A/N: I was reading Diana Lecter's 'No Place Like Florence' (for the twentieth time, I guess) and inspiration struck me to write this piece. This story is a tribute to Diana Lecter, who, IMO, is the best author in this fandom. Sadly, she doesn't write Hannifics anymore :(. This is my way of thanking her for all those wonderful hours I've spent enjoying her writing. A million dollars to anyone who could get me her autograph.

The story is set in the movie-verse, though some book events are loosely mentioned.

Disclaimer: Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling belong to the creative genius- Thomas Harris.

The glass in Clarice's hand shattered in her vice-like grip but she didn't pay it any attention. All her energies were focused on building a dam on her tears to prevent flooding. Her efforts failed miserably as tears of sorrow and betrayal welled up in her eyes and a moment later, spilled.

She got up and rushed toward the exit, away from this emotional mayhem, away from him.

On reaching her car, Starling rested her forehead against the roof and cried her eyes out. Ten minutes later, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, smudging the mascara, forming black streaks on her cheeks, down her eyes. She got into the Mustang and drove away, sobbing the entire time.

A few hours earlier…

Finished with her work, Starling decided to call it a day. She emerged from her small cubicle at the corner, and started walking down the huge hall toward the elevator, her pace a bit too fast. She kept her eyes straight ahead, trying but failing to ignore the almost inaudible murmur and the curious eyes of her colleagues, their heads popping out of their work spaces to stare at her back as she passed them one by one. She didn't turn around when she entered the elevator; the sight of polished carbon steel being more luring than the faces of her so-called colleagues. A sigh of relief as the doors closed, blessed silence her only companion. But when they opened on the ground floor, she was greeted with an explosion of noise. The noise quickly turned into stunned silence as soon as the multitude of agents noticed her. Starling closed her eyes for a few moments as if praying to a deity for courage, then made her way to the exit, all the eyes fixed on her moving frame.

Ignore them, Starling. Just ignore them.

Finally out of the workplace and into her Mustang, the façade crumpled, her forehead resting against the steering wheel, the salt of tears stinging her eyes.

I don't want to do this...I can't take it anymore...I just can't!

A voice, metallic in texture and soothing in intent, rang in her mind like a bell in a Buddhist monastery.

You are a warrior, Clarice…You can be as strong as you wish to be.

Her head jerked up, moving sideways to determine the source of the voice. Finding no one, she covered her ears with her palms, closed her eyes to shut out the outside world and yelled, ''Get the hell out of my head!''

This was a regular occurrence to her now- hearing his voice. It was like he was her shadow, lurking behind her and making an appearance in the light of such odd situations. Day or night, office or home, Hannibal Lecter was with her. Always. Every night in her sleep her mind vividly replayed the events of that night at the Chesapeake…the phone call to the esteemed authorities…Krendler eating his own brain…Dr. Lecter's speech which left her teary-eyed…the candlestick…her hair trapped in the door of the fridge…his question…her answer…the kiss. Dreams are considered to be the canvas of the subconscious, a medium where our deepest desires are given a free reign. Starling was well aware of this theory. Her eyes would snap open immediately after the kiss as if she was afraid what her subconscious might conjure up, consequently letting out the desires she had kept locked up in the deep recesses of her mind for so long.

She had requested for a transfer immediately after the incident and her boss, Clint Pearsall, had leapt at the opportunity to get her out of his hair. She had been moved to the FBI's field office in Sacramento with immediate effect. She had hoped a change in surroundings would bring about a change in her life as well as her psyche. Her hope, however, had evaporated like ether in open air as soon as she had set foot in the office. One look at her colleagues and she had realized the futility of her plans. Watching their faces, she had thought she heard the phrases- Bride of Frankenstein…Lover of Dracula…Cannibal's Whore, directed at her like sharp, pointed arrows, though not a single word was uttered. She was tainted; being an agent would never be the same for her again.

The drive home didn't take more than thirty minutes despite the rush hour traffic. She entered through the front door, keys in one hand and mail in the other. After throwing the keys into the bowl on the foyer table, she started sorting through the mail. Junk, junk, electricity bill, junk, credit card bill, more junk…what's this? A coupon to a newly opened restaurant SeaBlue. The prospect of free food at an expensive restaurant might have interested her once upon a time. Now the idea of getting all dressed up for a free meal with no one to keep company sounded downright ridiculous.

Why Clarice? You never longed for company before. Whose acquaintance do you desire anyway?

She emitted a sigh. Her treacherous mind was at it again.

She put her holster and badge on the coffee table, threw the coupon and junk mail into the trashcan, grabbed a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels from the kitchen cupboard and flopped down on the leather couch in the living room. She switched on the TV to break the silence and took a big swig of the amber liquid, her face contorting as the booze burnt her throat, some of it escaping into her trachea. Out of reflex, she coughed, close-mouthed, the liquid coming out of her nostrils causing an intense burning.

Son of a bitch!

Exasperated, she stood and threw the bottle at the wall, quickly realizing her mistake in the very next second as the shards rebounded, flying in every possible direction. The strong smell of spilled booze hit her with full force and her gaze fixed on the nasty stain on the carpet.

It hit her then while staring at the stain- how pathetic she had become. The events of the past and mundaneness of her life had reduced her to this- a pitiable excuse of an agent, a thirty five year old no one, drowning her sorrows in cheap booze. She had become used to this…this empty feeling…this gaping hole inside her, swallowing her happiness, day after fucking day, and gagging sadness and pain. A chill ran down her spine as she came to a realization.

I am getting used to not being happy!

Starling was a doer. The quality was ingrained into her DNA since childhood. So it was no surprise that she made a decision in a split second.

No more drowning my sorrows in alcohol. I'm not going to stay indoor and dwell on my misery anymore. Enough is enough!

She turned around and marched toward the bedroom with a sense of purpose. After rummaging through her wardrobe for two minutes, she found what she was looking for- a simple black dress, knee-length, loose enough not to highlight her curves too much- just as she preferred. It was a gift from Ardelia, a gift of which she hadn't made use of until today.

She got ready in less than ten minutes. Her cheeks were rosy from the makeup she had applied, the mascara making her lashes look bigger and thicker, and her hair, which she preferred keeping loose or in a ponytail, was tied in a simple yet elegant bun. She padded toward the kitchen, picked up the coupon from the trashcan, glad that she hadn't torn it, and zoomed past the living room, not bothering to turn off the television. She was in a spell and she didn't want to break it by focusing her energies on trivial matters.

An hour later, she found herself sitting at a small table, near the kitchen. The restaurant was good, she judged, its ambiance enchanting. Although it was recently opened, the restaurant was teeming with people- couples on dates, college friends reuniting after a long time, people from the corporate sector talking business and so on. The fact that she was the only one alone didn't seem to bother her.

Clarice was dictating her order to the well-mannered waiter when she realized the atmosphere of the place had changed somehow. The low pitched chatter around her had died down to indistinct sounds here and there. All heads were turned in the direction of the entry door. Her curiosity piqued, Clarice followed the eyes of the people. She saw a woman standing with her hands folded in front of her- a perfect posture for a lady while waiting. Clarice decided she was probably in her mid-thirties and indescribably beautiful. Her beauty was natural, not of the sort to be captured by some uncouth photographer and slapped on the cover of a tacky fashion magazine. No doubt she was the focus of attention.

''That's Miss Diondra Goodman, daughter of the owner of this place,'' the waiter supplied. Clarice's eyes shifted from the woman to the waiter who was still staring in the direction of Miss Goodman. She took a sip of water from her glass. ''And here comes Dr. David Foreman, the most generous tipper I've ever encountered.''

Clarice casually glanced in the direction of the door. For the second time that night, she snorted liquid through her nostrils. But this time she was thankful for the distraction as it took away some of the intensity of the shock. There, in all his glory stood the centerpiece of FBI's attention and her emotional tormentor- Dr. Hannibal Lecter, looking dashing in an expensive grey three-piece suit, his coal-black hair slicked back to reveal a perfect widow's peak, the feature which, in her view, complimented his maroon eyes perfectly. The thought of arresting him and handing him over to the authorities didn't even enter her mind. How much she had changed since she first saw him ten years ago. How much she had changed she last saw him six months ago.

What in God's name is he doing here? Wait…Is he here looking for me? But I don't want to see him...do I? What is it with you, Doctor? The FBI's sharpest minds are trying to hunt you down and you're here, not more than ten miles from FBI's field office! Anyway, how the hell did he find me here? Have you been stalking me all this time, Doctor?

The thought of a cannibalistic, serial killer stalking her didn't horrify her like it should have. Instead, something else bloomed inside her, her heart fluttering in anticipation and she couldn't help a smile from gracing her lips.

''They make quite a pair, don't they?''

The waiter's voice derailed her train of thought and she asked in confusion, ''Huh, what?''

''I was just saying that these two make quite a pair.''

As if on cue, Diondra kissed Dr. Lecter on the cheek and his arm encircled her tiny waist, the simple gestures proclaiming that they were a couple. Clarice's jaw dropped as realization sunk in- Dr. Lecter was on a date! And not just with anyone. He was on a date with a woman who could easily be bestowed with the title of the most beautiful woman in the whole fucking California!

Hot, piercing, burning jealousy coursed through her veins at the sight of Dr. Lecter with another woman. Her blood was boiling; the water in the glass would have vanished within seconds at the mere hint of her touch.

The couple was ushered to a nice candlelight setting, their table two rows to her right. Starling had an excellent view of them. She could easily make out their expressions without much strain on her neck or eyes. Whether it was a good thing or bad, Starling didn't know.

''Would you like to add a drink to your order, ma'am?'' the waiter asked courteously.

His presence irritated her. She wanted to be left alone to observe the activities of the couple. Though she desperately wanted a drink, she refused the offer. The waiter nodded and turned. Just then, her eyes bulged as she saw Dr. Lecter take Diondra's hand and plant a kiss on its back. She thought better of her previous decision and yelled at the waiter, ''Whiskey, neat.''

If she was going to survive what the night might bring, she would need alcohol in her system.

The rational part of her mind wondered: Why is it bothering me so damn much? He may see whomsoever he wants to see.

The emotional part retorted: The fuck he can! After all we've been through, he has the audacity to enjoy a night on the town with an arm-candy? Nuh-uh, I don't think so, mister. What about that exchange at Krendler's house? He did insinuate that he loved me.

There. For the first time since that faithful night, Clarice Starling allowed herself to acknowledge that Dr. Lecter might actually be in love with her.

The thump of the whiskey glass transported her back to the real world from the land of musings. Her food arrived a short while later. Hesitantly, she looked at the couple and received a fresh dose of jealousy. They were chatting like the tens of other regular couples around them. Dr. Lecter appeared calm and composed as always, a small smile hovering over his lips...those lips that had caressed hers ever so softly that night…those lips that had kissed the back of Diondra's hand moments earlier. The thought made her push away the plate containing her salmon in annoyance and she took a sip of the whiskey.

Starling was aware that Dr. Lecter liked socializing. He had escorted many beautiful women to opera when he was a well reputed psychiatrist. She herself had spoken to one of his many acquaintances, Mrs. Rosencranz. But that was before her…before he came halfway around the world just to watch her run…before he rescued her from the boars at Muskrat Farm…before he operated on her…before he kissed her…before he severed his thumb instead of harming her.

Starling's food remained neglected while she sipped her drink slowly, observing Dr. Lecter and Diondra enjoy their food. Diondra was munching on her Greek Salad.

Salad? Ha! Why am I not surprised? Miss California doesn't take carbs at all, I suppose. Perks of being born to a wealthy father. Just have to worry about how to maintain her figure. Daddy will take care of everything else, won't he, Miss-Daddy buy me a pony and a castle-Goodman?!

She had a vision of kidnapping her and forcefully feeding her greasy burgers and french fries till she was round and plump.

Another sip.

Dr. Lecter was eating his food with impeccable manners. All his movements, from cutting his chicken to bringing the glass of red wine to his mouth, were graceful. Starling was spellbound, the whiskey forgotten. Watching him chew his food, his thin red lips, the features of his face slowed time for her.

The spell broke when she saw his lips move vigorously, Diondra's head falling back in hysterical laughter. She quickly recovered and covered his hand with hers, her lips moving now, no doubt saying, ''You're so funny.'' The sight of the couple flirting set Starling's nerves ablaze.

The bitch is totally acting! Dr. Lecter isn't all that funny. She deserves a standing ovation for this Oscar-worthy performance. Slut just wants to get into his pants!

Uh-oh, she really shouldn't have thought of those last words. As if watching Dr. Lecter flirt with a woman wasn't enough, her mind evoked an image of the couple in the throes of passion. Fuck, fuck, fuck!

In one big gulp, she finished her drink to numb herself. Just a few hours earlier she had decided not to drown her sorrows in alcohol, and now she was doing exactly that. How twisted was her fucking life?!

She should leave, she thought. There was no point sitting here, wallowing in her misery. If Dr. Lecter wanted to spend his evening making that dim-witted Diondra laugh...well then best of luck to him. She didn't have to witness that.

A movement caught her eye and Starling's eyes narrowed. Dr. Lecter leaned in, raised Diondra's chin a little for better access and landed his lips on hers.

The glass in Clarice's hand shattered in her vice-like grip but she didn't pay it any attention. All her energies were focused on building a dam on her tears to prevent flooding. Her efforts failed miserably as tears of sorrow and betrayal welled up in her eyes and a moment later, spilled.

She got up and rushed toward the exit, away from this emotional mayhem, away from him.

On reaching her car, Starling rested her forehead against the roof and cried her eyes out. Ten minutes later, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, smudging the mascara, forming black streaks on her cheeks, down her eyes. She got into the Mustang and drove away, sobbing the entire time.

Inside the restaurant, Dr. Lecter complimented Diondra on her superb acting, tipped Bob, the waiter, handsomely, and with a thank you and a good bye left to put the final phase of his plan into action.

Starling had ran out of tears by the time she reached home. A Linkin Park song playing on the TV greeted her upon her entrance. She liked rock but she knew the beats would only aggravate the stirrings of the headache forming in her temples.

"Good evening, Clarice," greeted Dr. Lecter, making an appearance out of nowhere.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, surprised.

Instead of answering her query, he commented, "May I say you look absolutely...horrible tonight."

He walked up to her, a crisp white handkerchief appearing in his hand. He brought it to her face, wanting to wipe it clean but she slapped his hand away.

"Don't you dare touch me!"

She walked past him to the living room and switched off the television, the throbbing in her head instantly plummeting.

Dr. Lecter had followed her to the room. She turned around to face him.

"Answer the question, dammit! What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be with Diondra, fucking her brains out on a nice bed in an expensive hotel owned by her daddy?" A pause. "That's right. I saw you with her at SeaBlue tonight. And also your PDA." Her voice was coated in venom.

"I know."

He knows? Of course he knows! Nothing can escape from Hannibal Lecter's all-seeing eyes.

"How did it make you feel, Clarice?" he asked.

Starling was stunned. "This again? Does fucking with my mind tops your must-do list, Doctor? First you come into my house without my knowledge, then you try to suck me into one of your stupid mind games? I don't have to take this. Fuck you and your psychoanalysis! Get out of my house. Get out, right now!"

Their gaze held, hers shooting daggers and his absorbing the impact without complaint. He came around and sat down on the couch, a smirk dancing on his lips.

"That was very rude of you, Clarice. Since I came here without your express permission, I'm going to let it slide. But don't push your luck, my dear. Now where were we? Ah yes. Describe to me your feelings when you saw me with Miss Goodman."

Starling sighed. He wouldn't leave without doing whatever the hell he came to do and she couldn't make him.

"Nothing. Nothing at all," she lied with forced calmness.

"The broken glass at SeaBlue and your lovely appearance tell a different story, Clarice."

Anger that had been brimming inside her finally had an outlet and she exploded, "I felt rage like nothing I have experienced before. I wanted to claw her eyes out and snap her neck; bury all the bullets of my colt into her fucking brain but alas I didn't have it at the time. I felt jealous and betrayed."


"What do you mean why?" Her voice was a few decibels too high.

"What reasons do you have to feel jealous and betrayed? I'm not committed to you. I have every right to spend my evenings with whomever I wish."

"But that's...unethical!"

One sleek eyebrow shot up. She was talking morality to a serial killer.

Starling ignored his expression and continued, "You were in love with me, goddammit! You did indirectly convey it through your question and...and the kiss. How can someone fall out of love in six months?"

"I haven't but let's put that aside for the time being and focus on the core issue. If my memory isn't failing me, you trampled on my heart with one line, a very poetic one I must admit. So what's wrong with me moving on with another woman? Why did the whole episode elicit such a strong response from you, Clarice?"

Dr. Lecter had set a brilliant trap. Logic signaled to only one revelation...a revelation she wasn't going to admit to herself, only one answer...an answer she wasn't going to give him. Where did that leave them?

"Oh I don't know," she said indifferently.

She had opted for denial.

"But you do. You're just afraid to admit it," he replied matter-of-factly.

Angered by his spot-on analysis of her psyche, she hissed, "Why would I do that?"

Dr. Lecter got up and walked up to her, never breaking eye contact. "Because you know very well that this duplicitous life you're leading, the one in which you're the ideal implementer of the law, is nothing but a sham, hanging by a fine thread of denial to the concrete structure of your aloofness and the implausible moral code you have imposed on yourself. You want to leave, don't you? E-v-e-r-y-d-a-y. But you fear what your conscience might do to you in response, a conscience which is an extension of your father's approval. You're in battle with yourself, Clarice. There's a Clarice who doesn't take shit from anyone and wants to live her life as she deems fit, a Clarice who loses every time she comes face-to-face with her ten year old self, a naive little daddy's girl for whom the stars in the sky still twinkle with uncorrupted brilliance, a girl trying to live up to her dead daddy's sky-high expectations. Let me tell you one thing. In this battle of Clarices, the Clarice I respect and love will surely emerge victorious in the end because she is the most courageous person I've ever met."

Her bottom lip quivered and tears in her eyes were replenished.

As much as he hated to hurt her, he knew this was the moment to break her free from the shackles of fraudulent principles and duty.

"Answer the question, Clarice," Dr. Lecter pressed.

"I don't know," she whispered, choking back a sob.

"You do. Answer the question."

"No," she yelled.

Vehement denial.

Dr. Lecter took ahold of her shoulders and shook her.

He ordered in a frigid tone, "Answer the question, Clarice."

"Because I love you, dammit! I'm in love with you. Have been for so long that I don't even remember how it feels like not being in love with you."

With the announcement she sagged to the floor, her whole body shaking with sobs. She cried for the ten year old Clarice who had finally lost...she cried for her daddy...she cried for her morals...she cried for her career...she cried in anguish...she cried in agony...she cried in relief that the truth was finally out.

She cried because of Diondra.

In between her sobs she mumbled, "And the man I'm in love (sobs) with, doesn't love (sobs) me anymore. It's all my (sobs) fault. I'm an (sobs) idiot."

Dr. Lecter's heart melted. He bent down and with one hand, peeled her hands off her face, overcoming her resistance. He wiped her face clean with the handkerchief using his other hand. Then he looked into her eyes and whispered, "Mia Amore, I love you. I never stopped loving you."

Her features brightened at his heartfelt declaration.

"What about Diondra?" she innocently asked.

"What about her? She was a patient of mine back when I had a practice. She owed me a favor, so I used her as a prop in my plan."


A coy smile was his only reply.

Starling's eyes widened and she got up. Dr. Lecter got up too.

"Wait a minute. This was all a fucking charade?! You planned this whole fucking thing and used Diondra to accomplish your mission?!"

Dr. Lecter had backed away a few steps while she was yelling.

"Well, her and your waiter, Bob. They both are quite good actors, don't you agree, Clarice?"

A long pause.

"I cried my eyes out for nothing? You sick fucker! I'm gonna kill you!"

She surged forward and using all her muscular power, swung a punch aimed at his face. Dr. Lecter swayed back and deflected it easily. The torque was so much that she spun around and lost her balance. He grabbed her waist to prevent her from falling and using the inertia, pulled her body tightly to his, her hands landing on his shoulders. Their posture finally stable, he crashed his lips to hers.

The next chapter is rated a firm M. So if you don't like that kind of stuff, do not proceed.