(See the first chapter for disclaimer, notes, spoiler, etc.)
Chapter 9: "Vide Cor Meum"
Two Weeks Later
Olivia followed the orderly down the hall, the delicate silk scarf fluttering around her neck. The heels of her sandals clicked on the polished floor, her eyes blinking as they turned onto the sun-filled landing. As the orderly disappeared down the wide staircase with her suitcase, she went to the railing. Bright light flooded through the windows, illuminating the large foyer that served as the hospital's lobby. She looked down, smiling when she saw Gregory nod to the orderly and gesture to the door.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Richards."
She glanced over her shoulder as the doctor appeared next to her. "Hello, Dr. Galen."
"I see you are ready to leave our establishment." Dr. Lecter's eyes moved over his patient and he noticed fullness in her face that wasn't there before. With a half-smile, he watched her nod and glance down to the first floor for a brief moment. "Your husband has been quite anxious to take you home."
Her eyes softened and she tilted her head. "Yes," she whispered, clasping her hands.
"But, you knew that, didn't you?" He waited as she nodded and a slight blush colored her cheeks when he continued, "Just as you surely know he's still…enraptured by you." She looked down, a tiny smile on her lips. "And, you know what you need to tell him?"
Her head came up slowly and she nodded. "Yes," she admitted.
Gently, Dr. Lecter leaned in close, his lips dangerously close to her ear. He inhaled, taking in a lingering wisp of her perfume, and sealed it in the Memory Palace before he closed the door on Olivia's wing. "You'll be fine, Mrs. Richards," he said softly, his nuanced voice clicking in the hush of silence. "Do let me know how you're getting on in a year or so."
"I will," she promised, barely flinching as his hand grazed hers with a feather touch. Their eyes met for a long moment, his maroon irises swirling. "Thank you, Doctor."
Slowly, he stepped away from her, gesturing to the stairs. "Goodbye, Mrs. Richards." She passed him with a smile, her head held high as she continued to the steps. He moved forward, looking over the railing as she descended the staircase. She reached out, taking her husband's hand as she stepped onto the first floor. He watched them cross the foyer, his patient content in her husband's embrace. They were nearly at the door when she stopped abruptly and turned.
Olivia felt the doctor's eyes on her and she inhaled, turning around. She heard Gregory, who suddenly sounded far away, asking if she was alright. She looked up to the second floor landing, the doctor standing motionless in the center. Slowly, she held up her hand, her wrist rotating as she gently waved goodbye.
Dr. Lecter nodded slightly and exhaled when she turned away. She and her husband went through the door, disappearing into the glare of the South American sunshine. When the door banged shut behind them, he turned away, the dying strain of a hum on his lips.
Gregory sat quietly in the leather armchair, content to embrace the shadows of the hotel suite's bedroom. A soft light bathed the space, allowing him to follow his wife with his eyes as she moved from the bed to the bathroom. They were spending one final night in Buenos Aires before they left for home in the morning.
His hand covered his mouth, covering the smirk he wore as he watched Olivia ready for bed. She had forgone her own nightgown and instead slipped into his pajama top. The dark red silk swallowed her thin frame, barely making it to mid-thigh. Quietly, she leaned against the doorjamb, running a brush through her hair. He sat up, clearing his throat as he tore his eyes away from the counterpoint of the silk and the creamy flesh of her thigh. "Thank you for leaving me something to sleep in," he said.
She glanced over, lowering the paddle brush from her dark hair. He gestured to the matching bottoms, discarded at the foot of the bed and she smiled. "Well, I did think about taking them and leaving you the shirt, but they were too big to stay on."
He nodded, gripping the leather arms of the chair as she traversed the space between them. "And, we couldn't have you sleeping in nothing, could we?" he asked, their gazes locked together as she lowered herself to his lap. She shook her head, curling against him as he wrapped his arms around her. Her arms rested on his chest, her long hair spilling around them. Gently, he reached up and rubbed a lock of hair between his fingers. "I like your hair like this."
She let herself smile, feeling his hand snake around to cup her rear. "Really?" she whispered. "I thought it was too long." His mouth set as he shook his head, feeling her fingers toying with the buttons on his shirt. One at a time, they popped out and she pushed the shirt apart. "So, I shouldn't cut it?"
Her fingertips brushed his chest, her touch electric. He drew her closer as she splayed her palm on his bare chest, covering his heart. "It's just hair," he pointed out. "It'll grow back."
With a chuckle beneath her breath, she leaned up and cupped his chin. "That sounded like a reluctant ambivalence to me."
He shrugged, drawing the silence around them. "You had long hair like this when I met you. It's a nice memory."
She sighed as she stretched against him, resting her head on her hand as her elbow pressed into him. "All those years ago…"
Gregory watched as she sat up, brushing her hair over one shoulder. "What's wrong?" As she moved to turn away, he reached out and locked his arms around her waist. She stiffened as he rested his chin on her shoulder, his lips next to her ear as he whispered, "Tell me." He watched her lower her head as she exhaled deeply.
"I…" She looked up, meeting his concerned eyes for a long moment before she rested her hand over his. "I don't know how."
He nodded, his arms snug around her as she leaned into him. "Start at the beginning?" he suggested quietly.
"This," she finally began, "isn't a happy story…and it involves Del." She heard him inhale sharply and she looked up in time to see the pain flash in his eyes. With a frown, her hand dropped to his knee and she squeezed it gently. "Dr. Galen said I needed to tell you this, that you needed to know everything about me."
"I thought I already did."
Reluctantly, she shook her head. "There's one thing," she murmured, fixated as his fingers threaded through hers. "I did something, something incredibly stupid, and…" He waited patiently, letting her gather the strength to utter, "I'm afraid of what you will say when I tell you."
"Liv," he said quietly, squeezing their entwined hands, "I love you. I- I didn't tell you that enough over the years, but I do. More than life." She looked up, anxiety wrinkling her face and dulling her blue eyes. "This last month has made me realize that nothing is more important than you and our children. Nothing will change that."
Olivia frowned, wanting nothing more than to throw her arms around him and confess the whole ugly secret. The doctor's metallic voice echoed in the silence and she shivered, remembering his words. Above all, Mrs. Richards, I believe in honesty. As cold and painful as it can be. She shivered and after swallowing hard, she said, "It's about Del, a child and how you and I met."
It was his turn to frown as he looked up at her. "How we met? We met at Bette's. She just divorced What's-His-Name, the doctor, and she threw a party to celebrate." She nodded glumly and something in him froze when he felt her tremble. "Go on," he said, resting his free hand on her thigh as she squeezed his other one.
"Del introduced us," she whispered, keeping him at the periphery of her vision. It was easier not looking directly at him. She feared losing her nerve, only there was no way to go back. Not now. "He only agreed to introduce us after I helped- after I did something for him."
Gregory listened numbly as she explained about her part in the kidnapping, the money and Del's introduction. Her voice was quiet, but steady as she recited the awful tale. The color came back to her face, blood flushing in her throat and cheeks as she turned to him. Waiting, hope dancing in her eyes. He cleared his throat, his palm burning into the flesh of her thigh as he said, "Sweetheart, I knew you were poor. That didn't matter to me."
She shook her head sadly. "It didn't matter then. When you find out, we were in love," she whispered as he reached up and cupped her face. "But, if you knew the truth at the beginning-"
"I wanted you from the first moment I saw you," he interrupted, his thumb brushing over her cheekbone. She scoffed and her eyes narrowed disbelievingly as he continued, "You were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and you wouldn't give me the time of day. You avoided me for months. When I saw you in Bette's bedroom the night Del introduced us, I couldn't believe you said more than two words to me."
A sad smile graced her lips and she turned into his hand, nuzzling his palm. "It had to be that way until I could be the type of woman you needed to marry."
He sighed and tilted her face up, looking deep into her eyes. "I would've chosen you, no matter what." Her face crumbled and he hugged her close, letting her curl back against him. "Do you hate me for what I did?" he heard her ask and he frowned, kissing the top of her head. "No," he whispered into her hair.
She looked up, tears shining in her eyes. "Really?" He nodded and she sobbed, relief flooding through her. She let him draw her back in, his hand rubbing a soothing circle on her back. Her tense muscles released and she slumped against him, spent. He shifted forward and wrapped his arm beneath her legs as he stood. Three steps later and he was lowering her to the bed, laying her on the cool sheets. She watched as he pulled the covers over her and began to strip off his own clothes.
A moment later, wearing the matching pajama bottoms, he crawled in next to her. He turned off the lamp, golden light from the bulb replaced by silver light from the moon. She curled into his side, her arm flung over his chest. "Will you help Elaine?" he heard her murmur. "You know she was justified in killing Del."
"Liv, I just got you back. A case like that will demand all my time and-"
She leaned up, watching him with wide eyes. "Please, Darling…for me? This is the only way I can help her."
After a long moment, he sighed and nodded. "Alright. When we get home, I'll offer to represent Elaine…for you."
She nodded and pressed herself into his side. "Thank you, Darling." She closed her heavy eyes, letting her husband's breathing lull her to sleep for the first time in a month. And, for the first time in nearly twenty-five years, she went to sleep with a clear conscience.
The Next Night
Gregory wrapped his arm around Olivia as they walked up the driveway, leaving Tim to deal with their luggage. The lights of One Ocean Avenue shone brilliantly and Olivia inhaled deeply, taking in the salty air. A cool breeze danced around them, bringing the sound of the surf to her ears. "I'm sure they're awake," Gregory said and she nodded, glancing over with a tired smile. A day of traveling had drained them and he rubbed her arm before he reached for the front door. "Caitlin was insistent."
She stepped inside, momentarily dizzy as an overwhelming sense of familiarity washed over her. It was her living room, exactly as she remembered it. He held her arm, steadying her as she faltered. "You alright?" he asked, worried as she leaned against him.
She nodded weakly, reaching up to squeeze his hand. "Yes. Extremely tired, but happy to be home."
His smile was tinged with concern as he kissed the side of her head before he moved to the base of the stairs. "Caitlin? Sean? We're home!" He held out his hand to his wife as Tim staggered in with the luggage, depositing it all neatly by the door. She leaned against him, still nauseous as they heard the sound of feet thundering down the stairs. "I told you they missed you," he whispered in her ear as Caitlin turned the corner.
"Mom!" Caitlin exclaimed, rushing over and throwing her arms around her. Sean followed close behind and ducked between them, wrapping his arms around them both. Laughing through the tears, Olivia hugged her children close, breathing in the scent of them. She kissed their heads, remembering when they were two blonde babies instead of two blonde adults. "We missed you!" her daughter exclaimed.
"I missed you too," she sighed, cupping their faces and looking at each of them for a long moment, reacquainting herself. "So very much." She turned to her son, who simply grinned and hugged her tight. "But, I'm home now and…I'm better."
"Really?" Caitlin asked, though she turned to her father and reached for his hand. He nodded, squeezing her hand in reply. "Daddy said your doctor was practically holding you hostage!"
She glanced at Gregory and shook her head. "No, no…Dr. Galen helped me." For the children's benefit, she smiled and explained, "It was tough treatment, but it was for the best."
"Your mother's home," he said, placing his hands on Olivia's shoulders, his chest against her back, "and everything's going to be fine." She leaned against him tiredly and he repeated softly, "Just fine."
One Year Later
The uniformed maid stepped onto the balcony, holding a silver tray. A flowering jacaranda tree stood tall, filtering the morning sunshine through its branches and scattering it on the stone. Her employer looked over, his dark eyes fixed on her as she neared the table. "Senor," she said softly, holding the tray down to him so he could take the stack of mail. "El correo."
"Gracias," Dr. Lecter murmured, sorting through the pile.
Clarice glanced up from the morning edition of the International Herald Tribune, her blonde hair piled high on her head. "Our tickets for Salome should be in there," she said softly, aimlessly turning the page.
He nodded, passing her the thick envelope from the opera company. "Ninety minutes of debauchery and eroticism," he murmured, turning back to the mail.
She smirked, using her knife to open the envelope. "Don't forget the severed head of John the Baptist, Darling."
"Ah, slaughtered Christians. How entertaining." A gust of wind rustled through the trees, the purple flowers floating on the air around them. The doctor reached the envelope at the bottom, his finger touching the international postage. His eyes were drawn to the return address, written in neat penmanship. He reached for the knife and sliced through the envelope as he sat back.
It was a thin envelope and he reached inside, removing the lone item. He looked down at the glossy 5x7, holding it delicately at the corners. Olivia smiled up at the camera, her husband's arm around her as he sat next to her. Her two grown children sat on either side of them, wearing grins as wide as their parents. But, it was the bundle in Olivia's arms that held his attention. An infant, with hair as dark as her mother's, was swaddled in a pale pink and white striped blanket.
Clarice watched him, her eyebrow arched as he sat riveted to the photo. "What is that?"
"A photo," he said simply, turning his gaze back to his former patient. The combination of her glowing complexion and the new baby in her arms told him all he needed to know about how Olivia was getting on. Still, he turned over the photo, not surprised to see the handwritten message on the back.
Dr. Lecter looked up and passed her the photo. "From a patient."
"The woman from last year," she murmured before she returned the photo to him. "Why did she send it?"
He reached for his coffee, inhaling it for a moment before he took a deep sip. "She was kind enough to let me know the result of my experiment."
"Oh? Did she realize she was the subject?"
He looked back at Olivia's message of thanks. "Possibly. But, ultimately she benefited from it."
She sat back, drawing the lapels of her silk robe together. "Well, she certainly looks happy. Congratulations on the success." He shrugged dismissively, seemingly uninterested. She smirked, knowing that sheer boredom drove him back to practicing. He thrived on the thrill of games and what was more of a game than psychiatry? It didn't surprise her that he retired shortly after this woman left the hospital. "What was your experiment about?"
"Therapy," he replied. "It does not cure everything."
"Rather puts your profession out then."
He looks back at the photo once more before he tucks it back into the envelope. "Only for this one patient."
She looks at him carefully for a long moment, tucking a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. "So, what did she need?"
Reaching out, he tapped the photo with his finger. "To need and be needed in equal measure," he said softly.
"Clarity?" she suggested quietly.
"Precisely," he said, picking up the photo. His eyes moved over the rise of Olivia's cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes, the way she leaned into her husband. "Vide cor meum," Dr. Lecter murmured, content with the knowledge that his patient's heart was safe in the embrace of her husband and children.