It is close to midnight in Argentina. It is December 31st, and in some
twenty minutes or so, the year 2002 will pass into the year 2003. The third
year of the new millennium. Clarice Starling reflects that the world has not
changed so much as has often been predicted in this science fiction age of the
21st century. There are no hover-cars humming past her windows, there are no
tourist resorts on the moon, and the domestic staff that tends to the house she
lives in is still comprised entirely of human beings, not space age robots.
She smiles, and looks into the fire burning on the small hearth in the living
room, where she sits. It is a cool night, but the windows of the room are open
to admit the distant sounds of celebration from the streets outside. It is New
Year's Eve, and all of the Avenida Alvear is awash in gaiety, alive with the
sounds of festivity. It is New Year's Eve, and all the non-robotic household
servants in Clarice's own home have been given the night off to pursue their
Although the new millennium has not yet brought forth all the technological
wonders futurists have long foretold, Clarice decides that the world has,
nevertheless, turned. She has lived with Hannibal Lecter for five years.
Five years back, on another, earlier New Year's Eve, she would not have dared
to look this far into the future. She would not have believed that this much
future existed, for them.
Perhaps it was that sense of limited time and impending loss that,
paradoxically, had given her the courage to seek and to accept all the
forbidden pleasures and dangerous intimacies that first New Year's Eve they'd
shared had offered. A sort of half-maddened desperation? The belief that that
time, for them, might be all the time there was?
At this same hour, eleven-forty PM, five years ago to the day, the two of them
had consummated their ten year journey through the various permutations of
desire for a second time. Clarice looks towards the double doors of the living
room, graceful polished oak, slightly ajar. He has left the room to go and
uncork champagne, with which they will soon toast the new year. She is alone
with her thoughts, for the moment. Perhaps this time is what reminds her of
that time, and she wonders if he is remembering too.
Their first coupling had been marked by its own tender ferocity, had whirled
past her astonished consciousness with the dervish-like speed of need denied
far too long. A pitch black room, the intimation of obscure ritual, an
incomprehensible welter of emotion and fragmented sensory impressions. She had
been too stunned by the depth of her own passion and by the enormity of acting
on it at last to remember, in any real detail, all that had passed between
them, that first time.
She had been stunned. She believes now that they both had been stunned. She
believes that this is a recollection much too intense to ever sit motionless
and clearly visible in the memory. She believes this one will resonate just
beyond clear recall indefinitely.
But . . . afterward. She can remember that clearly, and does so now, five years
later exactly. The four walls of her living room in Buenos Aires shimmer into insubstantial wisps
and she sees instead the dark corridors of an old house on the shores of the Chesapeake. She hears the creak of their
footfalls in these dark halls, her own and his beside her. They are walking
together and the sound the old boards make under their feet is unpleasant, is
one of mindless, creaking protest. She should not have liked to hear such
sounds had she been walking alone. She wonders how he has been able to stand it
during his time here in this house.
They are walking away from a door he has closed behind them. Behind that closed
door is a room she never wishes to see again. After they'd stepped through this
door, he had taken the latch in both hands and pulled with all his strength
while she watched. After a moment, the sound of wood grinding against wood
sounded in the dark hall and the door jam splintered in two places.
He has jammed the door. He has sealed the room as she watched, because she
wished it. She has never before had anyone, nether friend nor lover, who has
been so willing to abide by her wishes without first questioning them. He is
interested in what she wants, but he is not interested in whether or not what
she wants is valid or reasonable. His utter lack of concern in this matter both
pleases and frightens her.
Now they are walking through the hall, and their step is steady. They are not
careening drunkenly through space, although they have reason, but she does
suspect that neither of them has any clear idea of where they are going. When
they reach the stairway that leads up into the second story of the house, it
comes as something of a surprise to both of them, she believes. Certainly this
stairway is a surprise to her.
"What careless person," she asks aloud. "Left a flight of stairs lying around
the hallway like this?"
He is close enough beside her that she feels, rather than hears, the faint
chuckle that moves through him.
"Disgraceful," he agrees. "I shall have to speak to the cleaning lady. However,
since we're here, we may as well ascend. Unless you can think of a better
She smiles. She turns her head to him, so that he can see her smiling in the
dim hallway. "I don't think I'm much for planning just now. I . . . I can't
seem to focus. You plan the agenda for the time being, all right?"
He seems to take this playful request quite seriously. He thinks for a moment.
"How can I plan? I have no frame of reference in this context whatsoever. Up or
down? What next? How can I answer any of these questions? I suppose the stairs
themselves could lend us some structure, laid out as they are in their orderly
progression. Shall we take the stairs, Clarice?"
He has moved very close to her as he has said her name, and it seems natural
that her body has turned toward him as he moves, as though they exert gravity
on one another. It seems natural that their lips touch, and then that their
arms interlock, and then that stairs and decisions of any kind fade out of
their combined consciousness. There is only further exploration and a nascent
renewal of mutual hunger. She tastes his breath in her mouth and draws it deep,
deep into her own lungs.
She does not know how much time passes, and she does not particularly care.
This is not a night for sober evaluation. They have decided nothing, but some vague
instinct, perhaps some strange revival of the ancient impulse to migrate, moves
them up one riser, and then another. And then, since they recognize, dimly,
that they are going up the stairs, they continue to climb, still without any
particular will or purpose.
After a third and then a fourth step, he turns her around, so that her back is
to him and she is facing the flight of steps ahead. She does not know if he
does this so that she won't stumble as she climbs, or simply because he
prefers, just now, to hold and touch her from behind. She doubts he knows
himself. His length is pressed firmly against her, she can feel his breast
against her backbone, the long muscles of his thighs move against her buttocks
as he clears each riser behind her, and his hands move restlessly at her hips,
her waist, over her arms and then under them to her breasts. There is nothing
urgent or insistent in his touch. The movements of his hands on her seem almost
random, again, like the endless routes of migration. Her body is the unknown
land he travels.
On the seventh step, his hands colonize the delta at the juncture of her legs,
and she stops, momentarily stilled by the sudden flood of pleasure that has
drowned her ability or will to move. She expels her breath in the ghost of a
moan as her body arches forward slightly into his hands, thus pressing her
backside into him firmly. He surges forward to accept her. She presses her
hands over his to encourage him to continue what he is doing there. He accepts
this invitation too, and she rocks her hips against his moving touch. Her head
falls back against his shoulder and he presses his face into the column of her
throat. She can feel his tongue tasting her skin. She can feel his body
trembling against hers.
His lips move against the cup of her ear. He is whispering, he is murmuring
softly, he is purring like a great black cat, but his passion has robbed him of
"Clarice . . ." she hears. Only that. It is all she can make out. "Clarice."
Only her name. Only that.
Orgasm, as sudden as death, overtakes her senses, first stiffens and
immobilizes her limbs, then bursts through her and galvanizes her body into
shuddering spasms. She is wracked and he holds her as she rocks, and although,
not so long ago, she had screamed the first time, now she only sighs. There is
too much pleasure in her, this time, to escape via her voice alone. She tosses
in his arms and when she has at last begun to subside, he presses sharply
inward again and she explodes anew. He is as merciless in love as he is in
violence. She has climaxed three more times before he relents. Only his
awareness of the law of diminishing returns, she imagines, stills his hungry
hands in the end.
All the strength in her limbs has turned to water and all she wants to do is
sink, ever so slowly, to the solid stairs beneath her. Only the support of his
arms around her, the rigid tension of his body behind hers, keeps her upright.
He does not pick her up, though, does not bundle her into his arms and sweep
her up the stairs like Scarlett O'Hara. She guesses, somewhat idly, as she
leans against him and listens to his ragged breathing against her throat, that
he may consider such behavior to be somewhat disrespectful. She is a woman, not
an infant. It is strength he admires, not fragility. He will never expect her
to pretend to be weak. He will never treat her as though she is a doll.
And so, while he waits patiently and wordlessly, she recruits her strength
again and when she is ready, continues to climb the stairs. She does not wish
to disappoint him, and senses, as she climbs, that she has not.
When she reaches the top of the flight, she turns back toward him and draws him
into her arms once he steps up to stand beside her on the landing. He is
willing to come. She is somewhat amused. She has never before known him to be
so tractable. She kisses him once and he allows that too.
"I think I'll let you make all our plans from now on," she tells him. "Climbing
a flight of stairs, it seems, was a damn fine idea."
He smiles, but must disagree. "Oh, Clarice. You don't truly imagine that I've
planned anything, do you? I'm still not entirely certain that any one moment of
this evening so far has been real."
He pulls her a bit more tightly into himself and grins wickedly before bending
toward her ear.
"You must endeavor to convince me," he whispers to her. She can hear his
cattish smile in his voice. "Repeatedly. You must be persuasive . . . "
He is complimenting her, and he is also challenging her. He will never be a
comfortable lover, she understands. His emotions are too intense, there is too
much of him that she will never really fathom, and his moods will always shift
like quicksilver. But he will never bore her, and his desire, though it might
often be playful, and may sometimes frighten her, will never be complacent.
She finds that she can be satisfied with that.
They walk a bit further down this new, second story hall, hands companionably
clasped, and come to an unplanned stop outside her bedroom door. She has left
her door half open and her bedside lamp is lit. Further testimony to the
complete spontaneity of the events of this night. Her room looks as though she
has only just left it. She looks inside.
It looks pleasant in there. It is, after all a very pleasant room. He would
hardly have given her an uncomfortable one, he is an accomplished host. The bed
looks soft and inviting, and she knows, of course, from previous nights as a
guest in this house, that the bed is every bit is comfortable as it looks. She
realizes that she is tired only as she drifts, without any real volition, over
the threshold. Her drifting stops only when she notices that the hand she has
clasped in her own resists passing that same threshold.
She watches as he takes a deliberate step backward, and his hand slips out of
hers. He is fully outside the borders of her door now, as though there was a
tangible line of demarcation between inside and outside. His face is thoughtful
and calm, but also quite determined. He will not cross the border.
"What . . ?" she asks.
"It occurs to me, Clarice, that you are still my guest. That you are entitled
to some space of your own, some territory. Remember, recently, when we
discussed your entitlements? We've put an end to many of our customary patterns
of exchange tonight, certainly, but neither of us can know, yet, what new
patterns will emerge. I think perhaps it would be best if you had a neutral
ground to retreat to. A sanctum of your own to command. A bedroom would do,
She moves a bit closer to the door, watching him. She finds she is
disproportionately moved by this stricture he appears to be imposing on
himself, but she does not yet know why.
"My bedroom," she repeats. "You won't come in?"
He nods gravely in agreement.
"Your bedroom. As long as you are a guest in my home, I will never enter unless
invited. Only at your discretion. Does that seem proper?"
He doesn't know, she realizes. He has never been in a completely honest
relationship with a woman before, and he doesn't know how he should behave.
He's incredibly knowledgeable about human behavior, and he has a good feel for
courtesy, but he's winging it, nevertheless.
She moves even closer to the edge of her threshold, and stares at him in
fascination. She thinks of other lovers in her life, some who have mistaken one
invitation for an unlimited number of invitations. Who have believed that being
allowed inside her body once had given them the property rights in perpetuity.
Some men, she has learned, do not believe they deserve such intimacy, and will
count the woman who grants it a fool. And some men stubbornly persist in the
absurd belief that no good woman ever wants sex for its own sake.
She finds Lecter's grave and unembarrassed inexperience appealing. He has been
too long outside the world of normal social interaction, and is as free of
preconceived notions of "decent" behavior as he is of conscience. He does not
slight women out of blind habit, his ego is too monstrous to require shoring
through sexual dominion, and he is not a man to harbor delicate illusions about
female sexuality, or to need to.
He is a human monster of arrogance and fear, and this, paradoxically, is what
makes him the most fair-minded lover Clarice has ever known. Sex, to him, is
experience, not politics. She tells herself now that she must never bore him by
playing the coquette in the future. She suspects that coyness is a quality that
he would loathe.
Which, she thinks with a smile, is a fortunate thing. She is not coy, and never
has been good at the pretense. Luckily, she now doubts he will ever require it
of of her.
As she moves back across the artificial border of her territory to him, she
also begins to understand that this "sanctum" he has given her is a valuable
gift. It is not in his nature to respect the space of others. He invades space,
minds, bodies, lives, as habitually as another man might cross a street, and
with as little thought. Boundaries are virtually meaningless to him, and yet he
himself has created one for her comfort, and has refused to cross it. He is
acting against his own grain.
She has already begun to perceive that gift giving is an ironclad habit of his,
as well as his great pleasure. She estimates that in times to come, he may well
give her many gifts.
But she doubts he will often give her any as costly to him as this.
She does not intend to reject such a princely offering. But she does intend to
reciprocate with another of equivalent value, and she hopes he will understand
She thinks there's a good chance he will. He is perceptive, after all.
She moves close to him and now that she is once again outside her own space, he
pulls her to himself hungrily and his wiry arms twine around her. He plumbs her
with a kiss before he allows her to speak.
Once he has finished his latest exploration of her mouth, he moves his head and
begins to toy with her earlobe with his teeth. He does not harm her, although
she knows, too well, that he could. But he is listening to her too, she feels
that somehow, perhaps only in the attentive quality of his embrace. He is
interested in what she will say.
"My bedroom," she repeats.
"Yes," he confirms, around the flesh of her ear in his mouth.
He now devotes his attention to the hollow of her throat. When she speaks, her
throat vibrates, and he surprises her by licking the vibration, following its
subtle path across her throat with his tongue. She gasps. She has never been
listened to in such a singular fashion before.
"And you will not enter?" she has asked.
"No," he agrees, head now at the angle between her throat and shoulder, tasting
She moves a small space back, far enough that he raises his head to look at
her, his own head cocked in a question. She has become familiar with that
curious tilt of his head, and the gesture, so characteristic of him, succeeds
in raising a slight lump in her throat. Through time and through familiarity,
that rather predatory gesture has been transmuted into an endearment. She
swallows the lump in her throat and ploughs on.
"Unless I invite you, is that right? You'll never join me in this room unless I
ask you to?"
He stares at her, head tilted. He does not know exactly what to expect next ,
but he clearly knows enough to expect something.
"Never," he agrees, slowly. "Unless you ask . . ."
She grins. "Good. Glad we have that straight. Now come on in here with me. I'm
tired. I want to go to bed. I'd like for you to come along. Come along quietly,
if you'd feel more comfortable with some you're-under-arrest language."
He laughs, obviously delighted with the sharpness of this sally, if not with
the invitation itself.
"None of the arresting officers I remember were anywhere near so eloquent,
Clarice. I must commend you. Mostly, as I recall, there were only a few garbled
Miranda warnings and a good deal of ill-tempered cursing. The phrase 'you crazy
fuck' clings rather insistently to memory, for example. And poor Will, of
course, had little more than 'glug-glug-glug' to say. Not that I couldn't
extrapolate his meaning from the context. I am certain he would have said
'you're under arrest' too, if only he could have."
She is chilled by his casual remembrance, and by his apparently genuine
amusement in it. He is the only criminal she has ever known who can honestly
find the humorous side of being arrested for multiple murder. But despite her
dismay, she finds the humor in it too, she must admit.
In for a penny, in for a pound, she thinks, perhaps a little grimly.
"I'm probably going to fall into a coma the moment my head hits the pillow,"
she explains to him. She is not really joking, although she tries to speak as
casually as she can. "If you're not there when I wake up, I'm likely to think
this whole evening was a dream. Like it never really happened. And I just don't
think I can go through this whole thing from scratch all over again. I am just
not sure I'm up to that."
"Ground zero?" he asks, because he cannot help but needle her.
"Square one," she replies, allowing herself to flow into his needling, rather
than resisting it. She slips out of his arms and moves back toward her door,
his scarred left hand grasped lightly in her right. She tugs very gently, more
to communicate than to actually pull.
"Come on. I'm inviting you. Come sleep in here with me."
"Traditional vampire mythology, Clarice, suggests that although the creatures
do not intrude where they are not invited, once given entry, they are
exceedingly difficult to be rid of again. Perhaps we can stretch the
superstition far enough to be applicable to our own situation. Are you quite
sure it's wise to offer carte blanche to me, Clarice? I am not a man of . . .
mild disposition. Are you quite sure you want to?"
She tugs at his hand harder, enough to communicate some of her irritation at
his resistance, and, perhaps, some of her disappointment. She knows what kind
of man he is. Who knows better? She steps inside the room, past the invisible
barrier, and tugs some more.
"Come inside," she says. "I'm asking you to. Sleep next to me, tonight. Christ
Almighty, what's the big argument? Does everything have to be a philosophical
debate? Is everything always going to be like this with us?"
He smiles again, watching how she pulls at his hand. "I fear it may well be,
Clarice," he answers, truthfully. There may be many things that he does not
know about himself, but there are also many things that he does.
"Come in," she says once more, unwilling to engage in the rhetoric of formal
argument. She lets his hand go. She will not ask again. "Don't you want to?"
He is still in her vision a moment, head still slightly cocked to one side,
dark eyes on her, regarding her gravely. He is still.
In the next moment, he is only a blur of rapid motion, and in the next, he is
past her door and over her threshold and in her space and all around her, arms
and hands and mind and body. His voice is in her ear again, in her head. She
can't keep him out. She doesn't want to keep him out.
"I didn't say I didn't want
to, Clarice . . ."
After they have celebrated this latest breakthrough with several kisses, she
turns her head toward her bed for a moment. He has followed her gaze, and has
released her. Now he watches to see what she will do next.
His obviously fascinated scrutiny is making her self-conscious, even though it
also gratifies and excites her. She has always seen him as a weird and fabulous
creature, half man, half mythological chimera. It occurs to her now that
perhaps he sees her in much the same light. Now she is the one who is not
certain how she should behave, and her own movements feel a touch awkward to
Going to bed, she thinks. Focus on that. I'm going to bed and there is a finite
procedure to that familiar and homey activity that I can follow, that we both
can follow. Smooth the blankets, turn down the coverlet . . .
Thought transforms itself into action and she neatens the bed that she has
napped in earlier on this day. She fluffs the pillows and turns down the
spread. She can feel his gaze on her like a weight as she moves, as though he
has never before in his life seen anyone perform such utterly amazing feats of
Wait till he sees me vacuum, she thinks. He'll faint!
She is laughing and blushing slightly as she turns away from the bed and looks
at him. She notices, for the first time tonight, that his clothes are seriously
disarrayed. His trousers are fastened, but his belt has disappeared. His shoes
and socks are likewise MIA, and his feet are bare. He is wearing a white shirt,
but it is gaping indecently, because most of the buttons are missing. The
cuffs, unbuttoned, hang limply around his slender wrists, and the collar is
wrinkled and askew.
I did that, she thinks, and her blush deepens while he returns her regard with
a small, amused smile. I'm the one who tore the fucking shirt right off his
back, and not that long ago, either. I have not behaved in a perfectly ladylike
fashion tonight, I'm afraid.
Her flushed cheeks redden still further when she realizes that she too must
present an equally disreputable appearance.
She remembers her high school dating years, for a moment, remembers the quick,
guilty fumbling with her clothes after a heavy back seat session. How she would
set herself to rights in her steady's car, straightening her clothes and
combing her hair in the rearview mirror before he would drive her back to the
Lutheran Home after a date. How she would occasionally reach over to her
boyfriend, whichever boyfriend it might be, and would kindly straighten his
collar for him, or wipe a smudge of her lipstick off his mouth.
The man who is with her now has once posited the theory that these sessions of
her youth had been sticky and tedious. And, in many ways, he had been right.
But he has overlooked the gentle and foolish pleasure in them, the natural
camaraderie of young people experimenting with the explosive substance of love.
Perhaps his own memory lacks such innocent adolescent landmarks, and he is
unable to fully understand them.
Her blush fades as she comes to him and straightens his collar. The shirt is
ruined, and there are no figures of authority to question their moral rectitude
here, but the friendliness in the action pleases her, and she believes it
"You know you're embarrassing me, staring at me? You're making me nervous," she
chides gently as she straightens. "I know I look a mess. You do too."
'And who, might I ask, is responsible for my current state of dishabille,
Clarice? What thoughtless malefactor has messed me up? Shall I ask you to make
an effort at an answer? And I don't think you look a mess, incidentally. I
think you look supernally beautiful. I can't imagine how you could look any
more beautiful than you do right now. I expect the stars in the heavens must be
weeping with bitter envy. So I won't apologize for staring. But I'd advise you
to abandon your efforts with my collar, as much as I appreciate the thought.
The shirt is a lost cause."
He is teasing her. And he is also praising her, the kind of madly extravagant
praise that she has begun to suspect he means every word of. He is, after all,
She gives the wilted shirt collar a final, comically neat crease and then goes
to sit on the bed. It has occurred to her that without these absurdly skewed
and abused clothes, both of them might look a good bit neater. She is a little unnerved
by the thought of mutual nudity, but she doesn't think anything could possibly
make them look more as though they've spent the evening fucking like minks than
the ragged wardrobe they are currently wearing.
Besides, she reminds herself as she pulls off her own ruin of a blouse, we have
spent the evening fucking like minks. Rabid minks. And the evening is not yet
He observes her undressing herself for a time, just long enough to cause
another flush of color to rise in her cheeks. She knows perfectly well that it
is purely deliberate on his part. Then he shows her another wicked smile and
begins, slowly, to follow the example she has set. She notices that he is
slightly hesitant as he casts off his elegant rags, yet she senses clearly that
there is no embarrassment in him. He seems as oblivious to the vulnerability of
nudity as a shark might be.
Once she is down to skin herself, she slips beneath the bedclothes and watches
him. As more of his body is revealed to her sight, she begins to understand his
vague reluctance to fully reveal himself. There is not a single superfluous
particle of flesh on him. He is streamlined, roped with with sleek muscle, and
there is a suggestion of torque in the way the muscles mesh as he moves. He
looks as manifestly designed for speed as a jaguar does. His skin is pale, and
gleams palely in the amber light of her bedside lamp. It seems to her more like
a coat of smooth fur than like the bald skin of a human being, but he is not a
particularly hirsute man. And there is something in the sharp angularity of his
structure, or in the tricky surface of his skin, or perhaps in the brutal
economy of his flesh, that baffles the eye. His body, in some odd way, resists
He wears clothing not to protect himself, she realizes, but to disguise
himself. Clarice remembers that he has spent many years playing the social role
of a privileged, upper-class professional. He has sat on boards with well-fed
yuppies, he has feted the wealthy and the accomplished and the socially
prominent in his own home, he was once accepted in the most rarefied circles of
Baltimore society at face value.
But no one who had seen him in the nude could ever have fully believed in his
public identity as the prominent and possibly slightly stuffy Baltimore head-shrinker again. The more his
expensive and beautiful threads come off, the more fully he is clothed. He is
clothed in his true nature.
There is a kind of harsh beauty in his born predator's body, and perhaps she
can only see it because she no longer feels he poses a physical threat to her.
Although he may pose other, far more arcane threats. She knows that many of the
forensic psychiatric community who have interviewed him have come to the
peculiar conclusion that he is not entirely human. Previously, she has always
believed this to be a thoroughly unprofessional finding. Looking at him now,
she is no longer as certain.
But what she feels is not fear. It is lust. It is that strange and strangely
sophisticated sexual craving for a unique partner that has fueled myths of
mermaids, of gods and angels mating with human women, of romantic vampires and
seductive sorceresses, of lustful serpents and lovelorn great apes, of incubi
and succubi, and a thousand similar mass fantasies throughout time. There is
something in the human psyche that is repelled by whatever is alien. And there
is something else, some darker and less discussed something, that is inflamed
He is as richly exotic and rare as a golden-eyed ram or a blue-eyed lion. It is
the humanity in him that compels her love, but it is his strangeness, his
alieness, that ignites her desire. She will want him again before she sleeps.
She wants him now. Her body shakes with her wanting.
When he is completely innocent of clothing, he appears to think for a moment,
then moves toward the bed she occupies. He is still unsure how to proceed, she
sees, still formulating his actions one step in advance of taking them. He has
decided that lying down in the bed beside her must be the next logical step,
and once he is swathed in the same bedclothes that she now wears, she will no
longer be able to see him as she does now. She wants him near her, she wants to
touch him, but she is not quite ready to stop looking at him. She has, after
all, never seen him like this before. She realizes, with a sharp emotional
thump, that not only has she never before seen him unclothed, she has never
seen him, outside of a prison cell, demonstrably unarmed.
She sits up in her blankets as he approaches, and makes a vague warding gesture
with the palm of her hand.
"Wait," she asks, without any pretense or social nicety. "Stop a moment. Let me
look at you."
He complies with her request without demurral. He has no self-consciousness
about his nakedness, and he understands that she is curious about him He
understands curiosity better than most. He returns her scrutiny calmly, waiting
until she will have gazed her fill. He watches her watching.
Her vision makes a leisurely circuit of his body. She locates a small teardrop
shaped scar near the bicep of one arm, and she makes a mental note to ask him
about it later. He has one tiny red birthmark on the arch of his right hipbone,
but otherwise, his skin lacks any natural mark. He does, however, bear
unnatural marks, souvenirs from his stay at Muskrat Farm. His left side is
bruised blackly along his ribs, and there is a bad burn around his right
nipple. His sex is not completely quiescent, a legacy, no doubt, of their
erotic activities on the seventh riser of the stairs. In this respect, he is
still just slightly rigid.
But we can improve on that,
she thinks. The thought makes her smile, a slow, almost greedy smile.
"All right?" he asks, having detected the change in her mood from the
expression on her face.
"Enough for now," she agrees, still smiling.
"Good," he says, and swiftly comes to the bed and slides under the covers. "I'm
glad you're satisfied. I'm freezing."
She is tempted to giggle but manages to resist the temptation. "Take a
pitchah," she quips in a comic Bronx accent. "It'll last longer . . ."
He is making something of a production out of arranging himself comfortably in
the bed, and as he moves, one of his feet touches her ankle. She can feel how
icy it is to the touch. He doesn't immediately answer her. But he does find the
time to roll his eyes toward heaven at her comment.
"Oh, Agent Starling. Surely you can understand by now that I prefer not to be
She can play too. "Damn," she says. "That's right! I forgot. And I was thinking
of having one of those photo calendars made!"
He likes it when she teases back. She can see it in his pleased grin, and in
the red glints in his eyes. She can see it in the way his posture relaxes a
touch. But she also sees that he is still uneasy, still somewhat unsure how to
proceed. Has he never been a guest in a woman's bed before? She can't believe
this could be true. No psych student alive could ever hope to get through basic
Freud without at least a little practical experience to fall back on. Besides,
he has already amply demonstrated that he clearly knows how to fuck. It's not
the sex that's bothering him, she is certain. It is something else.
His uneasiness communicates itself to her, and though she would like to touch
him now, she is no longer sure that she should, so she hesitates.
He burrows under the covers, trying to get warm, as he laughs at the notion of
posing for beefcake shots for some serial-killer-of-the-month calendar.
"Patent flattery, Clarice," he comments airily, and allows his head to fall
back into his pillow. There is a kind of deliberation in this action, as though
simply relaxing, for him, requires an effort of conscious will. Once he is
satisfactorily swathed in blankets, he allows his gaze to drift upward, towards
the ceiling. He murmurs absently, as though musing to himself. "I hate to be
She feels a sudden coldness at her own center at this offhanded remark. He has
told her only a very little about his early life, but she has learned enough to
guess why he might hate to be cold, even if he does not.
She is across the small gap of mattress between them and has thrown her arms
around his shoulders in the tiny space of time between one beat of her heart
and the next. This is not a night for cool caution and hesitation. She has
twined her legs around his and has pressed the length of her body against him
and has flattened her hands on his back, fingers splayed, before thought can
catch up with action. She touches as much of him as she can reach at once. She
doesn't want him to be cold. She would loan him every last degree of warmth in
her body, if she could.
He is somewhat surprised by the tension he can feel in her touch, she sees,
somewhat puzzled. He turns his face to her, and his eyes look into hers from
only an inch or two away. But he does not respond to her sudden clinging with
any touch of his own.
"Clarice?" he asks.
"That was thoughtless of me," she answers. "To keep you standing in the cold
like that. I'm sorry."
He smiles faintly, clearly a bit relieved to learn that the origin of her
apparent distress is a only small matter, after all.
"It's not important," he assures her.
His belief that it is not important for anyone to be kind to him, or to treat
him as though he is human, has grown in him over many, many years of
experience, she thinks. It has become a sort of prejudice. She resolves now
that she will show him as many small considerations and little kindnesses as
she can in whatever remaining time they will have together. It is the only
method of combating his brutal disregard for his own humanity that she will
"But it was
thoughtless," she insists, and rubs his cold feet with her own warm ones. "And
I am sorry."
He watches her for a moment as he considers the way she is touching him and
thinks about what she has said.
"That's nice, what you're doing," he finally decides. "I like that. But I don't
agree that you are right to apologize to me," he adds, thoughtfully. "If we are
to be lovers, then I think you must feel free to ask me to do the things you
want. That makes sense, doesn't it?"
She smiles, amused. He is so deliberate. Perhaps next he'll want to draw up a
written contract. Perhaps to be signed in blood.
"We-ell . . ." she agrees provisionally. "Within reason . . ."
Now he really laughs. She can feel his mirth shaking the bed they share.
"Ah. Reason. Very good. By all means, we must ever let reason be our guide in
She laughs too, seeing the joke. Had either of them ever been inclined to
reason in the past, they would not be here right now.
He has shifted onto his side to face her and now stares at her again. She
notices his nostrils flare slightly as he raises a hand under the covers and
suspends it an inch or two above her hip.
"And," he says. "I think that I must feel free to ask you for the things that I
want as well. That is . . . reasonable, isn't it?"
She is not certain whether it is the cruel playfulness in the smile that curves
his mouth or the real heat in it that makes her shiver as he asks this
"I want to touch you now," he says. She feels his forefinger briefly dimple the
flesh over the arch of her hipbone, there and then gone. "May I? Here?"
Another game. She guesses now that as long as they are together, there will
always be another game. She nods her assent wordlessly and his hand glides
along the rounded contour of her hip like silk.
"Here?" he asks next, and touches the tip of her nose.
The bones of her wrist.
The mark on her cheek.
The bedclothes jumble and bunch as he continues to point out portions of her
that he proposes to touch. There is no discernible pattern to his choices, no
increasing element of intimacy. He chooses her right breast once, and chooses
her elbow next. The entire process seems completely random, and, at the same
time, seems maddeningly purposeful. The inside of her thigh, the cap of her
knee, her navel, a spot at the very center of her forehead. And always, always,
he first points, using only the tip of his forefinger to touch, and then awaits
permission to touch more fully afterward, sometimes with his hands, sometimes
with his lips and tongue.
It is unbelievably erotic. It shortly becomes an erotic torture, waiting to see
what he'll choose next. He touches her with a sort of savage pleasure so intense
that it almost borders on idolatry, yet always within the strict, formal
confines of the game. This weird dichotomy between rule and misrule is utterly
typical of him, and it quickly begins to fuel her own lust, fanning it until it
blazes. It is utterly typical of him that he has found this singular way to
please her so, and it is also typical that he torments her as he inflames her.
And that he asks, and is granted, permission to do so.
It is also typical that he torments himself. As he forces himself to enjoy her
only in tiny successive portions, his breathing becomes first uneven, then
ragged, finally deep and gasping. He takes her scent with each deep breath,
drawing it in over his teeth. His eyes widen and light and show red sparks. His
hands begin to tremble wherever he touches her, and then she can feel the
shuddering of his whole body. She revises her earlier opinion that he is
unarmed, since she can occasionally feel the hard pressure of his sex against
her, now as rigid and unyielding as any forged weapon.
He is driving her mad. He is driving them both mad. Yet he stubbornly adheres
to the impossible rules of the game he has devised, far past the point of
reason. Here? Here? Here?
The object of the game now, it seems, is to see which one of them will break
first. Clarice plays as hard as she can. She can tell that her opponent is
flagging, that his control is slipping. She has as much chance to prevail in
this match as he does. He is not one to bore himself with games that offer no
real challenge to him.
She suddenly darts her head to his chest and sucks, hard, on his undamaged
nipple, while her hands seek and find the hardened weapon at his center, which
pulses in her grip. Put plainly, she wins the contest by cheating. She would
laugh if she wasn't so insanely aroused.
" Here!" she growls
into his chest triumphantly. Her hands massage him without mercy as she listens
to his guttural cry of response, chagrin mixed with unearthly pleasure.
"Here, here, here . . ." she chants, and then uses her teeth on the hard, hot
nub of flesh she has captured.
He is not a man to accept such a grave breach of etiquette without retaliating
in kind. Nor is he a man who denies himself for long. He cheats too, and uses
his superior strength to first flatten her body under him, and then to draw her
thighs wide apart. He enters her before she can draw breath, and then steals
her breath entirely with a long, slow, liquid thrust. Her entire body, inside
and out, suspends itself, tight as a drawn fist, every nerve ending frozen in
anticipation of the next fluid, piercing movement.
Which he withholds.
Now she does laugh, aloud. He is such
"I think I'll just kill you," she tells him, panting like a racehorse. "Right
after we're done."
He is panting too, breath passing in uneven bursts over his teeth. He can't
stop the trembling of his body, against her and inside her, and his eyes just
seem to glow, his gaze burns into her. But he manages to find enough of his
voice to answer her.
"We're a long way from done, Clarice . . ."
And so they are. He drives her berserk with a succession of smooth, long,
rolling thrusts into her. He drives them both berserk. She bends her knees and
braces her feet against the mattress, the better to meet the rhythmic arching
of his hips. His body shudders uncontrollably and hers does too. His head dips
to her throat and he sucks at the place where her lifeblood throbs closest
under her skin. The pace he has set speeds just as her body demands it, as
though he can intuit her needs directly through the tissues of her flesh. She
can feel her pulse in her head and ears throat like rolling thunder, and
imagines that her heart must soon burst. His face is in her breasts now, and he
begins to keen, cries that waver on a strange knife's edge between wailing and
snarling, both plaintive and savage.
If she were hurting him, he'd never make a sound.
This thought pushes her over the edge and she breaks. Orgasm boils her senses
once more, but she retains enough consciousness to be aware that he is right
behind her, pushing so far into her that she thinks he might pierce her heart,
shaking himself, it must be, she thinks, to pieces, as his body empties itself
into her. He is all liquid, her bones melt, his bones melt, surely there can be
nothing left of either of them, and again, he wails,
the sound that resonates in his throat as he comes might be a death-cry.
She cannot catch her breath as he collapses into her, and she feels his full
weight pressing her down into the bed. Only the hitching of his breath informs
her that he still lives, although she thinks he may have blacked out, at least
momentarily. She thinks she might have blacked out for a moment herself. He is
surprisingly heavy, for a slender man, but it is a weight she welcomes. It is a
weight she will always welcome, she predicts, a weight she would welcome
In time, he begins to stir, and then he rolls his body a bit, so that he is no
longer crushing her. She can breathe easier now that her chest is not so
compressed, but she also, illogically, regrets the loss of his full weight. His
arms remain clasped around her waist, and his head rests against her breasts.
She comforts herself with that lesser weight.
After many silent minutes have passed, and she has begun to think she will soon
doze off, he speaks to her.
"Talk to me, please, Clarice," he requests softly. "Tell me things."
She smiles faintly. They are to be lovers. He must feel free to ask her to do
the things he wants.
"What things?" she asks.
"Confide secrets. Express opinions. Unfold confessions. Anything."
She thinks for a moment as he waits serenely, head comfortably pillowed in her
"I was thinking . . ." she begins, and stops for a moment, ordering her
thoughts. "I was thinking that if I had been hurting you, a while back, you
would never have let me hear a murmur of distress. And I was wondering-"
"Are you so certain that you weren't
hurting me, Clarice?" he interrupts.
"No," she answers after a long moment. "No. I have no idea what I'm doing to
you. Or what you're doing to me."
She can feel his smile against her skin.
"Time, I suppose, will tell. If there is time. What were you wondering?"
"I was wondering why, earlier, you seemed so uneasy. Unsure of what to do, how
to go on. Almost nervous. I was wondering what was bothering you."
He raises his head to look at her, to look into
her. There is a small, surprised, pleased smile on his face. But he doesn't
answer her question.
He clasps her more securely in his arms and again lowers his head to her chest.
She can feel the muscles and sinews of his body relaxing around her, against
her, into her. Relaxing, for the first time tonight, completely.
"A question, I think," he murmurs faintly. "That we'll save for another night.
Shall we sleep, Clarice? You mentioned, I believe, that you were tired. In
fact, if I recall, you expected to fall into a coma in short order. Shall we
Sleep. She is tired,
yes, more deliciously fatigued now, really, than she can ever remember being
It doesn't take long for them both to fall into slumber. Ten minutes, if that.
Less. Her last conscious thought, before sleep overtakes her and all waking
thoughts are done, is that tonight, if she has counted the days since she last
saw a calendar right, is New Year's Eve. The small clock on her bedside table
is the last thing she sees before she drifts off.
11:40 PM, it reads . . .
New Year's Eve. By the time midnight comes round at last, both of them are
deeply asleep, far removed from any knowledge of the changing year.
In Clarice's recollection, one night comes full circle and interlocks with the
corresponding night, five years to the day later. The sights and scenes of that
earlier night fade, and the fire lit chamber she occupies now solidifies in her
Past and present mesh once more, and return to their accustomed, proper places
in her memory.
It is New Year's Eve again, and Clarice suddenly resolves a mystery that has
remained unsolved for five long years. The answer comes to her effortlessly, as
though she had known it all along.
When Hannibal Lecter comes back through the oaken doors, bearing an opened
bottle of Dom Peringion and cut-crystal champagne flutes, he immediately sees
the tranced look of revelation in her eyes and sets the wine down on the coffee
table. He waits to hear whatever it is that she has discovered.
Match. Match, she thinks, and laughs delightedly.
"You had never slept in a bed with another person before!" she tells him. "
That's what was throwing you off, making you
uneasy. Five years ago tonight!"
He stands, very still, beside the coffee table. His eyes glitter as he stares
at her, watching her intently, as he has always done. He lets some small space
of time pass.
"As a small child," he finally answers. "I had my own bedchamber. We were a
wealthy family, and it was the custom at the time. Later, for several years
after the war, I was on my own and was lucky to find such luxuries as beds and
bedrooms at all. And for all the years after that, I was still on my own,
although my circumstances had improved greatly. I had become adept, by the time
I was old enough to indulge in adult pleasures, at leaving just after any
romantic tryst without giving offense. Gifts and extravagant endearments,
Clarice, can smooth over many shortcomings, as you yourself might testify."
He interrupts himself to smile, once, a self-mocking, almost bitter smile.
"It had become a habit, you see - solitude. And after that, of course, I was
arrested and imprisoned, and made myself comfortable for many years on cots and
bunks. Even after I escaped, I still seemed always to choose the most solitary
resting places. Although I had long since ceased to think about it."
He takes a single step toward her, and then another. In time, he has come to
her side, and lowers his voice as he continues the confession she has earned at
last, through her hard-won perception.
"When I first rented the German lobbyist's home, I decided, quite deliberately,
that I would take the master bedroom for my own. He had an enormous California
king in there, the largest bed there is, and I felt I had slept in cramped
places long enough. His bed was huge, a great endless plain of linen. I felt
lost and unbearably small in that expanse, and after two impossible nights,
gave up and went to sleep thereafter on the couch. That great, gaping desert of
a bed had defeated me, Clarice. I couldn't stand it."
He is standing so close to her as she speaks, and it seems natural that her
arms close around him. Even after five years have passed, they still exert a
sweet gravity upon one another.
"The first night I spent beside you, Clarice, was the first night I had ever
spent beside anyone. I confess to you now, it was something of a leap of faith
He is finished with his admission, and to prove it, he kisses her, very, very
lightly, on her mouth. His lips only whisper over hers.
"But once there, you never left again . . ." she observes, a bit awestruck. She
remembers him standing outside her bedroom door, unwilling to cross the
threshold without an explicit invitation. She remembers how he had drawn an
ironic parallel to the traditional lore of the vampire as he'd hovered outside
her chamber door.
He folds her into his embrace. "Yes. It was a rare invitation, and I was determined
to accept it. And to retain it. I did warn you, after all, Clarice."
"Yes. Yes, you did," she agrees, and moves deeper into the circle of his arms.
"How did you know?" he asks, curious. "What made you guess, now, so many years
It is disturbing, she thinks, that, for them, past, present and future seem
always to be on the verge of melding into one. That the three finite streams of
time should be separated only by the thinnest, most flimsy of membranes in all
of their association. That one eve of the changing year can flow so easily into
another, and that all of the years in between can either stretch back into
eternity or dwindle into a brief moment with equal, elastic ease. It is
disturbing, and it is immensely pleasing. It is a dark miracle that together,
they habitually undo time.
That time circling into this time, and all circling into the next. A geometric
figure without a beginning or an end.
"New Year's Eve," she breathes in explanation, and moves her head to kiss him
herself. "It was New Year's Eve then."
He doesn't seem to require any further explanation. He takes her meaning
perfectly. He returns the kiss she offers. He completes it.
New Year's Eve then, and New Year's Eve now. Outside, in the streets, midnight
comes round at last, as it always does, and then passes a moment later. The old
year cycles into the new one to the distant sounds of mass celebration along
the Avenida Alvear.
But inside, it might be midnight, or it might be high noon. One new year is
virtually indistinguishable from another.
Outside, the world turns. Inside, time is undone.