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Loose Ends

copyright 2004, by Mel

Disclaimer:    These characters 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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Clarice Starling raised her eyes to heaven as her telephone rang for the umpteenth time. It was 7.30pm and she desperately wanted to be leaving her dingy Behavioral Sciences office and heading home. She decided to ignore it. She was walking a tightrope and it was sapping all her energy to concentrate and not fall on her ass. As a result, her work was substandard and her patience wafer thin. However, she wouldn’t have to carry on like this for much longer. Luckily for her, Jack Crawford was affording her all manner of luxuries and leniencies, so glad was he to have her back in one piece….

**

When she had vanished, along with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, from the summer house of the ill-fated Paul Krendler, everybody had assumed the worst. Crawford had half expected her body to show up during the dredging of the river, and had suffered tremendous guilt at her assumed destiny. He had encountered dreams of horrific proportions, his subconscious mind building on his knowledge of what Hannibal Lecter was capable of, all exacerbated by his fears and his grief. So it was no small relief when he heard that Clarice had been found and was in an Arlington hospital, waiting for somebody to come and escort her back to D.C.. Crawford was in his car and pulling out of the underground garage before he even hung up his cellphone.

He remained by her side during the weeks and weeks of meetings and hearings and debriefings. The fact that she remembered nothing before waking up in the hospital surprised nobody who was close to the case. Her body showed various signs of abuse, some new, some old. The rape kit had been inconclusive, but everybody had drawn their own conclusions in that vein. She seemed stable enough, if a little bewildered. When questioned about Krendler she could only recall a dinner party, and nothing more cogent. Crawford had wanted to spare her the details of that night but Section Chief Blevins had taken a little too much pleasure in filling her in. Crawford’s face got redder and redder as Clarice’s grew paler and paler at the graphic description.

“I think she understands, Mark.” Crawford had stood abruptly, almost knocking over his seat.

“Just wanted to make sure all parties have all the facts Jack.” He shrugged, palms upturned.

Crawford took Clarice’s elbow and led her out of the room, calling Blevins a jackass under his breath. In the car he apologized to Clarice but she said nothing. She looked about to burst into tears and he backed off quickly. That was not something he wanted to see.

“Well at least it’s all over now sweetheart,” he said, cursing himself silently for the lapse in professionalism. “You’re back to work tomorrow.” When she didn’t answer he continued. “I know it’s only paper-pushing, but it’ll be good to put your back up against something eh? I mean…” He trailed off, not really knowing what he meant. The rest of the ride to her home was completed in silence. He stole a glance at her once, and saw her examining the rope burns on her wrists with an odd look on her face. His heart swelled with feeling for her, for what she must have been through.

Only when she had closed the door and saw Crawford’s car move off did Clarice let her mask slip. She leaned on the door and slid down to the floor, her face contorting as she started laughing. Laughing with relief that it was all over, that she had managed to get this far. It would all be downhill from now on.

**

Clarice came out of her reverie as the telephone came back to life, rang twice, then fell quiet. Her eyes lit up and she scooted closer to the desk on her chair and waited. It had barely rung once before she snatched it up and put it to her ear.

“Well hello Clarice,” drawled a familiar voice. “I trust I find you well this evening?”

“I’m better now,” she said quietly into the mouthpiece, cradling the handset as if it were the most precious thing in the world. She saw her eyes, pupils grossly dilated, reflected in the shiny surface of the desk.

“Did you manage to finish?”

“I have the last pieces in my briefcase. Once I leave tonight, your FBI files are useless.” A beat. “Hannibal?”

“I hear footsteps Clarice.”

She hung up the phone with lightning speed and turned back to her computer screen. Jack Crawford rounded the corner and stopped in her doorway.

“Still working?”

“Just packing up Jack, I’m about to leave for the night.”

“You want me to walk you out?”

“Sure, that’d be great.”

Poor Jack, ever protective, ever redundant. She would miss him.

Clarice stood and threw her coat on, picked up her bag and briefcase. As she turned to shut out the lights and close the door, she took one last look at the office that had been her second home for the past four months. Cabinets full of files, cartons full of evidence, all now subtly doctored as to be completely useless to anybody hunting Hannibal Lecter. She wondered how long it would take them to realize that nothing here was as it should be. Long enough, she assumed, to allow she and her beloved time to dissolve into the background once again. She sighed deeply, satisfied, as she turned and followed her former mentor up and out of the basement offices.

Jack Crawford saw her to her car, and waved as she pulled away. She seemed brighter today. Perhaps she was getting back to her old self again. He should stop being such a spineless ass and ask her out for a drink.

Maybe the pang of pleasure he felt at believing he had her back again, would have turned to pain, had he realized he just seen his Clarice, for the very last time.

FIN

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