They sat together on the couch bathed in the lights of the Christmas tree that dominated the picture window before them. Against his wishes, but to appease his dear Clarice, an angel adorned the top of the tree, glowing in the night. As she had placed the angel atop the tree Clarice had shared a little joke about why the angel was on top of the tree. Hannibal smiled and shook his head from five feet below where he was attaching a red glass ball to the tree. It had also been Clarice’s insistence that they get such a large tree. He himself had never really celebrated Christmas, but Clarice was reveling in it.
She sipped at her egg nog now, leaning her head against his shoulder and sighing wistfully. “I don’t suppose you ever wrote to Santa.”
“No, Clarice. My childhood did not have room for such… frivolous things.”
“Ummmm.” She smiled, licking a drop of egg nog from her lips and twirling the glass in her hand, watching the creamy liquid coat the bowl. “Poor kid.”
Hannibal shifted to look at her, taking his gaze from the Christmas tree and the single present that lay beneath it. The present, unbeknownst to the couple on the couch, moved.
“Tell me, Clarice, did you ever write to Old Saint Nick?”
Clarice nodded. “I did. Until my father died. The joy seemed to fall right out of Christmas that year.”
“Ah. And what did you ask for?”
Clarice grinned, sipped the last of her egg nog, and replied. “A puppy.” Hannibal cocked his head at her and she grinned even more broadly. “Hey, all we had were these old hounds that never moved. I wanted something young and vibrant.” She looked judiciously at her glass. “I think I need some more egg nog.”
Hannibal watched as she stood and wobbled slightly as she left the living room. Perhaps he had added a bit too much alcohol to the nog. “I pray you don’t compare me to an old hound dog, Clarice.” He smiled as she returned, carrying the glass carefully and heading towards the tree.
“Nah, you’re not an old hound dog. I think you’re more like an old… Ummmm….” She stopped and sipped at the egg nog as she sat down before the tree. “I think you put a bit too much of the good stuff in here, Han.”
“What ever gave you that idea?” he asked mischievously as he rose from the couch, coming towards her.
Clarice shook her head and patted the floor next to her. “C’mere. I’ve got a surprise for you.” And with that, she tugged at the corner of the wrapped present under the tree.
“Clarice, for the last time, I don’t like surprises.”
She pretended to pout, not doing well to hide the smirk on her lips. “Party pooper.” She finished sliding the box from under the tree and set her glass aside. “Here. For you.” She nudged the box towards him and grinned. “Merry Christmas.”
“You’re three weeks early, my dear.” He eyed the box, wrapped in red paper and tied with an obnoxiously large red bow.
“Just open it, Hannibal.”
The doctor nodded and began to do as he was told, tugging slowly at the bow. “Is it something I will like?” he asked, engaging in the now familiar version of twenty questions that accompanied every surprise she offered him.
Clarice nodded, sipping at her egg nog once more. Hannibal looked to her and then continued untying the bow. As he slipped the satin ribbon from the box he carefully looped it in his hands and then deposited it in her lap. The red paper was next and he ran his fingers along the edges of the box. “Is it something useful?”
She again nodded. “Very useful.” She leaned forward like a giddy child, slipping a finger under a fold on the end and tugging on it. “Hurry up and open it!”
“Patience, Clarice.” He warned, tugging at a flap on his end of the box. “All good things to those who wait.” To his amusement Clarice stuck her tongue out at him and to his shock, the box moved.
“What,” he pointed at the box as it jumped again, banging lightly into his knee, “Is in there?”
Clarice was enjoying this immensely and grinned over her egg nog. “I told you, it’s a surprise.”
Hannibal eyed the still wrapped present a moment longer before pulling off the wrapping paper. Within moments of doing so, the lid of the box pushed upward by its contents. Hannibal stared in disbelief.
A wiggling fluff of brown fur nosed its way out of the box and bounded into Hannibal’s lap. Dr, Lecter could do little but stare at the chocolate lab in his lap.
“Is this what you had in mind when you asked Santa for a puppy when you were young, Clarice?” His wife smiled sweetly and clapped her hands to get the pup’s attention. The four-legged fluff ran to her, nails skittering on the hardwood floor.
“Well, I wanted a poodle, but I didn’t think you’d go for such a yippy little thing. Isn’t he cute?” she rubbed the dog’s tummy as he obligingly splayed himself on his back.
“A puppy?” he asked again, looking at Clarice.
“Sure. We’re married now, Dr. Lecter. I figured we needed a dog first…”
“Yes, first. The children will come second. And then maybe another dog third…”