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Silent Nights

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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Florence, Italy. December 25th

It had taken her the sum of four weeks to find him. At first, she had lied to herself. Why would she be looking for him? She held no desire to find him, to uncover the remains of something left buried and dormant in the past. Now it was different.

She pressed the cold, gold-plated buzzer, her finger lingering hesitantly for brief seconds. The plate read Dr. N. Lloyd. The blood was squelching and rushing through her veins, she could hear its maddening pressure.

Waiting. Waiting. Static. A woman’s voice. Thinking. More waiting.

And then he is before her. The dark steely doors opened to reveal Dr. Hannibal Lecter- sociopath and psychiatrist, in his inviting, homely attire.

He looks to her. At her, in her and through her his gaze moves. Lightning cracks behind a concealing maroon curtain. He is surprised. The teacup in his left hand slips from between his fingers, porcelain shattering against the white marble.

Neither of them look down as the amber liquid runs across the floor to pool around her expensive boots.


Virginia, USA. November 24th

Sometimes, you can never really know a person. People, at times, are merely actors painting the pretend lives they wish to portray to the critical audience known as society.

Ardelia Mapp was shocked. She had spent a good quarter of her life with a stranger. The imposer, formerly known as Clarice Michelle Starling, had just walked in the door announcing the hatred of her job and the official countdown to the beginning of her forth-year paid vacation. Strangely enough, she looked the happiest Ardelia had ever seen her. What happened to this woman’s unyielding devotion to the FBI? The honourable sense that her job was making a difference to a world full of needy innocents?

The woman stood stunned in the kitchen as her roommate plonked an overflowing cardboard box on their coffee table.

“You look happy for a woman that hates her job”

Her smile ceased to fade. The contents of the box flooding the glass top: folders, books, tapes, pencils, and photographs.

“That’s it Ardelia. My entire life summed up in some flimsy box. Look at it!” Clarice pointed to the collapsing mess, and then to her friend.

To Ardelia, she looked almost so happy she could cry. She though, perhaps it was the reverse of that statement working.

“Are you okay girl? I’m not sure that’s something to be smiling about.” She tried to drain the intense worry from her tone, but failed. The darker woman walked from behind the countertop, resting a fillet knife in a small dish drainer and moved towards the living room.

“Damn right it is! It’s like a revelation. I hate everything about my job, and I’m getting out of here.” Clarice sat down on the couch two feet behind her and stretched her arms to the ceiling, like she does when she first wakes up in the morning.

“What’s going on? I don’t understand. What happened?”

An eerie laugh cut through the silence. Clarice’s head rolled back in curious amusement, she looked almost diabolical.

“I’ve been unhappy most of my life Ardelia.” Her blue eyes glazed over. “I’m tired of whining and coming home to a bottle of bourbon. I’m taking my leave and I’m getting outta here.” At that she stood with a revived confidence and strode passed her bewildered friend into her bedroom.

Dutifully, Ardelia followed, desperately fighting to process the new waves of information crashing against her memory and logic. A true friend should have seen this. Guilt stung and made her wince in self-frustration. She had thought Clarice was happy, perhaps a little worn-down, but content at least.

“Where are you going to go?” She caught up to her and leaned against the doorframe for some much needed support. She watched Clarice pull down a large suitcase from the top shelf of her closet and dump it on her old lonely bed.

“Europe.” One word and another smile.

“Europe! Now? What’s the rush?”

“I booked the flight for tomorrow. I’ll be gone four and a half weeks.” Clarice nonchalantly replied, filling the case with jackets, sweaters, pants, long shirts, dresses and underwear. “As of tomorrow, I’m taking my 5 days sick leave as well. I figure I should take it now, I’m not going to get another chance.”

“No? What do you mean?” Clarice looked over her shoulder from in front of her near-empty closet. Her eyes softened, almost apologetically. “ Oh shit! You’re not quitting? What the hell happened to…”

“ I’ll come back to you Ardelia, but not the Bureau. I’m taking what I can get before I refuse to give them anymore of my life.” Her tone brimmed with conviction.

Ardelia’s dark eyebrows sank on her forehead. “I…I just don’t understand.”

Clarice offered a sympathetic smile and shrugged. There was little she could do to explain, or rather, little she felt compelled to justify.

“I know you don’t. I just need this now. Please don’t try to stop me.” The room was growing darker as the sun retired for another day. Clarice watched her friend’s silhouette retreat down the hallway. She barely heard the whisper.

“I won’t.”


Tuscany, Italy. November 27th

Clarice hadn’t spent much time in Rome. The city was irrefutably intriguing, holding centuries of history and culture, yet the continuous bustle and dense tourist population eased the process of leaving. Within her first couple of days she had learnt a thing or two about the ‘European way’; the coffee might be good, but the more you drink, the more money you have to waste on dirty public toilets, the porcelain bowl beside the toilet isn’t a stunted basin and never, never smile at the Albanian gypsies.

Although it had been a relief to get out of the airport in Rome, stepping onto the coach headed for Tuscany felt even more liberating. The luxury bus seated twenty-four, but fortunately only eleven of those seats had been occupied, giving Clarice the chance to rotate her seat from the left to right side throughout the estimated four hour trip. Getting comfortable, she slumped back into her seat, resting her knees on the chair in front, leaving her feet free to dangle. The hum of the engine vibrated against her temples as she rested her head on the tinted glass window.

Outside, steep mountains rolled together into lush green gold valleys. The clear sky, speckled with small fluffy clouds, made for the perfect backdrop. It was a cold, yet beautiful day. Nothing like the winters back home. The streets were cold, buildings were cold, even her bed was cold. Nothing could compare to this view- this way of life she had stumbled into.

Moments struck her, since she’d arrived, where she felt alien. Life was moving around her in a completely different pattern. Italians had agendas poles apart to what Clarice was accustomed to. Work was a minor part of life, something that stopped at one o’clock to allow you to go home, rest and spend time with family, and something that resumed later in the afternoon, after the real life had slowed down for the day.

Clarice thought about suggesting that when she handed in her resignation when she got back.

What do you thing Mr. Noonan? I mean who really needs to work through the busiest part of the day anyway?

She offered a somewhat ridiculous snort, stirring the attention of an older woman seated in front on her. She was pleased that she could bring herself to joke about her resignation, in the very least smile back at her own stubborn pride. If things had been different, she may have stayed. It wasn’t the duty she wanted to leave; making a difference to helpless victims was a noble cause. It’s just the arrogant suits in charge that left bravery, integrity and fidelity with a bitter aftertaste.

Ever since that evening in July, three years ago, her superiors had made life hell. The four months following the death of Paul Krendler were the worst consecutive days of her life. Possible charges of murder, aiding and abetting and obstruction of justice saw several weeks of intensive closed-door legal arguments. But no case was tried; the Bureau had nothing substantial that her badge could not cover. That made no difference to her reinstatement. In the eyes of the law there was nothing condemnable in her conduct, but to the Bureau, she was still the unwanted black sheep, the crazy breasts that took on a madman as a rookie and succeeded far too much for their liking. She was given no second chance before being filed away to paperwork and menial fieldwork. Within the past three years, her job had withered. She knew they were waiting, counting down the days until she finally gave in. She had wanted to fight them, make them frustrated and stay on. But the price was too high; she had already given up enough of her time and happiness. Now she was taking back what she deserved. She smiled then, her hair glistening as the sun penetrated the glass.

Florence was the first place that she thought of. She hated to admit that he had influenced her decision, yet ultimately, his taste was impeccable. She knew Ardelia wouldn’t understand. They had been friends for years, but never really knew much about each other. The decision she had made could not be moved, her friend may be concerned, but her destination was set, in booking and mind.

At Pisa the bus made a brief stop, but the driver hurried everyone back on after ten minutes, claiming the traffic was only going to worsen with time. Clarice remained neutral, unaffected by the demands of hasty travel. She was looking forward to getting to Florence, the sooner the better. The travel attendant mentioned that four weeks in Florence alone could grow tiresome and expensive for someone on her budget, and it would be wiser to see more in that time, perhaps Milan and Venice. She agreed to an extent, making plans to spend two and a half weeks in Florence, followed by one and a half weeks in Genoa and Milan. Regardless, she had to drive through Florence on the way back, so extending for a few nights on the home straight was reasonable.

Clarice hadn’t been overseas for a long time. It wasn’t a regular occurrence. Once to Columbia, in high school, and Canada for work, so the experience was something new to her. Especially here, where he had been and told her to come. She closed her eyes and tried to ease the thoughts out of her head. She exhaled deeply, shaking her shoulders and moving to sit up in her seat. It wouldn’t do her any good to dwell. She wasn’t here for him.

Yeah right, Starling!

She was here to open her eyes to the new, and to inspire and motivate herself for when she returned home to no job and no family. Not to chase him, or bump into him on the street. By chance, he’s probably not even on the continent. You can’t follow the footsteps of a ghost, and that was all he was to her, a distant dying memory.

The bus pulled into the Piazza Statione at ten past five in the afternoon. Clarice felt her nervous heart pounding, thrashing in her chest. Grabbing her carry-on bag, she jumped out of the side door of the bus and into the chilly dark. She double-checked her watch to assure herself she’d heard right and looked around the piazza. Tiny delicate lights hung from terracotta condominiums and a tall pine tree stood before the underground station, decorated with small metallic red balls. They twinkled brightly in the clear black night.

Her large suitcase was deposited at her feet as she thanked and tipped the driver. Directly in front of her stood The Grand Hotel Majestic, her place of stay for the next few weeks. Reluctantly tearing her gaze from the sights before her, she entered through a revolving glass door twined with mistletoe and gold ribbon. It made her smile. She never put decorations up at home, Ardelia has a tree on her side of the duplex, but Clarice could never bring herself to find the mood. Besides, there was no one else to share it with. This Christmas would be no different, but at least the setting had changed.

The first two weeks flew by without much recognition. As much as Rome was the home of history, Florence was the city of art. Museums, basilicas, The Duomo, art galleries, marble markets, gold and silver welding, Clarice had seen as much as she could, but dreaded leaving for Genoa and Milan. In Florence there was just something that felt like…home.

Everywhere she turned she saw dark suit coats flapping in the wind, fedoras of white, beige and black. It was hard to forget when every man reminded her of him. She had been chasing delusions and cursing herself every time she went to look twice.

The day, when she finally wasn’t deluding herself, came towards the end of her trip, on the return home. She had spent a day shopping on the far side of Pointe Vechhio, indulging in the goodness of gold when a familiar, but strangely undetectable tingle make its way up her spine to her scalp. There was no one near her, but as she turned, she caught the tail end of a navy trench coat disappearing around a corner. It felt stupid to follow, like she’d done so many times on her trip.

Can it hurt to go again? C’mon, Clarice for the very last time.

So she did. She left the pesky sales assistant mid-sentence and dashed after him. The time of year was inconvenient; tourists swamped the cobblestone streets flashing their cameras and heavy wallets. Clarice hit the pathway and weaved through the makeshift stalls. Ahead of her she saw him, walking at a graceful pace and turning left into a piazza.

Christ another piazza! So much for thinking outside of the square!

After ten minutes of careful pursuit, she finally found a comfortable distance behind him. It wasn’t until he stopped in front of a shorter block of exclusive condominiums that he turned, looking in her direction. As soon as she seen him pause she fell back behind a larger, well-dressed man hoping that from his angle, she couldn’t be seen. Her throat was constricting and throbbing. She had seen it. It was him. She’d finally found him!

Found. I thought you weren’t looking hmm? His mocking, ghostly voice rumbled through her mind.

She stayed behind Mr dress nice and smell bad for a few minutes, but grew tired of waiting and poked her head around the side of the thick body. Just in time, the doctor pressed the third buzzer down from the right and waited for the intercom and doors to open.

With all her attention focused on the doctor, she tried to ignore the smiling man before her, all yellow teeth and gold capping. She fights a persistent cringe and sidesteps him, paying no heed to his mouldy laugh.

The rest of the afternoon she spent at a café, sipping extremely slowly on a vanilla cappuccino, watching the doors and windows of the block he walked into, from the extended ristortane balcony. From what she gathered, it was his temporary residence- he was there too long for a social call.

You hope!

At four-thirty it stared to get dark. She watched the lights sprinkle on over the city and decided to make her way back to the hotel. She would be back. Tomorrow was Christmas day, she would remind them both.


Florence. December 25th

Bells rang loudly from the Duomo. She was a good two blocks away when she heard them. Christmas was upon them, and although Italian’s in general were not such consistent and devoted celebrants, clearly the day was recognised.

She’d woken up notably late in the morning, sleeping through her regular wake-up routine. It felt liberating to ignore normalities. Yet, in her sate of relaxation, anxiety started its weeping. To know what she was going to do today, Christmas Day, made her extremely nervous. Of course, she, the soon-to-be ex special agent should be roaring with bravado, unfortunately her spunk had departed for the day. She was just a trembling bunch of nerves.

Standing out in the cold, before the grand, though condensed homes, made her feel somewhat small in relation to life. Should she really be doing this? Approaching Hannibal Lecter in his home, unarmed and completely vulnerable? She had to stop discouraging herself, she’d regret it if she turned back now.

She pressed the buzzer she’d seen him at yesterday and waited. It was mere minutes before she heard static and a woman’s voice.

“Si?”

A woman? She gulped

Think quick Starling!

“ My name is Shawn Steeler. I’d like to speak with Dr. Lloyd, if he’s available” She tried to cover her accent, hoping the woman understood basic English.

There was a muffled silence before she replied.

“He’s on his way down.” Her voice was neutral and barely comprehendible. The static clipped out. Conversation over.

The wait was next to unbearable. She rolled her weight back onto her heels, glancing upwards to the black wooden shutters. It really was a beautiful structure. Behind her stood a large Church, it was standing in the middle of the Piazza, and probably the only one she hadn’t been inside.

Then she heard the sliding of a deadbolt. If it was possible, she was certain her heart just stopped- that, or leaped out of her chest and onto the frosty stone beneath her.

He appeared then, stunned and sexy as ever. Her breath catches and so does his. She can see it.

Oops you dropped your tea Doc. Ah who am I kidding. Fuck the tea. And Fuck these expensive boots you’ve wrecked.

Silence seems like an eternity when it’s mutual. She could not look away, and neither could he. Honestly she thought he would have seen her yesterday. It’s hard to catch him like this, without calculation. She treasured the moment.

“Clarice.” Her name then, sung into the sky like a divine prayer.

She nodded, not yet able to speak.

He hadn’t moved, she noticed. Not even to attempt to reconcile with the cup, it seemed meaningless.

“Clarice” Again he said her name, perhaps trying to convince himself that she actually was there.

The butterflies in her stomach quietened for the moment and she began to speak.

“Merry Christmas, Dr. Lecter” It felt like an understatement.

Stunned again. She wanted to laugh, but knew better. He just needed time to work that mind of his into rationality and reason.

Well what we’re you expecting Starling? A welcome home with arms wide open! You pretty much made him hack his hand off the last time you saw him.

He opened his mouth to speak, but turned suddenly. Behind him stood an elegant looking woman, dark silky brown hair, deep-set brown eyes and fine cheekbones. In a simple words, she was beautiful.

Do I hate her yet?

His eyes still remained on her, but his body made way for the other.

“Chi è questo mio caro?” She spoke through Dr. Lecter. It was the voice from over the intercom.

“ Felice, this is an former student of mine…”

“Shawn Steeler” Lucky she had a good memory and was quick off the mark. She did not offer her hand.

The dark eyes move over Clarice hastily, hostility and slight envy is evident.

“Shawn, this is my wife Felice Lloyd” He spoke softly.

Her eyes stung and her mouth went dry.

Did he just say WIFE? Oh God. I’m gonna be sick

“Nice to meet you” Clarice lied and she knew he picked it up.

There was a moment of awkward silence before the good doctor got himself together. When he spoke both women shivered.

“Felice, would you clear this mess up while I show or guest inside?” Dr. Lecter asked politely. Even Clarice wouldn’t have been able to refuse him.

“Ok” She nodded curtly and stepped aside to make way.

Clarice walked through first, Dr. Lecter guiding her with the palm of his hand on the small of her back through the narrow, yet classical hallway. The nerves were back. Suddenly she felt like running back to her hotel to the safety of her secluded bedroom.

He turned then, as if sensing her sudden need to flee and took her by the hand, leading her up a flight of stairs into his studio 4B. She did not speak until he had released her hand at sat opposing her at a wide glass table. His home looked just as she imagined, fine arts hanging from the wall, plush carpet, leather couches with timber trimmings and a shiny white piano on display in the centre of a room facing the piazza. Her eyes completed the circuit and then landed back on his. He broke the silence first.

“Merry Christmas to you too, my dear. I must say you’ve thoroughly shocked me, Clarice.” The metallic rasp echoed and bounced off the thick walls.

She smiled and lowered her gaze with lack of strength.

“I saw you yesterday” She started but shook her head dismissively. “You see, I don’t even know why I’m here.” That was a truth they both had drawn.

Wife! You’re a stupid fool Starling.

“I assume that means your harbouring no weapon? Not even the threat of my arrest?” Slowly she saw him begin to relax, shoulders dropping gently and a smile playing lightly over his lips.

“No Doctor. This isn’t a business call.”

“Oh! A social call then. How quaint, Clarice.” She sat simply looking at him, attempting to conceal the hurt. “ From our last meeting, I gathered this moment would never come.” He paused, his tone now lower and gentler. “ I can’t say I’m disappointed to see you. I never am.” He stood then, easing the tension boiling within her. He walked over to a large cabinet and took two crystal flutes from a shelf, on the countertop beside him was a collection of fine wines. He picked up a bottle of Chianti, labeled 1964, and poured the liquid into the glasses.

“You’ll have to excuse my scepticism, Clarice, but I find it hard to believe that you’re not working.” When he approached the table with the wine, she glimpsed to where he had placed a flute in front of her. His left hand, although pinkish white and scarred, seemed to be in full-function. She swallowed audible, clearly taken back with guilt. She said nothing.

“ You came all this way to see me yet having nothing to say.” He returned to his seat and slightly angled his head to examine all of her. She hadn’t reached for her glass; he could see her white knuckles firmly gripping her thighs.

“I’m not here on behalf of the F.B.I. I’m on vacation. I’ve been in Italy for over a month.” It was all she could manage to offer.

“Ahh. So sighting me yesterday was of pure coincidence?” He considered. “Hmm that is rather intriguing.”

“I’m quitting when I get back.” Her hand moved up to the table as she ran a finger around the base of the glass. She noticed it was quite for a moment, only the flapping of pigeons nesting in the nearby roove gutters could be heard.

“And what of Special Agent Starling? The brave and incorruptible saviour of the lambs has stepped down, to what? Your behaviour three years ago would have proved otherwise; denying me of my fun…and my kiss.” He took a sip from the flute but kept his eyes on hers.

“I suppose I grew tired of denying myself, Dr. Lecter.” She looked straight at him, her watery blue eyes watching him. Beneath the clothed table, she felt her legs shaking. He smiled.

“My little Staring. All grown up and free to fly on her own.”

On my own. If I’m finally free, why do I feel like shit?

“Often timing can be a bitch.” She thought she had said that to herself, but with the doctor’s chuckle and nod of approval, apparently she had expressed herself verbally.

At that moment Felice bounced through the doors with the remnants of the porcelain cup clustered in the bottom of a small tray. She swished past their table into the next room, not looking at either of them as she passed.

“No truer words spoken, Ms. Steeler” He turned to watch his wife through the semi-closed door. Their privacy had diminished, they both knew it. Clarice wondered if she was the only one who was disappointed in learning that.

Back trough the doors again came Felice, her silky dress catching and reflecting the dimmed light. She was smiling this time, almost as if she had found a sudden confidence while tossing out the trash. She followed Dr. Lecter previous movements and collected her own glass of Chianti. Without invitation, she pulled up a chair beside her husband and sat merrily. Clarice calmed the spontaneous urge to slap her pretty face.

That could have been me.

“Where did you meet my husband Ms. Steeler?” The sentence was slow but fairly precises. Perhaps Lecter had taught her English.

“Ahh well…”

“I lectured in the states for a while, Shawn was one of my finest students.” He watched Clarice comprehend the situation and give nothing away. He was pleased. “We were just catching up on the good ole times. It’s been a while.” His pearly whites shined in a killer smile, making Felice grab his hand, marking her territory. Clarice felt something burn within her.

Is this what he feels like before he drives his harpy into someone?

Clarice decided it was time to speak. “You must be happy here, Florence is a remarkable city. What are you doing with yourselves nowadays?” She realised that she was possibly putting him on the spot; but she was angry and she really didn’t care.

“ We both work at the Academic Museum of Fine Arts. It’s where we met actually, early this year. It’s about seven minutes walk from the Duomo. Have you visited yet?” The hand that was previously on his hand inched down towards his knee; Clarice felt her face grow red.

“The Duomo? Yes, a few times. The view is breathtaking.” Her voice was weak, but on;y two of the would notice.

“I used to tell Shawn about the view. I never thought she’d make it though; she was always too busy working with her friends. People do change with time though.” He looked through her and watched as her jaw tightened.

“Do you enjoy your work Ms. Steeler?” Felice inquired.

“No.”

No one could speak. Clarice shifted in the chair and thought about leaving. Clearly she had made a mistake in coming.

“Will you stay for lunch? Felice has organised some wonderful dishes...” Dr. Lecter offered. She couldn’t read his tone.

Clarice got up before he could continue, the chair scraping over the polished floor. She smoothed down the fresh creases in her skirt and stepped beside the table.

“Actually, I’m about to leave. I apologise for interrupting. I can see myself out” The tight smile she offered did not reach her eyes. “Nice to meet you Mrs. Lloyd.” And then she darted out of the room before the hot tears refused to remain hidden. She thought she heard him call out; it made her quicken her pace down the stair and through the hallway. She hadn’t noticed the canvas above the door when she entered; Leda and the Swan. She felt sick and angry, and hated to admit why.

Why did you go? You’re a fool, a hopeless fool.

She started running once she reached the square, she couldn’t wait to get out of there, out of Florence and this damn wonderful country.

Merry freakin Christmas!

She disappeared into a crowd of rejoicing German tourists.


The Grand Hotel Majestic. December 26th

Clarice hadn’t slept more than thirty minutes the entire night. She had tossed and rolled herself up in a web of blanket, her mind would not allow her to shut down. She kept seeing him and her. Together. It stung to be jealous of a serial killer’s wife. In fact, it was ridiculous. She’d never wanted anything from Lecter before, or nothing that she was likely to admit or return anyhow.

She’d given up at 6am and started to pack. The coach left this afternoon to Rome, and then she would be on her way home. She hadn’t wanted to leave until yesterday, now she felt like there was nothing to stay for. She sat in the bath crying for an hour- something which she rarely does. Starling’s weren’t known to hold their head in the hands and ball, but she did. She needed to release the demons that were haunting her heart, or rather let go of the memory of one certain cannibal. She had been chasing a figment of Hannibal Lecter for thirteen years. And now he was happy, and she was…alone. Clarice felt wasted and naïve.

When she finally made it out of the bathroom she noticed a scarlet envelope at the foot of her door. Familiar copperplate stood out and called her name. She knew who it was from and wanted to burn it. Throw it out the window and never hear from the man again- but she wasn’t strong enough.

She tightened the towel around her body and bent to pick it up. The paper smelt of sandalwood and almond. She shivered, taking it over to the bed where she sat, legs crossed and deeply inhaling. Inside she pulled out a piece of fine paper, marked in black ink, it held a small note:

My Dearest Clarice,

Firstly, I owe you an apology. Your presence yesterday came as quite a surprise and I was unprepared to greet you in a more appropriate manner. It was not my intention to discourage or upset you in any way. I feel it is necessary to mention that although I was caught unawares, seeing you made for an exquisite present. Thank you. Curiosity, once again, got the better of you, are you relived or regretful?

Alas, your hasty departure left me wanting and I do hope you will consider my request: Ristortane ‘Dante e Beatrice’ 2pm. I feel we have a little more to discuss. I’ll wait for you, Clarice. Alone

-H


The burning sensation was back again. Clarice sat in place, letter in hand and considered his request. Was there really any logical point to go? Quite obviously it would only display further disloyalty to her morals- she held no desire to see him behind bars and would not attempt an arrest.

She rubbed her throbbing head and got up to the mirror opposing her bed. She looked at herself, her untidy hair, pale near lifeless skin and hollow eyes.

Just do it! Go get it over with.

She had nothing to offer now, or to lose. The stakes had shifted and little remained for her or him in delaying their game.

She spent the majority of the day in the hotel, a few hours at the gym, on the Internet e-mailing Ardelia, and having a light lunch in her room. At 1.30pm she changed into grey silk slacks and a blue cashmere roll-neck, curtesy of her shopping trip in Milan. Once satisfied with the mirrors reflection she donned a pair of Italian leather healed-boots and made her way down to the lobby fifteen minutes later.

At the front desk she asked the clerk directions to the ristortane ‘Dante e Beatrice’ and was pleased to hear that it was a short walk past the Duomo, situated on the corner before the Palazzo Vecchio. She knew the way.

Clarice was in no mood for Albanian hassling. She walked behind the street of stalls, ignoring the comments thrown at her from various groups of dark men. She just wanted to be there. Be gone. And be home. Holidays can wear thin within moments.

The restaurant was easy to locate. Small street verandas surrounded by greenery and polished timber made for the entrance, inside was small and cosy. She spotted him within minutes; his eyes had found her as soon as she stepped in. No doubt he could smell her, though she had avoided perfume purposely. She did not smile as she approached his table, situated in the far corner of the room, and held her bag close to her chest as she neared. Behind their table she noticed two double doors, probably the fire exit.

“Were you planning on going somewhere?” He nodded behind him and stood beside the table.

His eyes lit with something she could not describe. “ Only if I have to.” He smiled and motioned for her to sit. She did.

“I wasn’t all together certain that you would come, Clarice.” His voice was soft, probably the most soothing she’d ever heard from him.

“Well. I’m here. I don’t know why, but I am.” She paused noting his disappointment. “This the kind of thing you were thinking of, Dr. Lecter? A warm little get-together to settle the score before we both sink back into some kind of retirement?” She sat up straight in her seat, her voice sharp and her eyes demanding. There was too little to lose to be anything less thank frank.

Sure Starling. You’ve only got your life to lose!

Dr. Lecter was peeved. His eyes narrowed and grew dark; he hated to be predicted with such clumsiness. “You should know better than to grow so comfortable in my presence agent Starling. There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity.”

She slumped back in her chair, uncaring for this charged banter that would continue until one caved and the curse of impatience meant that it was usually her.

“I’m tired of this.” Her hands grew animated and waved about above the table. “Would it be easier for me to leave?”

His features lightened. “Easier, probably. Rewarding, I don’t think so.”

They sat facing each other for minutes, neither aware of the time. She noticed a full cup of tea before her.

“I took upon the liberty to order for you, hoping it would not get cold.” She wondered if that was his way of saying Hey Clarice! I’m hell glad to see you.

“Thank you.”

“ Shawn Steeler caused quite a commotion in our home last night. I was accused of adultery amongst other things.” He smiled. She couldn’t stop her heart from fluttering.

“I had no right to impose.” She didn’t care much for this discussion at all.

“I don’t mind. Felice just grows a little insecure at times.” He took a sip from the cup. She thought about the shattered one from yesterday. If time could reverse, the cup could replace itself and she would have never pressed that buzzer.

“With due respect Doctor, I did not come here to discuss your wife, or your marriage.” She attempted a neutral tone.

“No. You didn’t.” He stopped to watch her. She looked exquisite today. The blue cashmere brought out her beautiful eyes. Eyes that he has found nowhere else. “Why did you come? Surely not solely on behalf of my request.”

She paused a moment before replying. She should be truthful here, for their last time.

“I didn’t want to. I don’t want to be sipping tea with a criminal; moreover I don’t want to enjoy it. There’s just something within us that I can’t seem to stop chasing. Years pass and nothing changes. I just want it to stop and be able to get on with life.” She shrugged exhaustedly.

“Something within us.” She had hoped he would dwell on those words. “I assume you mean something which does not relate to the agent within you.”

She nodded, unable to deny him. “I’m fascinated with you and I hate admitting it.” There was no point holding back now. Again she had surprised him, though it pleased him too. He placed the cup down on the table and moved inward.

“Me and all my menace? I’ve done many horrible things my dear. Your daddy would not approve of the company.” Suddenly he grew cold again.

She winced. Apparently he was going to make this as hard as possible. “It’s not easy to forget who you are Doctor Lecter…”

“Hannibal” He interrupted and motioned for her to continue. She stumbled a little, trying to remember what she had been saying.

Hannibal.

“At…at Krendler’s I was reminded. I didn’t get much of a chance to explain anything and I’ve had a lot of questions floating around since then.” It was almost a whisper.

“You made choices that night, Clarice. Choices that have lead to where you and I are now.”

“I know. I know.” Did he hear regret? Although it pleased him to know she suffered, her pain was not something he wished to exploit.

“Ask now Clarice.” He reached across the table and lifted her chin with his thumb. “You may ask me now.”

With water in her eyes she pushed herself to go on. “ Why did you come to me? Why did you nurse me back to heath? Why did you make me watch Krendler? Why didn’t you take my hand instead?” They all came in a rush, desperate to be freed.

He smiled and nodded, he had been expecting as much, just never sure if he’d ever hear her voice them. “The answers to all your questions are much the same. I’m drawn to you. The fascination is mutual. Quid pro quo Clarice, you came to my aid and I returned the favour. I have my own selfish reasons for keeping you alive, Clarice. The same reasons that set you in front of Mr. Krendler, and the same reasons which took my hand.” He waved it in front of her to reassure.

She nodded and looked down to her cup. Some things she needed to hear, other things she prayed weren’t true.

“I trust my residency is safe in your knowledge?” He questioned in earnest. She was a little disappointed, but realised he had to ask.

“Yes. I have nothing left to give the Bureau.”

Again, he reached across the table, taking her small hand in his larger one. He felt her trembling warmth and denied himself the pleasure of a growl. He enjoyed physical closeness with this woman, something he often deprived Felice of.

“They will never recognise their loss.” Warmth again.

She felt like crying. She’d never received such an act or gesture of kindness from anyone.

“Thank you...Hannibal” The words were foreign to her. He was enjoying this.

“Your most welcome.” He withdrew his hand and bent down to the side of the table. She saw him pull a box out of his leather case. It was wrapped in maroon Christmas wrapping. “Merry Christmas Clarice.” He pushed it to her side of the table and sat back watching her.

Her eyes lit up, he noticed, as she pulled the small present to her side. She looked up to him grinning, and held the box to her ears. His laugh rumbled through the restaurant, she’d never heard anything quite like it and had the feeling, not many after her ever would. She unceremoniously tore the paper from the box, looking up to him again in sudden guilt. He was smiling at her impatience. She eased the lid off the box and ruffled through layers of bubble wrap. Her actions came to an abrupt halt when she found its contents.

“I had it made especially for you when I visited Venice a few moths ago.” He smiled. “Take it out.”

She moved her hands gently into the wrapping and took out the small crystal-glass lamb. Light from the lamp hit the glass and reflected a thousand different colours and patterns on her face. Its eyes gleamed with maroon stones. On the underside there was a tiny inscription: Your silent nights - H

She felt the hot tears running down her cheeks, and did little to stop or hide them. She could not move or speak. He made no attempt to either. Time passed them by, Clarice did not know how long they sat like that. Looking at each other and then back to the little lamb. Out of habit she took a quick glance at her watch and realised that she should be in a hurry if she wanted to make today’s coach.

If you want to make it

She thanked him and finished her tea, mentioning that it’s best she leave soon. She saw the same emotions in his eyes as she had that evening on the Chesapeake, grief and disapproval.

She stood, brushing off her pants desperately trying to think of the right thing to say. She reached for her bag and hit something hard inside, it reminded her of something. She pulled out the cardboard tube and sat it on the table.

“You’ll have to excuse the presentation. I wanted to keep it myself, but now I think it should be yours.”

He popped off the lid of the tube and shook it.

“I visited the Duomo several times. That’s my work.” Her cheeks flushed slightly, like a teenage revealing her crush.

The crisp paper rolled open and she heard his breath catch. It amused her to think she could rouse the same effect.

“Happy Christmas, Hannibal” Clarice put her hand on his shoulder, out of the sudden need to touch him. At the very least, she would take that memory with her.

Before him was a drawing of them both. It was a close up of their faces morphed together, a haze of deep blue and maroon. In their eyes was the view of Florence from the Duomo. The signature in his left pupil stood out in white ink: CStarling

“ I guess you won’t be able to hang it, with the insecurities of a wife, but I’m sure you’ll find a place for it,” Her hand was still on his shoulder.

“Clarice, I did you a great disservice by calling on you. You deserve more than what you have.” He stood, gathering his things and walked her out of the restaurant, into a small lane.

“I’d still be blind with ignorance if it wasn’t for you. That’s no disservice, in my opinion.”

He cocked his head and watched her. His brave little Starling.

“Your revelation came with ill timing.”

She nodded, knowing exactly what he was saying.

“Speaking of ill timing. I really ought to be going.” Her attempts of stepping back were halted with his arm around her waist, pulling her close, chest to chest.

“Would you indulge me one last time, Clarice?”

Nerves and butterflies were back by the millions. She barely managed to nod before his mouth descended on hers, claiming her lips, tongue and flesh as his own, as it always had been. She moaned into his mouth without resistance. Her mouth was open to him, responding and reciprocating. Minutes passed before either was inclined to pull away. Clarice was pushed for time, as he had been three years ago. How terribly ironic, she thought. She stepped back, his hand falling back to his side. She turned her back and started to walk away, holding back more tears. She hated goodbyes. Before she reached the main road, she turned back to him, he stood where she had left him watching her leave.

“Tell me Hannibal, would you ever say to me stop? If you loved me you’d stop?” Her eyes were sad, she wasn’t mocking him.

He gave her a cheerless smile, picking up his briefcase and clutching her drawing. “A thousand time over, if only you had listened.”

She nodded knowingly; she couldn’t ask him to sacrifice his marriage, not even for this. She turned her back once more, waving over her shoulder, bashfully hiding her tears. In her right hand she grasped the little lamb, hoping there would be silent nights to come.

She disappeared then, into the clear Florentine afternoon. He tried to look for her in the crowd, but the numbers were too high. Something tugged inside his body, the sensation which only Mischa had been able to induce. A fool might say love. Hannibal Lecter said nothing. He clutched the painting closer to him, its contents now fully stored in his memory palace.

“Merry Christmas, Clarice” He mumbled to himself hoping one day, she would be back to hear him herself.


FIN

copyright 2002, by Lady of Truths

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