A/N: Thank you sooo much for the really wonderful reviews. While I doubt I write the closest Hannibal to Harris' ever, or that he's perfect, I'm really touched! Also, I'm chugging my way through Hannibal (the book) and I'm almost done, so Hannibal and Clarice and the way I write them might suffer a few more alterations. On that note, my Clarice is an attempt at cobbling together Jodie Foster's and Harris'. (We don't speak of Julianne Moore in these parts.) This chapter might be a little wooden—apologies!

Clarice Starling had grown accustomed to misfortune long ago. These days, she almost expected things to go wrong in her life. It wasn't that she was a pessimist. She had simply been conditioned to think that way. Between her career, her love life, and her personal life, it seemed nothing ever quite went her way.

Love life—what a laugh. The single memorable romance she had ever been a part of had ended abruptly six years ago. Since then, a handful of dinner dates and a smattering of phone calls were all she had to show for herself. Perhaps it was for the best.

The sad truth was that when Clarice had awoken in a sea of tangled sheets and found herself alone, and had then realized that the silent duplex was empty, she had cried. She had cried even before she noticed the paper folded beside the alarm clock, even before she had opened it and read it.

She had not read it immediately. Once she had finished crying, feeling like a fool for it, Clarice had risen from the bed and done menial tasks in order to distract herself. She made the bed, fluffed the pillows, and willed herself not to think of the man who should be lying in it beside her, or the fact that they had made love in it just hours ago. She pulled the sheets tight, almost too tight, and tucked them in. Then she got dressed, pulling on sweatpants and an oversized shirt a bit too roughly even as she tried not to think that she had no reason to try anymore. Of course she did. She had plenty of reasons. She was young and attractive and charming, and she knew it. And someday soon, she would have an office in Behavioral Science, just as she'd always wanted.

An office he had guaranteed her by playing Mr. Crawford's game.

Once the bed was made and Clarice was dressed—she would take a shower later, she decided; a long, hot, mind-numbing shower—she sat down at the kitchen table with the letter. She hated the way her hands trembled as she unfolded it.

Unsurprisingly, the letter was eloquent and gracious and appropriately apologetic. He made no excuses for himself, which satisfied her, even if his reasoning did not. He made a simple case that it would be better for them to go their separate ways, something he admitted to realizing far too late. He asked her forgiveness, though he assured her that he understood if she was not willing to forgive him at once. He thanked her for her kindness and her trust and her friendship (a word which had brought angry tears into her eyes). Finally, he strongly discouraged her from calling or even writing to him in the future.

I believe that a "clean break" would be best for us both, he had written. She still wondered, six years later, if he had expected her to call him in tears, begging him to reconsider. But no; he knew her better than that. Perhaps, then, he was nothing more than a coward. No. Clarice knew better herself.

He was not a coward, nor she a beggar. They would leave behind their eight weeks of ballets and fine dinners, and their single night as lovers. Even as she cried again, staining some of the letter with her tears, Clarice felt confident that she would move on, though she doubted she could ever properly forget him. He might haunt her the way the memory of her father did, but she could tolerate another ghost. She could ignore another ghost.

For the next six weeks, Clarice had made that her new reality. Occasionally she shared some Jack Daniels with Ardelia in their shared kitchen, but mostly, she threw herself into her work, determined to prove herself worthy with no one's help and absolutely no further training.

When, six weeks after she had woken up in a cold bed, Clarice's period still hadn't arrived and she had begun feeling queasy in the morning, she knew that reality was not to be. She went to a doctor, who confirmed her suspicion with a smiling face, and had gone home and cried again. She considered an abortion, but could not bring herself to do it. Adoption, then—that would be for the best, really. What kind of life could she give a kid? Yet something held her back even from that sensible option. Don't give her up, girl. That was what her mind said to her. Silly, really, because she didn't even know whether the baby was a boy or a girl.

But in seven months or so it would be a baby, her baby, and though she could see the office door with "Starling" written on it disappearing even as she made the decision, she wanted that baby for some crazy reason.

A thousand "should haves" ran through her mind over the next few months, of course. Despite her non-existent love life, she ought to have been taking the pill, or at least started taking it when she'd begun a real relationship with her former teacher. She had to have known, or at the very least hoped, that someday he would take her to bed, right? Then she shifted blame to him, which admittedly tasted sweeter. As brilliant as he was, he ought to have known that even one night was enough.

Clarice had nearly called him, but only once. A week or so after she had discovered that she was pregnant, she found herself standing in her small living room—the same one in which Clarice curled up against him watching Bogie and his buxom love interest—with her hand hovering over the phone.

She imagined of what she could say. Hi, Hanni— No. He had not said so explicitly, but she couldn't call him "Hannibal" anymore. Well, then, Hello, Dr. Lecter. I know you asked me not to contact you, but see, I'm having your kid.

None of it sounded right, and ultimately Clarice did not call. No doubt he would feel pressured into marriage or something of the kind, and Clarice would not force either of them to endure that. She convinced herself that there were plenty of men of his stature who never knew that they had children. No doubt they were happier for their ignorance. She did not need his support to raise this baby. And maybe there was something more to it than stubborn self-confidence; something selfish that she could not quite admit, even to herself.

She had never had something that was truly hers, not even Hannah. Her baby would be different. Barring some truly awful scenarios, no one could take her baby away.

The pregnancy was not a particularly happy one. It took a toll on Clarice's career from the start, and made her dreams of a place in Behavioral Science ever-more distant. If it hadn't been for Ardelia Mapp, the whole thing would surely have been quite miserable. Ardelia never asked—unlike nearly everyone else they knew—to know the identity of the "lucky man," nor shown any distaste when it became obvious that Clarice had no men in her life at all. Ardelia never judged her and never questioned her, except to make sure that she would someday be "Auntie Ardelia" to Clarice's baby. And at the end of those long months, Ardelia sat beside her in the hospital and held her hand through the pain.

Afterward, Clarice occasionally wondered if things might have been different had she told him. If everyone had known she was pregnant with Doctor Hannibal Lecter's child, would they have been happy for her or more disgusted still? Would her career have suffered a still-heavier blow since he himself had groomed her for it? Would he have been as supportive and as sure as Ardelia in the stuffy hospital room—would he have held her hand?

As soon as a nurse had placed the chubby, pink-faced baby into her arms, however, Clarice forgot her troubled pregnancy. True to her instincts, it was a little girl, eyes big and blue like her mother's, though Clarice had been told that all infants had blue eyes.

She named her Michelle. Ardelia did not inquire into the significance of the name, but if she had, Clarice would not have admitted—or perhaps even remembered—that the name made her think of Hannibal. She could not even recall why it should, but did it matter? The nurses hailed it as a beautiful name for a beautiful baby girl, and Clarice beamed around at them without any of her usual reserve. Her daughter was beautiful, and not for a moment did Clarice regret her decision to keep her.

Not regretting the decision did not mean that life after Michelle Starling came into the world was easy, of course. Life had never been kind to Clarice in the past, and it did not choose to start now that she had a child.

Ardelia had helped her arrange a small nursery in the tiny spare bedroom on her side of the duplex. Small as it was, and though Clarice had struggled to provide niceties, it was a cheerful little room. She had selected a creamy yellow for the walls and sewn delicate lace curtains for the window. The night she came home with her tiny daughter and brought her into the nursery, she could not keep from thinking about Hannibal. Would he think the room tasteful? It was a foolish thought, really. After all, the good Doctor Lecter was not even aware that he had a daughter.

The less she reminded herself of this and the less she thought of him in general, the less guilty she felt for keeping that knowledge from him. If anyone ought to feel guilty for anything, she told herself, it was him for leaving her so abruptly and for such ridiculous reasons.

Clarice struggled to balance motherhood and her career on a daily basis. She still dreamed of an office in Behavioral Science, and dreamed of getting it on her own merits. It became increasingly difficult to continue fieldwork and not end up consigned to a desk job somewhere, however, much less to prove she had the mettle to hunt serial killers. She clung to her dream all the same, but as the months and years passed, and she had come no closer to attaining her imagined office, she thought more and more often of her mother.

She made ends meet for them, but just barely. She remembered helping her mother clean hotel rooms as she endured the same struggle. In the end, her mother had failed to keep the family strong and whole. Had she ever resented her children—any of them, or all four—for making her work so hard? Had she resented them when she had realized her failure, realized that she would have to send at least one of them away?

She would never truly know, but Clarice doubted it. She did not resent Michelle, and knew, despite her hardships, that she would not lose her. She would certainly not have to send her away. She was well-educated and had a far better job than her mother ever had.

It was a good job, yes—but promotions passed her by. Each time that she and Ardelia gathered in their shared kitchen to make Michelle a birthday cake, that fact loomed larger. Clarice always shrugged it off and even managed to laugh a little, to point out that at least they had not transferred her to a desk job yet. Still, whenever she went on another dangerous drug raid, she remembered the big brick orphanage in which she had spent the last eight years of her childhood.

Hannibal had no knowledge of Michelle's existence at all, nor had Clarice told anyone—not even Ardelia—who had fathered her little girl.

If she, like her father, went on a raid and never came home—if she lay in a hospital bed for a month with only a machine keeping her alive—what would become of Michelle? No matter how many times she assured herself that a bullet would not take her down, it remained a possibility that someday, one might. Such were the thoughts that haunted Clarice Starling in the dark after long and trying days. She was all smiles and confidence around her daughter, forever fighting to be the best possible mother, but there were plenty of moments when she questioned her own strength and her ability as well.

So far, however, Clarice had escaped the raids unscathed, and with every passing day, Michelle proved more remarkable a child.

She was a small girl, smaller than most of the children with whom she atented preschool, and looked quite a lot like her mother. They shared the same auburn hair, delicate features and bright blue eyes.

In all other respects, Michelle seemed to Clarice to be her father's daughter. She was far more solemn than her schoolmates, more solemn than Clarice remembered her brothers and sister ever being. Once she learned to read, a book kept her company as frequently as dolls and teddy bears. She was never unkind or even particularly aloof, and loved Clarice—as well as "Auntie" Ardelia—quite a lot. She also had a handful of friends at school. Yet sometimes she was a little too well-behaved for such a young child, Clarice thought. There were few tantrums, if any, in the Starling household, and usually a significant look or a sharp word was enough to discipline Michelle.

Because she knew how foolish it sounded, Clarice could barely admit—even to herself—that sometimes she felt Hannibal watching her through his daughter's eyes.

What would her life be like if she did not think of him on a daily basis? If she did not look at Michelle and wonder whether Hannibal would be proud of her, or even care? She might still dream about him—and though she doubted it, she thought that maybe he dreamed of her, too. Dreams, she could endure. Her guilt and her memories were more difficult to wrangle with. She was constantly reminding herself that he had fled from her. He had insisted a clean break was for the best.

That Michelle had no father was his fault, not Clarice's.

Perhaps she knew instinctively that the topic was a painful one for her mother, because Michelle never asked about her father. In fact, she never showed a particular interest in the subject at all, nor did she make a fuss when people asked about her mommy and daddy.

Clarice felt sure that her daughter was curious, but she was unwilling to bring the matter up herself. And so, their lives went on—Clarice living with her guilt; Michelle, with her silent curiosity.

Vacations did not exist for mother and daughter. Birthdays and holidays were modest and spent at home. Ardelia added a little spice to their quiet lives, and Clarice made herself feel better remembering her own lackluster childhood—the childhood from which her best memory was her father sharing an orange with his children at the kitchen table, and the worst haunted by ghastly, inhuman screams. She hoped Michelle had better memories, and was sure she did not have any as gruesome as her own. That should have been enough to quiet her musings on how things might have been different for the little girl if she had a father, especially one who lived as well as Hannibal did.

She told herself again and again that there was no telling if Doctor Lecter would have even accepted Michelle, or if one day, he might have decided to disappear from her life as he had from Clarice's. Though Clarice knew perfectly well that the likes of him were few and far between, it would have been an old tale—another man afraid of commitment.

Since Michelle knew nothing about her father and could not possibly imagine his wealth or the comfort and security in which a man as wealthy as Hannibal lived, she could likewise know nothing of the kind of life that she might have had. Small comfort for her mother—but some comfort. Michelle had wealthier friends that she sometimes visited, girls with bigger houses, big backyards and big dogs and big, happy families. Yet she came home to the same little duplex, where she was welcomed by Mother in one half and Auntie in the other, and was content and quiet and well-behaved as ever.

This, too, offered Clarice a little comfort. How much harder life might have been if Michelle had been an obnoxious or disobedient child—if she'd been a wild thing, or inclined to self-pity or greed.

She supposed she had Hannibal to thank for that, and as ever, she wondered: would he like seeing himself in Michelle?

Would he have seen himself at all, or was Clarice inventing it, hoping that she saw him there?

And so Clarice watched her dreams of a Behavioral Science position fade more each day, while Michelle read a little more voraciously with each week after her fifth birthday that spring, knowing that in the fall she would finally be enrolled in a real school. Ardelia had them over for dinner at least once a week. Apart from Clarice's brushes with danger, apart from her guilt and the things she wondered alone in the dark, their lives were peaceful.

Clarice should have known that it would not last forever.

The early-summer Friday afternoon on which Clarice picked Michelle up after work was unremarkable—warm without yet being unbearably hot. Pleasant.

"Hey there, darling," she called as her daughter appeared amidst the throng of children. She knelt down and her arms. Michelle walked into them silently, unsmiling. The silence didn't surprise her, but Clarice could tell something wasn't right, but she decided to wait and let Michelle tell her if she wanted to.

The drive home was uncomfortable. Michelle said nothing the whole way, and as Clarice pulled the old Mustang into the duplex driveway, she wondered if she would have to wrangle the answer out of her.

At the front door, Clarice stopped and turned around, folding her arms. She looked down at her daughter's little auburn head and pursed her lips.

"Well, little miss, what's the matter with you? Did somebody call you a name?"

Michelle raised her head. She did not look particularly upset. Instead, she wore an expression that told her mother she was thinking about something—thinking as deeply as her five-year-old mind would allow. She stared up at Clarice with her father's eyes. The color was different, but they were Hannibal's all the same.

"Not me, Mother," she replied softly, "you."

Clarice frowned. Better to have this conversation inside, she decided, and unlocked the door.

With no pressing assignments, Clarice had not found it difficult to take a half-day the following Tuesday. She had needed all that time to think, to decide, to form the words in her head—to get rid of the guilt and the reluctance as best she could; to explain things to Michelle, wishing for once that she was not such a brilliant little thing, but a normal child who might not see through a lie.

In the end, of course, she could not lie, and she hadn't lied. Not exactly.

Their conversation from Friday evening had disturbed Clarice. It was inevitable that people would judge her, but for them to do so aloud in front of their children—in front of Michelle's friends—was intolerable

Michelle had suggested to her friend Diana that she should visit Michelle's house for a change. Mother and Auntie would be pleased to have a guest, she'd said. Besides, it made sense. Why didn't Clarice have one of her daughter's friends over—cook for them, entertain them—when other mothers did it so frequently? It was only fair to Diana's mother and father that the friendship should be a kind of shared burden, wasn't it?

Clarice could almost hear the conversation as though she had been there, hated it, and especially hated that her daughter had been forced to endure it.

You know Mommy won't let me, Shelly, said Diana.

In part, it seemed, Diana's mother was uncomfortable with the idea of a young, single mother sharing a house with another young woman, but it went beyond that, of course. The reasons were all absurd. One, Clarice had a gun, probably more than one. Two, the other woman somehow took offense from Clarice's unmarried status, as though she was the first person ever to raise a child alone. As though it had been her choice in the first place.

Diana's voice echoed in her mind again, telling her daughter: And she said…she called your mommy a word I'm not supposed to say….'cause you don't have a daddy.

Clarice rarely saw Michelle cry, but tears shone in her eyes when she asked why she didn't have a daddy and why people called Clarice names because of it. It was perhaps the first time Clarice had heard her say the word father out loud, or actually admit that she had no father to speak of. As she pulled Michelle close and held her—just as her mother had in that hotel room so many years ago—Clarice realized that she had been waiting for this question, waiting for this day. She just hadn't expected it to come like this, as the result of ugly words hurled at her by some snob of a housewife.

Even after all that time, Clarice didn't have the heart to tell Michelle that her father did not even know that she existed. In fact, she hadn't known exactly what to say, except to assure the child that she did have a father and that—maybe—she could at last meet him.

Maybe. No promises. She had heeded Hannibal's advice this long, and now that she was considering getting back in touch, she knew that there was a chance that he would not agree to meet Michelle, even if he picked up the phone.

There was also a chance that he would be terribly angry with her when she told him that he had a five-year-old daughter.

Perhaps the worst possibility for Clarice, the one she was least willing to acknowledge, was that she might still harbor feelings for him. Six years after he had so abruptly ended their two-month affair, feeling anything but resentment or anger seemed pitiful. That she even thought about him so often was pitiful, really. For six weeks after he had vanished from her life, she had planned simply to forget him and be done with it.

Easy to say that Michelle was the reason she had not forgotten. Easy to say that looking at Michelle was why she thought—and dreamed—about him, even now.

The truth was, Clarice was unsure she would have been able to forget Hannibal Lecter even if she had not borne his child. She hadn't been able to forgotten the lambs on her cousin's farm, or the tail lights of her father's truck the last time he left home. Perhaps what she had once felt for him was as difficult to forget—or to get rid of. Pitiful, yes. Pitifully true.

After that awful, awkward conversation on a Friday evening, Clarice had given herself three days to collect herself. She cast dark looks at the phone every so often when Michelle was not in the room, knowing that soon she would have to call up an entirely different kind of bravery than that she used on assignments for the FBI. As she had six years before, she rehearsed mentally: Dr. Lecter, I know it's been a while… Or should she call him Hannibal? Everything she said in her mind sounded all wrong, just as it had the first time.

But this time, she had to do it—for Michelle's sake.

The important thing, she reminded herself on her uneasy drive home on Tuesday afternoon, was to be courteous. He liked that. He had liked that she had manners, knew how to be polite, from the first. She had to be polite again now, especially now.

If only the thought of actually dialing his number didn't twist her stomach into knots. If only the thought of hearing his voice for the first time in six years, for the first time since he had growled her name soft and low into her ear—that's enough. She was not calling to relive old memories with Dr. Lecter. She was calling to invite him to meet their daughter. She, Clarice, had nothing to do with it. And if, after he met Michelle, he wanted partial custody of her…well, best not to get ahead of herself. Either way, anything that came of this phone call would be strictly between father and daughter. She would make sure of it.

Before she even got out of the car, Clarice began to tremble. Her keys shook when she killed the Mustang's engine, then again as she unlocked the front door. She poured a glass of water in the kitchen and held it in her trembling hand for several long minutes as she stared at the phone.

Beside it, a note was written—his office phone number, unhanged for all these years. She now had no excuse to stall; she had made sure of it the night before.

Sinking onto the chair beside the phone, Clarice set down her water and picked up the receiver. Slow, reluctant, unsteady fingers punched the area code, followed by the seven digits that had once been so firmly fixed in her memory. She lifted it to her ear. It rang twice, three times, a foruth—

When she heard that smooth, strangely metallic voice, she started a bit until she realized that she'd reached a machine.

She did not leave a message.

There was a smaller number, messier, underneath the first. It ended in a question mark. Clarice was unsure whether she had remembered it correctly. She hesitated. In that instant, memories of Michelle's little body pressed into hers, the sorrow in her voice, the tears in her eyes, came back to her. Mother, is it true? Don't I have a father? Stroking her hair, murmuring, Of course, darling. Of course you do.

Clarice dialed the number.

One ring, then two. Finally a third.

Hannibal Lecter spoke to her for the first time in six years, pleasant, calm: "Good afternoon?"

She was grateful that he could not see that her eyes were squeezed shut, or that her knuckles had gone white around the receiver.

"Hello, Dr. Lecter," she said steadily.

Even he could not mask his shock when he breathed her name into the phone, a question.

"Dr. Lecter," she said, "if you've got a minute, there's something we need to talk about."

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