Forgive the length, but after 144 chapters…
If you have read along, but chose not to review to this point, please consider doing so now as I would love the opportunity to thank you for your dedication to my story directly.
I have made so many long and lasting friends. Forgive this indulgence.
For those of you who know how difficult this year has been for me, thank you. There were days when I didn't know if I could face another sunrise, much less another chapter, still, my friends on this site pulled me through. With love and respect, I will forgo pen names for a moment, as I would like to speak the names in order to honor those who trusted to share their personal lives with me. You will never know what this has meant to my life. In a very real sense, it saved me.
I am so honored to count you as friends, Lora (my twin), Mel, Ronald, Steph, Taylor (my dear writing buddy), Samm, Hollie (Hell's Revenge!), Leah, Z, Amber, Heather, Boris Y and April, thanks so much! If I have left anyone out, forgive me.
To my unbelievably dedicated reviewers who stuck with the story, writing so many helpful and encouraging comments throughout the fic- know how humbled I have been, not only by your intense dedication to my story, but also, that you took the time from your busy lives not only to read, but also review. Many people have read the story. There are more than 80,000 views to date, but few take the time to share a word or two. I appreciate, not only the kind words, but also the constructive criticism. One does aim to improve.
Though we have never spoken, I would like to offer a very special thanks to Demeter1973, Kalabangsilver, and Green Jewels. Their fics inspired me to write my own, setting a standard of excellence to which I continually strive.
Major, Duffie and, of course, Bookish Gal, your talents are awe-inspiring. Would that I one day approach your skill.
Lusting4Lecter, what would I do without you, my very dear friend? Know how important you are to me.
Though the words 'thank you' cannot approach my appreciation, I offer my modest thanks to you all for joining me on this wonderful journey. It has truly been a gift.
THE JOURNEY HOME
Hannibal sat at the computer comparing various modes of transportation so he might better make the arrangements for travel.
After checking a variety of options, he decided it would be more convenient, and most importantly more secure for the family if he were to hire a private plane to fly the distance. It would not only make the trip much more comfortable, if the plane were large enough, they could accommodate their vehicles as well.
After some very quick research, he was able to locate a private charter company with a luxury outfitted Boeing 757 VIP capable of transporting the family with safety and elegance and include both the Bentley and Mustang. Not wanting to part with his car, he didn't think it fair to ask Clarice to do so either, so this seemed the most practical consideration.
Hannibal made a phone call to a concierge service to make the final arrangements. Within minutes, the pilot confirmed availability and the good doctor received an itinerary. They would be in Argentina tomorrow evening. That would give Clarice time to spend with her friends, perhaps a final dinner, then, finally, home.
Soon, I will have you to myself, my Love. No one will look over my shoulder and wonder whether or not I am a danger to them. No one will look at you and wonder how you could have married me or if our child will be in some way genetically deficient because of my so-called crimes. I know you are saddened to leave. Perhaps, I can make an arrangement that will make the transition easier on you. Yes. That could work.
There was no need to pack very many items as the home in San Martin de Los Andes was already fully stocked. They would need to have food delivered to the home upon arrival but as for packing they need only bring whatever clothing they deemed necessary for themselves, the trip and the baby's wardrobe. By the time they returned to Baltimore, his son's current wardrobe would no longer fit so Hannibal set about to pack.
Clarice went out with Ardelia and the baby to explain what was happening and spend some time just being together. As much as Clarice loved being with Hannibal, and Ardelia loved being with Logan, there were times neither woman loved being with Logan-loving-being-with-Hannibal. That could be a tad overwhelming.
Hearing the news, Ardelia expressed confusion, "What do you mean you're leaving?"
Clarice began ringing a spoon around the inside of her teacup, intensely aware of the other patrons most of whom were middle aged women attempting to sneak glances at the baby. Wary, her eyes constantly scanned the small teashop searching her periphery for any sudden movements.
She didn't need Hannibal to feel safe, but when out with the baby, she did feel much more secure when he was near. Not because she couldn't protect herself or her son, but because Hannibal had a certain predatory anticipation that provided a level of protection she, to this point, could not. Clarice lifted the cup to her lips, took a soothing sip and set it down, fully confident in her decision to return to Argentina with her family.
"Dee, this was never going to be a permanent situation. H didn't want to come back at all, but I needed to be closer to you for the pregnancy. My husband is wonderful, but he's a man and a very pragmatic man at that. I just wanted to be around you 'cuz I knew you'd understand how I felt. H conceded but we were only supposed to stay long enough to have the baby. It's time to take care of H's needs now. He's been through too much for me."
Ardelia's face and the expressiveness of her voice spoke her distress, "So out comes the baby, we all fall in love with him and with Hannibal and we love being around you, too and you're just off with your family and screw your friends is that it?"
Clarice was crushed by her friend's comments and though it pained her to think she was hurting Ardelia, Hannibal and the baby had to come first.
"Come on, Dee, you saw what they did to him the other night. Even when he's trying to avoid situations, trouble finds him. Hannibal's like a gunfighter who wants to hang up his weapon, but every kid in town with a little fuzz on his peaches wants to see how they measure up. I can't have my husband in a freaking dick measuring contest every other day that might get him killed. Right now, it's just way too public and Hannibal doesn't have it in him to live like this. Not the way he'd have to in order to stay safe anyway. When someone stands in front of him and calls him out, he doesn't have it in him to run."
"Why can't he run? Ego?"
Clarice didn't know if Ardelia would understand.
"No, he doesn't have an ego like that. He won't back down because to H, situations like the other night are just…"
"Are just what?"
"Situations like that are just...fun."
"Fun? Yeah, I guess I can see that. Would you be back at all?"
"Sure, we're keeping the house and H's got no problem coming back to visit; we just need to let things calm down here for a while. People are way too curious."
"Yeah, he's like a freaking celebrity now. Maybe when things die down a bit it won't be so weird."
"Don't forget, you can come to our place, too."
"I guess. So what does he look like? How's the eye?"
"When he first woke up, it was just about closed, but he's been taking good care of it and even though it's pretty intensely bruised, he can see out of it with no problem. He's got a fractured nose too."
"Shit, Clarice. That must hurt like hell."
"Well, if it does, you'd never know it. That man wouldn't complain if you set him on fire."
"Logan would be whining like a puppy. He's not very good when it comes to that sort of thing. He's...shit"
"Damn, Clarice…how am I going to tell Logan you're taking your husband and the baby and leaving the country. He's going to lose his mind."
Clarice lifted her son from the carrier for no more reason than her sudden need to hold him.
"I hadn't thought of that. Sure won't be pretty."
Grabbing the baby's chubby little thigh, Ardelia smiled, trying not to consider what she was up against.
"I really don't feel like seeing a grown man cry."
"Aw come on. He's not going to cry over it."
Ardelia lost her appetite, pushing the dish with the large cinnamon bun to the center of the table, signaling the completion of the meal.
"Hell, that boy'll be so upset he'll probably crap kittens."
Clarice laughed at the often-used term. "Yeah, have fun with that."
"Do you know when you're leaving?"
"Not yet. H was going to make the arrangements while we were out. I only know it will be soon. Tomorrow probably."
"Okay, well, I'll have to break the news to Logan, so when you find out just give me a call with the details."
"Want to do dinner tonight?"
"Sure. Tell Hannibal I'll bake something. Just give him the head's up that Logan will be a little bit needy."
"H will handle it. Don't worry."
The dinner went very smoothly, though Logan was uncharacteristically quiet. When Clarice suggested the men go relax in Hannibal's study, Hannibal bristled slightly but graciously led the way. Barney followed amiably and Logan shuffled out of the room looking as if someone had stolen his lunch money.
Clarice and Ardelia cleaned up as the baby napped in his small carrier beside them.
Looking over her shoulder at him, Ardelia was amazed, "He's an incredible little guy, Clarice. He's so quiet."
"He takes after his dad. If you look at him for a few minutes you can see he's thinking. He just sits there and watches everything going on around him. I swear you can see the wheels turning; it's pretty amazing. I'll go bring a tray of coffee and dessert to the guys. Hang out with the little man and check him out. Trust me…you won't believe it."
Clarice set slices of the pie Ardelia baked, a pot of coffee, several cups and utensils on a tray and carried it to the study to provide the men a snack.
"Sure, you go on ahead and feed the men. I'll bond with the baby before you go stealing him off to the jungle."
Clarice rolled her eyes and without another word, left to take the tray to the men.
Ardelia sat at the table and began tracing her hand over the baby's fingers. She then gripped the edge of the carrier and watched.
Young Hannibal's clear blue eyes followed her movement blinking so infrequently the moment his eyes closed autonomically, it seemed almost an event. He then reached for Ardelia's hand and traced his fingers over hers. The moment he completed the movement, he gripped the edge of the carrier and watched her, waiting.
"Oh my God you brilliant little guy. What else can you do?"
Ardelia leaned over the small carrier and gripped her nose with the tips of her fingers. She then placed her hand back on the carrier.
The baby stared at her for a moment, his tiny eyebrows knitted together.
Ardelia laughed, "You want me to do it again? Okay, watch carefully." She repeated the motion and returned her hand to the side of the carrier.
Hannibal released the carrier and gripped his nose. He then replaced his hand and watched Ardelia.
"Wow, you really are incredible aren't you?"
Clarice entered the room. "Who's incredible?"
"You do know this baby is an absolute freaking little genius, don't you?"
"Of course he is. His dad's I.Q. is off the charts. They never could actually get a number for him. I expect Dev will have a bit of that, too."
"A bit of it? He's got all of it. The one thing I don't get is…he just stares at me. He doesn't look angry or anything he just kinda watches me. Has he smiled yet?"
"No, but he should any day now. Babies usually have their first spontaneous smile when they're around six to eight weeks old."
"I'm sure he can smile already. He just doesn't want to yet."
"Yeah, well the normal peek-a-boo bull isn't going to work with him, that's for sure. He's not really fooled by it. I tried it and he looked at me like I was an idiot. I can't wait to see what gets to him for the first time; he's a tough audience."
"Well, I'm not surprised. He is Hannibal's son and I've never really seen your husband smile."
"What? Sure you have. He smiles all the time."
"No, I've seen that wry little grin a lot, but never one of those big smiles that make your face hurt. What makes your husband smile? And I mean a huge, hurts-your-face-smile!"
"Nothing I'd do in front of my son, that's for sure!"
"Well, ask Hannibal. He has the answers to everything else so I imagine he'd probably have some clue how to make his own son smile."
Clarice nodded, "Yeah…I'll do that."
When it was time for the friends to leave, Barney was expeditious, as if he were a man on a mission. He shook Hannibal's hand, the pair exchanged a quick nod and Barney was off with a wave.
Upon parting, Clarice and Ardelia had a bit of a moment. Their final hug went from a loving, friendly exchange between girlfriends, to a squeezing embrace with tears flowing freely from the pair.
Logan stood off to the side with his fists stuffed into his pockets, scuffing the ball of his foot repeatedly against the cement of the sidewalk.
Hannibal stood very quietly, watching the interaction clearly unaffected by the level of emotion.
When the women finally parted, Ardelia called Logan.
"Come on, Babe. Let's not make this any worse than it already is."
Staring at his feet, Logan didn't move.
Clarice walked up to Hannibal, tipped her head gesturing toward Logan and whispered to her husband, "C'mon, H…take one for the team."
Hannibal stared blankly at Clarice.
She mouthed the words, "For me, H…"
Clarice, knowing he would never refuse her appeal stood with her hands outstretched, clearly waiting for her husband to hand over their son and address her request.
Hannibal remained very still for several moments, obviously not wanting to relate on this level. Emotional interaction with anyone other than Clarice was not only unnecessary to his existence it was on a very real level, distasteful to him.
With a single blink, he disconnected his personal discomfort from the experience, handed his wife their baby and with a gracious smile, descended the steps.
Logan's eyes lit up when he saw Hannibal approach, extending his hand.
"Logan, take care of yourself, my friend. I value the bond you've formed with my family and want you to know you are welcome in our home at any time."
Logan brightened, shaking Hannibal's hand vigorously, "Thanks, Hannibal. I'll miss our friendship, I really will."
"You shouldn't see this as an end to our friendship. You have my phone number. I invite you to call at any time."
Ecstatic at the invitation, Logan reached into his pocket and spontaneously searched the directory of his cell phone to assure he still had Hannibal's listing. When the number was confirmed, he smiled widely, placed the phone in his pocket patting it for added security and returned, "I thought that number was for emergency use only."
"Nonsense. If you'd like to touch base or perhaps arrange to visit, you are welcome to call."
Logan's eyes shifted to Ardelia.
"See, I told you he wouldn't mind."
Ardelia shook her head, "He wouldn't mind if you called occasionally. Not every day, Logan."
Logan, embarrassed Ardelia would make a comment in front of Hannibal that might have made him appear needy, protested vehemently, "What am I, a ten year old girl? I wouldn't call every day."
Obviously now self-conscious, Logan turned to Hannibal and defended, "Seriously Doc, I swear I wouldn't."
Hannibal nodded as a droll smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
"I'm quite certain you would not. As I stated previously, please bring Ardelia and visit as soon as you are both able."
"We will…we definitely will!" Logan, feeling more confident with his place in the world, asked his friend a final question.
"Hannibal, don't take this the wrong way but would you mind if I kissed your wife goodbye? Nothing creepy; on the cheek of course."
Hannibal raised a hand, gesturing his assent.
"With my blessing."
Turning toward Clarice, Logan leaned toward his former colleague and kissed her on the cheek.
"We'll see you soon, Clarice." He then reached his finger and nudged the baby's hand. The moment young Hannibal gripped the larger man's finger, Logan lifted the baby's arm up and down as if they were shaking hands, addressing the child directly.
"I'll catch you later, Little Dude. Your Uncle Logan will see you soon. I promise."
Seeing Logan's eyes begin to tear as the baby held the digit, Ardelia, worried she too might succumb, tugged Logan's arm.
"Time to go, Babe."
Logan, feeling far better, put his arm around Ardelia and called back, waving enthusiastically. "See you soon!"
Clarice stood beside Hannibal, gently held their baby's arm and, mimicking Logan's gesture, began waving her son's hand.
Logan waved all the way to the car, held the door and helped Ardelia enter the passenger side. He then walked around the car, still waving.
The moment he started the car, Logan opened the moon-roof, stuck his hand out of the opening and, as was his habit, waved the entire way down the street beeping the horn.
Hannibal and Clarice watched the scene, incredulous.
Hannibal commented first.
"One is forced to consider, if he is holding the steering wheel and waving simultaneously, with what body part is he engaging the horn?"
"Well, based on what Dee says, I can tell you what part it isn't."
"I am heartened your information is second hand, Clarice."
"Don't be such a wise ass, H!"
Clarice and Hannibal waited on the steps of their home, watching the car move down the street turning to go inside only after the car turned the corner.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again, that boy is definitely all foam and no beer."
Hannibal laughed at his wife's colorful colloquialism, "Another of the many reasons I am so in love with you, Clarice. Your stellar command of the English language."
"Thanks for doing that for me, H. I'm sure it really means a lot to Logan to be accepted and I know it will make Ardelia's life better. She said he was pouting all day."
"Not to worry, Clarice. For you, anything."
Clarice smiled, "I know, H…I know."
As Clarice bathed the baby preparing him for bed, Hannibal entered the room. He stood silently just over her right shoulder watching the loving scene with rapt attention.
Clarice, thinking of her earlier conversation with Ardelia, began to obsess about the baby's seeming reluctance to smile. Though it was consuming her thoughts, she didn't think it important enough to verbally express the concern to her husband. He had enough on his mind.
"I can hear the veritable wheels turning, Clarice."
Hannibal continued to stand and watch his wife with their child. He could sense the heightened stress level and spoke his concern, "You're obviously preoccupied; I wondered whether your anxiety has to do with our travel plans? Are you, perhaps, having second thoughts?"
Smoothing a plush washcloth over the baby she answered with a hint of hesitation, "I'm sorry, H. No second thoughts. Sometimes I forget you can read my mind."
Moving behind his wife, Hannibal placed his hands on the flank of her hips and pulled her against his body. Nestling his chin along the gentle curve of her neck, he continued to watch as she tended their child.
"Not read your mind as such, however I am exceptionally attuned to your physiology. You are obviously anxious. Is there something I can do to alleviate your upset?"
Her response had a slightly sardonic tone, "Nope, not unless you can speak baby."
She paused, no longer washing the baby, just holding him.
The child splashed a bit, stopping and waiting as if he sensed something was amiss.
"He never smiles, H. Don't you think he should be smiling by now?"
"Our son is very intelligent, Clarice. If he is amused, he will smile. If he isn't, he won't. Have you attempted anything he might find entertaining?"
"Well, I tried to play peek-a-boo, but he clearly wasn't amused."
"That may be because peek-a-boo is fairly moronic, Clarice."
"Okay, so baby games don't work on our baby, awesome. If you've got a better idea, let's have it."
Hannibal stood very quietly for a few moments, reached for Clarice's arm and slipped a thin silver bracelet from her wrist.
"May I, my Love?"
"What are you doing H?"
"I am going to prove to you that our son is perfectly capable of smiling when he finds something amusing, Clarice."
Hannibal scooped some of the bubbles from the bathwater and held out his hand allowing his son to pat the foam and test the texture. When he was certain the baby fully explored the glistening lather, Hannibal dipped his hand in the water and rinsed away the froth. He then held the bracelet in front of his son, encouraging the baby to touch the piece.
"Patience, Clarice. Allow the boy to learn."
When the baby finished exploring the object, Hannibal dipped it in the water and raised the hoop, now coated with a soapy film.
When he was certain his son's eyes were fixed on the object, Hannibal blew a light, steady stream of air against the film causing bubbles to float from the bracelet.
The baby watched the bubbles emerge from the silver hoop, staring at the shimmering orbs floating over his head. Suddenly, he reached for a bubble tipped it with his finger, bursting it. The moment the bubble ruptured, a wide smile crossed the baby's face.
"Oh my God, H! Look at that smile! He's gorgeous! How did you know that would work?"
"All babies love bubbles, Clarice."
Clarice left the topic alone, assuming Hannibal had had some experience with this, but as he was not volunteering additional information she thought it better not to pry. When and if he decided to share, she would listen. For now, she was thankful her baby was smiling.
The cars had been picked up by a service early the following morning in order that they be inspected and loaded on the plane in time for the flight to Buenos Aires.
Hannibal spent a good part of the morning on the phone, confirming each of the many arrangements for the trip and the additional preparations he was able to organize without his wife's knowledge. He then packed the computer as Clarice packed a bag for the baby. Finished with the preparations, Hannibal walked up the stairs to see about Clarice.
Entering the baby's room, Hannibal lifted the bags Clarice packed for the flight. Hefting them, he commented, "Clarice, have you packed the crib as well?"
Instead of the normal, wise ass reference he was expecting, his wife responded harshly, "Don't be so ridiculous, H. I packed what we'll need. That's all."
He stood in front of Clarice, considered the emotions and ignored the tone.
"Is there anything I can do to help you, Clarice? If you ask me to stay, we will."
Hannibal's calm voice and neutral demeanor extinguished the resentment she had spent the morning harboring.
"No, H. I'm just having a pity party."
"Am I invited or is this a one woman event?"
"Just me, H. Would you mind? Can I have a few minutes?"
"Certainly, my Love. The flight is chartered so there's no need for you to rush, as it cannot leave without us. Please, take all the time you need."
Realizing this was the home in which their son was born, that Clarice had never truly had a childhood home, and knowing his wife had very strong ties to her friends, Hannibal understood the level of emotion. He thought he might say something to alleviate her angst, but quickly decided against it.
Better to give you the space and time needed to process your thoughts, than to step in each and every time you are upset. Even if I have predicted this reaction and come up with a contingency, it is preferable to allow you the privacy to approach your own conclusions.
Hannibal carried the luggage down the stairs leaving Clarice to process whatever emotions she deemed necessary.
Clarice stood in the center of the room holding her son, her cheek pressed against his, holding him close and she twisted back and forth, swaying gently.
"Don't worry, Little Man, we'll be back home again soon. Maybe Daddy will let us come back for the Fourth of July, definitely from Thanksgiving to New Year's. We'll be back quite a bit so don't worry…it'll be okay. We'll have Daddy and he's really the only person we'll ever need."
Taking the baby and walking in and out of each room of the place she had grown to call home, Clarice turned out the lights and descended the stairs.
As Clarice joined Hannibal in the foyer he held a hand out, reaching for her.
"Are you quite all right, Clarice? Have you attended to your needs?"
"Yeah…I'm good, H…we'll be together. That's really all I care about."
"Yes, my Love. We will be together."
As Hannibal turned and locked the home, activating the alarm, a large delivery truck pulled up in front of the house. Clarice turned to her husband.
"You order something, H?"
"No, Clarice. While I do have a surprise for you, it does not involve a delivery."
The driver hopped out of the unmarked panel truck with a clipboard in his hand. He addressed Hannibal, "Doctor Lecter, I have a delivery. It's pretty large."
"My apologies, young man. We have locked up the home and are on our way to the airport to our vacation property. How large is the package?"
"It's at least as big as you are, Doctor Lecter. It's not something you can just carry-on a plane. What do you want me to do with it?"
"Are you a private courier or do you have further deliveries?"
"Both. After you, I'm done for the day."
Hannibal reached for his billfold and removed several hundred dollars.
"Is this enough to ask that you follow us to the airport? We have a private charter. The item can be loaded on the plane and delivered to our next address."
The young man stuffed the money into his pocket enthusiastically.
"Sure it is. No problem. I'll get over to the airport and have this loaded on your plane. Not to worry, I won't let you down."
"Of that I am certain, thank you."
The limousine engaged to drive the family to the airport pulled up in front of the home just as the deliveryman hopped back into his truck and headed out.
As the driver held the door, Hannibal spent a few moments securing the baby's car seat within the vehicle. He then took the baby from his wife's arms and belted him within the restraint. With a wide sweeping gesture, he invited Clarice to enter.
"Your chariot awaits my Love."
Accepting his hand she curtsied, "Thank you, kind Sir."
Clarice entered the car allowing the driver to secure the door and transport the family to the airport.
Clarice leaned against Hannibal as the car pulled away from the curb.
"Can we come back for Thanksgiving, H?"
"Yes, Clarice. We can return whenever you would like."
"Thanks, H…I knew you'd understand."
"More than you know, my Love."
Clarice was silent, so, Hannibal left her to her thoughts, content to hold her hand, stroking his thumb along the surface of her skin.
Clarice turned her head slightly attempting to covertly survey her husband's features. His bruises were deepening, and though his eye was no longer swollen closed, she knew he must be uncomfortable.
Feeling her gaze, Hannibal turned his head, their eyes meeting.
"Yes, my Love?"
"I'm sorry, H."
"There is no need, Clarice."
"We should have stayed home. You could've been killed."
"Nonsense. You need your friends, Clarice. I cannot expect you to live as solitary a life as I am accustomed, nor is it necessary. When anonymity was a concern, you were forced to do without. That is no longer a consideration."
"I don't understand, H."
"Not to worry, Clarice…you will."
Boarding the plane, Hannibal took the baby from his wife's arms.
"After you, my Love."
Clarice looked at Hannibal, grinning widely.
"Why do you look like the cat that ate the proverbial mouse, H?"
"Please, board the plane, Clarice."
Climbing the stairs and entering the plane, the private steward escorted Clarice to the main cabin.
Suddenly as the steward parted the curtain to the luxury cabin Clarice stood, dumbfounded.
A cheer rang out, "Surprise!"
Clarice stood in the cabin, tears of disbelief and joy beginning to flow. Logan and Ardelia were sitting, holding champagne flutes. Barney quickly approached.
"Better sit down, Clarice. You look like you might faint."
Clarice turned to Hannibal.
"Your family wished to accompany us, Clarice. You don't have any objections, do you?"
"No…oh, God, no. H…H, I can't believe it."
"Believe it, my Love. We are all going home."
Barney interrupted, "Well, everyone but me."
Clarice, believing Hannibal might benefit, urged, "You can't make it, Barney?"
"I'll be along to visit soon, but someone's got to stay behind and look after things up here. I'll make sure everything runs smoothly."
"You sure, Barney?"
"No worries, Clarice. Your husband and I have an arrangement that's mutually beneficial."
Clarice hugged Barney. "Thanks, B."
"You're welcome, Clarice." Barney turned to Logan, wagging an accusatory finger in his direction. "Hey, Marine…Do we understand each other? You remember what I told you?"
Logan began repeating, "Hannibal's not my personal playmate and he doesn't need to spend every waking moment entertaining me so I'd better get a life or you'll come down here and kick my ass!"
Barney pointed, "And don't you forget it."
Seeking a concession, Logan questioned, "But I can play with the baby whenever I want, right? Little Hannibal doesn't count?"
"As long as Clarice has no objections, you can play with the baby whenever you like."
Logan sat back in the seat, thrilled. "This is awesome…Awesome."
Clarice took the baby from her husband as the steward installed the car seat.
"Thanks, H. You amaze me."
"Then, my Love, we are even."
Clarice moved to secure the baby for the flight.
Hannibal turned and shook Barney's hand.
"Thank you for handling this, my friend."
"Not a problem, Hannibal. If Surfer Boy gets under your skin, give me a call. I'll handle it."
"I'm certain the women will keep him on a short leash. Clarice especially."
"I know that thought would keep me in check. You take care of yourself, my good friend. I'll be by for a visit in a few weeks when you baptize that baby of yours."
"You will be most welcome, Barney. Most welcome."
Logan called out, waving. "Catch you later, Barnstormer!"
Barney looked at Hannibal and whispered, "Logan? Really? Hannibal, are you sure about this?"
"Yes, Barney. For Clarice."
"Yeah. For Clarice."
The women bundled off with the baby into the house as Hannibal and Logan watched the deliverymen maneuver carefully. The crate was soon off-loaded so the deliverymen used crowbars and hammers to open the wooden crate. As the hinged door swung open there was a note attached. Hannibal lifted the envelope. Though it was sealed it had an inscription. Hannibal flipped it over, reading it quickly. It said simply:
For Hannibal Lecter IX from your Aunt with all my Love.
Hannibal tucked the envelope in the inside pocket of his suit jacket and stepped back as the packing material was removed.
Can it be…impossible…
It took two men to lift the object from the crate. They walked it forward, careful not to damage.
Logan's eyes widened.
"What the hell is that?"
"It is the full body armor once belonging to one of the Hiroshima Samurai. Apparently, it is a gift for my son."
"Who would send Little Man a suit of Japanese armor?"
"The wife of my Uncle Robert. My Aunt, Lady Murasaki."
"You have an aunt?"
"I was not hatched, Logan. I had a family, yes, though I had long given up any hope as all of my previous attempts to contact her over the years had been summarily rejected."
"Well, now that you've got a wife and a family, maybe things have changed?"
"Perhaps. We shall see."
The day had been long and eventful. Ardelia and Logan had already retired to their designated wing within the home, not wanting to intrude on Hannibal and Clarice on their first night back.
The armor was set up in the music room, the child too young and the image to frightening for it to be decorative in the nursery.
Hannibal sat at his piano, playing flawlessly as he stared ahead at the object he admired so many years before. Clarice, having put the baby to bed, waited outside the door to the music room, resting her hand on the door, listening.
Hannibal detected her presence and smiled.
"Please enter, my Love. There are no locked doors between us."
Clarice opened the door and slipped within the room attempting not to disturb her husband's playing. She joined him, sitting on the bench beside him, looking at the armor.
"That mask reminds me of the mask they forced on you, H."
"There are similarities. I agree."
"Did you read the note?"
Hannibal continued to play.
Clarice regrouped. "Sorry, H…I know better than to pry."
Hannibal reached within his suit and handed Clarice the envelope.
"We have no secrets, Clarice. You may read it if you wish."
"You don't want to read it?"
"Someday soon, perhaps. I've waited forty years…a while longer will not matter."
Clarice took the envelope and placed it on the music stand of the piano.
"When you're ready…not before. I love you, H."
"I love you, as well, Clarice. More than you will ever know."
"No. I know, H…I've always known."
Clarice rested her head on her husband's shoulder, contented.
Hannibal breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of the woman he loved as he played, If Love Now Reigned on his piano. His technique was flawless, no longer encumbered by the self-inflicted injury to his hand. He stared ahead at the envelope, a symbol of a family, long forsaken. He was curious, but not preoccupied with thoughts of what once was. The future, his life, this life, with Clarice and their baby, was far too precious.
His son was sleeping soundly in the nursery and his wife, the only woman he ever truly desired, ever truly loved, his Clarice sat lovingly by his side.
Smiling widely, so much so that his cheeks hurt, he pressed a kiss to the top of his wife's head. Her arms slipped around his waist, her head on his chest listening to the beat of his heart.
As Clarice pulled her body to his, holding him tight, the loving husband sighed,
"Thank you, Clarice…Thank you."
Hannibal Lecter was finally home.
Until NMSL: Chapter three, my friends,