The smell of sex was heavy in the air. The couple had just finished their latest bout of lovemaking, seventh or eighth perhaps, they had lost count. Now they lay in a tangle of sheets, panting, Clarice's head propped on Dr. Lecter's chest. After resting for a few moments, Clarice glanced at the clock hanging on the wall- quarter past four. Despite the late hour and her exhaustion, sleep was the last thing on her mind. Pressing her ear to his chest, she listened to his heartbeat- calm like the ocean. Suddenly she felt the urge to look into his eyes and was disappointed to find them close. His breathing was even. She kissed his chest softly and got up, careful not to disturb him. After using the bathroom, she made her way to the balcony, naked, gazing down at the rows of trees and breathing intently the air laden with moisture.

''It's cold out there, Clarice. Come back to bed.'' Even half asleep, his voice was focused and commanding.

She came inside and closed the balcony doors. ''I thought you were asleep.''

''I was. I'm not anymore. Now come back to bed,'' he said lifting the comforter and patting the space beside him.

The warmth of the comforter and his body was an instant relief and she shivered. His arms tightening around her as she rested her head on his chest. Her hands had a mind of their own, roaming over his chest, his stomach, feeling his muscular arms.

She realized she was smiling. That hadn't happened to her before. She had never let her emotions seep through her bodily reactions. Usually she would analyze the situation and decide her reaction accordingly. Rationality spoiled a lot of things for her. But this moment was unlike anything she had ever experienced and she couldn't control the emotions it provoked. She felt light as a bubble, floating in the air. Reveling in the blissful moment, she felt her heart was saying something, her heartbeat a monologue- I love him, I love him, I love him….

I love him.

She looked at his face-serene as always, betraying no emotion, and felt anger.

''How many women have you slept with?'' she blurted out.

His eyes opened instantly. ''Pardon?''

''How many women have you slept with?'' she repeated the question, emphasizing each word.

''Hmm. I don't think 'former lovers' is a good pillow talk subject, Agent Starling.''

''Answer the question, Doctor,'' she replied unyielding.

Hannibal Lecter appreciated strength and directness. Though her question was rude, he responded to the curiosity in her eyes. ''Not many. I abhor promiscuity. Why do you ask?''

''It's just that you seem so, I don't know, apathetic. I wanted to know if this is a regular occurrence to you. It isn't for me,'' she lashed out at him. They stared at each other for a long time, the maroon of his eyes blending into the copper green of hers. Finally, Clarice relented and looking down at his chest, said, ''I shouldn't have said that. It was rude of me. I'm sorry.''

''You need not apologise for saying what you feel, Clarice. Not with me.'' He lifted her chin till her eyes met his and continued, ''I assure you Clarice that this is new to me as well. I'm not untouched by the intensity of emotions between us. You are unlike any woman I've ever been intimate with. You are unique and I'm in awe of you.''

Clarice smiled shyly at the compliment. ''So you're in awe of a rube?'' she teased him.

''I never said you were a rube. I merely pointed out that you looked like a rube to me,'' Dr. Lecter replied, playing along.

''Is there a difference?''

''Of course there is a difference, my dear. I was annoyed that you were trying to quantify me, so I pushed back with facts. You looked like a rube to me then so I pointed it out. I was trying to get under your skin, test your control. I don't know if I succeeded.''

''Oh you succeeded, all right. I felt like I had given blood when I got up to leave.'' A pause. ''I've always wondered why you talked to me. And why were you so interested in my past?''

''I talked to you initially because you were a source of communication between me and Jack Crawford, nothing more. I wanted to trade with him.'' She had prepared for it but the truth hurt her, nonetheless.

''To answer your second question, I was interested in your past because you intrigued me. It was a purely professional curiosity at first but then it became something more. I remember I told you that it would be something to know you in private life. I meant it. Your qualities, your principles and the moral code you had imposed on yourself, all intrigued me.''

''Did you think of me while you were on the run from the authorities?''

''I am not a man who lets his thoughts run wild, Clarice. Your memories were like a vintage wine, to be savored when I chose to. I visited your room in my memory palace from time to time. Occasionally, a smell or a sight would remind me of you. During one such incidence, I purchased some lotions and perfumes for you in Florence and sent it to you on a whim.''

''So you did actually send it! I thought Krendler just made it up. Wait a minute. That note, that 'Honey in the Lion' bit should have been enough for me to realize that you wrote it. That dim-witted Krendler wouldn't have been able to come up with something like that.''

''What do you think about it?'''

''About what?''

''That 'Honey in the Lion' bit, as you so masterfully put it.''

''Are you fishing for compliments, Doctor?''

His lips curled up in a genuine smile. ''I'd be honored if you deemed it worthy of compliment, Clarice.''

She searched his face to decide if he was teasing her. Nothing. He was serious.

From playful and flirty to all serious and business-like in a span of ten seconds.

She heard Ardelia's voice in her head, ''Get used to it, girl.''

''Since I incorrectly assumed that Krendler made it up, I never really gave it much thought.''

Clarice saw a flash of disappointment cross his face. She quickly added, ''We've all the time now. Help me figure it out, Hannibal. ''

Every time she said his name, his heart soared. He had heard her scream his name, in the throes of passion but this was different, more intimate in a different kind of way. It meant she was getting comfortable with the idea of them being together. The thought pleased him immensely.

''I'm familiar with Samson's riddle and the biblical tale,'' her voice brought him out of his reverie. He nodded, encouraging her, knowing full well that she didn't need his help to figure it out.

Hannibal watched her face as she pondered over the subject. Her head tilted, eyes closed as she went through the story in her mind, her forehead creasing, a sign that she was deep in her thoughts, analyzing. And then her eyes opened, locking with his, surprise evident on her face.

''You knew, didn't you? You've always known.''

He nodded. ''I knew from the moment I first saw you that you were uncommon. It took me some time to figure out how much. I saw ambition in your eyes, but also yearning- yearning to be understood and appreciated.''

Starling's eyes were distant now. ''I was doomed from the start, wasn't I? Those people at the FBI- the Philistines, they never understood me.''

''Samson's killing of the lion with his bare hands and the honey in the carcass- the Philistines were not familiar with such an event. It was outside the bounds of their experience- an almost other-worldly thing. Just like you, Clarice. You're one of a kind. Those bottom-feeders at the FBI had never seen someone like you. You were an enigma to them. So they were hostile toward you. The human race is strange, you see. Hostility comes easily to us, empathy is rare.''

A single teardrop rolled down her cheek. ''I can't believe I wasted seven years of my life doing what I did. Now that I think about it, I'd always suspected the truth, I was just coward never to ….'' She broke down and started sobbing on his chest. Dr. Lecter let her cry, smoothing her hair affectionately- a sign that he was there. Always. He knew it was a rare gift that she let him see her so vulnerable.

When her sobs subsided, he said, ''Every experience teaches us something, Clarice. Do not begrudge the past for it is the past that made you who you are now. You're a warrior, Clarice. You survived everything life threw at you, the best way you thought you could. You wrought an armor around you, never letting anyone get too close, never relying on others, never trusting another person beyond a limit.'' He waited for her to look up at him- her eyes puffy and red from crying, then whispered, ''Allow me the privilege to take care of you, Clarice. I want to spoil you, show you things worthy of your eyes, share exp…''

Clarice's mouth descended on his, forceful and demanding, her hands tilting his head for better access. The kiss lasted for about a minute. When she looked at him, she knew the moment was perfect.

''I love you.'' Her voice was steady as if she had taken a sip of his strength during the kiss.

''I love you too.''

The 'Honey in the Lion' reference in the novel has always puzzled me. I spent a lot of time on the internet to know what Mr. Harris was trying to convey. There are so many explanations. The one I used above is, IMHO, the most apt. If you're not satisfied and have an alternate explanation, feel free to express it in your review or PM me anytime. I'd love to know your opinion. Thank you for reading my work :)