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Faith

copyright 2001, by Celestial_Rose

Disclaimer:    Chris Carter owns Mulder and Scully. The characters of Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling and Ardelia Mapp were created by Thomas Harris.  They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit of admiration and respect.  No infringement of copyright is intended, and no profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to this site.

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Dana Scully wasn't surprised to find her friend in this quiet place.

"Ardelia," she called out quietly, giving warning of her approach.

Ardelia Mapp, sitting cross legged on the ground, started at the sound of another human voice. She quickly scrambled to her feet. "Dana," she hugged her friend, then noticed that Scully hadn't come empty handed. "You brought flowers."

Scully smiled in lukewarm apology. "I know, monetary donations toward her favorite charities. I gave money to the Orphan's Fund, but..."

"You just couldn't break with tradition," Ardelia finished for her. "Same old Dana." Still it hurt when she noticed that Dana remembered something she herself had forgotten until now. "Stargazer lilies, her favorite."

"I remember." Gently, Scully placed the flowers on the stone, careful not to obscure the name engraved there. "I was sent out of town unexpectedly, or I would have been here sooner. How was the memorial service?"

Ardelia didn't blame her; she knew long unexpected side trips were part and parcel of the never-ending search for Mulder. She couldn't hold the absence against Scully. Neither could she bring herself to be more than terse about the ceremony. "It went well," she sighed. "The church was full. She had a lot more friends that she realized."

Scully stared down at the contrast of lilies and stone. Pink,white, and black against gray. She avoided reading the inscription for as long as possible, but it was inevitable. When she finally looked, the words remained the same.

Clarice Starling
1964-2000

Scully's eyes filled with tears she would't shed; she quickly looked away. "I don't understand why you felt the need to do this, Ardelia" Scully admitted.

Ardelia had been holding an uncomfortable truth to herself for months, but Scully's question brought the words tumbling out. "Two weeks after Clarice ...disappeared...I thought I was going nuts. I kept looking for Clarice on her side of the duplex. I kept her side exactly as she'd left it. I just knew she'd come through that door at any second, and I knew she'd be pissed if anything was outta place. She said she had a system."

Scully smiled- that sounded like the Clarice Starling she knew.

Ardelia continued slowly "Work wasn't helping any at all. I was so damn mad when they listed Clarice as a "missing person". If they had listed her as a kidnaping I'm almost sure that you,her, and me would be chilling in O'Ryan's right now. Missing person. What a crock of shit. It was a slap in the face, just short of an open admission that the F.B.I doesn't give a damn about its female agents. I almost quit over that."

"I don't blame you."

"I went a little crazy after that," Ardelia confided. "You've heard that the Lecter letters disappeared?"

Scully nodded. "Who in the Bureau hasn't? The higher ups are debating whose ass they want in a sling for it. Considering Jack Crawford's dead of natural causes, Paul Krendler was found eviscerated on his front steps, and Clarice Starling is...missing..." she choose the last word with caution, knowing Ardelia's aversion to it.

Mapp didn't even notice. She had other things on her mind." I did it Dana. I took them all and burnt them in my trash incinerator. Every word that man ever wrote to Clarice, gone. I knew those morons at the F.B.I the would just put them in a desk drawer and forget about them until some scandal rag dug them back up again. I just couldn't stand for some punk reporter making themself a name from the whole sick mess."

Scully knew she was hearing an open admission of a crime; the letters disappearance had the Director shouting obstruction of justice. At the same time, she could sympathize with Ardelia's motivations. She too was protective of her best friend's memory. Since he'd been gone, Scully felt like physically beating down anyone whose ever crossed her or Mulder.

"After that, I went and scared the hell out of poor Barney. I pulled a gun on him. I was that certain he knew where to find Clarice. Whether she was alive or dead. He didn't know anything- but I'm as good as my word, Dana. If I find out he was holding out on me, he's a dead man.

Months turned into a year, and the trail grew colder. I grew more desperate. One night, when I'd been drinking just a bit too much, I went and stole some hair off her hairbrush. I remembered what my grandame told me, and made a charm. The moon was full that night; I said a little prayer over the charm and set it on her bed."

Despite her sorrow, Ardelia had to smile. "Don't look at me that way, Dana Scully. I know what that skeptical mind of yours is thinking. I don't put much stock in that stuff myself, but..."

"At that point you were ready to believe," Scully finished for her. "Even in the ridiculous and the superstitious. I understand that." A rueful grin twisted her lips. "Who better than I? What I _don't_ understand is why you've obviously given up on Clarice. Ardelia, we don't know if she's dead...or alive. I prefer to think she's alive, and to have faith that she will come back to us."

Ardelia twisted the ring on her left finger, considered her words carefully. She wondered if she could burden Dana with the truth. She didn't want to destroy the woman's hope, but the truth Ardelia alone knew was eating her up inside. She had to tell someone about it. The Dana Scully Ardelia knew defined quiet strength and discretion. Clarice had liked her a great deal. Starling had said that Scully was intensely loyal and braver than almost anyone.

A look of quiet resignation passed over Ardelia's face. She pulled off the ring and handed it to Scully.

"Here's what faith will get you."

Reluctantly, Scully accepted the trinket. "What is this Ardelia?"

Ardelia paused; the silence between the two women stretched for a small eternity. Then, very quietly, Ardelia told her. "Clarice sent it to me- about a month ago."

She was beyond shocked. Scully couldn't believe this- she didn't want to believe this. But unlike so many other times, the proof was tangible. It was right in her hands. The ring was platinum; it was set with an uncut emerald. Size 11, Ardelia's size...and Clarice Starling's. When Scully looked closer, she could see engraved on the inside the initials C.S and A.M.

"Delia..."

"About a month ago," Ardelia continued steadily, "that came to me in an untraceable re-direct wrapper."

Scully's heart felt as though it had dropped down into her shoes; there was a sick taste in her mouth. "Oh my God..." she rasped.

"It came with a note." Ardelia recited from memory. ""Ardelia. I'm fine and better than fine. Don't look for me. I love you. I'm sorry I scared you. Burn this. Starling.""

"She's with Lecter." Scully winced as the next word escaped before she could think it over. "Voluntarily."

"If I read that note right, yes." Mapp's brown eyes met Dana's blue ones. "I spent three nights up just thinking about that note. About Clarice. The next afternoon I began planning her memorial."

Unable to take the intensity of her friend's stare, Scully looked away. She didn't want to admit to knowing the truth. "I can't believe that, Ardelia. I just can't. Lecter is a sick man; he obtains his pleasure from others pain. Perhaps he sent it, just to toy with you ..."

Ardelia laughed, a sound devoid of any mirth. "Sicko or not, he wouldn't mess with me- what purpose would that serve? He knows I lack the resources to bring Clarice back."

"Delia..."

Ardelia had come this far, she wouldn't allow Dana the luxury of her denial now. "He won't kill her, Dana. He'll do worse than kill her. He was fascinated by her," Ardelia almost choked on the word, "potential right from the start. And Clarice...well you saw her. She was obsessed with finding him, with figuring him out. He's in her head, and he'll use that. He'll f--- with her until he's created his own little protegee. Dana, Clarice is dead-not in body, in spirit. The Clarice Starling we knew would never do something like this. She wouldn't leave the people who love her. She sure as hell wouldn't have no truck a murderer!"

"If you're so sure she's with him, " Scully shot back out of desperation, "then why don't you find him?!"

"Don't you think I've thought about it?!" Mapp shouted back. "He's a very very smart man Dana...and now more cautious than ever. No one is gonna find him unless he wants to be found. Clarice was the best they had and well...now..."

At that point Ardelia ran out of words. It didn't matter, Scully felt beaten down by the truth. "So for your own sanity, you had to do this."

Ardelia shook her head. "There's not a person under that stone, just a memory."

At Scully's stricken look, Ardelia remembered she wasn't the only one to have suffered a loss. "Ohh shit. I'm sorry Dana. Here I am carrying on about Clarice, when that crazy ass partner of yours is still among the missing." she sniffles. "I'm an idiot..."

"No, no you're not," Scully assured her. It's all right." Mulder. Clarice Starling. Dead or dying. Scully wished she could drown her sorrows, but she had her unborn child to think of. Ardelia, however, looked like she could use a good stiff shot or two. "I've got an idea, Ardelia. We'll round up Andrew Lwellyn and have a beer at O'Ryan's -for Mulder and Starling."

A weak chuckle escapeded Ardelia's lips.

"Girl, you're two and a half months pregnant. You can't be doin' any drinking."

"Fine," Scully retorted. "I'll have water and lust after your beer."

"All right."


After leaving Ardelia and Andrew, Dana Scully drove aimlessly around Arlington for what seemed like hours. Her body was on auto-pilot, her mind was spinning in circles.

If the ring and the note were genuine, as Ardelia believed they were, the implications sickened Scully. She felt angry. She felt betrayed. How could this have happened? How could an otherwise sane, strong willed woman do such a thing? Leave her friends, her work, and her home to follow a monster?

Was Clarice Starling that disenchanted with her life? Yes,she had no family- her friends liked to think they helped to fill that void in her life. Ardelia, the late Jack Crawford, the late John Brigham, Lacey Carrol, Andrew Lewellyn, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. As Ardelia said earlier, more people than she knew cared about Clarice.

Was it work? Yes, Starling's career with the Federal Bureau of Investigations was all but over. But there was professional life outside the ugly buff walls of the Hoover building.

Wasn't there? Scully laughed, a sound with a bitter edge to it. She was a fine one to talk. When she allowed herself to admit it, she knew she and Clarice Starling were a great deal alike in that regard. An expulsion from the work they loved would kill both of them.

A strong work ethic was just one of the ways they were alike. Their similarity was what made them such good friends in the first place. Scully felt she knew Starling as well as she knew herself. They were determined women, hiding their vulnerability under layers of false selves. They were fighting the good fight against the good ole boys club that is J. Edgar Hoover's true legacy. Both women were damn good agents, despite their individual handicaps.

The similarities ran deeper than their worklives. Each woman had lost a father, and that pain and unresolved anger was a significant force which drove them on. They were both desperate for their father's approval; and since dad was dead, they looked for approval from father figures...

An elaborate brick building flashed in her mirror. A church, old style judging by the architecture. Obeying an inner voice she hadn't heard clearly in a long time, Scully pulled over.



Inside, the sanctuary was cool and still. The profound silence was disturbed only by the occasional hushed whisper. Confession was taking place, but only a handful of the faithful had come to bare their souls. Most of which were the elderly, a cynical voice noted in the back of Sculy's mind. Scully frowned. The voice sounded suspiciously like Mulder. She ignored it, and passed by the confessionals undisturbed.

In a secluded alcove near the front, more than three dozen votive candles burned. Another dozen votives stood dark among them. Above the candles, mounted to the wall, an elaborate Virgin smiled gently down on the empty pews. Between the flickering shadows thrown by the candles and the statue's quiet presence, Scully sensed she could rest her thoughts here. Gratefully alone she sank into the nearest pew.

Her eyes closed as in prayer. She listened to the hiss of the candles and let her mind take her where it would. Inevitably, her thoughts brought her back to Clarice Starling.

Earlier, she admitted to herself that she and Starling were similar. That is what scares her: the twinship between herself and Clarice. If Ardelia is correct, then Clarice Starling willingly chose the darkness. Could Dana Scully, Starling's sister beneath the skin, make the same choice?

Scully had had the opportunity to make the wrong choice. Mostly through association with Mulder. Each time she barely avoided the darkness, usually by pulling her partner out of it. Then a few months ago darkness had come calling on her personally. Darkness had appealed to her flaws and taken her for a ride. She temporarily abandoned her principles and followed where darkness lead. She could have stayed there- darkness wanted her to stay. She couldn't say she wasn't tempted. All that power, the unlimited ability to save lives. But in the end, she ran back to the light with her tail between her legs.

It was the correct decision to make.

Now, with Ardelia's revelation, Scully wondered if her escape was less than permanent. Like Clarice, would Scully someday surrender to the darkness within herself?

No. She had to squash that thought, now. Needing a distraction Scully found her eyes drawn upwards towards the statue of the Virgin. The madonna seemed benign, hopefully stretching her arms out to receive any intercessionary. But to Scully's disheveled state of mind, Mary also looked tired. Like she'd seen too much of the world's suffering, and there wasn't much more of it she could take. Scully appreciated the artist's perspective. That's how her own faith felt: ready to fail, but refusing to die.

Slowly, as she stared into the painted eyes of the Virgin, Scully realized how she differed from Starling. Clarice Starling had nothing to believe in, and Dana Scully had generations of faith bred into her bones. Perhaps that battered faith was enough to keep her darkness at bay-even if only temporarily.

Scully took two dollars from her purse and dropped them into the donation box. She lit two candles. The first candle was for Scully and her struggling faith. The second candle lit quickly. Orange and yellow, blue at its heart, the flame flared high. Scully watched it burn for a moment, then - very softly- she simply said.

"For Clarice Starling."

Starling's candle was still burning brightly as Scully left.


FIN

copyright 2001, by Celestial_Rose

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