"I'll give you what you love the most, Clarice Starling."
Eight years ago, the answer to that, so patently obvious, was "Advancement." Now, the word rang hollowly in her ears as she recalled the relish in his voice as he said it, the anticipation of what it would bring to her.
Clarice pondered the word as she sat in her darkened basement office, lit eerily by the glow of her computer. The screen displayed the FBI's 10 Most Wanted, including the orator Clarice's recollection, whose image blurred before her unseeing eyes. Advancement. What a joke. The only advancement she had ever had was because of him - and she hadn't even been able to make good on that. It felt so pointless, everything she had worked for these past years, everything she had sacrificed. She was so alone - and sometimes lonely - but moreover, she was her work. She was not even her own person anymore, let alone the possession of a family or loved ones. She belonged to a dingy little office, surrounded by photos of him, and profiles about him, and evidence against him. She belonged to a scrappy little picture, not even in a frame, of John Brigham, who was now six feet under, as she should be too. She belonged to the guilt, to the knowledge that she had let down perhaps the only decent person to have ever cared about her, besides Ardelia. And she belonged to her, too; to the half of the house she haunted like a ghost, to the nine years of mutual acquaintance.
And this was what she had to show for it all - this - the office, the photo, the single friend. She also had plenty of scorn since the bloodbath of a few days ago; she had a reputation as "The Angel of Death" and more lives on her conscience than any law enforcement official in the world. She was a world record for guilt and remorse. She was a world record for regrets. The irony was grotesque.
Clarice surveyed the murky office, trying to figure out where she had gone wrong. It all came back, she realised, to the very beginning. To Hannibal Lecter. To her equivocal success and the fact that he had dropped out of her life as though he had never been in it in the first place. But she knew that he had, because his face still lingered in her dreams, and when she heard the lambs screaming, she heard his words intermingled with their cries. Where she had once had but one nightmare, she now had two, and they were inseparable.
Eight years of a dual nightmare had taken its toll on her, Clarice mused, and knew that subconsciously, it had been the reason all along for her obsessive dedication to her work. She knew that the harder she worked, the less she slept, and the less she slept, the less nightmares she had. At the same time, whenever she solved or helped solve a case, the lambs would silence. Usually it was for a few nights, sometimes more, sometimes less. And she would sleep peacefully, dreamlessly. That was the best she could hope for.
It was so strange, the way she could still feel his fingers touching hers, feel the electric jolt that shot through her at his touch. She could feel his eyes penetrating her and his breath brushing her cheek as he exhaled. So close... So agonisingly close to such overwhelming volatility, passion, and, dare she say it - no. She didn't dare.
That stolen moment came back to Clarice in a rush of conflicted emotions in which she realised, and moreover, admitted to herself, what it was that she *really* wanted...
What she loved the most.