh declared as she poured the hot water into the cups, letting the tea steep in their cups. “Eat.”

“I can’t eat it,” Clarice ventured. “I won’t.” Chiyoh fixed her with an even more severe look.

“You will eat,” Chiyoh enunciated. “You will either eat, or I will feed you. As a last resort I will feed you intravenously. But you are going to eat. You are going to live.”

Clarice kept staring at her plate as Chiyoh spooned a bite of stew into her mouth. “I’m not eating anything.”

Chiyoh sipped her tea. “Hannibal and I both have a preference for hunted game,” she told Clarice. “But I do not partake in the game he chooses to hunt. He respects my choice as he respects me. You are consuming what he prepared for me.”

“Do you trust Dr. Lecter? I mean, how do you know him?” Clarice asked, looking to buy time as she sipped her own tea.

“I was the maid to his aunt, Lady Murasaki, when we were children. And I have remained loyal since that time,” Chiyoh explained, then added, “Eat.”

Clarice lifted her spoon, and gently stirred the stew before meeting Chiyoh eye-to-eye. “Do you promise that this isn’t-”

“Hannibal has deceived me in the past,” Chiyoh interrupted, even as she had another spoonful of soup. “It’s a matter of whether I hold to my own promises and convictions. Trust always goes two ways, and it matters whether you believe in the other to be honest with you. Has Hannibal been honest with you?”

Clarice drew a figure-eight pattern in the stew as she thought over the question. “H- Dr. Lecter has always been honest with me in the past. As far as I know.”

“Then I will leave your choice up to you,” Chiyoh acknowledged, stirring her tea. Clarice scooped out a tiny bit onto the spoon, barely a crumb of lamb with the lentils and the pepper. Then slowly, decidedly, she wrapped her lips around the spoon and consumed the contents.

It was delicious, and she hated herself for thinking that. Currently she was hating herself for a lot of reasons, so adding onto the list seemed almost numbing at this point. So with nothing left to lose, she ate the rest of the stew in her bowl. Chiyoh gathered the dishes when they were both finished, and Clarice got to her feet to help her, but she was stopped. “You are recovering, I will do this. Get in bed and rest.”

Clarice nodded, but grabbed a copy of Jane Eyre from her bookshelf and sat down on the bed, starting to read when there was another knock. She grabbed the half-broken glass as the door opened. Luckily, it was just Chiyoh again, who came back in with a set of bandages in a bag. She took a seat on the bed, and Clarice sat up straight. “Lift your shirt.”

Clarice did so, and Chiyoh’s cool fingers carefully reapplied a fresh bandage to her wound. “Um, thank you,” Clarice stuttered out.

“This is not the worst injury I have had to deal with. Your cliff fall was only metaphorical.” A wry smile pulled at Chiyoh's lips, and Clarice could almost smile in return.

“N-no, I - I mean the stitches. Thank you for the stitches.”

Chiyoh’s eyes flashed with the slightest hint of amusement before she tapped lightly on the the outside of the wound. “These are not my stitches, Clarice.”

Clarice’s eyes drifted down to the bedspread, and she tugged on a loose thread. Chiyoh stood back up from the bed, and then reached into her bag again. “There’s a small gift for you I was instructed to pick up. From Will.” She pulled out a pack of pecan twirls and handed them ot Clarice. Clarice fiddled with the plastic in the corner and remembered pine trees and cigarette smoke and the conversation with Will when she wasn’t even a real agent yet.

“Thanks. I mean, you and tell him I said thanks,” she sighed with a shrug. “Sorry, I’m - I’m just tired, I -”

“I’ll leave you to rest,” Chiyoh reassured, gathering up her supplies and leaving the room with a pleasant, “Good night.”

“Night,” Clarice said back, and Chiyoh turned the light off as she left the room. Clarice could have turned the bedside table lamp on, but she didn’t have the energy for even that. Instead, she put the book and the pecan twirls on the bedside table. She curled herself into a ball, tangled up in the blankets, and had the fleeting thought that this shouldn’t feel normal. It shouldn't feel as safe as it does.

But exhaustion won out, and she was pulled back into sleep’s embrace.

Chapter Text

Clarice woke up the next morning, and for a few brief moments, she couldn’t remember where she was. Panic rose in her throat like bile, and she forced it back down when she gathered her thoughts.

Calm down, it’s fine. You’re a houseguest of Hannibal fucking Lecter and Will fucking Graham and you have absolutely no idea where you are. Everything is fucking peachy, she thought bitterly, sitting up in the bed. She considered smoking a cigarette out the window, but instead carefully maneuvered herself off the bed and onto her feet. Everything ached, inside and out, but the sun was streaming in through the window so she forced herself to clutch along the wall and sit down on the window seat and look through it.

It was a beautiful sunny day, grass was fluttering in the wind, there was a pool out the back deck, and she could tell she was on the top floor of at least a two-story house. She couldn't see anything else, however, for miles. It was just this house, surrounded by miles of space. Hell of a prison, she thought. She considered smoking a cigarette, but instead she brushed her hair with the brush left on her bedside table, and then slowly made her way to the closet and started looking for something to wear. She breathed out a sigh of relief to find a few pairs of jeans carefully folded away in a drawer, and slipped a pair on along with a saffron-colored button down before making her way to the door of her room. Honestly, she was surprised when she tried the knob and found it was unlocked. So slowly, very slowly, she turned the knob all the way and pushed the door open.

It swung open to reveal a long hallway, and an even larger house than she had thought. There was a long staircase near her room, covered in a lush rug that ran along the stairs and the hallway itself, a dark rich wine-red carpet that ended at the last door. Clarice decided to creep forward a little more, her leg almost gave out before she could clutch the opposite railing. There was a chandelier in the foyer. Clarice hadn’t been a house with a chandelier in it expect when doing interrogations or arrests, and that one time she went over to Sally Ann Brill’s house in the eighth grade. It was too clean, the house, absolutely spotless with the nicest furniture possible. She was surprised to see a TV but she assumed it had come with the house and they hadn’t bothered to remove it. Maybe they did watch TV, who knew. It was silent inside the house, and she could smell the remnants of something cooked in the kitchen.

It startled Clarice when the sound of skidding nails on the hardwood floors reached her ears, and she looked over the railing and saw a dog batting a red ball around on the foyer floor. It was a cute little mutt, and she almost forgot whose house this was. It seemed opulent, but not sinister in any way. When she tried to straighten up on the railing, she slipped and her leg knocked against one of the posts, making a sound that did not go unnoticed by the dog. The dog dropped the ball in its mouth and looked up to see her standing at the top of the stairs, and then it started barking. This little dog had the most piercing bark imaginable, and started racing up the stairs to growl and kept fucking barking at her. She harshly shushed it, but it kept barking and moving like it wanted to bite her.

“Shut up!” she hissed, keeping her voice down. “I don't want them to know I'm up. Do you want me to-”

“Calypso, stop that,” came the command from behind her, and the dog immediately stopped barking and rushed past Clarice to the source of the voice, she turned and saw Will Graham scratching behind the dog’s ears as they happily sniffed his shoes. With as much dignity as she could muster, she gripped the railing and stood up straighter as she made eye contact with Will.

“Calypso?” was the only thing she could think to say that wasn't incredibly pissed off and bitchy. It still had a shade of it, though. Will almost smiled.

“She only responds to commands with that name, and that tone,” Will responded, letting the dog sniff his hand. “I usually call her Callie, she doesn't like strangers much. She’ll stop barking when she sees you eventually.”

“Great,” Clarice said flatly. There was an awkward silence between them and she broke it out of nerves. “...so what are you doing?”

“Are you hungry?” Will asked instead of answering. “Hannibal was going to host breakfast up here, to not aggravate your stitching moving up and down the stairs. Do you-”

“I can walk,” she said, cutting him off halfway. She resisted the urge to grit her teeth. Will raised an eyebrow slightly, and she didn’t resist rolling her eyes. “I’m fine.”

Will nodded, looking as though he was not willing to push her further. Instead, he opened a pair of doors and left them open for her. “I’m going to help bring things up. If you need a hand-”

“I’m fine,” she insisted, and Will let her be as he walked past her, dog at his heels, and walked down the stairs. Clarice turned around, took a deep breath, and stepped quickly away from the railing and kept moving until she felt the pain get unbearable, and she clutched the door handle for support. The room had been a study of some sort at one point, but there was a tablecloth thrown over a small center table, and glasses and plates and silverware set out. She took the nearest seat and did her best to not collapse into it, and she drummed her fingers on the table. A sane person, even if they were injured, probably should have started trying to run for their lives and try to escape this place, fighting tooth and nail to get out.

Clarice decided that this place sapped your sanity as soon as you stepped through the doors. She could be given a pass in that regard.

The sounds footsteps on the stairs startled her, and she fought down the instinct to get up and run, mainly because the pain was getting worse the more she moved. Instead she kept sitting and watched as Hannibal and Will reentered the room holding plates of food and a glass pitcher of orange juice. They looked fucking normal, in house clothes made of soft fabric. She resisted the urge to not make eye contact, and instead straightened up in her chair as the plates are sat down at the table. Hannibal took a seat at the center chair, so Clarice is on his left and Will is on his right. Clarice tried to subtly move her chair farther away, even though she knew they’d definitely notice. Hannibal, thankfully, did not comment. Instead, he turned to her, smiling, and she finally looked away, down at her empty plate.

“Good morning, Clarice,” he said, conversationally.

“Good morning,” she said to her plate.

“I’m pleased you could join us for breakfast. Please, help yourself.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, then cleared her throat awkwardly as she accepted the pitcher of orange juice and began to pour it into her crystal glass. A portion of scrambled eggs with truffles and a piece of French toast with caramelized banana sauce were placed on her plate, and she said another thank-you in between sips of orange juice. She decided that she’d rather eat than talk, so she started with her eggs, stirring them around and not really looking up at anyone. She knew, though, that Hannibal wouldn’t let her off so easy.

“How are you feeling this morning, Clarice?” he asked conversationally, cutting through the French toast on his own plate. Clarice brought her fork down hard enough through the eggs so it clinked against the china, and remembered her vague manners Cotillion she’d been forced through in the orphanage, so she didn’t pile the food onto her fork.

She paused with the fork close to her lips before she replied with an abrupt, “Bad.”

“Are you in pain?” Hannibal inquired, stirring his coffee. “Where?”

“Everywhere,” Clarice shot back, her tone just a few shades under snapping at him. She couldn't help it, it was her gut reaction. “I’m exhausted, and it’s just a dull ache all over, inside and out. I’ll be fine, though,” she added, her fork tracing through the caramelized banana sauce.

“Would you like to discuss-”

“I am not discussing anything about my injury or the events that led up to it,” Clarice said through her teeth. She had to take a breath to calm herself back down, and she swore that she caught the faintest ghost of a smile on Will's lips before it vanished again.

“If you need anything, Clarice, you only have to let us know.”

“I don’t need anything from you,” she gritted out, her grip tightening on her fork. “I’m - I’ll be fine, Doctor. Thank you, though.”

“Of course, Clarice,” Hannibal smiled, and they all returned to their respective plates. It was quite, the air was brimming with just a little bit of tension. Will hadn’t said a word, instead focused on his food like her. Clarice couldn't take the fucking silence anymore, though. She dropped her fork and let it clang against the table, making both men look up. She couldn't keep the heat out of her glare as she stared back at both of them.

“Did you set this up?” she demanded. Will raised an eyebrow and she imagined Hannibal was doing the same. It didn't deter her from pressing forward. “Did you - all of this, that whole fu- that mess on the raid, did you set all sh- all of this up? Just to play a twisted version of house?”

Hannibal cocked his head slightly to the side, seemingly interested. “Why would we do that to you, Clarice?”

“You like to play games,” she responded, pouring more orange juice. “You like playing God. I had a Rumpelstiltskin promise to you: you spun gold for me to find Bill, you’re collecting on a deal now. You gave me my career, you can take it away.” She shrugged when she finished speaking. “You could have just let me bleed out, you know. No need to go to all of this hospitality.”

She put another forkful of French toast in her mouth and chewed it slowly, setting her fork down afterwards. “This is delicious,” she added as an afterthought. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Hannibal said warmly, as though he hadn’t even registered her bitter comments. She didn't know why, but that irked her slightly more than it should. She stabbed at her eggs in her attempt to vent out frustrations.

“However,” Hannibal pointing out, Will still not speaking a word, “You are incorrect. It was fate and circumstance that brought us together again, Clarice, outside forces, you understand.”

Clarice chewed through a slice of banana and smiled when she swallowed it. It was a glaringly fake smile. “Where’s Chiyoh?” she asked, not responding to his point.

“She declined the breakfast invitation, and is running some errands for us,” Hannibal replied, his fork slicing easily through the remnants of his eggs. “If you need anything, I can have her pick it up for you. Any hobbies to help pass the time? I wouldn't advise a lot of strenuous activity.”

Clarice twirled her fork in the sauce, and she thought for a moment. What did she want? Well, not to be here, but that wasn’t going to happen. Did she - did she have hobbies? She was a workaholic, she liked to read, occasionally TV, but ‘hobbies’ were things that require a lot of spare time and money, things Clarice never really had.

“A pack of cards,” she said finally, then added as she shrugged, “And - and I like fashion magazines. I just - I like looking at them, okay?”

Hannibal looked at her almost curiously, as though he hadn’t anticipated this answer. Almost intrigued. “I’ll send word to Chiyoh, she should be back later this afternoon. Would you care to have lunch with us later today while you wait for her?”

Clarice stared down at her plate. It was half empty, and she pushed it away even though she thought she could still eat more. “No. Thank you, though. I’m too tired to do much of anything right now.”

Hannibal nodded, setting his silverware down across his plate with Will copying the motion. “Understandable, Clarice. You need your rest.” He reached towards her and she couldn’t help but flinch. Hannibal noticed, but didn’t pause, instead continuing his reach and picking up the plate from in front of Clarice. “Allow me, I’ll let you rest for now. Chiyoh will be up after she returns to change your bandage. If it causes you any sharper pain, let me know at once.”

Clarice nodded, looking down at the empty space on the table. Hannibal could not help but note that she had never had problems with eye contact with him before. He brushed that thought aside and stood up from the table with her plate on top of his own, and picked up Will’s as well. Clarice thought about how everything was beautifully laid out on the table and it probably took so many dishes, and so many things to put away, that she had to - to pull her weight around here somewhere, make herself useful until they got bored with her. She gripped the side of the table, as thought she were about to attempt to stand. “I can-”

Hannibal looked at her with a curious sort of smile. “Clarice, you cannot make it down the stairs, and besides, you are our guest. Go and rest. You deserve it.”

And with that, he walked out the door and back down the stairs, back down to the kitchen and Clarice didn’t even want to think about how he was right. If she tried to walk down the stairs, she’d break her neck when she inevitably tripped and fell. She gripped the side of the table and finally stood up. When she could finally pick her eyes up, she saw Will had gotten up from his chair as well, and he was close to her and shooing Calypso away from her attempt at sniffing Clarice. They made some brief eye contact, and Clarice broke it first.

“You don’t need any more obstacles,” Will said, scratching behind Calypso’s ear and sending her out of the room. “And she has a tendency to follow at the heels.”

“Thanks,” Clarice said flatly, feeling her arms start to shake and her leg and the wound were hurting every time she took a deep breath. A dull ache that was slowly getting worse and worse. She could tell that Will was noticing her struggle. She wanted to put a hand out to push him away, but she couldn't risk it or she could collapse on the floor. So instead she spoke barbed words:“I’m - I’m fine, don’t you dare try to help me. If I - if I wanted sympathy, I’d look in the dictionary. It’s in between ‘shit’ and ‘syphillis.’ Just - just leave me alone.”

Will cocked his head to the side, looking her over as if he was deciding what to do. Clarice tried to stand up fully, but her hand slipped and she collapsed onto her chair again. Angry and upset with herself, she slammed her fist on the table in frustration.

“I’m - I’m fine,” she bit out again, knowing that she was lying through her teeth. “I don’t - I don’t want help. Or pity.”

Will stepped closer and she was too tired to flinch away. He was more relaxed than she had ever seen him, like he was finally in his true environment. He kicked at a loose thread of the carpet and then looked back at her. “I know you don’t want sympathy, or pity, or a touch, or anything like that,” he said, in a gentle tone, trying to set her at ease.

“Because you have empathy?” Clarice fired back, almost a mean joke but it didn’t quite make it there. Will shrugged, that small smile coming back.

“Maybe. So I’m not going to offer you any of that. No pity, none of that.”

Clarice let out a breath, more out of sheer exhaustion than annoyance. “Okay. I’ll bite. What are you offering?”

Will kept his arms folded, hands tucked away. He made no attempt to move, he made no attempt at all. “Not help,” he admitted, finally. “But something I needed once: support.”

Clarice mulled over the words in her mouth and her mind, taking another deep breath to try and decide what to do. Then she shakily got to her feet, the pain hitting her in even deeper places than before. And then, very decidedly, she reached her hand out and rested it on Will’s shoulder. He didn’t budge, he just let her tighten her grip so she could find her footing. When she was adjusted, she stated calmly, “I just - I just want to go to my room. I just want to sleep.”

Will nodded. He never unfolded his arms, and he only took a step when she did, and they were very slow steps. She felt stupid, useless, weak, and she wanted to cry out of frustration but Will didn’t say a word. It was almost comforting. There wasn’t any constant reassurance or head-patting or telling her that it was all okay, that she was okay. He was just letting her use him to walk to her room, just her most basic request. She didn’t like to think about how long it took to reach her room that was only two doors down from the old study. Will, again, didn’t even comment until they reached her door.

“Need anything else?” Will asked, and Clarice could almost smile.

“I’m going to smoke, that’s what I need. A smoke and a nap,” she declared, and she could just make out Will’s smile as he nodded.

“Can you walk from here?” he asked, and Clarice nodded, then bit her lip and looked at the carpet.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“It’s fine,” Will parroted her words back to her and startled a near laugh from her. It made her feel just slightly better. She let go of his shoulder and opened the door, stepping inside and watched Will start down the stairs before closing her door, going to the window seat, and taking out another cigarette.

 

The rest of the day passed as a blur. She smoked three cigarettes in ninety minutes and fell asleep in her bed, drifting in and out of consciousness for hours at a time. When she felt better, it was late evening, and Chiyoh had come in to apply a clean bandage. She came bearing gifts: a pack of cards, all the good fashion magazines she liked, a few more packs of cigarettes, and a cane (in case you’d like to walk down the stairs, according to Chiyoh). Since she’d slept through lunch, Chiyoh also brought up dinner: grilled brie cheese sandwiches with Granny Smith apples slices inside, with carrots and tahini on the side. Clarice looked up from her issue of Elle at Chiyoh, who was making to clear away her dishes. The question had been nagging at her since she woke up in this place, and the words escaped her mouth before she could stop them:

“How did I get here?” she asked. “And - and before you say anything vague, because I’m tired of the vagueness around here, I just have to know how and why. Why didn’t I just bleed out like I-”

“If you say ‘should have’ I will remove those words from your lips,” Chiyoh interrupts sharply, taking a seat at the table again. “Because you did not deserve such a fate.”

“I don’t believe in fate,” Clarice muttered, falling back on the bed and hitting her head against the headboard. Chiyoh pursed her lips slightly before speaking.

“What is the last thing you remember, Clarice?”

Clarice forced herself to bring up the memories of that day again, and then just as quickly shook them away. “I - I don’t know. I just remember the - the entire world exploding in red in front of me. And then nothing.”

There was a hint of a sparkle in Chiyoh’s eyes as she began to tell Clarice what had happened.

 

 

“Pathetic,” Evelda Drumgo muttered, and just as one of her guys was about to finish Starling off, there was a gunshot and he dropped dead to the ground. She whirled her head around but could not find the source of the blast.

Chiyoh cocked her rifle again from the top of the building, and her phone dialed the only number inside of it. It was answered on the second ring. “Chiyoh.”

“Hannibal,” she answered coolly as she examined the bloodbath below her. “You need to cut your lunch short. There’s been an...incident.” She gave the address and hangs up, and then picked off the leftover Drumgo goons one by one before descending back down to the street level.

Hannibal and Will arrived in short time, having been enjoying lunch no more than a few streets away. Chiyoh handed over the first aid kit and both men kneel beside Clarice. She turns away, her task being to dispose of the bodies of Drumgo's goons.

Clarice was a mess, and Hannibal tsked at the state before him. “Chiyoh, I instructed you to keep her safe.”

Chiyoh held up the bloodstained baby blanket left behind by Evelda and raised an eyebrow. “I could not anticipate Evelda’s actions would stoop this low. Decoy, played to Clarice's sympathies.”

Both Hannibal and Will’s lips curled slightly at that, before turning back to Clarice, who was starting to breathe shallower and shallower, and her tears were unable to stop flowing.

“Shhh, shhh,” Hannibal soothed gently as he rolled up his sleeves, and Will opened the first aid kit for the suture kit. He pressed firmly on her sternum, and she coughed weakly. He then pressed his hand against her forehead to check the temperature. Burning.

“Well?” Will asked, threading the needle.

“The bullet didn’t puncture a lung, she’s lucky,” Hannibal noted as he accepted the needle from Will as he pushed Clarice’s shirt up just enough to reveal the bullet wound. “The leg wound is mostly superficial, also lucky. Here, press down on the wound for me.”

Will cleaned the wound before Hannibal stitched it up, even as the shock from the wound was causing Clarice to start reflexively twitching and still making sounds and tears. “Shhh, shhh,” Hannibal hushed again, the needle pulling the skin back together. “This isn’t fair, is it Clarice? You were put up to this, on your pedestal, and they pushed you right off and let you break. It’s alright, Clarice, it’s alright. You did so well, you did so well…” Hannibal continues with gentle words and sounds to get her to calm back down, but she was still shaking and crying out even when the wound was stitched back up. Fever and hallucinations are often results of gunshot trauma, Hannibal noted.

“I’ll get the car,” Will offered, reaching his fingers into Hannibal’s pants pocket to retrieve the keys. “Can you-”

“Of course,” Hannibal reassured, letting his fingers brushed against Will’s, making them both smile. “Hurry, please, I want to let her rest.” Will nodded, turning away to drive the car up close to the alleyway to avoid being seen. As he left, Hannibal removed his dark-colored suit jacket and bent down again, wrapping it around Clarice and was pleased to see that it helped stop the convulsing. Perhaps she was imagining she was freezing in addition to burning up in fever. Then he picked her up and adjusted her in his arms so he wouldn’t be putting pressure on either of her wounds, and once again, Clarice always surprised him. Her head fell against his shoulder of her own accord and remained there.

 

“And after they had you set up in your room here, I was sent to purchase clothes and other items for you, and then you awoke. And here you are,” Chiyoh finished, getting to her feet. Clarice couldn't find the words to respond to her. Chiyoh picked up the dishes and made her way to the door. “If you need anything, let one of us know.”

“Thank you,” Clarice murmured. “I mean, tell them that-”

“I will deliver the message,” Chiyoh said in response, then shut the door behind her and walked down the stairs. Clarice pulled the blanket over her head and fell back asleep soon afterwards, exhaustion pulled at every fiber of her being.

Chiyoh finished washing the dishes from upstairs and set them out on the drying rack, before stepping into the living room area to retrieve the novel she had left on the coffee table. Hannibal and Will were seated on the couch together, Will preoccupied with petting the dog in his lap and Hannibal engrossed in his tablet. And yet, their hands were intertwined, Hannibal’s thumb stroking over the gold band on Will’s finger. Chiyoh retrieved her novel and was about to turn to retreat to her own guest room on this level when Hannibal looked up at her.

“How is she?”

“The bullet wounds, they are healing well. Any other wounds are still too raw to attempt to fix at the moment, Hannibal. And I told her about how she came to be here.”

Both men nodded. Will asked, “Does she know about the spiderwebs she’s tangled in, now?”

“The Verger web? No,” Chiyoh declares, then walked to her room. She paused in the doorframe. “I also did not inform her that she was crying out for her father in delirium.”

Chapter Text

Alana drummed her fingers on her desk, before picking up her pen and held it between her teeth as she opened up her laptop and started to type. Her frustration was evident as she tapped out a lot harder than normal. The botched raid on Evelda Drumgo operation was splashed all over the news, and it had gone even worse than Alana had planned. Margot was sipping from her cup of French roast and unwrapping a package of Hostess-brand cupcakes with her sharp crimson red fingernails. She removed one cupcake and placed it in a napkin on Alana’s desk and they shared a smile and a wordless thanks. It was peaceful, quiet, and she turned back to her laptop as Margot went to sit down in her favorite leather chair in the office. Alana didn’t stop typing until there was a knock at the door.

“Doc?”

Alana didn’t hold back an annoyed eyeroll. “Get in here.”

Jameson opened the door and slunk in, letting it slam shut behind him and he sighed, flopping down onto another chair. “You wanted to talk to me?”

“Yes,” Alana replied in a clipped tone. “You screwed up.”

Jameson groaned, clasping his hands together as he leaned forward. “I didn’t f- screw it up, Doc, I did what you said. I went and ripped off Evelda for the raid. We didn’t know she’d make it into a bloodbath. I told her not to-”

Alana’s eyes narrowed, and she folded her arms across each other at the desk and gave him a hard look. “We both know that’s not true, Aaron.”

Jameson scoffed, throwing his head back to stretch his neck out against the back of the chair. He scoffed again, as though what she was proposing was absolutely ludicrous. “Come on, I mean, why would I-”

“Jealousy is a powerful motivator,” Alana replied simply. “That’s why it was easy for you to agree to assist us. You were jealous of Clarice because you both started at the same time and she was advancing farther than you were.”

“Advanced,” Jameson emphasized, stressing the past tense in his words. “And so what? She fucked it up. Gave her enough rope and she hanged herself with it.”

“But you’re still sour about the whole rivalry,” Alana stated, looking bored. “I didn’t hire you to feed said rivalry.”

Jameson just groaned as he sat up straight again. “Doc, she’s a fucking martyr now, have you seen the news? Three fucking days, they’re waiting to see if she’ll come back like Jesus or something. They think she’s a martyr, they’ll start looking for her, they’ll start digging around. Besides, like, do you think she’s even still-”

“If Evelda had Clarice, she’d be using her as leverage against us at the moment,” Margot interrupted, also looking bored with the conversation.

Alana nodded in agreement before speaking up herself. “And if she was actually dead they would have found her by now.”

“So you think she’s a fucking pet for them now or something?”

“I don’t know,” Alana declared, leaning back in her chair. “But that’s not quite my current concern. You’re here because you’re afraid that you’re going to be traced back to me during the investigation.”

“Uh, yeah? I fucking called Evelda like you said, she took it too far and five people not including Starling are dead. My career on the line.”

“You volunteered for this.”

“What does that-”

“Shut up and let me finish,” Alana said coldly, picking out a file from the open drawer from the desk. She removed a few more from the other drawer and set them out in a spiral pattern. “The only difference between a martyr and a pariah is public perception. So, to make it simple, we’re going to shift the public paradigm. I’ll pull some strings, put you in charge of the Starling investigation.”

Jameson leaned forward then, looking intrigued. “And what am I going to do in there?”

Alana shoved the files in his direction. “Go wild,” she said dryly. “But do not mention Hannibal Lecter.”

“What? Why-”

“First, I don’t want his attention when we’re scrambling to make another move. Second, the public is not going to care that Hannibal and Will had contact with Clarice. They’ll be interested, sure, but no one will care that much. They’re a fairy tale evil, that’s not going to make the public upset. They love stories like that. We need them to be angry with her.”

“What does?”

Alana’s smile was paper thin. “Betrayal is a strong, strong emotion that sweeps up a crowd. Clarice Starling was the golden child for the FBI, but as soon as people catch wind that she turned her back, they’ll turn away faster and take the heat away from us. It’s already starting to get bounced around, after all, she’s gone.”

Jameson nodded. “Ohhh. Soooo….we’re covering ourselves up by ‘exposing’ Starling.”

“Exactly. And it shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, Lucifer was the favorite child, once. And that made his fall from grace and his clipped wings that much harder to swallow. So clip her wings so she doesn't fly back up. Because if she crawls back out of Hell she won’t be alone. Make her stay down.”

Jameson nodded again, getting up and gathering the field. “I got you, Doc. Just give me some time to piece together something good, are these files-”

“Real?” Alana finished, her smile not moving like it was laminated on. “They’re real enough for people to believe them. And that’s all that really counts.”

“You know, uh, Starling has a roommate. They were...close. Like, really close.”

“I’m aware.”

“Should I-”

“She’s not a threat at the moment, she’s in grief. If she starts poking around then I’ll be concerned, but someone working on the counterfeiting ring in DC and having lost their closest friend will have a difficult time pulling themselves back together enough to start their own investigation,” Alana declared. Jameson shrugged, flipping through the papers as he turned back to the door. He was already working on his latest assignment, and Alana opened her laptop to wire money to his account. Margot was finishing sending an email from a different phone to a few local papers, leaking out a false document that linked Clarice Starling to colluding with Evelda Drumgo. But their work was interrupted when the door swung open again and Samuel raced in, papers in hand and ran to the side of Alana’s desk.

“Mommy!” he squealed, and she gasped in pretend surprise, as did Margot as she scooped him up into his lap. He giggled. “Mommy, I drew you and Mama pictures!”

“Really?” Alana grinned, and Margot got up from the chair to join them. “Wow, they’re so good! That’s all of us in the pictures?”

“Yep!”

Margot ruffled his hair and kissed the top of his head as Alana held him tighter. “Hey, share him, Alana, that’s not fair.”

“I carried him, remember?”

“Yeah, but you used that excuse so I’d get up in the middle of the night, it’s losing its edge,” Margot teased, and Alana attempted to glare. It failed miserably, as they dissolved into more laughter. “Fine. So kiddo, Mommy’s got to finish a phone call real quick, you want to ride your pony with Mama until dinner?”

Samuel squealed with excitement. “Mommy, can we?”

“Of course, sweetie,” Alana smiled, kissing his cheek and he gagged exaggeratedly and she pretended to be hurt. “Oh come on, you’re still my baby.” She kissed his cheek again and he couldn't help but giggle. “Aha, knew it. Okay, go have fun with Mama while I finish this boring stuff.”

“Bye Mommy!” Samuel said excitedly, hopping off her lap and running to his room as he claimed that he needed his stuffed giraffe to ride his pony with him. Margot and Alana smiled after him, and the smiles faded a little when they turned to each other. Alana’s face hardened as she picked her phone up again and met Margot’s eyes.

“I’ll be damned if any of this-” she gestured in the direction of her home, her son’s room, and her wife who was nodding in agreement, “-gets taken away from us. Nothing and nobody, is going to ruin what we have. I promise, Margot.”

Margot smiled back at her. It was a weak smile, but Margot’s weak smiles were brimming with strength. It was one of the things Alana had fallen in love with in the beginning.

“I know, Alana,” Margot reassured. “I know you’ll do anything. We’ll do anything. But I swear to god, babe, if Jameson fucks up again I’m throwing his ass to the wolves myself.”

Alana could only smile as she dialed a number.

Chapter Text

It’s amazing what can evolve in the proper in environment, and with plenty of time. Clarice decided that she was an example of the phenomena. She supposed she could have found a key to the outside and she could have run for it by now, but she didn’t. She hadn’t even tried.

Clarice found out by the end of her first four days as a houseguest of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham that she had been correct at the beginning of their stay: divine providence had not brought them together.

The Verger-Bloom web had.

She had scoffed into her daily glass of orange juice when she had learned this information, but inside it had hurt. She’d promised to help Alana, to keep her safe, but she hadn’t realized Alana wanted bait for a trap, not protection.

After she was told this, that she was to be a flame to attract moths (how fucking fitting) she ate a bite and scrambled eggs and let the fork clang against the china as she shakily got to her feet. Then she said simply: “I never should have opened my mouth after Crawford’s lecture.”

She figured her hosts could smell the hurt from her, like a pheromone, so she buried it deep down and let it fester inside with the resentment and frustration.

She’d kept a tally of days, one, two, three, five, eight, seventeen, and on and on until she realized it had been almost three weeks since she’d been outside. Ardelia would have told her by now to step outside for once, get some sun, walk around.

Clarice couldn’t hold back brimming tears whenever she thought about Ardelia. She’d made her a promise, she’d promised to come back, but not only had she failed to deliver on that promise, she’d failed entirely. Ardelia believed in the best of her, she knew that. But now she felt that there wasn’t any best left in her at all. She left the copy of Murder on the Orient Express on the bookshelf in her room. It had been one of Ardelia’s very favorites.

“Ardelia,” Clarice chided mockingly, watching her roommate lay back on their worn couch as she read that damn book yet again and chewed on a bite of a grapefruit section carved from the fruit in the bowl beside her, “What’s the point of reading a mystery again if you already know who did it?”

“Because I want to know exactly how it was done, girl,” was Ardelia’s response, just as teasing. “Every phrase, every word, every punctuation mark is a clue in disguise. I like going back and finding the ones I've missed.”

Clarice pulled down Murder on the Orient Express from the shelf one day, opened it to the first page, but her tears blurred out the words before she could turn to the next one. She kept the book on her bedside table as a sort of comfort for a good four days before she tucked it back into the shelf. She didn't want that reminder anymore.

Ardelia didn’t deserve to be sucked into this mess. What Ardelia deserved was a clean break. She’d let her down, broken her promise. Once you break trust, you can’t ever get it back. So she left the book on the shelf and didn’t touch it again.

 

It took a week before Clarice hobbled down the stairs with a cane to eat breakfast down there instead of it being brought up to the study again, where she’d been consuming it every day since her arrival. She was annoyed that neither of them seemed surprised to see her downstairs, even if Hannibal seemed slightly pleased with her progress. Chiyoh was not there for breakfast. In fact, she hadn’t been around much at all. Once Clarice had learned to apply her own bandage, Chiyoh wasn’t around the house much. She hadn’t been told where she had gone. She surmised that it was pointless to ask. Therefore, she had been sharing every meal with her hosts, relaxing.

“Are you familiar with the Defenestration of Prague, Clarice?” Hannibal had asked as he dried a glass with a clean rag after breakfast. Will had taken Callie outside for a morning walk. Clarice stirred her cup of raspberry tea and and looked up at him unimpressed.

“Somewhat,” she said finally. “Only vaguely.”

Hannibal seemed to brighten at that, of course he would. He loved when he could ‘teach’ her something, she surmised. “It was a cataclysmic event that led to the start of the Thirty Years’ War. The Protestant officials of Prague called together a meeting to uphold their station as the lords of the land, and found local Catholic officials guilty of treason. Therefore, they were thrown out the window, but both men survived. They claimed the Virgin Mary herself broke their fall so they escaped fairly unharmed. Perhaps that is similar to your own fall.”

“The Virgin Mary saved them?” Clarice answered, tilting her head in mock surprise before saying flatly, “Really? I always heard they landed in the pile of shit in the castle moat. That’s what broke their fall.”

A smile crossed Hannibal's face as he placed the glass back in the cabinet with a clink. “Spoken like a true Protestant.”

Clarice could feel a small smile pulling at her lips, of its own accord. Hannibal returned the smile. And just for a moment, they were entirely level, and it was terrifying yet comforting all at once.

 

Clarice felt like her time here was numbered. Eventually they would tire of her, probably kill her, and eat her. Kind of like raising livestock; caring for it until it outlived its usefulness and then had to be consumed to fulfil its purpose. She relayed these thoughts to Will when Hannibal was occupied elsewhere. She was smoking out the window of the sunroom, and Will hadn’t commented on it; rather, he had suggested that she smoke out there as the best option until she was comfortable walking outside.

“You know,” she said bluntly, breathing the smoke out through the window as Callie sniffed at her ankle, Will watching her. Hannibal had mentioned her first week here that smoking was unhealthy. Her response had been “so are bullet wounds.”

“I read a fucked up story in Newsweek,” she continued, flicking the butt out the window, “that said that a pig tastes better if it was happy when it lived. I don’t know who was measuring that kind of data, but all I’ll say is that a few weeks of care is not going to make up for a lifetime of bitterness.”

Will nearly smiled, and she matched his expression. “Noted,” he said bluntly. She didn’t know if he had told Hannibal what she said, but she’d have bet her still working leg that he did. Hannibal never mentioned it.

 

Now that Clarice was somewhat safe, she felt herself pushing her boundaries.

When she first sat at one of the couches on the ground level, her repressed manners Cotillion training kicked in. She sat ramrod straight, legs crossed at the ankles, staring straight ahead and making direct eye contact. Hannibal’s posture, though it was perfect, seemed at ease with the position. Will, on the other hand, lounged back in his chair with a slouched posture. Clarice just felt awkward.

Now, two weeks into her stay, she made her way to the fine couch in the sitting area after breakfast and she propped her feet right up on the polished, antique coffee table and found she didn’t care if she got it dirty. She waited for a reprimand, a knife, something like that. It never came. Instead, all she got was Callie scrambling onto the couch with her and whining until Clarice let her onto her lap. She briefly remembered how Catherine Martin had adopted Jame Gumb’s dog after the entire mess had ended, and found a shred of irony in her own position. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Will take a seat in the opposite chair, propping his own feet up on the coffee table as though the old walnut word wasn't worth much to him. He leaned back as Hannibal offered a morning Bloody Mary (funny, Clarice had thought.) Will accepted, and Clarice shook her head when she was offered one as well. Hannibal nodded, then let his eyes drift over to the coffee table before he looked back down at Will.

“I assume you will repolish the finish?” Hannibal asked into a sip of his own cocktail. Will shrugged after taking a swig of his drink before looking back at Hannibal.

“You can assume,” Will conceded, adjusting his posture before flashing a brief smile in his direction. “But I wouldn’t place bets on it.”

Clarice hid her smile in Callie’s fur.

 

“‘I am no bird, and no net ensnares me,’” Hannibal quoted as he retrieved his iPad from the coffee table in the sitting room, three weeks into Clarice’s stay. Clarice barely looked up from her copy of Jane Eyre, from where she was sprawled out onto the couch and propping her feet up at the end of it. It was probably bad that she was starting to feel comfortable here. It was probably worse that she just didn't care.

“I didn’t take you as a fan of Victorian literature, doctor,” she said in return, because honestly, how do you respond to the random quotations she was subjected to at least three times a day? Hannibal took a seat in his leather chair in the corner of the room and slid his finger across the screen to unlock the iPad. Will was elsewhere, apparently.

“Not very much so. I have a slight penchant for Brontë, however.”

“Hmm,” Clarice hummed, sounding disinterested, not looking up from her pages. “That doesn’t surprise me.”

“No?”

“No,” she repeated, turning a page. “There’s not really much that can surprise me here at this point.”

Hannibal smiled at her, then looked back down at whatever he was reading. He seemed quite absorbed by it.

“Tattle Crime?” Clarice asked, interrupting him. She was being rude on purpose, she was pushing her limits. “I remember after Gumb she put my face on a shirt and sold it with the Murder Husbands ones. She put some sort of slogan on it before she had to take them down.”

“I noticed. I wonder what caused her to change her mind. Freddie Lounds is rather headstrong.”

Because my headstrong roommate threatened her with a libel lawsuit, Clarice almost said, and then she felt her heart ache. Instead, she just shrugged. Hannibal seemed to know there was something under the surface. He didn’t push the matter, going back to his article, but looking up when he heard Clarice actually laugh to herself. He smiled as she looked back up. “Something amusing, Clarice?”

Clarice just snickered, meanly, to herself before finally looking back up and resting her book on her chest. “I guess Miss Jean at the orphanage was right after all.”

“How so?” Hannibal said, amused as well.

“Well she always said if I didn’t straighten up, the devil was going to get me some day,” she sighed, almost wistful, but mocking nonetheless. “I don't think this is what she had in mind, however.”

Clarice's smile matched Hannibal's before they returned to their respective novels.

 

Will finished flossing in the bathroom mirror that night and came back into the bedroom to find Hannibal paused in his task of undoing his cufflinks in order to stroke behind Callie’s ears as she lounged on their bed.

“I thought ‘the little hellhound’ wasn’t allowed on the bed,” Will said with a raised eyebrow as he leaned in the doorframe. Hannibal looked up from his task, not a flicker of guilt on his face.

“I was scolding her,” was his smooth response. A blatant lie, and they both knew it. Even Callie seemed to know, as she licked at Hannibal’s hand before wiggling off the bed and scurried away to Will for yet another scratch. He granted her wish and straightened back up as Hannibal went back to undoing his cufflinks and set them down on the dresser. Will adjusted his position on as he leaned against the wall and watched Hannibal brush his hair from his face.

“You know we won’t get another chance,” Will stated, even if he phrased it as a question. this thought had been in the back of their minds ever since a month ago when they'd fled Montenegro ahead of the hired Verger bounty hunters. Hannibal turned from the mirror on the vanity to face him as he continued speaking. “No FBI recapture, no Verger vigilante recapture. They’ll put us down as soon as they get the chance.”

Hannibal stepped away from the vanity and towards Will, until they were so close their chests were nearly brushing. Hannibal tilted his head slightly, amusement evident on his face. Perhaps the wrong expression, but it was there nonetheless. “And this troubles you, Will? That we may be taken away from each other by force yet again?”

Will looked up at him through his lashes, tilting his head back and exposing his neck. His fingers reached up to trace across the top button of Hannibal’s shirt and toyed with it. “No,” he answered finally, his lip catching between his teeth as he looked up and met his eyes. He smiled, small and teasing. “I’m just - concerned.”

“Concerned?”

“Yes,” Will answered, leaning in even closer. “If anyone’s going to kill you, it’s going to be me.”

“I see. You’ve thought about this.”

“Oh yes. For years. I hope you would share a similar sentiment, doctor,” Will’s voice dropped to low purr on the last word, and Hannibal’s smile grew teeth in response. Will undid the top button completely and pulled Hannibal into a kiss by the loose shirt that started slowly and got more passionate as the seconds ticked by. Hannibal’s hands came up and cupped the side of Will's face as they continued kissing, his thumb stroking against the scar on his cheek.

Chapter Text

The day Clarice could finally stand up straight and didn’t feel a jabbing pain in her side, the day she could finally stand to take a shower, was the day she noticed her hair had gotten much larger than her bob cut style. Now it started to reach just past her shoulders, slightly curled at the edges. She stared in her foggy mirror at her reflection, and she barely recognized herself. She hadn’t kept her hair this long since childhood.

She put on a maroon paisley blouse, one of the nicer items of clothing in the closet, as she slowly started accepting wearing the fancier ones as opposed to a few flannels and basic around-the-house pants. When she got down the stairs for breakfast, Will was finishing feeding Callie and Hannibal was poaching eggs. Clarice nodded a ‘good morning’ greeting and opened the fridge to remove the orange juice and the glasses chilling in the top shelf. Before she came here she had no idea you could chill glasses for cocktails, if it even made a difference, but apparently if she was going to drink in the morning, she should use a chilled glass. That was another thing, she finally let herself drink around here now. Never to excess, she needed to remain aware, but cigarettes only relieved so much stress. Hannibal smiled at her as she set the glasses out before she began to pour.

“You look nicer today than perhaps every day I’ve seen you, baring our first meeting, Clarice.”

“That’s nice,” she said flatly, uncapping the vodka bottle to make a screwdriver. “But looks are an accident, Doctor.”

“If comeliness were earned, you’d still be beautiful, Clarice. You do need to acknowledge your finer points, it aids in recovery.”

“Hmm,” Clarice hummed as she poured a shot of vodka into her orange juice. She added one to Will’s glass as well before finally turning to Hannibal. “Do you want one?”

“I would enjoy anything you prepare, Clarice, thank you.”

Clarice didn’t give a full scoff, but she was sure Hannibal heard it regardless. She wasn’t sure why but she kept picking at the both them. Being rude, being short and harsh with her words, not playing along with whatever this was. She didn’t know why she needed to push against them every time they extended courtesy, but she kept doing it. She poured the vodka into the orange juice, and set the glasses on the table before taking her seat. Her hosts joined her, and breakfast was a usual quiet meal of crêpes with a hazelnut-chocolate drizzle and strawberries. Will flicked a strip of bacon across the floor for Callie to chase after, and the sunlight streamed in through the window.

 

“I read Dr. Du Maurier’s dissertation on you crazy sons of bitches when I was on the Buffalo Bill case,” Clarice said offhandedly one evening from where she was lounging on the couch, Stoker’s Dracula her book of choice. Hannibal looked amused at that as he used a corkscrew on a bottle of merlot. Will, however, looked like he’d swallowed something sour as he held out his wine glass for a refill, a wish Hannibal granted.

“Knew we shouldn’t have stopped at the leg,” Will muttered into the glass, and Clarice didn’t bother hiding her smile behind her book. Poke, poke, poke. Why did she keep pushing this?

Instead of pondering that thought, she tucked it away and kept speaking, “And I think she was wrong in one analogy.”

Hannibal tilted his head interest like a cat before settling in his chair as Will turned to her and posed the question: “And what is that?”

“You’re the Bride of Frankenstein, she ran away after creation, didn’t accept it,” Clarice declare, tapping her longer fingernail against the spine of her book. “You’re one of Dracula’s brides. Sounds pretty accurate to me.”

Will seemed a little more amused, sitting back on his own chair and whistling for the dog, who scurried in for scratches and belly rubs. Hannibal twisted the stem of his wineglass in one hand, apparently in thought before he spoke up: “Then does that make you poor Jonathan Harker, Clarice?”

“Jonathan Harker was useless,” was her abrupt reply as she turned the page. “He barely helps in the manhunt for Dracula and didn’t even realize he was in the vampire’s lair until it was too late. I knew what I was getting into when Jack Crawford dropped a binder with your name stamped on it into my lap.”

“And yet you accepted?”

“Hero’s journey. Initial refusal of the call.”

“Indeed,” Hannibal replies smoothly, having another sip of wine as he holds their shared eye contact. “I must tell you, Clarice, that when I was informed that Jack Crawford was sending an agent to speak with me on a case, I intended to break them down. It was rather dull in there, you understand, Frederick had a tendency to blast gospel programs whenever he felt like indulging on a power trip.”

“That’s the worst kind of punishment,” Clarice said absently, turning another page. “I had to watch three hours a day after I accidentally ripped out a page of the hymnal when I lived at the orphanage.”

Hannibal immediately latched onto that little shred of a revealing piece of her childhood. “Trying to put the fear of God into you?”

Clarice only shrugged, an awkward motion due to the fact that she was practically laying down on the couch. She was expecting Hannibal to press forward, she wasn’t expecting him to offer a tidbit of his own: “My orphanage was rather dull, as well. I would have enjoyed those programs to start theological discussions with the others.”

So, he was an orphan. It didn’t pull at Clarice’s heartstrings, however. You make your choices in life, upbringings may play a part but ultimately everyone decides their own actions. She could see why he could have snapped: one ruler against the knuckles too many, she could have her own body count.

Her stomach sank when she realized that she still did.

“Nothing happened to me there, Clarice,” Hannibal said, interrupting the thoughts he was reading, as usual. “I happened. And I imagine the same holds true for you.”

Clarice turned another page, and ended the conversation abruptly without so much as a by-your-leave or kiss-my-ass. And it was quiet again.

 

Today, after breakfast and Will running Callie outside for her exercise, Clarice was seated at the counter with her raspberry tea as Hannibal cleaned the dishes. Clarice was finishing her tea before she planned to get up and help dry. She figured by pulling her weight she’d be kept around longer.

“Do you feel trapped here, Clarice?” Hannibal asked, adjusting a sleeve that had slipped down from where it had been rolled up at the elbows. Clarice shrugged.

“I mean, I trapped myself, Doctor,” she said back. “If I tried to run I wouldn’t get far. I got myself shot. I listened to Crawford. It’s my own fault. No use crying over it.”

“That doesn’t answer my question, Clarice.”

“It doesn’t?” she asked back, a few shades under sarcasm as she stirred her tea. “I thought it did.”

Hannibal smiled, yet again. Nothing she did was aggravating him. She was pretty sure that he’d killed people for far less than any of her deeds. He set the dish down on the drying rack and reached for the iPad to pass it over to Clarice.

“If you wanted to use, this all you needed to do was ask,” Hannibal offered, picking up another plate and the sponge.

“Why would I want to?”

“Curiosity?”

Again, Clarice shrugged, accepting the iPad and unlocking it only to find a headline screaming FBI AGENT FALLS FROM GRACE with her picture under it. Her stomach twisted up into a knot. She looked up to glare daggers at Hannibal before she gave into the pull and read over the article.

Oh god. There were pictures. So many pictures.

Brigham was dead. Four other agents, also dead. There was a picture of the funeral. Too many caskets. Too many sad faces and tears.

More pictures of the crime scene, of bodies and blood running off into the drains and staining the alley. The worst picture was the baby blanket Evelda had used, all crumpled into a knot and coated in blood and dirt and grime.

And she knew she shouldn’t have, but she started reading the articles, and Hannibal looked up at the surprised, shocked, upset noise that came out of Clarice’s mouth. He knew what it said. He’d left open at least eight tabs of the story the FBI had spun.

Clarice Starling, formerly the most controversial agent in recent years, had (according to FBI detailing) been in league with Evelda Drumgo to receive cutbacks from the drug sales. There was paperwork in her office. There were bills. A Glock 22 with her fingerprints had been found at the scene. It matched the bullet wounds on Brigham, shot close range. And the baby blanket - Clarice’s nails dug into the countertop when another article claimed that Evelda Drumgo had been setup while she was simply out on a trip to the market with her baby. And the baby - Clarice - Clarice Starling was responsible for the loss of - oh god so much blood on the little giraffes and the tears on the edges - so much blood it hurts it hurts make it stop make it stop stop crying stop crying stop crying STOP CRYING -

“What is heavier, Atlas?” Hannibal quotes from his own work, quietly but loud enough that Clarice still heard him above the roaring in her ears. “The weight of the world or your own heart?”

Clarice was familiar with her current emotion. She had felt it exactly once before: when she was learning to drive and had hit the gas instead of the brake. She’d just hit the wall, not enough to hurt anyone or damage the car but the raw nerves and bile in her throat had been feeling she never wanted to experience again. She was experiencing it again now.

But the straw that really broke her back was a variation of a sentence found in every single article she read:

We reached out to Starling’s roommate, Special Agent Ardelia Mapp, for her response. She refused to comment on the situation or their relationship.

After reading a version of this sentence over six times, too many tears had gathered in her eyes to continue and she had to press her hands against her face, over her eyes, so that her tears wouldn’t drip onto the marble counter. The hand that came to rest on her shoulder caused her to flinch hard enough that it was more like a convulsion, and the hand went away.

Suddenly that deep, deep sadness she felt was replaced with blistering anger that had been festering for - years, if she was honest. She couldn’t think about that at this moment, however.

All she could think about was the simple pleasure of sweeping her plate and glass of orange juice onto the spotless kitchen floor. The shattering of the crystal, the plate splintering into tiny pieces, the remains of eggs and syrup and toast all mixing into one ugly, sticky mess on the tile. It almost felt good, to ruin the immaculate nature of the kitchen. But Clarice was too angry, too upset to feel much of anything else.

Hannibal, predictably, did not react the way she guessed she wanted him to. He barely raised an eyebrow at her ruining not only his expensive china but the food he had prepared as well. Instead, he simply turned around to look for a dish towel and start cleaning the mess before it stained the tile.

Clarice felt herself getting angrier.

She didn't - she didn't want her mess to be cleaned up. She imagined the stain seeping all the way into the ground, so deep it couldn't be scrubbed out.

Her fingers curled around the knife used to cut the bread without thinking and she stood up from her chair as Hannibal damped the cloth under the faucet. She stepped behind him, unable to hear her own footsteps, her heart racing in her ears, and she wasn't even sure what she was doing, she just knew she wanted to do it.

She still had two feet of ground to cover when she raised her fist clenched around the knife and took one more step forward and blinked.

When she reopened her eyes she felt the tight grasp on her wrist and Hannibal looking at her, almost amused again.

"Clarice," he scolded, as though she was the dog Will was waking who had made a mess of her food bowl. She didn't let him continue, trying to yank her hand away so she could do something against him, make him upset with her, make him angry with her. His grip only tightened.

"Clarice, this is a natural response. You are agitated, it is-"

She let go of the knife and it clattered to the ground, Hannibal smoothly moving himself away from the falling blade. The sound it made when it scraped the tile was equivalent to nails on a chalkboard, and Clarice bit back a shudder as she blindly fumbled behind her for something to fight back with. She tried kicking, managing to kick him in the shin but when she put her foot down to get her balance back on track Hannibal simply pressed his foot down on top of hers. She couldn't get out from under him, couldn't break out of his grasp that was gradually getting tighter.

Biting her lip so hard she drew blood, Clarice managed to grit out through her teeth, "Let go."

"Why?"

"Let go!" she said, louder and struggling against the unrelenting grip. She reached back with her free hand, scrabbling for something else to break.

"Clarice, you're having an episode, I need you to-"

"Stop trying to help me! Don't lie to me!" she gasped as she struggled, vision starting to get blurry through unshed tears. He was too calm, too strong, too in control at all times. She'd seem glimpses of the mask cracking when the glass had separated them in the BSHCI. She wanted - she wanted him to break in front of her.

Her fingers finally grabbed her teacup behind her, and she hissed slightly as the hot liquid burned the tips of her fingers as they dipped below the rim. They locked eyes, neither willing to break. The grip on her wrist suddenly grew impossibly tighter, so tight she felt the bones rub against each other.

"Clarice," Hannibal said, voice much firmer than before. "I want you to take a deep breath and put the cup down."

Angry tears brimmed in her eyes and she fought to keep them from choking her words. "It doesn't matter, Doctor, it doesn't matter. It's - I'm broken. I can't put myself back together. I can't fix it. It - it was my fault but I didn't do - I didn’t do that but it doesn't fucking matter because I couldn't fix it if I tried. I - I let her down, I let - I let everyone down. I'm done. I don't want to play this game anymore."

Before Hannibal could counteract her words, she gripped the side of the teacup and threw it as hard as she could at the floor.

The porcelain shattered into tiny sharp edges on the tile floor and raspberry herbal tea mixed into the mess down there. Hannibal's face was an expression she hadn't ever noticed before: deeply serious and raw.

Oh god, he's going to break my fucking wrist or my neck or drown me in the sink or stab me or-

And just as she felt that her wrist was going to actually break in half, Hannibal let go.

The sudden absence of the grip threw her for a loop and she couldn't stop breathing hard. Neither of them moved for a full ten seconds that felt like ten hours. Then Clarice was stepping away from Hannibal, away from the counter, away from the kitchen, and up the stairs as quickly as possible, wound throbbing as though her pulse would actually hammer so hard that it would break through the skin. She didn't turn around, afraid he'd be right behind her and it would all end.

She slammed her bedroom door shut as soon as she was inside, and collapsed onto the floor, wounds throbbing away so badly she couldn't even think about standing. It wasn't enough, she didn't feel safe yet. She should grab the chair from the desk and put it up under the knob so there was another obstacle. But she - she couldn’t even stand up. So she pulled herself to her knees, hissed at the pain, and locked the door. She managed to crawl to the bedside table and grab the broken glass she’d kept since her first day here. 

She huddled in the corner by the bed, clutched her glass in her hands, and couldn't stop crying.

How fitting: the only person in her corner, again, was herself. And she didn’t even want to fight for herself anymore. She waited, waited, waited for the doorknob to turn and this game to finally come to an end.

Chapter Text

Ardelia Mapp was a practical person to her core. She thrived on rules, schedules, plans. Everything needed to be a certain way, everything had its proper place. She had three different planners: one for work, one for her outside life, and a personal one that contained all important days of the year. Coffee required two spoonfuls of sugar, tea only required one. Eggs needed to be scrambled hard, no runny yolk that would soak everything else on the breakfast plate. She baked a lot, as baking was a science, but anyone can wing cooking. She made her bed with military corners, everything was packed away and folded neatly in her drawers. Everything was exactly the way it should be in her room.

Sometimes, when she could tell Clarice was frazzled from work, she’d let her unwind in her room, provided she didn’t disturb anything. Caprice never did, she’d lie back on the bed and take in the only place with a true sense of order in the house.

The first time she’d done that was the day Clarice got her assignment from Jack Crawford. She’d been so excited that day, that this was her first real mission that she could help someone, and she came home in tears. Tears and a binder filled with information on Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and sentenced to be placed in front of him on Friday.

Ardelia had been so pissed off she couldn’t see straight. She wasn’t letting them send her girl to that - that monster. It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair. But Jack Crawford had a reputation as a stubborn mule in a stable of broken ponies. He wouldn’t bend. But Ardelia hadn’t been about to let her go.

“Here,” she had said, offering a spool of thread. The texture was good to work through with your fingers, it was something real and tangible and enough for her to hold onto when Hannibal Lecter tried to worm his way into her mind.

 

“So,” Ardelia asked, spooning out the ground beef filling for tacos when Clarice got back home after her interview, “How did it go?”

“I got jizzed on by a maniac,” Clarice snapped, dropping her bag onto the floor and scowling at their ugly yellow carpeting.

“Damn, he liked you that much? My last three dates haven't even had that kind of action,” Ardelia said back with a straight face. Clarice tried to keep up her scowl when a slightly hysterical peal of laughter escaped her lips.

“God, you’re the worst.”

“I know,” Ardelia grinned. “Sit down and eat and tell me about how men don't deserve you.”

 

“So, how’d your date with Hot Bobby Lawrence go?” Clarice asked, looking up from her copy of People Magazine as Ardelia kicked her heels off at the door. Ardelia rolled her eyes.

“The man doesn’t color-coordinate his wardrobe, can’t tell Emily Dickinson from Virginia Woolf, and like mushrooms on pizza. Girl, I cannot date a man like that, even if he has sculpted cheekbones.”

Clarice laughed, her feet on Ardelia’s nicely polished cheap coffee table purchased from Ikea. “I’m so sorry that it went bad, he seemed nice. But you’ve got the highest standards of anyone I’ve ever met, girl.”

“I know exactly what I want, and he doesn’t meet any of those requirements. So, cross him off the list, I’m single again.”

Clarice raised her beer bottle. “Join the club.”

 

 

Ardelia Mapp like rules and order. That’s why she joined the FBI. That’s why she was happy to have this counterfeiting case. There weren’t as many raids and shootouts as the cases Clarice was put on. But it was all about little inconsistencies, littell patterns that went off pattern, little details that stuck out like sore thumbs under a watchful eye.

When her coordination meeting was interrupted to inform her of the botched Evelda Drumgo raid, she had noticed a problem right off the bat.

Once the shock of Brigham’s death and the deaths of four others had washed over her, once the shock of Clarice’s disappearance washed over her and she had stopped crying into her pillow, there was something very wrong.

Declared missing. Not kidnapped. Not abducted. Just - as though she’d up and abandoned everything she’d ever worked for.

Ardelia didn’t buy that shit.

She didn’t buy the sympathy from Jameson, she really didn’t buy it from Crawford. Nothing was fitting right, like the entire damn Federal Bureau of Investigation was dancing around this topic and not telling her nor anybody else what was really going on.

After the funeral, the memorial for the fallen, Ardelia had used up her supply of tears, she wasn't going to dish anymore out. She refused to talk to the press, no matter if it was a respected source or Freddie Lounds sniffing out new blood in the water, and after two weeks of nothing but a deep ache in her chest, they stopped knocking on her door.

 

 

Ardelia cleaned constantly, but she never cleaned Clarice's room. That was the boundary they had; no one went into the other’s room without explicit permission. She hoped Clarice could forgive her for this as she walked into Clarice’s room and began to sniff around. Nothing was too out of the ordinary, her clothes were strewn across the floor, her bed was unmade, and her bedside drawers looked like a mess as the scent of stale cigarette smoke cling to the jacket hanging on the door. Ardelia instinctively started picking up clothes from the floor and straightening the knick knacks on her desk, and then decided to do something simple: take the trash out. Clean out the old in order to move forward. That was her philosophy.

God, she missed Clarice so much, she thought, picking up the wastebasket when she caught the smell of apples and roses. The lotion Clarice had started using. She looked down at the trash and saw a letter badly crumpled and half hidden under an empty Fritos bag. She set the wastebasket down, and carefully opened it up again to reveal a letter with beautiful script.

Dear Clarice….

Ardelia sat on the bed, and read that goddamn letter three times, anger boiling in her veins by the time she was finished and glared at the container of lotion on the bedside table. It was tainted, now.

You fucker. You motherfucker. You took her. You think she's your new playtoy, huh? Well, fuck you, asshole. Not on my fucking watch.

Ardelia started for the closet, ripping through all the clothes, desperate to find something, anything, else, when in frustration she banged her fist against the wall and she noticed the shoebox on the top rack of the closet shifted. It was too light, it didn’t have shoes inside. She grabbed the box and threw the lid across the room.

Letters. At least seven, dating past three years. Never around the same time, it was deliberately random. All with that same handwriting, and the same fucking name on the bottom.

Hannibal Lecter.

She kept reading, scanning, looking for common themes and disruptions in patterns. Common theme: mythology. Common theme: complimentary. Common theme: slightly teasing.

Mythology. Narrowed down: Theseus.

Theseus: Slew the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne. He left Ariadne alone to claim his place as a hero, but suffered a loss in return. What an obnoxious fucker.

Ardelia was not one to fall prey to emotion easily. That had always been Clarice. But Clarice wasn’t here. She couldn't defend herself when the shit started to come out in the papers. Stuff about her supposed ‘treachery’ and ‘bribes’ and how she possibly murdered Evelda Drumgo’s child. It was all bullshit. She refused to comment on anything, yet again, and since Clarice had vanished off the face of the fucking earth, she hated the only person that seemed to share a similar train of thought was -

“Freddie Lounds,” Ardelia said coldly, taking the seat opposite said reporter in the coffee shop. Freddie looked up and smiled.

“Can I help you, Special Agent Mapp?” she said sweetly, smiling like nothing was bitter between them. Ardelia didn’t break. “I haven’t written anything critical of Clarice Starling. Yet, I guess.”

“You’re the only one who hasn’t bought the FBI’s spiel about what happened,” Ardelia started, sipping her cappuccino. “You invent your own story.”

“I have to,” Freddie grinned, “Because listen, Agent Mapp, people are only ever truly honest when they’re either confronted with death or after they have an orgasm. And frankly, I’m not experiencing either at the moment. So, let’s cut this short.”

Freddie made to get up but Ardelia stopped her. “I’ll pay double your advertising rate to get on your next top story.”

“Two hundred fifty.”

“Two hundred fifty - fine,” Ardelia snapped, throwing the money and the paper on the table. “You must hawk a lot of snake oil, Lounds.”

“It’s not snake oil for the people who buy it,” Freddie smirked in return, counting the money and reading over Ardelia’s message. “And you think this message is going to go through to its recipient?”

“Psychopaths love reading about themselves. They’re your biggest fans.”

 

 

I know that you have her.

I know.

Listen, in several versions of the myth, Theseus only leaves Ariadne because of divine intervention. Not because he wanted to leave her. So I hope you’re reading this, and you know who you are, because I’m looking for you. And I swear on whatever deity that’s up there, or whatever deity you think you are, I will find you. And I’ll find her.

-Ariadne

 

 

Hannibal smiled as he read the little note underneath Miss Lounds’ article that tore apart the FBI’s theory on Clarice’s disappearance. He went back two pages on his iPad to view a picture of the FBI induction ceremony, of the valedictorian of the class who smiled widely at the camera and Clarice could be seen smiling at her and clapping in the background with her medal around her neck.

Ardelia Mapp.

He smiled again, and slid his finger across the screen to delete this tab before he passed the iPad over to Clarice, his now eight tabs about her disappearance ready to be consumed.

Chapter Text

Clarice didn’t even lift her head when there was a knock at her bedroom door after she had fallen asleep hunched in the corner for hours. Fine, she thought to herself. This is when it ends. She said nothing when there was another knock on the door. And another.

Finally words were said, but it wasn’t Hannibal Lecter knocking at her door, it was...Will.

“If you’re going to stay in there, fine,” he said plainly, nothing behind his words. “But you don’t want to wallow in self-pity and have people feel sorry for you, do you?”

She didn’t respond. Secretly, she knew he wasn’t expecting one.

“So that’s not what this is. Downstairs, for dinner, five minutes. You can help.”

She cleared her throat, but didn’t unfurl herself from the corner as she spat out a bitter laugh, “That’s not subtle, you know.”

A smile was felt through the door. “It’s fish. Not meat. Downstairs, five minutes.”

Whenever Will walked, she could hear footsteps, he didn’t have the effortless glide of Lecter. They were subtle steps, but they were steps, moving away from the door. It was impossible to hear the footsteps on perfectly set stairs with a carpet to muffle any creaking.

Clarice didn’t want to get up. She didn’t want to eat, or help make dinner. At this point, if it was a trap, she wasn’t even willing to fight for her life. She was so drained, she was past caring. And if given the choice, she guessed she’d rather go downstairs and face it than lay there slumped in a corner. Her stitches ached as she got to her feet, having been overworked by her sprint up the stairs. She briefly considered ripping them out entirely, but she brushed that thought aside as she combed her fingers through her hair and tentatively pushed her door open. Nobody was on either side of the hallway. She went slowly down the stairs, head swerving side to side to look for anyone in her peripheral vision.

“Bang, you’re dead, Starling,” the dry montone of her instructor said in her ear as a fake gun clicked by her temple. She slumped down, letting her own fake gun hang loose in her grasp. “What’d you do wrong?”

“I didn’t check my corners, sir.”

“That’s why you’re dead.”

When she finally made it to the bottom of the staircase, she went to the kitchen, watching as Will poured homemade dog food into Callie’s food dish. It smelled better than dog food should ever smell. He straighten back up and nodded to her as she carefully approached the counter. He left the pan in the sink, filled it with soapy water, and slid a cutting board across the counter for her before picking up a kitchen knife by the blade and offering it to her.

“Here, you can cut the vegetables,” he said, as though this was a perfectly normal arrangement in this house. It was worse because it was. She raised an eyebrow, taking the handle but not pulling the knife away.

“Are you really giving me a knife?” she asked incredulously, and the barest sparks of a smile were in Will’s eyes. He never really smiled with his mouth unless Lecter was in the room, as well, but it didn’t bother her. It’s hard to fake a smile with the eyes.

“I’ve been stabbed enough items already, go ahead,” Will said in reply, joke bone-dry as he let go of his end of the knife, and he slid over a bowl of vegetables and a peeler as well. “If you can peel and slice these, I’ll do the fish.”

She nodded, setting knife down and picking up an onion to begin peeling the skin away. Will set a whole cod down on the cutting board, a fresh one, that smelled not like fish but the water it was pulled from. He split the stomach open and began cleaning the inside of the fish, keeping the roe aside as he scooped the guts into a bowl for later disposal. Clarice peeled two onions, and started to chop them. Ardelia had always rolled her eyes at her uneven cutting technique.

You’ve got the steadiest hand on the range, and you shake when you cut up celery.

She blinked those tears away that that memory caused to spring up, and she hoped she could blame it on just the onions. Will had finished rinsing his hands off in the sink, and tossed a wet washcloth at her. She nodded, thanking him wordlessly as she wiped her hands off and scraped the onion pieces into a bowl. Setting the bowl aside, she picked up a potato and the peeler, and set about her own work as Will snapped the neck of the fish and twisted the head away from the carcass, leaving it aside for the moment as he traced his finger down the carcass for the bone in between the fillets. And they worked in relative silence for a time, the only sounds soft scraping punctuated by the occasional knife brought down hard on the cutting board.

Quiet, methodical work, and even as the air between them was tinged with the slightest tension, it wasn’t tension that comes of disliking one’s company, but the tension of not knowing what to say to the other. He seemed to understand that she didn’t want to talk, that she wasn’t going to pry open as easily as a cod’s jawbone when a knife is shoved into it. Damn empathy, she didn't like being understood when she couldn’t even understand herself anymore.

Still, nothing was said as he began to cut the fillets into manageable chunks for - she hadn’t even asked what was being made. She didn’t ask, and he didn’t tell her, but she pieced it together when he stopped in his task to rinse the fish guts from his hands in the sink. She peeled the potato in her hand much slower, as she watched him slide the band around his left ring finger to clean it as well as his hands, and slid it back on as soon as he dried his hands.

Clarice's mother had been buried with her ring, so had her father. He kept wearing it long after she passed, but he’d remove it while attending to household tasks like dish or laundry, leaving it in a chipped saucer on the counter for that purpose.

She hadn’t seen that ring come off of either Will or Lecter except for very brief moments. Only when necessary.

He filled a pot with water and set it on the stove, turning it on and reaching over the counter for the bowl of chopped onions and pouring them in along with the cod pieces and butter and some seasonings, and he stirred slowly as she started cutting the potatoes she had peeled. She observed him critically as she did so.

“Is it real?” she asked, nodding in the direction of his ring and moving the potato pieces so she could dice them. Will turned from where he was stirring and glanced down at the ring before looking back at her.

“It’s a real stone.”

“I don’t doubt that,” she nodded, scraping the knife on the board to clean the potato gunk off and gathered the cubed bits into a bowl. That wasn’t what she was asking, however, and Will knew it as he stirred the pot again.

“Sentiment is real, paperwork around somewhere,” he says offhandedly, grinding some fresh pepper into the soup.

“Your names?”

“Otherwise it wouldn’t count.”

She didn’t question where the hell they could even get that authorized and didn’t press it. “Spousal privileges?”

There’s a ghost of a smile on his face as he sets the spoon down beside the stove, and he walked to counter to accept the potatoes. He gave her a look she couldn't quite decipher, but it seemed slightly amused. “I don’t think the plan is recapture for us if we’re caught again.”

“That’s fair,” she conceded, resting her chin in her hand as he added the potatoes and some cream and then stirred again. She spoke up again, “Didn't think you cooked, that seems like his job.”

Will shrugged as he put the lid on the pot and turned the heat down. “I always could, just never did for myself. For the dogs, not for me.”

“Why not?”

“Too tired, didn’t feel like I was up to it. Like I wasn’t worth the effort,” he said, walking over to the liquor on the counter and uncapping the bourbon before turning to the cabinet for glasses. “Want one?”

“Yeah, I need one,” she sighed, lifting her head up and letting her hand drop back to the counter. He poured two glasses and slid one over the counter to her. She took a long sip, eyeing the spot on the floor where she’d smashed all her dishes this morning. It was perfectly clean, like nothing had ever happened. She took another sip as she looked over at Will and tried to appear nonchalant. “So where is he?”

“In our room,” Will said into his own glass. “I come back inside and you’re both sulking.”

Clarice thought that Hannibal Lecter would be incapable of a good sulking. Petulant, like a house cat, but not sulking. “Over what?”

“Hannibal doesn't like it when there’s a variable he can’t manipulate,” Will explained, leaning back against the oven door with his glass of bourbon.

“Like you,” she responded with a nod in his direction. Another smile in his eyes, but not on his lips. “So sounds like it was a mistake, bringing me up here to play house.”

“Is that what you think?”

“Well, he was pissed off earlier, I figure I’ll be dead by the end of this week or the next at the latest, so you don’t have to beat around the bush,” she told him bluntly, tilting her glass back forth and let the liquid lap at the sides. Will looked amused as he deftly changed the topic.

“And if you believe that, why don’t you run? Your stitches should be ready to come out soon.”

She laughed, bitter and dry. “Run? Half injured, don’t know where the fuck I am, with both of you after me? I’m deader than a corpse that’s been dead a week. No fucking way.” She paused before she could take another sip. “Besides, where am I going to go? I’m guessing you’ve probably read some of the articles that came out about me.”

“The bullshit?” The abruptness of his response made her smile just a little.

“Yeah. That bullshit. Doesn’t matter if it is, though, everyone believes it. That’s as good as truth.”

He shrugged in agreeance before taking a drink, swallowing thoughtfully before he says, “Freddie Lounds wrote the contrarian opinion.”

“Isn’t that what she always does?”

“Doesn’t mean she’s not right,” he muttered, sounding irritated as he adjusted his position and fixed her with a gaze. “We want empathy so bad, it’s sometimes hard to accept that someone else can see you, even if you don’t like each other.”

She let her glass dangle in her fingers as she returned his gaze. “So we have an understanding, is what you think?”

“Yes.”

“It’s not,” she said flatly, craning her neck and working out a kink. “It’s - an acceptance, if anything. I’m not making an effort to understand either of you, neither should either of you try to understand me. I’m as comfortable as I could be with a coexistence between us.”

Will tilts his head to the side as well before speaking. “Isn’t acceptance just another form of understanding? By accepting we understand the other person, understand enough that we’re willing to accept what we can’t comprehend.”

She laughed, and it sounded more like a scoff. “So we’re all in an understanding as to why I pitched a goddamn fit this morning? Great. Because I don’t. I don’t think I have a goddamn clue about anything anymore.”

Will drained his glass and looked at her again. “You don’t get wiser when you get older, Starling, you just learn how to dodge a certain amount of hell.”

“Not really dodging hell when I’m already in it,” she fired back, draining her own glass. He smiled, a small one, but a real one. She found herself returning it.

After this exchange, she stood up from the counter and made herself an old-fashioned as she watched Will crack open a bottle of chardonnay and poured two glasses. He gestured with the bottle to her, and she shook her head. He put the cork back in the bottle, took a glass in hand, and left the room. Clarice spooned out three portions of soup and set them on the table, setting it with just spoons and napkins folded once, none of that fancy stuff. Callie came trotting back into the room and whined at her empty water dish, so Clarice refilled it and bent down to scratch her behind the ears. She smiled down at her and it faded when she straightened back up and saw Hannibal Lecter standing by the counter, glass of wine in hand as Will retrieve the other wine glass and said something to him, too low to hear from where she was, and then he walked past Hannibal to sit down at the table. Hannibal followed, and Clarice took a deep breath as she grabbed her drink and took her own seat at the table. For a time, there’s just the sounds of spoons hitting the side of bowls and glasses being picked up and sat down. Hannibal remarked that it was delicious, Will and Clarice both nodded a thank-you and the meal continued.

Hannibal’s ring bumped against his wineglass as Will finally spoke and broke the silence. “That antique place opens tomorrow afternoon, are we going?”

Hannibal turned his attention to Clarice, and the tension was palpable as he asked her, “Would you care to accompany us?”

“You’re letting me out into the world?” she replied dryly, stirring her soup. Hannibal smiled, with lips and eyes.

“Do you think you’re to be trapped in here forever?” he asked, curious as always.

She gave him an honest answer, as expected. “I think a part of me’s going to always be stuck in here,” she told him, taking a sip of her drink and licking her lips once. “But fine, Doctor. I’ll go tomorrow.”

Where else am I going to go? she wondered.

Chapter Text

Hannibal gave a nod and a verbalized thank-you to the cashier clerk at the herbal supplements store, and began to walk back down the street, easily blending into the crowd. Nobody looks up on busy streets, they’re all concerned with point A to point B. Hannibal kept his eyes trained forward, smiling as he was easily one with the crowd and none the wiser. He turned his head and smiled more when he was met with a pleasant surprise.

Ardelia Mapp had earbuds in her ears, a phone in her hand, a black leather bag that had all the markings of looking expensive, unless the bag was opened and the label was read to reveal it was not name brand. She was staring down at her phone, glancing back up at the side of the stores as she passed, as though she were looking for a particular address. Her sunglasses were on the top of her head as she quickly looked in the window at the shoe store next door to the antique mall.

As the crowd walked around her, everyone rushing and getting to where they needed to go, and she stood off to the side, in the window space of the antique mall, staring down at her phone to find her way. Hannibal easily blended into the crowd, graciously letting another woman beside him pass first. And as he just barely moved passed Ardelia Mapp, his fingers tapped once on her sunglasses, making them fall onto her nose and cover her eyes. Her hair lightly brushed against his hand as he smiled and slipped into the store before she could turn around.

Ardelia blinked suddenly, her vision in the sunlight suddenly dimmed by the glasses, and she shoved them back up onto the top of her head as she turned around. She didn't see anyone there, and when she looked in the shop window. She couldn’t see far, one of the employees was trying to fix a broken wheel on the cart were a violet-colored tapestry was trying to be moved away. She shrugged to herself, made sure her sunglasses were secretly on her head, and kept walking along.

 

The employee sighed in relief when he got the wheel unstuck from the hole in the wooden floor and rolled the tapestry forward more, and Clarice looked out through the window at the people walking passed.

She could walk out now, she thought. It would be so easy, just out the door and mix into the crowd, and she’s gone.

There isn’t a place for her out there, though, she contradicts herself, and walked back into the maze of the store, weaving in and out and between the booths. She picked a few items up, stared at the valuable items behind the glass. She wondered if this was her purpose, today: taking the prize out of the case and shining it up to show it off. Polish a penny, it’s still a penny, her father always said.

And as she looked into the free standing mirror tucked into a corner, she understood that phrase. Didn't matter about the nice clothes she had on and tortoiseshell hair clip to keep her now long, curlier hair out of her face. She wiped a bit of dust off the top and went on her way.

 

Ardelia pushed open the door to a small store that specialized in all natural products, and the air was too dry and smelled like wheatgrass as she started examining all the shelves. She passed by hair oils and perfumes and organic shampoo before finally coming to a section dedicated to skin cream. She figured that the owners had probably seen something stronger than a person frantically scanning the shelves before snatching a jar off the middle shelf, and pulling a jar out of her purse to compare.

A perfect match to the lotion she found in Clarice’s room.

A perfect match to the smell from the letter from Lecter. This store did not ship online, it would have had to have been purchased in person.

I got you, she grinned to herself. You motherfucker, I got you. You’re here. You were here. I knew you had to be here.

 

Clarice ended up with a pair of white-rimmed sunglasses from the antique mall that looked straight of the sixties. She didn’t ask for them, they were bought for her. She put them over her eyes and looked in the direction of the security TV monitor. She turned back away at her reflection and went outside, lighting a cigarette and leaning against the wall outside to smoke it.

Briefly, the thought crosses her mind to scream for help, to scream in general, to run into the road and get hit by a car. She did neither, just smoked and breathed out those thoughts as she waited for Hannibal and Will to walk outside.

She observed them with nothing more than a nod as they came outside, mirroring and inverting each other. Hannibal in neat muted earthy colors, with glasses to match his sandy-colored vest, contrasting the sharp, dark colors of Will’s pressed suit with no tie to match it and dark sunglasses.

They walked next door, sitting at a café, and she ate her orecchiette bolognese with a glass of Zinfandel as they sat in their own chairs with salt-crusted lamb and potatoes. They sat outside, and occasionally got whiffs of the peonies in the box on the little metal grate surrounding the seating area. It was quiet, peaceful, and she didn’t scream at the waiter or make a scene outside, or do something like spell out ‘help me’ in the leftover sauce. She was quiet, she was not complacent. She contributed to conversation, she did not offer more than she had to. She kept a hard look on her face the entire meal, she wasn't content. This was a game, a game of seeing how far they could all go before they got caught. She'd let her guard down before, she wasn't going to let that happen again.

“Did you enjoy today, Clarice?” Hannibal asked her warmly, after he had opened the backseat car door for her, and she got in the back as he sat in the driver’s seat. Clarice scoffed as an answer, a muffled sound as she held her harclip between her teeth as she tried to punch her hair back into a ponytail shape. Will tilted his head back against the headrest, looking out the window and tapping his finger against the side of the car as he looked into the side mirror and watched Ardelia Mapp walk out of the store. A faint smile grew on his face and his eyes shifted to look at Hannibal without turning his head. He raised his eyebrows and let his eyes flicker to the backseat. Hannibal smiled and nodded just once, shifting the car’s gear to drive and easily pulling away from the curb and driving down the street.

Ardelia looked up from the corner as she popped one earbud in, but all she saw were cars driving back and forth before she turned away.

 

When Ardelia finally got home, after parking her Pontiac with a rough paint job in her designated spot, she stopped by the mailboxes outside of her apartment complex, and she sifted through the mail as she walked through her door and set her keys on the kitchen table dish. Cable bill, water bill, electric bill, free issue of a cooking magazine with a cheap subscriptions offer, coupons for a bucket of overpriced flavored popcorn...and then an envelope, addressed to her. With handwriting she’d been studying for seemingly ever.

She nearly dropped it to the floor. But she set it down on the counter, and immediately got a pair of gloves from her room and an old letter opener Nana had packed up with her things. She carefully opened the envelope seam and looked inside to find two folded pieces of paper. She pulled out the one with writing on it and sat heavily at her kitchen table as she read it.

Special Agent Ardelia Mapp,

Do you know the origin of the word ‘clue’ in the English language? It comes from the myth of Theseus, while he was imprisoned before being sent to his fate in the labyrinth. But the daughter of Minos was so enraptured by him that she passed him a ball of twine in order for him to find his way. ‘Clue’ comes from ‘clew’, old word for a ball of towne. She gave him a clue, didn’t she? And so, so do you, give clues to help your Theseus when she is lost. Ariadne sent a storm after her graces and goodwill were cast aside for pride. Are you, too, going to send one our way? Raise black sails for Clarice instead of white ones?

How deep into the labyrinth are you willing to go?

Yours,

Hannibal Lecter

There was thick cardstock in the envelope, hidden behind the letter, and Ardelia carefully pulled it out to reveal a drawing. She nearly dropped it when she saw her own face in one of the figures.

She was reaching down, through a metal grate opening in the white space above a dark room with beginnings of corridors all around the figure with Clarice's face, both of them in Greek wear. She was reaching down to her, holding a ball of twine, and Clarice was reaching for it as her right hand gripped a sword. There were bones and scraps of fabric in the corners of the dark prison-like place where Clarice was, and she looked ready to go deeper, to find and fight her way out. The only thing keeping their hands from touching was the ball of twine.

She stared at the drawing for a solid five minutes, before sticking it back in the envelope with a letter, ripping her gloves off and grabbing her phone to call Nova Pilcher, her and Clarice’s best friend, who was still in Crawford’s circle. She answered on the third ring. “Hey, what’s-”

“I need you to run any test you can on a letter and a picture. I need fingerprints, ink samples, DNA on the stamp, fucking anything.”

“O-okay, what - what do you-”

“And you can’t let Zeller or Price in on this,” she said seriously.

“Why?”

“It’s Lecter.”

Nova was quiet, then calm and collected. “I should call them, girl, this is some heavy stuff you’re getting into. How are you sure that it’s him?”

“He fucking sent me a letter, Nova, he signed his name. I have no return address, nothing. It had to be hand-delivered. It’s not a fake, I can feel it.”

“You need to hand that over to the rest of the FBI, Ardelia.”

“No,” Ardelia sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “It’s - a game, now. I extended an olive branch, I can’t cut it off now or I’ll send more people than me crashing to the ground. Can you - I need your help, Nova. I - I think they know what happened to Clarice, where she is, I have to chase this deeper. She - you know she needs our help. We have to find her.”

Nova let out a sigh that carried over the line. “This is some deep shit you’re getting into, you know that, right?”

“Yeah. I know.”

“Bring it in around six-thirty tonight, after they go home. We’ll run some scans, confirm some suspicions. What are you going to do if it turns out this is legit?”

Ardelia didn’t answer right away, cradling the phone between her ear and her shoulder, and opened her laptop, typing away like mad. “You know how court jesters were the only ones in court who could talk bad about the upper crust?”

“Yeah?”

Ardelia clicked ‘Contact Me’ on TattleCrime’s website, right underneath the picture of her smiling, Murder Husbands™ in full display as her monetary claim to fame. “Looks like I have to go through the fool.”

 

 

A picture of a man, sitting at a bar, a glass of whiskey in front of him, his fingers running across the rim. A ring on that finger just visible from the camera angle.

Slide change.

A similar looking man, in dark sunglasses, arms folded as he looked over at another man as they examined a painting in an antique store.

Slide change.

Teh same man, his hand resting on a bookshelf as he leaned against it, head tilted to the side as he listened, a genuine smile on his face, though it was small. The ring on his hand was also on display, the same ring as the one on the man in the previous slide.

Slide change.

The pair in a kiss.

Back two slides. Man at the bar.

Forward two slides. Man leaning up against the bookshelf.

Jameson spun around in his chair with a ‘ta-da’ gesture to Alana and Margot seated on the couch in Alana’s office. “So, looks like Graham’s branching away from Lecter, at least a little. Every time he’s been at that bar, Lecter isn’t there. Never appears in the frame, never appears in the outside cameras. Goes in alone, leaves alone. Monday, Tuesday, Friday one week. Then Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday the next. Desperately random, trying not to reveal a pattern, but I think I've got one. Haven’t found Lecter anywhere without Graham tagging along, though. Must have him on a leash, huh?”

Alana wasn’t amused by the joke. “What do you expect us to do with this information?”

“Well - look,” he said, getting more wildly at the bar picture. “We have one of them in a place where they are alone. If we get one, we get the other one. I’ll keep surveillance, once I’m sure I’ll move in with some others and get him. Lecter will come up after that.”

Margot nodded from where she had an arm around Alana. “Do you have anything else new to tell us?”

“What I don’t have information on,” Jameson said with a sigh as he clicked through the slides, dramatically gesturing to the two men checking out with their purchases together, humming a familiar song, “Is our little remedy for Khrushchev and Kennedy. I can’t find a damn thing on Starling. No pictures, no sightings, no bone scraps, no anything. Just vanished. I’m thinking they just picked her clean and dealt with the leftovers.”

Alana tapped her pen against her thigh. “If they were going to kill her, they would have made sure the FBI was aware of it.”

“Okay, where the hell is she, then?”

“Somewhere they don’t want anyone to find her,” Alana said, looking deep in thought.

Jameson snorted. “Starling wouldn’t anyone keep her in a cage, she’d bash her head against the bars as soon as she realized she was stuck. So, she’s either their pet they keep chained up, or they already picked her out of their teeth weeks ago.”

He clicked to the side of the pair just a few steps away from each other, tension evident in even this still image in the frame. He stood up, the light from the projection falling across his face as he gestured to the pair before leaning forward on Alana’s desk and looking at the two women.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship. If we pull one away, the other one crumbles,” he said sincerely, cocking his head to the side. “All we need is some bait.”

Chapter Text

Ardelia knocked on the door to the apartment, tapping her foot impatiently when a woman with her hair piled up in curlers with elaborate makeup in jeans and a flannel shirt opened it. Ardelia held out her badge.

“Special Agent Mapp, I have an appointment with Freddie Lounds, and was given this address to meet?”

The woman turned over her shoulder to call out, “Fred, the feds are here,” and then turned back to let Ardelia in. “Call me Wendy, I’m her girlfriend.”

Ardelia nodded as she stepped inside. “She’s not under investigation, as of yet. We set up an appointment for a business meeting.”

“Oh, yeah, you didn’t bust the door down, figured you weren’t raiding the place,” Wendy said, adjusting a curler in her hair in the living room mirror as Freddie Lounds came in with her hair still wet from a quick shower. She sat down on her couch and gestured over for Ardelia to sit down with a smile.

“What can I do for you, Special Agent Mapp?”

Ardelia rolled her eyes, dropping an envelope of cash on the couch. “There’s another note I want you to print. Print it in no less than two days.”

“Hmm, is there-”

“There’s enough to cover your bullshit extra charge, Lounds, just print it.”

Freddie raised her eyebrow with a smile. “You get a response.”

Ardelia just rolled her eyes. “Not the one I want, Lounds. I’m looking for answers, not hoaxes or hints.”

 

 

Clarice leaned against the back of the couch, holding her glass out. She pulled it back when it was filled halfway with red wine and didn’t take her eyes away from the screen as she sipped. Of course, Lecter would just happen to land on C-SPAN when he never even turned on the television most nights, and it would just happen to be a Senate committee hearing on her botched raid on the Drumgo investigation. “You’re not slick, Doctor.”

And who else would be singing like a canary to the entire committee but Jameson.

“Agent Starling was a supervisor of yours, correct, Agent Jameson?”

“Correct.”

“And she hindered your progress to your current division on the Lecter/Graham case?”

“That is also correct.”

“Did she provide reasoning for her refusal to sign off on your transfer?”

“She explained to me that my temperament was not suited for that particular division,” Jameson said, leaning in close to his microphone. “And yes, I was insulted, more insulted that Agent Starling was one to question me on temperament considering her own track record.”

“Agent Starling was known to have a cool head under incredible pressure.”

“Yes, however, the way she released said pressure caused discontent in the ranks, with more than a few notches on her belt. In particular, the warehouse raid on 37th West, I was with our supervisor and she broke protocol by breaking apart from the group and going solo. She ended up having to shoot one of the cartel members as he was holding one of - his girls, we’ll say, hostage. The woman did have to receive counseling afterwards.”

“Do you believe Agent Starling was the correct choice to lead the raid, taking into consideration that she was one of the lead investigators in that division?”

“Agent Starling was a - friend of mine-” We fucking were not, fucker. “-and she does excellent in researching and problem solving. But she has a tendency to let her emotions wash over her in the heat of the moment, if you will. Heart on her sleeve, all that, you understand.”

Clarice scoffed into her wineglass, slouching down on the couch and glaring daggers into the TV, at Jameson’s face as he played the part of the dutiful agent and servant, smiling when necessary and face growing serious when it wasn’t. It was an act for him, a game, and he was relishing in the attention the way Callie was as she pawed at Clarice’s uncovered knee for a head scratch.

It did not go unnoticed by Hannibal as he topped her glass off when she held it out. When the hearing was over, she scoffed as he stood up and gave solemn nods to the prosecutors.

Will walked behind the couched as the testimony came to anticlimactic end, going and finishing his glass of water with lime from dinner. He didn’t turn as he reached for the car keys in the bowl on the side table, only to be met with fingers. He finally turned with a small smile over the rim of his glass to Hannibal. “I’m taking these.”

“And going-?”

Will’s eyes sparkled as he set the glass down, stepping closer with a soft, “Out,” and then the keys were swiftly taken from the bowl. The smile in his eyes barely pulled at the corners of his mouth. “Feed Callie at her usual time.” And then he passed by him, barely brushing Hannibal's shoulder.

 

The music in the bar was low, thumping, occasionally broken by the crisp, crackling, crooning of a singer’s recording echoing from low-quality speakers. Will slipped through the entrance, unnoticed by the small crowd on the dancefloor, nor the patrons at the pool tables nursing beers. He adjusted his sunglasses and made his way to the barstools, sliding right into the one beside-

“Cigarette?” Jameson smiled at him, taking one out of the pack for himself. Will took his sunglasses off and carefully folded them up, smile only on his lips and not quite there in his eyes.

“I’m quitting,” he said smoothly, setting the sunglasses on the table. “Drink?”

“You know I’m quitting,” Jameson said in nearly a tease, setting the cigarette in his lips, “Got a light?”

Will’s smile barely buried in the embers of his eyes as he flicked the lighter he kept in his pocket for this, extending it just in front of Jameson’s face, watching him lean forward and light the cigarette as it was gripped in his teeth. He grinned as he pulled back, taking a drag as Will got a beer for himself.

“So tell me, Mr. Kore,” he smiled like he could see just under the surface, like there was a small layer to crack through, “What’s new?”

Will sipped from his beer, tracing a finger over the swirls in the hardwood bar, holding the eye contact and keeping him locked in it.

 

He came home smelling like menthols and a pack was pulled out of his pocket when Hannibal slid up behind him as he bit into a salmon crostini made in his absence. The smile finally tugged at his lips again.

“You’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

Ardelia’s mind was awash in thoughts of fingerprints and DNA, and almost walked right into Nova’s part of the lab loudly asking about her results before hearing Jameson talking with her about grabbing dinner tonight.

“...and I’ll call after I get back tonight,” he laughed at her own laughter, which was odd, as her arm was elbow-deep in the chest cavity of a cadaver. They’d been going out for a couple months, now, it was fairly serious, and though he was always an ass, Ardelia felt that he’d mellowed out since they were together. They weren’t on the level of friendship but she could extend a smile towards him and he gave one back to her. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Ardelia didn’t like to lie, but she told him, “Running prints on counterfeit bills.”

He gave her a nod, then gave Nova a kiss on the cheek and a smile, and she swatted him off with a hand encased in gore. “Knock it off,” she laughed at him. “I’ll see you later, after a shower.”

He walked off, whistling under his breath and Ardelia waited until the door closed before turning to Nova. “Soooo….”

“You were right,” Nova said with a sigh, reaching her arm back into the corpse, armed with pliers. “Fingerprints on the letter from Lecter, DNA from the saliva under the envelope flap matches Graham’s.”

“Fuck,” Ardelia swore under her breath before sucking it back in, rubbing at her temple. She’d known, she’d just fucking KNOWN this was the truth but to hear it was a slap to his face. They had her, she wasn’t - couldn't be dead. She refused to believe if - if she was, and if she was, they wouldn’t have just disposed of her neatly. It was bullshit. She looked back at Nova focused on her task. “What do you think I should do?”

“Aaron’s on the Lecter/Graham case, he’s heading it. I can give him the information to run with.”

Ardelia shook her head. “No, no - they can’t catch them, he can’t.”

“Mapp-”

“No, they reached back out to me, Nova, they didn’t have to, and they did,” Ardelia sighed, sitting on a plastic chair and resting her head on her arms. Her head was starting to ache from the stress. “Fuck me. They wouldn’t do that if she was dead.”

“You don’t know that,” Nova fired back. “They could just be luring you in for two-for-one.”

“I’ll take that risk,” Ardelia murmured, resting her chin in her hand, watching Nova extract a bullet from the chest cavity of the cadaver. “I have to find them. It’s what Clarice would want.”

 

 

The light streamed into the kitchen, against the soft tan of the hardwood floors and the cream-colored walls. And Clarice kept her eyes on Hannibal as she slowly removed the bandage from her bullet wound. Hannibal cocked his head, inspecting it under her unwavering gaze before gesturing for her to keep her arm raised for a better view as he knelt down beside her with the smallest pair of scissors.

She kept her arm up as she stared straight ahead, muttering old recitations that he requested she say to take her mind off of the slight pain from removing her stitches. Reciting Psalm 23 under her breath and through her teeth did not distract her from the gentle pulling, and the unpleasant, yet not painful, feeling of thread pulled through her skin and out the other side. Clarice’s eyes drifted down to the juxtaposition of the freshly removed, bloody threads on a porcelain saucer as Hannibal placed a bandage over where he had just taken the stitches out. She struck out, stepping away from him before he could press his hand against the bandage to make sure it stuck, pressing her hand down firmly there instead. Hannibal did not comment, instead standing back up and disposing of the thread fragments in the kitchen trash can.

He stood up from where he was on the floor, cleaning his hands with a towel and smiling at her. “Well, do you feel better, Clarice?”

“Peachy,” she said flatly, keeping her distance and picking up her towel from the floor. “Thank you, I’ll be outside.”

She walked outside without looking back, heading through the side door onto the pool deck, sitting in a chair beside Will. He might have glanced at her through his sunglass, she didn’t bother to stare back or car. She put her own sunglasses on, opened an edition of Vogue, and started reading. She didn’t look up as a tray was offered with two glasses of ice-cold bourbon with mint sprigs on it, and she accepted one as Will took the other.

The sun was shining, it was warm and bright, the dog was barking at a grasshopper in the corner, and it was almost - something.

Almost happy.

Almost - normal.

 

 

“No.”

Jameson rolled his eyes behind Margot’s back as she signed off on a paper, tearing it off her clipboard and handing it to one of her managers. He followed her as she walked down into the walkway overlooking the pig area, as she surveyed it below her. “Come on, I can-”

“It’s a bad idea to lure either of them out without the other easily in sight,” she told him in a slight sigh, making a note on her clipboard.

“Yes it is, it’s easier to get one alone to get the other one out of the shadows.”

“I would feel safer if I could see both snakes in the pit. I don’t want to be able to calm one down if I can't see the other one.”

He didn’t roll his eyes because she was looking at him, he just folded his arms and leaned up across the railing, looking down at the happy pigs being fed. He changed the subject for the moment, trying to get on her good side. “I thought you wouldn’t be up for running the business, know I wouldn’t if I had this much made.”

Margot kept writing. “It’s not about running the business, it’s undoing what was done before. My father used to cram them into small stalls so they’d get stuck and get their throats slit before they were butchered, watching what happened to the one before them. I had nightmares about the squealing.” She pointed with her ballpoint pen over to the side area. “I had it redesigned so that they don’t see what happens, and it’s a bolt gun behind the ear. Quick, easy, efficient.”

“And that’s exactly what my plan for-”

“Your plan is not feasible for one person to complete on their own.”

Jameson sighed, dragging a hand down the side of his face. “You still have me trying to track Starling, that shit is a dead end. We already know Lecter has a taste for white trash, that’s what happened.”

Margot turned her head only slightly, raising an eyebrow as one of the handlers opened the size pen and funneled a few pigs that way. “You already talked to Alana.”

“She thinks I need reinforcement.”

“You do.”

“But I-”

“We’ll sign off on letting you lure one of them out, but you’ll have backup outside. No buts, Aaron.”

He sighed, exaggerated, but slumped down and then nodded. “Okay. I understand. I’ll be okay, it’s just getting one alone and getting the other with the bait. All goes well, hell, you can keep their skulls on display when I'm done, provided it doesn’t get messy.”

Margot’s lips curled up in something like a smile at him, her fingernails tapping the metal clip.

The heavy steel door to the pig corner eased shut, and the other pigs went back to their meal.

Chapter Text

Hannibal finished pouring three cups of coffee, adding creamer to one cup and leaving the other two completely black. He handed one of those cups to Will and then slid the other across the counter to Clarice along with a bit of leftover toasted white bread with honey and butter. She ate her breakfast quietly as Will leaned against the counter beside Hannibal, who removed a mortar and pestle from the cupboard and a bag of assorted herbs from where they had been drying in the windowsill. He placed about half of the bag into the mortar and started crushing and grinding the herbs into a fine powder.

Clarice finished her toast and took her coffee cup with her out to the front porch with a pack of cigarettes to finish off her morning, and Hannibal turned back to the pantry and remove dried mushrooms, grinding those into a powder as well. He then neatly swept the contents of the mortar into a small bag, folding and sealing it shut before cleaning the mortar out in the sink. Will set his empty cup in the sink where he was cleaning and left to take the dog outside as Clarice came back in, washing the smoke smell off of her hands.

“Do you know Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Clarice?”

“I know of it,” she said back, picking up her coffee and her Vogue magazine, settling into her own seat on the couch “Man wakes up a bug, dies a bug. Nothing happens.”

“I’ve always found it interesting,” Hannibal said, drying his cup and setting it back where it belonged, “that the main character is described several times in the original translation as a type of winged beetle. He could have flown away at any point in the story.”

“Maybe he knew he had nowhere to go,” Clarice said, not looking up from her magazine and paperclipping a favorite page as per her habit. The subject, effectively, was dropped.

Will came back in from the typically locked shed, machine grease up his arms, and grime under his nails. He went upstairs to wash off, Clarice did not ask questions. She accepted the fresh glass of lemonade before heading upstairs with her pack of cigarettes. Hannibal followed her up the stairs with glasses of lemonade, meeting Will in the library room. As Well accepted the glass of lemonade while skimming the shelves. Hannibal sat at the desk, removing the wrapped bag from his pocket along with cigarette rolling paper and loose tobacco. Will sat on the edge of the desk, watching him evenly wrap an entire carton of cigarettes before packing them away.

“I’m going out tomorrow night,” Will told Hannibal, eyes not leaving his face. A trait of Will’s that Hannibal has always noticed has been how when he smiles, truly smiles, his eyes light first, and then the corners of his lips. Hannibal looked up at him, folding one arm over the other on the desk.

“Are you asking for permission or telling me, Will?”

“Telling you, obviously,” Will said, a faint smile still present and returned by Hannibal, and conversation turned easily to cleaning the spare room in the basement, as Clarice went down the stairs to the living room, turning the TV on. She’d intended to just channel switch when she saw Ardelia’s no-nonsense eyes and ramrod straight posture from her ROTC days, standing behind a podium.

Her heart flew to her throat, loudly beating there. It was a news station, playing a live press conference she was conducting. Clarice’s name was not brought up once: it was about Ardelia’s team’s break up of a counterfeiting ring. A childish part of her wanted to get up from the couch and lean forward to touch through the skin, reach out and let her know I’m here.

I’m safe.

Please don’t worry.

I’m sorry.

Please forget.

She almost reaches out, almost gets there, and her fingers touch cool, buzzing glass. She sat back on the couch, looked at Ardelia one last time, still stating statistics and facts, and she changed the channel to a soap opera. She left it on as she started to write a letter on stationary from the office.

She doesn’t change the channel back.

She doesn’t call the number burned into her brain.

She finished writing, slipping the finished letter with a stamp into a stack of mail Chiyoh was to send out. And she was able to smile at Hannibal when he returned to the kitchen.

“Clarice, Will and I will be out tomorrow night, I’ll leave dinner for you, if you’ll feed Calypso.”

“Sure,” she nodded to him.

This is what is normal now, she told herself. Accept it, and move on.

 

 

As soon as Ardelia stepped off the podium, cameras went off and people were shouting questions, none to do with counterfeiting. All to do with Clarice.

“Agent Mapp, did Agent Starling ever appear defen-”

“Agent Mapp, is it possible that Agent Starling is still alive?”

“Agent Mapp, is it true Agent Starling had an aff-”

“Agent Mapp, were you and Agent Starling close?”

Her posture was perfect, she didn’t break her military stride out the door and past the cameras and the vultures. She didn't stop walking until she got to her car, and rested her head on her steering wheel, Janis Joplin screeching from her car radio as she tried to drown her thoughts out.

 

 

Body of Christ, broken for you.

Blood of Christ, shed for you.

 

Jameson slipped out of his pew after he finished Holy Communion, slipping a cigarette into his mouth once outside and calling Nova, chatting with her and making plans for dinner in two days.

“...love you, babe,” he laughed when she said goodbye after a story about accidentally dropping a scalpel into the cavity of a cadaver. After the phone call ended, he received another call, this one from  -

“Fucking Christ, Janice, I just finished Mass don’t start with your blasphemy this time of night.”

“Listen, Jameson, Peter and I have been trying to call you for fucking hours. You’re still going through with this plan tomorrow?”

He rolled his eyes, taking a drag. “I figure might as well strike first. He’ll be alone tomorrow, I know he will be. I just want you outside to keep him quiet and complacent enough until we get Lecter willing to come out of hiding.”

“Sounds like a great plan.”

“You’re getting half a million to split between the two from the Doc and Margot, you’re going to be my backup and listen to me.”

“...fine, keep your phone on while you’re in there, for Christ’s sake.”

“Don’t worry, it’s three against one. We’ll be fine, and then they’ll be singing to the bottom of the Potomac in two days,” Jameson laughed, smoke escaping up to the sky.

 

 

Chiyoh slipped Hannibal’s letter to Ardelia into her mailbox, and considered the one clearly not written by him, mostly like by Clarice, still in her hand.

She eventually put it back into her coat pocket, nodding once to Ardelia in polite greeting as she slipped past her in the doorway. She left the letter there, amongst the lint and dust, but did not dispose of it.

Chapter Text

Jameson brought Nova back after taking her out on her lunch break, and walked down to the conference room where his new division met. As usual, nothing was going on, everyone finishing their lunches underneath a map with push pins halfheartedly stuck in around all parts of the world. No rhyme or reason or care for the case at all.

“What’s up?” Agent Chan said, crumpling up his sandwich wrapper. Jameson just grinned.

“I think I got a lead on this case.”

He was stunned when he was met with chuckles and laughter from the others in the room, who then filed out for coffee until it was just him and Chan left. Chan was still chuckling. “Wow, good for you.”

“I’m serious, I can get us a lead on Lecter.”

“So can anybody. Hell, so can Crawford and Lord knows he’s been talking out of his ass for years about where they are,” he told Jameson, opening a granola bar. “He ain’t got an idea, we don’t have an idea, and neither do you.”

Jameson breathed, irritated, out of his nose, gritting his teeth. “I’m serious, I know where we can find them.”

“You gonna tell me you know where Starling is, too?” Jameson visibly tilted his neck before straightening again.

“This isn’t about her,” he snapped. “It’s - it’s about ME! I know where to find them, not Starling. She - she got you shot by one of Drumgo’s men and I’m the one who got you a nice safe office job. So - so you’re going to listen to ME, and what MY plan is.”

Chan laughed, getting up from his chair and patting him on the shoulder once. “Listen, son, the only person that’s going to listen to you is Crawford, and the only reason he's being kept around is so he can chase his white whale in peace until he dies. They ain’t gonna listen to you. If Starling rises from the dead, she could. But you can’t.”

Jameson was left fuming in the conference room alone when Chan left to get coffee, and his fingers shook as he crumbled up his paper and threw it in the trash. There was a brief pause before he kicked it over across the floor, and stabbed a pushpin right into the DC metropolitan area, so deep he almost hit the cream-colored wall. He stormed out of the room, and didn’t answer a call from Margot, even when she called again.

“You look pissed,” Nova said to him when he went down to the lab to visit her, gesturing to her Thermos. He picked it up and drank from her lemon water as she focused her attention back onto the slide under her microscope. “What’s up?”

“You know, same old shit,” he shrugged, taking another sip. “Not getting taken seriously.”

“In the Lecter/Graham division? That’s a first,” she teased in good humor, switching slides. “They’re the same ones that seriously considered a sighting from some old lady in Montreal. Like some kind of creature in the woods, there one minute, gone the next, never in any pictures.”

Jameson shrugged again, setting the Thermos down again and leaning against the table behind Nova. “What are you looking at?” It was her turn to shrug.

“Leftover evidence from the Drumgo massacre, still trying to pull the culprits.” His blood went cold as she continued, “Just some extraneous croney DNA to deal with, already have the suspect in custody.”

“Oh.”

“What’s your lead?”

“Oh, uh, nothing, really. Just something.”

“Which is better than nothing,” she smiled, leaning back in her chair and giving him a kiss, squeezing his hand once. “Take an afternoon, Crawford has a meeting, he’ll be busy. Sure he won’t miss you for a while.”

He managed to smile, kissing her again and brushing a stray strand of hair from her face that fell from her ponytail. “Yeah, you got a point. I’ll see you later.”

As he passed Crawford’s office, Ardelia entered it, and he saw a magazine in the break room by his office with Starling’s face on it. Unlike the others, it didn’t condemn her: it celebrated her accomplishments and sighe over her public disgrace and such a shame and blah blah blah, he didn’t bother reading it, he just ripped the cover off and buried it under the rest of the trash and headed outside, festering in his own thoughts. He doesn't answer his phone call from Alana, either.

 

 

“We’re heading out, now,” Will told Clarice, who could not appear more disinterested as she read a novel from her personal library out on the deck. The sun was beginning to set, painting the sky a beautiful peach color with clouds that appeared purple across it.

Clarice shrugged, not looking up from her book. “Fine.”

“Probably be late, night,” Will said, getting up from leaning against the deck table, scratching behind Callie’s ears before going inside and slipping his coat and scarf on. “I’m leaving now,” he said to Hannibal in the kitchen, not turning around. “Wait ten minutes.”

And he was out the door.

As soon as ten minutes ticked by on the clock and the sound of the motor in the Bentley has long since vanished off into the distance, Hannibal was also out the door, following far behind him.

 

*

Janice snorted at the lame joke Peter made, leaning up against the wall outside of the bar. They were both dressed in their new bouncer uniforms, having gotten the job days prior to assist Jameson. They waved people in, turned away a sneaky teenager and his friends, and mostly just sat, bored, as the sun continued to set.

Peter sent a text to Jameson.

Think this will work?

It took five minutes before they got a response:

It better

The sun was just over the horizon, making the sky a deep orange with streaks of red when a car parallel parked a few stores down from the bar, and a man got out. He ran his fingers through his hair as he walked up the sidewalk, coat trailing behind his ankles as he walked. Janice caught a glimpse of a silver flask inside the coat and her mouth opened to comment when she met his eyes and she nearly closed her mouth. She swallowed, and then continued her words.

“Excuse me, sir,” she told (fucking Christ on the cross) Will Graham. “Outside alcohol isn’t allowed.”

Will’s gaze is too piercing before it shifts to something like nonchalance, and he removes a lighter from his pant pocket before asking, “Got a cigarette?”

Janice handed one to him, at arm’s length. He nodded a thanks, leaning up beside the side of the wall of the next store over. He lit the cigarette and smoked in complete silence as he slid a pair of sunglasses over his eyes.

Peter and Janice shared a quick look before heading over to him, even as he looked - bored, with it all.

“Sir, you need to hand over the flask if you want to enter,” Janice repeated to him as Peter pulled out his phone. He had just started a message when the loud purring of a motorcycle got both of their attention. In turning around, they both missed the smile that had now grown on his lips.

A motorcycle was parking on the side of the road by the bar, the cyclist dismounting and locking it into place. They slowly approached the three people near the darker, alley exit of the bar. Will’s expression appeared to not change, but he focused on a certain point on Peter’s neck with his gaze, and he straightened his spine.

The cyclist removed his helmet as he kept walking towards them, never breaking his stride.

Janice’s eyes widened and she pulled her phone from her pocket, frantically hitting the speed dial for Jameson.

There’s a small hiss caused from a cigarette burn on Peter’s neck.

The dial tone droned on and on as a hand wrapped around her neck and the smell and taste of iron surrounds her senses.

 

 

Love u. C u tmrw.

Jameson ignored Nova’s text, his hands shaking too much to even reach for his phone. He’d picked the wrong fucking case to quit drinking on. Honestly, if he didn’t show he’d get thrown off the case and back into the FBI cesspool circle of-

He turned and watched Will Graham walk into the bar, crossing through the dance floor and the spinning lights until he was directly across from Jameson, looking down at him with the corners of his mouth uptrunred.

“Seat taken?”

“Oh - no, all yours,” he managed a genuine smile back. “I’ll buy.”

“Only if you drink.”

“Only if you smoke.”

“Deal,” Will said, his coat knocking the pack of cigarettes of the counter, waving Jameson away from reaching to grab them. “I got it.”

Jameson turned and got Will a beer and himself a martini, and Will slid into the seat beside him, dropping the pack onto the beer mat. Jameson shook out two cigarettes, giving one to Will before he focused on the martini just placed in front of him, drinking half of it in one go before setting it back down. He turned back and gave his attention to Will, turning the cigarette over in his fingers. “Got a light?”

“Of course,” Will smiled. It doesn't quite reach his eyes, but Jameson’s more focused on leaning forward to light it between his teeth. Unlike before, Will’s arm did not extend with the lighter; rather, he had to lean forward until they were inches apart, making direct eye contact. The smile was easier to put on after he took a drag on his cigarette, even meaning to put a little more behind it.

“I’ve been considering something different, lately,” Will said, sipping his beer. Jameson breathe the smoke out of his lungs.

“Do tell.”

Will tilted an eyebrow, his smile suddenly warmer and more inviting. “Just - been in a rut lately, you know?”

“In what way?” Jameson hummed. The music felt louder, the singer’s voice worming into his mind. The lights were a little brighter.

“Oh, just - variation is important, don’t you think? More attention, notoriety,” Will trailed off, leaning a little closer, his cigarette smoke drifting up to the ceiling. Jameson leaned forward, his head on his hand and cigarette dangling from his mouth. He traced his eyes over the scar badly covered in makeup. Perfect. Hook, line, sinker. “No one’s really pursued me since - Agent Starling found my hiding place.”

“Fuck her,” Jameson muttered, snarling even, drinking more of his drink and taking another long drag before blowing the smoke out harshly through his nose. “Hogs all the fucking spotlight, gets the credit, not her fault you’re -they’r- she’s - Lect’rs fuckin’ type, fucking drooling over some - some cornpone country puss-” he stopped himself before he finished that sentence, steering it back on track with a lazy smile.

“Explain somethin’ to me,” he asked, though it was more like a demand, able to take his time and relax in the case now that he had him. Will’s smile only grew, moving closer. “Like - if offered, Mr. G- Kore, would you - start all over with it again?”

The lights were - so much brighter than before. “If I was offered,” Will said in a voice lower in the register than the singer crooning over the speaked, and fingers traced lightly over the top of his thigh. “I wouldn’t change a damn thing.”

Maybe the martini was way too strong, only most of one glass is gone and letting Will Graham touch him and the lights are so fucking bright and the music swirling around in his mind and weighing it down and then oh fucking Jesus there’s lips against his and he melts like a fucking ice cube in that beer, drowning - fucking DROWNING, shit, shit, shit it tastes like blood, like - like blood, it’s flooding his mouth and running down his throat and the- the grip that Will has on his jaw is so tight it’s like it’s about to be ripped right out of his skull and the bones are crack-

“Are you alright?” asked Graham’s voice, almost like real concern

Jameson blinked once in the blinding lights and Will Graham was sitting right in front of him like - exactly like he was when he first sat down, like - like he didn’t move. It took too much energy to lift his eyes from the stained floor, and he’s about to say yes of course, he’s perfectly fine, until he looks up.

There’s blood coming out of a cut from Graham’s forehead, there’s blood under the fingernails on the hand resting on his thigh, there’s blood fucking gushing out of the scar on his cheek, like it’s freshly ripped open and dripping onto the bar, into his glass of beer- the beer is a dark musky color and his mouth is stained red, teeth pulled back in an unholy combination of a smirk and a snarl.

“Aren’t you having a good time?” he asked, a demand and a tease and a laugh all in one, blood oozing out of every mark and staining his clothes and the flood and oh god it’s dripping on hi-

“I said, are you alright?”

Jameson scrubbed both eyes with his free hand and nearly fell off of his seat scrambling to stand up, and he blinked again at Will Graham. His face and clothes are clean of any blood, and it looked all the world like concern on his face if his fucking eyes had anything but contempt behind them.

Thank God, his phone rings.

“Gotta-” he waved his hand in Will’s directions and didn’t even look back, stumbling through the crowd to get outside to fresh air and quiet. His shoulder collides with someone in a leather jacket. “Move,” he murmured, weaving clumsily through the crowd until he’s outside.

Hannibal watched him leave, flowering, before brushing off his leather jacket where it had been brushed against, and got through the crowd to Will at the bar. Will blinked up with a smile, dropping the unsmoked cigarette into the ashtray. He got up before a word was exchanged, none were necessarily needed, and he stood close to Hannibal. He flicked a loose hair off of his jacket, blood still under his fingernails.

“Don’t be jealous now, save that for home,” he said lowly, keeping the smile. He picked up the pack of cigarettes on the counter and put them into his coat pocket, slipping it on. “Let’s go.”

Hannibal dropped cash on the bar to pay for the drinks and left with Will on his arm.

 

 

Jameson stumbled down the sidewalk, the cigarette still in his hand as he was on the phone with Margot, obviously pissed.

“No word from you all day, and now your ‘associates’ aren’t answering their ph-”

“‘Y’re people, not mine,” he slurred, having to slump against the car parallel parked on the road. “Woul’t fuckin’ lisssten.”

“And you’re drunk. I’m not paying you for this. I thought you quit.”

“Jus’ had one d-”

He’d had one drink. He’d watched the drink get made. Nothing was in that drink.

Will’s hand, holding a cigarette and letting the ash burn his fingers like it didn't hurt at all.

Oh fuck.

Jameson dropped the cigarette, but his coordination was so far gone that he ended up dropping both the cigarette and the phone, tripping and falling against the car window, seeing a familiar face.

“Pete, Janice, open up. Fuck, ‘s not funny, ‘re here, gotta - g-” There’s a scarf he recognized around Janice’s neck as she was sitting up straight in her seatbelt, Peter slumped against her shoulder.

The problem was, it was a white scarf when he’d last seen it. Not red staining into brown....and there were glowing red eyes staring back in the reflection of the window glass.

And then the world almost exploded when two hands wrapped around his neck, twisting and squeezing and nearly crushing his windpipe before he even considered struggling. The world was getting darker and darker and he could barely struggle back before he was suddenly released. The sudden flow of oxygen flowing into his brain again was euphoric, even if there was still a strong hand around his neck that had fingers pressed against the bone, ready to snap it like a chicken's neck.

 

 

“...well, aren't you going to answer me?” Margot demanded into the phone, rubbing her temple with her free hand before picking up her water glass.

Will smiled into the phone picked up from the paved earth. “Margot.”

He heard glass shattering on the other side of the line, before an ice cold and hissed, “Will.”

“It’s good to hear from you.”

“Is he dead?”

“You sound better now than you did bef-”

“Cut the shit, Will, is he dead or not?”

Will cradle the phone between his shoulder and his cheek, removing the silver flask from his jacket pocket, pouring the chloroform into his handkerchief in front of Jameson’s wild eyes and struggling in vain against Hannibal's iron grip on his neck and hip. “No.”

“Are you going to kill him?”

“Hmm,” Will hummed absentmindedly, shoving the cloth up and into Jameson's nose, causing him to gasp and start struggling even more, even as his struggles turned to violent convulsions and he couldn't focus on Will’s words on his phone. He could, however, hear Hannibal’s low baritone voice in his ear as a convulsion shakes him from his chest to his calves.

“Now, when you wake up,” Hannibal said, perfectly even with just a hint of bite, disgust, almost. “You’re going to be in a quiet room. Organized. Calm. If you can't escape us” Jameson convulsed hard one more time, he was gripped tighter “then you’ll have to kill the root of your problems. Your only choice will be to stop it from getting in your way for the last time.”

This time, after convulsing, Jameson went completely limp, and out cold in Hannibal’s arms. “Don’t drop him.”

“You have such little faith, Will,” Hannibal smiled at him. “Open the trunk, please.”

There’s a manic gleam in Will’s eyes from the adrenaline and blood and slight contact high along with his smile as he does so. Once everything is packed away neatly, he pressed up against him.

“I’ll race you home.”

“Please do not get a ticket in your current state.”

Will laughed, easily getting attention away from people coming out of the bar through the alley exit by kissing Hannibal, one long and deep and almost enough to distract him completely.

“Do the prep work tomorrow,” Will said with Hannibal's lip between his teeth. “It’ll keep.”

“What will keep my attention?”

“What has for all these years,” Will smirked. “Me.”

 

 

Margot threw the cellphone at the bed, looking up at Alana in alarm. Alana matched her look before scrambling to her address book to do damage control. “Jack, it went wrong. You said you can get me-”

“She said no, Alana, she- Agent Mapp said-”

“I don’t care what she said, Jack,” Alana hissed through her teeth, “they took a piece off the board, they’re advancing. They took Starling, now they have Jameson.”

“Wh-”

“They’re getting closer,” Alana said desperately, taking the phone as she talked, checking on her son asleep in bed. She triple-checked the lock on his window, staring out at the pine trees and waiting for some familiar shape to emerge from deep within them.