copyright 2002, by
The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling, and Jack Crawford 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
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Jack Crawford is dead.
Strangely enough, the news gave me pause.
Clarice was already looking at me when I glanced away to where she sat, curled in an armchair, reading. She is increasingly attuned to my moods, and I am still growing familiar with this connection. Our partnership has not yet seen out a year, but we have surprised both ourselves and each other with its success.
I told her the news without embellishment. She frowned once, then, quietly, she set her book down and stood up. She crossed to the desk and I leaned back, allowing her the space to locate the item on the screen and call up the full obituary. I scanned the less-than-interesting text myself, before standing and positioning the chair to accommodate her. She didn't acknowledge me as she settled herself down, her hand reaching automatically to rest over the computer's mouse. I left her alone, retiring to the kitchen to brew some coffee.
When I saw her next, she had put on her jacket. "I'm going for a walk," she announced. I nodded and watched her turn and leave, staring at the empty kitchen doorway for several minutes after she was gone. Her face had been unreadable.
The image of this studied mask of neutrality stayed with me as I prepared my espresso and repaired to the terrace to enjoy it. The morning air was pleasantly fresh, but there was a tightness in my throat as my eyes sought out the gold of Clarice's hair and watched her disappearing through the trees at the end of the garden.
In the end, it was the reason I decided to follow her.
For months now, there has been no need for drugs, nor any other kind of ... catalyst ... between us. I have sounded the musical note which pledged her freedom on a daily basis, since the meal which so elegantly concluded her previous life; of course, there was no way I could not, and still have music. I am as certain as it is possible to be, that Clarice Starling remains my consort through self-will alone.
And yet ...
And yet I feel this need to watch her.
I practice deceit only on those who deserve it. I do not practice it on myself. Therefore I am not justifying this covert surveillance with excuses; I am not picking my way through trees and grasses because I am concerned for her, nor because I feel a desire to protect her. I am doing this because I am confronted squarely with the notion that I am not quite sure of her.
It seems ironic that this should be the occasion such a truth has manifested. Clarice Starling was as predictable as sunrise for the years she spent trying to shoehorn herself into the Bureau's mould; the very time when the ability to surprise me might have come in handy. And then, during her transition, her predictability was admittedly assisted by artificial means. But now we face the world, insofar as we cannot avoid it, shoulder to shoulder - now we share this connection - she demonstrates to me that I don't know her completely, at all.
I have been tracking her now for over an hour. The luncheon I had in mind to prepare remains untended at our home, because I knew that she would not return so soon. I have kept a discreet distance, and am confident that she remains unaware of my presence. She walks slowly, stopping every now and then to touch a leaf or observe the local fauna. She is growing ever more graceful in her movement, as though her time with me has allowed her to find a centre, at which she is still. I enjoy watching her, I always have, but in this regard, familiarity has bred the opposite of contempt.
She can still make me ache at the most unexpected of moments.
We live in a pleasantly isolated outskirt of the city, and see no other walkers after leaving the private grounds of our residence. Autumn is turning to winter, and the briskness of the air suggests our solitude will likely continue. The climate in Argentina suits me better than that of Brazil, and I think it suits Clarice better, too.
When she reaches the lake shore, I finally hold back, wary of the open ground between tree line and water. The distance separating us grows as I continue to watch her moving slowly before the sparkling, wind-dusted expanse. I study her body language intently. Her shoulders are slumped in sadness and her movement is lethargic, now; at least, for her. Usually she is vibrant with energy.
I theorise on her thoughts. In spite of the uncertainties which have led me here, I know her well; better than any other since her father, I suspect. And she will have been thinking of that man, inevitably, as she thinks of Jack. The two are bound in ways inextricable. I recall my initial concerns that I was a part of this petrified tangle of 'father figure', too. Such concerns were alleviated with the uninhibited enthusiasm of her passion, and I have since grown comfortable with the knowledge that, though my image is not caught up in this twisted conglomerate, I stand close by, offering some of that which she was denied in her younger years.
I decide that, most probably, Clarice will be thinking of how her former mentor died. The obituary for Jack stated that his death occurred peacefully, at his home. When no other is there to stand witness, death always seems to be 'peaceful'. This is a deceit, a global conspiracy. I wonder whether Jack truly slipped from this life into serene oblivion, or whether his last moments were spent contorted and weeping with agony, lonely and fearful. I cannot know, and have no preference either way, so the thought is put aside.
Does Clarice envision the same possibilities? She will certainly concern herself with the knowledge that Jack died alone, as this is a personal bÍte noire for her. We have spoken of it only once, when she awoke from night terrors and needed long minutes of shared warmth before she could articulate the cause of her distress. I know her fear is compounded by the difference in our ages. I view this discrepancy as meaningless, given the life we now lead and its inherent dangers, and all the other malicious twists of fate which led us down this road. But then, it takes no student of the human psyche to understand that such a perspective is easier for me to achieve than for her.
Perhaps she'll be thinking of Jack's loneliness. Empathy is a speciality of hers, another burden she has never allowed herself to relinquish. I once asked her whether she thought that Crawford might fantasise about fucking her - knowing that he surely did - back when I was still learning her, probing for reaction, tasting each nuance. I have no doubt that my words will have revisited her this morning. She may even have mused on whether her former mentor might have been deserving of a pity-fuck to cheer his middle-aged existence; but if she has, she'll also have acknowledged that she was never free to make the offer, even if the urge had been with her.
I know her better than anyone.
She crouches on the shingle at the water's edge, to observe a group of ducks in the reeds just along the shoreline. She twists something in her hands, but her back is to me and I cannot see what she holds. When she stands suddenly and hurls a pebble out into the lake's expanse, I see her frustration. With the gesture I learn that she has passed beyond the details of Jack's death and moved back to the time when he was a part of her life.
My thoughts flow smoothly, analysing the potential motivations for this mood-swing, from sorrow to anger. Although various possibilities form, I remain unable to select one over its brethren with any confidence. This irritates me, and I must apply some conscious effort in maintaining my composure.
Will these reactions tempt her away from me?
It is the question I have been journeying toward for nearly two hours, and now I have confronted it, it hardens in my chest. She knows she may leave my company freely, as I gave her my word; just as she knows that I reserve the same option for myself. Yet I've grown used to this arrangement. I enjoy it. Almost in spite of myself.
She's walking again, hunched now, her hands buried in her coat pockets as though unwilling to betray themselves with another surge of frustration. She moves away from the small shore, back into the trees ahead of me, to follow the footpath around the corner of the lake. I know where she is heading; there is a secluded grassy verge, overlooking the water, a few hundred yards ahead. We have picnicked together there. We've made love beneath sun and stars there. I am consoled to discover that she is not avoiding the places which hold such memories. Especially as she walks, accompanied by the ghost of a man who would have scratched out his own eyes rather than look upon those memories himself.
The sun is at its peak when she settles on the grass to look out over the lake. I have no idea how long she will sit, so I turn and walk back to the house.
She will find me if she needs me.
The sun is setting when I lay my book aside and glance at the clock. Clarice has been out for most of the day, and my thoughts turn to an evening meal. She must be hungry. She has not eaten since breakfast.
I prepare a cassoulet for dinner, wary that I cannot expect her at any particular time. The activity calms thoughts which have been buzzing irritatingly, all day. As I work methodically, I come to realise that the insecurities which drove me to watch Clarice stem more from this inability to deduce her reaction to today's news, than any genuine belief that she is about to extract herself from our arrangement.
I remind myself that her capacity to surprise me is one of the things which most attracts me to her. Perhaps this unpredictabity, so disconcerting to me earlier, is not so very novel, after all.
I am clearing the kitchen when she returns. The noise of the front door closing prompts an honest to goodness shiver in my gut. I raise an eyebrow at the kitchen sink and refrain from shaking my head at myself. Clarice Starling will not see me anything less than composed.
I turn to the doorway at the sound of her footsteps. She walks over to me, still clad in her jacket, and leans too casually against the counter. I do not speak, waiting for her.
"Smells good," she observes. She has an uncanny knack for irrelevancies in conversation, and I have come to find it charming.
"Did you have a pleasant walk?" I ask, smiling once, before returning to the utensils I have washed.
"Yes thanks, it was very ... therapeutic."
"I'm glad." Her calmness settles me, though I remain more on edge than I would like.
There is a pause. I wait.
"Want to know where I got to?"
The tone in her voice makes me turn around smoothly, the browning pan still clutched in my hands. I see, with something akin to shock, that she is quite aware of the way I tagged along with her for part of her stroll. Unfortunately I seem to betray this surprise in my face, because it makes her lips twitch. And I cannot ignore the flicker of relief, that she does not feel outraged by my intrusion. Clarice Starling is able to intimidate me - not by much, and not often, but still ...
I had not been expecting her to return home so mischievous.
Her playfulness fades to a warm smile, and she reaches to take the pristine saucepan from my hands. She turns away to hang it up, then looks back briefly. By the time she speaks, her gaze has dropped to the floor and her smile has been replaced by a pensive expression.
"Hannibal," she says quietly, and I feel myself tense in anticipation of words which I know will not be irrelevant at all. "We've never spoken of ... this. This thing that happened between us. There was never any need to."
I tilt my head to one side as I study her, drinking in her new hesitancy. I have always enjoyed her like this. She tastes as exotic to me now as she ever has. When her head comes up, her eyes pierce my own and I welcome their penetration, as she has always welcomed mine.
She continues, "So I don't know why I feel the need to say this right now."
She waits then, almost as though she expects me to silence her declarations. She will be angry if I do, and that thought is nearly sufficient to make me contrary, but my tension wins out.
I make no move to touch her, but nod once as I say, "Tell me, Clarice."
"I'm where I want to be," she replies smoothly, and I know she has practiced the words. "And I'm happier now than I can ever remember feeling before. Don't doubt that for a second, because I promise you; should things ever change, you'll be the first to know." Her brow flickers with a stray, ironic thought, and she adds, "You'll probably know before I do."
And she falls quiet, her small speech delivered. She knows better than to wait for a response, and turns away. I watch her walk into the hallway, her hands already busy with her coat, as though she has said nothing more than a cordial hello. My eyes are then on the empty doorway again. I hear myself exhale slowly, then smile.
I turn back to complete the clearing up.
She's on the terrace when I walk into the morning room. She has showered and changed, and now sways lightly to the music playing softly from the stereo inside. She has poured two glasses of sherry, and clutches one to her breast as she looks up to the darkening sky. I claim the other before slipping out to join her. We stand together without touching, and the moment lingers.
Then I turn to her and collect her glass, setting both vessels down on the canopied table.
When I move back to her, she smiles. I waste no words with preamble, because language is awkward enough in such moments.
"So am I," I simply state, trusting to her quickness of wit to fill in the blanks. And I take her in my arms and demand her mouth, releasing the tension of the day. Clarice moans softly and responds without hesitation. It seems she has been wanting this as much as I, on this odd and thought-provoking evening.
I had been intending only to kiss her, but our libidos soon demand more. This magnificent sexual compatibility is not exactly a cornerstone of our relationship - those were laid before we had chance to discover it - but it has since become a dominating part of the structure. She arouses me equally with the sound of her laugh or the taste of a tear. I can ignite her with only a look.
Thus, it is hardly any surprise to either of us, when I find myself hoisting Clarice on to the wrought iron table on the terrace and pushing her skirt roughly up her thighs. I chuckle into her neck when I sense her struggling to shed her underclothes. She laughs softly in response, her impatience not hampering her success, and then busies her hands at my clothes. Her urgent desire makes me acknowledge my own. In these frantic pre-coital instants I am ablaze with the need to possess. The intensity of this need might even unsettle me, were it not for its all-consuming presence.
Our lovemaking is fast and needful and reaffirming. It allows us to express more than clumsy, restrictive words. When we have found our release, we calm our breaths, still joined. We might have stayed like this all night, were it not for the way my legs betray me with muscle tremors.
Clarice departs afterwards, briefly, and I retire inside as the evening air is becoming cold. When she rejoins me in the morning room, she sits down on the couch beside me, turns around casually, and leans her body against mine. She is usually tactile after sex, but rarely does she request this kind of embrace.
"Have you grieved for Jack?" I ask, knowing instinctively that she wants to talk. My uncertainties, in this moment, are a thousand years distant.
She shakes her head against me, and I wonder for a moment whether she really is lying to me, because the evidence of her tears was clear in her eyes when she spoke to me in the kitchen. My anger, however, is diffused when she replies.
"I didn't cry for him, I cried for me. For the things I never said to him."
"And what would you have said, if you'd had the opportunity?"
She smiles at the question, though the smile is sad. "Lots of things. Conflicting things. I'd have thanked him for his support and then hurled abuse at him for never keeping his promises. I'd have thanked him for sending me to you and asked for his understanding about ... the way things turned out."
"I don't think he could have given that to you."
"Of course not. But part of me wishes I could have asked."
I imagine being present at such an exchange, seeing the look on Jack's face as he is confronted with irrefutable evidence that Clarice Starling belongs to me, and I find myself wishing she could have asked, too. But I don't vocalise the thoughts. In this time and place, it would be rude.
"Do you feel the need for any remaining closure?" I ask, too aware of Clarice's tendency to burden herself with anger and grief. But when she slips further down and tips her head back to look into my face, I see that she has already discarded the emotional detritus prompted by the news of Jack Crawford's death. Her time with me is changing her, just as she is changing me.
"No," she says lightly. "He's dead. I'm alive. And I'm where I want to be."
And the subject is closed. Jack Crawford has affected his final intrusion in our lives. The curtain falls, accompanied by a loud growl from Clarice's stomach.
I watch her eyes sparkle in amusement at herself, and ask coyly, "Are you hungry, my love?"
"I'm always hungry after sex, you know that."
"Indeed. Well, shall we adjourn to the dining room and have some supper?"
As I serve our meals, I dismiss the anxieties I have suffered today. There is nothing to be gained from dwelling on them. When we sit down to eat, it strikes me as no small irony that Jack Crawford's final act in this world was to reinforce the connection between Clarice and myself.
She sees my smile and asks what it is that amuses me. I tell her that I was thinking about the capricious nature of fate. Clarice snorts and observes, "Well, that narrows it down," but doesn't press further.
It seems that she can arouse me with a snort, too ...
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