A Lecteresque teen drama. A sequel of sorts to Hannibal Family Values.
Disclaimer: Lecter and Starling belong to Thomas Harris. Everyone else (barring Prince Charles) is mine.
The Return of the Au Pair
The cacophonous jangling of the front doorbell rose over the thud of heavy metal music from upstairs. Dr Hannibal Lecter crushed out his cigar in the marble ashtray at his elbow, and gracefully rose to his feet. He straightened his smoking jacket, winked at Clarice Starling, who sat curled in an armchair with a magazine, and sauntered to the front door. The doorbell chimed again. Opening the door a few inches, the world's most notorious serial killer paused for effect, and intoned "Well hello," in his most deadly whisper.
The effect was not entirely lost on the woman on the other side of the door, who blinked away her dazed expression and offered a greeting. "Hello, Doctor Blake."
Dr Lecter threw wide the door and favoured his guests with his most charming smile. "Emma! It is a pleasure to see you again, my dear. How was your flight?" He stepped aside to allow Emma Morton, nee Robinson and her son to enter.
"Reasonable. The food was awful, though." Emma deposited her suitcases in the surprisingly cavernous hallway. There was that moment of awkward silence between two people who have not met for a long time, and who upon meeting, do not know quite what to say. It did not help, Emma mused, that the good doctor evidentlystill possessed the capacity to scare the living daylights out of her, regardless of his age or hers. She smiled at him, and turned to the small boy clutching at the hem of her coat. "Say hello to the doctor, Tommy."
"So this is young Thomas," Dr Lecter said, crouching down to greet the boy.
Thomas Hannibal Morton regarded his namesake steadily for a few moments, before warily proffering a sticky bag of sweets.
Dr Lecter shook his head. "No, no, my boy," he said genially. "You eat them all up."
"Are you a real doccor?" Thomas asked, fishing around in the bag for another sweet.
"I am indeed."
"D'you make people better?" Thomas enquired, seriously.
"That's a matter of opinion, my boy." The doctor smiled at the child, and went to the foot of the staircase. He breathed deeply for a few moments, before letting loose a bellow that would not have been out of place on a parade ground. "Kids! We have guests!"
The heavy metal faltered for a moment, and Emma heard a door creak open. A tall, shadowed figure appeared at the top for a moment, gazed at the little group in the hallway, and disappeared into the darkness once more.
"They'll be down in a moment," Dr Lecter said. "Shall we adjourn to the kitchen? I believe, ah, Cassandra is putting the kettle on."
It would be easier all round if they didn't have to play roles anymore, Emma reflected. But she wasn't entirely sure that Thomas would understand. His grandmother really didn't need to hear about his visit to Uncle Hannibal and Auntie Clarice.
They were ushered into the large, spotless kitchen. Clarice Starling leant against the worktop beside the steaming kettle. Emma paused on the threshold, and the two women studied each other for a moment. There was more silver in Starling's long hair, but her delicate beauty remained intact. Starling smiled broadly and came around the long oak table. "Emma! It's good to see you again," she murmured, enfolding the younger woman in a quick hug.
The remainder of her greeting was interrupted by the thunder of feet coming down the stairs and across the hall. Lecter Senior, his wife and the former au pair all turned to behold three teenagers at the kitchen door. They had all sounded fairly elephantine on the stairs, but Emma suspected that the majority of the noise had been made by the tall, slender girl in nu-rocks and purple jeans. She slid smoothly past her brothers and regarded Emma with a grin. Emma stared her with some astonishment, as her hair was as purple as her jeans.
Jade swept into the kitchen and seized her former nanny in a fierce hug. "You should have visited ages ago," she said. "We thought you were never going to come back."
Emma didn't have the heart to tell them that she'd very nearly stayed in Ulan Bator.
It was as if a dam had broken. Once Jade had put her down, Emma prepared to be mobbed by the two looming boys. The shorter, stockier of the two elbowed past the other, and Emma found herself looking into the hugely beaming face of Tycho, now thirteen and just beginning to sport acne. Always more demonstrative that his older brother, Tycho planted a very Italian kiss on each of her cheeks, before relinquishing her to Gabriel. That young man rather stiffly held out his hand. Emma took it and was dragged into a quick, slightly embarrassed hug. "We thought we'd done something wrong," Gabriel said, smirking slightly.
"You? Never." Emma returned his smirk.
Order slowly returned to the gathering as people began to find seats around the table. All, that is, save Dr Lecter, who stood by the fridge, looking rather hurt. "Don't I get a hug?" he asked, injured.
Emma looked at him carefully, trying to decide if he was being serious or not. She never could tell. He gazed back, all innocence. She summoned up her courage, crossed the kitchen and very gingerly hugged him. A powerful arm wound its way around her shoulders and tightened. Emma felt her heartbeat accelerate, and sternly suppressed a cringe. "Now that wasn't so bad, was it?" he murmured in her ear just as he released her a few seconds later. Emma retreated with all the seemliest haste she could muster and gave him a tentative smile
"Stop teasing her, Hector." Starling thrust a large mug of hot tea into Emma's hands. She took it gratefully and sank onto one of the kitchen chairs. It wasn't that she disliked the doctor, entirely the reverse, in fact. She just liked him better from a safe distance.
"Was I teasing?" he asked mildly, settling into a chair. Leaning back, he stretched out his legs and crossed them elegantly at the ankles. Regarding the homey scene with perfect benevolence, the doctor sipped his tea.
The small silence that descended around the table was broken by a childish giggle of delight, and the familiar sound of Starling's voice raised in an exasperated scold.
"Tycho! You'll make him sick if give him any more."
Guiltily, Emma realised that she had been neglecting her son, and looked over to see Tycho industriously feeding chocolate digestive biscuits to Thomas. The small boy's sticky smile indicated that he entirely approved of the affair. The smile was quickly replaced by a frown as both his mother and Auntie Cassandra descended upon him with tissues. Wriggling out of Starling's grasp, Thomas headed for the back door and turned with his hand on the door handle. "Outside?" he inquired hopefully.
"An excellent idea," Dr Lecter proclaimed, rising to his feet. "It is a beautiful afternoon, a rare beast here in London. Shall we?"
They did. And as Emma watched Tycho and Gabriel engage Thomas in a game of football while the shadows lengthened across the lawn, she became aware that Starling was unusually tense. Watching her out of the corner of her eye, Emma saw that she cast frequent glances at the house behind theirs. It overlooked their garden and kitchen, and Emma noted the occasional flutter of white in one of the upstairs windows.
"What is it?" She asked quietly, leaning across to Starling.
Clarice shrugged, ostensibly keeping her eyes on the football game. "The new neighbour. I can't decide if she's got a crush on Hannibal, or if she's just nosey."
Dr Lecter smirked. "You should see the curtains twitch when I sunbathe."
"Well, you get neighbours like that everywhere," Emma said matter-of-factly.
"It is behaviour that I would prefer to - discourage," the doctor said softly. Emma winced.
The sun began to set, and no more flickers of white appeared in the opposite windows. Thomas, growing tired, gave up with football and returned to his mother.
"We've prepared the guest rooms for you both," Starling said as Emma picked him up.
"Thanks," she said gratefully. "It's time this young man had his tea and went to bed."
However, the alphabet spaghetti was not entirely a success, as Thomas fell asleep halfway through his meal. Emma scooped him into her arms, and turned to Starling with a quizzical expression. The former FBI agent returned from her motherly trip down Memory Lane and gave directions to the room prepared for Thomas's use. As Emma left, Clarice looked over at Dr Lecter. The soft smile on her face was as easy to read as an open large-print children's primer, and the half-formed comment on her lips got no further than that in the face of Hannibal Lecter's flat-out rejection of the subject he just knew she was going to raise.
"No," he said, returning to his perusal of /The Times/.
"Hannibal, you don't even know what I was going to say," Starling protested.
"Don't I?" He folded his paper and set it down next to Thomas's abandoned spaghetti. "You were going to begin with remarking on how adorable young Thomas is."
Starling opened her mouth to protest, but Lecter carried on. "You were going to follow that up by adding that it is nice to have a child around the house again."
She glared at him. "I was?"
Clarice sniffed. There was really nothing she could say in her defence, and she knew it. The infuriating thing was, he knew it too.
"And then, I believe, you were going to remind me of how wonderful our three were when they were Thomas's age. And while I agree with the first two points of your no doubt hypothetical argument, I would remind you of Tycho's distressing teething habits, the unfortunate demise of Mogs One and Two, and little Gabriel's unseemly interest in anything with hot coals. And we both know what Jade was like when she was five..."
"All right, I was fishing." Clarice sighed and began to clear away the remains of Thomas's dinner.
He smiled fondly at her. "Darling, this fish isn't biting. I have done my duty to the human race."
"Poor bastards," Clarice muttered.
"I shall pretend that I didn't hear that." The doctor picked up the paper again.
"You know," Clarice mused as she scraped alphabet pasta into the bin, "I'm not even sure if you still /could.../"
Dr Lecter threw the paper at her and feigned a sulk until she came close enough to capture. Sprawled across his lap, Starling laughed into his chest has he held her close, then shivered as his lips grazed across her jaw line and ear. "I shall be forced to debunk that theory later, my dear," he purred.
"Bring it on," Clarice told him, still giggling. The doctor smiled.
Upstairs, Emma regarded her sleeping son with a smile not unlike the one Dr Lecter had remarked upon Starling's face, and then she sighed. She was lucky, she supposed, that children possessed a natural capacity for adapting to new circumstances. Given the upheaval in his life that Thomas had endured over the past two years, she was glad he wasn't any older, or he'd be swinging from the chandeliers. She still felt like screaming, sometimes. She had to laugh, really. After the events in Florence a decade ago, she had thought that there was nothing in this world that could faze her.
Smiling ruefully at memories both good and bad, Emma drew the duvet up around Thomas's shoulders and kissed him goodnight.
"Is he asleep?" Jade whispered from the doorway.
Emma turned and saw her leaning casually against the doorpost. The purple jeans had vanished in favour of a long, black skirt and skull-embossed top. "Yep."
"I'll keep the music down, then," Jade said with a lazy grin. "Off out in a bit, anyway."
"Oh, that's nice. Where to?" Emma turned off the light and they left the room.
"No idea." Jade shrugged. Emma caught a whiff of something familiar, and looked suspiciously into the young woman's eyes. Yes, her pupils were dilated.
"You can tell, can't you?" Jade asked, mortified. "Is it obvious?"
"A little," Emma told her, smirking. "Maybe some more spray?"
"Dad is going to kill me," Jade moaned, hurrying back to her room.
Emma grinned a little. "I doubt it," she called after the retreating figure. "With his sense of smell, he probably already knows." There was another paranoid little moan from the room three doors down. Laughing, Emma headed downstairs.
Perhaps an hour later, while Emma, Starling and Lecter sat in the sitting room watching a nature documentary, the thunder of dainty feet in size seven combat boots heralded the arrival of Jade in the hallway.
"I'm off out," she called breezily as she passed by the open lounge door.
"Well, where are you going?" Starling enquired, rising to her feet and intercepting her daughter by the front door. In the lounge, Dr Lecter scowled and glared out of the window at the large, blue BMW that had pulled up outside.
"Jacob's taking me to the cinema," Jade explained, edging past her mother and opening the door.
"You are to be home by one o'clock," Dr Lecter called.
Jade sighed. "Mum, can't you somehow remind him that I'm seventeen?"
"Your father has an excellent memory. No doubt he will remember that you are seventeen when you are eighteen. Then, you can do as you please." Starling held the door open for her eldest. "One o'clock. And have a good time."
In the lounge, Emma observed Jade sliding into the passenger seat of the big Beamer. "So Mummy and Daddy have money, then?" she asked of Starling as she resumed her seat beside the doctor.
Starling glanced out of the window. "Apparently his father plays polo with Prince Charles."
"Oh Good Lord." Emma considered the implications of that for a moment, and immediately wished she hadn't. "I had no idea Jade moved in that sort of circle..."
"She won't be moving in any sort of circle if she's not back by one AM," Dr Lecter said cheerfully, not taking his eyes from the on-screen tiger sharks.
Three AM. The house was silent, and only the hum of distant traffic served to cover the sound of the front door slowly creaking open. Guiltily, Jade peeked into the hallway. It was dark. She slipped inside and edged the door closed again. The soft click of the lock seemed to echo throughout the building, and she winced. She tiptoed, insofar as one can in combat boots, towards the kitchen. Slightly stoned and a little drunk, Jade was preoccupied with making as little noise as possible, which was why she did not notice the tiny sliver of light under her father's study door. She did notice, however, when the door was flung wide and light blazed across the hallway. Freezing to the spot, she beheld her father standing there, frowning. He wielded a book in one hand, and brandished the other under her nose.
Jade gulped. "I, um, sort of forgot the time..."
"You forgot the time." There was flat disbelief in his voice, and Jade couldn't help but flinch. She knew how much he despised untruths.
"I'm sorry, Dad," she whispered. "It was a big party after the film. Everyone was there, all my friends. I wanted to hang out for a bit, and spend some time with Jacob. You know?" She hoped that he did.
Dr Lecter considered his daughter, standing there with an abject expression on her face. He relented. "Have you eaten?"
"I was going to make a sandwich..." she trailed off, hopefully.
"Make your sandwich and go to bed," he told her, allowing a flicker of a smile to cross his face. Relief blossomed in her answering grin.
"So what were you doing down here?" she asked, for the sake of conversation.
"Waiting for you, and reading a little." Dr Lecter shooed her towards the kitchen.
"What about?" Jade glanced at the book. It was from his cookery collection. "A new recipe?"
"You could say that." He flicked on the kitchen light and set the book down on the table. Jade saw that he had marked several places. She headed for the fridge, the munchies taking over.
"Anything interesting?" she called over her shoulder as she rummaged through the shelves.
"Something spicy featuring testicles," the doctor said blandly.
Setting the plate of ham down on the side, Jade turned to her father and caught his crocodile smile. "Dad!" she protested. "That is not funny."
"Did I say it was?" Winking at his daughter, Dr Lecter left her to it and headed upstairs to bed.