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The Road Taken

copyright 2002, by Lady of Truths

Disclaimer:    These characters 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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If promises made were just as easily kept, life would be running a very different course. The road less travelled has not made all the difference, and although Robert Frost may beg to differ, this road diverged into the dead end wood of a hardy oak tree. A front on smash, leaving behind what looked to be the carnage of a grave accident.

Clarice Starling was a strong woman, even those that despised her would agree, her courage was perpetual. She was a battler and a survivor, but even Achilles had a weak spot. Even Achilles met his fatal destiny at the hand of another.

“I’ll never leave your side, Clarice. You and me always baby. I promise”

Her father had been the first to dupe her. The brave nightwatchman with his bloody hat and shiny metal badge had indeed left her side, now and forever. His valuable words had been retracted long ago. He should never have built the walls of false hopes on a dam of admiration. Yet, as much as she loathed him for leaving her with an overworked mother, and underpaid uncle and chronic nightmares, he was her constant- the unyielding mass of principal that weighed on her shoulders like a genetic burden. His promise had been shattered and the remnants had been bottled and stored on her bookshelf of morals, never to be tampered with, but always to be remembered.

Sometimes she wondered how different she would be if he had survived. Would she have still needed to please her father the way she did today? And if not, what would be of Clarice. M Starling the daughter of a living town marshal? If he were alive, she’d have no dues to pay, she could have been something different, something less spoiled and weathered. But this is where life had taken her, this was her path and there was nothing more than regrets to keep her from it. Besides, this was the life that had delivered her into the arms of the other, the other man that had made a single promise.

“I have no plans to call on you Clarice, the world being more interesting with you in it.”

If chance had worked in her favor, his words would ring true to date. Alas, nothing and no one ever seemed to champion her wishes. Dr Hannibal Lecter had called on her with as much vigor as the bullets had penetrated her father’s body. Ten years had not been sufficient time to silence the lambs, but at least his voice had quietened them in her subconscious. She had recovered relatively well, until that letter. Until the time came when his vow became worthless in the face of his hypnotic maroon gaze. Her duty to protect the innocent forced her to the Verger Estate, only Hannibal Lecter was by no means innocuous or guiltless, he was a cannibal, a murder and truly amoral. She did not regret her decision, Mason Verger was not worthy of such blood and grievance. Her mustang would make that trip over and over if needed be.

In foresight becoming a victim herself had not been a major concern, and as she remembered the bullets of those foul-smelling Sardinian thugs fire into her body, she shuddered with disgust. Pain could be handled, but defeat was a ceaseless reminder of bitter failure. She could have died that night, in the mud with the boars, ending life with the same honour as her father. But he had saved her…

A merciless killer had held her dear life in his hands and chosen to let her live. A new element of respect was brought into their relationship. Another due, but this time, it was one that her father would not condone. For months after Lecter’s last visit, she questioned his motives. Why? Another question she would never have answered. Another question she was too scared to ask of herself.

Starling had few friends. Someone so cynical and embittered had little reason to laugh. Ironically enough, the two men that were capable of freeing her from herself were both traitors of a type. One man loved her and left her, the other returned and asked her of impossible love.

“Would you ever say to me stop? If you loved me you’d stop?”

Initially, she thought he was unobtrusively admitting to something that she’d feared for years. But after many nights of restless analysis, she finally understood. Would she ever use her emotion as a tool to bait him, or put a halt to his actions? Her blatant refusal had said more about her loyalties to him than it did to the Bureau. Silence may speak a thousand words, but the five she chose would hang in their mutual silence for a thousand years.

She wondered whether or not her answer was what he had expected. Four years of academic psychological study taught her nothing when placed in context with Hannibal Lecter. She could not read what little reaction he gave in accolade to her bravery. He seemed pleased, he had kissed her, not killed her. That moment would be with her for the rest of her life. She hadn’t seen or heard from him in ten years, and within 24 hours every thought, emotion and painful truth he had excavated from her, returned in full force. She had never forgotten what he was, and in return, could hardly forget what that had made her.

His presence haunted her, something that her former mentor had forewarned. Yet strangely enough, it made their second encounter seem like the many years and miles that had separated them were trivial.

It was this meeting that asked the most of her, a demanding pivotal point in life, where the roads of the two most powerful influences known to her collided. A man that saw through her mind asked her to leave the sanctuary that her father had created for her. He was only mistaken about one thing; she knew what little the Bureau held for her, she could see the hatred and distaste in their shiny beady eyes as soon as she, the young ambitious rookie shot down the infamous Buffalo Bill.

No. She didn’t want a medal to remind her of her courage or incorruptibility, she never had. She needed her father’s kind pat on the back, his nod of approval at her self-motivated plight to capture the bad guys, and protect the screaming lambs. That’s why she stayed. That’s why she’d fight back after every one of their corruptive blows. That’s why she’d never leave, not for anyone, not for Hannibal Lecter.

That night on the Chesapeake may as well have been a dream, though scar tissues fought to prove otherwise. The hallucinogens and morphine had given the mixed impression of walking through a fantasy; only her mind was present, whether that’s tangible or not remains arguable. She remembered Krendler sitting in his pitiful wheelchair, grey matter exposed and drool running down his face. The thought of attempting to save him occurred to her, and then it didn’t. It had felt like a time outside of time, a space in which she cared less for his obtuse life. Yet in her deluded state, she was still capable of meeting the Good Doctor on equal ground. Calling the authorities was perhaps the only decision she felt lacked sufficient judgement. There could have been more time; she had wanted that. Though she still was unsure of what that expansion would have granted them.

Alas, she chose, and that chance had now passed. He had indirectly made an offer and she had declined and stuck by hers and her father’s duty. She had cuffed him. As the hum of the helicopters grew nearer, the playful shine in his gaze fell back behind his blackened irises, she remembered. And then he had threatened her; demanded the key. Had he expected her to hand it over? No. He was probably just testing her again. He had been gentlemanly, never once attempting to fetch the key, which she had stashed in her right shoe. He had waited for her move, and she for his. She was so sure that she was going to lose a limb, but that was tolerable, her father lost his life for the cause, surely she could lose a hand. As the cleaver had fallen, she shut her eyes and winced in expectation of great pain. It never came. He had sacrifice himself instead. The thought still made her shudder- his warm, crimson blood covering her hand. She could understand his desperation for freedom, and so would not have felt betrayed if he had harmed her. He had given her a choice, and by the chance of her refusal he still denied her of pain. Losing his hand was solely his decision, and although she had no desire to see him wounded, he did it for a reason. Dr. Lecter was not a man of indecision. She rested comfortably with that thought.

Now, as the reinstated Special Agent Clarice Starling sits on the park bench overlooking the Chesapeake, she tiredly sighs. The choices she had made failed to direct her to any place in particular. If this was the road less travelled, for once in her life, she wondered what it would have been like to be common, even if only for a day. If Krendler was right, and she was incapable of being happy in this lifetime, there is little to look forward to; she’d have to suffice with a content conscience. In a way, she had sacrificed herself for the plight, to save others, the way Dr. Lecter saved her from immediate pain. Heroes do that all the time, yet neither of them would ever reign with such a title. She the death angle. He the cannibal.

She stood slowly, watching as people passed her by. The world was still turning, and she had a job to do, fruitless as it may be. There was no other path, no diverging opportunities. She’d already walked on, and if she could reverse time, in all likelihood she wouldn’t change a single event. Life may have offered her something else, but this is what she had, and perhaps all she was capable of having. The Bureau. Her father’s pat on the back. Her hand. Her road taken.

“Tell me Clarice. Would you ever say to me stop? If you loved me you’d stop?”

“Not in a thousand years”

She never would and she never did.

Two roads diverge in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

When took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.


copyright 2002, by Lady of Truths

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