There were times she hated her job. Those times came few and far between now that the shadow of Hannibal Lecter and the Buffalo Bill case had seemed to shrink to an almost unseen ghost of her past. But tonight Claire Starling was unable to sleep. A bust had gone bad and she sensed somehow it was going to come down on her. Being the only woman on the team she was subject to a lot of crap, getting called to task for bad results out of a group effort was one of those things. There were times she wondered why she even bothered.

Her roommate was asleep, or so it seemed anyway, as Clarice made her way to the darkened kitchen to get a glass of milk and a late night snack. She would be off for the next few days, a natural progression of things since she'd fired her weapon tonight. The kill was a good and just one, but Justice always investigated these things. Eventually, she'd be called in and put back on duty. How long it would take depended on how quickly the suits got off their asses.

She booted up her computer and logged onto her personal Internet account. No one knew the guilty pleasure of America Online that Clarice partook in, and it was probably better that way. She could logon and chat anonymously. She wasn't a big fan of chat rooms, but on a night like this she didn't mind the faceless interaction.

She had just entered one of the chat rooms setup for the D.C. area when an IM box appeared. She was used to this happening. Entering chat rooms late at night seemed to be an unspoken invitation for others to hit on you. She'd never engaged in cyber sex and had no desire to. Her profile was pretty bare bones, she'd done that intentionally. She had purposely set herself up to be bait, not that she believed her prey would stoop to the level of using America Online but weirder things had happened. And it had, only she was no longer bait now but a willing participant in their conversations. When she saw the screen name in the window her heart did a somersault. She stared at the window, her hand moving the mouse to hover over the box debating whether to respond. She was raw tonight from the shooting. Somehow he always sensed her moods even when they weren't face to face or even talking.

Il Medico1754: Good evening
QuietLamb: Hi.
Il Medico1754: Can't sleep?
QuietLamb: No, one of those nights, I guess.
Il Medico1754: Care to talk about it?
QuietLamb: Not really, but thanks.
Il Medico1754: Come now, Clarice, you can talk to me
Il Medico1754: Are you there? Perhaps you fell asleep.
QuietLamb: I'm here, Doctor.
Il Medico1754: Tell me about your evening.
QuietLamb: There's not much to tell. I was working a kidnapping case, the perp crossed stateliness so it became ours naturally. I had to fire my weapon, killed the kidnapper.
Il Medico1754: How old was the child?
QuietLamb: There were two, 8 and 4.
Il Medico1754: And they've been reunited with their parents?
QuietLamb: Should be on their way to meet at the hospital where they're being examined.
Il Medico1754: Are you feeling guilty?
QuietLamb: I took a man's life tonight. I don't think I'd be human if I didn't feel something.
Il Medico1754: Unlike me, you mean?
QuietLamb: I never said that. I've never claimed you weren't human.
Il Medico1754: You were the first person in quite some time to treat me as if I really were human. I'd forgotten what that was like. I never did get the chance to say thank you for that.
QuietLamb: You're welcome.
Il Medico1754: Now, back to you. Do you feel guilty about what sounds to me like a justified shooting?
QuietLamb: I didn't give you any details, how can you tell if it's justified?
Il Medico1754: If I know anything about you, Clarice, it's that you would not act rashly when it came to firing your gun. Particularly when there were children present to witness your act.
QuietLamb: He'll never get his day in court.
Il Medico1754: No, he won't, but those children are on their way home because of you.

She tried to let that make her feel better. Truthfully, she always felt like she had to wash herself a dozen times to get the gunpowder residue off her fingers after she'd discharged her weapon and taken a life with it. She could still smell the stench of death in her hair and on her skin sitting at the computer. It didn't happen often, and while it was part of her job as an agent for the FBI that didn't mean she looked forward to it.

QuietLamb: You're right.
Il Medico1754: Was that so difficult to admit?
QuietLamb: You know it was.
Il Medico1754: I do, and appreciate your honesty in light of that.
QuietLamb: So, what are you doing? I'm not sure if it's early or late for you.
Il Medico1754: You'd be surprised the activities men of leisure take up, Clarice. And since I cannot call you as I know there's still a trace on your line to this day I make due.
QuietLamb: You're right, I'm sure. I mean I don't know that for a fact, but it's a logical assumption.
Il Medico1754: Yes, I should never have made my fascination with you so widely known.
QuietLamb: If I had an untraceable line?
Il Medico1754: I suppose hearing your voice would do for the time being.
QuietLamb: For the time being, Doctor? Please don't tell me you have plans to come back here.
Il Medico1754: No, but I imagine with a shooting, justifiable as it may have been, your superiors would not think twice about you asking for some time off.
QuietLamb: Are you offering to let me see you?
Il Medico1754: We've been talking long enough now that I think it's an acceptable step, don't you?
QuietLamb: I'm not sure.
Il Medico1754: Ah, it's one thing to talk to the enemy and another to see him. Sleep with him. Is that it?
QuietLamb: You presume a lot, Doctor. I've never given any indication I'm interested in sex with you.
Il Medico1754: Of course you have, however unintentionally. Our conversations are indication enough. If you were not at least slightly interested you wouldn't have set up your profile in such a way that it was so easy for me to find you. And only me.

He was right, she had set up this profile with him in mind. At the time, she'd been hoping to be bait and trap him somehow into disclosing where he was. A trace on the account or something. Their first conversation had come at a time she'd really needed to talk to someone so she found it difficult to put a trace on the account. He had been kind to her, talked to her, listened to her as no one else could. She couldn't repay that kindness by betraying him. She had, after all, made it easy to find her but only if he had truly been looking.

QuietLamb: That's pretty egotistical of you to take my desire to have intelligent conversations with someone to indicate I want sex. I wouldn't need to spend my time talking with you if that's what I desired.
Il Medico1754: That would be true if you desired others, but you don't.
QuietLamb: Are you trying to make me angry? Is this a test of some sort?
Il Medico1754: Why would I need to test you, Clarice?
QuietLamb: You don't. If I haven't reported your contact yet I'm not going to. My ass would be in a sling if I reported it now anyway.
Il Medico1754: Ah yes, consorting with the enemy. Pity you aren't really consorting with me, isn't it? The end result would be the same, I'm quite certain. Termination, scandal, black mark on your unblemished record.
QuietLamb: Yes, you know that's what would happen.
Il Medico1754: And yet you expect me to believe these conversations mean nothing to you.
QuietLamb: I didn't say they meant nothing, just that they don't mean I want to have sex with you.
Il Medico1754: So, you'd vacation with me as a friend, Clarice. It's an interesting thought, one I hadn't contemplated before now. I assumed, forgive me. Am I too old for you?
QuietLamb::scoffs:: Hardly, Doctor. It's purely a mental block I can't get past.
Il Medico1754: I could help you get over such stumbling blocks, Clarice.
QuietLamb: I'm sure you could.
Il Medico1754: Well, think about it. No one would get suspicious if you suddenly desired some time away. Some might think it would make you seem more human.
QuietLamb: And more like a woman.
Il Medico1754: Yes, gender stereotyping is a difficult thing to get away from.
QuietLamb: What would we do? Where would we meet?
Il Medico1754: I'd make arrangements, of course. You'd fly into one place and a car would take you to your destination. As far as what we'd do, that would be entirely up to you. This man you killed while a bad man was not the caliber of bad Buffalo Bill was so I imagine you will have some difficulty wrapping your mind around the fact you killed someone.
QuietLamb: Are you going to psychoanalyze me, Doctor?
Il Medico1754: I would never do such a thing without at least some indication from you that the idea was not abhorrent to you.

He already knew too much about her, she was not sure she cared to give him any more ammunition to use against her. She had shared more with him in Memphis than she had with anyone in her entire life. She'd gone on dates since then, but she always found herself comparing her date to the man on the other end of the IM. Whoever she was with came up seriously lacking, which was sad considering who the man was.

QuietLamb: I'll put in for some time off.
Il Medico1754: Dare I ask if it's the psychoanalyzing or the intimacy you're coming for?
QuietLamb: I don't want to be a patient, Doctor.
Il Medico1754: Fair enough, Clarice.

She could almost see him gloating through the computer monitor. He had gotten her, in a roundabout way, to admit she thought of being intimate with him. And why shouldn't she? He was an attractive man who clearly had no intentions of killing her. Okay, there was the fact that anyone who was not Clarice Starling was in danger from the man, but she hadn't heard of any reports over the years that indicated he was on a killing spree. If he was killing again, he hid his victims very well. Or he had altered his MO, which she doubted he could do.

QuietLamb: How is this going to work?
Il Medico1754: I'll book your flight, you can pick them up from any travel agent. A car will meet you at your final destination.
QuietLamb: This is going to be a roundtrip ticket, correct?
Il Medico1754: As appealing as kidnapping you sounds, Clarice, I wouldn't do it. When you come to me for good it will be of your own free will.
QuietLamb: When?
Il Medico1754: Yes, when. It's inevitable, surely you know this. I patiently await you to grow tired of the politics of your job and find the way I live appealing.
QuietLamb: I hate you sometimes.
Il Medico1754: Does that mean the rest of the time you love me, Clarice? I'm not sure my heart can take such flowery words of adoration.
QuietLamb: Stop!
Il Medico1754: It's painful to discover there's someone who can see you so clearly. We're fortunate that we do that for one another. Some couples aren't so lucky.
QuietLamb: We're not a couple.
Il Medico1754: We will be.
QuietLamb: You don't give up, do you?
Il Medico1754: Not in things that matter.
QuietLamb: I matter that much?
Il Medico1754: That you need to ask that wounds me beyond reason, Clarice. It pains me that you do not see your value as I do.
QuietLamb: I'm sorry. … Wait, what am I apologizing for? We had a few good and intense conversations, it's been years now. Many would have moved on by now to a more sure thing.
Il Medico1754: Sure things can soothe a need, Clarice, but they are not substitutes for what the heart and mind truly desire.
QuietLamb: You're going to have to give me a hint of where I'm going to end up so I know what to pack.
Il Medico1754: Allow me the pleasure of outfitting you for the trip, Clarice.
QuietLamb: Is that your way of telling me I have nothing appropriate?
Il Medico1754: It's my way of wanting to spoil you when I have the chance. I need to perform so that a lifetime with me is a temptation.
QuietLamb: It already is.
Il Medico1754: Tempting enough that you might rethink returning?

She took a look around her. She shared a duplex with Ardelia Mapp, who was her only real friend. Her side of the duplex was minimally decorated and furnished. The only thing she'd spent money on was her bed. She wanted a good and comfortable bed to sleep on. Otherwise, it was pretty boring and pathetic. Would she give this up to live a life with him? She'd constantly be looking over her shoulder, living in fear that he'd get caught. She suspected he would protect her freedom at all costs, but what would she do if he was to get captured again? And would he really protect her? If it came to a choice of him or her, would he let her go?

The woman in her who responded to the gentleman in him wanted to believe so. But the cop in her knew he was a crafty murderer, a serial killer, who would not want to be confined again. It was something to think about. Until she felt confident of her answer she could never leave everything behind for him.

QuietLamb: Close, but not quite.
Il Medico1754: You are a tease, Clarice.
QuietLamb: Yes, that's me all right.
Il Medico1754: You underestimate the power you wield over me, perhaps that's best. When will I talk to you again?
QuietLamb: Are you leaving?
Il Medico1754: You need some rest. What kind of gentleman would knowingly keep you up so late after you've been through such an ordeal?
QuietLamb: That's a good question.
QuietLamb: I wish you were here.

She hit SEND before she could backspace over what she had typed. It was the closest she'd come to admitting she thought of him as an actual physical presence in her life. It was certainly the closest she'd come to admitting to anyone she needed them. It wasn't something she took lightly.

Il Medico1754: As do I. I don't think Miss Mapp would be receptive to my calling on you, though. You flatter me, Clarice. Thank you. I know that was not easy for you to say. Particularly in this form of communication. It would have been much easier I imagine erasing it, pretending that nothing happened.
QuietLamb: Well, I sent it.
Il Medico1754: Indeed you did and I shall carry that thought with me for the rest of the day while I make arrangements for our time together.
QuietLamb: You're not taking me to where you are.
Il Medico1754: It would not be very wise of me to do such a thing, Clarice. I apologize, but until the time comes that you're with me for good I'm afraid my permanent residence will have to remain a mystery to you.
QuietLamb: When will we meet?
Il Medico1754: It's Wednesday. You'll need time I assume to clear it with your superiors. I'll make arrangements for you to leave Saturday.
QuietLamb: Sounds good.

She hated to admit it, but it did sound good. She had something to look forward to. If there was any question about the incident she could be on leave for weeks. What better way to pass the time? At least she wouldn't dwell on the fact she might lose her job as a result of doing it to the best of her ability.

Il Medico1754: Good night, Clarice. Pleasant dreams. I hope I've done my part in keeping the lambs at bay.
QuietLamb: You always do, Doctor.
Il Medico1754: Then my job here is done. Bonne nuit, mon amour.
QuietLamb: Good night.

She signed off and shut her computer off. She finished off her glass of milk, returning to the kitchen to rinse the glass out and set it aside for later. In four days time she would see him again. She felt excited and exhilarated at the thought of it. That in itself told her to set aside her doubts and go with it. She seldom did anything for personal benefit or gain.

Sliding into bed after brushing her teeth, she tried to picture what he would look like sleeping. She couldn't do it because he seemed larger than life. A predator ever ready to pounce. She was his prey, at least for now. She had her doubts whether his interest was really the thrill of the chase. Once he had her would it then fade? He spoke as if they had some sort of connection, which she did feel. But he was a psychiatrist with a great mind, he could pick up on her thoughts and play on them. Prey on them.

She shook her head as she turned onto her side, fluffing the pillow that would belong to him were he sharing her bed tonight. She was damned no matter what she did. Perverse as it was, she wanted him in her life. He was worth the risk. She would give herself this, even if she never did again. Just once she was going to take the dangerous route.