“...and as of now, the FBI currently has no leads on the serial killer the press has unfortunately dubbed Buffalo Bill, however we are looking into other methods of finding him, behavioral analysis being one of them,” Jack concludes, looking out over his podium at the crowd of students. They were all trainees, brand new, the light and hope and fascination shining in their eyes. Nothing was so terrible it hadn’t clouded their vision yet. “Any questions?” he asks.
A young man in a casual gray suit raises a hand. “Why is the FBI so reluctant to call the killer Buffalo Bill? It seems to me that there aren’t any other names being presented.”
“Buffalo Bill is a crude name given by the press to sell more copies of the story,” Jack said sharply, then nodding in the direction of another young man, in a linen button-down. “You have a question.”
“Yes. I was wondering if the FBI had considered examining the river water to see how long-”
“She was dead before she was placed in the water, and yes, the water washed away the time of death. Could have been days or weeks. Anyone else?”
There’s a long, pregnant pause in the air, when right in the middle of the left section, a hand is tentatively raised. Jack nods, “Go ahead.”
It’s a young woman this time. Neat brown hair, a pale blue blouse, and her hand, when lowered, is folded against the other in her lap.
“Has the BAU come to a conclusion of the victim pattern of Buffalo Bill?”
Jack cocks his head, just slightly. “Elaborate.”
She takes a deep breath. “Buffalo Bill has a tendency to go after young women, all Caucasian, and all larger, so to speak. Each woman had a different skin area removed, and all dumped afterwards.”
“So what are you implying?”
“I think that he’s treating them as objects,” she says clearly, ignoring the looks she’s getting from the other students around her. “They’re not people to him. More like...livestock, to be crude.”
Jack doesn’t say anything for five entire seconds, then says, leaning into the microphone, “That’s excellent deductive reasoning. I’d like to speak with you afterwards.”
She nods, and says nothing else.
There’s a visible shift in the audience now, in their perception of her, and the ones directly around her make no attempt to even smile at her.
Jack watches as she makes her way to the front, as the other students all stay clear out of her way as she walks down the stairs, and purposefully does not turn back as they all stare at her, before filing out until it’s just the two of them.
“That was excellent work,” Jack says, shuffling his papers and coming down off the stage, and stands before her. He can see her eyes now, they are gray. And serious. “I wonder if you’d like to perhaps consult on the case with my team. Help me with the psychological profile. I’ll speak with your instructors.”
“I’d be honored, sir.”
“What’s your name?”
The barest hint of a smile pulls at the corners of her lips. “Clarice Starling, sir.”
As soon as her classmates got wind of Clarice’s new position, as Jack Crawford’s new profiler, she stopped getting invited places. To study groups, to the bars on Fridays, even to some birthdays. She stopped having people willingly pairing up with her during the physical training, she stopped talking with anyone after class aside from Ardelia.
Knowing why doesn't really take the sting out of the burn, though. And yes, she knew damn well the reason.
She was the next one to inherit the curse of Crawford’s profiler position, a favorite Quantico urban legend.
The students had discussed the curse at great length after classes, especially leading up to Crawford's talk. They’d done independent research on Miriam Lass after briefly hearing her name in a lecture when the agent slipped up and spoke her name before hurriedly backtracking.
Miriam Lass: a student, a budding profiler, on her way to being one of the finest agents in recent years, and Crawford took her out of class to borrow her talents in catching the Ripper.
Then she was gone. She had been lost, considered dead and stamped with an EXPIRED sticker and moved on, and when she was finally found again in a hole in the ground, she was just a shell. A husk of what she used to be. Everything had been drained out when her arm was taken, her mind rearranged by Hannibal Lecter until she couldn’t even see his face in her memory. After Lecter got away the first time, she had gone into intensive therapy, and had slowly rebuilt her life, far away from the FBI. Far as anyone knew, as soon as she got a hefty settlement, she was out of there, out on the West Coast, and trying to start over
Then there was Will Graham.
The biggest legend of the FBI. If Miriam Lass was a cautionary tale, then Will Graham was a flat-out warning of what happens when you get in the mind of a killer and can't find your way back out.
Will Graham, who was a goddamn legend among profilers and the FBI in general, was plucked from his teaching position in order to first find the Minnesota Shrike and then Crawford’s white whale, the Chesapeake Ripper.
And boy, did he find him.
In the process he lost his reputation, his sanity, any semblance of a family, and finally his life.
Will Graham fell from grace from that cliffside like Lucifer fell from heaven, and it was still speculation as to whether he fell willingly or he was dragged into the darkness kicking and screaming.
But Clarice had accepted her position with grace and strength, knowing this could really move her career forward. She had a spotless record, high grades, some of the best marksmanship in her section, and she was eager. She had her life ahead of her, and she was ready to go further. She was going to come out of this fine.
“You never know, Starling,” Jameson, one of the cocky guys in her classes, said, his breath reeking of the tuna fish sandwich from the mess hall. “Crawford’s got a habit of chewing up trainees and spitting them out. Or, well, Lecter sure does.”
“Hannibal Lecter is locked up in the BSHCI, yet again,” Clarice said back, a fake smile plastered on as she crumpled up her Fritos bag in her fist. “I really doubt Agent Crawford is going to smear the FBI’s reputation even further by pulling a move like that.”
It was true. Recently there had been a leak to the press that Hannibal Lecter had actually been found and recaptured, after the FBI had apparently covered up the recapture months ago. The leak was all over the tabloids, and decidedly skipped over by the lecturers when asked about the events by students. As though just bringing up the name would conjure up the man himself.
“Maybe,” Jameson said, throwing his sandwich wrapper at the trashcan. It missed. “Hope you don’t scare easily, Starling.”
Clarice hid her smile behind her to-go cup of black coffee. “Not yet, I don’t.”
Jack Crawford drops a thick binder onto her side of his desk, hard enough that the metal rings creaked under the strain. Hannibal Lecter’s unreadable expression stared back at her from the picture on the cover. Clarice ignored her heart stuttering in her chest.
“What’s this for, sir?” she asks politely, trying not to let anything show.
“This Friday,” Jack says, folding his hands in front of him, a stern expression on his face. “You will be interviewing Hannibal Lecter, to ask for his insight into the Buffalo Bill case. We have hit a dead end, and this is our last resort.”
Clarice fought back all of the emotions bubbling up in her throat, and forced them back down.
“I know this sounds foolish, but we have nothing at this point. Even less than what I gave in the lecture, some leads panned out to nothing. You’re going in on Friday. Call if you have any questions.
He turns back to his computer to read an email on, and then looks back at Clarice. “You can go,” he nods, as though he hasn’t delivered a crushing blow. “Get some rest.”
It just feels like she just watched her future shatter in front of her like a windshield in a car crash.
“Is this why you pulled me out of class?” Clarice asked quietly, forcing down the tears that threaten to spill over as she dug her fingernails into the arm of her chair. “Just to-”
“I pulled you out of class because of your potential,” Jack snaps, harsher than necessary, so he restrains himself. “And I know that you have the potential to be an excellent agent and - ”
Clarice stares back into the Chesapeake Ripper’s eyes, and feels her stomach turn over. “And because Hannibal Lecter loves to see potential. And if he’s going to talk, he wants - fresh meat.”
Jack looks back up, ready to argue, but she gets up first, clutching the binder to her chest. “Excuse me,” she says, barely above a whisper, and heads right out the door to his office, not caring that the door slams behind her. She keeps the binder close to her chest, and walks through the hallway of the FBI with tears brimming in her eyes, threatening to fall. Everyone stays out of her way, having watched her leave her sentencing in Jack Crawford’s office and the eyes of a killer peeking out from a binder as she walks by.
As soon as she makes it into her car, she throws the binder in the passenger seat, braces her arms over the steering wheel, and sobs.
I wasn’t chosen because he wants me to save any more girls from their fates, she thinks through shuddering breaths and smeared blush. I was chosen to be fed to the monster in the labyrinth. Sacrifice, penance, for someone else’s sins.
It's not fucking fair, comes out of her mouth in a silent scream.
The tears are still streaming from her eyes when she gets back home to Ardelia, who looks up from her work and instantly slams her book shut. “Clarice? Oh my god, what’s - ”
Clarice opens her mouth to tell her but only another sob comes out, and she clasps her hands over her face, letting her shoulder bag drop onto the ground. The Lecture binder clips pop open and papers spill out. Ardelia got up from her chair and hurried over to embrace her, to try and calm her down. “Clarice, listen to me, you’re okay, you’re okay, breathe, breathe, I need you to breathe, okay?”
Clarice couldn’t stop crying, it was like a faucet had been turned on and the sink was running over. She couldn’t stop and didn’t want to. She’s been holding it back for too long.
Ardelia just sat with her right there on the floor of their terrible apartment, on the ugly mauve-colored cheap carpeting, her arms around her and not letting go.
“Girl, you’re safe here. In here, you’re safe. Now, just take some deep breaths, and calm down, okay?”
It took longer than Clarice wanted, but she managed to stop sobbing enough that just tears were streaming, so she was just sniffling and able to sit in a chair with her head in her arms against the cool wood of the table.
A cup of blueberry tea steeped with cacao nibs was set in front of her, freshly made, and Ardelia sat down in front of her. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?” she asked softly.
Clarice laughed, something cold and bitter with no humor to it. She swallowed once, stirring the spoon in her tea. “Jameson was right; I’m the next one to be fed to the monster in the maze.”
Ardelia’s eyes darted over to the spilled files on the floor, then back to Clarice, looking almost startled. “You mean-”
“Friday afternoon, he’s sending me in there, to talk to -”
“Lecter,” Ardelia breathed out, then sneered, “If Crawford's the head of Behavioral Sciences then he should know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and fucking over again. Clarice, you can’t-”
“I have to go,” Clarice said softly, taking a long sip of the tea. “We’re running out of time, Bill’s going to get another one and I can't - I can't let that happen, Ardelia. I - I can’t. I have to go.”
Ardelia looked down, the way you always look down in West Virginia when someone mentions that someone ‘has passed.’ Then she got up, and walked over to her bedroom, and Clarice could hear her rummaging around for something.
She got up from the table and went over to the window, opening it and taking a cigarette from her purse. She lit it, took a drag, and breathed the smoke and her problems out the window. The ash dropped onto the windowsill, blowing away in the soft breeze.
She finished the cigarette just as Ardelia came back into the room, holding something in her hand. She put out the stub on the windowsill and flicked it away, turning back to Ardelia with a weak smile.
Ardelia opened her hand to reveal a small ball of leftover yellow yarn. She’d used it when she was knitting a scarf a while back, and she stepped closer now, and pressed the soft yarn into Clarice’s hand, curling her fingers around it. It smelled like the violet hand cream Ardelia’s grandma sent from back home, and she used it all the time.
“For your meeting,” she said finally. “So you can stay grounded.”
Clarice nodded, getting up and hugging her tightly. “Thank you,” she whispered. Ardelia smiled, hugging her back just as tightly.
Later that night, Clarice turned on a bedside lamp in her room, and surveyed the piles of photos and reports and testimonies and recipes. It made her a little sick to her stomach, but she treated it as an inoculation. A little pain and sickness to dull herself to a greater pain. She was armoring himself in questions and facts and and a small ball of yellow yarn.
You aren’t going to be their martyr, she firmly told herself. You’re going to stare into that abyss and dare it to stare back.