***Chapter Eleven***
Word Count: 1,453

BSeven Years Later/B

It was a habit he tolerated, though he didn't completely understand it. She always checked the Baltimore and D.C. newspapers when she woke up every day. Always in the back of her mind was the thought that something could happen to Ardelia or Will and it was the only way she'd know. There wasn't anyone else from that life she cared about really.

Today the computer was on and her breakfast was there waiting for her. Usually, he made her separate her two morning rituals. He didn't like her to be holed up in her home office any more than necessary. Working for the Federal Intelligence Service she didn't have a lot of work to bring home with her, but there were times that she couldn't sleep because information she'd come upon refused to be forgotten until the next day.

She digested the article, knowing he would leave her to initiate the conversation on this particular subject. Breakfast finished, she set the bowl aside and sipped on her orange juice – fresh squeezed, of course – as she read the article once again.

She brought her bowl and glass into the kitchen where he was cleaning up the few dishes he'd used that morning.

"Good morning," he said calmly. He was astute and clever, though, assessing her mood no doubt due to his keen senses.

"Good morning. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

She rinsed her things and set them in the sink before leaning against the counter. Days like this, she wondered how she even got to be here. So far removed from her dreams and goals. There was nothing wrong with her job or anything. In fact, she enjoyed it most days. The fake credentials and paperwork she had set her up for it. He really had thought of everything when he created her identity for this life.

"So," she said softly.

"Yes," he replied dryly.

"I'm dead."

"Indeed."

"What does that mean?"

He shrugged. "It means that Miss Mapp and Will Graham provided enough evidence to prove that they searched for you over the years with no results."

"So, I cease to exist."

"Well, from this day forward, yes. If you were to show up again, of course, there'd be a legal process to reverse it. It happens from time to time."

"It's so odd."

"Agreed."

"It means that they both think something happened to me."

"I would assume so."

"They don't believe I ran off with you."

"I would think not or my profile would have been updated to traveling with a female companion."

"Right, and it hasn't been. We know this."

They knew this because about a year after she'd left she'd logged into the FBI database from an Internet cafe when they were traveling. Untraceable. They'd only been in that particular town for about three hours. She'd walked to and from the cafe. She'd been kind of surprised Ardelia's password was still the same, but she supposed her friend had no reason to change it. There was nothing in his file about her being with him. She'd checked it again at work when she got the job, a bonus of dealing with international agencies in her line of work. There was nothing indicating she was with him.

Ordinarily she wouldn't think that meant anything except she knew Paul Krendler. Paul would crucify her if he could get away with it so if he had an inkling, a glimmer of foresight that he believed suggested she was with Lecter he would have used it and plastered the information and her face along with it all over. Nothing would have given him pleasure as humiliating Clarice would.

It had never happened.

A few weeks or so after she'd gone missing there'd been articles with quotes from Will, Ardelia, and Krendler. Crawford had never been quoted. She wasn't sure what that meant, if he'd never been interviewed or if he just had nothing to say about her disappearance. She liked to think she made more of an impression on him than that.

"So, I'm free."

"Yes, but the hair still has to remain."

The hair was a source of contention for her at times. It was long, longer than she'd ever worn it in her life. Down to her ass and blonde. Not platinum blonde like Marilyn Monroe's, kind of a dirty blonde, but the color, length and the curl in it due to the perms she got just weren't natural for her.

"I understand that, but it's done for the most part."

"It is," he said simply.

"I'm glad," she admitted.

Cautious. They were both nothing but. While they lived well neither tried to be overly pretentious about it, not wanting to draw attention to themselves. They never spoke English outside of their home. He'd known all along that they were going to end up in Germany so from day one of them together he'd worked with her to perfect a dialect so that she wouldn't stand out as someone speaking the language as a second language. Writing, reading, speaking, and listening.

Today it was second nature to her. She enjoyed their time at home when she could just be Clarice, but even here they never called one another by their real names. They hadn't in years.

"Will's married," she said.

"I saw that. Does that bother you?"

"No! I hope she is for him what I couldn't be."

"So he'd stop drinking, you mean?"

"I didn't know at first, you know. I mean, he drank a lot, but I just didn't think someone so intelligent would be an alcoholic." She shrugged. "Stupid thinking."

"You were younger and smitten. Not just with him but with the idea that someone knew what you wanted to do. Who could blame you?"

"But I enabled him."

"You aren't the first or the last."

"I know. I just."

"He had his own path to travel just as you did. You're where you're supposed to be as he is."

She walked up to him, hugging him which he accepted easily. It still blew her mind that they could have moments like this. Simple intimacy. She'd never had married parents to observe day-to-day so this was all new to her. At first, the sex had been amazing and so frequent there were times she thought there was something wrong with them. Frequency wasn't an issue even today, but there were other ways they expressed their feelings for one another that didn't require clothes being removed.

"So, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?"

"I don't know. I guess just keep doing what I'm doing."

"That's a good answer."

"I thought so."

There'd been a time or two she'd wondered at her decision. She doubted she'd be human if she didn't. Living this way wasn't easy. It wasn't glamorous. Despite the nice things they did they still had to look over their shoulders and be careful every minute of every day. Even something as simple as eating a meal out could be catastrophic if a fingerprint was left on a glass or the handle of a fork or knife. It was just the two of them and always would be. The days of doubt were long behind her, though. Life wasn't perfect, but they solved their problems easily enough. Clarice couldn't recall a time ever going to sleep mad at him.

Neither believed in things like soulmates, but Clarice had found something with Lecter she'd never had before. A life worth living for more than her goals and career. She worked not because she had to necessarily but to blend in. Eventually, she'd stop but for now someone her age would be suspect without a job.

He'd expanded her horizons tenfold. She liked to think she'd done the same for him, but she knew better. His horizons hadn't needed broadening except perhaps when it came to love.

His extracurricular activities?

She didn't ask and he didn't tell. Sticking her head in the sand perhaps. She wasn't in denial. She knew. It was one of the reasons she did not take a job with local law enforcement. She didn't want to be faced with hunting him or having to hide or destroy evidence in order to help him survive. She'd reached a point now that she didn't want her time with him to end a moment before it had to.

They both knew he'd never be incarcerated again. He'd said so in not so many words. The idea of someone so brilliant taking his own life saddened her, but she knew he was careful. More careful than last time.

How did she know?

This time he actually had something to lose.

~The End~