It was beautiful. His rendering of it had been flattering and captured it well, but it was absolutely breathtaking in person. She wasn't a religious person, but she found herself clutching the cross pendant she wore as she took in the sight before her. It seemed fitting somehow, right that she grasp a religious symbol here.

She had no idea why she'd come here. Three years had passed since his escape. She'd made no attempt to find him. Until now. He had over the years sent her gifts and flowers. The flowers were always sent to her office at the Bureau and were the source of endless needling from the male agents. Particularly Paul Krendler. Jack never said a word. Clarice wondered if he even noticed she was the recipient of flowers on a fairly regular basis.

She had been in need of a vacation badly. Three years on the job and she hadn't taken any sick or vacation days. She finally gave out and needed a break. Jack had seen it happening before she had, so he hadn't protested when she'd asked for a month off. She did not say good bye to anyone but Ardelia and no one knew where she had gone for the month. She preferred it that way, though she wasn't ready to go so far as to say she needed it.

She lost track of time, only becoming aware that lots of it had gone by when the sun began making its descent into the west. She'd been sitting there for hours. She stood from her seat, her body protesting the activity after hours of sitting still. She wasn't used to sitting for prolonged periods of time. If she wasn't working a case she still kept busy. Staying fit was one of the ways she kept her head about her when Krendler came on to her or she got assigned a shit job that was beneath even the simplest of agents.

She passed a restaurant along the way to her hotel. The smells of seasonings and bread hit her hard, if they had been physical, tangible things they would have knocked her over. She was hungry. Famished even. Jetlag had prevented her from eating the day before or breakfast that morning. Evidently, she was over that problem because instead of making her want to heave, the smells were inviting, welcoming even.

She was the only one eating alone, but she was used to that by now. She made a habit of watching people at other tables, coming up with histories and life situations for them. It was the families she had the hardest time with. It was something foreign to her. She had memories of her father, but even those were hazy at best any longer. Her mother was nothing more than a vague idea, seeds of information planted by her father. Nothing remembered by Clarice Starling herself.

She ate heartily, including a large glass of red wine that back home she would never have allowed herself to have. Italy wouldn't be a good choice of places for her to live, she'd gain one hundred pounds just from the smells of food cooking.

She glanced at the Duomo one last time, at least for today, before returning to her hotel. She tried to deny why she'd chosen Italy. Wanting to do something unexpected, act irrationally for a change had been her excuse. In truth, though, now that she was here she knew why she'd come. To be closer to him. She didn't know if he was here, but the drawings she'd seen in his cell in Baltimore were the only connection she had to him. The drawings were gone, but the actual place that inspired them still existed.

She slept fitfully that night, dreams that woke her but dispelled as soon as she did so she didn't remember them. The sun was close to rising when she realized attempting to sleep any longer was futile. She showered and dressed for the day, though her plan was to take a walk hoping that the air and exercise would enable her to sleep a little longer.

She found a place where she could grab a cup of coffee and some bread for breakfast. She wasn't that hungry and from what she'd seen that seemed to be what Italian's ate for breakfast. Drawn to the same spot she sat at yesterday, she made her way there. She wondered what it was about this building that had captured Doctor Lecter's attention and admiration. Surely, he would not have drawn something he found hideous to look at. He didn't strike her as the type who would waste his time, even though he had plenty of it until three years ago.

Unless, Agent Starling, he had done it intentionally to throw off anyone who might search for him. Plant some drawings in your area to make those in charge believe you were fond of it. In the event you escape, they'll think to look for you there. As far as she knew, no one had looked in Florence for Doctor Lecter.

The case on him was still active and it would never get closed unless he was caught or found dead. Clarice tried not to think overly hard on why the thought of finding him dead bothered her. The fact was, the Bureau did not have the time, money or resources to spend looking for Hannibal Lecter. Unless leads or tips came in nothing was really done with his file.

She hadn't been invited on the manhunt for him after his escape. The conversation with Paul Krendler still made her blood boil.

"I can help you find him, Mr. Krendler. Sir."

"The fact that you're so confident in that, Starling, makes me believe you couldn't be more wrong."

"I know how his mind works."

"This isn't charm school, Clarice. You don't mind if I call you Clarice do you, since you're not an agent. Yet." He'd added the yet intentionally, a threat. If she didn't play things his way he could cause her trouble. From that day forward he'd had it in for her.

"I'm well aware of what this is and isn't."

"If I have to stoop to spreading my legs to get answers, you'll be the first to know. Otherwise, you are not to be involved in this case at all."

"If you're suggesting that I behaved improperly. Or engaged in behavior, conduct unbecoming."

"I'm not suggesting anything, Clarice."

"Then what do you mean? I did nothing but conduct myself in a professional manner."

"Sneaking into the room he was being housed in was professional? Come now, I can't believe even in West Virginia that would be considered as such."

"Since it seems you plan to stand here and insult not only my integrity but where I come from which is irrelevant to this case I ask that I be dismissed."

"What's a matter, Clarice? I'm sure I could find a mask and put it on if that's what does it for you."

She shot up out of her chair at that comment. Insulted of course, but the comment had struck a little too close to home. She had not discussed her conversations with Hannibal, she had certainly not revealed the attraction and connection to him she felt. Paul Krendler insinuating such a thing existed bothered her. It meant she had been sloppy somewhere along the line about stowing her true feelings away.

"You'll never find him, sir. I want the record noted that I offered to help in finding an escaped serial killer but you denied my offer."

"You're in no position to make such a request. And if I find out you've tampered with or searched his files you can kiss graduating from the academy good bye."

"Yes, Sir." With that she had left Paul Krendler's office, amazed that her trembling legs had carried her unfalteringly away.

She'd known then that the Buffalo Bill case and her time spent with Hannibal Lecter would forever be an albatross around her neck. There were no witnesses to their conversation in Memphis. So, all she had was her word and the fact that the entire behavioral unit seemed to think she'd done something to make Hannibal Lecter sweet on her.

"As if," she scoffed, sipping her coffee. She took in the sun as it slowly rose for the day. It refreshed her, let her know all was not lost. And it hadn't been. Paul Krendler was a pest. Worse than your common every day mosquito, but a pest regardless.

Someone sat next to her, causing her to come out of her thoughts. She would scold herself later for not paying attention. Here she was a woman by herself in a strange city. A city she suspected housed the man that was the focus of so many of her thoughts.

"Excuse me," she muttered. There were other places to sit, so it bothered her a little that the person sat so close. What could she do? Ask him to move?

"It is a beautiful view, is it not, Clarice?"

She swallowed, unable to look at him. Surely this was a joke, a trick. Somehow Krendler had discovered where she was going and why and was testing her. But the accent, the tone of his voice. Three long years had passed but she could still hear him talk in her head as if it was merely hours ago.

"Yes, it is."

"You can look at me if you wish to, Clarice. I assure you I won't bite."

She smiled at that and turned her head to look at him. "You're looking well, Doctor."

"As are you, though you do look a little rundown at the moment."

"Jetlag."

"Ah yes, the wonders of air travel across the Atlantic. What brings you to Florence?"

"Vacation."

"I don't believe it. You're taking vacation?"

"Yes. It was use it or lose it time. So, here I am. I'd banked up enough sick, vacation and personal days so I decided to take a month and do something I'd never done before."

"So, it's just coincidence you found me here."

"I didn't find you, Doctor. You found me. I'm quite sure if you didn't want me to know you were here you would have just kept walking by."

"That would be rather rude, wouldn't it, though, Clarice? Not welcoming you to my new city."

"You don't own the city, Doctor."

"Of course not. I'm not that well to do, though on a smaller scale it would be possible."

She looked away then. Some birds landed on the pavement not far from her feet. She could tell they were looking for handouts, but she was enjoying her bread and didn't feel like sharing. Or gaining any new friends.

"Did I offend you somehow, Clarice? Surely you knew my financial situation is rather comfortable."

"Yes, though I'm not sure I want to hear about how you accomplished hiding the money."

"It's rather simple really, but I'm in no position to divulge my secrets to you. So, what brings you to Florence, Clarice? You don't appear to be here in an official capacity."

"I'm on vacation."

"And you came here?"

"Yes. I've had the drawings in your cell in my head and decided to take the money and time off I had banked and splurge."

"Well, I'm glad that I could inspire you to do such a thing. It really is something that needs to be seen in person. Wouldn't you agree?"

"Yes, Doctor, it's an inspiring view. Should I ask what you're doing here? I wouldn't think you'd stay somewhere so obvious."

"Yes, well, the Bureau is full of agents who are not as diligent as you are. There's plenty more in Florence to see if you're looking for inspiration."

"I find it hard to believe you'd find inspiration here, Doctor. A city full of religious relics and symbolism. It seems a contradiction."

"You don't think I can have faith in something?"

She shook her head but caught herself. It seemed illogical that anyone capable of doing the things he did could believe in God, or something similar. "I don't know," she admitted. She really didn't. "I can't claim to understand you or know things like that about you."

"Ah, yet here you are. Though no guns or cuffs I see."

"No."

"So, you came here on a hunch with no plans on bringing me in."

She ran her fingertip along the top of her coffee cup and shrugged. "I just wanted a vacation, Doctor. Really. It was a whim to come here nothing more."

"I'd say it was definitely more than that, Clarice."

"What do you want me to say? That I came here hoping to run into you?"

"That would be a nice start."

"I've never gotten a chance to thank you for the flowers."

"You're quite welcome. I wasn't sure what you preferred so I thought a variety was wisest."

"You've been the topic of office gossip."

He smirked. It was subtle but she'd seen it. "Why is that?"

"I have no social life that anyone knows about. I don't talk about a boyfriend or anything yet I keep getting these flowers."

"Ah. And is it getting you propositioned more or less?"

"The only one that I have a problem with is Krendler."

"I imagine flowers do not dissuade him."

"Not in the least. I think they make him more adamant actually."

"Yes, I'm sure he'd love the chance to prove you're corruptible, your virtue and straight as an arrow tactics are merely a mask you wear. I would never deign to insult you in such a manner, Clarice." He reached for her then, taking her hand in his. "Who you are, what makes you you is what endears me to you."

She glanced at her hand in his. She was physically fit, some might say strong, but his hand dwarfed hers. "I don't know that I've done anything special."

"And that's what makes you unique, Clarice, you do not see it. You just are. Sincerity is a quality that many people overlook. So what have you told people about the flowers?"

"I started out saying I didn't know who they were from. It wasn't exactly a lie, I wasn't sure."

"Who else would send them?"

"Are you suggesting I don't know anyone but you who would send me flowers? That's rather insulting."

"Were you married or had a serious relationship I would not be sending you flowers."

"Really?"

He stood then, taking her with him without saying a word. "It would be improper for me to do so."

"I'm not sure I see you caring too much about propriety, Doctor. It's not as if you'd pose a threat to a husband or boyfriend."

"I wouldn't, Clarice?"

"No."

"I'd think on that long and hard, Clarice. I don't want you lying to yourself."

"Where are you taking me?"

"I thought I'd escort you back to your hotel. You look tired. Didn't you sleep well last night?"

"Not really, no," she admitted. "I'm not sure why."

"Traveling overseas can be hard on some people."

"Not on someone like you I imagine."

"There is no type of person that such things effects and another type that it does not, Clarice. Someone like me could just as easily be prone to it as not. I'm not sure how you picture me, but I am just human."

"An incredibly intelligent and crafty one."

"Well, you said it, I didn't. I did manage to get caught once upon a time."

"That was a fluke, Doctor. I've read Will Graham's reports. I sometimes wonder if you didn't want to get caught."

"Hmm, I'm not sure that deserves a response. To think I'd give up my freedom as part of a challenge of the minds."

"But you knew some day, somehow you'd get free."

"Until you and Buffalo Bill came along the opportunity had not presented itself. So, if I had thought that at one time I was a fool."

"You're not foolish."

"Why thank you, Clarice."

"I'm not sure I couldn't be categorized as foolish for coming here."

"Did you want to come here?"

"Yes."

"Were you planning on arresting me if you found me?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"The agent in me says yes, but I'm not all agent."

"Ah. A conflict in interest between the professional agent and the non-professional woman. That's natural, normal even, Clarice. The fact of the matter is you came and as far as I was able to tell had no plan, no accessories, no back up. So that suggests to me, this is pleasure and not business. Does Jack or anyone in the Bureau know where you are?"

She simply shook her head, unable to give him the pleasure of her answer.

"Ah, well, that's certainly preferable as far as I'm concerned. I could see where it might be bothersome for you. The fact remains, you're here as am I, so why not enjoy your time here?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"You're here on vacation. Let me give you a vacation. A real one."

"And you'd do that how?"

"Florence is wonderful, but there are quieter, less crowded and more relaxing places to spend your time."

"What are you suggesting, Doctor?"

"Let me show you an Italy they don't talk about in travel guides."

"You can't be serious."

"Why not?"

"It would be inappropriate."

"And coming here in the first place wasn't? Clarice, come now, you're fooling yourself if you say otherwise."

"Where would you take me?"

"I can't tell you that. From a cautionary standpoint I simply cannot. You understand."

"Yes, though I'm not here to trick you."

"No, I believe that, truly I do. But all it would take is for you to have second thoughts between here and there and I'd be a sitting duck. I value my freedom far too much to risk it."

"Have you been here the entire time?"

"No. I traveled some. Had to stretch my legs, as it were, after years of confinement."

"I guess I can see that."

"Can you? I don't think so. Only those who have been confined as I was could. I appreciate your attempt at empathy."

"I'm not trying to empathize with or patronize you. I've worked enough with people to know that traveling around a lot would appeal to you."

"Fair enough."

They stood in the elevator now, Clarice having pushed the button to her floor. She wasn't sure what to say. Go away with him. It was foolish and yet indescribably tempting. She had no doubt he would show her a side of Italy tourists never saw. And money would not be a concern. Her vacation budget was pretty minimal, which was why she was staying at a less than desirable hotel. It wasn't the bottom of the barrel, but it lacked amenities she was sure a man like Doctor Hannibal Lecter was accustomed to. Expected even. It was the stuff dreams were made of.

She had them at one time. Dreams of a happy life. A gratifying career with the Bureau, full of not necessarily kudos but stepping up the ladder expediently due to her efficiency was a big part of the dream. Jack had obviously seen something in her. But she had hoped for more than just a successful career. She had hoped for a family and personal happiness. She wasn't so sure anymore. She wasn't old by any means, but certainly one had to have a social life for marriage to come about.

So, here she was in Italy, a country full of beauty and history. She was alone, no one to report to, and she was being offered the chance of a lifetime. Her only real quandary was whether she trusted him. Would he let her go when the month was over? She was an agent, it was who she was. She couldn't imagine life without her job.

Yet here she was in Florence, pursuing a fugitive for personal reasons not professional ones. What was she doing? She ran her fingers through her hair. She needed a trim badly. The makeshift ones she was in the habit of giving herself weren't cutting it anymore. She regarded him through lowered lashes, realizing she looked like a street urchin standing next to him.

"What do you see in me?"

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. I've seen photos and read the writeups about the women youe spent time with. I can't hold a candle to them. Here you are despite your status in a suit that I wouldn't be able to afford with three months of paychecks. And, me, I'm standing here in my best jeans and a sweater that I might have bought after I graduated from the academy. I don't wear makeup, I don't fuss with my hair, I don't paint my nails. I don't own more than one fancy dress, and that's only because I had to buy one for some award dinner."

"And you think those things matter to me?"

"I know they do, Doctor."

"On the contrary, Clarice. My interest in you can be credited to all of those things you just listed and more. I love your tenacity, integrity, the fact you're incorruptible. I could go on, but I don't believe it's necessary."

"And when my vacation is over you'll let me go?"

"If you want to go."

"My staying here with you is not an option, Doctor."

"I'm quite sure three years ago you would have said that being here with me now wasn't an option."

"Well."

"Forget three years ago, three weeks ago."

She blew out a sharp breath. "Fine."

"What exactly are you agreeing to?"

"Going away with you."

He quirked a brow, it was the only indication he gave that he was surprised. Perhaps she had given in too easily?

"Do you have anyone to check in with?"

"No, Doctor. I didn't leave an itinerary with anyone. No one knows where I am."

"Quite daring, Clarice."

"That's me. I'm wild and crazy like that."

"Right."

"You doubt me?"

"I'm quite sure your version of wild and crazy differs from most people."

"Are you implying that I'm dull?" The elevator doors opened as they arrived at her floor. She stepped out and led him to her room.

"Hardly. Just a bit more conservative than others."

"Right. How many other agents have showed up in Florence looking for you? And how many of those agents invited you into their room?"

"None that I know of."

She took one look at her room, the cheap looking suitcase she hadn't even bothered to unpack and wondered what he saw.

"Pretty pathetic, huh?"

"If you expect me to judge you because you lack the financial means I do, Clarice, you're very much mistaken. You're an FBI agent not a prominent psychiatrist. You don't think I lived like this at one time? You don't think I have lived worse?"

"I know you have, but you were able to pick yourself up and make something of yourself."

"As have you, Clarice. If I've learned anything over the years, through all aspects of my life be they physician, chaperone, and, yes, even inmate. Money does not make a person. Certainly, it can buy you things you wouldn't have access to otherwise. And with those things doors would be open that might otherwise not be. But really, money wouldn't change you, Clarice."

"You don't think so?"

"I know so."

"Speaking of money."

"Yes?"

"Are you responsible for the windfall I received?"

"You'll have to be more specific."

"The hefty deposits into my savings account a couple times a year. I haven't questioned it because I assumed, like the flowers it was you."

"You have assumed correctly."

"Why are you doing that?"

"A man takes care of a woman, it's natural."

"When the man and woman are together, yes."

"I've carried you with me the entire time I've been away, Clarice. I was hoping one day our paths would cross again, but I knew it had to be you instigating the contact otherwise it would be fruitless."

"How did you know?"

"That's why I was paid so well in my line of work, Clarice. I understand people, how their minds work, how they work. You're not so difficult really, though I imagine many find you to be. It's because they don't have your honor, your morals."

"My honor and morals are on pretty shaky ground right now."

"No one but the two of us has to know that."

"When are you going to take me?"

He glanced at his watch. It was a nice one, she noticed. She wondered if he'd had to buy everything new when he escaped. Perhaps he had a stash of clothes, money, and documents waiting for him somewhere. She should have thought of that, but she was quite certain whatever he did have would be untraceable. He would have been too smart to use normal means to get out of the States after his escape.

"I guess that depends on you. We're early enough you could check-out now without having to pay for another day. If that seems too rushed, you tell me. Tomorrow? Perhaps there's more in Florence you wanted to see."

"I've seen what I wanted to see here, Doctor."

"Have you now?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, as it appears you did not bother to unpack, why don't we begin our vacation now then?"

She leaned back against the hotel dresser. It was pretty standard issue. You'd seen one in a mediocre hotel you'd seen them all. "You're not going to kill me and leave me for dead or toss me in the ocean or anything are you?"

He laughed at that, a full, hearty one that made her smile. She couldn't recall having heard him laugh before. Not like this anyway. "Hardly, Clarice. Harming one hair on your head is the furthest thing from my mind. Of course, whether or not you trust me is entirely up to you. If you feel uncomfortable, I understand. Talking to me with bars or Plexiglas separating us is not quite the same as spending time alone with me." He approached her then, definitely closing in on her personal space. His hand cupped her cheek and her eyes fell closed. "No barriers, Clarice," he whispered.

Her eyes met the maroon gaze of his and she shuddered, not from fear but surprised at the power of his touch. She should have been repulsed, disgusted, revolted even but she couldn't find it in herself to be. For some reason, this man who stood for the exact opposite of everything she believed in and held dear had managed somehow to wiggle his way into the one place she had thought was more secure than Fort Knox. Her heart. She hadn't let anyone in since her father's death. She couldn't let herself get distracted. Affairs of the heart were just that, distractions nothing more.

"You're not just a distraction," she whispered.

"And that bothers you, Clarice, does it not?"

"I expected the flowers to stop coming after a while."

"Never."

"The money, you didn't send that as frequently so I wasn't sure what to expect there. I just assumed you'd grow tired of me."

"There is so much more for me to get to know about you, Clarice. I look forward to it and would never close myself off to the possibility of time with you. That's why I continued to send them. I never wanted your mind to wander too far from me."

"Why? We had a few nice conversations." Her eyes fell closed, unable to take the intensity she saw in his eyes. She saw that he would never let her go, particularly now that she had sought him out.

"A few nice conversations did not entice you to fly halfway around the world, Clarice."

"You see so much, Doctor, tell me what did then."

"I'm not sure there's anything I could say."

"Then maybe you're not so good," she said, her eyes opened to look at him defiantly. He kissed her then. It was more than she imagined it could be. She'd expected him to be rough, domineering even. Instead, his lips were smooth against hers. He broke the kiss and she whimpered in protest until she felt his tongue graze her lips. He kissed her again and she opened her mouth, accepting even welcoming him. Her hands clutched the dresser she was leaning against unsure what to do with them just then.

He was soft, tender, inquisitive. He wanted to get to know her, she understood that and allowed him access to her mouth, meeting his tongue with her own. She was a little hesitant at first. She'd kissed and been kissed before, but it had been a while and she never thought of herself as being very good at it. That might have been her own fault, lack of desire to practice at improving.

She wondered how often he'd practiced this. In his life. Since his escape. The thought caused her to break the kiss, tilting her head so her cheek was closest to his mouth now. "I."

"What is it, Clarice?"

"How can you kiss me like that?"

"Like what?"

"Like only I matter."

"You do."

"You can't tell me since your escape you haven't."

"A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell, Clarice. I wish I could lay claim to being true to you, but a man does have needs."

"You don't strike me as the type to let your libido control you."

"No, you are absolutely correct in that assumption, but release not done manually was welcome. I assure you, there was no one serious. No one I brought home with me or talked to. It was just sex."

"What am I?"

"Everything that just sex isn't." His hands slid up along her arms to her shoulders. He stroked either side of her neck with his thumbs. "Let me show you, starting today. By nightfall we'll be far away from Florence and tourists. We'll be alone and can enjoy one another's company. Get to know one another intimately as we should have been able to do years ago."

"I didn't think about having sex with you, Doctor."

"Of course you didn't, Clarice, I didn't mean to be insulting."

She laughed then, turned again to look into his eyes. She smiled, just slightly. "You don't insult me, Doctor. Even your digs early on during our visits weren't insulting. Not in the way I think you wanted them to be anyway. I was prepared for it."

"Were you?" he asked brushing some hair away from her face with his hand?

"Yes."

"And were you prepared for the rest of it?"

"No," she whispered. She tilted her head just so, enabling her to kiss the palm of his hand. And she did, grazing his skin there with the lightest of kisses. A featherlike caress of her lips against his skin. She felt it course through her like a lightning bolt. If she had any doubt she was supposed to be with this man it was pushed aside there and then.

"Neither was I."

It took a lot for him to admit that. Clarice knew this and felt oddly comforted by his words. To know he was as unprepared for this as she was made her feel better for some reason.

"Let me get my things out of the bathroom."

"All right." He stepped away then, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. It wasn't made yet, too early for housekeeping she imagined. It was only mid-morning. She wondered what the hotel would think about her checking out after only one night.

"It's beautiful."

"I told you it would be."

"I believed you, but I guess I had my doubts."

"When it comes to things of beauty, Clarice, I assure you I'm rarely wrong."

They had traveled up the coast a ways, Clarice had fallen asleep so she wasn't sure how long they had traveled. "Why isn't anyone enjoying the beach?"

"Because it's private."

"Oh," she said, turning to look at the shoreline. "Do you own this place?"

"I do."

"Have you always?"

"Yes. It's been in my family for generations."

"Why didn't we know about it?"

"Because I had the name changed on the papers years ago."

"A safe harbor?"

"Exactly, Clarice."

"You must trust me."

"You'd have to admit to how you came by this location. This parcel of land is not on any maps. Not inhabited anyway. Records will show a home that was destroyed during the War but never rebuilt."

"I'm sorry."

"It's quite all right, it's not your fault and you certainly weren't there. And besides, if this month goes as planned I don't think I'll have to worry about you turning on me."

"I like confidence in a man."

"You do?"

"Yes. Confidence but not overconfidence or cockiness. Paul Krendler has enough of both qualities to make me sick."

"You'll have him off your back, too."

"Don't make promises you can't keep, Doctor."

"Please call me by my given name, Clarice. I appreciate the respect you're giving me by using my title, but this is a social visit, a vacation. And I certainly don't want you to get into your head that I want to be your doctor."

She smirked at that. "Not hardly."

"Let's go inside then, I'll show you where you can unpack your bag and hang your things."

"I don't have anything to hang."

"Ah, fair enough."

She could tell that surprised him, though it shouldn't have really. Not if he knew her at all. She traveled pretty light even though she planned on being gone the entire month. She wasn't certain she was going to stay in Florence, so she didn't pack a month's worth of stuff.

"So, you have me out here in the middle of I don't know where alone for the next month. Whatever will you do with me?"

"I'll think of a thing or two to keep you busy. I do need to go to the market and purchase some things for dinner. Perhaps you'd like to nap or bathe while I'm out?"

"You're going to trust me here alone?"

He took her into his arms and kissed her, deepening it, which made her feel like the temperature had just been turned up a degree or two. "Yes, I will leave you alone. I have to trust you, Clarice. Otherwise I will have absolutely no fun the next month and I'd rather not spend it in such a manner."

And he didn't have to worry about trusting her. By the time close to three weeks had gone by she found herself wondering why she wanted to leave. While they had shared a bed together, sex had not entered the equation yet. Hannibal had helped her as much as she hated admitting that fact. He had claimed he didn't want to be her doctor, but he had acted otherwise.

Years of pent up guilt, anger, confusion had piled on making her pretty dysfunctional. She knew that now thanks to his help and guidance. She sensed at first he was trying to change her, shape her into something different. Something he wanted her to be, needed her to be. She was too strong, though, and he had given up on the attempt and left her to be herself. Mentally, she felt better than she had in years.

He was making omelets for breakfast. She was sitting on the porch watching the waves roll onto the beach. It was both peaceful and violent. She loved the sound of the water but knew it could take someone's life very easily. The whole area was like that, seemingly uncivilized though she knew just a short drive away there were people, houses, a city full of life. It was inspiring in a way, to seem so far removed from everything. She'd never experienced it before. This was different than solitude she was living life, sharing her experiences and each find a new day brought with someone.

Once in a great while she'd see a boat pass by, but they were few and far between. It made her feel like they were the only two people on earth. She needed that. She felt so unimportant, able to slip through the cracks for so long. She no longer felt that way and couldn't wait to get back to work, hoping she could apply the better attitude and self image to her job.

"We've dealt with many things over the past couple of weeks, Clarice, but you still have not allowed me to address Mister Krendler."

"I'll handle him, Hannibal. Really, I will."

"I don't doubt your ability to handle him, but if my sending flowers and other tokens of affection haven't disillusioned him."

"Those are just things. For all I know he thinks I send them to myself. Besides, there's nothing you can do. You can't come pick me up from work or show up and surprise me one day."

"No, you're right. It might make an interesting situation, particularly now when your loyalties might be on shaky ground."

She preferred not to think of that and just how precarious the ground was. "So, what are you suggesting, Hannibal? I'm willing to listen to ideas because straightforward no and snottyness don't seem to work with him."

"Marry me."

"What?" She almost choked on the fresh squeezed orange juice.

"I didn't realize it was that upsetting a proposition."

"I can't marry you."

"Why not?"

She stared at him, wondering why he had to ask.

"I assure you I have an identity that would hold up to the most intense scrutiny. I even have a home, a car, and a few other things you'd have access to as his bride."

"I don't want things, Hannibal."

"I know you don't, that's one of the things I love so much about you. The fact remains, however, that I'm not content with our relationship this way. And I guess I'm looking at a bit more insurance that one day you won't regret this decision and tell Jack or someone some bit of information. If you are my wife, you'd be reluctant to do that. And were you ever caught or suspected of having information about me, you'd have spousal privilege. Admittedly, I'm not sure how well that travels outside the US borders."

"So this is an insurance policy?"

"No, there are certainly benefits. It's a sincere proposal, Clarice. I don't want anyone else, you don't seem to want anyone else. One day you will grow tired of the games and politics the Bureau offers you and then what will you do?"

"So, you'd live apart from me until I retire?"

"With visits, yes."

"You can't visit me."

"We can meet, Clarice."

"And what will my coworkers thing when the next award banquet comes and I don't bring a husband?"

"Your husband is a very busy man, Clarice. And one who has made it known he's not particularly fond of government bureaucracies, I think anyone knowing anything about him would be more surprised if he were to show up. He travels abroad hoping to find the one gem that will outshine all others found to date."

"You've really thought this through. I could lead them to you. Someone will be suspicious and might follow me one day if we were to meet."

"Yes, that's always a possibility. You have, however, been getting flowers regularly for going on three years now. Clearly, you've had a dedicated gentleman caller."

She took a bite of her breakfast, savoring the taste. Everything he touched tasted better than anything she'd had before. She could understand why anyone had found it difficult to get information out of former dinner guests of his. No one would want to admit that they had enjoyed his dinners.

"I don't know."

"Have I not made the offer enticing enough? Is the idea of living out your life with the one man who understands you unappealing?"

"Of course not. I just hate that you're that one man."

"Ah, yes, troublesome, worrisome even. To have feelings for a madman."

"I've never believed you to be insane. But you're still the poster child for everything I've promised to uphold."

"Yet, you've been here with me for the past three weeks. Have you missed it? Have you regretted going to Florence? Coming with me?"

"No," she said, taking a sip of her milk. "Maybe I just don't want to get married."

"Why not?"

"We'd have to live apart. I'm not sure I could be married to someone I don't know what they're doing most of the time."

"You don't trust me, Clarice? How touching."

"It's not a matter of trust. You're an attractive, wealthy man who could have any woman he wants. I still think I'm little more than a plaything to you. I don't want a legal marriage binding me to you when you decide that's the case. That's assuming you'd tell me and not just stay married to me out of some perverse pleasure. I'm not a cheater, and you know that about me."

"And you think I am?"

"I think you and I have a different moral compass, Hannibal. And I'm not sure that you'd consider base needs such as sex cheating."

"Ah, but you would, so of course I would have to."

"Why?"

"Every relationship has their own rules, their own boundaries. Assuming we were both to agree to such a boundary being set I would not break it."

"You've never married before now."

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because I refused to marry the wrong person."

"And I'm the right person? Come on, Hannibal."

"Why wouldn't you be?"

"I've already listed many of the reasons. Not to mention I'm sure my pedigree isn't up to snuff."

"I'm not here to impress anyone."

"Why not? You do in everything else you do."

He placed a hand over hers, causing her to glance there. He had the extra finger removed. She had noticed it before now, but she found it strange that it looked so normal. There was no sign that he'd altered his hand in any way. He'd obviously paid a good deal of money for such a capable surgeon.

She could almost believe him, but she knew if she let him get that close to her he too would leave her. Disappoint her. They all did.

"You're not going to disappoint me, Clarice. I'm not going to decide in a week, a year, ten years that I made a mistake."

"You don't know that. And get out of my mind."

"It's the one place outside of my own mind that I welcome going, so no I won't. And I do know. I know me, Clarice. I may be a lot of things, capable of things you find abhorrent, but I assure you my word is gold." He looked at her as if he really was expecting an answer. It was too much, too soon. If he was killing, actively pursuing that line of behavior she couldn't marry him. "Well, perhaps I'll have to settle merely for this."

"What?"

He lifted his hand and slid a ring with one of the largest diamonds on it she'd ever seen onto her ring finger. It fit perfectly. Of course it would. It was square and seemed to shine even brighter than the morning sun.

"A token then. A promise, if you will. When you're ready to leave your world you'll join me in mine."

"No marriage?"

"Not until then, no, I can accept that."

"Same rules?"

"If you insist on them, yes."

"I would."

She brought her hand closer to her face so she could really look at the ring. It looked beautiful. She was certain a jeweler would be unable to find even the slightest flaw in it. She flicked her gaze to his face, watching him intently. He was waiting for her. Though most probably wouldn't be able to read him, she saw anxiety in his eyes. He was not playing a game.

"So after three years of flowers and being vague about who this man is I get engaged?"

"That's not unreasonable. You were a young woman, fresh out of the academy, a high press target after the Buffalo Bill case you wanted something for yourself."

"I did."

"I know, and I apologize that I couldn't provide you what you needed at the time, Clarice."

"And you could live with that?"

"If it's all you'll give me. I really do believe it might help to solve your problems with Paul, particularly if you were to leave some information behind about your fiancé."

"You think so? You're too worried about him."

"Not when he could potentially stand in the way of you and your career."

"Tell me about him."

"His name is Alan Pinter. He was a jeweler, a good one. He owned a few jewelry stores on the East Coast that were bought out by a larger, bigger named retail jewelry chain some time ago. He retired quite wealthy at the rather young age of forty-two."

"An older man."

"Yes, it would appear so."

"So, a jeweler. I suppose then this is a one-of-a-kind ring. Has he been married before?"

"No. Once in his twenties he thought about it, but he was too focused on his career. He was rather reclusive, few had the pleasure of meeting him. I have an entire dossier on him. I'll send it back with you. And, yes, the ring is one-of-a-kind, you won't find chains around these parts that mass produce what they think people want to be."

"Did he really exist."

"On paper, yes."

"What do you mean on paper?"

"He was a puppet. The man employees knew as Alan Pinter wasn't."

"Ah. I didn't realize you dabbled in jewelry and gemstones."

"You'd be surprised at the things I've dabbled in, Clarice."

"No, I don't think I would. So, how do I contact you again?"

"Well, I'm afraid we're rather limited to newspaper ads as I suggested once upon a time."

"They'll be looking."

"Not if we decide on different codes in different papers. I imagine after this month you'll lack for more vacation time."

"Yes, for quite a while. I took it all at one time."

"You both needed and deserved it."

"So, I could go months, years even without seeing you."

"I suppose, I doubt years but months is a possibility. Just think you'll get the benefits without the hassles."

"What makes you think I don't want hassles?"

"Oh please. How many dates have you gone on, Clarice?"

"I go on dates. Just because I'm not a slut doesn't mean I don't date."

"I didn't ask how many men you'd slept with. I merely asked about dates."

She shrugged then. Without thinking, she twisted the ring on her finger. It felt so strange there. "A few, I don't know. I'm too busy to date."

"And you already knew you'd met the right man."

"You're the wrong man. Everything about you is wrong, Hannibal, for me anyway. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with you." She placed her hand against her forehead then, rubbing it.

"I know what you mean, Clarice, no insult taken." He shrugged. "Think it over, you don't have to make a decision today. You have a week, review the dossier on Mr. Pinter. I'll do my best to convince you as well. It really is a sweet deal. You'll get a little more money coming in."

"Oh my god, I don't want your money."

"I know you don't, but Alan Pinter would expect his fiancée and wife to have nice clothes, the best things, and access to salons, spas, health clubs."

"As if I need a health club."

"Of course you don't."

"Are you killing again?"

"How very direct of you. Are you asking as Clarice or Agent Starling?"

"I'm asking as both. They're not separate people. I may have left my badge and gun back in the States, but I'm still an agent. I couldn't accept your offer if you're killing people."

"I have not since my escape from the States, no. I haven't needed to, and I really don't want to get caught again."

"You were caught by accident last time."

"People are much smarter this time around and they know about me and my habits already."

"You could have changed them."

"Any victim with organs missing would immediately popup on the Bureau's radar. No, Clarice."

"So, you haven't eaten anyone lately?"

He smiled then, his teeth tiny and white. She could see they were sharp even from here. Weapons. "Lately? No. My meals have consisted of nothing but that which you find at the market."

"And you won't start again thinking that I won't try and catch you?"

"That would be rather slippery of me, wouldn't it, Clarice? I would not do that. Your terms to any sort of agreement between us are quite clear and I would abide by them until you give me reason not to."

"If I find out you've lied to me I will turn you in."

"I would expect nothing less from you, Clarice. You're entrusting your care to me, your life, I understand what a difficult thing that is for you to do. I wouldn't jeopardize your life, your trust or my freedom. All are too precious to me."

She didn't know why but she believed him. Pathetic perhaps, but she believed he really felt something for her enough not to. "So if you know I don't want your money how do you plan on convincing me?"

"Shall I tell you or would you rather I show you?"

"I don't know."

He stood from the table and came around behind her, pulling her chair out for her. She stood without question when he did. It frightened her how easily she trusted him, did as he asked without question. She had allowed him to medicate her, hypnotize her, and obtain access to her mind and thoughts. Something she valued her privacy about above most anything else. She didn't fool him anyway, so there was no harm in letting him get to know her even more intimately. At least, that was how she justified it to herself.

He led her to the room they'd shared for weeks now. She knew this time was different and she felt her mind and body react. She was both nervous and apprehensive. She wanted to pretend she had a world of experience when it came to this. The truth was, she was much more comfortable firing a gun, holding a criminal at arm's length and slapping cuffs on him then she was using her body.

"I won't hurt you, Clarice."

She smiled at that, the ease with which he could read her and know what she was thinking. "I'm not sure about that. How do I know this isn't just one more insurance policy?"

"Do I need it?"

"No." The word was barely a whisper, but came out sounding more seductive than she'd intended. She blamed it on him, kissing her bare shoulder while he grazed the other with the pad of his thumb. His hands weren't rough or calloused. They were smooth and well cared for. She'd seen his nails enough to know that while he might not partake in the vanity of a manicure he did take care of even that small detail with precision and attentiveness. He was thorough in his grooming habits.

"Well, then, it's an unfounded bit of speculation. If I'd wanted you to give me your body as part of my insurance I would have taken it in Florence before bringing you here."

"I know." She swallowed as he reached around her waist, stroking her abdomen. Her eyes fell closed, a soft groan escaped her lips. He was so gentle. It would be so easy to let him use his hands to meld her into whatever he wanted, needed. It was sorely tempting. As he worked the zipper on her jeans down she realized that no one had ever touched her like this. Like she mattered. He desired her. This man who could have anyone wanted Clarice Starling.

His hands pushed her jeans low along her hips while his mouth was busy on her shoulder and neck. He was sucking, nibbling, biting enough that she was sure with as easily as she bruised she'd have a trail of love bites that evening.

It didn't take long for him to have her standing in front of him with nothing but her cross necklace on. The air was cool and made her body quiver.

"My Clarice," he whispered as he led her to the bed. "You think you're not beautiful. I wish you could see yourself through my eyes. You would know that I didn't know true beauty until this very moment. I'd imagined it, of course, but my thoughts pale in comparison to the real thing."

"Stop it," she whispered, grabbing one of the pillows and placing it over her face. It was bad enough he was looking at her like he wanted to devour her. Add to that his flowery words that should have seemed contrived but didn't. She was as good as gone.

"Move the pillow, Clarice."

She did as he asked.

"Thank you. I got the pleasure of seeing you, you deserve the same."

She blushed at that and he chuckled lightly. She didn't look away, though, as he began to disrobe. He was careful in how he set his things on or over the chair near the bed but he wasn't overly slow with the process. And that was good, because she wanted him with her in the bed now that she was there.

"I'm not doing this because you gave me a rock the size of Montana."

"That's good, because I didn't give you the rock to get you into bed." He joined her then, slid next to her on the side of the bed she had come to think of as his.

"Just turn your mind off," he whispered, seeming to sense her indecision about what to do next. He kissed her then and she turned more onto her side so she could return the kiss better. His hand was everywhere. Her hair, her face, her neck, her arm, her side, her thigh, and finally between her legs where she wanted him most of all. It was a heady feeling, desire. Something she thought until now she was above. It was humbling to realize she was no better than anyone else given the right man.

He stroked her, entering her with the tip of his finger once in a while, until she wasn't thinking at all anymore beyond the base thought of wanting him. Needing him.

"Please," she murmured. "Hannibal."

He groaned softly, nuzzling her neck and biting her just this side of not so gentle. "Please what, Clarice?"

"You know."

"I need to hear it."

She swallowed hard. She'd never asked for anything like this before in her life. How difficult could it be? She swallowed and opened her eyes, staring up at the ceiling before glancing at the top of his head. "Please make love to me."

"Thank you. I've waited years to hear you say those words. I needed to be certain."

"I understand," she whispered as he slid on top of her.

Their eyes met and she smiled uncertainly. "Perhaps you'd rather be on top?"

"No."

"All right, we'll save you being in control for another time then."

She laughed then. "Did you want me to get my cuffs out, too?"

"Mm, when our situation isn't quite so precarious, that could be something we look into."

"Hmm," she said and licker her lips. She shifted her hips, locking her legs with his trying to draw him into her.

"I see by the look in your eye you like that idea. Very well, Clarice, we'll play some games when the situation is appropriate."

"I never knew you were into such things, Doctor."

He groaned softly as he slid into her. She'd never felt anything like it before in her life. She was wet and ready for him but her body wasn't expecting to be taken in such a way. He grabbed hold of her hand, lifting it above their heads joined together with his. His other hand rested at her hip, holding her still as he slid further into her.

She wanted to watch but as he drew out and thrust deeply into her, hitting a spot she was sure didn't exist before this moment she lost all control. She was under his spell. And though he seemed to know it he was surprisingly gentle. Very thorough but kind at the same time. Not a part of her went untouched or unloved by him, their joined hands never separating. It was kind of sweet, not that she understood the meaning behind it.

With skill and precision he brought her closer and closer until she had no choice but to dive off the place he was bringing her to. She knew it was the only way to achieve fulfillment, but it was frightening to allow someone else have so much control.

It wasn't long after her orgasm that he came. He remained inside of her, thrusting until he no longer could remain there. She groaned in protest when she felt him pulling out and away from her. He slid beside her, gathering her into his arms, and she breathed easily. If he had immediately gone to shower after that she would have been mortified, embarrassed, and a little put out.

"You didn't tell me." The words were whispered in her ear. She thought she had drifted off to sleep, might have been mistaken accept the shadows in the room looked different than they had when they came into the room.

"What?"

"Clarice," he whispered, kissing her temple.

"I don't walk around broadcasting it."

"Well, this isn't the nightly news. I was far gentler than I could have been. You should have told me."

"And have you reject me because of that?"

"Never."

"I don't know," she shrugged and turned in his arms to face him. She ran a finger along his chest, tracing the outline of his nipples. "Does it matter?"

"No, of course not, but I could have hurt you."

"I know. I'm twenty-six years old, Hannibal. I know how it works even if I've never put it to use personally."

"I shouldn't be surprised I guess. You're not the type to give up something like that very easily."

"No."

"Not without permanent ties."

"I hate that you know me so well."

"I don't." He slid his hand along her arm to her hand, taking possession of it. He brought it to his lips and kissed it, circling each fingertip with his tongue. He tapped his finger against the diamond. "Does that mean you're going to say yes?"

"To the engagement. I can't marry you until I'm done with the Bureau. I won't be responsible for them bringing you down and I won't be responsible for you becoming a widower and not be able to grieve me."

"Don't talk like that."

"It could happen."

"Of course it could. We'll have to get you an account with a mail forwarding service like I use. I know of a few. And you have to get out of that duplex you live in with Agent Mapp. Pinter's house isn't far from you, but if you want to stay in the city we can get you another one. You'd need to make arrangements for a private line, unlisted, and tell no one it exists."

"You really think we can make this work?"

"We have to now."

"Really? Why's that?"

"You've inspired me, Agent Starling, to want to make an honest woman out of you. As best as I can anyway."

"Me, too," she whispered and reached up to kiss him. "Now about those cuffs."

The End