Author's note:

Thank you for your patience, dear readers. I've been unplugged for a bit- a self-imposed break from all things computer related. Rest assured, the next chapter will soon follow!


Guiding his family into the interview room, Hannibal closed the door and opened his arms to his son.

"Come here, my son. Your daddy has missed you terribly."

"I've missed you, too, Daddy!" Leaping into his father's arms, Devyni exclaimed, "But don't worry anymore, you're coming home, Daddy! Mommy said so."

Hannibal kissed the top of his son's head. Breathing deeply, he lingered for a moment to gather the boy's scent.

"While I'm certain your mother is correct, there is no way to predict when."

Shaking his head, the boy patted Hannibal's chest.

"Don't be silly Daddy, they have to let you go. Mommy said if the lady didn't say you did it, no one else could."

No one else could? She couldn't have forgotten Benjamin?

Shifting his son in his arms, Hannibal leaned to kiss his wife's cheek. Pressing his cheek to hers, he whispered, "Clarice? Do you have news for me?"

Clarice turned into his kiss. Her cheek pressed to his, she spoke softly, "Benjamin passed away last night."

Not surprised, Hannibal leaned back and winked at his wife.

"Hmmm…you don't say. Was he alone?"

"No, Lora was at his side when they took him off life support. Organ failure. He never regained consciousness."

With the arching of his eyebrow the crease running from his forehead through his brow shifted.

"I'm pleased she was able to be with him. Hopefully that will be a comfort to her. Cause of death?"

Clarice ran a hand down Hannibal's arm. Slipping her fingers within his, she squeezed as she spoke, "Ethylene glycol poisoning. Accidental."

Stepping to the side he pulled out a chair for Clarice to sit.

"And have the investigators confirmed the accident, or is that merely an assumption?"

"I've got Ardelia on that now. She's meeting with Lloyd, so we'll know soon. In any event, he's gone."

Clarice sat, patting her knee for Hannibal to transfer their son to her lap. Seeing the action, Devyni wrapped his arms around his father's neck.

Clinging tightly, he urged, "Mommy, please, may I sit with Daddy? He's very strong and I'm not too heavy." Turning to his father, the boy sought, "Right, Daddy? I know you don't call me little one anymore, but I'm not too heavy for you to hold. I'm becoming a big boy, but not too big…"

"I wasn't trying to take you away from your daddy, Dev. It's just that…"

Interrupting with deed rather than words, Hannibal rested his hand on the cap of his wife's shoulder. A gentle squeeze was all he needed to communicate. She needn't worry. He would handle this.

"Hannibal, it is my hope you will never be too big to enjoy a hug from your daddy. We'll sit together, yes?"

"Yes, Daddy!"

The boy buried his head against his father's chest. With his hands occupied holding his son, Hannibal hooked his ankle around the leg of the chair and pulled it back from the table. Sitting, he turned the boy in his arms to allow Devyni to interact with both of his parents.

"I love you so much that want to hug you forever, Daddy."

Hannibal pulled the boy tightly to his body.

"Forever is a very long time, Hannibal."

"I know and I want to hug you for a very long time, okay, Daddy?"

It occurred to Hannibal that he'd been stroking his son's back from the moment he lifted him into his arms. Did the protective act comfort him, or the boy? Likely both.

"You may hug me as much as you want, my son, but a gentleman never turns his back to a lady. Mommy is a lady, is she not?"

"No, Mommy isn't a lady, Daddy. Ladies are old. Mommy isn't."

"Ladies aren't all old, Dev," Clarice responded.

Shaking his head, Devyni continued, "They are girls before they become ladies, aren't they?"

Shrugging his shoulders, Hannibal questioned, "Mommy is older than a girl, Hannibal, is she not?"

As if he was stating what should have been a well-known fact, Devyni explained impatiently, "Mommy is older than a girl, but not old enough to be a lady. Auntie M is a lady."

Smiling at his precocious son, Hannibal's head angled slightly. The boy was brilliant beyond measure, but inexperience combined with his insatiable curiosity, often generated some very interesting opinions. Testing his son's thought processes, Hannibal asked, "If your aunt is a lady and Mommy is not, what do you consider her? What is Mommy?"

Blushing, Devyni cupped his hands over his mouth and gushed, "My Mommy is a princess."

Winking at his wife, Hannibal chuckled. "Is she, little one? And how was that determined?"

"Yes, she's beautiful. So are princesses. My mommy is a princess!"

Clarice laughed, scoffing, "Princess? Hah! Hardly. Unless I qualify by being a royal pain in the a-"


A quick shake of her husband's head quieted her.

"You're more than correct, my son. Mommy is very precious to us. She is our princess."

The boy's expression turned to consolation. Patting his father's cheeks with his little hands, he explained, "You're too old to be a prince though, Daddy. You can be the king, okay?"

"If I am the king, are you a prince?"

The boy's eyebrows knitted tightly, he appeared confused.

"I can't be the prince…the prince marries the princess…I can't marry Mommy because she's married to you."

So bright it's a pleasure to behold.

"A prince marries a princess, yes, but there can be other princesses, can't there?"

The boy nodded.

"Yes. I will find my own princess one day, won't I?"

"Not for a while, okay, Dev?" Clarice joked.

"No, Mommy. Not for a while. I like living with you and Daddy."

Suddenly, the door swung open. Blonde locks swaying, Logan bounced into the room.

"Is there anyone in here who wants to check out the candy machine with me? Maybe bring a few snacks back for his mommy and daddy, too?"

For once, Logan's presence was a welcome distraction. Devyni shook with excitement, but didn't release his grip on his father.

Clarice leaned across the table.

"What do you think, Dev? You want to go get some snacks with your uncle and bring them here for us all to share? Maybe find a few nice treats for you to eat with your daddy?"

The boy's expression flooded with suspicion.

"Uncle Logan, after I pick out the snacks will you bring me back here? Back to sit with my daddy?"

"Of course, little man! We'll go collect up a bunch of treats so you can have a little party with your mom and dad, okay?"

Devyni hugged his father quickly and slid off his lap. Running to Logan's side, the boy turned back toward his parents. Extending his hands, palms out as if to stay them in their seats, the boy outlined, "I'll bring back some awesome snacks, okay? Promise not to go anywhere until I get back?"

With his index finger extended, Hannibal drew a makeshift cross over his heart.

"I promise not to go anywhere, Hannibal. We'll be waiting for your return and looking forward to the snacks you choose."

Leaning, Clarice called after them, "See if they have Reese's cups….or peanut M & M's…I'd freaking kill for those!"

Devyni turned, and placing a finger to his lips, hushed, "Shhh…Mommy….even though M & M's are yummy, don't talk about killing for them or they won't let you go home, either!"

Chuckling, Hannibal chimed, "Yes, Mommy…we mustn't announce that we kill for our treats. Poor form, you know."

Clarice laughed, "Well if that's not the pot calling the kettle black!"

Before pulling the door closed, Logan leaned in.

"Guys, call Dee. She's got news."

Clarice waved.

Hannibal nodded.

"Thank you, Logan. Ten minutes, if you will?"

Saluting, Logan assured, "Ten minutes. Totally doable!"

The moment the door was closed, Hannibal was at his wife's side. Occupied digging in her hip pocket for her phone. Taking a knee at her side, Hannibal stilled her hand.

"A kiss, dearest? The phone can wait."

"A kiss can wait, H. We're alone now. I need to here what Dee knows."

Hannibal busied himself nuzzling his nose along his wife's neck. Clarice giggled.

"Come on, H! I can't concentrate…."

"My apologies, Clarice."

"Want me to put it on speaker phone?"

Standing, Hannibal leaned against the table. Knowing his hearing was more than adequate to hear both sides of the conversation, Hannibal waved away the thought.

"No, my Love. I'll be able to hear both sides. If you put it on speaker there is no way of telling who else might hear."

"Good point. I wouldn't put it past Pearsall to have his ear to a glass at the door."


With a few swipes of her thumbs, Clarice put the phone to her ear.

"Dee. What's going on?"

"Hey, Clarice. I checked with Lloyd. They found bottles of lemon-lime sports drink in the refrigerator, but there was one partially with engine coolant."

Nodding, Clarice questioned, "Have they confirmed accidental ingestion?"

"They tested the bottle with the coolant. Benjamin's saliva was present, so he definitely drank from it."

So he did it. He was guilty.

"Conclusion, Dee?"

"His wife confirmed that when he changed over the antifreeze he often used empty soda bottles or sports drink containers to hold the discarded liquid. It's the same bright green color as the sports drink. They've concluded that the poor drunk bastard confused the containers. It doesn't hurt that Hannibal was incarcerated prior to the incident. Accidental poisoning."

"Does Pearsall know?"

"He's getting a report now."

"Thanks, Dee. I really appreciate the news. Thank Lloyd for me."

"No problem, girl. I'm just happy it's good news for once."

She sighed as she tucked her phone in her pocket.

"You heard it all, H?"

Hannibal nodded.

"Yes, my Love."

Excited, Clarice punched her fist into her other hand.

"Yes! I can't wait to see the expression on Pearsall's face when we open the door.


Drawing his wife into his arms, Hannibal bowed his head to hers. Lips meeting with a tentative touch, the kiss built slowly. The passion of separation driving them, Hannibal clutched her hips, lifted her, and sat her on the table.

Smoothing his hands from her hips along the length of the thigh, he loosely gripped her knees. Spreading her legs apart, Hannibal stepped between and reaching around her body, pulled her to him. Speaking against her lips, Hannibal murmured, "It has been a very long time, Clarice."

Biting his bottom lip and tugging it forward, Clarice answered, "Uh-huh…"

The feel of her legs wrapping around him elicited a growl.

"You move me like no other, my Love."

"And I love the way you move, H…"

She groaned as he lifted her. Sliding her body slowly against his, Hannibal lowered her to the ground.


"H, come on!"

"Not now, Clarice. The boy is near…"


"Not, it seems, today, Clarice."

"Seriously? As if it's not hard enough..."

Her deadpan stare drew a smile. Winking, Hannibal's retort was instantaneous.

"Oh, it's hard enough."

Laughing, Clarice responded, "Oh, don't be such a wiseass, H!"

"Heaven forbid, Clarice. Heaven forbid."

The door opened, Devyni bounding in with the hem of his shirt tugged forward. The body of the shirt sagged low, filled with treats. Balancing his bounty within the garment, he presented the treats to his mother.

"You can help me take them out, Mommy! I got potato chips, and peanut butter cups and all kinds of candy. Peanut M & M's too. Uncle Logan had a big bag of quarters. He said he was tired of lugging them around, so he gave them to me for treats. A bag for Daddy, too, but it doesn't come from the candy machine."

Logan set a paper bag on the table.

"I know the commissary sucks. I've seen the list. Thought you might be out of a few things by now."

Hannibal reached out his hand. The handshake was robust, Hannibal clasping the outside of Logan's hand for good measure.

"I appreciate all you've done for me, my friend."

His bright white smile illuminating the room, Logan answered respectfully, "That's what friends are for!"

Turning to Devyni, Logan scooped handfuls of snacks and tossed them across the table. "Come on, Little Man! Dig in!"

Devyni reached for the peanut M & M's and passed them to his mother.

"Here, Mommy. Especially for you."

Clarice smiled.

"Thanks, Dev."

Hannibal smiled.

"Well done, my son! Snacks fit for a princess!"

He handed Hannibal a Baby Ruth bar.

"A lovely choice, my son. Why this particular candy?"

"Uncle Logan said people think it is named after Babe Ruth, but it wasn't. He was a very famous baseball player."

"Yes, I've heard of him. His nickname was the Sultan of Swat. He was very famous, indeed."

Devyni extended his hands, gesticulating as he explained, "Uncle Logan showed me a picture of him. He was wearing a crown like a king. That reminded me of you, Daddy. I hope you like it."

Hannibal opened the candy bar, took a huge bite and exclaimed, "Best. Candy. Ever!"

Climbing in his father's lap, Devyni smiled.

Clarice popped a candy in her mouth and smiled, too.

"It's good to be the king, isn't it, H?"

Hugging his son, Hannibal smiled, as well.

"Knowing I'm on my way home to my family, yes, Clarice…it most certainly is."

Until the next chapter, my friends!