Those solitary moments in her car had been wonderful, but being inside Clarice Starling's home felt utterly intoxicating.
Dr Hannibal Lecter paced slowly through the lower rooms, his keen eyes noting every item of furniture, every keepsake and each discarded but still intensely personal affect. He paused in the hallway beside her hanging hooded sweat-top, the short distance separating him from the garment no proof against its overwhelmingly sensual fragrance. She used better skin care products now. Wafts of vanilla and almonds mingled playfully with the faint musk of perspiration and an alpine fabric softener. He had to pause and steady himself. The sensory input was almost too much.
The kitchen had surprised him. The smell of lemon and pine disinfectants, and that of bleach, and dampness, combined to reveal the manner in which Clarice had chosen to work out her frustrations. Some might have thrown a tantrum, some might have drunk themselves into oblivion. A former patient of Lecter's would have gone out to a bar, picked up a prostitute and then spent the evening doing nothing more coital than sobbing on her shoulder.
Clarice spring-cleaned. The orderly reaction was outrageously endearing.
Lecter left the living room until the last. He knew she was in there, curled asleep in a pale, floral-print armchair, her breathing regular now that the resentment had stopped catching in her throat. He had looked in on her before beginning his explorations, but now came the moment when he would allow himself to approach.
Moving soundlessly over the carpet, Lecter drew nearer. The standard lamp behind the chair provided unnecessarily harsh illumination, and he dealt with this intrusion with a smooth flick of the switch. Now, the darkness was broken only by the streetlights penetrating through the shades. He stood over Clarice and gazed down. Her brow was creased, even in sleep; confusion and vexation scarring her skin, thanks to her recreant inamorato, the Bureau.
The proximity he enjoyed was a little overpowering, and his throat constricted until reflex made him dry-swallow. The involuntary action caused him some faint, self-deprecating amusement and he smiled. As it recognised the face which leaned in repose against the back of the armchair, his libido revisited dizzyingly erotic dreams and twitched in languid interest. The smile faded to a frown on Lecter's face and he clamped down on this physical reaction. Clarice Starling deserved better from him.
He wondered, his head angled to one side in consideration, whether she had any idea just how much of him she could claim.
Swallowing again, this time against the power his sleeping companion unwittingly exerted, he turned to survey the room. The kitchen had been sparkling, following her compulsive cleaning binge, but this room was more homely. Piles of magazines and newspapers littered various surfaces, and his eye was drawn by a black and white image of himself; his old face. The article in the newspaper had been left folded with the photograph visible. He was warmed by this discovery, and he thought of how closely it paralleled his own actions back in Florence.
Her office-issue cellular phone lay to one side. His eye was caught by the power indicator on its panel, and he saw it registered as low. There was a spare battery in the charger beside it. The knowledge was tucked away without conscious thought.
Lecter silently approached the window then, and looked through a gap in the blind, to the street beyond. He was delaying the moment he had promised himself. Like all things genuinely valuable, the anticipation was sweeter than the prize could ever be.
And he had vowed he would let himself touch her.
They had touched once before. In a moment of abandonment, a Clarice Starling ten years less jaded had thrown away the rulebook and allowed her slim finger to meet his own. And it had been more than an apology for the ridiculous agenda her superiors had her pursuing, more even than a demonstration of trust. It had been a desire. She had craved the physical contact as much as he, in spite of the apprehension which had lingered in those expressive eyes of hers.
They'd made quite a spark. And they had both known it.
The street was quiet and uninteresting. Lecter turned back into the room, no longer trying to distract himself from the sleeping woman. A tumbler with a small measure of bourbon was set on the arm of the chair, the contents safe from spillage, but he still set it softly on the nearby table. She did not stir.
He watched her for a few minutes, deliberately slowing his own shallow breathing, such that it matched hers. He could do nothing about his elevated pulse, and that in itself was mildly alarming, given the poise for which he was infamous. Clarice's lips were parted slightly, though she breathed through her nose. The rise and fall of her chest beneath her clothing was hypnotic. She was turned in the chair, her left leg bent at the knee and propped against the arm.
Lecter reached out slowly to her thigh and allowed the distance to close until he could sense the heat from her body on his hand. His mouth fell open and his eyes closed, and he drew a silent sigh of pleasure. Withdrawing his hand, he slowly sank down to a crouch and then shifted on to his knees. It was a risk - it made him more vulnerable should she wake and find him intruding - but he wanted to rest with her for a moment. This was the calm before the storm, and they should pause to appreciate it. Head bowed as he knelt, Lecter had all the appearance of a supplicant, but when he raised his face, his eyes burned with none of a supplicant's awe. In his unnatural stillness, a heartbeat before he took the promised touch, he conveyed only hunger.
With excruciating care, Lecter leaned forward a little and reached his right hand toward her face. It had to be the face. He wanted the intimacy. As his hand closed the gap, he curled his fingers, presenting their backs to the line of her cheekbones. In the fraction of a second before his skin made first contact with the invisible down on her cheek, Lecter's lips pressed together in concentration.
For a blissful, suspended moment, he drew his fingers slowly over Clarice Starling's face. Her skin was warm and smooth, and so intensely solid and real that he found himself inexplicably moved. Sight and scent and touch combined in his mind, and he savoured each sensation.
And then it was over.
His hand lifted gently from her face and he drew it to his nose, nostrils flaring as he inhaled the scent of her skin from his own, but even as he did so, Clarice's frown deepened. Almost reacting to the loss of his touch, she murmured drowsily in complaint. Lecter froze, watching intently until she seemed to settle again.
It was time he should leave. He'd known it would be difficult to reimpose the necessary distance. Lecter shook his head at himself, moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue, and finally decided on one last indulgence. Before he left, he would coat his lungs in the scent of her hair.
He stood smoothly, then took a careful grasp of the armchair back and began to lean in closer. With practised stealth, he moved silently into position and inhaled through his nose. Honeysuckle. And perhaps a trace of the vanilla, all fragrances mixed with the sweeter scent of her body.
"Mmm ... hmm ... Doctor ..."
Lecter froze again, then pulled back warily. Clarice's eyes were still closed, her breathing still regular, though quicker now than it had been, and her lips had parted further. She still slept, he was sure of that, but her eyes moved rapidly beneath her lids in dream.
She had spoken his title. There wasn't a single doubt in Lecter's mind that Clarice Starling dreamed of him. Whether she did so regularly, or was reacting subconsciously to his presence, he couldn't say, but he knew it was definitely past time he should be leaving. Aching with the farewell, he stood straight. He could do nothing to help her, yet. It was extremely unlikely that she would ever let him help her.
"Humm ..." Clarice complained in her sleep again, and this time her head moved from its resting place to turn irritably against the back of the armchair. She seemed to find the new position more agreeable, as her body undulated slightly before relaxing. Lecter's sensitive nostrils detected the musky beginnings of her arousal in the air, and he felt a rush of desire himself in reply.
Definitely past time.
Glancing about the room to satisfy himself that no trace of his presence remained, he prepared to slip softly away. He had moved the glass of course, but Clarice would no doubt believe that she had set the drink down herself before dozing off. He had touched nothing else in the room, besides the light switch. Turning back for a final look, he entertained the momentary fantasy of restraining her before waking, to win a risk-free chance for new dialogue with her ...
... and in that same instant, her eyes blinked open.
A second or two passed, during which time she was unseeing. Then she focused on him, standing before her. Her nostrils contracted as she inhaled sharply through her nose, and she pressed back into the cushions of the chair, as though trying to back away. A curious blend of shock and welcome coloured her expression.
Lecter moved his hands slowly, spreading his fingers to show he wielded no weapon, then he took a step back. The game had changed with a single moment and a new path stretched before him, negating the plans still half-formed in his mind. He had calmed his own reaction in the space of a heartbeat, and was now waiting to read the signals from Clarice.
She eyed his sleeve warily and he remembered that she knew his methods, so he jerked the hidden blade into his palm furled and, with a significant arch of his eyebrows in her direction, dropped it into the inside pocket of the jacket he wore. Now, his main weapon was out of immediate reach.
Clarice gazed uncertainly at him. He wanted to say something to her, to hear the sound of her voice in new conversation rather than the replays his memory palace could offer, but he could not allow his desire for such interaction to overwhelm his instinct for caution. They stared at each other for long seconds, then he backed away another step, intending simply to leave in silence.
She took a gasping breath as he moved. Her face contorted with what almost appeared to be dismay. Lecter paused, then took another pace away from her.
When she spoke, the sound of her voice severed the night's silence like a scalpel.
"Dr Lecter ... please don't go."