It was Christmas Eve and Clarice was curled up on the couch with a glass of eggnog and rum. A fleece blanket was spread over her lap and a paperback was propped against her knees. Her hair had been tied up in a messy bun, several strands falling out of the quickly tied elastic. A few candles had been lit, giving the room a soft glow. She liked reading by candle light better than electric lights because of the softer illumination. It appealed to her underdeveloped romantic nature.
The front door of the apartment clicked open. Clarice barely glanced up. "Hey," she called, absent minded, flipping a page of her book.
"Hey," Hannibal echoed. She glanced up from her book, frowning.
"You okay?" She asked, "Usually you make fun of me for saying 'hey'. 'Hey is for horses, not humans.'"
Hannibal dropped a brown paper bag on the counter which separated the small kitchen from the living room. Chinese characters tracked ant-like down the bag parallel from the crease in the side. Clarice straightened up, craning her neck for a better look. "You picked up Chinese food?"
He gave an affirmative grunt, easing onto the couch beside her. Clarice put her book face down, shifting the fleece blanket to cover his legs as well. She laid her cheek against his. "What's wrong?"
"I went to pick up your Christmas gift, and it had been accidentally broken by one of the clerks. It will be a little late. I'm quite disappointed." Then he reached across and snapped her book shut. He hated it when she left them face down, it wrecked the spins.
She ran her fingers through his closely cropped hair. "That's fine," she smiled wryly, "Will you tell me what it is early?"
A thin smile curved his lips. "Perhaps," he touched her neck tenderly.
"While you debate that, Doctor, I'm gonna dish up for supper," she slipped out from underneath the warm blanket and padded to the kitchen in moccasins. Hannibal got up to follow her. In the kitchen, he poured himself a glass of red wine before serving himself a plate of chow mein, deep fried rice and ginger beef. Normally he refused to eat takeout, he despised it, but he was far too tired to cook anything. Then he thought how classy he was, having wine with Chinese takeout. Clarice teased him affectionately, telling him to eat his vegetables.
"Those aren't vegetables," Hannibal growled in an affronted tone, motioning loosely at the container which was filled with soggy greens swimming in a sauce he couldn't name. She chuckled a low laugh, scooping some of them onto her plate. Over all, Hannibal didn't eat a whole lot, but Clarice chowed down. She had forgotten to eat all day, being wrapped up in her book. They sat at the small kitchen counter, which Hannibal detested as much as he detested takeout. Their apartment wasn't nearly as grand as he would like, but at the moment it was all they could afford.
Clarice had quit the FBI before they moved away and was looking for a job. She wasn't sure what she could apply for. Of course, having the FBI on your resume was quite impressive, but she didn't have much else job experience. Clarice was mulling over the idea of teaching a criminal psychology class. She did have the perfect example after all. As for Hannibal finding employment, he was reluctant to put himself out into the public eye too much, after the last skirmish at the Chesapeake cabin. Having a prosthetic hand didn't help, it stuck in people's memories. He tried to wear gloves as often as possible. Fortunately they both had saved up quite an impressive nest egg, which they dipped into to cover the necessities.
They had moved far away, to Canada, to escape suspicion. Canada didn't seem nearly as concerned with the escaped Hannibal Lecter. Despite that, Clarice tried to stay on top of the effort being put into finding him by the American government. Over the past year it seemed to have dwindled to almost nothing. He had dropped from the FBI's radar. No murders or disappearances that matched his style had been reported; Clarice had tried to discourage him. She loved him deeply and was trying to accept his lifestyle, however she still felt appalled by his potential for violence.
Lying in their bed in the early morning hours with the fingers of his remaining hand curled around her own, his chest rising and falling in easy sleep, it was hard to imagine him killing anyone or eating them. Nestled against his warm form, arms entwined around each other, she often wondered late into the night over their strange relationship. How had she fallen for him? It was statistically impossible. Although she supposed that they had learned each other more intimately than any dating couple while chasing after him over the years.
Yes, he had lured her into a dangerous courtship with his charisma, sophisticated voice and intense eyes. It was his eyes that had arrested her in their first meeting. A blue she felt she would drown in.
Suddenly reaching out, she took Hannibal's hand. He raised his eyebrows. "Yes?"
"I love you," she said simply.
"I love you too," he replied, smiling. It was a very private smile, the one he only allowed her to see. It was an unguarded smile with no manipulative intentions behind it. His eyes, usually burning with a driven fire looked happy, the simple happiness that being with your favourite person created.
After doing the dishes (he washed, occasionally flicking soap suds at her while she dried) they sat on the couch together. Clarice was wrapped in his arms. Her fingers played along his prosthetic hand. He kissed the top of her head. "Aren't you going to pester me into finding out what your Christmas gift is?"
"No, I think I'll wait. It'll be a surprise."
They stayed up for a while longer talking about inconsequential things then turned in to bed around eleven o'clock. In their small bedroom as Clarice undressed for bed, Hannibal was removing his prosthetic. It was possible to sleep in, but he claimed it uncomfortable. It still gave her shivers looking at the stump, remembering the night he had cut it off. He caught her eyeing it. "Still worrying over that?" he asked.
"Yes... I'm so sorry that I forced you to that."
He pulled her into a strong hug, his remaining hand stroking her hair. "Don't think about it Clarice. What's done is done, I felt it necessary."
"Still, H. I feel terrible about it."
He kissed her tenderly. It was the only time he ever became speechless, when they discussed his hand. There never seemed to be anything he could say to comfort her, even though in his mind the removal of his limb was completely justified. Clarice once mentioned she wished she had given him the key. Hannibal's face had hardened, ice glazed his eyes. He then told her that giving him the key would have compromised her beliefs and he would have been forced to slaughter her. It was difficult for Clarice to come to terms with his confession although she understood his reasoning once it was explained to her.
They went to bed and both slept. Clarice dreamt of lambs and moths dancing in contrast with a purple sky. There was no screaming. The lambs were happy.
The next morning Clarice awoke late, around twelve. Hannibal was absent from bed, his prosthetic gone from the bedside table. The delicious scent of bacon and brewing coffee was coiling through the air. Clarice reached for her moccasins and walked to the kitchen.
Hannibal had fried up a plate of breakfast sausage and was in the middle of cooking bacon and eggs on different pans. Clarice could see the toast had been put down. "Can I help?" she asked.
"No," was his reply, "Coffee is fresh, however."
Clarice poured herself a cup of black coffee. It smelled quite enticing. It was a good blend. Hannibal must have stopped at the market to buy fair trade. She laughed out loud.
"What are you laughing about?" he asked curiously.
She sipped her coffee. It was definitely a fair trade blend. "I was just thinking of you buying fair trade coffee. Doesn't it seem funny that a mass-murdering criminal hiding out in Canada is buying fair trade?"
"Doesn't it seem funny," he countered amiably, "that an ex-FBI agent is living with said mass-murdering criminal in Canada and drinking his fair trade coffee?" He put a steaming plate of eggs, sausage and bacon in front of her. "Wait thirty seconds and you can have toast too," he added.
"Why thank you. Merry Christmas, by the way."
"Merry Christmas, you."
Hannibal set two pieces of toast on her plate and a bottle of ketchup (which he insisted on calling 'catsup') in front of her. He always teased her about using ketchup, saying it was so low class of her. Regardless of his good-natured jabs, she continued to eat her breakfasts with ketchup.
Hannibal sat across from her. "Shall I go get my present from your little hidey-hole or would you prefer to get it yourself and pretend you can hide things from me?" He winked.
"I'll get it and pretend I'm cleverer than you are," Clarice muttered. She came back moments later with a small black box with turquoise stitching, a jaunty green bow stuck by adhesive on top. He smiled sardonically at the modest attempt at wrapping. Clarice shrugged. She didn't have the patience for such frivolities. He popped the top off.
"Oh," he breathed, "Clarice. Thank you." He got up and kissed her, crushing her close to his body.
In the box sat a pair of cufflinks. They were rectangular D-shape cufflinks with two black vertical lines placed in a rhodium plated etched setting. Hannibal had been contemplating them for some time, wanting to purchase but afraid to on their budget. Clarice immediately went out and bought them with her personal spending money.
Hannibal reached into his pocket and pulling out a folded piece of paper. He handed it to her. "This is what you were supposed to receive today, if it weren't for the damned idiot who snapped the chain at the store."
It was a printed picture of a beautiful silver necklace with a fine chain. The pendant was shaped as three twisted silver loops, two small and the third a bit larger and in the middle. A single red gem was set into the large loop. The gem itself was very small but drew the eye in a striking focal point.
"Hannibal," she gasped, "it's magnificent. Oh my God."
"I'm glad you like it."
She hugged him tightly. "My God, this must have cost a fortune."
"It's impolite to discuss the price of a gift," he murmured, smiling against her neck.
"When will it be fixed?" Clarice asked, sitting by her forgotten breakfast.
"It should be done in a few days. I'll stop by on Tuesday to check. Would you like to accompany me?"
Clarice nodded furiously. "Yes, I can't wait to see it in person."
"I'm delighted you like it so much. Now eat your breakfast. I know very well that you only ate Chinese food yesterday. That will not be tolerated today."