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In Profundis

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The pity you mistake for fear...

 

Starling is accustomed to being asleep and awake at varying intervals. While it is true that she was able to settle into a kind of routine, she was always ready for that routine to be interrupted. Much of the time, she was up at six in the morning, sometimes earlier if she made breakfast. By seven she was usually at Quantico for fire arms training. She preferred the outdoor range, as did her roommate and friend, Ardelia Mapp.

Sometimes she received a call on her radio while cleaning her weapon—sometimes she did not. Sometimes she was well-briefed and familiar with the investigation—sometimes she was not. Sometimes the conditions were right for an arrest—sometimes they were not. Sometimes the suspects were taken in without incident—sometimes they were not. The work day often ended with paperwork, which always seemed to be when her exhaustion began to seep in. Not the training, not the inept briefing or the dick-measuring, not the negotiations nor the shouting nor the fighting; even the distinct thanklessness of the job did not exhaust her. No, it was always the paperwork; it was the drudgery. An unceremonious end to the unceremonious beginning. Things were not terrible, nor were they exceptional. They just were. She just was.

The plane she was on left on time, around 1:35 in the morning. It was on United, or as Starling called it privately, ‘Fucking United’. A flight with one stop from Quito, Ecuador to D.C. takes no less than ten and a half hours. They had been in the air for less than one hour, and Starling, in spite of an overwhelming fatigue, fidgeted in her seat. She attributed it to being without her firearm, which she would not retrieve until back in America. It was her first time leaving the U.S., and the most interesting thing that had happened to her since the events the previous year.

There are a number of visual memories which surface in Starling’s mind, memories from that time. They do not surface with the leisure of a cork or some other piece of litter in an ocean; they surface like jumping piranhas, as abrupt as they are vicious. They flicker in a corner of her mind, at all times. Sometimes she finds herself turning to that corner, other times she has the strength to show it her back. But it is warm on her shoulders, and sometimes she feels eyes moving over her. Sometimes they are Jame Gumb’s eyes, moving silently in the dark. A jumping, gnashing memory now, a crack of sound, a blinding clap of light, and in that instant moment of sight she can see his face obscured by night-vision goggles , surprise and pain. The incense of gun smoke, the stink of fear and body odor.
Sometimes the eyes are faceless, in the deeps of a dungeon. She did not look at those faces, only heard the shuffle of their hopeless shoes and their distant wails. She could not turn away from that. She could not turn away from the lecherous gaze of Dr. Chilton, or the sound her own shoes made in the acoustics of a corridor erected by iron and stone.

Least of all, she could seldom turn from the eyes of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. His eyes followed her now along the corridors of her own mind; he had escaped from the dungeon, and it seemed he had escaped from that flickering corner of her mind, too. He had free-range now, and his voice whispered to her through the walls, never far, never far. She didn’t know how many times she’d wondered where he was. What he was doing now, right now… What was he looking at? What did he smell…
He had his view, he’d given her that much. Did that make her glad? She wondered if he wondered that. She was glad in one room and sorry in another. There is room in Starling’s mind for disagreement. There are many Clarice Starlings here in this private house; sometimes they agree and other times, they can only agree to disagree and do their best to live in peace. There is room enough for that. Starling can stretch herself, sprawl out in the rambling, cluttered manor of her mind. There is room enough to not know every room. There is room enough to keep some wings locked and untouched, a thin film of dust collected over the draped furniture, ominous shapes in an unused atrium. She does not uncover those shapes, or go into those rooms, or unlock those doors, or even venture down those wings. They are unkempt and dangerous.

At the trembling of turbulence, Starling thought about piranhas. There had been an amusing moment while traveling near the Columbia/Ecuador border with a few members of the Ecuadorian military. They were in a log canoe on the river, looking for a kidnapped US citizen who was mining for gold in the area. How very far from Washington, indeed. Backup was, of course, nonexistent. Starling was used to that. Then she let her hand dip into the water, she couldn’t say why. The Ecuadorian Army major said “Don’t do that, Piranha.” For less than a second, she thought he’d called her a Piranha. She retrieved her hand and looked back at the infested water. She looked, looked deep.

Starling opened her eyes and looked out of the airplane window. It was dark, but they were high above the clouds now, a soft bed of clouds below, and she looked across the rolling planes of the stratosphere. Below the incorporeal landscape was the lowest layer. The troposphere is an unstable layer where air is moving constantly. If airplanes were to fly in this layer it would be a much bumpier ride. Starling gazed out the window, looking deep.

It is midday when she gets home. Ardelia is not there, and Starling finds she is glad to be alone, for the time being. She considers showering, briefly. She intends to shower, but instead finds herself sprawled across her bedspread. Many hours later, she awakens to sounds and smells in the kitchen.

Ardelia looked over her shoulder when Starling came in. Giving her a quick once over, she nodded her chin to the chair nearest the door.

“Want some tea, Starling? I’m making shrimp,” she said, watching Starling sit. Ardelia smiled. “But you knew that already.”

“I think they can smell it back on the Amazon,” said Starling.

“And wishing they were here.”

“Oh, that’s for certain.”

Ardelia was working with her back to Starling for a moment. When she turned to pass her a cup of tea, she locked her gaze. Starling took the cup and braved Ardelia’s examination.

“Yeah? And?” she said, and Ardelia snorted with a smile.

“Well, what are you gonna do?”

“Eat, sleep and work.”

“You better be doing more than that.”

“Would that I could.” Starling took a sip of the tea and sighed long and deep.

“You make the time if it’s a priority,” Ardelia said, her back facing Starling, again. “We both know that. It’s like people who are always late. They know how to be on time, they just don’t care enough to do it. You don’t care enough to do it.”

“Well, I know we’re not talking about punctuality. So what are we talking about?”

“Depends,” Ardelia shrugged. The okra was beginning to brown and she added seeds and juice to the skillet. “What is it you want that you’re not getting? It’s different for everybody.” She decided to add more salt, and nodded in approval. “Some people need to socialize, some people need to knit. Some people need to fuck and others need to taste wine. What is it you want? What are you not making time for?”

“What do you like?”

“Cooking and fucking are pretty high up on the list.”

“Ever do both?”

“Sure.”

“Maybe I can multitask too.”

“But what are you multitasking?” Ardelia grinned over the browned okra.

“How long have you got?”

Ardelia was finishing, and was quiet while she made plates. When they were both sitting, and had taken a bite or two, Ardelia adjusted her position and pointed her fork towards Starling. “You know what I think?”

“Sometimes.”

Ardelia rewarded her with a wry grin. “I think you need to get laid.”

“And here I thought you’d tell me to take up stamp collecting.”

“Well, you did say you could multitask.”

They laughed with their mouths full.

Up at six the next morning, and Starling took a foot in her hand while braced against the banister. She pulled it back until her heel touched her thigh, stretching first one, then the other leg. After her run, she showered at the gym, and changed before heading to the firing range. Ardelia was already there. Today, she received a call on her radio. It was a Friday, and Starling had discovered that thieves had a strange habit of robbing banks on Friday afternoons. It was rather inconvenient for anyone who wanted to have a good time on a Friday night. Sometimes, it was alright. But other times, it was hard to drink and mingle with the sight of a bloodied mouth gaping open over the hood of a car fresh on the mind. Sometimes she thought, ‘Well, why not? Death happens every day whether I’m there for it or not. The world keeps spinning, time and space are indifferent. Wear the sad little party dress and get a fucking drink. Let a man look at you. Touch his arm. Let him probe and paw.’ But any time she tried, bulging, pleading eyes jumped forth, a memory piranha at the worst of times.

How did Ardelia do it? Ardelia was a different person, she reminded herself. Maybe she did it to forget the pleading eyes. Maybe Ardelia was like the forces of nature, and was indifferent to death. Maybe that’s how you were supposed to be. Did compassion even help in saving lives? How many lives were lost to save lives?
Sometimes they’d reach. Reach with the last bit of life, look at her with the last bit of animal surveillance. Sometimes, they mistook pity for fear.

The following Saturday, Starling still woke up at six. She went for a run. She went to the firing range and cleaned her gun. She showered and went to the store. No one called. Ardelia came in wearing the clothes she’d worn the night before and went to sleep in them. Starling envied her, and did the laundry. When Ardelia woke up, it was Starling’s turn to offer narcotics and food. They talked about the reliability of DNA testing as evidence in criminal trials.
The next day came and went, and was discarded in the night by Starling’s subconscious, labeled as rubbish. The following week came. Up at six, running, showering, fire range, cleaning the gun. A radio call? Yes? No? Surveillance, dick-measuring, stuffy vans or negotiations? Studying of a map, in and out of cars, make an arrest with Brigham. No problems, no pleading eyes, thank you, thank you. Who did she thank? She supposed God.
Starling’s life is a castle in perpetual dusk. It is situated in a lonely, grim wood. Around the castle is a mote, and within, a brightly lit meadow. Starling inside is neither sad nor joyful. She only is.

...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

Beyond Starling’s castle walls, not far beyond the mote, something watches and waits. It’s eyes reflect light in pinpoints of red, and it likes to eat lunch outside, when the weather permits. It’s own castle is not so very far, and it moves within the walls with the silence of a specter. Whether it thinks is not in question, but whether it feels. At dusk, it sits near the terrace doors, which it has opened to let in the warm, April air. Summer will be here soon, and it lifts a glass of wine to its nose and sniiiiifs.

For a moment, it think it can smell Starling, but no—it is not a smell, but an effect of olfactory memory and incidental conditioning. For the last two months, it has sat outside at dusk sniffing wine, and thinking of Starling’s self-imposed limbo. The creature has developed a number of associations with Starling, the least of which is not the smell of almonds and fresh laundry, nor the color of blue and it’s reflection of the light in a facet of glittering ambition.

The creature inhabits the body of a man, and the man drapes one leg over the other and looks out at the fiery sky. He thinks of her hair in the sun. She was astute, he knew. But that was irrelevant. She was still merely a cub, rolling about with other cubs. She was growing fast, it was true. He had gotten easily lost in entertaining himself since his return to the new world, lost focus on what he wanted. The specifics of what he wants are hard to tell. The creature is not easily read. But, he reflects, she was growing fast. Perhaps it was better not to idle.

In the first months of escape, Dr. Lecter took the time to enjoy things only when it was both convenient and shrewd. A nice view here, a good meal there. He could not help but notice that Clarice Starling frequented his mind. It did not alarm him, nor did it intrigue him, in the beginning. She was fresh on his mind, the scent of her still lingering where he’d touched her. Her rich textures still prompting him to reach out and touch the smooth, cool marble of a passing column in the street, or linger his mouth along the skin of a grape. Once, after having brought home fresh raspberries for pork medallions, he found himself holding one and turning it over in his hands. He brought it to his face and touched it with the pointed tip of his tongue, running it slowly along the bumpy contours of its bright, blushing skin. He wondered how sensitive Clarice Starling was. Would she admit only a taste or perhaps a nibble? Could she tolerate a bite? He popped it into his mouth whole, and ate it with his eyes closed.

It was not until he had fed himself to satisfaction on the sights of his first destination that Dr. Lecter began to realize that he wanted to see her. To touch her would be ambitious, and nearly as bullheaded as the agent herself. No longer a trainee, he reflected. Soon, not even a cub. How much longer did he have before she was no longer so fetching in her cocksure tenacity? How much longer would her bites and scratches be darling? How much longer could he withstand those charming protests should he hazard a little fondle?

He knew that when she’d grown, she would be all the more amusing. Everlastingly amusing, but at a certain sacrifice. Dr. Lecter has not known intimidation in many, many years. He could predict Starling would grow to be a rather large cat. He could no longer let the cub roll about at his feet, or rub her belly without consternation. If she nipped him in a few years, it could prove to be fatal.

It is important to acculturate a predator to one’s presence early on. One’s survival could depend on it—if one is inclined to associate with dangerous animals.
On the 20th of April, a trip to Arlington reveals to Dr. Lecter that Starling is out and her roommate is in. It is only a mild inconvenience, and Dr. Lecter goes to a nearby restaurant for a sandwich. Unless her routine was interrupted, she was either amidst an investigation or stuck in a hearing. Once the sun had gone down, he began to suspect that it was a hearing. Alternatively, she was in the middle of an investigation that had gone awry. Nothing much he could do, there.

He was sitting in his car down the street, when the roommate stirred in the house. A light came on, then another. Shortly after, she was leaving in her car.
Dr. Lecter pursed his lips, his eyes narrowing a fraction. Follow, yes or no? He started the car. They were halfway to their destination before Dr. Lecter knew they were headed to the airport. He did not follow her the rest of the way.

There were ways to surveillance her, which would reveal to Dr. Lecter every move she made. However, he considered this a breech in privacy. It was one thing to observe her as she shuffled along the fringes of her life, as a neighbor or colleague might. Beyond that was within the realm of stalking, and was evidence of the petty, derogatory existence of a dawdling nescient. He would not do that. However, Dr. Lecter considered going into her now empty home. If he were to do so, it would not be courteous to come empty-handed.

When he arrived home, he goes about undisturbed by the evening, but keeps watch over the news, on mute. He could not abide its blathering in this place of solitude. He does not have to wait long.

 

While Dr. Lecter had reclined in his chair one evening, perhaps composing a piece to later test his new piano, Starling had been arriving in Waco, Texas with a group of other agents in indignant cooperation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. By the time they arrived at the ranch in Mount Caramel Center, the ATF had already attempted a raid, resulting in the death of four government agents and six civilians.

The leader of the sect, which Starling had long since learned was named David Koresh, had his followers holed up inside, allegedly staying of their own free will. The group of civilians inside included children, and Starling scoffed at the idea that any child had free will. An echo down the halls of her mind wondered, Do any of us? She shook off the thought, and stayed focused during the debriefing.

After the ATF had withdrawn, they had at least established communication with Koresh and the others inside. They were met with Commander Rogers, who headed the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. In taking some reading in his eyes while he spoke, Starling saw both disgruntlement and defensiveness. He had previously been criticized for his actions at Ruby Ridge, and she could see it all, see the experience stuck in his eyes, watery and a little irritated without any tears. As at Ruby Ridge, Rogers overrode the Site Commander at Waco and had mobilized both the Blue and Gold HRT tactical teams to the same site. It ultimately created pressure to resolve the situation tactically due to lack of HRT reserves.

They had cut off Davidian communication from the outside world. There were 25 agents negotiating over the phone with those inside, and Starling was one of them. There were two battles raging on, and she did her best to balance between the two. Attempting to get Koresh to free the hostages, particularly the children, and attempting to do so while the tactical commanders undercut them. There quickly was a divide between agents: those who advocated the use of negotiation, and those who preferred force. There was one moment when Starling’s head came up when Rogers was arguing with Brigham.

“There are more than thirty children inside, and it needs to be-“

“This has been going on for 20 days-“

“-it needs to be the top priority to get them out.”

“Koresh has already released a statement publically that everyone inside is there of their own free will. When-“

“That’s irrelevant-“

“It doesn’t matter if it’s true, Agent. Listen to me. Listen,” Rogers was saying, using his incidental height over the seated Brigham, who wore both an earpiece and a firearm at his hip. “It doesn’t matter if it’s true, because he released a video, and it looks like we’re fucking with a bunch of praying religious people.”

“All the more reason to keep talking to them.”

“You keep trying to handle this like it’s a hostage crisis, but-“

“This is a hostage crisis, there are children in there, some of which are likely being physically and sexually abused.”

“-Meanwhile, Koresh is spouting off Biblical garbage and claiming he needs more time to write religious documents. He’s just stalling. If they’re stalling and we’re stalling, this is going to go on and on and on.”

“The last time someone chose to go in with force, ten people were killed. We were brought in because of that failure.”

Starling cleared her throat to prepare them for her interruption. They stopped and looked at her, one with testy civility and the other with exhausted hostility. They waited, and she knew she only had one moment.

“If we want to make progress, and we want the kids out of there, let’s offer him something he wants in exchange for the kids. If we get at least some of them out, assuming Brigham’s right about the abuse, we can get them on record. If it comes to force, we’ll have more than pity for the Davidians.”

Rogers considered it, to Starling’s relief. Brigham gave her a quick smile. Rogers looked at her again.

“How do you propose we get him to release them, then? Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to do for the last week?” he said.

“Yes, but it’s been since we cut off their communication. That’s what he wants the most. He wants a platform. Let’s give him one. We offer him the chance to release one message and broadcast it on national radio. One message in exchange for the kids. Have we got child care professionals?”

“No,” Rogers shook his head. “We’ve got agents and the Texas rangers. But they know how to interview children.”

“Alright, then I say we give it a shot,” offered Brigham,” If we get them out here, we should have professionals called out, though. If there’s been abuse, they’ll need more than rangers.”

Rogers considered. “Let me make some calls, and I need to talk to Jeff. I’ll be back,” he said, and with that he was gone. Brigham gave Starling a thumbs up, and she gave him a half-hearted smile. They were exhausted in every way imaginable. And it was only the beginning.

It worked. With the release of nineteen of the children, everybody seemed to feel as though they’d made a breakthrough. No one mentioned Starling’s name, but she didn’t notice. In the hours afterwards, it was confirmed that the children had been abused long before the standoff. It turned out to be the key justification of the FBI, the President and the Attorney General to launch an attack.

It had started with tear gas. As the siege wore on, more aggressive techniques were used, including sleep deprivation. They played all-night broadcasts of recordings of jet planes, pop music, chanting, and the screams of rabbits being slaughtered. Starling slept during that time, but it was a raging, sweaty sleep from which she woke again and again, thinking she heard roaring and screaming.

One morning, Starling had been standing with Brigham and two others. She was shaking her head.

“This is absurd. They’re using techniques to drive someone crazy, someone who they view as unstable to begin with. And they want to drive that person crazy. I wonder how mad they’ll all be when he does something irrational.”

Brigham gave her a tired, sad smile.

It was not the only problem. It was true that the people inside were not traditional hostages. And the children that remained inside did not want to leave. It threw everything off, and they were all unprepared to work around religious zeal. Their training and techniques were alienated by religious imagery. By the end of the month, Starling had never wanted to be home so badly.

Ardelia had come to see her, on the twentieth. It was the day after the last day of the siege. Once there was tank activity, it was a matter of time before there was noise and fire. Starling summoned everything she had to—to—to what? She wondered.

The entire building was gased. The FBI HRT fired plastic, non-incendiary tear gas rounds through the windows and the Branch Davidians fired shots at CEV1. CEV2, with battering ram, ripped a hole into the second floor of the compound. Davidians unfurled a banner that read, ‘We want our phone fixed.’

Someone waved a white flag on the southeast side of the compound amidst the increasing wreckage and rage. He was told over a loud speaker that if he was surrendering, he should come out. He did not. Meanwhile, through the audio communication with the people inside, someone was saying, “I want a fire,” and then, “Keep that fire going.” They were setting the building on fire from the inside. The first evidence was a wisp of smoke on the second floor, then a small flicker. One of the walls began to collapse, and shortly after a woman exited, holding something. Starling and five others approached her, with Starling taking point. She did not question that it was because she was the only female in that moment. She put the woman on the ground quick and clean, frisked her, retrieved the computer disk inside her jacket and handed it off to someone.

The woman looked at her from behind her shoulder, her eyes hot and angry. Nothing had prepared Starling for being resented for saving someone. Nothing prepared her for being unsure of whether or not she had saved someone. Behind them, the flames spread quickly with high winds, and it roared as loudly as it burned at her back. Another Piranha in the deep, another flicker in the corner. The astringent tears of a lamb, screaming in her arms. Could you save someone whom does not wish to be saved?

Afterwards , in the hotel room, Starling cried while she was in the shower. She didn’t want Ardelia to see. They couldn’t get seats next to each other on the plane ride back. When they got home, they sat in the kitchen, and Ardelia made tea. Ardelia found many new splinters in Starling’s expression. She was hurting; she knew her brave face.

The siege had lasted 52 days, and Starling had been there for half of it. The bad half. Ardelia wondered if at any point, Starling would get the good half. She also wondered if karma was such a thing, and what Starling could have done to earn the specific torment she seemed to endure. It was not the deepest perils of hell, to be sure. It was more like the outskirts--the shallow end of misery.

“Would you consider some time off to recuperate? Beyond this weekend, I mean.”

Blessedly, she and Brigham had the next two days to rest, provided there wasn’t a national crisis.

“I don’t know that sitting quietly with it will do much good.”

“And laying over it with more noise would be better?”

“I don’t know,” Starling shook her head and looked away. She was tugging on the tea bag’s string, the water becoming murkier as she did so.

It was almost eleven by the time she was crawling into bed. She found a pretty bottle of lotion there, and took some of it into her hands, spread it up her arms and sniffed the newly perfumed air. It was divine, and she decided to ask Ardelia where she’d gotten it. Not to mention why she’d left it in her room.
The next day, Starling headed to the grocery store. It was early enough that it was still dark out. She had woken in the night four different times. On the fourth, she could not return to sleep. She went for a run in the nearby park, showered, dressed and then paced the kitchen. She could not stop moving. Ten minutes later, she was parking her car in the grocery store parking lot.

By the time she was finished, there was a dull light at the horizon, a sooty blue in the east. She shifted the bags into one hand when she shuffled between the cars, dipped the other in her purse to retrieve her key, and frowned. The faintest sting on her arm caused her to glance over, expecting to see an insect, or perhaps something stuck between her sleeve and arm. Before she could register anything, an arm came around her waist, the other dropping a syringe into a pocket and came quickly around her mouth as she screamed into the palm of a hand.

She dropped her bags and purse and launched backwards, using the side of her own car to propel their bodies. They knocked into the car behind, which rocked and complained, noisily. The sound of feet scuffling as she reached behind her, caught a bit of hair and tore. The assailant did not react.

She bit at the hand which held her mouth, attempted to kick the groin with the heel of her feet. She kicked and kicked, one of her feet knocking into the side mirror of her car, and wrenched it into the window. She dented the driver’s side door. As she began to lose strength, she could feel the assailant’s cheek pressed against hers, almost affectionately.

This came as no surprise to her. Physical fights had strange, intimate moments. Hot breath on the back of the neck. Lips, warm and wet against a palm. Hands grappling with limbs. Eyes locked, hearts pounding. The cheek was warm and she smelled fresh clothes and an oud bouquet, sweet and woodsy. She had her fingernails embedded into the back of his neck, and she could feel it slick with blood. She could smell it, too. Her grip was relaxing though, and panic began to settle in her stomach, a heavy sense of dread. Her feet were giving out, and she heard a voice, calm and rich.

“Shhh,” he said. “No pain.”

Chapter Text

The house on the lake is a sturdy place, where brick joins steel and wood, braced and waiting. It is sturdy and it is hollow, but not so spacious that it alienates. It keeps out the rain and cold, it stands against the wind—but it’s walls and mirrors are sufficiently absorbent of any talk and mood. It remains sedate amidst the babbling, sighing and raging of the life it keeps.

In the safe, fleecy embrace of unconsciousness, Starling was free from fear, anger and pity. She lay in a bedroom on the second floor of the house. She lies on her back, spread out against the tidy coverlet. It would be another hour before she awoke.

Dr. Lecter sat in a chair in the corner of the room, watching her breathing. When it changed slightly, he came swiftly to her side to check her pulse, and then her blood pressure. She would be fine, but she was dreaming. Her eyes danced beneath her eyelids, and he looked at her with his head to the side.

It was late morning when she awoke, and the first thing she did was attempt to scratch an itch on her side. The simple, natural gesture was met with resistance at her wrist and, half-asleep, Starling complained quietly. She moved to roll on her side and could not. She awoke completely and suddenly.

Her eyes opened wide, her heart speeding up a little too fast. Within the first blink of her eyes, she saw the room--comfortable, clean and liberal in cherry wood and mahogany. Within the second blink, she saw a burning, collapsing compound, smoke and fire. Within the third blink, a myriad of pleading eyes. Another, the room again. Another, resentful tears and the smell of gun smoke. One more, and the presence of another. She looked at the doorway, where he was standing.

For a moment, she blinked several more times, thinking she was seeing a merging of her most stinging memories and reality. Perhaps in her sleepy stupor, the two had fused for just a moment. He stood still and rigid. No, not rigid…only straight as an arrow. His posture was not hostile. She knew what that looked like. His arms were at his sides, his shoulders back. His calm infused the room like incense.

“Good morning,” he said. His voice gave her a jolt. Then she was spinning.

Starling swallowed. “Good morning, Dr. Lecter.” Her heart was hammering and her palms and feet were instantly cold and sweaty. She didn’t know what her voice had sounded like, she hadn’t heard it; it had been a sound too distant to hear over the internal roar, too insignificant amidst the terrific sense of falling.

He made no move to enter the room, but stood still and sturdy as the mahogany furniture. He seemed to give her a moment to compose herself. She was quite still, her face rather placid compared to the internal tempest by which she was suddenly thrashed; but her eyes were wide and dilated, her mouth shut into a thin line. He could see the perspiration above her lip from where he stood.

Starling moved her arm a micron. Her arms were away from her body and bent at the elbows. Her palms faced up, in an unintentional display of surrender. She risked a glance at her left arm. It was tied to the bed post with a silk scarf, and she looked slowly back at Dr. Lecter.

“Alright,” Starling began, unsure if she had something to say beyond it.

“Alright,” Dr. Lecter said in a less questioning tone, as though they had wrapped up a long and meaningful discussion. “How are you feeling? You slept all morning.”

Starling didn’t know how she was. Her senses were returning. Beneath the fear she found anger, perhaps even a sense of betrayal. Not all of her senses had returned, and she reacted to the anger instantly as a child might, her mind and voice finding a way to feed it.

“I’m fine, if you like helotry.” She swallowed again, and licked her lips. He still had not moved, and she took a moment to further survey the room.

He’d said he wouldn’t call on me, she thought. She heard those words in his voice when she’d first read his letter after his escape. She always heard them in his voice…God, that voice. It had been a source of comfort, those words. A sense of understanding, a sense of closure. …I won’t call on you, Clarice…She heard her name in his voice, resonant in the acoustics of her mind, Clarice, Clarice...

“You know, you do catch me off-guard from time-to-time,” he was saying. ”One moment a reference is lost on you, and the next you remind me of your aptitude with a quick prose. It’s effortless, which is promising. I think, sometimes, that you are a poet, at heart. An uneducated, ornery poet.”

“It’s not fair to call me ornery, in your position,” she said. Her throat was dry and she swallowed again. Absurdly, she desperately wanted to brush her teeth. With the thought, came another simultaneously, keep him talking.

“Your ability to blame circumstance for your temperament has not waned. Not promising. Are you thirsty?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll be back.” She watched him turn and disappear. Even though he had left the room, the movement had startled her. He belonged in the oubliettes of her mind, not here, out in the world. Not free to roam, to move, to see and touch. It was so very wrong. Starling struggled with her bondage. They were only silk scarves, and should easily unravel. She tried to do it without causing the headboard to tap the wall. All the while, she was thinking.

Bathroom to the right, window to the left across from the door. He’d gone left, footfalls down a hallway and stairs. Noise from a floor below. Stairs often ended near or even in front of a front door. Second story window, was there a balcony? She heard the sounds of a body of water, a lapping shore. She wondered if her boot knife was still there.

One of her wrists was free when he returned. He stood again in the doorway with a glass of water in one hand and her gun in the other.

“Alright,” she said again, letting her free arm drop to her side.

Dr. Lecter smiled at her. “Alright,” he agreed, coming forward. He was not pointing the weapon at her, only holding it, as a warning.

He set the glass of water on the nightstand and sat on the edge of the bed. The gun disappeared behind his back, too far to reach. With both hands free he folded them in his lap and looked down at her.

“For the time being, I’m going to have to keep you restrained. You understand.”

A man with a gun and a man’s strength, a woman with one arm free. She opened her mouth for a moment, but chose instead to nod. He gave her a single nod in return, before regarding her free arm, which was on the opposite side of the bed.

“I’m going to go to the other side, now,” he said, his voice taking on a very soothing tone. On some level, it irritated her, as though he were speaking to an unpredictable stray.

‘Come here, girl. Come here…’

She watched him stand and walk around to the other side. When he sat back down on the bed, she was unsure of what to do with her free arm. She balled her hand into a fist and tucked it in tight to her side.

“I’m going to touch you, now,” he said, in the same tone. She waited a beat, and looked up. He was looking at her, as though waiting for permission, with his eyebrows raised.

“Fine.”

She looked away, unsure of how she felt about letting him tie her arm. Was there any purpose in fighting for fighting’s sake? Was the theatre of resistance favorable from any angle? Was she less-than for opting out of it, or was she simply pragmatic? Either way, she could not look at him, as he secured her wrist to the head post. Instead, she looked at the open door and chewed her lip.

“Clarice, I don’t want to use something more uncomfortable than this, but if you continue to wriggle out of these, I may be forced to.”

He was finished now, and was retrieving the glass of water on the night stand. He sat back down and looked at her.

He gave an amiable nod and moved the glass close, and she lifted her head to meet it. He held it there for her and watched her sip, and found the practice to be appealing. He regretted to take it away.

“Am I entitled to a question?” she wondered.

“Certainly.” He had folded his hands in his lap again, and seemed pleased.

“What is it I can do for you?”

Both the question and the tone in which she asked it made Dr. Lecter smile widely, and he laughed. Under different circumstances, Starling may have found it appealing.

“I imagine that’s the same dogged tone you use when you’re ‘handling’ people. Am I right?”

“More or less.”

“And are you trying to handle me?”

“I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing here. Evidence points to some unsettling conclusions.”

“But life is more than just evidence, isn’t it? Experience has taught you that.”

“It has.”

“And what does experience tell you? Not evidence, but experience?”

“It tells me I’m not dead, yet.”

“That,” he said, a finger abruptly pointing up,” is the most basic report of the senses. It is important and necessary, but you can do better. “

Starling sighed and looked away briefly, before answering. “It tells me you’re prepared to kill me, but that it’s not your preference.”

“My preference? My. It is ambitious of you to presume to understand my preferences.”

“Am I wrong, then?”

Dr. Lecter seemed all the more pleased when he said, “Not entirely.”

Neither spoke for a few moments. Starling did what she could to sound perfunctory. “So, then…what can I do for you?”

“Are you hungry, Clarice? I’ve made you some breakfast.”

Starling was not expecting this, and her eyes narrowed. He watched her head turn a fraction. “Not particularly,” she said, at length. They both looked down at the sound of her stomach growling.

Dr. Lecter’s eyes rose before his head did, and he smiled. “Ah, the betrayals of our anatomy,” he said, with a friendly wink. “I’m going to bring you something to eat. I won’t be gone long, and I’ll have your gun with me. Before you wonder, I’ve disconnected the landlines. You will not find my car keys, I can promise you. We are remote. Clarice?”

“Yes?”

“Stay.”

Starling felt the first sober rush of anger, and it nearly equaled her fear. She let some of it show, wanting him to know her distaste. She understood, analytically, that he had chosen a simple command to make her powerlessness more apparent to them, and would expect anger. Possibly, he aimed for angering her. The purpose could be anything from a grander design to simply poking her to see what she’d do. But he’d done that, before. Perhaps, he simply enjoyed watching her manage.
He was still looking at her, admiring the minute hostility play on her expression.

“What do we say?” he asked.

Okay. Well, goddamn you, Lecter. You fucking creep.

“I’ll stay,” she said, her voice sounding pretty even.

“I’ll be back.”

Starling realized a few moments after he’d gone that her heart was still hammering and she was sweating from head to feet. She moved a little, finding the back of her blouse was damp. Now, she needed to brush her teeth and shower.

Many thoughts, words and images darted about, a disorganized swarm, but the thought which came most constantly, in many different forms beyond the words themselves, was this:

What does he want?

The words struck her as foreign and offensive. She had never been the victim. She was the one who, hopefully, showed up in the nick of time. She was the one to break down the goddamn door. She was not the one plagued by the question, ‘What does he want’.

Starling wondered if she’d cry. As she lay waiting and helpless, she found she did not. She wanted to attribute it to her strength, but couldn’t. It was true she had reason to think he may not want to harm her, but every victim, every single one, hopes that maybe they’ll ‘get out of this’. And sometimes they do. Hope is a natural defense mechanism. She resolved to keep close watch on any and all of her defense mechanisms. She had to pay attention to everything. He would be. When he came back, he was carrying a tray.

“Dr. Lecter?”

He did not answer before setting the tray down. There was an omelet, fresh vegetables and a small bowl of seasonal fruit.

“Have you got a spare toothbrush?”

His smile was pleasant. “I do. Do you need to do that before eating?”

“I’d prefer that.”

“I understand. This will take some finesse, if you’ll cooperate,” he said, heading to the bathroom. He came back with a glass filled with water from the sink and a toothbrush with toothpaste on it. A hand towel was draped over his forearm.

“Are you going to brush my teeth for me?” she asked. Her expression must have amused him. He sat on the edge of the bed again.

“Of course. You’ll need to sit up a little.”

It took only a few minutes, but went down in Starling’s mind as one of the most bizarre experiences of her life. She fidgeted her legs and didn’t know where to look. When she needed to spit, he offered the old water cup. He cleaned off her lips with the towel, and offered the other glass for her to rinse. A final spit, and he cleaned her lips again. A minute later, he returned from the bathroom.

“We’ll start with the fruit, it will help cleanse your palette. I doubt toothpaste and omelet is a spectacular combination.”

“Neither is morning breath and omelet.”

“Fair enough.”

He sat down next to her and offered her a bite from a fork. She glanced at it, identified it as papaya, and opened her mouth. While she was chewing, he skewered a slice of orange.

Starling wondered if there was an order of words she could use that would make him tell her what he wanted. Did this not constitute as ‘calling on her’? She opened her mouth again when he offered her another bite. He did not hide the pleasure he seemed to take in feeding her.

And there was pleasure in feeding her. It was not something he assumed or anticipated, nor was it something he curbed. He did examine it, for the amusement it brought him.

To feed Starling…he considered the concept, as he placed a strawberry onto her waiting mouth. To feed Starling…was to provide nourishment. It seemed to be congruent, he decided. He enjoyed providing her with nourishment from multiple facets. But in what capacity? He did not have a familial reaction to her. A pet, perhaps? A beloved pet? A pet that could reason and plan? A pet that would eventually grow big…a pet which was already quick. The next time she opened her mouth, he looked at her teeth. They were small and straight, pleasing to the eye. She had healthy gums, he’d noticed when brushing her teeth for her. That had been interesting. He took unnecessarily long bringing another slice of orange to her mouth. She’d already opened it and was waiting. He paused only a moment, to get a good look at her tongue.

Perhaps not a pet, then...

He did not consider her as a lover. He had not sensed real attraction from her. Intrigue, certainly. On a purely animal level, her body responded to his body, appropriately. When he moved, she moved. When he gave her a lingering look, her pupils dilated and her skin had even flushed a number of times. She often placed her hands in front of her lap, covering the genitals. It was a telltale sign that she unconsciously acknowledged being a female in the presence of a male, and was naturally protective of her orifices. She occasionally glanced at his mouth and hands. All base animal reactions, which did not speak for her higher brain. They could not be helped.

Dr. Lecter took great delight in programming the human mind. It was not that he was unwilling to tweak her to his specifications, but becoming his lover was not something he considered an option. If she ever could be, it would have to be at her instigation. Therein lied hypothetical scenarios, and Dr. Lecter turned his attention from it in disinterest. No point in dwelling on that which was likely impossible.

He was feeding her the omelet now, and she was enjoying it. She made little attempt in hiding it. She didn’t see any point in a trivial, childish dig. Of course the food was good, and so of course, she enjoyed it. She did not enjoy being fed. She felt terribly awkward. Dr. Lecter seemed absorbed in his task and his private thoughts.
She didn’t think he wanted sex. Had that been the goal, he could have fucked her already, same as killing and eating her. Instead, she was lying on a bed, getting fed breakfast.

What the fuck does he want?

Breakfast was washed down with a cup of mint tea. By the time he had returned from the kitchen, now carrying a bag, she felt a headache coming on.

“Dr. Lecter?”

“Yes, Clarice?”

He had set the bag down at the foot of the bed between her sprawled ankles and was removing some of her clothes, laying them out neatly on the bedspread.
“Could I have some coffee?”

“Experiencing withdrawals, already?”

“Yes.”

“In a bit,” he said. She watched him hanging her clothes in the closet.

A few minutes later:

“Dr. Lecter?”

“Yes, Clarice?”

“How long is my stay going to be?”

“I don’t know, Clarice. It will be up to you, mostly.”

“I see. I suppose I couldn’t request being escorted home today, then.”

“I’d prefer you stay.”

“I see. May I venture to say I don’t?”

He looked at her. “Of course you may. I invite you to be honest and frank. I’ve always admired that about you.”

Starling found herself sighing. “Not a whole lot of company you’ll find, in that corner.”

Dr. Lecter gave her a look. “Now, now. You’ve chosen with whom you do business. You can’t go complaining about the boorish company you yourself chose to keep, Clarice.” He looked at her with a raised eyebrow, before turning again. He was folding her underwear into a drawer. What a strange image. What an alarming image. What an infuriating image.

“Dr. Lecter?”

“Yes, Clarice?”

“You said you admire my frankness. May I be frank?”

“Please,” he gestured, with an inviting hand. He had straightened up and returned to the foot of the bed.

“What the fuck am I doing here?”

“Ah,” he wagged his finger. “There’s a difference between being frank and being rude.”

“I’m frankly inclined to be vulgar.”

“There is a difference between vulgarity and rudeness. There is a time and place for certain vulgarities, but never for rudeness. You’re frankly inclined to anger. And justified. But that does not excuse rudeness.”

Fight him on it? Pick your battles. Stay on point. Appeal to his sensibility.

“I apologize,” she conceded. “What am I doing here?”

“You’re here to keep me company. I enjoy spending time with you. I think, given permission, you would enjoy spending time with me.”

“Permission?”

“Yes, from your conscience, your compatriots, and your dead father imago. None of which will give you permission. But there is a way around that.”

“…And that is?”

“To have no choice. When choice is taken from you, so is responsibility. Permission is rendered irrelevant.”

“So,” Starling ventured, licking her lips,” I’m here because you want…”

“Yes,” he encouraged.

“A conversationalist?”

“Let’s bring it down into friendlier terms.”

“What, a friend?” she let a hiccup of laughter escape.

“Is that so preposterous?”

“Yes. You know it is, don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?” he challenged, his demeanor amused, again.

“Do not act like we are not…adversaries.”

“Adversaries. Were you going to say enemies? You couldn’t quite bring yourself to say that though, could you?”

“No…no, we’re not enemies. But we’re not friends, either.”

“We had friendly moments, I think,” said Dr. Lecter, softly. He was finished putting away her things, and put the empty bag in the closet. When he returned, Starling regarded him. Seeing she had something to say, he waited, one hand casually draped on top of the foot board.

“We had moments in which you chose not to mock me. I don’t confuse that with friendly. And neither do you.”

Dr. Lecter considered her, looking pleased again. Pleased and disappointed, and Starling could not begin to understand how and why he seemed to experience both at once.

Lecter decided to move on from attitude, mood and behavior, and assess her anger.

“May I ask you some questions, Clarice? Could you handle that?” He kept his voice non-confrontational, but the words he chose were sure to whet her appetite for enmity.

“Fine.”

“You overhear a friend bad-mouthing you. How angry would you feel?”

"Depends on the friend. I don’t have many. If it was my-“ she hesitated a moment, suddenly feeling that it was wrong to say Ardelia’s name in Dr. Lecter’s presence. “-if it were my roommate, I’d be hurt.”

“What if it was a co-worker? What if a group of your so-called backup were standing around, calling you the bride of Dracula? I’ll bet it’s happened more than once.”

He wasn’t altogether wrong. She’d never heard it in those terms, but it was beside the point. The sentiment was there.

“Somewhat angry. Angry that people can be so easily persuaded to alienate another. Even though it’s nothing more than a cheap way of aligning themselves with the pack.”

“Easier to estrange the Other than to be special.”

“Yes.”

“On your way home from work you stop at the bank to deposit a check. As you're standing in line patiently waiting your turn, you notice a child with a chocolate bar running around screaming. His mother seems to have no problem with it; she's actually beaming with pride. Next thing you know, the child decides to run over to you and give you a big hug, smearing little chocolate handprints all over your pants. How angry does that make you feel?”

“Fairly angry. Why are you giving me this rudimentary exam?”

Dr. Lecter was reminded of the questionnaire that had brought her to him, and smiled. “You never answered my question.”

“Yes, I did. I said it would make me fairly angry.”

“No, no, no. The last question, the one before I took my leave. How do you manage your anger? I would simply ask you, but you dance around it like a little sujet. If you were able to directly answer a question about yourself, I’d implement that technique. And we’re not bargaining anymore.”

“Sujet?”

“Nevermind. Shall we move on to the following question?”

“I’ll answer the real question. I freeze it. I freeze it like nitrogen, so that I can work.”

“That’s an undeveloped mechanism. When does it unfreeze? Before you know it, you’ll have a billowing river of smoke spilling from your head. “

Dr. Lecter filed this imagery away for later use, when he had time to sketch.

“I don’t know. Maybe when I run.”

“Maybe. Maybe it’s when you take a life.”

Starling looked at him, sharply. “Don’t say that like I do it all the time. It’s only happened twice so far, and I did what I could to avoid it.”

“Did you pity them?”

“Yes.”

“Is that true? Clarice?”

“Yes.”

“If someone were to kill you, Clarice, what would you prefer to see in the eyes of your murderer? Would pity help you to pass? Would it be an acceptable apology?”

“No.”

“Would it anger you?”

“Yes.”

“Does pity, in and of itself, anger you?”

“It makes me uncomfortable.”

“Feeling it or being the receiver of it?”

“Both.”

“Thank you, Clarice.”

“You’re welcome. Are you getting what you want out of this?”

“I’m encouraged,” he said, smiling and giving her foot a pat. It happened so quickly and casually, she did not experience surprise at the touch, but surprise at the lack of amazement. She wondered if he was going to implement techniques to produce Stockholm Syndrome. Was that his aim? He didn’t generally play unsophisticated games with her. When she thought of Stockholm Syndrome, she thought of the sex traffickers she’d dealt with—common, if not insidious little pricks that cash in on the vulnerability of young girls. She certainly did not think of Dr. Lecter. Then again, he wouldn’t need to do much. The body and mind simply cannot stay in a state of emergency. It has to acclimate, eventually. He would only need to wait for her own body to betray her. She watched him come forward, until his lap was so near her left arm, she could feel the warmth. She looked up at him.

“I have to go to the bathroom. I don’t suppose we’re going the route of a bedpan.”

Dr. Lecter smiled and then pursed his lips, looking at the bathroom.

“I mean, if you want to do that to yourself. By all means,” she said, gesturing with her hand where it lay ineffectually above her head.

Amuse him. Is he amused? Yes? Yes.

“Actually, that brings us to an interesting, albeit necessary point in our session,” he began, and Starling’s ears perked so slightly, he nearly did not notice. Her wheels were certainly turning, now. He was quite certain it was due to his use of the word ‘session’.

Keep her curious. Keep her active. Is she paying attention? Yes.

“To bind or not to bind. Can I trust you to behave yourself? You’ve always seemed to me a rather sober woman. You can see what techniques are applicable to any given situation, when they are appropriate and when they are not. Do I need to worry about you fighting to prove your fortitude? Remember that you have nothing to prove, here.”

“You can trust that I won’t do anything to make my situation worse.”

“And that would include behaving yourself. Yes?”

She gave him a withering look. “If you want to put it in those demeaning terms, for whatever reason. Yes.”

“You understand you’re not leaving until I decide it’s time?”

“Yes.”

“Good. You mentioned your roommate, earlier. In that regard, I think it necessary to inform you that you left her a note saying you’ve decided to take a little vacation, after all.”

“I see,” Starling said, slowly. He had untied one of her hands, and his thumb brushed along her wrist. She felt the hair on her arms rise and press against her sleeves.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our handwriting is quite different.”

“I think she’ll find it convincing,” he answered. He was untying one of her feet. She was glad to still be wearing her shoes. He moved to the next foot.

“As I’m sure you noticed, I’ve brought a few of your things. I would love to correct your wardrobe, but can’t have you coming home with too many new things.”

Starling considered all that this statement implied. He intended to return her home, well enough to be questioned. He also intended for her to lie about her whereabouts? Or perhaps he assumed that anything he gave her would go into possession of the Bureau. She wanted to probe him on that, but chose to stay docile. He seemed to want her that way, for the time being. They were both walking a fine line. She didn’t think he particularly wanted to kill her, but to assume he wouldn’t was foolish. To assume I wouldn’t is, too.

Dr. Lecter was untying her last bound limb, her right arm. She hadn’t seen the gun since he’d returned a second time from the kitchen. She wondered where he’d keep it. It’s all she’d need…

He quickly stepped back, giving her plenty of room. He gestured to the bathroom. “Help yourself to anything you need, Clarice. I’m going to leave you alone for now. If you need anything, I’ll be downstairs in the drawing room. If not, I’ll be back up around lunch time. Do you like squash?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Perhaps you’d like to take a shower.”

Starling was standing now. Standing now, in the same room with him.

No net, no cage. No net NO CAGE!!

“Are you implying something?” She asked, exerting control over her expression and mastering it.

Dr. Lecter’s smile was big, his small teeth so perfectly straight and white. “Not at all, Clarice. I can appreciate your inherent redolence.”

Too flirtatious, too friendly? Was she put off beyond the bounds of her capability? No. She’s mastered herself, again.

He watched her retreat to the bathroom and was gone before she’d closed the door. Inside, she sat on the closed toilet seat and put her head in her hands. Pushing her hair back and sitting up, she let out a long, shaky breath, glancing at the bathtub. To bathe in the home of the monster. Starling’s sense of hygiene won out against any part of her that thought it feasible he would attack her, psycho-style. God, how she hated that her hands trembled.

Like many of us, Starling did some of her best thinking in the shower. The reason, some suppose, is that there is so little to distract us. There is the addition of the calming effect of water. After all, we once lived in water; it is our nine months of peace, never to be truly felt again. Starling takes a lengthy shower, and by the time she leaves the bathroom, a cloud of steam escapes into her temporary quarters. The bedroom door was blessedly closed.

She looked in the closet to see what all he’d selected. She half-way expected to see the few pieces of lingerie she owned, but he had thankfully brought the clothes she wore the most often.

The clothes she wore the most often. He knew the clothes she preferred. How long had he been watching her? How closely? He’d been in her home. She thought of the lotion. Had to be him. She’d put it on, and something about that made her feel deceived, vulnerable and violated. She put it on her skin, let it absorb into her, and him by proxy, on some level. Was that true, or just a silly trick of the psyche?

Starling put on a pair of jeans and a plain, button-up blouse. She lifted her damp hair off of the collar and sat on the bed. Her boot knife was gone.

What the fuck, now?

Starling bore down. She was not a crisis negotiation expert, but she knew the training, and had just come out of real world experience with it.

Force versus negotiation…Even if he didn’t have her gun and boot knife, even if this was not on his turf, he still had some strength on her. She’d likely have some technique on him, but there was too much against her to use force and still feel smart. Smart. Right.

There are five steps to negotiation: Active listening, empathy, rapport, influence and behavioral change. The mistake most people make when trying to get someone to do something they want is skipping steps one through three. They start with influence and then expect behavioral change. If people were fundamentally rational, maybe explaining why you’re right and they’re wrong would work—but it never does.

Starling considered the situation from this perspective. In the current circumstance, she was the hostage and negotiator both. Could that work? She had to believe it could. Had she established active listening? Not as well as she could have, but then that depended…

Did she become his hostage this morning or a year ago when they first laid eyes on one another? From which point should she consider the beginning of this stand off? If she began in the dungeon, she was already through steps one through three. She stood and looked out of the window.

Holding her elbows and leaning forward, she could see the lake and a dock. She looked down. Far enough to break something. And he could be watching. She sighed. Better to be safe than sorry. She would begin with active listening. Begin again.

As a pastime, Dr. Lecter enjoyed playing around with algorithms. They can come in many forms and used for various functions. To Dr. Lecter, people presented themselves to him like algorithms. Previously arranged processes, responding to different problems and circumstance in an unambiguous process. In mathematics, they could be used to perform many useful tasks, such as calculations, automated reasoning and data processing; all things human minds could do, when used properly.

When an algorithm expressly interested him, like Starling, he liked to place it in a place or time, allowing it some things and forbidding others and then, within a controlled environment, set it loose to see what happened. Dr. Lecter had amused himself this way countless times, although he could not recall a time when an algorithm provided such a level of intrigue or self-indulgence. Ultimately, he knew, that’s what this was: An extraordinary presentation of self-indulgence.

When he was certain she was preoccupied, Dr. Lecter retired to the study, downstairs. It was a pleasant day, and he opened a window instead of trifling with the air conditioning.

Outside, the noonday spread out against the sky like a wrinkled bedspread. The storm in the East was distant and puckered, tangled sheets kicked to the edge in the morning. The cat that rubbed its cheek along the chimney jumps down, lingering near the standing water within the roof hip. A whispering of its tail, makes a hasty leap. He looks at himself in the wavy window pane, his amber hypnotist eyes glaring. At last, he circles around the porch and, seeing that it would be a howling April night, curled up below and found a place to sleep.

Chapter Text

Starling made her way down the hall, and knew he could hear her coming. The floorboards did not creak terribly, but the sound of footfalls was unmistakable. Didn’t matter; she wasn’t trying to sneak up on him. The right side of the hallway gave away to the railings separating first floor from second. The stairs were ahead. She looked over the railing. Front door, two tall windows on either side, curtains. A large foyer with dark, matte tile flooring. To the left of the front door, she could see the house led into another room. To the right, it lead to yet another room, this one with two double doors spread open. Light and warmth came from that direction. She heard the turning of paper. He’s reading.

Before she could move again, she sensed movement from the room, the sound of something being placed down—a cup onto a surface. Sounds of footsteps across the room, shuffling of something, papers or folders. Then there was music, a recording of some kind of a piano. She recognized the piece. Danse Macabre, by Listz. Steely, biting Romanticism, alright. She descended the stairs, her hand drifting along the smooth banister, and she listened to the music.

A pocket watch’s long drift to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. It’s hands count the seconds at the bottom of the sea.

She wasn’t sure where that had come from, and wondered for a moment if he was right about her. He often was.

At the bottom of the stairs she peered into the room. The fireplace was unlit. It would be summer soon. A table lamp next to the sofa and a sconce on the wall lit the room. The sofa faced the fireplace and there, Dr. Lecter sat with his back to her, facing the fireplace. His head was slightly bent, his collar as crisp as the stark line between dark hair and neck. There was a bandage, there.

There was a bookcase on either side of the fireplace, which was oversized. A dark chair in a corner between book case and a window. The window was open, and she could feel the wet warmth from outside. She heard a page turn, and looked back at Dr. Lecter’s sleek head. He had not spoken, but knew she was there. They both knew he knew. She came forward and his head came up, turned in her direction slightly. She could see his cheek, the tip of his nose and some eyelashes.

“Would you like some coffee, now?” he asked without turning further. “There’s a cup for you.” He gestured to the chair nearest the sofa. A coffee cup and saucer sat next to it on a side table.

When she was seated, they looked at one another. Dr. Lecter sat the book aside and crossed his legs. Starling picked up the cup and took a sip.

“Mmm.”

Dr. Lecter gave a pleased nod, and watched her examine her fingernails.

“I cleaned them,” he offered.

Well, of course, thought Starling. A neat bouquet of his DNA, ready for extraction after all of this was over. One way or another.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“They’re going to wonder where I am at work. You covered for Ardelia, but I can’t just not show up on Monday. They’ll wonder. And they’ll look.”

“I’m sure they’ll understand when you explain where you were.”

“And what am I to explain?”

“I would never ask you to lie, Clarice.”

“Then you will have to leave.”

“I’ll have to move, yes. I’m optimistic it won’t come to that.”

She could not fathom what could possibly compel her to lie in his favor. Starling looked around, for a moment. “How long have you been here?”

“A few months. I’m renting, before you ask.”

“I see. Where were you before here?”

“Here and there,” he said, smiling. “But mostly there.”

Starling nodded with her lips pursed. Get him to talk. You can’t listen if he’s not talking. Step one, active listening.

“You like it?” She felt stupid, but shook the judgment away. Had to start somewhere.

“It’s fine. The landlord likes things oversized. Not all of the furniture is appropriate to the space. But it will do. There are quite a number of ghastly renderings of Leda and the Swan. I’ve draped most of them.”

“Why not that one,” she pointed to the one above the fireplace.

“Because I like it.”

“It’s got good anatomical articulation,” Starling said, looking at the painting.

“I agree. It’s an Anne Shingleton.”

“Why do you like it?”

“It has a lot of heat in the fucking. I appreciate that in a visual representation of a story. If it has no feeling, no heart,” he said, briefly placing a hand against his chest,” then what are you communicating, really? That you’ve got a good handle on technique. However, I am of the opinion that without idea, technique alone falls short. The reverse can be true, too. All idea without technique can come across as childish or difficult to interpret—alienating the observer. Often it is under the guise of artistic gesticulation or a heroically shared catharsis, Clarice. But beneath that mask of grandiosity is laziness.”

“Heroically shared catharsis. Was that a personal reference, Dr. Lecter?”

“I don’t know, Clarice. Is it?”

“I think it would be fair to say so.”

“And I agree,” Dr. Lecter smiled at her, his eyes bright, for a moment. She thought of red, glittering Christmas tinsel. She thought of her first Christmas after her father’s death.

“Tell me something, Clarice. Did you feel a burden lifted at all? Had you shared those things before me?”

“Not really. Off-hand remarks, that’s all.”

“Ummm. And my first question?”

“It’s hard for me to say. More happened that year than just telling you a story.”

“Hard to hear your own thoughts over all the noise, Clarice?”

“Yes. Do you ever feel that way?”

“I can relate to it. But there are ways to put the world on mute. I could show you how some time, if you ever asked. All you ever need to do is ask, Clarice.”

“I’ppreciate it.”

Dr. Lecter smiled, again. She wasn’t trying as hard, now. She was relaxing, gaining confidence.

“How’s the headache?”

“It’s there.”

“How much caffeine do you usually have in a day?”

“At least three cups of coffee.”

He tisked her. “Self-medicating is self-medicating, Clarice. Even if it is legal. Convenient, perhaps.”

“Well, one thing at a time,” she said, giving him a wry smile, a bit of mock warning. He seemed to like it. Starling narrowed her eyes and looked down into the coffee, thinking. “Dr. Lecter?”

“Yes, Clarice?”

“There’s something I’ve wondered for awhile.”

“Tell me.”

“There seems to be a period of time, between Europe and your practice in Baltimore, in which you weren’t…amusing yourself. Then you went on a killing spree. What prompted that?”

“There are always a myriad of ways to entertain one’s self. The way to which you’re referring, a killing spree as you call it, was merely one. As to why it began, I would liken it to someone who enjoys wood work, painting and quilting—or whatever multiple hobbies you like—and a natural rotation occurs. Who is to say what brings on a bout of woodworking, and how or why that gives way to painting. It happens often among those who enjoy multiple pastimes. The rotation, I mean.”

“A rotation,” Starling said, nodding.

“That’s right. But I suspect that’s not the case for you. Anything give you a thrill, Clarice?”

Starling did her best to not show the quickening of her heart, when they locked eyes at that intoned word.

“I don’t know that I’m a thrill-seeker. “

“No, I bet not.”

“But then--cooking, drawing and cannibalism don’t give you a thrill, either. Do they?”

“No, I wouldn’t say I get a thrill by the common definition. But I can be delighted, Clarice. Can’t you? Isn’t there anything which delights you?”

“I’ll have to think about that. When you ate a nurse’s tongue, you’re pulse never went above eighty. If it had, it would have indicated sadism. A thrill from causing pain. But you’re not a sadist, are you?”

“There you go again with those sorry epithets, written by fools in little rooms where no experience is to be had. I thought you would have moved beyond that, Clarice. It’s been nearly a year and I found you to be a quick study.”

“Would it delight you if I did move beyond it?”

Dr. Lecter’s laugh was rich and intoxicating. “Oh, Clarice. You don’t have to try to delight me. You do it quite naturally. And I applaud you. You’ve been doing very well.”

“Doing well?”

“Oh, yes. You’ve been an exemplary listener. And I give you permit to move to the following step. I forget though, perhaps you can remind me. Is it rapport which follows or empathy?”

Starling suddenly found the contents of her cup very interesting.

“Clarice?”

“Empathy. And that’s the step we’re on, actually.”

“Then, brava. You managed to be a step ahead for a few minutes. In a way.”

“Thanks.”

“Oh, don’t be destitute. I told you. You’ve been doing very well.”

“Thanks.”

“Ready for another cup?”

She nodded and thanked him when he took it. She watched him leave and chewed her lip. It had been close to three hours since she’d been awake. How many hours, days or weeks would this siege last? She’d just come out of one. She didn’t know if she had the mental energy for another one with Hannibal Lecter. She already felt exhausted. When he returned, he sat the cup down next to her elbow on the table, and took his seat.

What did he want? Control. Let him have it. Offer them things they want. What would she get in exchange? Rest. No, no. Do not relinquish control for the sake of the peace that comes with surrender (Is it surrender?) Surrender would be if she relinquished hope. Hope wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, she was full of it. What to get in return for not fighting for control? Trust. Yes, trust. Trust leads to opportunity. Trust leads to negotiation.

What now, then? Let him lead. She took a sip of coffee and waited.

And waited. Long minutes of silence came after that, and Starling felt a little disappointed when he resumed reading. For just a moment, she started to ask what he was reading, but stopped herself.

After nearly an hour of silence, Starling’s thoughts were enough to keep her on edge, but she was slipping into an odd, tense boredom. She found herself glancing at him, where he sat. It was strange, to say the least, seeing him outside of a cell without his prison clothes. There, his more sinister qualities, which he made less of an effort to mask while imprisoned, seemed to match the dark, grim backdrop of an asylum. At the same time, the way he moved and spoke did not. He didn’t allow his surroundings to affect him. Starling considered that she possessed the same wisdom, and marveled for a moment at the observation that they had something in common. This, at least, was a safe connection to make.

Here, however, he appeared perfectly befit in the room. His dark clothes, his clean, masculine scent; there was nothing out of the ordinary about the picture. She tilted her head, looking at him. She’d never given herself the time to do so. He was not looking at her, and while she thought it reasonable to assume he knew she was watching him, she chose to overrule the assumption. If he didn’t like it, he could tell her so. It was important to observe him, to know this man who kept her hostage. This was what she told herself. . .

His hands were the same, except for the fact that his sixth finger was gone. Some muted place in Starling did not favor it. In three minutes, Starling’s eyes returned to Dr. Lecter’s hands seven times. In three minutes, her eyes returned to his lips five times, though she stopped herself nine times. She does not consciously acknowledge it. The undercurrents of her thoughts, feelings and actions, both primal and advanced, are rooms not ready for exploration. Starling’s foot began to twitch, erratically.

His eyes were focused. His posture, easy. His features were slightly less fine than they once had been. She was quite certain he’d had a little work done. His ears were the same, and his lips. He had good skin for his age, she noted. He had more color than when he’d lived in a dungeon. What a melodramatic word, dungeon, she considered. This rogue thought was, unbeknownst to Starling, a strategic one offered up by her unconscious mind; sent to block a deeper reaction to the image of Dr. Lecter’s face and body so close to her own. Had the reaction been given voice, it would have observed Dr. Lecter’s sexual appeal. The rogue thought does not completely block this reaction, but muddies it. Two words were able to form. He’s so…

Upon being offered these two words by her own mind, Starling’s consciousness fumbles with them for a moment, like nervous hands catching a fragile thing, unexpectedly. He’s so…

Starling felt the distant sentiment, could feel the animal alert to attraction (the whirl of a head toward the caught scent, a rabbit’s twitching whiskers) and even the mental chemistry for the briefest of moments; heat in a palm against a door, a door containing the flames and chaos of an inferno. She scrambled for words to finish the fragmented sentence, came up with the word ‘charismatic’, and moved quickly forward in time. All of this, in less than two seconds. All of this, too swift for analysis.

She continued with her observation of Hannibal Lecter and, noting the even plane of his shoulders (a grasshopper leaping, brittle twig snapping) and the veins along his fair hands (a buck starting, haunches shuddering) and his dark sleek head (a chameleons tongue launching, ballistic speed in slow motion--sticky, elastic and…) and Hannibal Lecter’s maroon eyes which suddenly held her whole (a gazelle veering, tufts of grass fluttering!)

“Clarice?”

“Yes?” she asked quickly, her foot stopping its movement. He looked at her without speaking a beat too long for her liking, and she swallowed.

“Are you bored?” he asked, with a familiar intone of mock.

“Yes,” she admitted.

“I take it, based upon your behavior,” he said, glancing at her foot,” that you’re not used to that.”

“No. I suppose I’m not.”

“An excellent beginning.”

“Beginning of what?”

“Discovering what delights you, of course. You create an existence of constant movement, in order to ignore your internal dialogue, so that you never have a moment which lasts long enough to get bored. What comes from boredom, Clarice?”

“I would have to say creativity, maybe.”

“Yes! Very good. Boredom leads to a search, a search for input. Input, particularly new input, leads to creativity.”

He went back to his reading, and she felt irritable. Starling set down the nearly empty cup and stood, stretching. “Where is the nearest bathroom?”

“Through that hallway on the left.”

“Thank you.”

When she returned, she made her way to the bookcase. There were a good number in other languages, so she first just looked for words she recognized. She noticed a copy of Goethe’s Faust. She pulled it out and looked at the back. It was translated. She opened it at a random point. On one side was the original German and on the other of each page, was the English translation. At least she was somewhat familiar with the story. She sat back down and opened it. Nearly an hour later, Dr. Lecter looked up at her. To his satisfaction, she did not notice.

“Are you familiar with Faust, Clarice?”

“I read it in high school, but my memory was a little fuzzy. It’s coming back, bit by bit.”

“Which parts stood out in your memory?”

“The general dread. The sense that things will not work out.”

“Ah, a certain symmetry, perhaps?”

Starling looked up at him. “In what way?”

“Are you not going about your day-to-day life with a general sense of foreboding?”

She considered, and he waited patiently. “No, not foreboding. That’s too strong a word.”

“What word would you use?”

“Unresponsive.”

Dr. Lecter put a finger along his nose, thinking. “When was the last time you felt responsive, Clarice?”

“This morning.”

“Which part?”

“When I woke up and you were in the doorway.”

“Not the struggle in the parking lot?”

“No.”

Dr. Lecter nodded, as though he had confirmed something. “From that, I surmise that I stimulate you. Would you agree?”

She hesitated. “Yes.”

“Then the problem is not pathological, but psychological. Your father, the dead night watchman, figures largely in your value system. He is the imago that swells your heart with a sense of what is good and right. What do you suppose swells within at the sight of me? What do I represent to you, Clarice? As you said, the last time we were in contact, more happened than the telling of a tragedy. Many associations were likely made, in addition to the concrete memories you have of me. What are they? Where do I figure in your mind?”

“You are everything that he was not.”

“And what is that, Clarice? Good and right? Those are artless shapes. That is drawing an oval for a head. Look at the painting, Clarice. Is her head an oval? Is her breast a circle? Is the swan a diamond? I want anatomical articulation. “

“He had self-control. He-“

“And I do not? Take a moment to think about that, Clarice. If it’s a matter of self-control, then one must assume your father wanted to kill and eat those who offended him, but had the self-control to resist.”

“Okay. He protected the innocent.”

“Alright. And the opposite of protecting the innocent would be to destroy innocence. Is that fair to say?”

“…Yes.”

“Are you unsure?”

“Yes.”

“Alright. Tell me your best memory of your father, Clarice.”

Starling looked away. It was not avoidance, he knew. She was genuinely accessing her memories.

“It’s a patchwork. His square-dancing shirt, hanging in the closet. His buttons against my cheek when he held me. The smell of tobacco, his pocketknife. Peeling oranges in the kitchen and telling knock-knock jokes.”

“And what of that is the opposite of me?”

A beat.

“Love.”

“Ah,” Dr. Lecter said, a finger in the air. “Now, that is more interesting. I am the opposite of love, then. So, hate?”

“No. Dissolution.”

“So love, in your mind, is the bringing together of things. And the opposite of that, is dissolution. The undoing of things. Now. Tell me what I have undone.”
Her eyebrows were knitted. He could see she was struggling with her own mind. It was a difficult thing to come to terms with, as it concerned something very close to her. It is often difficult, if not impossible, for patients to come to terms with their own delusions, even after years of therapy. Help her? He decided to give her space and wait.

“You don’t have to answer, now,” he said.” Just think about it, when it suits you. For now, I think it’s time for lunch. You’ve been oscillating between boredom and stimulation in this room for awhile, now. If you’d like a change of scenery, I would encourage you to venture outside. There is a nice pavilion which overlooks the dock. It’s a little warm, but if you stay in the shade, I think you’ll find it adequate. I’ll be in the kitchen. Lunch will be ready and served in the dining room in half an hour. The dining room is across the foyer and through the music room. Alright?”

“Alright.”

It was nice outside, but getting humid. Starling shielded her eyes for a moment, looking at the sky. There were clouds in the distance, and they were the kind that brought rain. As if to confirm her suspicion, she saw distant lightening followed by the lowest rumble of thunder. She went forward, scanned the water and shore. No boat. There were other lake houses, but they littered along the other side of the vast lake. They indeed had quite a lot of privacy. She glanced around the side of the house. It couldn’t take too long to get to one of those other houses on foot. She was near the west side of the house, and she glanced in the nearest window.
He was there. The window faced what Starling presumed was the kitchen sink. He tilted his head and beckoned her with two fingers, come here…

Starling wondered how fast he could run in his nice shoes. For just a beat, she considered it. He would catch her, she was almost certain. There was a door on the side of the house, that couldn’t be more than a few strides from where he was standing. That wasn’t much of a head start. Clarice Starling was an endurance runner, not a speed runner. But…ummmm. The thought of him running in his nice shoes, tree branches catching him, perhaps tripping over a root before reaching out and grabbing her…

She gave a curt nod and turned back to the lake, and then the sky. It was hard to gauge if the storm was headed precisely in their direction. It was.
They ate across from each other at the table, each focusing on their food. At only one point did Dr. Lecter look up and admire the shine on her lips. At only one point did Starling think about her gun and boot knife.

When they were through, Starling excused herself. Back in her quarters, she lay down and rubbed her throbbing temples. She wasn’t a napper. The only times she successfully napped were the times she had a headache. During the minutes it took her to drift off, she wondered if she’d be able to sleep in this place, with the imago of dissolution lurking somewhere beneath her.

Chapter Text

She awoke to the calm, rhythmic tapping of rain. Regaining her memories in a quick, snowballing effect, she snapped her eyes open. She rolled over and looked for a clock, but couldn’t find one. She sighed and glanced at the window. By the amount and position of the light, she’d guess it to be close to six in the afternoon, but the rain made it hard to tell. She must have slept until late that morning when he brought her, maybe as late as eleven. For a bad moment, her mind attempted to bring forth imagined visions of her asleep in his car, of him carrying her inside, cleaning her nails, tying her to the…she stopped the thoughts. Glancing at the closed bedroom door, she listened. Beneath the steady patter of rain was music. She couldn’t be sure if it was another recording, but had the feeling it wasn’t. The home absorbed the sound differently.

Her headache was gone, she was glad to note. And now, to proceed. Proceed with what? Was it too soon for negotiations? Had she given him enough sense that she had relinquished control over the situation? She decided she’d know once she saw him. She went to the bathroom, and after relieving herself, she leaned against the countertop and looked at herself in the mirror for the first time that day.

All things considered, she looked refreshed. Her hair was a bit messy, and her shirt had become wrinkled. She straightened up, ran her fingers through her hair. She removed the shirt, and stood in jeans and a black tank top. She weighed the pros and cons of allowing herself the comfort of domesticity. If she were in her own home, she’d likely be wearing what she was wearing now, minus the bra. She really wanted to remove it. She did, and examined the effect. Considering the color, she felt it was difficult to tell, unless someone was looking for it. Most men would.

Starling was unsure of many things; she had the humility and the wisdom to admit that. One thing she was sure of was how unsure she was about the humanity of Dr. Lecter. Yes, he was in a human man’s body. But how much in common did he really have with one? Was he ever unsure? Was he ever embarrassed or defensive? Had he ever fought for a cause? Had he ever been in love? Had he ever stroked a fevered head? Did he look at tits?

Starling snorted at herself in the mirror. She didn’t think he’d read into it, at least. If he did, he’d likely come to a reasonably accurate conclusion. She was not the type of woman to flaunt her body, or use her femininity to manipulate. In fact, she despised it when women placed feminine strength in their sexuality.

Downstairs, Starling found Dr. Lecter at his harpsichord. The composition was lively, whimsical and wicked at once and he played it fervidly, putting a little bit of his torso into it. His dexterous hands moved fluidly, if not aggressively, occasionally crossing one another. She could see the strength in his forearms. She waited quietly in the doorway until he’d finished the piece. He took a breath of what, she decided, was satisfaction. His shoulders rolled and then squared, before he turned to her.

“Good evening, Clarice.”

“Good evening, Dr. Lecter.”

“How was your nap?”

“Fine. What were you playing?”

“Les Cyclopes.”

“Would you tell me about it?” she asked, taking a seat on the divan near the window.

“Certainly. It was composed by Jean-Philippe Rameau around 1724. It is a descriptive piece depicting the gods’ forgers of the thunderbolt. Its eruptive and theatrical character foreshadows the cataclysms of the Tragédies Lyriques. It is representative of the novel virtuosity that Rameau bestowed to the harpsichord.”

“Virtuosity?”

“Yes. At the time, it was a prodigal instrument, and Rameau was not modest when it came to his mastery of it. Headache gone?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Of course. Tell me...what is your prodigal instrument, Clarice?”

She watched him spin around on the bench, so that he faced her. She crossed her legs and placed her hands in her lap over her thighs.

“The .40 caliber Glock, preferably the compact.”

Dr. Lecter was delighted. “That’s only a recent development. Was there something before that?”

“Before that it was the standardized test.”

“Why do you think you excelled in testing?”

“I work well under pressure.”

“Do you feel pressure now?”

“I feel like it’s a good idea to stay present. What’s your prodigal instrument, Dr. Lecter?”

He smiled, fiendishly. Starling fought the urge to squirm and met his eyes, steadily. “I’ll show you, if it comes to that.”

Starling breathed in and out quickly, glanced out of the window and then back to Dr. Lecter. “What is on the agenda for this evening?”

“What would you enjoy doing, Clarice?”

“Within your parameters, I can only assume.”

“Of course,” he said in a kindly tone, a humble bow of his head.

She looked away. “I don’t know.”

“That sounded rather dejected. Have you regressed? You’re practically pouting, Clarice.”

“Have a little faith. This is my second siege within a forty-eight hour window, and I just woke up. I’d say I’m doing alright.”

“A siege implies surrounding and attacking a fortified place in such a way to isolate it. No one has surrounded us, and won’t any time soon. I prefer to think of it as a reunion, although I’ll give you this: I will exhaust your defenses, if I haven’t already. But hear me when I say, I have all the faith in the world in you.”

“You have total confidence in breaking me down, but you have faith in me? I don’t understand that.”

“You will. Now, going back to what you’d like to do this evening, think in terms of how you’d like to feel, not in the specifics. Tell me what you want, and I’ll fill in the gaps for you.”

“I want progress.”

“Progress in what?”

“Our reunion.”

“Does that mean you would like for the reunion to end as quickly as possible, or to understand more about the reunion?”

“I wouldn’t mind having both, if one does not slow down the other.”

“Do you suppose that to be a tall order for me?”

“I don’t suppose anything.”

“Do you know what I suppose? I suppose that you want progress far beyond the bounds of this house.”

“I couldn’t argue that.”

“But for progress, one must trust their own judgment enough to take action. Do you trust yourself enough to take action, here?”

Starling’s lips parted and she turned her head a fraction. “Action,” she said, as though she was trying the word out in her mouth. “Action could mean violence. I’d like to avoid that.”

“Why does it necessarily mean violence, Clarice? Action can be taken in terms of words, decision-making, so forth. Now what action could you take to induce progress, here?”

Starling plunged. “Would you be willing to enter negotiations?”

Dr. Lecter closed his eyes, as though he had entered prayer. When he opened them again, there was something new in the endless night of his eyes.
“It sounds to me like you’ve decided what you’d like to do, this evening.”

They looked at one another in silence for a few charged moments. Dr. Lecter stood quietly and Starling mirrored him, down to impeccable posture.
“I need to start dinner. It is my opinion that we should proceed with negotiations after we’ve eaten. It could take a rather long time, and we wouldn’t want to be interrupted by those pesky betrayals of our anatomy, would we?”

“Fine.”

“Would you like some wine while I start? I invite you to join me in the kitchen, but you’re free to do whatever you like.”

“No thank you, to the wine. Yes, I’ll be joining you.”

“You mean chaperon,” he said with a grin.

“You have a habit of feeding your guests exotic fare.”

Dr. Lecter gave a deeper bow, before inviting her forward with an arm. “Come. “

In the kitchen, Dr. Lecter was busy with his pots and pans, and after a half hour, he turned to her and said:

“Clarice, would you like to go upstairs and change for dinner?”

Taken aback slightly, she cleared her throat. “Have I something to change into?”

“Go and see,” he answered, smiling. “I’ll do the same. You won’t miss anything, I promise.”

When they had resumed in the kitchen, Starling came in second. He looked up at her and stopped what he was doing. She had found the gown in the closet, and correctly assumed it was appropriate. She was delectable in a whisper of silk and she licked her lips under his scrutiny.

“Come sei bella,” he murmured to himself, and offered her a prosecco cocktail with elderflower liquor, fig, honey and thyme. She took it and let him lead her to the dining room. Once seated, she didn’t wait long before he brought her an appetizer. After he’d placed it in front of her, he gave her a smile.

“Bruschetta with figs, gorgonzola, pancetta crumbles, and toasted hazelnuts.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.”

Dr. Lecter’s main course was nearly done, and he had enough time to idle and enjoy watching her enjoy his food. While he lingered, they casually discussed the themes of chamber music, a subject of which Starling was not entirely ignorant. By the time he left her again, he felt confident that she was more relaxed than she’d been in the music room.

And yet, he reminded himself, she had never stopped calculating. Everything she did or did not do was theater. She was putting on a show of amenability; the gown, the light conversation, the tentative civility…No, no. Never for a moment assume she is complacent. Never assume she is without.

Dr. Lecter with a finger along his nose considered the image of Starling at his table. He liked the image very much, and decided she should be at his table as often as he could manage. When he had first decided to pursue her, he had considered using hypnosis and pharmaceuticals to aid her compliance; he still had them on hand if it came to that. However, he was hopeful he would not have to use those particular tools. He was curious to see what she would do to get out of the situation. He had seen her flex her muscles when under pressure, and he enjoyed watching her process. This was a different angle, an unfamiliar one. He had only been able to see glimpses, before. She had not feared for her own life, before. He wondered how that might change her thinking and behavior, what beliefs or feelings would be kicked to the surface? Hmm…

The main course consisted of mussels in white wine with sopressata and sun-dried tomatoes.

“Mmm.”

Dr. Lecter decided he very much enjoyed that sound coming from her closed lips. He appreciated it the most when she made the sound with her eyes closed.

Dessert was torta caprese, and was served with cappuccinos in the drawing room. Their conversation remained light, and when Dr. Lecter felt that they had settled into a harmonious place, he put down his cappuccino and cleared their plates. When he returned, Starling’s body-language suggested she was ready. She looked at him where he stood in the open doorway.

“Should we begin here? I’m not sure this room is quite right,” Starling reflected.

“I agree. Perhaps a neutral place. You’ve not seen the conservatory. May I show it to you?”

“Alright.”

She followed him through a hallway she hadn’t been down, past the stairs and kitchen. They passed a pier glass, and she startled internally at the sight of their bodies in the same open space.

The house was darker here. She followed him into a room with a glass wall and ceiling. It had gotten dark outside, between the setting of the sun and the storm. The rain was a little louder here, but still coming down softly enough that the noise was not intrusive, but calming. Vines grew up along the wall and onto the roof. Two chairs faced each other with a table in front of them. Dr. Lecter pulled one of them out for her. After tucking her into it, he stood in front of her, his hands on his own chair back.

“Would you like some candles?”

“Yes, that would be nice.”

He nodded, and she watched him moving around the other side of the room, watched flickers of light develop against the wall in front of him. He turned and came to sit in front of her. The light was low but warm, and distant lightening lit Dr. Lecter’s passive face, the light making shadows on his face from the ribbons of water and vines on the glass, like thorny, black tears.

“Shall I begin, or would you prefer?” he asked.

“Please,” she invited him with an upturned palm.

She had to wait three minutes before he spoke.

 

“You will not leave here until I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you will not assist in my capture or demise.”

Starling blinked. She had a momentary reflex to laugh, but overcame it. Pauses were good in negotiation. Important, in certain scenarios. She’d waited for him to speak for three minutes. He waited for five.

“The only way I would even consider such a thing is if I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you would end your hobby of murder and cannibalism.”
She felt it mirrored the absurdity of what he had asked of her. To her bewilderment, he seemed to consider it.

“I asked you to end one of your favorite pastimes; I suppose it’s only fair you ask me to end one of mine.”

“Chasing you or being involved in your demise is not one of my favorite pastimes, it’s my duty. But I thought it was fair, so if you do too, then it’s irrelevant, I guess.”

“Why do you think I do it, Clarice?”

“Boredom.”

“And is that all that I do when I’m bored?”

“No, you—you play music, you go to the symphony. You cook, you-“

“That’s right. Hearkening back to our earlier conversation, I am capable of rotating my pastimes. But you’re not asking me to rotate them, you’re asking me to neuter them.”

“And you’re asking me to mutilate my sense of duty. If we consider one another’s priorities, and we must, one is no more cruel than the other.”

“Agreed. Now. If you’re going to take away one of my toys, with what shall I replace it?”

“To know that, we’d need to discuss what it is you get out of murdering and eating people. Care to share?”

Dr. Lecter’s teeth seemed whiter in the low light of the conservatory and the occasional eruptions of white light from the lightening. She noted the space between the lightening and the clap of thunder was getting smaller; the storm was getting closer. How fitting, she thought, wearily. She was looking out of the vine covered glass, but looked back at Dr. Lecter. The candles from behind him made a halo around his seated form.

“You tell me. What do you suppose I get out of it?”

“Power,” she guessed, “control.”

“I have that, regardless.”

Starling thought back, and remembered the church collapses. “You like to see the destruction of faith, it’s your favorite thing.”

“Faith? Are you sure that’s not incidental?”

“What, innocence, then? Virtue?”

“Innocence and virtue, ummm. More epithets. What could faith, innocence and virtue mean to me? What about you? What about Daddy?”

“These are negotiations, not wheedling. I won’t waste your time with it, if you do me the same courtesy. Tell me what you like.”

“What I like is the destruction of delusions, Clarice. They often come in the form of faith, or in the relentless pursuit of virtue. And sometimes, a wholly delusional person is simply taking up space. I repurpose them. Delusion itself bores me. Seeing it destroyed can be beautiful, droll and even useful. The real question, Clarice, is how do you replace that?”

He paused, taking some reading in her eyes. He went on, guessing correctly from where her line of thinking had stemmed. “I don’t suppose you’re going to collapse churches for me, Clarice.”

Something flashed through her eyes, and Dr. Lecter inclined his head. He had never seen this, and was instantly interested.

“My. My. What are you thinking of, little Starling?”

“Nothing. Nothing that matters,” she said, curtly.

“You thought of something. What was it?”

“A fleeting thought that doesn’t do anybody any good. Give me a moment, I-I need to think about this.”

“I will not give you a moment. Tell me what it was, Clarice. Tell me now, or negotiations have failed.”

She looked at him sharply. Her heart was suddenly pounding. She looked away.

“It was an inside joke with myself, more than anything.”

“Then why did you have such sudden, passionate anxiety, Clarice?”

“It was an unsettling thought.”

“Tell me.”

“You like the destruction of delusion.”

“Yes…”

“Which you said often comes in the form of innocence.”

“Yesss…”

“And I have a, uh, condition which occurred to me at an inappropriate time.”

“A condition? Clarice?”

Starling didn’t know how to say what she had to say. She decided to just jump in. Just a bit of private information she’d never discussed. She’d lived through that with him once before. The worst that could happen was feeling a little embarrassed. Right?

“When I was a teenager, I had a hymenectomy due to an imperforated hymen. I was thirteen. Despite the surgery, it grew back and I had a second hymenectomy when I was fifteen. After that, I quit trying.”

A pause.

“You have a regenerating hymen, Clarice?”

“Yes. It reminded me of what you said. On two different levels,” she went on. Dr. Lecter noted that despite the intense spread of red on her face and throat, she still spoke very well. “The destruction of innocence and the destruction of delusion.”

“The destruction of innocence is obvious, but what is the delusion?” Dr. Lecter asked, non-committal. His thoughts were surging forward. Unnerved by his obvious contemplation, Starling answered his question in spite of the fact that she wasn’t sure he cared what she said next.

“That a hymen has anything to do with virginity. It is an age-old, ideological paradigm. Sexual desire and orgasm do not seem to even enter the picture. Nor the idea of being opened by something other than a penis. It is the idea that a woman is not sexually real in her own right, and that it takes a man to make her so.”

Dr. Lecter looked back at her at that, and smiled. “Quite true. Clarice?”

“Yes?”

“Had some part of you considered offering me your perpetual virginity?”

“No,” she said, too quickly.

“Lying in a negotiation is a big no-no. You are well-aware of that.”

“If a part of me did, it was an echo of an echo from a dream of a dream and was not given voice.”

Dr. Lecter sat back in his chair. “Why, I think it’s very interesting, Clarice. Why do you suppose any part of you would think that tearing a hymen, which would only grow back, would interest me?”

“Are you saying you’re not interested?”

“Are you offering it to me?”

“I…can’t.”

“No, of course not. Nor would it be sufficient replacement to something I enjoy doing, which may strike at any time for the remainder of my life. To make a meaningless incision, a single time, would be a poor stand-in.”

“A single…are you saying you would agree to something so repulsive if it were a reoccurring episode? I can’t believe that you would stoop so low.”

“Why is that? You always did have trouble calling me evil, Clarice. I find it enduring, but at a certain point, one must come to terms with one’s cohort.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

“Well, this is still a negotiation, is it not?”

“…Yes,” she said, slowly.

“Then,” he offered his palms. “Proceeding on the plank of this new revelation…negotiate.”

“Negotiate the perpetual breaking of my hymen for the termination of your career as a murderer and cannibal?”

“Yes.”

“Dr. Lecter—“

“Perhaps we will come to an impasse, and begin again. If so, it is only natural. But new information has been introduced, and it is logical to explore it. So,” he said, with finality, “Negotiate. Clarice.”

“You—you would consider…”

“That depends. If you were to offer it, in a dream of a dream, what would be the terms?”

Starling recoiled into the safety of her mind for many long minutes, and Dr. Lecter sat very still, so as to not interrupt. He had no impatience for her answer. He felt a bit of energy in his fingertips and wondered...

It was true, he had not considered her as a lover, but only because it was, by his observation, not possible; at least not the last time he had considered it. There was always room for change, but the kind of change necessary for her to make a leap like that had seemed miles and miles away. Before, there were bars and a stout nylon net between them, but that stretched along the borders of every country and every house. Unlike any women he’d known before her, and a few he’d known since her, she knew what he was. That created a vast gulf between them, a gulf he thought he might never be able to cross. With that in mind, he did not allow himself to indulge in mindless fantasies. He turned those signals off in her presence. What had just rattled loose in Clarice Starling? What had it rattled loose in him?
Yes, he’d known she was attracted to him on a base, animal level. He had suspected there was more to it than that, even. There was an undeniable rapport, yes. She was not stupid. He had not known exactly what feelings or desires were so deep-seated. He did not chastise himself for this; as insightful as he was, he was not a mind-reader. Whatever this was, this was deeply buried. He had had to threaten her to draw it out. But the fervidity of what she felt for him had to have been a long-winded howl from within for her conscious mind to have heard it. My…

While the energy in Hannibal Lecter’s fingertips began to spread, Starling flitted about in her own mind. Starling’s memory palace is not as structured as Dr. Lecter’s, and she finds herself in her childhood kitchen, then flitting into the front yard, watching her father’s car pull in, and then the piranha infested waters. She flew to the ranch in Montana, to Hannah’s sturdy back and to the Lutheran home in Bozeman. To her bedroom in her duplex, back to Hannah’s back. Pleading eyes and bitter tears. She found herself in the kitchen for only a moment, and suddenly found herself returning. Sitting in the kitchen, drinking ‘smart people’s tea’. Warm ceramic on her hands, impassive walls and no eyes watching, no eyes at all. Alone. Alone…

What could the illusion of virginity mean? It is only symbolic of the loss of innocence. It is a piece of tissue, her own, not unlike a fortified rose pedal. Only a little piece of tissue. And what would the return be? Lives.

Had anyone, in the history of humanity, had the opportunity to save lives with their virginity? What was virginity? Starling had had fingers inside of her. Her own, and two different doctors. Her hymen had been broken three times, in total. The first two times by a doctor, and the second time by accident. It had not broken completely the third time, but she counted it because it had hurt like hell and there had been a little blood.

Focus.

In Starling’s experience, she had always found home within the walls of organized systems; institutions which provided her with coherent models for what behavior led to success. It had worked fine. That framework had been the glittering palladium of her life; it was her statue of Athena on the citadel of Troy, guarding and guiding her. Was she capable of creating a framework of her own, if only in this one way--this negotiation with a murderer? Institutions had failed him. That meant frameworks created by organizations were not infallible. There was no rehabilitation of the monster; he would be what he is. Should they catch him again, he would simply wait in the comfort of his mind, the world on mute, until he had his next chance. More likely, they would kill him. She found she’d like to avoid that, if possible.

Instead of attempting to change him or cage him, could she mediate between him and the world? If even for a little while? Was it wrong to take that kind of initiative? A part of her screamed, YES! But that voice came from the imagined judgment of a towering jury made up of a smattering of people, both respectable and intolerable, and some who were faceless and did not even exist. Only one among them truly mattered to her. She could not apply her father’s sage to this. Her father, she suddenly realized on a deep and fundamental level, was a different person. He had led a different life, had made different choices based upon his personal experiences. Could she not make her own annotations in the margins of life?

But…like this? She racked her mind, trying to think of what else she had to offer him, and every time, she returned to the scenario which caused the least damage to people as well as her, personally. The rooms of her mind, in their shifting and shuffling to make room for these notions came to a gradual destination.
A hymen meant nothing. It was a vile concept, giving Hannibal Lecter her ‘perpetual virginity’; yet she could not help but be in wonder at such an opportunity. What had been his question? Terms. What terms? How could I possibly consider this? I’ve already thought through that.

Terms. It wouldn’t matter. He would not agree to her terms. It wouldn’t matter, so it would be alright at least to list them. Terms from a dream within a dream…

“How many times would you want to do it?” she asked, in a strange voice.

“Preferably, I’d like to do it again and again until one of us is dead.”

“No.”

“I thought you’d say that,” he said, smiling. “Let’s start with things on which we both are unwilling to compromise.”

“I don’t want you to-“ Starling shifted in her seat,”- I don’t want sex. No sex.”

“So you prefer I use… alternative means?”

“Yes.”

“Fine,” he started, noting her look of alarm. He went on.” We’ll do our best to distance you from the word ‘prostitute’,” he said. She flinched, as he’d expected her to. It was important to get that concept out of the way, immediately. “Which you are not and never will be,” he added. Before she could think much about it or respond, he went on, “In regard to the number of times we repeat the episode, here is something which may get the ball rolling: I will not terminate my pastime. I will suspend it, for as long as our agreement is in progress.”

“That’s something you refuse to compromise on?”

“Yes.”

Starling licked her lips and swallowed. Her body language could not have been more protective of her center. Her legs were crossed tightly, her arms folded across her middle, her wrists crossed where her thighs met.

“It takes a year or so for it to grow back,” she pointed out.”At least it has, in the past.”

“So then, once a year,” Dr. Lecter mused. He was quiet for a moment, before continuing.“For how many years, Clarice?”

“Let’s put a pin in that. I have another thing I won’t compromise. At the end of the agreement, should an agreement be made, you will swear not to injure or kill me.”

“Done. And you will swear to not use anything you’ve learned during the agreement to aid the FBI in my whereabouts. At the end of the agreement, we will part ways. I will do what I do, and you will do what you do. We will resume our respective paths, undisturbed. But--consider. In the interim, you will likely have saved lives. Anywhere from a few to a dozen. That appeals to you, doesn’t it? And you will have done so, no less, by sacrificing your symbolic purity. Doesn’t that, on some level, taste good to you, Clarice?”

“I don’t know,” she began, her features hardening,” does the thought of destroying my symbolic purity taste good to you?"

“Oh, yes. Especially if we get down to brass tax, and I get what I want.”

“…What is it, exactly, that you want?”

“We’ll get to that. Put a pin it, as you said. I believe it’s my turn. During the agreement, no one else will enter you. You will remain abstinent.”

“That’s ludicrous.”

“Are we at a stalemate already, then?”

“Are you serious?”

“Of course.”

“Dr. Lecter—you’re condemning me to celibacy.”

“So are you.”

Starling sighed aggressively, looking away. She bared her teeth for just a flash. A clap of lightening made her jump. She ran a hand through her hair, shakily.

“This is insane.”

“Are we at a stalemate, Clarice?”

Two minutes passed.

“No.”

“Excellent. Your turn.”

“During these…episodes, you will not injure me. Beyond the obvious.”

“Done. And you will not simply lie on your back, with your eyes closed. You will participate.”

Starling ignored the flood of feelings that statement brought on, and responded in the only way she could; negotiating in her flat, agent voice. “That might conflict with one of my limits. I don’t want your--I will not perform fellacio.”

“I will not enter you with anything but my hands. That does not conflict.”

His hands…A minute passed.

“I need more specifics,” she said, finally. “What kind of…participation?”

“I don’t know yet, Clarice. I don’t have specific scenarios planned out. But I want the freedom to explore.”

Starling gave an explicit look of displeasure. “You won’t injure me?”

“No.”

“I will leave no differently, other than a broken hymen?”

“Correct.”

Starling felt like it was dangerous to agree to it. He was the master of lying by omission.

“I need more. I can’t go further without more information. You could be hiding something from me, and I’m not asking the right questions.”

“I will not make you do anything unsanitary, dangerous or derogatory. Nor will I do anything to you that is unsanitary, dangerous or derogatory.”

“We’ll come back to it.”

“Fine. Before we continue, let us review the things we still must review. The length of our agreement, what I want, which is being revealed as we unravel this, and now whether or not you will agree to the term in which you are expected to participate in the episodes.”

“Yes.”

‘Alright. Moving forward. Your turn.”

“No one else will ever be involved,” Starling said. “We will not speak of this to anyone, not for the rest of our respective lives.”

“Naturally.”

“Good,” she said, nodding. She was getting into the flow of negotiations, despite the niggling at her heart and loins. She wondered if she was a fraud and had always been one. She could not face those thoughts, now. “Go.”

“During the episodes, you will surrender control to me. You will obey me without question, and there will be no arguments, hesitations or complaints.”

“Jesus,” Clarice leaned over with her elbows on her knees for a moment, her hands covering her mouth and nose.

“Well, I suppose we can’t help his involvement, but we’re on to the next item.”

“That had to have been at least three different terms in one,” she argued.

“Only one term. I only elaborated, as my last one seemed to confuse you. I do not wish for either of us to be confused on any aspect of this.”

“I guess I am confused. I thought we were talking about meeting once a year, you break my hymen, presumably with your--your fingers, and then we go our separate ways.” Fuck, that sentence was a struggle, Starling admitted in the privacy of her thoughts.

“I’m saying that’s not what I want. I am explaining to you what I do want. Two days,” he held up his fingers. “Beginning at sunup, we will be in one another’s presence. Then, I want a whole night with you. Beginning at sundown and ending at sun up. The following day, you will be released from your submission, and the day will be dedicated to aftercare. I want freedom to explore your body, which will include the breaking of your hymen. How many times has it been broken?”

“Three.”

“Twice by doctors, yes? And you were under anesthesia, or at least local anesthesia. Who broke it the third time?”

“Me. On accident.”

“Get a little belligerent, did you?”

“It was during sports.”

“Ummm, I see. But it’s never been broken by a lover?”

“No.”

“I expected. It’s not very encouraging, is it? All of that ambition, add to that a very stubborn hymen, and to top it all off, a building patchwork of unpleasant memories. I’ll bet they surface at the most inconvenient of times, don’t they, Clarice?”

“Yes.”

“Yes,” he said, in mock pity. “So,” he began sharply, “for one night per year, you will take me as a lover. Not a doctor, Clarice. Did you hear me?”

“I heard you,” she heard herself say. She must be falling, falling asleep or falling awake. Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. She didn’t know where that had come from. So many scraps and shreds of information stranded in her mind. Dr. Lecter was talking.

“And on that night, and on that night only, you will submit to my ministrations, none of which will harm or injure you. That is what I want.”

Another clap of lightening made Starling squeeze her eyes shut. She held her elbows and took a deep breath, steadying herself.

“Clarice?”

“Yeah?”

“Let’s conclude elsewhere. In fact, let’s take a short break. Would you like some tea? Or perhaps a martini?”

“A martini, please.”

“Excellent, I’ll join you,” he said, standing. He offered her a hand. She looked at it for a moment as though he’d presented her with a dead animal. She blinked, and the expression was gone. She took it and stood. As she followed him back down the corridor, the sounds of the house creaking seemed an appropriate noise for how she felt. The wind had picked up.

He left her in the drawing room, and joined her a few minutes later holding two glasses. She stood in front of the fireplace, and he handed her one.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

After she’d taken two sips, he migrated to the sofa and sat down. She stood at the side of the fireplace, as though using the heavy stones of the hearth to anchor herself. She didn’t entirely trust her legs.

She tried to imagine these ‘episodes’, perhaps in order to prepare or test herself, and her knees buckled. She steadied herself on the mantle, and Dr. Lecter started to stand and she halted him with a raised hand.

“I’m fine.”

He settled down. “Why don’t you have a seat,” he suggested. He patted the seat next to him.

Starling looked at the seat next to him, but seemed far, far away. She was coming to grips with the fact that beneath the shock and disgust of what they had been discussing, what she was considering, that she felt very hot and very…tingly. She knew she was red, she could feel the blood in her face. She could feel her pulse in her fingertips. She came forward and stopped, glanced at the chair she’d sat in, before.

“Clarice, I won’t insist you sit here, there or anywhere. I only suggest you consider taking this seat, because if we are to even consider the agreement, it might be prudent for you to test your ability to be near me, let alone grant me permission to touch you. Let alone penetrate you.”

She looked at him. He smiled and patted the seat, again. “This is a break,” he reminded her. “I will not push you. That includes touching you. If you choose to sit here, I will not touch you.”

She nodded absently and sat down tentatively, next to him. She folded her hands in her lap and glanced at his, before quickly looking away. She could feel his warmth and smell his clean clothes and cologne. Dr. Lecter watched her bring the drink to her lips, and his pupils dilated.

Dr. Lecter could never have dreamed up such an opportunity. No, it had come from her. Ummmm. Clarice Starling, then. She was amusing, to be certain. She had proven to be more than amusing, in fact. She’d been engaging, even challenging at times. He wouldn’t dare to imagine what she was becoming.
Of course, he found her attractive. That did not take any special bond or even keen eyesight. Clarice Starling was, by nearly any man’s measure, quite beautiful. He’d appreciated it from an aesthetic point, like art. But she wasn’t a sculpture. She was warm, he could feel the warmth of her arm near him, now. Not an arm frozen in marble or stone; an arm of flesh that can prickle at a well-placed touch, an arm that could push away or pull in. She had arms that could be thrown around a neck, arms that could hold.

Clarice Starling, then. Would this compromise what she was becoming in any disagreeable way? No, he decided. She was strong. Resilient. Regenerating. She would recover. She would recover again and again and again…But even someone so resilient would break, eventually. Break and stay broken. But then, she could be put back together in his preference. Then, the predator would be acclimated. Then, the predator posed no threat. Still, he considered, it was prudent to never assume, never fall victim to hypotheticals.

When she looked at him, her eyes were full of wonder, anxiety, animal lust and spirited fascination. There was also a level of disgust, but he wasn’t sure if it was toward him or herself; it was likely both. He smiled at her. She didn’t exactly smile back. An uncomfortable twitch at the corner of her mouth, before she looked away again, and brought her drink to her mouth.

Was it possible for him to long for her? Was it possible that he had longed for her? In spite of not indulging in pointless fantasies, could he still, on some unconscious level, have ached for her? He thought of the odd little prompts he’d experienced during his time away. In the passing of a smooth surface, touch it. In handling edibles rich in texture and color, taste it. In feeding her pink, waiting mouth…ahhhh. Now that was interesting. He considered the alacrity with which he’d latched onto the idea of playing with both her body and mind. The wrong questions indeed…

Dr. Lecter wondered if she understood, on any level, that some deep part of her wanted this. It would never have occurred to her in such a subliminal way if some secret room inside had not cried out for it. He’d heard that little cry, and came running. On some level, they were both abandoning reason for appetite.
Then it is a night of revelation for us, both.

There was nothing wrong with that. He looked at the shape of her shoulder. Light, but freckled from sun exposure. What of those places that had not been exposed? Were those places like velvet, was the skin there like milk? He leaned back a fraction in his seat and looked at the slope of her chin into her chest, where light rarely touches. The skin there, so delicate, touch it.

Dr. Lecter could neglect those prompts as easily as satiate them. He had endless patience. Should their agreement come to fruition, she would discover that, herself. She would discover much, about both of them.

Medical anomalies had always intrigued Dr. Lecter. Some were more fascinating than others, but a regenerating hymen interested him beyond the symmetry of it, where her psychology was concerned. It intrigued him, medically. Many people believe the myth that hymens grow back after some period of neglect, seven years, or the like. Not true. In fact, the idea that they would or could is absurd. A hymen is nothing more than a delicate piece of tissue; what is left after a hole is made. Humans do not re-grow parts of themselves, like lizards’ tails. But it was not completely unheard of, a regenerating hymen. He had only ever heard of it happening once, to a Taiwanese woman. Like Clarice, she had had an imperforated hymen, and had had to have it surgically removed. In her case, it persisted beyond her marriage bed and even her pregnancy. In any case…very rare, indeed.

Dr. Lecter decided at once, that should this night be the first in their transaction, he would make it purely about pleasure. It could be misleading to her perhaps, but he felt it was critical to establish between them a sense of pure sensuality. It would aid in the grander design. Her voice brought him back.

“Dr. Lecter?”

“Yes, Clarice?”

“I think I’m ready to continue, now.”

“Alright, then. I’ll take that,” he said, taking her empty glass. When he had stood:

“Clarice, I think it would be economical for us to conclude the negotiation upstairs. Not your bedroom. Just down the hall, on the left. I’ll meet you there in a moment.” And then, before she could respond, “go ahead and make yourself comfortable. It’s getting late.”

With that, he was gone. Starling’s heart quivered and it seemed to drop down to her middle, vibrate her in lower half, and then shoot back up again. She walked to the stairs on shaky legs, in a daze.

Dr. Lecter took his time cleaning up after dinner, blowing out the candles in the conservatory and turning out the other lights. Once everything was done, he headed upstairs, not entirely sure what he would find. He glanced into the open door of the guest room, found it empty and continued down the hall. The door was open and he stood at the threshold, for a moment. She was sitting in the club chair in the far right corner of the room, by the window. She wore cotton pajamas, consisting of relatively conservative shorts and a button up shirt with blue trim. She had her bare feet tucked beneath her and she watched him with animal tensity. He could not help but notice how rather nubile she appeared, in her pajamas and disorganized, titian hair. Her eyes were big and anticipative. Deceptively innocent.

He walked into the bedroom and shrugged off his jacket. When he had draped it over his arm, he looked at her, again. “Give me a moment.”

She nodded.

She watched him head into the closet while loosening his tie. When he came out of the closet, he still wore socks, pants, and the dress shirt. It was still tucked in, but he came further into the room to regard her as he rolled up his sleeves.

“Let’s begin with a summary of what we’ve covered. How does that sound?”

”Fine.”

“The agreement, under the current terms, is as follows: One night a year, you will spend one night with me as your lover. You will submit to however I choose to fill that time, which includes the breaking of your hymen, and will not include any injury, unsanitary, dangerous or derogatory elements. During the length of the agreement, you will remain celibate, and I will not take a life. During the agreement, you will not pursue me, or aid in my capture or demise. We will not engage in sex, including fellacio. We will take this agreement to our graves. At the end of the agreement, we will not attempt injury. I will not kill you, and you will use nothing of what you’ve learned to aid in my capture or demise. We will resume our lives.”

Starling waited a few moments, to make sure he was finished. “Yes, that…that sums it up.”

“Have you any questions or concerns about any of that?”

“Well, I think I’d like to know what you consider derogatory.”

“I won’t make you eat out of a dog bowl, I will not call you a worthless slut. I will not blaspheme you, Clarice.”

She nodded, with her eyebrows raised. She was surprised by her satisfaction with his answer. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Any other questions about anything within the summary?”

She thought carefully for awhile. “No.”

“Now, at the end of each tryst, I suggest we give ourselves the opportunity to decide if we wish to amend it.”

“Fine. I want to make a new term.”

“Go ahead.”

“During the time in between our episodes, in everyday life, I do not want to see you. I don’t want you following me around, and I don’t want to know where you are.”
“Done. However, I’d like to add a modification. I would like the freedom to write to you. You do not have to write back, although it would please me if you did. I will leave that to your own discretion.”

Starling sighed, and thought for a moment. “Alright. But understand that I live with someone. If she’s around when I receive a letter from you, I’ll have to turn it in. And if I turn it in, then it’s also a possibility that I’ll be put on your case, mostly if any other evidence of your misbehavior showed up. And seeing as how it would become awfully difficult for me to not aid in your capture or demise while on your case, I highly suggest you stick to your end of the bargain, too. Right now, you’re a media boogie man, but not much more. Nobody’s actively searching for you. But anything, and I mean anything that could give the Bureau a lead will be seized upon, so not even a scuffle. So I also suggest that you make an attempt to lay low. Your extravagant preferences could be your dorsal fin cutting the water’s surface. And once the catch-me, fuck-me party starts, I don’t know how I can stay out of it without becoming suspicious, myself. And if they know you write to me, if they think you’re following me around or that the monster’s in love, they’ll use me.”

“I understand, and will keep that in mind in the content. There will be nothing incriminating. As far as my dorsal fin, that’s my concern. I will hold up my end of the bargain so long as you do. I don’t foresee you being put in a position in which your job contradicts our agreement beyond burning the letters instead of turning them in.”

“And lying about all of this. And continuing to lie about it.”

“Oh, Clarice. If you ran home to tell on me, it would do no good at all and you know it. You would be criticized for some imagined flaw in technique or allegiance, and I would be gone before they’d finished questioning you. And not even you would ever, ever find me. You know it’s true.”

“Hell, I don’t know about never.”

Dr. Lecter smiled. “Do it and see what happens.”

“I didn’t say I would.”

“Good. So are we done with that?”

“Fine. Done.”

“That brings us to that last pin. It’s time to take it out. How long?”

Starling tried to imagine how she could possibly have any real relationship without her celibacy eventually coming up and unraveling any fledgling opportunity. What if she met someone she really liked? What if she fell in love?

What if I don’t…

Another question not related to this time and place. She refocused. How many years of her youth was she willing to give to this man for the sake of saving lives? How many should she be willing to give?

“How about this, Clarice,” Dr. Lecter said suddenly, and she broke from her thoughts to look at him. He was leaning easily against the foot of the bed.

Dr. Lecter by the bed…He told me to get comfortable and meet him in his bedroom. He called it economical.

“Why don’t I make an offer, and we’ll go from there?”

He removed his jacket, tie, belt and shoes. He rolled up his sleeves while he looked right at me. Why did he roll up his sleeves?

She swallowed. “Alright.”

“Alright,” he said, bowing his head. When he looked at her again, his lips were pursed for a moment. Then he said:

“Fifteen years.”

“Fifteen!”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“What is your counter offer?”

“Uh, two,” she ran her hand through her hair. Important to low-ball a bit.

“Two years, Clarice? Two years of a world without me in it? You can do better than that. Twelve.”

Two minutes passed. Starling’s body was beginning to prepare for something it had apparently decided was imminent. Something that she hadn’t known she could possibly want. Clarice Starling could feel her pulse in her clitoris, anus and vagina.

“Four,” she said.

“Eleven.”

She gave him a look of exhaustion and exhilaration. It was the strangest contradiction, and Dr. Lecter ate it up, slick as a reptile slurps up a flailing insect, spastic little wings and all.

“Five,” she said, and wondered if he could smell her, if he could smell that her body was betraying her again, smell that her body was preparing itself for him.

“Ten.”

Their gazes were locked as though neither could look away. There was a tension beneath Dr. Lecter’s posture she hadn’t seen before. As though he might lurch forward at any moment. They stayed that way for nearly ten minutes, the only sound their breathing and the howling wind and rain.

“Seven years,” said Starling, “that’s my limit.”

“Done.”

They didn’t move. Starling was unsure of whether she had just sealed her fate. It seemed as though it had happened as fast as a whip-crack.

At length, Dr. Lecter came forward, and Starling held her breath. He stopped just in front of her and extended his arm, offering his hand.

“Shall we shake on it? I can draw up a contract and we can sign it, if you like. It might be a good idea, just to make sure neither of us forgets what we owe the other. Doubt it’ll hold up in court, though,” he said, his voice suddenly taking on a bemused and flirtatious tone. Starling thought she could hear her blood humming, as on their first meeting.

“A handshake,” she said, looking at his hand.

“We’ll have to trust one another. Can you do that?”

She looked up at him. “Can you?”

“I asked first,” he said, smiling.

Starling remembered to breath. “Is this happening? Is it real…”

Dr. Lecter didn’t think the question was directed at him, but he answered, anyway. “As real as anything else can claim to be.”

When she looked up at him, he gave her another smile, warm and gentle. “Whatever you choose to be real to you is what is real, Clarice. No one chooses for you. If you choose to see these trysts as existing in a place outside of time, a dream within in a dream, then your verdict makes it so. Your life and the choices you make are subject to your judgment and yours alone.”

He watched her, and it seemed to give her mind a place to go. Her shoulders lowered the slightest bit.

She said nothing, but looked at his hand. Steady as the stony hearth. She reached out to it tentatively, like a child might reach out to a horse, for the first time. Their fingers touched, and her muscle memory seemed to take over. Her fingers slid into his palm and draped along his wrist. He waited a moment, before folding his own fingers over her hand, the slope of their thumbs locking. Her eyes rose and sucked back into his consuming gaze.

“Deal,” he said.

“Deal,” she whispered.

Chapter Text

The carnal malefactors were condemned who reason subjugate to appetite…

 

A window was cracked open somewhere in the house. There was a building noise which came and went; the wind snaking inside an unseen rift whistled hoarsely. The walls of the structure groaned and creaked, but held. Outside, a crane chanting its lays, throttled in the disavowing air. Trees leaning, held fast to their roots but lost a branch or two in the night.

Inside, Starling sits with her feet tucked underneath her, her hand in Hannibal Lecter’s, waiting. In time, he bent his head and kissed where her fingers met at the knuckle. His eyes drew up to hers. Standing up straight he took a step back and indicated she too, should stand. She unfurled her legs and looked down at her knees where they met and back up at him. She didn’t know if she could stand.

Clarice Starling could withstand an attack and endless ridicule. She could withstand ingratitude and boredom. She was not afraid of pain. She could even withstand that which she did fear, which was by and large, the threat of failure. But this—this was freakish. She had no way to prepare for something like this, she had no training or morsels of wisdom. Her thoughts spilled into her feelings, overflowing. Her feelings spilled into her body, overflowing. Her body wept without tears, her knees trembled. She watched Dr. Lecter let go of her hand and bend forward. An arm went around her shoulders, another beneath her unstable knees, and he picked her up.

He stood like that for longer than necessary, perhaps to give the moment time to infuse the night. Starling was both grateful and disgraced. She was not a child. She didn’t like the idea of him thinking of her as one, knowing at once he did not. It didn’t change the associations she had with the imagery of a bridal carry. It was terrifically uncomfortable and nearly pornographic in its connotations.

She expected him to carry her to the bed, but instead, he pivoted and claimed her seat. She found that being curled up in his lap was much worse. For an instant, she cursed him from the depths of her soul. Hit me, pull me off into some dark corner by the hair, she demanded. Strangle me, bite me. Not this. Could she have dreamed up a more wildly inappropriate image or experience than sitting in Hannibal Lecter’s lap? No, she decided. She could not.

When she looked at him then, she understood his intentions, at once. He was going to make it uncomfortable. That was going to be a part of it. He was going to accentuate every delusion represented in sexuality between man and woman, and their personal history and relationship would be no exception. He was going to make it painful. Yes…he would do that.

He draped a hand over her bare knee and took some reading in her eyes. Another hand smoothed her hair, tucked a few strands behind her ear. In addition to making her terribly uncomfortable and therefore painfully aware of her own perceptions regarding sexuality, he felt it was important to proceed slowly where touch and intimacy were concerned. The following hours would serve to be both sadistic and merciful. Her hands held one another in her lap. It was time to put that to an end to that. No more concealing; no protection, here. Not anymore, not for tonight.

“Move your hands to your sides.”

Her eyebrows wrinkled, but she did so, slowly.

“For the remainder of the night, you will not cover yourself. Not even after you have been disrobed.”

She felt faint in the minutes following his commands, and she said nothing. At length:

“Do you understand?”

She nodded.

“Tell me.”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

She could not look at him. She would not look at him. In that moment, she despised him.

“Yes, Dr. Lecter.”

“You forgot, I thought you might. I am not a doctor, tonight. “

She managed to look at him, to be sure she understood.

“Yes, Hannibal,” she said, feeling as though she’d just blasphemed in a church. His expression did not change when she called him by his first name, but his next inhale was sharper. Then he went on:

“Answer this question with perfect honesty: Does the traditional dynamic between man and woman, that is to say, the dynamic in which a woman is submissive to a man, disturb you? Does it disturb you deeply?”

“It would bother me more if was not so obsolete.”

“But it does bother you. Even conceptually..?”

“Yes, Hannibal.”

“I thought as much. Would you call that a delusion? Or an illusion?”

“My distaste for it or the dynamic itself?”

“The answer will be the same for both.”

“I would say it more closely resembles a delusion. Illusion can be termed to be external, whereas delusion can be called internal. Delusion is a fixed belief, which can be either false or fanciful. Illusion is only a distortion of the senses. While illusion is a physical phenomenon, delusion pertains to the mental aspect.”

“What do I like to destroy, Clarice?”

“Delusions.”

“Are delusions easily destroyed?”

“Not usually.”

“Will it be painful?”

“Yes, Hannibal.”

“Can you better understand how such a thing could serve as a fitting substitute for my other pastime?”

“Yes. Hannibal.”

“There are many delusions I have at my mercy. This one will be an ongoing one, I think. Even with only seven sessions spread across seven years, I think I can make some good headway.”

“Headway in what regard?” Starling asked, perplexed and on the verge of being irritable.

“The idea of compliance bothers you when represented in sexuality, and you necessarily attach the idea to social constructs surrounding femininity. That niggling does nothing to assist your ascent in this world," he paused for just a moment, a hand tucking her hair behind her ear. What he said next, she never forgot.

"Anything which has the power to upset you is mental dross. If I could have it my way, Clarice, I would rid you of every petty sadness and loathing. I would trim you like a wild evergreen until you took the shape of someone who can never be bothered, never circumvented, and never, ever hurt.”

They sat for awhile, their breathing very quiet. When Starling would find the courage to look at him, he would look at her with his head to the side. He stroked her legs slowly with a flat palm as the minutes passed. And then:

“Tell me what you’re feeling.”

“Apprehension. Anger,” she paused, summoning more courage to be honest. When he took the time to drag the truth out of her, it was always more painful. “…and arousal.”

“Are you more angry that you’re in this position, or more angry that this position has caused arousal?”

“I think they’re at a stalemate.”

He laughed quietly, gave her knee an affectionate pat. “You manage yourself better than most. I have faith in you. There’s nothing wrong with how you feel, you know. You should not hate yourself or worry about for feeling attraction to me. The body does not reason. Your body doesn’t weigh my masculinity against my deeds. It only reacts.”

He did not mention the little room that cried out to him, the Clarice Starling not given a voice that longed for him on both a mental and emotional level. How does the mind navigate to a place the higher brain will not go? Convincing the body is one way. The other was to use the beliefs of the higher brain against it. He couldn’t have done a better job, himself. It would not be the only thing he chose not to mention, during the course of the night. He went on:

“It is interesting though, to note now, that you’re earlier assessment of lacking progress in life was due to a sense of being unresponsive. A meaningful parallel, Clarice?”

“I don’t know that I’d say a bodily response to your maleness is the antithetical of feeling listless in life. My body is responsive. It’s my mind, even my heart that is quiet. Such a vast quiet,” she murmured the last words, focusing on a freckle above her knee

“Metaphysicists believe that change of the mind often begins with the body. They’re not wrong. The body is a good place to start; it’s easier to change than the mind.”

“But it’s already responsive,” she argued. “ When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m tired, I sleep. When I’m aroused, I…” she finished the insinuation with a gesture of her hand.

“Yes,” he said with a kindly smile,” but do you indulge? You meet the basic requirements, Clarice. There’s so much more.”

She looked at him, looked into his eyes, glanced at his mouth. He had nice lips, she noted. She looked at his chin, his nose, his ears. The shape of his eyebrows, the slope of his cupid’s bow. He was very close now, very real. She could see the delicate veins beneath his skin around his eyelids. He did not quite have stubble, having likely shaved that morning. His skin was smooth and light. His lips curved into a grin while she was looking at them, and a thumb stroked the underside of her knee. She looked at his eyes, and he said:

“I have so many things to show you.”

With that, he stood. She helped support her weight by instinctively locking her wrists around his neck. He went to the bed at last, settling his back against the headboard, still keeping her close against him across his legs. He resumed stroking her bare legs, and when she had managed to calm enough to sink into the position a little, finding a comfortable nook, he placed a hand on her head, drawing her to sit back up. Smoothing his hand down the length of her hair, he placed it on her back, and carefully encouraged her to lay back. She looked at him questioningly again, but let him lay her down. He removed his arm from beneath her and sat back up, appraising this new position.

She was now lying on her back, her hips and groin elevated by his thighs. Her right arm was snug against her side and his front. The other gripped the fabric on her shorts. She crossed her ankles and took a long, deep breath. It was a new kind of awkward. It was not entirely uncomfortable, but entirely unnatural.

“I think now it would be good to help you to relax, a bit. I want you to close your eyes. Good, and I want you to listen…to the sound…of my voice,” he began, taking on a hypnotic tone, pausing with intervals the length of a breath. “Let all other….distractions…fall away. There is only my voice. Goood. Now, take a deep breath…and hold it for a few seconds….Now let it out…Good. “

He was still stroking her, more lightly, now. He stilled his movements entirely, but kept a hand against her thigh, the other on her shoulder. It was now important to maintain contact, throughout.

“Now…relax your toes…

“Relax the soles of your feet…

“Relax your ankles…”

By the time they had gotten to the crown of her head, ten minutes had passed, and she was breathing calm, deep. Her ankles were no longer crossed, her hands did not grip. The full weight of her middle was let go onto his lap, and her lips were parted. He took a good five minutes to let her mitigation take real effect, and took the time to enjoy the sight of her. Then slowly, tentatively, he began to resume caressing her. He began only with the tops of her feet, ankles and calves. The caresses gave way to a massage. He worked his way up slowly. He did not venture near her lap or breasts. When his hands were in her hair, cradling her skull, she let out the smallest of noises.

Eventually, his fingers casually lifted the hem of her top. He did not pull it up, only moved it slightly, to access her stomach and sides. His strokes were deep and long, coming up near her rib cage, sliding to her sides and dipping down until he scooped her up, slightly, before coming back to her navel.

With the same casual gestures, he began unbuttoning the top, starting from the bottom. She did not notice what was happening until she felt the cool air on her stomach. She did not open her eyes or stir, exactly. She licked her lips, and her breathing changed, slightly.

His hands had felt sooo good. She wasn’t sure that she’d ever felt so good. It was sinful, almost. Sinful before they’d even committed their little ungodly misdeed. She found herself lusting for the pleasure, lusting for it to never end, this delicious sensation of an innocent massage. She found herself so lustful of it, she did not even feel a distant pulse of resistance when the buttons were undone, and he leisurely moved the material aside. He immediately resumed what he’d been doing, before. She had half-expected him to grope her exposed breasts, but he ignored them. She was grateful, for the time being. She wanted more, MORE of the touching.
In time, his route around the contours of her body stayed the same, but began to make brief detours to new places. A finger slipping into her bellybutton. A stray palm between her breasts. These little detours increased with the passing minutes. The chance brush of one of her nipples as his hand passed from her shoulder to her ribs. Fingers skimming along the very top of where her pubic hair began. Her shorts remained.

Over time, he began to include her breasts in his route, treating them no differently than the rest of her body. He did not squeeze or kneed them, only stimulated the skin there, only kneeded the areas around them where there was actually muscle; her pectorals, where pectorals met underarms… At one point in his ministrations, with the briefest and most nonchalant fondle, he took her nipple between his thumb and the side of his forefinger, squeezed gently, rubbed it into to erection, and let go. Her breathing increased, immediately. It was a subtle change, but it was there. He resumed his route.

Two minutes later, when the pelasure had reoriented back to touch only, he did it again with the other nipple; squeezed it lightly until erect, a reverent roll between his fingers, and let it go. Starling heard the sound, ‘Ahh’, then registered that she had made it. They were both hard now, and her breasts rose and fell a little faster for a few minutes. She relaxed, tentatively, back into the platonic pleasure of touch.

Minutes passed, and his return to her nipples became more and more frequent, until he seemed to have integrated it with his route. Always, he would stimulate first one, make the lap around his route, then the other, and so forth. It became impossible for her to stay within the platonic realm. He kept her there, edging on the chasm between the platonic pleasure of touch and the sexual pleasure of touch. After many long minutes, they began to fuse. Her breathing was not sharp, but heavy. Her skin was hot and flushed. She began to anticipate the brief rolling and rubbing of her nipples, began even rising toward his touch.

To an outside observer, it would seem that Dr. Lecter was in something like a trance. His eyes, so focused, appear almost glazed over. His movements are rhythmic. His pupils are dilated nearly to black, and his lips are slightly parted.

A kind of sigh or moan escaped her lips, wet from having just licked them, and he inclined his head, pleased. My, but she is lovely! The skin on her stomach and breasts was indeed, a bit lighter and immaculate by comparison to those parts exposed to the environment. The flesh here was a warm ivory, if not a little rosy from arousal. Her areolas were the color thulian, a little darker at the center where they came to peaks the size of pencil erasers.

Ten minutes of this passed. Dr. Lecter slowed his hands, until one of them came to her face, stroked her cheek up over her ear, smoothing her hair. There was a sheen of sweat on her face. She had been squirming a little, moving her head from side to side. She had been faced away from him, biting her lip when he touched her face. Her eyes finally opened, begrudgingly, looked at him from her peripheral without turning her face in his direction. His arm disappeared beneath her again, and he carefully drew her back up to a sitting position. He tucked her into his arms, stroking her hair.

After a few minutes, he let one hand trail down from her face, touching her neck with the tips of his fingers, trailing down her breast and rolling a nipple, down her midriff, dipping into her bellybutton, fondling her lower stomach, curving around her hip and then he was back to stroking her thighs.

He had been fondling where her thighs met for awhile, watching her swallow and sigh, when he said:

“Clarice?”

She rolled her head on his shoulder to look at him. She seemed to be lost in arousal and dismay.

“Yes, Hannibal?”

“The cruelest thing I will do to you, throughout the duration of these liaisons, is make you like it more than you hate it.”

She narrowed her eyes, and in them he saw the wrestling of lust and torment. He hooked his fingers into the top of her shorts and panties on the underside of her hip. “Lift up.”

She obeyed, if not a bit resentfully. He slid them over her and she lowered herself back down, sighing as he pulled them slowly down the length of her legs. He left them around her ankles. When she started to toe them off, he stopped her.

“Ah-- Leave them. If I want them elsewhere, I will move them, myself. And remove your hands. Do not break one of the terms, already. I told you not to cover yourself. “

She moved her hands and looked away.

“You are to obey me on this night without hesitation, argument or complaint, correct?”

“Yes. Hannibal.” Her teeth were a little clenched and her jaw flinched.

“Right,” he said, while continuing to stroke her thighs. “Now, I’ll make you a deal, Clarice. In a moment, you will open your thighs and I will touch you. If I find you’re not moist, I will fulfill my end of the deal and not obligate you to yours. That means I will not kill for seven years, and you will not have to do anything to have earned it. We will stop right this second, and go no further. I will take you home immediately, and never contact you, again.”

Starling looked at him with an acid loathing. He smiled.

“However,” he continued, pausing briefly to fondle her bellybutton, “if I find you slippery, we will continue on as agreed. Deal?”

Starling only stared forward.

“Alright, then,” he nodded, bringing his hand back to hold her knee.”Open.”

She opened her thighs. She knew she was wet even before she felt the air begin to cool the hot, wet skin on her labia.

His hands continued stroking the insides of her thighs, up and down for close to a minute. Then his hands came to her Mons, stroking and even tugging on the hair he found. Starling squeezed her eyes shut and tried to steady her breathing. Then, a single finger traced the length down her closed labia, before sliding between them at the fourchette and sliding back up the inner labia to her clitoral hood.

“Ahhh,” Starling let her head drop back and she forced herself to keep her legs open. No further probing came, and she lifted her head back up. He was holding his finger in the light, to show it was glistening. He looked at her.

“Open your mouth and show me your tongue.”

Starling didn’t know if doing it slowly or quickly was better. She knew what he was going to do, and felt she was beyond attempting to hide how she felt about that. She opened her mouth and let her tongue slide out. He placed his finger gently on her tongue.

“Take my finger into your mouth.”

She did it, her gaze focused on the freckle on her knee. For some reason, she never forgot the sound it made when he slid his finger out of her mouth and the tip of his finger left her lips.

“Very good,” he said at length, in a strange voice, unfamiliar to Starling. “Now, lean your head back again, the way you were before. That’s right, just like that. You can lean it into my hand, yes.”

With that, his hand descended back between her thighs, and for the first time, his fingers entered her. She sucked in a breath—it was a reaction to both relief and alarm.

God, but it felt good. His strokes were maddeningly slow and gentle for the longest time. Eventually, perhaps displeased with the amount of lubrication available at the moment, he lifted her clitoral hood with a thumb and gently squeezed her clitoris.

“Ah, ah-“

“Ummm, does that feel good?"

“Y-yes,” she admitted.

“Good. Just relax.”

Squeezing was joined with rhythmic pulling and sometimes rubbing. When he seemed satisfied, he resumed fucking her with his fingers.

Starling suddenly wondered something amidst her trance. “Can you feel it?” she asked.

“Your hymen? Yes.”

“What does it feel like?”

“Tissue, Clarice. Only tissue. You know some believe that if there is no blood after having intercourse, then the hymen is necessarily broken, and therefore virginity is lost. Not so. Hymens are flexible and can accommodate relatively wide objects. They are not like stretches of Saran wrap across a hoola-hoop. They are more like an elastic hair tie, like a scrunchie. Considering yours broke during sports, I’d say it won’t be too hard for you. I also assume that because you said, and I quote, ‘I quit trying’ after having had it surgically opened twice, that it is no longer imperforated. If it were, your menstrual blood could not leave your body.”

“That’s right.”

“So, a partially successful surgery. So fascinating. Any other little anomalies I should know about? I am going to become very, very familiar with this body,” he said, giving her clitoris another squeeze.

“Ah--No. It’s just that.”

‘Quite alright, it’s more than enough. This will be more than enough.”

While his fingers moved in and out of her, they looked at each other for a moment which seemed to stretch for hours, to Starling. When he finally broke eye contact, Starling’s eyes were narrowed as he bent his head to taste her neck. Her eyes closed and her mouth opened when she felt his mouth on her, and even moved her head to the side to accommodate him. He moved his lips and tongue on the skin beneath her ear very slow, but the pressure was firm. When she was breathing faster, Dr. Lecter’s movements and demeanor grew in intensity. He moved his head away from her neck and looked at her. Their lips were parted, their eyes narrowed and dilated when he nudged her onto her back.

He took her calf in one hand and pushed it until the knee bent, pushed it toward her torso as he situated himself between her legs.

“Dr. Lecter,” an odd dash of her head, “Hannibal-“

“Yes?” he asked, even as he moved her other leg, stroked her down her thigh. “Yes, Clarice?” he asked again, placing a flat palm on her lower stomach and tracing along her abdomen until he rested it between her breasts. “Clarice,” he whispered her name, hissed the consonant tail. He kept his eyes on her as he placed a kiss on her inner thigh just below the knee.

“Ummmm,” she hummed and her head dropped back.

As the following hour wore on, the wind began to roar, and they could hear little things, dirt and debris, grainy as it lashed against the sides and roof of the house.
By the time a tree limb outside broke off, Dr. Lecter had begun to fuck Clarice Starling in earnest. By that time, she was no longer in his lap, no longer calm and still. Her shorts had been discarded on the floor, along with her top. She lay nude and sprawled out on the bed, her head near the footboard, with Dr. Lecter sitting beside her, his forearm disappearing in between her thighs.

The tone of the room is considerably different, their respective moods considerably shifted. There is a tension, an excitement in the room. There is scattered, testy noise and movement in the space. She was gripping the sheets and arching her back, pedaling her legs. At one point she gripped his taut forearm, and he hissed at her.

“Roll around and scream your pleas into the sheets all you want, but do not obstruct me, Clarice!”

“Okay! Alright! Ahhhh—Ah!”

He bent his head and took one of her nipples into his mouth. Starling whined and moaned as he sucked, bit, sucked harder, and moved onto the other one, only once the nipple was as red and embossed as his market raspberries. She was breathing hard, and he was delighted with the vision before him when he raised his head. She was getting close now, only because he had let her get close. It was the fourth time he had. She had to want it, he’d decided. He knew she would never, never beg. He didn’t want her to. Watching her internal conflict with it was tastier.

Her eyes opened wide for a moment and she looked at him. His expression was calm and focused, almost static, but his eyes burned. He kept his eyes on her, always on her, as he bent his head in a casual manner, and licked her rigid nipple once. She shuddered.

He decided they would soon need a break, and he wanted to do away with her hymen within the first couple of hours of their night; so when he brought his free hand to stroke her clitoris while fucking her with the other, he did not move it when she started to climax. She was more vocal than he would have thought, rather profane and mobile. He was quite certain this was not what a regular orgasm looked like on Clarice Starling. He liked that. The first thing that came out of her mouth was:

“FUUUUUCK!”

She thrashed her head. “Goddamn it! GOD…DAMNIT!”

Dr. Lecter smiled, unable to contain his glee. He had been fucking her with two fingers, and he entered a third. It elicited a new bout of profanity, which he decided was understandable. Halfway through her orgasm, he entered with a fourth. Her entire torso lifted up like a wild thing in midst of an exorcism, before dropping back down, roughly.

A turn of the wrist...

When he felt the tear, she did not scream or curse. She gasped, and froze all movement and sound for precisely five seconds. Then she collapsed. He stopped his movements with hers. When her hand drifted to his forearm, he did not hiss at her. After a short moment of utter stillness, he came to lie on his side, propping himself on his elbow. He looked down at her trembling legs, and flexed his arm. He pulled out of her slowly, and she winced and sighed when his hand retracted completely. He examined his fingers; there was blood. For the first of these trysts, he thought that was appropriate. He did, on the other hand, want to do it without causing her to bleed, at a certain point. Perhaps sacrifice would come in other forms, on those occasions.

Starling let herself regain her senses in their own time. First she became aware of herself again, then of Dr. Lecter. He was very still beside her, as though he were not even there. Her eyes were mostly closed and after about two minutes, she took a deep, deep breath before opening them fully and rolled her head towards Dr. Lecter. He was licking his fingers.

 

Starling was afraid to speak and had to speak at the same time. The sudden quiet, the lack of contact--the distance between them and the glaring fact that she couldn’t stand it crashed onto her like a terrible, dark wave. She had never known the feelings she was experiencing. She was terrified and disgusted.

When he was finished licking her blood and fluid from his hand and fingers, he looked at her. She opened her mouth to speak. Instead, she rolled away from him, onto her side. One hand drifted behind her until she found the sheets, and pulled them over her. She felt him moving on the bed, changing positions. Starling stayed very, very still. A lamp was turned off, and then only a candle in the corner of the room illuminated them. She closed her eyes, feeling the slightest bit better. Yes, this was good. She felt safer in the dark, in this moment. Safer from judgment, perhaps, veiled in the low light. She was grateful to him for a moment, and suddenly terrifically lonesome. Unconsciously, one leg emerged from the sheets as she shifted her position. Her foot moved close to him, but didn’t touch. It was a nearly imperceptible, entirely innocuous overture.

When he finally touched her, she was startled. She felt him moving closer and she looked over her shoulder to see him advancing. When he was hovering over her, she felt wholly speared, but once his hands were on her again she wanted nothing more.

Later, when he held her and stroked her and spoke softly to her, telling her all of the things she knew he knew she wanted to hear, her lucidity did not obstruct the comfort she took from his words or touch. It didn’t change anything, nothing could. Yet she found the sick feeling in her belly wane.

Hannibal Lecter would never be her suitor, husband or confidant. There was absolutely no way to fit him into her life or heart. But at least she could trust him as an intermittent lover. The fact that she would be hard-pressed to find a real partner over the next seven years did not weigh as heavily as she thought it might. Starling didn’t require a lot from people, she was hard-wired that way. What she required was structure, and in this place with him, within the terms of this shameful agreement, she somehow found comfort.

Deep within the walls of her inner manor, room was being made, quite beyond her awareness. Whistling caverns, cold and dark, began to warm. Doors began to unlock. There are bridges here, in Starling’s castle; some of them are under construction. Others are splintering.

Downstairs, Starling was feeling more like herself. In fact, she felt an odd feeling of lightness. At one point, while they were descending the staircase side by side, Dr. Lecter had reached around her and forcefully squeezed her side, as though to tickle her. Her automatic reaction was to grasp his arm and fling him away. She had not meant to do it so hard.

This reflex was swift; so swift that Dr. Lecter did not anticipate it at all, and he hurled against the wall, knocking over a vase inside a lit niche. It all happened in a matter of seconds. Starling had stepped away quickly, observing the misjudged force, and covered her mouth with both hands. He had frozen, one arm gripping the side of the niche, his footing balanced between two steps, his shoulder where it had landed against the wall. When he looked at her, she feared she would see outrage or at least annoyance. Instead, once he had steadied himself, he first smiled, and then laughed.

Starling smiled under her hands, before letting them drop. “I’m sorry. I really am, I didn’t-“

He interrupted her with a hand. “No, no. Don’t apologize. It was natural, and I pulled the puppy’s tail.” He laughed again, looking at the shattered vase on the stairs. She looked too, and hummed her disapproval.

“Clarice,” he began, stepping carefully around the glass, “I would never restrain your predatory tendencies. You need those for survival, and I prefer you to survive this life. Come,” he said, guiding her around the mess and down the remaining steps. At the bottom, they looked at one another and burst out laughing.

About a half hour later, they were both sitting on top of the table, facing one another with a bowl of strawberries between them. Starling sat cross-legged, and Dr. Lecter had an elbow propped up on his knee. Starling was red from laughing. She said:

“One more. One more!”

“Alright,” he said, taking a sip of his drink. “One more. I was doing surgery on a very elegant, middle aged woman. Very cut class accent. There was an anesthetic that we used which sometimes induced some hallucinations and either going under or coming out of anesthesia, I heard some amusing things.

“This woman was in recovery just coming out of the anesthetic. The team was around waiting for her to wake up and gag a little on the tube in her throat, so that we knew it was time to remove it. She gagged, we removed the tube, and then she smacked her lips and said loudly, in her incredible accent:
'That's the best bit of cock I have had in years!'”

Starling choked a little on her drink, and a hand shot up to her nose and mouth. Dr. Lecter smiled, watching the champagne dribble down her chin and between her fingers. His legs swung over the edge of the table, and quickly produced a towel. He came to her and cleaned her face. When he was done, he bent his head and licked her throat where there was some champagne left. She sighed, and he continued licking, and sometimes sucking on her throat and neck. He moved the garment aside to better access her shoulders and breasts, before eventually coaxing her down onto her back. He grabbed one of her legs and swung her so that she faced the side of the table. He stood, took one of her feet in his hand, and bit her arch while looking at her.

Starling watched him take a chair and position it in front of her and sit, before pulling her even closer, until her buttocks was at the edge. She placed her feet on his shoulders and looked up at the coffered ceiling. The storm still raged.

The howling, grating and groaning of the house fell away to Starling, as he tasted her. It was not the first time she had experienced it, but it was the first time she became lost in the experience.

It was the way he did it, she would reflect on many occasions on the many days between their meetings. When Hannibal Lecter’s head disappeared between her legs, he licked her and kissed her there as though it were her mouth and they were young lovers who had been separated for a long time. When he ate her, he did so without abandon. There was eagerness and hunger in his movements, and even in the sounds he would make. When he ate her, his passion for the procedure was explicit. His breath was hot, his lips and tongue were fervent, and when he groaned into her, it vibrated and made every tiny hair on her body raise, and her voice would raise with his, her hands in her own hair, (Oh, God, to be wanted!(by him, God help me) to be wanted like this, I didn’t know it was real…)

In total, Dr. Lecter tasted her four times in the course of the night; twice on the table, once in the kitchen, and once back in his bedroom. The fourth time, in the bedroom, he had been sitting with his back to the headboard again, and she was standing over him. Her hands and forehead against the wall, his hands gripping her hips. When she came, she started to fall and he grabbed onto her securely. She gripped his arms, and he carefully, slowly, lowered her down until she lay prostrate and exhausted. It was not until five in the morning, although Starling had had no sense of time since coming to this place, that she fell asleep. As she’d drifted, the heat of Dr. Lecter’s body became too much, and she rolled away from him and onto her other side. She felt his hand on her shoulder and his breath on her cheek.

“Goodnight, little doxy.”

“Goodnight, Hannibal,” she mumbled, and she felt his lips, soft, just outside the corner of her mouth.

It was the last time she would say those words for exactly one year.

Chapter Text

Ardelia Mapp, connoisseur of coupons, returned to her car in the grocery store parking lot mid-afternoon on Sunday. She cursed under her breath when her phone went off with her hands full. When she was in the privacy of her car, she answered.

“Mapp.” The phone was wedged between her shoulder and cheek while she finished arranging the bags in the passenger’s seat.

“Hey, it’s me,” came the answer.

“Winston. What’s up?”

“We spotted Conway.”

“No, shit. Where are you?”

“We’re on him, now. Get this; he’s driving Leo’s car.”

Ardelia took the phone in her hand and started the car. “Leo, the head cook? Leo who was just murdered?”

“Yep. Wanna get your ass down here? We’re in Southern Heights-“

“-Oh, goddamn Southern heights.”

He chuckled.

“Listen, I’ve got damn groceries in my car and it’s hot out. I’ll come out if you feel like you need me, but-“

“No, no. Get your frozen peas in the freezer, Mapp. “

“I’ll come and talk to him once he’s in custody. I think he’ll talk to me. I don’t think he’ll fight you, either.”

“You don’t have to do it, today. You’ll have plenty of time before his initial court appearance.”

“I doubt he killed Leo, to be honest. But I guess we’ll find out.”

“I guess so. Hey, take it easy.”

“Call me back after the arrest. You sure you don’t want me? You’re worth more than peas, you know.”

“That’s sweet. Really, I just wanted to keep you in the loop.”

“Thanks, Winston. Talk soon.”

“Bye.”

By the time the conversation was over, she was on her street.

“Well, well, well,” she said under her breath, seeing Starling’s Pinto out front.

She found Starling on Mapp’s side of the duplex, nursing a bottle of water. She looked up when she came in.

“Hey,” Starling said. “Need a hand?”

Before Mapp could answer, she was on her feet.

“Thanks. Where’d you go?”

“Stayed in a rented house up on the Chesapeake.”

“Sounds nice.”

When they were finished putting the groceries away, Starling slunk into one of the ladder back chairs, and rolled her neck.

“Did you not sleep good, or something?” Mapp wondered. “Bed too squishy?”

“No, no. I slept fine. I slept late.”

“Clarice Starling? Slept late?”

“Well, I don’t think I actually fell asleep until early morning. Five, maybe.”

Mapp wasn’t a psychological profiler, but she could see something was different. Not wrong, but definitely different. “Who was he?”

“Someone…” Starling said, evasively. She found one corner of her mouth drawing up, and tried to lean her cheek onto her hand, to cover it.

“Well, now! About damn time! Was he pretty?”

“He made me feel good.”

“Ummm-hmmm!”

“Stop it. Really. How was your weekend?”

Mapp shrugged. “Not as good as yours, I can tell you. Winston just called me, though. They found Conway.”

“Well, that’s good. Not that I’m surprised.”

“Yeah, well. It’s a start. We’ll question him. I think he’ll cooperate.”

“Think he’ll flop?”

“Probably.”

“You hungry?”

Ardelia stretched and yawned, nodding.

“I know you just got groceries, but do you maybe want to go out? I don’t want to be still.”

Mapp shrugged. “Where’d you have in mind?”

“I don’t know…I just don’t think I want to be sitting around here, all evening.”

“Well, look at you. What’d I say? What’d I say, Starling?”

“I’m not gonna say it.”

“Say it, girl.”

“Nuh-uh.”

Mapp laughed. “Say it, and we’ll go wherever you want, and I’ll pay.”

“I needed to get laid.”

“Hell yes. Yes, you did. And now I’m going to change. You should too, Raggedy Ann.”

Starling let some of the water from her bottle trickle into her hand and flicked it at Mapp.

“Oooh. Oh, she’s angry Raggedy Ann, look out!”

At dinner, Starling was surprised at how normal it all felt. And, she could not deny that some feral thing inside her liked it; liked the ache inside, knowing she’d been torn by him, and liked that no one knew. She did her best to not over-analyze that.

Much later, it became more difficult. But it was a long night for the two women, longer than they’d spent together since training. When, after dinner, Starling had glanced at Mapp and said, ‘Wanna get a night cap?’, Mapp was both surprised and delighted. She did not question it. Sometimes a good ride did that to you. It depended on where you were coming from, she reflected. If you were running around a mile a minute, it slowed you down. If you were in a slump, it could wake you up. It was like a drug, that way.

At the bar, Mapp was all the more surprised, when she found Starling chatting it up with someone. It was a relief, in a way. A lot of the time, Mapp would find someone interesting to ‘talk to’, and she always felt a little like she was abandoning her friend. Starling never made her feel that way, but this was both unprecedented and alleviating.

She wasn’t surprised when Starling didn’t take the poor guy home. Neither of them found anybody interesting enough for that, so when they arrived home alone, they found themselves in the kitchen, as always. Starling was rooting around in the cabinet while Mapp was stripping off her clothes across the hallway in the laundry room. They were tipsy.

“What’re you lookin’ for, girl?”

“Elixir!” she called back.

“What?” Mapp came back into the kitchen wearing her shorts and FBI t-shirt. Feeling the floor tiles against her bare feet, Mapp decided it must be cleaned in the near future.

“Ah! Found it.”

“What’d you find, Raggedy Ann?”

“Hey. Raggedy Ann wore fucking kitten heels, tonight. Give her a break.” She was holding a bottle of Añejo Tequila.

“Oh, okay. I see how it’s gonna be. Lucky for you, I went to the store.”

“Then you won’t mind slicing the limes.”

By eleven, Night Time is the Right Time was blasting from the stereo, and they were singing into utensils and dancing around the kitchen table. By midnight, they were sitting at the kitchen table, telling jokes. It was half past when the real talking started.

“But really,” Starling was saying,” what guy do you know has this problem. I’ve just gotten back from New York, it had been dicey, you know? I was still edgy. And that fucking jerk Paul Krendler calls, asks me out. Said he could be here in half an hour.”

“What? He’s married!”

“No kidding. I think he was drunk. He’s my boss, Ardelia. He’s our boss. He’s my boss, and I was put in a position where I had to tell my boss to go home to his wife.”

“Jesus.”

“And at the same time, if I say anything, am I complaining? Do I have any right to complain? I mean…hell, Ardelia. At least I’m here. It’s hard to know who you are when you come from poor-white background. When you don’t consider what they had to start off with, that they made do with the damn 40 acres and a muddy mule. Nobody tells you that, you just have to find a way to see it.”

“No different. You more than made do. We both did. Listen, you do what you can do. And somebody like Paul has to live with himself; he’s responsible for him, not you. Not you.”

“But here’s the thing, Ardelia. What does it make me if I can’t play nice with somebody like him? Does it make me a prideful chit, or does it make me righteous? When do we care? When do we not care? When do we be still?”

“I don’t know. And you know what? That’s okay, sometimes. You do what you can do, Starling. Right now, what we both need to do, is go the fuck to sleep.”

“You’re right. Raggedy Ann has to be up in the morning at six."

Mapp laughed. “Well, I’ll be right there with you.” Mapp looked at her in the eyes. “I mean it.”

Starling smiled. When she lay down in bed that night, she only tortured herself for an hour before drifting away. She couldn’t remember her dreams in the morning, but woke up as edgy as the wintery night that Paul Krendler called her.

She didn’t talk to Crawford much. He’d become more and more anemic in both an emotional and bodily sense. When she did see him, he’d give the cursory nod, and she would always reciprocate. Once, she’d gone to his office briefly, and he’d had something wet hanging from his nose. He offered her an Alka-Seltzer. The pity she felt for Crawford frightened her more than anything ever had. She never pushed or prodded him about Behavioral Science. The niggling in the back of her mind that told her she was never getting into Behavioral Science was ignored in favor of faith. There had been times before that she had felt like Crawford had forgotten about her, but then he hadn’t, after all.

Since being sworn in, Starling had been a tech Agent. Near the end of summer, she had started on an ongoing case. She had been given a specific job, and it had taken her over a week just to get caught up, which involved hours upon hours of going through voluminous chat logs on an informant’s computer. It started out as grueling work, but there had been amusing moments.

"Script kiddie"—no hacker wants to hear the term used to describe them. Anyone with modest computer skills can cause modest havoc using other people's code fragments, scanners, and infiltration tools, but this is little more than knowing how to point a gun in the right direction and pull the trigger. It lacks art. True hacking requires a deep knowledge of computer and network security, an ability to navigate around obstacles, and the willingness to be careful enough to always hide one's tracks. The script kiddies might be easy targets for the feds, but the true hackers? Shadows are their home.

The Anon-affiliated hackers who broke into a private intelligence company to release e-mails and steal credit cards certainly didn't think they were script kiddies. In an Internet Relay Chat, just after the June hack, one of the Statfor hackers, going by the alias sup_g, spoke to an unidentified chat room member about the accomplishment. It was a muggy Tuesday night, and there was no moon outside for either participant.

CW-1: but this stratfor shit was bigger shit than old shits
CW-1: at least it deserves no critics
sup_g: oh yes
sup_g: notice no one is throwing around script kiddie comments...
CW-1: this time was classy
CW-1: and thats perfect
CW-1: we produced a cool video
CW-1: we announced luzxmas
CW-1: we hacked big shit
CW-1: we donated by 1000000...
CW-1: and we destroyed a big serious intel corp
CW-1: actually just a lil bunch of ppl thinks shit on this
CW-1: like 3
sup_g: they are just mad because of the sheer amount of
high profile people in this

A few months later, not long after Halloween, sup_g talked to the same unidentified member about some 30,000 credit card numbers that had been taken from the company. His interlocutor, CW-1, engaged in a bit of gallows humor about what might happen should they all get caught.

CW-1: hows the news looking?
sup_g: I been going hard all night
CW-1: I heard we're all over the news papers
CW-1: you mother fuckers are going to get me raded
CW-1: HAHAHAAHA
sup_g: we put out 30k cards, the stratfor dump, and another statement
sup_g: dude it's big..
CW-1: if I get raided anarchaos your job is to cause havok in my honor
CW-1: <3
sup_g: it shall be so

Starling sat back in the swivel chair, a small smile on one side of her mouth. The raid had, in fact, already happened. CW-1 was "Sibu," a top Anon hacker who was, in real life, an unemployed 28-year old living in D.C. public housing. His sixth-floor apartment had been visited by the FBI in June, and Sibu had been arrested and turned. For months, he had been an FBI informant, watched 24 hours a day by an agent using a government issued laptop that logged everything he did. That agent was Clarice Starling. She found it grimly humorous to tease sup_g with threats of arrest, but they were also using Sibu's chat for a more serious purpose—correlating the many names of sup_g.

When Starling wasn’t intentionally misspelling words, inciting sup_g to brag and blunder, or playing with him when she got bored, she was buried under a mountain of paperwork. When she got home that night she crashed onto the couch, rolling onto her side.

She had stopped trying to not think about Hannibal Lecter. She traced a pinky along the suede, made a happy face, gave it a nose, and wiped it away. She made a little strawberry and felt a jolt go through her. Somehow, amongst all of the things that had transpired in the course of that surreal night, the most disturbing parts were what happened in between.

There were the parts where he touched her, made sounds come out of her she didn’t recognize. Sometimes, she’d remember those sounds and turn red all alone in her bedroom. Knowing he’d heard them too, knowing he remembered and could think of it any time he liked. Those things were hard. But the other things…

They had stayed up nearly as long as it took for the sun to rise. He’d touched her, he’d tasted her, he’d done things that…but they needed breaks, let’s have a break, he’d say. And they’d wander around the house, maybe—end up in some dark room, safe inside from the raging storm. Or they’d stay where they were and they’d talk, but they hadn’t just talked. They’d smiled, they’d laughed. He’d made her laugh.
They’d laughed together.

They’d talked briefly about Dr. Chilton. Talked about his little trains and his single ticket to Holiday on Ice. She’d told him about piercing him with her knowledge of his sad little life, how she’d used it to get around him. That’s when he’d said, “Come here,” and took her in his arms, and (God!) how she had wanted him to. They stood in loosely tied robes at the bottom of the stairs, the whistling wind low and hoarse, their eyes reflecting light from the candelabra flickering on the foyer table. “Do you want some strawberries, little doxy?” he’d asked her, with his fingertips beneath her chin as they looked at one another, looked deep.

It wasn’t until she reflected upon these dreamy memories that she’d realized that throughout all of his fondling and penetrating that he had never kissed her mouth. She hadn’t thought of it, at the time. Now, she wondered about it, if it hadn’t occurred to him either, or if it was calculated, in some way. A part of her didn’t care, a part of her was hurt, and a part of her was relieved.

It felt like a dream of a dream. And that was how she treated it. When she thought of it, when she began to feel sick with guilt, she would shake it off and say to herself, it was a dream, a dream, a dream…

A part of her did not want it to be a dream.

When Mapp got home, they washed vegetables and made dinner. Starling had brought wine, and they each had a glass, when reconvening in the living room wearing pajamas. Starling was wearing the same pair she’d worn with Lecter. The terrible combination of sick guilt and perverse pleasure somehow got her through each day. She mused, sitting with her bare feet up on the coffee table, that at least now she was responsive. At least now she was feeling something.

“How are things going with Conway?” she asked. Mapp was holding her glass of cheap wine up to the light, sardonically twirling it with a look of mock contempt. She shrugged.

“Good, actually. Very well.”

“So he flipped?”

“Like a hot cake. He’s not bad, really. Just didn’t know another way to be. Eight years old and living in streets, cars, empty buildings. The lifestyle gradually led up to it. From this place, to another place, through institutions.”

“Could have been me.”

“Hell, could have been me,” shrugged Mapp. “All he’d known was the drug world and institutions. It was his normal. I think he’s just now beginning to see the true horror and abandonment of it all, now that he got away from it. “

“It doesn’t always work,” Starling murmured.

“Hmm?”

“The system. Institutions, the rules. They’ve worked for me, they’ve worked so far. But what if you can’t count on them? What then?”
“When there’s nothing left, what’s left?”

“Me,” answered Starling, with her level prairie-gaze.

“Damn straight.”

Chapter Text

Moveable feast. They were the words on Dr. Lecter’s mind on the days following Starling’s departure. Their annual meetings were not a moveable feast, but it was never to be very far from one. Easter, for seven years, would dance around their trysts--possibly, though unlikely, to converge on Easter itself. It had come late this year, with Good Friday falling on the evening he’d taken her and initiated this…covenant. He had only ever made one other, but he did not care to think of that, now.
He had arrived in Austria just in time to watch the tentative orgy of the senses which follows the end of Lent. Always an excellent excuse for locals to tuck into their brunch of cold cuts and sweet breads. He was not entirely disappointed to have missed Easter in Vienna, though he would have liked to see the Easter fires lit on the night before. He enjoyed knowing the fires had been lit, with or without him, while he had torn Clarice Starling.

Better than the willow twigs, pagan fires and painted eggs was the OsterKlang series of concerts and operas at the Theater an der Wien. It was a musical highlight he would not be missing.

On the evening of his arrival, he walked with an umbrella tucked into his underarm and his top coat unbuttoned. It was cold, but not too cold for a walk, nor had it begun to rain. Taking Freyung to the Farmer’s Market, he passed a mural in front of the Scots Church depicting the story of the Biblical Easter. Christ in blue and red, hunches under the weight of the cross, the traditional geometric halo around his and Mary’s head. He pauses, looking at it. Above the wall is the church spire looming, the face of the church obscured by the height of the wall, which is draped in garlands. His own shadow, long in the low, equinoctial sun, appears to loom behind Christ amongst the capering goats, crags and brush. He walked on.

He had yet to acquire a permanent residence, or even an acceptable temporary one. He had booked two weeks at a B&B next to the Scots Church; in the event that Starling broke her word upon returning to the real world, he did not want to be detected by…what had she called it? Ah, yes. My dorsal fin. My ornery poet. My little doxy.

He turned away from the images his mind offered him, memories of all five senses. He would not think of that, now. He would not indulge until he felt reasonably free from danger. That would take some time. So this was to be his Lent. Though it would certainly not be lasting for forty days, No! His mind seemed to hiss. Not that long, but not now. To the market.

In the following weeks, he made many outings, but was careful not to exceed the limits of a middle-class tourist, and paid in cash often. He frequented the excellent meat and cheese shop Schober, a mere nine minute walk from his quarters. Sometimes he would go to the public library to use their computers, but the interior and the quality of their selection was atrocious. He refused to sit in the ghastly canary chairs, and would stand instead, his head bent. He often had to go quickly then to the Austrian National Library in order to purge himself of the public library.

It is the largest library in Austria, boasting more than twelve million items in its various collections and four museums. Its architecture and aesthetic is very palatable to Dr. Lecter. In the Prunksaal, the central structure, Dr. Lecter enjoys walking among the monastery books and marble sculptures. The hall is divided after the original list of the books; by ‘good’ and ‘evil’. He finds himself often in the center of the hall, gazing at the frescoed walls and dome. Emperor Charles VI glances at him over his marble shoulder as though in warning, one stiff arm slightly raised as though to say, ‘Halt. Come no further.’ It is not permitted to peruse the books, only to ogle some of them on display in wooden show cabinets. It is easier to not think of her, here.

It was at the imperial library that he met Ernst Wagner. Wagner had recently reached tenure as the vice rector at the University of Vienna. They had first spoken in regard to a recent controversy involving two bishops who had denounced the governor and his political party for favoring birth control and divorce. Wagner openly opposed the bishops, who had since started their own rival Catholic party. While standing at the imposing foot of the warning emperor, Wagner told Dr. Lecter this:

“As a historian, I believed it to violate the tradition of Church and State separation.”

“What about as a politician?” Dr. Lecter asked.

“Ah, I predicted that there wasn't enough strength in Catholic ranks to create a meaningful platform. The failure of the bishop’s party will be disastrous.”

“And as a theologian?”

Wagner took a moment to gaze up at the frescoed dome, his eyebrows raised, his thin, friendly mouth smiling a bit. Dr. Lecter could see the white fuzz of an aging man on the folds of his ears in the chiaroscuro museum lights. He was still looking up when he began speaking, again.

“I believe that the Church must always condemn injustice in the light of the Gospel, but never has the right to speak in favor of a specific political party.”

“I’ll only ask one more. What about as a man?”

Wagner looked back at Dr. Lecter at that and laughed. “I think divorce and birth control are nobody’s business but those involved. “

“An unusual position for a canonist. What did they do with you?”

“Oh, they threw me out,” he explained, with the casual gesture of a hand.

Dr. Lecter tisked with his lips pursed and a slow shake of his head. “And right after you made tenure. A shame. What will you do with yourself now, former vice-rector Herr Wagner?”

“I think now is the time to analyze my own functions as an educator. Listen, I’m headed to the Trattoria for a cappuccino, do you want to join me?”

“Tratorria. It is close, I’ll give it that, but that’s all it gets.”

“Is that so?” Wagner asked, with a laugh. “Do you know of a better place, then?”

Dr. Lecter smiled and invited Wagner with an arm to walk with him. “Stick with me. At the very least, in the arena of food and drink, I will never steer you wrong.”

..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................

It was summer when he purchased a permanent home under the name John Boucher. It was an old alias, but his documents were still good. He spent only a few weeks with certain renovations; it was an old house and there were certain walls he found unnecessary, and cut off the flow of the space. Furnishing the home did not take long, as it came furnished and many of the original pieces were to his liking, particularly the upstairs study which was left nearly untouched.

It was a Gothic, high-vaulted chamber which naturally appealed to the monster. Having spent many years confined, Dr. Lecter savored any opportunity to spread himself out. There was a desk in the study which notably pleased him. The desk stood on fluked oak legs, and carved lions heads and acanthus leaves on the drawer fronts. When sitting at the desk, the fireplace was at his back and flanked by three-door bookcases. Their deep cornices sat above glazed doors and flanked by pilasters carved with more lions, and figural masks. To his right, when he sat at the desk, was a gossip bench beneath the window. To his left, the doors to the study which were purchased from a chapel in Belgium. Above the desk was a prayer sculpture of a hooded maiden; her head bowed in reverence over her rosary and resin-casted tears fall from her closed eyes.

The first person to be invited to Dr. Lecter’s new home was Ernst Wagner and his professed ladylove, Rita Steiner. Naturally, the woman was half Wagner’s age. At one time, it would have been easier for Dr. Lecter to be amused by such a common precept. She was attractive enough, with dark hair and eyes, both of which she knew how to use. Her smile bothered him slightly; she had lopsided dimples which did nothing for her upturned nose. By and large the picture made sense as a whole, but any one feature on its own was left wanting. She sat next to Wagner at Lecter’s dining room table while he served them seared sea scallops with lemon-herb beurre blanc.

The next time he served dinner, he decided it called for something hardier and turned to The Joy of Cooking. He chose beef braciole. He had always admired the Italian art of stuffing meat with meat. This time, in addition to Wagner and Steiner was Mizzi Dresler, a woman Dr. Lecter had met through Wagner. She was an emeritus professor of his former university, and a medical historian and gender studies scholar. While she often found herself having to focus on the latter subject, the former alienating those less informed, Dr. Lecter enjoyed a number of discussions with her regarding the histories of medical practices. She knew a good deal about medieval medicine. In fact, she knew more than Dr. Lecter, himself.

Also at his table was her grandson, David Dresler, a philologist. He was the youngest at the table, but held his own. Dr. Lecter was fascinated to see how much he could undercut and chide him without Mizzi’s interference. She did not once intervene. He found her to be cold and fairly bright. He could not help but look at the nape of her neck at one point as he stood behind her, leaning forward slightly in order to refill her wine glass. The skin there was fragile and he was certain that beneath the depths of her gown there would be a patch of down there, and he thought of Tagine of Mazzi with apricots. Then he thought of Starling and quickly dove back into the conversation.

Across the table from Wagner and the Dreslers were Léonie and Joseph Strobl, the two primary patrons of Musikverein. They were currently inviting him to the Vienna Philharmonic Ball. Léonie’s lips were stained a lovely shade of purple and he watched her lick them as she looked at him, before continuing.

“Once a year during ‘Fasching’, the Musikverein is transformed from a venerated concert auditorium into a ballroom. The Golden Hall is decorated with floral arrangements and the seats on the main level are removed to form the dance floor. It really is something you cannot miss, Herr Doctor.”

“It certainly is worth attending at least once,” said Wagner, nodding to himself. He looked up at Dr. Lecter. “But once is enough,” he said.

“Oh, Ernst,” Léonie said with a roll of her eyes and a furtive glance at her husband. She looked at Dr. Lecter. “Don’t listen to him, he’s pursuing the life of a hermit.”

“Solitude is fine, unless you need someone to tell you it’s fine,” countered David. Wagner laughed the laugh of a curmudgeonly old man; soft but heavy with stiff, bobbing shoulders and a gravely throat.

“Quotes are useful to impress upon those lesser minds, your assumed intellectual superiority. But quotes cut down and widdled for your own purposes is the petty, quibbling work of a neophyte,” said Dr. Lecter, his voice no less cutting at a calm, low volume. David’s smile faded away and he glanced at his grandmother for support, but she laughed, riotously. It was better she had, because it was upon this mood the rest of the company succeeded in pressing on. Dr. Lecter looked at David, who was beginning to have trouble keeping his irritation hidden.

“But you’re not wrong to defend his solitude,” Dr. Lecter continued. He took a sip of his wine, and no one attempted to hijack the floor while he did so. “Solitude is worth protecting,” he continued. “Herr Wagner is a philosopher and a scholar. He has his books to keep him company, and there is no superior method for avoiding life.”

“Here, here,” said Joseph, and the others raised their glasses, smirking or grimacing.

At the door, Léonie offered her hand to Dr. Lecter and was disappointed, though not surprised, when he did not kiss it.

“If you decide to attend the Philharmonic Ball, do tell me. You can sit with Joseph and I, and our assistant, Étienne .” Then, in a more confidential tone,” you should enjoy her company. She’s French, from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, I believe. Certainly you would enjoy speaking French with someone.”

Dr. Lecter smiled broadly at her and placed his hand gingerly on top of hers, which still clung to his other. “Certainly, Frau. Thank you for coming.”
Wagner stayed behind, even after Steiner had gone. They sat across from one another in the downstairs study in oxblood club chairs. The fire was winding down and their glasses of sherry were nearly empty. Wagner was slumping and sulking at the embers.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, lately,” he said, without looking away from the fire. “I find myself irritable at the most absurd moments. The other day, Rita suggested I write a book, and for an instant,” he paused to glance at Dr. Lecter and raise a pointed finger,” just an instant, mind you, I wanted to hit her.”

In the following moments of silence, he glanced again at Dr. Lecter to gauge his level of disgust with him. He found none, and settled back in his chair.

“I would never strike her,” he said, giving an abrupt shake of his head. “I’ve never wanted to strike a woman before. What was that?”

“Your strong suit is in academia. You’ve spent the better part of your life focused on two or three things, and you know them well. Now you’re unsure of whether they were things worth knowing at all. You’re afraid you’ve wasted your life and you feel impotent. Rita’s attempt to help you stung all the worse.”

“It’s more than that. I don’t know how serious Rita even is with me. She’s younger, she knows she has options. I suspect she is seeing someone else.”

“Did you establish monogamy?”

“No, but isn’t it usually implied?”

“Not anymore.”

“You’re probably right. And I can’t even blame her. What can I offer her now that younger men could not? She doesn’t want someone whose peak is through; she wants hope for the future. She wants a damned adventure. I only want to smoke and read. I’m useless to her and she’ll figure it out.”

“There’s no bigger schoolgirl in spirit than a cynic, Herr Wagner. Quit sniveling in my house.”

Wagner eyed him and waved a hand, “Yes, okay. Fine. If not a cynic, then what do you suggest?”

“What is it you want, Herr Wagner?”

“I’ve wanted so many things. I am not used to wanting only one, and it feels like dying all on its own. I want Rita.”

The beats of quiet that followed eventually led Wagner to look at Dr. Lecter, and found him leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. He wore a muted smile behind his fingers, interlaced at his lips. At length, he tucked his hands beneath his chin. “Would you like me to help you?”

Wagner frowned and tilted his head. “Could you?”

“I could try.”

Wagner nodded at the fire, as though seeking its approval.

“Yes. Herr Baucher. I would be honored to have your assistance.”

Dr. Lecter smiled. “Then you will have it.”

It was on a gray, overcast Sunday afternoon that Dr. Lecter’s thoughts began to return to Clarice Starling, again and again. He had been doing some shopping when he first found himself thinking of her. He had to willfully put her out of his mind in order to remain vigilant and present. A flock of birds took flight as he walked across a street, and two women looked after him for a moment when he passed them. His features were darkened as he walked home, deep in thought.

Later, when it was getting dark, he found himself at his desk. He didn’t take the seat, but loomed over it, his shadow hovering over the blank stationary. He touched the pen with his fingertips. The stationary, which he had bought weeks beforehand, was purchased directly from the specialized paper maker, Gmund. Since the era of Goethe, Dr. Lecter reflected, the written word has reigned supreme. Germany has maintained an unrivaled reputation for penmanship, and so the art of paper making has not died. What one writes is paramount, but what one chooses to write on mattered, too.

He ran his palm across the paper, barely touching it. The paper is ergonomically streamlined, and embedded with mohair, accounting for its lustrous finish. Quality paper, he thought, is highly tactile and evocative. Yes, what one chooses to write on mattered, at least to Dr. Lecter.

Still, he didn’t sit, and he didn’t write to her. He decided it was too soon to open communication, having been only three months. She needed time to separate them more than space. She needed to commune with her selves, to reorient. He would write to her when it was time. Until then, he would have to nourish himself with his memories. His tottering lover may not be ready to hear from him, but he could think of her at his leisure, now.

Outside, four carriatides hold the stone balcony above their heads, and Dr. Lecter stood above them in the center, his hands coming to rest along the edge. Behind him, three lion heads in relief decorate the wall, each fixed in an eternal bellow. The clouds had receded enough he could nearly see the moon. He watched the sky until, finally, it partially came into view. It was only an illumined sliver, but it stayed exposed for many long minutes, before it was obscured, once again.

Dr. Lecter thought of Starling’s body in relief, where she lay beneath his sheets. He had let her rest for a little while after the initial break. He had not done it quickly, and their recent activities merited an interlude. He had been sitting with his back against the headboard, her feet near his right side. She lay turned away from him at first, holding herself. Only one of her calves and part of her foot were visible. He looked at her skin intently, at the slope where knee met thigh before disappearing into the caverns of the sheets. He looked at the pinky underside of her foot, at her toes. Then he touched her toes and she startled. He came forward with a hand on her hip, and she turned to look at him over her shoulder. He watched her watching him as he moved closer and she lay frozen with the shocked, trance-like surrender of an animal in the jaws of another. He nudged her over and her skin whispered beneath the sheets. When he smoothed her hair with both his hands, she sat up, and they looked at one another.

“I’m sorry for the profanity,” she said quietly, in the semi dark.

“You were entitled,” he answered. She looked down where his hand rested on her thigh, watched his thumb stroking her. When she looked back up:

“Tell me something.”

“Tell you what?”

“Anything,” she answered, looking away.

What a beautiful thing, that. She had served him an opportunity to sting her on a silver platter. Tell me something, she had said. Anything. She needed to hear his voice. She needed to hear her own voice, too. He’d torn her, and she’d let him, and she’d enjoyed it, and now the endorphins were dropping, the oxytocin rising, and she was feeling lonesome and fearful. She moved her arms to cover her breasts, and he watched to see if she would cry. She did not. What a beautiful thing that had been.

“Tell me what you’re feeling,” he’d said.

“I feel,” she paused, gathering herself,”sick.”

“Ummm. Show me where it hurts, Clarice.”

She’d looked at him sharply, a flicker of anger and betrayal on her face.

“I mean it,” he said. “Show me.”

She trailed a hand from her heart to her navel. “It actually…hurts.”

“I know, my little doxy. That’s because your body has released a large amount of oxytocin that tells you your body is safe with me; it tells you to desire affection and intimacy with me. But your mind tells you the opposite. That conflict would be very painful.”

He took her shoulders and pulled her forward until she nodded her head into his chest. “But don’t worry. During these unions I may tease you, tear you and torment you, but I will not allow you to do those things to yourself, by leaving you alone with your own inquisition. Not for longer than you can take. I’ll always know how much you can take. If you’re ever unsure of what you can count on, at any moment, count on that. When you are here with me, you are mine. And I take care of what is mine, and I never give my possessions more than they can take. Do I lie, Clarice?”

She had hummed into his shoulder, before straightening up to look at him.” I believe there’s much hearsay about that.” She wore a small, strange smile. “Probably instigated by you. You’ve lied, of course you’ve lied. But in my personal experience, not much. Not directly. Only once, that I recall. Not about me. Never about me.”

Dr. Lecter took a single second to access his memory palace to recall the lie. She wasn’t wrong. He had told her that he’d suspected that Raspail’s lover had died in a banal asphyxiation transaction. He hadn’t decided how he would give her Jame Gumb, yet. Fair enough. He commended her with a bow, as he stood in the foyer of his mind palace. The skull at his feet reminded him of more than death.

A nod to death, a nod to Starling, hmmmmm. She was entirely correct. He had much to do with how others perceived him. He was the creator of his own myth. No one had ever noticed that, and for just a moment, he was mesmerized by her discernment.

“Then listen to this: Between the faith of your mind and the faith of your body, your body happens to be correct. It is safe with me. You are safe with me.”

They were looking at one another when the trace of a frown appeared on her face and she looked down. Her hand was on his, and she was squeezing his thumb. When she let go abruptly, as though she’d realized a spider was on her skin, he grabbed her and lay down on his back, pulling her on top of him. She’d initially reacted with resistance, but having been placed above him, she seemed to hesitate. She held herself up on her elbows, on either side of him. She was nearly flush with him, all but one stray leg, and he felt her toes wriggle beneath his leg for warmth. He smiled at her and caressed her arms, his chin raised.

“Hannibal?”

“Yes, my dear?”

“Did you lick your fingers for the shock value or because you wanted to?”

“If I wanted to shock you, you wouldn’t have to ask.”

She’d chewed her lip a moment and looked away. “There are some things…”

“Yes?”

“Some things I will never understand.”

“About me or about everything else?”

She smiled at that. “Both.”

“That’s alright. You don’t need to understand everything about me. What’s important is that you understand how it made you feel and why.”

“How it made me feel to watch you licking my blood off of your fingers?”

“Yes.”

“It was gross, Hannibal.”

“Ummm, that wasn’t a feeling, was it? How did it make you feel? Did it make you feel gross? Did it make you feel gross to watch me taste you?”

She had to look away, and he let her. She shook her head. “No.”

“How did it make you feel?”

She pinched the sheets between thumb and forefinger, rubbing the fabric back and forth, back and forth. Then, very quietly: “It made me feel like a goddess.”

He hadn’t felt that required a response. Instead, he pulled her closer and smelled her hair until it was all he could smell. His hands moved over her body of their own accord, and he closed his eyes when she made little sounds. Her skin was warm and soft and very much awake. In time, she was unconsciously moving against him. He didn’t moan, but his exhales became heavy. Then he could take no more, and had to pull her head up to see her face. She didn’t stop moving against him, and he gripped her by the sides. She knew what she was doing, he could see that in her face. She knew what she was doing, and she knew what it was doing to him. Clarice Starling knew what she could do to him, and in the quiet semi-dark, their eyes fixed on one another, she used him and he let her. It was the first time he questioned who belonged to whom.

Chapter Text

Dr. Lecter did not have to wait until the Philharmonic Ball to meet Etienne Alarie. It had been raining for five consecutive days, but on a muggy Saturday afternoon it only drizzled around noon, and then paused again as people began gathering around the Musikverein.

The building was most impressive just as the sun sets-when there was still light, but no need to shade one's eyes. It's lights lit it in an ominous sort of way, from beneath its eaves and columns, making the beiges gold and the terracottas like fire lanterns. The darkening blue sky beyond its facade made it stand in beautiful contrast.

It was a 10th Chamber Music concert, and he met the Strobls during the pause between Debussey's Pelléas et Mélisande and Beethoven's Symphony No. 2. Léonie waved to him and he caught her eye. Her husband stood behind her with his back to Dr. Lecter, talking to someone else. Etienne stood an arm's reach away from Léonie, looking poised with a little effort. She glanced to see at whom Léonie waved, and he caught her eyes as well. He couldn't be sure at the distance, but he thought she may have shuddered.

He had to first be introduced to Bernhard Wagner-Artz, who was the pianist. He found this to be crass, and at one point, turned away from Joseph Strobl as he was speaking directly to him to look at Etienne. It irritated him that he had to go to such a length for them to remember to introduce the lady. Of course, then they were all manners and back-pedaling courtesy, and even carried on minutes later into a discussion about their various charities. That came shortly after Dr. Lecter took Etienne's narrow, rosy palm into his and bent his head over her soft knuckles. He smiled at her when his head came up, and the moment she looked away, he winked at Léonie.

He offered to accompany her for a drink, and she seemed both leery and anxious to go with him. Safely away from her employers and drink in tow, she turned to him and gave him the briefest of looks. It was a look many of us have seen and given, but is not necessarily easy to describe. It communicates, 'Must we, too, pretend?' She chose to play it safe, which he respected. It would also make the following moments more amusing.

"What part of France are you from, Herr Doctor Boucher?" she asked, but her eyes were forward, watching the crowd. He moved slightly, so that he stood beside her and could look with her while they spoke.

"I am not from France," he said, and she looked at him with her eyebrows knitted. Etienne had delicate features, and there was something about her mouth that was very appealing. The shape of it, perhaps. The way the corners were slightly upturned as though she were always making an effort not to smirk. It played beautifully on the arched, irreverence of her eyebrows. The look was softened by her coloring, all chestnut and blushing butter cream. Very toothsome, indeed. She was perfect.

"Oh, I-"

"When I introduced myself to some of our mutual acquaintances, assumptions were apparently made. More than one, it would seem."

"What others?" she asked, turning to look him, intrigued. The true nature of his origins were easily forgotten.

"That we should meet, solely due to the mistaken idea that we are from the same country."

Her lips moved, slightly. It was not exactly a smile or a pursing of the lips, but it was the distinct harnessing of one or the other.

"Worse things have come from assumptions," she responded, looking back at the crowd.

"Agreed. Tell me, Frau Alarie, what else have you heard about me? If you tell me, I'll tell you."

Now she smirked, and dipped her nose quickly into her wine glass. When she answered, her voice was lowered. "Frau Strobl told me what you said to poor David when they had dinner at your house, which is apparently, more than acceptable."

"The house, or what I said to David?"

Another smile. "Both. Quite cruel, what you said," she added, and when he didn't immediately respond, she glanced at him, again.

"Does that bother you?" he asked, and took a sip of his wine while watching an older couple shuffle past, talking too loudly about people who were undoubtedly in the room.

"Bother me?" Etienne shrugged a shoulder. "If cruelty bothered me, I doubt I would have survived my four brothers growing up."

He looked at her. The movement was not sharp but deliberate, and she paused with her wine glass at her lips, catching his eyes.

"A brother should not be cruel to his sister."

"I agree. Hence, the aforementioned cruelty. It comes in many forms, does it not? Some prefer this flavor over that."

"Do you have a preference, Frau Alarie?"

"Of course," she said, with her delightfully puckered, disenchanted accent. "Everyone does. They just don't discuss it."

"But you do."

That seemed to raise her heckles slightly and he saw she had become minutely defensive. "So do you," she pointed out.

"But you brought it up," he said, in a mock tone of childish needling. It succeeded in making her smile again.

"And you, too!" she said, laughing softly into her wine glass, before taking another sip. After a moment, she eyed him again, another measuring of him, a different kind. Now, she was gathering courage. Ah, she will approach the topic of my intentions.

"I didn't expect you to lean towards a fraternal bond with me, Herr Doctor," she said, choosing also to drop his surname, now that they were acquainted.

"We've already covered the consequences of assumptions, Frau Alarie. And worse ones could still be made and will," he said, his eyes sparking. He looked away, and took on a more casual tone, as they each returned to cast their gazes upon the chattering, pecking crowd.

"I have no intention of soliciting you. In all honesty, I find the thought inappropriate. However, I am glad to have met you. It's good to find a leopard in a room of jackals."

"You flatter me. I work for the jackals, remember?"

"And what better position for the leopard to take?" he asked, and she looked at him for a long beat, before descending back into her wine and own thoughts.

After the end of the performance, he made sure to visit once more with the Strobls, and to make plans with them in front of Etienne. In addition, he invited Etienne to join them in front of the Strobls. He would be inviting even more people into his home, this time. There were preparations to be made, indeed.

..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................

The following week, he met with Wagner first for rolls and coffee, and then to visit the Clock Museum. Dr. Lecter had never been there before, and he could sense the pleasure Wagner took from it. It felt like the nursing of a black fly on his skin.

"Did I tell you that after I left your house that night with the Strobls, a little black dog followed me home?" Wagner was saying. They were walking among the sundials and approaching the Japanese pillar clocks.

"No, you didn't. Is there some significance to that, Herr Wagner?" Dr. Lecter said, not masking his amusement with the antics of a man clearly in crisis.

"Ah, I know. It's the boring life of an old man, I know. If there's some lore regarding little black dogs following you home, I wouldn't be surprised. There's lore for everything. Anyway, I decided to keep him."

Dr. Lecter eyed him, and Wagner laughed and nodded.

"I know, I know. But what else have I got to lose."

"I do tire of your masked whimpering, Herr Wagner. On the other hand, what does Frau Steiner think of it?"

"Oh, she loves him more than she loves me, I can tell you! Maybe I should shit on the rug, too."

"Leave that as a last resort. Speaking of Frau Steiner, I've had a thought."

"Oh?"

They were looking at the grandfather clocks now, and one appealed to Dr. Lecter, and they paused in front of it. It was 19th century, associated with the wedding of Willem van Loon and Margaretha Bas, the panel behind its face painted by Jan Miense Molenaer. Angels adorned the top playing trumpets. He could feel Wagner's impatience wafting over like an odor.

"If you're so concerned she'll leave you for another younger man, and I'm not saying she wouldn't, perhaps the best thing you can do is let her."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that the last thing you should do is cling to her. She will run, I can promise you that. However, if you let her feel free, and if you remain constant as she wanders, she is likely to return to you. It's true young women often seek adventure, but where do you think they go once they've discovered that all adventure is, is uncertainty? Where do you think they go when they grow weary of uncertainty?"

"That's logical. But what if she does not return to me?"

"If we're careful, we can be sure she does. All of that depends on to whom she wanders."

"Herr Boucher, are you suggesting I nudge Rita into the arms of a specific man?"

"What an interesting idea, Herr Wagner. I will give that some thought."

Wagner laughed his gravely, vibrato laugh. "My friend, you are even more devious than I."

"But to what end, my friend?"

"Indeed, yes. Thank you, Herr Boucher."

"Call me John."

"Thank you, John. And please, call me Ernst."

"You're welcome, Ernst," Dr. Lecter said, and smiled a genuine smile at Wagner which made him uneasy for hours. He dismissed it at as apprehension about Rita.

..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................

The dinner party of Herr Doctor Boucher was held in October. In attendance were the Strobls, the Dreslers, Etienne Alarie and her cousin, Valarie Martin, Ernst Wagner and Rita Steiner, the pianist Bernhard Wagner-Artz and his wife, Sophie, and David Dresler's professor and mentor, Adrian Baur. After cocktails, the first course was served—ham-wrapped figs with marinated bean salad and hazelnuts. There was good talk over the first course, but he was hopeful it would get far better.

Anyone would be hard-pressed to follow any footprints he left behind, on this night. Steps were certainly to be taken, and not just by him. The following hours would be a delicate game, the rounds of which would come in carefully segued segments of Dr. Lecter's own making. His touch needed to be precise and deliberate-the influence, fine and sharp.

He thought of the celesta; an instrument requiring a firmer touch than the piano, but with the most subtle, ethereal of sounds. Of course then, he thought of Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. He found it continued playing in the acoustics of his sprawling mind, all through the night. . .

 

The main course was grilled medallions of pork in black cherry-pepper sauce with spaetzle and braised fennel. By this time, they were not rowdy, by any means, but the atmosphere was hot and alive. He eyed Etienne. She was looking at him, with her incidental smirk. He watched his attendants. David Dresler and Joseph Strobl took turns ogling Etienne, while Léonie Strobl and Rita Steiner took turns batting their eyes at Adrian Baur, who watched Valerie Martin, who hummed her approval at Dr. Lecter's cooking.

Later on, everyone began to scatter-wandering, talking and drinking. In the downstairs study, David and Adrian Baur sat in the club chairs drinking cognac and discussing the presumed doom of philology. They were speaking in German and their heads came up when Dr. Lecter entered the room.

"Herr Boucher. Won't you join us? I'd like your take on something, if you're not too busy playing host," said Adrian, ignoring David who looked away, his mouth twitching.

"Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral, yes," said Dr. Lecter. "I'd be honored."

"You know Brecht?" Adrian said, impressed.

"Yes, but don't expect me to be an accurate representation."

"Herr Boucher, tell us really," began David, "are you from America? If so, I would understand why you so deftly avoid discussing your origin."

"I've spent some time there, like many of us. But, no."

"I've never actually been," Adrian reflected. "Do you think they even have philologists there?"

"They barely read, there."

"Should America be the evidence of philology's fate, though?" asked David and Dr. Lecter shook his head.

"Oh, I don't think so. I think the root of the problem is that the disciplines of German studies and classics have drifted apart, to both their disadvantages."

"I agree," David responded quickly, if not wearily. He looked up at the appearance of Etienne. "Frau Alarie," he said, giving a bow of his head as the three of them stood.

"Frau Alarie, I was just speaking with Herr Strobl," said Dr. Lecter. "I believe he's looking for you. I last saw him in the library, shall I escort you?"

She shook her head. "No, thank you. Has anyone seen Valerie?"

"She's in the music room with Frau Stroble and my grandmother," David said.

She nodded, looking from one man to the other. "I'll go and see what Her Strobl wants," she said, raising an eyebrow at Dr. Lecter. He bowed his head and the men sat back down.

"Pretty one," Adrian reflected, when she was safely down the hall. "But her cousin, Frau Martin…"

David laughed and looked at Dr. Lecter who briefly raised his eyebrows, just once.

"Perhaps we should lure her here and leave the two of you alone for a bit," David joked.

Adrian scoffed and waved a hand, as Dr. Lecter sat back in his chair. "I don't think that's a bad idea. Why not?" Dr. Lecter wondered, aloud. "It would give you a chance to get to know her. That's what these things are for, are they not?"

"Good point," David said, pleased to have survived a few minutes of conversation with the razor tongued Herr Doctor.

"Well…" began Adrian.

"I do wonder…" considered Dr. Lecter, a finger along his nose.

"Yes? What?" asked Adrian.

"Well, I was speaking to Frau Alarie the other day. She was telling me about her cousin who was visiting, and I of course, invited her along. Frau Martin is single, but Frau Alarie indicated to me that she has a tendency to be rather…choosy. Which is a commendable trait."

"Oh, yes. Depending on what you're looking for," said David, grinning at Adrian, whose folded hands opened in admittance or prayer.

"I'd enjoy settling down, to be truthful. I am getting older and I've had my fun. Do you find yourself in a similar state, Herr Doctor?"

"Ah, don't subvert Herr Dresler's and my intrusion, just yet. We're talking about you," said Dr. Lecter.

"Yes, yes, let's keep talking about you, Herr Baur," David said, smiling.

"Fine, fine. Well, I am not opposed to pursuing the allusive Frau Martin. Admittedly, though, it's been a while."

"Ummm. Maybe you should…" Dr. Lecter began, trailing off as he gazed at the fireplace.

"Yes?" wondered David.

"I can't help but think: if you are endeared to Frau Martin, who we have established is a bit fickle, then perhaps it would be prudent to avoid pursuing her at the outset."

"Do you mean I should give chase to another, first?" asked Adrian.

"Oh, that's a very interesting idea. I've done that before, in fact," said David. "As an undergraduate I was enamored with a girl, Patrice. I wasn't the only one, you see. I was also rather inexperienced, at the time. A friend suggested I 'practice' on another young woman or two, to get some experience. I don't mean to say I womanized. I suppose one could call it that, but they were willing participants, after all. In fact, that was the point. To enjoy the company of someone who enjoys the company of others, for the sake of that company. Nothing more, nothing less. When I felt more confident, I set my sights on Patrice, who had notice, peripherally, that others seemed to enjoy my company. She was more receptive to my advances."

"Very well articulated, Herr Dresler," commended Dr. Lecter.

"Thank you, Herr Doctor," said David, clearly pleased.

"Who, though?" Adrian seemed to ask the fireplace.

"Perhaps it would be best to play it by ear," suggested Dr. Lecter. Adrian nodded, and David sat back in his chair, as though it were all settled.

Not long after, in the hallway, Dr. Lecter waited a few moments outside the library. He poised his hand over the door handle, waited close to a minute, before brusquely entering. A sharp movement behind a lamp shade preceded Etienne standing, abruptly. Her cheeks were red, her eyes furious, sparking in the lamplight beneath her face. Joseph Strobl retreated a hand to his lap and he stood with her, at length. By the time he had turned, Etienne had come to the door, pausing briefly in front of Dr. Lecter who plunged deeply into her eyes in the brief time allotted. She flitted out of the room then, like a startled finch.

"That didn't go well," said Joseph.

"I see. Don't take it too badly, she is young and impetuous."

"Impetuous? That's a nice way of putting it. I hate it when little sluts like Etienne suddenly put on a show, as though they're not a little slut. They know it, I know it, but when it comes down to action, suddenly they play the part of an offended little maiden."

"I certainly hope she won't divulge this to anyone. For your sake, of course."

"No," he said, shaking his head and coming around in front of the sofa. He put his hands in his pockets when he stood in front of Dr. Lecter. "I made sure of that."

Down the hall and to the left were the French doors leading to the terrace, and Dr. Lecter found Etienne there, her arms crossed and one shoulder pressed against the wall. She did not look away from the trees outside when he approached.

"Tell me what happened," he said.

"You need me to?"

"No. But I thought it might do you some good to say it out loud to someone."

"He put his hand on my thigh and suggested we do something. I declined."

"And?"

"And he threatened to fire me and destroy my reputation if I told anyone."

"Ummm. And what will you do?"

She finally looked at him, irritation explicit on her face. "What should I do? What can I do?"

"Remember the room full of jackals?" She looked away again, and he went on. "Do you remember what you are?"

"So you say."

"Quit feeling sorry for yourself, you're wasting time."

She frowned for a moment, before taking a long, deep breath. He waited quietly until she straightened up. She turned to face him, fully. "What would you suggest I do, then?"

"Take revenge, of course."

"And why would you care if I do or not?"

"I have my own game. Help me win mine, and I guarantee you'll win yours."

They looked at one another for a few moments, their eyes hungry in the dark.

The music room was on the other side of the home, but the music playing from the study still carried. Here, Léonie, Valerie Martin and Mizzi Dresler lounged around drinking Chartreuse. Mizzi sat at the piano bench facing Léonie, who sat comfortably in a wing-back chair. Valerie stood at the lit fire, her drink on the mantle.

"Well, she strikes me as a rather dull woman. You would think that being the wife of a performer, she'd have a bit more charisma," said Léonie. Mizzi waved her hand and cleared her throat in a way that made Léonie grip the chair arms so as not to cringe.

"A woman should not be obligated to take on exhausting personas in order to please her husband's cohorts, if you ask me,"Mizzi said.

"Who are you talking about?" asked Valerie, turning around to face them.

"Frau Wagner-Artz. The pianist's wife."

"Oh."

"Anyway, at least it's amusing to watch your grandson flounce about in front of you and Etienne," said Léonie, throwing her head in Valerie's direction.

"Woman, you put David to shame when it comes to flouncing!" Mizzi countered.

Before Léonie could respond, Etienne appeared in the doorway. "Here you are," she said, looking at Valerie and bringing David into the room with her. "Herr Doctor requests your company in the library with Herr Strobl. He said he has a painting he wishes to show you. By Charpentier."

"Charpentier!" Valerie exclaimed. "He was listening at dinner."

"Oh, yes. He's always listening," said David, grinning at Etienne.

"I can't believe he didn't tell me he had an original Charpentier when I mentioned my love for her work," she said, a hand on her chest. She turned to Mizzi and Léonie and gave her head a bow. "Excuse me," she said, and David and Etienne moved aside for her.

Etienne placed a narrow hand on her cousin's arm as she passed, leaned in and whispered. David was the only one who noticed, but did not hear what was whispered, nor said a word.

"Where in God's name is Ernst? And Frau Steiner, for that matter," Mizzi wondered, scowling at her empty drink.

"I'll bet they're rubbing against each other in some dark room," said Léonie, and Etienne gave Valerie a quick nod, who disappeared down the hall. She then came into the room, swiftly.

"Frau Strobl, I'll fetch you another drink. David, will you take Frau Dresler's glass?"

"Of course."

"Now, here's a couple of good, young people," said Mizzi. David gave her a bow of his head as he took her drink. "Thank you, David," she said, looking away, her eyes somewhat wobbly. "And I'll bet you're wrong, Léonie. Those two couldn't have less chemistry."

"There's certainly chemistry from one end," Léonie responded, and David and Etienne could hear Mizzi's grating cackle from down the hall.

"How can you stand Frau Strobl? She's truly awful," David said, when they were alone.

"She's too distracted by her own secret misery to be harmful. I don't worry about her. Speaking of secrets, may I trust you with one of my own?" She asked, her voice becoming a whisper, even as they entered the kitchen. Wagner-Artz and his wife were in the adjacent dining room but did not look up.

"Of course," he said. She made a show of looking around, glad of the higher volume of music in the empty kitchen. Still, she moved closer to him. His fingers twitched at his sides.

"My lovely cousin is taken with you," she whispered, grinning.

"Oh! Your-your cousin?"

Etienne nodded, turning around to refill Léonie's drink. Remembering to do the same, David moved to stand next to her at the bar. "I had no idea."

"In case you decide to pursue her, I'll warn you: she plays hard to get."

"I see."

When they were finished, Etienne turned to face him. "You know," she said in a dreamy voice," it's funny. I always find I suddenly have a thing for anyone Valerie finishes with. Who knows what that says about me," she said, shaking her head. She eyed him and smiled, giving him a gentle elbow to the arm. "Perhaps you're next," she joked, and laughed for good measure. David's smile was lopsided.

In a sconce-lit hallway, Dr. Lecter passed Valerie. He gave her a nod, deftly handing her €500 notes. She stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"Is this why you asked Etienne to bring me here?" she asked him in a low whisper.

He nodded once. She went on, "You're sure no one knows I'm a-"

"No one knows. Thank you, Madam," he said, and they walked on in opposite directions down the hall.

As he passed the stairs, he found Rita Steiner alone with one hand draped on the banister, and one foot on the first step. She turned quickly when he cleared his throat behind her.

"Oh!" she said, a hand on her chest. She stepped down, turning to face him. Her other hand still gripped the banister. "You frightened me, Herr Boucher."

"I apologize. May I help you find something?"

"No, no. I was just doing a bit of exploring, I hope it's alright."

"Need a bit of solitude?" he said, with a tilt of his head. Rita Steiner was not where she belonged. He held his hands behind his back and Rita's hand finally let go of the banister, and she crossed her arms.

"Truth be told, Ernst fell asleep in the living room."

"Did he?" Dr. Lecter raised his eyebrows and smiled.

"He did! He's just snoring away on your sofa."

Dr. Lecter laughed, and the base of Rita's spine was not the only place that tingled. "The hazards of gifting an old man with your presence, I suppose," he said, and Rita smiled.

"He isn't so very old. And he's so very smart. In fact, he makes me feel rather foolish, at times."

"Not intentionally, I hope."

"Goodness, no."

"Ernst is not a cruel man, in my limited experience. Though, between you and me, he can be regrettably self-pitying, at times. No one is without fault, of course."

"I do know what you mean," she said, coming a little closer. Nothing comforts weaker animals more than the prospect of preying on another. In the case of humans, we prey upon the character, most readily. "Sometimes, after I've soothed his ego for the second or third time in an evening, I feel rather exhausted."

"It isn't wrong to yearn for something requiring less energy," began Dr. Lecter. I've certainly been guilty, myself. I hope you would never think I would judge you if you were to mingle with others here, tonight. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Ernst would be willing to turn a cheek. As fragile as the male ego can be, especially at his age, Ernst is comfortable with his place in the world. He lives on literature, not we mortals. You and I, Rita, are the fake, plastic reeds around which Wagner swims in his little aquarium. We do not feed him, no. He feeds upon the little morsels of ideas and fables provided to him."

"How true," she said, her hand returning to her chest. "Herr Doctor, you speak so beautifully. You must be one of the cleverest men I've met."

"Frau Steiner, if I were to use the wits given to me, I should assume a woman of your grace doesn't exist." He watched her blush and look at the walls and little tables in the room until she felt safe in returning to his face. "Furthermore, any man in this house should be honored to have their heart broken by you. Now, tell me who that might be."

God, but he hoped she did not choose him.

"Can I really trust you to be discreet, Herr Doctor?"

"You may trust me with anything."

She lowered her voice. "I would very much enjoy talking with Herr Baur."

"An excellent choice. Well. In regard to Ernst's extraordinary ability to fall asleep anywhere, I'm sorry you were left without entertainment. Would you like to join me in the kitchen? I was just going to refresh some drinks."

"That's alright, I suppose I'll get back to Ernst and hazard waking him up."

"Very well."

When he did not move to leave, but only stood watching her with his frozen smile and unnatural posture, Rita chuckled nervously and came forward.

"What is up there?" she asked, nodding her head behind her.

"My private quarters. I know the house is large," he said, pausing. A sharp, sweeping motion of his arm made her flinch. "The living room is down that way, through the great hall. If you go through the study and make a right, you'll find your sleeping paramour."

Another quiet chuckle, and she followed his outstretched hand, looking back once from down the corridor to see him still standing there, his hands behind his back watching her go.

Joseph still fuming in the library, pawed at various books on the shelves, turned a globe on its axis and crossed his arms, glaring at a painting on the wall. In it, an old, grinning man seemed to lurch toward a decadently dressed young woman. He offered her a purse of coins, and the woman looks out, looks at the viewer, a small smile on her face.

He turned at the sound of the doors closing softly behind him.

"You," he said, before clearing his throat. "Excuse me. Frau Martin. You gave me a start."

"I'm beginning to think it's the house," she said, coming into the room after a moment. "I nearly collided moments ago with Herr Boucher," she said, coming closer. Joseph watched her, leaning his head back slightly when she was closer than appropriate.

He took a step back. "A strange sort of man, Herr Boucher," he murmured, watching her.

"Yes. He is good-looking though. In that strange sort of way you don't immediately notice."

"If you say so."

"Not like you."

"What do you mean?" he asked, when she took a step closer.

"I mean it took me no time at all to see that you were handsome." She put a hand on his arm.

He looked down at her hand for a moment, and Valerie could see the bald spot forming on the crown of his head. He was grinning when his head came up. "You are rather comely yourself, Frau Martin."

She pouted her lip for a moment. "Please. Valerie."

"Valerie," he said slowly, as though tasting the word in his mouth. He smiled again, his teeth ever-so-slightly crooked, and leaned in. Valerie turned her head a fraction to allow him access to her neck, and she smiled at the painting, her eyes glazed.

Sometime later, Dr. Lecter found Wagner and Steiner in the kitchen with Etienne and David, who each smiled brightly at his entry.

"There's the host. Herr Doctor, would it be any trouble to let us out onto the terrace? David and I were just talking about how nice a night it is," Etienne said.

The Wagner-Artzes came into the kitchen, then-glassy eyed from drinking like the rest of the house, save Etienne and Dr. Lecter, who were entirely sober.

"Oh, what a wonderful idea!" said Rita.

"Of course, it's no trouble at all. I'll turn on the lights and provide you with music as well," said Dr. Lecter. "Oh, Ernst," he went on, tilting his head slightly to look at Wagner," After I've escorted them outside, I wondered if you would be willing to part with Rita for a bit. I've wanted to speak with you."

"Certainly, John," said Wagner, giving Rita's hand a squeeze. She kissed his cheek and hooked arms with Etienne.

"You and Herr Doctor go ahead," Etienne said, smiling at Rita. "David and I must be 'good young people', as Frau Dresler said, and bring her and Frau Strobl their drinks."

"Nonsense, we'll join you," said Rita.

Dr. Lecter spoke before Etienne could protest. "If we're going to see Frau Strobl and Frau Dresler, we should tell them that Herr Baur is presently alone in the study. Perhaps they wouldn't mind keeping him company," said Dr. Lecter.

"Of course," agreed Rita, and Etienne smiled at her as they all made their way out of the kitchen.

"I'll make my drink," said Wagner as they all left. "You'll know where to find me."

In the music room, Mizzi scowled at everyone. "I'm old, I'm not moving. And I don't mind being alone. Léonie can go to the study with Herr Baur. You all go, I want to look at the fire and smoke my pipe. Herr Doctor?"

"I'll open a window."

"I'd like to go out on the terrace, too," Léonie protested. "Why am I designated to keep Herr Baur company?"

"You're certainly welcome to join us, Frau Strobl," said Dr. Lecter. Etienne eyed him nervously. "Etienne can keep him company, instead. You wouldn't mind entertaining him, would you, Etienne?"

"Oh, alright," Léonie said quickly. " Etienne is off-duty tonight, of course. I'll go."

"Whatever suits you, Frau Strobl," said Etienne, with a humble bow of her head.

When Dr. Lecter returned to the kitchen, Wagner was indeed, right where he'd left him. He considered everything for a moment, while he still had the privacy Wagner's back allowed him.

The old crone out of the way, smoking in the music room. Valerie seducing an ego-bruised Joseph in the library. David, Rita and the Wagner-Artzes out of the way on the terrace with Etienne. Adrian alone with the desperate Léonie in the study. Ernst alone with him here, in the kitchen. The game was set. You could never entirely predict what people would do, it was true. Yet, he felt confident that the fragile egos of Joseph, Adrian, Léonie and Rita would make them easily molded. He smiled when Wagner turned to him.

"What did you want to talk to me about?" Wagner asked.

"Frau Steiner, of course."

"Has it worked then? Does she prefer Herr Baur?"

"She does."

"She said so, herself?"

"Oh, yes. In great confidence."

"And you think he's the right choice?"

"He's perfect."

"What if they fall in love?"

"Herr Baur is not going to fall in love with anyone. However, if he was going to fall in love with anyone, it would be with Frau Martin, not Frau Steiner."

"Excellent. John, you're a genius."

Dr. Lecter took a deep and humble bow. "Now. Let's drink."
.............................................................................................................................................................................................................................

Quotes:

Dr. Lecter quotes Brecht and William M. Calder III

Translations:

Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.-"First comes the feeding(as an animal eats), then comes morality."

Chapter Text

Starling slowed down to go over a speed bump, and something rattled within the bowels of the Pinto. Vehicles communicate quite a lot by the noises they make, and Starling put off the thought that a new car was probably in store, for another time and place. She was driving down a residential road in Woodland. She'd been here before for different reasons, usually to do with local, territorial beefs between Lench Mob and Big 3-0. The last time she was in the area she was wearing tactical gear. This time, she was carrying no more than anyone else walking down the street.

Some of the buildings, red bricked and blocky, reminded her of the Lutheran Home, and she recognized the looks in many eyes here, one of suspicion and a readiness to fight for oneself. There were distant sirens, and when she turned onto 30th street, a parked, armored ice cream truck carried over the sirens with its brassy melody over the loudspeaker. There were some kids gathered around it and a couple of young, African American men standing nearby, leaning against the hood of the car. One of them was wearing a wife beater with a black shirt thrown around his neck and he eyed her as she passed. The trees along this street bent and twisted into deformity from having grown around power lines.

When she pulled into an apartment complex, she parked next to an old, blue minivan. She walked around an overturned portable basketball hoop and knocked on one of the doors on the first level. She looked over her shoulder where a group of kids stood around laughing and yelling. She turned back around when the door opened.

"It's just you?" he asked.

"Yes, Mr. Vidal?"

"Yes," he said, pausing to look behind her," Come in, come in."

When she was seated at a small kitchen table, the young man pointed to the coffee maker. "No, thank you. Mr. Vidal I'm actually on my way out of the city tonight, and I'll need to be on a plane in a couple of hours. I won't take up too much of your time. Please, sit."

Starling had found interviews went better when she made it clear it wouldn't last long, right off the bat. They always relaxed a little, and with that small amount of released tension, with the thought that she would soon be a memory, their answers came forth more readily, the truth peppering the discussion more consistently. He sat and held his hands on top of the table.

"Are you going to interview him, next?" he asked.

"Interview who, Mr. Vidal?"

"Guido. He must be the only one left, by now."

"Mr. Polenta, yes."

"Ever been to Buenos Ares?"

"No. I've been Quito."

"You should visit some time, not for work. It's nice."

"I'm sure you're right. Before we get started, I need to record this, is that alright with you?"

"Well I get protection?"

"Of course. You'll stay anonymous, but I need your testimony on record."

He nodded. Starling had already taken out the handheld recorder and turned it on, setting her purse aside.

"This is Special Agent Clarice M. Starling, FBI number 5143690, deposing Martin D. Vidal, CUIL Number 30-10251348-8, at 2201 Q St. NW, Washington, DC 20006, apartment number fourteen, on the date stamped above, sworn and attested. Mr. Vidal understands that he will be protected by the Witness Security Program and granted immunity from prosecution in the U.S. Attorney, District-thirty-six and by local authorities in a combined memorandum attached, sworn and attested. Mr. Vidal, please explain your former occupation."

He didn't speak immediately, and looked up at her, as though startled. "Uh…I was the executive housekeeper for the Polenta family, and then I was the family assistant to Fran Polenta and her new husband, Richard Masters in their home."

"So first you worked for the Polenta family, but you went with Fran when she was married and moved out?"

"Yes. She grew up with me in the house, I don't think she wanted to go without me. Fran was…she was young to get married, but even younger at heart than in body. She was innocent, romantic. She was maybe a little attached to me. Her parents were not always around, but I was. Me and the housekeepers and nanny."

"And how long had they been married?"

"Nearly two years. At first she seemed very unhappy. It was…well, I wouldn't say it was arranged, but…Franny felt pegged into a corner."

"They threatened to cut her off, is that correct?"

"Yes. She either married Richard or she was out of the family."

"You said she seemed unhappy at first. Did she change her mind?"

"Okay. When Guido first told her he wanted her to marry a Masters, he led her to believe it was Paul Masters, Richard's brother. When she found out it was not Paul, but his brother Richard, she was very upset, and refused. That was when they threatened to cut her out. Not just the money, the family, you see. After they were married, Richard was always paranoid that Franny was having an affair with Paul, but he'd never caught them. He was so paranoid, he sent her to America for what he called 'a vacation'."

"To Salinas, California."

"Yes."

"And Richard, he stayed behind?"

"He said he did."

"Did you see him around during that time, around the house?"

"Yes, at first."

"Francesca Polenta was in California for less than a week before she died. When did you stop seeing Richard Polenta?"

"Three days after she left."

"And Paul?"

"I don't know if Paul went with her or not."

"Do you know if Francesca Polenta and Paul Masters were having an affair?"

Mr. Vidal looked away for a moment, a guilty look about him, as though he were on the verge of betraying someone. "Yes," he finally said. "I was sworn to secrecy. Understand, that was not uncommon. You see things in the house you run."

"Naturally."

"And I loved Franny in my own way, we all did. But yes, she was unfaithful. Can you blame her so easily? She and Paul were in love, and had been before she was forced into an unwanted marriage."

"You say Richard never caught them, did he have some evidence?"

"Not really, but he heard things. Not from me."

"Do you have any information on the whereabouts of Paul Masters or Richard Masters?"

"No, Ma'am."

"Okay. Thank you, Mr. Vidal. We'll be in touch," she said, turning off the recorder, and he watched her stand.

"Agent Starling, now I've given my story, I will be protected?"

"Yes, twenty-four hour protection."

"The Polentas don't want this out any more than the Masters, and they're both powerful families. It's disgusting," he added, nearly under his breath. "He would rather his daughter's murderer go unpunished than to face another scandal."

"You're referring to the bribery scandal?" she asked, arranging her purse on her shoulder.

"Yes. It's why Guido can't leave Buenos Ares, right now. It's why he married off Franny. He wanted to make peace, publicly, with his greatest financial and social competition."

"Richard and Paul's father, Raleigh Masters."

"Yes. Despite the scandal, Franny was still a valuable diplomatic pawn in the power games of rich men. And still is," he said, crossing himself, "Rest her soul."

Vidal was right about one thing, Starling reflected on her way out of Woodland. Guido Polenta was, in fact, the last person she needed to interview, not counting Paul and Richard who were both still missing. She suspected only one of them was still alive. She'd tried calling Mr. Polenta, and always reached his secretary who told her he was unavailable and would call her back, but he never did. A part of her looked forward to showing up at his home the following morning.

Starling had been assigned the Polenta case two months previous. Ordinarily, it would not have been a federal case. However, the missing alleged lover of the deceased Francesca was a federal official. She'd heard various sides of things, much of it sounding like gossip of the help, which Starling knew to never discount. Unfortunately, it was not enough to come to any conclusion, and no testimony thus far had given her any clue as to the whereabouts of the husband or lover of Francesca Polenta, the beautiful daughter of Guido Polenta of the Polenta Group.

Accounts of Paul's personality varied more than Francesca's. Some people deemed him to be romantic, and others claimed he was not particularly interest in the world around him. Yet, he was apparently interested enough to lend his voice in support of his father, a co-founder of a prestigious investment bank. What was beyond dispute was that he was handsome. He was also married with children.

In a way, it was cases like this that bothered Starling the most. It seemed glaringly obvious what had occurred, and yet no action could be taken based upon reason- only evidence, of which there was next to none. Francesca Polenta had been shot, the slug removed. There were fingerprints of all three of them, as well as the maid who cleaned the hotel room where she was found, and about twelve other people. Half of what Richard's fingerprints were found on were on his belongings. As for Paul, his fingerprints proved only that he'd been with Francesca in California. They only hinted at infidelity, not murder. Fingerprints are notoriously unreliable. Starling shared all of these thoughts with Mapp when she got home.

"It's sad," Mapp agreed, and leaned back in the kitchen chair across from Starling. "Hey, you want a beer?"

"Sure. I can't help but feel sorry for Fran. She was only nineteen. Who the fuck knows what they're doing at that age?"

"Hell, I don't always know what I'm doing, now," Mapp said with her head bent at the refrigerator. When she turned around with two beers, she handed one to Starling and sat down.

"It's hard for me to relate to falling for a married man, with children, no less. But I still feel for her."

"I know, Baby. One of them will turn up. One way or another."

Starling opened the beer and took a swig before leaning forward on her elbows. She glanced out the window. She would need to leave, soon. God, she didn't want to leave, but she had to.

"Richard has to be in the U.S. He would've been caught at the border and at any airport."

"You know he came here, for certain?"

"Yeah. We have records of the flight. None of the witnesses say they knew for sure. So far, just about everybody I've talked to have either protected him, or were ignorant. Vidal has been the most forthcoming so far, and he's terrified."

"Hell, I don't blame him," said Mapp, and yawned. "I got to get to bed. I have an early morning," she said. "Want to finish mine?" she asked holding up her beer.

"Girl, finish your drink."

Mapp grinned and downed it in about a minute. Starling laughed when she burped. "Goodnight. No, don't kiss me."

Mapp laughed. "Fair enough. Be safe, Starling."

"Always am."

............................................................

The Polenta estate was about as impressive as Starling expected. She was greeted by staff, and seated in a study and offered a beverage. She declined and listened to the ticking of a grandfather clock in the corner.

Starling did not have many quiet moments to herself. There were car rides, and lying awake at night. Starling did not think of him often, exactly. Yet, he was always there in his way. She did not think of him actively. Sometimes, she almost convinced herself that what had happened six months ago was merely a dream. Sometimes. Starling liked to believe that on some level, it was. That somehow, what had occurred that night- his voice, his mouth, his hands- it was all out of time, somehow.

A stolen night, came a verse in her own voice. A stolen night which was to be repeated six more times. What if she did not appear when and where she was to appear? He would kill again, but would he kill her? She did not acknowledge that she knew she would appear, but she knew it. She would always appear. She would appear six more times, anyway.

The door opening behind her made her jump. "Apologies," came a voice, and she stood. Guido Polenta was close to seventy years old, but looked good for his age. Money did that, Starling reflected. His hair was white, but he had plenty of it, and his skin was in good condition, despite the wrinkles.

"Not at all," she said, coming forward. "Mr. Polenta, my name is Clarice Starling. Thanks for seeing me. May we talk?"

"Well, I didn't think you'd come to swim," he said, smiling.

He was playing the charm card. Starling could see how that would work a lot of the time. Considering the recent murder of his daughter, it was wildly inappropriate. He seemed to realize it under her gaze, and his smile faltered. Clearly, being charming was a knee-jerk reaction to intimidation.

"I've been trying to reach you," Starling started as she sat back down. She waited until Polenta was seated.

"Have you?"

We both know I have, you little prick. Starling smiled.

"Yes, Mr. Polenta. For some time. I'm glad you could make the time, now."

"Of course."

Starling nodded to a framed picture on his desk. "Is that your daughter there?" she asked.

How does he react? Is there sadness? Anger? Bitterness? Nothing? It was a bit of everything, reflected in the glassy eyes of denial.

"Yes, that's my Fran. She's-she was beautiful, wasn't she?"

"She was, Mr. Polenta. And from what I've heard, very kind and charitable."

"Yes," he said, perking up, slightly. "Franny was always involved with charities. We're so-we're so proud."

"Of course. And her husband, Richard Masters. Was he also charitable?"

"He was a political tycoon. They were different, but sometimes different is complimentary."

"How did they meet?" Starling asked.

"Here."

"Here, at your home? What were the circumstances?"

"We were having a dinner party."

"Who else was in attendance?"

"My secretary can prepare a list for you."

"That's fine. And that was the first time they met?"

"Yes."

"Was his brother Paul at this party, too?"

"Yes, the whole family."

"And you've known the Masters for how long?"

"I've known Raleigh for nearly thirty years."

"Old friends?"

"Old rivals," he said, a faint grin, a glint of nostalgia.

"Now, I know this is some time ago Mr. Polenta, but I need to try to get something straight. It's been explained to me that three years ago, you and Raleigh Masters had a bit of a scuffle. Where was that?"

"Oh, that was nothing. It was at a fashion event, and we'd both had a bit to drink. We both made amends."

"So on the evening of March 12, at the Latiwa Art and Fashion Show, you and Raleigh were in attendance?"

"Yes," he said, slowly.

"Mr. Polenta, I have a record that both the Polenta family and Masters family were all in attendance, including Francesca, Paul and Richard Masters. If you're going to lie to me about things like when your daughter met her husband, or anything else, it's going to make it harder for us to get along."

"Ms. Starling-"

"-Special Agent Starling."

"Special Agent Starling…I had simply forgotten that they had met, back then. It was probably only in passing."

"Was it also only in passing during the United Through Sport charity event, seven months before that? And at the annual wine tasting event at the Embassy three years before? Mr. Polenta…" She let herself trail off and watched him sweat.

His mouth screwed up and for a moment, she wondered if he'd shove everything off of the table and throw her out. A part of her hoped he would.

"What does it matter, when they met?"

"Mr. Polenta, it's a federal process crime to knowingly and willfully make false statements or conceal information in any matter within the jurisdiction of the federal government of the United States. That includes lying to a federal agent. Now, come on. Mr. Polenta, I need you to be straight with me, or you're going to end up with a worse scandal than bribery, believe me. Cooperating with me is the best chance you have of ever leaving this country again, and saving your family from even more embarrassment."

"You-"

"Take a moment, Mr. Polenta. I won't be here long. My flight leaves tonight, and I have other business here between now and then. But we have a little time. A little time to do this right."

She let a minute or so pass, and was pleased she didn't have to wait longer.

His face was still red. "She met Richard, I think, at a juego del pato game. She never liked him much, but he was taken with her. He was easily taken though. I didn't take it seriously."

"But she decided to marry him?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"Almost two years ago, not long before they wed."

"And what led her to suddenly want to marry a man she never particularly liked?"

"She did it for the family. Don't you have family, Special Agent Starling?"

"Was it your idea, Mr. Polenta?"

"Special Agent-"

"Was it your idea?"

"Mine and Raleigh's."

"And what did Fran think of that?"

"What young girl would be happy about it? But she did it for her family. She was a good girl."

"So it's not true that you threatened to cut her out? I have it on multiple accounts that you did."

"¡No (me) jodás! I had to! It was for the family."

"Mr. Polenta, was Francesca Polenta having an affair with Paul Masters?"

"I don't know anything about that! If she was, it was her own damn business!"

"Not anymore. Now, it's the business of the federal U.S. government. Your daughter was shot in the U.S., her alleged lover a federal official. We suspect whoever did this is still in the U.S. When we find that person, and you've lied about any of this, you will face criminal conviction."

I told you, I don't know anything about Fran and Paul! I've only heard what everybody else heard."

"And that was?"

"That they were fucking!"

"I see. Thank you for your time, Mr. Polenta. I'll get out of your hair," she said, smiling and standing. Starling thought she heard him say, 'Zorra' as he left, but she couldn't be sure. It would not be the first time she'd been called a bitch. Starling wondered in how many languages she'd be called a bitch by the time she retired.

...........................................................................

On Thanksgiving, Starling helped Mapp with the food as much as she was allowed, and otherwise stayed out of the way. Starling lay across the sofa in their shared living room, slumped against the arm rest with one leg thrown up onto the seat back. When Mapp came in she flipped on the radio and tickled Starling's foot.

She jerked and frowned. "What are you doing, lying here in the quiet?"

"Thinking."

"About?" Starling watched her lean a hip against the opposite arm rest and cross her arms. Starling raised an eyebrow. "Nonna your business."

Mapp looked away with her lips pursed and nodded. "Okay. I see. Is it about that guy you hooked up with six months ago?"

Starling toed one of the upholstered buttons on the couch back. "Seven. No."

"Liar. Why don't you call him, or something?"

"It wasn't like that."

"One night stand kinda thing?"

Starling's eyes were a little glossed over, as she watched her own foot, her toes running along the contours of the arm rest now, along the gimp braid.

"Yeah."

"So he wouldn't want to hear from you?"

"Don't you have cooking to do? What's this?" she nodded her head toward the radio.

"Girl, that's 10,000 Maniacs. And don't pretend with me. You know what this is, and if you want food, you'll talk to me for a minute."

"You'll still feed me."

Mapp rolled her eyes and moved Starling's feet to sit. "Yes, I'll always feed you. And you know it's fine that you keep your private life private. But if you're hurtin', you should talk about it. You don't need to give me the details. Did you hear me?"

"Yeah."

"Are you hurtin'?"

"Yeah."

"Tell me."

"I don't like how I feel about it," Starling said, sitting up and groaning. "I don't like that I think about it."

"How do you feel about it?"

"Wrong. Did you ever do something really bad, bad for you and whatever standard you have, and you just can't swallow that you did it? And it eats at you, and physically hurts? It's like," Starling paused, her hands becoming taut. She closed them around her stomach.

"It's like there's something inside and it's burrowing. But there's no other side for it to get to, so it just scratches and scratches. I almost feel like I can hear it, Dee. Little scratches on the other side of a door I can't open."

Mapp was quiet for long enough that Starling got nervous and looked at her. She was nodding, staring at the coffee table in thought. "Yep. When I was around nineteen I had this friend, Michael. We'd been friends through high school, and we were really close. He had a thing for me," she said, shaking her head.

"I knew it, but I didn't feel that way, you know? I knew I never would, and he had a tendency to be a bit unstable, emotionally. He fought with depression. Anyway, we went to a friend's house to pregame for her party. We were already drinking before people started to show up. We ended up getting shit-faced, and Rhiannon, our designated driver, drove us back to my dorm room. "I told him he could take the couch, and he suggested we just share the bed. If I hadn't been drunk, I would've known it was a terrible idea. We had sex, he lost his virginity. I took his virginity, Clarice. The next morning, I could see it in his eyes, you know? He thought we were in a relationship. Explaining that it had been a mistake was tough. He agreed and seemed okay, but that weekend he tried to hang himself. I didn't even know until his mom called me. I talked to her for a long time at the hospital, I had to tell her what happened. We both agreed I needed to disappear from his life. I've never spoken to Michael, again."

She looked at Starling again, finally. "I never told anybody about that."

Starling's smile was sad. "Thank you."

"For what? Telling you a depressing story?"

"Yeah. It's horrible, isn't it? Human nature. Suffering loves company. The torment is so much more bearable when you know you're not alone."

"Hell is no one but yourself, forever and ever," said Mapp.

"According to a Christian apologist. According to an existentialist, 'Hell is other people.'"

"It's so damn hard, sometimes. The whole, 'How can God let monsters do this and that', thing. It's even harder when you can see a little bit of that monster in the mirror. It wears different faces, but you can always recognize it."

Starling wanted to say, 'What if you invited the monster in? What if you made a deal with it?' She stopped herself before the sentence even formed fully in her mind. Instead she put her head in her hands, and felt Mapp's hand on her shoulder.

"Hey. Would bacon wrapped scallops help?"

Starling nodded with her head still in her hands, and Mapp patted her.

"Okay, Baby. You can have a freebie. And when you're through wallowing in guilt and bacon, come help me in the kitchen."

"I'm allowed back in the kitchen?"

"You can be in charge of the monkey bread."

The letter came the day before Starling's birthday. She didn't realize she'd been waiting for it until it came. She held it in both her gloved hands while sitting cross-legged in her room. She still hadn't decided what to do with it. Her heart was hammering.

Dear Clarice,

Do you find that time heals all wounds? I, for one, do not. The notion presumes that the source of grief is finite. People will tell you all manner of things when it comes to healing properly. Whichever way you choose, never search for it at the feet of those who harmed you, Clarice. Do you find your scars unsightly? I find that scars remind us that the past is real. I trust yours are healing, nicely.

As I write this, there is a conjunction of the moon and Saturn. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye. I hope you did not miss it. If you did, be sure not to miss the upcoming Lyrid meteor shower. Astronomical events are an uncommon feast of the senses, and it would be tragic should you miss it.

As I know you will not ask, I will tell you: I am both consistent and faithful in my proclivities. Are you? Have you betrayed yourself with belief? Have you been deluded by love or tricked by sex? The bottle is damned faithful, Bukowski tells us. The bottle will not lie. Succumbing to carnal desires is less abysmal than duplicity. Be, at least, as honest as the bottle, Clarice. You pay me the compliment of acknowledging my superiority when you lie to me.

The ultimate realization of truth is not cheap; you will never find a ready-made path. You must create the way by your walking. Birds fly, but do not leave footprints in the sky. If ever you come to that ultimate truth, I hope to be there for it. I hope to be in attendance in that moment more than any symphony or sunset, more than the blooming of a century plant or the raining of fish, more than any coronation or celestial phenomenon.

Until then, I think of you often.

Hannibal Lecter

Starling realized she was holding the letter close to her face, and she set it down in front of her. Mapp was on a date, so she had the house to herself. Before his letter had come, she was bracing herself for the inevitable attention she would get the next day. Mapp was good about not taking it too far, but there was always a 'Happy Birthday' in a sing-songy voice, meant to make Starling laugh. She knew how Starling felt about birthdays and celebrations, in general.

As a rule, Starling's distaste for celebration was not excessive, but it was visceral. She saw them as occasionally necessary, at the very most to serve as bookmarks in life's prattling drudgery for those less purposeful. Her birthday held no meaning for her. It only meant she was still here, and while she was glad of it, she didn't see it meriting ceremony.

Following the 'Happy Birthday', there was usually a lot of brouhaha about a dinner. Starling liked the dinner, overall. Good food was good food, but it always brought a sort of clamor and always involved last-minute errands. A number of times, there were guests. The unfortunate proximity of Christmas to her birthday tended to make it a footnote in the holiday commotion. It could have been one reason, she reflected, she'd learned to not give the day of her birth much ado. It had never been toys on holidays or birthdays that made the true bookmarks in her life, anyway. The real bookmarks were not all joyous, but they were hers.

She looked at the letter on the kitchen table, and then at her gloved hands. Then, she removed her gloves and hesitated only a moment, before running the tips of her fingers along the page. After a few moments, she lifted it carefully back up, bringing it close to her face. She sniffed it once, twice, and then set it down. She could swear she smelled him on it, but wasn't sure. A good indication that she had smelled him was the fact that the scent immediately brought forth memories, and the memories brought forth sensations...

She stood abruptly, the ladder back chair making a shrill squeal on the tiles. She stood looking at the letter for a few beats before heading into the living room.

They had a gas log set installed in a masonry fireplace; at one time in her life, the thought of a gas fireplace would have seemed like the height of luxury. She took a knee to open the flue and light the pilot. She watched a moment, then brought the letter in and sat down, cross-legged. She read it again, and then again. Then she balled it up and threw it in, watching for long minutes as it coiled, darkened and disintegrated beneath the logs.

The next day, Starling came down with her blanket wrapped over her shoulders. It was early, but Mapp was already up. She smiled at Starling and handed her a cup of coffee when she came into the kitchen.

"You running this morning?" asked Mapp, taking a seat across from her.

"Nah."

"You going in today?"

"Not unless I'm called, no."

"Good. You can help with dinner tonight. I have a few errands to run, but you can be my grocery store buddy, right?"

"Always and forever," Starling said around a yawn and took a noisy slurp of the coffee.

Mapp laughed. "Well, alright. Oh, and Starling?"

"Go on, then."

"Haaaappy birthdaaaay."

"Thanks."

"I can't imagine the spoilsport you're going to be on the big 3-0."

"Well, you have two more years to imagine it."

"Or, you have two more years to gain a sense of fun. Folly has an important place in life, Clarice."

She looked up at Mapp, her eyes narrowed in consideration. "You're probably right."

"You're not the only one who's learned to cope. I'll share mine if you share yours."

Starling smiled and removed a pale arm from the blanket, offering her hand. Mapp smiled and shook it.

"Deal," said Starling, a spark in her eye Mapp didn't entirely recognize. "Deal."

.....................................................................

January, and Dr. Lecter meets Etienne Alorie at the Kriminalmuseum, a macabre museum dedicated to historical Viennese murders. It is housed in one of the oldest buildings in the Leopoldstadt area, the Soap Boilers House. It holds twenty-two rooms to explore skulls, medieval torture devices, bloody gloves, death masks, and rusty axes. It was Etienne's idea.

Etienne walked with her hands in the pockets of her overcoat, the tip of her nose still pink from the cold. They were standing in front of a guillotine, watching people look.

"Personally, I find it disgusting," she was saying quietly, and sniffed. "They're like sniggering adolescents in an R-rated movie theatre, hoping to be kicked out so they don't have to tuck tails and leave."

"Most people are drawn to death. Death is the siren, humanity is the sailor. Do you know why I think you hate them? You hate them because you know you're one of them."

She looked at him. "Don't delude yourself into thinking you're more than a man."

Dr. Lecter smiled before nodding his chin. "Let's move on."

In front of a cabinet of chains, she leaned towards him, again. "Frau Strobl has been fucking Herr Baur for nearly a month. Herr Strobl has nearly caught them twice. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm going to have to give the situation a little nudge. She's more careful than I thought she'd be."

"Don't do anything without telling me. What about Herr Strobl?"

"I think he's fucked Valerie in every room of the house. They all keep just missing one another."

"What are the usual conditions for Frau Strobl and Herr Baur to come together?"

"Come together?" Etienne snorted quietly and raised an eyebrow. "I can never tell if you choose your wording that way on purpose or not. He usually comes over on Tuesday evenings while Herr Strobl is playing cards with Wagner-Artz and some others. He also comes on Saturdays, occasionally. Herr Strobl is usually out for most of the day on Saturdays. The rest of the time, she goes to him. Tuesday is the day I bet on, as Valerie comes over in the mornings when Frau Dresler has brunch with Sophie and Mizzi. It's the only day both trysts occur. Valerie and Herr Strobl in the morning, Frau Strobl and Herr Baur in the evening."

"I want you to speak with Frau Martin, we'll need her help."

"Alright. When?"

"We have four days until the dual trysts occur?"

"Yes."

"Alright. Speak with her before then. Tonight, if possible."

"Alright. She might ask for more money."

"It doesn't matter."

Etienne tried her best to look Dr. Lecter over without him noticing. He didn't look at her, but she never felt she got away with it. Herr Doctor was a very curious man. She found her body was attracted to his, but something kept her at bay. Perhaps it was the distinct sense that he was not the least bit interested. If there was more, she could not name it, not consciously. At times, she wanted to ask him what he was. A philanthropist? An investor? What did he do to have such money to buy lavish homes in Vienna and pay a fille de joie. It was not appropriate to ask.

Etienne had never asked something like this of her cousin. They had not spoken of Valerie's profession often, as it hadn't mattered. She had worried it would cause strain between them, but it hadn't, to her relief. Etienne was surprised that a professional sex worker was, well…professional.

"How are things getting along with David?"

"He's wrapped around my finger, like you asked."

"And?"

"I've managed to encourage him to flirt with Frau Steiner. It is a spectacle."

Dr. Lecter nodded. "How does she react?"

"Annoyed, mostly, to Wagner's delight. It appears to be good insurance for you."

"Good. Has she made any attempt to contact Herr Baur?"

"Oh, yes. She's been calling him and pestering him and making a fool of herself, while Herr Baur does the same with Valerie, who ignores him, as per instructed."

Dr. Lecter nodded, his hands behind his back when he turned briefly to Etienne. He smiled and she gave her head a tilt. "On Tuesday, I want Valerie to forget her purse at the Strobl's."

After his meeting with Etienne, Dr. Lecter felt slightly piqued, and decided he needed to do some quality shopping to right himself. Even though things were going according to plan, he could not help but sense a niggling feeling that it was not enough. One way or another, he would break most of them, if not shatter. It would be amusing, yes. Was it enough?

When he first began to suspect he would not be entirely satiated by the eminent result of his tangled web, he thought it was because he felt constrained by his covenant with Clarice, but that wasn't quite right. What he wanted had to wait. He could play with these people as long as he wished, make it last longer or cut it short. He could vary the degree of pain between one or the other, but it wasn't what he really wanted. He didn't want to play with these people. He wanted to play with the big cat. He wanted to play with Clarice.

Writing to her had been enjoyable. He liked to imagine her reading it, perhaps sitting at her kitchen table, cheap bourbon an arm's reach away from her gloved hands. He imagined her eyes skimming the page, her eyebrows furrowed, perhaps the corner of her coral lips twitching. He wondered if she'd turned it in.

When he arrived home that evening, he brought into his empty house many bags from the shops on Goldenes Quartier; Armani, Mui Mui, Chanel, Mulberry, and more. While the results of his game continued to unfold, it was time to prepare for the second round of his favorite one. It was time to make preparations for his little doxy. He made a call to Etienne and told her he could not be reached for a time. When he returned to this little arena, he hoped to find more than one skewered heart in time for Valentine's Day.

Chapter Text

Every February, Starling thought of a poem she'd read as an undergraduate. She never meant to, but always ended up seeking it out and reading it at some point, in the long, brittle month. Starling had decided as a child that February was the longest month; not in the count of days, of course. She knew it was a deception of the mind. February was not quite the start of the New Year, as that responsibility was on the confetti-covered shoulders of January. January carried all of the excuses and distractions of intention and champagne, meaningless count-downs and kisses. January knew how to handle the dragging sense of sorrow that comes with the knowledge that anything that has changed has changed nothing at all. February was unarmed, unless you counted Valentine's Day. Which she did not.

She'd considered buying a book with the poem in it, but never did. In the beginning, she wasn't sure why she wouldn't do it, and gave it little thought. Then it occurred to her one night when Mapp asked her what her favorite movie was. She told her it was Citizen Kane, and Mapp had frowned.

"Citizen Kane?" She had wondered out loud. "I wouldn't have guessed."

"Why?" Starling asked.

Mapp shrugged."You don't have it."

"Oh. Yeah, the first time I watched it, I wasn't at my house. I was a kid, and we were visiting relatives for a week. I was bored out of my mind and found that movie in their collection. I watched it over and over again. Any time we visited, I'd watch it. Eventually, my aunt asked me if I wanted to have it, and I told her I didn't. I liked the special-ness of not having it to watch whenever I wanted."

"How old were you?"

Starling pursed her lips and shrugged. "Eight, maybe."

"Rather deep and reflective for an eight year old."

"Yeah, well. I also told my mom once that she had a beard on her front butt. Wabi-sabi."

Starling pulled a blanket over her shoulders. It was early, dark out, and she couldn't sleep. For the last two month, she'd been working with Brigham and his team, along with other agents in Illinois, Colorado and Arizona to track down a victim of child pornography. Some of the other agents had been tracking down the abusers of a multistate child porn ring for years. The break in the case had come recently with the arrest of a man named Roy Barrie, a forty year-old military veteran living with his parents, who had known nothing about their son's activities. They finally tracked down the boy's parents the night before. Starling didn't know how she'd react to seeing the boy in person. She'd seen him before, in pictures. Pictures and videos that she could never, never extract from her mind. She'd thought making it stop, helping to make it stop, might bring her some sleep. It hadn't. The damage was still done, same as the images she could never unsee.

What was worse was that this one man had hundreds of thousands of images stored on hard-drives. This one man. This one child. She felt like she was trying to scoop out the ocean with a spoon. Starling wrapped the blanket around her shoulders tighter and toed on her slippers before getting out of bed. Naturally, couldn't help be reminded of those days down in the dungeon with Dr. Lecter.

No, not the dungeon. It was in Tennessee. She remembered how odd it had been to see him outside of his cage, even in this new one. The prefabricated cage they'd fashioned for him had seemed small in the atrium-like room. Even still, Dr. Lecter had not seemed small at all. Not in the cage and not in the room. He took up all the space wherever he was, he consumed the present. It would seem, Starling reflected, he consumed the past, too.

She thought of his eyes peering over his forearms, that look in his eyes as he hunched over, intentionally shifty, intentionally creepy. He taunted her this way, a reflection of her own deception. Then she'd told him everything, she scooped out her heart for him and he hadn't blinked, not once...

"You still wake up sometimes, don't you? Wake up in the iron dark with the lambs screaming?"

"Sometimes."

"Do you think if you caught Buffalo Bill yourself and if you made Catherine all right, you could make the lambs stop screaming, do you think they'd be all right too and you wouldn't wake up again in the dark and hear the lambs screaming? Clarice?"

"Yes. I don't know. Maybe."

"Thank you, Clarice."

He'd seemed so at peace afterwards. She'd fed him better than he'd been fed in years, of course. The obvious question now was, did she still wake up? Of course she did. She thought that this most recent experience, in part, may have been why she had ultimately burned Lecter's letter. My God, what could a bragging, needling letter to her mean in the bigger picture of things? He wasn't killing. She had made sure of that. She'd paid the price as always, and yes – she sometimes wondered if that made her some kind of a whore.

Some kind of a whore, some kind of a…

She hated that word. She hated it so much, even the sound of it without the connotations, without the meaning and heaviness in it. Surely this one thing, this act she performed (and would perform again a finite number of times), could not make her a 'whore'. She was not paid in money. She was paid in lives. Did that change things? Did it matter? Your choices are subject to your judgment, and yours alone.

She realized she was standing in the middle of the dark kitchen in her slippers and pajamas, a blanket trailing behind her like a child. Where was she going? What was she doing? A good question, she answered herself dryly. After some scrounging in the pantry, she found hot chocolate mix. It seemed to fit her attire and mood. Coffee could wait.

In the living room she started to sit in the chair bythe window, as it had seemed like that would paint a pretty picture. It was fucking freezing by the window, though. She moved to the couch and tucked in her knees, cupped the mug beneath her chin and thought about whores and innocence and February. By the time Mapp was up, Starling had made breakfast and a decision. She was going to go to the library. Child, whore, monster—whatever she was at any given moment, she could do that. She could go to the library and read February by Margaret Atwood, and feel okay for awhile.

Starling carried a tumbler in one hand and a lumpy overcoat in the crook of an elbow as she scoured the bookshelves. She'd found Alias Grace, The Handmaid's Tale, The Cat's Eye and a few others, but none with February. She couldn't remember the name of the book. She stood a moment, The Edible Woman still in her hand, searching with tired eyes.

She tensed when a hand appeared in front of her, setting a book on the shelf facing out, in front of her. The title read: After Eden. She turned.

"I thought it might interest you. It's an anthology of anti-love poems," a young man said. She gave a quick, sweeping glance. Younger than her, twenty-three, maybe. Dark hair, long-limbed, tall and skinny. Knobby joints, a bit hairy. Nice smile. Long lashes, confident for his age and stature. Alright.

"I hope that's because I'm standing where I am."

"If you like Atwood…" he said, and shrugged.

"Do you work here?"

"Nope."

"I see."

"But I'm here a lot. Student. What are you looking for?"

"A poem, February. What do you study?"

"English Literature. You want Morning in the Burned House."

"English Literature?" she asked, crouching for a moment, finding the book and straightening up. "You're doomed, you know."

"We all are. Want to get some coffee?"

Starling put back The Edible Woman and tucked Morning in the Burned House under her arm. "Well, I was going to read this."

"You could buy it at a bookstore."

"Yep."

"I have a copy you can borrow."

"I think I'll just read it here, now. Like I planned," she said, with a wry grin.

"Okay. I can catch up studying. Then, do you want to get some coffee?"

"I have a lot to do today."

"Cool. Want to get some coffee?"

"Why don't you try starting out with a name."

He put out a hand, and she looked at it. "I'm James Lanka."

"Clarice Starling," she said, shaking his hand. "I'm going to go sit and read, now."

"Don't forget After Eden. You'll like it." He handed it to her. "If you don't, I won't ask you to get coffee, again."

"And I suppose if I do, you will?"

"Yep. I'll be over at that table," he said, nodding.

An hour later, he sat down across from her, and she looked up. He didn't say anything, but he caught his chin in the palm of his hand, waiting. She sighed and nodded.

"Okay," she said.

"Okay, you liked it? Okay, you'll get a coffee with me?"

She nodded. "Yeah, I'll get coffee with you."

"There's a café across the street. I'll meet you over there."

James Lanka was not Starling's type, but he wasn't her anti-type either, if there was such a thing. She wondered, at a certain point while chatting with him, if she had a type, at all. If she did, she wasn't sure what it was. It was easier to know what she didn't like than what she liked.

Starling didn't consider herself particularly proficient when it came to men and dating and sex, but didn't beat herself up about it. She'd seen some of the girls she'd gone to school with, when she was his age and younger. Some girls were there to learn proficiency at dating and sex. Starling hadn't been. She'd been busy for a long time, busy with what she'd deemed important to her. In those subjects with which she had experience, she was more than proficient. It was not indicative of a problem.

Starling remembered listening to an older girl talking about boys when she was about seventeen. It was her last year at the Lutheran Home. The girl hadn't been talking to Starling, but a group of other girls.

"Boys our age aren't people," the girl was saying. "You can't think of them that way. All they care about is getting their dicks wet, everything else is secondary. They'll do and say whatever they think might get them a chance with you." The girl had flipped her hair over her shoulder, then. Some remote part of Starling had been in awe of that simple gesture. She'd done it once in the mirror, and felt utterly ridiculous. "It's dangerous to think of boys as people," she'd gone on, "Boys aren't people until they're at least thirty, when all that crazy-making testosterone starts to fall. Until then, they're just filled with cum up to their eyeballs."

Starling wondered if there wasn't a tad bit of truth to her words, as vulgar and unfair as they'd been.

James was trying. It was not a very attractive display, but then again, she couldn't entirely blame him. She'd never considered a younger man, but hadn't written it off, either. Generally, she didn't think of men. But it occurred to her that while she couldn't separate young men from the human race as her childhood acquaintance had, younger men were easier to manage. There were probably exceptions to that rule, but she felt it was probably a safe assumption.

For the next six years and two months, her womanhood belonged to Dr. Lecter. She shuddered at the thought, and was glad of the cold as James walked her to her car a couple of hours later. Starling hadn't even decided if she would want to sleep with James Lanka, a fact he was probably acutely aware of. But even if she did decide she wanted to, she knew it was out of the question. So if she was going to waste a little time with someone of the opposite sex, better it be something closer to a boy than a man.

So when, a couple of weeks later, Starling had another free day, she found herself in James Lanka's company. He'd taken her to a dinner, and then they'd walked aimlessly a bit and eventually, he leaned in to kiss her while she stood in front of her car with her door open. She'd pivoted abruptly and found herself sitting in her car. She hadn't planned on dodging him that way, but what was done was very much done. She looked up at him, caught between apologetic and irritable.

"Goodnight! Thanks for dinner," she said, hoping she didn't sound terribly sheepish. He'd bit his lip and looked away nodding and smiling, dryly.

"You're welcome, Clarice. You know…"he'd begun, and Starling braced herself internally, and squeezed the wheel. "In spite of…what just happened, or…I suppose what just didn't happen, I would like to see you again."

Starling swallowed and nodded. "Yeah, yes. Me too."

"When might that be?" he asked, with his head to the side. His posture and the surprisingly confident tone of his voice made her reconsider him.

"I don't know when I'll have another day off…" she said, tapping her thumb on the steering wheel.

"The night is relatively young, you know…"

"I…agree."

"You could get out of the car and get into mine. I wouldn't touch if you asked me not to."

Starling stared at her own white knuckles and then quietly got out of the car. She didn't look at him until she'd slammed the door shut and adjusted her purse. He smiled at her just a little, before leading her across the street.

In his sad little student apartment, they'd made out on his cheap sofa until his roommate came home. Then they'd moved into his room, and done a little more until his other roommate came home. Then Starling had bit his lip and said goodnight.

................................................................................................................

On Valentine's Day, Mapp came home late, and Starling paused a movie on the television.

"Hey," she said.

"Hey."

When Mapp was comfortably dressed and armed with tea and a ziploc bag of cookies, she sat next to Starling.

"What are we watching?"

"It's called Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography."

Mapp laughed. "Interesting choice. Why aren't you with your new boy toy? What's his name, again?"

"James."

"Right, James. Shouldn't you and he be having a romantic steak dinner, or sixty-nine-ing, or something?"

"Well, we were going to eat steak and then sixty-nine, but decided it was too cliché. So instead, I'm watching a movie about porn, and he's studying for exams."

"That's really beautiful," Mapp said, putting her feet on the coffee table. "Sugar slop?"

"No thanks."

"You ever get the feeling love is dying?" Mapp asked.

"No."

Mapp swiveled her head around. "I thought I could trust you."

"Love is there, it's just ashamed of itself, sometimes. You have to watch for it, it hides between rocks. It's not all about couple-love, too. Believe me, I've met some parents who love their children. Love them enough they're broken inside if somebody hurts 'em," she said, pausing to take the cookie when Mapp offered it. "So, yeah. It may not always be the kind you're looking for, and it may be sandwiched between hate and cruelty, but it's there. It hides between rocks."

"You think you might head in that direction with Jim Bob?"

"You know his name is James, and not really. But he's good company and he doesn't whine when I leave early."

"That's what we call, 'good enough'. Talked to Crawford today, by the way."

"Oh, yeah?" Starling said with her mouth full.

"Umm-hmm. Said you're taking some time off in April. Why's he know before me?"

"Because he had to okay it this morning," Starling said, chuckling. "You are the most territorial friend I think I've ever had."

"Okay, okay. Sorry."

"No, it's okay. Turns me on, actually."

"Meow," Mapp said, and shut the Ziploc bag. "Should stop."

"Should."

Mapp reopened it. "Had a shitty day."

"No, why?"

Mapp shrugged, "give it a little time. I need to distance myself from it before talking about it."

"Got it."

"Where you going in April?"

Starling paused, watching the scene in the movie. A nude woman in pigtails was bent over on a stage, her ass on display to the laughing men, below. She covered herself with a hand and looked at them from between her legs. "Like a Cracker Jack box with the prize in it, ey?" the woman said.

"Monterey."

"What kind of a movie is this, Starling?"

"It's not a love story, but a film about pornography."

"Smart ass," she said, standing and stretching. From the kitchen, Mapp said something over her shoulder amongst the sounds of cabinets and dishes, and Starling craned her neck.

"What did you say?"

Mapp came into the room holding a tumbler in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other. "I said, that wasn't all Crawford told me."

"Oh," Starling said, eyeing Mapp's provisions. "Is it that kind of night? You had me worried at cookies."

"Oh, it's that kinda night."

"You'll tell me about it, sometime?"

"Yeah. Some time," she said. "About Crawford—oh, do you want a glass?"

"Hit me."

"Alright."

When they were both seated, drinks in hand, Mapp huffed when she sat on the couch and tucked in her bare feet. "Right. Crawford told me about what happened with the Polenta case."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, but he didn't give me details. So they found the husband?"

"Yep. In Colorado, hiding up in the mountains."

"And he did it."

"Yep. He crumbled under questioning, told us where to find Paul's body. Apparently, he nearly caught them again in their hotel room. They managed to get their pants up before he barged in, but it was clear what happened. Paul went out the damn window, but left his things in the room. Richard aimed his weapon at Paul, who was climbing out of the window and Fran flung herself in front of him. I don't think he meant to kill her. He goes to her, has his little moment, 'Oh, what have I done, yadda, yadda.' Meanwhile, Richard nearly escapes. He followed him all the way to Nevada before catching up with him."

"Right. Well, what I heard was that Richard asked to speak with you, after he was in custody."

"Yeah. He said I was the only person he knew of in the country who had spoken with his father-in-law."

"So what happened?"

"I went. We talked," Starling said, pausing to take a sip of the drink. "That's a damn good mojito. Anyway, he asked me to relay a message. Basically, that he really did love Fran. He wanted him to know he hadn't meant to kill her."

"That's it?"

"That, and he left me with a special little sentiment," she said, sighing. "He said, 'I may rot in prison, but my traitor of a brother and whore of a wife will burn in hell for eternity.'"

"And some people say love is dead."

The same stripper on the television screen was in an interview, now. She wore a comfortable sweater and jeans, the camera from behind the interviewer's head.

"It's a very honest arena," the woman was saying. "They may be guilt-ridden and this and that," she said, her hand making the gestures of a politician, "but they certainly act on a very animal level."

"Fair enough," was Mapp's response. "We're animals, at the end of the day."

Starling blew air out of her pursed lips, making pieces of her hair flutter around her face, and she let her head fall back. We're animals at the end of the day. Right.

.............................................................................................................

 

Dr. Lecter was pleased with the location he'd chosen for his upcoming visit with Clarice Starling. The images of the scene danced in his mind's eye the whole trip back into Austria, and even on into the night after arriving home. It would be cold, too. He liked that. It would suit his purposes. They would have solitude as well, that was for certain. Their complete isolation was key.

He found himself sitting at his desk after unpacking and showering. He walked out of the bathroom trailing a bit of steam into the chilly hallway. His stationary was still there, and he wondered what a letter from Clarice might look like.

He sat down slowly, ignoring the phone when it first began to ring. He was in casual slacks and socks, for the cold floor, but he hadn't put a shirt on yet. He stood erect, his shoulders still slick and a little rosy from the hot water and steam. The cold air felt good, if not a little biting. Perhaps that would be the nature of a letter from Starling, he mused. He wondered if she'd ever return his letters, as he gazed down at the photo of her he'd clipped from a tabloid.

She had apparently been investigating a missing federal official, but that was clearly a bit of a euphemism. What she'd been doing was covering a media-frenzied double murder involving a prolific business man's infamously adulterous daughter. There was a picture of the daughter too, but Dr. Lecter only glanced at it, as well as the photo of the perpetrator, now in custody.

"They will burn in hell for eternity!" the tabloid exaggerated a quote.

The photo of Starling was small, and she stood flanked between two other agents. After cutting out her image, it was small even in the palm of his hand. He picked it up and put it there now as he slowly sat, looking at her face cradled in his hand.

He picked up the ringing phone on the fifth ring.

"Dr. Boucher."

"Herr Doctor, it's Etienne. I know you said I couldn't reach you for a time, but…"

"What is it?"

"Well, something's happened."

"Go on."

"Well, they've caught each other, the Strobls."

"And?"

"It was rather nasty."

"Did you blackmail them?"

"Yes," she said hesitantly. It was odd to hear the word said out loud, in such casual conversation.

"How much did you ask for?"

"Two hundred thousand," Etienne said, her voice softened.

"You could have asked for three."

"I think so, too. They agreed very quickly. And asked me what I would do with it."

"What will you do with it?"

"I'm going to get my PhD."

"Good girl. What else?"

"Well…there's been a bit of a…tragedy."

"Ah. Please go on."

"Alright, let me explain what happened."

What Etienne told Dr. Lecter began with Joseph Strobl catching his wife bent over his desk in front of Adrian Baur. Scrambling, stuttering and red faces ensued. When Joseph called Adrian a bottom-feeding home wrecker, Adrian proclaimed to everyone that he had only done it to practice for Valerie. Joseph, in turn, delighted in confessing that he had been sleeping with Valerie. Valerie, who stood nearby in the hallway came forward, and confessed that she was a prostitute. When a furious Joseph demanded to know who had paid her, she only shrugged and pursed her lips.

At this point, Etienne made her appearance from the side door and, taking a look at everyone, announced her intentions. Joseph called his wife a stupid whore, who called Etienne a conniving snake, who smiled at an indifferent Valerie, while a shocked and humiliated Adrian stared slack-jawed at the divan.

Upon hearing all of this, Rita Steiner had an extreme reaction. She had apparently been spending time with Adrian in a platonic fashion, and had fallen in love with him. It had also turned out, to everyone's shock besides Dr. Lecter's, that Rita had been taking antidepressants and antipsychotics to treat psychotic depression. Wagner found her dead bowed over her oven door three days before Dr. Lecter's return to Vienna.

"You should go and see him. He hasn't seen anybody."

"Yes, I'll go at once."

"Herr Doctor?"

"Yes?"

"I suppose I should say thank you. It feels quite dirty to say it now, after what's happened. But gratitude is still in order. So, thank you."

"You're quite welcome, Frau Alorie. I'm sure we'll be in touch. Goodbye, now."

"Goodbye."

He hung up the phone without looking. His eyes were still focused on Starling's face. He was not entirely comfortable with how often he'd been thinking of her. He was not entirely comfortable with the ways he was thinking of her.

Dr. Lecter had only been to Wagner's home three times. After he'd knocked on the door for several minutes, he pulled out a customized house key and a small screw driver. He inserted the key into the lock and gave it ten taps, before it opened.

Inside, there was music playing from somewhere in the house. Wagner's home was not as large as his own, but it was big enough that he was not certain from which direction it was coming.

The stairs greeted him in the foray, which split into two directions. To the left was a living room connecting to a kitchen and dining room. To the right was a study, connecting to a wet bar and the dining room. He went upstairs, stopping at the top and listened. Here, there was a living room with a large television, four bedrooms and a bathroom, and a second staircase at the end of the hall which lead down to the kitchen.

On the third story, there was a single, large bedroom with a billiards table, a small bed, and a bathroom.

Dr. Lecter walked down the hall to the third floor staircase and placed a hand on the banister. He could hear a dog barking. The staircase wound around until he faced west, and he peered up at the top. The door was cracked open with a light on. The music grew in volume. He'd recognized it before, but now, he moved his hand along with it in the air, keeping count like a conductor. It was Masonic Funeral Music in C minor by Mozart.

Dr. Lecter's hand in the stairwell light, moving back and forth, palm up, palm down, his foot making one of the steps creak, and the dog barking, barking barking. When he pushed open the door, he stood at the top a moment, one hand at his back, the other still conducting the music as he took in the scene.

The little black dog on the floor in the middle of the room, skipping from one side of a tipped footstool to the other, yipping and whining and now looking at Dr. Lecter and barking at him. Wagner himself was hanging from a good, smooth piece of nylon rope, which he'd expertly tied to the beam above. Unfortunately for Wagner, he had not given himself a good drop; therefore his neck had not broken. Instead, he'd hung there for about eight long, painful, anxiety-stricken minutes and died from hypoxia causing cardiac arrest. His face was pale and slightly swollen, with a bit of saliva leaking from his mouth. Dr. Lecter stayed where he was until the piece ended.

He seemed to notice the dog, then. He took a knee and pulled out a bag with some leftover pieces of ham, and offered one to the panicked dog. The dog sniffed, looking at Lecter, and then looked back at its recently deceased master, barking, barking, then sniffing, sniffing. He came forward, and Dr. Lecter scratched his head while he ate. He examined the collar on the dog's neck. It read: Cerberus.

"A good name," said Dr. Lecter. He smiled at the dog, and gave him another piece of ham. Dr. Lecter laughed, looking back at Wagner, his eyes bulging slightly, glassy and empty.

Chapter Text

On a Wednesday afternoon, Starling paced the hotel room at the Monterey Bay Inn. Her window looked out onto the ocean, where the setting sun turned the water orange and the beach goers into happy, black specks on the beach. Her drapes were shut.

Eventually, she fired up the laptop she'd just bought at the nearest Radio Shack, and wrung her hands. The round-trip plane tickets to Sogndal varied between $3,280 and $3,450. Lecter had not mentioned that.

"What the…" she murmured, running a hand through her hair. In a strange way, she had a moment of gratitude. She had traded feeling terrified for feeling angry. She'd take that deal, any day.

One year ago, she'd created a fake email account for the purpose of communication, if that became necessary. She logged on to see any messages. Amongst the spam, she found one email, sent nearly two months ago. It was itinerary for her flight the following day. There was no note attached, and the sender was from a Charles Closter.

Starling closed her eyes. One, she could have bought it herself. Two, the fear was back. At least, she reflected, there was still some anger, there. But it wasn't fear for her life. Where the fear came from was a place Starling could not name. Yet, it was there, nonetheless—making her knees wobble and her mouth dry and the small of her back slick.

The flight left at 5:40 in the morning the following day, and stopped at Heathrow Airport for a one hour layover. She was not expecting to be on a plane that early. She checked for other flights, and realized why it had come down to this one. All of the others had long layovers, several of which were overnight. This wretched flight he'd chosen was the best there was, and she put her head in her hands and growled just once, quietly, into her balmy palms. She wasn't sure why. She steadied herself, and looked at the rest of the flight, her face pale in the blue light.

It would take her ten hours to cross an ocean. Then there would be one more stop at Oslo, at which point she would catch her final flight to Sogndal Airport, Haukåsen, arriving at ten after six in the morning. Norway time, on Friday. To her, it would be nine at night, the previous day. If that did not aid in making what was to follow feel like out of time and reality, she did not know what would.
..............................................................................................................................

Their reunion was an odd one, and not what either expected or planned. By the time Starling's flight landed, right on time at ten after six in the morning, she was as tired as she had ever been. She was so tired that, by the time she was on her third plane, she was no longer filled with anxiety. Each worry, each panic-inducing scenario that ravaged her mind fell away. Like crumbs cast into a park pond, each morsel floating on the surface either plucked or descended below, one by one. She could not hold onto them.

There was a distant pulse of panic, nerves or excitement in her gut as she exited the plane. Another as she walked through the terminal, and she felt cocooned by the strangers around her, blanketed from the stares ahead from those who greeted them.

Then she saw him. He stood among them, near one of the widows. He stood with his hands in his pockets and wore no expression, which soothed her. His overcoat was long, down to his ankles, his hair slick beneath a merino wool felt hat. His shoes were shiny, even in the ghastly airport lights. Unlike the others he did not wave or come forward, only gave a bow of his head and waited. Starling had no idea how she looked, and glad she didn't care.

Suddenly, she was standing in front of him, watching him look her over.

"Good morning," he said.

"Good morning."

"Come," he said, removing his hands from his pockets and directing her away from the crowd. "I have water and a little food in my car."

She thought then that she must look like a refugee, and drifted along next to him like wayward luggage with a screwy wheel.

She knew it would be cold and had worn her thick, wool coat. She'd neglected to wear a scarf or even bring gloves, so she pushed her hands in her pockets and tucked her chin in as they left the airport and the frigid, morning air hit her with the force of cold water. The complete obliviousness of others bothered her just a little, as they walked to his car. His pace was quick, but not too quick for her. The cold, the haste of his stride and the general sense of falling took her from the airport to his car. It carried her from a world without Hannibal Lecter in it, to a world deluged by him.

She watched him load her meager luggage into his backseat.

Whore.

She watched him open the door for her and she collapsed inside, the door smooth and muted as it closed. She was alone for a few beats and she watched him walk around, a chipper, prowling wilder in his gait and mood. Now that she'd watched him a bit she saw beyond the lack of expression. He was pleased. He was…happy?

Traitor.

She was so tired, she could not even tense when he was seated next to her. He leaned over and took out a water bottle from the glove compartment and a small, tin box.

"Drink. Eat. We'll have a more filling breakfast when we arrive at our destination, unless you'd like to sleep."

"Sleep," Starling said. It was not an answer or even a response; she only repeated the thing that sounded good, so good. The anxiety had kept her awake through the whole trip and now, exhausted by both travel and apprehension, it was all she wanted. Sleep. When she only held the bottle and tin box in her lap, he put the car back into park and unscrewed the lid of the water bottle for her.

"Drink it, Clarice. Then you can sleep."

She looked at it, and wondered if she was already asleep.

"Five sips," he added. He watched her obey, and when she was finished, he recapped it.

Starling slept for the four and a half hour drive. Dr. Lecter looked at her as often as traffic lights permitted.

It had been raining for awhile, and stopped only twice for a few minutes. It was nearly cold enough for more snow. It was beginning to rain again, when the car turned and slowed. Starling roused briefly, and looked out of the window. There was old snow on the ground, which was becoming a sloshy mess in the slowly warming weather and rain. It began raining harder just as they were pulling into the driveway. Not even the groaning of the garage door lifted her eyelids. They were so very heavy. Some little part of her was awake enough to know they had arrived somewhere, that the car had stopped, that there was a tinny roaring outside, and that the passenger's door was opening. She felt his hand, warm on her shoulder.

"Clarice. Here, take my hand. That's right, up you go."

She leaned into him until they reached the door, when she let go of him and watched him unlock it.

"I've rented the entire cabin, so it's just us," he was saying.

"There are six bedroom, two baths, a kitchen and two lounges. We'll sleep in the largest bedroom nearest to the kitchen. Tonight, you can have your own room, assuming that's your preference," he continued, leading her inside. They were in the kitchen, an open space shared with a living room. The fire was not lit, yet. He deposited her onto the sofa, and Starling immediately laid down in the fetal position, found a fur throw and hugged it to her chest.

"I'll be back shortly. I need to check us in with the lockbox."

"Okay."

Starling looked at the unlit fireplace and drifted for a bit. Later, her eyes opened again to see Dr. Lecter sitting with his back to her. The fireplace had a raised, stone hearth that wrapped around one side of it. Dr. Lecter sat on it, leaning forward to light the fire. She could smell the wood begin to burn. A candle was lit on the corner of the hearth, in a tall taper. Her eyes closed again.

Jezebel, Judas, whore, traitor.

...............................................................................................................

When she woke again, she woke to sounds and smells in the kitchen. For just a moment, she thought she was home, and Mapp was cooking up a storm. And then her life with Ardelia Mapp, the FBI and all of the other debris that went with it was the dream.

It was lighter out now, but not as light as she would have thought. It was still raining. She sat up and rubbed her eye for a good, long minute. When she stood, she stretched enough she made a little squawk, and Dr. Lecter's head came up.

"Good morning, again," he said, and she turned to look at him and nod.

"Morning."

"You need to eat as soon as possible," he said, watching her come to sit on a barstool across from him. His sleeves were rolled up and his hands were working something in a bowl."Luckily for you," he continued," you are going to eat very well, this weekend."

"Weekend," she repeated.

"Are your communication skills still that rudimentary? Yes, Clarice. Weekend. Today is Friday morning, tomorrow is Saturday. I have you for three whole days and two nights," he said. His teeth seemed almost to bite on the word.

"Yes, I know," she said, irritably. Before she could go on, she heard scratching from somewhere, and she stood up, nearly knocking the stool over.

"Ah, yes. We have a guest, this time. I would have told you before, but you were indisposed," he said. She was already darting down the hallway, and he smiled to himself.

Starling stood outside of a closed bedroom door, her hand on her throat. The horrors her mind suggested made every muscle in her body tense. She imagined opening the door to find some dismembered person having crawled to the door, their eyes and mouths sewn shut, perhaps. Batting helplessly at the door with a mangled hand. The image was absurd, she knew in her rational mind. Her body didn't listen to reason, and her heart pounded.

Scratch, scratch.

Whore, Jezebel, traitor!

She opened the door with her hand over her mouth, and a dog immediately ran out, circled around her once, jumped on her legs, and circled again, barking, its nails clacking on the hardwood floors. Starling looked at it, looked in the room, down the hall, and back at the dog. It wagged its tail and hopped up on its hind legs. She crouched down and gave its head a ruffle.

"Well, fuck me," she murmured. "Come on," she said, walking back down the hallway.

"You have a dog, now?" she asked him, standing in the middle of the living room. She looked around for a moment, as though the furniture would somehow explain this new absurdity.

"I wish you wouldn't have let him out. He'll get underfoot while I'm cooking."

"I'm not sorry," she said. After a moment, she realized what she'd said and looked at him. He was looking at her with his head to the side. "I think I must have decided I wouldn't lie," she explained," I almost said I was sorry, but I wasn't. So…"she shrugged, offering her palms.

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Enjoy your kitchen mate," she said, sitting cross-legged in front of the fire. She looked over her shoulder when he came into the living room holding a chilled Collins glass. He handed it to her.

"What is it?"

"It's called a Pimm's Cup Royale."

She sniffed it. "Whoa, what's in this?"

"Cognac, peach liqueur and champagne."

"Jesus. That's awfully heavy duty for—what time is it?"

"Half past noon, here. To you, it's about four in the afternoon."

"Oh. When you put it that way…" she took a sip. "Ummm, okay. This is really good."

"I'll never put anything in your mouth you won't like."

"You have, before," she said, and immediately clapped a hand over her mouth.

"You certainly are without a filter, today," he said from the kitchen, and she turned to look at him. Her hand fell to her lap.

"I-I'm sorry. I don't know where that came from. It was rude. I think."

"Nothing matters, not here," Dr. Lecter said, dashing her worries with a flick of his head." Be what you are. I find it charming, actually. And flattered you haven't forgotten."

"It was only a year ago," Starling said. She could hear the clicking of the dog's claws scurrying all around the kitchen, now. Dr. Lecter sighed, irritably. Starling smiled, first; a small burst of air escaped through her nose, and then a full-blown laugh.

"Interesting that my irritation is so amusing to you."

"Isn't it?"

"Come here and eat, my little sadist."

The voice in Starling's head, not quite her own, leapt once again to torment her.

My little sadist…my little doxy!

She shivered at the memory of his name for her, on that night. He called her that all night. It was as though for one night, that's what she became, he transformed her into 'little doxy' with those words.

Little doxy. Little whore.

Her smile faded. She was not allowed to smile. She was not allowed to laugh or enjoy herself, not here, not in this place, not with him. If she was to be his little fucking doxy, she would not, could not enjoy it. She could at least manage that, couldn't she?

When she was sitting at the table, the dog jumped up on her leg, whining. Dr. Lecter looked at him. The dog whined once, and then sat down. Starling considered the dog. It was a puppy, not a small dog. It was all muscle, she saw. Dense.

"What kind of dog is that? It looks like it might be a Rottweiler."

"It is."

"Why in God's name do you have a dog?"

"I took it off someone's hands. His owner tragically perished."

Starling looked at him sharply. Dr. Lecter smiled and placed a plate of food in front of her. "I didn't kill him."

"What is this?" she asked, ready to tuck in before he even answered.

"Caramelized apple crepes."

"My God, this looks good."

"It is."

A few minutes and seven bites later, "Why such a decadent brunch?"

"An excellent choice of words," said Dr. Lecter. He held up a finger, before going on. She suddenly realized they'd never eaten like this. Not together, right across from one another at a reasonably sized kitchen table. Odd.

He took another bite, chewed, swallowed, took a sip of his drink and wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin. "Decadence," he began again, raising his glass," is the word of the weekend. You and your little low-ceiling life, Clarice, are going to have a break in routine. Today, tonight and tomorrow will fill you, in every conceivable manner," he said, looking deeply into her eyes. She couldn't bare it, and looked away.

"Clarice."

"Yes?"

He wagged his drink midair, and she clinked her own with it, quickly.

"I still don't understand why you have a dog. I would never see you taking responsibility for another creature, like that. Do you pick up its poop?" she couldn't help asking. He blinked slowly, and she could have sworn he made effort not to smile; his lips parted for a moment, the tip of his tongue touching the center of his upper lip as he briefly looked away.

"Clarice, let's discuss things like feces when we're not eating, yes?"

"Fair enough," she agreed, and after a moment,"I hope you do."

A few quiet moments passed as they ate. The patter of rain and the crackling of the fire calmed some of Starling's nerves, but she found the presence of the dog to be the major influence in her increasing calm. That and this drink, she thought.

"What's his name? It's a boy?" she wondered.

"Yes. His name is Cerberus."

"Of course it is."

Dr. Lecter raised his glass to his lips, watching her over the rim of the cup. Starling swallowed.

"I apologize if what I put in your mouth last year offended you, Clarice," he said, setting the glass down. Starling didn't look at him, cleared her throat and focused on her food. He went on."I'm even sorrier that you found your own taste offensive."

"Stop."

"I, for one, find you to taste quite good."

"Stop it."

"Sweet and tangy like a peach vinaigrette."

"I said, stop," Starling said, keeping her voice low, calm, her eyes still cast down. She pressed her fork into the crepe and it leaked and oozed, sweet and sticky.

"A little musky, like bourbon."

Starling's fork clattered against the plate, and she met her forehead with a hand, rubbed her temple, and Cerberus barked and wagged his tail. She felt his paws on her calf.

"Down," Dr. Lecter said in a low voice. The paws retreated. "Clarice, we need to talk about your recently developed self-hatred."

"Do we, now?"

"Look at me. If you can look at me while I tell you how good you taste, if you can look at me and feel alright, I'll leave it alone."

She raised her head. "Wouldn't it be something if I could just enjoy this nice breakfast you made?"

Dr. Lecter regarded her, his head leaning back a micron. What an exceptional, graceful way to forbid him, he considered. He let out the smallest puff of air through his nose, though Starling didn't know what it meant, and didn't care. He nodded once, and left her alone.

When they were finished, Starling was more or less dismissed to the living room while Dr. Lecter took care of the dishes. Cerberus followed her and she was glad for the company. He hopped up onto the couch next to her, his small body warm and dense against her thigh. She put a hand on his back and gave him a few strokes.

"Yeah, you're a good boy," she said, and he poked her palm with his cold, wet nose. "On the head? Alright."

"I thought you two might get along," Dr. Lecter said from the kitchen.

"Yeah, well. This guy's easy."

"Ah, is that the root of our troubles, Clarice? I'm not easy?"

Starling snorted. "If only that was the root of our issues."

Dr. Lecter's voice suddenly right behind her made Starling jump. "Isn't it exhausting to pretend you despise me?"

Starling didn't response, and kept her eyes on the dog. She smiled at him, soft and sad, and scratched behind his ear.

"Clarice, if you don't want to talk to me about something, use your words. Don't ignore me. I will not tolerate it."

"I don't despise you," she finally said, nearly a whisper.

"And that bothers you." He came around to sit next to her.

"No."

"How was your breakfast?"

"Very good."

"Good. Now, we will discuss first your masochism, then your sadism."

"I am not a sadist," she said, looking at him, incredulously.

"You have sadistic qualities, and it's better to address them now, before they begin scheming without your consent or knowledge—but don't get ahead. First, your masochism. Do not pretend to be ignorant of it."

For a long time, Starling was quiet. By the time she spoke, the dog was asleep and the rain had stopped.

"How can I not hate myself a little for what I've done?"

"When did the hate start?"

Starling held her shoulders for a moment, thinking. "It wasn't immediate," she said, nodding at his implication. "It took some time to sink in. At first, it didn't seem real."

"No. It didn't," Dr. Lecter agreed.

"It was as though what had happened was so surreal, so beyond measure or coping, it could not be delegated by my mind as reality. It wasn't true disassociation, but not unlike it, either. But I had the memories, and I thought of them often enough, I guess it started to seem more real. They were bookmarked and became dog-eared, and it shifted closer and closer to being categorized as reality. That took a few months."

"And what did you feel?"

Starling laughed, dryly. "Buyer's remorse."

"I don't think that's true."

"Not entirely. I did go through a phase of being horrified that I'd made a terrible mistake, and there were certainly days I considered breaking our contract, and not showing up here. But I think, even when I thought that, I knew I would come. I knew I would follow through."

"Failing to follow through is not in your repertoire."

"No, it isn't. More than that, I thought…" Starling swallowed, and rubbed her palms along her pants.

"Yes?"

"Then…if I did break the contract, I did…what I did-for nothing."

Dr. Lecter breathed in and out quickly, just once. Sensing some kind of shift in the conversation, Starling finally looked at him. He smiled at her for a moment.

"Let's get something out of the way. It may be challenging."

Starling sighed. "When is it not?"

"Clarice, I want you to make an effort to answer the following question truthfully. Will you do that?"

"Yes," she said, slowly.

"Clarice, did you enjoy the things I did to you?"

She looked away, immediately. It wasn't because she couldn't look at him, knowing he knew the answer. It was because at the mention of it, at the mention of the things he did to her, she felt a distinct chirp, inside. A hot, thorny flick where such a sensation should not exist in the presence of this man, and (God!) not in response to those…things…he did.

WHORE.

She heard an odd, quivering burp of a sound, and her hand shot up to her mouth, realizing she'd made it. The tears were so unexpected; she stood abruptly, looking around. She could not stop them. They would not be stopped and she sought an exit. She could not fathom weeping in front of him. He would enjoy it, he would revel in it, he would slurp it up.

"Clarice."

He was blocking her way and she turned around, but his hands stopped her. She pushed at him and his hands became tighter. She covered her face. The stubbornness she felt did not abandon her, she clung to it too tightly, but it changed alliances. Now, she would not flee. No, she would not flee the room, tail between her legs, like a child. If she was to cry, she would stand here and do it. Let him feast. Fuck it all. Fuck it all.

TRAITOR.

Minutes went by, and she listened to the sounds she made and hated them. Minutes went by, and she found she was sitting again, and there were arms, and she grabbed hold of them. Long, long minutes went by and the tears that began the tantrum were not the same tears that ended it. Her face was wet and swollen and pressed against something stiff and soft. Her hands, she realized were tired and aching, her nails embedded into skin. Not her skin. She breathed steadily for a time, gathering herself back together slowly, patiently. She leaned back, and looked for a few moments at the wet spot on Dr. Lecter's shirt. She sniffed.

"Sorry."

She felt a hand cup her chin and she let it guide her face up to look at him.

"You are not a whore," he said.

"What?" she asked, bewildered.

"You are NOT a whore. Do you understand me?"

"Did I—"

"Over and over again. Among other things. I'm glad it's out of you. Those things do not belong in you. That's why they spilled so easily."

"But…you called me your little doxy. How am I your doxy but not a whore?"

"Oh, Clarice," he said, his thumb stroking her cheek. "A doxy is a loaded word. A whore means only one thing: a whore. It is also a very derogatory word. Doxy, on the other hand, has multiple meanings. It can be used to mean a prostitute or a mistress, yes. But it can also be used to mean a sweetheart, a lover, a non-courtly love affair. It also has a distinct, separate meaning, a defined opinion. I used the word doxy for a reason, and I'm sorry that reason was not apparent.

"You are not a whore. You are not my whore. You are my doxy, my infrequent lover. You are my little doxy, my wayward beloved. You are my doxy…my headstrong, brave, defined opinion. I will not apologize for calling you that, and I will not stop calling you that, because I know what it means to me, and now you do, too."

Starling looked at him, knowing she may have never been so ugly in her life, and felt okay. He let go of her face and neither spoke, but each unraveled themselves from one another and sat back in their seats. They looked at each other, looked deep, and the rain came back and the ground outside was a filthy slush that began to spread.

.........................................................................................................

Something was happening. . .

Dr. Lecter kept himself very still. She'd fallen asleep, again. He would wake her in a few hours if necessary. He hoped she would not sleep very long. She was beautiful asleep, it was true. But he preferred her active; her eyes open, aware, looking at him, thinking, feeling. He only had a few days. Only a few precious days with her.

Something was happening. . .

Dr. Lecter kept himself very still. A strange, faraway thumping disrupted his thoughts from time to time. A tribal, primitive sort of drumming that came from inside his own body, his own palace. It wasn't really a sound, he knew. It was a feeling, a feeling he grappled to reconcile, a feeling he could not oppose, nor accept. This feeling was abhorrent, cruel and pitiless. This feeling was inexorable, urgent and exquisite. He could not yet endure to feel its approach; he could only hear it, like the remote advancing of a stampede. The steady, muted sound of horses, or war drums on the hills. Some...thing was happening. . .

Dr. Lecter kept himself very still, and when Starling's eyes fluttered open, she frowned. He sat where he'd been before; he had not moved an inch. He was watching her, had been watching her, but that was not why she frowned. She frowned because Dr. Lecter looked alarmed. The moment passed very quickly, and she wondered if she had not understood what she'd seen.

Dr. Lecter had his head leaning against his hand in the crook of his forefinger and thumb. The finger on his temple pulled his eyebrow up in a parody expression of conceit. His lips parted and his cheek flinched. "Come with me. I want to show you something."

There was a conservatory on the other side of the cabin. To combat the cold that the long-spanning windows let in, there were hanging furnaces, and Dr. Lecter led Starling to one. He sat down on a timber bench and patted the seat next to him.

Outside, it was snowing. The hills, sugar maples, hazels and hollies all covered, and a short distance away, a herd of reindeer.

"Are those-"

"Reindeer, yes," Dr. Lecter nodded. "There's a Sámi reindeer herder not far from this property. He takes guests on hikes and will let you feed them, if you pay." He seemed to consider, and she stole a glance at him. His eyes were slightly narrowed. "Would you like to see them?" he finally asked. He looked at her after a moment and she looked on, as though he'd grown horns.

"That's okay," she said, slowly. He looked away. "Thank you, though," she added. Her belly twitched.

He inhaled sharply and Starling rolled her shoulders. "I find that a change of scenery can sometimes help in a potentially harsh segue. I want to talk about the inverse of your split matrix. The sadism."

"Why do you think I'm a sadist? Because I thought it was funny a dog annoyed you? Because I liked the thought of you doing a low kind of drudgery like picking up after a pet?"

"No, no. You liked those things because it made me seem more human to you. Then you were upset, because you realized you didn't want to think of me that way. That's to do with you and me, but we're not talking about that, now. We're talking about your tendencies towards sadism, and how it connects with your affinity for masochism. Your masochism, by the way, goes beyond your most recent affiliation with debasing yourself. That was only a branch broken off from the larger body of water."

"What is the large body of water?"

"Haven't you ever heard the phrase, 'a glutton for punishment'?"

Starling didn't say anything, but folded her hands in her lap and stared at them.

"You know what I'm talking about, Clarice. You've known it, you've investigated it, and you've even cornered it. But revelations are disappointingly unceremonious when no action follows it, aren't they? There is a great gulf between comprehending something and applying that new knowledge in life."

"Yeah," Starling agreed. "I know. But I think part of the reason I don't do anything about it is because I'm afraid I'd be in danger of trading it for something worse. At least if I'm a glutton for punishment, I'm not hurting anyone else."

"There it is," he said, smiling softly. "You'd sooner hurt yourself than someone else. Now, the other thing you mentioned is also pivotal to this discussion, Clarice. You said, 'I'm afraid I'd be in danger of trading it in for something else.' Now, if you were so very confident in your desire to protect others, so confident in your inability to harm others for self-gain or spite or even pleasure, why are you afraid of letting go of this splinter in your subconscious? Some part of you, Clarice, is afraid that that splinter is a load-bearing wall in your house. You're afraid if you remove it, it will all come crumbling down, and then-"

"No, I-"

"And then, Clarice, you'd be-"

"Dr. Lecter-"

"You would be like me. You protect the world from you. You can feel that power, can't you? Can't you feel the potential, the might, the supremacy, the hunger?"

"Yes," she said, more piercing then she had intended, and she winced at her own voice. "Yes," she said, more softly, "I can feel it. And I know what you want, and it will never, never happen," she said. She looked at him, then. "Never," she repeated, and he inclined his head.

"Never is quite a long time," he answered, smiling.

"It's never. It is beyond time. Do you hear me? We'll never be together that way, not in this life."

"Ummm," Dr. Lecter, considered. "Is this life, Clarice? Right now, you and I? Could you bear it?"

"I don't know."

"It is what you make of it. If it's real, it's real because you say it. If it is a dream within a dream, you make it so with your words. People mismanage their words. They don't assign the appropriate level of power they contain, our spoken words are incantations! Your mind hears your words, it hears the ones you repeat the most. That's conditioning. In so doing, you make yourself with your words. What do you want this to be? What do you need it to be, even if it's just for now? Allow yourself the luxury of naming this moment, and being its creator."

"Okay," she started, running a hand through her hair."A dream, then. It's just a dream."

"A dream. Then nothing you do here matters. Nothing holds weight, and you can be what you need to be, if even for a little while. You need to experience those parts of yourself, Clarice. You need to get to know those parts, you must accept them. So long as you try to keep them locked away, they will whisper and haunt you. You hear those words, too. Those whispered words will drive the undercurrents of your thoughts and feelings, and thoughts and feelings will drive you to action. One day you'll find yourself in predicaments you don't understand, and you'll find someone else to blame. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

Starling ignored the question. She was looking out of the window, her eyes suddenly alert to some idea. When she spoke, she spoke slowly. "Is that what this visit will be about?" she asked the snowfall. She looked at him, and he noted that her pupils were dilated.

Dr. Lecter had seen Starling look her best. He'd seen her eyes bright and curious as a child's. He'd seen her hair shine, her face animated. He'd seen her stunning in a gown, and he'd seen her disrobed in the dark and in the light. This moment could not compare, he decided. Her hands wrung in her lap. Her hair was ragged, frizzy from the rain and sleeping and crying. Her eyes were still a little red around the edges, her parted lips were a little swollen. Her clothes were wrinkled. He could smell her sweat and her fear. But, oh! What looked out of those ravaged eyes was alive, and how they burned! Her eyes moved rapidly back and forth for an instant, a strange, feathery movement. He wondered if he focused, if he practiced, he could smell what she felt. Perhaps one day, he could even smell her appetite. What would that smell be like? He decided that if her appetite had a fragrance, he may very well blackout.

Dr. Lecter took her hands in his and she looked at them, her growing alarm like the slow escalation of the coming blizzard, for which neither was entirely prepared. "Tonight will be about the exploration of these two selves. They have been living in a cage. Tomorrow night, we will unlock it. Tomorrow night you will meet them, and so will I."

"Dr. Lecter," she started, a note of formidable warning stretched taut as a canvas around an almost tender, vulnerable voice.

"Don't be afraid," he said.

"What are you going to do?" she asked. She didn't want to ask, but she had to. "I need to know."

"It's not just what I'll do, Clarice."

"Tell me what you're going to do to me."

"You know what I'm going to do to you."

"NO!" Starling pulled her hands out of his. She had never spoken to him that way, before. "Tell me," she said, lowering her voice, trying to take the edge out of it.

"Do you see? Do you see this reaction you're having? Are you more afraid of what I might do or what you might do?"

"I don't want to command you. I don't want to control you. You're the one who-"

"Quiet," he said, his voice suddenly dark. Starling held her hands in her lap. She was suddenly aware of being cold. His voice had frightened her, and it was distressing. His voice had never frightened her. It had thrilled her, pierced and probed her and even aroused her. If she was terribly honest with herself, and she felt self-honesty was becoming an important part of surviving this covenant, he had aroused her with that voice since the beginning. She had to believe that didn't make her depraved. Or maybe it did, and that was another thing she would have to process. But amidst all those feelings he had elicited, fear had not been one of them. She could be afraid of what he may see in her face or hear in her voice. She could be afraid of what insights he could make, but fearing his disfavor was a new kind of terrible. Caring whether she was in his favor or not was terribly frightening.

"Clarice, I don't want to control you. I want to nurture you, the real you. I want to plant you in good sunlight, provide you with shade and water when you need it."

Starling didn't like that. "That's not what I'm for," she said, almost absentmindedly. She was looking out of the window, again. She waited to see if he would hush her again, but he didn't. "That's not what I'm for," she said again, fortifying the truth she heard in the words. His disapproval didn't matter as much, now that she knew it to be true.

She looked at him, the anger gone. His anger, if there had ever been any real anger, was gone. If anything, he seemed pleased with her revelation.

"Do you understand?" she asked, gently.

Dr. Lecter broke their eye contact and looked out of the window. "I understand what you said."

"But you don't agree?" she wondered.

"It isn't that. But you should know something. Whatever you're becoming, I will be a part of it. That's something neither of us can stop, now. I am a part of your rise in this world. Make no mistake, you will rise. Even in those moments when your back is against a wall and you can't see a way; that's where your strength lies, you know. When you have nothing and no one, and there appears to be no way. That is when you shine brightest. When you learn that, really learn it, I hope to be there."

"I remember what you said in the letter."

"Good. Stop worrying about tomorrow night. Our terms are still in place, I will not injure you. You may experience discomfort or pain, but I will not wound you. Although I don't know if the same can be said of you," he said, looking at her."There are no deals in place in that regard, I have not limited you," he paused when she was looking at him again.

When they regarded one another:

"I will never limit you. Remember that, it's important."