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copyright 2004, by Mel

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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Having been in the city less than a month, Clarice Starling was still learning her way around Florence. The new hair color her beau had suggested went a long way to changing her appearance. He was also coaching her on her deportment, and she now glided down the stairs on heels she would have laughed at before. She doubted that close friends would be fooled, but of both of her closest, one was long in his grave and the other presumed Clarice in hers. The anonymity of the dead was not something she had contemplated, and in the first days she had not fully understood it. Now she moved freely and confidently, unafraid of the possibility of recognition. She never took off her gloves if she could help it, and always carried a clean, white handkerchief with her, just in case.

Stepping out into the late afternoon she ran one hand over her hair to smooth it, slipped on her dark glasses and took the steps in an easy, fluid movement. From the window above, Hannibal Lecter watched his beloved walk away down the narrow street and felt a quickening of his pulse at the vision of elegance and grace that she had become. His attraction to her had always been a profound thing, but now they had been alone and unbothered for some time, they had grown together in ways each was unprepared for. It sometimes frightened him to imagine life without her, and this feeling in itself also gave him cause for concern. As for Clarice, she felt gratitude beyond measure at having been lifted out of the petty and trivial existence she had endured before, and indulged the every whim her lover, her savior, could ever express.

Clarice Starling was used to the many eyes that would follow her as she went about her business in the old town, and today was no different. There were many beautiful and classy women in Florence, but this one stood out for reason men and women alike could not place. Something in the way she carried herself exerted forces both of attraction and repulsion for onlookers, and so though many may look, few approached.

As she struck one more errand from her mental checklist, Clarice looked up to the narrow expanse of sky visible between the tall buildings on the street and was surprised to see that it had grown dusky without her notice. She had been out longer than she had planned and wondered with a small smile if she was missed yet. Away in her reverie she did not notice the dark-skinned man emerge from an alleyway just behind her until he thrust a wilted flower under her nose.

"A rose for a beautiful lady?" The smile did not reach his eyes, and Clarice, with a sinking feeling of disappointment, felt too late the tip of the knife in the small of her back.

"What do you want?" she asked coldly, calmly.

"I want no funny business. You just keep quiet and come here with me." He tugged on her elbow and they sidestepped back into the alley from whence he had come.

Before she could react, gather her thoughts and apply what the doctor had taught her, her hands were yanked roughly behind her and secured firmly. She smelled the other man before she saw him. He stepped up to her so closely she could see the open pores in his forehead.

"What have we got here then? A pretty one. Looks up for some sport. What do you say my friend?" He spoke in pidgin English, his Italian accent guttural.

The first man laughed coarsely. They were leading her deeper into the backstreets, further away from the main road. She felt a hand on her back, squeezing appreciatively and sliding lower to roughly grab her between the legs.

"Take your hands off me," she hissed.

"Or what lady? What will you do?"

"I really don't think you're in much of a position to be making threats." The accomplice chimed in.

"Fuck you!" She spat on the floor.

Her reward was a sharp, back-handed blow to the side of her face. She felt the heat of her own blood running from her lip, and put out her tongue to taste it. She smiled.

"I don't know whether you noticed lady, but you don't have much to smile about right now. Me and my friend here, we're gonna have a little fun," he said, his accent strong. "Keep watch, Matteo."
"Matteo. That your real name?" Starling asked. Matteo kept his back to her.

"That's none of your fucking business!" the accomplice barked. Now shut up or I cut you, understand?"

"I understand that you'd better take your hands off me." Starling caught a movement off in the meager light of the narrow passage. "Matteo here isn't doing a great job as lookout."

"What?" Turning too late, he saw Matteo drop to the floor in a silent slump, the culprit a fast-advancing shadow in the darkness. Before he had time to curse, Starling brought her knee up sharply into her captor's groin, and as he doubled over kicked him again in the face as hard as she could. He went down heavily, and did not get back up.

"My dear, I really think you should be more careful when you're out and about in the old city at night." Hannibal Lecter's voice came out of the dark near Matteo's soft form on the floor. "You never know what kind of unscrupulous characters might be hanging around." Even though she could not see his face, Clarice could feel his intense gaze on her.

"All humor aside my dear, are you hurt?"

He came out of the shadows to stand before her, taking in the split lip and the blood on her face. She shook her head slowly, watching his leisurely examination of her injury. When he leaned in as though to kiss her, she turned her head and presented her bloody mouth to him. One of his hands snaked up and held her head still as he ran his tongue along her jaw-line and then up to the corner of her mouth, tasting. She stood obediently motionless, feeling deliciously dominated with her hands still tied. He took one step back from her and smiled wryly.

"If I untie you now my dear, do you think you can manage to stay out of trouble for a while?"

She smiled as he removed the rope from her wrists, and kissed each hand in turn.

"Shall we?"

Daintily, she stepped over first one slumped figure and then the other in her tall heeled shoes. Although she was in no danger of losing her footing her companion nonetheless held her hand and watched to steady her should she need him. Arm in arm they exited the dank passage and blended seamlessly into the throngs of tourists and commuters. All the way home they carried on an animated conversation in a language no chance eavesdroppers were likely to understand. Both understood she had been in no real peril, but both also understood that had the little incident gone any further, they would have been making plans to leave Florence by now.

As it was, the sight of his Clarice in such a position excited the doctor to such heights that it was some time before they left the privacy of their home again.



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