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Draw the Line

copyright 2004, by Axl

Disclaimer:    These characters were created by Thomas Harris.  They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit of admiration and respect.  Lyrics are from "Draw the Line" by Aerosmith, also used without permission. No infringement of copyright is intended, and no profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to this site.

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Starling:

The flashlight beam plays over the littered floor, and Starling stares with narrowed, squinting eyes beyond its range. It is not completely dark, but the warehouse is dim enough that additional light is helpful, almost necessary. She wants to look at her wristwatch, but to do so would be to lose sight of the floor and all that could be hiding in the shadowy corners. She cannot risk dropping her guard, not even briefly.

Even so, she estimates that she has spent an hour, at least, engaged in this ridiculous game of cat and mouse. She is the feline now, but who knows what could happen in only a second’s notice?

She walks quickly, though at enough of a temperate pace that her footsteps are not glaringly loud. Turning the light off is debated, but the notion is discarded after a short while of deliberation. Starling is willing to forfeit the element of surprise to protect her own safety. What good would she be to the Bureau, if she were to fall victim to a grisly death?

Lecter had told her that the world was far more interesting with her in it. She believed him then; she does now. And yet, she cannot fathom all that he has endured over the years. Even the most restrained man will lash out at those he holds dear, if needled to the breaking point.

A faint noise from ahead, from an unexplored area, brings her, with a jolt, back to the task at hand. It may be a matter as unimportant as a common mouse, but she finds it safer to be cautious. She shifts the flashlight to her left hand, the right reaching back for her gun.

A 9mm Browning pistol, of Belgian design. Not what she would use if she had, had time to peruse a selection of available firearms. It was nearly an antique, a semi-automatic weapon used in Vietnam as a personal weapon by many. It was suited mainly to confined spaces, and she had thought it fitting for this expedition.

Starling is not currently on assignment. Nor is she, under normal circumstances, one to jump at the arrival of any tip as to the doctor’s whereabouts, let alone an anonymous call. There is something different about this, however. It is as if she is desperate to find him, for reasons beyond his status as federal fugitive.

Movement: a shadow, shifting in the near distance. With a flick of the wrist, the light dances across a wide doorway. She hears quiet scuffling, and almost immediately associates it with shoe-soles scraping cement. Bingo.

Checkmate, honey, beat you at your own damn game.

It is a line from a song, one that she knows well. The kind of music that you don’t have to listen to, so natural it feels as though you have known it from birth.

The song in question takes up cheerful residence behind more pressing thoughts, providing background music to distract her from the nearly frantic beating of her heart. The blood is roaring in her ears, the stinging taste of bile floods her throat and she wants to gag, but she bites back the reflex, blinking rapidly to clear away the tears that accompany acute nausea.

Starling is unsure as to whether or not she actually has the nerve to apprehend Lecter. Though much time has passed since her eyes last swept across his face, lined with life’s experiences, she remembers all too well the fluttering sensation. The wings of those rare death’s-head moths, licking at her ribcage.

She does not recognize it as love, as love is an emotion for friends, for utterly forgettable strangers on the television. For anyone but Clarice Starling. She is under the impression that the only way to succeed, is to remain a stoic. She tries this now, with as much desperation as she had felt, arms aching with the heavy, awkward bundle of squirming lamb, running from the ranch with no concrete destination.

All is quiet as she edges past the doorframe, arm extended, the pistol pointing off into empty darkness. She is counting now on being unexpected, and so she switches the flashlight off, but keeps it, ready, at her side.

Her weak spot has always been the corner.

She remembers this too late, and by the time she even begins to turn, there is an arm around her neck. Her chin comes down hard on the angle of an elbow, and she hears the metallic click of handcuffs, ratcheting shut around her wrist. Only one. Her fingers stiffen, and the gun clatters to the floor. She is aware of movement around her, and the doctor’s foot connects with the firearm. It skids across the ground, to stop several feet away. Her tongue feels heavy in her mouth, her lips dry as cotton.

A beat.

Starling has become the prey, and Lecter the predator.

She is tugged by her single restrained limb, and when she leans back, her shoulder blades are pressed snugly against the doctor’s chest. The bundle of nervous energy in the pit of her stomach knots even tighter. There is no logical reason, for why his presence, so near, should bring on an attack of both panic and excitement.

Such a pity, Starling, murmurs the critical voice from the far corners of her rational mind. The song has long since ended, and this hollow, disembodied tone now has the floor. You never did realize the tie between fear and lust.

She ignores it, and the voice is quiet again, sensing that it will not be immediately recognized. There is the hushed, clinking noise of metal against metal, and then the support of his chest is gone. Her other hand is secured within the steel circlet. Had the flashlight’s beam found focus on her face now, she would be wide-eyed and pale. As it is, she is beyond grateful for the darkness, though she suspects Lecter can see every expression that flits into being, despite the lack of illumination.

She rocks back on her heels, testing her bonds. The chain is looped around a vertical-standing pipe. The outer edges of the cuffs press against the wall behind, and the insides dig into her wrists. She half-enjoys the sensation of being trapped.

He stands before her. She lets her eyes flicker up to meet his, and there is a dreadful moment of terror when she realizes just how close he is to her. Despite his promise to refrain from harming her, Starling is still human. She is still afraid.

“We meet again, Clarice.”

She thinks she may very well faint. It had been all too easy to face the doctor, when there was a barrier between them. Now there is nothing to keep him at bay, and her hands are utterly useless; her weapon lies, unattainable, on the floor. She is tempted to kick out, to spit, but that would be undeniably rude.

Starling is now clinging desperately to manners, as a drowning woman might clutch a life preserver.

“So it seems.”

“Trapped.” It is so softly spoken, she is not even certain that the word had been uttered. But trapped she is, and it is all too obvious in the way she trembles as he draws even nearer.


Lecter:

He cannot resist taking a moment to catch her scent, nostrils flaring as her perfume of choice is captured, categorized, and enjoyed. It is not her usual preference, but he is far from disappointed.

Even in the inadequate light, his vision is honed enough that he has no difficult seeing her attire as he glances downward.

“Your taste in shoes has significantly improved, Clarice.”

She draws in a breath sharply. Not only can he hear it, as the air scrapes along her teeth to feed her lungs, but he can feel it, as if it is he conducting the inhalation.

“Thank you, Doctor.”

He smiles a bit at her formalities, pleased by the courtesy, but does not speak further, opting for further silent observation. He is struck by a sudden curiosity: is her cheek as soft as it appears? The gentle slope of her face is alluring, and he brushes the back of his hand against the curve. She does not shy from the touch, which is heartening.

The aroma of L’Air du Temps has been replaced by something far more subtle, less easily defined. He finds it necessary to investigate this, and leans in once more, as if sampling the heady scent of a wine: Chianti, perhaps.

Again, she does not object, though he catches the faintest whimper, thus bringing his attention to her lips. They are set in a firm line, neither approving nor fearful.

He cannot deny that he has often thought of her intimately, though his imagination brings them together in a far different setting. His thoughts fly freely now, as they have room to do so. As intellectuals, they often challenge one another. He speculates that, as lovers, this would be the case, as well.

She is trembling. He cannot feel it, cannot see it, but nevertheless, he knows.

“Are you frightened?”

“Yes.”

“Of me, Clarice?”

“Of myself.”

He is surprised by her response. How honest she is! She has always been open with him, and not only in recounting her childhood traumas. After all, Starling had revealed to him, with barely any detectable qualms, the embarrassing truth of what Miggs had hissed, on her way to the lone folding chair that had marked the beginning of it all.

I can smell your cunt.

Though Lecter despises lying, he had become victim of the vice on that particular occasion. It had been simply to place himself on a higher plane than the man in the nearby cell. If he had been able to find the smell of Evian skin cream, then it was most certain that he had noticed other things, as well.

He is tempted to question her further, to demand clarification of her statement, but he decides against it for now. Her lower lip quivers. It is, perhaps, one of the most intriguing movements he has seen in quite awhile.

He had once asked Starling about Jack Crawford. If she believed him to visualize encounters, scenarios. Fucking her.

This was, of course, not only to satiate his own stirrings of curiosity. In order to distract himself from the thoughts that had insinuated themselves in the cracks, the corners of his mind, it had been necessary to pin them on another.

He had desired the petite agent from the moment she appeared before him, though he was far too much of a gentlemen to admit it.

People will say we’re in love.

It had been a teasing remark. It echoes in his ears. In truth, he had not been thinking of “people” in the slightest, at that moment. It was merely the beginnings of confession. He looks at her now, drawing back slightly. Her breathing is calm and regular. She shows no signs of panic. He says her name; she looks to him, their eyes meeting evenly.

The kiss is a flame, blazing across his conscious like a brushfire. He is unaware of anything and everything, save for his lips on hers and, more importantly, her responsiveness. The cuffs grind against the pole as she tries to raise her hands to his face. He makes up for her inability, cradling her cheeks against his palms.

Lecter has seen several women since his escape from captivity. He has not wanted any of them, until now. He is fascinated by her canine teeth, the tip of his tongue flicking over their points, feeling the ever-so-faint pain as they graze against him.

When he pulls away, her lips are reddened; his pulse is most certainly above eighty. He is tempted beyond words, to spend time learning her figure, memorizing it with his fingertips, his mouth, but he will not. Not here, not now.


Starling:

She is pleasantly surprised by the kiss. How long has it been, since she has responded so favorably to anyone’s advances? She cannot understand why he does not touch her again. When she speaks, it is hesitantly, in a childlike tone.

“Sir?”

“Forgive me, Clarice. I was not thinking.”

“But…” His words sting as sharply as any teenage rejection, and she turns her head, gaze seeking out the floor, the wall, anything but him.

“Someday,” he begins, and instinctively she glances back over. She intends to look away once again, but she finds herself unable to. “This will be an option.”

She nods, as if she understands his reasoning, although she does not. The shifting of shadows indicates the moving of his arm. His hand slides into his pocket; emerges with a small key clasped between his thumb and forefinger.

“I’ll give you a head start.” Her tone is halfway between playful and completely serious. She can sense his smile as he leans over her to unlock the cuffs. She shakes her arms, they dislodge, and she brings her hands up between them, rubbing at the newly freed wrists gingerly.

He steps away and kneels to retrieve the fallen weapon, before straightening up again. “I have your gun, you know.”

“All the more reason for me to follow you.”

His smile widens into a combination of grin and smirk. “Start counting, Clarice.” He shifts the pistol to his other hand, and moves for the door. She doesn’t watch him leave. It will be all the more fun to begin the chase anew.

She pockets the handcuffs and the key. Her fingers trail through her hair briefly, and she sighs. Perhaps following him is a mistake, the biggest of her career.

And yet, Starling is impulsive. She has always been forgiven for her tendency to act out of turn. Not to mention that, the benefits are likely to far outweigh the consequences.

Checkmate, honey, you’re the only one who’s got to choose, when to draw the line.


FIN

copyright 2004, by Axl

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