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L'Amour

copyright 2002, by Diana Lecter

Disclaimer:    These characters 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 site.

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One of the first things she had noticed immediately was the air carried a distinct smell of rain. Why this was particularly noteworthy, she didn’t know, but the added sensation of romanticism was difficult to overlook. Though it wasn’t her first time here, Clarice was observing everything as though her eyes were those of a newborn babe, and she drank everything in and savored its taste with all the wonders of liberated flavor. Anywhere else, another hint of prodigy would have been superfluous, but this was Paris, where nothing could be overdone.

They had been here for a week, moving into a modest cottage in the heartland of the city. Though Clarice did not anticipate a lengthy stay, she was inspired by the fact that he decided a home was more appropriate than a hotel room. It was a lovely place: a 17th-century townhouse in the fifth arrondissement, obtained at more than twenty million francs. Gazing out the windows, she could faintly see the frame of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, the sky overcast, a ring of cloud surrounding it. The air lingered so peacefully that one would never assume the chalet was near one of the busier streets in Paris.

The location was stereotypical for the time of year, but she was under the complete reassurance that the imminent Valentine’s Day had nothing to do with their sudden move. “The historical merit of the city is fascinating,” he had noted before the leave. “And it’s time you traveled Europe for the scenery, not prospective manhunts.”

Not two months had passed since their very special dinner at the Chesapeake residence, and already, Clarice felt distanced enough from the old life never to look back. The stakeouts and manhunts he referred to seemed like some isolated dream, an image of long ago. It was no longer tangible. A missing period filled with radical stories that could never have existed in her life.

Sometimes she awoke screaming, seeing braids of some faceless woman fly as blood splattered and a baby wailed in the distance. Always was she comforted by the warm body beside her, soothing hands wiping her tears away, strong arms coaxing her to a welcoming chest where the sound of his heartbeat against her ear alleviated her, calming, and she would fall asleep.

Twice before leaving America had she turned on music only to hear ‘La Macarena’ playing in all its glory. Instead of switching them off, Clarice had growled and smashed the radios in a mix of wire and gadgets to the ground.

He never grew irritated at these random outbursts; rather encouraged them. Watching the rawness of her emotion seemed to please him, no matter what the weather held in store. Only once when her rage revealed no sign of dissipating, no hint of subsiding did he intervene and calm her. Otherwise, he let her vent her fury on something before offering his embrace of comfort and words that seemed to deactivate the wrath, no matter her mood. It was good for release, he said, and he was right. Repressing emotion was dangerous, and she had traveled that road before. Years of pent up frustration left little mercy for susceptible inanimate objects lying conveniently at her disposal.

For the first time in seven years, Clarice was content, fulfilled.

A smile tickled her mouth as she turned to Hannibal Lecter, who was stationed at the piano, fingers coaxing the notes of Bach to fill the room. There was no use of conventional sheet music, nor old photographs from failed shootouts and tabloid accusations. Instead, his eyes were locked fully on hers, not reacting to movement. He remained observant, cunning, and quiet. In the weeks since their unity, she had often caught him staring at her, unbridled, as though he feared she would disappear with a blink. At night, she felt his gaze imploring her, and the impression lasted even after she was asleep. On a few occasions, his hands had softly caressed her skin when he thought she was lost in slumber, as though trying to convince himself that the body beside his was physical.

Weeks of reflection, of intimacy, of sharing and needling alike, and Clarice had arrived at several conclusions. She knew she loved him, there was no questioning that, and it scared her. Scared her to think that she knew she loved him, still knowing what he was, even if she couldn’t remember who she was. And then, on another level, there was no horror, no spite, no surprise. Her reaction scared her but he didn’t. Getting over what he was struck her as inexplicably simple, for she knew it was in no comparison to who he was. She was found after so many wasted years of being lost. What frightened her the most was the dark thought that such a period might fall on her again, abruptly and without warning. It was much easier coping with life’s little miseries and complications when there was nothing to lose.

Yes, she knew she loved him, but she wouldn’t say it. She wouldn’t make that mistake. Years of listening to Ardelia’s sob stories that always consisted of ‘meeting the right guy’ and ‘saying the words too soon’ and ‘waking to not find him there’ terrified her. The simplest phrase of any language had the power to both enrich and devastate a relationship. Though she would never credit Lecter with the same thoughtlessness of other men, she likewise understood that any admission that pushed affection to love was a startling vocalization. Neither of them had known love in this adult life, and while they clung to it, drinking it in as though it were air, wine, or music, it was still easier to run from what wasn’t understood. Clarice would never discern the levels of love, never understand why, but she knew enough to confront herself. The inward acknowledgement stood as such, but she wouldn’t say it.

Not until he said it first.

Not until she knew her confession wouldn’t cause her to lose him. In these early stages, there was simply too much riding on three little words that it seemed entirely too foolish to risk.

Clarice knew he would never run from her, but she was terrified that he would run from love.

Days in Paris were spent enjoying the sights, the activities usually reserved to tourists. At his side, she never felt like a day-tripper. Never did they wear loud Hawaiian shirts, have binoculars glued to their eyes, or constantly click at cameras. Lecter avidly encouraged her to use her mind as her memory device to later refer to the scenes and sights she wished to recall by inward, less conventional methods.

Wherever they went, the harmony of La Vie En Rose followed, and she found herself lost in its beauty. Though it was quite obvious that it was performed endlessly for the sake of vacationers, Clarice was surprised at how it moved her. Her schoolgirl French was slowly coming back to her, and she was determined to know the tune fully before their stay was over.

She was finally beginning to understand Gertrude Stein. “A rose is a rose is a rose…America is my country, and Paris is my hometown.” How many years had she wasted traveling here but never seeing? This place wasn’t for assignments or authority or even changing planes; it was seeing the world as it was, incandescent through stained-glass windows. Only here did such luminosity make sense. Here, where a rose was a rose.

Though Lecter very much enjoyed cooking, he rapidly found a restaurant to label his favorite: an Italian establishment called Il Duomo. They toured museums, sampled fine wines, visited the sight of Napoleon’s tomb, and attended both the opera and assorted orchestral arrangements.

Now that Valentine’s Day was practically here-only one sleep away, Clarice became more and more certain that the historical relevance of Paris was only a part of his decision to relocate here during this time of the year. Lecter would never admit to being an old romantic, nor would he want to seem traditional in the methods of celebrating the holiday. However, he did want to treat her, spoil her, give her what he had wanted to for seven years. Give her what he felt she was missing, or had lacked from friends and people who were supposed to care. Whatever his reasons, she came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter. She loved Paris, and was indulging in every minute of their stay.

The cottage was still - Clarice at the window and Lecter at the piano. Only the carrying melody of the music at his fingertips sounded through the otherwise empty air. She enjoyed suspensions in time because it was so counterpoint to the hasty speed of the old life. Taking time to savor riches was a pleasure she was not yet acquainted with. On some level, it was as though she expected the calm not to last.

Clarice was seated at on a cushion at the window ceil, where she lost herself time and time again to the tapping of rain against the glass, the scenery that seemed too picturesque for actuality. Now, though, she was gazing at him, trying to implore the layers of his eyes, reflecting her innermost assertions and fears.

Would this last, this haven? Everyone she loved had left her, everyone to which she had whispered the forbidden phrase, the confession beyond all other confessions. Her greatest fear was a repeat of this cycle. Would he? Could he?

Clarice knew not to doubt his ability to do anything.

Sometimes, as his hands caressed her at night, fulfilling his own doubts that she was there beside him, thoughts of abandonment consumed her. She was so afraid of losing this that she didn’t want to sleep. If there was to be the day when she found herself alone, Clarice wanted her mind full enough of memories to last forever.

Eyes locked in exchange. She saw something in the depths of pinwheeling pupils, but didn’t know what.

I love you, she thought. But will I lose you for it?

If he were any other man, Clarice would confront him and share her concerns. But Lecter’s behavior was capricious and his reactions, undecipherable. She had no desire to chance a negative result.

The rain started to fizzle and died shortly thereafter. She held his eyes for a beat before turning to open the window, beckoning the scent of freshness to invade the room. It was against the Chestnut trees, damp soil and leaves, the world as it was. Lecter inhaled it appreciatively, climbing at last to his feet as the music at his hands echoed to stillness.

The affect he carried over her had not dwindled in the weeks they shared together, rather the excitement intensified, sometimes to frightening levels. He regarded her for a minute, notably registering her quickened breathing and elevated pulse, a kind smile in his eyes, but not on his mouth. A minute or so passed before he approached, gaze not faltering, silently forbidding her from looking away. Lecter stopped beside her and, with deliberate slowness, reached to push the window open further, and La Vie En Rose, courtesy of a group of musicians down the street, engulfed the room. He smiled as she smiled, wordlessly taking her hand and bringing her to his arms.

They danced forever. No corner of the cottage remained untouched. Long after the cords of the music had stilled, even as the skies opened to an encore of rain; the outside world had no place here. It, like many other obstacles, was simply another factor they forced to succumb to sometimes-selfish needs.

It was moments like these that reassured her, charged her with the hope that this might last, that the peace she had so long craved might finally rest at her feet.

Clarice only hoped never to awake.

* * *


The Parisian atmosphere, regardless of any worldly claim, truly did taint the Valentine air with exaggerated hints of romanticism. Undoubtedly, the streets would be filled with eager patrons, lovers from across the world, marriage proposals and the ever-lonely wanderer. It seemed nearly a crime to be single in Paris on this momentous occasion.

Though he was not routinely an early riser, Lecter found himself wide-eyed an hour after daybreak. It was instinctive by now to turn and find Clarice’s body, making sure she had not evaporated during his sleep.

Or, furthermore, that they really were in Paris, that any of this had occurred, and he wasn’t lost in a dream so wonderfully bittersweet.

When he saw her, though, his anxieties, whimsical as they were, again rested at ease. She was there, her back pressed to him, head resting on his left arm, which all but grasped her as though she was about to be blown away by some unseen force.

More than a month. Time was a funny thing. In his years of solitude following the escape from Memphis, the hours couldn’t proceed any slower. Now, time did not want to still. Perhaps insistent to rob him of every pleasure, even with drawn out, more conservative methods.

These insecurities were getting ridiculous, but he didn’t care. When something so precious was in his possession after years of coveting, a man simply couldn’t be too cautious. And, regarding her now, he allowed himself a small smile. Her contours were purely mesmerizing. The fall of her hair against her skin, the sound of her breath against his own, the blanket that halted at her waste, exposing the rest of her, the imprint of teeth marking her shoulder. Light from the window struck at an odd angle, illuminating her with distinction. He recalled the way firelight played off her bodice, and how wonderfully candles accentuated her features.

When he spoke, his voice was low, a whisper in the back of his throat. Caressing without realizing, he reached with his free arm to draw back several loose strands of hair from her face. “But soft!” he said. “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and my Clarice is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, who is already sick and pale with grief that thou her maid art far more fair than she. Be not her maid, since she is envious. Her vestal livery is but sick and green, and none but fools do wear it. Cast it off.” He paused, smiling slightly as his fingertips stroked her forehead. “It is my lady; O, it is my love…” Once more, a break, and his eyes grew distant with sudden wonder, sudden drift into thought. “O that she knew she were…”

Words not yet spoken, words he wavered to allow materialization, words that had to be released soon before she sickened of his hesitance. Lecter did not allow himself to dwell and brew over self-aggravation. The morning, this day, had more immediate concerns.

Consciously, he lowered his lips to the mark on her shoulder and deposited a kiss. With one taste, he couldn’t stop, and his teeth seductively scraped her skin as she stirred at last. The arm momentarily acting as her pillow pulled her closer to him, his right hand began to trail up her hip.

She made a low, throaty noise of approval, not yet awake.

“She speaks!” Lecter quoted, grinning tightly. “Speak again, bright angel.”

Hungry eyes watched as she fluttered to alertness, sleep evident in weary pupils, though a smile stretched her lips after a minute of recollection. “All right…I’m awake,” she conceded.

“Hmmm…” He pretended to consider her, hand not remaining still in exploration, gliding over her until covering a breast, feeling her shiver beneath him. “Are you real?” he whispered, only partly jesting. Even now, listening to her voice, feeling her reactions to his touch, he found himself tainted with doubt.

If she sensed his reservation, she decently refrained from comment. Instead, she pushed back into him, waiting until she had the reaction she wanted before retorting coyly, “I don’t know. Pinch me, I might be dreaming.”

Mirth bubbled inside him, and Lecter, not one to refuse a challenge, took her nipple between his thumb and forefinger and did just that, making her squeal as she turned to see him face-to-face. “You literal prick,” she accused, amusement dancing in her eyes as she pressed her mouth to his.

Amusement, utter happiness, something else…

Fear?

That unsettled him, and while he reciprocated her kiss with enthusiasm, his mind began to tinker, pry. He was certain Clarice didn’t fear him. She hadn’t since the first meeting in Baltimore, and even then, it only lasted until he spoke. Judgment had unpleasant insights had a keen way of converting fear to anger and resentment.

He hadn’t seen her regard him with fear since then, since the sliver before she saw the rumors of his personality were manifestly untrue.

In studying anyone else, pinpointing the subject of anxiety would present no obstacle, but Clarice was a mystery to him. Was now and forever would be.

He toyed with asking, but decided against it. There was always that chance that he wouldn’t like the answer. If so, he wanted to deftly prepare for it before the need to know ebbed his patience to its core.

The feel of her lips against his encouraged him, pushed away his qualm for now, and he, a happy prisoner to this haven, found himself incapable of anything but surrender.

* * *


Lecter regarded that day as though it were any other, promptly ignoring the glowing faces of lovers around them. Though she would never expect him to croon and whisper sweet nothings in her ear, Clarice felt something relative to disappointment in his reaction to the day. This was technically the second Valentine’s Day that they had shared together.

Now that I think of it, I could make you very happy on Valentine’s Day, Clarice Starling.

To say the atmosphere had no affect on him was, however, misleading and untrue. Though his behavior was far from doting, he did let her know, subtly, that he was perfectly aware of the holiday expectations. His spending habits on her were pronounced as it was, and perhaps in counterpoint, receiving a singular red rose touched her deeply. Simplicity and thoughtfulness was superior to cost or market value.

A rose sufficed nicely. She didn’t expect nor want a ring of commitment, as it was much too conventional. A band around her finger wouldn’t make her anymore his-and vice versa-than a purchased cup of coffee. She had no use of earrings as a result of the cauliflower-state in which Drumgo’s bullet left her ear, and wasn’t a common wearer of necklaces. Clothing she liked to pick out for herself, though it was difficult to deny his taste.

What she wanted most, Clarice feared she would never have, or have yet to lose. A rose was as close as she would come.

They dined at Il Duomo for lunch, ventured to the Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the yet unexplored sights. She had the feeling that he had reserved several of the more popular attractions for this day especially, but would never gamble to guess.

“Conceived by Maurice de Sully, a project that spent two centuries in construction,” Lecter murmured, gazing at the structure appreciatively. “This was always one of my favored monuments. Isn’t it beautiful, Clarice?”

“Stunning.”

The shortness in her voice was audible. Narrowly, he turned to her. “You don’t seem too fervent. Do you tire of Paris, my dear?”

“Not at all.” She attempted to withdraw her thoughts from the forbidden, the utter dread of the future and what she might have yet to lose. A weak smile was offered and she watched his brow furrow in concern as a result.

The next question was inevitable. “Is something troubling you?”

Don’t you know? You must know.

While people gathered and flocked around them, Clarice found herself quickly settled into one of the most uncomfortable silences of her life. Her gaze did not leave his, and she read there that whereas he expected an answer, he had not fully intended to voice the question.

Words implored her tongue, begging to be released. Clarice was caught in a moment, and the reprisal of fear, above all else, screamed at her to throw her arms around him and cry, “I love you, and I’ll lose you because of it, won’t I?” And wait until he pried her arms from his neck and turned to leave her, or hug back tightly and whisper the same, the forbidden phrase. She knew her struggle was evident through her eyes by the look he delivered and prayed feverishly that the battle itself remained hidden.

However, before either could speak, a sudden burst of La Vie En Rose assaulted the air, and Clarice was swept, though neither sad nor satisfied. A smile tainted her lips, words forming into soundless air. “Des yeux qui font baisser les miens, un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche.” The song, in all its beauty, seemed to deactivate them, but as his arms came around her to hold her close, she knew that the topic was not dead. Just momentarily put on hold.

Against him, she felt her fortitude collapse without warning or preamble. Tears struck from nowhere, and as the words that she knew poured from her mouth, Clarice felt him pull away to beseech her. “Voilà le portrait sans retouches,
de l'homme auquel j'appartiens. Quand il me prend dans ses bras, il me parle tout bas. Je vois la vie en rose.”


The song on her lips, the tears on her face, a recessive sigh from Lecter as he pulled her again to the comfort of his warmth, caressing her head as it rested at his chest. “Clarice,” he murmured into her hair, “what is wrong?” Genuine question in his voice, agitated that he did not know this answer, frustrated further that she withheld. “Please, tell me.”

But she would not. Not here. Not until he told her first.

Clarice felt the fight leave his arms as the embrace relaxed, comforting still, and she managed to get a hold of herself. When she finally withdrew, the tears were gone and she made no reference to it. The puzzlement and disapproval at such negligence to voice her sudden sadness was evident in his eyes, but as she, he refrained from submitting to curiosity. Though she was not naïve enough to believe the topic was dead and not subject to revival when they were in the seclusion of home, Clarice was grateful for this small, albeit uncharacteristic break.

When she left his arms completely, she felt a wave of foolishness overcome her. The last thing she had wanted was to outwardly reveal her fears, even if she was certain that he knew something was wrong simply by her misplaced behavior. There was within her somewhere a voice that screamed still that she would not be satisfied to live with such anxiety. Words tickled her mouth, beckoning for release, but Clarice withheld. There was always the reasoning that he wouldn’t run from her. This she felt secure with, enough to get over herself and try to keep from spoiling the day any further.

Even if she still thought he might run from love.

Though the streets were filled with herds of tourists, the Parisian Valentine’s celebration refused to dwindle in any level of corporeal expectation. La Vie En Rose tainted the air like thick perfume, but she never tired of the sound. It was reassuring in a way, calming her in a relatively similar manner as his voice and embrace. Lecter smiled when she hummed it, though his was somewhat worn. From that, Clarice knew her earlier outburst weighed heavily with him, and he was battling his own instinctual tendencies to wheedle it out of her.

At night, they dined at Le Violon d'Ingres, near the Eiffel Tower. In the days they had shared here, Lecter had not yet taken her to the notorious monument, and she felt an inkling of triumph when he announced it would be their final stop. There was an old romantic buried somewhere within him, after all.

They discussed the day quietly as they ate, as well as developing plans after Paris. The thought of leaving this city disheartened her, but not to any strenuous degree. There would be many trips before they finally settled, many revisits here, Florence, undoubtedly. One day.

Or so she hoped.

Lecter ordered a bottle of Chassagne-montrachet, ever on his drive to educate her in the world of fine wines, and poured. He held his glass up in a toast, captured her eyes, and said, “Al mio amore triste e silenzioso, nelle speranze realizza un certo giorno che può comunicare con me, che il bestia più non sta provando ad ottenerle.”

“Now, that’s not fair,” Clarice said, clicking glasses anyway. “I can’t speak Italian, not yet. What did I just agree to?”

“Nothing short of Carpé Diem,” he returned with a grin.

“I don’t foresee myself seizing any days soon.”

As she raised her glass to her lips, Lecter’s eyes captured hers and reflected the same concern from before. With a sigh, she lowered the drink, heart hammering in recognition. Throughout the day, his patience and irritation at her refusal to vocalize the root of her flare-up at Notre Dame had plagued him, and her comment pushed him over the proverbial line.

A few minutes of silence inexorably consumed them. Clarice twitched her discomfort, wanting desperately to look away but knowing he would never allow it.

Finally, he drew in a breath, causing a shudder to ripple through her as he spoke. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?” he observed, vaguely discomfited.

She replied without realizing it at first, and that alone nearly drove her to panic. What else might she surrender if properly prompted? What might she lose as a result? “I can’t,” she heard herself whisper, barely audible.

Thank Heavens for that. She hadn’t released the phrase. Clarice knew she was on thin ice as it was, and waited for him to snap at her, demand the answer to which he was owed. Such blatant refusal had never gone well with him. However, it wasn’t anger that shrouded his reaction. No, surprise and hurt rebounded her eyes, and she felt a stab somewhere inside. For whatever reason, she hadn’t anticipated that, though knew now she should have. This forced her to confession that the words she offered in substitute for those she would not say were worse and clumsily chosen. At that, she couldn’t think of anything more hurtful to say to this man after all they had shared.

“You can’t tell me?” Lecter echoed, his voice low and not masking the sting at such a revelation.

Clarice tore inside. Sensibility rang within her, words and more than words desperate to escape.

No! Not until she knew she wouldn’t lose him. Not until he said it first.

“If we don’t have honesty,” he continued a minute later, recovered from her statement, but eyes searing with something too deep to reflect, “Clarice, then we do not have anything.”

Then she thought he would demand it of her, threaten her, do something utterly predictable of himself, but he did not.

“Please,” she said dimly. “Please…I can’t right now.”

Closer to the truth, and while the fire did not vacate his eyes, he did seem to calm. They made no further reference to it throughout dinner, though what passed remained with her, and she could focus on nothing else.

If we don’t have honesty, Clarice, then we do not have anything.

In honesty to herself, Clarice admitted that her current mindset might easily be accredited to the time of year. Though she had made these conclusions before, they had not taken definite shape until the approach of Valentine’s Day, when the whole world was supposed to be in love.

This was the first February 14th in a long time in which she wasn’t alone, when she was with someone that she could say, with faith, held her love. Should she make her concerns known, she feared it would be her last.

The newness of emotion, the realization of her place, the wonder if he felt the same. Clarice supposed she knew on some level that he did love her, even if he hadn’t said it, but also forced herself to acknowledge that such a realization was frightening. It had scared the hell out of her when she became conscious of it, and even still, it was bottled up, not released, not known…no one ever had to know. Sharing her bed with the man was one thing, but loving him took it out of context, and likely condemned her forever. Either by society or the god she didn’t believe in, Clarice wasn’t sure, but that didn’t make her understanding any less true.

It all boiled down to one indisputable conclusion. She was happier now than she had ever been, and Clarice Starling, whom had never known happiness, felt her confession would cause her to lose it. Such did not seem unreasonable, and she wanted to tell him, was dying to, but dared not voice it for the world.

When their eyes met again, Lecter revealed something that made her pause in consideration. He was not prying because; perhaps for the first time ever, he wasn’t sure he wanted the answer.

As they left the restaurant, Clarice was still only certain of one thing: the matter was not yet deceased.

The Eiffel Tower was swarming with tourists, a negligible inconvenience which Lecter and Clarice had no difficulty ignoring. While the intensity of their discussion over supper had not abandoned them, she knew the mood was softening.

For a minute, time suspended, and she was captured in its beauty, the power of Paris. The first glance at the Tower up close was surreal, as though she had stepped through a postcard. Never on any of her prior trips had she had the time to enjoy the history of the town or visit any of its sights, and now, compensating for lost years, Clarice felt oddly at peace.

“There you have it, my dear,” Lecter said as though he were a tour guide, causing a small smile to crack across her lips. “The most infamous monument in the world. I have personally always thought that it is highly overrated. I believe it was built in-”

“Oh be quiet,” she jested, earning a dry look. “Can’t we just appreciate it without knowing its history? I’m sure you’ll tell me later.”

“How can you appreciate it without knowing the history?” he retorted mockingly. When she turned to smirk at him and saw the amusement in his eyes, she felt a surge of relief spring through her. Surely, not all was lost.

“I know enough,” came her reply. “Built to show off the wonders of what can be constructed of steel. Yadda, yadda…”

Between the iron and the silver…

She didn’t know where the thought came from. A memory, like many others, something to take her mind away from here.

“If I saw you every day, forever, I’d remember this time.”

Every day forever… if.

Clarice paused. So many meanings, so many interpretations. Her head spun with translations, but she cursed them away, not wanting to consider now. Regardless of which path she took, which direction she glanced, it was enough to support hope.

A memory of him, of him before this life. You are a warrior, Clarice.

Hmmm…

Clear skies unveiled pale moonlight, washing over them as familiar music played nearby. Lecter stood behind her, arms wrapping around her waist as his chin found home at her shoulder. Subconsciously, her eyes fell shut as she leaned into him.

This is the life, she thought, not sure if her voice was speaking in sadness or sincerity. After all, not many could say that they spent Valentine’s Day in front of the Eiffel Tower in the comforting embrace of a cannibal without feeling trepidation of his capabilities.

Trepidation elsewhere, but that was a personal issue. Bluntly, she banished it from her mind. Right now, she wanted to solely focus on him and the scenery. It truly was a fairytale moment, one she wished to stay in forever.

Clarice was coaxed out of her daydream by a hum at her ear, a low voice singing softly in deviance to the waves of familiar harmony that never seemed to tire of playing. “When the moon hits your eyes like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,” he bantered.

Mirth simmered within her. In the same tune, she answered, “When you’re swimming in the sea and an eel bites your knee, that’s a moray.”

Rich laughter gently erupted at her ear. “Touché,” he conceded, whispering a kiss at her neck. “Though I’m sure our mutual acquaintance would have preferred a nibble at his knee rather than snapping jaws shoved down his throat.”

“She’s fucking brilliant,” Clarice complimented absently. “Seemed very appropriate to me.” A trigger. Old anger flustered within her, provoked at the mere consideration of how close everything had been. A lapse here, a blink there, and…

“Calm yourself,” Lecter murmured soothingly. “That is behind us, and has no place here.” Studying her for a minute, undoubtedly noting the angrily flushed cheeks and flaring eyes, he whispered, “When you walk in a dream, but you know you’re not dreaming…”

That made her smile, though if it was out of the context or obligation, she wasn’t sure. He was right, of course, but Clarice was truthfully grateful to have a different matter to concern herself with. Never had she valued fear over anger. Even if these events were in the past, everything having worked out accordingly, it was still something to keep her mind occupied with.

On some level, she suspected her focus now was of relief to him; for once more he knew what she was thinking and could construct the healing approach.

“Are you ready to retire for the evening?” he asked solicitously.

“Yeah,” she agreed, complying as he coaxed her to turn, wrapping an arm around him, guided away.

There was a very large part of her that did not want to retreat into seclusion, telling her logically that he would pounce with a million questions when stares from the public could be avoided.

However, despite that, despite everything, she was feeling better. There was certain liberation in at least knowing that he knew she wasn’t in the best spirits. The gravity of her fear, though, was something she had no desire to face.

* * *


She was alone.

The room was barren, neatly stripped of his presence. It was always like this; if he wasn’t in the room, neither was his aura. Though the closet was supplied with his clothing, the bathroom tainted with his cologne and hand-lotion, the bed embossed with his impression, she still didn’t feel him here.

Clarice sat still in front of the dresser, gazing at the mirror uncertainly. For whatever reason, she thought that if she could get passed this day, these next few hours, she might feel better when she awoke. She had already arrived at the conclusion that the Valentine’s Day blues were worse than Christmas seasonal depressions, especially if you weren’t alone and had no surface reason to exhibit apprehension.

Of course, not many could say they spent the holiday with a labeled and convicted psychopathic madman.

She nearly laughed aloud at that. Labeled, indeed.

Music drifted up the hallway, reminding her that while she might be alone in this room, she wasn’t in the house. Breaking from her reverie, Clarice’s eyes drifted back to her reflection, not pleased with what she saw.

“I can do this,” she told the woman in the mirror. She saw the insecurity in her eyes and scowled.

Strength was her forte. It was the only reason she had survived this long. In all her years, there had been no one beside her to offer a helping hand, no kindness to nurse her to health when she was ill, no one to catch her when she fell. The prospect of having that now was new, exciting, but somewhat bewildering. In the grand scheme of things, it was merely another worry to add to her ever-growing list of concerns.

Memories were coming easy now. Clarice drew in a breath as she stood, whirling to find herself suddenly sitting in front of Lecter’s cell, discussing ‘Raspail, of the gluey flute.’ As it had many times before, his voice echoed within her, almost reassuring. Trying to guide her through her anxieties, even if they dealt with him.

Though the man downstairs had no real control over her subconscious, she did catch herself thinking it was very…typical.

Do you have something you use when you want to get up your nerve?…Do memories or tableaux occur to you then, whether you try for them or not?…Things from early life.

Memories from early life? No, just memories of him.

Hmmm…

She found herself smiling as she slid the robe over her shoulders and moved for the door.

As she walked down the hallway toward the sound of his playing, she heard him pause at the keyboard, as though sensing her. Likewise, the music stopped, and silence engulfed her.

Then, as she started walking again, the first cords of La Vie En Rose to the masterful craft of his playing hummed from the parlor. Clarice stopped once more, closed her eyes, trying to absorb it. In the old life, she had enjoyed music, sung to it, but never felt it flow through her. This past month had introduced her to things beyond wine and opera tickets and dancing. She felt she was finally learning to live.

Living through the tones and quality of music was something he embellished enthusiastically. Entire lives could be portrayed through notations. Clarice found that music was much more reliable than words. It enabled her to feel, not think.

La Vie En Rose was the first song, however, that affected her profoundly. Not because it revived schoolgirl lessons in French or encouraged her to master the lyrics simply to say that she could. No, she didn’t understand every word, but what she did rang so incredibly true that it simply couldn’t be ignored.

She had found her Goldberg Variations.

When she entered the room, she stepped into the pool of his eyes and was lost. Their gaze locked and held, reeling her in. The song at his fingertips carried leisurely, the tempo moderate. His movements were slow and precise, hardly distinguishable. And she was moving forward, toward the piano. She stopped behind it, resting her arms across the top to support her frame.

Without breaking concentration, he asked softly, “You know the words, Clarice?”

She did, more than she realized, and they escaped her fluently, without need for forethought. “Des yeux qui font baisser les miens, un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche. Voilà le portrait sans retouches, de l'homme auquel j'appartiens. Quand il me prend dans ses bras, il me parle tout bas. Je vois la vie en rose.” Pausing for a minute, she glanced to him, continuing when he nodded his encouragement. “Il me dit des mots d’amour, des mots de tous les jours, et ca m’fait quelque chose. Il est entré dans mon coeur, une part de bonheur.”

She held his eyes, and he hers.

There was no need for her to question her accuracy. It sounded too right to be wrong. Melody soared through her veins, and while she could have continued forever, she knew it wouldn’t last.

Without any finale or hint at break, the music suddenly stopped. Lecter jumped from the piano bench, reaching for her face and bringing his lips to hers. He kissed her brutally, hungrily, with passion that made her weak. Caught in a moment, Clarice at first grasped his wrists, keeping his hands at her face, before conceding to encircle his neck. The exploration of her mouth was delicate, as though he was still discovering her, still drinking her in. Every contradiction, similarity, metaphor, simile, divinity, inferno, everything, all summarized with a kiss.

He lifted her effortlessly without taking his mouth off her. Even now his strength could deceive her, surprise her, take her by storm. Clarice muffled a gasp and clutched him tighter. The way he could exhibit elegance and animality simultaneously never ceased to amaze her. So many unexplored levels of his own psyche left to resolve, more parts of him to find and love.

The physical aspect of their relationship was still something largely uncultivated. From the first, they had fallen into perfect synchronization, never battling with each other. And every time thereafter was like the first all over again. A new awareness, emotion, feeling surged through her in collaboration with the millions already encompassing her mind. It wasn’t merely sensation; it was sensationism, if there was such a thing. Exorcising so many empty years, both mentally and in the flesh. She hoped never to stop discovering.

Tonight, in collusion with the roller coaster of emotions her mind had put her through, Clarice felt she was falling, at the front of the ride and taking a turn down one of the large mounts. Descending rapidly only to be swept before she crashed. Then it wasn’t just the hills; it was everything in between. The loops, the curves, the slow and gentle climbs followed by the frightening plunges into what one could only assume was an extended abyss of new surprises.

Words climbed in her throat, scratching, hissing, clawing, and beckoning for release. Words and confessions. The unspeakables. Vibrations escalated and coursed, and then she heard it, as they reached their mutual points, straining in a near whisper.

“I love you.”

Clarice felt her body clamp and tighten in a stream of panic. No, no, no, this couldn’t be happening. Not yet midnight, she had almost made it. Almost passed the day in which such acclaims were promoted, where it seemed a crime not to let love be known. Sweat rolled into her eyes, and she blinked angrily. She wanted to see his reaction, to gage if she would awake alone the next morning, if this, this short but oh so sweet haven was over because of a lapse.

A hand at her face, drawing damp strands of hair from her eyes. Her body compressed again, as though trying to capture him here and never let go.

No, if you plan to run, you’re not getting away without a fight.

When her vision finally returned, Clarice forced herself to face it and met his eyes. What she saw nearly took her breath away. Shimmers of compassion, sincerity, kindness and…hope.

It dawned on her then, a sharp realization.

Those were not her words. They were his.

Her breathing hitched and her body numbed, her eyes imploring his, peeling away the layers, hoping desperately that she wasn’t seeing just what she wanted to see. Clarice had never known herself to conjure something simply out of desire, and did not want to start now. Not when the collateral was this robust.

And then every doubt was whisked away. Slowly, Lecter lowered his head to her neck where he nuzzled gently, and the words came again, deliberate, and she knew she was not dreaming. “I love you.”

The burden of release. Clarice felt herself dissolve into tears. With a sudden surge of energy, she shot forward, forcing him up and clasping him tightly, holding him to her, refusing to let go. She buried her face in the crook of his neck, unsuccessfully trying to muffle her cries, quivering with discharge.

“I love you, too,” she confessed at last, her voice near incomprehensible, relieved now of her crime, her secret, her fear. Out, unconfined, and she was free. She understood finally that she was loved in return, and he, as captured in the web as she was, wouldn’t abandon her like the rest. They would both be here when she awoke.

Instead of diminishing, her tears seemed to gain strength, never recessing. Now that it was out she felt she could say it a million times if only to feel the tightened embrace of comfort again and again.

When at last Lecter’s hold loosened, he pulled away to meet her eyes, this first time after such a revelation. Again his hand was drawn to her face, wiping the tears away as he smiled at her, warm comprehension filling maroon pupils. And, without speaking it, without needing formal recognition, she saw that he understood every reservation of that day, every hesitance, every fear. For a few precious seconds, he caressed her with his gaze before pulling her back to him. Calm now, at peace, she rested at his shoulder and secreted a deep breath.

This topic was not dead, Clarice knew. None of them ever were. He would revive it tomorrow, pry into her fears, and most likely scold her for them. But for now, words as they were, were unneeded. Rather, they held each other in stillness, in the recovery of unity, of confessions, listening only to the sound of La Vie En Rose, which played faintly through an open window.



FIN

copyright 2002, by Diana Lecter

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