It had been two years, and she was getting used to the feeling of living inside her own head, owning the space between her ears, if nothing else. It wasn't the lack of worldly possessions that bothered her - in truth, it had been a relief to give them up. All she had kept was the picture of her old horse Hannah, pilfered from the article done on her by People magazine back when it had all happened. It stayed in the back of her wallet - a crumpled, dog-eared little scrap, worn thin and smudged by the greasy pads of her fingertips, as they had so often sought it out in the weeks after. Now it just sat her in wallet untouched - she didn't need to look at it to remember. Like everything else, her memories existed in the finite gray matter behind her eyes; she didn't need to be reminded of them elsewhere.
At first, it had been hard to let go. She'd been angry, violently angry, and she'd been lonesome. Her only friend had been her former Section Chief, Jack Crawford, whose company had been perhaps the only thing that had kept her sane. Even Ardelia wasn't allowed to know. Mr. Crawford had been a Godsend to her, coaching her painfully through every little amputation as though he'd done it all before. Which, for all she knew, he had. She'd never really known him all that well, but privately thought of him as her own guardian angel for all the good he'd done her. As she would once have declared in the lilting Southern drawl she'd had to forsake, she was "much oblige" to him.
Truth be told, she had never felt particularly vulnerable throughout the process - not, that is, the way she had been expected to. She'd refused to feel vulnerable, to feel victimized - it had never served her in the past, and it damn well wasn't going to now. All she needed was grit, and she had that in spades. With the elusive Hannibal Lecter "on the outside" again, it had been practically a given that he would return to her. Her superiors had waited eagerly for the day when Lecter resurfaced to "collect" his protégé, but it had never eventuated. She allowed herself the small satisfaction of having predicted that.
All things considered, she was glad not to have seen him, although she did not for a moment deceive herself into thinking that, had he wanted to find her, a new identity would have sufficed to conceal her. The thought didn't scare her so much as it served to remind her of her situation: "Do right and you'll live through this," she told herself staunchly. It was her mantra. After all the effort that had been taken to erase and protect Clarice Starling, Lecter's prolonged absence had rendered it all somewhat of an anticlimax.
Still, what was done was done. The first thing to go was her privacy, but that much had been anticipated. Two armed bodyguards began accompanying her everywhere - quite literally - and it had taken every ounce of her self-restraint to let them do their jobs. After a few weeks, she had grown accustomed to the constant attention, to being the focal point of somebody's entire day, and lost some of the acute discomfiture that had built up like a neurosis. She still had moments of almost overwhelming self-consciousness, moments when she could feel the eyes drilling into her back, her arms, her head - yet fewer moments when she could feel those eyes filling with red sparks that flew like fireflies into their fathomless depths. Those eyes were reserved for her dreams, as though they had replaced the screaming of the spring lambs with another, deeper terror. Perhaps it was simply the terror of being known; of seeing one's self reflected within the eyes of an empathetic, eternally scathing other.
Perhaps that dream was better than its predecessor, however. The one commodity she had to deal with - the only thing she'd ever had to deal with - was herself. She was her own set of cards, her own chips at the table, a bargaining power unto herself. And she was willing to lose big; although it hadn't happened yet, she knew, somewhere far away inside her, that it was inevitable that she would lose one day. It just hadn't happened yet, and so, like the compulsive that she was, she just kept playing. "You'll have to earn it again and again, the blessed silence," he had told her, but so far, she was managing all right. A bit of intelligence for good grades, a bit of exertion for fitness, a helluvalotta practice for a good aim... A little bit more, and a little bit more, and so far, it had served her well. She was playing the game - and sometimes, on those rare occasions such as when she woke up from a peaceful eight hours' sleep, she felt that she just might be winning at it, too. Jack Crawford had been a win. Catherine Martin had been a win. Dr. Lecter had been... Well, being that she'd survived and so had Catherine, she reckoned she must have come out about square with him.
There were also some things that she felt she had distinctly gained from the whole situation (situation, or ordeal - she was disinclined to call it the latter but felt that probably better reflected what it had been). Firstly, she had come back to her roots, finding strength in the image of her mother and comfort in the memory of her father. She had found courage within herself to face the demons of her childhood, to challenge the fears and irrationalities of her psyche - having tested her mettle, so to speak, she had found it satisfactory. She had saved a life. She had graduated. She had done it all at once.
Of course, if she was going to be perfectly honest with herself, the graduation hadn't meant a whole lot as she had spent the next twenty-four months undergoing a process of extreme rehabilitation into her new, post-Academy life. The time had been spent mostly in the laboratories and morgues, where she had been retraining in the field of forensic medicine under the guidance of Jack Willis, Mr. Crawford's trusted confidante. The Bureau had helped forge the necessary papers, as well as provide rigorous instruction in her new discipline. The necessity for it lay in the implicit understanding that upon satisfying the standards of her examiners, she would begin working for the Bureau within this new field. (It was generally felt that keeping her closeted away inside a building all day would be the most prudent way of ensuring her safety. She was too good to lose, Mr. Crawford had told her frankly.) In the meantime, she also lectured her newly acquired knowledge to the scores of new recruits that came in with each rotation. It was a job she enjoyed less than forensic examination, but somewhat more than she had expected.
Most surprisingly, however, was the extent to which the Bureau had gone to ensure her a new identity. She knew she had Mr. Crawford to thank for it; he had obviously gone to great pains to conceal her. She also suspected that the grateful Senator Martin had in some way influenced her situation. In time, Mr. Crawford had told her, the precautions would cease to be necessary, and if she so chose, she may return to being Clarice M. Starling of Montana. Until then, however, it was advised that she forget her old self insomuch as was absolutely possible, and immerse herself in her new life. To that end, he had not only seen to the counterfeit of her identification papers and re-education, but also to various details of her personal life. She was to be "adopted" - it was his term, not hers - by a family who were also in the Bureau's witness protection program. The surname she had adopted matched theirs, as did her background information; essentially, all she had to do was meet them. It was like fitting in the last piece of the puzzle.
The first meeting between them had been excruciating. Not predisposed to conviviality, she had hung back awkwardly, wondering how in hell she could be expected to fit in with these people. They were so utterly normal, so comfortably middle-class, Irish Catholic fucking *normal*. They went to Church on Sundays - something she hadn't done since she left for college. They had Christmases together - something she was sure she must have done before the age of ten, but knew damn well she hadn't after. They remembered birthdays, hugged and smiled, asked personal questions expecting personal answers... It was disconcerting to say the least. She wondered, as she always had and probably always would, about her own family, the brothers and sister she had lost indefinitely. Perhaps she could replace them. Perhaps *they* had replaced *her*. Perhaps they were all just making the best of whatever the fuck they had and that was enough, for now.
She hoped it would be enough.
The next few meetings with "her" family, however, loosened her up considerably. She began to enjoy the sight of her "mother's" face lighting up upon seeing her old Mustang in the driveway; she began to enjoy the warm, maternal hugs and smell of baking wafting out of the kitchen. Maggie - "Mom" - was a woman of tremendous equanimity, and, two years later, she was proud to consider her a friend; content to be her "little girl." It was a far cry from any family she had ever known, but with enough time and practice, she thought she could grow to like, even love it, if she had to. Then again, there was always the hope of Lecter's discovery and subsequent arrest...
After two years, the former Clarice M. Starling knew that his capture wasn't likely. She didn't expect to ever see him again, any more than she expected her law enforcement colleagues to. In a way, she *hoped* they wouldn't. Some small part of her hoped fervently that he had settled down somewhere - Florence, perhaps - and was rebuilding his life, just as she was hers. She wasn't going to jeopardize his chances of a freedom and fulfilment; she respected his needs as he professed to do hers. The threat of his returning, especially to kill and eat her, was impossibly remote, even ridiculous. She recognized that as she did the sight of her own face (albeit slightly altered now, and rather more difficult to regard for long periods of time). Dr. Lecter was in her past - she wished him well, she wished him holy, she wished him windows and books and a view of the Belvedere.
And as for herself, she just wished for good luck. Today was the day of her interview with the brass - another opportunity, perhaps, to test her mettle. Another opportunity, perhaps, to get out in the field. She had been longing for it since the Academy, and the prospect of achieving it was dizzying after such a lengthy delay. She had *earned* this, she told herself furiously, forcing out the nerves that squirmed and shimmied in her stomach like quicksilver. She had damn well earned it several times over, and she was not only going to get it, but she was going to get it good. Whatever they wanted her to do, whatever asinine little assignment they needed her for, she was going to make them weep with pride. And then promote her the hell up that ladder - past Colton and Krendler, hell, even past Crawford. Anything was possible now - she had the grit and she could make the best of anything. She'd make the best of this, too.
"Go get 'em, Starbuck," Dana Scully muttered as she stepped out of the elevator and into the fire.