Chapter 1: Quid Pro Quo
They inhaled as one, and his exhale trailed low and exultant behind hers. Clarice swallowed, her throat feeling dry and tacky, and she rearranged the firm set of her jaw. The image of stoicism; wearing her alias as a mask to hide the fact that she was still a student despite her fairly recent promotion, and he was still teaching her lessons that she would never forget.
This was not the first time they had met, far from it, but even at twenty six years old and eleven o' clock in the morning she still felt like a child in cheap shoes and her roommate's perfume in front of the plexiglass. Clarice had bought her new bag, though, and the stiff, glossy leather against her thigh felt as comforting as any weapon. Even the notion that the accessory was for anything more than a quiet play at maturity made her feel uneasy. He does seem to like it all the same, she noted. And it was true; after his eyes had flitted to her outfit an approving cast had set about his face.
The doctor rocked back marginally, his feet remaining planted. "You ought to sit," he repeated. Clarice did not take his offer. She took a tentative step toward the glass.
"Doctor Lecter, I'm not here to ask for your help."
And really, she wasn't, but the words felt like a distraction. Clarice knew that if she sat, it would give him height on her; it would almost feel like a sign of submission if she allowed him to look down on her with that amused contempt. She'd seen it before, so many times, and putting herself back into a position where she was vulnerable to it felt like madness as it was.
What're you even doing here, Clar, she thought to herself, what do you have to gain from coming back for one final gloat?
Clarice shocked herself with her own sarcastic repetition of the Doctor's words, and she must have physically registered it because a quiet amusement came about his face.
"No? Then what reason do you have for returning to see me? You know that eyebrows will raise at the top notch of the F-B-I," Doctor Lecter extended the syllables so that they faded out as a whisper that sent her very innards writhing.
"I came because I wanted to. We never came to a conclusion in Memphis. You made me tell you things, and I want to know some things myself. Quid pro quo, Doctor."
Doctor Lecter smiled. It wasn't cold, despite the chills it sent down Clarice's spine, but it's warmth held the mirth of mocking. "You mean to tell me that you returned to this institution, to see me after I made it so clear that we were to lead separate lives, so that you could get even on a little trivia?" Clarice went to answer, but he continued, "You know, Special Agent Starling, for all of your new titles and perfume and bags you're still every bit the rube. Perhaps I remind you a little of your father, or maybe you can't afford a therapist. Tell me, dear Clarice, did the screaming of the lambs ever stop, or did you just replace them with the dying breath of our late Billy? Does it remind of that someone special, or did you never happen to hear the last words of your cheap-shit, white trash father?-"
"Ugh," Clarice gave an utterance in her disgust, and turned to leave. She heard the Doctor's hissing intake of breath, and faced him even as her skin flushed. Indignance made her bold. She tilted her chin belligerently towards him, her voice quiet with anger, her words tripping over her accent.
"Quid pro quo, Doctor Lecter. I'll tell you that when you answer me this: how did it feel to be captured like a rat and dragged back into your cage by the people you hate the most, before the postman even delivered that telegram of yours? To not even be a threat enough for death row? You'd rot alone in here without me, Doctor, so I'd try and hang on to me."
Doctor Lecter laughed, disbelief and eventually respect setting into his voice. His eyes, dark and bright like drying blood, didn't leave hers.
"My, you're teetering on rude. Very impertinent, but then you always were rather bold, brave Clarice. I'm afraid that it wasn't ideal that I was "captured" as you put it, but there's comfort in knowing that Chilton's so close that I could eat his throat out if I get the chance."
Again, the chill raced down Clarice's spine like a ghostly finger. She swallowed, before realising that she was keeping him waiting, "I never put your answer in the papers. But they stopped. The lambs, I mean. I haven't dreamed of them since we took down Jame Gumb."
"When you took down Jame Gumb. You never lost that nerve that they tried to sever at the FBI, but they've gotten close. Now, quid pro quo. You say I ought to hang onto you, yet that implies that this isn't the last I will be seeing of you. Were you planning to make a series of visits?"
Clarice nodded. "I spoke to Mr Chilton. He thinks I'm going to be updating your psychological profile, which he agreed to after he saw how well we got along." Her voice remained cold and business-like. "I will ask you questions that both him and I want the answers to, but I'll take your confidentiality into consideration. To a certain extent. We'll need some time. I'll visit when I can."
"You are bold," Doctor Lecter marvelled once more, "and furthermore, it is so to assume that I would consent to this."
"We could do it the way we did before. Eye for an eye. Quid pro quo. I can tell you things. But I want the same courtesy from you." It was a reprisal of a line from his letter. She wondered if he remembered.
"Can we do that?"
It had been a risky choice to end on a plea such as that; it left her vulnerable, liable to fall in the event of his refusal. She was offering him her insides, no matter what kind of monster he was, no matter if it would only make him hungry for more. He was the only man who had offered her answers, and she needed this lifeline.
"I don't see why I should object." Doctor Lecter was in good spirits, clearly, and he still held that look of admiration for her in his eyes. "But for now, Agent Clarice Starling, you will leave me."
"No," Clarice stepped forward in a dull, hurried panic, "we've barely spoken, I have some time left-"
"Of we are to continue an arrangement, you are mistaken in believing it will operate on your time. I have things to do. You have people to see. It was brave of you to fly the nest, but it's time for you to return to the rest of the chicks." He walked away, leaving Clarice to see herself out. She turned, unsettled and a touch affronted. As Hannibal Lecter reached his bunk, and Clarice had started off down the hall, she caught his voice as he offered her a deliberate afterthought; "By the way, this Estée Lauder scent - white linen, I believe - is pleasant enough, but it will never replicate that l'Air Du Temps. It's missing the iris."
Clarice quickened her pace as she walked away.
Chapter 2: Reason
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.
Chapter 3: Banal
Even the name 'Clarice' had been a luxury she couldn't have hoped would last. She was a Starling, known by that monicker trough the compound, and she'd barely been Clarice to anybody since she'd left the orphanage. To her father, even, she'd been 'Baby' most of the time; his affectionate nicknames for her had rarely varied and had stuck fast. Starling often thought she wore his name in his memory. She really did miss him more than she let anybody know.
The evening was drawing on, the dusk beginning to settle patiently over the sky as fine as dust. As Starling left the small duplex apartment, straightening a flung cushion as she went, she barely stopped to look at the flaring orange the spread up into green, blue and eventually a vast grey-black over the sky. She usually loved the dawn and the late sunset; she found a little peace in the grainy haze of the dying of the light over the hills. No time for it now.
Starling went to her car and sagged into the belly of the Mustang as it lowered momentarily under her weight. She'd had quite the week; a little spiteful backlash from Krendler and anybody who hated women enough to like him over a fairly major drug bust that had been less than successful - someone had tipped the perps and they'd scattered across the state. As a result, her nerves were highly strung and her knuckles clicked as she steered.
Music had never been a huge part of Starling's life, so she drove in silence. On her way to the asylum, driving alone with her thoughts, her mind touched on her father once more. He'd been of the kind of tall, lean build that made a man look flat - the planes of muscles in his body had been levelled and defined when she saw him, and her body resembled that now, hardened from her training. Starling had always thought of him as having fairly light colouring, but his hair and eyes had been dark. She hadn't gotten a lot of his features. Not his high nose-bridge that pulled his face out and down; the only similarity was the slightly turned-up tip that offered them both a beguiling softness. Her jaw was square, his had been a wonky diamond. She wished that she could find something she had carried purely from him.
During her journey it had gotten dark outside her windows, and an urban red-black haze had set over the buildings and trees. For the last few minutes, rain had spat contemptuously over her windscreen in fat droplets.
Strangely, by the time she parked it was a downpour. Starling broke into a hurried run as she slung her bag over her shoulder and made for the tall, imposing building. Soaked through her layers, she broke through the door with almost feverish relief, signed in and thought better than to knock on Dr. Frederick Chilton's door, even with the yellow strip of light underneath. The journey down lasted forever.
The lights were off, and the small television set cast a garish glare that shifted and moved over the wall and played off the glass. Her breath caught in her throat; it felt a little too much like looking down the stairs at night.
Barney briefed her again on the rules; she heard him out. She remembered them perfectly well.
One cage opens, another seals her in. Away from Barney - alone with him.
Her hair was plastered to her face and neck, drying straggly. Onwards, past poor, stupid Sammie, Starling walked briskly, hoping that any shivering was hidden under her heavy, unflattering coat. Her strong-boned face was free of makeup, and though she certainly didn't look bad by any means she felt severely underdressed for her host.
Starling let him see her first, made sure that she had walked across the front of the cell before she turned. When she did, Doctor Lecter wasn't standing or sitting or drawing in her line of sight as she had anticipated; the darkness felt deeper where she knew he was. An irregular slither of wobbling, shifting grey-blue light from the television revealed the brick wall of the near corner. Starling swallowed.
"Doctor Lecter? Good evening, Doctor. May I speak with you?"
The rasp of his breath caught on the air between them. He was nearer than she'd thought; possibly against the wall. A moment, and then he moved smoothly forward to the glass, his head cocked slightly.
"Good evening, Clarice. I must say, you're out rather late. I wasn't expecting a visit so far past your bedtime."
Starling shifted. "Not exactly. I don't think I'll get called in this weekend."
"No." Doctor Lecter's eyes moved to her hair, something keen forming. "Is it raining?"
She nodded, "I only got caught for a moment. It's alright."
A beat, and then the he moved away, almost gliding back into the dark. Starling heard noises, quiet noises, and flinched hard at the clang of the sliding drawer jutting out beside her. Upon looking, she saw a folded towel. She pulled it out and as she sent the drawer back, Doctor Lecter moved smoothly back into the light in front of the glass. Starling was aware of how close he was, and how she'd never have stood so near if the glass hadn't provided a constant, comforting barrier.
"You sent me through a towel before." It wasn't a question, nor a test. No emotion registered on the doctor's face.
"I did. Does it rain often?"
"No, not really."
"Hmm. Did you ever get that telegram, Clarice?"
The change in the conversation was abrupt, but Starling moved with it with ease that surprised even her, "Yes. But you were brought back to Baltimore later in the week."
"Would you have replied if I hadn't?"
"No. Quid pro quo, Doctor. Why did you write to me if you didn't want me to find you?"
Doctor Lecter hummed. "You wouldn't reply, hmmm? You really aren't one for common courtesies. I wrote to you because I wanted for something. You owed me something, quid pro quo, and you never told me if those lambs ever stopped screaming. Now you can own up to it in person, like a big girl."
Starling's voice came out a little more hoarsely than she had intended, but it was from something less primal than fear. "They did. Of course they did. You said they would if I saved Catherine. You're damn right I saved that girl."
"Spoken like a vulgarian."
It was her turn. The unspoken rule called for her attention, but Starling felt caught on vulgarian like a rabbit on barbed wire. She had been a rube when she was a student, oh yes, but now, oh now she was Special Agent Clarice M. Starling and she was an ill-bred, crass little vulgarian because she dared utter the word 'damn'.
"Ite's been quite some time since you arrived and you still haven't told me to what I owe the pleasure. Ask your questions."
Starling had busied herself with drying her hair. She left it tousled as she brought the towel down and around herself like a shawl. "I wanted to clear some things up before we start our course of action, Doctor Lecter." Never an assessment, never an assessment.
"I think we should go back to the letter. I didn't like it much. It had a strange ending," Starling could call it from memory, "'Some of our stars are the same.' What did you mean by that?"
Doctor Lecter drew breath while she spoke, and let it go in what seemed like a show of exasperation. "Sometimes words have more meanings than one would imagine. You can find your meanings in your own time. Do tell me when you think you have something,"
Starling's jaw tightened, her gaze steady, her blue eyes pulsing under the quivering light, "Doctor Lecter, you're being pedantic. We agreed to do this quid pro quo, and you're going to tell me what I ask you to. You wrote about the stars, and then you wrote my name. You wrote 'Clarice'. It felt deliberate."
"Were you trying to toy with me?"
The terrible eyes shining; they burned into her skin. "My intention wasn't to toy with you. I must be frank, you amuse me, but I didn't set about trying to scare you or intimidate you. You are brave, and you interest me. You won't let that go to your head."
Starling didn't want to nod in case she came across vain, but her head moved slightly to indicate her understanding. Under the worry, the discomfort, she felt the pang of registered flattery. She tried to crush it. Doctor Lecter watched her face with intent; he wasn't looking for a reaction, rather, he watched her face for what it was, the way it moved. It made Starling feel raw. Nothing she wasn't used to. "All right, Doctor."
"All right. I won't keep you much longer, Clarice. I'm growing tired of clearing things up. I'd prefer a longer chat next time, if you can find something less banal to talk about. I'll ask you just one more thing tonight... Were you ever glad that I was no longer under Chilton's... hmmm... care after the escape in Memphis? After we talked about my treatment, our disagreements? The lack of a view? After our little talks, did you feel as if a distance between us made the things you told me reverse? Tell me, Clarice. You're not wired, you wouldn't dare. Nobody who could hurt your career can hear you. Please, enlighten me."
Doctor Lecter's voice tailed out. Clarice Starling kept eye contact, and found she didn't much want to break it. "I suppose I was glad that you got to see some trees, at least." Humour, very bold. "And I'm glad that you got one up on that slimy creep, Chilton. And I'm glad that you didn't come and find me or hurt me. I think that was decent of you." A beat, a breath. "I can't adulate you. You've done despicable things. But I respect you enough to thank you for letting me live my life."
"But now you're here."
"I didn't have to be."
"And yet you chose to."
Starling didn't like this turn. Intuition screamed that this was a trap and that already she was snagged; she decided to turn back along the trail.
"I want to leave now. I won't waste any more of your time. Goodbye, Doctor Lecter."
He was already out of sight; grey noise from the television set filtered gently through like light through water, and Starling imagined she saw him turning away. He had never offered her his back. He wouldn't now.
She wondered if she could make out his eyes in the dark.
"Goodnight, Clarice. Sweet dreams."
A chill, a moment in which she almost turned.
"Wait a moment. I lied to you, Agent Starling, I'll ask you one more thing if you don't mind. Will you wash that towel and bring it back before Monday afternoon?"
Starling nodded. Suddenly, she was aware of the weight of her thick hair was pressing almost uncomfortably against her neck and shoulders, still wet. "Of course. Goodnight."
She turned and hurried along the short corridor, drawing the towel up around her head as a means of futile protection as she went. When she reached the cage and finally let her breathing slow, it took a minute for her to realise that she was sweating at the brow. Barney eyed the towel as the second metal gate slid open with a metallic crank, and Clarice stopped bunching it around her hair and brought it down and about her shoulders. She shot him a quick, awkward smile, and he returned it with warm eyes as she stepped forward to leave. "You take care, Agent Starling,"
She turned back, and this time her smile was genuine. "You too, Sir."
Starling left the imposing building without the obstruction she always, anxiously expected. The rain was still dying; faint droplets spattered her shoulders feebly as she made her way to the Mustang. The dark made the air feel heavy and dank, and deep breaths of the cool, softly fragrant air did her slightly frayed nerves the world of good. The towel, crisply white although limp with rainwater in some places, seemed to seep comfortingly between her fingers.
She would've hit herself if she had registered the way that she lifted it fleetingly, tautly to her cheek as the engine purred to life and started to take her back to Quantico.
Chapter 4: Revelations
The days drew on like migrating buffaloes, and Starling awoke with her head resting in her folded arms atop her desk. Underneath her hands and her spilling dark hair was a four page report, a handwritten draft. The report read as a synopsis of her visits to Baltimore, some dialogue, some speculations. Starling worked fast and hard, and she'd burned out by the early hours of the morning.
The first thing she registered was the ache in her lower back. Starling let out a happy sigh as she curled her spine up and rolled her shoulders back. She tried to stretch some life into her arms, imagining the steady, mechanic grind of the bones. The air in the room was stifling and heavy from the portable radiator, and in her late-night work fever Starling had fallen asleep in her bra, her khaki trousers belted tightly at her waist. Pulling her hair back and tying it, she made her way through to the laundry room.
"Morning, Dee," she called as she pulled out clothes for the day. From through the wall, a muffled, yelled answer. Starling grinned to herself.
She made to leave, but a thought put a pivot in her heel and she spun, her expression quizzical. "Ardelia...?"
Starling heard the shuffling rumble of Mapp hurrying, and the door opened. "Hey," she smiled, "what's up?"
"Did you take a small, kind of weird white towel out last night. Not really fluffy, kind of scratchy?" Starling looked up as Ardelia crouched down beside her and delved through the clean clothes in the washing machine.
"Did you want it for a hair towel? We were completely out in the bathroom, I put it on the radiator by the sink."
Starling sighed good-naturedly, "I have to return that, Dee,"
"You borrowed a towel? Only you, girl."
"I accidentally stole it from a cannibal with a doctorate who has seen me with semen on my face and would use that against me. It's a sticky situation,"
"Maybe not the choice of words I'd use, Starling,"
Starling rolled her eyes and huffed laughter through her nose, "That is disgusting. Fetch me my towel, you fool."
When Dr. Frederick Chilton heard Starling's knock at his office door hours later, he was quick in adjusting his posture. Leaning back in his chair and lowering steepled fingers to point towards the door, he offered the most confident "Come in," that he could. Starling entered with a quick, cold smile and put as little distance between her and the desk as possible. She had noticed his body language instantly, all of her good humour lost. She wasn't in the mood to combat his officious power play.
"Good morning - it is still morning? - Miss Starling,"
"It's Special Agent Starling now, Doctor Chilton. Good morning."
"I see. We didn't speak last time you were here. You could've asked me to brief you,"
Starling's smile didn't touch her eyes. "It hasn't been all that long since I first came to see Doctor Lecter, Sir. I've got a good memory, and Barney reminded me of the rules before I went in."
"Yes. Well, I won't keep you for long, I just want to make sure that you know that visitors are prohibited from wearing wires when talking to prisoners. I won't be accompanying you down, but I don't want you to be able to draw back on conversations that I don't know of when working on Lecter's profile," Chilton punctuated his sentence with an easy, practiced smile that planted a seed of disgust in Starling's stomach.
"Of course. I have to tell you, I'm not allowing you to search my bags today. I'm not sent directly by the FBI on an urgent course of action this time. I believe you can trust my word."
The exchange was almost flirtatious on paper. Slimy creep, Starling thought. She wanted Chilton on her side, but not enough to accept any advance he swung her way.
"Are you wired, Agent Starling?"
"No. Did you want to brief me or am I free to go down alone?" Starling said, standing still and speaking briskly. She wasn't going to have him seeing her as incapable, nor as young, nor as interested.
"I'd like to walk with you, discuss some things,"
"It's a work day, Doctor Chilton, I don't want to appear ungracious but I'm on a time schedule."
He wasn't pleased by that, but he wasn't irritated enough to argue. He smiled at her briefly, all of the lines in his face tearing open, then swung his legs off the desk and clapped his hands as if he were about to show her the door.
"Please, feel free to call if you need to express information, but don't disturb me when you finish up, will you? I have appointments."
"Thank you." Starling left, her mind hissing from the slight little nerve Chilton had brushed in sending her out. She reckoned she knew her way down by now.
It was cold in the basement, and it drew the goosebumps out of Starling's flesh like fear. She was a little conscious of the way she walked, as if the way that her shoes announced her quietly could betray whether there was a naturally conquettish swing to her hips, or if her feet pointed outwards in a show of vulnerability.
Barney had the foresight and the manners to leave a chair facing the plexiglass before Starling had arrived, and as she moved through the cell block her anger rose in her - forced her to walk faster, harder, storm the hallway - until suddenly she realised that this was not the way she was going to gain anything. She thought it would be best to seat herself before he could even see her.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter was seated at his small desk. Starling caught him in a pause in his writing, the soft-tipped pen teetering between the two replicated middle fingers on his left hand. Before he could look up, she sat as cleanly as she could, her knees together. It was not her instinct to cross her legs.
He looked up; his eyes caught hers immediately. "Clarice."
"Did I disturb you?"
"No, I doubt you could."
Starling shifted. "If you don't mind my asking, what're you working on?"
"A response to a psychology-sociology student requesting an excerpt for her final exam. An exploration of the correlation between parental attitudes to sexuality and sex repulsion in children."
He watched her as he spoke. Nothing out of the ordinary. Starling nodded slightly. "Is it any good?"
"Surprisingly, yes. You know, I wondered how it would stand beside yours. Of course, it's been quite some time since you graduated, what with you being real FBI now."
Her brow furrowed ever so slightly. "That's a peculiar thought, Doctor Lecter,"
"I would love to know what you find peculiar. Did you ever wash that towel for me?"
"Ah, yes-" Starling fumbled in her bag and drew it out, giving Lecter a civil smile as she placed in in the food basket and sent it through with an abrasive clang. His slow, inauspicious smile did not change, and he did not retrieve the towel, only let his eyes close for a second as he took the time to inhale. His eyes opened, and they seemed so wide to Starling.
"Thank you, Clarice."
In the space between them where white noise had roared the previous visit, silence began to creep.
"Hmmm. Are you going to write about this exchange for your report?"
"No. We can move on if you'd prefer?"
"That's contingent on what you plan on moving on to. You've been asking quite a few questions, haven't you?" Doctor Lecter's pen was down, his hand resting gently on the table. "I don't care to repeat myself, but quid pro quo means quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things." He thought for a beat. "Clarice, do you live alone?"
"No, I share a duplex."
No change in his greedy eyes. "Your partner?"
Starling smiled ruefully, an understated gesture. "No. My friend."
"I see. When was the last time you were romantically involved with a man?"
"A little under five months ago. After the Buffalo Bill case, I was casually seeing an entomologist who worked with me on the case."
"Why did you decide to separate?" Doctor Lecter watched her without the predatory stare of a deviant.
"I wasn't looking for a relationship. I think that's what he wanted."
Doctor Lecter stood, the gentle unfurling of his body as he moved enough of a stretch, and moved smoothly toward the glass. His dilating pupils stretched like the screaming maw of some great beast. Starling's instincts screamed at her to rise and move to face him.
"You weren't the type of girl who thought about her dream wedding and baby names, were you?" There was a private laugh in his voice. It rustled Starling a little that she wasn't in on what was so funny.
"I didn't want to get married, no."
"Were you afraid that your entomologist was going to want to take a more... serious direction?"
"No. We just wanted to take different steps in our lives, and it was causing tension."
"Did he want to get to know you, Clarice? Did he want to become a part of your life?"
"Doctor, I think that this is off-topic," Starling tilted her chin almost belligerently up to him, her mouth twisting as she tried to smile. Something was creeping up her back, and she didn't care for it.
"You're avoiding the question, Clarice. How are you feeling right now?"
"Thank you for your honesty. Do you think that you make people feel uncomfortable?"
"I don't see why I would." An edge in her voice.
"You know, people love to be needed. It's innate that people want others to care about them. You don't want to care for people. Did this man want you to care about him? Don't be modest."
"Did you want to care about him?"
Starling's lips parted, ever so slightly, and that was enough. The softening of her eyes and jaw gave her face a stricken quality that sparked something in Doctor Lecter instantly; his eyes hardened and his breath tugged past his lips in something similar to rapture. Starling broke away from his eyes for less than a second, and when she found his face once more she saw herself in the lens of his mind - a woman he had grown to respect, she thought, regressing into a hardened, scared, vulnerable girl right before him. How riveting.
Jaw tightened, eyes glassy. Breathe, Starling.
"Did you start to care about him?"
"I don't know. He was so... strange."
"Strange..." Doctor Lecter's face was clouded with thought. Starling couldn't read it.
"Doctor, I'm here to talk to you, about you. I agreed to tell you things about myself in return for information from you. If telling you about Mr Pilcher will not help me to do my job, I may have to disregard courtesy and find something more worth my time. I live in the world. I'm trying to move on." She didn't feel real. She was tired of ducking around subjects until she found an excuse to leave. Starling could've hid in his dark eyes.
"You're teetering on rude again, Clarice."
Something sank in her stomach; she felt an unshakeable shiver about her bones. It stirred the very foundations of her posture. For a moment she believed that he had cocked his head to the side, then she saw that he had merely considered her.
Lecter started, and Clarice pulled back with a sharp backwards hiof her shoulder as if he had made to strike the glass. If he looks smug I’ll kill him, I’ll leave, she thought steadily. He did not seem to take any satisfaction in it.
It sounded sincere. He nodded. "Hmmm. Pilcher. I imagine he must be an impressive man, to have held your attention for so long through this." A beat, “Clarice, have you ever felt sexually attracted to the friend you live with?”
A lump caught in Starling’s throat and would not budge for air; she wildly hoped for a raging cancer that would waste her away then and there. She had never felt her very blood run so cold in her veins before. A slow shake of the head that served as an evasion rather than a denial. “Ardelia is very attractive,” Starling offered, keeping her voice steady.
Suddenly, the Doctor was keen again. “Are you not yourself?”
Starling seemed to wake, and pull back and away, “Doctor Lecter, you are making fun of me. I respect you, and hope that you can at least give me that in return. But this feels... crude. Like something that Chilton would say."
His eyes flitted away for a moment, and then they were back on her face. For a moment, he saw her as a little less than a human being, as a visage only. ”No, this is very telling. Clarice, do you believe that you are beautiful?”
”Look, Doctor Lecter, with all due respect, I’m not here to discuss my appearance.”
”You're uncomfortable. Were you ever sexually harassed by men whilst you were at school or in training at the Academy?"
"Not beyond cat-calling and unpleasant comments, no."
"Hmm... does that make you feel sexualised, by your peers?"
Starling gave a sharp nod. “Sometimes I feel like a piece of meat more than a person. It can be hard to get through to people.”
It was a fact, and the first time she had spoken it aloud. Clarity and an open space filled with light seemed to follow.
"Thank you," Caught in the harsh, bright light, Hannibal Lecter turned his face to the ceiling and inhaled lightly through his nose. "thank you." He looked at Starling, and almost seemed to realise he was standing above her, looking down. Stepping slowly, smoothly backwards, never giving Starling his back, he sat cleanly at his desk once more. Almost instantly, Starling stood.
"No, thank you, Doctor. I don't have anything to discuss with you." She made to gather her things, then realised that she only had her bag slung over her shoulder. She righted herself instantly.
Lecter's eyes were full and blank. "Will you be prepared next time?"
A quick, small smile. "I'll try. Please, don't try and do that to me again."
"I'm afraid I can't know what you mean."
"Don't try to make me feel uncomfortable. I want to trust you."
She was almost leaving; she was almost out of the building. She breathed in clean air that she couldn't taste yet.
"I don't seek out gratification through attempting to make you feel upset, Clarice. You were thrown off guard. You are brave, but you are unstable. That makes you liable to become a target."
Starling looked at him, her jaw tight, and gave him a brief, controlled nod.
"I wouldn't have you feel insecure, or upset, or vulnerable."
"Alright, Doctor. I'm going to leave now. I'm not sure I understand where you're going with this. Thank you for speaking with me."
Doctor Lecter lifted his pen, and raised his hand. The gesture was concise. "One day, we'll be able to speak to each other like real people. I only hope we don't have to wait too long."
Chapter 5: Hannibal, Alone
Hannibal Lecter, when alone, thinks about Clarice's eyes.
He thinks of the angry set of her jaw, how the muscles tense and emphasise the sharp squareness when she's angry or stern or - heaven forbid, in a face like that - upset. Or how her Cupid's bow arches, like flukes from the notch of a whale's tail. Clarice Starling has the face of a warrior woman, but she's at her most beautiful when it softens.
There's something poetic about that, and Hannibal thinks immediately of the muses. If he's ever seen a woman who resembled a muse, it's Clarice. He wonders about Euterpe first: war and poetry, death and love. Close, close, but lacking that sense of justice. That hungry need for the true and the just. Ah, she's every bit Calliope.
Every bit the muse, every bit a figurehead made of the fragments of the warrior women from ancient history. He sees the Theban women, facing sanction for a man's doing. He sees Joan of Arc, burning, burning. He sees suffrage in her eyes and the way that she moves. Hannibal has the privilege of speaking with the culmination of the divine feminine before she even recognises it in herself.
Clarice has the face to match. Hannibal wants to draw her, he has before. Such strong features, but such delicate colouring. Such pale skin, so cold in undertone. Hair that flowed dark, shone red. Eyes like water. Like pale blue paint swirled through bright water. Light, clear, glass eyes. Large and soft, beguiling. Her eyes give her away. Hannibal notes to himself that she most likely has her mother's eyes. Pink lips tinted slightly darker by some cosmetic product - what colour are they when bare?
What a marvel she is! How marvellous that she was right there for the taking, for the corrupting, right in the calloused hands of the FBI, and that she was aware of it, yet too ambitious to move away!
Aramanth pink, carnation pink, rose pompadour. What colour is that?
He sees her in the lavish parlours of his memory palace, bare before him in her anger. Doctor Lecter is not cagey, doesn't act as if he were trapped, but neither does she.
Theban women. Driven out of the mountains and out of their minds. Has Clarice ever read the classics? Hannibal Lecter turns the pages of his correspondence with the psychology student as he thinks. Euripides is not light reading. My! Wouldn't it sting for her to start reading, only to find herself trapped in the dialogue!
It really would be something to be able to introduce her, Special Agent Starling, to something new. Something not centred around her profession or the inner workings of murder. Her face always hardens when she slips into that businesswoman stance, always opens when she explores herself.
Frederick Chilton had called her a winter sunset of a girl once - Doctor Chilton, damn him! Damn him, damn him for thinking of her like she was a piece of meat. Damn him for taking Clarice Starling for a pretty face and (as Hannibal expected she would be towards the officious little man) a cold temperament. Damn him for being right.
Even here, now, the smell of her was making him rash - he could smell her on the towel, from the food tray. She hadn't washed it. She had forgotten about it, obviously, but brought it back out of courtesy. Careful Clarice. Heavens, the scent of that woman.
Doctor Lecter's veins felt thick with it as he breathed it in deep. He felt it circling his bloodstream, sweet and cloying as poison. He had drugged people before, nobody who hadn't deserved it (nobody could say that Mason Verger hadn't deserved it), but only now did he feel the euphoria that hallucinogens could bring. It was... intoxicating. He didn't want to think of Clarice as a sexual object or a romantic objective, but that was proving to be very difficult with the scent of her skin so burned into his brain. Interesting. It felt more personal that anything she could confide to him. It was as if his Clarice - his brave, cunning, desperate Clarice - had left him a secret.
She wasn't his Clarice, she wasn't anybody's Clarice. All in good time.
Hair like winter fire. The FBI is going to destroy her.
Chapter 6: History
Starling kept two compact discs in the glovebox of her Mustang, and for once she played them back to back as she drove up to Baltimore that Wednesday. They were both by Townes Van Zandt, both short albums; she had his self-titled and Delta Momma Blues, both bought on a whim. The music was course and dry and barren, delicate and poetic in its roots. It stung of the South, and Starling had bought it because from the two different covers, Van Zandt looked like her father.
She couldn't remember the name of this song, if she'd ever learned it, but it was repetitive and soothing and she went numb in its arms.
This was her history, if anything could capture it. Short, crude lives burning out in the mines. Dying without the clarity of accent to cry for help or the gas for a one-way trip out of town. Perishing long before the heartbeat ceased behind a drugstore, buried without a badge. That could so easily be Starling, lying in a hospital bed with the life leaching out of her eyes.
The history of the American drunks is a history that doesn't make it into the books.
And Starling is so angry that it exists to be mocked by the men who've never had to fight to get out of a one story town.
It was hard to look at Doctor Lecter when she sat before the glass. Starling was hesitant to even speak, not with her cheap accent that reeked of poverty, not when she would be met with a kind of crisp erudition that didn't belong behind bars.
He was waiting for her, of course, his eyes keen. He didn't sit when Starling did. "Good evening, Clarice,"
"Hello, Doctor Lecter."
"I take it that you've been briefed by Jack Crawford or somebody else at Behavioural Science over what they want from you and I. You walked in so briskly, you can barely hold it back,"
"That so?” Starling opened her case and found brought out a small tape recorder. Doctor Lecter’s expression honed in on the device and prickled slightly at its presence.
“I’m not permitted to be wired in here, but Behavioural Science agrees that it’s easier for me to work from a recording than from memory.”
”And you intend on finding something today that you’re able to work on?”
”Tell me, why are you unhappy with your work on our last conversations, Clarice?” Lecter’s eyes left the tape recorder, and took in her face.
Starling swallowed. ”They were personal to me. I was instructed to work on evidence for your psychological profile.”
“Psychological profile. Do you have anything yet?”
She wanted to snap at him. “Not yet.”
”Please, let me know when you do.”
”Doctor, I’ve been asked to discuss your family history.”
“Doctor Lecter,” It was a plea. Starling begged with her eyes - God, did she feel cheap when she had to do that - and waited.
”What do they have at present?”
”Every victim of yours. The business with Francis Dolarhyde and Will Graham. Nothing before that. I’ve been asked to evaluate your family history.”
”Are you aware that this is where I will cut our conversational ties, Clarice? I think we may be finished here."
Far too confident in herself, almost cocky, Starling tilted her chin to match the intensity of his stare. “No. Quid pro quo, that’s how we agreed to do this. I have a job to do and a career to develop. You have one way and one way only to pass the time in here, and that is through learning. Knowledge is power, and the only power you have here is what you think you have over me. I am asking you for some information, some recollections - not much, I don't have to ask for much - and in return for your generosity and honesty, I will tell you anything."
A beat, a moment to drive the offer home. She should've been frightened. Starling was brave.
The Doctor's exhale was that of the man who has seen the thing he covets, and realises the steps he must take to obtain it.
"I will tell you about my childhood. I will tell you as much of my family history as I remember - don't expect anything in detail past my great great grandfathers, or any fancy immigration patterns. I will tell you about my career, about my training, about my thoughts. I am offering you knowledge. You just have to answer me. This is final."
"Very bold to assume that that is indeed what I want."
Starling tilted her head to one side slightly. "It's what you asked for before."
Her offer was final, it hung in the air.
The relief almost hurt; it was instant and heavy. "Thank you, Doctor Lecter. May I begin?"
"You may." Hannibal Lecter watched Starling as if he was less concerned with her questions than he was with reading her face. He considered her, marvelled at her nerve. In another world, Starling might've been proud.
"Alright. First of all, just a prefacing question: when and where were you born, Doctor Lecter?"
"1933, late January, in Aukštaitija, Lithuania."
"Mhm. Your parents were Lithuanian?"
"My father was Count Lecter of Lithuania. My mother was descended from at least two previously-ruling Italian bloodlines."
Lecter's voice was crisp and clean behind its metallic rasp; the lack of emotion or dreamlike reverie at the stirring of his memories unsettled Starling.
"You used the past tense. When did your parents die?"
You're on unsteady ground, girl. No time for skirting around he truth.
"1941. They were killed by the attempted disabling of a Soviet tank."
Starling looked up as if for the first time, and saw him properly. Lecter was watching her carefully, as if her reaction was more important than his recollection.
"You were eight."
She gave him a brisk nod. It was all she could manage. Even now, wallowing in her empathy, "I'm sorry" felt beyond inappropriate for her to say to him. "That's difficult."
"It can be."
A moment of silence as Starling tried to find her words.
"Initially. It seemed... injust."
Starling swallowed, her throat dry. "Thank you, Doctor Lecter."
And with that scratching at her tongue, she definitively shut off the tape recorder and sat back in her chair, watching his eyes.
Once more, the silence pulsed.
Hannibal Lecter did not speak.
"Quid pro quo." It was the only thing Starling could think of. It was everything.
"I don't think I'd have you relay anything to me today. That can wait. How much more do you intend on asking me, Clarice?"
Starling shrugged, finally cracking a small smile. Something warmed slightly in her stomach. "Not a lot. A few more questions."
"I don't follow you. You don't want me to speak with you?" The furrowing of her brow drew her thin eyebrows up and together, her eyes darkening slightly.
Doctor Lecter sighed, a smile bright and frightening in his voice and lingering in the corners of his mouth. "No, I would rather you tell me about yourself the next time you drive up to Baltimore. You may think that you're gaining an upper hand, but you haven't decided how you're going to secure it. I think it would be more agreeable to at least give you a chance to brace yourself to avoid any... consternation."
Starling's mouth twisted. "That's good of you." Her voice was biting, and she hoped it made it past the plexiglass. "Are you asking me to leave you now?"
"Do you want to leave?"
"How marvellous then! So rare that anyone stays for a little pleasantry. You've seen for yourself how inclined Doctor Chilton is to impugn."
Another smile from Starling. This one had a little mirth to it. "You laughed at me when I used that word."
"That is impudent, a little audacious, and wrong. I said I loved it. There's something wonderful about a word like that coming from you. It's the kind of word you learn from reading."
"Do you think?"
"I do. Do you read much, recreationally?"
A half-shrug. "I wouldn't call it a hobby. I read when I have to."
"That's a cause for regret. Have you ever read The Bacchae, Clarice? It's beautiful, and terrible. It's a tragedy, a story of how a king does not rightly welcome a god into his city, and he pays for it in his blood. A woman of your ideals, you'd find it quite immersive."
Starling gave a short, brief, strained smile. "I'm not really one for the classics, Doctor. You yourself said that I dwell too much on the past. I don't really see how a Greek play could mean much to me from where I stand,"
"Ah, but you're young, and for all your visions you can't see the deeper meaning, as you couldn't with our Billy all those months ago. You see, what is ostensibly about carnal pleasure or violence may not just take root in ecstasy. Where man shows perversions, he also falls prey to that distinctly Roman flaw of order. He can't resist it. He needs an identifiable pattern to ground him through it all. So, Clarice," and here she snapped out of a reverie that had never possessed him even as he spoke, "perhaps it would serve you well to culture yourself a little more."
Hannibal Lecter's eyes were worlds where Revelations raged; the skies were full of God and anger, and the Biblical pain was meant only for her. They were old eyes, and he was older than her, by so much. She felt the decades glance off of his face and whip towards hers too fast to deflect and oh, she was so frightened at the possibility that she could become him. He looked at her with little discernible expression, only grim, sturdy satisfaction as she died under his gaze, and the world whipped into a storm around him. Starling felt it all.
She drew herself back sharply, a little ruffled and a trifle stung at the taunt in his voice. "Doctor Lecter, you are in no position to mock me."
"You come here to test yourself as much as you do to test me."
Culture. The word made Starling sick. She pressed on, "It's all well and good to say that it would serve me well to become more cultured in a dead language, but you're forgetting that I live in the world, Doctor. I do what I can with the time I have."
"I suppose that's what you've always had to do, hmm? And you feel so entitled to go ahead and make do because you've built yourself into a world in which love of God is dying."
"I suppose you could say that. Are we at a dead end again, Doctor?"
"If you think so, Clarice, then it is so."
Starling feels that it is selfish that she wants to go now, the second that it becomes convenient to her. She is selfish in that it doesn't feel right to her to do so. Starling walks away and Hannibal Lecter watches her go. And while his eyes bore into her spine, cremate her in reverse, she supposes that she ought to be grateful that she doesn't have to watch her back.
By the the time that Ardelia was home, laden with shopping, Starling was reading Euripides with her legs tucked under her. She had been loosely browsing shelves as she looked for an interesting book for Dee's birthday the following day, and she'd spotted the anthology of tragedies a few feet away from her. She couldn't say what had possessed her to grab it, but Doctor Lecter's words had echoed in her mind as she paid for it. Upon returning home, she had tried to keep a focused and opened mind during the foreword and the first play, but by the time she reached the play of the Doctor's recommendation her eyes stung with strange tears.
Starling didn't know where this emotion had come from, nor why the confines of her mind felt high and domed like the ceiling of a cathedral, taut from pressure like a dialating cervix. This new history had birthed disgust and simultaneous empathy in her mind. As Dee spoke, loud and friendly, Starling sat up and craned her head, drawn back into a much warmer world.
"Hey, Starling, how'd you like to make that dinner reservation for tomorrow for me? I have to run back out straight away,"
Starling turned around and smiled. "Sure thing. Under Mapp? How many people."
"Seven- you're a lifesaver," Mapp dropped the shopping in the shared kitchen and came back, draping her arms around Starling's neck over the back of the sofa. She read a line of The Bacchae and closed her eyes with a lot of weight pressing down on her eyelids. Starling knew what was going through her head and resented it. Instead of making a scene of it, Dee patted her shoulder and spoke softly; "Look, honey, I took Classics for an additional study in school. I have a couple of books in my room, if you want a look just ask."
Starling smiled gratefully, a hint of resignation weighing down her face. "You're a dear."
"Hey. You don't have to read this kind of stuff just because it makes you look fancy, you know?"
"And you know that we're Southern girls, without much of a credibility to our names, who've made it to the Feds. Nobody can give us shit."
Another smile. "I know."
Dee was grinning back at her as she grabbed her nicer coat, "As long as you know."
"I think I've got it by now."
A cold seemed to creep into the room when the door closed behind Ardelia's back. Starling felt the nagging of it at the back of her neck, but didn't move to pull the blanket from the back of the sofa. She kept reading, and this time there was something light and loose unfurling in her stomach that finally allowed her to settle into the story. No longer reading for the secret meanings, in the hopes of analysing something brand new, something so intellectually stirring that would mark her as, ultimately, enough. Starling finally found herself dog-earring pages that spoke to her, actually enjoying it, and she had to admit that there was something empowering about taking what Doctor Lecter had thrown her and finding herself in it.
Starling felt good.
She telephoned the restaurant from the duplex's shared kitchen, and spoke with a man who had more than a note of boredom in his voice. "Hi, can I reserve a table for seven at eight pm tomorrow?"
"Sure thing," the man paused, most likely booking it. "You gotta name?"
"Sure, sure." Another pause, and when he spoke again, his voice had taken on a syrupy drawl. "You know, you gotta pretty sweet voice,"
"Thank you. Goodbye." Starling hung up, shaking her head in confusion. Her happy glow threatened to fade. Unpacking the shopping bags, humming to herself, she dug out a couple of chocolate bars and palmed one for herself. Making her way back to her bedroom, Starling unwrapped the Mounds bar and busied herself with wrapping Dee's presents. An observer, seeing how the glare of sunlight on the window caught her face, might note that the evening sun cast shadows from her eyelashes down over her cheekbones, where they crept like spiders. From a distance, one might remark that the playing of the dying light on the bones of her face seemed almost dreamlike.
"What do you make of this?" Doctor Lecter held up a small piece of paper for Starling's consideration. She moved closer to see it better. Upon closer looking, it was a leaflet made of photo-laminate paper, advertising The Phantom of the Opera at some Baltimore theatre.
"Well," Starling started, "if Chilton's let it through with your mail, he's trying to taunt you. He's trying to play on your interests. If he sent it down by itself, he's half that smart. I doubt that he could find an actual opera."
Doctor Lecter breathed something close to laughter through his nose. "I don't doubt that." Briefly busying himself with a tap of the leaflet against his lips, he levelled his gaze with Starling's. She was no longer fazed by the mere locking of his eyes on hers.
"How do you find the new, frightened Chilton? I don't think that you'd be aware of the charming telegram that I sent him after the incident in Memphis."
"He doesn't seem frightened, just officious. I think he may have given up on trying to seduce me and may have resigned himself to just trying to intimidate me."
Something darkened in the eyes of the monster.
"I see. Do you believe that this is what he does with his fear?"
"I don't believe that he's particularly fearful, Doctor, if I'm being honest I think that he's yet to get over the gloating phase at getting you back."
"Hmm." A pause for thought. "Clarice, do you feel anger towards Doctor Chilton for he way he treats you? I recall you mentioning that you often feel objectified by men in similar career fields."
Starling took a moment to think. "Yes. Not as much as before. When he got himself involved in the Buffalo Bill case, I really was convinced that he'd made it impossible for us to rescue Catherine Martin. I don't think I've ever been so angry in my life."
Doctor Lecter's eyes gleamed with opportunity. "What did you do?"
"I... I just busied myself. I was so angry, so fucking angry and my first thought was to have him look at Catherine's body when she floated, to hold him accountable. I knew that you knew more than you were telling me. And he took that away from me. I just thought, you've killed her, you've killed her. I had to get anything done, anything useful. I didn't stop moving. I think I washed."
"Is that your usual reaction to anger?"
"I think so." Starling couldn't remember ever being as angry as that, truthfully; she almost felt sick with the memory of it. She was almost shaking. "I just do things. Anything. Anything useful."
A moment of pondering. "Does it anger you to have things... taken away from you?"
"I suppose, Doctor,"
"Were you angry when your father was shot?"
There it was; there he went, shattering Starling's peace of mind as delicately and cleanly as the tinkling crash of glass on tile. She looked into his eyes and found empty lakes there. She set her jaw once more - the belligerent tilt of her chin always gave her the strength she needed - and faced him with all of her life force pouring from her eyes. "Yes. I was."
"Can you explain your thought process, your emotions when you found out?"
"At first I... I didn't believe it. You know, it's never something that you think can happen to you, is it? You never think it'll be you picking up the phone, or speaking to an officer. And for it to be my daddy, for him to be dead, that was particularly hard. I told you before that he was my everything. I felt angry almost immediately, I guess - it just felt wrong that he was taken from me and my mother and my family, by those cheap-shit robbers. They weren't horse shit, and they had him. That makes me angry. He was killed like he was nothing."
Lecter's eyes flitted shut, and when they opened they were distant and dark with thought. "He was very special to you. He was a big influence on you?"
"As big of an influence as anybody could have."
"Tell me about him."
Christ. Papa Starling, nameless in the pit of Lecter’s eye; long in a chair, low to the ground when he crouched to Starling - damn it, he never went to her level, he gathered her up to him. The first of the birds to be shot from the sky. The last of the few good men.
And so Starling started to speak.
"He was tall. I can't guess how tall, but he was slim and almost... flat-looking. Not his face, his body. He looked pretty weathered - he was tanned, and he had dark hair and eyes - and he laughed a lot. He had happy eyes. You could read him like a book. His jaw was asymmetrical, kind of wonky, very angular. His nose was big. When I was very small, I used to touch the bridge of his nose because I liked the feeling of the bump. He had straight eyebrows. You know, my father looked like a real cowboy."
Doctor Lecter's eyes seemed to encourage her.
"And he acted like a proper cowboy too. He was so honourable. You'd never meet a man who was more content with the life he lived. I don't remember him calling me Clarice a lot... yeah, he called me Baby, and Sugar, stuff like that. We used to sit by the table just before dinner, and I would always be so proud of him because he was my daddy, and he was a good man, and he was brave, and that's all I thought you ever needed to be. Good. Brave."
"Clarice, you are good, and you are brave. Those qualities still exist to make changes in the world."
"Forgive me, Doctor, but I can't find a lot of things about this world particularly just when people like my father don't stand a chance but the people like the men that shot him get to live in it."
Her tone wasn't quite pointed; no, it was blunt. The Doctor's eyes were calm and level. He did not snap at the dip in her courtesy - if anything, at that moment, he welcomed it. He welcomed her changes the way that he once welcomed seasons. He valued her honesty, this precious glimpse at the way that she flees yet fights; running hard with her gun pointing back over her shoulder. She is almost sick with memories she doesn't allow herself to stew in.
This could be the cue that allows Lecter to carefully continue to unwind Starling's mind, and he knows that if she lets him do it, he could make her unstoppable.
I just want to take a moment to say how grateful I am to everyone who has left a comment, kudos or bookmarked this fic so far! It is definitely nowhere near done, just in case this seems a bit like a letter of resignation, but I'm v new to ao3 and it's all very novel still.
Chapter 8: Vulnerability
Evening had threatened to bleed into night hours before Starling and Mapp spilled out of the Mustang and into the hot, heavy July half-light. Wine drunk, cold from the breeze through their coats, the two women headed out across the street and walked towards the duplex; full and happy and sleepy enough to lose that vital pinch of perception. The birthday dinner had been lovely, it was true, but it was late and they just wanted to get home. Somewhere across the street, outside of their heads, there was a rough, rolling guitar riff echoing from inside a house, spilling out of the front door. It might've been a party, might've been a bunch of teenagers smoking on the front porch, but it was enough for Starling - and Ardelia too, she reckoned - to turn and check them out with the eyes of agents. It wasn't for long, but it was enough. A man, a boy, whoever he is, looked at the two women without meeting their eyes and blew smoke purposefully in their direction.
God, does anything grab a woman by the throat quite like the unwanted eyes of a man on her body. Any other day, Starling would have met his eyes and challenged him to look at her, challenge him to see her, but she was tired and she was suddenly so cold in her dark dress, and all she wanted to do was go home.
The careful snick of Mapp's keys in the lock and the door gently shunting open was comforting. One of the two had left the lights on, and the kitchen seemed to be humming, present, waiting. The expanse of pale, bleak yellow touched a nerve in the corner of Starling's eye and she tripped away; the path of her legs sure against the will of her brain. She found her room in darkness, and gratefully undressed in it. Naked under the blanket of the night, Starling felt her body breathe, felt all of her systems resume their work. Her heart quivering safe in her ribs. Forearms taut, clavicles jutting above the smooth descent of her chest. She felt wonderfully alive as she stood with her body, felt her good, kind legs guide her under the covers and into a sleep that stole her away amidst the blackness. Beneath the flat planes of light muscle, her lower belly pushed forward, hard, aching, driving.
When Doctor Lecter saw Starling approaching the plexiglass, the way that his expression loosened made him almost appear appeased. His eyes swam like storm clouds, darkening with intent, gathering her into his memory and holding her there as she stood. A chill ran down Starling's spine at the thought of him waiting for her, patient as the crocodile.
He addressed her as his equal. "Good afternoon. I wasn't expecting you to run back here so soon, Clarice. I'd have thought you'd be working."
"I am working, Doctor. I have your files. If you're willing, I'd like to continue to talk to you about your family, particularly family members and their roles in your life-"
"How quickly you dispense of common courtesy," Lecter observed. He shifted, and moved smoothly forward, toward Starling. Something like a smile touched his eyes. "Segues, or a lack thereof, will not do. You will not earn your points with me for being hasty, Clarice. You won't lie to me, but do not make the mistake of being hasty to protect yourself."
Starling tilted her head back slightly, leaning it to the side as if in consideration. "I don't need to protect myself, Doctor."
"Of course you don't. You just do it unwittingly as a cautionary measure. You don't want to be hurt, you don't want to be known, yet you want to be understood. How are you feeling, Clarice?"
"I'm doing fine, Doctor Lecter."
"No. How are you feeling?" He said, impatience registering on his brow.
"I'm feeling fine. You can't unnerve me, I'm not in a state where I can be unnerved. You can try to make me feel vulnerable, sure you can, but I'm just here to do my job." Starling spoke, chin jutting. Her skin processed a change in the basement's temperature, and she felt the hair on her neck rise in response.
"I am not here to humour you so that you can do your job, Clarice."
Starling didn't mean to spit as much passive aggression into her words as she did. "Forgive me, Doctor, but that's quite like something that Doctor Chilton once said to me."
Lecter's face did not change save for his cold smile. "Once you told me that I said something reminiscent of Multiple Miggs. It appears that I am not the only one repeating myself. Would you care to sit?"
"You're not wearing perfume today."
"You ought to wear it more often. It does very well to match a face to a scent,"
"Is that so?" Starling's faced turned to Doctor Lecter's, cold light falling across her features. "You know, you don't need to try to wrap me up in some elegant fancy, Doctor. I don't really care if you're going to intimidate me."
"Intimidation is a tactic used by fools. Allowing yourself to be intimidated is wholly separate," Lecter chided.
Starling's throat itched, but she didn't swallow. She didn't need to send him the primal signals of fear she did not feel. "Perhaps. But tell me, have you never felt intimidated or scared? Have you never felt young and stupid and afraid? I think you'd be lying if you said no."
Lecter' face read like a mask. "I've lived near twice your life. I was a child like everybody else."
"Did you have siblings around when you were little?"
"I did," His voice was expectant, the last word tailing out. Waiting for Starling to either implore him for the thing that she wanted or provide him with another of those moments of subtle bravado that delighted him.
Starling knew that pleading with empty eyes would rarely get her anywhere with Doctor Lecter, and she sure as hell wasnt going to beg for information. "Brothers or sisters?"
"A younger sister."
The ground was she trod was above the mine field, but it had long been worn down. Agent Starling knew when to be careful. "Were you close?"
Lecter's eyes glanced upwards, away, and then back. "As close as siblings were at that time. Why do you ask? Is it your own prying curiosity, or does Behavioural Science and all of its fools think they can gain something from it, scoop up something relevant?"
"A mixture of both, if I'm completely honest. I can't speak for Behavioural Science as individuals."
“Of course you can. They’re not here. Do you really think you’ll be doing some right by the FBI by making them out to be uunstoppable forces for good? Think of the men and their wandering eyes, Clarice. They don’t deserve your protection.”
Starling didn’t even try and fight the smile that tugged ruefully at her lips. “It’s what I do, Doctor. It’s what I do unwittingly.”
”I forget how prone you are to reiteration.” Was there humour in the dry, downwards tilt of his voice?
”We’re off topic.”
”Then please, let us continue.”
”Thank you. Your sister, what was her name?”
"That’s not very common," Starling offered.
"Ah, but you’re not from Lithuania, you’re an Okie-West Virginia Starling. You wouldn’t meet a Mischa if she was here before you."
She shifted for comfort alone. "What was she like?"
"Light-hearted... playful... dependent. I recall her being incredibly reliant on our parents, on me even. I took care of her a lot."
The notion of Hannibal Lecter as a guiding, guarding figure could have made Starling’s stomach turn. "She cared for you?"
”I was her older brother, you couldn’t know that dynamic.”
Lecter watched Starling’s face carefully, observing and preserving the phases that passed through her features. Something troubling clouded her eyes and mouth.
"Doctor Lecter, you weren’t in love with her, were you?"
He cocked his head slightly to the side, considering her, the mirth in his eyes laced with sweet venom. The spreading of his smile across his face was slow and bright and mocking. "You would still cast me as some perverse garden-variety psychopath, wouldn’t you? For all your respect and trust."
"Beg pardon. I don’t want to offend you. I just don’t understand what you’re saying. You weren’t in love with her?"
”What happened to Mischa?"
"The light is very blue on your face. You look a little like she used to. You see, she’s a lot like you, Clarice."
Starling huffed frustration through her nose. "Why do you say that? What happened to her?"
”You have the same vulnerability, the same streak of self-sustainability yet you both long for the support of others. An orphan is sent away to a ranch in Montana, a child is left an orphan in the woods."
"Doctor Lecter, please." A note of rising tension in Starling’s voice.
"I think it would be something to explore that vulnerability in you. We have other days.”
Starling let out a strangled sigh, choked with frustration and anguish. She was tired, she was aching, she was not in the goddamn mood.
Hannibal Lecter had found what he wanted from her. His game laid untouched upon the table, the warmth of hands fading from the pieces that lay frozen in checkmate. He held Starling so tightly in his gaze that she almost choked when he looked into the depths of her and spoke;
"Siblings left orphaned in the woods, dying alone. Bad men came, evil men, Clarice. They scarcely knew what good Mischa could have done for the world, and they took her out into the woods and they slaughtered her. Her blood was like wine on he snow, and we ate her within the week. I was eight. She hadn’t yet learned to write."
Starling watched his face, felt that his horror must serve as the twin to her own, that his skin must crawl with the sick, cold sweat that broke loose over her skin. She couldn’t find anything in his scarred-garnet eyes except her own disbelief, her denial, and she wanted to scream at him for just a little humanity, for a word of help. Anything. Anyone.
Doctor Lecter revelled in the anguished passion of his muse, and spoke gently to her, with care; "I have offered you my past, my sister and information that you do not deserve. In return, I would like to know who you are - beyond the hustling little FBI agent, so to speak. It would be something to know a person in private life through a window."
Starling’s head swam. Breath wasn’t coming easy. “I suppose it gets lonely."
”Would it not bore you?"
”I’d go mad.”
Lecter’s eyes glistened, and in Starling’s mind’s eye they were gemstones once more, alight with malignant energy. "I wouldn’t think you’d have the capacity for madness."
"I have the capacity to do whatever I like, Doctor. Fuck with me now, and I’ll leave you here to rot." Starling’s tongue was dry, and it tasted of hot, acidic bile. Her mouth was tight and honest, her gaze speaking as clearly as her mouth. Sick to her stomach, almost shaking, she held herself straight. Doctor Lecter, the monster, was quietly amused.
"Then by all means, allow me to intervene."
A girl runs through Starling's dreams. Ashy, pale hair tearing past her face in the wind as she looks back over her shoulder for the reason that she runs. The cold bringing the blood high up into her cheeks and nose, blinding her with tears forced from her eyes by the onslaught. The collar of the black duffel coat that she always, somehow, wears flying up against her throat, close enough to the skin to scratch. In the belly of the woods, she is a small dark thing.
Starling wakes in the dark with every pore in her body forcing the darkness out of her. By the fourth time that she could safely discern from reality, there wasn't even any solace in waking up, soaked and cold. Alone with her heart, Starling had to face the identity of that fleeing child, and the reason for her unceasing running.
Monday morning, the smallest of hours, and as she crept to the window, pale and slim and shaky as a madwoman, the mottled orange blots of the streetlights through the dappled glass fell on Starling's face, sent phosphates drifting down before her eyes. The urban haze of the sky, stretching on past the houses at the end of the road, beckoned her out. She had to move.
Dressing in the dark was familiar. Quietly taking her keys from the bowl they laid in, privy to the tiny clashing whine of metal on metal, Starling found her way through the duplex to the door. As she went, sunrise began to stroke at the edge of the curtains. Outside, the air was cool and abundant and Starling drank it deep into her lungs, hands shoved into her coat pockets. A drive to Quantico was not unheard of at this hour and God knows she needed the guidance and company, but she was hesitant to give Crawford her transcript of the exchange in Baltimore. No, she couldn't hand it over just yet. Starling needed to move.
What good is this ever going to do me? She thought even as she pulled into the near-empty car park of the convenience store and got out, messy in her casual clothes. Food sounded good, and the shared kitchen was running low. Doing something productive sounded great, and the idea of saving Dee another chore made her feel like this was definitely the right decision, even if she was badly abusing the limits of the '24-hour' supermarket.
Baggy trousers hanging low on her hips, hair pulled up to the back of her head, Starling draped her arms over the handrail of her trolley and pushed it through the aisles. She felt aimless, as if she was wandering somewhere far more alien than the supermarket. Her eyes moved faster than the rest of her body, scanning her surroundings, keeping her safe. She gathered what she needed and what she wanted, trying to walk the nausea out of the pit of her belly. Starling was steady in her shoes, but the way that her insides squirmed at the images printed onto her eyelids was unsettling. She couldn't shake Mischa Lecter from where she sat comfortably on Starling's mind like a deity.
The cashier who served her was dead behind the eyes, and the sympathy that they held for each other was dull and cold. Starling hoisted the bags up in her arms and left, the first sunlight breaking on her face. The cold air hit her arms and her neck and her brain flashed so violently with the woods and the dark duffel coat that she almost cried, almost dropped her bags. She felt like a Maenad. She felt ridden with strife. So small are the things that send her to ruin, so lightly does she tread around herself when it's dark. She needs something she doesn't want to acknowledge; that she doesn't even want.
Starling is not one to be overcome, and a part of her broke when she heard herself whisper through her teeth; "I have to go to Baltimore."
Well, I am SO sorry that I abandoned this for a few weeks! I have been super busy with school and exams and the stress has been through the roof. I'm not intending on leaving this story unfinished, please be patient with me if I take a while to upload 💕
Chapter 10: Starling's Dream II
It was more than a little troublesome trying to wheedle her way into the dungeon at four-fifty-five in the morning.
Chilton certainly wasn't having it; his face, dry and drained in his fatigue, was alive and flooded with colour in his frustration. "You can come back at a reasonable time, Miss Starling."
"Doctor Chilton, I have information that needs to be confirmed by Doctor Lecter. I have shown you my badge and the front of my document, Sir. Do I have to call my superior at the FBI?"
"Are you threatening me, Ma'am?"
Starling set her face. She was a shade under average height, but Chilton was short enough to be shy of intimidating. "Doctor Chilton. I have driven for over an hour at a time when I would much rather be in bed. I work for the government. This is not a field that you can navigate."
"This is my hospital," Chilton almost hissed, leaning into her space, his eyes bulging comically out of his cartoonish face. Starling might have found a little fear in her heart at the freakishly bright white in his eyes in another life.
"I have to do my job." A beat, "Doctor Chilton, be reasonable. Don't let your feelings for any personnel of the FBI get in the way of justice."
His eyes flashed like hematite.
His "fine" was long and simmering. "Allow me to escort you down to the cells."
"That won't be necessary."
"Oh, I think today we can't have an officer going down in the dark. He'll be asleep, you know, and he won't see you."
Starling forced the bright, harsh smile onto her face. "He's always been up to help us before. Let's go."
Chilton seemed to steam as he led the way down to the dungeon. He didn't leave a chair for Starling, nor did he alert Barney as to the lack of one. The look that he threw back at her over his shoulder with his terrible, shining beetle-eyes was full of smouldering reproach, and it rested on her for a breath too long.
Quiet in the dungeon at the minute the great bars scraped shut after his back. Now that Chilton was gone without so much as a murmured word of parting, Starling almost dropped to sit before the plexiglass, scrambling onto her knees and shifting the bag from her shoulder. Staring out into the wallow of black, silent as water under a moonless sky, she yearned with her eyes for a face. "Doctor Lecter, I know it's early, but I need to ask you something and I don't know if it can wait. Are you up and decent?"
The cell at night, carefully concealing its deviant moon, beckoned her into the dark. From amongst the black, a milky face pushed forward until the slim, white figure of Doctor Lecter stood before her, looking down into her face. Starling had been sitting for a while in her awkward, sprawling position and her legs had began to complain. "Thank you for seeing me, Doctor."
"You're up awfully early, Clarice. Do they have you working through the night now?"
"No. I woke at home. I- needed to talk to you. To tell you about something, that is. Will you listen?"
The inner corners of Lecter's eyes were free of sleep, and the Catherine wheels of maroon light in their centres spiralled hypnotically. "Are you asking for some sort of therapy?" A pause for her thoughts; his were already lined up, concise, ready. "... The lambs?"
"No," Starling did not shake her head with it, "I had a dream. After what we discussed yesterday, I saw a... a girl, very young, light colouring, and she was running through the woods at nightfall."
A soft, almost inaudible no. "I think it might have been Mischa." She took a shallow breath before her name, less for a boost of courage and more as a backbone to the gentle lilt of her voice in the early morning, softer than when she talked with Chilton.
The name took an immediate effect on the sharp, slightly smoothed visage of Hannibal Lecter. His eyes widened as if he had witnessed God, and his dry mouth parted at the unfaceted edge of the sword that was her name. The change would be indiscernible to anyone except for Starling, so close she was, who as she looked into the shifting, terrible historical face saw nothing but a gargoyle; an evil thing to ward off evil things.
"What was her role in the dream?"
"She was running... in the woods. She was crying, she was upset, and she was running away from something."
"I don't recall describing Mischa. What alerted you to who she really was?"
"I just knew intuitively,"
Doctor Lecter showed Starling his hands, palms open as if he was weighing twin hearts in them. The gesture was open, inviting, and there was no hint of any trouble in his eyes, no matter what shadows were being cast inside his mind. "Tell me; what was she running from?"
"I don't know. I never saw it. Something... terrible. Alive."
"A human being?"
"Just a- a thing." Starling's gaze was distant.
"If I may ask, Clarice, what is it that troubled you so deeply about the dream? We dream of faces we pass on the streets and of anything the mind can conjure... Why did Mischa scare you, in her... plight through the woods?"
Starling's breath shook like steam exhaled into cold air, far too shaky to come from her strong, stricken face.
"I think that she was me."
Lecter's eyebrows raised and his hands rotated elegantly around his wrists, encouraging her. Just a little more... Just something more.
"She was so young and she was taken advantage of. I'm scared that I've been tricked and twisted my whole life."
He felt that he knew her mind too well to ask if it was the death, the axe that she feared.
"The inevitability of her capture- this child in the dream, this mixture of Mischa and yourself, do you feel like that is being reflected in your life at present? Do you feel as if one day, the teacup will fall and you will not be able to mend it?"
"I don't know. That's why I'm here, if I'm frank- it's your issue, and I think that you're more likely better equipped to deal with it than I am,"
A pause. "You want to pass the burden. You're carrying too much." It was an offering, but most people would take it as fact.
"That's probably true. Doctor Lecter, I am not a weak woman. I don't want you to pity me,"
"Clarice, I wouldn't dream of deigning to pity you. Pity, separate from empathy, does not drive. Humility can tell us that." His voice had an earnest quality about it, and Starling was almost soothed by it.
"I'd like to talk to you again soon, but I don't know if I'll come back for a few days. I need to think some things over."
"You need to sit with your career. The way that you allow yourself to be treated will end in nothing but a loss of faith."
Starling shrugged, a smile tugging her lips, taut, rueful. "I love what I do. I'd love to do more of it."
Lecter's eyes opened up for her, holding her answer and showing it back to her. "Your career is the culmination of your life so far, and you worry that it is becoming the toy of somebody else's. If you'll pardon the histrionics for a moment, Clarice; you are aware that you are not weak. You know of the strength of your soul more than most." Most. "And I believe that in order to make progress, you will have to prove to yourself as fact that you do not have to be cruel in order to make people pay for it."
Starling felt it then, felt the waft of smoke that sets off the alarm, the last, late ring of the phone that brings the news of loss. She felt alarm, in some dulled-down form - alarm that gripped the good heart that she had inherited like a vice. The alarm was not unwarranted, no, for it fled into Starling's mind with the knowledge that they, opposite in station, were not so different.
Because Starling sure knew how to make people pay for it.
Starling, working from her desk by daylight, wanted something more from the day than she was getting, and it left her with a slightly heavy pang in her chest. She couldn't hear Ardelia's bustling, domestic sounds through the walls and she wasn't in the mood to make any of her own. She hadn't been in the mood for anything for the last few days, but that was nothing new, not since she'd realised that the life she wanted didn't really exist for a young woman. Not like her, not in her situation. Not even Jack Crawford could plead a good case for her at this rate; her defiant eyes and cut-throat tongue spoke over him the minute that she showed her face.
Starling felt sick of it, really sick, and she wanted to throw down on someone. Something angry brewed in her veins, the same three words that had preyed on her mind since before, in Baltimore, since she had first heard them them snidely offered from behind glass.
Minutes later, she found herself knocking back water at her kitchen sink, throat pulsing, eyes closed against the slice of brightness glaring under the half-closed blind. It was something to do. Throughout the hour, she straightened the frames littering her walls, neatened the piles of magazines that found their way into the corners of her home and loomed there, polished her weapons with half-ironic importance. All the little things that only get done when one is running from something of greater importance.
Starling's knock was almost always welcome on Ardelia's door, and there was no exception when Dee looked up to find her, country-courteous, curved in the doorway with crossed arms. "Hi, Starling,"
"You got a minute?"
"For what?" Ardelia put down her stack of papers - Starling didn't look for the headings - and leaned back.
"I just need to get some stuff off my mind. Heavy shit,"
She always thought that Ardelia was too good for her, and she felt the warm spread in her chest of the affection that fuelled this at the smile that met her words. "C'mere, baby. Let's hash it out."
The two women had an unspoken agreement that Hannibal Lecter was a figure that belonged to Starling's worries, and Starling alone, but it was with this same intuition that Mapp knew exactly what her friend had come to her for. The tea that they drank pooled sour on their tongues as they sat in the bright, warm kitchen and hunted for the right words.
A long, easy silence. "What did he say to you?"
Starling drummed her fingers against the side of her mug, exhaling through her nose. "Last time I was there, he could sense that I felt like I didn't have enough control over my career."
"Do you feel like that?"
"Yeah. God, Ardelia, I can't believe that things aren't going my way just because of me. I won't believe that. I thought I was doing okay at work,"
Mapp's eyes narrowed slightly. "You know as well as I do that you were going to have a harder time making a path for yourself than lots of folks, and that I was going to have a harder time than you."
"And that's the problem, he could sense how... unfair I know it is, and that I can do nothing about it."
"So he's just as manipulative as you'd think, the bastard."
"And he told me to make people pay for it."
"Red flags, girl," Mapp's posture straightened drastically, "that sounds a hell of a lot like he's trying to coerce you into hurting someone for his entertainment."
"I know. I don't really know what it is, but talking to him feels like something I need to do, but he keeps toying with me. I can't forget that he's a fuckin' serial killer."
Ardelia slung an arm around Starling's shoulder loosely, "I think you need to cut ties with whatever emotions you've confided in him. If I'm honest, I think he had you overshare to the point where you ended up reliving trauma. He's trying to screw you up."
"I don't think he'd try and manipulate me that much. It's bad, but I think that we trust each other to a limit. I'm the only person who actually- not relies, but something like that - on him, and I don't think he'd waste that." Starling said, her voice a little tense. Ardelia's arm tightened around her.
"I have no doubt that he's going to try to hurt you, Starling, and there's no way in hell that I'll let you go forward into that."
Starling's sigh dragged a little. "He wouldn't hurt me, he'd see that as rude seeing as I come back and talk to him, provide a little company now that he's back in the cell. Sure, he takes some sick joy in riling me up a bit, but he wouldn't ever try to hurt me."
Ardelia wasn't a smoker, but the crook of the fingers of her free hand at her chin gave the impression of holding a cigarette. "And if he got out? If he was going to pull something like last time, would you not be scared he would come and find you?"
"You know what, Ardelia? If Lecter made it out again, I'd haul ass to Baltimore and put myself between the sonofabitch and the door no matter what anyone said, whether it be Mr Crawford or Krendler."
Ardelia shook her head, "Don't be a hero, Starling."
Starling turned her face, the half-light capturing her striking profile. "I'm not trying to be. My guess is that even if he was a few steps ahead of me, I'd throw him off for enough of a second to do some damage."
"No no no. How many people did he kill when he got out last time? The two guards?"
"Five in total."
"Then you best believe he'll try for six if he gets the chance."
Starling uncrossed her legs and put down her mug, the flat sphere of the tea's surface slopping up the sides at the movement. "I'm just angry that I'm defending someone like him, I guess. I'm sorry,"
"Don't be. You've got a bone to pick with him,"
"You think now?"
"Sure, if you like. I'll make something for when you're back."
Mapp leaned her cheek into he quick kiss that Starling placed there. "Go get him, girl."
"I'll try my very best not to."
Their laughter was warm and familiar. Mapp grinned, "Looking like that, I doubt even Hannibal the Cannibal could resist you. No, especially not him."
Starling offered a tiny bow. "I gotta tell you, Dee, I'm out for blood, I'm not going to have the time to seduce him,"
"You've never been one for older men anyway. But seriously, Starling-" And here Mapp reached out and caught Starling's hand - "take care of yourself. He can't just treat you like that."
"Thanks. Don't wait for me if I'm late."
The bright, colourless sky stretched as far as Starling could see as she dipped into the Mustang in her driveway. Knuckles taut on the wheel, eyes on the long matte ribbon of the road, she started to drive towards something that she hoped would finally end her cycle of uncertainty.
If the timing between the visits so far would continue to be regular, Doctor Lecter decided that he wouldn't see Clarice for another day. Although, he mused, as he raised the cold barrel of the felt-tip pen to his colder lips, he didn't think he'd have the pleasure of her company for longer still. The cast of face when she had last left him - stricken, although she had hidden it well - spoke volumes. No, she wouldn't face him yet; she needed time to sit and ponder and realise. To do all of the things that one does in the most troubled stages of their youth, when they are suspended in constant, cold dread.
What would become of Clarice Starling? She would never be complacent enough to file papers and take phone calls, and would never follow rules closely enough to stay alive on the fields and in the buildings. Her strong, slender hands were hard under their soft skins, the durability of her physical form inherited and learned from the plights of her parents through their simple lives. Those two simple people that she lived to do justice for. Surely, neither of them had half of the wit or the moxie that brave, doomed Clarice possessed. Oh, Hannibal loved a good fight from her. He hoped that he wouldn't wear her down; knew that he couldn't.
The cell around him is cold and grey and carries the cracks in its bricks as deeply as a monument. Hannibal Lecter thought of Clarice's home, and wondered if her walls were littered with art as well, or if she favoured black-and-white posters of howling men from the seventies, slinging expensive guitars across the flat planes of their hair-sprinkled chests. Maybe she didn't set much stock by decorating. It's the kind of thing that Doctor Lecter troubled himself with often, as he sat alone. It was hard to gage; for all of her slick, cruel guns and her good, hard wrists and ankles, Clarice was still a girl. A tough-talking girl with large, lovely eyes, smelling of sweet florals and face cream. The preservation of the gentle wisp that was her life in the world seemed to be of utmost importance. She was new and interesting amidst the East Coast. Sunlight must be heavenly on her dark hair.
Awaking from a thought that would inevitably bring him nothing but impatience, Hannibal Lecter carefully set Clarice Starling aside in his mind and turned to his psychiatric journals, unread before him; she may be interesting and hard and unpredictable, but she had hidden herself from him to heal, and it would be discourteous to hold her here in the cell where she did not wish to be.
Hoo bOY another chapter that took a long time coming! I'm going into the really stressful period where I'm doing all of my final exams at once and it doesn't leave much time for writing, so thank you for bearing with me while I've been MIA
Starling paused, held hostage between the two sets of bars that barricaded her from the dungeon, and thought to herself. She didn't have to go on. What obligation did she truly have to keep moving forward, outward, onward, unfurling herself out into his world? Where was there room for anything but madness in the way that she kept returning, sheepish as a scolded dog, hoping that one day he would change and she would be-
Wondering doesn't do, when time is already strained. Starling was very aware that once that clear, telling clang had sullied the air, he was waiting for her, as patient and as keen as ever before. She is an unstoppable force, he is an immovable object. She started to walk, chin up, faux-assertive, trapped in the glare of the overhead lighting, feeling as if she was caught under spotlights. Confrontation has so often been her forte, but here Starling found herself foiled by her need for it.
She reached Doctor Lecter's cell in silence. Barney had taken to leaving out the desk for convenience purposes (surely it was a bother to drag the cumbersome, school-style table every time she turned up for a brief gripe), and she busied herself with sitting. When she looked up, she immediately met his eyes.
It was almost a shock to view his face; every time he touched on Starling's thoughts in the privacy of her own home, something about him seemed... regal, seemed Roman, seemed airbrushed with a ceaseless filter of elegance that never brought out anything but anger in her, anger that he still had class to lord over her. But here, in the belly of the dungeon, with every line in his skin carved in dramatic definition by the overhead lights, she could see the glare of his dark eyes, see how the cruel line of his mouth was the product of his carefully set jaw. Setting herself apart had led her to forget the way he looked at her. It frightened Starling, how she could finally look at the man and see nothing but his actions. She had never seen into someone like that. Maybe she shouldn't have came.
"Clarice. Good afternoon."
Starling didn't smile. "Hello, Doctor Lecter. Thank you for seeing me."
"Not at all. I must say, I wasn't expecting the pleasure of your company so soon."
"I wasn't expecting to come back so soon." Starling pulled her hair back from her face, and tied it. "In all honesty, I came back because I felt angry with you. Except I'm not sure of how angry I am anymore."
Lecter's face spoke quiet amusement. "You always seem to return here when you need to feel grounded. I won't insult your intelligence by reminding you of the irony in that."
Starling sighed absently. "With all due respect, you insult my intelligence by trying to manipulate me every time I show up."
Doctor Lecter raised his eyebrows brusquely. "I fail to see how the person who lives out in the world is the one being manipulated."
"Oh, you know, Doctor. The power imbalance between us is palpable. And I resent it."
"No matter what you feel is occurring here, I'm pleased that you're not intending to take it lying down, so to speak."
"Don't mock me, please."
"I’m not. You’re awfully tired of life, aren’t you, Clarice?”
Her eyes narrowed slightly, seeing him through grey-tinted lenses. “I’m not suicidal.”
”Have you ever been?”
The question struck Starling, and sent her reeling back in time; no, she could say, I’ve never felt the weight of nothing pressing into my chest, forcing me down down down and away from the light- never have I felt the scream of my blood, yearning to run home towards the earth and into the soil. A moment in the kitchen, aged twenty three, with her hair pulled too tightly to the back of her head so that she could feel something, anything. A slender knife in hand, the blade licking a smooth line from the bulging veins in her wrists to her elbow. The ghost of a graze embedded in her flesh, beaded along its length with dots of bright, living blood. That had been enough. That had always been enough, from then on.
Starling, twenty-six, swallowed. “Not really. I never really wanted to.”
"You're not being entirely honest, Clarice."
"Alright- I've thought about it in passing, but I never wanted it. Do you think I'm the type to kill myself?"
Lecter's eyes gleamed dark. "No, and that's rather why I asked you. It would be interesting to gage what it would take for you to want to do it." He stretched to straighten his back, the movement slow and smooth. His chin lowered imperiously until his gaze met Starling's.
"Now, tell me what was occurring in your life to make you think about ending it."
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing." She was numb to everything she told him. "Nothing was changing, and that was the problem. I was working in some forensic lab at Quantico before I knew for sure that I was going through to training. It wasn't what I wanted out of life."
"And so you started thinking about your own death?"
"And now you're falling back into that cycle."
Starling made to disagree, but lolled back in her chair slightly when she realised that would do no good. "Yeah."
Doctor Lecter's brow creased at her use of colloquial language. "Well then, it's important that we make sure you manage to... escalate your position at the FBI in order to avoid feeling lost in your life."
Alarm bells sounded in the distance of Starling's mind. "You tried to make me want to hurt people at work that way before."
"In a way."
"And you think I'm going to follow anything you tell me?"
"You have before."
She ran her hands up the sides of his face and into her hair, keeping her composure as solidly as she could. "You have a point. Doctor Lecter, I don't know exactly what's going on at the moment. I don't want to have to trust you. But I'm going to, loosely anyways. I'm going to go now."
Her eyes, clear and light and wintry, focused on him and her eyes closed in on themselves. "That's it? Alright?"
"What else did you want from me?" Lecter asked, voice bemused.
"It's just strange that you're going to let me go just like that."
His response, a hard, focused expression, was measured, and she read it clear and fast; she knew that he understood that he'd never be able to stop her. Not even if he tried. Starling turned around, head full of reeling emotions and teeming with doubt, and left the dungeon just as covertly tormented as she had came.
Heya! So, as is evident judging by how long it took me to update, I've been very busy lately. I finished my exams and subsequently secondary school, and I now have a long holiday before I go into post-16 education, so hopefully I'll be able to update more frequently now. I've also been writing a considerable amount for other fandoms (and my own original work) and that's really helped me fall back into a cycle of interest for this story. Thank you for being patient with me!
Chapter 13: I Try, I Do, I Really Try / But I Just Err, Baby, I Do, I Err
Paul Krendler's office hadn't been busy for quite some time; long enough for a musty smell to set into his clothes if he spent too long seated there. He'd already been there for a while, and had watched the clock hands creep from a quarter past eight in the morning to just after one in the afternoon. His formal jacket was uncharacteristically buttoned, and pulled over his chest at an usual angle to cover an orange stain on his shirt from his lunch. He wondered if he could use the rest of his lunch break to soap the stain out in the disabled toilet.
Before too long, Clarice Starling appeared in the doorway, her hair loose and around her shoulders. She rapped with the back of her knuckles against the door, and Krendler half-spun in his chair, his eyebrows rising.
"Hello, Mr Krendler. May I have a word?"
"Come in, Starling." He gestured with his hand, a clipped, cold smile tugging at his mouth.
She didn't sit, as he perhaps expected her to, but instead walked up to him with almost intimidating purpose. Krendler was too professional to feel worried by the sure, certain way she had sought him out, full of intention, but he still started to wonder.
"Sir, with all respect, I have held my tongue for quite some time now, but I need you to talk to me straight."
"Make some sense, Starling."
Her jaw clenched, and her nostrils flared ever so slightly. She was so tired, and anyone could see it staining under her eyes. A pang of unease sparked in Krendler's stomach.
"Look, you know as well as I that I just haven't been getting what I deserve here. A few promotions that it's awfully convenient I didn't get. A few key moments when people seem to take your word as the truth. Catch my drift?"
Starling looked vivid, and dangerously bright. The light from the hallway frayed the edges of her hair.
Krendler's smile was slow and smug and warm, like curdled milk. "I can't help you, and if I was a less reasonable man I'd chew you out for whatever you're insinuating here."
"You're a damn liar. The closest I've ever been to a case remotely connected to Behavioural Science in the last year is making the odd record. And the offers stopped almost as soon as I told you no."
Krendler snorted through his nose. "You've had plenty of outside work, don't be ridiculous. You're compiling another Lecter record, yes? Behavioural Science will expect it before too much longer."
"Jack Crawford sent me to interview Doctor Lecter when I was a trainee, Sir. It doesn't take a genius to see that I'm still being treated like one here." Every part of Starling's face seemed to minutely tremble, set alight by her silent rage.
The only thing Krendler gave her was that steady, kindly smile, spreading slow in front of his coward's eyes. "Perhaps you should take a moment to think about what you're doing here. I can't help you."
"Don't piss on my foot and tell me it's raining, Mr Krendler. I have always had better things to do than you," she snapped, angrily.
Krendler leaned in, breathing deep and heavy through his nose, and spoke carefully into Starling's face, "Maybe. Just maybe, Starling, the only reason why you're not progressing is because you're worthless to us. The Bureau could get five cheap pussies in here for what you think you're worth."
Starling was still for a moment; so deathly still, and her face was sharp and terrible. Then carefully, calculatingly, she drew back her arm and ploughed her fist up into his face. His nose crumbled, and the blood appeared out of nowhere; hot and thick and dark and so much, and how different is is to see a man bleed when you're the one that made him do it, Starling thought as fleetingly as an impulse. His first scream - short and quiet - was one of shock, but the pained, enraged wail that followed was a terrible sound. In the moment it took them both to process what she had done, it was too late to move back and his hands were suddenly in her hair, yanking her head back as he dragged her. She fought him with her shoulders and her elbows, but still her back met the edge of the table - and he was going to kill her, wasn't he, he was going to rape her and strangle her and rip out her hair and leave her bleeding. His blood was so hot and so wet on her face.
But then he was gone, and she could breathe. Krendler was panting, his breaths tearing from his lungs in horrible, strangled moans. He pawed at his destroyed nose with his hand, drew it away scarlet, and looked at Starling with a rage her father would have crossed himself against. "I'm going to fucking destroy you," he wheezed, "You're done, Starling, you're going to wish I killed you,"
Starling was trembling so violently that she almost lost her balance. They were both crying hot, angry tears. She heard movement on the stairs. Wordlessly, Starling looked over the blood on the tale and the floor and his shirt, aching with the weight of wet roses. She felt nothing.
Somewhere in her primal brain she found the strength to come to herself as she ran, sprinting as soon as she left the room, deaf to all noise except for the horrible pound of her heart. Krendler was behind her, but she didn't care if he was following her. She didn't care who saw her; she barely thought. She could taste Krendler's blood.
She was both the gazelle and the lion in pursuit.
The light in the duplex was heavy and beautiful as Starling ran through the door and called for Ardelia Mapp. When of course she could not find her, even after tearing through every room, she was too hollow to care. She sunk to her knees in Ardelia's ordered room, a crumpled bull in a china shop, and put her head in her hands. For a while, there was nothing but the strong thrum of her pulse in her throat.
Starling was already aware of how she would have to cleanse herself, and she dreaded it. She was tired of Hannibal Lecter. She wanted to be rid of his eyes on her face and his voice in her mind, of the instinct he had bred into her that taught her to hate this hard. Crouching on the floor, as vulnerable as a child, taught her magnitudes about trust in a second, the dangerous thing it was. Starling had left herself open to a certain type of love, and it had grown in her like a cancer. She saw that now.
She knew Lecter would have her die of him.
The Starlings had never been trusting people, and so it made Clarice sick to think of how deep she had waded in, and so soon. What her father would have said to her in that moment almost struck her cold. How could she have sacrificed herself like that, for a promise that already rung false to her? She felt stupid, and sad, and scared.
She was ruined. Krendler was going to make her wish she had never been born. And maybe I can live with that. It was a gentle lie, one made to console a child.
But, ever the animal, she still found herself hunched in the belly of the Mustang only minutes later, running back once more to the bear pit, with a trembling heart in her ribs and a short balisong knife snug in her boot.
Chapter 14: Fault
Starling knew that he would smell Krendler's blood on her. Of course he would. It sat heavy in the fabric of her shirt, hidden guiltily under her coat, and it was in her skin, rotting in her pores and in a forgotten smear along her jaw. When Chilton had asked her about it, she had told him that she hadn't had the time to wash up after a difficult day. It was a half-lie. Like hell she'd let him catch her in it.
Even now, as she walked down floors and floors of strangely industrial stairs with the knowledge that Barney had been sent ahead of her, Starling found herself wondering what exactly she was going to say to Doctor Lecter. She felt rather like a child traipsing back into her parents' house bloodied from a scrap.
The unrest emanating from the inmates in the dungeon had a stench, and it was dark and rancid. Blood was in the water, and the scrawny, starved sharks were moving forth to feed; Starling could see eyes and faces of terrible men, some of whom she did not recognise and some she wished she didn't, close to the bars of their cages. For the first time in almost a year, she felt afraid of them. The closer to Doctor Lecter's cell she drew, the further she felt from the safety of what she knew. It was as if stepping into his space was a gateway into another reality. Her gut was raw and cold and fizzing, alive with slow-burning nausea. The dried blood smeared from ear to jaw and pinpricking the corners of her mouth was thick and dark on the milky skin of her face. Starling felt the itch to unbutton her coat and draw it tighter around herself.
At last - after eons - Starling was before the plexiglass, and she turned to look into the cell. The chair was there, and the Doctor was waiting, and yet her stomach still tightened the moment she looked into his cage.
Hannibal Lecter, standing to attention in the centre of the floor, seemed to change as he looked into Starling's face. The slow, rasping inhale he was drawing through his mouth audibly stopped in his throat, and she saw him swallow thickly, his nostrils flaring quickly and agitatedly. He was almost at unease.
Clouded by his senses was Doctor Lecter's brain; the scent- no, stench hit him and dizzied him instantly, flooding his brain with a beautiful, dangerous wash of colour and poisoning his veins all the way down. Immovable as he so often was, it was a sensation so strong as to actually render him speechless. Through the haze of wounds and death, he could barely see Clarice, but when his eyes focused his vision almost went clear with the shock. Her face was alive and moving and glorious. It shimmered like an illusion. The sea seemed to rage behind the glass of her eyes. And almost above all - almost above the deep, intoxicating metallic fog of somebody's (Clarice's?) blood, he could smell her: the deep pang of her animal fear, exotic and hours old and clinging to her like wet fabric. The Doctor exhaled.
When he spoke, his voice was low and full and almost urgent. "Is it yours?"
Starling shook her head no before she spoke the word.
"Forgive me, but if I never saw you again, Clarice, I believe I would remember you as you are now forever."
Starling's lower lip trembled slightly, like the last quivering note of a piece of music. "Why are you saying this?"
"It's the truth."
"Doctor Lecter. I don't want this to be the person I am now."
Lecter's eyes gleamed. "But who exactly are you, as of here in this moment, if not Clarice Starling?" He said, the observation purposefully dense to draw the words out of her.
Starling sighed, a drag of impatience in her voice. "What I mean to say is- where is the woman who sat here and told you about my father when he was alive? We both know she's not here now." A pause, in which she wet her lips with her tongue. "I asked you about your own family not long ago, and yet it seems like years. I'm changing. I'm afraid of it. I don't think I know exactly who the person sitting here is, or what she's capable of."
"It seems to me that she's always been here, in a way."
Starling may have flinched, or it may have been an imagination of the Doctor's slight blink. Her eyes hardened and she swallowed against anger. "I think that's unfair to me."
"People aren't perfect, Clarice, and you'd do well to remember it." His voice turned sly. "You're very good, Clarice. You're brave and you're independent. But everyone's got a fault. I," he spoke with his metallic, rasping voice, touching his chest, "have my own. Your daddy - dead in the ground as he may be - had his own. You have yours. Accept that in yourself."
Starling laughed out the initial hysteria rising in her throat, "How am I supposed to do that when I'm covered I somebody else's blood, Doctor Lecter?"
Rapture sparked in the centres of his eyes and he smiled, the expression slightly sly and slightly gleeful. Starling did not pull back from him; she remained angry and open and slightly frantic around the eyes. Her mouth was tense. She knew Doctor Lecter was watching it.
Doctor Lecter spoke after a moment. "Who was it?"
Starling sat in the chair Barney had left for her as a method of preparation, and leaned forward, her knees together. "His name is Paul Krendler. He's the man who has spent too much of his time ruining my career since I caught Buffalo Bill last year. I decided to confront him today - you might know something about why I did it." Her tone was pointed. Starling took a deep breath in.
"He refused to talk to me. He said I was worthless. He essentially told me I was just another cheap pussy."
Doctor Lecter's nostrils flared, and his eyes darkened. "I wouldn't have had that happen to you."
Starling smiled ruefully. "I know you wouldn't. It made me angry. I didn't think."
"How did you draw the blood, Clarice?"
"I broke his nose."
Lecter moved forward in the cell, tilted his head smoothly to the side to consider Starling and then back again. "How did it feel?"
"I- umm. It felt great. I hate him, Doctor, I hate him more than anyone. The rush-" And here she laughed, laughed from the sheer, exhausting nightmare of it all. "I felt like I was on fire. I was shaking."
"What did he do, after you struck him?"
"He pushed me against the table. He had every right to do that, really," she huffed laughter through her nose, her accent becoming more pronounced as she struggled with her words, "I didn't think it was standard protocol at the time though. He pulled me by my hair and pushed me down so I was more on it than against it. I tho- I thought he was going to rape me, or kill me in the moment."
Lecter's eyes were dark and his mouth was set. Starling found the way he was looking at her intense to the edge of unnerving her. "He may have had the right to detain you, but not to touch you that way; unnecessarily violent. You shouldn't have had to fear for your safety in such a way."
"I punched him in the face, Doctor Lecter."
"Let us ask something of you, Clarice: why are you so eager to make excuses for him, after all he has done?" Doctor Lecter said, and it seemed to be clear that the answer was for both of them after all.
Starling swallowed, her mind suddenly blank; flooded with white noise. "I don't know," she said gently. She searched her brains for what she had learned, what she knew. "Maybe I'm used to making excuses for people who aren't worth it, or I don't want to disrespect somebody in a position of power at the FBI. It might b-"'
She saw Lecter's face, tired and mildly impatient, and settled back down into her chair. She hadn't been aware of how far forward she was leaning in it. "That's not what you think."
"No. I suspect that it probably has something to do with the qualities you see in the Krendler man, and who it reminds you of."
The ghost of a smile twitched on Starling's lips. "You're talking about my father, aren't you?"
"If you see it as so, then it must be."
Lecter smiled back at her, the sight dangerous, his eyes hypnotic. Doubt flickered in Starling's mind. "Careful, Clarice. You have nerve, no doubt, but that's what got you into this situation in the first place."
Her smile faded slightly. Her eyes grew distant, retreating backwards reproachfully into her thoughts. "I know, Doctor. And now I don't know how to get out of it. I have no idea what's going to happen to me." Her voice was thick, her accent slightly dragging. She was not going to cry in front of him, not even now, but it was damn hard to fight the sudden weight that had collapsed onto her chest. What's going to happen to me, now I've fucked it all up?
"You've burned your hands, and now you are in the fire."
Starling nodded, eyes glinting bright under the blue-tinted lights.
Lecter sighed imperceptibly, and drew closer still to the glass. Starling looked up into his face and knew in her heart that if he helped her now, she would follow. It was terrifying to realise. Damn him, damn Krendler, what do I have anymore aside from Ardelia? She thought with a resigned tiredness.
"Clarice, breathe. You are alive and that is all that matters. The Krendler incident is terrible, indubitably, but it will not kill you. They may kick you out of the Bureau - and how that would sting - but Krendler, full of avoidance and cowardice as he may be, is not your daddy, abandoning you as a child, and so he cannot hurt you the way you anticipate. He is nothing to you."
Starling nodded. "He's nothing to me. He's nothing, and he's going to ruin me."
"I think not, Clarice, because you simply will not rest. It is a strength and a weakness in you. The way you keep running back - full of answers, only needing me to give them back to you - is evidence enough of that. You see, even if you lose your job and they take your weapons, I have no doubt that you'll still find a way to get the best of them."
"That's kind of you to say." It hadn't seemed like a compliment, but it seemed right to offer that as a response."
"Chilton would have you believe that I am a stranger to kindness. It is... interesting to think of you seeing me as a thing with emotions. Try as you might to feel otherwise, you simply cannot see me as a monster." He smiled, something stoic and humorous and predatory in it. "Cicero tells us that if we are not ashamed to think it, then we should not be ashamed to speak it. How do you speak past the shame when you speak the truth, Clarice?"
It was sudden, and a horrible sensation like falling. Starling was still for a few moments before his words processed, and then something in her broke.
The scent of blood and of her dull panic saturated Lecter's brain, and his body seemed to sigh with the satisfaction. She was quite something, his Clarice - as obtuse as she could be when she had thoughts to protect.
Now sharply aware that Krendler's blood was stiff in her shirt, Starling wondered how long Lecter had been inhaling the scent of it - of her - and whether he saw her differently when he had a mask to dress her in. She looked into the blood-pools of his eyes, autumnal and sparking, and felt something that frightened her more than anything. Courtesy kept her rooted to her chair; without it, she would have ran.
"I leave to leave, Doctor Lecter, this is too much."
"I know." His voice took on an almost soothing note that made her ill.
She gathered up her case, and wiped absently at her face while watching his; he was caught up in her flight from the asylum, his face as clear and yet present as a mask of comedy. Starling looked at him with clear, newborn eyes, and nodded one last time, the gesture earnest. "Thank you, Doctor Lecter. I mean that."
"You're welcome, Clarice. If Krendler works his dark magic and the Bureau lets you go, remember that he is nothing. You speak your truth in so many ways, and that is something that the world is not yet ready for. Goodbye, Clarice. Arm yourself with truth."
Neither of them had to mention that if it hadn't been for Doctor Lecter's personal truth, there would never have been plexiglass between them in the first place, but Starling was almost past caring about the way it didn't matter to her terribly anymore.