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Just a little Crawford torture.
Disclaimer: All the characters herein belong to Thomas Harris. No copyright infringement is intended.
Shadows In The Light
The pains had begun again.
He rolled over, reaching out and flicking on the bedside lamp, before sinking into the cold embrace of the empty side of the bed.
He stared at the shadows the light cast on the ceiling, the ridged plaster-work finish seeming as vast as the mountains, with minute, inky-black valleys in the lines left by the teeth of the plaster-comb, the ridges like mountain-tops, picked out in light.
The pains had begun again. They came back, loud and familiar, like a family returning after a long vacation. Familiar pains.
He squinted at the ceiling, at the shadow-pattern there, and a memory slowly re-surfaced. Slowly - as he was preoccupied with the fire in his chest - but it came back. He grasped it with both hands, lest it escape.
A brightly lit hospital, replete with jolly nurses and the smell of disinfectant. The rough feel of a paper gown - how he hated those gowns - against his skin. And a nurse - Maria, her name had been - leaning over him, smelling faintly of cigarette smoke, a letter in her hands.
Struggling to sit, struggling to open the envelope with fingers that were no longer strong. Distracted as he was, it had reminded him of something.
Teasing the thick paper from its envelope had been a task his trembling fingers had found hard to accomplish. But he well remembered unfolding the letter, and lying here, now, far from the antiseptic smell and the noise, he was conscious of his fists slowly clenching. The words mocked him, even after more than a year. He had burnt the thing. It was nothing more than ash. But the ash had a voice, and the voice rang metallic through his skull. He could recall every word.
Congratulations on the heart attack. It took a long time coming, didn't it? I was very pleased to hear of your condition. It would save me a lot of bother if you should oblige me and shuffle off your mortal coil as quickly as possible.
He nearly had. The pains had redoubled their efforts, driving into his heart, as sharp as - as a Harpy.
He fought to breathe, but the words continued relentlessly, like the man himself. A memory could not be burnt. It could not be silenced.
But perhaps I am too hasty in wishing you goodbye. You are strong, Jack, and it is too much to hope that this letter will bring on another attack. Yet the clock is ticking, Jack. Don't take too long about it, will you? Otherwise I may have to be put to the inconvenience of visiting you myself.
A thought occurred to him then. That a visit might be mercy, that the blade would stop the pain.
No. It would be slow. People could survive for hours under the delicate attentions of the silver Harpy. He knew that.
Since the time you have left with us is (hopefully) short, I feel that you should use the time wisely. Think of all those achievements, all those medals and television appearances. You could have had a book-deal, Jack. Think about what you have done. Think about Will, Jack. And Clarice. Two lambs you fed to the Big Bad Wolf. Poor Will - no-one thinks of him anymore, do they? He's just roadkill. Which I gather he rather resembles. Are you proud of that, Jack? You should be. Professional jealousy is a contemptible thing, but it is oh so much fun to watch.
Damn the man. He saw everything. Will Graham's face rose from memory with the effortlessness of a fart, and the bad smell besides.
Eyes, blue and accusing, bored into his own, even though he knew they were nothing but a memory. The eyes seemed out of place in a face that looked like a child's join-the-dots picture.
He tried to say sorry, that he had not meant it, but the words rang hollow and empty in the shadowy room. Jack felt the lie in him like ice. The destruction of Will Graham had been placed on his account, and he could not deny it. There was no forgiveness in Graham's soulless eyes. Damn Lecter, damn Graham, and damn his too-accurate memory. He had been the head of Behavioural Sciences. He had walked through Hell and returned, more times than he cared to think. And Will, with his empathy for monsters, his mind as twisted as the beasts he hunted - Will who had taken all the glory, stolen all the thunder.
Stolen thunder. He tasted bile in his mouth, as bitter as his victories. Damn them for souring all he had done. The bile rose and threatened to choke him, as the demon in his head repeated the words, as merciless as the march of Time.
What of Clarice, Jack? Poor little Starling, brooding at home. Sitting with the lights off and a glass of Single Malt in her hand, nursing all that anger.
She must be nearly as bitter as me, he thought. Of all his students, she was the one he was proudest of. And yet -
What was it with her, Jack? Was it her legs? Her eyes? Or perhaps it was simply the fact that she was out of your reach.
And yet she had put her trust in another. She had poured out her heart to another. Another man knew her secrets and her fears. Many men pursued her, but to no avail. She belonged to the Other - and he had marked her as clearly as if he had cut her. She might as well be a million miles away, for all he, Jack, could touch her.
Lust. One of the Seven Deadly Sins. But it was lust, and anger at the lust, that sent her to me, was it not? Don't worry, Jack. It's perfectly normal.
No. Not normal, not when your wife lies dying of cancer at home, he mused. In this very room. Here, where he lay. How often had he dreamed of Starling here? And Bella had never known.
Guilt coursed through him then, triggered by thoughts of long-dead Bella. How dare Starling come into his life, Starling with her hard ankles and glorious hair, taking his thoughts away from his dying wife? How dare she upset the fragile peace he had created for himself?
But Starling hadn't known. The rational thought intruded and shamed him once more. She hadn't known.
For the gift of Clarice Starling, I thank you. I'll look after her, Jack. You have my word. By the way, did you know that she still looks up to you? Isn't that curious?
A harsh sound that was either a laugh or a sob escaped his lips. It had never, despite his feelings, been his intention to commit her to the care of that monster. Upset her, yes. Frighten her, yes. To punish her for being attractive to him, even. But in spite of everything, Jack knew that he still loved her. The pain of imagining her with Lecter was worse than anything his failing heart could give him.
And Lecter never lied.
Jack shuddered, then gasped as needles of pain arced through him. Fists clenched on the sheets, he glared wide-eyed at the ceiling.
"You'd better not hurt her - "
He couldn't finish. Any threat was empty, this he knew full well.
Regrets, Jack? I'm sure there must be plenty.
Hell, yeah. Bring 'em on, since it's the time for bad memories. The more, the merrier.
Yet they are nothing compared to your glorious achievements. I'll let you dwell on them now, as the shadows creep closer. Can you feel your mortality now, Jack?
He closed his eyes, feeling them burn with unshed tears. Damn Lecter... He was going to die a bitter man. Because the truth was always a bitter pill to swallow.
When Jack opened his eyes again, the darkness loomed nearer, and the shadows bore faces. He could not look away. He lay there as pain gripped his chest again, as it wracked his body and befuddled his mind. He lay there and watched the shadows in the light grow closer. Closer - at last.