Clarice Starling didn't enjoy stewing, and she wasn't a woman who was easily inclined to do so. After she had left the institution, she sat a while in her car, reflecting. If she had been afraid of anything going into this visit, it was the possibility of him invading her, unsettling her in a way that he had not before. True, she had allowed him inside her head, she had shown him that she wasn't ready to sever the ties they had loosely, untrustingly sought out over four months ago. Seemingly eons ago, when he had handed her the file, and the crackling of his eyes at the touch of their fingers had seemed to Clarice like firelight - or perhaps, more cruelly, like lightning.
Once, someone (she believed Jack Crawford) had told her that she didn't want Hannibal the cannibal inside her head.
The time for caution had long since passed.
It was comforting when she realised, dully, that she had never been invaded in the way that others had told her she would be. Of course, there was always something unnerving about a man who would not blink when addressing you; of course she had felt a little nauseous at the unbearable, undeniable, underlying sexual nature that had spoiled the notion of their first conversation - like the first time he had spoken an obscenity in her presence. He had said fuck, Clarice remembered, and he had been talking about her. About her fucking. It was just as well she had eventually won was she presumed was his respect. Clarice did not doubt that there was a quiet humour around those remarks, and those gestures - the wink, the stroke of his finger, the curt, low people will say we're in love - she knew that he was toying with her. There was no attraction, at least on her part.
No, Clarice knew that the bone she had to pick with Doctor Lecter wasn't based on uncovering some hidden romantic desire. She felt entitled, if she was honest with herself; she had felt a little pang of reproach after he had drawn so much of her past out of her and then left her to her own play for her sought-after silence.
Clarice was growing tired of her memories, as she so often did, and her full attention shifted back onto the road. The strange middle ground of the Baltimore cityscape dragging slowly into the quiet, eerie Maryland country tore past in a repetitive ribbon against the skyline, and in her boredom she let it bleed out into a single blur. Driving was therapeutic, and the bone-white of her knuckles against the steering wheel was faintly comforting at the back of her mind. Home was no more than an apartment, shared with her closest friend, Ardelia Mapp, but the space was small enough to stifle any ghosts that would follow her home.
As she unlocked the front door and entered with a small, warm sigh, she went to Ardelia's room, knocked briefly, and stuck her head around the door, "Hey,"
Dee was reading on her bed; when she heard Clarice's voice, she looked up, momentarily caught in a receptionist's 'can I help you?', but when she realised who it was she gave a wide, warm smile that crinkled her eyes. God, she's beautiful, Clarice thought as she grinned back, proffering her cheek for Dee to peck in greeting.
"Good morning, Special Agent Starling," Ardelia said, her voice lilting and playful, "has the high of being a
real life FBI agent worn off yet?"
"Not even remotely, Special Agent Mapp," Clarice sat down heavily, adjusting her weight on the duvet. She was smiling, and for a moment her mind lingered on the way Dee had looked when she had done so. Clarice knew that she was a good-looking girl through the sheer force of compliments, and her face begged to smile, but when she did it felt a little cumbersome, her lips too drawn back from her teeth, her cheeks aching. But Ardelia - she was effortlessly pretty, with her warm, dark eyes and her curls scraped back from her face. Clarice would never look like that. It was hard not to let her happy glow dull slightly at the thought. "Looks like you've really been making the most of the day,"
Dee huffed laughter through her nose. "I'd like to think so. Speaking of, where were you sneaking off to in your fancy coat. Were you actually doing your job?"
Clarice shifted a little, "I mean, I was,"
At this, the other girl's face set a little stiffly; her eyes became bright with knowing. "Clarice, you have not been to see him." It wasn't a question. Clarice didn't answer, but then again she didn't need to. Ardelia continued, her eyes locking with hers. A stab of guilt worked away at her stomach.
"And you didn't tell me?" Dee shook her head. "Clary, girl, Hannibal Lecter almost ruined your fucking life. Aren't you meant to keep me up to date on all the male activity in your life? Jeez. Even when those men are twice your age, and serial cannibals." Once more, the shake of her head, "I just don't get why you'd want to be around someone that so desperately wants to be better than you,"
"But he doesn't, and that's why I have to see him again. Dee, you have to believe me when I say I'm not in love with him."
Ardelia momentarily pursed her lips with a look of maternal disapproval, and she parted them to respond when Clarice let out another sentiment in a rushed breath, "He knows stuff about my family. From when I was little. I can't just let those kind of things loose in the world, not when I don't understand them. I just need to understand how and why he can help me."
Clarice looked up, suddenly ashamed at her small, orderly outburst, and Ardelia put a comforting hand in the small of her back. Their eyes melted into one another. The space between was molten. The touch was soothing, and the small circles that Dee was rubbing through the layers of clothing coaxed the anxiety out of her pores. As the poison leaked out of her bloodstream, she realised just how lucky she was to have somebody who could commit to the simple act of dealing; dealing with her, with them, knowing what to say and how to help. She didn't know how she'd manage alone - her own cards were long since dealt, the royal flush she desperately preened still not good enough to flush the inferiority out of her veins. Ardelia was and would always be her first and last resort, but desperation made Clarice gamble for the sake of something to worry about.
She did not know, she thought to herself, how she would manage if those small, comforting circles couldn't make their way past a barrier of glass.