Clarice was not a woman of clichés. She had lived through to many hard won anecdotes of her own to rely on other people's hallmark phrasing, but the truth was at her voice her blood still froze. It didn't matter how many times a gun had been pointed in her direction, cocked and loaded, didn't matter how many of her superiors she had matched wits with, with him she was reduced to a second-hand pair of shoes.
He laughed, the cadence of his voice rustling together like a cuff of distressed lace. "Cat got your tongue?" he asked, not entirely pleasantly.
"Where are you Doctor?" She felt the deepening of her voice into "professional" mode more than heard it. The rumble in her chest was a familiar one.
"Bravado is almost as tacky as those second hand shoes, Clarice, I would say you'd do better without it." As always he sounded utterly at ease unconcerned.
"It is my duty as an FBI agent to insure the safety of the people, surely you can't expect anything else of me." Confidence surged in her chest. "I do own a mirror, after all."
"Clever, clever," he tsked.
She was a fool to believe that he would allow her the barrier of professionalism; he never had before. "What are you calling for, Doctor?" Clarice wasn't sure how she would get a trace on the line, she didn't have the equipment and Leo, her longtime boyfriend and last tie to the FBI was in the room sleeping.
He went on ingoring her interruption. "Clever," he repeated. "though inexcusable for you to lie to me. Do you think I wouldn't be aware Clarice that you quit the FBI? Or rather that they quit you? I can understand why, failing to capture me when I so easily put myself in your hands was an amazing display of ineptitude. Don't worry my little Starling; I know the truth. I know all the while you went looking to rescue me it was you who wanted to be rescued, and that was why you couldn't capture me because -- "
Clarice hung up the phone. The moment after she did it she wasn't sure to be proud of herself, or terrified. She was provoking a monster, and she was prodding a cobra in a snake charmer's basket, not captured, but sedentary. She waited by the phone for a couple of seconds, expecting it to ring, ready to pick it up, maybe even apologize, just do some kind of damage control.
She scrolled through the caller ID, but was unsurprised to find his number listed as private. Half ready to head back into Leo's warm, albeit slightly lackluster embrace when the phone rang again, she started.
Clarice scrambled to it. "Hello?" she asked frantically.
A soft chuckle was her only reply.
"Lecter?" Clarice was getting frantic.
"So you're getting married," he drawled, sounding almost conversational. Almost.
Clarice couldn't suppress the shiver in her stomach. "Yes, Doctor Lecter, I'm engaged."
There was a brief pause where neither of them breathed, and then, finally he said, "I think not."
Clarice forced herself to give an imitation of his soft, slightly derisive chuckle, but it came out wrong, like a pancake burnt, yet gooey on the inside. "I am living in the continental United States watched by an intensive surveillance team. You can't touch us."
He clicked his tongue, reprimanding. "Clarice, Clarice, Clarice. When has that ever stopped me? Before you were an agent and I found you. Do you really think that the FBI cares so much for an expatriot, especially one who was never favored to begin with?"
"You said you would never call on me," Clarice blurted out.
He sounded almost apologetic. "Oh, of course I won't call on you. I hardly have any burning desire to eat you, well," she could practically hear his cat with the cream grin, "at least not on a plate.
Clarice almost moved to hang up the phone. She had enough, she had a life now, a fiancé, maybe even kids though God only knew what kind of mother she would be.
"No," his measured storyteller's metallic cadence clanged out through the static of the phone receiver, it was the same voice he had used in the dungeon. "Clarice, don't hang up the phone."
He reconsidered it for a moment. "That is unless you harbor a secret desire for the death of your fiancé, which I admit, wouldn't surprise me, he is an unspeakably dull fellow. In fact, Clarice, why don't you hang up? Leo would look so much more interesting dead than alive. Maybe I won't even eat him, maybe I'll put his head in a jar and you can try and find him. That could be fuuun."
Clarice was a dictionary with all the pages ripped out, wordless, although her throat made tiny grasping sounds, fibrallations. "What do you want, Doctor?"
"First of all, I would like you to stay on the line please; can you do that for me, Clarice?"
She nodded like a child, before realizing that he couldn't see her over the phone. Realizing dimly that she was regressing under his high-powered acumen, she swallowed and began again. "Yes, Lecter" he voice stayed surprisingly even, although it was taught.
"Claaarriiice," he prodded. "Yes, what?"
"Yes, Doctor Lecter," she said.
"Good girl," he hissed, "though you could always call me Hannibal."
"No thanks," she uttered dimly. "Now tell me, Doctor, what can I do for you?" Besides somehow figure out a way to put a tap on this phone, she thought viciously.
"Oh, there really isn't anything in particular, I just thought I'd warn you."
"About what?" she asked, confused. There was a suspiciously long silence, and she remembered.
"Lecter," she added through gritted teeth.
Still no reply. "Doctor."
On the other line he hummed noncommittally.
"Hannibal," she finally spit out. Saying his name felt like a swear word, something dirty and delicious at the same time.
"Better. As for what I want I just thought to call you and inform you that you have two weeks to break off the engagement."
"Doctor Lecter, I don't know what you're insinuating, but I'm not going to let you rule my personal life."
Over the line she heard him suck in air through his teeth. "But you want to be ruled by me little Starling, don't you? I felt your lips on mine; I felt how you squirmed against me. I smelled your arousal at the handcuffs, my dear. Don't lie or I'll know, and I know, Clarice."
Her composure cracked, not broken completely, but there were little spider threads riddled over it that revealed that he was getting to her. "You are one sick mother fucker whom I would like absolutely nothing to do with." It took a great amount of effort not to go southern on his ass, and Clarice settled for peppering her formality with obscenity.
He chuckled. "Not in a thousand years, hmm, the paragon of incorruptibility. And yet you've allowed yourself to be corrupted haven't you?"
She didn't answer, bewildered by the shifts in his mood. A man of whimsy, a plastic bag on an electric wind.
"Didn't you?" A bolt of lightning bottled in his words.
"I'd have thought that you'd be pleased that I quit the Eff, Bee, Eye," she mocked his accent with almost as much accuracy as he had mocked hers.
He didn't laugh again, somehow she had darkened his mood beyond repair but, she could hear his smile. "Why Clarice, are you playing with me?"
Her mocking suddenly seemed trite, like a child showing a parent a half-formed cartwheel. Starling scowled. "No, that's your job."
"Touche. The point is, Clarice, you are settling. Taking a job that does not thrill you, bedding a man that does not please you. Did you wonder perhaps why I did not ask you if the lambs are screaming? It is because I know they are."
"You're wrong," Clarice said, and her voice didn't betray the lie. She had him.
This time it was she grinning. Now would be the perfect time to hang up when she had told him she could move on –
"You might not be able to hear them, due to your use medications, but I assure you they are screaming, you can hear them on the edge of your consciousness can't you. Biding their time waiting for you to forget. And you know they're screaming, it's on the edge of your vision, building up in your arteries like plaque from your endless whirligig of fast food and bad scotch."
"You're right, Doctor, my life may be a fucking bottomless abyss of normality now, I may not be happy. Hell who says I'm even content. But it's my choice. I've spent all these years digging my own grave at least give me the courtesy of lying in it." She tried to appeal to his sense of dignity, but the attempt had sounded hollow even in her own ears. He wasn't just winning; she was letting him.
"No." Absolute, utterly final.
"Fuck you." She moved away, holding the phone in one hand. In the other room Leo stirred. Clarice knew she should have called the police with the second call so they could have gotten a trace on the line, but somehow she felt that Hannibal wouldn't stick around the moment she called the police. It was quite clear; also that he wasn't done with her either.
"How kind of you to offer, Clarice, but I don't think your quite ready yet."
"You know what I don't get you, Doctor. You say you prize freedom and courtesy above else. I haven't tried to hunt you down, I've distanced myself from you, and yet NOW, now when I'm finally starting to move the fuck forward with my life you decide to interfere. Why break your rules?"
"The world may be a cesspool of illiteracy, rudeness, and ugliness, but you, my dear were a star, a diamond in the sky, untarnishable and full of purpose. I do not like to see the few good things in the world fall."
"You're being vague, Doctor."
"I was giving you a hint, Clarice. But I shall be more direct if you wish; in fact I shall be incredibly frank. I love you. The things I loved have been destroyed many times before, I will not let it happen again."
She had no words, and he had spent his.
So she just leaned against the wall with faded wallpaper, listening to the sound of his breathing, the same way he listened to hers.
Outside all of their stars were the same.