Slants of muted light through plantation shutters filled their bedroom. Dawn. The couple lay tangled in repose on the large bed framed by heavy mahogany wood. A scarlet duvet bunched at their feet; bare skin met bare skin, providing exactly the right amount of warmth.

The dim glow was enough to allow his claret gaze to study their joined hands. Her sleep slackened hand gripped his, showing a vulnerability that she didn't often reveal in waking hours. It was a burden, a weight, to find and meet such a need in another. He shifted carefully, freeing his other hand and laying it gently but fully upon her throat. The movement not medical, but intimately possessive. Surge…surge, the rhythm of her blood beneath his surgeon's fingertips, her creamy skin a thin barrier.

He rarely had the opportunity to study her in such lighting; it had been his god-awful luck, one of her phrases, that she was a morning person. Usually she'd completed the better part of her daily three mile run by now. But last night had been…..exhausting, and a Cheshire grin curved his lips at the thought.

They'd attended Don Giovanni Tenorio at Teatro Colόn, a short production, and had returned earlier than usual. Catching the last rays of sunset from their balcony, they conversed in Italian in keeping with the theme of the evening. In the distance a radio was flicked on. It played Argentine folk music, a lone singer accompanied by a guitar. The cadence and twang of the music seemed to trigger something in her. She'd kicked off her heels even as she reached for his hands.

"Dance with me Hannibal!" She'd dropped the Italian, switching to English, that pure West Virginian accent apparent in her vowels. Rather than cringing at the transition he found himself smiling at her exuberance. He gathered her to him and began to lead a variation of a two-step, her delighted laugh his reward.

She spoke as they moved, "My ma' and daddy used ta dance like this. We'd all be sittin' on the front porch and some song would come on. Daddy would grab up momma and say 'Darlin' this song's callin' our name' and she might put up a fuss but would always join 'em." At this she abruptly stopped, those blue eyes staring at him intently. Country drawl bled into the standardized English of her university days, "You've never once called me darling" said not as an accusation but as a statement of fact.

It seemed she would always have the ability to surprise him. "No Clarice." Nobody said her name like him, ever. The way he drew out that second syllable did strange things to her stomach, even all these years later. But suddenly she had quite the urge to hear an endearment from his lips, spoken through those small white teeth. Irrational. It wasn't his style. She dropped her gaze, and the moment passed.

Her Hannibal quipped "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" as he'd drawn her wrist to his mouth, inhaling her scent and placing light kisses. She knew from the quote her observation had unsettled him, Hannibal was not a Shakespeare enthusiast. He found much of The Bard's work to be too pedestrian, designed to please the masses instead of aspiring for something higher. Then her train of thought was lost to his touch, his warm mouth at her wrist, his tongue probing the crease of her elbow then up to where her neck and shoulder met, more laps of his tongue and hot exhales of air. Despite the balmy night air, the fine hairs on her arms and neck stood on end as if it were freezing. But she was burning, burning and increasingly urgent. She grabbed his sleek hair and pulled his lips to hers. Their teeth gnashed in the violence of the frantic kiss and the two stumbled inside…

Morning. Now she lay sprawled across his chest, their hands entwined, her life-force beneath his fingers. He bore her physical weight with ease, but the heaviness of his responsibilities toward her caused something in his chest to clench.

She trusted him, implicitly trusted him.

She gave him her body, would lie open and trembling before him. A creature of flight, of continuous movement, she'd gifted him the safekeeping of her freedom as well. Capture was always a possibility. He banished the vivid image of his Starling caged.

She had forfeited a career, though granted its restrictions had made the loss palatable. Yet she was still a warrior, a guardian. Only a week ago he'd felt her body tense, straining as she resisted pursuing a mugger on the sidewalks ahead of them. She would always think she could make the world better. But at that moment she defied that innate part of herself, for him, for them.

Complete disclosure, she allowed him full access and denied him nothing, in fact glorified in his penetration. Together they constructed a memory palace for her, elegant with rich tapestries and marble floors. After archiving the precious moments of her yesterdays, they'd started rooms and then entire wings created from their life together. She allowed him to act as master architect of her very essence.

But she remained her own being. He could never fully envelop her, never predict her. And that sent slivers of fear into his heart. Delightful, piercing splinters of terror akin to what a skydiver must experience glancing down at the blue and white abyss before leaping. Her sky eyes could give him vertigo.

How could he quantify her with a ridiculous endearment? Darling? Sweetheart? Utter excrement.

In the increasingly bright room, Hannibal Lecter kissed the top of slumbering Clarice Starling's head, whispering "Mano meile."

~ Dedicated to Demeter, an incredible mom, writer, scientist, and cyber buddy extraordinaire.

~ Thanks Major for the much needed proofreading.

Disclaimer: The characters Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter were created by Thomas Harris. They are used without permission, but in the spirit of admiration and respect. No infringement of copyright is intended and no profit was made.