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A man stood in the shadows and gazed out at the heavily falling snow, the light from the fire playing over his aristocratic features. The weather had dovetailed beautifully with his plans for an intimate evening for two. The snow, begun but two hours ago, had already covered the trees and bushes and was deepening rapidly. The temperature, too, had dipped well below freezing and an icy wind from the north whipped the flakes into a dancing frenzy before tossing them, spent onto the ever-changing scene. The landscape, usually hidden in absolute darkness of night, was illuminated by an ethereal brightness.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter captured the image and pressed it between the pages of his memory. Another gust of wind rattled the glass, as if trying to gain entrance to the warm hearth. Absently noting the minute change in the quality of light and feeling the chill on his skin, he shivered. Another log on the fire would soon be necessary. With the arrival of a promised Arctic front now settled over the region, he was pleased that he had tripled the supply of firewood only last week. It mattered little if the blizzard lasted one day or several; he was satisfied knowing they could withstand quite a lengthy stretch of being snowbound, having a well stocked larder, plenty of candles, and a king sized bed for…what?
Like someone who had tasted forbidden fruit, once he had possessed her he wanted more; but since what he referred to as their ‘special night,’ Dr. Lecter had not touched Clarice Starling. And, even though he considered it to be a temporary state of affairs, it required his greatest control to maintain it. If he was to be brutally honest with himself (as he invariably was) he had to admit that their coupling had left him shaken. Never before had he experienced such intensity of feeling combined with such exquisite pleasure! It had turned out to be an epiphany for them both. The future had shifted with her offering, their windows aligning as the relationship moved to a new level. They both knew it. Mischa might one day return; but he no longer wished that she take Starling’s place.
He had discovered that Clarice was intriguing in her complexity; he enjoyed her company both in and out of bed, and now that she was *his* he was determined to keep her with him. He did, however, know her well enough to realize she would need time to process the new dynamic. Patience was the key. He was fairly sure she would embrace this change willingly. She was, however, independent and strong-willed and he relished the knowledge that he could never be quite sure with her. So the decision was made before leaving her bed: he would give her the necessary time to reconcile to the journey upon which they both were embarking. He would not repeat the experience, at least for the time being. Not until she *understood* and *accepted.* Not until the drugs that had helped her initially were gone from her brain. She needed to go into this with open eyes and a clear mind. Her thoughts. Her decision. Hers. He loved her beyond all reason but would not presume to take away her choice. Anything less would be living a lie and *that* he refused to do. He would not cheapen what he held dear. That night had signaled a new beginning. For them both. Now plans had to be finalized, taking into consideration this new twist.
The ghost of a smile flitted across his lips. He had asked her that night, pre-coitus, if she knew what her entitlements were. He wondered if she knew now.
Closing his eyes, Hannibal Lecter quickly passed through the complex maze of his memory palace until he came to the room where her essence was the strongest. His hand still on the knob, he debated briefly, knowing it was perhaps not the wisest thing to do at the moment; but brushing aside the arguments as minor, he entered anyway, his need far eclipsing his reason. Once inside, the doctor enjoyed her again-her scent, her taste, her kiss, her moans and cries of pleasure. Her short nails raking over his back; her legs wrapped high round his waist inviting him deeper. Her blue eyes opening wide, then losing focus as other sensations overtook her. Her mouth forming the vowels and consonants that made up his name-his given name-and repeating them like a mantra in her ecstasy. Her breath warming his chest as she rested, spent, afterwards. The silkiness of her hair and skin, as his fingers caressed both before leaving her bed in the early hours of the morning.
Sighing, the doctor opened his eyes and focused his attention on one particular piece of glass, beautifully etched on all four sides with frost. He could almost discern each individual crystal in the filigree and hold it separate in his field of vision. Although familiar with the scientific properties of ice crystals, he marveled that there could be such perfection in the world.
No. He would not touch her again sexually until she had broken the last barrier. And the break must be complete; he would tolerate no half-measures.
“All good things to those who wait,” he mouthed into the stillness.
Lost in thought, his musings were interrupted by a barely discernable disturbance in the air around him. Hiding a smile he stood perfectly still, his preternatural senses detecting and immediately classifying the result of their findings.
Still wary of intruding upon his privacy, Clarice Starling stood a respectful distance behind him, but a bit to the right, clearly visible in his peripheral vision by a slight shifting of his head. Although she had grown used to his uncanny awareness of her proximity throughout their weeks of cohabitation, courtesy dictated that she announce her presence.
Her voice was soft and hesitant; the voice of one who was not yet sure of her place in this scenario.
Turning slightly, her host regarded her thoughtfully for a full minute before extended his hand.
“Come here Clarice.”
An involuntary shiver of excitement coursed through her body as his hand closed over her forearm. The reaction registered in his eyes, but he said nothing. Drawing her to him, their gazes locked, she fully expecting-wanting- him to kiss her; but instead he turned her slowly until she was facing the same direction as he. Casually he rested his hands on her shoulders.
“Look,” he whispered in her ear, inclining his head slightly towards the windowpane.
At first Clarice was unsure of what he expected her to see. Then she noticed them: tiny crystals of ice, the filigree beautiful and delicate, etched on the exterior of each pane of glass. Reaching out, she lightly traced one particularly intricate pattern in the upper right panel.
He spoke softly. “Lovely isn’t it? Each crystal exists separately, unique unto itself; but notice how, in their union, a far richer complexity can be achieved! ”
They remained like that, his breath pleasantly warming her neck for a few lingering moments, each contemplating the possibilities. The allegory was not lost on her.
Eventually Clarice turned to face him and he dropped his hands. She immediately regretted their absence. Dr. Lecter watched the emotions cross her face and understood her inner turmoil.
Yes, she is terribly close!
Ever so tentatively she pressed nearer, encircling his waist with her arms. His hooded eyes flickered as he forced himself to calm. Her touch was like fire reaching to innermost places, but he remained the epitome of stillness. Then in a slow response, his arms came around her as well. And although his hands itched to crush her to him, he kept his embrace light; realizing she was testing, not offering, herself. It wouldn’t do to frighten her off.
Clarice released a sigh of contentment; it felt good to be in his arms! A safe haven. Comforting.
Her mind, at war with her emotions, stubbornly recoiled at her body’s response. No matter how often she tried to justify her feelings, she failed miserably.
Lecter felt the shift happen even before it registered through her body language, and saw her emotional retreat. The dueling urges to kiss her until her lips bruised or shake her until her teeth rattled crossed his brain, but he clamped down hard. Some actions, though stimulating under the right conditions, would be construed as boorish. Instead he forced his reluctant arms to abandon their position and clasped his hands behind his back, carefully schooling his expression to its customary inscrutability.
Clarice turned back to the window and watched the snow. It was so peaceful! Snowstorms like this were common where she was born. Her Daddy always made sure there was plenty of firewood for the winter. Absently her head tilted, her eyes searching the edge of the back porch. Ah! The doctor had had the foresight to stock up on wood, too. Somehow the thought pleased her.
A voice broke her reverie. “Not to worry. We have enough wood to carry us through for quite some time.”
Clarice startled. Knowing her mind was so naked to him was disconcerting, but she brushed it aside, realizing his perceptiveness was as much a part of him as his maroon eyes. Perspective achieved, she turned and noticed he was observing her curiously. She flashed him a smile, which he mirrored. “It’s a real Nor’easter! From the look of the sky and the way it’s coming down, we might be snowbound here for days! Maybe even weeks!”
He nodded, adding thoughtfully, “A rather pleasant idea, I think.”
She blushed and, folding her arms over her chest, shifted away and moved to stand in front of the fire.
Lecter turned slightly as she passed, admiring the way the flames accentuated the warm tones of her hair and skin. Another image to adorn one of many rooms devoted solely to his Clarice. For that is how he thought of her now, as *his*; not to own, that implied she was an object and not her own person. The idea was crude and abhorrent to him. This woman was neither helpless nor dependent-she possessed an inner strength that had served her well. But she had been wounded by life’s whims and as a result had been running in a destructive loop. The irony that her morning run was a metaphor for her life was not lost on him.
A painful realization, and one with which she would shortly have to come to terms, but a fortuitous one for him, as it led her to her rightful place…by his side. Clarice, however, was stubborn and could be her own worst enemy; the damage wrought by her inner demons far surpassing any of the pathetic attempts at malice created by the late Paul Krendler and his ilk.
He smiled inwardly.
My, how she would bristle at that truth!
She doesn’t understand yet, but she will.
Lecter moved to the sideboard and took the bottle of Batard-Montrachet off the ice. His guest preferred it closer to room temperature and he was in the mood to indulge. Checking his watch, he realized that he should soon begin the preparations for their evening meal. French onion soup topped with Gruyere cheese and a thick hard crust of French bread would be ideal with temperatures outside being what they were! And a fresh spinach salad topped with croutons. He considered his choices for an entrée, settling on a simple Filet Mignon with a Bordelaise sauce. Wild rice and asparagus tips would go nicely and would also add color to the presentation. A special dessert, kept covered and well-hidden behind some leftovers at the back of the fridge, had already been prepared earlier: a four-tiered chocolate torte. Between the tiers he had used whipping cream flavored with a coffee liqueur to add the necessary height and to keep the whole thing from becoming overwhelmingly heavy, which would have occurred with a more traditional buttercream. The top layer, lightly dusted with powdered sugar, had been adorned with a small dollop of the whipped cream mixture and just a touch of chocolate shavings. He knew she would appreciate it! Clarice, he discovered, had a sweet tooth! She adored desserts and chocolate was one of her weaknesses. His eyes danced. It would be such fun uncovering the others!
She looked over her shoulder at him expectantly without completely turning around, her mouth turned up in a half smile. The combination of casual elegance was breathtaking. She was barefoot, her shapely feet nesting in the thick pile of the carpet like two white doves. Her black velvet skirt accentuated the curve of her buttocks, then draped gracefully down her thighs, all the way to the floor. Her right calf peaked through the deep slit in the material and disappeared in shadow as the slit climbed higher. The cream colored sweater, simple yet elegant, gave her movement a marked sensuality, promising additional delights beneath. Her costume, posture and the golden firelight now haloing her head made her appear like a saucy icon. The mixed imagery pleased him.
“The chef tells me we’ll dine in an hour,” He smiled, revealing small white teeth. “I thought perhaps you would enjoy a hot bath beforehand, so I took the liberty of leaving extra candles along with a scented bath oil on the vanity…vanilla and almond; I believe the combination is one of your favorites.”
Clarice turned to fully face him now. His consideration touched her! Baths had never been high on her list, seeming more like a self-indulgent luxury. No. Showers fitted more into her lifestyle. They were quick, functional and required no extras.
That was *before.*
Now, pampering her body was no longer the *exception,* but the *rule*; and she found baths to be blissful times of sensual relaxation.
With his encouragement she was leaning to enjoy many things.
Studying him, she marveled again that he knew her so well! No one had ever gotten close enough to notice much less care what she liked.
“Thank you,” she smiled. “You’re going to spoil me, you know!”
“Nothing would please me more,” His maroon gaze held her whole. “If you would let me.”
Clarice felt a pleasant heat rise to her cheeks.
“I think I’ll take you up on that, doctor.”
He raised an eyebrow, his lips pursed.
Flustered, she dropped her eyes to the floor, recognizing her faux paux. “The bath, I mean.”
“Ahhh.” A polite nod of acknowledgement, although he was secretly delighted with her response. “Of course.”
Clarice looked up. Head tilted, he was watching her intently.
Regaining some of her composure she asked, “An hour then?”
More to exorcize the innuendos from air than for confirmation.
Starling wouldn’t forget… as he knew she wouldn’t.
With a small smile Clarice quietly left the room, the velvet whispering around her feet.
For a few moments the doctor stood perfectly still, eyes closed, replaying the image of her in his mind; the colors, the textures, the sounds-all weaving together to form a rich tapestry. The scent of her still lingered and he flared his nostrils, drinking her in; coating his lungs with her essence. Opening his eyes, a slow smile crept across his lips.
In the hearth, the fire glowed.
Like his eyes.
A log crackled…
No, it will not be long now.
Not long at all.
Hannibal Lecter traced her path into the hall, stopping at the foot of the stairs. His gazed traveled upward, following each individual step, until it came to rest at the top landing; whereupon his mind took over and traveled down the dimly-lit corridor to her bedroom. Inside now, past the canopied bed where, earlier in the afternoon, he had arranged the maroon gown neatly across the down comforter; past the mahogany dresser on which lay her toilette articles, as well as the ruby necklace and earrings that would accent her loveliness tonight. He traveled the short distance to the closed door of her private bath and ever so discretely passed through. There he pictured her: blue eyes closed, hair piled high out of the way but damp where it met her lovely neck, her supple body reclining languidly in the scented bathwater, the candles releasing their perfume into the room as they highlighted the oil droplets shimmering on her pale skin. The doctor sighed. A most charming image! His mind’s eye played over her curves and valleys, finding the journey glorious! Pleasant thoughts for a cold evening!
An annoying grumble from his stomach interrupted his reverie, bringing him back to the matter at hand.
Frowning at the distraction, he nevertheless grudgingly saw the wisdom of preparing their meal. He himself had designated the time and it wouldn’t do for the host to be tardy! Reluctantly reigning in his mental wanderings, he turned in the opposite direction and, humming the ‘Menuet’ from Handel’s Wassermusik, disappeared down the darkened hall to the kitchen.
Clarice Starling, eyes closed, lay in the hot water, contemplating her past. And her future.
God, she wished it were a simple decision!
Although her host had shown her nothing but respect, the consummation of that night and its aftermath had left her bewildered. More with herself than with him. Although his usual restraint precluded declarations of undying love, she knew by his actions that he felt deeply for her. Still she wondered why he had brought her here…and why she stayed! Life with him was like living in a dream and she feared for her sanity should reality come crashing down to destroy it! Could she really do this? Abandon everything familiar in favor of an uncertain future with a man who was not only extremely complex but also extremely dangerous?
‘Never forget what he is!’
Starling ticked off an admittedly incomplete list starting with ‘A’: analyst; aristocrat; artist; author; bibliophile; cannibal (she couldn’t forget that one, could she?); composer; consultant; Dante aficionado; egomaniac; escape artist (how else would you classify Memphis?); Gentleman (with a capital G!); giver of extravagant gifts; gourmet; Harpy expert; historian; host of to-die-for dinner parties; inventor (who could forget the crucifixion watch); linguist; murderer (of *how many* was still up for debate by experts); musician; olfactory expert; opera enthusiast; perfectionist; philosopher; physician; brilliant psychiatrist (she decided to keep that one under ‘p’ rather than opting for the more descriptive ‘b’); surgeon; wine connoisseur.
She intentionally left out ‘madman’ and monster.’ He was no more mad than she (although her own sanity, especially recently, was definitely open to question!); and the title ‘monster’ didn’t fit either. It never did... not in her eyes. The term was too…
‘Simplistic is what you’re looking for.’
The words echoed in her memory.
Always in my head, aren’t you doctor?
A rich chuckle in answer.
(definitely open to question!)
Absently Clarice wondered what other accomplishments he could lay claim to.
Sighing, she dropped lower into the fragrant heat. Especially bitter conditions were hard on old pipes and this house was no different. The air was chilled. She would ask him to turn up the heat so as not to be cold tonight.
She frowned and shifted uncomfortably. Starling knew that she could change that scenario in a moment with one word.
Ever the gentleman, he was waiting.
She sensed, however, that he would not wait much longer.
‘Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.’
I have other options, damn it!
‘Tell me truly, Special Agent Starling, what are they, hmmmm? Thrill me with your acumen.’
The voice again.
She growled in frustration, trying to ignore it but found it next to impossible.
I can start over, someplace else…
She frowned. The notion sounded lame even to her.
‘Running again little Starling? It simply won’t do…’
Lying back against the porcelain, she opened her eyes and stared vacantly at the rose-patterned wallpaper.
Okay. Reality check, girl. Be honest with yourself!
Painful as it was, Starling had to admit that no one since her father had shown such consistent concern for her welfare as Dr. Lecter. And what’s more, he accepted her as she was; applauding and even encouraging what he accurately recognized as her strengths, those very qualities for which others in the Bureau resented her. She smiled. He called her his warrior. The letters written in his fine copperplate hand commending her bravery as well as highlighting the Bureau’s abuses were sometimes brutal but always honest, even if it meant showing her painful truths about herself. His purpose: to instruct. Many lessons were difficult, but he never softened them with lies, gradually earning her trust over time despite the caustic sarcasm and brutal insights. That should have been laughable-that she trusted him more than her colleagues, more than Jack Crawford, even more than Ardelia. At first it was disconcerting, then oddly comforting.
“Delia and Crawfish never really understood me. He does.”
She whispered her long overdue confession into the silence. The only answer to break the stillness was the sound of her own breath.
She allowed her mind to drift back, remembering what it had been like, going through the motions day after day: work had become, at best, a chore… the Bureau draining her life like a vampire. Her gradual realization that she would never be allowed to advance, but would be used until she had no more to give, then thrown out like last years garbage, increasingly drove her to the mind-numbing comfort of Jack Daniels.
Self-destructive? Certainly... but temporarily effective nonetheless.
And men? Clarice had long ago relinquished the notion that she was relationship material. She was too independent and men felt threatened by her. And how they resented her intelligence and drive! Dates were few and ended disappointingly when she refused to be another ‘notch on a belt’. They rarely called a second time. Her colleagues whispered maliciously behind her back, labeling her ‘frigid’ or the more commonly held label, ‘dyke’. Both were equally erroneous and equally painful, but she let them think what they wanted; it was beneath her to have to justify herself. They weren’t worth the effort. Eventually she gave up dating altogether, preferring her own company.
Life had been predictable.
To live in a shell of ice.
She had *existed.*
‘My, my…stings, doesn’t it?’
The truth of her past-not some idealized version, sugarcoated with misguided morality, hit hard and for the first time in many years, Starling felt despair. Not self-pity, though, for she was strong enough to take responsibility for the choices she had made and enough of a realist to accept that she couldn’t change what *was.*
But what of her future?
Clarice winced, groping desperately for ideas.
I have options!
More of the same?
‘Tell me truly, Special Agent Starling…’
‘…thrill me with your acumen!’
And the prospect of her remaining years spent in wasted regrets stretched before her, relentlessly bleak and lonely, leaving her feeling emptier than she had ever felt before. A single tear, squeezed from between closed lashes, wound its way slowly down her cheek. Another followed. And another. Until years of pent up sorrow came out in wrenching sobs. Involuntarily her body convulsed in sympathy.
The water, now tepid, did little to shield her body from the cool air.
Gradually the sobs subsided, leaving only an occasional hitch in their wake.
Her mind revived slowly.
She simply couldn’t do it! Couldn’t return to mere *existence!*
Not since she had tasted life!
And finally, Clarice accepted the truth; accepted it like she accepted the air she breathed.
It was with him that she was truly *alive.*
No matter how hard she tried to deny it, something was now open inside; something she didn’t even realize had been closed. Hannibal Lecter had done that. Insisting on total immersion in life, savoring every detail, he considered anything less as an affront to his senses! He had chipped away at the ice bit by bit until she had stood exposed before him. Then he had shown her the way out: his offer, more than richness of experience; it encompassed everything that had been lacking in her life.
‘Some of our stars are the same. Clarice.’
The clicking of windows; a further alignment.
And a life fulfilled coming into sharp focus!
‘Ahhhhh! First principles. It all comes down to this, doesn’t it?’
That voice again, smooth as silk, this time guiding her right up to the edge of the abyss.
“Yes, doctor,” she admitted, speaking the words aloud; not realizing that with their utterance, she had already jumped. “It does.”
An incredible calm settled over her and she smiled.
Opening her blue eyes, Clarice Starling stood and reached for the towel.
Lecter, seated at his harpsichord, noticed the change as soon as she entered the room. Her demeanor and bearing radiated confidence. Although her entrance caused him to catch his breath, his fingers continued to draw the crisp clear notes of Bach’s Two and Three-Part Inventions from the instrument. Lucky for him he was more than familiar with the piece, leaving his mind free to contemplate this newfound change while his eyes feasted on her beauty. He congratulated himself on his strategic placement of the candles, the only source of light in the room, other than the recently replenished hearth fire. The mixture of soft light and shadow played over the contours of her face and body gloriously! Her thick auburn hair, piled high on her head, was held casually in place by a single gold clip. His eyes moved hungrily over her face, devouring every detail. Her makeup was minimal; she hated to fuss and her skin tones were even enough not to need it. Only a touch of blush at her cheekbones and a stroke of smoky grey shadow over her eyes. Her lips were bare, and very inviting! His tongue ran lightly around his own lips, suddenly gone inexplicably dry. The maroon gown, accentuated by the rubies at her throat, flowed gracefully over her curves and valleys, indeed could have been made just for her. The décolleté, lit by the candlelight, brought back memories of the night of her awakening, weeks ago. Perhaps tonight there would be another awakening of sorts! Something had certainly shifted in his little Starling! Even her scent, always a telltale sign of her emotional state, was absent of its former worry and sadness; now it held a richness, which intensified her allure. Closing his eyes briefly, he savored it.
Opening his eyes again, he saw that she had crossed to stand next to the mahogany instrument and was watching him with as much pleasure as he had been regarding her! His fingers stopped and his mouth returned her smile. Rising from the bench, he hoped that his own clothing, a charcoal grey suit, did not disappoint. The black shirt was a nice touch as was the maroon tie, chosen with her ensemble in mind. A single maroon rosebud graced his lapel. Cufflinks were a dark ruby, again as a complement to her own accessories. He shot his cuffs before moving the few feet to where she stood. Taking her hand, he bent his sleek head and softly brushed his lips over it.
She used vanilla/almond skin cream after her bath.
An almost imperceptible flair to his nostrils.
And just a hint of sandalwood oil…
His eyes rose to meet hers as he straightened. He did not relinquish her hand.
“Clarice. You’re beautiful.”
His tone was low and traveled seductively over her skin, raising gooseflesh.
He expected her to blush and take back her hand. When she did neither, he was both surprised and pleased.
“Thank you, Hannibal. I’m glad you find me so.”
He tilted his head, his eyes never leaving hers.
“Ah-h-h,” he breathed softly. “My little Starling has grown up.”
Clarice held her smile, unwilling to relinquish her secrets quite yet. Her eyes strayed to the small table already set for two. Elegant! Gold candlestick with long ivory tapers. Crystal wine glasses and the finest white bone china, accentuated tastefully in gold. Gold eating utensils. Ivory placemats and napkins. And a single white rose, half opened, across her plate. The sideboard held numerous covered serving dishes, all in fine gold; The Batard-Montrachet, already aired and poured.
“Supper smells wonderful and I’m famished.”
He nodded once, his eyes gliding over her in appreciation.
“As am I.”
When she held his gaze and didn’t flinch at the double entendre, he secretly applauded. Yes, the evening promised to be quite… stimulating! He took her arm and guided her to her chair. When she was settled comfortably, he leaned close, his hands lightly on her shoulders, and gave them a gentle squeeze.
“The fare tonight appeals to all the senses.”
Casually allowing his hands to brush her upper arms as he withdrew, she hummed her approval. Crossing to the sideboard, he removed the lids from the first course. The odor of onions and cheese and a hint of basil wafted up from the bowls. Smiling at the aroma, he turned and carefully placed the soup before her; then moved to his own place opposite hers.
He waited while she took a small amount on her spoon and took it lightly between slightly parted lips. She closed her eyes in pleasure, savoring the warmth as well as the taste.
“Mmmm. This is really delicious! Especially on such a cold night!”
The doctor relished her reaction a moment longer before putting his spoon to his bowl.
As always Dr. Lecter was the perfect host, seeing that she wanted for nothing, while, at the same time, keeping the conversation flowing artfully from one topic to the next.
Music of the Classical period took them through the soup and salad. Lecter happily began filling in her woefully sparse knowledge with a discourse on one of his favorite composers, Mozart; keeping her entertained with stories of the composers numerous adventures, some risqué, some humorous, some tragic, all fascinating to one who knew next to nothing of his life except what she gleaned from the movie ‘Amadeus.’ Maybe it was the way he told them. Lecter had a way of making every story come alive, imitating various personages to the point where Clarice felt he might have done well in the theatre. She certainly recognized how he could have eluded the authorities for so long, considering his talent for impersonation and improvisation!
Before she knew it, she was presented with her entrée, and for a while they were both silent, relishing the taste of the Filet. Others might consider the meat too rare, the ‘jus’ tinged the Bordelaise sauce an interesting shade of reddish brown, but the couple seemed not to notice. Clarice then took over the conversation, relating stories of winters spent in the small town where she was raised. Lecter chuckled at her tales of the numerous skirmishes she had had with her siblings, asking a question here and there to clarify, but more often than not to hone her understanding of some motivation or lesson hidden just below the surface. Rather than being offended, Clarice welcomed his input, realizing his intentions were to instruct and analyze, not to poke fun at or to hurt her. That had been left back in Memphis like a piece of discarded clothing, once useful but no longer needed.
Tonight her own senses were heightened to an almost fevered pitch-and it was exhilarating! She was acutely aware of everything; nuances in flavors, subtle aromas, shades of color as well as the play of light and shadow; textures and temperatures against her skin; even the snow as it struck staccato-like against the glass.
Pleasant distractions aside, however, her mind always returned to him and to the degree to which she enjoyed being with him: watching the subtle changes of expression on his face when he spoke; admiring his body as it accomplished the most mundane tasks with grace and self-assurance; listening to the hypnotic rhythms and tones of his voice, delighting in the rare but rich laughter that erupted spontaneously when something struck him as droll or, better yet, ironic. And then there were those eyes! Maroon, unblinking, unnerving… and, when he chose, able to relay his intentions clearer than any words!
Yeah, girl! You think he’s sexy, don’t you? Admit it! One look and he makes you want to melt in a puddle right at his feet!
Starling suppressed a chuckle at her uncharacteristically randy thoughts and a pleasant sensation of rising heat in her lower abdomen caused her to shift restlessly in her seat. Absently her tongue mimicked his and touched her upper lip.
Not too bad on the eyes, either!
Steeling a glance across the table, she was grateful that his gaze had shifted momentarily to his plate. It gave her a few seconds to study him in the candlelight.
Attractive he is!
But it was more than mere comeliness; old-fashioned adjectives, little used in her generation, such as ‘dashing’, ‘elegant’, and ‘debonair’ flitted through her mind. She had seen other qualities in him too, even in the dungeon. Qualities that attracted her. Fascinated her. His humor, although sometimes barbed, was refreshing, ranging from whimsical to perverse to caustic. He radiated power, intelligence and magnetism, always an erotic combination to Starling. And his ‘little anomalies,’ those qualities (some of which were admittedly unsettling) that made him uniquely Hannibal Lecter, only added to the allure. Occasionally she found herself staring, and had to focus on her plate, the candles, anything, to keep from embarrassing herself. She hoped he didn’t notice, not wanting to be construed as rude.
But of course he did…
And it didn’t bother him in the least. In fact, Lecter found it to be entertaining, as well as satisfying; the quid pro quo aspect was certainly not lost on him. She had obviously come to a decision while bathing, and her attentions, being a reflection of that decision, spoke volumes. If he were in a more perverse mood he could have had a lot of fun playing her game of ocular hide and seek; but instead chose to ignore it He would wait until later when even more pleasurable games could be introduced and explored!
When, however, during the entrée the doctor felt the heat of her gaze, he couldn’t resist tweaking her just a bit. Dropped his guard, he met her eyes with his own and playfully allowed her a brief glimpse of the passion that was behind them.
A glimpse…no more.
And was rewarded with almost imperceptible quickening of her respiration in response.
Reigning in his glee, he lowered his gaze and continued savoring his filet, unperturbed.
By mutual consent it was decided that dessert and coffee would be enjoyed at fireside.
Shedding her black sandals, Clarice curled her bare feet under her legs, a favorite pose, and one to which she returned when she was about to engage in one of their lengthy ‘talks’ which they both relished. Her posture was not lost on the doctor.
Claiming the chair opposite her, he rested his chin in his hand and studied her behind hooded maroon eyes.
After a brief silence he spoke softly. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Clarice smiled shifting her gaze from the hypnotic fire to his eyes.
“I’m thinking that I never want this to end.”
He was quiet for a few moments before murmuring, “It doesn’t have to.”
“I’d like to think that’s true. I feel…”she searched for the words. “…home.”
Lecter’s pulse jumped. A light smile played at the corners of his mouth.
Clarice was heartened by the kindness in his tone. Even though she generally found it easy to talk with him, these revelations made her feel awkward. Intimacy was a new game, and one to which she was still learning the rules.
The doctor watched as she unconsciously worried a cuticle to the point of drawing blood; a sure sign of stress. The idea of bringing her immediate relief crossed his mind. It would be easy to do…
He sighed absently.
Her decision had been made through painful introspection and his warrior deserved nothing less than his full support in her ‘moment of glory.’ It symbolized her metamorphosis; because of it, her life would change completely. All change was difficult and this was no different. Ultimately the victory for them both would be that much sweeter.
He focused once again on her words.
“…I’ve thought a lot about my life, Hannibal. And maybe for the first time I’m seeing things clearly. Some of the choices I’ve made were stupid…”
Self-flagellation (in his opinion, a pointless exercise) was not a detour he wished to make with her along the triumphal route. Holding up a hand to silence her, Lecter averted his head briefly. When he returned his gaze to hers, his eyes had darkened. “Please. Self-recriminations hold no place here. Your choices were perhaps naïve, maybe even misguided, but never stupid.”
“All right, doctor! I’ve wasted a lot of years being ‘misguided.’ Morality is not as cut and dried as I once thought it was. Decisions are more complicated. The good guys and the bad guys aren’t what they seem.”
His ears pricked up at that and he looked at her warily. “Are you implying that I’m one of the good guys, Clarice? That’s quite a stretch, even for you!”
“No. I’m saying that there are no good guys and bad guys.”
She was becoming more animated now.
Dr. Lecter watched, rapt, as her hands punctuated the air.
“You told me back in Baltimore that life’s too slippery…”
“Yes…lupus presents as hives…I remember…”
“Yes. Well, it’s taken me seven years to understand what you meant by that.”
“Seven years? And I thought the statement to be straightforward…”
Clarice leaned her head back against the cushion and closed her eyes in frustration. Living with him was not going to be easy. She would have to learn to choose her words with more care. Accuracy was a penchant with him. Opening her eyes, she sighed. “All right! ...to accept it as *true.*”
“Ahhhhh. This grows more intriguing by the minute. Pray continue, Special Agent Starling.”
Her eyes flashed angrily. “Ex-Special Agent, doctor! You know *that* as well as I do. I’ve been suspended from the Bureau. And even if I wasn’t, I couldn’t go back there. Not now.”
He persisted, forcing absolute clarity for her benefit rather than for his. “Couldn’t? Is something or someone preventing you from that course of action?”
Damn him! “Wouldn’t! And the answer is: ‘I’m preventing it!’ Me!” Her fingers, pointed like the beak of a bird, struck her chest twice. “It’s my decision to make! No one else’s!”
That’s my girl! He mused inwardly, pleased with her sureness of tone as much as with her actual words.
Aloud he commented soothingly, “Of course it is. Now, tell me what brought you to such a momentous decision?”
Her voice calmed before giving him an answer. “I told you doctor. I‘ve reconsidered my choices. And as I see it,” She held up her hands as if weighing her words. “I can go back to what my life *was*…”
“And what was *that* Clarice?”
“Sad… Lonely…” Starling swallowed. “Wasted…”
The words seemed to catch in her throat. Reaching for her coffee, she took a sip and placed the cup again on the table.
Lecter respectfully allowed her the brief respite.
When she continued, her voice was strong.
“Even if I never went back to the Bureau, I would have been subjecting myself to more of the same. The situations might change, but the mendacity wouldn‘t.”
He nodded, evaluating her words.
She had come to the radical truth, painful though it was, and she faced it head-on. The idea that she did so with such courage and fortitude reaffirmed that his faith in her had not been misplaced. Keeping his inscrutable demeanor intact, he continued his inquiry.
“And the other?”
She took a deep breath. This was it. “I can choose life.”
His eyes flickered, the only outward sign of his glee. He observed her quietly for a few minutes. “An interesting way to put it, my dear. But perhaps we define the word ‘life’ differently. Tell me yours.”
He raised his eyebrows in surprise at this insubordination. From anyone else, such a blunt refusal to his inquiry would have cost them dearly. She was brash, his little Starling, exhibiting great courage (or folly) in standing up to him. Life with her would certainly not be dull!
“ Quid pro quo, Hannibal. I’d like some information from you now.”
He smiled inwardly, her boldness delighting him.
“What do you want with me?”
The question startled him.
“Are you asking if my intentions are honorable?” he teased, amusement dancing in his eyes.
She smiled wryly. “We’re not in medieval times now doctor and your not a knight in shining armor!”
The amusement died and he regarded her seriously, his eyes boring into hers. “No, I most certainly am not. And it bears well for you remember that.”
“I shall,” she pressed on without missing a beat. “Now please answer my question!”
He considered his words carefully for a moment. “I want what’s best for you.” He steepled his fingers beneath his nose. “I want your happiness; your well being. I want your complete freedom from all that would stifle you!”
Clarice shook her head, his answer leaving her unsatisfied. She leaned forward, frustration evident in her tone. “No, you’re evading the issue!”
The tension was palpable.
“Take care, Clarice. Challenging my veracity is unwise.”
Although this doctor’s voice remained deceptively calm, the warning in his tone was just as evident-and more chilling.
She ignored it, the stakes too high to do otherwise. “That’s what you want *for* me. What do you want *with* me?”
“That should be self-evident,” he hissed.
She shivered, but raised her chin defiantly.
A voice in her head told her she should stop...that this man was dangerous when angered but she couldn’t. She felt like a snowball gathering momentum as it rolled down a treacherous hill. She was well aware of how jealously he guarded his inner world. People who pried he considered ‘rude’ and rarely lived to tell about it. Clarice took a deep breath. “Tell me!”
Their eyes were now locked and neither could have broken the gaze if their lives had depended on it.
“Please Hannibal…”Her voice was now barely a whisper. “Please…”
One word, each syllable drawn out at length, dropped from his lips.
For long moments the only sounds came from the fire.
The next words, although softly spoken, revealed a depth of feeling heretofore only hinted at.
“You. I want *you.* All of you.”
Hannibal Lecter’s guard was down and for a few moments Starling was privileged to share an intimacy that had been previously unknown to anyone since his childhood. Knowing this made her love him all the more fiercely.
A sad smile shadowed his lips and his eyes held that far away look first apparent back in the dungeon.
“ I’ve endured seven long years of loving you from a distance, Clarice; but I’m a selfish man. Now I want you with me.”
He closed his eyes briefly as if savoring the possibilities then, tilting his head to the side in a pose that had by now grown comfortingly familiar to Starling, opened them again, and continued.
“ I want to wake and see you lying next to me every morning and know that the day will be that much richer because you will be there too, to share it. I want to fall asleep with you in my arms, your scent still lingering on my fingers, from where I’d touched you, inside. To breathe you. To taste you. To share words and silences with you. I want to experience everything that is *Clarice.*”
Finished, Lecter sat quietly. His outer stillness was in direct counterpoint to the riot occurring within his psyche from his frank declaration. Intimacy was a new game for him as well, and although reason told him that to keep her he would have to play it, at present it took all of his control not to abandon the whole idea. He chided himself for not anticipating that this ‘second awakening’ would have had repercussions for him as well. Now that the words were manifest, there was no reclaiming them. He wondered absently if, given the option, he would have exercised it anyway.
Clarice broke the gaze first and her eyes, swimming in tears, dropped to her hands, which were now trembling in her lap.
That small act told him volumes. He rose.
“Quid pro quo, little Starling.”
When had he left the chair? Clarice didn’t know but now he was kneeling before her with his hand under her chin, coaxing her head up. Their eyes met.
“I want to hear your decision. Now. Fully. You spoke of choosing *life.* What does that mean to you, Clarice? ” He wiped his thumbs tenderly across her cheeks.
Staring into his eyes, she thought she glimpsed uncertainty and vulnerability, two emotions never associated with the doctor. Then they vanished, quickly overshadowed by his customary inscrutability.
And discarding her old life as a snake sheds its skin, Clarice Starling completed her rebirth.
And found peace.
“To be with you. To love you.”
Teetering on the edge, he pulled back slightly, wondering if he had perhaps misheard her. Then, realizing he had not, that she had indeed uttered that which he had been waiting to hear for almost a decade, Hannibal Lecter’s restraint deserted him. In a voice, now hoarse with emotion, he asked,
“I am.” She whispered almost inaudibly. Reaching out, her hand cupped the side of his face.
She spoke the truth; he read it in her eyes.
With a growl, he closed the last few inches that separated them; then she was off the chair; hands holding onto his shoulders; his, securely around her back; mouths explored and exploring.
Half asleep, she felt his hand on her hip, still except for an occasional soft stroking of his fingers over her skin. Pressing closer into his warmth, she felt the hand trail lazily up her waist where it rested briefly before continuing its exploration up her back, across her shoulder and down to her chest, where the palm made feather light circles over her left breast.
Clarice opened her eyes and, even in the utter darkness of her room, could tell he was watching her. She raised her chest a fraction of an inch, making firmer contact with him.
A quivering intake of breath, followed by a sigh. Then a voice.
“I want to touch you.”
In lieu of a verbal reply, Clarice instead reached her hand over to trace the lips, which had brought her so much pleasure just hours ago and promised to do so again. Capturing the digit lightly between his teeth, he growled softly before sucking it further in and teasing it with his tongue. Her hand splayed over his mouth and she groaned, now fully awake. The hand at her breast had become more insistent, kneading and squeezing, the thumb and fingers brushing the nipple, then pinching it lightly, then harder, sending jolts of heat radiating through her body. As his lips released her finger, the hand at her breast turned her gently onto her back.
A pink tongue moistened a mouth gone dry. And a blink captured her image.
Lowering his head, Lecter circled his tongue over a nipple, savoring her moan of response. Her hands cradled his head, fingernails scratching his scalp lightly, desire growing exponentially with every flick of his tongue. Lifting his head he took in her expression and smiled. Needing no further encouragement, he drew the soft cream and coral into his mouth, nipping and sucking, and enjoying the small undulations of her body moving under him.
“You’re exquisite,” he whispered, and planted small kisses up to her mouth. Lips met and parted, allowing tongues to seek and taste, stroke and probe, fueling the excitement.
Clarice’s hands moved almost of their own volition, roaming wantonly over his chest, down his abdomen, through the smooth hair at his groin, until they found their ultimate destination. She smiled at the feel of him, thick and stiff, and pulsing, in her fingers. Caressing its length, she squeezed gently. Her partner groaned. Releasing her grip, she let her fingers trail slowly up the shaft, her touch feather-light, until they reached the head, where they stopped to play with the moisture that had begun to accumulate since her ministrations. It twitched. Another groan, this one followed by the whispering of her name. Emboldened to explore further, the other hand trailed down to message the full sacks beneath.
Lecter placed a restraining hand over hers, which were working earnestly now and giving him such pleasure! But to so quickly shower her belly and thigh with his seed was not his aim. No. He was a considerate lover and would not ignore her needs. Sex, like everything else in life, should be savored.
Gazing into her eyes he registered her confusion at his sudden halt to her attentions.
But neither will it do to hurt her feelings.
Raising an eyebrow he murmured, “What you *do* to me little Starling! The game was almost over before it had begun!” and gave her a playful wink.
Her concern evaporated and her eyes took on a look of devilry.
“I guess I don’t know my own…abilities.”
Returning her look with one of his own, he countered wickedly, “Mmmmm…but won’t it be fun finding out!”
Both chuckled softly before resuming their explorations.
Growling, he nipped her lips and chin, before his mouth moved over her neck, chest and shoulders. Starling felt no fear as his teeth closed onto her soft flesh, and therefore, made no move to stop him. In fact, she found it intensely arousing. Each bite sent a jolt down to her sexual center. She shuddered as she felt a particularly hard nip on her right shoulder, and wondered if, the morning, there would be many marks to commemorate their lovemaking. On them both. Her own hands and nails had not been idle, grabbing flesh here, raking nails there; her need, a mirror image to his.
Lecter took his time, enjoying the occasional tiny droplets of blood on her skin. His senses reveled in the mixture of her sweat, salt and arousal; it was a heady combination and one that enticed him almost beyond reason. Added to his delight was the knowledge that she held no fear of him, even though her body was completely open to him and in a very vulnerable position. In fact, she seemed to relish this sort of ‘love play’ just as much as he.
Other scenarios came to mind.
He smiled, his mouth now moving down her abdomen. Small nips and kisses. Tasting. Tonguing. Unlimited access; no more barriers. So much of her to explore and all the time in the world to do it. The thought made him giddy. Pressing his nose against her soft curls, he inhaled her musk greedily. Although inexperienced, she was willing.
His mouth found her center and his thoughts were short circuited by the intense sensations washing over him as he tasted her for the second time that night. A groan (was that her or him?), then discovering with delight the many sounds he could elicit from her just by varying the pressure of his tongue. He nuzzled deeper, his mouth working her expertly, giving her his best attentions.
Fly, fly, fly, little Starling! Fly, fly, fly!
When she peaked he enjoyed it with her, two fingers messaging her inside, his eyes memorizing her expressions.
Lecter grinned wolfishly. His name had been on her lips.
Turning his attention to his own need, centered in an almost-painful throbbing hardness (if that were indeed possible!) at his groin, he moved up her body until he rested between her legs. Seconds later he was inside her and both paused, moaning at the still-new sensation. Her tight heat and wetness almost pushed him over the edge, but he forced himself to stillness, wanting to make this a memorable night for her. For them both. A celebration. Rising to his elbows Lecter took her head between his hands and stared into her eyes. “ I want you to look at me.”
It was hard not to, with his maroon gaze locked inches from hers.
“I’m going to fuck you slowly and I want to watch you.”
He began moving within her, his strokes deep and deliberate. Soon both were moaning with the need for more friction, but he did not alter his rhythm, continuing the slow penetration of her until both were dripping with sweat.
Inadvertently she closed her eyes. Suddenly all movement stopped. Clarice opened her eyes and glared.
“Don’t you dare stop!” She panted, fingers digging into his biceps, raising angry red crescents beneath.
He stared at her in surprise…which changed quickly to bemusement at her audacity.
Bold wench! I love it.
Just when he thought he could anticipate her response, she threw him a curve!
In the blink of an eye he had captured both hands in one of his own and moved them to the pillow, where he held them gently, fingers entwined in his. Smiling, Lecter held her chin with his other hand and clamped his mouth over hers, pushing his tongue down her throat in a kiss that left them both gasping for air. His eyes gleamed.
“My girl likes this, does she?”
He thrust twice in succession-harder.
“Ahhhhhhh!” Was all she could manage, too preoccupied with the added thrill of his strength to come up with an answer.
Satisfied, he leaned his face closer and purred wickedly, “Keep your eyes open then, hmmmm?”
Her eyes smoldered with unabashed lust as she grinned saucily; just for emphasis, she squeezed him inside once, and was pleased with the grunt she won in response.
Immediately he resumed the maddeningly slow rhythm-but harder. The pleasure built until both moved in perfect sync, not daring to shift positions for fear of lessening the exquisite tension.
Clarice felt was about to combust. Truthfully she had never done anything like this before. Never felt anything like this before. Never even dreamed such heights were possible. He knew exactly how to play her body, drawing forth wave after wave of sensation only to have that sustained ,not diminished, until she thought she would scream. She wondered perversely if he would like that-to send her into temporary coital madness. For his amusement. Watching him laboring above her, she noticed with some satisfaction that he was in similar straights. His arms quivering with exertion; his eyes smoldering like coals; his breath coming in short gasps; his body, slick with sweat-all the signs that pointed to his own state of imminent immolation. Even so, his stamina amazed her. She wondered if this was a taste of what their sex life would be like. The possibilities made her lips curl in pleasure and her attention began to drift.
Lecter watched the minute changes in her face, memorizing them for later when he could arrange them in the new room of his palace devoted to this night, when he noticed the shift.
Where have you gone, you naughty girl?
No matter…a few pointed thrusts should do the trick.
Clarice gasped, eliciting a smug smile of satisfaction from him.
Yeah…that was go-o-od!
Aim achieved, he ignored the mild growl it elicited. Whether it was of complaint or arousal, he couldn’t tell and, quite frankly, didn’t care! Clarice would find him a generous lover, willing to experiment and indulge various whims, but he insisted on total involvement from his partner. Anything less he found irksome and lessened his enjoyment considerably. He wanted her ‘present’, so ‘present’ she would stay.
He gave himself over to the small sounds she was making. Her apex was near and he wanted to catch every detail as she sailed over the edge.
“Hannibal please…” she whispered hoarsely, unable to keep this tormenting pace much longer.
Lecter’s own control was on overload and he knew without words that this game, excruciatingly wonderful as it was, would soon end. The added insistence of eye contact was a nice touch-and much more fun than the game played earlier. He could see the mounting desperation in her eyes and it inflamed him to make his last thrusts faster. When Starling came again she shrieked.
His own release came seconds after hers, his body taking overtaking him and pushing his control to the far recesses of his experience. For a timeless moment the entire world was pure sensation and it all centered in his groin. As he felt himself explode into her, he groaned her name once before the ability to say anything left him. The boundaries between matter dissolved and he melted into Clarice. Finally his hips stilled and he rested, spent, against her shoulder.
He reentered his body by degrees.
He blinked once.
And the world came back into focus as his breathing and pulse gradually calmed. Opening his eyes, the first thing he noticed was the angry raised discoloration on her shoulder. Kissing it tenderly, he raised his head and studied her, suddenly concerned that in his intensity he may have hurt her. That his ‘love play’ had been too hard on her.
“Are you all right,” he murmured hesitantly, trying to read her while ignoring the annoying drop of sweat stinging his right eye.
The look on her face caused him to put away any lingering doubts he may have had. Well satisfied. And very sleepy. He smiled inwardly, recalling that this entire exchange had begun with him waking her from a sound sleep. Well, now he was feeling pleasantly tired himself. He would let her sleep, uninterrupted, for the rest of the night.
“Fine. And better than fine,” she murmured. “ How could I be otherwise?”
Taking his face between her recently freed hands, she kissed his eyes and his mouth.
Unwilling to move from her soft body until absolutely necessary, Lecter rested, chin propped on the back of his hand, and studied her expression. She was in repose now; eyes closed. Not asleep, not yet; he could tell by her respiration; but in that state in-between.
No lambs shall scream for you, Clarice.
For tonight at least.
The thought that he was responsible for her newfound peace pleased him, but whether it was a permanent condition, he couldn’t say. He hoped it was. He would do his utmost see that it remained so as long as he had breath in his body. And perhaps through her he would find his own.
Spent and drowsy, Starling was drifting in post coital lethargy. Suddenly she started. Something was different. For a few panicked seconds she wondered where the weight on top of her had gone.
Where *he* had gone!
Instinctively she reached out her hand, only to have it grasped gently, kissed and held against a warm chest.
“It’s all right, Clarice. Sleep now. I’m still here.”
This time the voice came from next to her. Reassuring. Comforting.
Not in her head.
But next to her.
Sighing, she rubbed her thumb over his skin.
And moved closer into his warmth. She felt his arms come around her.
“I’m glad you think so.”
Sleepily she half cocked one eye open and wondered if she had said that aloud.
His chest rumbled with silent laughter.
Or if he could indeed *read her mind.*
Putting aside the idea as irrelevant for the time being, she gave herself over to sleep.
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