Author's Note : Finally. My thanks to Helene for looking over this for me.

Disclaimer: The characters herein are the property of Thomas Harris. They are being used without permission, for entertainment purposes, and not for the sake of profit. No copyright infringement is intended. Also, a minor apology to Ms. Fielding for taking a line that was simply too good from The Edge of Reason.

Epilogue


The evening was interesting, to say the least.

A film, she said, that reflected the result of inadequate education plaguing many public schools. A film, she said, designated to reach out to an otherwise oblivious society and point out its more obvious flaws. A film, she said, for the spirit in observing the ignorance of others in a new and instructive light.

The film: Wayne's World.

It was a gamble from the beginning. She suspected he wasn't an avid fan of the popular show, thus, theoretically, suffered no chance of being caught in her misconception. However, he was similarly cultured in a wide variety of artistic styles. He might surprise her. If he knew what he was getting himself into, he didn't deliver any signs.

Starling never knew how she got him into the theatre, never questioned her good fortune as they sat through a series of previews for films that even she would never consider on a boring weekend night. Though she was one to enjoy the distinction in a variety of comedic levels, there was a line between idiocy and slapstick. As the popular Saturday Night Live skit-turned-movie began, her eyes were centered on him, watching in unabridged delight as Dr. Lecter realized what he had been conned into. His reaction was much less subtle than her own; a controlled facial tick in the nature of annoyance as she broke out into rich albeit quite laughter. The outburst was brief, her hand moving to warmly rest over his in silent apology for her deception. Starling felt his eyes on her briefly, even as she looked ahead, unable to stop the grin from tickling her lips.

So it was that he was made to tolerate the irritating dialogue, exchanges, and catch phrases. Starling suffered no moderation in laughing heartily, pleased when she glanced in his direction to study a monotonous expression. And, however much he denied it, Dr. Lecter could not help but grin from time to time; whether at the film or her reaction she did not know or ask. Whatever it was satisfied her.

The man must have truly loved her to put up with such mindless—however amusing—nonsense.

"I believe," Dr. Lecter mused as they strolled out of the theatre, "that you have sufficiently proven that it is possible to squander six months worth of lessons in elevated compliance and protocol in a mere hour and a half."

"I hope that doesn't mean you want to start over," she replied challengingly. "For if that is so, I will tell you right now that you aren't about to get very far."

The doctor chuckled lightly, wrapping his arm around her waist, and enjoying the buoyancy in which he did so. "Hardly my intention," he replied with assurance. "I was thinking more along the lines of severe punishment. Quick and painless, on a word of good faith."

She snickered in retort. It was odd how everything had an air of such normalcy, though she refused to consider. The obvious answer had always been there; it was only natural for everything now to fall into place. Life seemed refreshed and new—it was hard to imagine her disposition of that morning, or to consider she had obtained little to no sleep in the past forty-eight hours.

Dr. Lecter sensed this considerately, and while she coiled her witty retort, he only smiled and helped her to the car.

They slept in the same bed that night, innocent but together. He was reluctant to let her get too far away. By the time she was in her nightgown, Starling was all but walking in her sleep. It only took two minutes of stillness to knock her into deep slumber. For the doctor it was not so simple. He spent a good part of the night simply looking at her beside him, occasionally unable to stop his hand from tracing the contours of her features.

It was impossible that she was here, and yet she was.

The next few days progressed with casual caution, though the atmosphere was by in large unchanged. They took long walks, shared thoughts and ideas; mentioned possible plans for the future without stirrings of trepidation. It became custom for their conversations to begin at the breakfast table and last until they retired for the night.

Listening to her talk was a pleasure he had not before wholly appreciated. Dr. Lecter did not like to think he could shortchange anyone for anything, least of all her, but their time together beyond the merit of instructor and pupil allowed him to observe and enjoy her on a variety of fascinating levels. He would not fool himself into believing he could ever fully understand her, and despite his better senses, he realized that he did not want to. The more he learned, the more he wanted to learn, the more he heard, the more he wanted to hear. A cycle that was, for once, contending and inexhaustible.

Barney was eager but correspondingly poignant in his leave. When they returned the first night from the movie, he expressed his animated sanction, boasting however humbly that he had known how it was to end from the very beginning. While it was obvious he was not altogether ready for his own departure—evidently no more prepared in the after-stages of the project than either of his colleagues had been—he moved with Dr. Lecter's help to a respectful residence in Georgetown. The distance was perfect. As much as Starling had grown to love Barney, she felt it was a consensus that she and the doctor needed their time alone.

In the same way, while Mrs. Pearce was not released of all her duties, her hours were cut back noticeably without handicapping her paycheck. It became odd for her to arrive any earlier than one in the afternoon.

A few days following their propitious meeting at the bus stop, Dr. Lecter phoned Mrs. Rosencranz to wish her a well trip back to Baltimore. When she was brought up to speed on the events that had converged in the direct afterward of the meeting in her room, she expressed her immense delight and insisted to treat everyone to lunch. She left on an especially chipper note, winking subtly to Starling before strolling away. While the doctor observed the understated exchange, he merely smiled to himself and did not inquire. Some things were best left unsaid.

Nights fell into almost immediate syncopation. He issued no inappropriate advance without her definitive consent. For the first few evenings, they merely slept in each other's arms, comforted and soothed only for the neighboring presence beside them. At times Starling would awake in a confused panic for reasons she could not explain. It worried her at first, but the nightmares eventually faded away. Regardless, she was always calmed a beat later with soothing reassurances that coaxed her back to a warm chest where she would again fall asleep.

In accordance with what felt natural, the invisible boundaries of their physical relationship were crossed in time. A smooth transition that required no forward planning, no addendum or even apprehension. The worries they might have shared were nonexistent, and never came into play.

Dr. Lecter eventually rescheduled several of his therapy sessions, and while Starling had no impending business, she connected her phone line and answering machine to a stand beside their bed in case Mapp needed to reach her for anything. However, being left alone in the manor grew very tedious very quickly, and without prompting or even mention, the doctor was persuaded to discontinue his patient meetings indefinitely after a week or so. Being restricted to an office listening to person after person enter and bitch about life was the pattern he detested. As it was, mornings were more wisely spent in Starling's arms without having to fuss with prearranged appointments or impending luncheons with people he would just as soon eat than look at.

One particularly humorous morning that did not progress beyond the bedroom until the doorbell announced Mrs. Pearce's arrival, the phone gave a shrill howl at a most inopportune time. Neither Starling nor Dr. Lecter were in a particularly convenient position, though her hand shot for the receiver out of habit. Striking quickly, he caught her by the wrist and pinned her arm to the bed.

"Leave it," he gasped, carrying on. The answering machine picked up a second later.

"Starling." Of all people. It was Crawford. His voice was high and strident, the stirrings of a panicked man at his final resort. "I can't believe I got through. Your line's been dead for a week. Where the hell are you? I got a call a week ago from Lyle Collins at John Jay. He told me you hadn't met him at the airport, hadn't heard from you, hadn't been able to reach you through your roommate. I tried calling her but she's no good. If you get this message anytime…call me. I'm going to get worried if I don't hear from you soon. Starling? You there? STARLING!"

With that, Dr. Lecter came to a sharp pause in his attentions, raising an eyebrow and reaching for the phone with deceptive calmness. "Hold on, Mr. Crawford," he murmured. "She's coming." Then he dropped the phone, aiming for a glass of water, but it instead fell to the bedside and remained unattended for the rest of the afternoon.

Jack Crawford never dialed her line again.

The following week, with Starling's growing fondness of her various Latin pet names; consisting mainly of meus amor and cara, Dr. Lecter arranged the promised trip to Italy. They planned to tour the countryside, visit both Rome and Florence, and partake in the finer European joys. She even found herself growing anxious to think of the seats he acquired for the opera, the restaurants, the places she would have avoided once upon a time ago.

Dr. Lecter was happy to take her. He knew once she went that she would never want to go back. This was good, he reflected, for he intended very much for Florence to be his final resting place. However, once his theory proved correct, he similarly made no suggestion of any imminent move. It was too soon for Starling to make such a dynamic geographical decision. She was not ready to be that far away from her friends or the places she knew. Severed completely from the life she had once led, or had strived to lead. This did not concern him. Rather, the doctor understood the day would eventually arrive, perhaps sooner than he anticipated. As much as he enjoyed trying, it was never wise to predict her mood, or what her incurred thoughts and intentions might reveal.

Her spontaneity was wonderful like that. After all, life was full of compromises.


FIN