Clarice Starling was tired. Tired seemed to be an understatement. She was dead tired. Her body ached, her eyes felt heavy. She could barely drive. Luckily it was late at night, and there weren't many people on the roads. Gravel crunched under her tires as she pulled into the drive way. Dim street lamps illuminated the street. Exhausted shivers commandeered her body. Shuffling towards the front door, Clarice fumbled for her house keys. Out of habit, she reached out and tested the door knob. It was a stupid habit, she always told herself, bred from childhood, checking to see if Dad was home. The door swung open. Clarice froze, exhaustion vanishing. She reached carefully for her handgun, stowed safely in its holster. She flicked the safety off and advanced quietly.
Once inside, Clarice eased her jacket to the floor. She swept her eyes around the hall way entrance. There was no sign of forced entry. Had she forgotten to lock the door? Impossible. Not with her occupation, one doesn't forget things like that. Lights were on in the dining room. Stepping lightly, she crossed the floor, avoiding squeaky spots. Back pressed against a wall, she peered cautiously into the dining room.
Candles were lit. The expensive table cloth she had inherited from her grandmother was spread out. The table was set, wine poured. Something delicious steamed in a casserole dish. A beautiful bouquet of flowers was arranged in a vase. A voice was humming a soft melody. Clarice shot her gaze to the oven. Eyes wide, cold fear dropped into her stomach. She recognized the set of those shoulders. The relaxed stance. The figure began to turn.
"Ah, Clarice," Hannibal murmured, a small paring knife in hand. "So glad you're home. Care for a glass of wine?"
Clarice stepped from behind the wall, gun trained directly at Lecter. "Doctor Lecter, I must request that you leave my house immediately."
The doctor smiled sardonically. "Really, Clarice. Are we going to play this game again?"
She motioned with the gun. "Out. Or I'll call the police, and I know you wouldn't like that."
He put the paring knife down on the counter behind him. Still smiling with slitted eyes, he took a step forward, matching her confident posture. "I just wanted to chat."
Clarice stepped forward once again, aggressively. Her grip tightened on the gun. "Please, Doctor. I'm asking you to leave. I just pieced my life back together."
Lecter paused. "Been having some troubled lately, Clarice? Bad dreams maybe?" He studied her stony expression. "Have the lambs begun to scream again?"
"They never stopped," she replied dully, willing any emotion to drain from her eyes. Clarice didn't want him to see weakness. She knew too well how Hannibal Lecter could exploit weakness.
"Why don't we sit down to talk," Lecter suggested, motioning at the table, "You can keep your gun out, if it makes you feel… safer."
Clarice caught the mocking note in his voice. Never once had she actually shot him. It occurred to her that maybe he thought she didn't have the guts to shot him. Her finger grazed the trigger. Abruptly, she switched the safety and holstered the weapon. "I will sit, Doctor. Please join me."
Swiftly, he crossed behind her and pulled the chair back. Smoothing her dress pants, Clarice thanked him quietly and sat. He took the seat across from her. A smile was still playing at his lips. His eyes were ablaze with an emotion she couldn't name.
"What is it you want?" Clarice asked.
"Just to talk," he answered in the same casual tone he always took, "I've missed our games, Clarice."
"Doctor Lecter, we've played enough," she couldn't help spitting the words contemptuously; "You've put me through so much. I am trying to live in semblance of normalcy."
He leaned forward, elbows bent and fingers in a steeple. She noted the prosthetic hand he was wearing. It was a sophisticated make. He wore it with a clumsiness that indicated it was probably new.
"Yes… I find that normalcy is overrated. It dulls the wits. I prefer some excitement in my life."
Clarice narrowed her eyes. She didn't trust the small talk. There was something bigger dwelling on his mind. It hung in the air. She could read it in his eyes. "I like normalcy. It's comfortable. But cut the bullshit, Doctor. Why are you here?"
Cocking his head to the side, he lowered his hands, hiding the prosthetic from view. "Remember what I told you in Chesapeake?" he asked, words hissing from between his teeth.
"Yes." She remembered. The scene was still crisp in her memory, like it had happened that very morning. She also remembered the hesitant kiss he had laid on her lips, the kiss she had declined to return. Looking at him, she imagined the scene replaying in his head as well.
Lecter took a sip of wine. "I just wanted you to know, if you hadn't replied like you did, I would have killed you."
Heavy silence fell in the room. Clarice gaped at him. It was unsophisticated and probably rubbed his fine sense of manners the wrong way, but she couldn't help it. "What?" She mouthed, too astounded for breath.
"Don't you see?" he asked, sounding a bit disappointed. "If you had asked me to stop, you would have given up on your morals. What you believed in."
"That mattered to you?" Clarice demanded, finding her voice at last.
The doctor frowned. "Of course, especially at that crucial moment," he gazed fixedly at her. "That was one of the things that attracted me to you. Your discipline."
"Lot of good that did me," she snapped. "I had to go through months of therapy because of you."
He fiddled absently with a spoon. A distant look rolled across his features like a light fog across a horizon. "That's over now, irrelevant. I want to make you an offer."
"And what offer would that be, Doctor?"
Lecter stood up. He held out his hand, the prosthetic one. An invitation. "Walk with me."
She laid her hand on the prosthetic. It felt foreign to her, strange. It didn't suit him. 'That was my fault,' she thought. 'He did that instead of to me…'
Catching her discomfort, Hannibal released her hand. "Yes, it's strange, isn't it?" He mused, echoing her thoughts as he strode towards the front door, which still hung open from Clarice's stealth entry. Following apprehensively, Clarice traipsed after him into the night. She stopped once to lock the door.
No exchanges passed between them until they reached a park. Stars glimmered down at the odd pair. The moon cast a shy light over them. Clarice watched Lecter's movements, professional suspicion clouding her thoughts.
Cresting a small hill, Lecter glanced over his shoulder. "Clarice, will you listen to my offer?"
"I'm all ears, Doctor," Sarcasm laced her reply.
He took her arm with his remaining hand and drew her closer. Clarice yelped in surprise, tugging her arm away. His hold was stronger than her pull. The doctor's lips crushed against hers. The kiss was rougher than the tentative one at Chesapeake. More demanding, less controlled. Clarice pushed him away furiously.
"What kind of offer was that?" She cried, backpedalling away from him.
"A one of a kind offer."
Muted in bewilderment, Clarice waited for explanation.
The doctor spread his hands out in an exasperated motion. "I have waited years, Clarice. I've yearned for you everyday. I'm asking you to accept me for who I am."
"Sure," she snorted. "I'm not falling for any of that, Doctor Lecter. If you were trying to appeal to my feminine side, you're out of luck. We're through here."
Each heartbeat pounded loudly in her ears. Fury boiled inside her mind, mixing tumultuously with fear and confusion. Clarice picked up her pace, thinking he might try to stop her.
"I love you."
Three words halted her hasty escape. Those three words were stronger than any physical restraint he could have employed to bring an end to her leaving. Clarice closed her eyes. Those three words had just sent her carefully reconstructed life into ruins. She heard the sincerity in his confession.
What Clarice feared more than another trip into the darkness of her own mind was what she was feeling. She knew that deep within her heart, she loved him too. She also knew that Doctor Hannibal Lecter could either save her or destroy her completely.
She took a breath, turned and returned to Lecter's side. She reached to touch his cheek. He started slightly at her touch. "Doctor, if I'm going to accept your offer, I'm going to need some time alone," she said softly. "Can you give me that time?"
Hannibal brought her hand to his lips and kissed it softly.
"Of course, dear Clarice. I'll be waiting."