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"It's A Good Thing"

copyright 2001, by Glimmerdark

Disclaimer:    The characters of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling were created by Thomas Harris.  They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit of admiration and respect.  No infringement of copyright is intended, and no profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to this site.

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Clarice Starling glanced furtively around her, but she was alone in the spacious, well-appointed parlor. The perfume of gardenias filled the air, and silky white blossoms spilled from bowls and vases placed at various spots throughout the room. The light streaming through the wide, open windows caressed the rich, dark mahogany coffee table, and the smooth, polished top shimmered in the sunlight. The table was bare save for a tastefully ostentatious silver tea set. She looked about once more, then slipped a slim, suntanned hand into her shopping bag. Withdrawing a magazine, she placed it on the coffee table, and poured herself some tea. She settled herself into an ivory-colored wing chair and waited for the games to begin.

She was not idle long. Her senses, attuned through months of proximity, registered his clean, musky scent before he even entered the room. His footfalls, soft as a cat's, still sparked thrills up and down her spine. She balanced the saucer on her knee and raised her arms to stretch. Reaching back, she caught him just as he was leaning over the back of her chair. She slid her hands up his arms and clasped them behind his neck. He bent his head to hers and kissed her platinum hair, still warm from the sun.

"Did you enjoy your walk?" he asked.

"Very much, Hannibal." She twisted in her seat and looked up to meet his eyes. She kissed him then, just a soft brush of lips, with the promise of more to come. "How was your afternoon?"

"Pleasant," he remarked, coming around the chair to get some tea. "I was reading that new author I'd spoken of…" His voice trailed into silence as his eyes registered the magazine on the table, and his hands froze in the act of reaching for the teapot. Slowly, very slowly, he straightened and regarded her with a cool stare.

"Clarice."

"What, dear?" she asked in a voice brimming with innocence.

"Must we do this again?"

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

He sighed, a sound that carried the weight of ages. He picked up the magazine gingerly, holding it by a corner with just his thumb and index finger. "This, Clarice."

She managed a blush and a look of feigned contrition. "Oh. That."

"Why must you persist in bringing such… offal into our lovely home?"

"I'm simply trying to learn," she offered as an excuse. "There's so much I still don't know."

"Agreed," he stated dryly. "But I've no idea what on earth you think you will learn from HER."

She could stand it no longer. Her face felt as if it were about to crack from the effort of concealing her smile. She giggled almost like a schoolgirl. "Well, I can learn how to drive you mad, for one."

He did not show an ounce of mirth. "This is no laughing matter," he asserted, his voice stern.

That just served to set her off even more. She had to put her cup and saucer down on the table before she spilled her tea all over her lap.

"Taste, Clarice, is what sets us above sheer savagery. It is civilization. It is culture. It is…"

There was no helping it. She was actually clutching at her stomach now, as her fit of laughter strained her abdominal muscles. She slid off the chair and lurched over to him, bringing her hand to his pocket in search of his handkerchief. She really needed something to wipe away the tears that stood in the corners of her eyes.

He grabbed her wrist and twirled her around, pinning her arm almost painfully behind her back. She fought for release, but was still laughing too hard to make a serious effort. His breath was hot on the back of her neck.

"Just what is it that you find so amusing?"

She gasped for breath before answering. "You are the most unflappable man I've ever known. You took all of Chilton's torments, all of Mason's torture, and you never batted an eye. But just think if the world knew what I do."

"And what is that, Clarice?" he whispered dangerously.

"That the one punishment that Hannibal Lecter cannot endure is Martha Stewart." Simply saying it out loud brought on the giggles again.

He casually pushed her back into her chair. "Really, dear, this has grown tiresome."

"Not to me. I could watch you fume about her all day."

"I do not fume."

"Yes, you do. Not only do you fume, but you also rant, rave, and otherwise lose your famous cool. Why exactly does she bother you so much, anyway?"

"She irritates me."

"Everything irritates you, but you don't let it get to you."

"Must we have this conversation? Is there no worthier subject on which we could speak?"

Clarice did not reply. Rather, she picked up "Martha Stewart Living" and began to read aloud. "Deviled eggs are a blessing for the summer host: cooking time is minimal, the basic ingredients are simple…"

"Clarice."

"…and the assembly is easy enough for a child to do. I know, because I was a child when I started deviling eggs…"

"Stop. If you loved me, you'd stop."

"… stuffing each egg white so that it was a semblance of itself yet transformed…"

He ripped the magazine from her hands. She looked up at him. His mouth was tight, his face drawn. She could actually see the effort it was costing him to maintain control. Her eyes sparkled, and the ghost of a smile twisted one corner of her mouth.

He favored her with a hard, cold glare, and walked stiffly from the room. At the doorway, he paused and turned back to her. "I think it is perhaps time, Clarice, for you to have a little lesson in taste. Your shoes may be better now, but you're still not more than one generation away from poor white trash."

She was a little surprised at the venom in his words. Before she could even open her mouth to respond, he was gone.

As she brushed her hair that night before bed, she was still musing upon her little game. Theirs had never been a conventional relationship. Rather, they seemed to balance on an edge as sharp as his blade, as deadly as her gun. They constantly pushed the limits, and occasionally went too far. She had a feeling that perhaps this was one of those times.

He had not spoken to her since their clash in the parlor. The servants had served dinner as usual, but he was nowhere to be found. She waited for hours on the terrace and still he did not come. Finally she gave up and began her evening toiletries. She brushed her teeth, brushed her hair, moisturized her skin, filed her nails, pumiced her heels, and then climbed between the silk sheets of their bed. She switched off the light with a sinking feeling in her stomach.

She had just drifted off into a troubled sleep when she was awakened by his body behind hers. His arms gathered her into a tight, warm embrace, and she shuddered with relief. His lips pressed delicate kisses in a soft rain against her neck, and she breathed his name like the answer to a prayer. "Hannibal…"

"Sshh. You don't have to say anything."

"I'm sorry." She was relieved when the words left her lips.

"We've no need for sorrow, Clarice."

"I know. But I'm sorry anyway."

He turned her body around and stroked her face. In the dim room, her eyes were bright with unshed tears. He kissed her, deeply, and felt her body relax in his arms.

"I'm going to be away for a few days."

"Where are you going?" she asked, startled.

He laid a finger across her mouth. "Don't ask…"

"…it spoils the surprise," she finished for him.

He smiled. "Yes."

She opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. "Is there… is there anything I need to know?"

He saw the trust in her eyes. She was placing herself, her life, in his hands. No doubt she was thinking that there was a threat to their safety. To their tenuous existence. Well, there was, but not in the manner she was expecting.

"No."

"I'll miss you," she said simply, and her hands tightened on his back.

"And I you. My Clarice. But, I promise, when I'm back, we'll celebrate. An evening you'll never forget."

"I look forward to it," she said, and smiled. She snuggled close, breathing in his scent.

He stroked her face until she fell asleep. Her last, half-conscious words were "Come back safe to me."

He grinned in the moonlight. "Of course," he whispered, and settled himself beside her.

She was in the garden, throwing knives against a defenseless tree, when he returned. The sight of her was solace to a soul leaguered sore by the exigencies of his journey. He stood and just watched her a long while, thrilling to the grace of her motion. She was an Artemis in fatigue pants and a white tank top. Her blond hair was pulled back into a French braid, and her tanned skin contrasted with the light locks and shirt. He could have stayed there forever.

She felt the pricking of the skin at the base of her neck that meant someone was watching her, and turned around. And there he stood, hale and whole, arms crossed, gazing back at her. She walked up to him, her stride free and easy. "Hey," she said softly.

"Clarice."

And then the casualness was too much for her to bear, and she launched herself into his arms, holding him tightly. The fear she had not admitted to herself drained away as she inhaled his scent. "Welcome home."

"I'm glad to be back," he said honestly.

She looked up at him with a grin. "So, what'd you bring me? Souvenirs?"

He chuckled. "In a manner of speaking." Playfully, she patted his pockets, but found nothing. "Do I need to do a strip search?"

"Now, Clarice, patience is a virtue."

She snorted. "Apparently I'm not as virtuous as I thought."

"Would you care to demonstrate some other un-virtuous behavior?" He arched an eyebrow at her meaningfully.

"I'll send the servants home," she said in a husky, low voice.

"Tell them not to come back tomorrow. I've something special planned."

She knew better than to ask.

She made herself scarce the next day, enjoying a morning of walking and an afternoon of shopping. She picked out a new bikini, strolled around some more, bought a handful of grapes from a street vendor, and savored their sweetness under the bright tropical sun. She glanced down at her watch. It was time to find her way home.

By the time she made her way up the broad, flagstoned drive, she was pleasantly hungry and insatiably curious. Dinner was always an event, but this promised to be something special. He met her at the door. Crisp white shirt, blue jeans, and… cowboy boots?

"Hello, Clarice."

She stared at him. Looked him up, looked him down. Definitely appreciated the view, but… what on earth? Jeans?

"Hello, dear," she said, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. He pressed a glass into her hand. She looked at it, wondering what strange new drink this might be. Dark, fizzy… it seemed familiar somehow.

"Perhaps you might enjoy your drink while you're up in your room changing for dinner. I've laid out something special on your bed."

She nodded, a bit confused, then decided to just relax and go with it. He'd never disappointed, not on nights where this much effort was involved. She smiled and headed up the stairs. "Meet you on the terrace?"

He grinned. "Yes. Take your time getting ready."

"Okay." She started up the staircase, sipping her drink. When the first mouthful registered in her mind she had to grip the banister for support. Jack and Coke? He made me a Jack and Coke? Her surprise carried her all the way up to the room they shared. There, on the pristine white sheets, was a red bandana-print halter top and a pair of Daisy Dukes, frayed edges and all. A red hair scrunchie and blue sandals completed the outfit.

She looked at the bed, looked at her drink, looked back at the bed, and raised the glass to her lips. She decisively downed the cocktail in three smooth swallows, reeling a little as the contents burned her throat. She stripped off her dress and stood naked in the room.

The halter tied around her neck and across the middle of her back. She picked up the shorts and found, beneath, a pair of red satin panties. Grinning, she slipped them on and pulled the tight denim shorts over them. She slid her feet into the sandals and pulled her hair back with the scrunchie. Stepping over to the mirror, she checked out her reflection. She looked as American as apple pie, and twice as tasty.

She grabbed her empty glass on her way downstairs, and passed through airy rooms and breezy corridors until she reached the terrace. He was there, now bedecked in an apron that had "Kiss the Cook" across the front. The wrought iron table was covered in a red and white gingham oilskin tablecloth, and he toiled in front of an honest-to-God Weber grill. He lifted the cover, examined the contents, and removed from a galvanized steel bucket an aluminum can. She stared at him as he poured Pabst Blue Ribbon onto an array of sausages and burgers.

Dropped from fingers numb, her glass shattered into a thousand pieces on the flagstones that floored the terrace. He looked up at the sound, then gave her a glance that pierced her soul.

"Charming," was all he had to say, and then he turned back to his grillmaster duties.

She walked over to the bucket next to him and plunged her hand into the ice. She came up with another can of beer and cracked it open. Tasting it, she made a face.

"Even I never drank this stuff, Hannibal."

He was humming a tune she couldn't quite place as he turned to her. "What was that, dear?"

"Never mind."

"Oh. Would you mind getting the things from that cooler and setting them on the table?"

"Not at all," she said, while her mind was busy thinking something quite different. She longed to come straight out and say 'Who are you and what did you do with Hannibal Lecter?' but couldn't quite bring herself to it. So she went to the white Styrofoam cooler and lifted out a large blue plastic bowl covered in Saran Wrap. Potato salad. She placed it on the table and returned for the red bowl filled with coleslaw. She retrieved two bags of buns and the cooler was empty.

She sat down at the table and picked up her sweating can of beer. It nauseated her, she realized, and she got up and walked to the edge of the terrace. With a certain pang, she poured the beer out over the railing. A crash of music startled her, and she dropped the can over the side.

She turned quickly to see Hannibal standing in front of a portable CD player. She had to think for a moment before she could recall the name of the band, though she felt her body respond to the music. Oh. That would be Lynyrd Skynyrd.

He was watching her just a little too intently. She smiled nervously and walked back over to the table. He motioned to a pile of paper plates and plastic utensils, and she set the table mechanically, weighting the plates down with buns. She sat down and allowed him to serve her a very black looking piece of burger and a bratwurst. He reached into the potato salad with one of the plastic spoons and piled some on her plate. He did the same with the coleslaw, then served himself.

He pulled the apron over his head and sat down. She smiled as he took a paper napkin and tucked it neatly into the neck of his shirt.

"You'll have to tell me if I did the burgers right," he commented, and took a bite of the potato salad. She looked at the thing on her plate, then grimly picked it up and brought it to her lips. Steeling herself, she tasted it. Charred on the outside, raw in the middle. "Just right," she said dryly, and put it back down.

She watched as he proceeded to clean his plate, eating everything on it. She didn't touch her food.

Finally, he finished, and looked at her. "Something wrong with your meal, Clarice?"

"What's going on here?" He looked at her, and she could feel herself drowning in his eyes. She didn't know what she saw there, only that she had only ever seen it once before. At the house on the Chesapeake. She swallowed hard.

He did not speak, but took her hand and brought her to the edge of the terrace. The view of the garden was splendid in the dying light of the evening. The leaves of the trees flickered in the gentle breeze, and the scent of the flowers washed over them, erasing the stench of charcoal and burnt hamburger.

"Can you pick out your tree, Clarice? Your poor target?" She looked for a moment, then found it. She raised her free hand to point it out. "It's that one. Why?"

"I'd like to put it out of its misery," he said in a voice devoid of tone or inflection. He released her hand and turned to the table. From beneath, under the oilskin tablecloth, he pulled a crossbow. She shivered, suddenly cold all over. Goosebumps sprang up over her arms and legs, bare to the wind.

He braced his elbows on the railing, aimed, and hesitated. Looking over at her, he said, "Happy Independence Day, Clarice," and shot the quarrel.

She knew instantly that the note played by that most deadly of stringed instruments was a D below middle C. It rang in her head long after the sound itself had died, and she did not need to look to know that the bolt had found its quarry.

"Hannibal?" she asked, a little breathless.

He set the crossbow down carefully on the flagstones, and spread his hands. "Yes?"

"I'm starving. Do you have anything else to eat besides that swill you offered me?"

A rather frightening smile spread over his face. "I think I have something that might fit the bill."

He turned to the table and gathered the oilcloth up like a sack, removing all the fixings in one fell swoop. "Sit, darling, and wait just a moment."

She took her place at the table, leaned back into her chair, and sighed. Before she had even a chance to reflect on the events of the evening, he had returned, clad once more in light wool slacks and a gray linen shirt and pushing a service cart.

He plucked a candelabrum from the cart and set it on the table, then lit the candles against the gathering darkness. With a few quick movements and the glitter of crystal and silver, he had set an elegant place for her. He poured her a glass of red wine and bowed slightly as she raised it to him, then sipped. The ruby glow it cast on her face was most appealing.

As he removed the cover from his copper saucepan, Clarice inhaled deeply. A complex aroma insinuated itself into her awareness. It was dark, rich, and heavenly. He fussed at the cart just a bit, then presented her with a gleaming ivory plate. The sweetbreads she recognized instantly, but it took a moment of appreciation for her to recognize the rest of her meal. As she did, words echoed in her mind. "A notable dark and glossy ragout, the constituents never determined, on saffron rice."

She looked up at his waiting face, and smiled. "I've always wondered what this tasted like," she said honestly.

"Go ahead." He took his seat, steepled his fingers, and watched her from under lowered lids.

She brought a bite to her mouth. The flavors exploded on her tongue. 'Darkly thrilling' doesn't do it justice, she thought. She closed her eyes and let her senses go.

A long moment later, she opened them to find him still watching her. She smiled, and said, "So, what is the main ingredient, anyway?"

He let out a long held breath and a corner of his mouth quirked. "A good chef never reveals his secrets. But, I will tell you this… it's a good thing."

Their laughter rang out over the garden in the silvery moonlight.


FIN

Part 1 of 1


Author's Note:

I apologize for the intrusion, and am carefully stripping all traces of Americana from the GD right now, as I put him back into his tidy place.

Martha Stewart presumably belongs to herself and, to some extent, her stockholders. It's all in good fun. Really.

copyright 2001, by Glimmerdark

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