copyright 2002, by
The characters Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling were created by Thomas
Harris. They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit of
admiration and respect. No infringement of copyright is intended, and no
profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to this
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Clarice Starling felt herself drifting in a sea of murky darkness and oblivion. Frantically, she told herself it was imperative that she find a way out. Her own helplessness disgusted her and she fought harder to surface from whatever power held her in its steely clutches. The blackness faded to shades of gray, the gray gradually dissipating to a soft golden glow. Candles…there were candles dimly illuminating the room. Clarice was befuddled. She never lit candles before going to sleep.
Turning her head to survey her surroundings, she discovered two things almost simultaneously. She was not lying in her own bed nor had she been merely sleeping. The wave of dizziness overtaking her told her that she’d been drugged. Lying very still, she stared at the ceiling valiantly trying to remember what had happened to her and why she suddenly, inexplicably found herself in this daunting situation.
Straining her ears, she listened intently for any clue to her whereabouts. Very near her a window was open and nocturnal sounds floated in…frogs croaking, crickets singing, an owl hooting in the distance. Lonely sounds. Evidently, far removed from civilization, no passing cars or streetlights invaded this world. How she had gotten wherever she was stymied her.
Fumbling with her right hand, she felt the width of the mattress stretch beyond her reach. It was big enough for two people. Carefully rolling her head to the side, Clarice saw a pillow that still undeniably bore the impression of a head that had lain there quite recently. With whom had she traveled here and where was this mystery person? The sound of a running shower beyond a closed door in the bedroom rapidly answered one question. So much for the “where”… now all she needed to do was concentrate on the “whom” in the equation.
Clarice struggled to prop herself up on her elbows as her eyes scanned the room. The candles flickered, casting eerie shadows upon the walls. Before allowing herself to recline again and rest, she studied her feet. They were clad in a pair of Gucci sandals that perfectly accented the black Armani dress clinging snugly to her body. That, in itself, was highly disorienting. She couldn’t afford designer clothing or footwear and would never have bought it for herself even if her salary matched that expensive taste. Simply one more mystery that begged to be solved while her brain was still addled.
Just who was secluded in the bathroom baffled her. A glance across the room to a chair draped with clothing sent a chill of impending remembrance down her spine. The dark, custom-tailored jacket, the pristine white shirt, the maroon tie… Suddenly, Clarice pictured the broad shoulders and muscular torso that had filled those clothes to mouth-watering perfection. His ruggedly handsome face filled her mind, effectively pushing aside the notion that she could be here with anyone else.
“That’s my girl.” In her mind, she heard that husky voice rasp in her ear. And, irrefutably, Clarice acknowledged his possessive assessment. The mouth hovering so intimately close above hers and then the inevitable descent to cover it with soft, animated lips had made her shiver but not with fear or loathing.
Dr. Lecter had kissed her. And not just a half-hearted peck on the cheek; full on her mouth. It was a kiss she told herself she didn’t want, hadn’t expected and was too shocked to refuse as she’d been diligently concentrating on shackling herself to him to prevent his escape. A kiss neither fierce nor tentative and yet so overwhelmingly territorial that it made her question which of them was the captor and which the prisoner. A fleeting kiss because of her stubbornly misplaced sense of duty to the FBI. A kiss that Clarice could still feel tingling upon her lips: the potency of his hunger a taste so incredibly intoxicating that she craved it still.
Why had he done it? And why with her, Clarice Starling, newly-suspended FBI agent un-extraordinaire? Why would Dr. Lecter, a sophisticated, worldly man want her?
Concentrating made her head throb and the room spin. Nausea threatened and Clarice let her head flop back onto the pillow. None of this made any sense. She had never thought of herself as a particularly physical person. At least, not where romance was concerned. She knew she was attractive, if not pretty, and men did ask her out – though not with the frequency and persistence with which they sought out other women of her acquaintance. Eventually, she had become convinced that there was something essential lacking in her that did not inspire men to heights of great passion. It wasn’t a pretty thought, but it seemed self-evident considering her lack of ardent admirers.
To date she’d had, perhaps, half a dozen sexual encounters with men that unfailingly proved about as exhilarating as watching the grass grow on a sultry, summer evening in West Virginia. Admitting this to herself was not easy. Perhaps, that was why she still felt so incredibly violated and humiliated when she remembered how Dr. Lecter had described her experiences as “tedious, sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars”. True, the locations had changed, but she found she couldn’t contradict the sentiments.
Where were the great romantics she had read about in novels and seen in movies for years, Clarice wondered? Men who showered their women with heartfelt compliments and extravagant gifts?
“You have very lovely feet…Hope you like the shoes…Love the dress, Clarice. Beautiful.” Dr. Lecter’s words again insinuated themselves into her thoughts. He had given her presents and complimented her.
“You’re looking well.” Clarice didn’t think for a moment at Muskrat Farm that Dr. Lecter was talking about her drab fatigues and black T-shirt. When she rescued him from torture and certain death, it was much more than relief to see her as his savior. It was genuine pleasure with her presence no matter her attire.
Where were the dashing, debonair men that populated the fairy tales her father had read to her long ago? The heroes who would risk all for the fair damsel in distress?
Dr. Lecter had come to her rescue. He could have simply run unencumbered on his own without bothering to hoist her up in his strong arms and wade through an undulating sea of snarling, man-eating pigs starved for nourishment. It would have been relatively easy for him to discover where she left her Mustang. The keys were in it, as was his freedom. He hadn’t needed her for a damn thing anymore. And, yet, unlike the FBI, Dr. Lecter had not left her to fend for herself.
Her left shoulder burned, reminding her that she’d been incapacitated by a bullet from the gun of one of Mason Verger’s henchmen. Her last thought as she fell facedown on the dirt floor was that she had failed Dr. Lecter. But he hadn’t failed her. Again, it was Dr. Lecter who cared for her. It was his face filled with concern that she saw above her as he meticulously worked on digging the bullet from her torn, bloodied flesh. The prick of a needle then his soothing voice reassured her that all would be well. And somewhere in that fog of pain and morphine, the lambs had, indeed, stopped screaming. Could it be that in the presence of a serial killer, a man some labeled monster, she had found their shepherd and her salvation?
Paul Krendler’s face leapt unbidden into her mind along with his taunting words meant to demean and demoralize her. Only Dr. Lecter had recognized and dealt with that injustice. As swift and horrible as his vengeance was, it effectively eliminated the slimy bastard who had sought to systematically destroy her career and her peace of mind.
“Given the chance, you would deny me my life. My freedom, then, just that…Tell me, Clarice, would you ever say to me ‘Stop. If you loved me, you’d stop.’”
And how had she repaid him? “Not in a thousand years.”
Now Clarice knew that she’d never in a thousand years forget the hurt and disappointment that registered on Dr. Lecter’s face at her impudent reply. He could have killed her then, crushed her with his superior strength and the uncontrollable rage he’d unleashed on so many before her for far less serious transgressions. Instead, he’d praised her for her defiance and courage. “That’s my girl.”
Then he’d leaned into her, pressing his hard, muscular body against her softer, vulnerable form. Instead of tearing her apart with his fearsome teeth, he had kissed her tenderly. Though her knees grew weak and her body practically self-combusted with the heat coursing through her, outwardly Clarice still had not given an inch in surrender. To Dr. Lecter’s utter astonishment and grave displeasure, she’d had the unmitigated audacity to handcuff him during that moment of unparalleled tenderness.
“Nice going, Clarice,” she admonished herself. “Is it any wonder that men aren’t littered at your feet, professing undying affection?”
Without the key, which Clarice staunchly refused to produce, Dr. Lecter’s desperation had soared to new heights. Frantically, his eyes roamed the kitchen for some utensil he could employ to extricate himself. The meat cleaver caught his attention and he seized it, wielding it with a dexterity that struck terror in her heart. Then came the look of utter contempt and the resigned tone that shattered her soul.
“This is really going to hurt.”
You or me, Doctor, Clarice thought and stunningly, unerringly she knew.
“No, Doctor. Stop.” She yanked as hard as she could, spoiling his aim. The meat cleaver clattered harmlessly to the floor while, above their struggles, the sounds of sirens and police helicopters signaled his doom.
“I don’t have any more time for this, Clarice.” He raised his arm, pulling hers up with it until the handcuff chain dangled accusingly before her eyes.
“I realize that.” Inwardly, she vacillated between her duty to the FBI and the debt of gratitude she owed him. When his eyes locked on the meat cleaver once again, she made her decision.
“I’ll let you run, Doctor.” He no longer believed her. She could read the distrust in his eyes as they flashed with impatient irritation.
“More delaying tactics, ex-special Agent Starling?” His eyes lifted toward the sound of the helicopters as they moved ever closer. “The key, Clarice. Where is it?”
“In my hair…just behind my ear.”
“How charming! Taking a page from Evelda Drumgo’s arsenal of tricks? He grasped her head gently in both hands and Clarice’s scalp tingled from the contact.
“You dressed me.” She blushed at the reminder that she wore only a scrap of black silk panties beneath the Armani. “You should know there was no place to stash it under this getup.”
“That’s quite true, Clarice.” A smile flashed across his lips as he seemed to relive that pleasant chore once again. Incredibly, it made his mouth appear even more sensual. Unbelievably, Clarice found herself almost overcome by a wave of desire for him. And, intuitively, he seemed to know it.
“This is hardly the time or the place to acknowledge your ‘feelings’ for me, former Agent Starling.” He simply couldn’t accept winning graciously and Clarice realized too late that she should have expected him to taunt her.
“You see a lot, Doctor. Ever think sometimes it’s a figment of your imagination?”
“Yes”, he replied softly, a smug grin gracing his lips. “But not this time.” He reached out and gently caressed her cheek with his free hand. “Better to discuss this at length without the threat of a hostile audience, hmmm...?” Then he was all business, bending his head over their hands to perform his magic. Two snicks and the handcuffs joined the meat cleaver. With a grunt, he pried open the door to the refrigerator. “Out you come, little Starling.”
Clarice experienced a few moments of genuine annoyance. Firstly, the Good Doctor’s presumption that she’d be leaving with him made her bristle. Hadn’t she just a few moments ago refused his attentions in a clear and succinct manner? So she was letting him run. It didn’t necessarily follow that she would be running with him. Or did it?
She looked around the kitchen knowing how it would appear to the F.B.I. when they busted in to rescue her. There really was nothing amiss except for Paul Krendler and whatever was left of his brain. Dr. Lecter had already picked up the meat cleaver and placed it on the chopping block, the candlestick was back in its rightful place and he’d re-attached the handle to the fridge. The lack of evidence indicating a life-or-death struggle was overwhelmingly incriminating. Aside from that, how would she ever explain the Armani dress, the Gucci sandals and the care Dr. Lecter had taken when he’d stitched up her wound? It was simple…she couldn’t…at least, not to their satisfaction.
When she allowed her gaze to travel to his face, he was smiling. Damn him. He knew what he’d done and he’d watched her come to the conclusion that the only immediate option left for her was to join him.
She growled her frustration as she hobbled towards him and a low chuckle escaped his lips. “Ladies first, my dear.” He bowed slightly and swept his hand across his body inviting her to precede him to the back of the house.
“We’ll talk about this,” she promised as she walked haltingly past him with as much dignity as she could muster. It was clear that she still wasn’t fully alert and would need assistance, but she’d be damned if she’d ask him for it.
“Of that I have no doubt,” Lecter agreed amiably. “I’ll mentally add it to our list of topics.” Then she felt his hand on the small of her back, guiding her to the nearest exit.
PART 1 of 6
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