Clarice Starling knew the sound of her father's keys, and their merry jingling drew her out of the tiny bedroom she shared with her little sister. She wore a clean but rather shabby nightgown, and wore her auburn hair in two neat braids. She was the eldest and had not yet gone to bed, though dinner had been eaten, the dishes cleared away, and her homework completed.
The rest of the little house was dimly lit, with only a single lamp on in the living room. There stood both her mother and father; the latter wore his uniform despite the late hour. Clarice tilted her head to one side.
"Daddy, where you goin'?" she asked.
Her father bent down and swung her up in his arms. She wrapped one of hers around his shoulders and watched him somberly.
"I gotta go patrol tonight, Baby," he explained. "I won't be back till late, so you mind your mama, and do good at school tomorrow, okay?"
Nothing in her father's voice or his face betrayed concern or fear—nothing that would set a child on edge. Clarice was a bright little girl, but not a suspicious one. She would rather her father stay at home, rather him kiss her goodnight and tuck her in as usual, but he would be there with an orange or a SNO-BALL in a cellophane wrapper for her tomorrow when she got home from school, and she would forget any resentment she might have felt the night before.
"Okay," he repeated, kissed her cheek, and set her on her feet again. "Sweet dreams, Baby. See you later." Then he kissed her mother, too, saying, "Don't wait up."
He turned for a moment and waved to Clarice, who waved back. She scrambled to the picture window as he went out the door. In the gloom, she could barely see her father go around to his truck and climb inside. She heard the truck's door when it slammed, though, and stood so close to the window that her nose pressed against the cool glass.
"Clarice, honey, time for bed now."
Even as her mother put a gentle hand on her shoulder to guide her back to her bedroom, the taillights of her father's truck cut through the night air. They created a slight glare on the window where her breath had fogged the glass. Clarice watched them for as long as she could, unable to know then that they would burn in her memory for many years to come.
Clarice Starling awoke under the harsh glare of artificial light. The brightness against her closed lids chased away the decades-old taillights and the remembered warmth of her daddy's lips against her cheek. She turned her face away, groaning softly in protest.
A quiet voice broke the stillness as the light had shattered the shadows. "Papa?"
She felt her husband's weight shift beside her and stretched out a hand to keep him from leaving, but her fingers barely brushed against his shirt as he rose. Grudgingly, she opened her eyes, squinting against the light.
A small auburn-haired child hovered by the doorway. She could have been a younger version of the girl dreaming of oranges and SNO-BALLs all those years ago, all except for her strange maroon eyes. They shone in the unnatural light, shone with tears, big in her small face. She held her arms up expectantly and her father obliged her, lifting her up.
"Another nightmare?" he inquired conversationally, as though he was asking about the weather.
The child nodded and laid her cheek against his shoulder.
"Well, then…" He stepped out of the bedroom, speaking softly to her as he moved soundlessly down the hall.
Watching them go, Clarice smiled. She reached for the robe that hung on the vanity chair beside her bed and swung her legs over the side. She shrugged the robe on and followed, flipping off the hall light as she went. To her, the shadows were cool and comforting. She had faced many fears in the darkness—the darkness of the Baltimore State Hospital; of Jame Gumb's basement; of Mason Verger's barn—and overcome them all. Now, she had nothing left to fear.
She stopped in the doorway of her daughter's room, watching her husband draw the quilt over the little girl. She smiled again as he leaned over and brushed his lips against her brow.
For a brief moment, she slipped away into her memory palace, the one he had helped her build. She stepped into a small, sunny room where a middle-aged man awaited her. He welcomed her with a smile of his own. In one hand he held pocketknife; in the other, a half-peeled orange. The sweet smell of it filled the room. Smell and memory—they walked hand-in-hand, she had learned.
"Hey, Baby," he said warmly. "You lookin' after that girl like I told you?"
"Sure am, Daddy."
"That's my girl." He stuck a piece of the orange through with his knife and offered it out to her—
The soft click of a closing door returned her to the dark hall. She looked up to see her husband standing beside her. His face was invisible save for the points of light in his eyes.
"Have you worked your magic, Dr. Lecter?" she murmured.
"I have no need for magic, Clarice."
"I know that, but she doesn't. And sometimes I forget."
She twined her fingers with his and led the way back to their bed, where Hannibal had performed magic plenty of times—the same magic with which he had finally healed her; the magic which had built this charmed life for them; the same magic which allowed her, now, to visit her long-dead father whenever she pleased. She could sit with him eating oranges as though she was still a naive ten-year-old, when it pleased her.
But tonight, the taillights had faded to nothing and the only magic that interested Clarice Starling was to be found in her husband's arms, listening to the lullaby of his steady heartbeat.
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