Clarice reeled away as he raised the
cleaver, bracing for pain as best she could.
Despite her resolve to do this right,
everything had gone terribly wrong. Maybe it was the drug, she
thought, feebly. Maybe she was still unable to speak her desire,
even now. She'd been so sure… but the thing with Krendler, and
this awful, chemical nausea had ruined everything.
As the blade came down, she blamed
herself. Seven years of rehearsing this moment and still she'd
managed to miscalculate. But he'd been so different than se
expected, so unlike she remembered him. Still, she was sure the
failure had been hers. And here was payment.
She supposed she'd left him little
choice. Whether it was the drug or... his manner... something had
prevented this from going as she planned.
Then, suddenly, his words, all of them,
made a terrible sort of sense, even before she heard the cleaver
bury itself into the butcher block.
If you loved me you'd stop.
She knew, and the knowledge was horrible.
The absence of physical pain was pale relief.
She looked down at the butcher's block,
willing herself to still her quarrelsome stomach. The cleaver had
cut cleanly, and made a silver stripe between his gouting wrist and
severed hand. He was still reacting to the shock when her right
hand closed around the cleaver's handle and her left grasped the
outraged flesh firmly above his wrist. It was the work of seconds
to apply pressure here, force there... in a moment the cleaver's blade
rested against his throat.
"You'd better hope this was dulled
by your chivalrous gesture, Dr. Lecter. If not, we'll end this
"I must say I am disappointed,
Clarice. All the ends of this scenario I had envisioned... some
sweet, some tragic... this finale wasn't amongst them. I must
congratulate you... you fooled me for the second time. I never
thought you'd send me back."
"Not in a thousand years?" she
said, using her unkind grip on his wrist as much to cause discomfort as
to staunch his bleeding.
"No" he said, the sound of
approaching sirens almost obscuring the sad murmur.
"They'll be here in a minute.,”
she said, dispassionately. "Does it hurt much?"
"More than you might imagine."
he said, meaning all too obvious.
"You'd be surprised, Doctor."
A moment of silence passed.
"May I ask you something,
She looked at him now, not full in the
face, of course, but she could see him in three-quarter profile.
There were tears, barely unshed, in his eyes. The same eyes she
once thought were her only mirror. She used the brilliant edge of
the cleaver to force him to turn so that he could see her face, knowing
he'd find it bare of a shred of mercy.
"Go ahead, Doctor. I suspect
this will be the last chance you have to ask me anything."
"You've changed, Clarice.
Once, we understood each other perfectly. Is your loyalty to the
Bureau so undying?”
"No," she uttered a
contemptuous little laugh. "I'm already wording my
resignation, in fact. This has nothing to do with the
"No?" He wet his lips,
looking into her eyes for the connection he'd once found so readily.
"I haven't changed."
"Still afraid to tell me the
"Not at all, Doctor." She
wished to look down, unwilling to let him see the grief in her eyes.
The words she had to say struck glass into her heart, even though she'd
known the truth of them as soon as the cleaver fell... maybe even
before. But he wanted an answer. More importantly, he
deserved an answer. And so she did not flinch.
"I never was."
There was no need to avert her gaze.
Like so many other things, his power to read her had deserted him.
"Then tell me what could I have
done? What would have made things different for us?"
For a moment, during which the sirens
grew with every passing second, she didn’t answer. Clarice was
cruel only by experience, and not by nature, so she hesitated... but
only for a heartbeat.
"Do you need to ask?" she said.
It wasn't really a question, but an sentence, heavy with burden.
"That should tell you something. I was waiting for the man I
touched in Memphis. He didn't ask. He didn't need to.
That Dr. Lecter took what was his."
"You thought I'd take you without
asking?" he asked. "Tsk, tsk, Clarice... I thought
we understood each other better than that." She heard
sadness, maybe even a tear, in his voice, but wouldn't look to confirm
this suspicion. She didn’t need to.
"Did you?" Her voice was
steady, and did not betray the outraged loss she felt. Seven years
of longing, dreaming, waiting... melted away. Never mind that
she’d stayed in the Bureau all these years only to find him.
Never mind a promise, however unspoken. Whether made falsely or
made false... the fact was unchanged.
Maybe our youthful perceptions are all
wrong. Maybe I was just full of shit. Or maybe age
diminishes… if that’s true, please, God, let me die before I find
out for sure.
"Not any more," she whispered.
Bullhorns sounded outside… there was
little time… but she had nothing more to say. She was finished
here. It cost her something, but she didn't cry. Mourning
could come later. Tomorrow, maybe, tears would be shed... all
bitter and burning with seven wasted years.
But Clarice Starling wouldn't cry now.
Not in front of a stranger.
Not in a thousand years.