Rain splattered heavily on her windshield, blending the onslaught of highlights into one shape. In what seemed to be the dead of night, this made the task of driving near impossible. Starling very much liked to drive, but it was times like these when she questioned her wisdom in avoiding the mess of traffic and resorting to cabs or the city bus.
Perhaps if she had checked the weather forecast that morning, this would not be an issue. But in truth, Starling was glad her mind was making idle nonsense out of weather thoughts, because she did not want it to wander to the horrendous day she was walking away from. This mess that was her life was on the verge of crashing down, the picture-perfect image she held up for her friends to ogle at, perhaps even envy being captured for its falsity at long last.
Things should not be this way, especially for her. In the eyes of the public, she was the Bureau's shining star, the one that influenced little girls to play with GI Joes instead of Barbie's and curse those who said they shouldn't. Life was supposed to be blissful for her. After all, she was Special Agent Clarice Starling, slayer of Jame Gumb and rescuer of Catherine Baker Martin. But the male populace of the FBI refused to allow her the limelight, insistent on clouding her image as much as possible with their own, none quite as severely as Paul Krendler. By God, that man was going to be the end of her one of these days.
If the poison he dripped in her file wasn't enough, the incessant flow of cheesy though graphic come-ons was about to drive her off the breaking point. But no, she was a lady at all times, in the office that was. In the privacy of her home, she was free to scream her frustrations at the top of her lungs, usually uninterrupted unless the persistent neighbors found her ravings too disturbing to the peace.
Of course, there were those occasional nights when Ardelia Mapp had to ask her to keep it down. Those were few, as her roommate was usually off frolicking with her latest love interest, or as Starling preferred to call them, most current boy toy.
Starling was putting up with it, slowly managing to get by. She knew this life would be difficult, ten times more challenging than a man's given her profession and her competition. In shooting Buffalo Bill, she thought she sealed her place, finally breaking that distinction between what was and wasn't acceptable in the land of professionalism beyond the FBI.
Her largest fear was the hidden truth that someday it would indeed crash down on her and she would have nowhere to crawl for safety. After living in a world of lies for the majority of her adult life, Starling regarded the Real World as large and unpredictable. Somewhere, buried within in her, the darkest place of her ever-fearing soul, she knew she have to face it sooner or later.
A car horn blew obnoxiously in the distance. Starling blinked and swerved to stay on course. Letting out a deep breath, she regarded the car that passed only minimally, not wanting to let it get to her. Her mind wasn't with her tonight. It was a million miles away, along with her faith in the Bureau and will to continue in this world of mindless clones.
On a sour note, Starling noted her mind had indeed betrayed her in straying from leisure thoughts of the weather.
As it did on several occasions, her treacherous mind wandered as far as to ask her the inevitable question. Was her life different because it truly WAS different, or had HE made it this way?
Starling sighed, resting her left arm against the driver's side window, her hand grasping at her hair as though it wanted to pull it from her head. Sometimes, she had to ask herself why on earth Jack Crawford sent her there in the first place. The encounter left her emotionally triggered - she couldn't rightly say scarred because she felt no hurt when she thought of him, just some void she couldn't explain or define. Somewhere between the line of curiosity and attraction, something she shuddered to admit but felt useless denying.
It was at times like these she had to ask herself if Dr. Lecter ever thought of her. His sparing her life spoke out for itself and left her supervisors to draw their own petty conclusions. The doctor's own reasoning was a polite 'the world was more interesting with her in it.' Interesting enough to leave her alive, even after she betrayed his trust for her own petty gain. It didn't sound too buddy-buddy, in her opinion.
Of course, Starling dared not deny that shiver of glee that scurried up her spine every time she thought of his attentions; the very idea that his taste included her was very flattering. She was not a woman men pined for, lusted, or even slept with for pleasure. She was to men as Dr. Chilton had once seen her. A quick screw to get their sexual tension out, one they wouldn't dream of calling in the morning. Sure she was attractive; there was no doubt about that. On first appearance, men were instantly drawn to her, and then likewise disillusioned when she opened her mouth and revealed her intelligence.
Starling didn't understand the current times, and she was ready to give up trying. In a world where women were socially accepted as equals, men still truly wanted those blond, bubbly idiots.
It was nice, however eerie, that there were men like Dr. Lecter in this world, men that appreciated women for their minds and not their skirts. His taste was flawless; people who knew him years ago would still testify to that if she happened to come across them.
People looked down on her for other reasons rather than focusing solely on her gender and what she shouldn't have accomplished based on it. They saw an individual who respected a cannibalistic killer and didn't shudder when his name was mentioned as many tended to. It was ridiculous, but it was another drive to be made to feel inferior. Starling couldn't help it. She would never fear Dr. Lecter, she would never think of him as a monster, and she would never wish death upon him.
The families of his many victims would have her crucified for that.
There was no feasible way she could look at Dr. Lecter any differently than she already did. After he looked into her soul as deeply as he did, and as accurately, she not call him a monster. Yes, he did unspeakable things, but she was beginning to notice a pattern in his killings. There wasn't a single soul he had murdered out of cold blood.
While it remained true that she didn't fear Dr. Lecter, that hardly crippled her overly creative imagination from taking control of her more conservative senses once she drifted into dreamland. Her most comical image consisted of Dr. Lecter threatening her with a double-barreled shotgun. Upon awakening, she would often laugh hysterically at the sheer madness of it all.
Then, ritualistically, her laughs would diminish into tears, and that was often very difficult to escape. What a nightmare her life had turned into, where her highlight of the day was seeing the whimsical image of the FBI's most prime fugitive wielding a weapon he would never feasibly carry.
Starling let out a quivered breath, her mind now traveling to her work problems. The cases she was handed now were insulting, the male masses wanting to halt her from seizing the spotlight anymore than she already had. She was handed a majority of drug busts and business scam cases. The most excitement she had seen in awhile was the arrest of Evelda Drumgo, following the death of the woman's husband. In that one instance, she found herself in familiar territory, and took a whiff of the air she missed so very much. Starling had joined the FBI to help, not to mediate.
This could not be life. There was no way this was what she was supposed to do with her time, all her time. This wasn't what she trained for; this was hardly playing cops and robbers.
Perfidiously, her mind traveled to Dr. Lecter once more. Oh, how easy it was to blame her problems on him! If she possessed minor composure, and a lesser-defined sense of self, such would be easy. But she was not an insecure as that. At times, especially current ones, she found herself on unstable ground, but never enough to mark her as an apprehensive individual.
Finally, Starling's eyes landed on her familiar terrain, and she felt a slight warming inside. Another night at home - it sounded blissful though redundant. She looked through the tinted front windows with a smile; her vision was blurred with rain. The car came to a rumbling stop and she leisurely pulled herself from the passenger seat. Getting wet never bothered her, and sometimes, such as days like these, she enjoyed the sensation rain gave her. It was soothing, and she daily searched for such loving nurture. To obtain it from Mother Earth was a delightful bonus, making everything seem as though it could in some perverse manner be simplistic.
Starling smiled wryly at the thought that anything in her life could be classified as one-dimensional.
Her eyes then landed on her house, causing her to pause and frown. Rain pelted her body, but she hardly noticed. A second glance at her home chilled her blood, though she knew it was most likely without cause. The lights were on. This wouldn't have been so odd if Mapp were home, but the driveway was vacant. They were very preservative of energy, and electricity bills, and neither left the house, regardless of time of day, with anything more than a porch light on.
It could easily be a floop, a miss in habit, but Starling's inward senses were chilled, and the wiser part of her told her something was wrong inside.
Call for backup, she asked herself. That thought was dismissed with a chuckle. Backup? This was her private home. She couldn't jump at shadows. The people in the big office would never let her live it down. Besides, she was a trained professional. She could face her house.
She still had her .45, was rarely without it as it was. Unhooking it now from her holster, she kept it stationary at her side, knowing she was being perfectly paranoid. It wasn't particularly flattering, but she couldn't stand this. Whatever was inside, she wanted to be ready for, even if it was an accidental brain freeze earlier that day.
Her breath quivering in her throat, she approached the front door slowly, rain drenching her clothing. She stopped at the porch and considered. Her mind was pulling a perfectly nice mood change, and now she cursed herself for her instability. This was stupid, and the typical reaction to minor details after letting her mind travel to her problems. It seemed logical that with everything that was wrong with her life, something as small as this could make it that much worse.
Snickering to herself, she pushed the door open, ignoring the small voice that told her something was wrong.