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Behind Masks; Before Bars

Chapter Text

One voice holds the attention of the audience. All retain a respectful silence as the speaker, standing tall in the light of the projector, gestures to the picture cast onto the wall behind her.

Suddenly, the air of malaise in the room transmutes into something tangible; a young man rises from his seat, presses the back of his hand against his pallid lips, and heads quickly for the exit.

The image, cast onto a projection screen that covers most of the wall, shows a dimly lit room. Like a scene from a colourful nightmare, a visual symphony of autumnal colours -reds, browns, greens and golds- is interrupted by canary yellow photo evidence markers. The focus of all in the room, however, is drawn to the half-eaten meal on the dinner table.

“In order to survive my ordeal as the sacrificial lamb, I had to act as though I were under his influence...”

Every seat in the auditorium, save for one, is occupied. The speaker's eyes skim over the faces of the crowd, appearing indifferent to the pity and horror not one of them tries to hide. She takes a deep breath, presses her lips into a thin line; some see this and think she is suppressing tears, but the young FBI agent seated near the back row recognises the gesture as one of restrained annoyance.

The speaker paces from one side of the front row to the other, meeting the gaze of each person she passes.

“...but unlike my previous meeting with the beast, this time I was to participate fully. I was not Lydia Fell: I was myself...”

The audience remains entranced by her story, their eyes bright with interest, ruth -in some cases, falsified- etched onto their features. The speaker's face never changes from the impassive, professional affect she dons.

“Drugged and captive, missing a part of myself, I retained what I could by accepting my loss...”

While the FBI agent does not doubt the validity of parts of the speaker's story, there are certain details that seem glossed over and too predictable to be true. She meets the speaker's cold gaze for the briefest of seconds and glimpses beneath the other woman's mask, sees the cracks that lie beneath its varnished surface.

The minutes pass slowly for the speaker, each grain of sand in the hourglass of time falling individually. As her talk draws to a close, she fights the urge to speed through the last portion so she can escape the memories of a night she despises so. But she knows there is no running, no hiding, from a decision she was neither coerced nor persuaded into making.

Now, at the end of her lecture, her voice rings out clear and sharp as she asks the audience of observers:

“Who among you believes themselves to be percipient to the Devil and his ways? Who here believes they are a participant? Should you come across him, bear in mind: he will consider you a participant, and as such you will participate – regardless of whether you wish to or not.”

A gentle applause passes through the room, beginning in the front and rippling toward the back rows. The FBI agent places her notepad in her lap and claps her hands with the others.

On the way out some stop to shake the speaker's hand, the less brave opting to simply nod their heads and file out the double doors of the auditorium. None, however, offer their condolences; they may open their mouths, but the gleam in her eyes, reminiscent of the reflection of light off the edge of a blade, tells them to murmur something -anything- else and walk away.

The FBI agent waits until all the other audience members have filed through the doors, rooting around inside her tawny leather satchel as though searching for an object both she and the speaker know is not there. The speaker watches her descend the steps in the warped reflection from a nickel-plated lamp, her back to the staircase. She collects her sparse notes from the podium, begins to load them into her briefcase.

“Doctor Bedelia Du Maurier?”

The speaker turns around. She says nothing, her azure eyes moving from the woman's short, dark hair to her cheap but well-polished shoes, skimming over the unremarkable suit. With a gesture to the notepad in the woman's hands, she says, “I don't do interviews with the press.”

A crease appears between the agent's eyebrows. She reaches into an inner pocket of her jacket and pulls out her identification badge.

“I'm Special Agent Clarice Starling. I work for the FBI. Jack Crawford requested I ask you some questions pertaining to your involvement with Hannibal Lecter.”

Du Maurier straightens, extends her hand. “May I see?” With a quick dip of her head, Starling hands the badge over. “Your ID expires soon, Agent Starling.”

“I'm a trainee, Dr Du Maurier.”

The corner of Du Maurier's lip twists in displeasure. “I have already told Mr Crawford everything I have to say, and provided him my word that should I recall anything else he will be the first to know.”

“Have you? Remembered anything else?”

“No.” She hands the badge back, sharp eyes locking with Starling's. “If I had, I would have contacted him.”

Starling tucks the badge back into her pocket, bites down on the tip of her tongue as she fights to not squirm beneath the older woman's cold gaze. Du Maurier arches an eyebrow as she awaits Starling's response.

“Mr Crawford was very insistent that I speak with you, Doctor, and as such I would appreciate it if you would find the time to answer my questions.”

Du Maurier's eyebrow lowers. Her face becomes unreadable, but Starling sees something bubbling beneath the ice in her eyes – curiosity, perhaps, though there seems to be traces of amusement there, too. She watches as the other woman reaches into a compartment in her briefcase (that looks as though it cost more than the car she borrowed from Quantico) and retrieves a business card which she hands to Starling. White text embossed on a plain black background reads Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, followed by a cell-phone number.

“I believe you have my home phone number and address in your records, however I request you create an appointment to come and see me. We can talk then.”

 

Chapter Text

There is a wall in Jack Crawford's office that had been dedicated solely to the Hannibal Lecter case. On it had been pictures of the man known to the press as the Chesapeake Ripper and numerous newspaper clippings detailing an array of his most infamous crimes, as well as photographic examples of his handiwork. But with the emergence of another killer, one closer to home and much more active than his predecessor currently is, the Lecter memorabilia has long since been replaced with material on this new case.

Starling sits opposite Crawford, the desk between them piled high with paperwork. A thick case file rests atop a small mountain of papers; it is the one thing that draws Starling's eyes from the wall, where gruesome autopsy photos of Buffalo Bill's five known victims are tacked over a large map showing where their partially flayed corpses were found.

“When is your appointment with Dr. Du Maurier?”

“Four o'clock today. Can I ask why you were so insistent I speak with her?”

“I thought you had an interest in this case, Starling.”

“I do, sir.”

A pause. “I want to know if she's remembered anything else about her time with Lecter.”

Eyeing the file, filled with the sparse notes from numerous other agents, Starling asks, “Do you suspect she may be withholding information?”

“I have no evidence to say either way, but she has lied to us in the past. I don't doubt she will lie to you.” He taps the end of his pen against the desk, watching her face but avoiding her eyes. She notices his own are bloodshot, sunken in, likely the result of many sleepless nights. “You're familiar with Lecter's mind games?”

“As much as I can be through reading over the file.”

“Well, keep whatever you've learnt in mind while talking to Dr. Du Maurier.”

“Do you believe she's dangerous?”

His eyes lower to the pen, still tapping rhythmically against the desk. He stills his hand, sets the pen down. “I apply to her the same caution I applied to Lecter. Not because I believe she is like him, but because I believe she has the capability to become like him. You wouldn't underestimate him, Starling. So don't underestimate her.”

She wants to ask again why he requested her and not someone more qualified. Though undoubtably grateful for the opportunity, she wonders why he does not send a fully qualified field agent, someone with experience in dealing with similar cases. Perhaps it is because he doubts Du Maurier will talk to anyone, so there would be no point in sending someone who could, given the chance, use their time for more important things, her education at Quantico be damned.

Regardless of Crawford's intentions, she is curious - has been ever since she read the story on TattleCrime, though she wonders how accurate the version told by Freddie Lounds is. Pieces of the story never quite seemed to make sense, never seemed to fit with each other, as though stitched together with half-truths and outright lies. She wants to know the truth of it, if not for anything else then for the sake of personal edification.

"Be careful around her, Agent Starling."

Her eyes widen slightly. "I will. Thank you, sir."

He nods quickly, looks down at his watch. "It's nearing your appointment time. Best to not keep her waiting."

Chapter Text

Starling drives slower than she should, listening to the monotonous voice playing from her phone's speakers as the GPS app tells her the route to take. Gravel crunches beneath the car's tires, clinking against the underside of the car. The sound helps clear Starling's thoughts as the house appears in the gaps between the branches of the oaks and pines lining the sides of the driveway leading up to the Doctor's house.

Though it is only a storey high, Starling would not consider the property a bungalow; the word seems too mundane, not grand enough to describe the home that Du Maurier purchased after her last encounter with Lecter. Its contemporary design, fairly similar to her previous residence, makes use of numerous window walls that would give the occupant a view to the outside, but Du Maurier has hung thick velvet curtains to obscure the interior of the residence from any prying eyes that may look in. Understandable, given how many times the police have been called out to escort a member of the press off the property.

Starling drives to the back of the house to the attached garage, pauses when she finds a vehicle already parked outside. She lets the engine idle as she checks her watch to ensure she is on time – she is – and wonders whether Du Maurier has forgotten their appointment time.

Gingerly, careful not to scrape against the SUV, a maroon Jeep Liberty, she pulls in to the driveway and parks, leaving a large enough gap that the other driver should be able to open their door without damaging the paintwork on the older model Ford Focus she borrowed from Quantico.

She waits a moment in the driver's seat, unsure of whether or not to walk around the front of the property and knock or wait until the other visitor leaves. Nerves rising, she checks her watch again – a few minutes have passed. Had she hurried to the front door rather than lingering in the car, she would have been on time.

The corner of her lip twists as she unbuckles her belt and reaches for her satchel, placed in the footwell of the passenger seat. She opens the door, determination breaking through the wall of uncertainty built in her mind, and makes her way to the front of the house, where a vaguely familiar figure stands in the open doorway, conversing easily with Du Maurier. Starling stops abruptly, eyeing the Doctor's guest.

Freddie Lounds turns to Starling. Her eyes widen fractionally as she takes in the sight of the young agent. A tense second passes before she smiles, amusedly, and turns back to Du Maurier. It is as though a well-guarded, private joke passes between the two as they say their goodbyes.

Starling waits for her to round the corner before turning back to Du Maurier.

“I apologize that you had to wait.” Du Maurier steps back, holds the door open with one hand. “Come inside, Agent Starling."

 

Chapter Text

Starling wipes her feet on the doormat before stepping into the hallway, mindful not to dirty the spotless floor, formed out of hexagonal slabs of caviona. Dotting the walls are paintings of landscapes from various European cities, instantly drawing Starling’s eye. She notes none depict Paris or Florence, the two cities the FBI know Du Maurier and Lecter visited together – the only two cities Du Maurier remembers visiting, the former as an unwilling near-hostage, the latter as Lydia Fell. The weeks between, she insists to all those who ask, FBI and press alike, are no more than a blur, the memories lost to Lecter’s psychological manipulation combined with the drugs.

The walls themselves are cream coloured, too warm to be considered white. Starling wonders if that is due to the time Du Maurier spent in hospitals following the attack. Unconsciously, her gaze fixes on Du Maurier’s left arm; a note scribbled in the file, in what appeared to be Crawford’s own handwriting, spoke of her aversion to hospitals, so acute she left a fractured wrist gained in a fall some months ago go untreated for days so as to avoid a visit.

Du Maurier crosses her arms, pulling Starling out of her thoughts. They lock eyes. Before she can think better of it, Starling asks. “How’s the arm?”

The question seems to bring Du Maurier up short for an answer. Whatever she expected Starling to say, it certainly was not that. Starling had not expected to ask it herself, really; it was wholly unplanned. In itself the question is unimportant. She wasn’t sent here to find out how her arm has healed. Yet getting an answer is important. If this goes unanswered, it will set a precedent for the rest of their interactions: silence now will likely be followed by silence later, when she is asking more important questions. That is, if she gets to ask them at all and the Doctor does not simply throw her out now, as she has done to agents who have come before.

Du Maurier blinks, a deliberate action as she considers her options.

“The cast came off three weeks ago. It aches, occasionally.”

Starling breathes, finally. She had not realised she was holding her breath. Nodding, she takes another look around, concealing her relief. She thinks hard on her next question, trying to avoid a clumsy segue that could put an end to the conversation yet desperate to get the answers she so desires.

Her gaze lands briefly on the hand railings which run along both walls, stretching from the front door all the way to the arched doorway at the end of the wide hallway, the room beyond too far off and dark for Starling to really see anything. The railings’ paths are interrupted only by the sets of double doors leading off to various rooms. All of these doors are shut now, hiding all that lays beyond them from Starling’s view.

“You realise Jack Crawford has sent you on a pointless errand, Agent Starling.”

“How so, Doctor?”

Du Maurier’s arms uncross and lower. Her right hand closes around the left wrist, holds it tight. “He was always diligent in never missing a talk of mine, when I resumed them. At least until this new killer managed to draw his attention away from Hannibal Lecter. Even then, he without fail sent an FBI agent to my talks. That is, until he sent you: just a trainee from the academy.” Starling winces ever so slightly at being referred to as just a trainee . Du Maurier notices, makes the conscious choice not to test that sore spot just yet. Instead she stores that knowledge away for further contemplation. Without missing a beat, she continues. “Tell me, did he ask you to pay particular attention to what I said? Of course you were to listen to my talk, but did he give you a list of facts you should ensure matched up?”

“Yes, yes he did.”

Du Maurier’s lips twist downward, slightly. Her tone is more terse as she says, “It’s what he gives every agent he sends. Did he tell you why he always sends a new agent?”

Starling adjusts the strap of her satchel on her shoulder, aware control of the conversation is slipping from her grasp. Crawford would warn her not to let this happen. She fights to right it. “He did not. However-“

“I expect it’s because they didn’t return with any new information. No point in sending them to fail him again.”

She is right, no denying that. Starling has read all of the notes written by those other agents. She might as well have been reading the same set of notes over and over again, given the reports were invariably similar. Practically identical.

Starling can tell whatever lead her to respond to her inquiry about her arm is fading quickly; she is withdrawing, shutting her out. Starling straightens. “Regardless, I’d appreciate it if you would answer my questions, Doctor Du Maurier.”

Raising her chin, a flash of something passes through Du Maurier’s cerulean eyes, quick and bright and violent as lightening. “ I would appreciate it if Jack Crawford would refrain from treating me as a suspect.”

“No... No I don’t think he believes you to be a suspect.”

“Then he believes me to be withholding information.”

She treads carefully, aware the path ahead is lined with minefields and snares. “I’m certain he wants only to ensure any new information is acted upon as quickly as possible. For your safety, given Lecter...”

Another flash lights up Du Maurier’s eyes, brighter than the last. Starling dares not finish the sentence.

Agitated, the Doctor lets go of her wrist. As her arms lower, the fingers of her right hand begin to drum against the palm while her left hand brushes against what remains of her left thigh. “I believe your instructors at the academy will have noticed your absence, Agent Starling. Best you return to their lessons, lest Jack Crawford’s errands lead you astray from your studies.”

Du Maurier does not turn her back to Starling, nor does she look away, though it is apparent to her the Doctor will speak with her no more.

Wracked with disappointment, Starling has no choice but to take her leave. She bids a polite goodbye to Du Maurier, does not bother giving her the bureau’s contact details, since she has no doubt been given them many times before. Aside from that, she is aware of the change in the air around them. It is like the moment before a big storm, when the air crackles with electricity; the fine hairs on the back of her neck and along her arms stand on end as she realises the Doctor is close to snapping. Whether that be at Starling or in some other sense, Starling knows better than to push for answers now. So she leaves, quickly.

The Doctor shuts the door as soon as she crosses the threshold.

As Starling begins to walk down the paved walkway that leads from the front door around to the back of the house, where her car is parked, a shadow moves in the periphery of her vision.

She takes only fifteen steps from the front door before her bag is pulled roughly from her. 

Acting on instinct, grabbing ahold of the shoulder strap, she grasps it tight. Turning, she comes face to face with a somewhat unkempt man. Long dark hair falls in front of his eyes as he roots around in Starling’s now unzipped bag.

She yells, the words lost in the moment as she struggles to stop him. He removes her notebook, harshly shoves her away when she attempts to seize it. Loosing her balance, Starling stumbles, her knees taking her weight as she goes down, pulling the bag with her. She scrambles to her feet, clutching it to her chest as he make his escape. With her notebook. She intends to follow him, but a sharp call from behind her halts her in her tracks.

“Agent Starling! Agent Starling, come here!”

Part of her wants to try and reacquire her stolen property while another wishes to simply get to her car and drive away as fast as the speed limit permits, shamed at having been caught off-guard so, especially now. The part which wins out over the others, however, wants to know why Du Maurier is calling her back with such urgency.

Starling approaches Du Maurier, stood in the threshold of the front door. Du Maurier’s eyes look beyond her, scanning the area, alert as a cornered animal yet impossible to describe as timid; their sharp glint is more reminiscent of a predator than prey.

“I apologise, Agent Starling. I should have known he would be lurking somewhere.”

“You know him, Doctor?”

“Not as such. He is a particularly intrusive member of the press. I. J. Miggs. He‘s been arrested multiple times for his... uncouth methods of gathering information for his articles. His most recent arrest was for knocking Freddie Lounds to the ground on my driveway. Trespass and assault were the main charges then, along with breaching his restraining order. Are you injured?”

Starling wipes some dust off her suit trousers, checks for rips on the knees. “I don’t think so. Bruised at worst.”

Du Maurier nods, moving on hastily to disguise what seemed to Starling like concern, even if it lasted only a moment. “That was particularly discourteous of him. Did he take anything of value?”

She checks her bag, is relieved to find her phone still in the compartment she zipped it up in earlier. “Only my notebook.”

“Did it contain anything of importance?”

“My notes from your talk. Aside from those, no.”

A silent second passes. Starling expects the door to shut once more.

Then, abruptly, Du Maurier asks. “Will you come inside again, Agent Starling?”