As before, Lecter and Starling are Harris's.
Light danced and sparkled along the seemingly hair-fine blade. She was a mouse caught in the gaze of the snake, frozen for what seemed like an eternity of horrified antici...
...pation as the silver claw arced across her throat, as gracefully and delicately as a butterfly. There was no pain, but oh my, the fear. It rose up inside her, impatient and churning like steam in a kettle left on the boil. Her scream was a sad little wet hiss as her windpipe, jugular and vocal cords alike parted under the slender knife. Blood burst forth and blossomed on her blouse. As the warm, crimson life fled her body, she caught his unholy gaze and thought she detected the faintest hint of regret.
Emma woke screaming into the tinny, recycled air of Flight 138 to Gatwick, London. Mystified passengers murmured their displeasure and craned their necks to see who had disturbed the sleepy silence. Ignoring the glares and the stewardess's helpful query, Emma staggered from her aisle seat and fled to the toilet. She slammed the door behind her and bent her head over the bowl just in time, as her stomach appeared to reject everything she had ever eaten.
I haven't had carrots in weeks, she thought distractedly, a few moments later. She flushed the loo and turned to the sink, intending to wash away the sharpness in her throat with a mouthful of water or two, yet she caught her own eye in the mirror and froze. She could almost see the scarlet smile the doctor's knife had left in its wake... it had seemed so real. The grey face, that stranger's face in the mirror began to blur as hot tears welled up in her eyes. She gripped the edge of the sink until her knuckles went white and the tendons in her hands stood out like wire rope, but her legs refused to co-operate and she sank onto the lid of the tiny toilet. It felt as if every muscle in her body had clenched into protesting knots as the past nerve-wracking weeks, days and hours caught up with her at last, and presented her with the bill.
Emma wrapped her arms around herself and rocked back and forth in her tiny cubicle as great, panicked sobs mercilessly wracked her slender frame. It wasn't good, it wasn't right, and she was in deeper shit than ever before. With the Lecters in Britain, it seemed thoroughly unlikely that she would ever escape that maroon gaze unless she was in the ground, or in prison. Neither option held much appeal, but neither did the thought of the Family Lecter anywhere near her own relatives. Which they certainly would be, if she ratted on them.
It didn't even bear thinking about.
Emma liked to think that she was a sensible girl who never did anything particularly rash, or got into to trouble. However, even she had to admit that the evidence thus far pointed to a certain flair for attracting disaster that she had not realised that she possessed. Common sense appeared to have fled the moment she had opened her mouth and agreed to accompany the Lecters on this insane family holiday. How to justify her actions? She couldn't, save for the fact that everything within her rebelled at the idea of separating children from parents that obviously treasured them.
The sobbing and the nervous twitching had mercifully begun to subside as a discreet knock at the door intruded upon her rather damp reverie. "I'll be out in a second," she called, and hiccoughed.
"Emma? It's me." Starling's voice came softly through the flimsy plastic door, and Emma wearily got to her feet and hauled the door open. Starling immediately stepped in, forcing Emma into the corner by the toilet. Starling closed the door and locked it, then turned to look at the au pair. In such close quarters, Emma got a good look at her employer's face. The older woman was tired, as evidenced by her bloodshot eyes and strained smile.
"You alright?" Starling could smell the vomit, and it didn't take a genius to realise that Emma had been crying.
Emma nodded, not trusting herself to say anything. Starling considered her for a moment, and took advantage of her silence to speak. "When we get in, I guess we're going to have to talk - your future employment and so forth."
"Bite me." The Americanism was out before Emma could censor it.
"I'm sorry?" Starling glared at her.
"You can bite me," Emma snarled. She stood, forcing Starling to take a cramped step backwards. "You and your bloody husband both." This followed by a mildly hysterical hiccough. She swallowed hard and continued. "I don't know if you get off on this kind of crap, or what, but I don't. And I'll tell you what; there is nothing you or the doctor can do to me that I haven't already seen and felt in my own head." Emma felt her chest constrict and her breath falter, but pressed on regardless. "I'll go as far away as you please. Australia maybe, or Outer-sodding-Mongolia. As far away as you want. And I'll keep schtum too. They won't get a peep out of me, I did promise, you know. But don't think I'm going to beg you for my life or anything. I'm not going to do that." She held Starling's gaze fiercely. "I still have my pride."
"I don't doubt that." Starling murmured. "You had a bad dream?" The older woman's voice was almost unbearably kind.
Emma couldn't look her in the eye. "I dreamt that the doctor... killed me," she whispered. "Oh God... I couldn't move. Couldn't even scream..." She shuddered violently and sank back down onto the seat of the small toilet. A final, forlorn hiccough escaped her and she fell silent, staring at the tiny slice of grey airline carpet visible between Starling's designer trainers.
Starling shook her head with a sigh halfway between annoyance and resigned amusement. "Forgive me for sounding, well, practical, but if Hannibal was going to kill you then I suspect that he would have done so already. Even his patience has limits. And I assure you, I have no intention of 'bumping you off' either."
Emma shot her a look. "This isn't remotely funny."
"I never said it was." The former FBI agent leant casually against the sink and studied Emma thoughtfully for a few moments. The au pair squirmed under a gaze she found almost as penetrating as Lecter's. Do the pair of them practise that, or what, she wondered.
Starling suddenly chuckled, making Emma jump. "I might have to get that promise of silence in writing, though. For future reference."
Incredibly, Emma felt the urge to giggle swelling inside her. "Fine. In blood if I can't find a damn pen..." The giggle broke free, and Starling responded with a relieved grin.
"I doubt that'll be necessary. Y'know, it would be nice if at least one of the children's nannies left our employ in the same condition in which she entered it. And before you ask, no one died. Anyway, if you're feeling up to it, I suspect we had better get back to the kids."
"Bloody hell, what have you done with them?" Emma demanded, looking around as though noticing for the first time that Lecter's offspring were absent from their mother's side.
"I left them in the no doubt inadequate care of the nice British Airways stewardess with the coffee trolley." Starling's wince was echoed by Emma's groan, and they both reached for the door handle.
As Starling unlocked the cubicle, another thought occurred to Emma. "Clarice - I mean, Cassandra - do you have any idea what's happened to the doctor?"
Starling paused at the door. "I suspect, upon reflection, that he has simply gone to get rid of the car, and will be catching another flight shortly. We should meet him in London - eventually." She shrugged. "I really couldn't say. I have learned, the hard way, that he is a law unto himself. However, I do get regular news updates on my phone, so we'll know if..."
"They catch him." Emma whispered.
Starling smiled grimly. "Yes."
Returning to their seats, the two women found that one of the stewardesses was minding Tycho, who was thankfully still asleep. However, Jade and Gabriel were conspicuous by their absence, and Emma endured an uncomfortable few minutes until Stewardess Number Two returned from the staff cabin with the little darlings in her wake, clutching chocolate biscuits and sticky toffee cake, which in Gabriel's case seemed to be attached to his face rather than his hand. Starling sighed and reached for a tissue as the stewardess, with that peculiar brand of cheerfulness for which airline stewardesses are famous, exclaimed brightly; "They're such
inventive children, aren't they?"
It was, Emma mused as she reached for her own handkerchief, the understatement of the century.
The children settled back into their seats with an unusual minimum of fuss. Tycho was mumbling what sounded suspiciously like Latin in his sleep, but since Emma's knowledge of that great language began and ended with 'fabrici diem, punk', it could have been ancient Egyptian for all she knew. And while Gabriel chatted excitedly to no one in particular about how he wanted to be an airline pilot when he grew up (and a rock star, a brain surgeon, a Jedi Knight and an astronaut), his sister quietly busied herself with her ever-present laptop. Emma took the opportunity to close her eyes and attempt to relax, but perhaps fortunately, sleep refused to come. She was grateful for the rattling of computer keys on her left, as the sound was perfectly (and normally infuriatingly) distracting.
Curiously, Starling leant over her daughter's shoulder and regarded the Word document on the screen. "Not fan fiction /again/, Jade. Honestly, how many times...?" The young girl flushed scarlet and half turned away from her mother, hiding the screen. Starling chuckled. "Oh well, I guess it's keeping you quiet." She returned to her magazine, which occasionally shook slightly as tiny burps of laughter escaped her.
Emma thought she knew the reason for her employer's sudden levity; sheer relief can make any catastrophe funny. They had escaped with surprisingly few complications given the situation. A public showdown between the pair of them had been avoided, and some sort of understanding reached. For now, at least. We're not home free yet, are we, Dr. Lecter, she mused.
Some time later, there was a small and polite cough from two seats away. "Mommy, Emma, how do you spell 'tutu'?" Jade turned an imploring and far too innocent gaze upon the two adults.
Emma and Starling looked at each other and snickered.
The hours passed slowly, as hours in any type of confinement, from prison cells to hospital waiting rooms always do. Finally, however, the plane began its arc downwards and joined the ponderous queue of planes circling above London like a great unkindness of ravens. Looking out of the window, the children exclaimed over such illuminated landmarks as the London Eye, and argued over whether the tower they could see below was Big Ben. Personally, Emma thought it just looked like a bloody big tower, of which the ancient city had more than one, but London's geography had never been Emma's strong point so she gave up trying to identify far distant buildings and closed her eyes again. And eventually, after much circling, they landed.
Gatwick airport in the wee hours was ridiculously busy, or so Emma thought tiredly as she skirted be-suited and trainer-shod businessmen fairly running for their flights. Tycho snuggled down into her arms and sleepily nibbled on her jacket, and his older brother and sister were uncharacteristically silent, clutching their mother's hands as they left the airport proper and headed for the taxi ranks. Check-in had been mercifully quick given that their only luggage was a laptop and a plush Yoda toy with one chewed ear. It was, she reflected, quite reassuring to see the rain lashing heavily against shining concrete and hear the dulcet tones of the nearest London cabbie.
"All right, love? Where to?" This addressed to Starling, who looked rather taken aback at being called 'love' by a complete stranger, moreover one who pronounced the word like 'lav'.
"Recommend me a hotel," Starling told the gentleman at the wheel, once they were settled in the taxi. "A good one. In fact, make it a spectacular one"
"The Savoy it is, then." The cabbie released the handbrake and reversed with no noticeable care for the continued health of those walking behind his vehicle. As he pulled out into the main stream of traffic leaving the airport, two thoughts occurred to Emma. The first, which she declined to share with Starling, was that the cabbie had most likely chosen the most expensive hotel he could think of that was a goodly distance from the airport. However, the second thought she considered more pressing than the probable size of the fare.
"Um, don't you need to book at the Savoy?" she asked tentatively.
"Not when they see the colour of my plastic, we won't," Starling said comfortably. "Relax."
However, Emma found it nearly impossible to relax until she almost saw the pound signs rack up in the eyes of the impeccably dressed gentleman behind the front desk at the Savoy Hotel. He smiled unctuously, no doubt seeing generously discreet tips at the foot of every bill, and gestured for a bellhop to take them to their suite.
Starling grinned at her. "See? For everything else..."
"I stand corrected." Emma said dryly. "So... now what?"
Fortunately, Starling's phone chose that precise moment to beep, announcing the arrival of a message. The ex agent busied herself with the device for a moment, and looked up. A massively relieved smile lit up her features. "He's on the next flight. Says he'll be here in a few hours. Shall we get the kids to bed and wait in the bar?"
"He sent you a text?" Somehow, Emma found that difficult to imagine. She suspected that even the doctor's text messages possessed perfect grammar and spelling.
Starling gave her an odd look. "Sure, why not?"
Shrugging, Emma chuckled. "The bar sounds good to me. I doubt I could sleep if I tried."
And so, four hours and several stiff gins later, Emma and Starling were still in the bar regaling the barman and each other with various equestrian mishaps and exploits, when...
"Good morning, Emma," a smooth and cultured voice purred into her ear. Emma's gin leapt from her hand and cascaded across the bar as she toppled from her stool with a shriek. Starling collapsed in laughter as the au pair climbed to her feet, red faced and spluttering, and looked Hannibal Lecter in the eye.
"If you ever do that to me again..." she began, before words failed her utterly.
"You'll have a coronary?" He asked mildly, one grey eyebrow raised in amusement. Turning to Clarice, the doctor took her hand and raised it to his lips. "Cassie, dearest," he greeted her. "I trust you had a pleasant flight?"
Starling looked across at Emma, who reddened. "Tolerable, Hector, tolerable. As you see, we are both still alive. As are the children, I might add. They behaved rather well, all things considered. Naturally, it would have been a much more pleasant experience if you had been able to join us, or at least tell me where you'd gone." Her voice contained more than a hint of steel.
Unperturbed, Lecter smiled. "I had to take care of the car, of course. And I had another errand to run."
"Not that poor young man, surely?" Starling demanded, aghast.
"Of course not," he reassured her and Emma both. "I'm not that foolish. Not at all."
"So where did you go?" Emma asked, as politely as possible.
Dr. Lecter smiled with the air of a schoolboy hiding a guilty secret. "I had to pick something up. Dearest, you understand?"
"Understand what, Hector?" There was a light frost on Starling's tone.
The doctor produced a rather large book from his carrier bag. "It was auctioned over the internet the other day. The seller was a Florentine bookshop owner. I told him I'd pick it up in person." He couldn't quite conceal a sheepish grin.
Emma just had time to glimpse the title as Starling took it from her husband's hand and opened the cover. Neat copperplate greeted her eyes on the inside page, and she looked up at Lecter. "Right now, I'm not sure if I want to kiss you or kill you," Starling growled through clenched teeth.
Dr. Lecter merely smiled, and offered her his arm. "Why don't we discuss that in private, my dear?" He reached over and plucked the book from Starling's fingers as she got rather unsteadily to her feet and linked her arm with his.
As the couple made their way to the stairs, Dr. Lecter turned his head and looked at Emma. "I suggest you sleep in," he said. "You look like a ghost."
Emma waved goodnight in a distracted fashion, and returned to her contemplation of the bar. The Joy of Cooking? She was reasonably certain that really didn't want to know...
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