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Lily of the Valley

Chapter Text

Part 1

The disorientation when we wake in an unfamiliar place can cause anxiety that comes in a short but powerful burst, like the crack of gunfire. Clarice Starling wakes, the sound and smell of gunfire the first memory that drops into her consciousness. Her heart suddenly beats wildly, though she doesn’t move, as though paralyzed from a nightmare. Nor does she risk opening her eyes, though her nostrils flare. She doesn’t need to open them to know she is not in her own bed. She lies supine, the surface beneath cold and hard; she knows at once that it is some kind of surgical table. Whether it is instinct or her worst fear which happens to be true is impossible to tell.

It is in fact a general purpose surgical table, a Skytron 6500 Elite which Raymond Hiltman had bought online for just under $9,000, though this was of course before shipment fees which rounded it up to nearly $11,000 in total. He had perused for some time before selecting it, deciding it was a drop in the bucket and well-worth the investment. Contrary to what one might presume, given his extracurricular activities which had lead Special Agent Starling to his whereabouts, it does not sit in a dark and dank dungeon. After he had become suspect after the suspicious amount of elderly patients that had died under his care, he had fled, naturally. His account dwindled quickly, as he had used much of his money quickly while he still could, and used it wisely for the purpose of relocating himself.

The purpose of the surgical table upon which Starling lies was to begin a concierge practice under his new identity in Elkton, Maryland. It had been nearly a year since he had killed anyone, and he knew it was not wise to begin with this woman. Yet as he had cleaned and dressed the wound in her side, he considered...There’s no other way, now.

A day later and she had been recovering nicely. He watched her from the other side of the room with a long finger draped over his mouth. She had known before he had invited her in. She continued with casual questions and an air of polite, almost apologetic routine. It was phenomenal, really. The only reason he’d known it was a facade was because he’d been warned anonymously. Still an issue I can’t let trail off, he’d thought.

She’d been quick, quicker than he had anticipated. He was close when he came at her, no more than an arm’s reach away. It was too close for her to pull out her pistol and aim it at him properly, but her arm was out of his grasp and her foot had taken out a leg before he’d had time to even process. He took a knee, but grabbed hold of her sleeve as he went, and her footing became unbalanced for a moment. He wrenched her arm hard and she cried out, hit him in the throat. He let go, putting a hand where she’d struck him and choked.

She reached for the Yaqui Slide at her hip again, aimed for his chest as he pulled her knee forward. She clipped him in the shoulder as she fell. Then he was on top of her, stepping hard on her hand holding the pistol until she let go. His arms were around her neck, and then she was finally out. He had leaned against the refrigerator for a moment trying to catch his breath. Jesus.

Clearly she had not known for sure until she’d arrived, other wise she wouldn’t have come alone, so that was good. But now was the matter of what to do with her. Then came a phone call which answered both questions he’d had since the whole thing started. Who had warned him, and what to do with her. He’d gone to meet with someone named Cordell on Tuesday morning when Starling awoke.

After a few moments she began returning to herself, and she finally opened her eyes. The room was dim, but pleasantly so. A fan above her was on low and the walls were painted a a calm, neutral color. It was very clean. There was something about the room that disconcerted her, and she found quickly that it was due to being underground, at least partially. She turned her head, wincing. She was instantly dizzy, but saw a small window that showed ground.

She moved her head back to face forward and tried moving her arms. She felt a sting in her hand that grew as she focused on it. She raised it to avoid moving her head to see an IV protruding. The house was still and quiet, and she looked at the window again, despite the dizzying effect. There was no way she would fit through it.

There was also no way of knowing if the house was empty or not, whether it was just Dr. Hiltman if he was home, and if he wasn’t, how much time she had left before he returned. She breathed in deep and out slowly through her nose. Okay...do it or don’t.

Removing the IV wasn’t pleasant, nor was sitting up. A papery sheet had been laid over her, and she wore a hospital gown. On her feet, she lost balance and slammed into the side of the table, knocking the wind out of her. Her knuckles were pale as she gripped the side of the stainless steel, and when she released her grip, the warmth of her hands left marks that evaporated almost instantly, and as they did, her memories continued to effloresce in contrast. She shot him, and then he was on top of her. She held back anger that she’d let him overpower her, anger at the reminder that she could be overpowered. If she had let that happen with Jame Gumb...she swallowed on it hard. Time to think, time to act. She made it to the window.

She couldn’t see much, but it looked out onto a backyard. For all intensive purposes, she appeared to be in a pleasant suburb. She had to lean against the wall for long minutes. If she fell at a bad angle, if she fainted, she could not only pass out but end up with a concussion. For all she knew, this was her only chance. Don’t ruin it by being overzealous. Don’t overestimate how far you can push yourself. Don’t roll too deep.

The door was locked of course, though it didn’t take long to find what she needed. She found a nearly empty water bottle on the workbench against the wall and used the syringe to tear it into the proper shape. Wedging it in between the door jam and the bolt, she grabbed the knob and began rocking back and forth with downward pressure. She was weak, and it took longer than it should have. She was hesitant to even use all the strength she did have, for fear of making noise. It was safer to assume he was home. After a few minutes of careful movement, it popped right open.

The next room was a laundry room which had the stairs leading up to the ground floor. It was cooler in this room, and the draft reminded her of what little she had on. She glanced at the washer and dryer. Wouldn’t hurt to check. I don’t want to fight, but I really don’t want to fight wearing a napkin with yellow flowers on it. The dryer was partially opened and she open it all the way at a crouch. Towels. Goddamn and shit fuck.

The door at the top was padlocked. She had to go back downstairs into the makeshift surgery room to retrieve the syringe. When she had it in her hand, a groaning, vibrating noise reverberated from the other side of the house. It was the unmistakable sound of a garage door opening. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. She went into the laundry room closing the door behind her. She glanced at the dryer, and almost closed it, the way it had been before. Gripping the syringe in her hand, she went behind the stairs and waited. While she waited, Starling weighed something in her mind.

Any good hunter knows that when killing a deer, you must do so cleanly. If you shoot it anywhere, it will most likely hobble off wounded. It may well die eventually, but then it is a wasted tragedy. To kill it cleanly, you must shoot it in the vital organs. But a human is not a deer. A human is more like hunting a lion, as when one shoots a lion any old place, it will not hobble away, it will charge.

Where precisely to hit in a kill zone on a human being is often not properly trained, and if it is, it is trained poorly. The only way to incapacitate a man by gunshot is to either shut down the CNS or shut off the supply of oxygen to the CNS. Clarice Starling does not have a gun, but a small needle in her palm, nor does she have even half her strength, prowess or dexterity. Fighting was a bad idea, it was beyond a bad idea. The best option, possibly her only real option was to wait until he had crossed the room and opened the door, make a break for the stairs and lock him in.

Unless of course, he immediately locked the top door upon entry. And unless he heard or saw her immediately. And unless she couldn’t make it up the stairs in time, which was in all unfortunate reality, quite likely. The room wasn’t long, and it doesn’t take long to open a door and see what or who is not inside. No training had prepared her for this situation.

I’m still alive. Keep breathing. You’re not a waitress. You’re not a nurse, or a bank teller or a lounge singer. You’re not a senator’s daughter. You’re not a deer.
Before the footsteps above her reached the basement door, she listened, and found that she heard more than one male voice.

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Mason Verger ended the call with Cordell, and found he was something like pleased. Things were coming together, albeit slowly. The letter from Lecter bubbled up in his mind, leaving his momentary pleasure with a biting, bitter taste. It had been exhilarating to read it, that was true. To nearly hear that voice in his head in those written words left him a little breathless the way he imagined it might feel to sky dive. There was also a twitching thing in his stomach, a lurching dark thing that curled into his chest like the braid of his hair coiled atop him. He hadn’t gotten what he wanted yet, and it was dangerous to both assume it was a done deal and to get what you want in the first place.

At present, there was an ultimate goal. A thing for which to long, and to attain such a thing was a careful procedure of the emotions. He wondered if a part of him hoped it would not work out, and had even considered tweaking things a bit to prolong it. The woman could provide fresh, dynamic torture. The woman wasn’t like Lecter, not as much as some people seemed to think. They had a few interesting things in common, and from what he’d been told there was a rapport of some sort there, but Lecter was not someone easily tortured. He had ways of receding into his mind with nearly catatonic elements. He strongly suspected Starling did not.

And of course, he mused, when physical torture got boring you could always switch gears and delve into the surgical affair of psychological torture. It could be that it wouldn’t amount to much, and he suspected it wouldn’t, but he was also curious to see if there was more than a vague rapport between them. Oh, he didn’t think they were lovers or anything asinine like that, but if there was more he could have some extra fun torturing them in front of each other. They would just have to see.

Lecter had called her a warrior in one of his letters to her, and while she was trained to some extent in physical defense, it was obvious that it was meant more as a euphemism. What she really was, it seemed to Mason, was a wounded animal that was capable of biting you in the ankle if you got too close. Unarmed and incapacitated, she was just a woman. And unarmed, incapacitate, Hannibal Lecter was...something like a man.

Margot Verger intruded upon his thoughts, the whistling of her shorts announcing her before he could see her.

“Are they here?” He asked when the breathing machine gave him his next breath.

“Yeah.”

“Tell them to put her in the show room.”

In answer, Margot cracked the walnuts in her palm. A moment later, she moved further into the room where he could see her better.
“Do you know what you’re doing, Mason?”

“Do you care so much now because you’re invested in the same thing, now?”

“Partly.”

“Partly?” He had to wait to finish for the machine.”What else is there? Are we getting close, Margot?”

Crack.

“You changed the plans. I’m beginning to wonder if you’re making this up as you go along, now. Are you fucking around to make things harder on yourself? Is it getting boring now that you’re getting closer to getting what you want?”

“You don’t like the involvement of the Starling woman, do you?” he asked, avoiding the fact that she had hit on something so true he was not even entirely ready to face it.

“Do I like that you’ve dragged a prolific FBI agent whose recently been all over the media into this? No, Mason. And if I see through you, imagine what Lecter will see. Or Starling, for that matter. “

“It’s not like they can talk their way out of it.”

“How sure are you of that? And how sure are you that this Hiltman will cooperate? How about the FBI, will they certainly not be investigating the disappearance of an agent whose been looking for Lecter and interviewed you? Jesus, Mason. It’s almost like you want to be caught.”

“I’m better informed than the FBI. I have people in the FBI working for me, have you forgotten-” he paused, waiting for air. His finger twitched in impatience.

“I haven’t forgotten anything, Mason. I haven’t forgotten anything.”

“Then what do you want, assurance? Here’s your assurance. Do your part, and see it through. I’ll give you what you want. Until then, go make sure she’s settled.”

Margot’s shorts whistled as she left, and the eel in it’s tank swam around and around, a dark twitching shadow on his chest.

When next she woke, Starling did not have to guess where she was. She had been conscious when they’d brought her in. The room was about the size of a small gallery, and had the same acoustics as one. She was in the center of the room in a glass enclosure, about the size of her living room at home. Inside was a toilet which had been furnished with a privacy curtain, a shower which conveniently had not, a cot and a small table. For all intensive purposes, it was a relatively comfortable cage. More comfortable than his.

There were other enclosures which were empty. Some of them were furnished much like hers and others were not. One long stretch of wall was composed of two-way glass. The other walls were adorned with paintings. She sat up and looked at the one closest to her. It was a meticulous rendering of Grunewald’s Isenheim Alterpiece. The background is bleak, only Christ’s mother and Mary Magdalene actually look at him, and all the onlookers are helpless to his suffering. Grunewald does not shy away from the depiction of suffering, either. His hands splay out, reaching, the muscles and veins protruding in tension, his neck rolls to an impossible angle and his entire body, particularly his head, hands and feet are mangled.

Not for the first time, Starling wondered what Mason had planned, as much as she did not want to think about that. She would’ve been surprised that she’d been able to sleep, but there comes a time when the body simply gives out. She had been awake since she’d been brought for days. She didn’t recall falling asleep, as one rarely does. She simply woke up, eventually. There was no way to tell the exact time, but there was a skylight. She began keeping track of the days by using her fingernail to make a wedge in the desk.

Around noon, Cordell would come in with food. She didn’t know who else came to see her through the two-way mirror, but there was a camera, which Mason undoubtedly watched on a live feed at his leisure. She requested books, and was obliged. She asked for a razor to shave with and was of course denied. She would’ve kicked herself if she hadn’t at least tried. For any voyeur to Starling's entrapment, she appeared to be more or less accepting of her fate, docile even. She went about her day in the most elementary of routines for her confined existence. Morning, breakfast. Then aerobics as best the space allowed, some floor work and stretching, then a shower. Reading until lunch time, followed by a nap. Stretching, reading, dinner. Bed. Inside, beyond the facade of routine and complacency, she was quite active.

Sometimes she talked with Cordell a little. He had chipper cruelty behind his eyes, and she could tell he was attracted to her. She asked him polite things about how his day had been, and sometimes he told her a little. After a time, she gained a general idea of his schedule, and therefor Mason’s. She also gained a general understanding of the occupants of Muskrat Farm. The details of Margot’s going-abouts were less clear. She wasn’t as worried about Margot. She learned the two-way mirror was more of a further along plan. She was not yet truly on display, other than for Mason, when he chose to pull up the feed to her cage. Apparently, she eventually would be. Beyond that, Cordell withheld the way a school girl does when she has gossip.

Whatever the exact plan Mason had, she knew they involved Lecter. She wasn’t sure how she felt about seeing him, again. The idea of seeing him unfettered was hard to imagine, but not so much that it didn’t send a shiver down her spine. Under the circumstances, it was unlikely she’d see him uncaged. The two-way glass indicated that it may be Lecter that saw her, but not necessarily the other way around. If that was the case, Mason may have it in his head to do things to her while Lecter watched, which meant he had it in his head that it would have some effect on Lecter. Or he just wanted to see if it did. A part of her was curious about that herself, but she ignored that quiet little voice. It wasn’t a helpful voice, so it wasn’t given an audience.

Close to a month after her capture, Cordell was in good spirits when he brought in a tray of food. There was an effervescence about him, and Clarice watched his gestures closely.

“Good morning, Cordell.”

“Good morning, Miss Starling,” he said, in his brisk nurse voice with that coppery undertone of malice.

“You seem a little breathy. Mason have lots of chores for you to do?” she asked, raising an eyebrow and making sure he saw a brief, clandestine smile at the corner of her mouth. He leaned in a bit, ignoring the glass between them and taking a private tone.

“Oh, yes. It’s been an exciting morning,” he said with a wink.

“Preparing for more company? I could use it. Not that I don’t enjoy yours.” He smiled and straightened up.

“Tsk tsk tsk. If I spoiled it, I might end up in one of these gilded cages, you naughty girl.”

“Oh, are we being watched, then?” she asked in an amused tone.

“Not yet...but soon, maybe,” he said, retrieving the trey, once she’d pulled it through.

“So it’s that close and loyal relationship between Mason and I that concerns you,” she said, turning from him and beginning to eat.

“Oh, come now. You know I can’t tell you.”

“Don’t I get even a scrap? A tiny little clue?”

“Hmmm,” he cooed, clearly tempted by the power she’d offered him. She could tell quickly that he was the sort of person who was enticed by both hearsay and watching the impending despair of another.

“Maybe just a tiny one,” he said, returning to the confidential tone,” in a day, maybe a week, maybe a month or even a year you’ll see an old friend. Or they’ll see you. Or you’ll see each other. Perhaps, you’ll even dine together.” The last part had him in silent hysterics.

Oh, boy.

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Hannibal Lecter had arrived in America a month before Starlings capture. It had been long enough to establish an acceptable place to stay, to enjoy the events and sights Maryland had to offer, and to pay a visit to Starling. He’d first seen her where she liked to run. The image of her running, of the sun catching the water behind her, her hair a halo, bouncing like the tail of a stag was an indelible mark in his mind.

There was a great gulf between Hannibal and what he wanted. Starling would never, ever see him as a potential companion, but she didn’t see him as nothing but a monster, either. A little give, there. It would take more than a little lucid persuasion. There was so much more to her than she knew, and it was partly why she had not excelled as she should have in her career, had not acquired a husband and family, or had a close group of friends. Starling was Other, and rather than functioning within the parameters of society using social tools, she attempted to at once, be one of them, and resist being one of them. She would try, and find it left a bitter taste. She tried to make up for it with dedication and tenacity, which only isolated her more.

Clarice Starling did not need other people, and people do not like that. People long to be needed. What Starling longed for was an impossible reality. You can never never go back. He knew that from his own experience, and the anguish it brings when one chooses to cling to something inconceivable. He had himself, for a time, attempted to work out a way to turn back time, but had come to the conclusion, as painful as it was, that the better thing to do was move forward. There was no more Mischa. But there was Clarice Starling.

Clarice Starling, singular and sharp as a Damascus sword. Salient in her valor, vulnerable in her misplaced beliefs. Delectable and beguiling. Mmm. A gulf between them was a crack in a pathway compared to the former. She was awake, observant, and she was very much a live. To vacate her would be a disgraceful waste, no matter at whose hands. So he would not vacate her, instead he would pervade her.

When she’d left for Elkton, he’d been at home. When her car had not returned home for nearly a week, he started thinking. There was some possibility she’d taken a vacation, but it seemed uncharacteristic. Then again, she could have been suspended by now. There was clearly little support from her from her peers and superiors. About a month later, after having followed her roommate and looked for her everywhere he knew to look, he waited for her roommate to leave one night and went into Clarice Starling’s home. He had avoided it as a last resort. To break into the agents’ home was not the wisest action.

It was tempting to do more extensive exploration, but he quickly found that there was little to investigate. Clarice Starling did not adorn her life, nor her living space. He moved to the laptop and pulled up the history. One of the last searches had been on MapQuest to a residential home in Elkton. By now, considering how easy it was to find out where she had been planning to go, the FBI certainly knew, too. Going there would be tricky, but he didn’t think it was necessary. He closed her computer and sat in the chair in the corner of her bedroom, enjoying the smell of her for a few minutes while he decided.

They would have found her by now, if she was there. If they found her alive, he’d find her at a hospital. If they found her dead, her roommate would be planning a funeral, which she didn’t seem to be doing. If she were in a hospital...well. He wouldn’t risk paying her a visit, and she would return home, eventually. But he didn’t think that was the case. The home in Elkton was just off 95, and was rather close to Muskrat Farm. Hannibal Lecter, hands steepled beneath his chin, decided it was time to pay Mason a visit.

As he left the home and returned to his truck, a sharp crack sounded from across the street no louder than a car’s backfire. The dart hit Dr. Lecter in the neck with a muted thock. He lost his footing as he brought out his harpy, which clattered to the ground just before he passed out. By then, the van had pulled up, blocking his form from the houses lining the street, and then they were gone.

What came next, Starling did not expect, exactly. In a way, she’d prepared for it, but one can only prepare so well for recreational pain. Whether someone was watching on the other side of the glass, she couldn’t know. She wasn’t thinking about it when it started. Four men came into the show room two days after Cordell had given her ‘a hint’.

They were expressionless, and went about things like animal handlers in a zoo. They wore gloves, and took her from the cage with the threat of a taser from one of them and an animal grasper from the other. The entire ordeal was overly aggressive and demeaning, as it was meant to be. It was a harsh shift from quiet cage life to torment. They took her to a smaller, adjacent room. The two way mirror was still in place. There was a board held up by two cinder blocks on the floor. The board was about about 60”x 7”. A towel lay beneath one end, a bucket with a smaller, thinner towel hanging from it’s side next to the board. So it was time.

There are many techniques for enduring torture, and different ones are more appropriately applied to different methods. The methods for torture are endless, and depending on whether the tormentor wants information, has little or more time, is angry at the victim or sadistic and of course what they have available all contribute to what methods are used.

A Western approach involves abandoning all hope, and embracing one’s own fatalism to one’s advantage. Another approach, is the Eastern one of Zen. In the event of heat exposure, beatings, stress positions and pharmaceutical torture, Zen is helpful, by slowing down and removing oneself, as much as possible, from the perception of agony.

Exposure to extreme cold, electric shock and sleep deprivation are not alleviated by Zen. In the event that one faces torture which Zen cannot sooth, the first thing the victim must understand is that there is no hope. The people responsible will not help. Religion will not help. One must abandon ideas of rescue and justice. Once this is accomplished, the pain can be coped with a number of ways. Once hope is discarded, the procedures are rendered pointless, as escaping the pain no longer matters. One must embrace the pain, communicate with the pain, and make pain a friend in an environment in which there are no friends. Prolonged, intense pain can utterly shatter one’s identity over time, and pain can be used to remind you of who you are.

Sleep deprivation is the most problematic of methods in which to overcome, as it poses the potential to break down all barriers. If one were faced with sleep deprivation, the best coarse of action may be to dive right into the disorientation the procedure causes. Become a creature of insanity. If this is the case, one may spew nonsense at the captors. The downside to this technique as that one may become permanently insane, particularly with weaker minds who have no experience in coping with torture. The upside is that temporary or even permanent insanity is better than what one’s captors have planned, and provides a shelter.

Clarice Starling was first stripped, and once placed upon the board, was tied at her throat, hips, knees and ankles. During the first few sessions, she flopped like a fish, her mouth heaving beneath the towel. When the man would remove it, her eyes were wild, mouth open, her hair stuck to her forehead and cheeks. Sometimes he would give her face a few smacks before beginning again. Other times, he seemed to like giving her bare belly three or four quick slaps, usually toward the end of the session, almost as one pats a dog.

She did not return to the gilded cage. She stayed in the same room as the board which could only be entered through the show room and was locked with a key pad that required a nine digit code entered on the other side and a key card from the inside. When she would dose off, unbearable noise would erupt into the room awakening her. Sometimes it was accompanied by flashing lights. After awhile, this technique wore off and she slept through for a few minutes, before the nameless men came in and injected her with amphetamines. Hallucinations occasionally occurred, in which she thought someone was in the room with her, but she was alone. Other times it was the opposite. Sometimes she was responsive to her captors when they spoke to her, and other times she scarcely noticed their presence or what they were doing. She took to talking to herself and singing. Starling is of a strong mind.

Starling would sing often when she was alone, and sometimes during torture, which was not always limited to water boarding. Her singing became howls and hysterics. The visits became less frequent. Beyond the two-way glass, they discussed her with Cordell and Mason, on intercom.

“There doesn’t seem to be much of a point now, you’ve broken her too soon,” Mason complained.

“You said torture, we torture. What do you want?” asked the less experienced one.

“Do you want them to stop?” asked Cordell.

Upstairs in his bedroom, Mason would have sighed and closed his eyes, but his condition did not permit it.

“No. Yes. Let’s just go to the next step. How long has it been, Cordell?”

“Since she’s been here, or since the torture?”

“Both.”

“She’s been here for a total of five months, the torture has been for a little less than four. “

“And Lecter?”

“He’s been here for about four month. “

“And he was barely responsive from the beginning,” pointed out the veteran.

“We switched up the methods more with him, too. Water boarding seemed to have little effect on him, beatings...” he trailed off with his palms up.

“He didn’t respond in any way the few times we brought him down to watch,” added Cordell.

“I know, I saw,” said Mason, impatiently.

“I had him in a reverse hanging for an hour, and you know what he said when I was taking him down? He said, ‘Do you know the proper name for this position? It’s call the Corda, or il tormento della corda.’ Then he started tell me about how it was used in medieval inquisition until I gagged him, again. “

Mason gagged on an attempted laugh.

“Yes, that...sounds like him. Well, tomorrow, then. Let ‘em sleep a little. Then we’ll do a little meet and greet. See what happens. Either way, at the end of it, go ahead and get rid of the woman and finish off with the original plans for Lecter.”

“Did you think any on my idea of having them eat parts of each other?” asked Cordell.

“No, no. Lecter would love that. And the woman is nuts now and hungry. We’ve not fed her much, she’d gobble him up, happy as a clam.”

When the intercom was off, Cordell wondered something aloud.

“Why have neither of you fucked her, by the way?”

The veteran shrugged.

“William thought about it, but she got all happy. We thought it was a little weird that she was wanting it, she was even encouraging it. I stopped him, and she was laughing and laughing, like she does. Says, ‘Be my guest. I have herpes. ‘ She could definitely be lying, but why risk it, even with a condom? I gotta wife and he has a girlfriend, anyway.”

“Oh, is that all? Are there any objections to me fucking her?” Cordell asked.

“Not if you’re not worried about VD.”

“I already have it,” he said, shrugging.

“Oh. Well, you want us to standby in case she tries something?”

“Hmm. I guess you could you watch, that could be fun.”

“You misunderstand. I’m not gonna do it for a sex fantasy of yours, that’s not what I’m being paid to do. Do you want me to standby in case she tries something? I’m paid by the hour, and I’m supposed to leave, soon. Elise and I have tickets to Shen Yun, tonight. I want double if I’m staying.”

Cordell was irritated. He glanced at Starling, who was sitting upright, her back against the wall. She was pantomiming. One hand appeared to be giving a moving performance of Glitter and be Gay to the other.

“Just go. She’s barely aware of what’s happening. I’ll use zip ties on her just in case and I’ll take the mace.”

“You probably wont even need either. But you should still use them. Just in case.”

Starling lived in the present and the present, alone. Therefor, there was no escape and no hope. She had embraced insanity, pain and discomfort with open arms. She had a hard time telling when she was talking in her head and when she was talking out loud. She had a hard remembering what she said and what the people around her have said. Of if they’re really talking. When Cordell came in alone, she still lived in the present, but suddenly the present was different. Suddenly, the present presented opportunities she scarcely recalled.

He approached as one does a wild animal. The mace in his raised hand reached her sooner. She looked up.

“What did you say?” she asked.

“I haven’t said anything yet.”

She looked back at her hands.

“Excuse me,” she said politely and let them fall to her lap. Starling wore what she’d been wearing when the tormentors had come for her. It was a white tank top, which was no longer white, and a pair of black panties. Cordell looked at her and reconsidered, given her state. She smiled and raised a finger at him.

“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you want to fuck me. Silly rabbit, herpes are for kids.”

“Oh, that wont deter me, dear. I have it, too. We’re two peas in a pod.”

She showed no signs of disappointment or fear, but only shrugged.

“Alright. Just don’t tell Philip.”

“Who?”

“You know who he is, don’t fuck with my head.”

“Who is Phil, you psychotic bitch?”

“My husband,” she hissed, gesturing emphatically with her head toward her right hand. Cordell laughed.

“Right. Stand up and turn around or I’ll mace you, and turn you around myself.”

She obeyed, and waited as he zip tied her wrists together. He locked it very tight, she noted. That was very good. He put the mace in his back pocket, and put his hands on her shoulders.

“You don’t mind it rough, right? That would be nothing to you, at this point.”

“The more the merrier.”

“Jesus, okay. Move forward. Yes, like that. Now bend over the board. “

Cordell moved to release his belt buckle, and realizing the mace would likely fall out of his pocket, paused to remove it and set it on the table behind him. There was a little crack behind him, as Starling brought her hands hard over her backside, breaking the locking mechanism. At first, he was mildly confused and stunned, but immediately scrambled for the mace, again. She lunged at him with a terrifying ferocity. She leapt onto his back, quickly pinning his arms to his sides with her legs in what felt to Cordell like a vice grip. He yelled out, and when he opened his mouth, she reached inside and grasped his tongue.

He clamped down on her hand but she made no sound. Instead, she moved her head around his head and took a chunk out of his cheek. He screamed as it peeled away from him, and she spit it toward the two-way mirror. Next, she went to work on his eyes. He rammed both of them into the wall, fell to the floor and rolled, attempted to move his arms with all his strength but her legs would not budge. When he was flailing madly and no longer paying attention, she grabbed fistfuls of his hair and slammed his face hard into the concrete of the floor. It made a terrible crack and she repeated it nearly a dozen times, well after he’d stopped moving. She lay on top of him a moment, and realized she’d been screaming, and had not stopped. The scream trailed off, and her throat was very soar. She stood, wiping the blood from her mouth. She went to the mirror and saw herself. She flinched. For a moment, she truly didn’t recognize herself, and thought she saw someone on the other side of the mirror.

Time to wake up, baby, she heard her father say. She looked about the room, then back at herself. He’s not here. He’s dead. I am not. It’s time to wake up. She took Cordell’s key card from around his neck. She didn’t think anyone was watching, otherwise they would have come by now.

In the time that Starling had stayed as a captured guest in Mason’s cage, she had left it numerous times. She had walked about the estate and even the grounds, in the middle of the night. She knew they’d be bringing Lecter, and essentially, she’d been in an excellent position. Then they had changed things. In retrospect, perhaps she should have just left. She was tempted to laugh hysterically at that thought, but clamped her hands over her mouth, where she stood in her old room.

She retrieved the syringe from Hiltman’s that she’d hidden on the inside of the toilet’s commode, and with Cordell’s mace in her mouth, picked the lock and then let herself out into the corridor of the other side of the two-way mirror.

The two men, whoever they were, were gone. The people in the house should consist of Mason, a couple of nurses maybe, some other staff and Margot. She knew Lecter was here, because they had abandoned all censor in her presence in the last months. She suspected there were others, too. They had spoken of a woman ‘who wouldn’t stop screaming’ and a man. She thought the man might be Hiltman. She wasn’t ready to think about who the woman was, but the idea that refused to be silenced pushed her on with more abandon than she should have. She took a moment before leaving the corridor.

Wait, what about the production of Candide? We never got to scene 3 and-NO! She trembled a moment, and her head shook back and forth, violently. That was another thing, a thing out of time and space, no longer relevant. She went on.

What Starling lacked in strength and health, she made up for in what could only be described as madness. She explored the house once again at her leisure. She had lost weight, and was silent and haunted as a malevolent spirit in the walls. Mason was asleep in his bed. Margot was not in her room. There were a few people sitting in the butler's pantry, clearly staff, and she let them be. She was in the South wing when she peered out a window that faced the barn. There were lights on and commotion. There was a van parked outside and a trailer.

As she had explored Muskrat Farm, she had not found a single firearm. However, Margot had a knife collection. There had been a boot knife and a combat knife that had appealed to her, and she had taken them both. She had planned on taking something from her closet too, but none of it fit, and would have impeded movement. She had stood around deliberating for a time, before wandering off.

She couldn’t expect to overpower multiple men in her underwear with a knife. She was reminded of the situation in Hiltman’s basement, and where she ended up. Then, she had a thought. When they had put her into the van, her things had been in the backseat with her. Her purse and gun right in front of her, just out of reach. There had been no zip ties on that ride, but a straight jacket. When they’d arrived, Cordell had taken her things inside, as an afterthought. She had not been to Cordell’s office. The idea had been distasteful. Stupid.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The barn’s tack room had been serving for Lecter’s quarters for the past month. It had become somewhat crowded when Dr. Hiltman and Ardelia Mapp had joined him. Of the three of them, Dr. Hiltman had been the talkative one. Both Mapp and Dr. Lecter ignored him, for the most part. Though while Dr. Lecter was completely indifferent toward him, Ardelia glared at him often and had taken a time or two to berate him. The silence between Ardelia and Dr. Lecter was not an entirely uneasy one. They were by no means allies, but they had someone they knew in common and both did not find the company of Dr. Hiltman agreeable.

While Dr. Hiltman had been there since he’d arrived, Ardelia Mapp was a new guest. Being that Ms. Mapp had acquired information leading her to Paul Krendler’s association with Mason, Mr. Krendler had relayed this to Mason immediately. On the previous Friday, Krendler had met with Mason, Cordell and Margot in Mason’s room in a near panic.

“This goddamn Negro lesbian of Starling’s is making a real flap at Quantico. Her evidence is speculative, but it’s enough for there to be too many eyes on me. I’m not going to take the fall for this Mason, not without-”

“Calm down, sit down,” advised Cordell, who glanced at Margot who stood off to the side, her feet flat and steady. The bulk of muscles on her arms caused them to protrude from her torso slightly. In the dim light of the room and not entirely involved in this conversation made her seem sinister. Cordell had never really trusted her. Then again, Cordell never trusted anyone, entirely. The idea of it seemed very childish. Krendler had settled into the sofa across from Cordell, where he sat calmly in an armchair, one leg crossed over the other.

“Mr. Krendler, are you threatening me?” Mason got right to the point. He was getting impatient with having to deal with Krendler. It had been necessary, unfortunately. Starling’s presence did complicate things, he wasn’t so ignorant to be unaware. But Krendler’s assistance had made up for it in spades. He kept the feds off his back, and even when he couldn’t prevent them from searching the house, he had already done plenty to make them doubt the idea of any conspiracies regarding him by the very association of them with Starling.

“No, no. It’s not that, I...look. I’m in a tough position here-”

“That sounds like a personal problem,” said Margot, just to chip in. Krendler eyed her, but kept himself from glaring. Whatever she was, anything that made her feminine had surely dried up long ago. At this point, she may as well be a man, as far as he were concerned. A very daunting one.

“What I’m telling you is that this friend of hers, whether she’s credible in their eyes or not, still makes her another person agreeing with what Starling had been saying about you. I already told you that Starling tried to accuse me of being involved in a plan to capture Hannibal, that you were paying me for information and persuasion of the Department of Justice. That was easy enough to pooh-pooh.

“But now she’s disappeared after going to a house less than a half hour from here, the man she’d been sent to interview is missing, and now the Mapp girl has instigated her own little investigation of the whole thing. There’s only so much I can do if they decide to search your property again. It was easy before, because you knew when they were coming and could prepare. But now you’ve given them consent, and they can come up here and surprise us. They could come knocking right now. Then what do you propose we do, hide in the closet?”

“So, what then? Are we supposed to kill her? Take her and put her with the others? That would double the suspicion,” Mason said.

“Not if we convinced her to do it of her own free will,” mused Cordell.

“What do you mean?” asked Mason when his next breath came,” could we buy her off?”

“Oh, no. Absolutely not,” answered Krendler, his unshapely head turning to look at Mason. He looked back at Cordell again quickly. Of the company, he was the only one he could bare to look at.

“No, listen. We send the boys down there, and give her a choice. We could even show her a picture of Starling to ruffle her feathers. The deal would be this: go on a leave of absence, do everything in her power to fake a trip to Italy. If she fucks it up in any way, we make damn sure she understands Starling'll die, and not quickly. Meanwhile, we take her in until the pigs eat Lecter and it’s finished. Then when the Sards go home, they take Mapp with them. They can kill her there, and if she’s ever found, it’ll look like she was another dead tourist. “

They all considered it a moment, before Krendler hummed.

“I guess that could work.” Krendler never had any respect for women needling around in a man’s job, but all the talk of murder and torture had begun to make him a little sick. But at this point, there wasn’t much to do about it. It was impossible to extract himself from the situation. And when all was said and done, he’d be a little richer and maybe even looking toward a promotion. He’d been waiting for a spot in the Senate for years, and he could almost taste it. With Mason’s power and influence, it could be his.

“Yeah, yes. I don’t see another option. Right?” He started to look at the others, but remembered how uncomfortable it was to make eye contact with the Vergers. Margot snickered and shrugged.

“Right, do it then. Is there anything else?”

It was becoming obvious to Hiltman, Mapp and Lecter that something was going on, some plan coming to fruition. The Sards were setting up equipment, and the pigs were making a lot of noise, too. Dr. Lecter was the only one who understood what they were saying, as all their conversation were in fast Italian, mostly barking orders from one of them. His name was Carlo, and it had been his dart to take down Lecter. Now, he was telling Piero to be careful of Lecter’s mouth when it came time to put him up on the wall.

“Perché non mettiamo solo un dardo nella sua gamba?” asked Piero. It seemed riduclous to try to pin him up there while he was conscious when he had tranquilizer darts.

“Sapresti se avresti ascoltato. Ci vorrebbe troppo tempo per svanire.” You’d know if you’d listened. It would take too long to wear off. Carlo continued,” Mason lo vuole pronto al mattino.” Mason wants this ready in the morning.

“And the girl?” Piero asked in English, eyeing Carlo. He wanted that woman to know. She’d been unbearably irritating. Carlo rolled his eyes.

“What about the signora?”

“Where will she go?” Carlo pointed and Piero shook his head, gestured to the tack room.

“Shutup Piero, and help me.”

In the tack room, Ardelia chewed her lip, and after a moment glanced at Dr. Lecter.

“Can I ask you a question?” It was the most she’d spoke to him.

“What is it?”

Do you know what they’ve...do you know how she is, have you seen her?”

“She’s alive.”

A few moments of silence passed in the room, with Hiltman passed out asleep. Ardelia bit down hard on tears, her mouth twitching, her cheeks hot. Even growing up, it had always been just fine and dandy if she was bullied by some damn clowns at school, but when they fucked with her own, something inside her gnashed its teeth. The tears she bit back were not of sorrow but of unchecked anger. She wanted to get loose to hurt those men. She wanted a chance, just a chance to...she stopped herself. To what, kill them? Was she much different than either of the monsters in the room with her? One, a cowardly shit who killed old ladies in their sleep or the other who-she gulped it down. Best to not think about the things the man to her right was capable of. Then he spoke.

“I suspect she’s surviving. “ It took Ardelia a beat to respond, a little surprised at his voluntary comment.

“Well, yeah. Didn’t you just say-”

“No, no. I mean she’s surviving.”

“You mean coping?”

“Yes.” A few moments of pause, and Ardelia wondered out loud,” I don’t understand why they dragged her into this. Why keep her? Why keep us separate?”

“She involved herself, and they used it to the best of their advantage. They hurt her to see what she’ll do and for fun. They separate her to make her feel alone, that heightens the torture. In addition to that, having two or more captives that are capable of cooperating have a much better chance of escape.”

Ardelia had winced at some of his answers, answers she’d really known but didn’t want to. She kicked herself for asking such questions to a man like that. He loved hurting people with the truth. She knew that much from Clarice. What she also knew from Clarice was that he didn’t like to lie. Or didn’t lie at all, she was unclear about that. She wondered…

“Dr. Lecter, I have to ask. Would it bother you to see them fucking with her? I don’t know that anyone’s bothered to just ask you.”

“Hmm, no they haven’t. They often don’t. Most people would rather try to manipulate the answers out of each other. Much of the time, they care more about proving their intellectual prowess than getting the answer they seek. And of course, most people lie. It’s to be expected. “

He hadn’t answered her question. That meant he either didn’t want to answer or he just wanted to toy with her. She knew it was dangerous to speak with him at all, but it was getting to the point that she had to talk to someone, anyone.

“Clarice says you don’t lie.”

“Does she? Tell me, what else did she say? Did you brush each other's hair as you gabbed? I’m absolutely giddy to know.”

Ooookay. Maybe that’s just plenty of that. Ardelia leaned back where she’d sat and made no response. He’d clearly seen through her attempt to lead him back around or get any real response from him where Clarice was concerned. Oh, well. At least she’d made an attempt. Whatever was going on in his head, she decided he’d hit the mark on one thing. Clarice was surviving. That’s what Clarice does. She survives again and again, without even a helping hand or God forbid, a shoulder to cry on.

Margot pulled up in the driveway, not bothering to park it in the garage. She’d be in and out. Judy waited in the passenger seat, and watched Margot walking to the side door that lead to the South wing where her room was. Her feet on the packed gravel was very noisy in the silence of the night. From this distance, the noise from the barn was very muted.

Inside, she went quickly to her room, but paused in the corridor, remembering she’d left her gym bag with her purse inside in the showers. Her purse was all she needed, so she turned and went the opposite direction. When she got there, she stopped in the doorway and stared. The lights were still off, but the shower at the end was on. No one ever, ever came here but Margot. She waited in silence, and watched Clarice Starling step out of the stall after turning off the water. She toweled herself off, and Margot took a moment to appreciate her form. Other than her natural beauty, Starling was not looking good.

Margot hadn’t seen her since they’d brought her in. She had been kept somewhat in the dark on what exactly went on with that little project, and seeing Starling now, Margot frowned. Starling looked up, her head twisting and making her wet hair whip across a shoulder. Her eyes were wild and Margot leaned her head back. Clarice Starling looked like she might hiss. Instead, she turned to face Margot, letting the towel dangle from her hand at her side, like a blanky. She stood naked and so very still as the women regarded one another from across the reverberant room. Margot currently blocked the entrance with her large form.

“Not sure I blame you,” Margot started, and Starling watched her, expressionless.

“Not sure about what you’ve been through, but a shower would be pretty far up on my list, too. No matter how irrational the circumstance may be.”

Nearly three minutes passed, and Margot tried again.

“You okay?”

“No. I’m fucking miles from okay,” Starling finally said. Margot just nodded.

“You should know-” she paused. She had moved, shifting her feet, and Starlings eyes had moved with her, her eyes a little too alive to look at. Margot actually found she was unnerved. She started again.

“You should know that whatever they’ve been doing to you, I haven’t been involved. Or even informed.”

“What do you want, Margot?”

“Well, I came in here for my keys, not sure what’s going to happen, now. “

“I mean out of your brother’s plans.” Margot opened her mouth and then closed it. It seemed very odd to explain it, now.

“A baby. An heir,” she found herself summarizing.

“I see. That makes sense, Mason is so accommodating. Especially with the people who help him. Like Hiltman.”

“That’s different.”

Starling laughed merrily, her eyes dancing.

“Oh, Margot. Oh, dear.”

“Fuck off, Starling. You got yourself into this.”

“It was my job,” Starling said, her voice darkening.

“Was?” Margot pointed out the past tense she had used, and Starling flinched and even made a noise. It was a bizarre noise, quiet and languid. Not quit a cry or a sound of pain. Something in between. Looking at her now, Margot realized Starling had been significantly shattered. She may not even remember or be able to differentiate between past and present. Luckily, this was not entirely the case. She straightened her back, her nipples becoming peaky still damp in the chilly air.

“What now?” asked Margot, her head at a tilt.

“What now? It seems obvious to me. We fight or we don’t.”

“I don’t want to fight you Starling.”

“I wouldn’t want to fight me, either. “ Margot couldn’t help smiling at the reply, it was charmingly confident, almost teasing. Margot always sort of liked her as a person. She was different now, there was no doubt about that. But it was still Starling, and she relaxed a little. Starling grinned back.

“Look. I don’t have a problem letting you go. But I have a big problem with you ruining my only chance to get an heir and I have a big problem with you running off to the feds and telling them about all this, and me. What do you think about making a deal? “

“Depends.”

“Stay here, in my room. No one will disturb you. Wait until the thing with Lecter is done, and then I smuggle you out, tell them you just escaped in the night. I’ll drop you off wherever you think best, but when it comes time to testify, you tell them I was completely innocent in all this.”

“You would trust me to do that?” Starling wondered.

“It’s that or I break your neck. I’d prefer not to. And you seem like a woman who holds to her word. Or at least you did.”

“I’m stopping the thing with Lecter, Mason has my friend, too. That shit’s not going to happen. I’m not leaving by myself.”

Margot sighed, and thought back to Lecter’s proposition a few weeks ago when she’d gone to see him. Use the cattle prod, he’s said. She still had a clump of his hair to put on Mason’s body if she chose to just kill him and take his sperm. She had been moving toward the idea more and more, anyway.

“And what about not involving me in your testimony?”

“I’m not going to testify. I’m not going to give a report. I’m not going back. But I am not leaving here without knowing the others aren’t going to die of some fucked up torture thing Mason has planned.”

“He’s only doing that to Lecter,” Margot shrugged.

“If Mason had just hired someone to have Lecter killed, I could’ve stood it. But not like this. It will not be like this, not within the reach of my arm.”

Margot smiled again, and then pursed her lips. You had to admire her moxie. Lecter probably thought her altruism was pretty childish and naive, and it was. But it was about to save his life.

“Fuck’s sake. Just go. “

“And your heir?”

“There’s another way. It doesn’t concern you.”

Starling nodded once, and Margot moved to the other side of the wall so that when she passed, she didn’t pass close. She was still nude as she moved forward, keeping the towel in her hand, but wrapping it around her wrist for more control.

“Clarice?”

Starling turned and looked at Margot, waiting.

“Are you going to head out to the barn like that?”

“ I took my boots and the clothing I was wearing at Hiltman’s. “

“Is it okay for what you need to do?” Margot asked.

“It’s better than a bare ass.”

“Any weapons?”

“Oh, that reminds me. I took a couple of your knives. If I think of it, I’ll leave them in the barn before I go.”

“It’s better if you just take them with you. Is that all?”

“I have my gun.”

“How many mags do you have?”

“One. I’m not Rambo. It’s a high cap mag, I have 46 rounds. ”

“Hmm. Will that be enough?”

“We’ll just have to see, wont we?” Margot had been looking at Starling’s body. She was faced away, only her head turned to regard Margot so she saw her in profile. She’d lost both what little fat she’d had to begin with and some muscle, too. It made her tits look bigger. It was not an altogether healthy appearance, but it was still hard to not appreciate. When she made eye contact with Starling, she was again, expressionless.

“Good luck,” Margot said, and watched her go. Margot went first to her room where she’d hidden the cattle prod taken from the barn, and then headed to Mason’s room. She’d need to be quick. If she took too long, Judy might come inside looking for her. When Margot got back to her car, she realized she’d left the purse, and when Judy asked about it, she ignored her, peeling out of the driveway fast enough that they drifted a bit, before roaring off into the night.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter was elevated, hanging on the wall with his arms splayed out. He was well bound to a singletree running across his back, which was shackled to the wall. His feet were bound also in rope, to ensure that nothing on his person would deter the pigs. Dr. Lecter’s eyes moved over Piero who sat in the cane chair to his left, Tommaso having taken a knee to dress the wound where Piero’s eyebrow had been. They spoke to each other in Italian.

“I told you to be careful of the mouth!” Carlo said, his voice rising through the sentence in a crescendo, until he boomed the word mouth. Piero’s eyebrow lie on the ground a few feet from Lecter, where he’d left it. It looked like a squashed caterpillar. Carlo stood directly across from Lecter, but was turned toward Tommaso and Piero, and he had a knuckle covering his mouth, now. Deputy Mogli behind them had a tranquilizer dart pointed at Ardelia Mapp and Dr. Hiltman, who marched out of the tack room. Hiltman had been cuffed with his hands behind his back, and they’d put the straight jacket Lecter had been in onto Ardelia.

Carlo sighed and turned to watch, and began securing them to the Windsor bench against the wall. Tommaso finished with Piero, and stood, stretching. Mogli watching him, glanced at Dr. Lecter, momentarily making eye contact with him. He visibly shuddered, his hand instinctively drawn to where his pistol lie in the holster at his side.

“I’m going to get Cordell. He’ll want to check everything,” he said. It was true, but he also wanted to be out of the room in which the Doctor occupied, for a moment.

“Just call him on the radio. It’s in the van,” Carlo said behind his shoulder, checking to make sure Mapp and Hiltman were secure. “When you’re finished,” he continued, turning toward where Mogli stood near the open barn doors,” we need to move Lecter to the forklift. I want to make certain that everything goes perfectly for Signore Verger.”

“I’m not going near that demon, again,” Piero muttered, his bandage giving him a comical expression.

“You will if you want you and your family to be set for life. What’s the loss of another eyebrow for that?” Carlo answered, chuckling with Tommaso.

Outside, Mogli walked briskly toward the van and around the front to the passenger’s door. With the door open he leaned in, fishing it out of the center console, when a sharp, searing pain in his thigh took the breath and sound from him for a moment, culminating to a gasping shudder. His mouth opened and when he tried to stand, the pain was excruciating and he fell out of the car onto his back.

Starling was against the side of the van holding the combat knife in her steady right hand. When he saw her, Tommaso reached for the gun at his side and she stepped on his hand quick, and he pulled her leg. She fell on top of him, with her knife buried in his throat to the hilt. The smell that came out of his open mouth was repulsive and she turned her head. Her face felt wet. He made some guttural noises and twitched, before his eyes evacuated. You have to hit the vital organs. She had severed his femoral artery, first. Given only a few minutes he would’ve bled out, but she couldn’t risk any noise. She was lucky to have been given the opportunity to take out the one with a pistol. And badge, she thought, seeing the quaint deputy star on his now still chest. She had two thoughts simultaneously: Which of us is really more corrupt, at this point? and, you have to shut down the Central Nervous System. Loyalties were out the window, along with other things she didn’t study further.

There were rooms in the house of Starling's mind that stirred, but others were quiet and still, possibly abandoned. And there were other rooms that appeared either brand new or very old and dormant that had come to life. It is likely that the latter is more accurate. Rooms that are there from the beginning, before societal and institutional pressures create boundaries. Primal rooms meant for survival. These rooms were not making all of the decisions however, because if they were, she would have left, leaving everyone in the barn to their respective fates.

Starling stood, wiping the blood from the blade before putting it back in its nylon sheath at her thigh. She crept up to the barn, peering in one of the windows, doing a quick count. Her eyes went over Ardelia for a moment without recognizing her, and when she did her breath caught in her throat. Oh, baby. I’m gonna get you outta there. From where she stood, she could see Carlo, Tomasso, Hiltman and Ardelia, but there was no sign of Lecter. However, eyes darted in the direction of the wall on which she stood adjacent, as well as somewhere behind a forklift that blocked her field of vision. Assuming the nervous glances toward her wall were toward Lecter, she had to assume that in addition to Mogli and Carlo there was at least one other. Carlo stood near a shotgun propped against the wall. Ardelia was saying something behind him and he turned. It was now or never.

“Hands up and freeze!” her voice boomed in the barn, and all eyes turned to her, but Lecter’s who could not. The men seemed confused in addition to shocked, and the next voice in the room was Lecter’s.

“Alza le mani e congelare,” he said, helpfully. From his position he could see everything in the barn but Starling, but he could now smell her. She was near him, but slightly behind and to the left. Her voice was hoarse and had a twinge of mania behind it. She smelled freshly bathed, but there was something beneath that layer that indicated it had been a while since she’d been clean. A mildly tangy aroma. There was also something slightly sweet, viscous and intoxicating. Not something a perfume or soap could supply, something natural and feminine. He realized that she must be slightly aroused, and the bouquet of scent eminating from her, he decided, was very interesting.

Tommaso with his hands up walked a step forward, almost blocking her from Carlo. She watched them. Carlo’s left hand drifted behind him toward the shotgun near the wall.

“Gun!” Ardelia warned her, nodding toward Carlo. He went for it and Clarice’s gun fired twice, hitting him in the back both times. Ardelia watched him wince and he went first to his knees and then his stomach. Tommaso and Starling eyed each other.

“Don’t move,” she warned him.

“Non muoverti,” Dr. Lecter continued translating. Ardelia and Hiltman struggling in their bondage were distracted, and Piero had moved to the back of the forklift as Starling had moved further. She was vigilant of where he had been, but had to keep her eyes on Tommaso.

“Get down on the ground, hands behind your back,” she told Tommaso. Dr. Lecter waited to translate to give more pertinent information directly to Starling, when he could see her.

“Watch it, there’s a second behind you.”

Before she could turn, Piero rushed forward, grabbing her from behind. Her pistol pointed useless toward the ground and Tommaso came forward with quick steps. She lifted her legs and kicked him with both feet, unbalancing Piero slightly. His foot came into view as Tommaso stumbled backwards and she shot once, twice at Piero’s foot. He howled when the second shot fired near the center of his foot. He didn’t let go, and Tommaso had recovered his own footing and was coming back. She stepped on Piero’s injured foot hard, loosening his grip and he howled a second time, gritting his teeth. She elbowed him in the stomach and dropped the pistol. Tommaso eyed it and she kicked it far behind her. Gripping Piero’s forearms with both hands she pulled down hard and doubled over, sending Piero over her shoulder. He made an impressive thud on the ground between Starling and Tommaso.

She was tempted to glance at her gun, but she wasn’t sure now where it was. It had sounded like it slid all the way outside the barn. Better for none of them to have it than Tommaso or Piero. If one of them got a hold of it, it was all over. Tommaso suddenly ran in the opposite direction toward the shot gun. Piero on his back now, scuddled away from her like a crab. She bent down, never taking her eyes off of Tommaso, and took the bootknife in her hand. It was light in her hand, and she lunged, throwing it in a lovely ,tailspinned straight line. It hit Tommaso in the back of his leg and he made a theatrical lunge and fell just shy of the shotgun.

Starling was running to him now, in Dr. Lecter’s full view, at the center of the barn. Tommaso looked back, seeing her moments before she kicked him hard in the face, his jaw shifting with an unpleasant crack. Blood and saliva hit Ardelia in the face. She closed her eyes and mouth not quiet in time.

Starling heard Piero coming up behind her again and she turned, bending forward, his arm barely missing her. He tripped over Tommaso, breaking one of his ribs with his uninjured foot. Tommaso’s breath was ragged, and blood was accumulating on the ground where he bent over, his head bowed on all fours.

Piero stood and they faced one another breathing heavily with Tommaso between them. Piero stood slightly closer to him, and with surprising reflex, bent and pulled Starling's bootknife from Tommaso’s leg, who made a groaning, pitiful noise. He switched it nimbly to his left hand and began advancing, moving around Tommaso, Starling backing away. She turned and ran back towards Lecter, grabbing the chain that hung from the barn doors .

Piero had followed her, and when she turned back he stopped a little over a yard away. He lunged, slashing at her, and she dodged, slung the chain upward and hitting him under the chin. His head shot backwards with an arch of bloodpray. The knife dropped, his fist came at her and she grabbed it, pulling him forward. Stretched out with one hand gripping his wrist, she pivoted, put all her strength into her other arm into his elbow. It audibly broke, his bone protruding from the skin. They both grimaced, and she pulled him again, his feet tripping over hers, planted firmly in the ground. Tommaso was up on his hind quarters, his jaw hanging to one side and blood down to his chest. He crossed himself.

Starling walked to the barn doors, fished around the grass and found her pistol. Walking back, Piero was passed out and Tommaso was dragging himself toward the other end of the barn.

“Clarice,” Ardelia said, steady, low. Starling looked at her.

“Don’t do it, honey. You don’t have to kill them. I don’t know what you’ve been through, but-”

Ardelia winced as Starling turned to Tommaso while she spoke and fired. It went through the back of his skull and he was still.

“I know I don’t have to,” she answered. Ardelia’s mouth was open, her face dotted with Tommaso’s blood, and her eyes welled with tears. Starling looked to make sure Piero was still passed out and took a moment to breath.

“Are there more or just the three?”

“I guess you killed the third one outside, then,” Ardelia said and Starling nodded.

“No it’s just the three of them, but Mason’s assistant, this nurse-”

“Cordell?”

Ardelia nodded.

“Cordell is dead. So is Mason.”

“Jesus, Clarice.”

“I didn’t kill Mason.”

“Are you going to kill me?” asked Hiltman. Starling made no indication that he’d heard him, but turned to Dr. Lecter.

“Good evening, Clarice,” he said, when she did.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Could you walk?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

She started to turn back to Ardelia.

“Clarice?” Dr. Lecter said, his voice very calm, the slight metallic sound more muted than she remembered.

“Yes?”

“Are you alright?”

For a moment, everything that she’d trapped inside within the iron grips of insanity threated to break loose. Every moment of agony, the dreadful existence of all hope lost, the memories that she had to discard, her identity shattered in order to cope with torture, it swelled dangerously, along with anger hot and cherry red as the end of a hot poker.

“No,” she said, her voice cracking. She went to her knees. Ardelia was helpless to comfort her friend, still bound in the straight jacket and confined to the bench. Hiltman’s eyes darted about wildly, and Lecter watched.

“That’s it. Let it all come out,” he said, softly, and Ardelia wept with her. After a time, Starling's wails subsided. She realized she had doubled over, her hands holding her up. Spit and tears had made a wet spot in front of where he head bowed. She sat up. The three other conscious people in the room all watched, none entirely sure what she was going to do. Piero had stirred, groaning near Lecter. She stood, taking her pistol in her hand, and went to him.

“Clarice...No, no. No!” Ardelia begged her from behind,”No!” She fired, and Piero was dead. Dr. Lecter seemed pleased, and Ardelia noticed.

“Oh, God. Clarice, this is what he wants. He wants you to be like him, don’t let them win. Don’t let them make you forget who you are.”

“I forgot who I was a long time ago. In point of fact, I’m not sure I ever really knew. She glanced at Dr. Lecter for a moment, and then her eyes glazed over for a moment, lost in thought.

“You can’t reduce me to a set of influences,” she murmered.

“What?” Ardelia said, in a frantic voice. Starling looked back at Dr. Lecter who smiled, softly.

“Don’t you get excited, either. I’m not like you.” She turned, looking at Hiltman for a moment. “I’m not like anyone,” she said quietly, to herself, as though it were something she’d just realized. She wandered over to him, cocking her weapon.

“Clarice, I wasn’t going to hurt you. I wasn’t going to do anything…I-” he gulped, as she stood in front of him. “I helped you. I could’ve killed you, I had the chance and I didn’t. They made me bring you here, they-” she raised the gun, pointing it to his head. Ardelia shut her eyes.

“Why the elderly?” she asked him, suddenly. He had closed his eyes shut tight, in preparation. It took a moment for them to flutter back open.

“Be honest, or I’ll put one in your knee cap, first.”

“I...I guess because it was easy.”

“Exactly. By the way...it’s Ms. Starling.” she said, and shot him between the eyes. His head jerked back, a small explosion spattering the back off the wall and bench. Ardelia screamed. Starling looked at Ardelia.

“What now?” asked Ardelia, her voice huskier. “ Are you going to kill me too?”

“No,” Starling answered, simply. She holstered the pistol and found keys on the inside of Tommaso’s jacket.

“I’m going to let you loose now, but take it from me, Dee. Don’t try anything. I don’t want to hurt you. I’m going to let you loose, and you’re going to leave,” she was working all the time she spoke. The jacket started coming apart, and Ardelia could move her arms a little.

“You’re going to leave, you’re going back to your life, and you’re going to tell about everything that happened, here. I wont ask you to lie.” Ardelia was free. She moved slowly, and Starling backed away, one hand resting on her pistol.

“I’m not leaving without you.”

“Yes, you are.”

“And what about Lecter? Are you going to-”

Starling held up a hand to stop Ardelia.

“Go. NOW!” she screamed. Ardelia flinched, and found herself backing away, toward the barn doors.

“Don’t trust him, Clarice. Don’t trust anyone.”

“I won’t. I love you, Dee.”

“I love you, too. Don’t bother trying to leave the country for a while. They’ll be watching every airport. Change your hair. Change anything else, if you can.”

Starling laughed. “I know that.”

“Right.”

“Go home.”

“It’s your home too.”

“It’s really, really not.”

There was nothing else she could think to say. Ardelia went to the van and busied herself hotwiring it. When it was done, she looked up. She could see Starling standing in the barn form where she sat in the van. She hadn’t moved and was looking at her. Ardelia waved, immediately feeling like the gesture was stupid and wrong, but Starling waved back. For some reason, it touched her deeply in some way, and she cried all the way out of Muskrat Farm, and down the Highway.

When she could no longer see the van, Starling took a deep breath.

“Alone at last,” said Dr. Lecter. Starling gave him a look.

“So...is it the key or the pistol for me?”

She was walking toward him, her finger tapping her mouth.

“Hmm. Neither, actually. I am going to leave you with my boot knife, though.”

“That’s very generous.”

“Yes, it is.”

“So this is goodbye for now, I take it.”

Starling raised an eyebrow. “For now?” She shook her head.

“No. This is goodbye, period. I don’t want to see you, hear from you or know anything about where you are or what you’re up to. Got that? Do right and you’ll live through this.”

“Spoken like a protestant.”

She found herself smiling. She fiddled with the knife in her hand a moment.

“Something on your mind?”

“Yes. May I ask you a question before I go?”

“You may.”

“Would you bite me if I got close?”

“I do enjoy your frankness. No, Clarice. I wouldn’t bite you.”

‘I’ve been thinking...okay. We’re going to do this once. And then I’m serious, I don’t want anything to do with you after today. I just...” she stepped closer, and he watched her, the red pinpoints in his eyes sparking. She had stepped onto the platform in front of him to be level. Their faces were very close, now.

“I just want to see something. I don’t feel much, now. “

“Being numb is a natural coping mechanism. You should embrace it, for now.”

“I may have no choice, in that. But I want to feel, I need to feel something. Anything.”

“Ah. And you think getting close to the creature behind the bars will do it? Is it a little thrill you’re seeking?”

She didn’t answer, but was looking at him. Their noses almost touched, and they breathed quietly, regarding one another.

“That’s not really how I’d put it,” she answered. Dr. Lecter did not respond in words or in expression, but his nostrils flared and he closed his eyes for a moment. She tilted her head, but didn’t quite kiss his mouth. His nose grazed her cheek, and he kept his eyes closed, savoring the warmth from her face, the intensity of her scent. Their lips parted a bit and grazed, but it did not escalate. Dr. Lecter shifted his head, his nose touching her own and he briefly tasted her upper lip. She did not protest or move away, but whatever contact they made continued as just beyond proxy. She was smelling him too, he noticed, and he bent his head, his mouth and nose touching her neck and she moved to accommodate him. A shudder released through her and she moved away.

“That’s enough,” she said quietly, tucking her hair behind her ears and stepping down from the podium. Her face and throat were flushed.

“Clarice. You’re as lovely as an burgeoning lily of the valley.” She didn’t respond immediately, and he continued.

“Are you familiar with that flower species? They're quite innocent-looking, but are in fact very poisonous. And difficult to kill. “

“I’m going, now.”

“Where will you go?”

“None of your business,” she said, but she wore a wry grin.

“I see.”

“Dr. Lecter?”

“Clarice?”

“Do not try to find me.”

“Hmm.”

“Do not.”

“Do not presume to think you can control me, Clarice.” The statement seemed to give her pause.

“No, I wouldn’t. But I will ask you, politely, to not look for me. “

“I appreciate your courtesy and candor, but I will not make promises regarding my actions in the future, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to do so.”

Starling sighed, looking at him. A moment passed.

“I have to go,” she said, extending her arm and placing the handle of the knife in his hand, before backing away. He went to work with, immediately.

“Don’t drop it. That would be unfortunate,” she said, moving toward the barn doors.

“Ms. Mapp was right. Do not trust anyone.”

“Goodbye, Dr. Lecter.”

“I’m very glad to have seen you, Clarice. Addio cara mia.”

Outside, the sun was beginning to rise. At the horizon, the sun lit up the clouds with pinks and oranges, and above, an inky indigo. She could smell Dr. Lecter on her, broadcloth and something else a bit peppery and piquant. It was very much a new day, and as she walked across the grounds toward the fire road, she found herself savoring every sensation. The myriad of colors she hadn’t seen in months, the smell of pine, sap and mast; the smell of life, decay and rebirth.

Trees have various terms for their anatomy, and the one called heartwood refers to the tree’s center, which is strong and resistent to decay and penetration. Within Clarice Starling had grown an indelible mark at her center, and while it did not weaken or penetrate her, she was changed. She felt free, but it was not just the newfound freedom from imprisonment and torture, it was something else. She was free from herself, or at least whatever idea of ‘herself’ that she had created over the years in order to appease the world she felt she had no choice but to live in. There had been deep, thick cords tying her to that world, it had seemed. Those cords had been cut visciously, and it had hurt as it would hurt to have tendons cut and torn. But pain had become her friend in Mason’s dungeon, she had embraced pain. She had learned to not run from it.

She would not be afraid, never again. She never saw Muskrat Farm again, nor did she often think of it. Starling continued to live in the present, and not only live in it, but savor it.

Chapter Text

The trees lining the interstate are the color of carob against the chalky, slate sky at midday. As she drives, Clarice Starling counts her blessings, and among them is the lack of snow. It is nearly twenty degrees according to the car’s gauge and if it rained now, it would mean slippery roads. Knowing how to drive on slick roads wasn’t something Starling lacked, but it was a hazard she very much hoped to avoid. She had a long way to go.

To create an identity on paper is nearly impossible. To do so in the amount of time Clarice Starling had is completely impossible. She had mused that she could create fake documentation, if given the time and resources and decided that in the future, she would do so if only to play around with holograms and butterfly pouches. Teslin was available at any office supply store, and heat laminators were not difficult to get, either. Once she had acquired a high-quality computer and downloaded a magnetic encoding format, the hard part would be over. Clarice Starling misses only two things from her old life: her Mustang and her computer.

In the meantime, she acquired a preexisting identity to make her way into Canada. It had been a matter of carefully selecting a woman from Maryland near her same age and finding out her birth date and full name. It had taken only a few hours of surveillance to choose the individual and gather the necessary information.

Starling had to break and enter in order to get a copy of the woman’s utility bill. A part of her thought it would feel wrong, but it only felt surreal. She then requested a certified copy of her birth certificate from the Department of Vital Records, under the pretense of needing to replace certain documents that had been destroyed in a house fire. Once she had the birth certificate, issuing a new driver’s license was next. By this time, she was a brunette with bangs. Having these two documents proved acquiring a new social security card and passport simple affairs, albeit cumbersome. But she could not be Allison Price for long.

A tiny, delicate snowflake landed on her windshield. Starling frowned when another followed. She looked out across the sky, the brightness of the sun through the matte gray above was irritating to her eyes. In the distance, it had begun to snow in earnest. She had been driving in the rental for nearly seven hours straight and it was about forty five miles to the border. She wanted to get it over with. She glanced in the rear view mirror, her eyes seeming bluer against the dark bangs across her forehead. She’d never dyed her hair, before.

On the radio, Ray Charles sings “Georgia on My Mind” , and even underneath the white noise, his voice is sweet and textured, like chocolate mousse dissolving on the tongue. It does not fit the scene beyond the windshield, and it makes her long for the warmth of the sun on her bare shoulders and the delightful discomfort of sand between her toes. Instead, she wears a thermal over a tank top, her pack-able down puffer coat on top of her purse in the passenger’s seat. She glances at her watch, and it reads 6:57 p.m. Not for the first time, she wonders where Hannibal Lecter is, at that exact moment.

The FBI’s database was no longer available to her, so her only way of knowing if he had been apprehended was to watch the news. She would not have access to a television for some time, without stopping before she reached Toronto. She would not risk that. As far as what the tabloids said, she couldn’t bring herself to read one, or even pick one up, lest her image be on the cover.

The old version of herself would’ve been uncomfortable wondering about Dr. Lecter’s whereabouts in such an unofficial manner, but the new Starling explored it, held it and turned in her hands. She deemed no aspect of her mind bad or wrong, rather she embraced each thought and feeling, gave it a voice and found the exercise gave her less attachment to whatever it might be. So Clarice Starling wondered about Dr. Lecter, listened to the chocolaty voice of Ray Charles, and soon enough, she was in line for the Canada-United States Border, three blues songs later.

By the time she had reached an acceptably low-key motel in Smith’s Falls, three-quarters of the way to Ottawa, her eyes were nearly pinwheeling. Her clothes came off in a pile at the door the moment it was locked, and she filled the bathtub with water as hot as she could stand it. When she first stepped in, she gasped and hopped out. She looked down at her ghost white feet and scrunched her toes. She forced herself to stand back in the water and breathed deep through the pins and needles and watched her skin get pink. Fifteen minutes later, she was submerged, her dark hair a strange, unfamiliar seaweed moving along her shoulders. It was still and quiet. She hoped Ardelia would understand someday, and if she never did, would find that she didn’t despise her. She would never return. Clarice Starling hummed “Georgia on My Mind” with her eyes closed, and somewhere kids were laughing. She fell asleep in her robe on top of the covers, longing for summer as she listened to the wind howling outside the double-pane window. Her curtains, dark and light-blocking, were drawn for twenty-four hours.

In D.C., Ardelia could not get a hold of Mr. Crawford. She was frantic and knew it was showing. She suppressed it as best she could any time she spoke to anyone about the whereabouts of Clarice Starling. She knew that her determination to find her friend would be interpreted as female hysteria by her male coworkers, and on the various phone calls she made and the meetings she attended, she always spoke about the matter with a strong voice but a stoic countenance. Even so, her colleagues could feel the manic ardor in her presence, like a humming.

She found out about Mr. Crawford’s heart attack from Director Noonan’s secretary, whom she had called several times. She went there to visit him, but he was not conscious when she came into the room. She stood quietly, her hands folded, and left without leaving a card. He had been Starling’s last advocate, and even had he been well, his power had atrophied along with his health. The search for Clarice was alive, but they wanted Lecter more. They wanted her out of the news, to disconnect from anything having to do with Clarice Starling. Catching Lecter was more prolific, so the spotlight was far more on the doctor. ‘They had been so close to catching him’, Ardelia had heard some say, and she would laugh dryly. No they hadn’t. Clarice had, perhaps, but now she was gone. Not just gone, but...gone.

Ardelia remembered the last time she’d seen her friend. She had to wonder if it was really her experience being Mason’s prisoner alone that made her change so completely. She wasn’t like Lecter, Ardelia admitted, but she wasn’t like the Clarice she knew, either. She was...not like anyone. Who was she, in that barn? What was she? She’d killed in cold blood, she’d executed them solely for revenge. She could have plead not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, it would have been perfectly viable, they could have dealt with it. There would have been a very public trial, and it would’ve been horrible, she knew that. But it would’ve worked. She would’ve been sent to a mental facility, but in time she probably would’ve gotten probation with counseling.

Ardelia didn’t just believe that calling Clarice Starling temporarily insane was just a reasonable legal tactic, she believed it was true. And considering that, she imagined her off somewhere alone, confused and regretful. She would need her, Ardelia decided. She would need somebody. A terrible voice spoke beneath the surface, and she shuddered visibly as she sat with a tumbler of whiskey on the couch. What if she does have somebody? Or if she doesn’t, he’s out there somewhere too, and after what they saw, after what Clarice had done, she had to wonder...in the privacy of her own mind, she imagined the monster might get off on seeing a woman like Clarice take the plunge into madness. The man had collected church collapses; she remembered Clarice telling her that, once. Sick fuck.

Ardelia couldn’t stand the idea of his infatuation with her, and after what happened at Muskrat Farm, it would be imprudent to not consider how it had affected the significance he placed on her. Would he have lost interest or gained interest? If he had distinct plans for her to begin with, had they changed and how? She had been irritated at first, knowing they were searching more fervently for Dr. Lecter, but if he was still absorbed by her, enough to cross oceans, perhaps they would find her if they found him. The irony of the inverse circumstances were not beyond Ardelia Mapp. Both the law and a madman had used Clarice to find Hannibal, and now she was going to use Hannibal to find Clarice.

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Elliott Miller had stopped paying attention. His wife’s warm hand on the cuff of his jacket was distracting, and it was a welcome distraction. He had never been particularly interested in theater, but his new wife was the kind of woman people stopped to look at. She was also charming and youthful, her smile welcoming and as a warm as her hand on his cock. He imagined that’s where her hand was now, instead of his wrist. Elise glanced at him, her eyes full and wet. She searched him for a response to the performance, and he smiled, before looking back at the stage. There were entertaining moments, but by and large he would’ve preferred to be at home with her. It was a small price to pay, he decided. And in the meantime, he could imagine that’s exactly where he was, her blonde hair a curtain around her face as she rode him. Her tawny nipples moving with the rhythm of her hips. She didn’t like being on top, she was pretty and lazy, but she’d do it from time to time; she’d do it tonight.

The fact that Miller had stopped paying attention was reason enough to cut him, as was the cognac Dr. Lecter had bought for the purpose of sharing with Clarice Starling. He would have to enjoy a meal with her at a later time. However, the cognac was ready to be enjoyed to the fullest, with or without her. A Remy Martin, the oldest and most precious eaux-de-vie for LOUIS XIII, selected by this generation’s cellar master. Wine, usually from ugni blanc grapes, is twice distilled. Then it must sit in French oak barrels for a minimum of two years before it can be called a Cognac and thus passed. The result is a spirit smoother than whiskey, far more interesting than vodka, and regularly misunderstood.

Dr. Lecter was pleased, while he watched Elliott Miller during the intermission of the show when he arrived. He had been wanting to use the cognac in steak-diane. Miller was a smoker and a drinker, but that left his tenderloins safe for consumption. The center-cut of Miller’s psoas major was also a good choice for Dr. Lecter’s purposes, as he could easily remove it while Miller was alive and conscious without killing him. Dr. Lecter would not kill Elliott Miller for some time, and there were plenty other excellent recipes that called for cognac, and other cuts of meat that would be untainted.

For the second half of the show, Dr. Lecter payed little attention to Miller, enjoying the performance. He was sorry to have missed the first half of it. It was apparently a re-imagining of Hamlet in the style of Kunqu Opera. A story of dead fathers and revenge sat well with Dr. Lecter on this night, as he anticipated the night ahead. Later on, he wanted both of Clarice Starling’s tormentors at his table, all three of them, together. It would not take much to find out where Miller’s associate could be found. Fillet-Mignon, the most tender cut, takes well to sautéing in a little fat.

He would have them for a time, enough time for Starling to get her bearings. While he had no intention of purposefully staying away from her, he understood that it was necessary for her to establish herself as the new woman she was. He would give her time to get to know herself, get to know the world and her rightful place in it, before allowing their paths to cross. And when they did, she might be ready. On the other hand, she might not be. They would just have to wait and see. Whether it was to be a tryst or a battle would be up to her. Either way, he expected it to be invigorating.

On the stage, Ophelia sings and passes out flowers, keeping rue for herself. Dr. Lecter with a finger next to his nose, considers rue’s symbolic meaning of regret. Yet rue, saffron and jaunty, is an herb with medicinal properties. It is used to treat pain and has abortive qualities. Unlike the preoccupied suitors of Hamlet, Dr. Lecter would not allow her to fall from the willow branch. And in the moment, he allows himself to imagine what kind of lover Clarice Starling might be. She kept her private life private, so anything he imagined was purely droll speculation. He imagined her as in the Song of Solomon, in Canticles 4. Religious zealots did their best to twist it into a chaste description of God’s devotion to mankind or about the Virgin Mary, but the sensual categorizing and veneration of various parts of the body were undeniable. He brought the words to mind now, and recited them in his mind:

Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armory, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

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One year later

Clarice Starling was sick. It had started on the plane, but she’d never gotten sick on a plane, before. She blamed the food she’d eaten at the deli in Bangkok. She’d eaten there nearly every day for the two weeks she was there, as it was right by the hotel she’d been staying in. It had never made her sick, but it was the last place she’d eaten. Overall, Bangkok had not entirely agreed with her. She’d come there from Northern Thailand with a man she’d met in Pai. He’d just gotten out of the Israeli army when he’d decided to go backpacking though Thailand, like many young people who have yet to experience much of the world. He’d come to one of her cross-fit classes at the Charn Chai Muay Thai Camp, and because he’d had a fascination with American culture and spoke English, they’d gone to eat together after the class.

His name was Uri, and he was nearly a foot taller than Starling. He’d been growing his hair and beard since finishing his mandatory service, and had accomplished the desired look of a wild man, but his eyes were playful and boyish. Amidst his overt flirtations, she had discovered that he was something of a hacker, and made a decent living forging documents to pay for his traveling. They went together first to Chiang Mai. Held within the 14th century elephant-proof moat and defensive wall of brick ramparts, are a labyrinth of passages of the Old City. Within these passages, tucked away and easily lost are beautiful temples, several of which they visited together.

To Uri’s delight, Starling had agreed to go everywhere with him on the back of his scooter. She could barely fit her arms around him, and he smiled as they rode. They had zoomed down the length of a pond on their way to Downtown, and Starling looked at a tree bowing at the bank, just barely touching the water with its lowest branches in apparent humility. Uri had never been to Chiang Mai, but it was where she had first landed. It had been early, still dark out. It was chilly and a delicate fog bathed the mountains in the distance.

Uri had tried to convince her to go to India with him, but she shook her head, where she sat across from him at a bench near the vendors.

“I’m not on a joy ride, Uri. I’ve made a life in Pai. I’m looking for stability, not more adventure.”

“How can you not want adventure? What is life without it?” he wondered.

She laughed. “ You say that because you haven’t had any real adventure.”

“That’s not fair. Don’t forget I was in the army.”

“You told me it was more boring than high school,” she said, raising an eyebrow. Uri looked down, and bought himself a moment, taking a drink of his beer, before shrugging a shoulder and smiling.

“Okay, so what’s wrong with looking for adventure?” he asked.

“Nothing, when you’re so young. Just know that all adventure really is is conflict,” she paused, looking at the people milling about. A young woman with an English accent had stopped near them and was talking to a blind man who was trying to give her a massage. She was laughing nervously and waving her hands back and forth as she attempted to politely decline.

“You’re searching for conflict because you’re an animal, we all are. You’ve never had any indication of your territorial boundaries. It’s the same as a child who acts out to see what they can get away with. An animal needs to know its boundaries in order to feel satisfied,” she looked back at him, and he was looking at her intently.

“You wont be satisfied until you find conflict. Then you can go back home where it's safe and settle down. Assuming you survive the conflict you find,” she teased, drinking her own beer. It was during the wet season. Locals liked to joke that Thailand offers three seasons, which are hot, hotter and hottest. It was very wet and sticky, and even as the sun set behind the aubergine mountain range to the West, the waiter had come to replace the ice bucket on their table twice. Starling held the glass to her cheek and closed her eyes.

“And you found that conflict?” Uri asked, with equal levels of caution and curiosity. The lovely American woman was petite, but she had a wiry strength in her arms and the eyes of a predator. He had found himself unnerved by her more than once, and was not so foolish to believe that someone much smaller than him could not harm him. He had learned that much in the army.

“More than once. But perhaps I’m a masochist," she answered.

“Or a martyr,” Uri joked, but the comment seemed to make the woman across from him think of something. She took off her sunglasses, as it was beginning to be dark enough to no longer need them. Her skin gleamed with a shine of sweat, and her cheeks were pink. He knew her age, but she certainly made her age look good.

“There might be someone who would agree with you,” she said quietly.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yes, but he doesn’t think much of them.”

“Ah. Are we encroaching upon a more interesting topic? Is it okay now that I ask if you’re single?”

Starling laughed more than the joke was worth, and looked at him. “You’ve been asking me that since we met.”

“Not in such frank terms.”

“You’re right. But I’ll give you the answer in the frank terms. I am not available.”

Uri put his hands to his chest and leaned back in his seat, wincing. “Oh, tell me it isn’t so! Who is the lucky man?”

Starling hesitated. There had been no man in her life to speak of, but it was important that Uri did not get any more serious about her than playful flirting. The last thing she needed was a suitor following her around. Questions would get more complicated, and that would require more extravagant lies that she didn’t want to keep up with. So she had to decide in the moment whether to lie. In her experience, naming a competitor was the best way of stopping a man’s pursuit, otherwise he was driven by youthful enthusiasm and hope.

“His name is John.”

“Just John? How modern.”

Starling rolled her eyes. “I’m not telling you his full name.”

“Why not? I’ll be good, I promise.”

She picked up a piece of ice and threw at him, halfheartedly. He deflected it to the side and smiling, leaned forward on his elbows.

“Come on Allison, you can trust me.”

Starling put a finger to her mouth, before looking back at him. “Can I?”

“Of course.”

“Then maybe you could do me a favor.”

“Hmm. What kind of favor?”

“The kind we talk about in the hotel room, not here.”

Starling could immediately see he had not gotten the hint, and had taken it quite a different way.

“Well...”, he started.

“No, Uri. Not that kind of favor. And any way, I should hope that you have more self-esteem than to be used by a woman whose just told you she’s unavailable.”

“Oh, please.”

“Fine. Can you do me that kind of favor, or not?”

Uri held his chin in a big hand and thought a moment.

“How soon do you need this favor?”

“The sooner the better.”

Meeting Uri had truly been providence. She had been seeing a sleek van multiple times the week before she met him; outside her studio apartment and outside the gym. Someone had called her and hung up twice. It could be a number of people. One of Mason’s, Ardelia on her own, Lecter, perhaps even Margot had had a change of heart. She didn’t think it was the FBI, but it could be local authority becoming suspicious. She couldn’t think of any reason for them to be, but caution was paramount. She didn’t want to find out who it was, even if it was just a run of the mill stalker. It was time to leave Thailand. But before she left Thailand, it was necessary to first leave the south. It would be easier to lose someone in Bangkok. Uri would be disappointed.

That was where they stayed while Uri finished all of her papers. The day her flight left, they met in her hotel room. Uri was big in the doorway, and she stepped aside to let him in. They sat at the small built-in desk at the window. He handed her a manila envelope and she took out the contents to inspect them. Uri watched her, and was disappointed when she only gave him a curt nod before arranging it in her bag. It was impeccable work, and he felt that Allison was not appropriately impressed. Not for the first time, he wondered about her. She’d given so few details about her life in America. It was clear something had happened, something she didn’t want to talk to him about. But he got the sense that it was more than just not wanting to open up to him about it. It was something she couldn’t tell him. The documentation she’d asked him for cinched that idea.

You look more like an Allison than a Winifred,” he said, and she eyed him.

“You only think I look like an Allison because you’ve known me as an Allison.”

“I’d love to know your real name, some day.”

“My real name is Winifred.”

Uri laughed and then made a face.

“Maybe go by Winnie.”

“I’ll do that.”

“Where will you go?”

Starling crossed her arms. “Why?”

“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m glad to have met you, but I’m staying here. I’m still looking for my conflict, remember?”

“Of course. Nothing like conflict found in opium-filled compounds in the Thai jungle to set your adulthood in the right direction.”

“And will John be meeting you wherever you go?”

“Of course. “

“I see.”

“Uri, I hope I don’t have to have a ‘can I trust you’ conversation. Do I?”

“You could finger me as easily as I can finger you,” he said, winking.

“What a poet you are,” she said, zipping up her bag and setting it on the table between them.

“Well, I’m going to get going,” Uri started, “there’s a club this guy told me about not far from here. There’s a show with a girl who shoots bananas out of her you-know-what. Want to go?”

“No thank you. But that makes me hungry. I think I’ll go down to the deli and get a banana milkshake.”

Uri laughed and they stood.

“Alright. I guess I...wont see you around.” He offered his hand and she took it.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Winnie. Best of luck.”

Starling laughed. “Yeah, warmest regards.”

“You’re making fun of me. It was hard to tell when I first met you, because you’re so dry. But I see you, now. You’re very salty. I like it.”

“Just give me a hug, you buffoon.”

Uri hugged Starling tight, and she coughed before he let her go.

“Does it ruin it if I use your bathroom before I go?” he asked.

“No. Go use the bathroom.”

“What if it’s number two?”

“Just go, Uri. But I’m definitely going to the deli for awhile.”

“That’s a good idea. Open a window while you’re out.”

“Jesus.”

A few moments later, Uri returned with a strange expression. Starling was perusing Vogue Italia, perhaps in preparation for her destination. It’s connotations did not escape her.

“What is it?” she asked.

“That was a strange bathroom experience,” Uri started.

“Hmm. May I ask that you spare me the-”

“That squirting thing. I feel...violated somehow.”

“You’ve never used a bidet?” she asked.

“No. What a fancy name for a butt-cleaner.”

“True.”

“Alright, I’m going to take my immaculate asshole to the club. Bye, Alli-Winnie.”

“Goodbye, Uri. In bocca al lupo.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing. Goodbye, Uri.”

And now, Clarice Starling was sick in the Fiumicino Airport bathroom at twelve o’clock in the afternoon. She was exhausted, nauseous and anxious on the taxi ride to her hotel, robbing her of the experience. The taxi driver got out with her at the curb. Although, she saw it wasn’t actually the curb when she got out, he had just parked in the middle of the narrow street. She looked around for a moment, disoriented, seeing there was clearly nowhere to park. He came around, meeting her at the trunk to help her with her bags. As he handed her one, a car pulled up and honked.

“A fanabla con mortacci tua!” he yelled behind his shoulder. He handed her the heaviest bag that held her clothing, and she bowed under the weight, she was so weak.

“Grazie,” she mumbled, and maneuvered between a scooter and a car parked on the side of the road. The hotel she’d booked was Hotel les Artistes, and despite the fact that there was unfortunate graffiti up and down the street on which it was situated, Starling was pleasantly surprised by her room.

Appropriately named, there were paintings on most every wall of her room. They were not the generic, dispassionate flower vases and lighthouse paintings gracing the walls of American chain motels. There were three above the bed. The one at the center was a lively scene of a man testing and purchasing a violin, and it was flanked by two oval portraits, one of a woman’s profile, and the other of a woman holding a lute. The bed itself was simplistic in design, with crisp white sheets and a gold duvet in damask print. Along the wall was embossed cherry wood molding and the tall curtains draped in cobalt stripes to the floor, concealing the balcony guarded by balustrade railings. On the nightstand was a violet orchid. Clarice went to the toilet and threw up twice. It was her first time in Italy.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jack Crawford died in his sleep in August. Ardelia went to the funeral, gripping Starling’s car keys in her hand deep in her pocket. A week later, she was called to the Medical Examiner Office in Baltimore to see a body found in a rented home on Chesapeake Bay. Nothing protected Ardelia from the smell, but the sight was no better. There was not much left of him. Both of his legs were gone, and some of the muscles in his back had been removed. The legs had both been removed long before the time of death. The body was not all they had found in the home. There had been another one, but he was not dead, though not far from the same condition.

The man’s name was Elliott Miller, and Ardelia came into his room at Johns Hopkins. He was awake. He looked up at her, but didn’t say anything when she greeted him. His eyes followed her as she came to sit in the chair by his window.

“My name is Special Agent Mapp, Mr. Miller. May I speak with you?”

Lines around the man’s eyes wrinkled, though he couldn’t smile. His lips and tongue were gone.

“I can make them simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. If it’s easier, you can blink.” He nodded.

“Alright. Once for yes and twice for no. Did Hannibal Lecter do this?”

A blink. Ardelia nodded.

“Do you know why?”

Another single blink.

“Did you know him? Had you met him or been around him?”

Blink.

“Were you at Muskrat Farm?” She nodded when he blinked once, again.

“Did you hurt Clarice Starling?” She asked, leaning forward.

Blink.

“Is that why he did this to you?” A pause. Elliott Miller breathed in sharply and coughed, before looking at her, again. Blink.

That afternoon, Ardelia made a call to Director Noonan, and thankfully, his secretary put her through.

“Officer Mapp, I’m glad you called. Have you seen Miller?”

“Yes Sir, I have.”

“And? What do you think?”

“I think we should keep an eye on Mr. Krendler, Sir.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that Hannibal Lecter kept two men as torture pets for a year because they tortured Starling at Muskrat Farm. He will see Mr. Krendler as the cause of all of it, despite what anyone else thinks, Sir. Where is he now?”

“He just used his vacation hours to take a trip to Italy. Do you really think Lecter would risk going back to Italy?”

“He risked coming back to America for her. Where in Italy is he? He’d probably want to do his best to avoid Florence.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The house Seseragi no Mori sits on a hill in Kitasaku-gun, Nagano, Japan. It overlooks Mt. Asama and is the color of copper. Up the red oak staircase and onto the balcony, a corridor of flagstone leads to a pair of double doors, each with wrought iron portal grills. Beyond these doors and into the sitting room, vaulted ceilings with exposed rafters showcase a stunning, 18th century chandelier belonging to the late husband of the widow Murasaki. She sits on the terrace on an acacia bench watching the rain wet the surrounding forest. She closes her eyes and smells the wet wood, her bare feet and legs outside the protection of the eaves. She can hear the frogs chirping from the millpond. In her hand is a photograph of Clarice Starling sitting outside the Witching Well in Pai, Thailand. The red of her hair shows at the roots and with the sun hitting her, her head looks as though it is afire.

“Where is she now?” she asks, her accent soft and silvery. Next to her is Akinari Arai, the head of the household. Before coming to Lady Muraski’s services, he was a private investigator.

“I’m not sure. She is being very careful. The only reason I was able to find her in Bangkok was because she was with a big Israeli. He was easy to find. He said he thought she was going to Italy.”

“Did you harm him?”

“No. Of course not.”

She nodded and handed him back the picture.

“If she is in Italy, it changes things.”

“Why?”

“Because that is where Hannibal is,” she answered, her eyes closing.

“Are you certain?”

She nodded.

“How?”

“I always know where he is. It’s the only way I can feel safe.”

“Why do you need to know where the woman is?” Arai wondered.

Lady Murasaki, hair the color of ink and still, upturned palms like chaliced lilies, sighs. She answers in Japanese:

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that she does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. “

Chapter Text

It is the day of the Immacolata in Rome; it is the day which begins the Christmas holiday in Italy. The streets are busy as Starling takes the bus to the Bakery House on Corso Trieste to begin an afternoon shift. It took her two weeks to get a job as an American pastry confectioner. She was trained by a woman named Misrak, a middle-aged Ethiopian woman with a gentle disposition and pleasant lines around her eyes. They deepened as she smiled at Starling, who now comes through the backdoor, her bag in one hand and apron in the other.

“Salome, Misrak,” Starling said with a sharp smile. Misrak’s smile grew warmer still, ”Salome, Winnie. How was your weekend, Honey?”

“Bene e tu?” Starling scooped her hair into a ponytail before hanging her purse and coat.

“Molto bene.” Misrak was tying her hair into a blue and orange scarf. Her hoop earrings caught the light from the sun coming in from the window.

“Did you just get here?” asked Starling after she’d tied her own apron.

“Yes. I’m so tired though, Honey. You know, I just didn’t sleep well.”

“Why’s that?”

“Abe’s snoring was so bad,” she whispered and then laughed with a shake of her head. “I keep telling him he needs to have his adenoids removed, but he won’t do it. He think I exaggerate.”

Starling liked Misrak, and it was fortunate to have found her. She had lived in America for fifteen years and spoke very good English. Her Italian was good, too. For the last five months, she’d taught her both Tigrinia and Italian every day they’d worked together.

“Ever tried ear plugs?” Starling suggested. Misrak nodded.

“I can’t wear them every night, though. It hurts my ears after awhile.”

“That’s awful. Honestly, I probably would’ve moved into a different room if I’d been living with a snorer for twenty-two years.”

“I know! I’ve thought about it. Don’t tell him, though.”

“Your secrets are safe with me. So where do you want me, today?”

“Enrobing room.”

“Again?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

In the first week of working at the Bakery House, Starling had let the chocolate tank overflow. It had been so disastrous, she thought she would be fired. To her relief, Misrak said the same thing happened to her, once. She was still a little embarrassed any time she worked in the enrobing room, even still. It had been the most terrible mess she’d ever seen, let alone cleaned up. It had taken the better part of her shift.

On her lunch break, Starling went into the break room and turned on the fan. There was chocolate in her hair and on her forearms. She was cleaning herself in the sink when Misrak came in.

“Hey, Honey. Can I ask you a favor?” she said, and Starling turned to look over her shoulder.

“Sure.”

“I’m not taking my lunch until the late rush is over, but I have a headache coming on. Would you mind going down to the Farmicia for me?”

“No problem.”

The Farmicia was only a short walk down the street, so after she’d removed her apron and taken her coat and purse, Starling trotted across the street. There was a car parked outside she recognized, but wasn’t sure from where. At the check out counter, she remembered. He was standing by the elixir di china, and his name was Seth Baston. He went to the same gym, and even in his heavier coat, he looked fit. They’d talked a little. He was flirtatious, but men in Italy often were. He was not Italian though, he was British. A woman she ran with sometimes had told her that he was a former Olympian and that now he was a business owner of some sort.

“C'è da fare qualcos'altro, signora?”

Starling turned back to the cashier quickly and smiled.

“Sì, Sì, ringrazio.”

“3.85.”

He was coming to stand behind her, and she was not surprised when he spoke to her.

“Good afternoon, Signorina,” he said when she took her change. She turned around and smiled politely.

“Good afternoon. It’s Seth, right?”

“She remembers me, I’m glad. It would’ve been heartbreaking if you didn’t. How are you, Signorina?”

“I’m good, and you?”

“Very good. One moment,” he put up an apologetic finger and turned to the cashier. She waited for him to finish and he came to in front of her. He wore a wool suit in grey fleck check. Against his dark skin, it was striking. She’d never seen him in a suit before, and he looked good. He smiled.

“I’ve actually been trying to work up the courage to ask you to join me for dinner, some time,” he held up his free hand palm-up a moment and then let it fall back to his side.

“After seeing you now, I’ve decided there’s no excuse. Are you free, tonight, Miss...”

“Simard. Winnie Simard.”

“Of course. I remembered Winnie. I’ve never met anyone named Winnie, so it was hard to forget. Your face was even harder to forget.” He paused, taking in her expression and demeanor. “You’re in a hurry. I apologize-”

“No, no. Well, yes. But...Um...”

“Tell you what. I’d really like to bump into you, again. There is a lounge on Piazza di Pietra. Salotto42. Do you know it?”

“I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never been.”

“A shame. Are you available tonight?”

Well, I work until eleven. And I would need to go home to change, believe me.”

“More importantly, you’d be exhausted from a day’s work. Believe it or not, I understand. When is your next day off?”

“Not until Friday.”

“Would you be terribly inconvenienced to meet me at Salotta42 around eight o’ clock on Friday?”

Starling smiled. “I thought you wanted to take me to dinner.”

“Well, I most certainly do. But I was getting the impression I may need to woo you a bit before you’d get into a car with me.”

“You do. I’ll see you on Friday.”

She was in a daze as she walked back to the bakery. She hadn’t planned on saying ‘yes’ to anything, and yet she had found herself doing just that. She realized it had been years since she’d been on a date, and even though she’d agreed to something not quite like a date, she felt a little nervous. Starling also considered the fact that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been with a man. That made it make a little more sense that some part of her had taken over and agreed to meet with him. Jesus, I must be horny, she thought and laughed at the crass thought as she walked.

It had been her intention to not get involved with anyone, but it seemed more plausible now, somehow. She’d had the time to get her story straight in her head, and when it had been Uri, well...he simply wasn’t someone that appealed to her. It hadn’t been appropriate on multiple levels. She didn’t think about what she might be getting into, and instead began to settle into the concept of creating a life in Italy that resembled something...normal.

Misrak went shopping with her on Thursday, and she picked a black dress.

“I can’t believe you don’t have one,” Misrak had said when Starling came out of the dressing room. “It’s perfect,” she added, her hands clasped in front of her chest.

The one she had chosen was a sleeveless, mock-neck cocktail dress with an organza flounce hem. It costed just shy of four hundred dollars, twice one month’s rent, but Starling did not bat an eye. She didn’t make much at the Bakery House, but she’d managed to save quite a bit of money when living in Pai, and living in very humble, small rooms with few belongings. Plus, Misrak had a point when she said she couldn’t believe she didn’t own one. Being in Europe, Starling had decided within her first month to begin building a capsule wardrobe. One did not have to spend an unimaginable sum on clothing, but it was important to spend it on important, basic pieces. Like a black dress. She’d have it for years to come, after all. A date with a handsome, successful former Olympian with rippling, mahogany pectorals and biceps was simply a fantastic excuse. There was no longer a need to look at well-made, expensive clothing like a lech in a peep show. It was only pornographic if one chose to see it that way. Clarice Starling did not.

Seth had worn a Windsor base double-pane navy suit, decently tailored, with a navy and white tie on Friday night. He was standing outside in front of the doors beneath a canopy of wisteria when she arrived, and he smiled broadly.

“You’re very punctual,” she commented, stepping up the curb.

“As are you. Shall we?” he offered his arm, and she took it. Inside, it was crowded and very posh. It occurred to Starling, as he led her inside to a reserved table, that she had not really given herself the opportunity to explore this side of Rome. Most of the streets on which she traveled were riddled with graffiti and the kind of young men who follow you down the street for far too long. The people here were dressed well and friendly. When their drinks arrived, Seth took a moment to read Starling.

“Are you uncomfortable?” he asked, and she laughed.

“Not exactly. I’m enjoying myself, if that answers your question.”

“Is this not your typical place to get drinks? I know you said you’d never been here, but...”

“Well, no. It’s not my kind of place. But it could be. That’s the sort of thing that’s up to me, isn’t it?”

Seth tilted his head, considering her words.

“That’s an interesting attitude. I like it very much. Are you an adaptable person, Winnie? May I call you Winnie?”

“Yes. And yes.”

“How would you say one becomes adaptable?”

“Necessity is the mother of invention, isn’t it?”

“It is. By what or whose invention are you, Winnie?”

“Isn’t that like asking me for the story of my life?” she shrugged her bare, shapely shoulder, and Seth’s eyes followed the movement.

“Maybe that’s exactly what I’m asking. We may as well. I’ve never been much for chit chat, anyway. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

Starling smiled. “How about we give each other the short versions and go from there?”

“I’ll take whatever you give me, Signorina.”

And she did tell him the short of her life; the one she had manufactured which included some truth. Only, leaving out her career and the end of her career made it a rather boring story. Her father’s death and her upbringing were left out. Even had she wanted to regale them, it would have been inappropriate cocktail conversation. She also claimed to be from Canada, as her documentation claimed. Yet, above all, she left out Hannibal Lecter.

Seth was a good listener, and looked at nothing and no one else while she spoke. He asked the right questions, avoided the wrong ones and did not give any extra attention to her legs, though he wanted to.

“I’m honored to have heard your story, Winnie,” he began when she was through, “although I have to tell you...it seems like there’s so much more to you than your story. How do you explain such a discrepancy?”

“I would say you’re building me up to something that may be difficult to deliver,” she said with a sly smile. Seth was pleased.

“Somehow I doubt that.”

“What about me is so interesting?” Starling asked, dismissively. “I work at a bakery, I take the bus. I’m a boring Canadian who wanted to experience Europe and get away from...” she rolled her hand in the air for a moment, and Seth leaned forward.

“Exactly,” he finished for her.

“What exactly?”

“What did you have to get away from?”

“What does anyone have to get away from?” she shrugged, and took a sip of the sunset-colored negroni in her hand. It is the color of her hair. “Routine, placidity, the ordinary.”

“Yes, but you seem to have found the most ordinary little corner of Rome possible. I just find it interesting, because I don’t take you for the adventurous type, which I don’t find particularly appealing, anyway. You and I are both a little mature for that. But at the same time, you have the eyes of a leopard. You see everything and everyone around you. It’s quite an experience to be under your gaze. I find it thrilling.”

Starling raised her glass again, and looked away.

“I’m sorry. I hope I haven’t put you off with all these questions. It’s my curiosity of human behavior getting in my way, again.”

“I’m not offended.”

“But…?”

“But, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“I think maybe you do, you just don’t want to or you can’t. And that is completely acceptable. Wherever you’ve been, whoever you are, it’s your business and yours alone. Consider me a lucky bystander.”

“It’s your turn.”

“You’re right. Let’s see, I was born in a small town called Beverley. I lived there with my mother until she died when I was twelve, then I moved to London with my older sister. She was a track star, and I thought everything she did was brilliant. I followed in her footsteps. She’d gone to the Olympics in ‘79, and come back with a silver. I wanted to come back with a gold. The first time, I didn’t qualify. Four years later, I did. I came back with nothing. Four years later, I came back with a gold. After the initial satisfaction, I had a classic, ‘what now’ phase that lasted for about seven years. I was twenty-five when I graduated with a BA in Business Management and a Foreign Language, I chose Italian, with a minor in Art. I wanted to open my own gallery in Italy. That’s what I did. It took me ten years to really get established,“ he offered his palms for a moment,” and here we are.”

“I think the most appropriate response is, ‘Wow’,” she said, and Seth smiled.

“There’s always someone more successful, more attractive, more something. It took me a long time to realize that. Just the other day, I was thinking of how grateful I am for the life I’ve had. Nothing very terrible has happened to me, I’ve never been seriously injured or hospitalized, no one has broken my heart...and yet, something feels missing. I feel bad about that, sometimes.”

Starling hesitated, as she looked into his gentle eyes, and surrendered posture. He had been very honest, and she found herself endeared to him.

“My...my father died when I was young, too. I know how painful losing a parent can be.”

Seth didn’t speak, for a moment, and had sat back in his seat a bit.

“Thank you for tell me that, Winnie.”

“I also know the feeling you’re talking about. Even when I know I’m chasing my own tail, looking for some kind of meaning or purpose, I still catch myself doing it. Do you ever think wisdom is more ornamental than anything else?”

“I think wisdom is beautiful. But...” he leaned forward again,” remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.”

“John Ruskin? I’m impressed,” she answered, grinning.

“Well, I am a school boy.”

“You don’t look like a boy.”

“I should hope not. I’m forty-nine.”

“You don’t look forty-nine, either.”

“Are you trying to pay me a compliment, Winnie?”

Starling uncrossed her legs, switching their direction, and Seth watched, his pupils dilating.

“When I pay you a compliment, you wont have to ask. “

“Ah. Well, I can say the same. So I must say, Ms. Winnie, that you must be the most useless creature I’ve ever met.”

“You’d better hope not.”

Seth Baston’s farnese style loft was situated in the city center, in the Campo di Fiori and overlooked the courtyard fountain. It was a beautiful, spacious apartment, and Starling said nothing of the conflict between the classic architecture and his modern furniture. It clashed in a way that bothered her just a little, like an itch in the middle of her back. She let him pull her into his lap where he sat on the leather, modular sofa. His lips were big and soft, and she found her hands were a little sweaty. His hands were big and warm. He picked her up after a time and took her into his bedroom.

She made only a little noise; Seth made more. When it was beginning to be a little boring, Starling straightened her leg and pushed until she was on top of him. He was happy to let her. Fifteen minute later, she arched her back, unconsciously digging her fingernails into his chest as she quickened her pace with climax. Seth watched her, aroused beyond his experience and more than a little frightened by her eyes. Then she leaned forward, breathing hard and he breathed in the scent of her sweat and pheromones, without knowing he did so. It was dark in the apartment even with the curtains open. Above, the new moon enters Capricorn.

The stage before the exact conjunction of the lights is called “balsamic” for a reason. It is the time of letting go, finalizing matters that have became obsolete in the heart. It is time for seeing emotions for what they really are. Capricorn, Clarice Starling’s astrological sign, is not supportive of such a flow, having the tendency to turn water into ice and hearts into stone if one is not ready to face one’s demon. It is the sign where the Moon fiercely, sadly decides to stay alone; to stay in control of its destiny, strong and stubborn in its refusal to be vulnerable, even dismissing all opportunities to be human. What Starling decides she will decide, soon. Her demon draws closer with the Epiphany.

Chapter Text

CHRISTMAS

It is the day of the Immacolata in Rome; it is the day which begins the Christmas holiday in Italy. The streets are busy as Clarice Starling takes the bus to the Bakery House on Corso Trieste, to begin an afternoon shift. It took her two weeks to get a job as an American pastry confectioner. She was trained by a woman named Misrak, a middle-aged Ethiopian woman with a gentle disposition and pleasant lines around her eyes. They deepened as she smiled at Starling, who now comes through the backdoor, her bag in one hand and apron in the other.

“Salome, Misrak,” Starling says with a sharp smile. Misrak’s smile grows warmer still, ”Salome, Winnie. How was your weekend, Honey?”

“Bene e tu?” Starling scooped her hair into a ponytail before hanging her purse and coat.

“Molto bene.” Misrak was tying her hair into a blue and orange scarf. Her hoop earrings caught the light from the sun coming in from the window.

“Did you just get here?” Starling asked after she’d tied her own apron.

“Yes. I’m so tired though, Honey. You know, I just didn’t sleep well.”

“Why’s that?”

“Abe’s snoring was so bad,” she whispered and then laughed with a shake of her head. “I keep telling him he needs to have his adenoids removed, but he won’t do it. He think I exaggerate.”

Starling liked Misrak, and it was fortunate to have found her. She had lived in America for fifteen years and spoke very good English. Her Italian was good, too. For the last five months, she’d taught Starling both Tigrinya and Italian every day they’d worked together.

“Ever tried ear plugs?” Starling suggested. Misrak nodded.

“I can’t wear them every night, though. It hurts my ears after awhile.”

“That’s awful. Honestly, I probably would’ve moved into a different room if I’d been living with a snorer for twenty-two years.”

“I know! I’ve thought about it. Don’t tell him, though.”

“Your secrets are safe with me. So where do you want me, today?”

“Enrobing room.”

“Again?”

“Umm-hmm.”

In the first week of working at the Bakery House, Starling had let the chocolate tank overflow. It had been so disastrous, she thought she would be fired. To her relief, Misrak said the same thing happened to her, once. She was still a little embarrassed any time she worked in the enrobing room, even still. It had been the most terrible mess she’d ever seen, let alone clean up. It had taken the better part of her shift.

On her lunch break, Starling went into the break room and turned on the fan. There was chocolate in her hair and on her forearms. She was cleaning herself in the sink when Misrak came in.

“Hey, Honey. Can I ask you a favor?” she said, and Starling turned to look over her shoulder.

“Sure.”

“I’m not taking my lunch until the late rush is over, but I have a headache coming on. Would you mind going down to the Farmicia for me?”

“No problem.”

The Farmicia was only a short walk down the street, so after she’d removed her apron and taken her coat and purse, Starling trotted across the street. There was a car parked outside she recognized, but wasn’t sure from where. At the check out counter, she remembered. He was standing by the elixir di china, and his name was Seth Baston. He went to the same gym, and even in his heavier coat, he looked fit. They’d talked a little. He was flirtatious, but men in Italy often were. He was not Italian though, he was British. A woman she ran with sometimes had told her that he was a former Olympian and that now he was a business owner of some sort.

“C'è da fare qualcos'altro, signora?”

Clarice turned back to the cashier quickly and smiled.

“Sì, Sì, ringrazio.”

“3.85.”

He was coming to stand behind her, and she was not surprised when he spoke to her.

“Good afternoon, Signorina,” he said when she took her change. She turned around and smiled politely.

“Good afternoon. It’s Seth, right?”

“She remembers me, I’m glad. It would’ve been heartbreaking if you didn’t. How are you, Signorina?”

“I’m good, and you?”

“Very good. One moment,” he put up an apologetic finger and turned to the cashier. She waited for him to finish and he came to stand next to her. He wore a wool suit in grey fleck check. Against his dark skin, it was striking. She’d never seen him in a suit before, and he looked good. He smiled.

“I’ve actually been trying to work up the courage to ask you to join me for dinner, some time,” he held up his free hand palm-up a moment and then let it fall back to his side.

“After seeing you now, I’ve decided there’s no excuse. Are you free, tonight, Miss...”

“Simard. Winnie Simard.”

“Of course. I remembered Winnie. I’ve never met anyone named Winnie, so it was hard to forget. Your face was even harder to forget.” He paused, taking in her expression and demeanor.

“You’re in a hurry. I apologize-”

“No, no. Well, yes. But...Um...”

“Tell you what. I’d really like to bump into you, again. There is a lounge on Piazza di Pietra. Salotto42. Do you know it?”

“I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never been.”

“A shame. Are you available tonight?”

Well, I work until eleven. And I would need to go home to change, believe me.”

“More importantly, you’d be exhausted from a day’s work. Believe it or not, I understand. When is your next day off?”

“Not until Friday.”

“Would you be terribly inconvenienced to meet me at Salotta42 around eight o’ clock on Friday?”

Starling smiled. “I thought you wanted to take me to dinner.”

“Well, I most certainly do. But I was getting the impression I may need to woo you a bit before you’d get into a car with me.”

“You do. I’ll see you on Friday.”

Starling was in a daze as she walked back to the bakery. She hadn’t planned on saying ‘yes’ to anything, and yet she had found herself doing just that. She realized it had been years since she’d been on a date, and even though she’d agreed to something not quite like a date, she felt a little nervous. She also considered the fact that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been with a man. That made it make a little more sense that some part of her had taken over and agreed to meet with him. Jesus, I must be horny, she thought and laughed at the crass thought as she walked.

It had been her intention to not get involved with anyone, but it seemed more plausible now, somehow. She’d had the time to get her story straight her head, and when it had been Uri, well...he simply wasn’t someone that appealed to her. It hadn’t been appropriate on multiple levels. She didn’t think about what she might be getting into, and instead began to settle into the concept of creating a life in Italy that resembled something...normal.

Misrak went shopping with her on Thursday, and she picked a black dress.

“I can’t believe you don’t have one,” Misrak had said, when Starling came out of the dressing room. “It’s perfect,” she added, her hands clasped in front of her chest.

The one she had chosen was a sleeveless, mock-neck cocktail dress with an organza flounce hem. It costed just shy of four hundred dollars, twice one month’s rent, but Starling did not bat an eye. She didn’t make much at the Bakery House, but she’d managed to save quite a bit of money when living in Pai, and living in very humble, small rooms with few belongings. Plus, Misrak had a point when she said she couldn’t believe she didn’t own one. Being in Europe, Starling had decided within her first month to begin building a capsule wardrobe. One did not have to spend an unimaginable sum on clothing, but it was important to spend it on important, basic pieces. Like a black dress. She’d have it for years to come, after all. A date with a handsome, successful former Olympian with rippling, mahogany pectorals and biceps was simply a fantastic excuse. There was no longer a need to look at well-made, expensive clothing like a lech in a peep show. It was only pornographic if one chose to see it that way. Starling did not.

Seth had worn a Windsor base double-pane navy suit, decently tailored, with a navy and white tie on Friday night. He was standing outside in front of the doors beneath a canopy of wisteria when she arrived, and he smiled broadly.

“You’re very punctual,” she commented, stepping up the curb.

“As are you. Shall we?” he offered his arm, and she took it. Inside, it was crowded, but very posh. It occurred to Starling, as he led her inside to a reserved table, that she had not really given herself the opportunity to explore this side of Rome. Most of the streets on which she traveled were riddled with graffiti and the kind of young men who follow you down the street for far too long. The people here were dressed well and friendly. When their drinks arrived, Seth took a moment to read Starling.

“Are you uncomfortable?” he asked, and she laughed.

“Not exactly. I’m enjoying myself, if that answers your question.”

“Is this not your typical place to get drinks? I know you said you’d never been here, but...”

“Well, no. It’s not my kind of place. But it could be. That’s the sort of thing that’s up to me, isn’t it?”

Seth tilted his head, considering her words.

“That’s an interesting attitude. I like it very much. Are you an adaptable person, Winnie? May I call you Winnie?”

“Yes. And yes.”

“How would you say one becomes adaptable?”

“Necessity is the mother of invention, isn’t it?”

“It is. By what or whose invention are you, Winnie?”

“Isn’t that like asking me for the story of my life?” she shrugged her bare, shapely shoulder, and Seth’s eyes followed the movement.

“Maybe that’s exactly what I’m asking. We may as well. I’ve never been much for chit chat, anyway. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

Starling smiled. “How about we give each other the short versions and go from there?”

“I’ll take whatever you give me, Signorina.”

And she did tell him the short of her life; the one she had manufactured which included some truth. Only, leaving out her career and the end of her career made it a rather boring story. Her father’s death and her upbringing were left out. Even had she wanted to remember them, it would have been inappropriate cocktail conversation. She also claimed to be from Canada, as her documentation claimed. Yet, above all, she left out Hannibal Lecter.

Seth was a good listener, and looked at nothing and no one else while she spoke. He asked the right questions, avoided the wrong ones and did not give any extra attention to her legs, though he wanted to.

“I’m honored to have heard your story, Winnie,” he began when she was through, “although I have to tell you...it seems like there’s so much more to you than your story. How do you explain such a discrepancy?”

“I would say you’re building me up to something that may be difficult to deliver,” she said, with a sly smile. Seth was pleased.

“Somehow I doubt that.”

“What about me is so interesting?” asked Starling, dismissively. “I work at a bakery, I take the bus. I’m a boring Canadian who wanted to experience Europe and get away from...” she rolled her hand in the air for a moment, and Seth leaned forward.

“Exactly,” he finished for her.

“What exactly?”

“What did you have to get away from?”

“What does anyone have to get away from?” she shrugged, and took a sip of the sunset-colored negroni in her hand. It is the color of her hair. “Routine, placidity, the ordinary.”

“Yes, but you seem to have found the most ordinary little corner of Rome possible. I just find it interesting, because I don’t take you for the adventurous type, which I don’t find particularly appealing, anyway. You and I are both a little mature for that. But at the same time, you have the eyes of a leopard. You see everything and everyone around you. It’s quite an experience to be under your gaze. I find it thrilling.”
Starling raised her glass again, and looked away.

“I’m sorry. I hope I haven’t put you off with all these questions. It’s my curiosity of human behavior getting in my way, again.”

“I’m not offended.”

“But…?”

“But, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“I think maybe you do, you just don’t want to or you can’t. And that is completely acceptable. Wherever you’ve been, whoever you are, it’s your business and yours alone. Consider me a lucky bystander.”

“It’s your turn.”

“You’re right. Let’s see, I was born in a small town called Beverley. I lived there with my mother until she died when I was twelve, then I moved to London with my older sister. She was a track star, and I thought everything she did was brilliant. I followed in her footsteps. She’d gone to the Olympics in ‘79, and come back with a silver. I wanted to come back with a gold. The first time, I didn’t qualify. Four years later, I did. I came back with nothing. Four years later, I came back with a gold. After the initial satisfaction, I had a classic, ‘what now’ phase that lasted for about seven years. I was twenty-five when I graduated with a BA in Business Management and a Foreign Language, I chose Italian, with a minor in Art. I wanted to open my own gallery in Italy. That’s what I did. It took me ten years to really get established,“ he offered his palms for a moment,” and here we are.”

“I think the most appropriate response is, ‘Wow’,” Starling said, and Seth smiled.

“There’s always someone more successful, more attractive, more something. It took me a long time to realize that. Just the other day, I was thinking of how grateful I am for the life I’ve had. Nothing very terrible has happened to me, I’ve never been seriously injured or hospitalized, no one has broken my heart...and yet, something feels missing. I feel bad about that, sometimes.”

Starling hesitated, as she looked into his gentle eyes, and surrendered posture. He had been very honest, and she found herself endeared to him.

“My...my father died when I was young, too. I know how painful losing a parent can be.”

Seth didn’t speak, for a moment, and had sat back in his seat a bit.

“Thank you for tell me that, Winnie.”

“I also know the feeling you’re talking about. Even when I know I’m chasing my own tail, looking for some kind of meaning or purpose, I still catch myself doing it. Do you ever think wisdom is more ornamental than anything else?”

“I think wisdom is beautiful. But...” he leaned forward again,” remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.”

“John Ruskin? I’m impressed,” she answered, grinning.

“Well, I am a school boy.”

“You don’t look like a boy.”

“I should hope not. I’m forty-nine.”

“You don’t look forty-nine, either.”

“Are you trying to pay me a compliment, Winnie?”

Starling uncrossed her legs, switching their direction, and Seth watched, his pupils dilating.

“When I pay you a compliment, you wont have to ask. “

“Ah. Well, I can say the same. So I must say, Ms. Winnie, that you must be the most useless creature I’ve ever met.”

“You’d better hope not.”

Seth Baston’s farnese style loft was situated in the city center, in the Campo di Fiori and overlooked the courtyard fountain. It was a beautiful, spacious apartment, and Starling said nothing of the conflict between the classic architecture and his modern furniture. It clashed in a way that bothered Starling just a little, like an itch in the middle of her back. She let him pull her into his lap where he sat on the leather, modular sofa. His lips were big and soft, and she found her hands were a little sweaty. His hands were big and warm on her side and face. He picked her up after a time and took her into his bedroom.

She made only a little noise; Seth made more. When it was beginning to be a little boring, Clarice straightened her leg and pushed until she was on top of him. He was happy to let her. Fifteen minute later, she arched her back, unconsciously digging her fingernails into his chest as she quickened her pace with climax. Seth watched her, aroused beyond his experience and more than a little frightened by her eyes. Then she leaned forward, breathing hard and he breathed in the scent of her sweat and pheromones, without knowing he did so. It was dark in the apartment even with the curtains open. Above, the new moon enters Capricorn.

The stage before the exact conjunction of the lights is called “balsamic” for a reason. It is the time of letting go, finalizing matters that have became obsolete in the heart. It is time for seeing emotions for what they really are. Capricorn, Clarice Starling’s astrological sign, is not supportive of such a flow, having the tendency to turn water into ice and hearts into stone if one is not ready to face one’s demon. It is the sign where the Moon fiercely, sadly decides to stay alone; to stay in control of its destiny, strong and stubborn in its refusal to be vulnerable, even dismissing all opportunities to be human. What Starling decides she will decide, soon. Her demon draws closer with the Epiphany.

 

Next day, and Starling sits outside a cafe with a tense Misrak. She had insisted Starling tell her every detail of her night with Seth, and had listened with a smile and even giggled a number of times, but there was something wrong. Starling finally asked.

“Misrak, what exactly is on your mind?” Misrak frowned and watched a flock of birds take flight when a group of young boys ran through the piazza.

“Do you remember what I told you about that man?”

“Hmm, I think so. Loren, right?”

Misrak nodded. “ You remember how I said that when I tried to end it, he told me all kinds of terrible things? “

One month ago, Misrak had confided to Starling that she was being blackmailed. Starling didn’t ask what he was blackmailing her with. But since he’d contacted her, she’d had to sleep with him on every other Tuesday of the month. She had gotten to the point where she could hardly bear it anymore, and had finally told Loren that she would rather her life fall apart than to have him touch her, again. Apparently, he’d told her that he would kill her husband if she broke the arrangement. Clarice Starling liked Misrak.

“Yes.”

“Well, I haven’t heard from him in almost a month.”

“And? Isn’t that a good thing?”

“Well, that’s what it seems like. I’m just so scared that he’s going to do something. Come to my home...”

“Maybe something happened to him.”

“Maybe. I just wish I could know. You know?”

“Yeah, I do. But for now, just be glad. I bet you’ll never see or hear from him, again. He probably got spooked.”

“A part of me wants so badly to move on, and forget it ever happened. And if I don’t ever hear from him again, it would be...I don’t have words. I’d be thankful every day for the rest of my life. But I don’t know if I can live with what I did.”

“What you did? You didn’t do anything but what you had to, to survive. You did what was necessary. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like there’s something wrong with you. Especially yourself. You are the only one who can judge you. And it’s more important that you love yourself than anyone else. You’ll be with you for the rest of your life.”

“I know. I’ll be with Abe, too. I have been disloyal to him. It’s making me feel sick.”

“It’s not making you sick, you’re making you sick. Some part of you thinks you should be punished, so you’re torturing yourself on the inside. But there is no balance in the world. No amount of guilt or absolution, Divine or mortal can ever fix anything. Stop trying to fix it. Just let it be what it is, let yourself be who you are. What has happened has happened. Mutilating your present or future wont un-break the past. Please, Misrak. I speak from experience when I say to you that all the meaning life has is what you give it. Happiness is something you choose, not something you must hunt and hold onto or cage. Allow yourself happiness. Things will get better for you. I promise.”

Misrak had tears in her eyes and when she softly closed them, they fell. She nodded. “Thank you, Winnie.”

“Let’s talk about something nice. What are you and Abe doing for Christmas?”

Misrak smiled and wiped her face. “We’re going to St. Peter’s square. You should come.”

“I don’t really celebrate Christmas. Not on purpose, really. I just don’t.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” Starling’s phone rang, and she checked it.

“It’s Seth. I’ll call him later.”

“No, no. Take the call, Honey. I’m going to go to the bathroom, anyway.”

When she’d gone, Starling answered.

“Buongiorno.”

“Buongiorno, Winnie. I’m breaking the rules and calling far too soon.”

“It suits me. What are you up to?”

“I’m shopping in Marini. I wondered if you’d like to meet me for lunch.”

“I’d love to, what time?”

“Let’s say...is one too late?”

“One is perfect. Where?”

“Il Boncompogni, Via Boncompogni. Can you find it?”

“I can find anything. I’ll see you there, Seth.”

“Non vedo l'ora, Winnie. Ciao.”

“Ciao.”

There are many cafes along Corso Trieste, as there are on the many streets of Rome. Down the thoroughfare and just around the corner is the Paris Bar, it’s windowed corner offering Dr. Hannibal Lecter a decent view of Clarice Starling, where he sits at a table on the patio. It also obscures him well, as he watches her end the phone call with Seth. Dr. Lecter wears a crisp white shirt, casual chinos and blazer the color of ash. His full-length trench coat is of the same color, as is his wool felt fedora with a darker satin trim. He takes his espresso to his mouth and closes his eyes when he sips. When he opens them, she has stood and talks with her friend, before they part ways with a wave of their hands.

She has cut her hair since last he saw her, and the ghastly black dye was gone with the cut. It was loose and wavy around her face, and she wears one side of it pinned beneath a burgundy beret. Her jacket and jumper were black and deeply decollete. She walked with purpose, her arms out of her pockets, her chin high as the breeze moved her hair. She is glorious. Dr. Lecter rises, leaving more than he owes on the table before heading down the street behind her, his trench coat careening behind him.
She’d been searching for something. She knew she hadn’t found it in Seth, he could see that. Nor had she found it in the disposing of Loren. But it had been very interesting. Watching her do it from where he’d sat in his Fornasari SUV outside the cretin’s country home, he could scarcely contain his glee. The home had many windows, and being secluded, Loren had not made any attempt to shield the world from what he undoubtedly thought would be a romantic evening with a beautiful American woman. And it was a beautiful evening. Dr. Lecter himself had not even expected it, until Clarice, in nothing but lace undergarments and heels the color of amethyst, laid out a clear plastic sheet while Loren went to the restroom.

When he returned, he was laughing at the scene she had prepared. Starling laughed to. He came closer, and when he did, a butterfly knife appeared in her hand and she thrust it into him again and again, until he was still on the floor. He watched her clean up, a meticulous affair, then watched her take the body down and roll it into the lake Albano. She stood for a time near the water watching it, bathed in blood and moonlight. He’d never seen anything so magnificent in his life. She stood alone, her neck rolling and then looking up at the waxing moon, remote and content.

Seth Baston. They were going into the restaurant now, and she smiled, his hand guiding her at the small of her back. She was trying to find something, something she could never, never find in this man. What she was trying to find could not be found in anyone other than himself. And it was time to begin showing her. She would resist, he expected it. And the dance that would soon follow would be nothing short of delicious. He left them for the time being. There were things to prepare.

The first purchase in Rome was renting the entire Villa Caetana at Appia Antica for six month. He had chosen it for a number of reasons, the least of which was not it’s overall craftsmanship and appropriate furnishing. For his purposes, it was also ideal for it’s privacy, having extensive grounds and gardens surrounded by olive trees, Norway spruce and cherry laurel. Lining the gravel driveway were the ubiquitous cypress trees, lonesome and almost macabre in their supercilious manner. The wildflowers of the gardens also appealed to him, grasses and hedges giving way to jasmine, gentian, primrose and campion, all useful in their respective ways. They would come in useful after winter when they returned from their hibernation. In the meantime, there was the remnants of saffron drops, thistles and hallucinogenic fly agaric, with their whimsical orange heads nestled among the damp, mossy floor of earth beneath spruces and birch trees.

The courtyard and veranda were covered in stone that had not moved for many years, still covered by moss despite the dropping temperature. Unlike most deprived flora and fauna, the hardy moss withstands. The traditional Spanish influence of the villa is apparent in its gabled roof, hood ornaments and tall, arched windows. The apricot facade is covered in wisteria and honeysuckle, obscuring some of the windows and toning down the overall color of the structure. There is a garden at the center accessed through a portico with an iron gate; it is through here which one would enter the villa, itself. Within the courtyard is a covered walkway around the entirety of the rectangular space, held up by columns which have also become a home to the extremities of the vines. There is a fire pit and a small fountain at the center.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter sits in front of the stone fireplace in a leather wing back chair, admiring his recently purchased piano. It had arrived the previous day, shipped from Hungary. The materials were imported from Indonesia. It was not the kind he would ordinarily have chosen. It was a Fazioli, a good Italian brand, but a special model finished with Amboina burr. It is a rare and precious material and it is organic in its marbled pattern and primarily the color of amber. In the firelight, he looks at it, and thinks of Clarice’s hair in the sun.

A week passed, and while Seth Baston fell in love with Clarice Starling, Hannibal Lecter shopped. He bought many varieties of clothes for both men and women, other instruments from the antique collection at Bobò Leonello and cooking supplies. He had been unable to bring his bone saw and skull key, but had decided it was worth regaining, even though it required another trip to a hospital with which he was less familiar. While he gained the blueprints and studied them at his leisure, Seth invited Clarice to his cottage in Sabina, and she agreed. This was pleasing to Dr. Lecter, as it positioned them closer than the half hour ride to Rome, but not too close for comfort. It had been less than a month since the start of their affair, and their lovemaking had already dwindled, and had been lacking in heat and passion from the beginning. All of the fire brought to it was brought by Clarice, and the man who watched from beneath her could only seem to shudder in awe and sweet despair.

How often do we know that something is terribly wrong with something, a place or even a person, and still do nothing? Is it fear of discourtesy and offense? Is it fear of seeming foolish? In any case, Seth seems to ignore whatever primal sense whispers of Starling’s feral viciousness lurking beneath her lovely facade, and enters her again on a Saturday night. Dr. Lecter finds that a feeling has begun to blossom inside of himself, and does not recognize what it is, immediately. It was something like anger. It was not quite jealousy, it was more offensive than that; it was like watching an odorous dog trekking through a sacred, marble floor of a cathedral nave.

Having been out for much of the day, perusing the various shops offered on the elegant street of Via Condotti in Rome, Dr. Lecter was happy to be home again, as he drove up the path to his villa. He had bags in tow from Prada, Trussardi and Valentino as he made his way through the iron gate of the portico and stops just inside. There are no lights, sounds or anything else to indicate ttha something is amiss. Nothing but the smell of a woman he recognized after a few short moments. He placed the bags against the wall beneath the protection of the arcade. His movements are silent as he enters the villa, the door closing softly behind him, and it is very dark. He waits quietly for a few breaths until his eyes have adjusted, completely.

The snick of a gun somewhere in the house, and Dr. Lecter goes to the master bedroom, away from the noise. He leaves the door open slightly and takes a seat in the cream colored flora accent chair to the left to wait. Her smell grew stronger as she approached, and when the very tip of her gun appeared through the door, Dr. Lecter moved with deadly speed, ramming the door closed on her wrists. She screamed as the gun clattered to the tiled floor and Dr. Lecter kicked it aside as he opened the door. She came at him, and he grabbed both her arms and flung her into the wall behind her, and then pinned her against it. Fear mixed with her perfume now, and Dr. Lecter sampled it, before looking into the angry, red eyes of Ardelia Mapp.

“Ms. Mapp. You don’t have a warrant I take it. This is an unexpected and uninvited visit.”

Ardelia did what she could to slow her breath and form a response, frustrated by the monster’s calm.

“I don’t have a warrant because I’m not here as an agent.” She was breathing hard and fast.

“I assumed. Whom was it you were really hoping to find, hmm? Do you think I have her locked away in a romantic, Italian oubliette? Or perhaps in air-tight bags in my walk-in freezer.”

“Neither.”

“Tell me something,” he said, moving closer and tightening his grip until she winced,” what was the best case scenario you imagined in this locale? Remember that in this moment you have broken into my home without a badge and are now unarmed.”

“Would you believe me if I said I just want to talk?”

“Not at all. But I invite you to do so, now.”

“I want to know where she is.”

Dr. Lecter tilted his head a micron. “You don’t know?”

Ardelia paused, before shaking her head. Dr. Lecter pursed his lips.

“I see. And you’re hoping I will enlighten you as to her whereabouts, is that it? Old chums that we are.”

“Yes.”

A pause.

“Are you feeling foolish yet, Ms. Mapp?”

She swallowed, but her cheeks flinched and she stood her ground as best she could. “Better to feel foolish than to feel useless.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure I agree. Tell me this, had you planned to kill me?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t care about you any more than you care about me.”

“I can appreciate that, Ms. Mapp. However, at present we are at odds.”

“Why? I just want to know where she is. I told you, I don’t care what you do or where you go. I just want her back.” Ardelia grimaced when he laughed.

“There is no getting her back. Don’t you know that?” He said in the kindest of tones and another tilt of his head. He continued:

“Special Agent Starling is gone. Who has taken her place is not entirely unlike her, that is for certain. What makes her special now is that she is almost entirely unfettered. To take her back now is to imprison her in more than one way, and you know it. Starling has flown, and to bring her back into a cage is to bring a wild thing into your house. There will be damage.”

Tears had come down her face and her mouth quivered as she took a breath.

“I know, I just...I want to talk to her.”

“Is it closure you’re after? She gave it to you the best she could in Mason’s barn. She made great effort to do so, and you didn’t even see it. Do you have the slightest idea the state she was in? Amidst all of it she managed to shoo you away like a renegade stray to spare your life. She even told you what you meant to her, in spite of not being able to actually feel it, or anything, in the moment. She did that for you, and all of you, her so-called friends and peers never once took a moment to see how much of herself she gave to keep you. Little Starling has flown. Do what a true friend does and wish her well. Celebrate her newfound freedom.”

“Is that what you’re doing?”

Dr. Lecter pulled her to him and then thrust her back into the wall, knocking the breath out of her momentarily. Then he was calm and polite again, a pleasant smile on his face as though she was a neighbor at his front door.

“Don’t test me, Ms. Mapp. You are in the quiet of my home, and I have many different ways to put you on my table. I bought a bushel of local lacinato kale at the market for a tagliata. A nice, fresh fillet would compliment it nicely.”

“I don’t know what kind of sick relationship you think you can have with Clarice, but I think the fact that you’re not sure whether she’ll kill you is of some particular fascination for someone like you. But I will tell you this: kill me, and you will tip that scale.”

“Now, Ms. Mapp. That is the first intelligent thing you’ve said so far. On the whole, unimpressive, but a droll occasion, nonetheless.”

“I want to make a deal.”

“You’re here, you may as well peddle your desperation. Your behavior is a sad cousin to her prodigious coup d’etat, after all.”

“Tell me where to find her. Let me have my closure, as you call it. I’ll go home and leave you both alone for the rest of my life. But know that if I ever, ever find out that you’ve harmed her in any way, I will find you again and I will kill you. You can articulate your insulting poetry about me all you want, but we both know that I am the only person to have ever found you. And I think considering the circumstances, I still have a chance of leaving this house alive.”

“How did you find me? If it is anything other than following in Clarice’s footsteps, I’ll be astounded.”

Ardelia recognized that some childish, egotistical part of her did want to astound Hannibal Lecter. But to do so, she would have to lie, and he would know. If he caught a single whiff of bullshit, she may very well be served with a wine sauce, possibly to her best friend.

“As much as I’d appreciate the sight of you amazed, I’ll have to pass. That’s exactly right.”

“Mmm. You could almost pass for intelligent, swallowing that lump of pride in your throat. It was delicious to watch. Thank you, for that.”

“So what’s it going to be?”

Dr. Lecter leaned back, the red pointed tip of his tongue emerging from his mouth and touching the center of his upper lip. It retracted again and he hummed for a moment.

“I will consent under one more term of my own.”

“What?”

“When you meet with her, I want you to give her something for me.”

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Christmas lights are strung along the length of Via dei Condotti, and in the night, heavy with impending rain, they appear as dew along the gossamer of a lengthy laddered web. The cobbled street of Rome’s principle shopping channel is crowded with locals who are off for the duration between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany, January sixth. Among them are Clarice Starling, Misrak and Abraham Saleh, and Seth Baston. They pass around the Fendi Christmas tree, and Starling threads an arm through Seth’s. Misrak is smiling, light and happy and points when there is lightening in the distance.

“I should get going, soon. I have a long ride on the metro,” said Starling, and Seth nudged her, lightly.

“Don’t be silly, cara mia. I’ll drive you,” he said. Seth felt her stiffen at his side, and he wondered if the term of endearment had made her uncomfortable. He tried to think if he’d said it, before.

“You don’t need to do that. It wont be fun in this traffic,” she said, and leaning closer,” besides, tonight isn’t a good night to sleep over. I need some real sleep,” she said, and he smiled.

“I didn’t know I was disturbing your sleep,” he responded, with his eyebrows raised.

“Oh, don’t be like that. Please don’t take it personally. But I do enjoy having my own space, and I’m better to you for it, trust me. “

“I’m not offended,” he said, a soft smile now. “ But I do insist on escorting you home. “

“Oh, do you?” she grinned. He nodded.

“You’re heading home, Honey?” asked Misrak, and Starling nodded.

“You should definitely go with him, Honey. It’s safer.”

Starling laughed internally, but nodded.

“She’s right,” agreed Abe, with a nod.

“See? You should listen to your friend. Thank you, Misrak.”

“Misrak,” repeated Misrak.

“Hmm?” Seth cocked his head.

“It’s pronounced, ‘Mis-rak’, you got to choke the k,” she explained. Starling chuckled, and felt a drop of rain on the crown of her head and looked up as it it began to lightly mist.

“I’ll work on that,” laughed Seth, and as they hugged, waved and parted ways, Starling felt eyes moving over her wherever she went. Seth was quiet in the car as they made their way toward her neighborhood, and she watched the people through the window, the dark, closed shops and the rain that began to come down harder. At her flat, she put a warm hand on top of Seth’s before kissing him. He took out his umbrella and came around to her side, to let her out and lead her to the portico.

“Winnie, before you go,” he began, once they were out of the rain,” can I ask you something?”

“Of course, what is it?”

“Did it bother you, me calling you cara mia?”

Her lips parted and her eyes moved to the street behind him for a moment, before returning to his.

“No, of course not.”

“You can tell me if does. I wont be offended.”

Starling didn’t know why it bothered her, or perhaps she did but it was far too deeply buried in the ether of unconscious. She smiled and shook her head.

“I’m...I’m sorry Seth, I don’t know why. But yes, it does. A little.”

He nodded, seemingly prepared for such an answer.

“It’s alright,” he reassured her, a hand on her cheek.

“You don’t have to explain yourself. I wont call you that. Is there something you’d prefer?”

She thought a moment and then smiled.

“Yes. Winnie.” They laughed, and Starling kissed him again, frustrated when she felt nothing. She watched him pull away from inside, and then turned to make her way to the door. Her keys were noisy in the quiet corridor, and when she was inside, she dropped them into her jacket pocket before hanging it on the coat tree. Starling’s flat came furnished, and she had changed nothing about it, other than hanging her clothes and arranging her toiletries. In the corner of the room is a desk and swivel chair next to the window unit. The curtains were open, and the light from the neighborhood lit the dark room. Ardelia Mapp sat in the swivel chair facing Starling, who stood still, watching her. Ardelia held a gun in her right hand, pointed down.

“Hey, girl,” said Ardelia, putting an ankle onto her knee.

“Buonasera, mia amico.”

“You look good.”

“You look exhausted. Did you just get in?”

“Nope.”

“How did you find me?”

“Let’s get to that in a bit. Can we talk? Do I need this?” Ardelia gestured to the gun in her hand, and Starling kept her eyes locked on Ardelia’s.

“I don’t know, do you?”

“Honestly, Clarice...I just wanted to see you. I needed to know you were alright.”

“I think you needed to know if you were alright. Looking at you, you’re not.”

“Why does it have to be like this?”

“Dee...” Starling ran a hand through her damp hair and sighed.

“I’m not here as an agent, okay? This isn’t even the first misdemeanor I’ve committed, this week. The only reason I have this gun is to protect myself.”

“You don’t need protection from me. So long as I don’t need to defend myself.”

“You don’t.”

The two women looked at one another, and Ardelia felt the threat of hot tears, once more. Starling went to her, and Ardelia put the gun in its holster as she stood, grunting in Starling’s embrace. The tears came, and with it came full body shudders as she sobbed in Starling’s arms. She smoothed Ardelia's hair, and hushed her like a child. They went to their knees, Ardelia in her arms and they swayed, growing quiet, for a long time. As midnight drew near, the women had curled up on the floor on top of several quilts and pillows at the foot of Starling’s twin bed in front of the heating unit. She had given Ardelia a pair of silk pajamas, and she watched her stretch like a cat, enjoying the feel of the luxurious material.

“Is it a requirement to wear silk to bed in Italy?” joked Ardelia. Starling smiled, and rolled onto her side, propping herself on an elbow.

“Not that I know of, but it feels damn good, doesn’t it?”

“It’s like being in water,” she answered, and Starling nodded and smiled.

“So...any men in your life?” Ardelia asked with a raised eyebrow. Starling gave her a cheeky look, and Ardelia chuckled.

“Have you been following me?” asked Starling, and Ardelia squeezed her eyes shut.

“Dee!” Starling playfully hit her thigh and Ardelia rolled onto her back and covered her face.

“I’m sorry, what was I supposed to do?”

“I told you want to do. I told you to go home.”

“I did,” Ardelia responded, her voice turning serious as she rolled back onto her side to look at Starling.

“I just needed...”

“Closure.”

Ardelia looked at Starling sharply and then nodded, dolefully.

“Were you following me in Thailand?”

Ardelia looked at her, confused. “No...why?”

“Don’t worry about it. Are you getting it, by any chance?”

“Getting what?”

“Closure.”

“Ah...Mostly.”

“What more?”

Ardelia sighed.

“I have to ask you a really terrible question, Clarice. But you have to know that I’m asking as a friend, not as law enforcement.”

“Go.”

“Have you killed anyone since Muskrat Farm?”

Starling rolled her eyes. “ Come on, Dee. Were any of those people at Mason’s innocent?”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Starling looked at her friend, and could see that some part of her, some need for structure and understanding the world around her plead with her to just give her a reason to let go of it all. She could see what Ardelia was really asking her for.

“No, Dee. “

Ardelia seemed grateful and satisfied, and let out a long, ragged breath.

“You don’t need to chase me. You don’t need to worry about me. I always did alright on my own.”

Ardelia tensed again, only it was almost worse than before.

“Jesus, what now?”

“It’s about how I found you,” she started, and her voice became full of contempt. “ Coming here to see you required stipulations.”

Starling’s eyes darkened, as she watched Ardelia stand and take something out of her bag. Her heart began leaping wildly, like a bird trapped in a room. Ardelia held the letter by one corner between thumb and forefinger, as though it was a dead animal. When she saw her name in Dr. Lecter’s copperplate written on the front, it felt as though someone poured something cold down the front of her. She had not felt so much since the last time she’d seen him, strapped to a singletree...immobile and docile.

“You’ve seen him?” she asked, her voice low and dark.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him.”

“And he let you come to me?”

“Yes. If I gave you that.”

“So he knows exactly where I am, and has probably known for awhile.”

“Yeah. I don’t know how long.”

“Fucking hell. What happened?” she asked, setting the letter to the side, unable to look at it for the time being. She looked at Ardelia instead, who blew air out of her mouth with her lips pursed.

“I found him the same way you almost did. But partly it’s because Paul Krendler came to Italy for vacation. You know those two..” Ardelia stopped, realizing she was on the verge of reminding Starling of being tortured for months in that horrible, dirty room.

“Go ahead,” Starling urged her.

“Those two men that...did all-”

“The men who tortured me?”

Ardelia swallowed and nodded.

“They’re dead, aren’t they?”

“One is. The other is mutilated beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Beyond the hope of ever having a real life.”

“What, worse than Mason?” Starling laughed, dryly.

“Well..yes. And without the money.”

“Oh.”

“It got me thinking that he’d probably want Paul, too.”

“Is Paul dead?”
Starling asked the question as if the answer made no possible difference, and it unnerved her. He was right about her, she realized. But then, she already really knew it. Clarice was not like her and not like Lecter. She was something...in between.

“I’m not sure. Lecter doesn’t know that’s partly what brought me to Italy looking for him. Beyond that, I just flagged every expensive thing on your list of his preferences. It was that and also luck, to be honest.”

“Who knows you’re here, Ardelia?”

“No one. I swear on my grandmomma’s life.”

Starling seemed satisfied and nodded. Ardelia came to sit cross-legged in front of her, and Starling mimicked the posture.

“Listen, Clarice...I have this theory that’s not easy to think, let alone hear. But I think you should hear it. And from a friend. And after tonight, I have to go back home. And I’ll stay there, if it’s what you need.”

“Tell me.”

“I think Hannibal Lecter is in love with you.”

 

In the morning when it was very early, they went to the roof and watched the sun rise. The rain had stopped, but it was chilly, and they bundled up and shared Starling’s thickest quilt. The Palazzo Eni was hazy in the distance, the tangerine of the emerging sun just to the left. When it was still a little dark, Starling went with her to the airport. They hugged for long minutes in the quiet of the terminal.

“Are you spending Christmas with your family?” Starling asked into Ardelia’s shoulder.

“Of course.”

“Good. I love you, Dee.”

“I love you too, girl.” Ardelia leaned back, and took her head in both her hands.

“Be careful.”

“Always am. I can handle it, Dee. I promise.”

All she could do was believe Starling, and Ardelia gave her a single nod, the confidence returning to her sturdy, brown countenance.

“Goodbye Cl-Winnie.”

“Addio, Ardelia.”

Starling was impatient now, riding back home on the metro. Seth had texted her, and she ignored it. At home, she was quiet and had a knife drawn when she entered. She scanned the small flat quickly, and saw that she was alone. She locked the door and shut the curtains. She sat back on the pallet and looked at the letter for five minutes before picking it up. She had never touched one of his letters with her bare hands, and something about it was exhilarating. It was smooth and heavy in her hands as she unfolded it.

La mia cara Clarice, mi chiedo come sei venuta insieme con l'italiano? Immagino che in tali circostanze, si preferisce mi rivolgo a tutto il resto della nostra corrispondenza nella vostra lingua madre.
The last chasm between our meetings was a longer one, this last year and half a mere fissure. I’ve thought of you often. Despite what you may think, I have not followed you for long; it was never my intent. I had my own ‘Lorens’ that required my attention. At a later time, I should very much enjoy a thorough explanation of that experience, from your perspective. Was it illuminating? Hmm, I wonder…
There are many hard nodules in the wood grain of your mind that you have come to explore on your own terms. There are others still, unexplored galleries, which you have yet to approach. You can do so much on your own, my dear. Has it occurred to you that having a companion is not a sign of weakness, but an opportunity for enrichment? You don’t need to decide, now. I suggest giving it some consideration in the coming days.
There is much for us to discuss, but until next we meet, I invite you to go on with your life uninterrupted. I will not facilitate or intrude for the time being. When I do come to you, I will do what I can to ease any lingering trepidation to which you may still clutch. Understand that I only wish to be of service. There is no need for a war, but I hope you also understand that I will not hesitate to defend myself, and I have been doing this much longer than you, cara mia.

Yours truly,

Hannibal Lecter, M.D.

P.S. I love what you’ve done with your hair, but know this: your resilient beauty is the least interesting thing about you.

By the third time she’d read it, she realized that the compliment he gave her at the end of the letter was, in a way, the inverse of Seth’s. Starling frowned when she realized the letter was shaking, because her hands were. She let it fall to the blanket. She didn’t want to leave Italy. She wondered if this was how he had felt when he’d had to flee Florence.

Her time in Italy had been the first time she’d felt a sense of near normalcy in such a long time. She had friends and a lover. She had a decent, low-stress job, and she was learning two languages. Seth had even offered her his recommendation for a position in the technology department of his sister gallery, the Tor Marancia Street Art. When he’d first mentioned it, she’d said, “But don’t you know, the life of a confectioner is so sweet.” But the idea to be in the world of technology again was appealing, as well as the paycheck.

She wiped at tears she hadn’t realized were there. She would not leave. She would not run. And it was that stubbornness that he was counting on, she knew. And yet, if she left, she would be cutting off her nose to spite her face. He had purposefully put her in a position in which no decision was of her own making. It made her angry.

He surely would expect that Ardelia had told her where to find him. She could go there, on her own terms, but it would be on his turf. Even if she managed to surprise him. And whether she could surprise him was questionable. If he knew where she was, if he knew where she was, now...he could be watching her, now. Technological surveillance really didn’t seem like his style, so after a preliminary search, she was satisfied that her flat was not bugged. She made a decision, standing in the middle of the small living space, and shut the curtains.

Under the bed was a duffel bag and she pulled it out. Inside was a pair of fatigues, utility boots, an automatic with four clips, a rifle in its case, a first aid kit, two butterfly knives, a boot knife, a light bearing tactical holster, a plate carrier and a can of mace. She left it on the bed while she showered, and then put on the fatigues with a thermal beneath the carrier plate, and then a moss colored tactical soft shell jacket. Her hair went into a ponytail, her jewelry remained on the bathroom counter, and the boots went on, last. She turned on the radio on the desk and plugged in her electrical timer, programming it to go off at irregular intervals. She did not look in the mirror before leaving.

Chapter Text

Starling went back to the roof, staying low. Making her way to the back, she peered over the edge. The building was only four stories tall, but was still a long way to fall. Maneuvering out over the edge and gaining her footing to a neighbor’s balcony was the worst part. From the other side, she was able to climb down on the ventilation pipelines. The side of the building faced an alley, so she was blessedly obscured from any few passersby. It was early on Christmas Eve; there were few people out on this day, at this hour.

She had memorized the address and had mapped out the route on her lap top, and had the visual imprinted in her mind. She made her way down alley after alley for nearly a half hour. The channels grew narrow and she turned a corner and went down a staircase. In the space beneath was an area where a number of motorbikes were parked. She found her own, happy that it had not been stolen or taken apart. She had secured it with a standard lock threaded through the frame and attached it to the post. She had also marked nearly every part with the VIN, vehicle registration and postal code. She had used it once, the day she bought it, about a month after arriving in Italy. She took the duffel bag off of her shoulder to fish out her helmet and riding gloves, before putting it back on her shoulders and unlocking the bike.

The streets were not busy, and as she made her way out of Rome, she had to wonder if he knew. He was beyond intelligent, he was something completely Other, but on the other hand, Starling was quite astute. Having been trained to catch criminals had proved to be rather good training to be one. While she didn’t think he would underestimate her, he had proven to be, on multiple occasions, prone to both arrogance and whimsy. It’s what got him caught, every time.

It was a half hour drive to his villa, and she made the drive carefully, never exceeding the speed limit. She was careful to tuck her hair away in the helmet; it would draw attention, especially Lecter’s. When she began to get closer, she had to go off rode. Not wanting to leave tracks, she had to get off and walk it for close to a mile, before coming to a small, stone pathway with a thicket of trees lining one side and smaller ones separating it from a field on the other. She found cover in the forested area on the other side, in one of the patches of forestry of Appia Antica. Much of the area was fields and other villas for rent, available for locals who wanted a country home and vacationers with deep pockets. Most of the grounds were relatively manicured, but there were other areas that were more wild, and the trees were tall, and more than a little foreboding.

She parked beneath a cluster of cork oak, their spines and limbs twisted and vicious-looking without much of their leaves. Then she walked for a time along an ivy covered stone wall protecting a private property, before she came to one of the fields that separated it from Lecter’s villa. There was no one in sight in any given direction, and she began making the trek across. She was glad of her boots and fatigues, as the tall grass would have torn and snagged her legs and ankles without them. Once across, she had some cover and the high ground. Past the trees and down a winding slope was the polished acreage of the Villa Caetana. It was a little less than a kilometer away. She had gotten low, and came down to her belly, before pulling her bag off her shoulder, slowly and quietly.

First, was her rifle and scope. She could put it on blind, so she never took her eyes off of the villa, still and seemingly uninhabited. A few moments, and then she was looking at the iron gate of the courtyard. She couldn’t see a lock on it, and moved her line of sight to the windows she could see from her angle. There was only one, and it was obscured by vines. In the driveway was an elegant, taupe SUV. There was no other vehicle in sight, but tracks in the gravel that indicated a two-wheel vehicle, perhaps a motorbike not unlike her own. She moved it around, looking at every corner and crevice she could see, and then waited. And waited.

A part of her wanted to just go down, but it was getting bright out, in spite of the clouds. She would’ve felt much more comfortable waiting until dark. Her stomach growled. She set the rifle down and pulled out the granola bar and water bottle from inside her bag, and ate quietly on the grass. By the time she was finished, she’d made another decision. It was going to be a long day. And to let her guard down even for a moment due to something as inane as boredom, was a very, very big no-no. It was going to be a long day. Starling spent Christmas Eve with her belly in the grass, her neck and shoulders aching, on the hill above Hannibal Lecter’s refuge.

Afternoon, evening and finally night came, and no movement. With darkness, she was able to make out what appeared to be a single light source, coming from some part of the house she couldn’t see. It had not been turned on while she was there, of that she was certain. It meant he’d turned it on some time before she’d arrived, and left it on. She decided it was time.

With nothing to do but watch his house for the entirety of the day, Starling had some time to think. She thought about a number of things, the least of which was not what she would do should she encounter him. She had it set straight by the time she made her way down the hill, following along the gravel path in the grass to make less noise. She considered that perhaps she had too much time to think about it. She had come to feel sure that he was not at home at a certain point, because the complete lack of movement or light coupled with the two wheel tracks along the gravel lead her to believe he’d taken a day trip on a motorbike. However, on the other hand, the simplicity and obviousness of it could be that it was exactly the conclusion at which he wanted her to arrive. Or both.

If she had been willing to lie uncomfortably in the cold on a hard, itchy ground for a day, he was certainly willing to sit comfortably in a chair reading, or any manner of things one could do still and quiet in such a dwelling. She approached the iron gate. It opened easily, and she was glad when it made no noise. The fountain made a pleasant, mild tinkling at the center, and to her left was the main entrance; two large, arched double doors leading down a generous, terra cotta corridor were wide open. Hanging chandeliers on either side of the entrance were unlit, but there was a reflection of warm light reflective on the smooth floor. Her rifle was in the strap of her plate carrier at her back, and her automatic was in both her hands, pointed at the floor.

As she made her way inside the silent villa, she was glad of its open layout, and the light source, which she had not yet found. Instead, she searched the dark corners of the home first, making her way around the perimeters, before slowly making her way to the belly, which was the kitchen. It was situated in the corner between a dining room and a sitting room with a hearth. She walked past the stone fireplace and peered into the dark kitchen. It was connected to the dining room, from which the dim light was coming. With her back to the wall, she pivoted around and raised her gun steady in one fluid motion. There was no one there. The villa was empty.

There was a lovely dining room table at the center. It was large and most definitely very heavy, but the tapered sides made its massive size less dominating in the smaller space. Hand carved cherubs and figures lined the sides and legs. It sat eight, the matching walnut chairs with velvet upholstery all tucked in, neatly. At the far end of the table was a credenza with a marble top and etched glass on the front cabinets. On top was a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem and a single wine glass.

Above, there was a circular mural with a teardrop chandelier hanging from the center. It was not on, and in the low light it was difficult to make out exactly what the painting was. It was predominantly blue, and she thought she saw a reaching infant. On the wall was a mirrored, bronze sconce, and it was the light source of the villa. It flickered pleasantly, and her eyes turned back to the table. One place, the one closest to the kitchen, was set. Next to the place setting was a note. Starling holstered her gun and picked it up, something in her chest stirring.

 

Cara mia,

Welcome to my home. As you have most likely discovered, I am not here, and will not return for at least a week. I will be spending the remainder of the holidays in Paris. I would have happily invited you, but I think you are not ready for such a tête-à-tête. In the meantime, I invite you to explore the villa at your leisure and stay as long as you like. The owner will be coming by to check on the property two days after Christmas, so if you would prefer to not be here for such a visit, you know when to vacate.
I know you will most likely spend Christmas unattended, and while that is not my preference, I can at least offer you a comfortable retreat, as well as good food and wine. The Chateau d’Yquem is keyed to your birthday; please consider it my gift to you. In the kitchen there is a partially prepared meal fit for Christmas Eve. It is by and large a traditional Italian feast, but while La Vigilia is often based around seafood and the Festa dei sette pesci, I opted for something more familiar to you. The Feast of the Seven Fish, seven being the symbolic number of Christianity, I think does not suit you ideally at this time, in any event.
There is crostini with prosciutto and figs for an amuse-bouche, stuffed capon as the main course, and naturally, pasta al forno. All you need do to prepare is put the capon and pasta in the steam basket on the stove. The crostini is ready to eat, as is the desert, which includes panettone and torrone with hazelnuts. I suggest pairing the wine with the food and leaving the proscetto for the end, as it serves to cleanse the palette. I am sorry I cannot be there to serve this meal to you freshly, but under the present circumstances, I decided that was not advisable. There will be plenty of occasions in the future, after all, to indulge you.
Speaking of our unorthodox affiliation, I have also included a key to my cellar. I think you will be interested in what you find, there. Be vigilant, as you always are, but I do ask that you make no brash decisions. I wouldn’t want you to interfere with my intended scenario. However, as you may be thinking, I am at your disposal to a degree. If you should choose to be recreationally combative, I will proceed on the footing on which you leave me. All that I can truly ask of you is that you enjoy yourself.
Ti penso ogni giorno.

Yours truly,

Hannibal Lecter, M.D.

Clarice sighed and put the letter down. She eyed the key, picking it up and getting the weighty feel of it in her hand. She turned it over for a moment as she thought, before setting it back down, on top of the letter. She went into the sitting area and put her bag down next to the sofa and stretched. After she’d sat down, she pulled out her cell phone. It had been on silent. Seth had not texted since morning. Good boy, she thought. She would need to make sure he would continue being good, and texted him a simple message back, apologizing for getting back to him so late, telling him she’d taken an impromptu trip to Paris with an old friend, and wished him a merry Christmas. Satisfied, she put it away, and rubbed her eyes.

First, she closed the front doors. It was not freezing, but it was far too cold in the villa. Next, she took care to light the fire. She found firewood propped up against the side in the courtyard, and it was good, fat pine. It didn’t take long to get it going, and after awhile, she opened the bottle of Chateau d’Yquem and poured a glass. There was a nice, flokati rug in front of the fireplace the color of smoke. She drank sitting on the couch, thinking and looking into the fire.

She had arrived at a place where she had little choice but to consider something about herself, where Lecter was concerned. There were a number of options, several of which involve completely fucking him, and not in any way he’d appreciate. It even occurred to her to burn the house down and go back to the city for a late cappuccino. If she was going to leave a message back that said, ‘Don’t fuck with me’, it would certainly do nicely. Goddamned Lecter letters.

Then there was the obvious one of waiting until he got back, at which point she felt confident that she could kill him. She could rig an IED. She’d need to do a little shopping after Christmas day when stores opened to get a cheap, disposable cell phone, an electrical wire, a fuse and a thyroister. She had batteries and electrical tape in her motorbike compartment. Assuming she could get her hands on a thyroister, she’d have the convenient option of wiring into the positive and negative diodes of the speaker on the cell phone board. At that point, she could set up a rudimentary spy cam so that she’d know when he arrived home. By completing the circuit using the vibrating mechanism on the cell phone, she could simply call it, detonating the IED. Voila, pulverized cannibal.

There was also the idea of killing him, herself. That would make her more comfortable, in a way. If she used explosives, she wouldn’t be sure if he was dead, at first. It would be unlikely he’d survive such a blast, but she’d come to expect the unexpected where he was concerned. So there was the option of waiting there until he arrived, at which point she could just shoot him and be done with it. Or she could see what the doctor had lying around in the medicinal department, and shoot him up with a tranquilizer of some sort. Then they could have a farewell chat. A bad idea. You had to watch that mouth of his.

Decisions, decisions. She groaned, setting the glass of wine down and putting her head between her legs.

Balls, why don’t I want to kill him? Fucking hell.

She growled into her legs, and sat up. Why didn’t she want to kill him was one question, the other one was this:

Why don’t I want him as a companion, anyway? Is it because…fuck him and getting what he wants? Is it really so childish as that?

Was it that she wasn’t sure they could ever truly trust one another? What kind of relationship was that? What kind of relationship could they possibly have? What does he expect, that we’ll kill assholes together, serve them with whatever wine he’d selected and play footsie under the table? Beneath whatever ludicrous reality that was, would be the lurking freaks that they were, observing the other and thinking, thinking...planning, planning. She wasn’t sure they’d both survive such a companionship, or romance, the way he’d been talking. The way Ardelia had been talking.

I shouldn’t have given him that non-kiss, whatever that was.

Let’s get all the facts, she thought, before standing and making her way back to the dining room. Let’s see what’s in the cannibal’s cellar. Sounds just like a Christmas Eve I would have.

She made her way down the hall, taking a look into the bedrooms. One of them was bigger than the rest, and she could smell him inside. She went in. The room itself was beautiful in a masculine way, with dark grey walls and a vaulted ceiling, making the scalloped panel molding along the bed’s wall rather dramatic. The bed was a queen and looked very, very comfortable, all in neutral tones and a fabric headboard. She saw herself in a tall, cloudy mirror on the wall across from the door. She closed the door and went on. The other bedrooms were less extravagant, one of them with twin beds and a toy box, apparently in case a family came.

At the end of the hall was a glass door leading into a smaller, circular room with a spiral staircase. Wine cellar doors are generally double-paned and offer good insulation and temperature controlling. While double-paned glass offers more noise reduction than a single pane, it is still relatively prone to escaping sound. Apparently, the doctor had alleviated this issue by attaching a fiber board and soundproofing mat to the cellar door. He had also attached cabinet handles to it, for easy removal. When Starling closed the door behind her, she drew her gun. At the bottom was an extensive wine collection, which came as no surprise. Each wall was covered in their length with wine racks. One wall seemed to jut out slightly, obscuring a corner. At the end was another door with a light on.

She proceeded around the first corner wearily, but there was only a small table and two chairs. She continued to the door at the end. She knocked on it, and something moved. She heard a muffled, masculine voice. She went in and stood in the doorway, her gun at her side.

Paul Krendler was sitting on the floor, his knees to his chest and feet bare. He wore ankle cuffs to limit his movement to a slow shuffle and a girdle around his waist confined him to the room with ample slack. He had taken off his tie and put it around his head. A string of saliva connected his lower lip to his chest. He looked up at her after a few moments.

“Hiiii,” he drawled.

“Hello, Paul,” she said, an amused expression on her face as she holstered the gun. She looked around a moment. There was a toilet and sink in the corner, and a cot against the left wall.

“Starling? Is that you?” He said, apparently having recognized her. She looked back at him, and he had opened his knees like a child might, and wagged them back and forth. There was a scar along his hairline.

“Yes, Paul. It’s Starling.” She turned to look at the wall Paul faced. There was a runner with dried food and canned goods.

“Not a bad setup you’ve got here, huh?” she commented.

“What?” he yelled. He let his tongue protrude slightly, and after a moment made a sucking sound and it tucked away into his mouth.

“Are you comfortable?” she asked.

“Uh...yeah. But this stuff on my feet is annoying.”

Clarice nodded, and put a finger to her mouth.

“You look sexy, Starling.”

She closed her eyes and nodded. “Thanks, Paul.”

“Hey, Starling...I always wanted to know...aren’t you awfully big to be fucking your daddy?”

Starling pursed her lips. “You’ve been saving that one, I take it?”

“For the perfect moment,” Paul answered, his smile crooked.

“And the perfect moment was post lobotomy in a cannibal’s cellar? I’m guessing it wasn’t your first choice.”

“What?”

“Nothing, Paul. Don’t worry about it.”

“Heeey, Starling?”

Clarice straightened up and sighed, before crossing her arms.

“Yes, Paul?”

“Do you like big cock? Mine is almost eight inches and wiiiiide,” he smiled, unpleasantly.

“Oh, fuck yeah. That’s pretty much the perfect size. Cocks on the thin size go from medium-rare to medium-well in, oh, about thirty seconds in the frying pan. It really doesn’t make for a very good sandwich. It’s so important to get a nice sear around the edges, especially along the frenulum. It’s the most tender part, goes great with horseradish.”

“Are you fucking Lecter?”

“I have to go for now, Paul. Have you got everything you need?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“See you later, maybe.”

“You have a hot ass!” he screamed after her. The door muffled whatever else he may have said, and she made her way back upstairs.

The food was delicious. She’d have to be sure and give compliments to the chef, among other things. Sitting on the flokati rug with a glass of prosecco, the fire was in full blaze and very warm. She stretched out in front of it after a time, and closed her eyes. Her neck and shoulders were still sore, and she couldn’t get comfortable. After a long bath in the master bathroom, she dawned a long, silk wrap rope hung on a hook next to a longer fleece one. They were both black. She stood in front of his bed for a few minutes. Was it too weird and fucked up to sleep in his bed? She had no compass for such things, anymore, so the question went unanswered and uninteresting. She climbed in, and it felt exquisite.

The four days Starling spent at Villa Caetana were great. On the second day she found a cherry humidor with Toscano cigars on a bookshelf in the sitting room. She took one outside and sat at the antique copper bistro table, putting her feet up at midday when it was a little warmer. There were also some records which she looked through. She eventually selected the Bruno Martino record “Night Games” and drank the rest of the Chateau while giving herself a manicure with the Wusthof manicure set in Lecter’s bathroom. She visited Paul once more, just to make sure he hadn’t somehow killed himself, and returned back upstairs.

She was almost sad to go on the fourth day, but a part of her did miss having a space that was hers alone. Her motorbike was where she’d left it. At her flat, she let her bag fall from her shoulder, and found herself crashing onto her twin bed. Her shoulders were still tight, and she considered booking an appointment with a masseuse. After she didn’t fall asleep, she got up, dressed in her running clothes and called Seth.

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The gym is a different experience in Italy. It had taken Starling awhile to find one that was suitable, as well as in her price range. The closest to appealing was the Woldorf Astoria, a very nice atmosphere. Unfortunately, it was also an unequivocally see-and-be-seen luxury spa that was comically expensive and seemed more about wearing wildly inappropriate clothes for working out and then standing by a fountain to peacock.

Gyms in Italy do not, as a general rule, have air-conditioning. God forbid someone die tragically of “the chill”, or as natives said it, colpo d’aria! Starling could deal with it. After all, what is a workout in which you don’t sweat? What she did have trouble dealing with was the lack of interest in any kind of cross fit regiment, or any real workout at all, really. The gym-goers who wore leather pants on treadmills and high heels for low-impact aerobics just made her cringe.

She had generally felt like a mangy dog at the gym, she supposed because she was actually working out. And looked like it and smelled like, too. That was why seeing Seth there had drawn her to the gym she’d been going to. Seeing someone who was an authentic ‘fitness freak’ was comforting. It was also not usually very crowded, and being located in the basement of what must have been a four-hundred year old building, tucked away just South of the Spanish steps, made it nice and low-key. And then there was Seth. When she got him on the phone and asked him if he wanted to join her, he informed her that the gym had closed, due for ‘renovations’. She asked how long it was supposed to be and he laughed.

“Winnie, there aren’t going to be any renovations. It’s not coming back. A lot of gyms just don’t last long here. Italians are just not into it.”

“Well, they’re certainly into getting way too close and walking around emphatically, balls swinging.”

“Italians don’t need a gym for that.”

“Good point,” she agreed, running a hand through her hair and wincing.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I just...I slept wrong, I guess. My shoulders and neck are killing me. I was hoping if I got a good workout in, it would help set things right.”

“Well...” he mused, and Starling smiled. His voice was rather sexy over the phone. She almost felt attracted to him, when she only heard his voice. Soft and crooning, the mild accent…

“We could go for a proper run. Have you ever run Villa Pamphili?”

Villa Pamphili was a truly picturesque route. The paths that lead up from the Tiber are particularly charming, and the last time she’d gone exploring, she reached the Principe Amedeo Bridge leading to the viewpoint at Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi, from the Vatican. It had been one of the best runs she’d ever had.

“Hmm, that sounds perfect, actually. I knew there was a reason I kept you around, you’re a genius.”

“I have my moments,” he said, and then,” you know it’s intersected by the road Leone XIII, which was built on the occasion of the Olympic Games in 1960.”

“I did not. That’s a nice bit of trivia.”

“As is my life, my...Winnie.” Starling sat up, crossing her legs. She had the phone pinned between shoulder and chin and she took it in her hand.

“Are you alright? You’re in a funny mood.”

“Am I that transparent?”

“You saw your sister, huh?”

“Yeah, she’s in town. Actually, I was hoping you’d like to meet her,” Seth said, tentatively.

“Ah, is that what the tension is? Worried about asking me or worried about me meeting her?”

“Worried about asking you,” he admitted, but she could tell he said it through a smile.

“I’m sorry. I haven’t been completely approachable have I?” Starling said, biting her lip.

“Not from the very beginning, but for some reason, I find it irresistible.”

“I’m not surprised. After all, you went after a gold metal. You clearly have a thing about going after things you deem difficult or impossible.”

“Your acumen is a little scary sometimes. Winnie, I really don’t want you to feel like a conquest. You’re not a metal. You’re an extraordinary woman, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know you. I want you in my life. It’s partly why I want you to meet my sister. She means a lot to me, and so do you. It would be amazing to have two women I care for under the same roof. But at the same time, I want to be scrupulous about not pushing you into anything too fast. It’s only been a month, so if you’re uncomfortable meeting a family member, I understand.”

“When and where?”

There was a pause on the other line, and perhaps a small sound. He must have been doing some sort of silent victory gesture.

“She’s getting her townhouse renovated and prepared for a massive gala for the Epiphany. Not very traditional by Italian standards, but she’s not an Italian, so to her it’s just an excuse to throw a party. It will be in full swing by nine. Would you be willing to make an appearance? She’s very excited to meet you. I promise it won’t be one of those situations where you’re just sucked into the under toe of party-goers. Admittedly, she has become a bit of a socialite, but she does have substance, I swear.”

“You don’t have to defend anything Seth, I’d be happy to go.”

“Thank you, Winnie. So...about that run. We’ll have to face the climb to the Gianicolo hill. Are you sure you’re up for that?”

Starling stood and stretched.

“Oh, yeah. I can't wait to climb that fucker.”

Seth laughed heartily, and it was masculine and chalky, in an appealing way. She smiled.

“Afterwards, would you like to come back to my place for a shower and a massage? Promise to be gentle.”

“Better not.”

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The Epiphany was on January sixth, which gave Starling ten days to find something to wear. At one time, that would’ve seemed like nine days more than she’d need. Her tastes had begun to grow positively Byzantinian, however. At the same time, as good as she was at saving money, she simply could not afford what was truly appropriate for such an event. She had decided to call Misrak when she returned home to be her 'amica della shopping'.

After the jog, she had spent the night with Seth. It had been a very pleasant evening. They’d stayed up late playing dominoes, and the storm that came had somehow completed the evening. He had a game room, with a billiards and poker table. Instead, they’d opted to sit at the banquette window seating off of the kitchen, making it a more intimate and domestic feel that she liked. She’d been beating him by nearly thirty points when she’d put down another piece.

“Fifteen,” she said. Seth had been keeping score, and he gave her a feigned expression of contempt before writing it down.

“Don’t you know you’re supposed to let the man win?” he teased.

“I think I must have been absent in school the day they taught that. My apologies,” Starling said, an eyebrow raised.

Smiling, he took his turn. “Six,” he joked, and Starling laughed.

“I’m not sure six is a score...”

“You might be right.”

A pause, and Starling played again.

“Fifteen. Again. Sorry,” she smiled gleefully and Seth shook his head.

“Bugger.”

She let him catch up about ten points, before scoring again until she won.

“Domino,” she said, putting her cheek in her hand.

“You’re a little shit when you’re competitive. Do you know that?” He said, but he was grinning.

“I’ve been informed.”

“Have you ever won an award? A competition?” He asked, curiously.

Pistol champion three years running.

“Nope.”

“I’m surprised. You seem like the competitive type.”

She stood and pushed the game aside.

“I can be.”

“What kinds of competitions do you like?” He asked, coming around the table to meet her, a brazen look in his eyes.

“The kinds I think I’ll win,” she replied, looking up at him. She stretched out a leg and he took her ankle for a moment. She smiled and took it back before standing.

“What kind is that?” he asked, putting his hands on her hips, before guiding her backward toward the bedroom.

“That depends on who I’m up against,” she said, and bit his lips.

The next morning she left after breakfast with Seth at The Loft. It was his favorite place to go because they had so many vegetarian options. Her beau being vegetarian was not an irony that escaped Starling. When she got back to her flat, she called Misrak and planned to meet with her at the Borghetto Flaminio flea market to go jewelry hunting in one hour. She liked buying unique, rare small pieces and then building around it. The flea market was perfect, because if you went early enough, you could find some really great bargains.

She hopped in the shower and afterwards, wrapped herself in a towel and padded into her small, walk-in closet. She stopped halfway through the door and stood for a moment. Then she backed up. A black, vinyl garment bag was hanging from the closet door. Where there was a garment bag...

She looked down, and there it was. A Manolo Blahnik shoe box. She took them and put them on the bed. Her damp hair was still dripping a little, and there was a small puddle on the floor by the time she opened the bag. Without taking it out, she could see that it was from Armani. She stood up straight again, holding an elbow with one hand and a chin with the other. Somehow, she’d known that he would want to dress her, at some point.

“Alright,” she said after a few moments, and carefully pulled the dress out. After holding it up for a moment, she went to the closet and carefully hung it, so she could see it in it’s length a few steps back. Then she said out loud, “Jesus.”

It was a full length evening gown, in ivory and rose gold. Off the shoulder, plunging, and a front left slit with applied metallic lace contouring the neckline, shoulders, waist and small of the back. It was partially sheer in the back, and décolleté in a wrapping V down to just shy of inappropriate. It was absolutely stunning, and she was mildly abashed at the idea of wearing it in public. It wasn’t actually very revealing, she realized. After looking at it a while, what it did show off was predominantly the shoulders, while the bust and back were secondary. It was elegant, but clandestine in it’s provocative nature. Her ears felt hot, and she went to inspect the shoes. She took them out like Faberge eggs and placed them on the plain, navy comforter on her bed.

They were rose gold, mid-heel pumps, with ankle tie loops at the vamps and a d’Orsay silhouette. Delicate and feminine. Lovely, but inconspicuous, to keep the eyes on the dress. To keep the eyes on her. What she read from it was that Hannibal Lecter wanted people to see her, but not too much of her. Or what it read was that he wanted to see her, himself. The fact that it would be in the presence of others could be something he simply tolerated. Last but not least, perhaps he wanted to see her, and to see others seeing her. She sighed and shifted her weight onto one hip.

“I’m tired of being bothered to wonder what you’re thinking,” she said out loud.

Two days later, she went back to the Villa Caetana. She didn’t bother being covert about it, pulling right up into the driveway on her motorbike. She was not concerned with visitors; she’d taken the liberty to set up some rudimentary surveillance of the grounds. She hooked up the feed to her computer, and it was a straightforward task of checking it before she left. He would most likely find it relatively soon upon arriving home, but until then, she’d know whether he was there or not. She made a few tweaks to her first departure, taking care to clean and launder, and anything else to obscure her visit. She didn’t want to cover it up; in fact, she’d taken some very obvious actions that would make it quite clear she had been there. However, to leave it in anything other than mint condition would have been boorish. There was one other thing she needed to attend to, and it was something best left at the tail-end of Dr. Lecter’s absence. She wouldn't want her surprise to spoil.

At work the next day, Misrak was training a new girl, a young Italian woman in white twill capris and a pink tank top and matching scarf. She was a waifish, adorable creature, of whom Starling found herself oddly appreciative. It was nice to no longer be the newest member of the staff. Starling was left to manage in the enrobing room. After her initial incident, Misrak had made sure that she went from amateur to master. Not accounting for the speed at which Starling learned, she quickly became the most efficient person in the enrobing room. Other than this mild turn of events, it was another boring day at work.

The evening which Hannibal Lecter returned home, Starling was out with Misrak, Seth and a woman he’d wanted to introduce her to, Lorenza. She was the head of technology at his sister gallery, and while it was not an interview, their discussion did lead to Starling’s abilities in the realm of technology. Starling sipped at her espresso, her shoulders occasionally rising and falling. She was still trying to work out the kinks.

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Home again, home again and Hannibal Lecter was glad of it. Paris had always been good to him, but it had been an interesting experience wondering whether Clarice Starling had been in his home, and if so, what exactly had occurred in his absence. He thought it very unlikely that she was interested in orchestrating his death or demise, beyond a frivolous, light-hearted fantasy. He could be wrong, he realized, finding that he was not exactly nervous as he pulled into the gravel driveway, but...anticipative.

There was also the chance that she would leave Rome. If she chose to do so, it could prove to be difficult to find her. Fight or flight, of course. While these possibilities seemed somewhat less likely, Hannibal Lecter does not entertain hypotheticals. So as he approaches his home, he has drawn his harpy and his senses are highly engaged. At first, he began to think she had not come at all, so completely unchanged was nearly ever room. It was when he went into his bedroom that he instantly knew she had been present. Her smell was everywhere, most intensely in his bed.

He experienced an involuntary and unexpected throb in both his abdomen and enguin. He inspected the room and bathroom intensively. There was a fingerprint on the sink faucet and a single pubic hair in the bathtub. It was apparent, and he had to wonder if she’d left it on purpose. Especially considering that everything else, including the bed, was immaculate. There was not a single sign that she’d been in it, but he could smell her on the sheets. For a moment he pauses at the foot board, his hand hovering over the folded feather duvet; perhaps considering whether to get in and give it a sniff, but he moves away. Something had been strange. The place setting he had left for her was still there. She could’ve not used it, of course. But something about it had been off. He returned to the dining room.

The place setting was arranged, but it was not quite the one he’d set out, himself. Also, at first, he thought his letter and the cellar key were still placed beside it, but on closer inspection, it was not his letter. It was a letter written in her own hand. He tilts his sleek, dark head a micron as he stands erect and still, looking down at it before picking it up.

Dottore,

Il mio italiano è migliorato negli ultimi mesi, ma ammettiamolo, l'inglese è più facile per me leggere e scrivere. Tuttavia, tra te e me, ci sono alcune cose meglio detto con una lingua romantica. Prendi la frase "Non tutte ciambelle venire col un buco". Un modo affascinante per dire che le cose non sempre funzionano come pianificato.

At the risk of appearing ‘recreationally combative’ (I love it!), I have taken certain liberties with your cellar pantry. Speaking of your pantry, I have to thank you for the meal you prepared. It was divine.

Perhaps it is not explicitly the requiting which you seek, but I prepared a little something for you in return. What I’ve left in your refrigerator may not look appetizing to you at first glance, but I assure you they should be of a similar texture to that of a succulent scallop.

I would have sampled it myself, but I opted out for two reasons: One, my carnivorous habits deviate from your own. Two, Paul Krendler was desperate to get inside of me, and I suppose I’m just stubborn that way. I suggest pairing it with sautéed escarole, maybe grilled radicchio, but that’s just me.

I do intend to go about my days without interruption. If I leave Italy, it will not be because of you. I hope I’ve made that, among other things, crystal clear. I’m really enjoying myself, this is truly a city of sensual delights. Thank you again for your hospitality.

Warmest Regards,

CS

P.S. Thanks also for the shoes and dress.

 

Dr. Lecter held the letter to his nose and inhaled deeply with his eyes closed. After a moment he set it back down and made his way to the kitchen. Inside of his refrigerator was a sealed glass container, and nestled inside was Paul Krendler’s peeled and cooked testicles, with sauteed meuniere.

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TRANSLATIONS:

Starling's letter:

Doctor,

My Italian has improved in recent months, but let's face it, English is easier for me to read and write. However, between you and me, there are some things better said with a romantic language. Take the phrase "Not all donuts come with a hole". A fascinating way to say that things do not always work as planned.

Chapter Text

On the following evening, Starling chose to stay at home alone. Having started her period, she is both relieved and decidedly prickly. She had braided her hair earlier that day, and begins unraveling it now, sitting on her bed with her back against the headboard. She had moved the desk to the foot of the bed and placed a small, portable television on it. She was watching the Dino De Laurentiis film Navajo Joe, partly because she’d found it in a used movie store and found it amusing at the time. It was also because the bloody, vengeful solo rampage of the survivor of a massacre who is subsequently tortured, rescued and participates in an ultimate showdown was so, so right. The film has just begun, the gritty villain having just scalped a peaceful Native American woman, and the grating soundtrack of spirited howling makes her smile. She chuckled at Burt Reynold’s black taupe hairpiece a number of times, and marveled at how a film could be at once, stupid and very good.

A knock at the door made her tense, and she stood quietly, leaving the television on. She took the automatic out from underneath the bed, and crept barefoot to the door, her back at the wall. She was not in the mood for bullshit and she grimaced, feeling her lower back and groin cramp as she stood, waiting. Another knock, and she gripped the automatic in both hands. There wasn’t a damn peephole. A moment later, and her phone rang. She glanced at her bag where it hung from the coat tree, and back at the door. Keeping the gun in her hand, she used the other to fish it out. It was Mizrak. Her shoulders slumped, and she leaned against the wall and sighed. She walked to the television and turned it off while answering the phone.

“Buona sera, mia amica,” she answered, walking back to the front door.

“Hi, Honey, are you okay?”

“Tell me you’re at the door, and I’ll say yes,” said Starling, pausing.

“Yes, it’s me.”

Starling snapped the phone shut and let it slide back into her purse, before unlocking and opening the door. Mizrak was bundled up and shivering.

“Awe, come in, girl,” Starling said, opening the door wide and stepping aside.

After she’d closed the door, Mizrak looked around for a moment, finding no place to sit and turned around. Starling smiled and shrugged.

“I wont be having any dinner parties any time soon,” she said, padding across the small space and sitting on the edge of her bed. She patted the blanket next to her, inviting Mizrak to sit. After she did, Starling hoisted her leg up and held her ankle.

“What’s up?” she asked, and Mizrak was looking at her feet.

“He’s dead.”

Starling was quiet for a moment.

“Who is?”

“Loren.”

“How do you know?” Starling wondered.

“I saw it on the news. They say he was killed.”

“Oh, yeah? Do they know by who?” Starling asked, cocking her head. She was unconcerned even before Mizrak shook her head.

“They’ve taken someone into custody, someone named Pietro. But he hasn’t been charged. Loren
was a drug dealer, so it could’ve been a lot of different people.”

Starling was nodding as she spoke, and put a hand on her shoulder. “So the question is, how do you feel about it?”

Mizrak gave a sudden convulsion before the tears came.

“I feel wonderful! And terrible,” she said, her mouth turning down and her voice breaking.

“Why terrible?”

“Terrible because I feel wonderful,” she mumbled, and Starling leaned over and put both of her arms around her.

“Feelings come and go. It’s up to you whether you choose to hold on and play with them. Feel wonderful, feel terrible...just let yourself feel it, and then let it go.”

“What do you mean?” Mizrak asked, wiping at her face and looking at Starling, who let her go.

“I mean that if you fight what you’re feeling, then the feeling will build and fester and cause damage. Let it all in, and then it all right back out. Like a conductor.”

Mizrak was grimacing in thought.

“That’s...hmm. Yes, yes. I’ll try. Oh, Honey. I just had to talk to you, I had to talk to somebody.”

“You had to get it all out before seeing Abe, didn’t you?”

Mizrak nodded.

“It’s terrible to be experiencing this and have to pretend like nothing has happened, at home.”

“Nothing has happened. Everything is okay. Look around,” she said, her hands up, for a moment.

“Yes, you’re right. I’m normal to feel this way...right?”

“There is no normal. Let that be a comfort to you, it is to me.”

Mizrak smiled and laughed, and Starling smiled, too.

“Oh, Winnie. I almost forgot to tell you. Someone sent you something to the BH,” she said, sniffing and turning away from her to fish around in her bag. Starling frowned.

Mizrak pulled out a box about the length of her forearm and handed it to her.

“There wasn’t a note or anything, a delivery man just came and said it was for Winnie Simard.”

“I’m amazed this fit in your purse,” Starling commented, and Mizrak laughed.

“I like totes.”

“Yes, you do,” Starling murmured, looking at each face of the box, but finding no information. Odd he’d chosen to have it delivered to the Bakery House and not her home. Maybe he was steering clear of confrontation. Had she sensed his presence near her home, it would certainly have put her in a confrontational mood.

“Like I said, no note, no nothing. You think it’s from Seth?”

“Uh, maybe. Or a friend of mine who was in town for Christmas.”

“Well, I’ll let you open it alone. Do you want to open it alone?”

Starling nodded. “Yes, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not, Honey,” Mizrak answered, and stood.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” asked Starling, setting the box aside and standing with her. Mizrak nodded.

“I think I will be.”

Starling put her hands on Mizrak’s shoulders.

“You will be.”

After she’d gone, Starling sat back on the bed with her legs crossed and turned the television back on. Pulling out the boot knife in her bedside drawer, she cut open the box. It was filled with packing peanuts, and they were all over the bed by the time she’d pulled out the contents. It was a short sword, about a foot long, in it’s sheath. There was a note. She set the short sword down among the disintegrating packing peanuts and read it.

 

Cara mia,

Are you familiar with the story of Judith and Holofernes? I imagine you are not entirely uneducated to this particular Biblical tale. Rather than recount it, I am more interested in a particular painter of this scene. It has been rendered a number of times, predominantly by men. However, my favorite is by Artemesia Gentileschi. She is a woman with an interesting but tragic story. You see, Gentileschi was raped by her father’s colleague, Gostino Tassi. When Tassi refused to marry her, her father pursued a legal case against him.

During the trial, Artemisia was tortured with the sibille; thumbscrews, involving cords of rope tied around her hands and pulled tightly, in order to "prove" that she was telling the truth. During the torture, she was repeatedly asked whether or not Tassi had raped her, and she continually responded, "It is true, it is true." The trial took several months. The court exiled Tassi from Rome, but the order was never enforced.

It was not long after this that Gentileschi painted “Judith Slaying Holofernes”. Famous, successful men, Masters, had painted and sculpted this scene, but never have I laid eyes on a more fervid, more violent depiction. Sometimes it is the trials which we endure which beget our masterpieces. Now, il mia piccolo uccello, if I am to be your masterpiece I would consider it an honor. As you may know, Judith was able to enter Holoferne’s tent because of his desire for her.

Enclosed is what is known as a Xiphos, a double edged single blade. It is similar to that which Judith is depicted using to decapitate Holofernes (decapitation often being a symbol for castration). If it is castration you wish, I give you this Damascus steel to add a bit of psalm to your oeuvre. However, be advised that I do not plan to lie supine for such a design. Holofernes had the misfortune of succumbing to excess drink, while I elect moderation.

Clarice, I am not afraid of you, as you are unafraid of me. I would look upon your face, knowing who you are and of what you are capable. Come to me with a dagger, I am here. Come to me with a thimble, I am here. You will not flee Italy in fear, nor will I flee from you. Ho un debole per te. Sei l’unica per me.

Yours Truly,

Hannibal

Clarice’s heart was pounding as she read, and even still after she’d read it, again. She was angry, she was pleased, and she was cramping. She picked up the short sword, lifted it from its sheath. On one side of the handle was an engraved bird. On the other, along the blade, was an inscription that read: Piccolo uccello, eroina a se stessa. Little bird, heroine to itself.

The weekend seemed to come quickly for Starling, her mind having been taken by thoughts of dead drug dealers, fiendish inamoratas, decapitated generals and of course, feelings of complete and utter inner conflict. She was glad to get out on Friday night, agreeing to meet with Seth at the Enoteca Ferrara, a convent turned enoteca and speakeasy spread out over many rooms and levels. The couple settles down in a darker corner near the stairs leading to the back garden, and order a Tommasi Amarone. Next to them is an alcove hosting a variety of wines, and Starling gazes at them with somewhat narrowed eyes.

“What are you thinking, Winnie?” Seth asked, and Starling turns to look at him.

“Do you ever wonder how humans arrive at certain revelations or inventions? Take jello. It’s made from boiled tendons. How in the hell did some guy figure out that it would make jello? There’s so many things in ordinary human life that just bewilder me if I give it much thought.”

Seth chuckled and nodded. “I know what you mean. It’s probably an accident half the time, like the invention of penicillin.”

“Imagine if you were an alien, only if you were, you wouldn’t think of yourself as an alien, but a...whatever you are. And what if you’re a peaceful herbivore. Look at what humans do. We are horrific, monstrous creatures. We boil tendons, skin and bone and then serve it to children in adorable plastic containers and dye it silly colors. We are barbarians,” she said, her eyes drifting back to the wine rack for something emotionless to regard.

“We’re in a bit of a dark mood tonight, aren’t we?”

“Or maybe you’re just getting to know me better,” Clarice replied.

The server brought the Amarone, and Starling seemed to be in thought as he opened and poured it. Giving a little bow, the server left and Seth watched Starling.

“I can be dark too, Winnie. Can’t everyone?”

Starling looked at Seth, and brought the glass to her lips to take a sip, before responding. “I’m sure you’re right.”

She allowed Seth to reign them into safer topics, and smiled when appropriate. After a pleasant half hour, he set down his glass.

“I’m going to go to the loo. I’ll be right back, if I can find my way back, that is,” he said smiling as he stood. Starling’s smile faded after he left, and she rolled her neck. Minutes passed, and hands caressed her shoulders from behind for a moment, before gently massaging them. It had surprised her at first, but then she relaxed and hummed. It felt very, very good. Her eyes closed and her lips parted.

“That feels great,” she said, turning her head slightly and smiling. Had it not been so crowded or dark, it would have felt less appropriate. But there were many other couples among them on this night, and Italian couples are not coy.

“You’re very tense, cara mia,” came the voice behind her. For a moment, she furrowed her eyebrows, not sure what he had said. It was noisy. But she had definitely heard cara mia, and Starling found she was irritated.

“I thought we agreed you wouldn’t call me that,” she said. Dr. Lecter bent at the waist so that she could hear him better. His breath stirred her hair.

“I don’t recall agreeing to that,” he said, and Starling bucked in her seat. His hands became hard, holding her in place.

“Now Clarice, let’s not make a scene,” he suggested, and Starling took a breath and forced herself to recline, and swallowed. Her cheeks and throat were suddenly hot and her chest began to rise and fall quickly. She started to turn in her chair and he moved one hand along her throat, holding her jaw in the crook of his thumb and fingers.

“Tsk, tsk tsk.”

Starling stilled again, gripping the sides of her seat. After a moment, his hands became gentle again, the hand that had held her throat turning into a caress along her jaw line so soft, it almost tickled. He touched the sides of her neck with both hands, before one returned to her throat, running the back of his fingers along the underside of her chin. Starling trembled, and her crossed legs squeezed together in a furtive squirm. Dr. Lecter admired the horripilation blossoming across Starling’s delicate, lithesome flesh.

He had taken her by surprise and thoughts escaped her, momentarily. As she searched for something to do or say, she was helpless to the realization that her body was responding. He would undoubtedly notice.

“I can’t help but wonder, Clarice, if you’ve managed to conceal something with which to cut me in that dress. I suspect not.”

It was true. She’d chosen a knee length column dress of chiffon in dark green. She’d hung her jacket at the door, which had her boot knife in it, and in her purse, which hung on her chair, had a can of mace in the inside pocket. She glanced at it without moving her head. He could more easily access it than her. His fingers were still exploring her throat and jaw, and they came to rest on her shoulders again, and he began to massage them.

“Stop it,” she hissed, and his thumb swept along the back of her neck and she shivered again.

“Are you not pleased, cara mia? I’ve given you the opportunity to be subject to my touch without any fault of your own volition. You are, in this moment, free to secretly enjoy yourself.”

Starling was flushed with indignation and excitement. She opened her mouth and closed it, again. She was doing her best to not just say, ’fuck you’.

“Dr. Lecter, now is not the best time,” she finally said, in the calmest voice she had at her disposal.

“Oh, I know. Your supplicant will be returning, soon.”

“What were you hoping to accomplish, anyway?” she asked.

“What I came to accomplish has been accomplished.”

“And that was?” Starling said, through slightly clenched teeth.

“To touch you.”

She closed her eyes a moment and her breath hitched when Dr. Lecter swept the back of his hand across her cheek.

“How were Paul’s balls, by the way?” she managed to ask, if not a little breathy. She licked her lips.

“Not unlike Rocky Mountain oysters," Dr. Lecter recalled. "A little pungent and offal-intensive, like the stomach. Did you know that bull testicles are said to be a male performance enhancer among ranchers? Cowboy caviar. Better not to dally.”

“I have heard that. But you’re supposed to pick the choice bull; the head of the heard. Paul isn’t the head of anything.”

“No, not these days," agreed Dr. Lecter, a bemused smile behind her. "Paul recovered from the procedure nicely, in case you were wondering. He’s still fresh and waiting. I’d love to share a meal with you, Clarice.”

“I bet.”

Dr. Lecter’s eyes lifted without moving. Seth was making his way through the crowd, his eyes focused on not bumping into anyone. He withdrew his hands, and Clarice let out a held breath.

“Buonanotte, mia tesora,” he whispered.

A moment later, and she finally turned. She thought she might have seen the back of his head turning to leave out the back door leading to the garden, but there were many dark heads. As she turned back, Seth was approaching their table, and she smiled. He sat down with a strange look.

“Are you alright? You’re all red, Winnie.”

“Yes, I...I think I just drank too quickly.”

“Do you want to get out of here?”

“Yes, actually. If that’s alright.”

“Of course. Do you want me to take you home?”

“No. I want you to take me to your home. Is that alright?”

“More than alright,” he said, winking.

That night, Starling mounted Seth and he watched in lust and horror as she rode him at a gallop until his eyes rolled up. Her hand at his throat, her eyes malignant, he popped like the beau joie champagne abandoned in the kitchen. She hoped Hannibal Lecter was watching, as she smiled in rage.

They slept in the following Saturday, tangled, limbs protruding as the sun rose and climbed. A warm spot on her wrist roused Starling, and she stirred. She opened her eyes and looked at her arm, which hung slightly off of the bed. Her skin was lit, the ends of her partially curled fingers a translucent coral in the sun. She yawned, and wiggled them, as her gaze shifted to the nightstand to see what time it was. She sat up, looking at the handkerchief and small note that had not been there the night, before. She glanced at Seth, who was still asleep. It was a strawberry-colored embroidered handkerchief, and the note read:

"Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee! And when I love thee not, chaos is come again."

Do I need to remove this lout myself? You tease me intentionally, so I can only wonder...Othello certainly would, and he only suspected infidelity. Put on a show for me again, and I will put one on for you, cara mia.

-H

Seth stirred next to her, and she stood quickly, grabbing the note and handkerchief. When he opened his eyes, she held it behind her back and smiled, momentarily losing her balance.

“Good morning!” she trilled, and Seth sniffed.

“Are you alright?” he asked, groggily.

“Of course. I’m going to make breakfast,” she said, running her free hand through her hair.”Stay in bed,” she said, coming around to his side and bending at the hips to give him a kiss on the cheek. Seth smiled.

“I like it when you walk around naked. Will you stay that way in the kitchen?”

“If you’d like,” she laughed, standing up straight. When Seth smiled and turned over, Starling walked briskly into the living room and shoved the handkerchief and note into her bag, and let out a shaky breath.

She had released some of the tension and anger the night before, siphoned it all into her lovemaking with Seth. Now, it had been stirred up all over again. She thought of wading in the creek behind her house as a child, the bottoms of her shorts wet, looking down at the pristine water which became muddy with each step, as clouds of golden sand flowered around her feet. Her anger was as a strong in this moment as it had been last night, but without the recent seduction of his unforeseen touch. He had threatened Seth and it really pissed her off. She found the reason was not so much at the prospect of Seth dying, but at the prospect that he somehow considered it infidelity, as though they were already lovers. It was so goddamned presumptuous. She could only imagine angering her was precisely what he wanted. Why would he want her so mad?

She shook the question off as she began cracking eggs, and soon enough Seth came wandering in by the time she was nearly finished with breakfast. She served it to him at the bar, handing him a plate of spinach stromboli with a smile, all the while thinking about how Othello died in the end.

Chapter Text

For the remainder of the week, Hannibal Lecter stayed at the villa, making no move to watch or perturb Starling. He had set the mood right, and hoped she would not come after him in a fit of rage. It was not time for that, yet. He wanted her to sit with it, grow fevered and dewy with the heat of it. She did not seem to be fully conscious yet of how anger affected her. He had first become aware of it at Muskrat Farm, marveling at the fact that he had smelled the distinct perfume of a concupiscent woman when Starling entered the barn prepared for massacre.

He didn’t think that the idea of murder in and of itself was something that aroused her. Rather, her blood lust had stemmed from the seed of her own unmaking. That disintegration of the self had left the bedrock of a human being, that of the feral savage. The feral savage knows only one thing: Survival. An animal’s drive to survive is often made manifest through a split matrix, including the survival of the self and the survival of the species. Both are expressed with action. Survival of the self involved either fight or flight. Starling had performed both, respectively. Concurrently, lust is the expression of survival of the species. Both had become everlastingly fused like two atomic nuclei. One was present with the other. When Starling fought, she became aroused, and when she became aroused, she fought. It was in this way that Dr. Lecter proceeded to advance upon a wild thing, with the precision and prowess of a surgeon.

By the time Starling had gotten home, Dr. Lecter had found her camera. She had rewound the available footage, and watched the last fifteen minutes leading up to the feed’s interruption. He had stood in front of it a moment, his head inclined and his face inscrutable. Then he raised his arm and waved his hand at the wrist, as he’d done in the footage she’d seen taken right after the murder of Rinaldo Pazzi. He reached out, his hand momentarily obscured, and then he was gone, replaced by white noise and spasming grey. She’d expected it, but it was terrible timing. She had been ready to go there immediately. No more letters.

No more of this cat and mouse shit, she’d thought, pacing her room.

She’d even taken out her duffle bag and laid out all of her weaponry over her bedspread. She’d stood over each item with a knuckle to her lips, trying to decide which to choose to kill Hannibal Lecter. She’d even considered using the short sword; it certainly would have been a poetic judgment and end to Hannibal the Cannibal.

The nickname had suddenly brought her back to a time she’d nearly lost. It had not vacated her mind, but it had receded deeply. It felt like another lifetime that she’d sat across from Jack Crawford, a fledgling trainee of the FBI, and agreed to run an errand. An ‘errand’ that ultimately changed the path of her life. Wondering where she’d be now was a fruitless endeavor, and the thought comes and goes quickly, but then another part of her revisited her first encounters with Dr. Lecter.

Seeing him in his cage, being seen by him for the first time. She had never been seen so thoroughly, never been so consumed, and at once, penetrated. Having him in her head like a poltergeist invading a home, making things fly off of shelves she’d so carefully organized, so carefully hidden and locked away. And yet...he had shown her ways to heal like no other had attempted. He had understood her in ways like no other could or would want to. But wasn’t that how demons worked? They’d agitate festering pain and then sooth those very wounds to seduce you. No...No, demons created pain. Demons thrived on the suffering of others. He had certainly done so, and fit the profile. But he had never caused her pain. She tried to think, and found herself on the floor, her hands in her hair, rocking and desperate to think of a time he had caused her pain like the rest of the world...and could not. She put away the weapons. Then she put away the duffel bag. And then Clarice Starling went to work.

She had found earrings at the flea market with Mizrak the week before, and on Thursday night, she tried them on in the mirror. They were antique, briolette cut emeralds, with old mine and rose cut diamonds. The emeralds were very complimentary to her hair, and had a lot of fire in them. As the week had gone by, she kept thinking about what she was going to wear to the gala that weekend, thinking about going out with Mizrak, perhaps on Via del Corso. Now that it was the night before, she realized she was always going to wear the dress he had given her. A part of her felt bashful about it, somehow.

He had been quiet all week. It seemed unlikely he would be there; there was a guest list. At the same time, she could not assume he would not be there. If he did make an appearance, it was likely he would not approach her. Unlikely was that he would give her such a gown and not want to see her in it.

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Lady Murasaki would not go to Italy. However, after listening to Akinari Arai, she was tense. What he had told her was disturbing, and she had heard many things about Lecter. If her nephew was intent on seducing Ms. Starling, he would likely either succeed, or one of them would die. She felt compelled beyond rationale to make sure it was not the former. But she would not go to Italy. To involve herself personally in such a treacherous dance was an absurd risk she would not take. Nor could she ask Arai to do it. He had been in her employ for many years, and the thought of him falling under Hannibal’s knife or Ms. Starling’s weapon of choice, whatever it may be on any given day, was repugnant. He had offered to on multiple occasions, until the third time, when she had raised her hand to him. He had fallen silent and not spoken of it again, as he should.

Then it was decided. Arai had employed many men over his time as a P.I., and he convinced her after a few days that he could reach out to them. It was exactly the kind of work for which they hoped. While she had agreed to it, she had made up her mind about one thing; should they fail, she would let go. It was the wisest thing she could do besides let it go sooner. The part of her that could not was the part that had been captive to so many sleepless nights over the lives lost due to her inability to stop him before he had started. So many lives that were on her head. Lady Murasaki was a rational woman, and much of her knew that she was not accountable for Hannibal’s murders. Yet, that one little voice was enough to convince her to try...but only once.

She hated the thought of killing Hannibal. In spite of the monster he was, she still remembered him as the mute boy who had come to her home, when Count Lecter was still alive. The boy who had not yet slaughtered the butcher and brought her his head. A strange sense of protectiveness still lurked within her unconscious, but the sleepless lunatic was more vociferous.

To kill one of them would be to leave her open to a counter attack, prone as they both were to vengeful killing sprees. It would have to be both of them. So Lady Murasaki could only wait, listening to the millpond frogs and roaming the gardens and pagoda with her inherent grace. Delicate, deliberate and drifting, like the strand of a spider’s web stuck to a cotton sweater.

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Saturday, night of the Epiphany, and Clarice Starling sits still and placid in the car with Seth. There was a lot of traffic, but fortunately, Charlotte Baston’s Rome penthouse was not far. On the drive there, Seth told her first about his sister and then her penthouse.

Charlotte Baston was one of the wealthiest self-made women in England, having begun with the startup of an advertising company in the seventies. In the eighties, she married her second husband, who had died three years before. When they married, they combined their assets, and ventured in agriculture. Their first foray included the purchase of an olive farm in Tuscany. Her company now generated over 1.5 billion a year. Had Seth not explained this, Starling would have been completely bewildered by Charlotte’s penthouse.

A short walk from the most important monuments in the heart of Rome there is a magnificent historical palace. It had been the home of the most powerful noble family in Rome during the fifteenth century, and after its restoration, was bought by several different families.

It’s terrace offered an unequaled view over Piazza Venezia. It is composed of three floors, each with breathtaking opulence the likes of which Starling had never seen. Inlaid marbles, plasters and coffee frescoed ceilings. Decorated walls, precious cabinet-making and painting works on the wardrobes, bookcases and doors. Five large terraces, presenting a 360 degree view of Rome, some completely closed by removable glass panes. Extraordinary sequences of halls, an extravagant, winding staircase. Starling had to concentrate on not staring with her mouth agape. She was so entranced that she had forgotten her own appearance, and was oblivious to any eyes on her, of which there were many. The dress she had been worried would be too much is dwarfed by Charlotte’s home, and Starling was glad of it.

Along with the gown and shoes of Lecter’s selection, Starling had worn the emeralds and chosen a sort of loose finger wave that complimented both her shoulder length hair, and her ensemble. She belongs in her surroundings with the equivalence of any number of invaluable paintings on the many walls, so guilessly beautiful is she.

She meets Charlotte in the formal area of the second floor. They cross a long table, the view of Rome to their right. Charlotte stands beneath a chandelier, and Starling eyes the sequence of busts lining the other side of the room. Behind Charlotte is the figure of Athena. When she catches her eye, Starling detects considerable intelligence. Charlotte, in the midst of talking to a group of people smiles at Starling. When they approach, she pauses in conversation to first embrace Seth, and then wait to be introduced.

“This is Winnie Rinard, Charlotte. Winnie, this is my sister, Charlotte Baston.”

The women regarded one another for a beat, before Charlotte smiled, again.

“Good evening, Dear. It’s wonderful to meet you,” she said with a shrug of her shoulder, before extending a hand. Starling took it and they shook.

“The pleasure’s all mine,” Starling replied with a nod and pleasant smile.

“My, my,” said Charlotte, looking at Starling, with a brief glance at Seth, “but she is lovely, Darling. I apologize, Ms. Simard. Look at me talking about your looks like you’re not here. “

“A compliment is a compliment. I’d rather it come from you than a corner philanderer, believe me.”

Charlotte laughed, throaty and muted. “Fair enough, Dear. Tell me, how long have you been in Rome?”

“Close to a year. How much time do you spend here?”

“Not enough for what I pay for this place, for one thing. How does it suit you?”

“The city or the palace?” Starling joked. Charlotte seemed to be pleased.

“Both,” said Charlotte.

“They suit me fine. But to tell you the truth, as stunning as your home is, I’d be content just about anywhere.”

“Splendid answer. I hope you weren’t worried about offending me. I’m quite aware of how showy this all is, but what can I say? I’m as proud as I am grateful for my accomplishments,” she shrugged,”and I love parties,” she added in a confidential tone.

“As you should be. There aren’t many self-made women in this world, and the more I meet the more hope for humanity I have.”

“Cheers to that, Dear,” she said, holding up her glass. Some of the spectators raised their glasses, but upon realizing Seth and Starling were empty-handed, she frowned.

“Oh, this wont due,” she said, ushering them to the bar.

“Get yourselves some drinks, mingle, explore,” she said, waving them with her hands.

“I have a mind to migrate to the veranda, so you know where to find me,” she added, before returning to the awaiting crowd.

Seth ordered them both a glass of champagne, and with drinks in tow, they did explore.

“How many times have you been here?” asked Starling, as they walked through one of the hallways. A couple sat very close to one another on a chartreuse velvet settee and Starling could see her image in peripheral in a long mirror.

“Oh, maybe six or seven.”

“How long has she owned it?”

“About nine years.”

She absently shook her head.

“Have you slept here?”

Seth laughed,” Yes, a couple of times. Both times in the guest suite. And yes, it’s amazing. Want to see it?”

“Sure.”

“She likes you, by the way.”

She had linked arms with him, and she squeezed the inside of his elbow.

“Are you happy?”

“Of course,” he replied, giving her a sidelong look. “Are you?”

“Yes. This is the best January sixth I’ve ever had, that I can guarantee,” she grinned, and Seth nodded and beamed.

“Well, I’m glad to hear it.”

He lead her down another long hall, through arched double doors and past a Calcutta marble fireplace and finally into the guest suite. The walls and ceilings were frescoed and the bed was king sized and encased by a renaissance canopy bed of Corinthian-topped columns and decorative leaf motifs. It had a coffered interior canopy ceiling with interior illumination, with Aegean blue draping that matched the sheets and velvet tufted headboard. The euro shams and goose down duvet cover were the color of ripe tangerine.

“You’ve slept in here?” she asked.

Seth nodded and leaned back on his heels after letting her go to walk around the room.

“I’d be afraid to remove my shoes in this room,” she murmured, pausing at the vanity. She could only see her waist and hands in its mirror.

“You shouldn’t be,” he whispered, having come to stand behind her and put his hands on her hips. She turned to face him and smiled.

“Let’s dance,” she suggested, and he put out a hand.

“No, not here. With the others,” she explained, and Seth hummed.

“Alright, sure,” he conceded, before leading her back to the crowd. She was relieved. Starling found herself feeling tepid and on the brink of listless. There was nothing here that pulled or inspired her, and she found it surprising. She was in the most incredible building she’d ever been in, and she sort of just wanted to go home.

First, they’d danced on one of the enclosed verandas, and Starling looked out over Seth’s shoulder at the altar of the Fatherland. Later, they joined Charlotte at one of the tables outside, and when Seth had gone back in to replenish their drinks, Charlotte pulled out a studded humidor. She offered a cigar to Starling, who shook her head, politely.

“I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t either in that gown. I’ve been meaning to compliment it. Your taste is impeccable,” Charlotte said, before lighting it. Starling inhaled sharply, and looked out at the night sky.

“Thank you. It means a lot coming from you.”

“I’m nothing special, Ms. Simard. Why do you think I surround myself with things that are? “

Starling looked at Charlotte with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, yes. I’m quite aware of my own psychology.”

“I disagree, though. This world is not a bed of roses for a woman with ambition. Don’t get me started on glass ceilings.”

“To what do you aspire, Ms. Simard?”

“Winnie, please,” Starling started, and Charlotte closed her eyes briefly with a gracious nod. “That’s a...complicated question.”

“Is what you want complicated?”

“Not exactly. I used to know precisely what I wanted, but that was when I was younger, and the world was so monochromatic. I was...”

“Naive?” Charlotte offered, and she nodded.

“Yes. Now...” she trailed off again, waving a hand between them. “I don’t know what I want anymore.”

“Then let’s use the process of elimination. What don’t you want, Winnie?”

Starling thought carefully, before answering.

“Dishonesty.”

“In what sense?” asked Charlotte, intrigued.

“In the sense of self. But not everyone can handle that.”

“To thine own self be true, yes. Not everyone can handle that. Do you know why?”

Starling wanted to know what she would say. She shook her head.

“Because when coming face to face with someone who is true to their self, it obligates one to come face to face with their own veneer and whatever lies beneath it. Most people are deeply afraid of who they might really be. I don’t know that I’ve ever even met someone who could stand to look at themself without their disguise. We all wear one, after all.”

“I have,” Starling murmured, an implicit smile at one corner of her mouth. “Do you know what they call them?”

“What?” Charlotte asked, finding herself for a second time, intrigued.

“Insane.”

A grin spread across Charlotte’s face. “Quite right. And secretly, we all envy them.”

Seth returned, handing Starling a flute of champagne, which she took dreamily with a soft ‘thank you’.

“Seth, your sweetheart and I were just indulging in a lofty discussion on identity and madness. I think it’s the only conversation I’ve had on this veranda that was actually fit for the scenery. I applaud your taste in women.”

Seth smiled, and after a few minutes when he took the cigar Charlotte offered, Starling stood.

“Would it bother either of you if I circulate on my own a bit?”

“Absolutely not, Winnie. Please,” Charlotte offered her narrow, pink palm,” enjoy my home. And anyway, this gives me a chance to interrogate my brother,” she said, giving her a wink. Starling smiled and looked at Seth.

“Mingle as long as you wish, Winnie. I’m quite partial to this veranda, and I tend to smoke slowly,” he said, giving his sister a look, who nodded.

“You certainly do,” she agreed, and gave Starling a friendly eye roll.

“Alright. I’ll see you two in a bit,” Starling said, and they gave her a wave.

Inside, she had considered returning to the guest suite, in hopes no one was there. She could hide out and reserve some of her social energy before making her way back to the veranda. Perhaps, if she could recharge a bit, she’d find that she was enjoying herself more. She had been feeling alienated somehow, in spite of how welcoming Charlotte had been. As she crossed the room and entered another, she stood to the side for a few moments, watching the couples dancing.

Starling had never watched a grand classical waltz, let alone participated in one, until she’d danced with Seth earlier in the night. It had been an odd sort of experience, as the live band played songs that lasted up to fifteen minutes, so instead of changing partners in between musical segues, each couple seemed to dance around the room four or five times before changing partners. She hadn’t been a fan of dancing with strange man after strange man, but at the same time it would have been rude to deny any of them. She went to leave quickly in fear that someone would ask her to dance, but before she could drift away that was exactly what happened.

“Buonasera signorina,” an older gentleman began, offering her his hand, “I onoreresti con un ballo?”

Starling got the impression that he did so out of some obligatory, archaic tradition. See a young lady without a partner, offer her your hand. His eyes were kind enough, and she felt no lecherous intentions behind it. She smiled and taking his hand, followed him into the crowd.

The band was excellent, she decided, as she floated about the room with him. The style was not really Italian, but a sort of Angolan folk with Latin guitars, but it was very moody and somehow appropriate. Not all of the songs included a vocalist, but the one that had begun as she’d entered the room did, and his voice was gravelly and melodic. The song was “Mona Ki Ngi Xica”, and Starling recognized it from the film When the Cat’s Away. It is a song of lament and longing, and even without translation it is rather sensual if a bit melancholy.

The couples had begun dancing a sort of slow rumba, and Starling was not entirely confident in her footing. The gown and shoes did allow a decent amount of movement, to her relief. However, she had been sucked in and wasn’t sure how to leave gracefully, by the time she was dancing with her second partner, a young man who insisted on staring at her face and periodically winking as they danced. Before the song ended, he twirled her, and another hand grasped her free one, pulling her out of the young man’s hand. She heard him complain mildly behind her but she was no longer paying attention.

It was the first time in two years since she’d been face to face with Hannibal Lecter, and never before without barriers or confinement. Her hand in his involuntarily squeezed tightly, and he reciprocated, his other hand at her back. She gives no discernible sign of her shock beyond the parting of her lips and a general resistance that only Dr. Lecter himself detects. He gives her a smile as they move about the room, and Starling smiles in kind amidst the floor of other couples. She broke their eye contact a moment to look around, and he spoke.

“He is still on the veranda. Do let me lead, cara mia. This isn’t the tango.”

She looked back at him, and as they danced, she found herself unable to look away. The couple appears like any other, if not for the intensity of their eye contact. Dr. Lecter wears a charcoal gray suit in granite, a jacquard waistcoat with pearl buttons and white tie matching with handkerchief. His hair is dark and slick as an otter, his nose somewhat aquiline. He looks slightly different than the last time she’d seen him, perhaps around the cheeks and chin. His maroon eyes held her whole and she was in an almost-trance.

His movements were confident and she had to concentrate harder in following him than with her previous dance partners, which made it that much harder for her to find her voice. By the time several minute had passed, she found she had no desire for words. To be seen, seen as she was with all his knowledge and intrusion was captivating as it was comforting. She had fallen into step and they were moving fluidly around the room by the time the song changed to “Conte De L’Incrovable Amour”, and another young man moved to invade.

“May I?” Starling heard from somewhere behind her. Dr. Lecter had slightly slowed their dancing with the song.

“No,” he answered, without looking away from her. A few moments passed, and she spoke.

“It must be nice to say, ‘no’, and be obeyed.”

“You are not saying, ‘no’, Clarice,” he pointed out.

“I said it a long time ago.”

“I don’t recall that. I recall you asking me to not look for you. To which I did not agree.”

“Were you in Italy before me?”

“Yes.”

“How did you find me?”

“I never lost you.”

“How?”

“Don’t be dull, Clarice. We have much more to discuss than the shortcomings of your fugivity. We can explore that at a later time.”

“And if I want to discuss it now?”

“No.”

Starling frowned, the familiar sensation of animosity beginning to percolate. She started to resist in his arms again, and he promptly dipped her deeply, the light playing beautifully on her throat and bust. Dr. Lecter admired her for a brief moment, before lifting her back up. Her hair bobbed lightly, and the anger in her eyes was as delicious as the low light on her flesh.

“If I let you go, where would you go?” he asked, and she narrowed her eyes, before he continued.

“Would you run back into the arms of your escort? Back into the arms of your artifice? It’s exhausting sometimes, is it not? To veil yourself knowing the supremacy they cannot and will not recognize is a job, Clarice. A job from which you escaped long ago. And here you are, carefully rebuilding what you so deftly tore down.”

“And my alternative is to go with you, is that it? Do you expect me to swoon and simper? If you did, your tastes have changed, and therefore any appeal you may have had.”

“Appeal, Clarice? Let us set aside what is appealing in favor of what is pragmatic, for the time being. If there is anything in you which remains unchanged it is the agility of your mother wit. Neither of us is infallible; we have both experienced that fact in all of it’s inconvenience. We have been both victim and culprit, and through it all we have both managed to survive. Be it physically or mentally, my dear, we have both saved one another. Have we not?”

Starling conceded with a nod.

“If you wish to continue with the life of a fugitive, I highly recommend enlisting me as your confidante. I would provide you with both practical knowledge and true companionship. You do not have to hide from me, cara mia,” he said. Leaning in closer and looking deep, deep into her eyes, he added,” I would look upon your face, knowing who you are and of what you are capable.”

“I’m not going to discuss this with you. Not here, like this,” she deflected, though she looked into his eyes as a child looks toward the distant lights of a fair.

“Certainly, Clarice. We really should go somewhere more private,” he said, finally ending their movements, but leading her out of the room. She briefly pulled away, and he tightened his grip enough to crack her knuckles. She winced, but in indignation rather than pain. As they walked through the hall, Starling had an uncanny and sudden desire to bite him. She was looking at the back of his head, at the stark contrast at the nape of his neck, between the manicured v of his hairline and his ivory skin.

Struggling would have brought attention, and so she followed just behind him, becoming more and more angry. They passed the couple on the settee, and now the woman was practically in the man’s lap and they were kissing. Through the double doors and past the marble fireplace and then they were through the door of the guest suite. Starling found herself receding into the room until her back was at the opposite wall as Dr. Lecter elegantly closed the door behind him and turned to face her.

They both felt their sudden seclusion intensely in this moment, and both of them heard Dr. Lecter’s next breath. He didn’t move from the door, but stood so very still, sharp and refined with his hands at his sides. Starling gripped the side of the vanity, her knuckles turning white. He took a step forward and then he was advancing with abrupt speed. There was nowhere to go but forward, she had literally backed into a corner. He came to her swiftly, and she curled her lips in anticipation of violence, but he slowed and stopped just within reach.

They regarded one another, both with fiery, static eyes. Starling moved to the side and Dr. Lecter echoed the movement and she stopped. He straightened when she straightened. He took another step forward, and she felt lightheaded. Neither had exerted themself enough to merit the quickness with which their breaths came. He took another step, and she made a sound of derision and convalescence, somewhere between a soft growl and whimper. Her arms had become rigid and when he took another step, she slapped his face. He came forward again and when she raised her arm he caught her wrist mid-arch. He caught her other wrist when she attempted to strike him with her free arm, before promptly pushing her back into the wall behind her with great force. He had her wrists pinned together above her head, and she felt her chest strained against the fabric of her dress.

She struggled furiously for a moment, angry she’d let it come to this, angry that he was stronger than her, angry that she was slick between her thighs and angry that he smiled. She hated him in this moment, hated everything and everyone. She hated Jack Crawford for ever sending her to him, Mason for shattering her, and above all, herself for letting it all happen. A part of her, she realized, even hated her father for leaving her, leaving her alone for the world to break her heart again and again. Dr. Lecter was able to hold her arms still with one hand, and he let the other stroke her cheek in reverence. She let him, and he watched a solitary tear roll out of her eye, both open wide and looking at him, before racing down beneath her chin. She swallowed, but raised her chin, braving the penetration of his fixed gaze.

“Aš tave myliu,” he whispered, almost inaudibly. Starling appeared petrified and immobile, and he leaned in closer, continuing to whisper, “Tu esi mano, tu visada bus mano. Aš tavęs nepaliksiu,“ his breath on her neck now, and she pulled away. Dr. Lecter leaned back to look at her before inclining his head toward her own. She opened her mouth and bared her teeth. Dr. Lecter stopped, baring his own.

They were breathless when Dr. Lecter finally spoke. “If you bite me, I will bite back. “

“Then bite back. “

Dr. Lecter surged forward, biting into the sensitive slope where Starling’s shoulder met her neck. She gasped, and the fight in her arms returned, naturally. He didn’t let go, and Starling’s eyes were wide and fluttering as her feet peddled and her fingernails dug into her palms. He had latched onto her, and when she was about to cry out, he let go, leaning back and licking his lips. Momentarily lost in the pleasure of both the sight and taste of her, Starling struck his nose with her head. It made a sharp, muted thud, and she caught a momentary glimpse of the monster taken aback. She did not savor it. Instead she stomped his foot, hard. Instead of recoiling, he pulled her forward forcibly, pivoting and then flinging her against the edge of the bed.

She lost her footing and fell on it sideways, and her feet were hanging off as she came up on her elbows to peer up at him, a look of alarmed scrutiny on her face. He was standing over her, and to attempt clambering off of the bed in any direction would have been ineffective. There was, for the moment, nothing to do and nowhere to go. Her reclined, pliant position was at once abhorrent and exciting.

He reached toward her, pausing only for a moment when she flinched, before scooping up her foot in one hand. He kept his eyes on her as he undid the strap, and she watched in paralytic dismay as he slid the shoe off of her foot. It clattered to the floor. He held her foot in his hand a moment longer, before setting it down ever so gently, and then repeating the procedure with her other foot. Starling licked her lips.

“Don’t you dare, “she whispered as he came forward. She pulled herself backward when his knee came up, and when he was halfway on top of her she started fighting in earnest. She managed to knee him near the groin and scratch his neck before he had pinned her again. She made such a ferocious attempt to free herself this time, her face turned red, and she roared. After a moment, she had tired and slumped her head back, and Dr. Lecter smiled in adoration. Starling was intensely aroused.

“What now? “she asked in a low, even voice.

“Now, you learn something important. Clarice, I’m going to give you a choice. Considering my options, I would regard that as charitable, if I were you. “

“What is it? “

“Your first choice is this: I will bite you again, only this time I will be certain it is somewhere it will be easily seen and far more enduring.“

Starling gave a quick, surly nod. “Fuck that, what’s the alternative? “

“The alternative is both less painful and ephemeral. “

“Go. “

“Un vero bacio.“

Starling blinked back her consternation for a moment.

“You’re serious? “

“Yes. “

“You want a kiss. “

“That’s a bit general. I want a competent, felicitous kiss. I want a revelation.“

“Fuck you and fuck you, again.“

“Fuck me? That far exceeds that for which I’ve asked. When I want you to fuck me, I’ll tell you. I say what I mean, Clarice. Do you?“

“And if I refuse?“

“Don’t delay. Choose, or I’ll choose for you.“

Starling’s eyes were so wild with wrath, her vision had blurred and they were quivering, slightly. Her pupils had become so dilated, they appeared almost black.

“Choose,“ he said, again. Her lips curled again for a moment, her neck flexing as she arched slightly in emotional discomfort.

“Fine, “she whispered, her teeth clenched and unable to look at him.

“Fine? Try again. “

He watched her eyes close a moment, digging deep for humility that was simply not there. She switched gears. If she couldn’t bring herself to be sheepish about surrender, she could only embrace what was happening. She could only embrace her distress. Abandon all hope ye who enter here, the words came to her mind, as they had when she’d been taken into the...into that room. She opened her eyes.

“ Hannibal Lecter, I concede.“

He bent his head and grazed her lips with his, wanting her to instigate, as that would be all the more difficult for her. And after a moment, she did. It was tentative and loathing, in the first few moments. When her lips first came away from his, it was inaudible. She blinked several times, looking up at him.

More? Must I? She seemed to ask.

The surrender he found in her eyes and the shine on her slightly parted lips was profoundly stirring. Seeing that she was experiencing an additional block of some sort, he decided to encourage her resignation. He blinked slowly and dropped his chin a moment.

Yes.

Scarcely touching her lips with his, he moved his head slowly back and forth a few times, taking the time to savor the momentary paroxysm between her fortitude and pending submission. When she kissed him again, it was with no less loathing but a little more pressure. Little sips gained momentum, and soon the flood of hormones and neurotransmitters began to rush in.

Facial nerves carry impulses between the brain and the muscles and skin in the face and tongue. During a kiss, these nerves carry messages from the lips, tongue and face to the brain to tell it what's happening. The brain responds by ordering the body to produce oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline. Respectively, these hormones are responsible for affection, pleasure or pain, mood, and the heart rate associated with fight-or-flight. Along with natural endorphins, this cocktail produces euphoria. Blood vessels dilate and pheromones are inhaled. There is testosterone in male saliva, which is transferred into the mouth of whom they kiss, triggering their sex drive. This ritual phenomenon is called philematology, and Dr. Lecter is mindful of it.

The frustration, dissatisfaction, loneliness and madness began to swell and deluge Starling’s drive. She was kissing him deeply and mindlessly, and in spite of Dr. Lecter’s bottomless insight, his decorum began to crumble. He let go of her wrists and her arms were instantly around his neck. One of his arms scooped beneath her waist, the other beneath her head. Their bodies pressed against one another, and when Starling put her tongue in his mouth, he made a noise into hers.
He moved over her and took her upright, her dress riding up as she wrapped her legs around his waist, securely. He felt as though he could not press her closely enough to him. Then she abruptly pulled away from him.

She looked at him a moment, her lips wet, hair disturbed and her eyes dark with arousal and panic. She swallowed and he closed his eyes with a deep inhale.

“It’s done, “ she announced.

Dr. Lecter opened his eyes. “Far from it. “

She unwrapped herself from him as discreetly as she could manage, and Dr. Lecter moved off of the bed, and bent for a moment to retrieve her shoes. She was silent as she watched him replace them, too dazed to protest his unhurried movements. When he was finished with the second foot, he gingerly held her ankle in his hand and bent his dark, sleek head to place a kiss on the top of her foot. He stood, offering his hand and helped her to her feet.

She moved to leave, and he stopped her, holding her by the shoulders.

“Do you understand what you’ve learned, this evening?“

“To not let you get close enough to incapacitate me.“

“No,“ he said slowly, calmly. “What you learned tonight is that you belong to me.“

Starling glared at him but said nothing. She turned to leave. She did not look behind her as she left the room.

 

Her skin was hot, and her belly fluttered, like some kind of odd sickness. She wondered if it would turn to nausea, and if she had possibly eaten something disagreeable. Nausea had never started with a flutter like this, and she considered if she was experiencing some kind of somatic disorder brought on by a kind of revisitation of bad memories mixed with being in the sudden presence of someone who had come to represent much of her adult suffering.

She had found a bathroom and examined the mark he’d left. It was terribly obvious what she’d just done. Her lips and chin were red, her hair was a mess, and the mark was unmistakably made by a mouth. The ivory dress she wore suddenly had connotations of something nubile, and it caused additional unease.

“Fuck,“ she mumbled, arching her neck to the side to look at the aggravated bite mark. Her coat would cover it, so her only option was to make it to the entrance they’d used and retrieve it, find Seth and tell him to take her home. She would have to cover it for at least a week, and as she thought of it, the idea of continuing on with Seth seemed miserably tiresome. She was going to have to end it, she realized. Dr. Lecter had been right about her life beginning to feel like a job. She had thought returning to some kind of familiar commonality would tranquilize some of her aimlessness, but it had not. It was uncomfortable. She would at least end it with Seth, but certainly not by approaching him marked by another man in front of his sister in her home. When she opened the bathroom door, Dr. Lecter was waiting with her coat.

“Clarice, I know you are disoriented by resentment and fatigue, but may I make a suggestion?“

She took her coat and shrugged it on. God, but she was drained.

“What?“

“Come home with me to Appia Antica. For the night, for the week, whatever you like. Take some time away from this pretense and recuperate. I will not touch you or even look at you if you don’t want that. “

His voice and expression had changed completely. He was not mocking or provoking her anymore. Starling was spent, and every direction seemed like a dead end. Except going with him.

In this moment, Starling was very far from reaching any more realizations; least of which was the discovery of the morsel of innocence she retained. Inversely, it was something Dr. Lecter had long suspected. As he looked at her now, as when he’d looked at her before with that cursory innocence in her eyes, he was now certain. It would be a long time before she was ready to confront anything of the sort. Little Starling, he though, wrestling with the desire to comfort her, not virginal in body but in heart. The concept that she might be in love with him was almost more than he could bear, for a fleeting moment.

Ordinarily, such a condition would be glaringly obvious. However, she was still in the process of remembering how to be a person, in addition to inexperience. She had been broken effectively. When anything is shattered, it becomes spread out in fragments. Some pieces of her had come back together swiftly, others slowly, and some were lost, no longer fitting properly. She was unfastened and drifting, unsure of what or who she was. While she had seemed to embrace this state of existence in a strange and lovely sort of way, he believed she still would benefit from a degree of guidance.

The opportunities Starling saw in their amnesty revolved around picking his brain and possibly relocating, after all. He had mentioned something regarding flaws in her fugivity. He had been right about being more experienced, in that respect. To think he had nothing to offer her was naive. She nodded, and he offered his arm.

“Dr. Lecter, before we go,” she started, and he stopped, waiting.

“Whatever this is, I am taking you at your word. Do not touch me without my permission. In fact, I don’t want to talk for awhile. I’m tired of talking. I don’t know what I’m going to do. But whatever it is, it’s my choice. Do you understand that?”

“Perfectly.”

“Dr. Lecter?”

“Darling?”

“Give me a moment with Seth.”

“Of course.”

Starling didn’t know what she was going to say, as she walked down the hall. She had anticipated that Dr. Lecter would wait, but he was walking not far behind her. She turned to look over her shoulder once, before entering the salon. There was something rather pastoral about his gait, deliberate but decidedly sanguine. His hands were clasped behind his back. There was still an element of the surreal to see him walking around in the world amongst other mortal creatures.

Before she had crossed halfway through the salon, Dr. Lecter had suddenly appeared right next to her, offering his arm. She took it, so as to not be swept back up in the dancing. They passed the statue of Athena and then Starling could see Charlotte sitting outside from where she was.

“Winnie?” asked Seth, who came from Starling’s left to stand in front of them. She was still holding onto Dr. Lecter’s elbow. When she turned to look at him, he was looking at Dr. Lecter. It was an expression she had never seen on his face before, and it was hard to identify. Insult and dejection wrapped tightly in what could only be called dread.

“Seth,” she had murmured, and glanced at Dr. Lecter, whose eyes bore into Seth’s, despite his open and sociable demeanor. Seth’s mouth opened a moment as he turned his head toward her with his eyes seemingly fixated on Lecter. He managed to look away. Suddenly, Starling was very disinterested in the present moment and was impatient to move on to the next one.

Not having had any evidence of transgression beyond undeniable instinct, Seth’s cheek flinched and he smiled tightly. Starling let go of Dr. Lecter’s arm.

“Good evening,” said Dr. Lecter, bowing his head without lowering his eyes.

“Good evening,” repeated Seth, looking back and forth between the couple and clearing his throat.

“Alexander Wright,” offered Dr. Lecter.

“Seth Baston,” Seth nodded to the polished gentleman, finding something about him a bit old world to be American.

“Seth, may I speak with you a moment?” asked Starling, and Seth let out a held breath. His head bowed for a moment, before he nodded, sensing what was to come.

“I’ll be just a moment,” Starling said to Dr. Lecter, who raised his eyebrows with a pleasant smile.

She hadn’t expected them to meet. It had been a bizarre moment of two worlds crossing. As she walked with him to a darker, more private area of the enclosed veranda, Starling felt depraved for not feeling remorseful, but thirsty to end it. She wanted out of her clothes and into a warm bed; a warm bed exclusively to herself. Oh, how she wanted to stop impersonating sanity. They stopped walking and stood with their backs to the city, a hanging potted plant of star-shaped nightshade, above. Seth waited.

“I am probably going to leave Rome. I don’t know if I’ll come back,” she explained. Seth sighed, propping his elbows up on the railing.

“I see. Is it to do with your aristocratic associate?”

“Yes and no. I am not leaving you for him. But he is...he’s from another time of my life, and he’s...made me aware of some things that require my attention. You know I didn’t plan on retiring here, Seth.”

“I know. I’m still disappointed. And I didn’t expect this tonight.”

“Neither did I,” she said, turning to face him. The moonlight cast a bluish tint on Starling’s face, alabaster at the lightest points. Starling’s eyes are an empyrean phenomenon in this light, and Seth feels pulled into them. Blue eyes, like divine nebulae, layers of light diffused through scattered dust in endless expanse.

“I’m not sorry and I regret nothing,” she said simply, offering her palms.

“Good. Likewise. But I have to ask, Winnie...are you alright?”

“Yes.”

“Very well. I’m guessing this is goodbye, then.”

“Yes,” Starling said, and then gave him a dazzling smile. Seth found himself smiling back at her and she leaned in to kiss his cheeks on either side.

“Ciao,” she said, and Seth nodded.

“Ciao.”

She found Dr. Lecter standing with Charlotte when she returned. She couldn’t tell if they’d been speaking. Charlotte glanced at her, and gave her an odd, sly smile.

“Winnie, Darling. Have you ended it amiably?” Charlotte asked.

Starling looked at Hannibal, who seemed to await her answer, as well.

“Yes,” she answered, cautiously.

“Did he look gloomy?” Charlotte wondered.

“Perhaps a little.”

“He took it well, then?”

“Very.”

“Good lad. Too bad, you were a lovely couple. Although to tell you the truth, my brother is a bit dull, while you’re a bit spooky, frankly.”

“I know. It was lovely to meet you, Charlotte. I mean it.”

“Same!” she sang, before laughing at some internal joke.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Charlotte continued, “I’d be bonkers too, but I’m rich so I’m labeled eccentric.”

“Goodbye, Charlotte,” Starling said.

“Ciao,” Charlotte added with a wink.

Dr. Lecter gave a bow, before offering her his arm, and she took it.

Outside, she was glad to finally be rid of them all. Dr. Lecter had not spoken, and they waited in silence for the valet to bring his Fornisari around. When the valet had parked it on the corner, Dr. Lecter opened the door for her, presenting a hand to help her inside.

When the car door shut and she watched him walking around the car, she had a surge of panic. The moment passed. Dr. Lecter climbed inside next to her. She had a palm draped across her navel. After he’d started the car, Dr. Lecter sat back in his seat, intensely pleased with the turn of events. He carefully took her hand, and Starling watched him watch her, as he bent his head to kiss her just beneath her knuckles where her fingers met.

The drive was silent. As spent as she was, Starling kept the monster in her peripheral. Ordinarily, it took only a half hour to get from the city center to the villa. It took closer to an hour on this night due to traffic, being the night of the Epiphany. At the Vatican, a historical parade was taking place. One hundred participants in ancient costumes and decorated horses accompanied by a musical band passed through via della Conciliazione. They had to maneuver around the spectacle along with rows of spectators and others, who more than likely, were attempting to get home to eat and celebrate with family. Starling had a shift at the Bakery House in the morning, and she was mulling it over, as representation of her life in Rome, as they drove.

Loren’s murder had been mentioned a number of times in Il Messaggero, and she had learned he had a brother in law enforcement. It hadn’t spooked her exactly, but it was a new experience. One with which Dr. Lecter was familiar. Starling was beginning to realize that while she had not experienced any sort ‘itch’, she did find herself vigilant of opportunities. The kinds of opportunities that required her to keep luminol on hand and read the papers in the coming weeks. She wondered what exactly she was becoming.

Modus Operandi. Hannibal Lecter’s only clear one was cannibalism. It was certainly an uncommon one, but other than the consumption of his victims, he had killed a variety of people in a variety of ways. She wondered if it was time to begin considering if she had one. Clearly, she wasn’t compelled to harm those who were more or less inculpable. To kill someone like Mizrak for sport was disagreeable. Dr. Lecter had fewer qualms, and while she had decided that his misbehavior would no longer be her personal quandary, she was concerned that this difference would result in...disagreements. She had never wanted to be the one to chase him, she had been an inappropriate foe to begin with. She couldn’t ever bring herself to want to be the decider of his fate.

For the night, for the week, whatever you like. Take some time away from this pretense and recuperate. That’s what he’d said. He had said a lot, though. Some of it struck her as truth, and some of it struck her as collateral. He was playing a game of coquetry with her mind and body to suit his own ambitions. He was playing with her temper and libido, batting at them back and forth, like a lazy cat with an injured bird. There had been a number of times in which she could have killed him, and those opportunities would come again. But it was different when it came to psychology. She was adept, keen and intelligent. But to call her his match in the arena of psychology was simply not accurate. She had to press past her ego to recognize this. It was important to do so. Physically, she was a match for him under two circumstances: having no hesitation to kill him and not letting him get too close.

She didn’t like the way he brought out certain aspects of her nature. At the same time, it was the ease with which she could dominate Seth and all of the millions of men like him that always lead her to feel both a sense of isolation and boredom. It was an enigma, and she was getting too sleepy for such serpentine analysis. She fell asleep shortly after they’d begun driving in the countryside, the lights and sounds of carnival and pageantry becoming a distant droning.

Starling falls into repose deeply, having unearthed a number of moth-eaten memories and heartache in the interim of acknowledging new feelings and perceptions forming in their infancy. She is coiled tightly within, steeping in sweet pathos. Whether she is in the process of another metamorphose, the monster is unsure as he gathers her into his arms and brings her inside. Whether he should feel safe in sleeping is also contestable.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

TRANSLATIONS:

Aš tave myliu: I love you.
Tu esi mano, tu visada bus mano. Aš tavęs nepaliksiu.: You are mine, you will always be mine. I will not leave you.

Chapter Text

Hiroo Hara

 

Islands are inherently homogeneous, being less exposed to variety. They are isolated, therefore prone to rigidity in both pedigree and custom. What has worked will continue to work, as elders tend to say. Adaptability is not seen as a virtue, but folly at best, and a liability at worst. Yet, where there is rigidity, there is revolt.

Japan is a well-ordered and isolated island, it’s underbelly raw and frightening. Hiroo Hara exists in both worlds, simultaneously. While he has no particular interest in the Yakuza, he has had a number of interactions with them, and done work for them, occasionally. Judging the Yakuza as an idea is easy, but like any other organization, they were built on the basis of individuals. Some individuals had more dignity than others.

On one occasion while purchasing a kebab from an Iranian street vendor, three men came stumbling drunk out of a nearby bar. They were behaving crudely and making fools of themselves in general. When a fight was about to escalate due to one of the drunk adolescents pissing on the sidewalk, a car had pulled up and parked on the other side of the road. Two men got out. One of them went around and opened a door, letting out who Hana could only assume was the boss. Upon assessing the situation, he warned the miscreants to never cause trouble in the neighborhood, again. He then made the pisser dogenza in his own mess. Hiroo enjoyed the spectacle as much as it was worth.

On another occasion, he’d been in a bath house. When a Caucasian man had entered, he obliviously got into a bath regularly occupied by a Yakuza member who happened to be present. This particular member had accosted the poor fool, and vigorously gesturing to his assorted tattoos and infamous missing finger. This had been a shameful show of juvenile idiocy. Some people were all right, and others were worthless. Some were more than worthless; some people were foul. More often than not, these were the sorts of men he killed. Moonlighting as a contract killer had served the obvious purpose of accruing wealth, and the less obvious one of catharsis.

It had begun early, and it had begun with animals. Having been dealt a regular diet of systematic abuse from his father as well as subjected to witnessing even worse treatment to his younger brother, Hiroo found himself in need of catharsis. We tend to go after what we know is weaker, after all. His brother had not hurt animals, bypassing it entirely in favor of women when he was a little older. He was tried and convicted of the rape of a neighbor girl at the age of seventeen. Hiroo had not seen or spoken with him in a long time. Hiroo himself had gone on to veterinarian school, and upon beginning his own practice in Tokyo, had seen the opportunity for catharsis when speaking with the owner of a regular patient.

She had apparently seen him fit for discharging her tribulations, as people often did. When encountering one as apathetic to suffering as Hiroo, some would find themselves divulging their darkest secret wishes and vices, feeling safe in some instinctive way that they would remain unjudged but having received some form of confessional contrition. What the woman had told him was this:

“My husband has been cheating on me for seven years. I know that if I ever leave him, he will win custody of Rio and Mei.”

“Why?” Hiroo had asked, giving her terrier a ruffle on the head. He had agreed to get lunch with her on his break. He had thought it was because she was interested in him. He was mildly irritated.

“Because without him, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. It will be hard to prove that I’m the better parent if I’m living in a hotel and looking for minimum wage work. Harder than proving his infidelity.”

“You never learned to provide for yourself.”

She had nodded without looking at him. The display of her shame was partially for sympathy, but for the most part it was genuine. The shame turned into anger, and she scowled.

“In all honesty, I don’t want to leave him. I want him to be off of this planet. I want him out of this universe,” she looked up now, able to face another’s gaze.

“We all think we’re probably decent,” she continued,”but it’s so easy to say that until you have the opportunity to truly despise someone. Real hate, not fantastical hate. Living, writhing hate having no covenant with humanity. I hate him. I hate him.”

Hiroo smiled. Her eyes had narrowed to hideous slits with only a twinkle at the center indicating a sentient creature within.

“So kill him.”

She laughed, and Hiroo cocked his head.

“I can’t,” she said, still laughing, but with nervous effort.

“Why not?”

“Because, I...I’m not a killer. And I don’t want my children to grow up orphaned.”

“They’d only grow up orphaned if you got caught.”

She laughed again, and he laughed with her, this time. There was no one around, but you never know.

“What if someone else killed him? What if you got a call right now...what if you had to go down to the morgue and identify the body? How would that make you feel?”

She gave it real thought. “It would make me feel free.”

Hiroo sat back in his chair, and laced his fingers over his stomach. They looked at one another a long while. Twice, she’d laughed nervously. After the second time, she was both intrigued and uneasy. Finally, he took out his business card and moved it across the table before sitting back. She looked at it, then back at him, questioningly. He gave her one, slow nod. Then he stood.

“Remember to give her the medication with meals.”

The woman was momentarily lost, but nodded vigorously and stood. “Of course, yes.”

“Don’t forget my card.” He tapped it once with a finger, looking at her. She looked into the emptiness of his eyes and understood.

“No,” she said, taking it,” I wont.”

“Take care.”

“You too.”

And that was how it had begun. Her husband had not been the first human life he had taken, but it was the first time he’d been paid. It was good. By age fifty-two, he had retired. His wife Akari had grown fat and demanding, and his children would be leaving the house, soon. Regrettably, he had found himself hurting Akari, a number of times. Not often, but sometimes he could hardly stand the sound of her voice. Why did people marry someone who had never given any indication of being anyone other than themselves, and then proceed to become disenchanted? Hiroo had not changed, Hiroo was an island. Akari, on the other hand, had been sweet and lovely as a flower. Now, she was a whiny shit. In fact, her progression into acting like a whiny shit had begun within their first year of marriage. If anyone had something to complain about, it was him. He had never seriously injured her, other than the time he had pushed her down the stairs.

For the most part, Hiroo had nothing but contempt for women, although that was a fair improvement on his disgust for men. Hiroo Hara does not change. Hiroo Hara is an island. Hiroo Hara is bored. The call from his old friend is a welcome one. He listens to a story, and then he listens to an opportunity. After the phone call, he goes to the internet for insight, first. What he finds fascinates him, and for the first time in many years, he feels pulled toward something. Marrying Akari had been pointless, and so had having children. All it had done was invite problems into his life that had not been there, before. Buying things had been fun for a while, but lost its lustre quickly. Nothing had ever given him the true sense of purpose he felt when hunting another human being. He now had the opportunity to hunt two. And they were not pudgy IT husbands with yapping dogs and mistresses. They were something else.

After agreeing to participate, Hiroo went to Negano to meet with Arai and the other four men he’d chosen. Two of them were brothers, Sora and Kaito. They were younger and less experienced, but youth was a good thing to have in such an endeavor. The other was a big Armenian named Areg. He was battle-hardened and professional, being a veteran of the Armed Forces of Armenian Republic. Still, Hiroo wasn’t entirely sure why it was necessary for there to be four of them, and he said so. Arai said it was insurance.

“Insurance for what?” asked Sora, raising an eyebrow. “How does this get more complicated than shooting them in their heads with a rifle?”

“Or killing them in their sleep, for that matter,” added Kaito. Arai had expected this, so he had careful words prepared.

“One of them is a corrupt veteran of the FBI and notorious sharp shooter. The other is a serial killer of unrivaled brilliance. Now, they are together. People have tried to kill them, before. If anything, there should be more of you. Anyone who has ever attempted to capture or kill them has either been killed, mutilated beyond recognition or disappeared. So the most important thing for any of you to do is to not assume this will be easy.”

 

After the meeting, Hiroo felt like a burden had been lifted. Retirement had been a curse. He knew what he was experiencing was something akin to a mid life crisis, but knowing it had no affect on his position. This was new, this was good. He was going to feel like himself, again. There was only one thing that bothered Hiroo the Island, and that was that he would have to leave Japan.

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Starling awoke with a strange sense of memory loss, but that did not seem strange to her, at the start. She looked around, and her heart sank to depths she had never fathomed possible. She was in the bad room. The room with the two way mirror and the board at the center, the blue towel having lost some of its dye, is worn and brownish, now. She huddles in the corner with her narrow knees to her chest, trembling. No, no, no, no. Please no. So full of dread was she, Starling found herself prostrate on the floor and begging God, any god...Please, no. Memories began coming back, but they were not memories, they were echoes of a dream. Dreams of Thailand, a happy Israeli looking for adventure, Italy, a kind woman with crinkly eyes she had called her friend. A handsome man named Seth and a party with Hannibal Lecter, the monster in a perfectly tailored, enticing human suit. Kissing her. None of it had been real, she never left, of course she never left. For what is hell without a little hope left for the consuming? Starling decided in an instant that she would end it. Just as she looked around the room for something to cut herself with, the door opened.

Cordell bringing in a full grown horse, what is this, now?

“Hannah?” Starling croaked, her throat so dry, so dry. How? This makes no sense. I am hallucinating, again. Like I hallucinated my escape and everything after.

Cordell smiled, and when Hannah was inside the room completely, he slit her throat. Starling cried like a child, her palm to her left eye, grabbing a fistful of her hair and rocking. Her arms were stinging then, and she looked down. Her skin was in ribbons.

And then a sound from nowhere, from nothing.

“Shhhhhhhh.”

She began to feel heavy, so heavy. She sank to the floor and then she couldn’t move. Paralyzed, she squeezed her eyes shut. She waited, praying that perhaps, this was the end. But she waited and waited. And then the ground was soft beneath her, and she opened her eyes to darkness and quiet. She registered that she was in a bed, now. Her heart was beating hard, and she could feel that the sheets beneath her were damp with sweat. She shivered. Then, the faintest sting in her shoulder. She gasped, realizing there was a presence beside her, and she fought arms she couldn’t see. Hands gripped her with astonishing strength and she cried. Arms around her now, and a warm chest at her back. She was fighting and crying and then she began to fall away from herself, again.

“Nooo,” she said, a whisper, a whimper. Her arm was suspended in the air a moment in Dr. Lecter’s hand, and the tension melted as the Librium injection began working. Her hand dangled from his grip as it softened.

“Shhhhhhh,” came the sound again near her ear, and it was gentle and kind. Limp and calm now, and he placed her hand in her lap. An arm beneath her knees and another supporting her back and she lifted for a moment, until she was draped in Dr. Lecter’s lap, his back against the headboard. Her head lolled to the side against his shoulder and she looked up. Her hand found his collar and gripped it, a distant pulse of terror gripping her for a moment. He took her hand in his.

“Shhhhhh.”

He pulled her hand away until she released his collar, replacing it against his chest a little lower. Her eyes had adjusted somewhat to the dark, and he looked down at her, smoothed her hair. He held her close and she watched him. He breathed deep, his chest expanding as he looked at her. She began breathing with him, for long minutes. Her eyes closed.

After a time, Dr. Lecter moved her back beneath the sheets onto her back. He watched her a moment sitting on the edge of the bed, and pulled the duvet up to her chin. He decided to move the chair in the corner a little closer to the bed, so that in the event that she stirred he could get to her quickly. It was very unlikely. Though Librium is a gentle form of anti-anxiety sedation, it worked very well, generally. She would sleep deeply, profoundly, and dreamlessly. He had watched her sleep before, but never in a safe space that was his own, and never alone with her. She was quite beautiful asleep, and now that she was no longer thrashing and crying he could enjoy the sight of her content and still. Librium could sometimes have a mild amnesia effect, so it was likely she would not remember any of it. It was better that way. He had been instructed not to touch her, which he would have happily obliged had she not been scratching herself, so he had intervened.

Dr. Lecter rests an ankle on the other knee and sits back in the chair, a thumb to his chin and his forefinger along his nose. He had spent many years of his life awake at night in a cage. This moment was an extraordinary improvement upon that, and so he is not offended by the idea of monitoring her for the remainder of the night. However, as he sits in the chair silent and immobile, Dr. Lecter is engrossed in his own inscrutable thoughts.

When next she woke, Starling awoke fully. Her senses came together in a pleasant, but sequential order. First her sense of touch relayed warmth and swaddling. Hearing reported the sound of birds chirping and smell alerted her to food. Last, her eyes opened, and she remembered where she was instantly. There was faint noise coming from somewhere in the villa, and she turned onto her side. Her arm came out from the cocoon of covers and she cradled her face in the nook of her elbow. Breathing in deeply an enticing aroma, Starling found herself smiling. She was supposed to be at work, and that amused her. She had made no decision the night before, but a decision had been made somehow as she’d slept. Her life in Rome was over. Perhaps she’d stay a little while with Dr. Lecter, but she would keep moving. It felt good and right to keep moving, and she had fallen back into old habits of denying herself what felt right. Where she would go didn’t matter, yet. First and foremost was laying to rest Winnie Rinard and becoming someone new. It didn’t matter what name, personality or hair color she dressed herself with. Inside, she was Clarice Starling. Little bird, heroin to itself. She felt alright.

In the kitchen, Dr. Lecter prepares marbeleized eggs for rosette sandwiches with pancetta and espresso aïoli. He has cooked the greens in the pancetta fat, and they dry to his left. The sun from a window places light on his chest and forearms where they busy themselves with pans, but his bent head is in shadow. His clothing is dark and beautifully cut, but casual and his sleeves are rolled up while he works. He can hear Starling moving about the villa, water turning on and after a time, off again. Starling coming down the hall now, and Dr. Lecter prepares a cappuccino for her, his back to the doorway. Baroque chamber music plays from another room and Clarice Starling stands in the doorway for a time, quiet and looking at Dr. Lecter’s back. He knows she is there long before he turns. When he does, he gives a single but deliberate bow of his head, before gesturing widely with an arm, his palm up, to a seat at the table. He watches her sit and places a cup in front of her. She watches him curiously for a moment, before taking it to her lips.

Hannibal Lecter spent many years of his life without speaking, and he slips back into it easily. He glances at her to see if she understands his intent. She smiles with one corner of her mouth, her eyes awake and mildly amused. She understands. Dr. Lecter smiles at her, before finishing her sandwich. He sits across from her with his own cappuccino and a sheet of charcoal paper, while she eats. Next to his elbow is a narrow box of charcoal pencils. Occasionally, he glances up at Starling. She is glad she’d exchanged the silk pajamas she’d woken up in for the clothes she’d found in the closet, as she would have to be more concerned with her sleeves getting in the way. The sandwich is very good; the pure rich flavors of the pancetta with the firm, rose-shaped bread. She licks her lips and looks up to see Dr. Lecter watching her. He gives her a wink, and she smiles. He raises his head a bit, looking from the plate to her face with his eyebrows raised.

Good?

Starling nods with her eyes closed, and sits back in her seat. Dr. Lecter rises and puts up a hand to stop her from standing with him, before clearing her plate. When he returns, Starling has put a foot up on the chair seat, one arm draped over her knee. She is wearing loose fitting striped linen pants and a fleece pull over. Her feet are bare, her shapely toes curled over the front of the seat. The position is not particularly refined and not at all modest. Yet, she looks to him like a panther in repose, confident in its place in the environment, unconcerned with rival predators. The light catches the silky, chatoyant luster of her highlights, like that of tiger’s eye. He is reminded of their first conversation. She looks at him and he puts his hands up, his expression nor intention not immediately clear to her. After a moment, she understands.

Stay right as you are.

Starling doesn’t find it difficult to remain in the position while Dr. Lecter begins a new sketch of her. As he has never had the luxury of doing so leisurely, he drinks in the opportunity to gaze at her openly for an extended period without her apparent discomfort.

Though Starling had only just awoken, it is early afternoon, and they spend the remainder of the daylight walking in the gardens in silence. Occasionally, Dr. Lecter would take a knee to show her something on the earth’s floor, or reach above him indicating something above them. Always, she would look at what he showed, interest and peace apparent on her face. She is glad of the silence; it had taken her a moment to realize his deliberate muteness was a direct response to her previous request. Do not touch me without my permission. In fact, I don’t want to talk for awhile. I’m tired of talking. And she was. She also noted that he had yet to touch her, or even get very close to her. She was glad of it. She could be in his presence but remain remote. She wondered if it was difficult or tedious for him; if it was, he made no indication of it. She still felt irritated any time she remembered when he had told her that she belonged to him, as well as flushed. It was irritating to be flushed, and it would churn like that for a few moments sometimes. When it would happen she found herself wandering away from him and he would let her, without so much as looking on after her. He simply found something else with which to entertain him, or simply recline with his eyes closed, apparently lost in thought. He could just as easily become as isolated and inaccessible as a vast catacomb, lost in the sinuous palace of his mind. He sometimes found Clarice Starling there in his mind, and would visit with her when she had made herself unavailable to him in waking life. Whether she was in his room, taking a long bath, walking the gardens alone or even sitting in the armchair across from him in the evenings when they would light the fire and nothing stirred in the house but it’s sighing and crackling.

Starling doesn’t need to ask about her arms, she understands she had done it to herself. There is only one night in their first week together in which it happens again. When it did, she is immediately calmed by his presence and his arms, even though she fought them in the start. She had gazed up at him, her back to his chest as they breathed together until she slept. Dr. Lecter is pleased that he had managed to stop the progression of her night terrors before she had caused herself any damage.

Questions would rise when she would look at him, and sometimes when he was not in the same room. She would consider breaking their silence to gain some insight, before deciding she wasn’t ready for any of that, yet. The first question that had come was on their first morning regarding the clothing in which she had woken. But then, what would the answer have been? Yes, I dressed you. Yes, I’ve seen your anatomy in detail, yes I have touched you. Then, what? To what end? And then this precious retreat would’ve ended for the sake of a petty question to gain a trivial, obvious answer. Other than dressing her that first night and the two times he had held her after a nightmare, he had not breached their agreement. She found his behavior satisfactory.

One evening, Starling decided she wanted to go to town, the beginnings of a project coming together in her mind. She thought of how to explain without words, still unready to open the floodgates. She came into the sitting room where Dr. Lecter was reclined comfortably on the sofa, his bare feet up on the arm, his head propped with his elbow. With his other hand he held a book open and he was wearing spectacles. She had never seen him so domestic. He glanced up at her and gave her a smile. He glanced at the notebook she held under her arm. She came to sit in the wing back chair and busied herself with a pen. Dr. Lecter becoming curious, sat the book aside and sat up, taking a moment to take a sip of the drink he’d left on the table next to him. She handed him the notebook.

It was a picture of a camera, the kind with a hood meant for surveillance. He peered up at her from beneath the rim of his glasses, and she pointed outside in multiple directions. He tilted his head, a touch of amusement. Her nightmares and paranoia were clearly the product of the beginnings of a new level of coping. It was to be expected. Sometimes victims of severe trauma took years before certain symptoms arose. There were a number of issues she had yet to deal with, and that had been well and good. Attempting to address or revisit a trauma too soon often had adverse effects. Now that some time had passed, Dr. Lecter had felt it safe to begin directing her towards some of the dormant responses her mind and body had developed.

Fear and helplessness had not come into play, until now. It had been anger and aggression carrying her through these first two years, and it had carried her about as far as it could. Now, the deep-seated fears of experiencing that helplessness again were beginning to surface. In addition to this issue was another that ran laterally, sprouting from the same source like a wishbone. He had seen the early signs of it when she had experimented with sex in the safety of Seth’s oblivious arms. She had been unsure and reticent at first, and it hadn’t been until climax that the aggression had taken over. Then when he had surprised her at the speakeasy with a sensual touch and insinuated a challenge, she had thrown reticence out the door and it had been back to full-blown fury. There had actually come a moment that night, as he’d watched his inamorata making love to another man, that he thought she might kill Baston. The thought had been delicious, and he’d been disappointed when she hadn’t. Now, she had retreated from anger, and it had left what had been sleeping beneath. The anger had been a protector. A monster created to protect the child within. And the child was afraid. Afraid that she may not be able to protect herself, afraid she was weak, and afraid she was unappealing. She had been forced to live in her own filth for months, and the first human contact beyond pain had been the threat of rape. Some part of her still believed she was helpless, starving, filthy and more creature than woman. She had been wearing clothes that covered her completely and was always vigilant of how he was looking at her.

He looked at her now, sweet and vicious and his. Slowly…

He sat the notebook on the table, and raised his palms and shrugged, giving her a humoring expression.

If you feel you must.

She looked at the drawing a moment, before nodding at him.

I must.

Dr. Lecter glanced at his watch, and tapped it with a question on his face.

Right now?

She shrugged. Dr. Lecter nodded and stood, before walking down the hall to get dressed for town. He was ready to stock the kitchen again, anyway. Another though that entered his mind was the realization that her FBI background and training offered a new level of prowess to his existence, and he did not find himself resistent to it.

It occurred to Dr. Lecter as they drove that he would also spend some considerable time shopping for Clarice Starling. There had been numerous times in which he had seen her looking at him, perhaps wanting to speak, but fear of the answers always bridled the impulse. Too risky to needle now? He didn’t think so, but he decided to go about it with severe care. As a sommelier must choose wisely when opening matured wines, so must Dr. Lecter approach the flammable wounds of Starling’s heart. With hardy wines such as Bordeaux blends and Syrah, a decanting works well to separate the sediment from every last drop of drinkable liquid. However, decanting exposes the wine to light. For a young, tight wine it can be a good thing, but for a wine of a delicate nature, you may lose some of its loveliest moments in that exposure. Dr. Lecter could remember a number of times when he was hesitant in the opening a fragile wine, but had always chosen well. He could only abide her weakened amour-propre for so long. He had stood it long enough. It was time to begin again. Time to trigger, trigger and soothe. Time to test her might. It was time for her to understand her worth.

Back home again, and Dr. Lecter put away the groceries while Starling set up security cameras around the perimeter of their temporary home. They had gone to Rome to really make the trip count, and Starling had decided to also pick up some alarm mines and trip flares. She had considered setting up a low wire entanglement, but decided that was a bit much. Instead, she set up a number of nasty little traps that would make for a very unhappy intruder. Pleased with the results, Starling made her way back to the villa, and when she came through the portico, Dr. Lecter was outside holding a snifter in one hand and a cigar in the other. He watched her coming, and there was a note in his expression she could not place. For a long, tense moment, she stood over him. She was experiencing an impulse to touch him. His head was less than a foot from her hip, and she imagined for a moment, taking one hand and slowly running it through his dark hair. He watched her to see if she would, but she moved forward into the home.
Once in his room, she partially understood what she had seen in his face. In the bathroom, he had added a number of fine soaps and lotions. There was also a container of bath salts held within a crystal urn. Starling raised her eyebrows. She decided it was good a time as any to try them; she had built up a sweat setting everything up outside. As she undressed with the bath running, she considered how she could thank him in silence.

Outside, Dr. Lecter swirling the brandy, the cradled glass warming in his palm. He prepared himself for the ways she could react, including the event of no reaction. By the time she was getting out and wrapping herself in a big towel, Dr. Lecter was in the adjacent room he had moved to in order to give her his own. He liked having her sleep in his room. In his bed. He started up the computer to check the FBI public website and admire his old face on the Ten Most Wanted. Starling’s own face was not there, of course.

Starling coming out of the bathroom now, steam rolling out as she came, a puff of air as she passes before lying on top of the duvet. She was still wrapped in a towel, her wet hair in a lighter towel turban. She had brought in one of the bottles of lotion he had placed in the bathroom, and set it aside for a moment. She felt very relaxed. After a few moments, she sat up and removed the towel. The lotion was one of the most divine smells she’d ever experienced, and her skin tingled slightly after she’d put it on. She was lying on the bed, the towel beneath her when she glanced at the door. She checked to make sure it was locked before lying back down.

The contents of the lotion contained a number of ingredients for which Dr. Lecter sought. He visited three different stores and spent nearly a half hour in one of them to find exactly what he was looking for. In spite of many mens’ and womens’ attempts at seducing one another with perfumes and colognes, there is no competing with the scents of nature. Particularly, the aroma of food elicits the greatest sexual response in a human. Vanilla is a natural aphrodisiac that simultaneously induces euphoria and relaxation. Black licorice strongly affects the female sex drive, and cinnamon increases blood flow. Jasmine is the most sensual of all natural scents, containing a compound known as indole, which is also found in abundance around human genitals. Basil is said in Italy to invigorate a flagging sex drive, while peppermint increases the possibility of multiple orgasms in females. Lastly, lily of the valley, a scent as rare, delicate and sweet as Starling herself, is arousing to men. It was perhaps, a gift to himself. Each item he had purchased contained at least three of these items. What he hoped to induce was not to include him, but to reestablish a familiarity and appreciation for herself.

It was dark by the time she emerged from his bedroom. She had not yet discovered what else he had brought home for her, other than the maxi velour robe he had hung in the bathroom. She was wearing it now. It covered her from clavicle to ankle, and she came into the room pink-cheeked and dewy. He smiled and took a page of the book he held between thumb and forefinger, turning it over.

It had been the most wholesome of the clothing he had bought, the rest either folded or hung. He had not removed any clothing, yet. He would wait and see if she reacted to the new items. Now, she burrowed into the luxurious fabric in the armchair, her feet tucked beneath her as she gazed into the fire. The blush velvet undoubtedly felt quite good against her sensitive skin, being newly suffused with oxytocin.

Oxytocin is maximally released one minute after those delectable clitoral contractions, and their levels can be increased simply by stimulation of the clitoris, vagina, cervix, and breasts. He tasted in his mind the wonder of which of those places she had touched in his bed. Ummmmm.

Orgasms have a number of health benefits, the least of which is not the balancing of the holy trinity of estrogen, cortisol and thyroid in women. It is quite productive in stress-reduction and sleep. The words by Hippocrates entered his mind, “Do no harm.” In Hippocrates’ time, orgasms were frequently prescribed to women by medical professionals for various “ailments”. Barbaric but constructive in the right context.

Dr. Lecter glanced at her again, and mused over the color of the fabric she wore. It was a darker shade of pink...a savory pink. It was not quite the color of her coral lips. As it happens, the lips are the same hue as the nipples and vulva. He imagined that if her labia were engorged, it would likely be the color of her attire. He pursed his lips a moment, before returning to his reading.

It wasn’t until the next day that she discovered the other items. She had been blessedly alone, and was caught somewhere between contempt and flattery. A part of her felt that she should thank him for such gifts, while another part of her felt that she should slap him across the face, again. What his intentions were, she couldn’t know without probing him. Considering that there was a possibility he had simply decided to gift her, the adult woman she was, in addition to the fact that she had the option of not wearing them if she so chose, Starling decided to simply say nothing. She knew he wouldn’t ask her.

Starling wondered from time to time about Paul Krendler, and went down to the cellar one evening to check on him. A part of her was surprised to still see him there. He was attempting to masturbate on the cot, and she quickly left. When she returned with a distasteful look, Dr. Lecter tilted his head at her, from where he sat at the piano, but did not stop playing. She glanced at him, and having a moment of amused caprice, she gave a discreet but vulgar gesture. Dr. Lecter smiled, his white teeth catching the light, and played with his eyebrows raised for a few moments. Clarice was happy and surprised when his shoulders had bounced with quiet chuckling. When he’d finished the piece, he invited her to sit with him on the bench. She hesitated a moment, before complying. He first showed her a few chords, and corrected her finger placement. Her fingers were not particularly long, but she had a good reach and they were strong, like his own. She was looking at the scar where his sixth finger had been, and they stopped and looked at one another.

Dr. Lecter was unfamiliar with this level of longing. He decided to allow a degree of it show; it would be good for her to experience the pleasure of being craved. He knew it could elicit her fight or flight response, but it was not concerning to him. She shifted in her seat, but did not look away from him. She held her hands in her lap over her thighs and Dr. Lecter looked from her eyes to her lips, taking a long visual stroll around her face. Starling held her thumb. To her shoulders now, narrow but well-muscled. Down her arms now and leisurely over her breasts. He waited for her to protest, but she did not. Her breath quickened ever so slightly. She was not wearing a bra. Back to her face, now. There was a level of alarm, but balanced with an almost childlike fascination with the moment. Not too much, now. With the level of acceptance she’d shown for a modicum of exhibitionism, he was hopeful that stopping now could lead to her wanting more. That was ideal, though he made no assumptions as he turned and stood.

Having been reminded of Mr. Krendler, Dr. Lecter decided to finish him of, whether she chose to join him or not. He laid out a lovely gown for her on the bed. The door had been open for once, which delighted him. She was sitting in the armchair by the window reading The Count of Monte Cristo. When she looked up at him in the doorway, he’d held it up for a moment before placing it on the bed. He gave a sort of shrug.

If you like.

She nodded, amiably. He tapped his watch and put up eight fingers.

Dinner at eight.

“Ummmm.”

It was the only sound she’d made for nearly two weeks, not counting the little whimpers and cries she’d made the two times she’d been victim to night terrors.

Later, she watched him bringing Paul Krendler down the hallway past her door. He was taped to a chair on top of a dolly, and Dr. Lecter carted him behind like a child with a wagon. Paul waved to her and she waved back. He was in a tuxedo.

 

Starling held her book a moment with a finger keeping her place between the pages, and leaned back in her chair. Here it is, she thought. I am cohabiting with a man who eats other men. Had he eaten women? Her pointer finger made it’s way to her lips as she thought, her eyelids lowering, slightly. She couldn’t remember a female victim, unless there was one unknown to the FBI. No matter, it isn’t the point, she shook her head and dropped her arm to the side. He wanted her as a companion, and no doubt the idea of her dining on human meat would please him mightily. She had no particular desire to eat their victims, his or hers. She searched herself for repulsion, and tilted her head at the moment after realizing there was none. Whether their should be repulsion was of no concern. She no longer cared for what she was expected to feel, only to know what she was feeling without muddied interpretation, whether as a result of the peddled principles of others or sad little wishes from childhood driving her to do right and to be loved.

To be loved. Did she still hope for love? It is impossible to say what Clarice Starling thought of love, if she thought of it at all. That which bound Starling to the world of humanity had been severed, and the doors to her psyche had burst open like the cage doors of a volary, and those little pieces of her held within had flown in every direction and it was unlikely they would all come together, again. But those parts that remained in tact were the very bedrock of what makes an animal animated. Does not every man and woman crave to be loved? Does it not spring from the deepest fountains within man and woman? One thing can be said for certain: Clarice Starling did not ever again desire vulnerability, and any route to it, without inspection or analysis, was blocked off necessarily by mechanics at work beyond the bounds of her consciousness. Yet, it is these mechanics which she has begun to both notice and test. As she sits with the thick novel pierced by her forefinger, Clarice Starling does not think of love, but of pleasure.

Do I wish to please him? She wondered...Has he pleased me? Yes, came the answer. He has pleased me a number of times. The question was, were those times he had pleased her been purely the result of his various stratagems. Or did he wish to please her? How badly did she want to know the answer to such a question? And if she chose to please him, what was her own reason? She found all of these questions to invigorate rather than distress, and she was glad to have returned to herself, in some manner. She no longer felt weighed down by questions or their potential answers, and she considered it a good sign. She had also yet to wake from another nightmare.

In the last week, Starling had found herself feeling rather freed from constraints, and almost childlike in her inner dialogue as she considered the myriad facets of life and her place in it. She had been traversing the landscape of her own mind for days with a sweet, gleeful curiosity. For the first time, she realizes it, now. When had it begun?

There was noise in the kitchen, and Starling set her book down, losing her place. She wandered into the bathroom and took a long, pleasant bath. Afterwards, she dried her hair and used the jasmine lotion before entering the closet to find something to wear. Minutes passed, as she looked for what she had wanted, and sighed when she was unable to find it. There had been a soft, oversized pullover that she liked, and she realized she hadn’t seen it in the laundry or her closet for days. Her eyebrows knitted together, as she realized she couldn’t find any jeans or trousers, either. That was all the stranger than the one missing pullover and Starling crossed her arms, feeling frustrated. There were plenty of dresses, several skirts and a few other blouses she liked but nothing in which to lounge, besides some of the items that were closer to being lingerie. A few moments later, she stood in the mirror examining herself in a silk shirt dress. There was nothing about it that was particularly revealing, although it did provide a good bit of leg. Yet wearing it, she felt exposed. The way the material felt on her skin made her too aware of her own flesh, and she chewed her lip.

She went back into the bedroom and stood in front of the bed looking at the gown Dr. Lecter had draped there. She didn’t like it when he dressed her. Yet, he did so at all times that she was here, because she had not brought any of her own clothes. She tilted her head as her hand drifted to the fabric of the gown and ran her fingers along the bodice. It was lovely, but it had a generous front slit and would reveal more of her chest.

What is this?

Starling wrung her hands and looked at herself in the mirror.

I’ve never cared about how I looked before, never cared if someone was looking beyond the mild irritation of someone ogling me uninvited.

Starling, with her newfound demeanor of late, chose to explore the phenomenon. She also chose that she would please Dr. Lecter to see how he responded to it, but that she would not please him in every way he expected. Thus, she did not wear the gown, nor did she wear the silk shirt dress.

When Starling entered the dining room, Paul Krendler was sipping at a long straw that sprung from a tall cup on the table in front of him. He made a face, apparently displeased by the flavor. He started to complain, but his mouth seized it’s movements in order to look at Starling.

“Ummmm,” Mr. Krendler pursed his lips and then they bunched to the side.

Dr. Lecter busy with his pots and pans looked around his shoulder and his breath caught in his throat. She was not in the gown he had offered, which was interesting, but he set it aside for the moment. What she had chosen was a long, silk dress in cream, it’s straps so thin he could barely see them. It draped her very well, and gave the appearance at short glance that she was nude. To add to this effect, she had pinned her hair so that nothing but a few strands of hair touched her neck, exposing her shoulders, throat and chest beautifully. She looked at him and Dr. Lecter’s pupils dilated.

He brought her a drink with the appetizers and she smiled. When he spoke, Starling took a sharp breath.

“Mr. Krendler, as I explained to you before, Ms. Starling and I have an agreement to not speak with one another for the time being. However, that agreement does not stretch to you, as far as I’m concerned. Say, ‘hello’ to Ms. Starling, remember your manners.”

Mr. Krendler was gaping at Starling, his face white and his eyes glazed.

“Hello, Starling,” he smiled, unpleasantly.

“Hello, Paul.”

“You are...s’going to wear that to dinner?” he slurred.

“Yes. It is an experiment,” she answered, taking a seat across from him.

“You look naked.”

“I know,” she said, bringing her drink to her lips.

Dr. Lecter found himself wishing to comment, but he refrained. It was pleasant to hear her voice again, he decided. He also noted that her accent had returned, a bit. She had done well hiding it, as accents are often well banished when attempting a foreign plebeian. Her Canadian inflection had been decent, he had noticed, when first hearing her speak after two years. She had clearly been working on it, though when speaking with him, her natural cadence often returned. He found it pleased him. Now, having been not speaking at all, her cadence was almost completely reverted. He had made fun of her for it years ago, but he found it to be endearing now as it was simply a trait of the woman whom had consumed him. She looked at him again, seeing that he was looking at her and she smiled, and once again without realizing it, she ate his heart.

“Paul, do you know what we’re having?” she asked, amusement implicit in her tone. Her eyes remained on Dr. Lecter.

“Don’t say a word, Paul. It would ruin the surprise,” he said, giving her a wink. Starling felt her ears grow hot and she looked away with a soft chortle. The air on her skin heightened her sense of reality and she found herself wanting to touch her arms or neck. Her hands rested in her lap, and she freed one to take her drink for something to hold onto. She swallowed and allowed herself to experience the sensation of exhibitionism. It was deliciously uncomfortable, and she writhed slightly in her chair. Dr. Lecter was looking at her again from the kitchen and she glanced at him. He smiled warmly, before returning again with a stainless steel induction cooking cart. Starling ate the tiny amuse-gueule Dr. Lecter had provided as he fired up the burners. Starling was looking at Mr. Krendler and appeared to be thinking. Looking at him, he began to seem out of place, or rather, the world around him was out of place. She couldn’t tell which, but Krendler’s physical form seemed to be in either recess or relief. She felt pleasantly warm and smooth and she realized she was touching the silk on her knees. It felt very nice, and she sat back in her seat and closed her eyes.

“I always wanted to watch you eat,” said Mr. Krendler, clearly unaware of his inappropriate volume and words.

“I always wanted to watch you make a fool of yourself, so it is a night of unmitigated fulfillment. I think too, Dr. Lecter has maybe been looking forward to eating you.”

As she spoke, Dr. Lecter turned and removed the runner’s headband from Paul’s head, with care. Starling watched him then remove the top of his head, the pinky grey dome of his brain exposed. He took four pieces of the frontal lobe. As he worked, Dr. Lecter spoke over his shoulder.

“I hope you will not be offended, Mr. Krendler, if Ms. Starling chooses not to partake in this portion of the meal. Given my intimate knowledge of her, I am willing to pardon such a choice at this dinner, though I must say it would be a pleasure to provide her with sustenance of both a physical and psychological nature,” he glanced at her, before adding,” I believe that dining on an enemy of the past would be cathartic, in spite of whatever resistance, understandable though it may be, to the idea of any part of your body entering her.”

Starling looked at Paul to speak.

“I suppose...if Dr. Lecter is willing to make exceptions for me, I should be willing to do the same.”

“I would certainly hope, Mr. Krendler, that Ms. Starling would not make the choice for my sake alone. Don’t you agree?”

“If you’d like to swing on a star!” Mr. Krendler began singing.

“I see your meaning, Mr. Krendler,” said Starling, her hands caressing her arms and shoulders absentmindedly, “ we should aspire to be all that we can be. One cannot begin to do such a thing without taking certain liberties. I’ll admit, I’ve never considered myself to be an adventurous person. I’ve had enough guns fired at me to never need another thrill again, but seeing as how I no longer have a real idea of who I am, I may as well make it up as I go along.”

Dr. Lecter was placing the browned brains on broad croutons and smiled, as he dressed them with sauce and truffle slices.

“A candid realization from the lovely Ms. Starling. Well done, Mr. Krendler.”

A few moments later, Mr. Krendler stopped singing and stared at Starling, again.

“How is it?”

“Very good,” she said after finishing a bite, “I’ve never had caper berries before.”

Dr. Lecter watched Starling with avid adoration and pleasure. She had looked right into his eyes when taking the first bite, her teeth grazing the throngs of the fork a little longer than necessary. He had been scarcely able to contain his glee. She saw it and smiled at him before swallowing, almost lewdly.

During the course of their first real dinner together, Starling and Dr. Lecter talked to one another tentatively through Paul Krendler, who continued singing children’s songs and show tunes, occasionally inviting requests. No real points or questions were driven, and the conversation, if it could be called thus, remained light and pleasant. After they had finished a second helping and had indulged themselves in sorbet and then sgroppinos, Starling hummed and then straightened up.

“Gentlemen, excuse me a moment.”

“Starling, you couldn’t be myyyy office girl. You sound like a corn pone country cunt.”

“I enjoyed the alliteration of that insult, Paul,” she commented, as she stood, “it was very chocolately,” she mused. Dr. Lecter’s eyes on her always, as she came around to the other side of the table to stand behind Paul. She took the short sword from its scabbard at her thigh from beneath her dress and, with clandestine strength, plunged it into Mr. Krendler’s heart. With her unnatural calm and surety, it almost seemed as though she had not plunged it, but simply placed it there, as though casually shutting a door left ajar. She left it there buried to the hilt, and looked directly at Dr. Lecter, whose eyes seemed to burn.

“My rent is due. I will need to return to Rome tomorrow in order to tie off a few loose ends.”

“Cara mia,” he breathed, and then in a less impassioned tone,” of course.” He gave a small bow of his head. “Please, allow Paul and I to clean up,” he said, gesturing widely with an arm to her seat. She returned to it slowly and drifting. When she had seated, her head bowed slightly to the side in a peaceful manner, like a flower bending in a breeze. It was taken care of quickly, and Starling watched without making judgements about the observations she made, as she had done throughout the dinner since sitting down with her first drink. She did not even wonder what he did with the short sword. In the sitting room, they sat with coffee at the lighted fire. They had not spoken again, yet. Dr. Lecter waited for Starling to begin, to be sure their speech was meant to resume. After nearly a half hour, Starling’s eyes, which had been closed, opened wide and looked at him.

“Do you wish to please me?” she asked, her gaze penetrating him deeply, and Dr. Lecter moved his head slightly to look at her straight on.

“Intensely.”

Starling hummed again, and he watched her hands moving about involuntarily again, roaming the various textures she found in her vicinity, enjoying any tactile experiences she could.

“To give me pleasure for the sake of giving me pleasure?” she asked, wanting to be sure she understood his answer.

“Precisely.”

“Is that the only reason? What is it that you want? Tell me, tell me the whole of it. Tell me everything that you want and why.”

Dr. Lecter pursed his lips a moment and sat up, the firelight in his eyes sending red sparks to his core.

“What I want, in it’s most depraved form, is to possess you wholly. I want you to be mine, Clarice. I want you to be all of yourself, not any version another invents or embellishes, not even myself. I want you whole and complete, and I want you, all of you, to belong to me. I want to give you pleasures you have never known or explored in all of the aimless woolgathering I doubt you’ve allowed yourself. I want to see what ecstasy looks like on your face, what it sounds like coming from your mouth. I want you to stay with me. My flower, I want you to stay with me. Yes...I want to please you.”

He allowed a few moments to pass for his words to sink in, before continuing.

“As for why...I cannot imagine that it is not plain to you. I have watched you degraded, publicly shamed and isolated for ever only doing what you believed right. As absurd as your principles were, you held fast to them with the hope that you were contributing positively to the world you found yourself in, no matter how that world treated you. You have braved everything from Migg’s shameful behavior to the shameful behavior of those around you unwilling to be associated with one marked first by association with myself, and then the association with the calamity of media. What you seek, my flower, is dignity. Do you think I do not see it or feel it, myself? Whatever drives you, you are a hero. Nothing of this world will ever truly touch you, because you are above it. You have earned, a thousand times over, a place above the rest of the world’s sad, extraneous creatures, Clarice. I wish to facilitate that rise in your existence. I can do much, if you allow me. Remember that, Clarice. I can do much.”

Starling seemed to think a moment, ruminating on his words, and then looked at him, again.

“And have I pleased you?”

“More than you could know. More than any sight, taste or smell, my flower.”

Dr. Lecter had to wait nearly two minutes before she spoke again, though he did so now, with perfect calm, and seemingly with boundless patience and contentedness.

“Perhaps...” she murmured, still touching herself. “Is that not the most basic human philosophy?” she added, looking at him so he knew she was addressing him, now. “Perhaps...” she repeated.

“Dumas would certainly agree with you,” he said, smiling, his small white teeth gleaming for a short moment.

“I am going to bed,” she suddenly announced, and stood. He stood with her, always the gentlemen.

He watched her drift down the hall into his room, before going to the kitchen to finish cleaning up. He paid particular attention to cleaning Starling’s short sword, and could not help but be flattered that she had chosen it to dispose of Paul Krendler, who gurgled in his seat. He threw a dish towel onto his face and grinned, before returning his attention to the dishes.

After a time, he turned the lights out and extinguished the fire. It was dark in the villa except for a light coming from the open door of his room. He went down the hall and, passing the door, he paused at the threshold.

Clarice Starling was releasing the buttons at the back of her dress, and she looked up and saw his image in the mirror in front of her. She turned around and looking right into his eyes, took the straps beneath her fingers and pulled them over her shoulders. The dress fell to the floor and she stood in only a pair of silk panties and did not move. Dr. Lecter stood perfectly still watching her. It was not an invitation, he knew, and only watched. She stepped out of the dress and bent to retrieve it and then placed it on the chair back behind her. Then she sat down and let her hair loose, and watched him watching her in the mirror as she brushed it. Dr. Lecter made the minutes slow down for him, and when she stood and removed the last article of clothing she possessed, his expression did not change, but his nostrils flared with a sharp intake of breath as he took in every nuance of the moment, the smell of her in particular. She went to the bed and pulled the sheets back and slid into bed silently, pulling the duvet up with the sheets before rolling over and turning off the light. It was a full minute, before he thought to move.

Chapter Text

Most of the time, Dr. Lecter was up and moving around the house before Starling. However, the following morning, Dr. Lecter’s eyes opened fully, as though he had never been asleep, to the sound of a door closing. He rose from the bed and listened a moment, but there was no more noise, keen as his senses were. He was tempted to investigated, but decided to let her do as she pleased uninterrupted, and went to the bathroom to take a leisurely shower. Afterwards, he gave himself a shave and, standing in his bathrobe, stood very still and listened again. A very soft tinkling and scraping alerted him to the sounds of the kitchen. He had been making breakfast for her every morning, and Dr. Lecter considered the possibility that she was beginning to feel the need to treat his home more like a resident than a guest, which was very good. He glanced in the mirror and wiped the remaining bits of shaving cream from underneath his chin and behind his ears, before getting dressed.

In the kitchen, Starling was sitting at the bistro table by the window with a cup of coffee, and looking at her lap top with her eyebrows knitted. She looked up.

“Good morning, Clarice.”

“Good morning, Dr. Lecter.”

He came into the room and poured himself a cup of coffee in silence, before sitting at the table across from her. She was back to looking at her computer. After a time, she shut it, and peered out the window, lifting her knees to her chest. He watched her, as she sipped her coffee.

“What do we contemplate?”he asked.

“One of my trip alarms went off, last night. Naturally, I thought it could have just been an animal, but when I went out to check it, there weren’t any animal tracks. In fact, there were no tracks of any kind.”

“Not to doubt you’re conjecture, but we do have neighbors, Clarice.”

“Neighbors don’t cover their own tracks. And it’s not just that.”

“What else?”

“A feeling.”

“Now, that peeks my interest. Tell me what it is you’re feeling.”

Starling looked at him sharply, and gave him a contemptuous look that grew into a reluctant smile. Dr. Lecter offered her a warm smile and both his open palms.

“I’m not asking as a psychiatrist, Clarice.”

“As what persona are you asking if not a psychiatrist, which is what you are?”

“Certainly, you are not attempting to compress me into a single category. You know better,” he said, wagging his finger with a tilt of his head.

“Surely you are not reprimanding me,” she responded, sipping her coffee, before releasing her legs and leaning into the table with her elbows. “but we digress. If you would please, Dr. Lecter, answer my question. I would be happy to answer yours. I realize you asked yours first, but I really do require your answer before I can give mine. Not for any petty reason, it’s quite practical. I need to know how to answer the question with the most efficiency.”

“I am asking you what you’re feeling as your companion. If there is something amiss that I have not perceived with my own sagacity, I am eager to learn what it is you have perceived,” he offered his palms again,” it is the nature of having a companion.”

Starling pursed her lips and sat back, again.

“Alright, then. I have been having the sense of being watched, which is something I have become rather sensitive to. This morning, I had that sense intensely. Some internal alarm is going off that there is...an aggressor nearby.”

“If someone meant you harm outside, why would they not have taken advantage of your being alone to harm you, do you think?”

“I think they didn’t have a clear shot. In addition to that, if they knew you’re here, they could be hesitant to alert you to their presence, lest you flee or contrive some other means of thwarting them.”

“Them? Is there a reason you think there would be more than one person?”

She thought a moment, looking out the window. “ I don’t think anyone in their right mind, if they know who we are, would come anywhere near us alone.”

“Are you inclined to think it is law enforcement?”

She shook her head. “No, they would’ve come down on us last night with all the force they had at their disposal. We’d be dead or in handcuffs, by now. The fact that they haven’t leads me to believe they intend to kill us both as discreetly as possible. Preferably without drawing any attention at all. Law enforcement doesn’t need to sneak around for long. They get a lay of the land, a plan is already formed before ever arriving, and in our case, SWAT would be involved, probably in cooperation with the NOCS. Speed is the key in dynamic entries, based on the concept that action is quicker than reaction. If someone doesn’t know you’re coming, it is unlikely that they can react quickly enough to offer substantial resistance. In a deliberate entry, things slow down in order to visually clear an area as much as possible before occupying it. But even in that case, it only takes a few hours at most, not all night or days. No, I think they’d prefer we were away from the villa, entirely. That way they could either take us out in the open, or more safely occupy the area while we’re gone and then ambush us. So there’s probably not more than five or six, and they are not law enforcement. It’s something else.”

“So, assuming that you are correct on all counts, and I’m not assuming otherwise, you believe these people are waiting for us to leave. If that’s the case, they haven’t been here very long, as we went to the village only three days ago.”

“Right. I think they’ve come sniffing around some time yesterday. They’re scoping things out, keeping their distance and waiting for the safest, easiest way to do it. If they’re being paid, they’ll take their time.” She paused to look at him, not making any attempt to hide the fact that she was measuring his reaction to everything she’d said. Dr. Lecter held his elbow and had a finger along his nose. He wasn’t looking at her.

For a moment, she almost found herself defending her conjecture. She decided she would not, and sipped her coffee.

“I’d like to be wrong,” she said, instead. He looked at her and smiled.

“No need to grow anxious, Dear. Although it sounds to me like your plans to visit Rome today have been delayed. Pity, I had been thinking of taking you to the Colosseum while we were there. Have you ever seen the Colosseum at night?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well, we must remedy that, eventually. The magnificence of the ruins is enhanced in the light of a southern moon. It shoots forth cool, liquid rays like the reverie of a fantasy twilight. I have seen it some ten times, myself. It’s effect has not waned.”

Starling smiled at him for a moment, but then seemed to almost shake it off. Dr. Lecter noted that she seemed determined to remove herself completely from their circumventing intimacy. She was decidedly cool toward him. No matter, there would be plenty of time for sport later on. If she was correct in her presumption, whether it mostly stemmed from intuition or evidence, there was work to be done. He stood.

“What would you do if you were alone?” she asked.

“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest, Clarice. But the general idea would be to wait and move around as necessary in order to confront each one alone. I know this area very, very well. At present, they would be trying to do the same, but no matter how many days and nights they dally around outside, you have made it difficult to move freely around the perimeter and they will not know the inside of the villa. If there is more than one as you’ve suggested, I think it unlikely that they will all come through the door at once. They will attempt to make multiple entries at different points, wherever they have decided is most vulnerable. Here, that would include the large window in the dining room, the front door and the back door. What would you do if you were alone, Clarice?”

“Well, I’d like them to not know that we suspect anything, but at the same time, I don’t want to make us vulnerable. I know the weak points of the layout. The best visual of the villa is up on that hill to the south, and with a scope you can see the portico, but not into the dining room window. There’s no clear shot from there though, unless we’re right in front of the gate or behind it, or anywhere near our vehicles. The south garden is pretty exposed, but not the north one. There’s just too many trees, and it would be too much of a risk, which is why, I think, I wasn’t attacked. There are some traps I set which are impossible to see even with a scope in the north garden. What I’d like is to lure them to that area, which would mean going out there and exposing myself to face-to-face attack, but not gunfire. They’d prefer that, anyway. Even a silencer would be risky, if they know you. To get close enough to sneak up on me, they would run into those traps. Then they would be vulnerable to counterattack. If they proceed into the villa from any of those entry points you named, I’d like to construct obstacles. Ways to distract them to make it easier for me to take them out.”

“Do you have your .45 on your leg?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Had you planned on killing me, at some point, Clarice?”

“Yes.”

“Was it after my letter?”

“Yep.”

“What changed your mind?”

“I like you.”

Dr. Lecter smiled. “I am very fond of you, Clarice.”

“I’d also like to take the primary position. “

“What is that, Darling?”

“It’s the position taken that covers the enemy’s most likely avenue of approach, which in this case is the back door, particularly if they’re lured to the north. The window is least appealing because they don’t have a good line of sight without exposing their position. The front door is the most obvious place in which to enter the villa, so they’ll want to avoid it.”

“How long do you think they’re willing to wait before deciding to attack here instead of waiting for us to leave?” asked Dr. Lecter.

“Depends on if they’re on a schedule. They wont want to wait more than a few days, though. Again, it’s best if they believe that we’re going about our normal activities. Lights turn on and off, movement and sounds...When they attack, it will most likely be at night,” she continued, “when they think we’re asleep. But again, if they know who we are, they will probably not be careless. Unfortunately. But we’ll see,” She looked up at him, and he nodded.

“Very well. Let’s set up your obstacles and then have breakfast.”

“Sounds good. I was thinking of making something, actually. Would you be opposed to that?”

“On the contrary, I invite it. What did you have in mind?”

“A Florence-inspired souffle.”

“Excellent. Although, I was under the impression you specialized in confectionery, these days.”

“I do, but during my education, I became determined to perfect the chocolate souffle. Having done so, I’ve broaden my souffle horizons.”

“You’ve broaden many of your horizons, Darling.”

“Have you got enough pet names for me, do you think?”

“Dr. Lecter inclined his head. “I haven’t heard you telling me to stop, Clarice. And I don’t imagine you would do so indirectly. So are you voicing out loud your discomfort with my calling you affectionate names or your discomfort with enjoying it?”

“I’m just saying...you could do with one more. I don’t think there’s enough.”

Dr. Lecter laughed and drew closer.

“Now you’re flirting,” he said, moving her hair behind her ear. He watched her skin prickle and moved behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders. When she did not protest, he began massaging them.

“Ummm, that feels good.”

“I’m glad. I’m always at your service.”

Starling fought with the desire to protect her neck and throat from the male hands behind her, and the exquisite feel of his skin on hers. After a few minutes his movements had progressed to something beyond a massage. His thumb stroked the back of her neck and she shivered. He was touching her to touch her, now. His touch was casual, his fingers moving to the front of her shoulders and caressing her collarbones, a finger dipping slowly into her suprasternal notch. As his hands worked, Starling closed her eyes. It was still a bit surreal to feel his hands on her. As he was positioned behind her and out of sight, it made it easier to relax into his touch. He lifted her hair and put it over her shoulder, exposing the back of her neck. A part of her considered asking him to stop, but she changed her mind.

She had discovered more than one disconcerting thing the night before. It had been an enlightening evening, particularly where Dr. Lecter was concerned. She didn’t think he knew what she had been up to, nor what she had figured out, and she needed to keep it that way for the time being. She would’ve preferred to address the matter immediately, but then the trip alarm had gone off. She would need to deal with the interlopers, whoever they were, before dealing with Dr. Lecter. After they were alone again, they would be having a little chat, and Dr. Lecter would be indisposed for that conversation.

Time for that, later. Now, Starling let herself enjoy his touch. She could be angry and receive pleasure at the same time, she found. In fact, it was quite delicious, in a depraved sort of way. She wanted more. She leaned her head back and moved her cheek into the back of his hand, like a cat inviting a fondle. She could hear his breath draw sharply, and he moved his hand to cup her jaw and stroke her beneath her chin with his thumb. The sound it drew from her mouth was apparently involuntary, as her eyes fluttered a moment in surprise. His other hand drifted down her arm, and it seemed to distract her from momentary chagrin, and her eyes closed, again.

The tips of his fingers traced back up her arm, and she sighed. Her head further inclined, exposing her throat, invitingly. She felt Dr. Lecter adjust his position behind her, but his hands never stopped touching her. The one on her jaw moved down her throat, and draped there for a moment, as if to feel her pulse. She could feel the back of her head touching some part of him, warm and sturdy. His other hand continued to moved slowly up and down her arm, and she found her other arm moving backwards and finding his leg. She held onto it, and she heard him let out an almost noisy exhale. More.

Starling found herself wondering how far she was willing to push this, how far she should push it. She explored it for a moment in the privacy of her thoughts. Should? Fuck should’s. Aren’t I angry at him? Yes, quite. Don’t I not entirely trust him? Correct. Is it possible that’s making this more exciting? Yep. Interesting. Push, now. Push…

She moved her hand up his leg, and as she did, Dr. Lecter let the hand on her throat slide downward, until his fingers breached the neck of her blouse. Just beneath the fabric, no further. With his other hand, he moved the strap on her shoulder to the side, leisurely. He switched his hands, moving one down to touch her chest and the other to slide the other strap off of her shoulder. Starling was beginning to breath fast. Dr. Lecter’s voice almost startled her, particularly because it was so close to her ear, that his breath stirred her hair.

“Not only does your face flush when you’re aroused, but your throat and chest as well. It is a delightful vision.”

Starling didn’t open her eyes, but her lips had parted, and she licked them.

“I enjoy hearing your breathing hitch in your throat. I can’t imagine it is on purpose.”

She felt him move again, his hands never stopping their movement. When she heard him speak again, she knew he had stood up straight again.

“Did you know that you’re squirming in your seat, cara mia? Furtively squeezing your thighs will only you get you so far, you know. “

“I can get myself far enough.”

Dr. Lecter’s laugh was rich and saturated with bridled hunger. “Oh, I know. Words can’t describe to you how pleased I am that you have done so a number of times in my bed. Oh...did you think I did not know?”

“Oh, I hoped you did. The way you gaze at me longingly and make such efforts to manage me makes it easy to frustrate you. Didn’t you know that, il mio amore? “

“Ummmm, is that what you’re after? To goad me? My, I hope so. If you continue to be recreationally combative, as you sometimes do, I can certainly be recreationally assertive. Would you like that?” Dr. Lecter’s voice was quiet and low, a metallic lilting rasp. Starling trembled, and he slid the straps of her camisole further down her arms, and then moved the tips of his fingers along her waist. One hand came to hold her throat in place and he bent at the waist, bringing his face close to hers. Starling opened her eyes and looked at him.

“You haven’t answered my question,” he reminded her, smiling. “Would you like that, little Starling?”

Starling responded by gingerly licking him where his lips met. Dr. Lecter opened his mouth, his eyes closing for a moment with his next breath. Suddenly, it was over. He stood up straight, removing his hands from her.

“What fun we’ll have, my Clarice,” he whispered, turning to leave. “What fun,” he repeated, smiling at her in the doorway before leaving her alone in the kitchen.

“Breakfast at eight,” she called, pleasantly.

Indeed, we will.

First, Starling used the window film she had found in an office area, presumably left over from fortifying the glass door to the cellar. After getting it set to the window, she caulked it to the frame. She left the big one in the dining room alone. She wanted to ensure that if someone came through a window, it would be the window through which she wanted them to come. The doors, all but the front ones, were given a similar defensive treatment, by placing a 2 x 4 between the doors and the walls. It wouldn’t completely impede anyone, but would halt their progression and make the intrusion obvious and easier to counter.

For the point of entry she wished to make available to them, Starling set up a bright light to go off upon entry, so that they would be robbed of sight, at least for a moment. That would make it easy to pick anyone off. As she stood in the foray with a finger to her lips in thought, Starling decided to also fortify the foray. If it were her doing the breaking and entering, she would try to disorient the senses if possible. She had no way of knowing what kinds of weapons and tools they had, but better to be safe than sorry. She chose a wire mesh barrier, and with Dr. Lecter’s assistance, it took about twenty minutes to stretch it from top to bottom, from the right wall to the left. She stood back looking at it and nodded.

“Good,” she said, glancing at him. He smiled.

“Now, aren’t you glad I’m a paranoid mess and bought all this when we went out?” she asked, teasingly. He took her hand and brought it his mouth.

“I appreciate every richness you bring, Clarice,” he said, letting her hand go. She tucked her hair behind her ears and hooked her hands at her hips, looking away. Dr. Lecter reached out, placing two fingers beneath her chin and bringing her face to look at him.

“You are not a mess. You are healing,” he added, looking deep, deep. Starling pursed her lips, feeling an odd flutter in her belly. One of her hands came to her abdomen, unconsciously smoothing the fabric there.

“Are you alright?” he asked, releasing her chin. Starling nodded, but her eyebrows were knitted.

“Yes, I...” she trailed off, glancing at the wire barrier, then the floor and back at Dr. Lecter. “My stomach just feels weird. Like I’m nervous, or...I don’t know,” she said, and shook her head. “I’m fine.”

“Are you nervous about this confrontation?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. Starling shook her head.

“I don’t think so. It’s gone, now. It was just a peculiar moment, I suppose.”

Dr. Lecter pursed his lips and moved closer to her. He used his two fingers beneath her chin again, forcing her to look at him. Again, looking deep.

“Did you feel it before, in the kitchen?” he asked, tilting his head, a faint smile.”Did you feel it when I was touching you?”

Starling swallowed. ”No.”

“Ummm, Clarice?”

“Yes?”

Dr. Lecter put his hands on either side of her head, his thumbs on her temples.

“There is nothing wrong with you, cara mia. You are just as you are, and what you are is singular beyond the bounds of my experience. You are a treasure in this world.”

Starling’s hand drew up to her abdomen again, and she closed her eyes.

“Are you feeling it, again?” he asked. She nodded, her eyes squeezed shut.

“Ah,” he said, releasing her head and taking a step back. When she opened her eyes, he stood a good measure away, his hands clasped behind his back, his posture erect and elegant.

“Ah, what? What’s the prognosis?” she asked, with a touch of humor.

Dr. Lecter tilted his head. “Your response is related to tenderness and affection.”

“...And?”

“We will discuss it in length another time.” When she started to protest, he held up a shapely hand. “I will ask you to trust me, Clarice. I intend no harm, only to consider timing when it comes to certain revelations. Come,” he said, gesturing widely with an arm. A childish part of Starling wanted to be stubborn about the issue, but there was reason in his wording. It was not an appropriate time for any kind of revelations, curious as she was about his deductions. Yes, she thought, 'We will certainly discuss it in length, among other things. Another time.'

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Hiroo had seen American women in Japan, of course. Most often, they were tourists in a group, lumpy and awkward, snapping photos of a maiko in the street and buying tenuguis that they would undoubtedly take home and either never use or use inappropriately in an otherwise Western-decorated home. Whether they were ever attractive to him was difficult to say, in the same sense that it was difficult for him to say if another man was attractive. Perhaps in the aesthetic sense, like a maiko or a doll. But even a maiko has grace and dignity. American women did not generally possess either quality, even if they were pleasing to the eye, anatomically.

Hiroo first sees Clarice Starling in the gardens of the villa, first walking uphill and around trees, and then crouching at the trip alarm. She was dappled in the morning sun which made its way through the trees around her. He was on his belly and watching through his scope. Her body was mostly obscured by the many trees between them, but he could see part of her hair and a forearm.

The trip alarm had been a source of frustration for Hiroo. The younger of the two brothers had made the mistake, and Hiroo and the others had been quick to blame him. The truth that Hiroo would never admit as long as he lived was that it could have been any of them, including himself. It had been awhile since he had surveyed, but it was no excuse for not having anticipated that the targets might have trip alarms or any other manner of deterrents. Especially considering that one of them was former law enforcement. They had gotten so heated over the situation that the brothers had gone to the village for an hour. There had been a short debate over how to handle it, being that if they covered their tracks, it could be suspicious, and if they did not cover their tracks, it would possibly lead one or both of them to their position. Then there was the squabble over whether that might be a good thing, and then the quiet Hiroo had spoken up. He had repeated his own mantra, ‘Stay the course’.

That had been until they became pressed for time. It had been nearly a week. They had wanted them out in the open, and the targets seemed to be hermits.That, or they knew they were there. It had been nearly five days, and the others were becoming impatient. ‘They have to come out for food, eventually,’ Sora had pointed out, but then there was the matter of their employer. She wanted it done quickly and discreetly, or not at all. Additionally, the targets could be stocked on food and supplies for months, for all they knew. It was beginning to seem more and more likely that they would have to make their move here or not at all. Their instructions had been made extremely clear. Quickly and discreetly or not at all. At this point, the smartest thing to do was to leave. Hiroo did not want to leave. As much as he was anxious to return home to his island, he wanted to complete this job and complete it well. Deep within his unconscious mind, Hiroo needed to accomplish it, needed to know that he could, needed to know who he was. And there was that woman.

He’d only watched her briefly, and while she was no maiko and certainly not a geisha or even in possession of the common Japanese woman’s poise, she had...something. It was not delicate, nor was it even entirely feminine; she was wolfish in her scrutiny of the surrounding woods, eyes searching, searching. She moved like a leopard in her surroundings, slow and so very quiet, but with an unnerving, focused energy that could surge into vicious movement at any moment. He had watched her closely as she stood and went back to the villa. Even her unhurried, less vigilant walk back to the villa had the steady confidence of a predator in its territory. She was magnificent. Hiroo wanted to see her closer. Closer. He wanted to tranquilizer her like a beautiful beast with sharp claws and touch her, to see what it felt like as she breathed. That was most certainly not part of the course, and Hiroo battled with himself whether to do it or not. The desire was real and very strong. He had not seen the psychiatrist, yet.

They had looked at photographs of both of them of course, but they had been warned that their appearances would likely be at least somewhat changed. The man, Hiroo thought, seemed rather small and erudite to have the particular reputation of being a ‘monster’, but Hiroo Hara was not so ignorant to think size or appearance could indicate of what a human being was capable. He himself was quite small, but there is always someone smaller, and there is often a way to outwit someone larger. Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a genius of some sort, most certainly had such capacity for the latter. How strong he was...it was impossible to know. Hiroo Hara did not want to find out. This was not about validation or masculine prowess. If he could, he’d kill Lecter first.

It was a Sunday night when Hiroo Hara stood with the others, and they began their approach. Sora and Hiroo going towards the back door, Areg toward the front, and Kaito toward the big window of the dining room. Hiroo was glad that the others were as silent as he. Saro and Hiroo were to wait on their entry until Kaito was inside. Once inside, he would make no move to locate them, if they were not in plain sight, but instead immediately find any obstacles that could be in the way of the front and back doors and remove them. Then, he would leave silently, assuming they were not awake and waiting, and Areg would smoke them out with tear gas. From that point, it was difficult to plan anything. They would need to rely on fast reaction and improvisation. Ideally, the targets would come stumbling out or attempt to hide, and they would simply shoot them both on sight. If either of them fired, they would do so blindly, and they all wore Kevlar vests. A notorious sharpshooter. Hiroo put the warning words out of his mind. It was time to work.

Kaito was most at risk at the start, approaching from the front where he could easily be spotted. It seemed unlikely that they were both wide awake all night every night, scanning endlessly, though. They were now mindful of trip wires, and Hiroo watched Kaito with Sora some distance away through night goggles. He was moving quick, quiet and low, before they could no longer see him, for the foliage. He was to signal the side of the villa when he was done. If there was the sound of gunfire, they would leave. At least, Hiroo would leave, and probably Areg, too. Sora, being Kaito’s younger brother, would likely die with Kaito should he fail. Sora watched even more keenly than Hiroo, himself. Whatever took place, Hiroo believed, and certainly Sora believed, that Kaito would put up a glorious fight.

Starling was sitting in the corner of the dining room between the wall and the credenza. The villa was dark and had been for hours. Her eyes had adjusted long before Kaito appeared at the window. She had chosen to lock it, as leaving it unlocked would have likely made their intruders suspicious. So she watched with interest as he struggled to get in. His struggle was brief and nearly silent. One leg came through and then another. His feet did not make a sound on the tiles, and he stood for a moment, his eyes adjusting to the darkness slowly.

He looked in her direction where she crouched in the shadows but didn't see Starling. He glanced toward the kitchen, waiting for something, perhaps sounds of alert or a signal from one of the others. Starling had stood and was behind him quickly. She would have liked to shoot him from where she had crouched, but she had to be near him when he fell. He turned slightly in her direction as she fired her gun, the silencer making the crack muted. She did her best to catch him as he pitched forward. He did not weight much more than she did, but she still only managed to sort of slow down his fall, enough for the impact of his body on the tiles to make minimal noise.

 

She backed away from him until she was out of the light which came through the window from the moon. It was not quite full and somewhat obscured, but there was still a pool of light upon the tiles. Back in the shadows now, she leaned against the wall and glanced out the window. She couldn't see anyone, but they were there. She waited in a state of hyper awareness, a sharp, sober reality that turned minutes into hours.

She felt eyes, and her own eyes darted to the dining room entrance, where Lecter now stood. She could barely make him out in the dark, dressed in black slacks and sweater. Only the lightness of his face lead her eyes to follow the contours of him where he stood so still, looking at Kaito and then her. She gave him a nod, and he moved away, out of sight.

Outside, Sora's eyebrows were knitted. He glanced up the hill toward Hiroo, who gave him a signal to keep waiting. Sora was growing impatient and anxious. Kaito should have returned by now, and Kaito always came and went on time. He should have returned by now, should have returned by now, should have-a thought entered his mind. Kaito could be dead. Kaito could be dead, and he didn't know it. He could have been dead for minutes, no longer occupying the same space as he, gone and far away beyond reach, and he didn't know it. Crouched here waiting for him to return, waiting and waiting for a return that would never come. The thought spread and left thorny pricks in his heart and he bristled. If Kaito was dead, nothing mattered but to kill them both, no matter the cost. He was going back and forth between 'staying the courses' and 'fuck the course, kill them all', going back and forth like a pantometer, going back and forth faster and faster, and it was almost ticking in his head, further agitating him.

Hiroo watched as Sora struggled internally and he became concerned. Hiroo was rising from his position as Areg moved toward the front entrance. Hiroo stopped, watching him. He tried to signal to Areg to stop, but he wasn't looking. Areg wasn't supposed to go yet, he wasn't supposed to go until Hiroo approached the back door.

Areg had seen Hiroo stand, and had been concerned about the length of time that had passed. Much of their success depended on timing and luck, which were terrible things on which to depend. He had begun to decide something had gone wrong minutes before Hiroo had stood, and when he did, Areg was anxious to begin. He held a flash grenade in one hand, a shot gun at his hip, a pistol with a silencer at his side and tear gas grenades at the ready.

It happened fast. The front door was unlocked, and Areg didn't like that. He threw the flash grenade, and waited. With his back against the wall, he pivoted, aiming his gun into the entry way, but no one was there. Movement down the corridor and Areg moved just as he heard the muted crack of a silencer. It clipped his shoulder and he gritted his teeth, gripping his shot gun. He switched weapons, taking his pistol in his hands, and signaling to Hiroo, who was moving fast toward Saro. Saro was heading toward the back door with abandon. Hiroo stopped, looking back and forth between Areg at the front and Siroo at the back. Things had spiraled out of control in a matter of minutes.

Areg threw the tear gas grenade hard, hoping to reach the shooter near the end of the corridor, but it bounced off the mesh barrier and rolled back toward him.

"Ah, fuck!" Areg mumbled when he saw it. He covered his face with his unarmed forearm and backed away, his eyes and nose immediately running uncontrollably. Starling glanced backward where Dr. Lecter sat in a chair near the back entrance, calm and waiting with his harpy. She came quickly down the corridor and positioned herself against one of the onyx columns and aimed toward the entrance. She could hear Areg moving outside, coughing and sniffing. She moved beneath the barrier until she could see him, trying not to breach the portico itself. He was moving toward the trees, his back to her. He was stumbling but moving quickly. She aimed for a moment, before closing the doors, instead.

By his methods and movements, she thought him to be military, possibly ex-marine turned mercenary. She imagined their plans had gone haywire, and this one was doing the only smart thing he could do, and that was retreat. She let him.

Hiroo watched Areg disappear among the trees, and watched as Saro entered through the back door. Hiroo did not move. There were two choices he could see, and he weighed them as Saro saw only the flash of the harpy in the moonlight before it cut his throat.

Hiroo could leave and go back to Japan. He would not get payed for this pointless trip to this garish country, and he would never again have an opportunity like this again. Or he could wait, watch them regroup, watch them settle into a false sense of security, believing there had only ever been three of them, and then do this again, right. Without emotional brothers or trigger happy mercenaries. Do it again right, do it like Hiroo the island.

Perhaps the two macabre lovers would celebrate their perceived victory with a bit of esu emu. And wouldn't that be delicious? Hiroo coming into a bedroom and killing the woman's lover where she, watching helplessly from some ridiculous SM position, could only cry and mewl? An unlikely fortune. Either way, the decision was made as Dr. Lecter was cleaning his blade.

That night, Starling and Dr. Lecter did not make love. Instead, they moved the two corpses in the house down into the cellar. Starling was still set to notice any noise or movement, her peripheral and senses in hyper drive. It possibly rivaled Dr. Lecter's standard mode of operation. Kaiko's head made an unpleasant thunk when they deposited him onto the floor next to his brother. For a moment, their limp arms seemed almost to reach for one another, and Starling tilted her head looking at the tableau. Dr. Lecter smiled pleasantly.

"Moving, isn't it?" he asked, and she smiled at him.

Outside, Hiroo was moving through the trees, watching the house, now suddenly alive with residence. He had to give it them, they had waited it out a while after Saro had offered his life to them. Long enough that the bodies would soon smell. It was nearly light as he crept along the fringes of the villa, and had it not been for the sun, he may not have seen the fish hook just before he ran into five or six of them. The smallest sound escaped him, and he stood a moment, unable to react.

One of them was in his chest just below his nipple, one of them in his right cheek another his upper cheek and coming through one of his eyelids, and yet another beneath his chin. He made another sound and winced when he finally moved his free arm up and attempted to free the one in his eyelid, which was the most painful. His eyes watered and he felt warm blood running down his stomach by the time he had carefully pulled the first one out. The next one he went for was the one in his cheek, then the one in the soft flesh beneath his chin. The one just beneath his nipple poked through when he moved it and he muffled a groan, but managed to get it out after several minutes. Then he freed his arm, and stood breathing for a moment, in too much discomfort and shock to have reacted in any emotional or mental way.

He turned back towards the house and Starling and Dr. Lecter stood a few yards away and were looking at him. Hiroo sighed, and anger returned to his eyes and he clenched his hands into fists. The man spoke first.

"Good morning," he said, in a cordial tone. The woman had her pistol pointed at him. She moved forward and then past him until she was behind him. She still stood a good distance away, so that he could not reach her.

"Let's go into the house," she suggested. Dr. Lecter gestured him forward grandly, like a host at a gala, with an unnerving smile. Under different circumstances, he may have regarded it as charming. As he followed them toward the house, Hiroo got a good look at the man. He would have preferred to get a better look at the woman, but she was behind him. When they were inside, the woman came back around to face him.

"Glad we caught up with you. I have some questions," she said, and moved a free hand into her pocket. He couldn't make out what she had pulled from her pocket, but then she suddenly aimed it at the man. A little crack, and a dart was suddenly sticking out from the Lecter's arm. He looked at it and then at the woman, amused and maybe a little irritated.

"For both of you," she explained. She aimed at Hiroo and all he could do was grimace as she shot him next. The pistol was then holstered, and she helped the Lecter toward a couch as he began losing bodily function. Hiroo turned and tried to make a run for it, his hand gripping the dart, and then he was unconscious.

Chapter Text

Light filtered through the aubergine drapes, creating a curtain of soft light between the wingback chair and sofa of the living room. On the other side of the room, Dr. Lecter and Hiroo Hara were strapped to two of the dining room chairs, which Starling had brought into the living room. Starling was sitting on the sofa, her pistol pointed in Hiroo's direction, and in her other hand she held a tumbler of whiskey.

The light coming in from the window was afternoon light, and she glanced at the clock on the wall. It was half past one. She rolled her shoulders and glanced at Dr. Lecter. His eyes were open and he was looking at her.

"Oh, you're awake. I'm glad," she said, and set the tumbler down on the coffee table. Dr. Lecter said nothing, but only watched her with curiosity. She looked at Hiroo, whose head was lolled to one side, and a string of saliva connected his lower lip to his chest. He was lightly snoring.

"I think he needs his adenoids removed. He snores pretty badly," she remarked. She let her arm relax on the sofa's arm, but kept the pistol pointed at Hiroo.

"My Dear, may I ask you why you've felt the need to incapacitate me? If you have questions, as I recall you saying, you could have simply asked."

"I know that," she said affectionately," but I haven't decided whether to kill you, and that's easier to do if you're immobile."

"I see," he said, nodding. "In that case, may I ask for the specific reason you might decide to kill me? If the decision is based upon my answers, I wonder why you wouldn't just kill me. I would be genuinely surprised if I had answers to questions you didn't already know."

"We'll see. Is your throat dry, do you need some water?"

"That would be divine."

"Alright," she said, standing and taking a glass of water she'd set on the side table at the ready. She aimed the gun at Dr. Lecter now, and came to stand on the opposite side of Hiroo, in case he suddenly awoke with biting in mind. She held the glass to Dr. Lecter's lips and he took a few sips, and glanced up at her with a wink. She moved away, back to the sofa.

"Better?" she asked.

"Yes, thank you. Shall we begin then? I haven't eaten all day, to my knowledge. I'd like to sort this out before dinner."

"Of course. Question one...why have you been drugging me?"

Dr. Lecter showed no surprise. "Well, you'll have to be more specific. I've done so a number of times, using different pharmaceuticals for different purposes."

"Have you, now? Let's start with the night before last, when we had dinner with Mr. Krendler. I felt normal, more or less, and then you gave me a drink. Suddenly I felt away from myself. Uninhibited and...tactile. What the fuck was that, Dr. Lecter?"

"That was a little gammahydroxybutyrate, or GHP. Liquid ecstacy. It was just a little push, my dear."

"A push for what? What are you pushing?"

"Your freedom, of course. It's always been about your freedom. Before, it was about freeing you from the trappings of others, and the ones you created to fit in. Now it's about the trappings you've created to cope. You've come so far on your own, Clarice. You've barely needed my help, but no one is infallible. Not even you."

"What are you talking about? How has my coping been inconvenient for you, let's just get down to it. Is it because you want to be my lover, and you're getting tired of waiting? Is that it?"

"Do you think so?" he asked, his eyes engaged but pensive.

"Don't do that," she shook her head. "This isn't a session, you're not my psychiatrist."

"Isn't it though, and aren't I?"

"No," she said firmly.

"And why would that be so bad, anyway?" he asked. "Clarice, provided you do not kill me today, you will eventually come to find, by your own methods or my own, that I wish only for your complete freedom and self-sufficiency. If I could help you in that regard, why not let me? I would no longer have the need to put cap-fulls of GHP in your cocktail. Wouldn't that be a relief?"

Clarice's eyes narrowed. "Granted I've never been to a psychiatrist nor am I one, but I feel confident in my assumption that it is not a common practice to treat victims of PTSD with ecstasy."

"What use do either of us have for common practices, Clarice? Listen to me. What do you think would have happened if you had not been here, last night? It's impossible to say for sure, but I can tell you your presence and insights were invaluable. Do you remember me acting threatened by what you can do? Would you have thought me childish and stubborn had I refused your skill set in the circumstances?"

"Yes, but-"

"And wouldn't I have been the worst for having done so? You have something to offer, an expertise; an appropriate solution to a condition. The same is applicable when it comes to me and your mind. You bring a richness here that I would be a fool to deny. And I would never be so foolish to call you one, but consider what I'm offering, Clarice. I can help you. Why not let me?"

"You said you've drugged me a number of times, what else have you given me and when?"

"Twice I've given you something to help you sleep, because you were having nightmares. I would have let you be, if not for that fact that you were thrashing in your bed, and were hurting yourself. I couldn't have that. There wasn't time to ask your permission, Clarice. Even had there been, you were incoherent."

Starling chewed on his words for a moment, and Dr. Lecter waited patiently.

"Did you give me GHP so that I would be more likely to eat Krendler?" she asked.

"Ugh," Hiroo made a sound, and Clarice looked at him.

"Oh, good afternoon," Clarice said to him, and Hiroo looked away. "I'll address you, later." She looked back at Dr. Lecter.

"I would never dream of attempting to force you to share my particular tastes, Clarice. I would much prefer you to come to that on your own, if you ever did. If you never did, I would still adore you."

Neko ni koban," muttered Hiroo in Dr. Lecter's direction.

"Ikiru kachi mo nai yatsu," Dr. Lecter answered, and Starling cleared her throat.

"I had already decided to, anyway. Don't you think I can do this on my own? I got myself out of that room, I got myself out of the country, I got you out of that barn, I got you out of this, so what makes you think I need your help?" Starling's voice had raised more than she'd intended, but she took back nothing and watched him with her trigger eye.

"I don't think you need my help. I think you could use it. Your ability to assess an attack and an attacker rivals my own. But having some help didn't hurt, did it? This isn't about what you need, it's about what you have. If you have it, you use it. Haven't you done so in the past?"

Clarice considered what he was saying, carefully. She trusted that what he said was true, but it was never the things he said she worried about, but the things he chose not to say. Trying to find some hidden nugget of truth he might be hiding was tedious. She wondered if she could ever really trust anyone, again. Perhaps in quarters or even halves, but never wholly. Could she base a companionship on that? Was it worth trying to, or would it only be another disappointment in life?

"I don't know that we're really addressing the real issue here," she said quietly to herself, and Dr. Lecter nodded, encouraged. She looked at him.

"Have you ever trusted someone completely?" she asked.

"Never," he said, simply.

"Not even me?"

"How could I, Clarice? You have shot me with a tranquilizer and tied me to a chair, after all. You haven't been able to decide whether or not to kill me for years, now. You are highly unpredictable. But that is in your nature, and I wouldn't have you differently. I would only have you whole and complete as you are. Is that what this is about, do you think?" he asked, in a syrupy voice that was both irritating and seductive.

He smiled at her before continuing, “Do you think that the only way you and I can proceed is in complete trust? Admittedly, I believe you and I could come close to it, but to trust someone completely, to depend on another to never disappoint is unfair and naive, Clarice. You can only expect so much from others. If you wanted to be loved, and I'm not saying you do, but if you did, wouldn't you want that love to be based in reality? If someone put you up on a pedestal and you felt the need to walk on egg shells in order to not displease them, that wouldn't feel like love at all, it would feel like a job. You remember that, don't you? Hmm? Don't you remember that?" Dr. Lecter paused, to give her a moment to process. She was chewing on her lip and looking at Hiroo absently.

"Clarice, expecting complete trust and unconditional love from another is what has caused you so much heartache in the past. People lie, manipulate and kill. You lie, manipulate and kill. And they die, Clarice. People die and leave you alone."

"I have become comfortable with being alone. Why go back to needing someone, now?" she wondered aloud.

"Why should you need me? Why would attachment be a stipulation for love?" Dr. Lecter asked.

"You keep talking about love, is that what this is?"Starling asked, shaking her head.

"Why not?" he shrugged, carelessly. "Why should it be this but not that? You and I shape our lives, we decide what is and what is not. That is the beauty of what we are. Can't you see that?"

Dr. Lecter looked at her waiting to see what she would say. His words and tone were not desperate, but he watched her with real curiosity, perhaps even some form of compassion. It was hard to tell if it was compassion or just understanding. It was hard to tell if she cared which it was. It had itched her in the back of her mind, whispered to her when she was between sleep and awake, that Dr. Lecter was the only one who understood her. Once, it was somehow easier to admit.

When she'd been an FBI agent, charged with catching him, she remembered the second letter he'd sent her. He'd goaded her about her father, pointed to each wound and pressed them making her squirm, and then he'd told her things about herself she could barely admit to herself. Not the things which shamed her or frightened her, but all the good things that made her believe that after all was said and done she was alright. No one else had seen those things, and she had to believe that on more than one level he understood her not just because of some superhuman insight, but because of his own experience. She had a sudden, strong desire to know more. Not about them or their future together. Whatever their future together would be it would not be scheduled or graphed. No, she wanted to know about him. Would he tell her things?

"Trouble in paradise?" Hiroo asked, smiling crookedly. Dr. Lecter seated next to him looked at Hiroo. When Hiroo turned to regard him, Dr. Lecter inclined his head and lashed forward with a hiss so suddenly, Hiroo jumped and nearly toppled over in the chair. He had lost composure in a moment of inexplicable terror, and he was angry with himself for having done so. The anger was still bridled beneath the hammering of his heart. He looked back at Dr. Lecter who was perfectly calm and still again, as though he had never moved or even acknowledged Hiroo's presence. His eyes were on the Starling, now.

Starling looked at Hiroo. He was trying to untie himself behind the chair and she sighed.

"What's your name?" she asked him. His hands stopped behind him and he looked at her with a chin held high.

"I understand your position more than you know," she said, standing and stretching.

"Let me give you all of the information before you make a decision. May I assume you know who we both are?" she asked him, and Hiroo seemed to consider her. He nodded.

"Alright. Now the last meddling person who crossed our paths lost his testicles, first. They were served with sauteed meuniere," she started, coming around to stand behind him. She placed a hand on his shoulder. He flinched. "That was me," she explained. "Then he lost his prefrontal lobes. We ate them browned on bread croutons. That was him," she said, nodding to Dr. Lecter. "Then he lost his life," she continued, coming back around to face him. "Me, again," she said, smiling. "So...what do you think you could part with, first?" Starling had bent forward slightly to look deep into Hiroo's eyes, but straightened up to look at Dr. Lecter.

"What about the sweetbreads?" she asked.

"That's always been one of my favorite cuts," he agreed. "But for our purposes, I would suggest one of the legs. We could keep him alive for some time in the cellar and freeze what we don't use. After all, who wants to eat the same meat every night?"

"Well, you want to keep things interesting, of course," Starling agreed.

"Stop it," Hiroo hissed. "What does it matter what my name is? What you really want to know is who hired me, yes?"

"That would be helpful. If you give me good, useable information, I wont need you anymore. And if I don't need you, I have no reason to keep you alive. And at this point, staying alive is not a good option for you. I think I've explained why, yes? There is only one question to ask yourself: Do you wish to be dead or alive when we eat you?"

"I'll give you a name, but only if you let me go."

"Give me a name and I wont you keep you down in the cellar and come take parts of you every week or so."

"You are both disgusting to an extent I couldn't have fathomed," Hiroo spat. He couldn't die here, not in Italy. Dying wasn't the worst thing, he knew that even before their revolting display of evil. To die in Japan, that was all he could ask, all he would ever have asked had he known this would happen.

"Ms. Starling, I am a reasonable man. I will gladly tell you who hired me, but all that I want, all that I could ever ask from anyone is to die in Japan. Not here, Ms. Starling. Not here."

"How about I ship you back to Japan in pieces? Would that help?"

Hiroo growled and squirmed in his seat. Starling put her free hand on her hip and gave him a look. "Well, really. What exactly would you have me do? Fly to Japan with you, take a walk on a moonlit beach and kill you with a sword? Work with me, here."

Hiroo thought in silence for a while, and Starling let him. While he debated, she moved to Dr. Lecter.

"Dr. Lecter?" she asked. She stood right next to him, and she was reminded of when he'd been sitting outside with a glass of brandy. She'd stood in this same spot, and had the uncanny desire to run a hand through his hair. He looked up at her now, his maroon eyes alive and drawing her in. She felt the familiar reaction, the reaction to resist the pulling. She cut it loose to see where it took her. She seemed to become aware of his scent, and it was both masculine and fresh. If his scent had a color it would be the color of his eyes, she decided. She realized she was running a hand slowly through his hair and he closed his eyes, his nostrils flaring. His head was near her hip, and without opening his eyes, Dr. Lecter turned his head and bit her hip lightly through the linen trousers she wore. She hummed, and took his hair in her hand, pulling his face gently back so she could look at him. He opened his eyes and smiled at her, his small white teeth making her knees suddenly weak for just a moment. Another absurd thought, then. Sliding into his lap, locking her arms around his neck...

"You would ensure my body returned to Japan?" Hiroo finally asked, and Starling looked at him.

"Certainly. If you prove useful enough."

"Darling, would you be so kind as to untie me, now?" Dr. Lecter asked, sweetly. Starling smiled at him and laughed.

"But I do so enjoy you this way," she mused, running a hand through his hair again. It was soft, she noted.

"You can always tie me up again another time, cara mia. You wont even have to tranquilize me to do it," he said, giving her another dazzling smile. This time, she threw her head back when she laughed.

"Is this how the two of you quarrel?" Hiroo asked, hesitantly.

"If I were you, I would not want to be involved any more than you already are in the affairs of this house," Starling said.

"If I am to die here, I would request it be you who does it," he responded, and Starling cocked her head.

"May I ask why?" she was busy now, cutting Dr. Lecter loose. It was taking longer than usual because she kept the pistol in one hand, always pointed at Hiroo.

"Because I appreciate what you are. I watched you in the garden. You are a magnificent creature."

"Oh, stop," she said, standing up straight when she was finished.

"I thought we were revolting," Dr. Lecter mused, rolling his shoulders as he stood. Starling was amazed that even now, the feeling she got when occupying the same space as Dr. Lecter unfettered was thrilling. He turned now to face her, his shoulders squared, his back erect.

"Yes, you both are. It is revolting the way a tiger rips into the flesh of its prey. But what it is, in itself, is beautiful."

"How poetic," Dr. Lecter said without feeling.

"I think it's nice that he wants it to be me. I'm flattered, I think," she said, amused. Dr. Lecter raised an eyebrow and turned quickly, heading toward the kitchen.

"I'm going to open the last Bordeaux, what do you think?" he asked, pausing at the door to glance at her.

"I think that's a great idea," she said, and with a nod, Dr. Lecter disappeared into the kitchen.

"So," Starling said, sitting back down on the sofa and regarding Hiroo. "Who hired you?"

"Her name is Murasaki," he said, and Starling frowned. The name rung a bell, and she searched her brain for why. Dr. Lecter had an aunt known as Lady Murasaki.

"Lady Murasaki?" she asked. When Hiroo nodded, Starling sat up in her seat.

"Hannibal?" she called. In the kitchen, Dr. Lecter was pouring a glass of the rich Bordeux and held it up to the light. She had never called him by his first name, and though he had not directly invited her to do so, he felt a thrill go through him that nearly made his grip on the glass falter.

"Yes, my dear?" he called back.

She had appeared in the doorway and he looked at her.

"Lady Murasaki," she said, and Dr. Lecter nodded. He lifted the glass to his nose, taking a deep inhale. Starling watched him, and he took a sip, closed his eyes to savor it. After a moment, his eyes opened again.

"Yes, I heard."

"Are you surprised?" she asked.

A beat.

"Not entirely, no."

"Do we need to do something about this?"

"This is not like her. My feeling is that she was persuaded. I doubt she'll make another attempt after a failure. But perhaps I'll pay a visit. I'd rather wait until the weather there is ideal, though. There are more pressing matters to attend to and by then, it will be summer. I don't particularly want to be in Japan during the rainy season. It gets rather humid," he said and set the glass down. He came forward. She let him tuck her hair behind her ear, as his other hand came up to stroke her cheek.

"In the meantime, let's find a place to get settled. I never intended to stay in Italy permanently. But I would like to find some place to stay comfortably. How do you feel about cold weather?"

"It suits me fine," she said. Dr. Lecter hummed, pursing his lips.

Hiroo in the living room could hear pieces of their conversation, but mostly it was muffled. He knew this moment, he had lived it in some form or fashion more than a thousand times. It was the last moments of his life. But it was another moment, a very pivotal one. This moment, as the cannibals in the kitchen whispered their odd nobblings, was the only chance of not dying here he would ever get. The knife in his boot was gone, he knew. Where she had put it along with the rest of his belongings, he couldn't know. What he did still have was one of the fish hooks that had pierced his own flesh. Upon seeing the two outside, he had placed it as discreetly as possible into his breast pocket as they walked. He could not reach it with his hands. He would have to use his mouth.

He imagine he looked quite ridiculous with his chin bowed down and his tongue fishing in his pocket. After a few tense moments, he pulled it out, carefully as to not pierce his own tongue. He craned his neck and held out his palm. Carefully...

"...Good," Dr. Lecter was purring. "I very much enjoy watching you take pleasure in something for the first time."

"Good," she said, placing her hands on his sides. "I like to take pleasure."

Dr. Lecter seemed more pleased than Starling had ever seen him. "I am very, very glad to hear you say that, Clarice."

Hiroo's back was to the wall, and he listened to their talking for only a moment, before taking his leave.

"You know, I don't mind you calling me cara mia," she said, leaning forward and smelling Dr. Lecter's neck where his scent was stronger."Or dear and darling..." she licked him there, just beneath his ear and he inhaled sharply. "But I think I like it best when you say my name."

"Then say mine," he whispered.

"Hannibal," said Starling.

 

Upon discovering their captive had flown, Dr. Lecter checked on the Bordeaux. It was a fine, dry white wine and he had put it on ice. He took it off the ice when it had reached exactly 15°C. It was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, two grape varieties with a fine symbiotic relationship.

Starling stood with her shoulder against the doorframe. The doors were open and she liked the sun on her chest. She had watched Hiroo running madly into the forest and she had smiled, softly.

"Good for him," she'd said to herself and shrugged. It was quiet now, beside the gentle creeking of the Monterey pines and a bright chirping from an Audubon bird feeder hanging from the grape arbor. It was a European robin, and he had been singing all winter long, unpreturbed by the chill.

Dr. Lecter appeared next to her and gave her a glass. His hand drifted to the small of her back and he guided her forward until they had sat down across from one another at the bistro table outside.

"It's a beautiful day," Starling said after a time.

"Yes, it is. May I ask you something, Clarice?" Dr. Lecter wondered, looking at her.

"Sure," she answered.

"Would you ever tell me to stop? Would ever say to me, 'If you loved me, you'd stop'?"

Starling looked at Dr. Lecter expressionless for a moment. Her eyes were earnest. She said:

"Not in a thousand years."

Dr. Lecter's eyes closed and gave a slow, deliberate nod.

"Thank you, Clarice."

 

After dinner, Dr. Lecter sat down on the sofa and watched Starling follow him into the room. They regarded one another for a moment, and he waved his hands towards himself, indicating that she should come. She hesitated, but obeyed. When she stood over him, he gave two light, playful pats against his leg and inclined his head. A wink. Starling felt her belly twitch and her hand came to touch her stomach, absentmindedly.

Ah, he thought. We've returned to reticence and chagrin. That was alright. He could work with that. He offered a hand, and after a moment she took it. He caressed her with his thumb, right where her forefinger and middle finger touched and she shuddered. He pulled gently. She resisted. He bent his head forward and held his mouth over her fingers, not touching. She felt his breath on her, and he looked up with his eyes. She felt her legs growing weak, and he seized the opportunity. He placed her hand on his shoulder and leaned forward, taking her in his arms and pulling her into his lap. She let him.

Initially, she felt awkward and far coyer than she liked. She tried to step on the timidity hard, and Dr. Lecter could see she was trying too hard. He drew her attention with his fingers beneath her chin. He smiled, closed his eyes and shook his head. He motioned for her to close her eyes and she did so gladly. He tipped his head to the side, his lips barely touching the hair around her ear.

"Shhhhhh."

Her eyelashes fluttered a moment, and he could see her shoulders visibly relax. She had gripped his shoulder, and her grip loosened a micron. He waited a moment, letting her breathing become more even. He could hear her heart beating quick.

"Shhhhhh."

Her weight began to settle, and after a few more breaths he nuzzled her cheek. She made a delectable little noise and Dr. Lecter hummed. Her head lolled against his shoulder, and some part of her found it familiar. She remembered now the nights she'd awoken with hysteria, remembered his voice and sturdy chest against her, his arms holding her. She had been here before. She had been here before, and it was alright. She was in wonder at how one moment she could feel so confidant in flirting with him, and the very next feeling that infernal fluttering in her chest and squirming like a school girl.

He stroked her hair for long minutes, before pulling her up with an arm beneath her knees, and settled her firmly against him. She did not struggle, but even nuzzled in closer. Dr. Lecter found he had to use a degree of discipline to slow his own heartbeat, which he found curious if not alarming. After long minutes, she looked up at him and smiled. He was happy to see the smile touch her eyes. It was a notable souvenir for the evening. He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand and smiled back at her, with only a note of amusement and perhaps even mischief in his eyes. She blushed, to his delight. He wondered if she would accept a kiss. He had yet to gain access without forcing her into an impasse...as fun as that had been. But no, she was in thought now, and on the brink of sharing it with him.

"There's something we should deal with before we leave Italy," she said, looking forward now, no longer at him. "How did they know where we were? How did she know where to find us?"

A good question, the answer to which Dr. Lecter had ruminated. He nodded slowly.

"Has anyone come into your life a bit suddenly lately, Clarice?" he mused, stroking her bare leg. She looked at him, his head tilted, as it often was. He tickled the back of her knee and she smiled, laughed.

"Ummmm," she snuggled closer to him and she delighted in hearing Dr. Lecter make a soft noise, himself. She leaned her head against his shoulder and looked forward, enjoying the warmth and even smell of his breath.

"I may need to call on an old flame of mine," she said quietly, absently. She could almost hear Dr. Lecter's smile.

"Would you mind if I joined you?" he asked.

"You'd love that wouldn't you?" she asked, looking up at him.

"Oh, yes," he murmured,"very much."

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Hiroo running and running, on two occasions tree branches thrashing his face and he thought it was more hooks. Only once did he fall, but it was a mighty one. He fell first into a ravine, and he knew he had probably fractured his arm. He didn't care. He climbed his way out the other side and encountered a field. He ran wildly through it, and halfway across, realized he'd never run for his life, before.

At the other side of the hill he collapsed with his back to a squat, stone fence. Between the fence and the field was a narrow dirt road. He got back up, his face red. He could feel his pulse in his swollen fingertips and in the mean little wounds from the fish hooks. He followed the road, one hand skimming the stone fence. The vines on it were brittle and the blooms had atrophied, so occasionally a thorn or a twig would scrape his hand. It kept him cognizant. He had no way of knowing if they were near, and he found himself constantly looking across the field; he couldn't help the absurd fear that he would see them appear there across the field from the trees. Dark, slick hair with careful hands at his sides...and the face of an angel with hair the color of hickory and currant. Wolfish in scrutiny and feline in prowess. He was afraid to see her again. He was afraid he wanted to see her again.

 

Hiroo found his way to the village, and went into the Farmacia. The woman inside did not speak Japanese or English, and he had to pull out his Kwikpoint to translate. He was glad he still had it in his back pocket. He asked to use a phone, and the woman retrieved who he assumed was either her husband or the owner of the store. She spoke to him in quick Italian and, looking dubious, pointing at Hiroo. The man shrugged and handed Hiroo a cordless phone, and kept his eyes on him as Hiroo dialed Areg's cell.

Later that afternoon, he sat waiting in a cafe. He sat in front of the window in a stool drinking a cup of coffee. He hoped Areg had money. When he saw the big Armenian walk past, Hiroo watched without moving his head. He felt the stool next to his become occupied and only then did he turn his head a fraction.

"I am surprised anyone got out of that fucking disaster," Areg said after a moment.

"Have you contacted Arai?" Hiroo asked, and watched Areg nod.

"We're not to make a second attempt," Areg said after looking at Hiroo's irritable expression.

"I am aware."

Areg sighed and ordered an espresso. They were quiet for a while, and when the espresso came, Areg drank it all in one gulp and sat it back down on the counter. Hiroo had almost expected the man to slam it down as though he'd taken a shot of Whiskey highball, but he set it down gently. Perhaps he was acutely aware of his own strength.

"Have you still got your passport?" Areg asked and Hiroo shook his head. Areg shrugged.

"I will contact my brother-in-law. He will send you a new one. It will take a couple of weeks."

Hiroo grumbled and Areg frowned.

"Would you prefer I leave you here to rot?"

Hiroo resisted the impulse to glare at him. Getting out of here in two weeks is better than being served in a pot.

"It's fine," Hiroo managed to say with sincerity.

"We should go," Areg said, glancing around.

Hiroo nodded after a moment, and looked at Areg. He gave a bow of his head.

"I have no money," he said simply. He did it with humility, and Areg shrugged. "It's fine."

Outside, Areg had parked a motorbike he'd rented across the street.

"I will pay for a taxi if you want to follow me. Otherwise, you have to ride behind me."

"I will ride behind you, unless you have a problem with that."

"No problem."

As they rode, the sun was setting. Hiroo smiled to himself and shook his head. He had somehow managed to escape two notorious killers with the reputation of having no escapees. He was not entirely pleased with the outcome, and riding off into the sunset behind a massive Armenian mercenary who smelled of body odor wasn't an ideal ending. But then again, he was alive. And maybe it wasn't the end, anyway.

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After having learned of the occurrences at Appia Antica, Lady Murasaki decided it was time for tea. It was too early for Sakuraya, as the cherry blossoms would not arrive until spring. Green tea did not feel right for the moment either, and she finally chose oolong. It was the first tea to ever be used as an offering. While she was pouring it with her head bowed, she considered for what and to whom she might offer. She had regretted sending them as soon as they had left. She could never bring herself to want Hannibal dead. All she could ask for was forgiveness. And who should forgive her?

She sat outside and listened to the frogs chirping. She could smell rain in the air but it had not rained, yet. There was only one who could forgive her, and it was she. She was the only one who had that power, she knew. Only, a part of her wished she could ask Hannibal for forgiveness. But then, perhaps she would get that chance. Would he come to her? Would she see him before she joined her ancestors? Would she see him just before did? She could only wait and see. Whatever came, she chose to forgive herself. It suddenly seemed simple. She sipped the tea, and the rich perfume fragrance and flowery taste enveloped her. It tasted like the bittersweet coda of a long, seething pas de deux.

TRANSLATONS:

Hiroo Hara says: "Neko ni koba." --Coins to a cat, a Japanese phrase meaning a sort of pointless gesture, as in giving coins to a cat.

Dr. Lecter responds by saying: "Ikiru kachi mo nai yatsu." --Man whose life has absolutely no value.

Chapter Text

Seth Baston came home late. It had been a long, tense day. He had only one desire, and it was to crash into bed for days and days, but he couldn't do that. He had signed a seven month lease on the loft, and it had another month left. Breaking the lease would cost him, but the cost was worth it. It was time to 'get outta dodge', as Americans say. He couldn't bring himself to be entirely unhappy with how things had turned out. He had done his job after all, he always did his job. Whatever job was his, he did it to the nth degree. Then again...

Fucking her had not really been a part of the plan; he hadn't expected her to be open to it. Once it was headed in that direction, he couldn't seem to stop it. To have been with a woman like her had been a thrill. A part of him had chastised himself for it; he had to have bats in the belfry to think that was any semblance of normality. On the other hand, what man wouldn't want to get their end way with her? She was quite beautiful, and no tart. He couldn't think about that, now. The elevator doors opened and she was leaning against his door. He froze when she looked up at him smiling.

"Hello, Seth."

"Winnie...hello," he said, looking around without stepping out of the elevator. "I didn't expect to see you, again."

A shadow on the adjacent wall, and Seth swallowed.

"Me either, to be honest. But I've been thinking about how we left things," she said. She pushed off of the door slowly and took a step toward him. They looked at one another, and Seth smiled, nervously.

"I think I might need closure," she said. Neither of them spoke for a moment. The elevator doors started to close and he let them. A hand appeared from the side, stopping them. Seth suddenly felt the wall of the elevator against his back, not realizing he'd taken four steps backward. There was a scar next to the pinky of that hand. Seth began to feel a bit dizzy. By the time he looked at her, she was smiling. She beckoned him with a chin.

"Let's step out of the elevator," she said.

He didn't move. She could not, would not kill him in an elevator. Dr. Lecter came into view, and Seth met his maroon eyes. His breath was coming quick, now.

"You wouldn't deny a lady closure, would you?" he asked. Dr. Lecter's eyebrows were raised in implicit mocking and his smile was gentile. His tone was maddeningly casual. It very nearly made Seth feel like he was behaving foolishly, even though he was trapped in an elevator by two psychopaths.

"I...I-"

"You, you..." Starling teased, and took a step closer.

"What is it you want?" Seth asked, an eyebrow raised.

"To talk, silly! We can't very well do it here in the hallway. Come on out, you remember Thomas, don't you?" she asked. Was it possible they didn't know? Seth was caught between flight and courtesy. He glanced at Dr. Lecter nervously, who smiled and winked at him.

"We were on our way out of the country, and I was telling him in the car that I really should come by and see you one last time," she said, moving closer as she spoke. Seth felt the hairs on his forearm press against his sleeves. All he could do was stand rigidly as she came into the elevator. Closer, closer.

She stood inches from his face now, and smiled gaily.

"Oh, come on now. It can't be that bad to see me," she said, kissing him on either cheek. He smiled back at her.

"Ciao, Winnie. No, it's good to see you," he said.

"Bene. But I can't help feeling we've imposed," she said, her smile faltering.

"No, no," Seth waved away the insinuation, knowing full well it was true. "Not at all."

His manners took over, saving him from what had felt like an unbearable moment.

"Please," he said, leading her out of the elevator to his door. "Come in," he said. He nodded to Dr. Lecter who gave a bow of his head. A part of him screamed at him: What are you doing? For God's sake, what are you doing?

They followed him inside and he took their coats. Small talk ensued, and he put on a pot of tea. They had settled into his living room, snuggled in together on his sofa, and Seth could not help the absurd feeling of hurt and betrayal. Absurd on multiple levels, he reminded himself. When he came into the living room he was driveling about his sister's new beau. She had a gun at her hip pointed at him. He stopped talking and froze.

"Let's have a seat, shall we?" she asked. His legs took him to the chair across from them, and they followed his slow movements with their eyes. Long moments seemed to pass before anyone spoke.

"Winnie," Seth began, but Starling held up a hand, her eyes closed. Her hand drifted back to her lap and she opened her eyes. Dr. Lecter had an arm draped behind her, his fingers drawing circles around her shoulder.

"Pretenses are dull, aren't they? Go ahead and use my real name, Seth."

"Winnie, I-" he was interrupted by the sound of her cocking the gun.

"Clarice," he almost whispered.

"There it is," she murmured.

"You've been reporting to whom and for how long?"

"I don't know who it is, we communicate anonymously, that's the case for all of the clients."

"P.I.?" she asked. Seth gave a curt nod.

"And how long?"

"Since Thailand."

"I see. Who else?"

"It's only me, I swear it on my life."

"Do you swear it on your sister's life? I do know where she lives, you know," Starling said with a smile. Her nose wrinkled when she did, and it was charming and menacing as ever.

"Yes," he said slowly. "Yes," he said again. Starling looked at Dr. Lecter.

"Maybe we should kill her," she said with a little shrug. "Just in case."

"Clarice, please. My sister doesn't even know I do this. Don't hurt her, please."

"Seth, do you have anything else you'd like to tell me?"

"I really was falling for you."

"Awe," she said, her nose wrinkling again. "I think that's the sweetest thing I've ever heard," she said. The tea pot started whistling. When Seth turned his head, his peripheral caught movement and he flinched. He felt something hot, searing and wet in his stomach. He looked down slowly. There was a knife in his stomach. He followed her arm up to her face. She smiled, twisted it. He hissed, the pain unable to be reconciled with reaction. His mouth simply hung open in silent anguish. She retracted it, and he didn't think it was possible for there to be more pain. He felt himself on the verge of passing out as her lovely face loomed over his. The tea was still whistling, but it seemed muted now.

"I will make it go away," she was saying, nodding. She moved, and then more hot wetness at his throat and he was choking, his life pouring out of his throat. He looked up at her, his eyes emptying, his mouth open and hitching like a dying fish.

Dr. Lecter let the pot off of the stove, and glanced at her from the kitchen.

"It's early grey, do you want any of this?" he called.

"No. I'm good," she said. She pulled the short sword across Seth's chest on each side of the blade.

Dr. Lecter had donned a pair of dark gloves and she came into the kitchen and watched him turning off the stove. Something about seeing him like this, instantly at home in any space he occupied, wearing those gloves...she wanted his bare hands on her. He looked at her and his comprehension twinkled in his eyes.

They tidied up in silence, the now familiar sexual tension heavy, even in the macabre circumstances which now felt perfectly natural to Starling. When they were finished, Dr. Lecter had helped her into her coat after putting on his own.

"Time to go home," he said, firmly. He led her out, a hand at the small of her back.

 

While in Rome, Starling dropped by her old flat to pick a few things up. She paused at the door to remove the eviction notice. Inside, she packed her favorite clothing items and accessories into the suitcase they’d brought with them for the excursion. She also took her duffel bag back out from underneath the bed and set it on top of the mattress with the suitcase. She stood looking around for a moment, before cleaning the small space as well as she could.

More than likely a new tenant would quickly take up residence, and any trace of her presence would be swept up in the current of aggregation. She considered giving the place a quick wipe down for fingerprints. Yet, at the end of the day, should serious forensic techs end up looking for traces of her in the room, they’d find it. It didn’t matter much, anyway. They would be leaving very soon. Standing alone in the room, she went to the window and peered out. Dr. Lecter waited in the parked SUV on the street. She wondered if he could see her. She backed away from the window and took out her cell phone. It had been off for weeks.

Starling didn’t bother to listen to any of the messages or return any of the calls, but one. Misrak’s voice on the other end was nearly manic. Through the stream of ‘Where are you’s’ and ‘Are you okay’s’, Starling managed to get a few words in. First, she told her that she was alright. Second, she told her that she was leaving town. She made no attempt to answer the questions that followed, but instead, spoke loudly enough that Misrak stopped talking a moment.

“Misrak, listen to me. I need you to go by my flat. I left something for you there, and I don’t want it to be taken by whoever ends up in here next. The landlord will have to open it up and prepare it to lease, soon. Okay?”

“Well, alright Honey, but what is it?”

“Just something I want you to have.”

“Well...okay. But I won’t be able to get there until morning.”

“That’s fine. I’ll leave a note, just in case.”

“Winnie, please…what has happened? What’s going on?”

“I’m going home.”

Starling hung up and removed the sim card.

Of all the things Dr. Lecter had gifted her with during her time with him, among one of the most opulent was the complete Bvlgari jewelry suit from the Serpenti collection. She wore all four pieces.

The Serpenti Tubogas earrings, and the necklace, bracelet and ring all coiling the sinuosity of the snake with diamonds set in the head and tail; all in 15k rose gold. In all, the complete set was worth more than ninety thousand euros. She took all of it off but the ring, which she kept on her right forefinger. The rest she placed gently into a manila envelope, which she left on the bed.

The ride home was quiet. Starling kept finding herself glancing at Dr. Lecter’s gloved hand placed on the wheel of the vehicle. More than once he had wiggled his pinky as if to silently say, ‘I see you’. She held her hands in her lap the whole way.

 

Late at night in the villa caetana and the lights are low, the fire in full blaze. It will be their last night in Appia Antica; it will be their last night in Italy. There is music playing softly, the Kronos Quartet playing Flugufrelsarinn. A short ways down the corridor, the master bedroom door is slightly ajar. Inside, Starling stands in front of the bed and Dr. Lecter looks at her from just inside the room. Neither speaks for a time, until Starling unconsciously licks her lips, before they part, just a bit. Dr. Lecter inhales audibly and comes further into the room and she watches him. Her heart beats wildly.

He comes to stand in front of her at arm’s length. She turns out her wrists in a sort of surrender, before she says:

“Undress me.”

A quick and calm step forward and Dr. Lecter slides the straps of Starling's silk gown over her shoulders. It pools at her feet, and he looks at her for a beat, before lifting her easily into his arms. She kisses him, and he closes his eyes.

Starling lets him lay her down on the bed, his hand cradling the nook of her knee. He is poised above her and her nipples are instantly peaky beneath his gaze. He kisses her again, and lowers his head after a time to her neck and then her shoulder. Starling lets out a long withheld sigh.

Starling lying supine watches the impartial coffering of the bedroom ceiling, elegant and Aegean. She found herself in a state of hypnagogia, descending into a place between sleep and consciousness. She could feel his hands on her thigh, sliding down to her ankle. She could feel him taking her ankle in his hand and held it gently for a moment, and then warm lips on her foot. He parted her thighs. Starling sucked in a breath, and his hands left her. She waited for a moment until his voice disturbed her daze.

“Look at me,” he said.

His voice seemed far away somehow and she closed her eyes. She heard him tisk her quietly. He moved on the bed and she could feel the presence of a man over her.

“Clarice,” he whispered, drawing out her name in a hiss.

“Hmm,” she said, nerves welling up inside. He was drawing her forth from the fringes of an unconscious undertow. She did not want to return, but did nonetheless. She opened her eyes.

He held himself up over her lengthwise, perfectly still with his maroon eyes boring into hers. Her mouth drew open but no sound came out. The slightest smirk at the corner of his mouth.

“Where exactly did you go, Clarice? Is there somewhere you would rather be? Someone with whom you would rather be? “

She took a breath to steady herself. “You’re lack of contractions always indicates your forthcoming flout. Need I participate?”

“Ah,” he said sharply with a smirk. “That is indeed the present enigma, Clarice Starling. Need…” he drew closer, “you…” he paused, the tip of his tongue touching the center of his upper lip for a moment before returning to his mouth,”…participate.”

Starling realized she was holding her breath and let it out.

“For my purposes,” he began, reaching out for her thigh and stroking it, making her shudder, “I do require it. But if you’re finding that you are unable to be present for this moment, better the moment never happen at all. Would you rather we stop?”

His voice had the tinge of mocking that she knew well, but had not heard so explicitly since their talks in the dungeon. She remembered that girl, remembered how she wore such a brave face. A brave face and an assortment of hats in her bag. Is that all she was, now? Was she still nothing more than a girl with a few disguises?

No, it was no question. Even then, she was more than that. If she hadn’t been, he never would have called her back to him that day. Called her name, his voice metallic from disuse, calling her from down the ghastly corridor. She standing, disgusted and conflicted with semen in her hair. Leave or stay? She knew what she would do. She had changed in some rather distinctive ways since then, but at her core, she knew who she was. The question which dictated so many of her choices, a simple…What happens next? Or as Dumas had put it so well, that basic human philosophy, Perhaps…

“No,” she breathed.

“But you are experiencing something akin to surrealism. You and I have been doing this dance for some time, and a part of you is having difficulty marrying the idea and the reality of this moment. It is easier to close your eyes and go into that safe, inside place, is it not? Listen to me, now. You will not go to that place. You will stay here with me. You will look at my face and know that it is my hands touching you, my eyes looking at you, my mouth tasting you. I will help.”

Starling nodded her head hazily. He backed away for a moment and looked down at her body, and she could feel his gaze on her skin and she could feel herself flushing. His dark head bent, he did not mask his lust and she shivered beneath him. He looked back up at her.

“I will reiterate. I will require your participation,” he said, and grabbed her thigh roughly in a way that was nearly boorish, for him. At once, she felt her body respond to the masculine aggression in the movement and she first gasped, and then squirmed as he watched her, smiling.

“Do you want me to touch you?” he asked. Starling nodded, and Dr. Lecter tilted his head.

“Tell me,” he said. Her breath was coming quick, now.

“Touch me,” she whispered.

His hand became gentle then and slid down her thigh again until he was cradling her knee. He kept it there, his thumb caressing her. It was maddening.

“Do you want more?” he asked his voice still with a mocking color. It was also husky and dark with longing.

“Yes,” she whispered again, her voice small and irritating to her own ears. He sucked in his breath through his teeth and bared them slightly.

“I cannot hear you, Clarice. Speak up.”

“Yes,” she said with more conviction.

“Yes, what?”

“More,” she whimpered.

“Hmmm?”

“MORE!” she cried, and he spread her legs roughly, situating himself between them, now. He placed his hands delicately on her hips, and it felt to her as silk does sliding across her bare skin. So gentle, almost too gentle. She squirmed for a moment beneath him and Dr. Lecter’s eyes closed a moment inhaling the air around him, savoring it.

When he opened them again, she lay before him with her thighs open, her arms taught and away from her body. Her hands held the sheet in fists. Her breasts rose and fell rapidly with her breath and her eyes were open wide, looking at him. Waiting for what came next.

He watched her like that for a time, caressing her inner thigh with the back of his hand. He waited until the scent of her arousal was almost overpowering. Then he moved to her side, propping his head up with a hand. Her legs began to join absently, and he took one of her knees and looked at her. He shook his head slowly with a smile, and she spread them, once more.

“Good girl,” he purred.

“Oh, my God,” she whispered so quietly, he could barely make out what she had said. He only smiled and continued touching her inner thighs, going back and forth between them, his hand passing over her exposed center without touch. She could feel the warmth of his hand each time, and she found herself rising slightly when his hand would come close.

“Do you want me to touch you somewhere specific, Clarice?” he asked. Starling bit her lips and looked away. Dr. Lecter drew her face back with his fingers beneath her chin and she looked at him with eyes both pleading and irate.

“I’ll make it easy for you. Do you want me to touch you here?” he asked, caressing her stomach. Starling arched her back and sneered at the same time, a strange contradiction that Dr. Lecter found delightful.

“No? How about here?” he asked, leisurely drawing his hand to her breasts. She hummed, her voice strained.

“You like that?”

She nodded stiffly, her eye contact faltering.

“Yes, you like that. But it’s not what you really want, is it?”

She shook her head.

“No, no. Ah, how about here…” he continued, touching her body here and there until she felt she could bear no more. The frustration, the irritation was delicious and she laughed low and throaty, baring her teeth to the passive coffered ceiling.

“Look at me,” he reminded her, and she did. The sight of him, his insistent reminder that it was not someone else nor an entity of her imagination, but him, was sending her over the edge. She was entering an unknown territory of lust. There had been lust before, but this was something else. Her response to lust long ago had often been one of avoidance. Later, it had been one of aggression. She did not feel exactly aggressive now, nor remotely evasive or passive. She felt what she could only determine as utterly female, powerful in her wile and provocation and yet perversely yielding to his masculinity.

“How about here?” he asked then, his fingers sweeping across the very top of her pubic hair.

“Umm-hmm,” she nodded.

“Yes? Closer…?”

“Yes,” she nodded with a grin, beginning to enjoy the game. His middle and forefinger moving lower then, drawing slow circles around the very top of where her lips met.

“Here?” he asked.

“Umm-hmm,” Starling encouraged as she swallowed her lips into her mouth.

“Umm-hmm,” he teased, drawing from her an irritable smirk as she looked at him. He smiled in kind and finally cupped her center in the palm of his hand, kept it there and enjoyed the sensational experience of Clarice Starling grinding against his hand.

“You are rather dewy, Clarice,” he said at the same time as she moaned.

Two fingers now at the base of her entrance, sweeping slowly up, and then circling around a very swollen clitoris. She exhaled noisily, her strained neck releasing as her head fell back against the pillow. Remembering to look at him, she leaned it to the side. He smiled.

“Here?”

“Yes.”

When he stopped she exhaled sharply, but before she could react further, he slid a solitary finger inside of her and the groan that came out was, if anything else, entirely involuntary.

“There? Yes?”

“Umm-hmm.”

“Umm-hmm,” he teased again, sliding slowly in and out before a second finger joined the first. It was getting harder for her to remember to keep her eyes open, let alone maintain eye-contact.

“I’m sorry, is this distracting?” he asked, and she chuckled lowly, arching her back and neck for a moment. He withdrew his fingers and she looked back at him sharply, in protest. He looked at her and put his fingers in his mouth, his eyes closing again, as he did when savoring anything. He drew them back out and gave her a wink.

“Have you ever tasted yourself, Clarice?” he asked, as his fingers slid back inside of her, and then back out again to circle her clitoris, and then back in again. Starling was panting.

“No,” she whispered, absently. “Of course not.”

“No, of course not. Hmm. Would you like to?”

She felt her ears growing hot and shook her head.

“No? Ah, but you shouldn’t judge something before trying it. That is the very definition of prejudice. Of all things about which to be prejudice, it should not be the fruits of your pleasure.”

He withdrew his fingers again and offered them to her. She shook her head, smiling.

“No?”

He sucked them into his own mouth and hummed his approval.

“More for me, then. But sooner or later, I think I will have to insist,” he said, continuing to stroke her clitoris and fuck her slowly with his fingers until he sensed a precipice. Little pulses and twitches, breaths hitching, flushing, tensing, trembling. He kept his touch casual and teasing, stretching out the point of a quivering cliff, and then she plunged. He met her crashing descent with deep, almost belligerent fucking with his fingers, and sat up to place his other hand above her pubic bone. His buried fingers met the pressure he placed on her with the other hand, and she was screaming.

Nearly a full minute later he was slowing his movements, until her hips and legs at great tension finally collapsed, exhausted. His movements halted completely, and he only kept pressure there, cupping her as he had at the beginning. Minutes later, and a still glowing Starling squeezed his hand with her thighs softly, here and there. He smoothed her hair, kissed her, and then smiled, devilishly. She watched, hungry and docile at the same time.

He moved lower, moving his lips over her breasts and stomach. He glanced up at her only a moment, before his face disappeared between her thighs. Starling's head arched back and she gasped. He'd grabbed her on either side of her hips. He seemed to want to be enveloped by her aroma and taste. His ministrations, unlike before, were unbridled. Her hands grabbed onto the sheets, as though to anchor herself. Only minutes later, release came again.

She had been making a sound, a kind of 'Umm-hmm, umm-hmm', both times he had brought her to orgasm. Dr. Lecter had smiled into her warm, undulating sex.

Absolutely charming, he thought.

When he finally came up, he buried his face in the nook of her shoulder and kissing, smiling, he murmured, "Umm-hmm."

Starling smiled and covered her smile with the back of her hand. He leaned up, looking at her. He moved her hand aside and kissed her lips, her cheeks, her nose.

"Umm-hmm, Umm-hmm," he continued and she laughed, covering her face again. He was murmuring in Italian as he placed warm, vigorous kisses on her face, shoulders, neck, and breasts.

"La tua fica," kiss, "…è più deliziosa," kiss, "…di una ciliegia al maraschino rosso vivo," lick, One more noisy kiss on the curve of her left breast. "Dio mio."

Starling let her head fall back against the bed and sighed. He came back up and regarded her, playfully.

"Umm-hmm," he mimicked her once more, and she laughed and bit his lower lip, drew him in again and he kissed her deeply until she moaned into his mouth.

Starling fell asleep that night in his arms; the feel of his calm, confidant breath lolled her into a quick, deep sleep. Dr. Lecter let his fingers explore her hair, careful not to disturb her. He hadn't planned for them to go further. He reflected on the fact that she had not only allowed him to intimately explore her body, but had been able to trust him enough to bring her to orgasm…twice. It had never been about trust before, he knew, because always before she had receded into her mind. Any man who had the fortune of stumbling into her sexual prowess had unwittingly become a mere apparatus. He doubted anyone had ever truly given her an orgasm. No, Clarice Starling had been giving herself orgasms, via a warm-blooded appliance when it suited.

Tonight, she had not only submitted to his procedure, but stayed present all the while, giving him the honor and authority to give her an orgasm. Yes, it had been rather productive. It had also been so very infuriatingly toothsome. He thought it was a safe assumption that she had been sufficiently distracted to notice just how trying the exercise had been for him, particularly in the beginning. Yet, in the end, Dr. Lecter’s patience had great depths. And, by his judgment, Starling belonged to him. Clarice Starling belonged to him, and it was only a matter of time before he possessed her wholly. Yes, he could be quite patient.

He wanted to savor her descent into his complete sexual tenure. He would be taking the responsibility as seriously as anything he ever had. He smiled to himself, her taste and smell still strong in his mouth and lungs. He wasn't sure he would ever bore of it. In this moment, Dr. Lecter is deeply, deeply pleased. Dazed, even. He has never fallen asleep with a woman in his arms, but he does not fight sleep when he feels it pulling.

..................

TRANSLATIONS & QUOTES:

La tua fica è più deliziosa di una ciliegia al maraschino rosso vivo. Mio Dio.---Your pussy is more delicious than a bright red maraschino cherry. My God.

Dr. Lecter quotes Pablo Neruda

Chapter Text

Starling woke on her side faced away from the bedroom door. It was still relatively dark in the room, and she thought it must be very early or rather late, depending on the perspective. She sat up and glanced at the window and saw that there was light beyond the curtains, which had been drawn at some point. She felt a chill, realizing she was still nude and her arms and breasts were now exposed to the air, the sheets and rich duvet having pooled around her waist. She looked over her shoulder.

Dr. Lecter lay on his back next to her, his head resting casually in the crook of his elbow. His other lay on his stomach. He was still fully dressed and lying on top of the duvet. He was looking at her and smiling.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” she said, lifting the comforter up to her throat.

“Cold?” he asked, moving his hand from beneath his head to place it on her bare back. She nodded. He offered his arm. “Come.”

Flutter.

She descended into his arms and he pulled the comforter over her as well as he could. Starling rested her cheek against his chest and drew her hand up where her fingers curled in front of her face. He was warm and she settled quickly.

“I wish you were under the covers with me. I feel funny having no clothes on while you’re dressed on top of the covers.”

“So what you would like is if I was unclothed beneath the sheets with you,” he suggested, an eyebrow raised.

“Or the other way around, and I am dressed and on top of the covers with you.”

“Oh, I don’t think clothing you is necessary,” he teased, caressing her arm up and down. Starling chortled, or at least she had hoped she had; it may have come out more like a giggle, and she shook off the thought. Giggling, to Starling, was a noise she associated with desperation and reeked of intellectual infirmity. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, there had been times she’d heard a woman or young girl giggle as a means to ironically emphasize a kind of female cruelty. Neither of these sentiments were what she wished to construe, although the latter she knew was not a contestant between the two. Had she indicated something undesirable, it had been the former. She cleared her throat, wondering if there was a way to iron out such a behavioral wrinkle and knew there was none. Not with him, he would know. A sigh came next.

“Oh, come now…it isn’t so bad, Clarice. Perhaps it’s time we approach a climactic topic.”

Starling looked up at him and he winked at her. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” she asked.

“What’s that?” Dr. Lecter teased, still caressing her, running his flat palm up and down her back, now.

“To have a conversation about my fear of vulnerability while I’m naked and you’re not.”

“Well, it does have certain symmetry.”

“Umm-hmm.”

“Umm-hmmmm.”

Starling smiled and looked away.

“Now, then,” he began, giving her shoulder a squeeze. “ You have been testing the phenomenon yourself, as of late. However, up until now you have only provoked your discomfort on a surface level. You’ve played around with exposing yourself physically; a good start as well as quite amusing for me, of course. Beyond that, you’ve required help on my part. Now, if we’re going to proceed, I will need to help you again. I will do it without your consent if I must, but I’d prefer you give me your blessing. What do you think?”

Starling hesitated. “What is it…you wish to help me expose?”

“Are you sure?” he asked. His hand had stilled on her back, and it made her nervous.

“No.”

“Do you want my help, Clarice?” he asked. It didn’t have the rising intonation of a question, but was asked slowly, deliberately, sounding like a serious statement rather than a query.

A beat, and then she plunged.

“Yes.”

“Good girl. I know that was difficult for you, in and of itself. A fitting Kyrie.”

“Not to be uncouth, but how long is this discussion going to last? I’d like an espresso soon, not to mention brush my teeth.”

“Ah, and you can certainly have both if you wish. But no clothing is allowed. And it is rather chilly.”

“You are a fiend,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“An excellent choice of words. I am, by its common definition, a fiend. And quite conveniently, a fiend is precisely what you need. In no other company can you feel at home with yourself.”

“I think your choice of words were intriguing. ‘A fitting Kyrie’, you said. Not overture or verse, but a Kyrie.”

“Why, yes. This is more than a musical performance, hence a Kyrie: the first sung prayer of the Mass ordinary. I consider the following theme to be as sacred as anything can be to me. The purpose of Mass is to unite ourselves with the sacrifice of Christ, and to renew that covenant frequently. An analogous example is the unitive act of sexual intercourse between a husband and wife. Sex consummates a marriage, and that covenant is renewed each time the couple engages in sex. In our case, we wish to achieve a unity of the self. Your self. We wish to unite the sum of your parts to make a whole, which is something you’ve come close to doing on your own. There is, however, a facet which remains partially severed, like a limb which has not been cut cleanly. It still dangles, not completely joined or detached, and it is understandably painful for you. This facet is your ability to avow your human capacity for love. You have been unable to reconcile the sacrifices in your past with your present self, which is the result.”

“So you are using the devotion to Christ’s sacrifice as a paradigm for devotion to my own sacrifices, a study and veneration of which must necessarily lead to my unity.”

“Precisely.”

“That is appropriately blasphemous for a fiend.”

“Agreed. Shall we proceed?”

Starling spread her fingers out, buying herself a moment to become centered. There was discomfort in her near future, and she gathered her strength for it. “Go ahead,” she said, slowly.

“You are in love with me,” he stated calmly, and waited.

Starling looked at the tiny hairs on her wrist and was very still.

“Don’t look at your hand, look at me.”

“I really don’t want to.”

“Yes. Now…apply yourself. Don’t search for courage or might. Those things are present, we both know it. But this is not about your courage or might. This is about your humanity, and that which makes us human is often not about how strong we are, but about how fragile. Fragility does not necessarily equal weakness. It is our very ability to be broken which makes us have the potential for immortality, much as matter is not destroyed but only changed. You have broken, and you have come back together. Not less-than, but quite the opposite. Your fragility is not something to deprecate, but to revere. How are you following me, so far?”

“I’m following.”

“Then look at me.”

She did.

“You are in love with me, do you deny it?”

“I—I don’t know. I don’t know if I am or am not.”

“Yes you do, stop protecting yourself, from me or yourself. Do you deny that you’re in love with me?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know what love is, anymore…” she trailed off, looking away. He snapped his fingers and she frowned at him.

“Look…at…me,” he said firmly.

Something cold ran up Starling’s spine, and at the same time, something hot ran down her front and churned in her loins. She pulled away from him and he wouldn’t let her. Panic was coming, she felt it now in her chest, the fluttering turning to thrashing.

“I can’t do this,” she said, pushing away,” I can’t do it-“

“You can, Clarice. Breath, breath,” he said, pulling her down against him and remaining firm as she squirmed in his arms in distress. She was not breathing with him and he placed a hand on her head.

“Shhhh,” he said, and her eyes squeezed shut tight. She didn’t want him to comfort her, it made her angry for some reason. How dare he propose she was in love with him? Even if it were true, it was insensitive. She realized too that she was naked and it was cold, and her body did not wish to go or stay.

Thrashing.

“No. No, no-“she said through clenched teeth.

“Shhhhh,” he said again, smoothing her hair.

“Love, as you define it,” he started,” has led you to enter many dangerous situations, Clarice. Once, it led you to a bad room. A bad room where there was pain and no allies. Where might it lead next?”

Starling had covered her face, her teeth grazing her open palms.

“To love a fiend, Clarice? To submit in the arms of a monster, Clarice? Are you a fool?”

Starling’s eyes flew open and she looked at Dr. Lecter. Fury and betrayal flashed madly in her eyes and Dr. Lecter held her face in his hands. She snapped her head away in revulsion and pushed against him harder.

“Are you?” she growled, her nails digging into his chest, gripping his shirt in livid fingers.

“A fool? Am I a fool to taunt you in such a moment, a fool to taunt a creature as fearsome as me? Perhaps,” he said, looking at her with adoration.

“If I am a fool, you are twice the fool for bringing me so close,” Starling said, her fury turning to calm madness.

“Quite true. But you haven’t answered the question, Clarice. Are you a fool?”

“I am not.”

“Agreed.”

Starling looked at him without expression, her pending savagery faltering.

“You are not a fool, not by any calculation. But some part of you thinks so. You are afraid that admitting you are in love with me is the same as admitting you are a fool, or worse, weak. But you are not weak. You are a human, and that means that you are aware, responsive to external and internal stimuli, you are resilient and versatile. You can be stony or supple in emotion, textured or polished in guild, autonomous or submissive in poise…and you can be wild or tame in spirit.

“None are more appropriate than the other and none are more valid than the other. They are all indispensible and they are all you. And you are perfect in any mode or state of being you choose. All of these morsels of you were not available before, so effectively manacled were they. But now, they are wandering and free, and it is because of a sacrifice. A sacrifice which happened in what you call a bad room. And now it is time to set aside your anger…“he paused to push a strand of her hair from her face and behind her ear,”… and your pain. It is time to regard that sacrifice, and become a united whole.”

Starling had finally allowed him to pull her back into his arms, and she rested her face against his shoulder, albeit apprehensively.

“Now…let me try again. You are in love with me, Clarice. Do you deny it?”

Starling looked at him, his eyes intrusive with their hunger and reverence. She took a breath, and let his eyes pierce her. She felt almost as though she grew smaller and she felt her mouth begin to contort.

“No, don’t try to manage it,” he whispered, “let it have its time.”

A shuddering breath and tears came, her face twisted and florid. She screamed into his chest and he rocked her. It was many long minutes before she finished. She felt empty and floating. One of Dr. Lecter’s arms moved away from around her for a moment. Then he brought up her face and gently cleaned it with a tissue. After she had lay her head back down, her breath slow and deep, she nodded. Looking back up at him, she was resigned, her smile soft and wistful.

“No. I don’t deny it.”

“Are you afraid I do not love you?” he asked.

She nodded, her hand gripping the sheets coming up to her mouth, like a child. He scooped her up and laid her down on her back, and hovered over her a moment, touching her hair, her shoulders, her chin and lips.

“Clarice, I love you in a way I cannot analyze. I do not make a bond out of love, but a living, rising and crashing thing that joins from separate shores. Yours and mine, and somewhere in the gulf between, there is a new thing, the habits and repercussions of which I do not know. I don’t care. But there it is, and I love you without knowing how or where it has taken place. It no longer matters. What I know is that you belong to me, and I to you, like the earth and rain. Where we are entwined is in the root.” He leaned in close and whispered in her ear.

“If nothing saves us from death, at least love should save us from life.”

 

Their flight did not leave until eight that evening, and before heading to the airport, they stopped at Gran caffe Martini e Rossi for cocktails. Dr. Lecter considered the food there inedible, and that it’s only purpose was to offer them a good view. They sat outside, the imposing sight of the Colosseum right across the street. It was not a moonless night, but clouds veiled the moon over the building, which was illuminated from within like a great, lit lantern.

They talked about Marcus Aurelius, having passed his equestrian statue on their way. Starling pointed out that when Aurelius had decided to take up the habits of a philosopher, he would sleep on the ground until his mother convinced him to sleep in a bed. She laughed, and wondered how often we simply choose an identity, like imprinting on an appealing product on the page of a catalogue.

Yeah, I’ll take the number 8 with fries. Now I will wear this and walk like this, and everyone will know to which personality from the universal catalogue I’ve ascribed.

Cheap, desperate attempts to align with the pack. Having nothing to do with the self, but only that part of us which is animal; afraid and snarling at any who pose a threat to territory and status.

She could see in Dr. Lecter, for all his wisdom and intelligence, that even he had a frightened animal coiled within. His need to prove his intellectual prowess at every turn, his tendency toward snobbery and the compulsion to shop, or perhaps it was some primal manifestation of hunting.

He needed to be seen, and he needed to be seen in a specific way; he needed to be seen as singular. She recalled what he had said to her once about how it would sting if she discovered she were ordinary. And it had stung just hearing him say it. Once again, she knew that some of his insight into her wounds sprung from his own. He had known it himself. Some of our stars are the same. Clarice.

She had laid bare the only fear and innocence she had left…to him. She felt that he was worthy of that. Yet, there was so much left to be unearthed…

Whatever writhed and hissed in the depths of his internal catacombs was ancient and putrid. Clarice Starling could nearly smell it, and patiently anticipated the time when he would reveal it. She was not afraid of him, but she could see that in time, he could be afraid of her. She had a sneaking suspicion that treating others was a far different thing than treating oneself. It has been said that physicians should not be physicians to themselves.

Starling sips at her drink, her eyes slightly narrowed as she gazes at the Colosseum, a building so very full of antiquated suffering. Tourists lapped at it, and Starling thought of flies on shit. Whatever old, festering monuments were erected and locked away in Lecter’s mind were not to be sniffed or gnawed at; they were to be observed respectfully, safely…from across a path.

Starling smiled and looked at him. When he cocked his head, she winked.

Chapter Text

REKJAVEK, ICELAND

At seven in the morning, it is 4° C, and the orange bellies of the clouds contrast with the inky indigo of the sky and water below. In late spring it is still relatively cold but not as harsh as the winter, and the Northern lights are still visible sometimes. The multicolored roofs of the houses are whimsical below the dignified volcanic mountain range Esja, the oldest parts of which are over three million years old. There has been recent snow, but it has not stayed on the ground for long.

Next to Mt. Esja is the range Móskarðshnjúkar, and on this mild morning Clarice Starling hikes one of its trails alone. It is a challenging hike, a challenge which Starling welcomes. She walks through small lava fields covered in moss and blueberries, but she rests before the flora disappears and basalt stones take their place.

Having worked up a good sweat, she removes her sweater and wraps it around her waist, letting her day pack fall from her shoulder as she sits. The trail is far less known than those on Esja, so she is blessedly alone, for the most part. There are only two other hikers on this morning, but they are far up ahead and their paths have yet to cross. She pulls out a water bottle and drinks until an alert sounds on her phone. She sighs, screwing the cap back on and takes it out of the front pouch of the pack. A few moments later, she stands and begins to make her way back down the mountain.

At café Paris it is getting rather crowded and Starling doesn’t spot Dr. Lecter, immediately. When she does, he gives her a nod and a smile. When she reaches him he stands and they kiss one another’s cheek.

“Góðan daginn, elskan mín, “he said, taking his seat. He looked behind her and nodded, and a server appeared next to her.

“Tveir kaffi, takk,“ Dr. Lecter added, and looked back at her when the server was gone.

“Come è stata la tua passeggiata?” he asked, switching to Italian.

“It was a good walk, if not a bit short,” she replied, an eyebrow raised.

“Not in an Italian mood, my darling?” Dr. Lecter asked. Starling glanced at the book he had in front of him. It was a copy of Poetic Edda, a collection of anonymous Norse poems.

“Feeling homesick?” he teased. Before she could answer, he picked up the book and thumbed through it.”It’s a collection of poetry. Most are generally very clear and without adornment. Do you think you’d like that?”

Starling smiled. “Yes, I think I would.”

Dr. Lecter’s smile was a bit wistful, and he took off his sunglasses and placed them on top of the book. “I thought as much. Wold you like breakfast at home?”

“Yes, please.”

“Excellent,’ he said, sitting back in his chair. Their coffee came and Dr. Lecter took a sip and looked away, seeming to lose himself in his thoughts for a time. Starling was content to sit quietly with him.

Their talks were many, and most were untroubled. When they were not untroubled, they seemed to to be wrought with mental sand traps, built just for her. He always brought them back around to comfortable territories, always comforted her after trekking through some tender area of her mind, but in the thick of it she found herself growing weary.

That first morning when he had led her into confessing she was in love with him had not been an end-all-be-all moment, as she had hoped. No, the journey had only just begun and it had been a damn trial. It had also been a journey of extraordinary passion and sensuality, but it had still been a damn trial. She was tired.

She was tired, and he knew it. It was expected, but he knew he had to ensure that her prostration did not become debilitating or leak into their relationship. What she needed was some time alone.

After they had breakfast, he let her do as she pleased without intrusion or influence of any kind. First, she had cleaned up. Ordinarily, he liked doing it himself. It wasn’t a chore he enjoyed, but one of the ways he had been managing her current sense of drudgery was to maintain a sense of holiday for her. Today, he let her do as she pleased, and it was the first thing she chose to do. He could see the error in his ways, at once. She had needed the opposite, a sense of domesticity. She had been wayward for years, and was beginning to wind down; she had been trying to wind down. She had even stopped him when he had stood to assist, and he had obeyed, to her suspicion.

He didn’t think it had anything to do with some loyalty to a female archetype in the household, no. She needed a purpose, something to do; she needed something to do and to see the immediate results of that action. So he had sat passively and let her clean, and then she had come to him, leaned her hip against his shoulder. He put an arm around her, squeezed her thigh. She smiled at him and he pulled her laughing into his lap.

“I think I’ll take a nap, “she said after a few moments. He nodded, and let her go without protest. At some point, perhaps an hour later, he heard her call to him. He went quickly and found her lying on her side and she beckoned him. He slid beneath the covers with her and held her until her hand wandered down his pant leg.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” she began, rubbing his leg up and down. She smiled as his breath changed, “but I get the sense that today is about what I want to do.”

“Astute as usual,” he said.

“I am astute. But you…” she let her hand glide over his lap,” are practically a mystic. So tell me what you think I want right now.”

“I can’t be sure. You’re far too difficult to read, could you give me a hint?”

She cupped his testicles through his pants.

“How about that?”

“No…no, I’m still unclear. What is it you want, you bewildering young woman?”

Starling looked up at him. “I want to play cards, obviously.”

“Ah! I’ll fetch the deck, I think it’s in the parlor desk,” he said, sitting up and she laughed, pulling him back down. He rolled her over onto her back.

“Ask and you shall receive,” he said, grinning.

“Alright. I want you to remove your clothes.”

Dr. Lecter’s smile grew. “Are you really still troubled that you’re the only one who’s been voyeured so far?”

“I’m not troubled. I want to see your body.”

“Tired of being observed, are we?” he asked, caressing the delicate skin beneath her chin with the back of his fingers.

“More like scrutinized.”

“Oh, now…not scrutinized, my flower. Observed like the rare and precious thing you are,” he explained.

“Take off your pants.”

“No. Not now, but I will do it soon.”

Starling sighed. “Why? What happened to ask and you shall receive?”

“You shall receive. At the right time.”

“So today is not about getting what I want after all,” she said, moving to wriggle out from beneath him.

“No, you were right, it is. I just don’t think that’s what you really want.”

“Why is that?” she asked, giving up on worming her way out of his grip and the conversation.

“Because I have been taking certain measures to bring you to this point, this place of wanting more. It has been my influence, do you see? “

“Are you telling me that you’ve been kissing me and touching me and eating my pussy like it tastes like gelato because you had some wild notion it would make me want to fuck you? No,” she said, looking away and putting a hand to her forehead, “I simply can’t believe it.” She rolled her eyes and let her hand fall noisily on the bed. Dr. Lecter smiled politely.

“Ordinarily such distasteful language would be offensive coming from such a lovely mouth,” he said, running his fingers over her lips. She opened her mouth, and he let her lick his finger. He fought the urge to close his eyes and it seemed to make all the more blood rush down to his growing erection. Starling watched the subtle pause in his words and the hunger in his eyes. She had grown to enjoy the look of craving she often found there.

“However,” he managed to continue, as she sucked the tip of his forefinger into her mouth, “I’m pleased to find you so forthcoming. Your previous bashfulness seems to have taken a backseat to the voice of your libido.”

Starling bit the tip of his finger lightly. “Are you bound on waiting me out, is that it? Do you have something to prove in regard to your self-discipline?” She sucked his finger back into her mouth when she had finished.

“Self-discipline? My, no. My dear, when I feel that it is the right time, I will fuck you. And it will not require any teasing or even invitation. When I fuck you, and I will fuck you, I will do it because it is the right time to do so.” He took his finger back and kissed her deeply.

“And when is that?” asked Starling when he had withdrawn. His lips were wet, and she gripped his forearm.

“When everything else is out of the way.”

“What is in the way, Hannibal?”

“Your reservations. I know you don’t think you have any, but you do. You’re not pushing for this because you’re ready, you’re pushing because you’re frustrated and bored.”

“Why does your pants coming off automatically have to mean sex?” Starling wondered. “All I asked was to see you.”

“Are you a fumbling adolescent, now? What’s next, Clarice? Are you going to suggest ‘only the tip’?”

“You’re that worried you’ll lose your self-control?” Starling asked.

Dr. Lecter didn’t answer immediately, finding himself temporarily perplexed. It was true, and he had known it was true, but had not given the notion much attention. Hearing it realized externally through the occasionally profane mouth of Clarice Starling was somewhat unexpected, and he took a moment to adjust his mental footing. Some part of him applauded her, from within.

“Yes,” he said, simply. “And it would not be the end of the world, true. If I took off my clothes and took off yours and found myself buried inside of you, it would most certainly not be the worst way to spend an afternoon. However, I would prefer such an activity to not stem from boredom or lascivious folly.”

“You’re afraid we’d do it in a fit of passion and then I’d be weird, after,” Starling translated.

“Yes.”

“And you think I can’t determine whether I would be because I’m around you all the time and getting irritable and just want to break the sexual tension and be done with it.”

“Yes.”

“And you will somehow know when that’s no longer the case,” she continued, her eyebrows raised.

“Yesss,” he hissed, and kissed her neck.

“Well…” Starling sighed, putting her hands in his hair. “What are we going to do then?”

Dr. Lecter raised his head in mock thoughtfulness. “I don’t know. Yet, for some reason I am in the mood for gelato.”

“Oh, that’s good. I have some for you, down here,” she said, lifting the sheets. Dr. Lecter’s laugh was low and the way he looked at her nearly frightened her. She felt a throb deep down as he descended and disappeared beneath the sheets.

 

The house they had chosen was rather large for the average home in Reykjavik, though it also had a certain grotto feel to it. They had not finished furnishing it, and the way it was appealed to Starling in some way. She could walk from one room to another and down halls without having to meander around heavy furniture and protruding corners. They liked to keep it somewhat dark, and the walls and low lights from the sconces and candelabras helped to further isolate them. When they no longer wanted to feel isolated, they would go out. When they were ready go home, they descended into a space that was entirely of their own world. It was a world of extravagant mirrors, high ceilings with lovely exposed beams, and angled walls creating various cozy nooks in an otherwise spacious building. It is a world of warm flickering lights, on a quiet street in the lava with trolls and elves.

It contained a generous garden and included a palatial hot tub with hot spring water, a candle fireplace and a view of the northern lights from the Jacuzzi. That night they drank wine and watched them from the garden, and Dr. Lecter decided it was time for one more suggestion.

“Clarice, do you think you would enjoy some solitude?”

Starling thought a moment. “Perhaps. Would I be going or would you?”

“That would be up to you entirely. Would you have a preference?”

“Actually, I had been thinking of visiting Hvalfjörður fjord. There are some really great trails there, I’ve heard.”

“Yes, there are. It’s also home to the Glymer waterfall, a worthy destination. When do you think you might like to go?”

“First, I need to know: is this because you think I could use some solitude, or…” she paused, choosing her words carefully,” or is it also because you need some alone time?”

“I can be alone anywhere, Clarice. No, this is about you.”

Starling nodded. “Alright. Tomorrow, then.”

“Alright,” Dr. Lecter agreed.

Dr. Lecter awoke early to see her off, and they made breakfast together. It was still dark out, and Dr. Lecter stood in the bedroom doorway watching her pack. She glanced up at him when she was nearly through. He was expressionless and still, in his dark slacks and fitted Prussia blue undershirt. He looked good, and she smiled. Carrying only her purse and old duffel bag, she came to him and they regarded one another.

“I’ll be back in two days. Three, at most,” she said, and he only smiled and gave her a solitary nod.

“Worried?” she wondered.

“About?” he asked, with a tilt of his head.

“About whether I’ll come back.”

“No. Would you like it if I were?”

“No.”

“Good,” he answered, taking a step forward. His hands were clasped behind his back. “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god, Clarice. Which do you think it is for you?”

“I’m no god, I can tell you that.”

“Commune with yourself, Clarice. Be at one with the rock and grit, and know that you have the strength to lean upon yourself. I regard the willingness to protect one anothers' solitude as the most sacred of bonds. “

“You’re still sure you want that bond with me?" Clarice asked with a sly smile. "After all, I may very well be a wild beast.”

“I would rather be devoured by a hellion than dine with a plebian.”

“Okay, then,” she said, smiling. He smiled back, brilliantly.

Okay,” he said, with a mildly teasing tone.

At the front door she kissed him softly, and he watched her go until she was out of sight. Inside, he sat in one of the two rolling chesterfield chairs, crossing his legs and resting his arms comfortably on either side of him. Two or three days was going to feel longer than he’d rather admit. As he sat he decided that while she was gone, he would finish a few touches on their new home, open a bottle of the Dom Perignon he’d been saving and catch up on some reading.

Yet, between the planning and action, there she always seemed to be; his thoughts continuously returned to her. Sometimes it was general musings of what she was doing or at what she was looking at the precise moment. Other times it might be an image from his memories. Starling’s bare shoulder waning beneath the sheets with her back to him, illuminated by a candle in the corner, her freckled shoulder flickering in his mind. A number of times it was traces of her scent throughout the house that he picked up on, and he would sometimes follow it to it’s source like a bloodhound.

He thought of her coral lips and the coral folds of her sex, tumid and hot with arousal. He thought of her many smiles, sometimes candid and other times wry, her eyes gripping him and holding him fixed beyond his understanding. He thought too of how she saw him, and she teased him with her knowledge, teased him with her bright, sophic eyes.

There was no choice but to consider the likelihood that some part of him was delaying the inevitable for two additional reasons. One of them, the less difficult one to admit, was that he so deeply enjoyed savoring the little sips he took of her. Dr. Lecter was not one to guzzle a singular, fine spirit such as Clarice Starling. There was a time to sample and a time to quaff. He always had a good intuition for discerning such times.

The other less savory reason he continued to keep them both in a state of such tension was because some part of him could be frightened of her. Frightened of her lucid comprehension of him. There were locked doors in the dungeon of his mind, and while he had not given her the keys, he could almost feel that she had perused those corridors, perhaps while he slept, as though there was trace of her scent, there. He decided if it was to be fear then, there was action to take. Action he did not eagerly await, but it was necessary action, nonetheless.

Yes, he would have her, soon. He would have her in every conceivable manner.

Once everything is out of the way.

 

Starling found she enjoyed the drive to Hvalfjörður more than the arrival at the inn. She had skipped the tunnel under the sea, opting for the scenic route, and what a scene it had been. She had stopped a number of times, making her trip twice as long. One of the stops had been Meðalfellsvatn, a lake nestled among the mossy terrain and mountains, freckled with little A-frame houses that Starling found absolutely charming.

She had no camera, having unconsciously abandoned the hoarding of memories and experiences. She did not dwell on what she recalled and did not, being fully present instead within each moment. The lake mirrored the mountains and sky above to an almost eerie degree, making her blink a number of times in order to reorient her sense of perception.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement and her eyes darted in its direction, her senses prickling. Down a ways closer to the edge of the lake was a lamb trotting behind its mother. The mother, her eyes having noticed Starling first, seemed leery. Starling watched for long minutes, before scooting along the grass to get closer. Each time she did, the sheep would look back in her direction, looking rather suspicious. Starling smiled and lied down on the grass on her belly, letting her chin rest in the nook of her forearms. It was a long while before the sheep would come much closer, some degree of curiosity winning her over. Starling did not move or speak, only letting her come as close as she wished. The grass was tall, and Starling felt a bit like a sneaking lioness, especially while watching an apprehensive sheep. A part of her, some childish part wanted to try and push the interaction further, but she resisted the impulse.

She had booked a cottage at the secluded Hótel Laxárbakki, and immediately got into its hot tub, soaking in water as hot as she could stand it, before crashing onto the bed in her robe. She was reminded of her first night in Canada. She was reminded of other things.

She had brought a CD player with her, and she fished it out of the duffel bag. One thing she had begun to feel deprived of was certain musical privileges. There were plenty of pieces from which they both took pleasure, but there were some things she appreciated alone.

Starling listened to Little Wing, undressing until she wore only a pair of lace mapale boy shorts and a loose tank top. She sat near the window and put her feet up on the desk, leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She considered the fact that it was the first time she was truly apart from Lecter in, oh…months. Odd that it hadn’t ever bothered her, really. Generally, she could only stand company for so long before she needed complete isolation to recharge. Ardelia had always been good about giving that to her without taking it personally. Dr. Lecter, well…he had done the same for the most part. The difference was, he acted as her guide through her own psyche, whereas Ardelia had been primarily an observer and an occasional sounding board. But this…this had been entirely new. Exhilarating, frustrating beyond the bounds of her experience, enlightening, passionate, nightmarish, and sexy as hell. She scoffed at the ceiling, wondering how in the world she had come to a point in which she was sitting alone and yearning for Hannibal Lecter’s hands.

Yes, yes…his hands. Ummmm. When had this started, really? When had she begun to feel this attraction? She knew she felt drawn to him when she’d been left alone with him in the barn. But that was stupid, because clearly she had been drawn to him long before, as something had driven her to find him in the first place. And she knew it had been more than duty. Even after everything that had happened on Muskrat Farm, she had stayed to make damn sure no one else died like she would have, eventually. Not Ardelia and not Dr. Lecter. She couldn’t bear to live in a world in which Mason Verger delighted in such a perversity, and with the help of an authority vowed to serve and protect. It was simply too much.

But why? She could never have admitted it before, but there had been something there…there had always been something there. God, but she hoped it was not some counterfeit of emotion orchestrated by Dr. Lecter, at least not alone. She needed to be able to trust her own feelings, at the very least. She could stand to trust nothing and no one, but she needed to be able to trust herself. Is that what this was about, then? Extricating herself from him in order to come to terms with her own feelings about him, about everything? Would she ever really trust him?

She kept waiting to, and he always watched, patient and offering either an unthreatening void in his eyes or a warm smile, depending on which she needed. She waited to trust him and he watched. Yes, that she needed a break from; being watched was exhausting.

The fact that they never could seem to settle into anything resembling normalcy did not bother her exactly, either. 'Normalcy' wasn’t something she craved, but the incessant probing, testing and verbal banter, antagonism and flirtation had worn her out, to be sure. Clearly, he had picked up on that.

She and Dr. Lecter had decided to keep their correspondence at a minimum, but she was to call him upon arrival. She regarded the phone on the nightstand. It would be getting dark soon, and she should already have called him. When her hand was on the receiver, she paused to listen for a moment. Starling inclined her head toward the open window of the cottage, unsure of what she had heard, exactly. It had sounded somewhat like a child, but she was not of an assuming mind.

She listened, and after a few minutes, she picked up the receiver. She got through two numbers before the sound came again, and she let the receiver fall back into its nook. Sitting up onto the bed, she crossed her legs and became very still.

Out of context, the sound she heard was almost comical. Had it been the first time she had heard such a sound, she would have been curious and possibly even amused. But she was not amused. She stood and went to the window, peering out across the long expanse of grass toward the distant mountains. The rest of the hotel was behind her, and the noise came from directly ahead. She could see, at this distance, the man standing some distance away looking toward her window. She couldn’t tell if he was looking at her, but she could tell what stood at his feet; it was a lamb.

She leaned forward and looked to the right when she heard the noise again, and there she was. It was its mother, having followed its captured progeny, but too afraid to come any closer. So she called out to the lamb, who answered with a terrible sound.

She looked back at the figure standing still and knew who it was.

Hiroo Hara was unsure of whether she would come or not. If she came, he couldn’t be sure if it was to save the animal or kill him. Possibly both, as warped as her mind must be. He gave her a nod to make sure she understood, and then turned and headed further out into the nothingness between the hotel and the mountains. It was nearly five minutes before he heard the steady sound of footfalls behind him. Hiroo smiled to himself. She was coming.

She followed him at a sort of leisurely pace for a time until he came to stand near the far reaches of the pond. They were far enough away from the hotel that screams could easily go unnoticed, and gunshots could be misinterpreted. It was getting darker and the sun had fallen beneath the mountains enough that the only light outside was a deep, deep purple at the edge of the horizon. She stopped a good measure away from him and they regarded each other.

“You must have some ego,” she mused, crossing her arms.

It was not the first words he had expected, and Hiroo tilted his head. “And you must have quite the god complex.”

“That’s not what I’d call it, but call me whatever you need to. It all must be very confusing for you. In fact,” she said, letting her arms fall, and took a few steps closer,” if one of us has a god complex, it’s you. I’m quite aware of my own immortality, but it seems like it’s you who couldn’t digest getting caught.”

“I got away,” he reminded her and she smiled.

“You scrambled away like a hysterical child, as I recall. I could have stopped you, believe me. I just didn’t foresee you being this fragile. That’s on me.”

The sheep screamed somewhere behind her and the lamb answered her call. They were both quiet a moment, and Starling regarded an irritated Hiroo.

“Fragile? I must be missing something, Miss Starling. Or should I call you Mrs. Lecter? I’ve only been here a week, so if the two of you tied the knot, I’m unaware. If so, congratulations. If not, don’t let it get you down. There are plenty of other psychopaths in the sea. “

“Hardly. I can only assume your deep sense of humiliation, seeing as how instead of riding off into the sunset with your tail between your legs like a good animal should, you’ve come here seeking some sort of ‘round two’ in order to save whatever semblance of egotistical identity you’ve been clinging to in the slooow winter of your life. But I’ve only known you a short time. If I’m right, I’m sorry you feel you must perform such theatrics in order to gain my attention. But don’t let it get you down. You’ll be dead soon enough,” she said, and put a finger to her mouth, seemingly in thought for a moment. Hiroo narrowed his eyes.”Is Iceland better than Italy, do you think?”

“I’m going to take a long time savoring you, Miss Starling. I’ve had some time to think about what I’d like to do to you if I got the chance. I have a nice little place set up just for you and I. I’ll admit, I did contemplate eating you and sending some of the best parts to Lecter. I thought he might like to keep your heart. But to tell you the truth, I’m not as disgusting as you. Though, I still may send him your heart. Perhaps in a pretty little box that he can keep. He can put it on a shelf and remember the time he fucked a bitch as crazy as him. Maybe it will warm his heart in the slow winter of his life.”

“Oh, you didn’t kill him? Well, that’s interesting. And good to know.”

“Oh, please. A man like that doesn’t come after someone like you unless he’s the one inflicting the damage. Or are you really that far gone? Have you forgotten what he is?”

Starling found herself hesitating, within. The words he had used were so close to Crawford’s, years ago in another lifetime. Had she? Could she? It was possible he would come and possible he wouldn’t. Could she stand it if he didn’t? She shrugged. She’d have to stand it.

“Cannibal got your tongue?”

Starling laughed, and with her head thrown back, her lovely throat exposed and her teeth gleaming, he took care to remind himself what he was dealing with. She wasn’t a rabbit, she was a fox. This was big game he was hunting, and he squared his shoulders.

“You’re very feisty,” she said after a moment. “I didn’t get to see that side of you, before. You were a little tied up and frightened for your life. Remember that? Did you know you shit yourself? The things I do for love.”

“Yes, yours is the story for the ages,” Hiroo said sarcastically. The sheep screamed again, and Starling turned her head a fraction, listening over her shoulder. She still smiled from her momentary laughter, and her eyes flickered back to him. Hiroo’s spine tingled at the base.

“You’ve been doing some homework, I take it,” she said. Hiroo smiled, feeling that it looked alright.

“Yes, yours is an interesting story, I have to admit.”

“I’m glad my life made a good story for you. But I still can’t imagine what you think you’re going to do. You’re unarmed, I can see that.”

“And so are you. You know when I was a boy-“

“Oh, Christ,” Starling interrupted. “Can we skip whatever this is about to be? Let’s just jump straight to a moonlit sword fight, or whatever it is you’re pining for.”

“Fine,” Hiroo said curtly, and stepped on the lamb. Starling took a sharp intake of breath, and before she had fully composed herself, he had closed half the distance. Her adrenaline spiked and she could feel her limbs preparing for a fight. Her skin was on fire.

She met him and caught his arm mid-strike and pulled it out straight between them and promptly broke his arm in two places. He cried out at the same time as the mother sheep, and Starling made to break his leg with the heel of her foot, but he swung her around and caught her throat from behind with his good arm.

Starling scratched his arm and could feel peels of skin beneath her nails and he cried out again. She did not feel the needle enter her, and never recalled the fade to black.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

She woke with a sense of falling. She couldn’t move yet, and her senses had not reported much. Minutes passed in silence and she fell away from consciousness once more, slow and sweet like honey off of a spoon. When she woke next, she could hear sounds that her mind did not fully interpret. Eventually, she knew at least one of the sounds to be a human voice, though nothing the voice said seemed to mean anything to her. She moved slightly, and realized her stiffness was in part due to a very hard surface beneath her, and restraints. She felt cold except for one place on her body. She came more fully into herself. The place that was not cold was on her thigh, and then the warm place was moving and she knew it was a hand touching her. She made a sound, not knowing at first that the sound was her own.

More unintelligible voice, and more hands. No, only two hands, their warmth suddenly unwelcome. She decided to try opening her eyes, but they seemed so heavy, so heavy. The voice…talking, talking.

She realized then that the words meant nothing to her because they were not English words. Nor were they Italian or Icelandic. No, they were Japanese. Japanese...

Starling’s arms tensed and she tried to move again, tried to open her eyes. His hands were not exactly touching her now, and she felt something cold on her stomach, moving upward, accompanied by a tearing sound. She managed to open her eyes a little as he was removing her shirt. He glanced at her before setting a pair of scissors down somewhere behind him.

Starling looked down and could see why she was cold. She was naked now and lying on an industrial packing table. The air beneath was cold and the wood was scratchy on her skin. Hiroo leaned back, admiring her form in what seemed to Starling like a not altogether sexual manner.

The arm she’d broken was crudely set and in a sling he’d made from the skirt she’d hastily put on in the cottage. It seemed to work alright. His other arm was bandaged where she’d scratched him, the skin around the gauze still raised and red. There was a sticky chemical smell in the air, and she identified it as some kind of wound wash. It wasn’t Betadine. She knew that particular scent well. He looked up at her.

“The first time I saw you, I thought of a tranquilized animal in a zoo. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to make you sleep and touch an untouchable thing, like a leopard or a wolf.”

“You dream big,” Starling commented. Her throat was pretty dry, and it came out as a croak. She tried to clear it, swallowing her own saliva a few times as he was talking.

“I decided not to ride into the sunset with my tail between my legs. Like you did.”

“I’m happy for you, but I have to tell you--I’m a veteran of torture.”

“Oh, I know. That’s why I decided I wouldn’t go too easy on you. That would be a waste.”

“It’s dangerous to get what you want, you know. After all, what comes next? Especially if the climax of your little moment is unceremonious. What could your life mean? And soon you’ll die…unceremoniously, just like the rest of us. But before that, you’ll get old and shit your pants; pretty nurses will try to not look disgusted when they clean you up. Then again, that’s a very optimistic outcome of your future. If you’ve been a good study, you’ll know that not too many of my antagonists survive. I didn’t catch your name, by the way.”

“Hara,” he said, and placed a guillotine cigar cutter around her pinky.

 

Dr. Lecter was not apprehensive exactly, but he was not pleased. He knew it was perfectly reasonable to assume that Clarice had fallen asleep or decided not to call immediately. Then again, generally speaking, Clarice Starling always did what she said she was going to do. Had she some resistance to his request to call him upon arrival, she would have resisted verbally.

He had acquired a Theremin, which he had decided to place near the garden doors where he could see the wine sediment in his glass in the dusk sun. He looked into it as he played, his arms out in front of him, playing the music without touch, like fondling a ghost which cooed and purred.

His wine glass stood elegantly on a marble top buffet near the Theremin, and when he’d finished his piece, he looked at it. A few short steps and he picked up the glass, twirled and sniffed. She should have called. He took a sip and found himself glancing at the telephone, accusingly.

Dr. Lecter could not enjoy the ghastly beauty of the instrument or the chirpy bite of his wine. He was not pleased. The phone rang, and he answered before it could ring twice.

“Yes?”

He waited a moment, listening to the hitch of a breath, perhaps.

“Hannibal?”

Dr. Lecter sunk into the chair and crossed one leg over the other.

“Lady Murasaki.”

“Yes.”

“How lovely to hear your voice again. I’d love to cut up a few old touches, but I get the feeling you haven’t called for that.”

“No,” she said quietly, hesitating. “I…I’ve changed my mind, Hannibal.”

“About having Ms. Starling and I killed?”

“Yes. I called to warn you.”

Dr. Lecter’s eyes narrowed a fraction. “Hmmmm. One would choose the heron if beset by frogs, yes? About what have you called to warn me, my Lady?”

Lady Murasaki stood in her silk kimono, and had made the call in her bedroom with the doors shut and locked. Her hand drifted over some wisteria blossoms she’d gathered that morning. They were arranged in a lavender weave basket on her dressing table. Hearing his voice brought her back to a time in her life when men were always very glad to see her, very glad indeed. Hannibal too, with his quick hands, sharp smile and sharper tongue. He’d called her his lady and, unforeseeably, her hand trembled like the blossoms in the summer breeze.

“Mr. Hara,” she said, gripping the receiver. “One of the other men we hired came back with quite a story, you know. He also told me that the other survivor, Mr. Hiroo Hara, has developed some sort of obsession with Ms. Starling. He thinks he has been following the two of you for-“

“How did you get this number?”

“I…”

“You know, if you want to see me so badly, I wouldn’t mind coming to call on you. Surely it isn’t necessary for you to continue having me followed.”

“The only reason was because of Mr. Hara. I am sorry, Hannibal. I-“

“Is he here?”

“Yes, he must be. That’s how I found you. Mr. Hara has a tracking device in his vehicle. I’m going to give you the coordinates, now.”

“Do.”

After she’d given him Hiroo’s whereabouts, Dr. Lecter blinked once, slowly.

Then, after a few moments that were tense for Lady Murasaki but not for Hannibal Lecter:

“Do you know, my Lady…there is always one image which stands above the rest. I like to keep it in a room of it’s own,” he began, and Lady Murasaki used her free hand to steady herself against the dresser. She didn’t look at the wisteria blossoms anymore, but only the dull corner of her bedroom. Her eyes drifted closed as he continued.

“I never actually enter the room, you see. I only look into it, through a dusty window glowing with candlelight from within. And there you are in the water. In the water, like the water flowers in the moat where the swans swam, but did not sing. In the water, your face and breasts like water flowers.”

“I know,” she said, and a hasty tear appeared on her cheek and glittered a moment in the low light. “I found your drawing.”

“As you were meant to. I have to go, now.”

“Yes. Hannibal, I…” she hesitated. It was one of very few moments in her life in which she feared for being trite. “I would like to see you happy.”

“And you will,” he said.

A beat.

“Goodbye, Madame.”

 

Starling let the pain in, at first. It was how she had coped with it before, letting it all in. But at a certain point, she felt clear enough in mind to recall something Dr. Lecter had told her, once. He had told her that when something external became unpleasant, he went into his memory palace and laid his wound upon the flank of Venus’ cold marble statue. “The mind,” he had told her, “…is all that makes anything real to you, Clarice. Nothing in this world has any intrinsic meaning, your mind attaches meaning to that which it deems worthy. You and you alone create your reality. Beyond that, it is all chaotic banality and pomp.”

She had been developing her own mind palace in their time in Iceland, and she went there now, quickly. Hers was rather different from his. Hers was buried within a forest, and she flew through the trees like a bat until arriving at the pool. She had not been sure of why the pool had appeared there, a short distance from the palace itself, but he had helped her find the reason.

It’s purpose was to cleanse and renew before comings and goings. She dove in. The water cool, liquid healing on her flesh. She brought forth other sensations, the feeling of water moving over her body, her wet hair like seaweed. She came up and smelled the forest mast and something sweeter, more aromatic, something which came from the palace itself. It was the smell of barbeque, laurel and hemlock. Deeper still was the scent of horses, huckleberry and rosemary. They were the scents of her childhood in West Virginia. Scents of both pain and beauty and she inhaled them deeply, looked above at the always full moon and listened to the sound of a gray wolf’s call and later, an owl who seemed to tell her all was well.

He was approaching her again and she opened her eyes. Her pinky was still on the floor, but her hand no longer trembled.

“How are we feeling?” he asked.

“Better than you, I imagine. Are you feeling uneasy yet about your impending realization?”

“Which realization would that be?” he asked. He had grown confident, and was swinging a thin wire around like a bored child might with a shoelace.

“That you’re actually rather boring in spite of your fumblings for singularity. Nothing else worked, did it? I imagine you’ve tried on quite a few suits before settling on ‘murderer’. But even that doesn’t suit you, because you’re no one. And no one cares.”

“Oh, I think you’ll care.”

Starling chuckled. “Do you think you’re evil, is that it? Do you think you are an apex predator after you killed a few cheating spouses, maybe? A tweaker or two. Always the smallest, easiest prey for you, I’ll bet. Did you start with animals? “

Hiroo looked away for a moment, and Starling nodded. “Yeah. And who fucked with you? Was it a big scary grown up? Were you so very helpless?”

Hiroo’s mouth turned down and he came to her, wrapping the wire around one of her arms. He tied it very tight and stepped back, watching it turn colors.

“It will take a long time but eventually, that arm will just fall off,” he commented.

“Yeah? Will that do the trick, do you think? Will it make you very important and interesting if my arm falls off?”

“I don’t care,” he said, but his eyes were growing dark.

“It’s okay, you can tell me. I’m your victim, after all. I’m going to die, isn’t that the plan?”

When he didn’t respond, she took a moment to stretch. The way her arms were restrained was causing a sore spot beneath her shoulder blade. She waited one more moment, Hiroo looking off in thought, before going on. “You may as well tell me all of your deep, dark secrets,” she said, her smile gentle. “If you can’t tell me, then who?”

They regarded one another quietly, Starling looking him up and down for a moment.

“You’re not evil, Mr. Hara. You’re not even interesting enough to make me sick.”

“Do you think you’re an expert on evil because you fuck a demon? Do you think that thing loves you? If you understand evil, you should know it doesn’t. Even if he wasn’t a monster, he wouldn’t. I’ve been around longer than you, and one thing I’ve learned is that all love is, is a parody of itself.”

“Oh, Mr. Hara. Do you know what you are? You’re a cynic. You believe the garbage you were taught as a child and then when things didn’t turn out how you hoped, you adopted the inverse credo and decided, ‘life’s a whore, and I’m going to wallow in those thoughts until it makes me sick.’ There’s no bigger schoolgirl in spirit than a cynic. “

Hiroo gritted his teeth, but regained his composure. “Schoolgirl or not, I’m not the one bound with parts of them coming off.”

“Oh, but that’s exactly what you’ve been for the whole of your life, Mr. Hara! Don’t see that?”

Hiroo exhaled slowly and turned around, pacing the room for a moment. “Are you hoping you’ll goad me into killing you faster?”

“I don’t care in the least. I just always enjoyed watching the stoic squirm.”

When next he came to her, he carried a pale of water and a towel. Starling found she was laughing, and it was not entirely a laugh of hysteria, but one of true amusement. Life was sometimes too poetic to pass as meaningless, as Dr. Lecter said. Sometimes, whether he did or not, she found life offered the occasional glimmer of substance beyond human reckoning.

 

Speeding through the Hvalfjörður tunnel was not the wisest thing Dr. Lecter had ever done, but he decided it was necessary. He glanced at his watch and sighed. The address was halfway between Hvalfjörður fjord and Reykjavik about eight miles off of Route 1. It would be at least another twenty minutes before he got there. He did not drum a finger on the steering wheel nor look at his watch often. His face was impassive, his body, motionless. However, his eyes, cast upon the victimless road, are dark and alive.

Starling had to admit that there was something about the loss of breath which made the simple act of breathing a truly beautiful experience. There is nothing like pain to make what is ordinary extraordinary. Starling’s hair was plastered to her cheeks and she breathed the delicious air with her eyes closed, and smiled. God, but breathing is heavenly.

Her arm had grown numb, and the loss of her finger pulsed some distance away. She descended back into the forest, going past the pool, up the stairs to the entrance of her palace and entered the grand foray. It’s furnishings were not complete, but the ceilings were frescoed with happy scenes from her childhood, her father cutting orange slices with his knife, the tip broken off. The two of them sitting in ladder back chair and laughing at jokes. She wondered about her father, and decided to visit with him. Down the corridors, a right and then a left, and she went through the door. It was as it had been. He was sitting with his back to her, the morning sun lighting his ear and making it a bright cadmium orange. He looked at her from over his shoulder and smiled.

“Hey, Baby!”

“Hey, Daddy. How’s it going?”

“It’s another day in paradise, Sugar. “

“Catch some bad guys?”

“No bad guys to catch. Never, not here.”

“That’s good, Daddy.” She came and sat with him, and they shared some Sno-Balls.

“What’s on your mind, Sugar?”he asked, after awhile.

“Well, it’s a little embarrassing.”

“Better to be honest than impressive.”

“Yeah. It’s just…I’ve got this…man in my life.”

“Oh, is that all? I’m happy to hear it! You deserve to be happy, Sugar.”

“Yeah. It’s just that…well, he’s pretty different. I don’t think you’d approve.”

“Well…let’s see, now. Does he treat you good?”

“Yes.”

“Ever raise a hand or a voice?”

“No, never.”

“And does he make you feel special?”

“Yeah, he does.”

“Well, that’s all that matters to me. Don’t need much more than that to make me happy.”

“What if he’s not always nice to other people?”

“Which people?”

Starling shrugged. “People that are rude or get in the way of what he wants.”

“Well, nobody’s perfect. If they were, how could any of us mortals stand to be around ‘em, anyways? “

“That’s easy for you to say. He’s done some pretty bad things…so have I.”

“Who says they’re bad?”

“Most people.”

“Well, y’know…I never was much for playin’ the part of the sheep. Wouldn’t want my girl to, either. You do what you gotta do, Baby. You protect yourself, take care of yourself. Make sure your man does, too.”

“I will, Daddy.”

“Clarice?”

“Yeah?”

Starling frowned in momentary confusion. Her Daddy didn’t sound like her Daddy, anymore.

“Clarice.”

Starling opened her eyes and looked at Dr. Lecter.

“Oh,” she said. “That was fast.”

He smiled and cupped her cheek. “You’re alright.”

“Yeah. I’m alright.”

He was cutting her restraints lose then, and she turned her head toward a mass in her peripheral. Hiroo was lying on the floor, unconscious.

“Is he dead?” she wondered.

“No.”

She was free. He helped her to sit up, but left the wire on her arm.

“This is an antibiotic,” he said, and she said nothing while watching him administer it to her shoulder. He bent down and retrieved a few other items.

“I’m afraid I need to cauterize this wound,” he said apologetically, and Starling only nodded. He pulled out his harpy and a lighter. As he heated it, he indicated the handkerchief in his pocket.

“Go ahead and take that out. You’ll want to bite down on it. This is going to be very painful.”

She nodded, before unfurling it with one shake of her free hand and placed it into her mouth.

He gave no warning beyond a quick reading of her eyes. She nodded once, and he placed the heated blade on the wound. She gasped through her nose, her eyes squeezing shut tight. When she thought she was going to pass out, he was done. She was hyperventilating, her eyes big and wild, and he pulled her into his arms.

“Over. Over, now.”

She nodded again into his chest and held his thumb with her good hand. And, closing her eyes, dipped her burning hand into the healing bath of her mind.

He placed her hand in a makeshift tourniquet and did what he could in the quick to clean and dress the wound.

He carried her in his arms to his car, and she was nearly asleep when he returned with Hiroo and a few other things, her severed finger among them. Starling was looking up at the building from which he’d emerged, realizing for the first time that they had been in an old chapel. It’s dilapidated walls and the overgrown grass around it’s edges indicated it had been abandoned for some time. Somehow, it was lovelier that way, to Starling.

When he opened the car door, she could hear frogs from a body of water, somewhere. He sat down next to her and smiled, warmly.

“You came,” she said.

“Of course, cara mia,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll always come.”

Starling’s smile was soft and sad as she drifted off, once more.

 

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Dr. Lecter very loosely quotes Bradley Chico and Rainer Maria Rilke
Dr. Lecter quotes Aristotle
Clarice quotes Muriel Barbery in The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Alexandra Medford in The Witches of Eastwick

Chapter Text

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Hiroo Hara would be their last meal as cannibals for quite some time. However, they take their time with him, enjoying numerous parts of him over the better part of a week. Starling found her favorite was the leg de Hara, although it’s possible this was due to it’s ageing. It was near the end of Hiroo’s visit with them, and Dr. Lecter cooked it in a big Jambonnière with a bundle of fresh herbs and served au jus.

Due to time constraints and other complications, Starling’s finger could not be reattached. Both the distal and intermediate phalanges were severed, but the proximal phalange was intact. Dr. Lecter procured for her a lovely prosthetic with a wrist strap. They had shopped around for a time, first looking at those which were designed to look like real fingers, and then others. Starling preferred the ones that did not try to be something they were not, so her left pinky was replaced by a kinetic finger made primarily of silicone and carbon fiber. It was a deep brown, the same color of Dr. Lecter’s favorite chair. Starling thought it was just fine.

They left Iceland a little over a month later, having decided that perhaps one last move would do the trick. Iceland, as stunning and friendly as it had been to them, was not their truest home, and they both could feel it.

They decided to spend the summer in Scotland. It’s mild, long days stretched in what felt like a stolen season of fragrant, heather-capped highlands and crisp loch air. Across from their temporary flat in Glasgow was a cemetery smelling of wet moss. In the evening, stone angels stood forever in devotion and Celtic crosses made long, narrow shadows along the grassy knolls. Starling liked to watch their progression, the dead seeming content to be dead while she, the living, felt content to be alive.

She felt at home in Scotland in a way she never had. It was true that she possessed Scottish roots, as many Americans do, but she didn’t know if that was truly the reason she wanted to stay. It was easy to say that it was the friendliness of the peoples’ eyes, the earthy scents or the fact that Scotland knows how to have a good time; it was something she simply could not name. After a few weeks, she no longer cared what the reason was.

In midsummer, they drove to Inverness for a midsummer festival and moved along the fringes of the crowds, listening to the music from a pleasant distance. Later in the evening, when everyone else was returning home from a day in the hills, they headed into the mountain of Loch Affric. They encountered a group of people who had not headed home, and seemed to have no intention to leave any time soon. There was a band and some marquee tents set up, and a growing bonfire around which people danced.

It was a few drinks later when Starling could smell rain in the occasional gusts of wind. She had been laughing with a young woman about something she could not recall only minutes later; she was happy. Dr. Lecter was talking to someone across the fire, and he glanced at her while she looked toward the horizon; the aubergine mountains stood intumescent, alee of the turmeric sky at dusk.

The musicians were playing Clann An Drumma's Tribal Heart, and without notice, Dr. Lecter appeared in front of her, a hand held out. She looked at it for a moment, taken by surprise and more than a little amused. It was certainly not unlike him to ask her to dance, but it was not the kind of music to which she could picture him dancing. Her smile was big as she took his hand.

Dr. Lecter was in informal clothing. He wore ribbed corduroy the color of smoke, and his black shirt was a soft, mouline jersey and the top two buttons were undone. His chest was not particularly hairy she noticed, wondering why it was the first time she’d noticed. His shoulders were not so very broad, but God, was there a terrific strength in them as he took her and led her around the fire.

He twirled her from time to time, and for some reason it always made her laugh. Twice he even picked her up by the hips and held her waist at the level of his chin and she gripped his shoulders and leaned her head back, smiling as he spun her. When he let her slide down the length of him, their noses and lips grazed and she felt a warm fluttering in her belly, the intensity of which took her by surprise. His smile was brilliant and the fire was warm on her back; at the same time, the wind was cool on her front. He brought her in close later on, when the sun was setting in earnest. The others were getting either noisy or languid in their increasing intoxication, and Starling danced with him now with her cheek against his, his hand on hers, where he’d placed it beneath his collar. His hand at her waist drew tighter each time she drew closer. Her breath was warm on his ear, and Dr. Lecter’s mouth opened as his eyes closed.

Later, they were lying in the grass barefoot, and Starling was on her belly and propped up on her elbows. She was touching the grass, letting it graze her palm in a tickle. She looked at Dr. Lecter who lay on his back with his hands behind his head. He looked at her, too.

Beats of silence, and then he spoke.

“Do you know much about the German occupation in Lithuania in World War II?” he asked her. The question seemed to come out of nowhere, but she blinked soft and slow and his eyes were different.

“Not much.”

Dr. Lecter looked away. “We left the castle in 1941. It was near the eastern front of the war, and we went to the family lodge to evade the Nazis. About three years later, a Soviet tank stopped at the lodge looking for water. It was bombed by a German Stuka. It killed our parents and it was only my sister Mischa and I left. I considered it an honor to take care of her, but it wasn’t easy work. I was eleven,” he paused, glancing at her. She watched him without pity or mocking. She gave only another slow blink to indicate she perceived the parallel in their lives.

“Later, five deserters appeared, storming and looting the lodge. They locked us in the barn until they ran short on supplies and food. They took Mischa. I tried to stop them, but I was small and had become very weak. We’d barely eaten…" he hesitated for an instant.

"...Neither had the deserters. They broke my arm and I blacked out. I didn’t remember much of it for many years. I remembered more than I’ve told you, once I did remember. “

He looked at her, and they stayed like that for a long time. She could see the old pain in his eyes, and she ate that suppurate agony with her own and he let her. She decided it was the texture of tripe, a bit sweet like wild boar but more bitter. She had watched him consume her pain so many times, and it felt good and right to do the same for him. She had found that while it was the most vulnerable she’d ever felt, watching him taste the wounds of her psyche, it had also been so very cathartic. It was as though he truly had eaten the pain, and then it was gone. She had decided it was good that such suffering had found some use, some purpose in feeding the hunger of a madman. She was glad to do it for him, and he pulled her into his arms and she smiled into his neck. He smelled like broadcloth and a hint of sweat.

When they were walking back to where they’d parked their car, it was mostly dark. The only light source was from the bonfire some three hundred meters away. They were alone and walking in silence when Dr. Lecter suddenly turned and picked her up. She laughed at first, gripping his shoulders. Then he bit her neck hard enough that she gasped and grabbed fistfuls of his hair.

She didn’t notice when she wrapped her legs around his waist.

He ran his hands up her thighs, pushing her summer dress up around her hips and she was breathing hard and fast. She looked down at him and bit his lips.

They were at the base of a sloping hill when he dropped down with her in his arms. Their movements were suddenly frantic. Dr. Lecter pushed up Starling’s dress and she gripped the grass in her hands, felt the warm grit of the soil beneath her fingernails. Her panties were seamless and light blue. He ran the tips of his fingers over them for a moment and relished in the noise Starling made. He took some of the cloth in his hand and ripped them off in two sharp tears. Starling ignored the insignificant pain it caused. It made her hips jerk to the side and the sound of ripping fabric was the only one among the distant music and the calls of the ospreys near the loch.

He bent his dark head and drew his teeth along her knee, her thigh, her hip--and looked up at her without moving his head, tasted her skin. Starling was shaking. She opened her mouth and closed it. He moved up the length of her, looked at her for a moment where she lay on her back, her dress around her waist and her thighs open and shaking. She was looking at him, her eyes wide and full of adrenaline and lust, in equal measure. He kept his eyes on hers as he removed his belt, the veins on his forearms raised. She propped up on her elbows and bent her knees, as if to move. He took one of her ankles and pulled her back, making her slide forcibly toward him until she pressed firmly against his lap. One of her legs was placed over his shoulder, and then she was still. He did not remove his pants, but only freed his cock, which she felt before she saw. It was warm against her thigh for a moment and her breath hitched in her throat.

He bent forward then, bringing his face close to hers. He looked at her for only a moment, his red eyes like spinning, burning steel wool--hot, flying embers that flew into Starling’s core. Her chest and stomach were undulating against him involuntarily. She couldn’t speak, so she only nodded frantically.

He did not ease himself in; he knew she could take it. He wasn’t of a monstrous size, but he was not small, either. He bottomed out quickly, and the sound she made was both a shriek and a moan. Upon this long-awaited union, they both froze for a moment.

Their desperation seemed to calm once he was inside of her, and they each took a moment to exhale in relief.

"Look at me," he whispered, and she did.

He kept his movements slow at first, his face over hers, their eyes locked like two wolves in coitus. They breathed into one anothers faces without reserve, and eventually, his movements grew in speed and depth. She howled into the night sky. She looked up at the far-reaching stippling of Andromeda above them for a moment, with a sense of falling.

The wind was picking up and the ospreys were calling, the music in the distance only muted to the steady pulse of the drums and the ardent whine of the bagpipes. A lock of Dr. Lecter’s hair had fallen into his face as he pestled her into the grass beneath them, mercilessly.

She wanted him, wanted him as deep inside of her as possible, but some animal part of her had pulled back at the beginning. Involuntary squirming and clawing at the ground, but he would only pull her back into him, and fuck her harder. At a certain point, the sensations all became a blur, and the pain and pleasure fused into something Starling could only ever later describe as ‘an experience’. She went limp and screamed in pleasure and some kind of beautiful terror.

Some time later, he flipped her over and fucked her from behind, and she had only moments to marvel at how easily, how fluidly he seemed to throw her about. She reveled in it. Never had she felt so free to explore such a side of her femininity. She knew there would be plenty of time to explore many, many sides of their respective sexuality but she needed this, she realized. She needed the experience of being taken. Needed to know it was okay, that it didn’t make her weak. That it could be done.

The female of many species is built to endure the unendurable, from heart to husk.

His thrusting, if possible, felt deeper still from this position, and she let her head fall forward, watched her knuckles gripping the earth for stability. Then somehow, she was flipped back over, and now she was meeting him with each thrust, meeting each movement as one does when riding a wild horse. They looked at each other deep, deep…They bore the full weight of one anothers madness, feeding off of it.

Dr. Lecter knew what it felt like when Starling was approaching an orgasm; he'd felt with his fingers, with his mouth, those building internal flutters, her grip. He smiled at her, and Starling sighed, looking up at him. His voice was quiet when he said, "Umm-hmm" through his closed, smirking lips. And in that moment, she thought of a polyphony.

Yes, a polyphony...musical texture in which individual melodies are combined without loss; individual parts which come together to make a whole, to make a composition. There were three notes, now. There was the distant rhythm of the instruments in the hills, a steady chant...reliable. Then there was the call of the ospreys; the second note was erratic, a clarion descant. Last, the third note, was Dr. Lecter's voice. Cantus Firmus, keeping her present, bringing her closer, closer.

"Umm-hmm." He smiled at her.

She arched her back and, impaled and shameless, Starling peaked. The spasms of it sent Dr. Lecter into a shattering climax of his own and they grabbed onto one another, unknowingly bruising and tearing at each other's flushed skin.

He slowed after a time and leaned over her. Starling smiled as his cock continued to twitch inside of her for minutes afterwards. She liked the warm weight of him on her, the prickling of the incoming growth on his cheek upon her shoulder and she stroked his hair, his breath still hot in her ear.

He rolled off of her in time, his own chest heaving from the exertion, until one arm extended toward her.

“Too far,” he whispered, and she rolled to her side and he held her until the rain came.

Chapter Text

The book on Lady Murasaki’s kotatsu is a 1969 copy of A Few Flies and I, by Kobayashi. The kotatsu itself is situated in the center of the room, dark and cave-like at dusk, the light source coming only from the wall to wall window into her garden. The sun lights some of the rusty-red hedge blooms and the stone pathway. Lady Murasaki enters the room and stands across from the window, looking out, for a moment. It is lavender and blue outside, all but the frosted sacred lily.
She sits and reads from the book for a long time, until the sun is nearly gone and she can no longer read from the sunlight. It is only when she closes it and sets it aside, that she closes her eyes and exhales slowly, waiting to hear his voice. It does not come immediately, and she keeps her eyes closed and her hands folded in her lap. When it does come, she feels as though the sound of it plucks a thick cord which vibrates straight to her core. His voice is just as she remembers it, if not slightly wilted and metallic as it was when he was a boy, and had not spoken for many years.

“Under the evening moon the snail is stripped to the waist.”

Her eyes don’t open when he speaks, but her nostrils flare at her sharp intake of breath. She opens her eyes after a moment, and turns her head until he can see her in profile from where he stands in the dark.

“I hope I haven’t interrupted,” he continues.

“You know you didn’t,” she responds, not moving anything but her mouth. She did not look like an old woman, to him. He suspected she did not look like an old woman to anyone. He could see that there were lines around her eyes, proof of mirth, but her skin was as lovely as ever, her poise and elegance unparalleled.

“You waited,” she says more quietly, turning to face away from him, again. “Didn’t you?”

“Of course,” he says, moving to the window and standing in front of it, his hands at his back. She doesn’t look at him, but could not help follow his lithe body in her peripheral.

“I would never interrupt your evening dose of literature. It would be obscene,” he continues.

It was several minutes before either of them spoke or moved. When Dr. Lecter heard her next exhale becoming audibly anxious, he turned around to face her. Still, she did not face him. She stares forward, looking at the closed book.

“You’ve read it, have you?” she asks.

“A long time ago.”

“But you remembered that one,” she muses.

“I remember many things.”

“Yes. So do I.”

“Things you wish you could forget, I imagine,” he says, stepping closer. She tense, and he stops.

“Naturally.”

“Naturally.”

He sits across from her, and she finally looks at him. His head is bowed to the side slightly, as though he had been searching for a shy rabbit under a rock who had just peaked it’s quivering nose. His head straightens with hers, his expression unreadable to her.

“There is no haiku in that book which could convey my feelings in this moment,” she says, and the brevity of this statement is not lost on him. She looks away a moment, looks out the window and the dim light lights her face in a pale, ghostly manner. When she looks back at him, she remembers the expression he wears. She had seen it many times before. He was admiring her. She had not been looked at in such a way for some time, and she nearly blushed. Nearly.

“Though the iris nods
The King’s Spear blooms oasis
And Christmas rose prays.”

Dr. Lecter’s eyes close, and she watches him retrieve information from some corner of his mind. His eyes open and he smiles at her.
“Yours?” he asks, before clarifying.

She nods, and he nods with her. “Beautiful. And your answer is behind you, on the console.”

She hesitates, and he looks away, to show her it isn’t a confrontation. She turns around to look at the ikebana flower arrangement that wasn’t there, before. It consisted of Sweet Pea, Quaking Grass and Spider Lily. She consults her own memories to take on his meaning behind it. Quaking grass she remembers first—agitation. Paired with the spider lily, death. She tenses, again. Then there is the Sweet Pea, thank you for a good time, goodbye. Should he mean to kill her, for having agitated him? Would he, could he do that to her? But no, she looks at him and his eyes are soft, patient. Death to agitation, then. Yes, it was to be put to rest. But she had to make sure, and he waits.

“If you do not mean to kill me, why have you come?” she asks.

“Wouldn’t you always worry when I would come, if I never did?” he asks.

She looked down at her hands, and knew it was true.

“To leave you wondering would be unkind,” he continues, leaning back. He pauses for a moment, and seems to Lady Murasaki, lost in his own thoughts. He looks at her when he continues, “…and we have never been unkind to one another. “

She looks up at him, guilt apparent on her face.

“Madam, leave your quaking grass for the Sika to graze. Do you mean to harm me?”

“No, Hannibal.”

“Do you mean to harm Clarice Starling?”

“No.”

“Why did you do it?”

“To sleep.”

He laughs, and at first she thinks to be offended, but finds herself laughing with him.

“And how have you been sleeping?” he asks, a serious question, now.

“It’s been a little better.”

“Guilt is one of the worst things for sleep,” he says, nodding.

“You must sleep well every night,” she says, an eyebrow raised.

“I do. And so can you.”

“I don’t know how, Hannibal.”

“Yes you do,” he says, leaning forward. He stays like that for a moment before standing and taking a knee in front of her. He looks into her eyes, very deep.
Kneeling there, the dimming light from the window behind him, Dr. Lecter looked to her like a shinigami, ready to lead her to death. Years without contact, and his existence had become so remote to her that, like a shinigami, he was a story she had told herself so many times it had become like that of the myth of a god, a spirit…a monster. And he was a beautiful monster, kneeling now in front of her, his soft features obscured and seductive; appealing the way death sometimes is. It is the babbling beneath the bigger noise in one’s mind, the babbling which reminds one how easy it would be to drive off of a bridge, to step in front of a train, to come closer…She shudders.

Dr. Lecter sighs, looking at her. “A god implants in mortal guilt whenever he wants utterly to confound a house. To what voice are you listening? It isn’t mine.”

“No,” she agrees, shaking her head. “I know the voice so well, but I don’t think it is mine, either.” She looks at him and smiles. “Hannibal…”

“Yes?”

“To rescue a woman’s burden of unwarranted guilt would require socializing agents even more effective than the ones used to relentlessly saddle females with the responsibility for other people’s behavior since early childhood. It cannot be done. Not by you, not with a few pretty words, not even threats or comfort. I do not doubt your mastery of the mind, but not even you can accomplish this. There is only one, and it is me.”

Dr. Lecter says nothing, and seems to chew on her words. She waits patiently, until he nods to himself.

“You have within you the strength of a nation, Madam. I wonder, though…” he says, a finger to his nose, “...Do you think you could give me a little? Perhaps I could give you one good night of sleep.”

She laughs. “Hannibal, do you know what I notice? When men look at me, they always ask for alms. If they do not ask with their hands, they ask with their eyes. It makes no difference whether the man is poor or rich. Rich men ask for the alms of envy and approval, and poor men beg for the alms of pity and clemency. You don’t ask me for any of those things, but you still beg. You beg for morsels of suffering, even if it is to aid me. You all beg, and yet we are made to kneel.”

“Yes,” Dr. Lecter agrees, and Lady Murasaki raises her head to acknowledge his confession. He continued, “ Whomever possesses that which another desires, they will be caged and bound, harvested and managed. But know this: I am the one who is kneeling in front of you. You made an attempt to end the life of my inamorata and I, and I have come kneeling at your feet, and ask you to give me a small piece of what troubles you. It is all I have to give.”

“I’ll do it if you promise me something.”

“What is it?”

“Do not cage Starling. Do not attempt to govern her nation. Do not become seduced by the masculine need to be her creator. Could you do that?”

Dr. Lecter smiles. “Madam, I believe those who make such attempts are executed in the land of Clarice Starling. But I will be sure to keep a finger on the pulse,” he says.

Lady Murasaki nods and looks at her hands. She is unsure of how to proceed. Eventually, she looks at him, again.

“Let go,” he says, and his eyes are empty. She trembles slightly, and the tears come easily, to her surprise. There was no telling how many she had held for so long. Tears for herself, tears for others, the weight of a nation. She folds into his arms and he sips at her torment…and it is delicious. She smells of davana and agarwood.

“Give it to me,” he whispers, “give it all to me.”

Some time later when she is finished, she sits up and refolds her hands. Her face is not puffy, but only glistening a bit in the low light. He takes her hand and bows his head to it, and stays that way for a long time. When he releases her, he stands.

“Sleep well, Madam,” he says, and she looks after him.

“Hannibal?”

“Yes?”

“Have you really found your match?”

He gazes out the window a long time, his hands in his pockets. When she was ready to move or speak again, he says:

“What’s the lord’s vast wealth to me, his millions and more? Dew on trembling grass. A world of dew, and within every dewdrop a world of struggle. This world of dew is only a world of dew –and yet a world of grief and pain: Flowers bloom; even then.”

He smiles at her, his eyes no longer empty but dancing and lively. He left her then, kneeling at her kotatsu in the consuming dark. She went to bed, feeling the absence of him. Her home was empty now, she knew. She listens to the snowy owl’s call to her mate, who is perched nearbye her bedroom atop the stony lantern. Lady Murasaki does not regret never remarrying, nor never baring children. She feels whole, as though a circuit has been complete and satisfyingly finished. Her life is not lonely; she finds peace in her solitude, a peace she had not known during her time with Hannibal. He was no longer under her tenure. He was complete, too. She drifts away, and her sleep is deep-sleeved, her dreams as tranquil as the frosty garden.

...................................................................................................................................................................

It is the night before Christmas Eve, a holiday which is more akin to Valentine’s Day in Japan, paying particular mind to gift exchanges between couples. When he arrives at the hotel Kiriya Ryokan, it is dark and quiet in their suite. None of the lights are on but the curtains are pulled back. He is reminded of Lady Murasaki’s home, for a moment. He closes the door behind him and finds the bathroom door closed with flickering light beyond the Shōji.

“Existential preening, my flower?” he asks against the door. He hears the sound of water as Clarice Starling reaches for her glass of plum wine. Her voice is heavy with relish.

“Flower is in the midst of her ablutions.”

He grins, and puts a hands against the door. Before he can ask, she calls for him to come inside. Once he is seated on the floor at her side, she opens her eyes and leans her head toward one wet shoulder to smile at him.

“So?”

“It went as well as it could.”

“Good.”

Dr. Lecter reached an arm into the water and stroked her and she hummed.

“I think next we should go to Kamakura. There are some terrific autumnal gardens and temples there,” she said.

“An excellent idea. Do you wish to stay in Japan for the remainder of the winter?”

She shrugged her shoulder and arched her back into his touch. “I don’t want to plan on staying or leaving at any particular time. Do you?”

“No.”

His hand left her and she opened her eyes. “What is it?” she asked.

“I think in the midst of my importune, I’ve found myself enveloped by you.”

“That tends to happen as a result of penetration.”

“Have I penetrated you, Clarice?” he asked, smiling and raising his eyebrows. She feels warmth at the center still, any time he looks at her that way.

“Even now. Put your hand back in the water.”

“Kamakura, then,” he mumbled, watching his own hand descend back into the water, her skin as soft as it ever was. “Temples and burgers, then.”

She laughed with her eyes closed, and he stroked her pubic hair. “Temples and burgers. That sums up life.”

“Ablutions and muck, it never does end, does it?”

“No, it never does,” she sighed. “But it’s fine.”

“Fine?”

“It’s effulgent, splendid, marvelous. Is that better?”

“It’s fine.”

She laughed again and he smiled at her.

“When you’re finished, don’t bother getting dressed. I’ll fuck you, then feed you. Unless you’d prefer it the other way around.”

She grinned at him and they both heard his breath change, before she answered.

“Fucking first suits me.”

A short time later Starling found Dr. Lecter seated and looking out the window, his back to her. Her bare feet were quiet on the floorboards, her skin prickling in the slight chill of the open room. The lights were all off, the window curtains pulled back. He had poured himself a glass of something dark. She glanced at it, but did not wonder about its contents; not everything one notices is relevant. She had sat where he was sitting now, earlier in the day. There had been an aureole around the sun when it was highest in the sky. Ice crystals, suspended in the atmosphere, making a corona at lunch time. Now the sun was gone and it was snowing, again. There was wind too and it was whistling, somewhere. There would be ridges in the snow by morning. Dr. Lecter had not moved, not even now that she stood behind him.

Reaching out, she placed a hand on his shoulder. His hand came up at his own leisurely pace and caressed her own. Her hair was still damp and she used her other hand to move it away from her face.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“A little.”

He took her hand and lead her around to stand in front of him. She looked down at him, her breasts rising and falling steadily with her breath, calm and even. He kept her hand and looked at her from toes to crown and back again. She came forward, straddling him, and put her arms around his neck. She looked at him a moment before kissing him. It is likely a curious sort of kiss, by someone’s measure. Unhurried and deliberate, yet suggestions of tension in their fingers and throats. Dr. Lecter’s arms are around her but do not touch her, as though she were an apparition; his palms were open, his fingers rigid. Her hands on either side of his face are strained, holding in place what does not resist.

One of her hands released his face to pull off his belt, her movements rough. The belt slid away with a leathery hiss and clattered on the floor. His hands touched her then, grabbing hold of her thighs as though he were about to fall and she was the edge of a bluff. Once she had pulled out his cock, he hoisted her up and sat her back down and they both had a great intake of breath and looked at one another, their eyes glassy in the dark.

Starling could ride him for a long time. She had the physical endurance for the activity, with the patience and cruelty in equal measure to suffer him. Sometimes, he would last a long time, too. Sometimes, he would even last so long she would become agitated, herself. Sometimes, she did not torture him. However they came together, however it was finished, neither was ever disinterested, and both always collapsed, prostrated and satiated. As she rides him, she thinks about what she would do with him. Moving over him now, she slowed and watched his jaw tighten, his eyes darken. She gave him a crooked grin and squeezed him inside with all her might and he groaned. Tonight, she would suffer him.

 

Very late, or perhaps early. Dr. Lecter sat up once his breathing was calm again. Starling watched him, lying on her back with an arm tossed up over her head. He rolled his shoulders and leaned over, turning on the lamp. His features lit up in profile, and she wanted him inside of her all over again. He looked at her and knew.

Facing away from her again, he spoke. “Clarice, are you happy?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”

 

“Are you?”

Starling cocked her head, curiously. “Yes.”

He turned around to face her, and she let his eyes search her own. There was nothing to hide, and she would be damned if there ever was, again. Not with him. To live with and love someone without being one’s whole self is truly a nightmare.

“Were you ever happy, before?”

She thought a moment. “I’m sure I was.”

“Tell me a time you remember being happy, Clarice. Tell me your best memory, from your old life.”

Starling looked to the ceiling. “Once, my parents took me to some sort of reunion. I don’t know if it was a high school reunion, or what. I don’t remember. It was held at an old folk’s home. I was bored out of my mind. I was lying down on a sofa face down, near the door. I didn’t know how I would make it through the whole day. Then another family came in and were talking at the door. They had a girl about my age and she looked right at me. Almost as soon as she came in, she came straight to me and looked down at me where I was lying. She said, ‘Want to play?’ I didn’t usually just befriend strange kids. Making friends, the concept of it, it was almost like courting, in my mind. By that standard, this was a one-night stand. I didn’t care that day. I said, ‘Yes’, and we did. All goddamn day.

“There was a courtyard area outside, I remember. We were running around out there, and we were messing around near this big stone wall. It had vines on it, bougainvillea, maybe. Pretty, but nasty.” She paused, glancing at him. He watched her, his eyes locked and listening intently. He smiled a bit at her last statement and she went on.

“She suggested we climb over it and I glanced toward the grownups. I wasn’t sure whether I’d get in trouble for running off unattended. They were very preoccupied. I decided, to hell with it. It was a day of ‘to hell with it’. I scratched my arm on the way down the other side of the wall, and I landed in briars. We weren’t wearing any shoes, but I don’t remember taking them off. She looked behind her and asked if I was okay. I pulled out the stickers and said, ‘Yeah. I’m alright’. Then we were running. It happened instantly, as though breaking out into a full run down this grassy slope was the only thing to do. We were like that for hours, I hadn’t even known I could run so much. I got heat stroke, at one point. I remember that. I went inside and drank some water, ate some chili, then we were back out, again. I felt so pleased with myself.”

Starling was smiling.

“A day of, ‘to hell with it’. Do you think that’s what this life is? Is that a life you would want?”

Starling looked at him, and he could not read her expression. It unnerved and intrigued him.

“Yes,” she said with a smile, putting him out of his misery. “I think...” she trailed off a moment, glancing at the ceiling again. “I think it’s the only life I ever really wanted. I just…never let myself. I think I just had that Protestant sentiment so deeply ingrained, that idea that getting what you want is shameful, that the more one suffers, the more one must be doing right.”

“Maybe they’re not wrong,” said Dr. Lecter. He was sitting with his knees to his chest and his arms folded over them. He lowered his chin until only his eyes showed, and he smiled.

“Maybe,” she mused. “Maybe it doesn’t matter.”

“Freedom is what you desired, and freedom is what you still desire. The question is, are you? Do you feel free, Clarice?”

“If it’s what I’m feeling. Whose to say what freedom is from one person to the next. Words are shots in the dark. I can only tell you what I think freedom is. You could commit every crime in the book, fuck whoever you wanted, eat like a pig, and indulge in every decadence. But I don’t think freedom lies in hedonism. I can see how some people might associate the two, though. Especially for someone like you. You had a taste of it and then it was taken away. You knew what you were missing, that’s key. But you can be depraved and still caged. You know that well. But it’s freedom in your own mind that’s something pure. I can choose joy and pleasure, and I can choose pain and suffering. And I choose to feel alive. I choose to embrace my humanity, not deny it. Every aspect of it. And I can love every aspect of it. I can love my barbarity and my hard discipline. I can love the way my body looks in the firelight and the way my eyes get dark when I’m tired. I can love that I have learned to trust, learned to distrust, and learned to trust, again. I can love that I’ve had my heart broken and love that I can pierce a heart. I can love who I am and what I'm becoming. And I do. That’s freedom.”

.................................................................................................................................

They arrived in Kamakura by train the next morning. After breakfast they go first to the Megetsuin temple, originally a repose built by a son in memory of his father, and renowned for its hydrangeas in the wet season. As it is late December, the flowers are not in full bloom. However, in the back of the lush temple grounds is the Hojo. Through a large, circular window is the inner garden behind the Hojo. It is known for its irises, and its autumn colors are perhaps unrivaled.

The couple stand together, looking at a statue of Jizo. The guardian deity of children has traded his usual red attire with a santa suit, but still sits in eternal peace anterior to the autumnal, wild backdrop. He appears safe from the outside world however, still and stony in his wooden shelter among the hydrangea buds. At his feet there are a few pieces of candy and a Hello-Kitty bib, and Clarice Starling cocks her head, looking at them.

“Shall we put down a toy of some kind?” asks Dr. Lecter.

“What do you mean?” she asks without looking away.

“He is the protector of travelers, the weak and, last but not least, the overseer of muen botoke. Are you familiar?”

“Nope.”

“It means the unconnected dead, those forgotten graves of ancestors or of the marginally departed. Sometimes you will see stacks of abandoned tombstones gathered together and tied individually with red bibs. It is a practice intimately linked to Jizo as the guardian of lost souls.”

“My father isn’t a lost soul, nor am I.”

Dr. Lecter smiled at Starling’s typical competence. Both her propensity for cutting through to the heart of his ultimate meaning and her predilection for candor pleased him. Sometimes, this came as a surprise to him, and he wondered at times what else she could do and be that was at once, not of his own making nor a trait he shared with her. She was unlike his own nature in some ways, and he found it favorable, if not occasionally unnerving.

Sex, among other things, had become a delightful enterprise upon which they continually built upon and expanded. He could see, after having experienced being beneath her, how Seth could have been frightened. Starling was a creature of extraordinary prudence and both physical and intellectual sinew. And never had anyone seen him so completely, never had anyone seen him for everything he was, and certainly, no one had ever seen him for everything he was and ridden him with abandon as she had. Her hands splayed over his chest, her eyes bright and hungry as her hips kneaded his lap, toes curling, lips bitten. Sometimes he was not to touch her, but only take passively what was given. Other times, she let him have free reign. Sometimes they finished dinner, other times they did not.

Their sex and friendship was much like their home. It continued to grow, but would never be entirely complete, which would defeat the revelry in the construction of such an edifice.

Starling never feels unnerved, another trait with which she does not share with Dr. Lecter. She has taken note of it. She wonders sometimes, when nothing else entertains her, if the reason was because she had grown accustomed to living in a world of beasts and lunatics; while Dr. Lecter had lived as one. Apex predators, such as male humans, rarely experience the unease one encounters amongst legions of those bigger and stronger. Physically, she was not bigger and stronger than Dr. Lecter, but she had come to understand the effect she had on him. She did not need to bend his will. She did not require some devilish strength for it; he bent his own will, if doing so pleased her. Whatever strength he possessed, either physical or mental, belonged to her.

Starling takes a moment here in this place, to reflect upon her life. She skims over a childhood, some of her memories cottony and dreamy, and others stark and sober. She remembers the way it felt to roll up her jeans and wade in the creek behind her grandmother’s house. They used to go there often, and she muses at how once, such a place was common and familiar, and had now become almost archaic in relevance. She remembers catching water bugs, skimming along the surface of the water, clear to the golden bottom. Then, only years later, the same creek had become clogged by beavers, and the water wasn’t clear anymore, and the water bugs didn’t swim anymore. Later, her grandfather had died, and her grandmother had not been able enough in body for the upkeep of the grounds. It had once been beautiful but became unmanageable, and most of the flowers died.

She had long paralleled the decay of that land with the pain of becoming an adult. All that had once seemed natural and immortal had proved to be just like everything else: vulnerable and fleeting. And with adulthood comes the acceptance of one’s own fatality in the form of the imagination’s slow death. But one never properly mourns this death, one never throws oneself on it’s pall, clawing and sobbing torment into the good, sturdy pine. No, one lets it slip away bit by bit, feeling it in one passing moment to the next. It is not properly mourned, childhood.

Yet, Starling reflected, her childhood had died with her father. She had not thrown herself onto his casket either, but he had been mourned; mourned and eventually, years on, she had released him. And what of the second death? There had been a second death in Starling’s life, her death on Muskrat Farm. Much of what she knew to be 'her' had died, there. But maybe it was that death which illuminated that which was truly her essence. Were she a great celestial body, all those things she called ‘me’ were never more than dust and debris orbiting her. Once it was cleared away, there lied within a vast world of ‘me’. A world in which she had barely set foot. And she had spent the last few years exploring only a few continents. There was much left to discover, and she was glad.

And she had a travel companion. Whatever of her old self was left laughed, somewhere. Perhaps it was only a mirror image she had created, perhaps out of respect to her, but she laughed nonetheless. Dr. Lecter, her lover. Dr. Lecter, her friend. Not so completely far-fetched, she decided. He had never been her enemy, not really. He’d played the boogeyman, trapped and muzzled in that cage, bored and severely ‘outed’. What point had there been to hide his scales? Yes, he’d toyed with her a bit, but only the way one might tease a cocksure kitten. She had to admit to herself now, that’s what she had been. A clever, cocksure kitten, and he’d dragged around a feather a bit, amused at her small claws, knowing full well that in a short time, he could never play with her like that again.

Starling had made a decision at some point. She had imagined how it would happen down to the last detail. Should Hannibal Lecter ever wag a feather again, should he ever employ tactics to manipulate or control her in any way, she would have to take care of it, once and for all. Starling didn’t relish in the idea of killing Lecter, but if he betrayed her, and she considered attempting to control her to be such a betrayal, she would have to do it. She would hold him in her arms, she would kiss him for all he was worth to her, and she would slip in the knife quick and quiet.

Perhaps they would be in the drawing room, their drinks on the mantle. Perhaps he would be in white tie, perhaps she, an evening gown. Perhaps they’d danced, perhaps they’d not. Perhaps they’d recently made love, and she would be able to smell herself on him. Maybe he’d smile, maybe she would weep. Maybe his fingers would still rest on the clavier, having not finished a particular piece he found enthralling, and she would embrace him from behind. Perhaps, perhaps…but either way, she would see it done, if it came to that. And she could see him on the floor, his hand covering the mortal wound, which quickly pooled around him. She would take a step back, so as to not bloody her shoes. And she would look at him and smile.

“I do love you,” she would explain. “But I love me more.”

And perhaps he would understand, and perhaps he would see the poetry in his death. If anyone could, it would be him. She did love him for that, and other things, too. And she would stay with him until his eyes were vacant, and his hand fell away, and his blood grew cold and stiff. And then she would go on and on, needing nothing and no one, in particular. She would see lovely things, smell and taste divinity, and she would savor life in the way she couldn’t, before. And perhaps, from time to time, she would think of Hannibal Lecter and his otherworldly mind and his strange red eyes and his delicious touch and kiss. And she would smile.

But all of that was nothing more than a single…perhaps. What was real was what was now. And now, he was her confidant. Now, he was the greatest lover she’d ever had. Now, she would not kill him nor think of killing him. It was not his fate. Not at this moment, not in her reckoning. No, right now…she loved him and felt safe in loving him. It was alright to love, alright to be whatever she deemed to be at any given moment.

Clarice Starling had left behind much, but gained more. She had gained a self, a self she could recognize.

She hummed at the thought and took his hand. They left Jizo, who still sits watching over those weak and lost, among the hopeful, berry-colored pompons. Neither looks back.

......................................................................................................................

Two years later, Edinburgh, Scotland…

Midday in June, and it is a delightful 16C and the days are long. The smuir of the Highlands have passed, the sun in full blaze. On a small wooden bridge, locals dump rubber ducks into the Water of Leith--the great Duck Race for charity. The Gothic castle on the extinct volcanic plug sits as though it looks down upon the entire world, a macabre fairy-tale. The medieval riddles of alleys, lanes, spires and basalt crags lead tourists around and around until they’re too tired to carry on and return to their hotels and hostels. The time on the turret clock atop the Baltimore Hotel on Princes Street in off by three minutes, as usual.

The Tower of Castorpine Hill, erect and majestic among the elms and mossy at its base looks beyond the treetops. If it could see, it would look upon the Fairytale Craigcrook Castle, who would look upon Castorpine Hill, in kind. The castle went up for sale for the first time in three hundred years only two years previous. It sits within four acres of landscaped grounds, with mature woodland and walled garden. It’s residence are not at home.

Instead, they are shopping on Princes Street, and do not head home until it is getting dark. When next they venture out, they take the Jaguar back into Old Town and a lovely woman watches the moonbroch out the window and smells the petrichor from a recent rain with the window rolled down. They have been invited to a summer soiree at the home of Muriel Spark. She had returned with her long-time friend and secretary from their home in Tuscany for the summer. It was a pleasant talking point for the couple, having spent time in Rome. Spark spoke Italian, and it was enjoyable to speak it fluently again.

There is a certain level of pretentiousness in the air, and Clarice Starling rolls her eyes, internally. Although, she had to admit that at a certain point, perhaps some level of it was forgivable. Such as if you are the author of Symposium. While Spark told Dr. Lecter of her decision to cut her son out of her inheritance, Starling glances across the room at a young man leaning against the frame of two French doors. He was talking to a woman, but he glanced at Starling and gave her a wink. She smiled, blinked slowly, and returned to the conversation.

Late in the night, and Starling wanders the grounds of Spark’s home, alone. She is sure to stumble and murmur, and in time, the young man approaches her from behind. His jacket smells of tobacco, and Starling breathes it in, deep. It is a smell she loves. He calls to her and she turns around. They are standing beneath a cluster of cherry plums, and they smell even more divine. He takes her elbow. She grins. He lets her lead him away and out of the garden, off of the grounds and toward the car in which she arrived. He is pleased with it’s quality and tells her so. She only smiles and opens the door for him.

On the road now, and when he sees she’s taking him to Craigcrook Castle, he laughs a strange laugh. When they are parked, the young man looks at Starling, who has yet to get out of the car. She hold the keys in her lap, and glances at him. He watches her lick her lips, and then something comes around his neck with a vice grip and his hands go to his throat, automatically. His legs kick against the dashboard, his fingernails drawing blood at his own throat, and the car is rocking. He slumps in the seat in less than a minute. Dr. Lecter removes the wire and Starling opens the door for him as he carries the young man inside.

It was Lecter who had first come in contact with him. His name was Finlay Reid, and he was a drunk and a rapist. Oh, not the sort from cartoonish nightmares. The kind of the real world. The kind who slips things into drinks, or takes things too far with his sweetheart when she wasn’t ready, yet.

How he had gathered this information mattered little Starling; people confessed things to him, often. It was rare to have found a confession of such magnitude however, and it was Starling who suggested they have Mr. Reid over for dinner.

It is after dinner and the servants are gone. The couple dances on the terrace when Mr. Reid first awakens. He blinks several times at Dr. Lecter, disbelief, and perhaps dread slowed to a trickle by the weakening hope that there has been a terrible misunderstanding. When he sees Starling enter the room with two glasses, his heart cannot decide whether to calm or tighten. She smiles at him, and her earrings spark in the firelight, her hair is glorious. She hands one to her beau, before coming to stand before him.

“Good evening, Mr. Reid,” she says, inclining her exquisitely composed face. Dr. Lecter sits behind her in a wing-back chair, one leg crossed over the other, drink in hand. He stands and heads to the piano across the room, and begins to play If True Love Reigned.

“Who the fook are you?” he asks, attempting to move his arms and discovering just how securely he was tied. “I canna move,” he mutters.

“Mr. Thomas, I doonit understand this!” he cries, straining to see around Starling.

“Peace, Mr. Reid. We’re only going to have dinner,” says Dr. Lecter.

Mr. Reid looks back up at Starling, smiling over him.

“WHO the FOOK are YOU?”

“Me?” Starling asks, innocently. “I’m Clarice Starling. Welcome to my home.”

She smiles then, and for the last time that evening, Mr. Reid was lost in the elegance of the last face he would ever see.

...............................................................................

Quotes:

Dr. Lecter and Lady Murasaki quote Kobayashi

Dr. Lecter quotes Aeschylus

Lady Murasaki's flower poem was my own

Lady Murasaki quotes Germain Greer

Starling quotes Joanna Eris