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The immortality of the Chesapeake Ripper is in the ageless horror of his work: two dozen murders officially of his provenance, at least two dozen more with suspicious signatures. The killer showed no preference for sex, age, ethnicity, background or geography, and betrayed no petty, ordinary pathologies, either. The Ripper did not sexually assault his victims, did not give in to the all-to-common urge to bite. The Ripper collected surgical trophies with surgical precision, and displayed his victims with operatic melodrama: in profusions of flowers, the body spliced into a tree trunk; in a tornado of overkill, recreating the Wound Man of medieval European surgical texts; in the brush strokes of arterial spray in Hannibal Lecter's kitchen — no body remaining.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

Paul Krendler is in Browning's office when Clarice shores up.

She'd gotten the summons on her 15th lap. She's drenched in sweat, half-frozen from the Virginia February wind, and she's (barely) dressed in gray sweats. Standing straight, her feet slide outward, the thick soles of her sneakers worn thinner on the edges. Clarice had managed to retie her hair into some semblance of order, but she knows how small she looks, hands clasped behind her back in a mimic of parade rest.

"Sir," she says to Browning.

"Starling," he says, and doesn't wave her into a seat.

Judge Browning is a man almost comically suited to run the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Nebulously middle-aged and stern, all his hard edges are disguised by bad jokes and ugly ties. Nobody calls him Judge, even his wife calls him Browning, according to Clarice's roommate. More importantly, he'd come up in the BAU without the scarlet letter of Jack Crawford, had been well-regarded by the teaching staff, has a monograph published that received a peer review by Will Graham himself. "Insightful and thorough," Graham had written, some months in between one of the Ripper's sounders of three. Browning had been a natural fit to head the unit — after.

"This is Paul Krendler," he tells her.

Paul Krendler is famous in the bureau, at Quantico. He'd led the crucifixion of Jack Crawford.

Clarice doesn't say, I know. She just nods at Krendler. "Sir."

"Browning thinks highly of you," Krendler says, instead of any pleasantries.

Clarice doubts Browning knows her from a hole in the ground. She finds that with comments like this, there are rarely any correct answers, so she doesn't try to offer one. 

"You're top of your class," Browning says.

"Yes, sir," Clarice replies to that, because it's the truth and she's proud to own it.

"Double major in psychology and criminology, you wrote, in your application documents to Quantico, that you were inspired to pursue a career with the Bureau by a series of lectures given by Jack Crawford," Browning recites from a folder on his desk.

She hadn't known, when she was applying, that Crawford's name was verboten at the FBI these days.

"He spoke at UVA when I was a student," she answers. "He made the work sound fascinating, a challenge." She hesitates, but in the end, she confesses: "Vital."

Krendler, where he's lurking, pulls a face, but Browning just levels her a placid expression over the top frame of his glasses. She's still learning how to read people, the way that Browning — and Crawford — can read people. She wants to know what he sees, how her hair and her cheeks, blistered red by cold wind, read to him.

"He made the work sound," Browning repeats. "And how do you find it in actuality, Starling?"

"I haven't done much of it yet, sir," she says honestly. She takes classes. She looks at gruesome photos. She reads the assigned books and monographs. She's hopscotching along the footprints of other people so far, and this way, the paths all look clear. She doesn't know yet how it will look when the path is unmarked. 

"Browning," Krendler complains, impatience unconcealed.

"We have an assignment for you," Browning tells her, not looking at Krendler. "I stress to you now that it's entirely optional, and your answer to the affirmative or negative will have no bearing upon your status, marks, or future with either the academy or the FBI."

Something goes swollen with worry in Clarice's throat. Nothing that comes with a disclaimer that comprehensive ever vanished without leaving a mark.

Then Krendler says, "We'd like for you to speak with Hannibal Lecter."

It was not simply that Lecter seemed an unlikely suspect. 

He was a hugely respected psychiatrist, a gifted former surgeon, a generous and passionate patron of the arts. His acquaintances were the upper crust of Baltimore society, and his friendship was coveted and dear. Lecter was friendly with everyone, but intimate rarely. He had affairs. He collected antiques. He wore provokingly eccentric bespoke suits and had the sleek attraction of certain middle-aged men, European and striking and singular. There were rumors that in his home country of Lithuania, he was a count. (This turned out to both true and not; evidence presented at court indicates Lecter is in line to inherit as such, but for now the castle and title are in waiting.) 

Between 1991 and 2013, he appeared in Baltimore Sun two dozen times for various reasons: penning a letter in support of historical preservation in the city, listed among the major patrons for the symphony, in a ravishing tuxedo at the ballet. He drove a Bentley and visited the local farmer's markets in Italian leather shoes. Baltimore adored him. 

His wake was cataclysmic, as if the city had awakened to a headline in the Sun saying that it turned out the Earth was flat after all.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

Lecter's cell isn't a cell exactly, Dr. Alana Bloom explains.

"We tried putting him in with the rest of the inmates but had to move him for safety reasons," she says, indicating Clarice should take a seat at a couch upholstered in finer material than Clarice has ever worn. 

"Were they trying to attack Lecter?" Clarice asks. 

Dr. Bloom smiles, too genuinely amused for the likes of this moment, but like she can't help herself. "How much do you know about Hannibal?" she asks.

Hannibal, Clarice thinks. She knows Dr. Bloom, too, from Lecter's trial and from the official FBI file. Formerly of Georgetown, once one of Dr. Lecter's proteges at Johns Hopkins. There'd been rumors she had been his lover, but she'd denied it on the stand.

"I read his files, a lot of the press coverage," Clarice says, feeling unequal to the task set before her, the way she's felt nonstop since that meeting in Browning's office, since getting the read-in from Krendler. 

"Hannibal's difficult to capture in prose," Dr. Bloom allows, and settles into a chair opposite Clarice. She moves with a hitch and slower than her age, all the damage from her injuries leaving permanent marks. "We had to move him for the other inmates' safety — he was driving them crazy."

Clarice must arch a brow, though she's trying to keep her face as still as possible.

"I mean that literally," Dr. Bloom goes on. "One chewed out his tongue. The other, who'd never showed any signs of suicidal ideation, hanged himself with his jumpsuit."

"Okay," Clarice says. 

Dr. Bloom leans back in her seat, staring.

Clarice knows that before Dr. Bloom had taken over the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane, she'd been a professor at Georgetown, a consultant with the BAU and a friend of Will Graham. There's a note in Graham's file that his possessions, those that were not considered relevant for ongoing investigations, had gone to A. BLOOM, as had at least three of his dogs. The remainder had gone into no kill shelters. 

"Did they say why you were chosen for this task, Agent Starling?" Dr. Bloom asks. 

Browning had doubled down on her grades. Krendler had hemmed and hawed around it, passive in his agreement with Browning. Part of the reason for her good marks is being able to read a room, and she'd known that was a pack of lies. She'd come anyway because she'd been so curious, because when she'd gotten back to her dorm and she'd spilled the whole thing to her roommate, Ardelia said she had to go, regardless of reason.

"They weren't specific," Clarice admits. 

Dr. Bloom's smile, this time, is not friendly. "You grew up poor in the south somewhere, I'm not good enough with accents to pin down where. You know how to compose yourself for good company, but your social graces don't come to you instinctively," she says. "You're smart as hell and impossible to charm. You like animals. You're wary of most people." There's a long pause. "I don't suppose you like fishing?"

Clarice hasn't been fishing in years, but her throat hurts so badly she can't say it. 

"Do you know who I'm describing, Agent Starling?" Dr. Bloom asks, and this time, her voice is terribly, horribly kind — the soothe after the sting. 

It takes Clarice a while to work up to an answer. "I'm not Will Graham." 

"No, but you bear some artificial similarities," Dr. Bloom returns. "They must be desperate." 

Clarice has arrived with a carefully prepared file on Buffalo Bill's crimes. Desperate is an accurate description of the situation as it was impressed upon her. 

"I'm just here to show him the file, ma'am," Clarice says, feeling keenly her poor social graces, how they don't come instinctively, how particularly southern it sounds in her mouth to call anybody 'ma'am' in the godless cold of the north. 

"He'll see right through this," Dr. Bloom says. "I know that. What I don't know is how he'll react. So I'm asking you here and now, Agent Starling: are you certain you would like to proceed?" 

Clarice says, "Yes," without thinking about it.  

If being shit scared was enough to stop her from doing something, Clarice would have sputtered out decades ago. 

Will Graham started his life in the boat yards of Louisiana, the son of a single father. His childhood was one of deprivation and instability; he was registered at four separate middle schools during his seventh grade year. A guidance counselor who met with him in high school noted that Graham was "unquestionably gifted, but very eccentric, and has difficulty developing lasting friendships." He carried on that legacy as an undergraduate at Tulane, where he received a partial academic scholarship and significant financial aid; he worked 20 hours a week at a work-study job at the library, where he's remembered as quiet, diligent, shy. 

He went on to become a beat cop and eventually a homicide detective in New Orleans before earning a masters in forensic science at George Washington University and applying to the FBI. He would fail the psychology evaluation twice before being accepted to the crime lab, his talents so extraordinary that even if they couldn't trust him in the field, they trusted him to find their killers. 

In court, Bloom would testify that she had been Graham's friend and colleague, that she'd argued for Crawford not to bring him into the field at all. 

"When we see other people touching, though we're not directly involved or being touched, there's a corresponding reaction in our own brain, in the same area that would be affected if we were," Bloom told the jury. "Those are our mirror neurons, or mirror systems. We each have them. From an evolutionary point of view, they're responsible for our empathy, for helping us make sense of the dizzying array of interactions we face each day.

"Will's mirror systems were overactive, to the point where we speculated that he might have less gray matter in his temporoparietal junction, the area of the brain that helps us separate our self from others," she'd said. "He could see everyone, know them with an uncanny — well, not accuracy. That's the wrong word. With an uncanny intimacy. It wasn't a guess. To him, we were all open books."

She'd been wearing a black wrap dress sprigged with white dots and the veil of her grief, her hair pulled away from her face into a severe ponytail at the base of her neck.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

After Dr. Bloom's secured her verbal waiver of responsibility, the remaining paperwork is mostly an afterthought. Clarice plows through it with bullheaded determination and shaking hands; Dr. Bloom kindly doesn't comment except to make idle small talk about Clarice's educational and work background, was her counselor's license still valid, has she administered the Minnesota Multiphasic test before? 

"Yes," Clarice says, feeling all of her usual brisk but detailed replies compressing to near one-word answers now under the pressure of where she is.  

The Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane is a relatively small-footprint building, banked by about 5 acres of government land and fringed with electrified fences. There are probably less than ten doors between where she's sitting and Hannibal Lecter, who left such a mark on the city that jails him that the Blue Book had ceased publication.

"All done?" Dr. Bloom asks, and Clarice dots her last I and hands over the papers. "Good — now, Agent Starling, I want your full attention." 

Clarice complies. Dr. Bloom is as beautiful today as she was in the papers, but she's sharper. Her lipstick is red like the kind of actress who would get called a film starlet, and her hair is pinned into dark curls. She is wearing a gray tweed suit and a blood red silk shirt underneath, and Clarice feels plain and small in her presence. 

"Be careful with Hannibal," Dr. Bloom instructs. "We will review the physical procedures we use to deal with him — do not deviate from it. Do not deviate from it one iota for any reason. If Hannibal talks to you at all, it's because he's experiencing the kind of curiosity that makes a snake look into a bird's nest, and — " Dr. Bloom stops here, a deliberate, significant pause " — and you know what he did to Will Graham."

"I read about it," Clarice says. 

Everyone in the world had read about it. There's a movie in the works and on the drive to Baltimore from Quantico there'd been jabber on the radio about casting for a film, based on Freddie Lounds' terrible, compulsively readable dumpster fire of a book. 

"Do your job — just don't ever forget what he is," Dr. Bloom counseled. 

The door to the office opened, and an orderly in pale scrubs said, "We're ready."  

Dr. Bloom's response is to turn to Clarice as she pushes herself to her feet, shifting her weight from one leg to the next with a speed that betrayed pain. "Are you?" she asks.

"Yes," Clarice lies, getting up, too, faster and less gracefully.

"Leave your coat and bag, take only the file," Dr. Bloom instructs, and nods to the orderly in the door. "Barney — let's go."

Dr. Bloom only walks her to the first set of doors before wishing her well in a way that telegraphs — loudly — that she thinks this is a bad idea and that Clarice will get nowhere. Barney, who takes over tourguide duties from there, assures her that this is standard operating procedure for all people who seek out Dr. Lecter, because Dr. Lecter never lets anybody get anywhere.

"But he does talk," Clarice can't help but argue. "He submits regular pieces to psychology and psychiatry journals, and corresponds with students and researchers." 

"Only the ones who don't ask about his other work," Barney says, shrugging as they reach the second set of doors. These are heavier than the first, which led into the wards: steel and concrete, there's a biometric scanner to trigger the locks. 

Barney tells her the rules. No reaching through the glass, no touching the glass. Pass him nothing but soft paper. No pens, no pencils. Dr. Lecter gets charcoal for drawing. Any paper you pass to him must be free of staples, paper clips or pins, and items are only passed through the sliding drawer and come out through it, too. No exceptions. Don't take anything he tries to hold out to you through the barrier.

"Dr. Lecter is never outside without full restraints and a mouthpiece," Barney tells her at the third set of doors, and Clarice thinks this feels like descending into ever-deeper levels of hell, though they've only gone down one flight of stairs. There are no more windows here, in this section of the hospital. 

"How is he? As a patient?" Clarice asks.

"He's a model patient," Barney answers honestly, but caveats, "But we don't talk about anything personal." 

They're standing now in front of the four door, the last one. There are no other patients in this section, just a round-the-clock duty of orderlies and Hannibal Lecter.

"Nothing personal," Clarice repeats, aware of the note of hysteria in her tone.

Barney favors her with a Look and hands her a stack of mail — magazines with the staples pulled out so they're long, loose pages smudging color onto Clarice's fingers, opened letters, medical journals with glue bindings. 

"You can take him his mail, get off on the right foot," he offers. "Be polite, don't talk about Will Graham. You'll be just fine."

He opens the door into darkness — the only light the fluorescent blue haze in Lecter's container unit, beyond the glass. 

Graham's notoriety and singularity within in the small community of mindhunters specializing in the worst of humanity made him fairly famous. Among Lecter's possessions when he'd fled was a copy of Graham's monograph on time of death based on insect activity, though there was no way to confirm when it had been acquired — before or after Garrett Jacob Hobbs had played unintentional matchmaker.

At Lecter's trial, Crawford would testify that under the advisement of Bloom, he'd brought Lecter in review Graham's field-readiness. Hobbs had just taken his eighth victim and the situation was dire enough that Crawford was willing to overlook Graham's fragility and unsuitability for the fieldwork, so long as he could find a psychiatrist to sign off. 

"They did not get along. At all," Crawford said at trial.  

People laughed. Even Lecter, in a so-awful-it-was-amazing green plaid suit and an enthusiastic collection of restraints, cracked a smile. 

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

Clarice has seen perhaps 1 million photographs of Hannibal Lecter. 

In Lounds' book, there's a 30 page glossy insert of color pictures: Lecter in white tie formal, in spectacular suits, in beautiful cashmere coats standing around in the background of FBI photos talking to Will Graham, whose dark curls were being tossed provokingly by the wind.  

She'd looked him up again last night in the dorms with Ardelia. Lecter has cheekbones for days, burgundy brown eyes, an angular, interesting handsomeness. In photographs prior to the revelation of his leisure activities, Lecter was described as Dr. Lecter of Baltimore and his dates delicately described as and his companion. There is a five-page section in the photographs specifically dedicated to a well-curated sampling of images captioned Dr. Hannibal Lecter, of Baltimore, and his companion, Will Graham.

Post-arrest and incarceration, the photographs have a different story and darkness, all of Lecter's sharpness brought to fore. He was still handsome and still striking, but in a certain light, the shape of his face and the spark of the flash made him look like a skeleton, a harbinger.  

Lounds, of course, had selected that image for the cover of her book.

Standing in the consuming shadows of the chamber, looking through the glass, Clarice sees his shoulders, first.

Hannibal Lecter has the type of impeccable posture that makes Clarice feel like she's forever slouching. The lines of his body taper to a trim waist and his hands are clasped together behind his back; the jumpsuit is almost comically awful. When she looks, finally, to his neck and his chin and his face, she finds Lecter looking at her already, head tilted with the curiosity of an apex predator and the placid indifference of someone Frederick Chilton believes is "an example of pure sociopathy." 

"Dr. Lecter," she says, and thinks she doesn't sound so bad.

He doesn't say anything, but he continues his study of her. It's not the way men usually look at women, but it's unsettling in a different way. He cooked livers; Clarice supposes it's not strange she feels as if she should take an instinctive step away. 

"My name is Clarice Starling," she tries again. "May I talk with you?"

Lecter looks and looks some more, for a long time, before he squares his feet into the vee of a ballet dancer, preparing, and nods at her solicitously.

He says, "Good morning," and even knowing all she knows, he sounds charming and cultured and interesting. 

Clarice maintains her distance from the wall of glass and decides further pleasantries would would pointless. She clears her throat and holds up the folder instead. 

"Doctor, we have a hard problem in psychological profiling. We'd like to get your help."

Something flashes across Lecter's face, too quickly for identification.

"'We' being the the Behavior Analysis Unit at Quantico," he begins. "I read that Jack Crawford is no longer in charge there."  

"Yes," she answers, too wary to be glib.

"May I see your credentials?" Lecter asks. 

It requires the involvement of Barney, who makes a number of achingly polite threats — including of something called "dignity pants" — before Clarice is able to provide her laminated identification to Lecter. He runs his thumb over her photograph and says, "I see though Jack has departed, the legacy of his tactics has not, Trainee Starling." 

Clarice would prefer not to react at all, but the way she stands straighter and flexes her jaw is reactive and instantaneous. "I'm still in training at the academy, but we're not here to discuss the FBI, Dr. Lecter. I'd like to talk to you about psychology — can you determine yourself if I'm qualified?"

He looks away from her, to the tips of his cloth shoes and then to the corners of his cell. 

"How is he, do you know?" Lecter asks, ignoring her question, removed and polite. If she didn't keep looking at his mouth and thinking of what he liked to do with it, she could almost imagine him interested and genial. "Sad business, the passing of his wife. I sent a note — he did not respond." 

Clarice knows the official record and what the rumor mill churns out. Crawford had left the FBI after a distinguished career with the agency to care for his wife, who was extremely ill. Unofficially, he'd been told to resign. The reasons why had been hush hush five years ago and were more or less flagrant rumor and innuendo now. 

"I don't have any information on him," Clarice admits. "Dr. Lecter — the profile?"

He favors her with a mild look. "This is called 'cutting up a few old touches,' Officer Starling — you don't mind, do you?" 

She tries again. "Better than that, we could touch up a few old cuts here. This file — "

"Dreadful," Lecter pronounces, looking impatient and distressed in equal measure. "Never use wit in a segue, it ruins the mood. You had been doing very well: courteous and receptive to courtesy — and now are ham-handed in your segue. It will not do."

Wildly, Clarice wonders if Will Graham had been better for this, at cultivating Lecter's moods all those times they were photographed together. For a crazy second, she considers talking about how much she likes dogs. 

"Dr. Lecter, you're an experienced clinical psychiatrist, I'm not trying to scam you. I want you to take a look at this file, and you either will or you won't," she says, in her plain, forthright way; she hasn't got any other. "Would it hurt to look at the thing?"

Lecter's all microexpressions, Clarice decides. His face barely moves, but it's a universe conveyed in the corners of his mouth, the way he blinks. 

"Is it the Buffalo Bill case, then?" he asks, and sounds nearly amused. 

It's part of the Buffalo Bill case, anyway. The actual file has sprawled out to no fewer than a dozen boxes at headquarters, and that excludes the digital paper trail.  

"We would appreciate your opinion," Clarice tells him. 

He looks at the manila folder where she's holding it, follows the line of her fingers to her wrist and then up her arm. It's long seconds before he meets her gaze again, and when he does he looks thoughtful, interested, and it Clarice feels her knees lock, her bites down on her tongue, her breath stutter to be so observed. 

"Barney," Lecter calls out, a smile beginning to creep across his face, "could you please bring Agent Starling a chair?"  

Graham's life was extremely isolated. He had no living family and very few friends. There was his old partner from his years as detective in New Orleans, there was Dr. Bloom. There was also Hannibal Lecter, with whom Graham had 'conversations.' Though scheduled among Lecter's other appointments, following his initial psychological review, Graham was never officially a patient. 

By all accounts, their initial antipathy was short-lived. 

After the Hobbs case, hospital visitor logs show that they haunted Abigail Hobbs' room together. And employees of the group home where Hobbs was moved for further treatment remember that they usually visited her in a pair. Graham's standing weekly appointment more often than not turned into dinner, based on email and text records, and Lecter would make the long drive from Baltimore to Wolf Trap to check on Graham's pack of mutts while he was out of town.  

It was not only that they became friends, but it was the intimacy and speed of the relationship that made it so singular. These were two men who cultivated relatively isolating lives who suddenly, seemingly instinctively made room for one another. Lecter destroyed his notes from Graham's sessions, but he missed some of his sketches, including a sketch of Russian painter Nikolai Ge's "Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus" — Graham's face grafted onto Patroclus.

"Those guys were fucking weird about each other from the beginning," said one law enforcement source who requested anonymity. 

Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds 

Chapter Text

The chair that Barney brings is an institutional brown-gray. He unfolds it before patting the seat, saying, "There you go, Agent Starling," and retreats back to the corner of the room, near the doorway, a panic button, a long-handled taser and a baton.

Lecter's containment unit isn't, as Dr. Bloom said, a cell exactly. The walls are a soft gray-blue, with panel molding painted an antique gold and built-in bookshelves, cornice lamps and shades installed. The floors are laminate paneling, and there's a boarded fireplace with a black and white marble face. Lecter has a steel table, bolted to the floor, a meticulous cot, a toilet, and dozens and dozens of paperbacks, stacks of magazines. It does not look like a cell so much as the a habitat, and Clarice thinks about zoo enclosures and people who take their children to go look at the big cats, press their faces against the glass and stare.

Clarice settles into the chair, the metal cool on her thighs, and she can't repress a shiver.

"Thank you," she says on reflex, but she looks at her folder now, and then again to the drawer built into Lecter's container and regrets this entire series of events. She'll have to get up again now, to hear her heels click loudly across the floors, provide Lecter another opportunity to evaluate her, to find something wanting.

"I'm only sorry for the limited hospitality," Dr. Lecter replies, with a note-perfect tinge of remorse. Clarice knows enough about sociopaths that he must not really feel it, but he is a perfect mimic. "I would much prefer more comfortable trappings for making a new acquaintance — Alana is a relatively courteous jailer, but a jailer nonetheless."

Her eyebrow starts creeping upward again. Clarice vows she's getting it Botoxed into submission.

"It's fine, Dr. Lecter," she promises.

"I would like to know why you are here, Agent Starling," Lecter says, settling into the chair at his metal table, also bolted down. He folds his hands together, placid, and pins her with his gaze.

She indicates the folder again. It's starting to look ragged. "The profile."

"I meant why you were here," Lecter clarifies.

Clarice feels her diaphragm rapidly give way, all of her guts spilling into oblivion and her blood going to ice in her veins, crystalizing.

"I beg your pardon?" she asks, but it comes out like a croak.

Lecter appears unimpressed.

She remembers Krendler and Browning's soft shoe routine and Dr. Bloom's warning; she thinks, God fucking shit.

"Dishonesty is unbecoming," Lecter informs her, reproving like a schoolmarm.

"I haven't been dishonest. I came here to speak with you about a case, about this profile," Clarice says honestly, but she adds, "If you believe I was sent for some alternative reason, I'd prefer you to just ask versus making me fumble around guessing."

Now, Lecter separates his interlaced fingers, presses his hands palms flat on the table. His expression's mostly unchanged, still polite, detached interest, and Clarice wishes she could set the chair further back but doesn't want to lose the ground — literally or figuratively. She can't understand how Lecter's patients used to sit across from him and not feel the lion in the room, how Will Graham sat in kitchens and offices and opera houses with him and not felt the tang of a knife.

"Your moral outrage would be significantly more convincing if I did not know that you were debriefed prior to this appointment by Dr. Bloom," Lecter tells her with infinite patience.

Clarice's mouth goes dry. "She had her opinions, but they're just her opinions."

"You say 'fumble around guessing,' Agent Starling, is that something you do frequently? Press forward into the dark with your hands outstretched for the answers, the edges of an answer?" Lecter asks. His eyes are darker now, curious and swallowing the light of the overheads. "Do you think it romantic? To charge into the blackness?"

"I'm an investigator," Clarice says after a long beat. "I like solving puzzles."

"But do you like walking into the traps yourself, Agent Starling?" Lecter continued. "A willingness to think both as the victim and as the perpetrator is the key skill for success within BAU-2, of course."

Clarice startles before she can stop herself. Of course Lecter knows the lingo. He'd been personally invited to consult, to comfort, to attend to Graham during their liaison, during their partnership. Lecter is like and unlike those offenders who compulsively cozy up to law enforcement, haunt their bars and make friends. Of course, Lecter's version of this was to feed the head of the BAU human flesh.

She makes a clutch for balance. "Do you have those key skills then, Dr. Lecter? Will you use them on this Buffalo Bill file?"

Lecter smiles. "Tell me, who is the head of the BAU now? Clarendon? Wilkes?"

Jude Clarendon been responsible for whipping multiple field offices and local LEOs into cooperative action in the aftermath of Lecter's disappearance five years ago. With Crawford on official suspension pending an OPR review, she'd managed the careful forensic examination of Lecter's properties — all seven of them scattered in a five mid-Atlantic states. She'd left Graham's house to Zeller and Price.

"It's not relevant, Dr. Lecter, but it's Judge Browning," Clarice says at last.

"Hm," Lecter says at that revelation, and motions toward her. "May I see the file?"

Clarice is overjoyed to let him see the file. Barney is engaged again to guide her through the theatrics and procedures of passing it through to Lecter, who only rises to retrieve it after Clarice has retaken her seat. It's consideration, and she's annoyed by her gratitude, of her fearfulness for him, that he can smell it on her through the glass partition.

He takes it back to his table, where he reads it in unbroken silence for 5, 10, 15 minutes, until the quiet is oppressive. All the little noises in the room become a din: the ticking of the wall clock, the wheezing of the HVAC, the sound of Barney flipping the pages of a Clive Cussler novel behind her. Clarice can hear her own breathing, the irritating hum of the fluorescent lights.

Clarice gets angry when it takes people at restaurants more than five minutes in shared restrooms. This is killing her. She reaches into her handbag for her mobile phone and sees that it's 4:34 p.m. and that she has no service.

"When I was first remanded here to begin awaiting trial, Dr. Bloom invested in a cellular signal jammer," Lecter pipes up, not lifting his sleek head from where he's still seemingly focused on the file. "The Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane is a landline-only facility, I'm afraid, Agent Starling."

Clarice puts her phone away. Playing Two Dots here would amplify the unacceptable strangeness to unparalleled levels, and Browning had said she owed him a full rundown of the day's events by 0900 Sunday. So far she has mediations on Dr. Bloom's facial symmetry and exactly fucking zilch from Lecter — she should pay enough attention to get some local color about him anyway: how he looks, how he sounds. She's got no basis for comparison but maybe someone else will.

"Unusual for this day and age," Clarice says, mostly to cover the clock tick again.

"There was an unusual amount of media interest," Lecter says, seemingly distracted. He's pressed a hand to the file now, one finger tracing lines of text across the page.

'Was' is an inaccurate word. There is an extraordinary amount of media attention in Lecter since his capture six months prior. She'd arrived at the BHCI with careful instructions to utilize a side entrance, to comport herself not as law enforcement but perhaps a lawyer, a social worker, some sort of visitor for someone other than Lecter. The grim gothic facade of the building has a permanent hobo camp of tabloid reporters and true crime bloggers who keep the public drip-fed on a steady diet of Lecter news day to day. She'd wondered why they seemed to be maintaining a steady 500 yard distance from the entrance of the facility, but Clarice supposes she knows now.

When Lecter speaks again, it's to ask, "This doesn't explain where he received his name — do you know why he's called Buffalo Bill?"

Clarice blinks. "I — yes."

Lecter looks up at her now, an oddly offended look on his face. "And?"

"Are you going to help with the profile?" Clarice tries.

"I'm looking at your file aren't I?" he replies. "Now — why?"

"It started as a bad joke in Kansas City homicide," Clarice says. "They called him Buffalo Bill because he skins his humps."

Lecter's curiosity fades into a moue of distaste.

"I see," is his delicate response to that.

Clarice digs her blunt nails into the meat of her palms to keep from laughing, which would somehow be even more inappropriate than playing Two Dots.

"The base humor of local law enforcement will never cease to surprise me," Lecter confides, closing the file now and folding his hands over it again, looking unhurried and not at all like he's about to provide Clarice with the breaking insight into the case that will justify this entire boondoggle. Jesus Christ. "I was assured it was an acquired taste."

Clarice says, "By Will Graham, I guess," before it processes through her brain. The words trip over her tongue and land with the sickening thud of a body hitting the floor.

She goes still and breathless in horror at that the way small animals do in the presence of a predator, eyes locked with Lecter's.

He doesn't react, though. He doesn't snarl; he doesn't purple. He doesn't do anything but blink, slow, a sweep of ash dark lashes.

Clarice thinks about repeat warnings and rooms full of pink elephants and considers whether it's feasible to break this stalemate by pleading a restroom break. Or if she should apologize. Jesus, she can't apologize.

The state of her extremis is such she nearly misses it when Lecter says:

"Will had no taste for base humor, either."

Clarice stares, and it makes Lecter's mouth twitch into very nearly a smile.

"Tasteless," he went on. "One of the very first things he ever said to me."

Because complete missteps seem to be effective thus far, if not effective in Clarice's original stated goal, she can't help but to ask, "Is that why you — connected with him?"

Here, Lecter's ghost of a smile transforms into a larger one. She can't tell if it's real or false, or if for someone like Lecter, there's no delineation between the two. Chilton, in between trademarking the phrase Hannibal the Cannibal, had gone onto an infinite number of television shows to demystify Lecter: emotionless, completely amoral, highly intelligent, and living among the rest of us.

"That is a very personal question, Agent Starling, and unless I missed something significant within this file, not pertinent to this case, either," Lecter chides.

"You're right, Dr. Lecter," Clarice grinds out. "My apologies."

"You are curious, it's completely natural," Lecter allows, before he clears his throat and tips his head toward the file. "What help could possibly provide to the FBI on this?"

Krendler and Browning had been nonspecific. Now Clarice wonders whether their intent had been to solicit a response from Lecter on Buffalo Bill, or on something else entirely.

"Just your insights on the case as it stands," she bullshits. "You had previously served in a consulting capacity to the bureau — and then there's your unique insight."

"'Unique insight,'" Lecter repeats slowly. "Curious choice of words."

Clarice doesn't know of a hand gesture or a neutral sound that telegraphs, well, he skins girls and you did some fucked up stuff, too.

"Clarice — may I call you Clarice?" Lecter asks.

"Sure," she says. For all of her boundaries, she has poorly tended fences in many ways.

"I may have some insight into your UNSUB — "

The terminology sits right on his tongue, and she re-remembers the way he'd slotted so cozily into the horror show workflow of the BAU, how among Lecter's possessions at his Baltimore murder house were three expired FBI GUEST badges and a copy of Will Graham's house keys.

" — but I would require some quid pro quo."

Lecter's first trial had been swift and sensational, fast-tracked. There was never any doubt he would be found guilty, so the event had felt pro forma, to stay in a Latin frame of mind. His sentencing would begin three months, which would be the real circus.

"You declined your lawyer for this interview, Dr. Lecter, and I haven't been authorized to make any deals," Clarice tells him. "All I'm here for is the profile."

Lecter ignores her. "I have a realistic understanding of my circumstances, Clarice. They'll lock me in and throw away the key. I recognize the perceived necessity."

Perceived necessity, Clarice marvels.

"But I would prefer not to be here, in this particular institute," he goes on, and pauses long enough to pull an expression that seems to convey mournfulness, though it's entirely the same as all his previous expressions. "Alana remains extremely emotional."

Silence continues to be the only appropriate response, Clarice thinks.

"Go to Browning," Lecter says. "Tell him I will help with your profile if you can secure my move to a new facility."

"Dr. Lecter," Clarice tries, not because she has any rebuttal but because she has none.

"I'll await your news," Lecter says, all genial politeness. "May I keep this file?"

She tries again. "Yes, but — Dr. Lecter — "

"Agent Starling," Lecter cuts in, and the abrupt reversal of intimacies is startling enough that Clarice loses whatever she was going to protest. "They've sent you here with your tragic childhood and Southern accent and quick thinking with a very specific reaction in mind, and you've let them use you thus."

There's no point in trying to brazen Lecter out. "Their motives aren't mine."

"Which is why I've allowed it so far," Lecter agrees. "But no more. If the FBI would like to continue the discussion, I will require some assurances."

Clarice is left sitting in her cold chair and her bricked phone as Lecter turns away from her, plucks a book off his shelf, and settles into a chaise that occupies a distant wall of his cell. She has the distinct feeling she's been dismissed.

Barney seems to agree, because he's come over to her to press a hand on her shoulder.

"Come on, Agent Starling," he says to her gently. "Let's get you processed out."

Dr. Bloom is unavailable for a follow-up debriefing; she's in a meeting with federal prosecutors regarding Lecter's upcoming trial. The speculation is largely regarding whether he'll receive the death penalty or be committed in perpetuity. Clarice thinks about Lecter calling Dr. Bloom "extremely emotional" on the subject of his internment at the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and she wonders where Dr. Bloom falls on that spectrum: death or decay.

The spectacular tragedy of Will Graham is one that gouged a deep mark into the FBI.

He was their hothouse flower, their company manners, brought out to help identify the Minnesota Shrike. As Crawford got more desperate, he got less careful, and Graham, so vulnerable any and all given emotional currents in a room, had been swept up until he'd found himself in the sunny 1970s kitchen of a house in Minnesota, putting ten bullets into Garrett Jacob Hobbs, and going into shock as he tried to close the gushing wound on Abigail Hobbs's throat. The Bureau gave Graham a commendation; Crawford yelled until they gave him leave to put Graham back in the field — despite more evidence than ever before that Graham was in no condition for it — and sent his boy packing.

During the year Graham straddled his role as an FBI lecturer and specially-dispensed field agent, he was instrumental to closing a dozen uncrackable cases: serial murders, spree killings, child abductions.

He paid for those dearly. The cases sundered him. He lived the horrors of his work by day and they followed him into his sleep. Graham had screaming night terrors, and was picked up by Maryland State Troopers sleepwalking down a highway in the dead of winter, barefoot and in his shorts and a t-shirt. Through it all, he coped with near-toxic quantities of ibuprofen, shitty Bureau coffee and by faithfully attending his conversations with Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He continued to work.

Lecter was his ballast, his anchor when Graham threatened to come unmoored. They shared a connection through Abigail Hobbs, who had survived her wounds. Graham, who did not favor anybody's company, seemed to favor Lecter's, and Lecter, who found rudeness of any kind intolerable, seemed to find Graham's savage manners a delight. It was into Lecter's hands that Graham delivered the worst of his fears, the sum of his hurt, and Lecter responded with easy acceptance and invitations to dinners parties and an open-door policy.  

Lecter's particular intelligence combined with his keen observational senses and surgical experience should have put him in a prime position to recognize the indications that there was something truly, medically wrong with Graham long before the worst symptoms of encephalitis manifested. Instead he arranged for Graham to endure periods of hypnotic regression and conspired with Graham's neurologist to conceal his disease — Dr. Sutcliffe would eventually pay with his life; Graham would simply be framed for murder.

Graham's arrest for the Copycat Killings — as they were then known — and subsequent exoneration is taught now at Quantico, wiser heads than Crawford's having prevailed upon the curriculum. The lecture module is compulsory, but wouldn't need to be; it's extremely popular.  

Taught by the crime lab's Brian Zeller and Jimmy Price, it is both a gruesome horror story and warning about the importance of striking a balance between forensic evidence and the context of a crime. They do the lesson in Graham's old classroom, showing photographs of Graham at the time of his arrest: looking dazed and disoriented, disassembled, sitting in the backseat of an FBI vehicle while one of his dogs whines and paws at the door. Also pictured is Beverly Katz, an immensely well-like and respected forensic scientist with the BAU. She'd believed Graham's protestations of innocence and died investigating Lecter, months before anybody would listen to Graham's claims that he was being set up. Lecter would leave her in literal pieces as opposed to Graham's figurative ones. 

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

When Clarice returns to the BAU, 66 feet below ground at Quantico, it's to Browning only, Krendler having gone to wherever blue-flamers from the Department of Justice go.

"Sir," she says, hovering in his doorway.  

Browning's office is in a warren of other administrative offices, utterly unremarkable except for how starkly he avoids all traces of his predecessor. Jack Crawford's office had been a glass enclosure near the forensic lab for optimum yelling distance. Browning sends terse but otherwise perfectly polite email summonses.

Browning looks up from his laptop. "Well?" he asks.

"Lecter took the file," she reports.

"Didn't give any insight into a profile," Browning guesses, unsurprised. 

Clarice confirms it with a nod. "He said he would help if you could get him moved."

"Moved — out of Baltimore?" Browning asks. He looks — not thrown, but out of step. 

"I think just out of that particular facility," Clarice answers. She'd looked it up at red lights on the way back to Quantico. In Maryland there's also the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center and Patuxent Institution. She also found out that part of the reason Lecter's at the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane is neither Clifton nor Patuxent wanted him — Dr. Bloom had. A lot.

"A piece of work, that guy," Browning declares. "Anything else?"

"Nothing that can't wait until you receive my report sir," she says, and hesitates before she asks, "Will you move him then, sir?"

Browning just waves her off. "Go write your report, Starling."

Ardelia's in the dorm room when Clarice gets back, headphones on and bouncing her knee. She's left-handed, her hair tied back in a severe bun. Ardelia, who is social and good at being social, had dragged Clarice out for a weekend just after they'd received room assignments, and that night Ardelia's hair had been a gorgeous halo around her head. In the bar lights, she'd looked bombastically, irresistibly alive. Clarice had worn a button-up shirt and jeans that buttoned too high to be trendy.

In an average week, students at the academy get maybe 14 seconds of uninterrupted time to devote to study, sleep or social interaction. Ardelia's headphones are a sign she's trying to zone in on something, and normally, Clarice would leave her to it. 

Today, she knocks on Ardelia's desk.

"You look bushwhacked," Ardelia says, when she pulls off her headphones and looks up from her work. Clarice tries not to laugh hysterically when she realizes that Ardelia's reading the official write-up on Eldon Stammets.

"I feel bushwhacked," Clarice says.

"Lecter — you actually met him then?" Ardelia asks.

Clarice nods.

Ardelia puts down her pen. "Holy. Shit," she proclaims.

Clarice is instructed to change out of her G-Man best while Ardelia digs around for the appropriate accompaniment for this story. Booze is right out, but Ardelia has a seemingly unlimited supply of Coca-Cola and Sour Jelly Belly. They sit on their own beds cross-legged and face each other, and Clarice hears herself call Lecter handsome four separate times. It's appalling. 

"What do you know about the Buffalo Bill case?" Clarice asks later, once they've dissected the various layers of her encounter with Lecter that day.

Ardelia, flat on her back and half under the covers by now, makes a considering noise. "Five victims — so far — flays them, nobody knows why." 

Clarice blames the quality of the day's company for why she says, "Fruit leather."

"Fucking repulsive is what you are, Starling," Ardelia accuses, prim but grinning, and pulls her giant smart phone from wherever it's been hiding to tap-tap-tap into it before reading out loud: "Five female victims, all caucasian, all dumped into bodies of water. FBI sources — "

Clarice raises her Coke in salute.

" — tell the venerable Baltimore Sun that there are indications that the killer holds the women in captivity for some period before murders them," Ardelia concludes. "No discussion of whether the skinning is done pre-, post-, or peri-mortem. I guess regular people don't like to think about that kind of thing."

Clarice slants a look at her copy of Freddie Lounds' book, its spine broken and its pages dog-eared from horrified love. Reporters, as far as Clarice knows, are not regular people.

"So d'you think they'll give him the deal?" Ardelia asks, sliding the phone away again, tucked underneath her pillow where it will make chirping noises like a bird tomorrow morning at 5:45 a.m. 

Now it's Clarice's turn to lie down, settle the sweating Coke can on her bedside table and fold her hands over her stomach. The ceiling of their room is — as usual — silent. It's been unhelpful with other serious questions in the past as well.

"Serial killers are a relatively rare breed," she says finally. "Maybe he has some particular insight — or maybe he just really wants to get the hell out of the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane."

"Maybe he wants Buffalo Bill's fruit leather recipe," Ardelia yawns, and hits the lights. When Clarice starts to crawl under her own sheets, Ardelia says, "Get the hell up — I can sleep, you have to write Browning a fucking report."

Her first draft is mostly sentence fragments and the occasional defamatory aside about Ardelia.

By all accounts, Graham was supremely uninterested in any of the normal business of being exonerated from serial murder. Leonard Brauer, who represented Graham at trial, found him reluctant to pursue civil compensation for the ordeal he's gone through. In part it could be due to the lingering effects of viral encephalitis, which has a long tail for recovery; Graham was lucky to escape relatively unscathed. He did not reconnect with old friends or take any vacation. He went to work again.

It's difficult, now, to read his lack of engagement as anything other than preemptive disengagement, his empathy extending to precognition.

Within a month of getting sprung Graham was back to his life of quiet extremis: nightmares, waking and asleep, and sessions with Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

On the stand at the Lecter trial, Bloom had endured the emotional labor of filling in the gaps of the prosecution's narrative. She had been friends with Lecter for years and cultivated a self-admitted "complicated" relationship with Graham. Toward Lecter, she felt admiration and perhaps an undisclosed regard; toward Graham, Bloom claimed she felt an "awful tenderness."  

"There was a dinner, not long after Will was released," Bloom said. "I was — concerned, given that Will had spent a significant portion of his incarceration accusing Hannibal of being the Chesapeake Ripper. But when I got there, to Hannibal's house, they were cleaning up some broken wine glasses and…"

The court stenographer noted the length of the silence, 45 seconds, before Charlotte Ping of the prosecution had asked, "And?"

"And it was intense," Bloom said finally. "It felt — intimate. Not me. Not my presence or the dinner, but them. They were quiet. They couldn't stop staring at each other."

Lecter, sitting regal and nonreactive in the courtroom, had closed his eyes then. Much has been written about the expressionless blankness of his face, but Lecter isn't expressionless at all. He frowns and smiles and is impatient, annoyed. When he used to follow Graham around to crime scenes and to visit Abigail, he would look the way Bloom felt, awfully tender, at the lines of Graham's back. 

"What did you think had happened, Dr. Bloom?" Ping had asked.

Bloom was silent again for a long jag before she'd answered — her full answer and the following exchange are produced verbatim from the court transcript below: 


BLOOM: "I — Maybe the best way to answer this is to do it this way. Will used to wear his glasses too low on the bridge of his nose, so he never had to meet your eyes. He used to say he could see too much, and it was hard to sort through the noise. Even the people he liked, the people he knew well, it was hard for him. He'd catch your eyes and look away again. It wasn't rudeness, it was self-care. Maybe it started that way with Hannibal, too, I don't know how they were the first time they met, you'd have to ask Jack Crawford about it. But I remember so clearly the first time I saw them together that Will looked away less with Hannibal. I thought, 'Thank God, oh thank God, he found a therapist he can connect with.' But over time, it became increasingly clear that wasn't the case, that there was more there. Will trusted him, and — as as tasteless as the turn of phrase is, Hannibal let him get away with murder."

PING: "Can you elaborate?"

BLOOM: "Just — just before that night, I remember I went to Hannibal's house because I wanted to talk to him. I was really worried about Will and him and him and Will. That strangeness hadn't gone away, it had only gotten deeper. And you've seen the photographs, of course, of Hannibal's house?"

PING: "Yes."

BLOOM: "Prior to the FBI's forensic team coming through?"

PING: "Yes."

BLOOM: "So you know it's pristine. You could put down a scarf or a hat anywhere and he'd find some way to secret it into his coat closet. Everything had its pristine and appropriate place, exactly where it belonged in his aesthetic tableau."

PING: "My house isn't that nice." 

BLOOM: "Nobody's house is that nice. The point is I showed up to talk, and Will is there, shoes kicked off and curled up asleep in a wingback by the fire. His coat's on a commode chest by the wall, and his bag is spilled out on the floor next to a side table. At that point I'd known Hannibal Lecter for a decade, and it was the first time I'd ever seen someone in his house without shoes on or anything on the floor that wasn't a Persian rug."

PING: "What did you think, at the time?"

BLOOM: "I thought Will needed the sleep, and I'd fight with Hannibal about the unbelievable ethics violation of seducing a patient at some other juncture."

PING: "Did you ever get a chance to raise it with him?"

BLOOM: "The next time I was at his house was the night he killed Will in his kitchen."

PING: "So that's a no. Prosecution rests."

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

Chapter Text

Clarice turns in her report at 0859 on Sunday morning, after which they cocoon themselves in the library. They've heard rumor from the teachers that after the first six weeks, the quantity of homework slows down significantly, but Clarice has yet to see evidence of this miraculous occurrence.

The Bureau — and by association, the Q — had lost a lawsuit not too long ago and were now obliged to pay even trainees for overtime accrued. This means that unlike the harder, hardier days of yore, she and Ardelia are privileged to sleep until 6:30 a.m. since classes had to end by 5 p.m. and thus recommandatory workouts could be jammed into the evening. Nothing like deranged overstimulation and gummy eyes on a treadmill at 9 p.m., trying to read as you bounce.

Her phone dings, and she looks away from CNN, muted on all the gym TVs, down to its little screen.


Or nearly flying off of the treadmill in shock.

The body of the email is brief, just, "Good report. I passed it up the chain. You can skip firearms tomorrow afternoon, just get back down to Baltimore. You will need to contact Bloom to set up the appointment yourself."

Ardelia is torn between searing jealousy and gossipy thrill. She shucks Clarice out of a "hideous" shirt and "unfortunate" trousers and jams her into a black pencil skirt and one of her own green blouses.

"Do you have earrings?" Ardelia demands.

"I'm not dressing up for Hannibal Lecter," Clarice snaps back, but she gets her earrings, single pearl studs. Everything else she owns is a hoop or it dangles — no go for law enforcement and/or bar fights.

"You're dressing up to be taken seriously," Ardelia corrects, and she inspects Clarice head to toe now before nodding, pleased. "Good. You look like a grown woman now."

"I looked like a grown woman before," Clarice protests.

Ardelia just purses her lips. "Do you have any perfume?"

This is how Clarice ends up in the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane, listening to Hannibal Lecter say, "L'Air du Temps — bergamot, rose, and jasmine, but the spice of carnation is its central foundation."

"Dr. Lecter," Clarice says, since 'hello' seems ridiculous now.

She takes the seat Barney has brought out for her and nervously tugs at the skirt where it draws tight over her knees. She's suddenly, keenly aware she hasn't shaved her legs since she'd gotten to Quantico and traded in hygiene and sleep for grades and guns. She would have turned in her report on Lecter at 0759 if she hadn't lost an hour to looking at the vast Google image galleries of Dr. Lecter in flawlessly tailored suits; it makes her feel rougher and younger in comparison, all of her decades falling away until she's standing on the grass next to their dirt road, waiting for her Daddy's car again.

"It is a classic scent," Lecter says approvingly.

He's perched at his table, fingers dusky from charcoal. There's a sheet of paper in front of him — the cheap, soft newsprint Clarice remembers from childhood art classes — and his feet are crossed at the ankles, clad in soft, rubber-soled slippers. Even without his tailored suits, Lecter is clothed in seamless dignity, the way he tilts his chin and squares his shoulder, inhabits any room with absolute certainty of his worth. Clarice wonders, momentarily, what it must be like to be so rooted in your confidence, how it might feel on her instead of Lecter.

Clarice feels — sharply — that it would be rude to ask immediately after the profile, so she nods at Lecter's desk instead.

"May I ask what you're drawing?"

On the walls, near the chaise Lecter had retired to the last time, there are a few dusky gray-black drawings posted. Clarice thinks they must be European cities, with domed buildings and alien skylines.

Lecter follows her gaze. "Florence," he says, and slants a look back toward Clarice. Politely, with foreknowledge of her answer but too much courtesy to presume, he asks her, "Have you been?" 

"Um, no," Clarice says. She can't see his paper, it's at the wrong angle, and she's still too frightened to stand and go closer to the glass. "Are you drawing Florence again?"

"There are many beautiful places I have reproduced in my mind palace," Lecter answers-but-doesn't-answer, and he rises from his table to close the distance between them. The glass is too clean, nearly invisible, and Clarice can feel her breath catch in her throat. She can't forget who he is, the gore he's left in his wake. There is a photograph in his file, of his kitchen in the aftermath: pools of Will Graham's blood near the island, his red handprints streaked across the floor.

Clarice has used up her well of social niceties now. She clears her throat. "Have you given any consideration to the file, Dr. Lecter?"

"I've read the file," Lecter allows, and comes to a stop in front of the glass, folding his hands behind his back. It's a professorial move, the way he angles his body and tips his head, and in a past life it must have looked charmingly eccentric and engaging. In this one, Clarice is torn between wishing her chair was closer and further away.

"Did you have any thoughts on it, Dr. Lecter?"

"Did you have any thoughts on my quid pro quo?" he answers. "Or rather, did your superiors have any thoughts on it?"

"They're aware of your offer," Clarice tells him honestly. She's not a good liar, and it's not a skill she has any desire to cultivate. It's not the lies, it's the keeping track of them. "And they're considering it — but I think they'd be more inclined to cooperate if you were to incentivize it."

Lecter arches one patrician brow at her. "Provide proof of life — or profile, I suppose."

"Something like that," she agrees.

Lecter moves in a deliberate, patient way. He doesn't prowl his cell, and he doesn't lunge after anything. He pads around politely in his cloth-and-rubber shoes, making a considering noise and adjusting his limited possessions: rubbing a thumb over one of the light fixers, straightening some books on one of the shelves, picking up and setting down an envelope — the address line written in dark purple ink. According to Barney, Lecter gets about fifty pieces of fan mail per week, sent by an equal split of men and women. Most of it is pretty graphic.

"How about a counteroffer?" Lecter says finally. "I operate strictly on a cash-on-delivery basis: I'll trade for a piece of information on you — yes or no?"

No, Clarice thinks. Out loud, she says, "Let's hear the question."

"What's your worst memory of childhood?" Lecter asks.

She sucks in a breath: the answer is vivid, immediate, the totality of a memory. It's her childhood house and the grass shoulder next to the dirt road where the sheriff would park, getting out of the driver's side seat with his hat already in hand. It's the new black dress her aunt and uncle had bought her for the funeral, all the casseroles the neighbors brought, her dusty black Mary Janes.

"Agent Starling?" Lecter prompts, measured with patience.

"The death of my father," she says eventually.

Lecter nods, accepting. "My condolences. Would you share the circumstances?"

"He was a town marshal, surprised two burglars coming out of the back of a drug store," she says, hearing her voice go into recitation mode, rote. "He short-shucked a pump shotgun and they shot him."

Lecter makes a noise of continued sympathy, and it's so infuriatingly convincing that Clarice asks, "You know what short-shucked means?"

"When you do not work the slide fully," Lecter tells her. "On older pump guns, the shell can get hung up in the carrier, and it won't shoot unless you take it down to clear it."

Now it's Clarice's turn to arch a brow.

"I worked extensively with law enforcement prior to this…latest entanglement," Lecter tells her, almost merry, eyes twinkling.

Clarice finds this charming until she realizes he means Graham. Jesus.

"Your father — was he killed instantly?" he goes on.

It hurts, still, but not the same, to say, "No. He was strong. He lasted a month," and she adds, "Dr. Lecter — that's it. We've traded."

"And you were very frank, thank you, Agent Starling," Lecter tells her, and there's a strange tenderness in how he says it, affection. "As thanks, I'll give you a gift, a Valentine, if you will."

Clarice nods, she doesn't say anything in case he changes his mind.

"Look in Raspail's car for your Valentine," Lecter purrs at her. "Am I clear, Agent Starling?"

"Raspail?" Clarice asks. "Who's Raspail?"

He just smiles, holds up his letter with the purple ink, the swirling loops.

"Fly away now, little Starling," he tells her, and refuses to say anything more.

That same strange softness in his voice chases her out of the building and back to Quantico. She clutches at the steering wheel of her car and wonders what Lecter sees when he looks at her, if it's her small face and features, or if he's just borrowing the tones of her voice, the the elongation of her vowel sounds and filling in the rest with different details altogether.

It would be a sin of omission to write about Graham without a physical description. Poorly socialized and prickly as he was, Graham had been blessed with a boyish handsomeness that only amplified how unpleasant he was otherwise. He wore his hair longish, dark curls always half wild, and he hid deep blue eyes behind reading glasses. Graham dressed like he was single, late-thirties and heterosexual, so the less discussed there the better, and he drove an objectively awful station wagon — all the better to collect local strays in — and generally comported himself like a divorced father, without the need to have had previously successful emotional relationships. He was either oblivious to his good looks or annoyed by them; it was impossible to tell which.

More obvious, however, were Dr. Lecter's feelings on the subject. He was neither oblivious nor annoyed by Graham's good bones, though he apparently felt compelled to mitigate certain sartorial choices. Among Lecter's belongings at the time of his disappearance were hand written receipts from Baltimore's finest tailor, marked, "Dr. Lecter for WG — dove gray wool suit, dark herringbone cashmere coat."

In a videotaped interrogation after Lecter was finally apprehended five years later, Jack Crawford would dangle it as bait.

"We picked up the suit and coat, you know," Crawford would tell him. "They're still in evidence, good as new. You tell us where you put Will, and we can lay him to rest in style."

Even in the sterile confines of FBI holding, in one of the nondescript interview rooms of the New York field office, Lecter had looked rakish and fascinating, worldly and otherworldly all at once. He'd closed his eyes at Crawford's words and licked his lips.

"It's a good effort, Jack, appealing to my aesthetic desires," he'd praised. "I commend the effort."

"Then why not reward me with an answer?" Crawford had asked. "You're already going away forever. This is a loose thread. Just tell us where you hid the body."

"Leaving Will would have been unbearable," Lecter had said, matter-of-fact.

The camera in the interview room was mounted at Crawford's back, and it's impossible to know his expression. His silence was heavy, and Lecter must have seen something in Crawford's face to warrant his version of mercy.

"You must understand, Jack, that it would have been unconscionable not to consume him," Lecter confessed, with Bloom's awful tenderness, with an earnest and desperately honest swell of something that to Lecter, must have felt and tasted like love on the tongue.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

VI-CAP tells her that Raspail is Raspail, Benjamin Rene, and one of Lecter's former patients. A flutist for the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra, he failed to appear for a performance on March 22, 2005; his body would be discovered — thymus and pancreas removed — three days later. Clarice thinks, oh, the sweetbreads, and decides to go look into the court records instead of pursuing that avenue of thought. There'd been a spate of eating disorders in Baltimore high society, not long after Lecter's flight.

It turns out Raspail had died intestate, and the ensuing legal tomfoolery had ensnared his family, several lovers, and intersected with a separate suit brought to bear by the locus of Lecter's former patients, petitioning for their files to be removed from evidence and destroyed. (Lecter had, thoughtfully, done most of it, if the remains and ashes in his office fire place were any indication.) Raspail's attorney of record, Everett Yow, had been deemed the executor of the estate.

Clarice has a particular disinclination to put any of this down in email, which could be subpoenaed at some future point. The Q's early legal practicum lectures are ringing in her ears; the ethics ones less so. She ends up 66 feet underground again, in the labyrinthine BAU offices, shifting her weight from foot to foot outside the closed door of Browning's office, waiting for his assistant to give her the green light.

"Will this interfere with your training if I give you the go to pursue?" Browning asks.

She has no doubt it will be massively interfering to her training. For example, right now, she's standing 66 feet underground in the BAU instead of on the obstacle course. She'd fallen short on her first two PT runs; her last chance is coming up in just two weeks. If she fails that, too, she'll have to do it in a rehash and risk recycling.

"No, sir, it will not," she lies, but just as ineffectively as she's always lied.

Either Browning wants to believe it, or he was going to say 'yes' regardless

"Then proceed on the Raspail angle — on your own time. Check in with me before you go anywhere," Browning tells her. "I want a report, Tuesday 1600 hours."

"Yes, sir," Clarice says, and she can feel something like thrill thrumming under her skin.

She's got Yow's office number memorized already and an appointment to speak with him in 15 minutes. It'll take her half that to get back somewhere she has cell service, and she can already imagine having to flatten out her breathing, to get her huffing excitement under control before she dials the Baltimore number.

"And Starling?"

"Yes, sir?"

"The Director got your Lecter report, over your signature. You did well," Browning informs her, bloodlessly pleased, nothing at all like Lecter. "Now get out of my office."

She favors him with one more "yes, sir," before she's running, past agents in off-the-rack suits and miscellaneous personnel that keep the unit ticking, into the thin gray light of a February afternoon, her heart a bird in her chest.

Clarice makes the call in her room, faking the gravitas and dignity of BU that she hasn't earned yet, but Yow seems sanguine enough. He's used to calls from law enforcement, as one must learn to be when Lecter victim No. 9 is on your client list.

"The family divvied up most of his belongings — " in the background of the call there's the shuffling of papers, the movement of boxes " — ah, here we go, thank you, Irene. Mr. Raspail's Ford was sold for parts years ago, long before well, there was a public understanding of how my client perished."

Clarice bites at her fingernails. "Any other vehicles, Mr. Yow?"

"Well, one, but it's nonfunctional," Yow tells her.

It's how she ends up at Split City Mini-Storage at 4:30 p.m., missing her afternoon defense training unit to stand in the suddenly pouring rain, dripping oil from the dipstick of her car into the frozen locks of the unit. Mr. Yow smiles from where he hovers over her, holding an umbrella in one hand and recording her with his mobile phone using the other. They'd come to an agreement that no warrant was needed as long as Clarice was forthcoming with what, if anything, she discovered in the unit, but Yow wasn't a moron and Clarice didn't blame him. She ends up having to draft Yow's bumper jack into action and — lying on her back halfway under the door of the unit — she smiles for the iPhone.

"Mr. Yow, once I'm inside, you're welcome to wait in your car," she says, and offers him a business card all the same. "That's got the number for the FBI's Baltimore Field Office. If — ha ha — you don't hear from me, or God forbid, this door falls down, just call them."

Privately, Clarice thinks that if she's trapped inside, she'd likely prefer to die quietly of mortification than to have to face the Baltimore Field Office's finest. 

"Of course, Agent Starling," Yow promises and waits until she's three-quarters of the way into the musty, mouse-scented dark of the unit before he trundles off to his car again, parked a few yards away with all its lights still on.

Clarice tucks the flashlight halfway under the strap of her sports bra to hold it in place and keep her hands free, so its luminous head points where she points, and she uses her the flashlight on her phone for closer detail. Raspail's belongings are a clusterfuck of pressed velvet and hideous dark furniture. Musicians. The unit is cavernous, one of the largest Clarice has ever seen, and at first she sees no indication of a car at all — too unnerved and occupied with the business of tucking her trousers into her socks — until she spots a wall of desiccated cardboard boxes just tall enough to conceal something.

Raspail's Packard is covered in a drop cloth, and when Clarice unveils it, she's still beautiful and gleaming. The inside, with its occupants of Headless Mannequin and Decapitated Head in Alcohol is less so.

She calls it in outside the unit, Yow standing next to her now by the door showing every evident sign of distress. Once he's recovered and she's photodocumented exactly where he'd vomited, she compels him to help her remove the jack and return it to his car — just in time for the door to clunk shut and the WPIK-TV news van to come to an abrupt stop in front of them, sending a cascade of puddled rainwater flying.

Clarice doesn't end up having to strong arm or fight with Johnetta Johnson, who tumbles out the back putting on her earrings and clutching a mic, because a dripping, furious, freshly evacuated Yow does it for her. She admires the whole tableau; he's an extremely good lawyer.

The impossible convergence of seemingly parallel disasters came to pass that night.

Purnell had stomped into Crawford's office just before 6 p.m. to relieve him of his gun and badge, forcing him onto compassionate leave and more or less ejecting him from the Quantico grounds. She would take a brief detour sometime between Crawford's departure and Bloom's arrival to make a few calls, including one to issue a warrant for Graham's arrest that would directly precipitate into a vicious, stalemate fight with Bloom in Purnell's office a few minutes later.

In court, Bloom testified that she left Purnell's office and went directly to her car, where she kept a handgun Graham had given to her in the glove compartment. She called Graham to warn him and started directly for Lecter's neighborhood.

Cell phone records would later show that Graham took Bloom's call from Lecter's kitchen. Later photographs of the scene would show dinner, halfway prepared, a half-completed preparation of mirepoix and an oven pre-heating to 400 degrees. There was a bottle of Burgundy, decanted to breathe. Graham's coat had been folded over the back of a leather armchair  that squatted in the corner of Lecter's kitchen, kept company by Graham's work bag, rammed with lecture notes and essays to mark.

Crawford would arrive before Bloom, and find himself just in time to watch Lecter slit Graham's throat — casting arterial spray across the room before he'd lowered Graham to the floor in a parody of tenderness, pressing a kiss to the man's paling, dying mouth.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds 

Clarice is summoned, Tuesday morning, to the Quantico crime lab. She's visited before, during their introductory tour, and into some lesser portion of it to be retrained in obtaining and dusting for fingerprints. This time, a man with sandy blond hair and a friendly smile meets her at the door and introduces himself as Jimmy Price.

"Oh," she says, starry.

She'd fallen particularly in love with one of Price's papers during her years before the mast as a forensics fellow. He seems shorter in person than she'd imagined, those long nights just her and her copy of National Forensic Journal.

He walks briskly and with a bounce. He doesn't look over his shoulder as he goes to make sure she's following, just motors while he talks.

"What a treasure you found for us, Trainee Agent Starling," he sighs. "It's been ages since we got a head."

The hallway gives, abruptly, to a massive morgue space, replete with metal examination tables and a wall of cold body storage. It's a tiny multipurpose forensics lab in here, funded during the peak of Jack Crawford's power and influence and still remaining while he does not. Price goes directly to one of the examination tables, where The Head — as Clarice can't help but to think of it — is out of its jar and sitting upright mounted onto some kind of stainless steel contraption.

"We had to spike it onto a thing," comes another voice, brand new.

Clarice turns to look and finds a tall, wiry man with facial scruff that melts into a sort-of-beard. She doesn't know how else to describe it.

"It wouldn't stay up on its own, nasty, uneven cuts on the base," he concludes, and sticks out a hand for her to shake. "Brian Zeller."

"We took samples to try and match any other factors against any of the suspected Ripper victims," Price tells her. "But you're just in time for the pièce de résistance."

Zeller rolls his eyes. "He means cutting it open."

Clarice had been more thrown to hear it called a Ripper murder, than a Lecter murder.

"All right, I'm obliged you waited for me," she tries.

"Oh, we didn't, just good timing, just got back from x-ray," Price steamrolls her, but waves her over anyway, nearly vibrating with good cheer. "Now — would you like to prepare the brain juice?"

This is how Clarice ends up finding a large, clear pyrex jug to decant into it a given quantity of formalin, so that once Zeller and Price finish arguing about God knows what and they take a reciprocating saw to the skull, she will have the honor of removing and soaking the brain in it. It's all too surreal for Clarice to feel any shock or revulsion.

"I don't think this is Hannibal, these cuts are the opposite of surgical," Price is saying, when an x-ray technician rushes the room.

"There's something in his throat," the technician gasps, waving the film.

The academy is militant about instilling recognition that in real life, the FBI is nothing like its depiction in film and television. It is methodical, professional work and very little whizz pop or fandango. Clarice presumes this prevailing assumption is because the BAU must soak up every little bit of whizz pop and every molecule of fandango.

"His throat," Price practically groans in delight. "Yes."

"Jesus Christ, move aside," Zeller complains, and shoves at Price for space. He gets an uncomfortably sexual clamp and employs it to hold The Head's mouth open, its tongue perfectly preserved and its fillings visible. For all it's just The Head now, Clarice thinks it looks terribly vulnerable this way. "Starling — light."

She tilts and tilts at the directional overhead until it's just right, and everybody in the room holds their breaths as Zeller reaches tweezers inside The Head's throat and plucks out some dark, ugly brown thing, glossy from the preservative alcohol.

"Is it a stone? Maybe some kind of a nut?" Clarice asks, narrowing her eyes at it when Zeller holds it under the enlarging glass.

"That is a bug," Price declares. "I don't know what kind of bug, but that is a bug."

Zeller puts it in a bag and makes her sign the evidence custody form. Price watches her, eagle-eyed, as she puts it into her handbag. She feels spectacularly like a child about to be dispatched to her first day of school.

"Now Pilch and Roden are fucking weird asocial freakshows, but they know bugs," Zeller is telling her. "Tell them we sent you."

By 10 a.m., she's on the road to the Smithsonian, eating a McMuffin with one hand and listening to the court audio from Lecter's trial.

"What time did you arrive at Lecter's house, Dr. Bloom?" Ping asks on the tape.

"It's about an hour and a half from Quantico to Baltimore without traffic, and it was raining, so probably 8 p.m.," Dr. Bloom says. This ghost of her in the tapes sounds younger than she had in her office at the BHCI. Clarice supposes she can see why.

"What did you do upon your arrival?"

"I — I called 911 to report shots fired," Bloom says.

"You heard shots fired?" Ping asks.

"I was prepared that I would be the shots fired," Bloom answers, fearless. "I took out my weapon and went inside — Hannibal never locked his doors."

"What did you see, when you got in there?"

Bloom is quiet for a long, long time, and eventually Ping murmurs something indistinct. All Clarice can pick up on the tape is the word, "time," before Dr. Bloom revives herself.

"I saw Hannibal on the floor, leaning over Will — Will's body. I saw — a lot of blood. Too much blood. And then Hannibal saw me."

"Go on, Dr. Bloom."

"I had a gun on him, and he told me to walk away and he'd never 'darken my door.' He told me not to be brave."

"Like you could stop," Clarice tells her car CD player, and then realizes she's missed her exit and dissolves into muttered swearing.

No one escaped that evening unscathed.

Crawford got a piece of glass four inches long in his neck for his trouble, and survived the encounter only by virtue of barricading himself inside of Lecter's pantry. Bloom attempted to shoot Lecter only to find that he'd taken her bullets, he chased her upstairs, where he pushed her out of a second-floor window for her trouble. Graham's body was never located; Lecter wrapped him in metaphorical butcher paper and twine for a special occasion, vanished with him into the Baltimore night.

It would be five years before he'd resurface.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

Chapter Text

Pilch and Roden turn out to be Noble Pilcher and Albert Roden. It's early afternoon by the time she reaches the Smithsonian, and they're both waiting for her with the eagerness of pre-adolescent boys, excited to find dead things in a forest.

"Thank you for making some time," she starts, but gets talked over.

"This is the Buffalo Bill case, isn't it?" one of them demands. She finds out later it's Roden, objectively the worse of the two.

"I can read you in, a little, but you'll need to keep confidence," Clarice warns.

The other, who she learns is Pilcher — the nicer one, when grading on a curve — starts making a grabby-handed gesture in her direction until Clarice surrenders the evidence.

"Tell us on the way — Zee said he needed us to look at something for him," he says to her, eyes fixated on the hard shell of the bug inside its plastic bag home. "Do you know the last time Zee or Price said they needed us to look at something for them?"

Roden doesn't wait for her attempt before answering, "Never."

The unspoken currents here are as subtle as a typhoon, Clarice thinks, but she obliges by giving them the 4,000-foot read-in. She gives them just enough of the facts to grease the wheels, and follows the pair deeper in to the bowels of their work area. They head directly for a microscope, and after a minute of bickering Roden scarpers off for a book. He comes back with dust in his hair and a gleam in his eyes.

"Ready?" he asks Pilcher.

Pilcher plants his face in the eyepiece of the microscope — Clarice's bug in a dish below, liberated from its plastic coat. "Ready," Pilcher tells him.

It takes 55 minutes and a half-dozen skirmishes before they come to a conclusion.

"Ascalapha odorata," Roden pronounces in the end. "The Black Witch."

Pilcher goes for another book, thick with glossy pages, and opens it a third of the way in to point at a massive moth with multicolored brown patterns across its wingspan like sandstone layers. Near the rounded tips of the wings, there were two black commas, limned with an iridescent border. The rule printed along the page measures the moth from tip to tip at 7 inches, the largest moth in the continental United States.

Pilcher and Roden give her a compacted lecture that covers the ascalapha odorata's geographic spread, with reaches throughout the U.S., Central America and Mexico. They eat overripe rainforest fruits and they migrate late spring and summer.

"So these critters, they're all over everywhere? Nothing distinctive?" Clarice asks.

"As a species? No," Roden says. "Insofar as timing goes? Very."

She's leaving the Smithsonian, making promises she owes Pilcher burgers and a beer at some point, when her phone starts blowing up. It's only 1526, and Clarice says as much when she answers and it's Browning on the line.

"I'm not late yet, sir," she tells him. "And I have some potential avenues for leads."

"Good," Browning tells her, and adds, "Come out through the Constitution Avenue exit."

When Clarice does, she finds one of the Bureau's SUV's idling on the curb, the back door kicked open and Zeller waving at her from the seats.

"I — okay," she tells Browning, still on the phone.

"Zeller and Price will bring you up to speed," he assures her. "Don't worry about the report. Focus on the body."

When Clarice asks, "Body?" it's to the existential nothingness of a call ended from the other side, but by then she's within shouting distance of the SUV. Zeller takes advantage of it to say — too loudly for a sunny February afternoon in Washington D.C. — "Haul ass, Starling! We got a flight out of National five minutes ago!"

Clambering into the back, she's jammed in alongside a prodigious volume of forensics equipment, Zeller, Price, and what she recognizes is her own duffle bag.

"Your roommate packed it and handed it over," Price says.

Clearly, because when Clarice opens it, there's a Mounds bar inside and a note rubber-banded around it in Ardelia's awful handwriting: YOU GET BROWNING TO PUT IN WRITING THAT YOU WON'T GET RECYCLED. YOU'VE MISSED MORE CLASS THAN YOU'VE ATTENDED SINCE THIS WHOLE THING STARTED. GOT IT? NO RECYCLING. FUCK BITCHES, GET MONEY. - ARDELIA PS - BEARDO'S CUTE

Clarice looks up at Zeller. She's not sure how she feels about this, other than that Ardelia and Zeller can never have an opportunity to interact again.

Zeller looks up from his phone. "What?"

"Drs. Pilcher and Roden," Clarice says, recovering, "they had some interesting insights into our bug — it's a moth."

"Don't call them doctors, Starling, it just encourages them to reach above their station," Price tells her, not unkindly.

"What kind of moth?" Zeller asks.

She pulls out their Black Witch moth again, pulls out the color copy of its full-size image that she'd obtained from the museum, which triggers a lot of conversation about the horror of insects the size of an adult hand.

"Apparently this one was pretty far along baking, nearly ready to shed its chrysalis," Clarice says, translating from the entomolobabble that she had been subjected to. "Meaning it's out of cycle, and someone would have had to cultivate it specifically: heat lamps, special foods, supplies."

Price lifts the plastic evidence baggy to narrow his eyes at the Black Witch. He murmurs, "Somebody loved you," thoughtful, while Zeller's already on his phone.

By the time they get dropped at National, there's a squadron of analysts poring through the electronic registries of all the major entomological publications to cross-reference against the FBI's databases. Once that's done, they'll expand the search. By all rights that should be the eye-searing kind of work handed over to probies like Clarice, but instead Clarice is shuffled through security — "Here's your gun and here's your paperwork for your gun," Zeller tells her — at light speed and a lot of string-pulling so they can make their flight to Huntington Tri-State Airport.

It's not a large plane, and the engine drone is loud enough that Price and Zeller see no harm in briefing her. The flight's only half-filled, and most of the other travelers are either asleep or engrossed in iPads, paperback mysteries, their phones.

"Fishermen in Elk River found a body — doesn't look like she's been in the water that long. They're bringing her into the county seat," Zeller tells her.

"You were a lab wretch, right?" Price asks.

Thus was the dignity and honor of serving as a forensics fellow with the FBI, Clarice reflected with resignation. "I went by 'Igor' as a matter of preference," she says.

"So this'll be a good opportunity to work on latents," Price muses. "Have you read the rest of the file? On his previous victims?"

Clarice shakes her head, no, and Zeller makes complaining noises as Price digs around his shoulderbag until he comes back with an inch-thick file.

"This isn't everything, but it's enough to get you started," Price tells her.

"Read fast," Zeller suggests. "You'll need to be ready to hit the ground running."

When assigning blame for the trainwreck of decisions that led to Will Graham's death and Lecter's escape, Crawford's role is often unfairly overlooked. Then the head of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, Crawford had an enormous amount of power, influence, and latitude in his work — enough so that Graham, who had twice failed the psychological screening for new agents, could be brought onboard and indeed into the field when every one of the FBI's own metrics deemed him unstable for active duty.

By all accounts Crawford's field promotion of Graham from the classroom to live cases was a lark — a one-time experiment that produced strong results. Garrett Jacob Hobbs was caught and Graham was the one who put 10 bullets into him. Where an unbiased manager and a competent mental health professional might have evaluated the situation and found it to be a compelling argument that fieldwork was no place for Will Graham, Crawford and Hannibal Lecter decided that as close as possible to the violence was the best place for Graham to be.

There exists no accurate clinical description of Graham's particular disorder, if it's even accurate to refer to it as such. Crawford testified in court that Graham had no official diagnosis, but was self-described as non-neurotypical, identifying closer to autism and the now-retired Asperger's designation than narcissism. Bloom told the jury about Graham's mirror neurons. Chilton was subpoenaed to testify, but pled the Fifth the entire time.

The lack of clarity on Graham's party trick as a profiler wasn't from a lack of interest.

Almost from the minute Graham arrived in D.C. to begin masters level work, he caught the attention of the academic community. In the beginning it was the quivery, catty intrigue of colleagues, and rapidly devolved into something much greedier and hungrier as news of Graham's "pure empathy" started to make waves. He managed to stay mostly off of the radar until he foolishly applied for consideration at the FBI Academy, after which point Crawford's predecessor, Bill Patterson, took advantage of a complete lack of medical privacy afforded to applicants and went in for the attack.

Graham endured six rounds with three different shrinks, two from the Bureau, but they continued to deny him acceptance to Quantico until he decided to deny them access to his head. The singularity of Graham's ability and thinking cannot be overstated: even Bloom, with her "awful tenderness," admitted that she was intrigued by him. It contributed to the rueful pall during court — how could this community of psychiatrists truly blame Lecter for doing what they'd all wanted to anyway? There was universal agreement that Graham was good enough to eat.

But it would be condescending, too, not to grant Graham his agency.

Will Graham worked hard to appear surly and unsociable and failed. At first glance it was impossible not to see the hunched shoulders, how he could never hold eye contact, ducking away. They were all symptoms of the monsters that lived in his head, but they manifested like shyness, something nearly sweet. Graham was unassuming, and ranged from slender to too thin, depending on how ill or sleep deprived or sick he was at any given period of time. And then there were his Ganymede looks: the lush curls, the blue eyes, how he tried to deflect attention with a smile shot through with hurt.

It was only upon better acquaintance that his edges appeared. Graham was surly and unsociable, given to drinking vast quantities of bottom-shelf grain liquor and the male equivalent of a cat lady. He had a sharp tongue to go with his sharp mind, and he slammed the door — sometimes literally — in a lot of people's faces.

But he wasn't ignorant of his charms, either, the unique draw of himself from behind the eyes. And it was with his participation and enthusiastic consent that he and Crawford devised their plan to seduce Lecter, to gather definitive evidence on the Chesapeake Ripper. He would become what Lecter had framed him for being, a fledgling murderer, desperate for the steadying hand of a more experienced mentor.

Graham knew how to depict a man coming apart at the seams, failing to keep his head above the water line of violence in his blood — and he was so effective at it because it must have been in some way true.

He was method. He grew isolated. He murdered Randall Tier when attacked and mutilated the body post-mortem. He upgraded his winter coats and got a haircut.

Graham, a consummate fisherman, knew how to get a hook in you.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

The LEO population of Elk River is all crammed into the embalming room of the Potter Funeral Home on Potter Street in Potter, West Virginia. The county is too small to have morgue facilities, and the funeral home is standing in. All well-bred young men from upstanding families, the highway patrolmen are each clutching their hats in hand, being both indoors and in the presence of a lady. That she was dead only made them feel a deeper, more bruising protectiveness, arming themselves with the social niceties that won't reach her, anymore.

Clarice thinks all of this as she's standing in front of the dark green body bag, her back to the window. She thinks of this poor girl, the river that bore her body to the arms of these officers, and the funereal procession that had brought her — still anonymous — to the old fashioned embalming table. Clarice feels a sudden, sharp sense of grief, and forces herself to pack it all away.

"You've got the right drawl," Price whispers to her, starting to unpack their kits. "You want to get them out of the room?"

Clarice startles. "Me?" she asks, but Price has already turned back to his equipment, and Zeller is consumed with setting up his camera.

Still, it takes her half a beat to work up the right attitude for it, to get her twang in the right shape, before she says to the room:

"Gentlemen — gentlemen! Listen here a minute, please. Thank you for bringing her in out of the cold, but there's things we need to do for her now. I know her folks would thank you if they could, but there are things we need to help her with now."

The officers are all versions of her father, versions of his friends. Good boys with sturdy upbringings, who recognize the unspoken here, who will defer to the herb women and wise women and their grandmothers. Clarice, standing there over the girl's body, is no more or less then one of those witches in the forest, and they lumber out with their quiet, "Pardon me, ma'am," and "Let us know if you need anything," reluctant but understanding. Clarice doesn't blame them, either. Until they have her name and identity and can restore her to her family, this girl belongs to all of them, is everybody's sister or mother or child.

"Well played, Starling," Zeller tells her, and holds up a jar of Vicks VapoRub. "Here."

She takes some on her fingers but doesn't know what to do with it until Price says: "Rub it under and around your nose — inside the nostrils it can be too intense." He nods at the body. "It'll help with the smell, once we open up the bag."

Clarice hesitates. "What about you guys?"

"We're used to it," Price reports cheerfully.

"That's not a good thing," Zeller adds, and nods at her, pleased, when she obediently smears it all around her nose, the sting of it intense and mercifully cold. She pulls her hair back, ties it up in an unflattering bun where the shorter strands will stick out of the back like weeds. Price instructs everybody to put on their gloves, by which he mostly means Clarice from the way he's staring at her, and once satisfied, he sets up a digital voice recorder and reaches for the bag. He says, "Deep breaths, everybody," and unzips it.

Clarice gags, immediately and strongly.

"February 10, local time 6:45 p.m., Potter, West Virginia. Jimmy Price speaking, with Brian Zeller attending," Price starts, and begins his examination as Zeller begins snapping pictures. Price zeroes in on Clarice. "Clarice Starling will act as diener."

She doesn't say, "What," out loud, but it's a near thing.

Price and Zeller are both sui generis in their professional bona fides. Zeller technically runs the crime lab, but you'd never know it from how Price bosses him around and Zeller takes it with an almost sheepish happiness. Clarice soothes herself with this information like an unsettled child, and follows his directions carefully.

Their girl on the table is fleshy and soft-hipped, with that swell of belly and rounded shoulders — the kind of woman who was nearly sized out of department stores. She's 67 inches long by Price's measuring tape — Clarice holds the end near her toes: painted in glittery, heavily chipped polish — and the river had swept the blood from her, leaving her gray where Bill had skinned her in pieces.

Her flesh is exposed in a broad expanse from just below her small breasts to above her knees, and Bill's scalped her from above the eyebrows to the nape of her neck. Zeller nudges her out of the way so he can get a photo close-up of her face, the upsetting ruin of exposed skin and bits of bone not included. It'll wing its way across the country within the hour, and Price tells Clarice to attempt to pull some latents so they have fingerprints to go along with the image when they dispatch it.

They turn her onto her back, and as Clarice is working, Zeller asks her, "So, Starling, what do you see?"

She looks up from the girl's hand, where her nails are a wreck, two ripped right out. This girl fought, and Clarice feels for her a swell of pride to know her, to try and help give back her name.

"See, sir?" she asks.

"From the body," Zeller elaborates, motioning to the girl with his camera. "What can you read off of her, contextual clues."

Clarice clears her throat. "Um — she's not likely local. Three piercings in each ear — " Zeller darts down to get up-close photos of them " — and the glitter nail polish looks like town to me. The hair on her legs looks like it grows in soft and thin, she probably gets waxed, arms and bikini line, too. She took good care of herself, but she didn't have a chance to much, leading up to her death."

It seems paltry, now that it's living in the huge silence of the room. She wonders what Will Graham would have said. She's heard rumors from folks who know folks that he used to walk into a room and kick everybody else out, step right into the shoes of the killer. His profiles are specific and unsettling, nuanced in a way that doesn't feel like the product of academic work and behavioral profiling so much as old magic, like Graham used to reach into the nightmares his killers left behind and weave the loose threads into a vivid picture.

"Not bad," is what Zeller says, and snaps a few shots of the victim's hands. "She fought."

"Good, I hope she gave him hell," Price says, still sunny, and declares to the room, "I'll now begin my physical examination."

Clarice learns a lot; it's her first autopsy. Normally they'd ship the victim to Quantico, but with time of the essence, Browning's given Zeller and Price leave to give in to their worst, most impatient instincts. It explains the multiple crates of forensics equipment. She learns she doesn't like autopsies, but that she's capable of doing things such as helping Jimmy Price operate rib spreaders and hold trays so that he can gather intestines into them before taking them to the scale. She learns that from the stomach contents, their victim had been given water but no food for two to three days prior to death — caused by a single gunshot between her breasts and through the sternum.

The county coroner, Dr. Akin, had stayed just long enough to pronounce it a wrongful death and sign over the relevant paperwork over to the FBI. He'd seemed just as eager to give the body away as the FBI had been to take it.

Price is sewing her up again when Zeller says, "Hey — should we check the throat?"

Clarice stops. Price stops.

"Just, you know," Zeller proposes.

"Really?" Price asks, and there's a universe in the question.

"He had acolytes," Zeller retorts, defensive. "He basically wound people up and set them free in the world."

They don't need to say anybody's name, Clarice hears it all the same: Lecter.

They check the throat, and Clarice feels something that's too sickening for thrill when Zeller pulls out another Black Witch moth.

Price drives on the way back to Huntington airport, after they've arranged for the transfer of the body, Zeller in the passenger seat trapped on one phone call after another with people he seems to hate more with every passing second. Clarice curls up in the back and finishes reading the file.

Buffalo Bill has likely six victims now: Kate Larson found in the Blackwater River in Missouri; Frederica Bimmel, reported missing in Belvedere, Ohio; Meredith Clarendon, grabbed in Chicago, found in the Wabash in downtown Lafayette, Indiana. There was a still-unidentified white female found in the Rolling Fork near Louisville, Kentucky, and then there was Emily Varmer, slipped into the Embarras River.

Now there's the Potter Girl, too, Clarice thinks, closing the file and staring at the soft fabric of the car cabin ceiling. She closes her eyes to visualize the locations, tries not to visualize the photographs, the images of the bared teeth after the turtles and small animals had nibbled the girls away. Clarice reminds herself all the tests indicate the mutilation, the flaying, had all been done post-mortem; she's not sure if that's objectively better or worse. She's glad they hadn't been awake for it, that's all.

Suddenly, from the front seat, Zeller's agita peaks.

"Fuck — Jesus, fuck," he says.

Clarice sits up, but Price beats her to it. "What? What the hell?"

"That was Nash: Senator Ruth Martin's daughter just got snatched," Zeller says, and looking into the car's rearview mirror and directly at Clarice, he adds, "You're headed straight fucking back to Lecter as soon as we land on the East Coast."

I've made my career on true crime, but no killer nor crime has had the lasting power and influence of Lecter. That's partly due to the sheer evil of the crimes, and partly due to the personal connection. In my previous book, Craving, I briefly outlined some of my collaboration with the FBI, but was not at liberty to provide specific details. I was cooperative as I believed concealing my participation would help in case of Lecter's eventual capture. And — to be completely frank — the prospect of being invited to his dinner table wasn't unrealistic: I'd dined with Lecter before, sat at his left hand while Graham glowered from his right side. I'm immeasurably grateful that even then, I was a vegetarian.

In the last weeks of Graham's life, as he was undergoing his post asylum transformation, he agreed to speak with me, to tell his side of the story. We'd cultivated an antagonistic relationship since meeting during the Garrett Jacob Hobbs case — I provoked him; he threatened to murder me in broad daylight — and I was eager, if understandably curious at his motivations, for the project to go forward. He asked to meet at his house and I agreed; he was late. I snooped around.

For a number of good and less good reasons, I'm still not able to tell the full story of what I found that day in Graham's barn. I can say that when he and Crawford had conspired to craft for Lecter a perfect murder husband, they spared no detail. I also learned that Graham has no compunctions about hitting women.

I ended up with a mild concussion, a nondisclosure agreement and the pleasure of watching the Federal Bureau of Investigation leverage all its resources in faking my death for the trouble.

My death was a Tiffany ring, a diamond necklace — it was supposed to seal the deal.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds


Chapter Text

Zeller and Price do a lot of talking over each other on the way back to D.C.

"You have — maybe — "

"Maybe — "

" — maybe two hours before word gets out — "

"And then it'll be just, just pandemonium, so — "

" — Get in, get what you can from Lecter, and get back to the BAU."

"Once the federales get involved, we lose control of the process," Zeller says to her, with all the due seriousness of someone who has forgotten he's a G-man. "Browning's not Crawford, and the BAU's not what it used to be, either."

"What he means is that once Senator Martin gets word, she's going to start digging like crazy," Price clarifies. "It's only a matter of time until she realizes where the thread she's pulling leads — by which I mean, right to us. Here. Baltimore."

"All right," Clarice tries, because they're both staring at her now.

Outside the car there's a roll of thunder, the electric knife of lightning cracking through the air. There's a mist that promises more precip, soon, and the sodium orange lights and night make the care feel otherworldly, make Zeller and Price look old and hurt.

"Listen, Starling," Zeller says, "I don't know why Lecter's talking to you — maybe because you remind him of Will — "

"Not necessarily a good thing," Price cuts in.

" — maybe not, but Lecter doesn't do shit unless he wants to," Zeller goes on. "We see fucked up stuff every fucking day, but Lecter framed our best profiler and got us to buy it: hook, line, and sinker. He used to bring fucking leftover dessert to the BAU and feed us cuttings from his victims because he got off on it. You know how he killed Will? With a fucking linoleum knife, in the middle of a kiss."

Price nods sagely.

That hadn't been in Lounds's book or the court record, and Clarice can guess that Crawford might have omitted the detail, either on purpose or instinct. Maybe it was easier not to think of Graham walking into the arms of his killer, soft with wanting.

"He is an unequaled monster," Zeller spits.

"So that he's helping you, that he's talking to you, talking to us through you, whatever," Price picks up, "that's all part of his design."

"That's fine, as long as he helps us find Buffalo Bill," Clarice argues.

"Just remember: work fast," Price allows.

"And don't fall for it," Zeller warns.

It's bucketing rain by the time they pull up in front of the foreboding face of the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and Price taps the break just long enough for Clarice to scramble out of the backseat. By the time she darts under an awning to escape the blisteringly cold monsoon, all she sees is the ghost of their taillights, pulling out onto the road again. She allows herself some time to feel exceeding self-pity. Zeller and Price are about as doting as a kick in the backside.

At night, in this weather, the BHCI looks like something out of a Victorian gothic novel, madwomen in the attic and madmen in the parlor. There's only a skeleton crew on staff this hour, and most of the lights are out, so it takes Clarice too long of running hither and yon through the mud and ankle-deep puddles before she finds a manned door.

After she bangs at it like a crazy person for what feels like a year, the guard on duty finally spots her. Unlike a crazy person, he rationally takes stock of her appearance, the particular wildness of her eyes and the late hour, and taps his radio instead of opening the door. It's another few minutes of freezing her tail off before the guard lets her in.

"Sorry, it's been a zoo today," the guard says.

"Zoo?" Clarice manages, and realizes her teeth are chattering, a shiver setting in.

"Baltimore P.D. came to talk to Hannibal, about the Raspail's head," comes Dr. Bloom's voice, floating out of the shadows of the hall as she does, preceded by the sound of her heels as ever. "Before the rain started, the muckrakers were out three deep — don't get me started on Lounds."

Clarice feels her eyes widen like a child. "Freddie Lounds was here?"

"I won't hold it again you that you liked her book," Dr. Bloom tells her, smirking for a measure before she grows solemn again. "I heard about Catherine Martin."

They'd found Catherine's shirt — cut up the back in a straight, smooth line — in the parking lot of her apartment building, just the same as the five other girls before her. Recent photographs on Catherine's Instagram account show a bright girl with a beautiful oval face, pink and new, with a wild volume of near-corkscrew girls. She had big breasts and soft hips, and she radiated a kind of easy confidence in the space that her body occupied. Her mother, the junior senator from Tennessee, was understandably upset. The fifth victim, Emily Varmer, had been identified as a Buffalo Bill victim maybe three days after her abduction and CNN had run a ticker-tape countdown until they'd found her body, two hideous diamond-shaped cutouts in her back, on the 18th day.

"Do they really think Hannibal knows about Buffalo Bill?" Dr. Bloom asks.

Clarice had received no specific instructions regarding what information she could disclose to Alana Bloom. She makes a judgment call.

"Raspail's head, it had a certain moth in its throat," Clarice says. "We found the same insect in the latest victim."

Dr. Bloom's expression is craggy with a complete lack of surprise. "Hannibal did love being a mentor," she says, light through with high-gloss bitterness.

"That's what we're trying to find out, Doctor," Clarice answers by way of apology.

Dr. Bloom waves off Clarice's tone, having the correct female auditory filters to have identified it correctly as being procedural only.

"Go on," she says. "He'll still be up."

Clarice drips through the hallways until Barney meets her at the second set of doors, favoring her with a smile that's too polite for the hour.

"He's in a good mood," Barney says. "He spent all day driving the Baltimore P.D. nuts."

Clarice says, "Sure," because what other possible response is there.

Inside his cell, Lecter does look spectacularly sunny for a man who hasn't been outside in 11 months. He looks pristine as always, neat and — Jesus Christ, Clarice thinks — endearingly fussy, arranging the letters and papers on his desk. He looks up when she enters, and smiles at her in an irreproachably genuine way.

"Agent Starling, it's a pleasure to see you again, and so soon," he says, and pauses. "Although you look a bit worse for wear."

Clarice does her best to wring out some of her hair into her own coat. For some reason, it feels like the worst rudeness to be standing here, dripping.

"March seems to be lumbering into February this year, Dr. Lecter," she answers, and watches as he fetches a neat, white towel from a supply of them near his toilet area and sets it in his drawer before passing it through.

"Please," he invites, and this is how Clarice ends up sitting cross-legged on the floor, rubbing her hair dry while Hannibal Lecter watches.

"What an abominable habit," he tells her, but it's said with crippling fondness.

He's taken position at his table again, with his sketches and letters of deranged fan mail. Clarice has a sudden, startling awareness of how reassuring Lecter is, the supernatural stillness of him in the center of chaos — the clear chime of a note resonating through the white noise. She thinks that this must be why people were drawn to him, why Will Graham had fallen so fast and hard.

"It's just hair, Dr. Lecter," she says, aware there's no composing herself now.

"It is lovely hair, and it deserves better," Lecter sighs.

So she doesn't say anything like, Did Will Graham also muss his hair up, she says instead, "I located your Valentine, Dr. Lecter."

Now, his smile changes. "Did you like it, Agent Starling?"

"It's proving useful," she admits. "Do you know who it is?"

"Benjamin never gave me a last name. Just as he had no soul for music, he lacked similar emotional intimacy with his partners," Lecter comments mildly. His tone is somewhere between disapproval and pity. "I suppose given he's has passed on, it would be no great violation of confidentiality to say that Benjamin only ever referred to his lover as Klaus. Some kind of sailor, Nordic or Northern European in origin."

"There were other, further developments, too, Dr. Lecter," Clarice prompts. "We found a moth in Klaus's throat — same kind it turns out we found in one of Buffalo Bill's victims."

Lecter grows more focused. "How intriguing — and I hear today we have a sixth victim."

Clarice nods.

"Our boy is getting impatient," Lecter says, making a thoughtful noise.

So am I, Clarice thinks. "Who killed Klaus, Dr. Lecter?"

"Directly to the penetrating questions, I see, no foreplay at all," Lecter replies. "I would have hoped you'd have learned better since your humble roots, the awkward groping of too-eager boys during your youth."

"You said you'd help with the profile, and now it appears you may have actual, actionable information, Dr. Lecter," Clarice reminds him.

"I said quid pro quo," Lecter corrects.

The kindness of the towel and the warm teasing all drains away. Clarice remembers now, the cold of the floor leaching through her clothes, the weight of the day catching up like a rolling wave — white flecked and consuming.

"Ask your question, then," she bites out. She thinks about hurling the towel away, and then thinks better of it. Clarice folds it into quarters and sets it aside.

One of the overhead lights flickers, and it makes Clarice startle and look away. By the time she looks back, Lecter has risen to his feet and come away from his desk — standing close to their glass partition, staring down at her with carnivorous interest.

"After your father died, what became of you?" he asks her, all elegant syllables.

She lets out a shaky breath — from his sudden proximity, from the cold plunge of memory, from this whole damn day.

"I went to stay with an aunt and uncle, they had a ranch in Montana," she recalls.

"Cattle?" Lecter asks.

"Horses, and sheep," she murmurs. Clarice remembers the horses; she still feels a terrible love for them, the ones that had made wickering noises at her as she'd run for the school bus. Even the sheep — all the animals were easier than people were. She gathers herself enough to ask, "Quid pro quo, Dr. Lecter: who who killed Klaus?"

"According to Benjamin, he did," Lecter answers. "Although I had always suspected it to be unlikely. If he were the culprit, it would have been far likelier to be an accident than malice. Benjamin was a weak man in every respect."

Frustration caught like a prairie fire in Clarice's throat. "Do you have suspicions on who did kill Klaus then?"

"This ranch, in Montana, is it where you grew up then?" Lecter asks instead.

Clarice wants, badly, to kick the glass partition between them.

"No, I lived there nine, ten months before I ran away," Clarice says. "Who do you suspect might have killed Klaus, Dr. Lecter?"

"Among Benjamin's bad habits included a lack of fidelity," Lecter tells her, his tone contemptuous. Lecter loves consumingly, one could say, Clarice thinks, hysterical. "Even years ago, I had considered the possibility that one of his lovers had done it — but Agent Starling, I confess I regret leading you down this line of inquiry with my Valentine, for we are missing the salient point here, in the case of your Buffalo Bill."

She's aware she's playing right into his hand, but she can't keep the eagerness from her voice, her hunger. "Then what is the salient point here, Dr. Lecter?"

"Why did you run away, Clarice?" is his reply. "Your family, were they unkind?"

She remembers Aunt Della and Uncle Dan with a lingering regret. They were good people, and had been exceptionally kind to her, set her up in a room of her own, decorated with all the bright, good things they'd harvested from her little house after her father had died. For three seasons, as the drippy green of late spring had transmogrified into the browns of autumn and through the winter, she'd felt the uncomplicated immediacy of happiness. She hadn't known it then, but she recognizes it now.

"No," Clarice says, and because she can already hear the follow-up question, and because her old wounds are scars now and the ache dull and constant and long-endured, she volunteers the following, "I woke up one night because I could hear — screaming, I thought. It didn't sound like anything I had heard before."

Lecter's eyes are gleaming now, black wells with fingernails of caught light.

"Did you go investigate, Agent Starling?" he asks. His voice is hypnotic.

Clarice remembers pulling on her new coat, her boots, over her pajamas and stealing into the dark, the Montana sky infinite overhead. Maybe she should have known then there was something in her guts that made her strange; how many little children run toward screaming rather than away?

"I followed the noise," she says, the night coming back slowly. "It was coming from a barn, not too far from the house. It was snowing pretty hard and so cold I was frozen through by the time I got there — all the lights were on, and as I got closer the screaming was louder and louder."

On the other side of the wall, Lecter takes another step closer to the partition, like he can't help himself, like he has to know. It's a vulnerably human reaction, and Clarice feels briefly, frighteningly honored to see have seen it.

"Who was screaming, Agent Starling?" he pushes — gentle, patient.

She pulls the towel back into her lap now, so that she can clutch at something, so she can curl her nails into the cheap terrycloth.

"They were slaughtering lambs," she whispers. She remembers watching her Uncle Dan and his hired cowboys, their familiar faces lit warm in the lamplight of the barn, how the kind lines of their smiles became something else entirely. "I waited — until they were gone, and I ran in and opened the gate."

"But they didn't run, did they, Agent Starling?" Lecter asks her.

It feels now like an old tent revival, one of those cultish religious things in smokey rooms with a call and response. Clarice feels herself rocking, feels her eyes closing.

"No," she whispers. "They just — stood there, looking at me, confused."

Through the glass, Clarice knows she shouldn't be able to feel Lecter, his proximity or the living fire of him, but she keeps her eyes closed and does. She feels feels him near and she feels the soft skin of the lamb she'd snatched up, when she'd heard her Uncle Dan yell, "Damn it — Clarice!" and the way she's skidded across the barn floor, running into the night.

Lecter croons, "What did you do then?"

"I ran. I picked up one the lambs and I ran away as fast as I could," she says.

"Where were you going?" he asks, inviting.

"I don't know," she manages, she can hear something shaking in her voice now. "I didn't have any food or water, and it was — it was very, very cold, so late it was early. I thought, I thought if I could just save one, but he was so heavy."

She hasn't thought about this night, that ranch, or her lambs in years now, but they're all here now, plunged into physical reality and unrelenting. Clarice hurts as she did when she was 11, when she'd staggered through the snowy fields under the unfeeling moon and tried to wrap her little coat around her lamb. She'd wanted to save him more than she'd wanted to save anybody; in that moment, in extremis, she had loved another animal more than she'd loved herself.

Clarice doesn't say any of it, but when she looks up — when she meets Lecter's eyes through the glass — she knows he's already heard it.

He is kind when he asks, "How far did you make it, Agent Starling?"

"Just a few miles, the local sheriff picked me up," she chokes out. She'd screamed and screamed when they'd taken her lamb away, and she remembers the look on Aunt Della's face, the bloodless hurt on Uncle Dan's. "My aunt and uncle were mad, or maybe they just didn't know what to do with me, after. They sent me to a Lutheran orphanage in Bozeman — I never saw that ranch again."

Lecter's silence is patient, still. He waits until Clarice has gathered something back together again before he says, "What happened to your lamb?"

"They killed him, Dr. Lecter," she says, and steels herself, pulls herself out of the trance. "The salient point, Dr. Lecter — what do you say we're missing?"

He moves back to his table where he retrieves his file, the moment abruptly ended. Clarice feels wrung out, hollowed. Lecter looks well-fed.

"Tell me, in your darkened lectures on behavioral science, how did they teach you to start when looking at a crime?" he asks her.

There are a million different answers to that, and a wrong one startles out of her.

"The forensics," she says. "The physical evidence."

Lecter purses his lips. "The victim," he corrects her. "That is the beginning and ending of every crime. Look at the victim — your lecturers are falling down on the job."

"Well, you ate our best one," Clarice retorts, feeling vicious now and prickly.

Behind her, Barney makes a noise, the sound of papers shuffling as he sets them down. It's the first time since she's walked into this room she's remembered he's there — sitting in witness to her entire confession, and it makes her hot with shame.

"Will is a rare and particular talent," Lecter agrees: lush, indulgent. "I have no doubt that were you fortunate enough to be among his students, he would have left a more significant intellectual impact."

Fuckola, Clarice thinks. "The victims are white females, young, all heavy," she starts.

"And they were all starved, prior to being killed," Lecter says in a leading way.

"He wanted them docile," she tries.

"Perhaps," Lecter allows. "Perhaps what he took from them is more telling."

Clarice sees, suddenly, a highlight reel of crime scene photographs: Kate Larson, the unidentified blonde, Frederica Bimmel, Meredith Clarendon, Emily Varmer, and their girl in Potter, still churning through the missing person's databases.

"He skinned them," Clarice says. "Some kind of sexual fetishist?"

"Recreational flaying is almost always done with the victim upside-down, to maintain blood pressure in the head and neck and prolong consciousness," Lecter replies. "The histologies on all the victims so far indicate their skin was removed post-mortem."

She sees the photographs again, differently, more slowly. There's Kate Larson, missing the skin from both her arms from the shoulders down. There's the unidentified blonde, missing the skin on her calves and lower arms below the elbow, a few patches on her big, rounded hips. There's Frederica Bimmel and her back, pealed away. There's Meredith Clarendon, missing the diamond of skin from the hollows of her clavicle, round her breasts and down in a vee to her naval. There's their girl in Potter, West Virginia, missing the skin of her belly and all around her thighs, her scalp, too.

"So not the skinning," she says slowly. "The skin?"

Lecter's smile is approving, now, that warm fondness swept back into the space between them. Clarice tries not to like it, thinks about Zeller and Price in the car. She's not one of Lecter's high society friends, charmed by his harpsichord and enamored of his shy young man, who hunts monsters for the FBI. She sees him. She's sitting on the floor in front of his cage.

"How do you feel, in your skin, Agent Starling?" Lecter asks her. "Comfortable? As if you belong? Do you admire yourself in the mirror?"

Clarice must make some kind of noise at that.

"You are quite beautiful, Agent Starling," he says. "There's no need to be coy."

Something's spinning in her head, the cogs slick with blood. Clarice feels cold all over.

"He's making something out of their skin," she whispers. "He's making himself."

"Very good, Agent Starling," Lecter praises her. "Though I may only provide you partial credit, as you needed significant coaching to reach this outcome."

And that's when the overhead emergency lights go wild.

What happened between my "death" and Graham's is poorly documented by design.

Chilton continues to be investigated by various ethics boards regarding his treatment and handling of Abel Gideon, and thus claimed the right to avoid self-incrimination during the trial. Bloom, though she was close to both men, admitted that in the brief months between the end of Graham's incarceration and his death, she hadn't made any attempts to rekindle their friendship. She was too ashamed for having not believed his protestations of innocence. His colleagues at the crime lab weren't on intimate terms with him, anyway, with the exception of Beverly Katz, who was among the victims for which Lecter was on trial.

Crawford purposefully knew as little as possible about Graham's activities, providing him carte blanche to do as he needed and follow his best judgment.

"Will was the keenest hound that ever ran in the BAU," Crawford said during the trial. "He knew his own mind and everyone else's. I had no reason not to trust him. I — had no choice but to trust him."

The only evidence to reconstruct Graham's final days are from financial records.

Surprising no one, Hannibal Lecter carried a Black American Express card and used it with gusto during this period. He purchased $3,467.89 worth of fine food products from various vendors throughout Baltimore and more occasionally in Virginia, at a specialty wine store 15 miles from Graham's house. He had a line of credit with a local high-end florist, who provided Lecter $800 worth of plants. 'Plants' because in addition to blossoms and greens, there was at least one notation for perennial mosses for a centerpiece. Specialist cleaners were hired for a rate of $50 per head per hour; two visited Lecter's home on a weekly basis for a minimum of three hours. There were the usual sundries of adult life: gas, utilities, cable and internet.

There were also the indulgences.

In this period Lecter became enamored with a cashmere scarf to the tune of $534.23, ordered and pre-paid for a pair of hand-tooled Italian leather shoes in size 11. (Lecter wears size 12s.) He went to a Jo Malone and spent $256.40 on soaps and lotions. There were the visits to his tailor, which left his wallet $6,237.95 lighter between labor and fabric and (speculatively) ornamenting Graham.

Lecter also bought a 27 meter, 79 ton luxury yacht for a cool $1.6 million.

(Interpol agents found the boat right where Lecter had left it, docked in a high end harbor in Palma Mallorca. The marina management company said the ship's fees were paid for, and monthly maintenance provided as part of its package; no one had taken her out to sea yet.)

There were small fortunes being decimated at high end stationary stores, at antique shops, at — hilariously — a fishing supply specialist online. Lecter was a man giddily in love, effusive and generous, flush with romantic possibility.

Whatever happened that night, whatever came to light, must have been crushing.

Who among us hasn't felt like killing an ex, after all?

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

Senator Ruth Martin blew into the room, heralded by the emergency alarm. She was wearing a dark blue suit with white piping, and had the cool hurt of old Southern money. Clarice recognized her kind for the parties she wasn't invited to and the company she hadn't been able to keep.

The senator is flanked by men in dark suits held up by military bearing, and Clarice is barely up off of the floor before she's shoved off to the side as well.

"What's going on?" she asks, and Senator Martin pins her with a look.

"Are you FBI?" she demands.

It's here that Dr. Bloom comes into the room, too, in high dudgeon. "Senator, as I said before — you'll need to wait upstairs."

Senator Martin's beyond listening to anybody in this room who isn't telling her where her daughter is, Clarice decides, because Senator Martin ignores everyone else to turn her attention Lecter. He's still standing, hands folded behind his back and head cocked with mild interest at the hullabaloo.

"Dr. Lecter," the senator says, more moderated than Clarice would be.

Lecter nods politely. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage."

"Senator Ruth Martin of Tennessee," is her brisk reply. "Dr. Lecter, I believe you may be able to help me."

Behind the glass, Lecter's eyes widen a tick, his nostrils flare.

He looks as ravenous as he did drinking down the slippery cold grief of Clarice's childhood. Clarice thinks about Zeller and Price, their warnings in the car. She thinks about Crawford's testimony, Bloom instating herself as a sentinel. Clarice feels a sudden, sharp fearfulness run through her with the pure tone of a struck note: something is happening; something is about to happen.

"Your daughter," Lecter guesses. "Taken by Buffalo Bill?"

Senator Martin swallows hard, digging deep. She's tremendous. "Yes, and I hear that you have knowledge on him that I'm prepared to make worth your while to share."

"Senator Martin," Dr. Bloom jumps in, stalking to the front of the room, "this is incredibly inappropriate and actually detrimental to your cause, if you'd please — "

"This case is out of your hands now, Dr. Bloom," interrupts one of the men who'd trailed Martin into the chamber. He unearths some form of identification, which he presents to Dr. Bloom for study, and adds, "We've received go-ahead from the Department of Justice — Krendler should be on the horn with you any minute."

Thus summoned, the Devil arrives in the form of ringing on the hard line near Barney's perch. He answers it, and calls for Dr. Bloom.

That leaves Clarice to try again. "Senator Martin, please — "

"You knew," Ruth Martin snarls, sharp: like her table manners and the folds on her napkins and linens would be. In her eyes is the hot blue flame of a controlled burn. "The FBI knew and you hid it away, dispatched a trainee to pursue this lead, and now my daughter is God knows where, scared out of her mind and I may never see her again."

Through the glass, Lecter clears his throat. "I had no idea there had been another victim, Senator — I'm so sorry to make your acquaintance this way."

It draws Ruth Martin's foxfire gaze away from Clarice, back to Lecter, and the look of him — sympathetic, open, interested — bring her up short.

"I — I can help you, if you help me," she says, recovering.

Lecter smiles. "I do so love good quid pro quo, Senator."

That's when they throw Clarice out of the room.

Barney, who was sent out with her lest she wander off, asks if she wants him to call her a cab, or if she'd prefer to wait in Dr. Bloom's office. Clarice opts for the car, and while waiting for the Uber to arrive she calls the crime lab, where she yells at no fewer than four people before getting put through to Zeller, who immediately hails Price.

"Jesus," Price says, when she tells them, "what?"

In the background, Zeller's voice comes from some distance. "I'm looking into it, worse comes to worse Alana will tell us."

"Come back to the lab," Price instructs. "We'll call Browning for you."

The car pulls up. "I have to switch to text," she mutters, and climbs into the backseat.

The driver is a nice man named Abah, who asks if she minds him listening to the radio while they travel. Clarice doesn't.

Lecter ID'd the head as Klaus. No last name, thought he might have been killed by one of Raspails other lovers, she writes them. 

Ok. ID on Potter victim came back: Marianne Harris, 24, lived in Kettering OH, Price texts back. Krendler apparently got a deal with Justice re Lecter. He helps find Martin's daughter and he gets moved.

What is Browning saying?? she texts back.

Out of his hands now, Price answers. Told you we lost points on Lecter.

Clarice covers her face with her hands for a minute. Her phone buzzes again, and when she looks, across the screen Price has texted her:

Looking into hospitals now btw.

"Mr. Abah?" Clarice calls into the front seat. "How good is your English, sir?"

Through combination semaphore and awkward smiling, Abah conveys that his English is not great, which is not great for Clarice's purposes either, but fuck it. She dials the crime lab again.

"Hospital?" she asks, as soon as Price picks up.

"Our killer's making himself a girl suit," he explains. "Stands to reason he may have pursued a more traditional medical process before he cracked completely and decided to Hobby Lobby an alternative."

"Transsexuals aren't violent, they're passive, and more likely to be victims of violence," Clarice argues, and then there's a bunch of noise on the other end of the line — the call being moved from a handset to speaker.

Abah gives her a Significant Look in the rearview, but Clarice is going to brazen it out at this point.

"You can't think about this in logical progression, Starling," Zeller hollers at her from the other end. "This guy is skinning women for an outfit — "

"We took a look at the skin removed, after you called us earlier, they definitely look like dressmaker pieces," Price cuts in.

" — the question isn't 'if he's transsexual,' or 'if he's transgendered,' he's not — he might think he is," Zeller finishes. "Thus, the hospitals, asking major sex reassignment centers about red flags, patients who didn't pass the psyche."

Clarice remembers throwing up blockades when her patient files had been requested. She can't imagine any reputable center's going to be any more willing to part with patient files, even rejected ones.

"They're not going to play ball, I used to fight law enforcement on those requests all the time," Clarice grinds out, rubbing the heel of her hand into her eye. She's exhausted, worn thin.

"We're making progress on the bug angle, too," Price tells her. "But Starling?"

She blinks. "Yes, sir?"

"I just want to remind you that you are a trainee, a student," Price says, suddenly wise and solemn the way she'd imagined him, reading his papers as a forensic fellow. "You've already helped make great contributions to this case, but it's not your responsibility. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Clarice thinks about Ardelia's note. Classes and PT and range tests, simulations on Hogan's Alley and the moot court presentation — they all feel miles and years away from her. She's 12 weeks into 20 weeks of training; she doesn't have a real badge yet. She knows that Price is right, but she can't imagine going back to her dorm room, to class, to the gym, to the obstacle course. She knows too much, has touched too much. She wants to see this through.

"I know what you're thinking, Starling," Price says into her silence. "And I can sympathize — but Starling? It's time to go back to class."

Lecter's house is still there, preening where it sits on prime real estate near a beautiful church in Baltimore. It's a curiosity, a house of horrors. Lecter owned it outright, and his estate is healthy enough to maintain tax payments on it, so the property remains his, managed by a cadre of extremely well-paid attorneys. The interiors are a mausoleum, the furniture draped in dust clothes and the space humming with absence. The FBI was done with the residence — forensically — years ago, and subsequent specialist cleaning has left the property immaculate.

There's a feeling when you walk into it that's the sensation of a held breath, a moment of waiting suspended in amber.

Maybe the house, so intimate with Lecter, had always known incarceration wouldn't be the end of his story.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds


Chapter Text

It's only just past 8 p.m. by the time she gets to Quantico. She gives Abah a $23 tip — all the cash she has on her person — and hoofs it directly for the crime lab.

Jimmy Price meets her at the door. "You made good time."

"I'm pretty sure the driver wanted me out of the car as fast as possible," she reports.

The crime lab after hours is cool and blue, everything metallic and cleaned at the end of the day. Surrounding it, the small clusters of offices are still half-filled, senior BAU agents settling into case files sent in from across the country for consult. Clarice looks at their tired shoulders and the weathered way they're folded over their desks and aches with a whole-body jealousy. She doesn't have the vocabulary to describe it, only that she needs it in a formless, desperate way that makes her throat close.

Price, who isn't party to this interior struggle, says, "Gun, please."

Clarice fumbles it and the holster off of herself, handing it over and mutely signing her name at the bottom of a short form of paperwork.

"Great, good," Price says, making a couple of marks on the pages, and says, "And also, your temporary field ID."

Clarice hesitates. "Catherine Martin's still out there, sir."

"And we're looking for her, Starling," Price says. He's squinting at her pretty hard, but Clarice has no benchmark on what the hell that means.

"I believe I could continue to be of use to the investigation," she argues, and because she's not bothering to hide her urgency, she adds, "And who's to say you won't need me to speak with Dr. Lecter again?"

Price holds out his palm. "ID, Starling."

She feels herself sticking out her chin, stubborn, but she's inclined to abide by rules and order — see: FBI Academy — and she holds out for less than a minute before she produces it and slaps it into Price's hand in poorly concealed anger.

"I know you're pissed, Starling, but this is for your own safety. We've already gone off the reservation on this one," he says, with something like understanding in his voice. "And we've done that before, with disastrous results."

Lass, Miriam, Clarice remembers in a sudden flash. Lass lives in the quiet, sad obscurity of a war veteran now, among the small handful of Hannibal Lecter survivors. She's permanently housed in an inpatient facility in New Jersey, where she still maintains that Frederick Chilton is the Chesapeake Ripper.

There's a clatter from somewhere deeper in the labs, and from Zeller emerges from around a corner wearing an 11 p.m. shadow around his scowl.

"They're moving him," he says, without preamble.

"Are you — you're kidding," Price gasps, instantly distracted, and Zeller makes a complicated series of hand gestures that means he's not kidding.

Clarice, who isn't fluent in the body language of this the way they are, has to ask out loud, "Lecter? Where are they moving him to?"

"Somewhere 'with a view,'" Zeller says, motioning with his hand. "Alana's blown a gasket but the senator's on the Intelligence committee and is pulling strings like fucking Geppetto — apparently Lecter won't talk until his demands are met."

"Clearly nobody warned her not to negotiate with terrorists," Price sighs, and turning his squint back to Clarice, he says, "And you — you should head back to the dorms. Class bright and early tomorrow."

The wave of anger that breaks over her is hot and immediate. She's never seen red before, but she sees white right now, like a blister or a burn, and Clarice has to breathe in and out and in and out before she can trust herself to speak at all.

"Sir," she says, because she can't yell, You can't just use me and tell me to fuck off.

"Starling," Zeller tells her, so genuine with sympathy it's starting to sound condescending, "go back to class."

Behind him, Price's squint deepens as he nods, sagacious.

That night, Ardelia — arguably wisely — gives her a wide berth. Clarice spends it catching up on all the schoolwork she's backburnered for Lecter, for Buffalo Bill, pulling her covers over her head so she doesn't keep Ardelia up with the light. It's a vivid, shitty, humbling flashback to being little again: reading from the light of her laptop and rubbing the sleep and ache out of her eyes. She feels stupid. She feels really stupid. It chases her around the corners of sentences and through entire chapters, through white papers, through Graham's standard monograph on determining time of death by insect activity. Blow flies and flesh flies may arrive within 24 hours of the time of death, Graham had written, and Clarice hates him through space, through time, through death. If he was here, trapped under this itchy comforter and the nubby sheets, Lecter would have talked, Catherine Martin would be safe, this would all be over.

She wakes up to her alarm face down in Graham's monograph, her spit wrinkling the paper, and she's late enough and a disaster enough that she's forced to undertake a federal seizure of the shower from Gracie Johnson. Gracie takes it like a champ: makes room for Clarice and passes the soap.

"There's something wrong with you, Starling," she says.

That seems to be the general sentiment for the rest of the day. Clarice is actively salty at everybody and responses fall along two lines: reciprocal salt, and deference. Surprisingly, the range master falls into the second category.

By about lunch time, she realizes she's furious, which is pretty great because it's pepper spray day. She gathers up all of the hot, clumsy anger she feels from this entire disaster and cries through it, her eyes red and opened. Clarice beats the shit of Jed Gunderson, and by the time Agent Raleigh calls it, Jed's got a mouthful of muddy brown February turf and Clarice has decided that pain is clarifying.

"Jesus, Starling," Raleigh mutters, and hands her some Kleenex.

There're no classes after pepper spray Lord of the Flies. If nothing else, Gunderson has to go to the infirmary. Clarice uses the spare time to angrily eat Little Debbie Zebra Cakes from the vending machine and fight the urge to create Google alerts for Buffalo Bill and Catherine Martin and Hannibal Lecter.

She's forcing herself to read something about evidence handling when her email pings.

To: Clarice Starling
From: Judge Browning
Subject: come to my office asap

There's no body to the email.

Lecter also owned outright his offices, a cavernous space decorated in the style of John Soane, only more sexually homicidal.

It, too, stands as a mausoleum to his legacy, and is equally interesting as a source of insight into Lecter's treasures, which he arrayed around the space like a particularly awful emperor. There was the bronze statue of a stag, which likely still held trace amounts of Tobias Budge's blood. There were strands of hair, attributable to Alana Bloom and myself. There was an antique Chinese snuff bottle filled with a small quantity of water, which when analyzed contained traces of Will Graham's blood. There's a record of Lecter's purchase of the bottle in an auction at Christie's for $16,400, making it the type of extraordinary object Lecter just might deign sufficiently rarefied to be worthy of anything to do with Graham.

To Lecter, when it came to Graham, no price appeared too high, no sweeping gesture too grandiose. Lecter was besotted the way older men are most vulnerable to being spellbound: by staggering young things they didn't anticipate; by the sudden arrival of a hot flush of need; by someone with a lovely, sullen face; by a man unmoved by their passionate labors.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

Zeller and Price are in Browning's office when Clarice gets there, flushed in her pale blue polo uniform shirt and khakis.

"This is a look I don't miss," Zeller tells her immediately.

"Don't worry, you pull it off," Price lies. This look looks good on no one.

Browning, hunched over his desk looking like hell, says, "Starling, sit down," with the rasp of a man who's worn through his limited stores of patience.

She sits, and it's only then that she realizes there's a fifth person there, standing in such a consumingly quiet way that she didn't notice him at first. He's tall and huge in the shoulders, with a solemn weight to his presence that seems to make Browning's office dimmer by proxy, and it's not until she steals two more glances at his face that she recognizes him.

Browning makes the introductions. "Trainee Agent Clarice Starling — Jack Crawford. I'll assume you know who he is."

"Yessir," Clarice confirms, hearing herself contract away the space between the two words too much, like all the other white trash kids with aspirations used to do when they were sucked up through the filtration systems of the military or high school sports.

Crawford moves his mouth in a way that might be a smile if she couldn't see his eyes. "Starling," he acknowledges, without the other niceties that might come from such interactions.

Clearing his throat at his desk, Browning says, "There's been a development."

All her blood stops, her whole body heavy and suddenly dead. She thinks about riot floral pattern of the Catherine Martin's gauze shirt, the clean cut up the back of it. She thinks about the photographs of Catherine Martin's gloriously disordered apartment: the wine bottles and nail polish, the unmade bed. Clarice feels for Catherine Martin an intensity and tenderness, suddenly, that feels like her own skin's peeled away.

She asks, "Catherine Martin?" but it hurts to ask, hurts to scrape out of her throat.

"No," Crawford says, before Browning has a chance. "Lecter wants to talk to you."

The sudden surge is crazy, the typhoon rush of her heartbeat and all the heat gone up in her body. Clarice knows she's flushing, that from the outside she must look nuts. But inside she's thinking about the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane again, the long corridors and doors to Lecter's plexiglass enclosure, his books and his letters, the secrets he'd cut out of her — the organs he's cut out of everyone else. She is helplessly, hugely, immediately flattered, feels something pleasurable curling in her belly to be singled out, to know that she's left a mark. It's the sweetness that whispers arsenic, and joy and disgust lap over her like waves breaking: water sweeping in after whitecaps.

And Crawford can see it, too, Clarice can tell. It's in the tension of his gaze, the way his knuckles tighten, how he's taken a step closer to her, looming. They used to call him the Guru. He lost his badge and his office but he hasn't lost what got him there.

"Now I don't believe for a second what Browning believes, which is that he was somehow smart enough to figure out a way under Lecter's skin," Crawford tells her. "Long ago, Will Graham told me that we don't have a word for what Hannibal Lecter is — he's not human, Starling."

Browning rubs the heel of a hand into his eye socket. "Jesus, Jack."

Crawford ignores him. "Do you know what I think, Starling?"

"No, sir," she swallows.

With tacit permission, now, to look at him, Clarice looks. Crawford's a tall, handsome man, with a wide face and a close haircut. His suit is sharp and neat and in dark, plummy colors. She guesses it might say something about him, the cut and cost of his clothes, but she can't read that shorthand. She can see the lines of sustained pain on his face, though, the creases in his forehead and around his eyes.

"I think Lecter got a taste of you, something he liked," Crawford tells her. "And he wants another bite before he says goodbye."

Clarice startles. "Goodbye?"

"They're moving him, day after tomorrow," Price jumps in. "Senator's deal."

"At which point he will be in the custody and possession of the U.S. Marshals," Browning grinds out, palming two aspirin to dry swallow. His tie is loose; he's got a button undone. Clarice has never seen him in such disarray.

"They haven't found Catherine Martin?" Clarice demands. "Nothing? And they're moving him anyway?"

"He's doled out some clues," Price tries to say, but Zeller yells over him, "He fed everybody some existential bullshit — he's playing them."

Browning ignores them both. "He says he won't say another word unless they make good on the deal, and the only way he'll believe it is by their paying up first."

"And once he gets moved, he won't talk at all," Clarice murmurs to herself.

In the corner, Zeller looks tired and pissed, and he chews on the corner of his thumb like he's already had a (larger) outburst about this. Price looks primly at some files. Crawford keeps looking at Clarice — seeing everything, seeing all of it.

"Did he call you on it? Browning's bluff?" he asks her.

Clarice risks a glance at Browning, who's progressed from looking pained to dyspeptic.

"Ah — not explicitly," she prevaricates. Lecter hadn't needed to. She'd been evaluated and found wanting so quickly it had evaporated as pretense, at least to her.

"But enough that you inferred," Crawford says, in part to himself.

"Conversation with Lecter was — challenging," Clarice says, defaulting to the bland catch-all to describe a universe of sins.

"Crawford, this isn't why I brought you back in here," Browning finally interjects. "Focus on the Buffalo Bill case."

The look Crawford gives Browning is flatly unimpressed verging on insult.

They end up back in Crawford's old office, around the corner from the crime lab, armed with three dozen boxes of files, evidence and reports on Buffalo Bill. There are two separate profiles on him, both say the same amount of nothing: white male, mid-twenties to mid-thirties, standard Macdonald triad, difficult relationships with women. There's an addendum to the more recent write up to note potential gender dysphoria. There's physical evidence from where the girls were snatched, and inch-thick medical examiner files from when the girls were found. They spread out all the data, all the accrued leavings, and Clarice stands in the middle of it and feels — overwhelmed.

"Entomology specialty journal search came back but it's a huge list; we'd need more geographic information to help narrow it down," Price declares.

Zeller squats over one of the file boxes, pulling out plastic baggies inside of other plastic baggies, their interiors murky. "We have a pretty good guess on Klaus — Blom, formerly of Denmark. Worked as a deck hand for one of those wildly fancy yacht services."

Price catches Clarice's gaze. "Very attractive," he tells her.

Crawford's taken up camp at the desk, and leaning into it, hands steepled, it looks as if he never vanished. That all this time this office has been occupied and he's been in it, filling up all its space with frenetic silence.

"So either Raspail was the killer then, and inserted the bug as an early compulsion he's held onto, or we have someone who killed Klaus and Raspail knew about it and…harvested the head for his own purposes," Crawford murmurs.

Clarice opts not to consider the potential 'purposes' Crawford is implying.

"Lecter said Raspail was a cheater," Clarice pipes up, her voice cracking from the stress of the room, from her proximity to all the great ambitions she wants for herself. The psychic enormity of Jack Crawford doesn't help, either.

"Cheating boyfriend?" Price ventures. "That could go lots of different ways though — Raspail cheats on Klaus, wants to get rid of him. Klaus cheats on Raspail, Raspail kills him in a rage. Or, a third party somehow involved in the infidelity offs Klaus."

Humans are awful, Clarice decides.

"We can't look at evidence out of context," Crawford declares, and pulls off his suit jacket and rolls up his shirt sleeves. "We have to start from the top."

Jesus, what am I doing, Clarice thinks, but she forces herself to ask, "Agent Crawford? Shouldn't — hadn't I better to talk to Lecter?"

"You'll go tomorrow," he says, not looking up, distracted. "Make him wait."

Wait? It makes the urgent impatience under her skin jump, increase logarithmically.

Zeller hands her with a file two inches thick, paper and photographs jamming the manila folder to bursting.

"Here," he says, something like sympathy in his voice.

A few days before his fateful night in the kitchen, Graham paid me a visit.

I was still under FBI protection in a mid-century modern safe house with hideous floors and limited entertainment. In the past, my interactions with Graham had ranged from hostile to extremely hostile, but at that point I'd been dead for five days and had spent the time reading every single Clive Cussler novel in the house. That day, in the gray light, we sat together on an uncomfortable bench, and I he stared into the middle distance with a deep hurt in his eyes.

Graham hated me and my work, and I thought he had no business being in the field, but we were so vicious with one another we didn't bother with appearances. Graham sees everybody with unvarnished clarity; maybe I was one of the few people who saw him. He'd come, without any attempt at concealment, to make a final request, to say his goodbyes. He didn't know if he would survive the next few days.

A casualty of the FBI's serial killer chicken and possibly his own exceedingly convincing emotional manipulation, Graham is listed among the officially recognized list of victims attributed to Hannibal Lecter — for whom lack of a body is less an impediment to identifying victims and more a hallmark in many ways.

But I think of the snuff bottle, left behind. I think of Graham's therapy notes, presumably burned. I think of the suit and coat, abandoned, the Italian shoes, never delivered. They stand as the remains of a love affair gone horribly wrong, serve as proof positive even cannibal serial killers can fall prey to middle aged crises and flights of romantic fancy doomed for disaster.

Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

At 5:30 a.m., Clarice goes back to her dorm for a change of clothes and a shower. She pounds back some boiling hot coffee and three hash browns from a drive-thru McDonald's and is on the road by 6, radio on to NPR while she heads for Andrews.

She'd left Crawford, Zeller and Price in the monastic purgatory of their case review, neck deep in forensics and victimology. Price had wrapped himself inside of a vast winter coat sometime around 3 a.m. and curled up to sleep on a morgue table. Zeller, either made of sterner or more stubborn stuff, had powered through on a combination of dozens of cups of burnt FBI coffee and a medically inadvisable number of 5 Hour Energy shots. He'd been taking his own pulse with dissociated interest when the call had come.

Dr. Bloom had sounded raspy from a shitty 48 hours, as tired as Clarice felt: eyes gritty and skin thin, head floating an inch above the stump of her neck.

"It's done," Dr. Bloom had said. "The transfers are all signed and sealed."

The plan was thus: Lecter would be removed from the custody of Dr. Alana Bloom of the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane and given over to the U.S. Marshals for transport, with support from the Baltimore PD. There would be a team of on site medical and paramedic back up for the BHCI's nursing staff should Lecter prove suddenly uncooperative on the cusp of getting everything he wants. They will secure him for transit, and travel from Andrews Air Force base via the JPATS system to Georgia, where Lecter would become the ward of the Larchmont Forensic Hospital. Once there, in the early afternoon, he would provide Senator Martin — and Senator Martin alone — the name of her daughter's kidnapper. From there, he would enjoy his new room with his promised window, the promised view, and the promised distance from Dr. Bloom.

Clarice had wanted to whisper, Jesus fuck, but she'd kept quiet and Dr. Bloom had filled the silence instead.

"If you're still coming to speak with him, you'll need to be here before 8," she'd said.

"I — what do you think, Dr. Bloom?" Clarice had asked. She'd felt very young asking it.

Dr. Bloom had been quiet a long time. "I don't think Hannibal gives a damn if Catherine Martin lives or dies. I think that he likes Senator Martin's suits, her desperation, and most of all the opportunity to screw with his keepers. I think that maybe he misses Will so much he's looking to see some of him in you, and that as sad and pathetic as it is, that tiny thread of human connection might make him more inclined to say something — anything — to you that might help save this girl."

So Clarice had said, "All right, ma'am," and told Browning where she was going.

Morning Edition is a blur in the background. Clarice listens to them talk about the Republican primary, gets an update on the Rio Olympics, she loses some time to the drumming of the asphalt under the car wheels, and when she comes back, it's because Freddie Lounds is on the radio.

"Generally speaking, there are two types of serial killers: organized and disorganized," she's saying. "The designations explain themselves, mostly. And in the case of Buffalo Bill, we're definitely seeing an organized criminal. Catherine Martin is his sixth abduction, and may become his sixth victim, so we know he's planning this carefully, meticulously, or else the BAU would have him."

"That's the Behavioral Analysis Unit for the FBI, correct?" the host asks.

"Exactly. They specialize in this type of crime, and you know — despite my occasionally rocky history of them — they are the very best at what they do," Freddie says.

Clarice passes under a green sign, I-495 / BALTIMORE.

"You write about some of it," the host prompts, "your work with the FBI and the BAU on the case of Hannibal the Cannibal in your book, Craving."

"There's a lot to write about when it comes to Hannibal Lecter," Freddie laughs. "Um, but even beyond him, you know, Craving's really about an extraordinary string of crimes that occurred during Lecter's late, active period — I'm actually in the process of outlining a sequel, Ravenous, that will focus more on his particular relationship with law enforcement."

"When you say law enforcement, you mean Special Agent Will Graham?"

"He's widely believed to be Lecter's last known victim before he escaped the country," Freddie agrees. "And you know, if Lecter hadn't retained his taste for extraordinarily elaborate crimes, he'd still be at large. The only reason the Florentine police even knew how or to look for him was that he'd arranged a body like a recreation of Paolo Veronese's Scorn — it's part of a group of works called Four Allegories on Love."

The host shoots back, "Bad breakup?"

"Not an entirely inappropriate guess, given how Lecter handled splitting with Graham," Freddie quips. "But the victim may just as likely have taken the last bottle of truffle oil."

"Back to Buffalo Bill," the host says, "There's a ticking clock on this, isn't there?"

Clarice digs her nails into the steering wheel, has that sudden sense of awakening from the soft focus dissolve of highway driving.

"From what law enforcement has been able to tell, with all of the previous murders, the victims were kept alive for about a week before being killed," Freddie says. "In all likelihood, we may have less than 72 hours left to find Catherine Martin alive."

It takes forever to get to Andrews, and once there it takes forever to get through all the layers of security, until a phalanx of MPs escort her to an airstrip. It's a bleak, gray-blue day, and the JPATS jet cuts a stark line against the sky, a small cluster of law enforcement vehicles, ambulance, and standard-issue unmarked black government SUVs parked between it and an opened hangar.

No fewer than ten separate people ask her, "You Starling?" and Clarice just says, "Yes, sir," and "Yes, sir," and once, "Yes, ma'am, I am."

"Come on, then," they tell her, and she ends up in the hangar, in a small back office where all of the energy and resource of the U.S. military have been engaged to build basically a cartoon jail: a single barred cage in the middle of the room, 5 meters away from any walls, and utterly bare inside but for a privacy screen and a chair and Lecter, standing with his hands still folded behind his back.

The marshals are arrayed around Lecter's cage, each looking more armed than the last, and it's one of the officers that breaks away from a cluster of dark suits that comes to her. He's slim and tall and the uniform's a good look on him, all the dark lines setting off the good bones of his good face. His hair's shorn short and he looks about 20 years old and Clarice can feel herself fidget as he gets close.

"Ma'am?" he asks, and Clarice makes herself stop staring, fumbles out her ID.

"Starling, Clarice — I'm with the FBI," she says.

She forces herself to look over his shoulder, over to where Lecter's serenely ignoring the chaos around him to stare fixedly to where she's standing. Even from a distance she can tell he's blissful with happiness.

"He's been waitin' on you," is the cop's reply.

Clarice blinks, hard, and turns back to him. Smiling, brown eyes crinkled, he's even more handsome and it's awful. "I — he has?"

"Yes, ma'am," the officer drawls, and he nods 'hello' to her. "I'm Officer Dawson."

She can't help but ask, "That accent's more real south than Maryland."

Dawson smiles at her, shy. "Louisiana, ma'am," he admits, but he clears his throat and he turns back to the cage, to Lecter's beneficent and approving smile. "Um, they told us you would know the song and dance about speaking with him?"

Clarice does, and she confirms this again, and again again when Dawson leads her over to the marshals and he gets dismissed for his trouble. She watches him duck his head, shuffle away to where the paramedics are clustered.

Duane Turner and Sean Avery are the two marshals on hand, and they walk her — unnecessarily — through the procedure once more. She agrees that she will not reach through the bars, that she'll share any information he shares with her, that she's aware that her right to speak with him may be revoked at any time.

"Are we clear, Trainee Starling?" Turner asks, because he's a dick.

"Exceedingly," she promises.

Up close, Lecter somehow looks even more gleeful than from a distance. He's still in his prison one-piece, still in his rubber shoes, but there's a spring in his step and a spark in him. Apparently freezing airplane hangars and excessive drama become him.

"Agent Starling, I'm so pleased you were able to make it before my departure," he croons at her, all goodwill. He cocks his head to one side, earnest and enormously interested. "I had hoped to see you again to convey my best wishes on what will — no doubt — be an extremely successful career."

There's that flush again, that sudden sensation of humiliating eagerness to be so complimented, and Clarice shifts from foot to foot to dispel it.

"You're too kind, Doctor," she says. It comes out more like a whisper than she'd intended. "I'm glad I'm here, too. I had some final questions."

At this, Lecter affects something like disappointment, but he doesn't mean it enough to even feign truth in the expression.

"What a terrible mood-killer just before I'm freed, Agent Starling," he scolds.

"You're being moved to a different psychiatric hospital," she retorts, and Clarice can't quite process that she's getting short with a cannibal, that she's freezing her tits off in this hangar talking to Hannibal Lecter. "You're not getting freed."

Lecter nods like she has some minor point. "Be that as it may, it tastes nearly as sweet," he says, ever gracious. "This may be one of the last times we ever see one another, Agent Starling — I am recording all that I can for my mind palace."

Starling feels her brows creep up. "I'm not sure I'm interesting enough to warrant the shelf space, Dr. Lecter."

"Never say such things," Lecter returns, professorial in his disappointment. "You have been a singular and marvelous experience for me, Agent Starling. I believe I will never forget you, nor our time together."

Christ, Clarice thinks, feeling that heat in her belly, that black-winged moth bobbing in her throat. She's a grown woman, rooted firmly into the ground, but Lecter feels like the temptation of a staircase into the underworld — the opportunity to know the unknowable. She looks away from his face, its now-familiar lines, and looks at the scuffed toes of her department store shoes instead.

"I'd rather you remember something about Buffalo Bill," she says.

Lecter huffs, a neat, small laugh. "When Senator Martin asks, I will give her a name — but for you, Agent Starling, I will teach you, as my friend once taught me, about how monsters like myself think."

Clarice swallows. "All right," she allows.

Lecter's eyes coal dark, the vortex of a black hole. "Your Buffalo Bill, Agent Starling, what does he do? What is the first and principle thing he does, what need does he serve by killing?" he asks her, his tone gone low enough she thinks she feels it through the concrete floor of the hangar — all its other inhabitants falling away.

These women shared nothing, not hair color or background, no socioeconomic relationship or geographic cluster. They were heavy and they were there; they were skinned in death, and Buffalo Bill is making himself an outfit of them — a disguise. The victims were not selected for who they were, but what they could be to the killer.

"Their skin," she murmurs, her voice shaking; she feels so close, feels the dizzy rush of vertigo standing here on solid ground. "He wanted their skin, to make something of himself from them."

Lecter makes a humming noise, it blends in with the wind, the drone of the hangar, the white noise of voices in the back, all of it feeding into the auditory sensation that Clarice is being held in a small, tight space, that he is whispering directly into her ear.

"So he covets," he says, indulging. "And how do we begin to covet, Agent Starling?"

Clarice thinks suddenly, violently, of the BAU, their tired carpet and the government-issue desks, the agents hunched over. She remembers the greedy wrench she felt, the lizard-brain desire. She thinks of when Jack Crawford had come to give that lecture, how she'd sat in the audience and drank every word, how she'd gone into the guts of the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane, shaking in her shoes but so eager, so anticipatory — she saw it, every day, the work she could do, and it made her hot and reckless and desperate.

"He sees it — every day," she gasps, realizing, and something about the bodies, the victims, their gray and green skin, clings at her.

"It is how your Buffalo Bill began, Agent Starling," Lecter says, something like kindness in his voice, the frequency rising, and the outside world is beginning to melt back in between them: the cell and the hangar, the reality of their surroundings.

She stares into his face again, finally, at the line of his nose and the sweep of graying hair, his sharp features and magnetic gaze. She wonders why he's like this, why he has this particular softness toward her, why he says he'll keep something of her. Maybe it is not a kindness at all, maybe it is its own insidious kind of threat; Clarice will always wonder what Lecter harbors of her: her perfume? her cheap shoes? her screaming lambs. She'll wake at night, years from now, and while she's stumbling around her kitchen in the dark pouring water and feeling the cold linoleum under her feet, she will give Lecter his immortality, wonder what of her belongs to him now, and not herself.

"Why are you helping me?" she asks, because more than Buffalo Bill, more than Catherine Martin, it's the question she can't shake. The thing under her skin.

Lecter closes his eyes, breathes deeply of her: memorizing. He says, "You are a rare creature, Agent Starling, not mundane at all."

She says, "I'm not Will Graham," for a second time and without thinking, reflex.

"No," Lecter agrees, still smiling. "Nor could you ever be — but there is a place for you in the world as well, Agent Starling, and I would see you inhabit it for a long time."

It's here, suddenly, that there is a flurry of activity behind her. She hears the arrival of more cars, and when she turns to look it's to see that the frozen patience of earlier is shattering now all at once: there is a pilot climbing into the jet, the redheaded EMT is checking her supplies, the marshals are jogging away, waving the Baltimore PD toward Lecter's cell to take their place — Officer Dawson drawing closer.

"That's the senator arriving, now," Dawson says to her, nodding over to the convoy of black Escalades, and turning back to Lecter, "And you," he says, sounding sick to death of him and all kinds of something else.

"Be reasonable, Officer. You know I find discourtesy unspeakably ugly," Lecter says sweetly to him, and then conspiratorial and to Clarice, adds, "Hadn't you better go and call your friends at BAU? Tick tock, Clarice. Tick tock."

It's the crack in the ice, and Clarice says, "Dawson," to Dawson and turns, going from a trot to a run as she digs out her cell phone, the only person running away from Lecter, as everybody rushes toward him.

She feels numb. She feels blessed. She feels as if she's just escaped, her whole body shivering with the breathless thrill of being alive, of somehow still being alive.

To try and categorize Lecter is impossible. To circumscribe the parameters of his evil is to exhibit a lack of imagination. To survive him is rare — even those who lived wear a mark on them. It was always hubris to think that human forces could contain the forces at work with Lecter, like ducking under a schoolboy's desk to survive a nuclear fallout. Any presumption of control can be presumed to be incorrect, and humans are so vulnerable to searching for patterns, of relaxing their vigilance.

Dr. Bloom never had such a luxury. She walked, and always will, with a cane, suffering the long-term consequences of trusting Lecter was her constant reminder, a more visible scar. Under her management, the Baltimore Hospital of the Criminally Insane might have been the only oubliette deep enough to contain Lecter — there were five doors between him and the outside world, and Dr. Bloom held all the keys.

And it was the very moment, that first opportunity, that forces beyond her control removed Lecter from her custody that he made his escape.

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds


Chapter Text

Strapping herself into the car while trying to dial her phone and also turn the key in the ignition is about two tasks too many, so Clarice is aware that when Zeller answers, she sounds like a crazy person.

"Yeah," Zeller says.

"First principles!" she yells at him. "Lecter said he covets because he sees every day!"

Maybe she should let Zeller and Ardelia meet again, because instead of telling her she sounds like a crazy person and hanging up, he says, "First — so he knew his first victim, he saw her, that's how he — "

"Yes!" Clarice cries, partly because he's got it and partly because she's finally got the engine going. "He threw them all in the river because he didn't care about them, like the Green River Killer, he didn't know them, but he had to start somewhere, he had to — "

" — Get me the files," Zeller yells, and then yells away from the phone, "Hey! Hey! I need all the victim files right now!"

Clarice puts her phone on speaker and starts making her way off the base, getting waved out a lot faster than she managed to get waved in. There's mostly the noise of clanging and lab techs on the telephone right now, the BAU starting to populate itself now that it's a little past 8 a.m., and it's a few minutes before she there's a swishing noise on the phone and Price informs her she's on speaker on their end.

"First Buffalo Bill victim identified was Kate Larson," Price says. "Pennsylvania."

"First identified isn't first first," Zeller argues. "And we can't discount the still-unidentified woman, we don't even have a missing persons to report her against."

Then, from somewhere near Price, Crawford hollers, "Rocks!"

It's shatteringly loud, and thankfully nobody has to try and parse that out before Crawford's explaining, rapid-fire.

"Frederica Bimmel: third victim, most advanced state of decomp, found by some local hunters," Crawford says. "But she wasn't the third victim — she was weighed down with rocks, we found her third, but the first reported missing — "

"Jesus," Price is saying. "So — "

"So maybe she's the first — maybe he started close to home," Price picks up.

There's clattering now, and Zeller saying, "Uh — uh — okay, yes, Ohio."

Bimmel lived in Belvedere, a little nowhere town in between places people work and live. It was dingy, used up and spent. There were very few young people, and even fewer who stayed. Frederica had been stuck, Clarice supposes. Maybe Buffalo Bill was, too.

"Starling, head for Reagan," Crawford tells her. "We'll meet you there."

Clarice leaves her car in long term parking and Crawford and company meet her in the ticketing area with her temporary field identification and a gun. It's the nicest thing a man's ever given her, better than all the flowers and mid-priced jewelry in the world.

"Thank you, sir," she says to Crawford, though he's no boss of her.

He stares at her, hand luggage under his eyes, and a tight hurt around his mouth.

"You're a trainee, Starling," he reminds her. "I've fucked it up with trainees before."

Giving a trainee leave to go after Hannibal the Cannibal, having her be kidnapped and brainwashed for a couple of years, and eventually getting her arm sawed off suffers a spectacular compression when reduced to "fucked up," but Clarice figures it's as accurate as any other verb that could be utilized at this juncture.

But more than that, Clarice is suddenly, enormously, endlessly tired of living in the shadows of people from long ago. She did not grow up dreaming of the ocean, a poor boy with blue eyes and big curls in Louisiana. She did not stumble down the rabbit's hole into the horror of Lecter's crimes all eager-eyed and unprepared. She's buried her father and lost her lamb — she does not want to lose Catherine Martin and she won't.

"Don't fuck up this time, then, sir," she says, before she thinks better of it.

Crawford's entire response is to break into a craggy, genuine smile, so small and crooked Clarice thinks maybe he hasn't had to trot it out since his wife died.

"All right then, Starling, all right," he tells her, and they all get moving.

At which point Price says, "Here, take these, too," and gives her stack of files three inches thick as they rush through security with a lot of flashing their credentials; their flight's already boarding. "Transcripts of first round interviews with Bimmel's family and known associates — we'll have to divvy them up when we land."

Zeller says, "We also cross-checked with the bug lists — nothing special, but information wants to be free these days," while they're booking it past a Hudson News. 

"The Black Witch favors stands of woody legumes, rests during the day, and is attracted to flower nectar and fruit juice," Price huffs, jogging. "Siri told us."

This has to be a hell of a conversation for the gate agent to be hearing, Clarice thinks, but limits herself to handing over her boarding pass.

The flight's about an hour and a half long, but the nearest airport to Belvedere is Pittsburgh International, and upon landing it's a 40 minute drive in good traffic along US-22 West. Forced retirement from the FBI hasn't done anything to change the hierarchical fundamentals, so when they pile into an SUV at the airport rental counter, Jack takes the wheel, Price claims motion sickness, and Clarice and Zeller end up in the backseat while they barrel down the highway.

"Initial interviews covered her family, neighbors, her employer," Zeller says, sticking his head in between the front seats like an overeager dog.

Price shoves him back with a gloved hand to the face.

"I'll take the father," Crawford declares, which leaves Clarice volunteering for one of the neighbors, and then another neighbor, until she's dropped off at the front door of Bimmel's ex-boss. Clarice imagines her scathing look is sufficient commentary on that.

"All we're doing is re-interviewing," Crawford warns her. "Don't be a hero, Starling."

Clarice packs her anger up, folds it like a tired handkerchief and tucks it into her pocket.

"Yes, sir," she grits out.

It just makes Crawford smile at her again; it comes out a little easier this time, like he's knocking the rust off. "You really hate me right now, don't you, Starling?"

She just says, "Sir," because the "yes" is implied.

"We can fight about it after we find Catherine Martin," he promises her, and over the sound of Zeller dragging the back door shut, he adds, "Don't do anything stupid, Starling," as he hits the gas.

Clarice takes a minute on the curb, feeling the hard line of the concrete and the soft sink of weedy grass through the soles of her department store shoes. She breathes in the gray air, seeped through with the promise of rain, and she cracks her neck, looks up into the dishwater sky and exhales how angry Crawford makes her, hears it shudder out of her throat. She reminds herself that this is a small thing in the vast ocean, that she'll need to be tougher than this.

"Come on, Starling," she says, in a whisper under her breath, and she goes to the door of the door of Edwina Lippman's house and knocks.

Ever the romantic, Lecter shrugged off his incarceration on Valentine's Day.

Catherine Martin had been in the hands of Buffalo Bill for 36 hours already. Given the rate of escalation and the high profile of the victim, there was general agreement that she was not likely to see 72, and Senator Ruth Martin — a formidable woman under any circumstances — had thrown her considerable influence into the fray. Less than 24 hours after Catherine had been reported missing, Senator Martin had brokered a deal with the Department of Justice on Lecter's behalf for information on Buffalo Bill leading to her daughter's recovery. Should Lecter's guidance lead Catherine safely home, he would be transferred to a federal facility, where he would have a view of the sky, or maybe a tree, and away from the watchful and ever-vigilant eye of Dr. Bloom.

Lecter, a connoisseur of all shapes and forms of suffering, had been agreeable enough, but said he would only tell Senator Martin the relevant information, and he would only tell her once he'd been removed from the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Andrews Air Force Base would serve as his way station, an interim prison for him to whisper secrets to Senator Martin, and for time to tell whether he'd been truthful.

According to the Martin Commission's report on Lecter's escape, the secrecy of the undertaking and the rival politics meant that military police had been purposefully excluded from involvement. The hangar where Lecter was held was patrolled by a cadre of U.S. Marshals, and on-site support was being provided by Baltimore PD and emergency services. Senator Martin — aware of optics even in the midst of maternal panic — had wanted to keep her devil's bargain as low profile as possible. National Weather Service records show it was a blisteringly cold 18 degrees, and just an hour prior, a warning had gone out for gale force winds — blowing at 40 miles per hour at the base station. It was loud outside, too cold for there to be passing foot traffic. Combined with the need-to-know nature of the transaction, it married into a perfect storm of opportunity for Lecter.

At 7:45 a.m., Agent Clarice Starling — then still a trainee — was signed onto the base, and she had a brief conversation with Lecter that would lead her to Belvedere, Ohio, and into the belly of the beast. Unknowing, then, of what she was about to embark upon, Agent Starling left the base at 8:15 a.m., just as Senator Martin was arriving.

Special Deputy U.S. Marshal Edward Bosch reported that Lecter was cheerful, unfailingly polite to his minders. At Senator Martin's arrival, he was gracious and engaging, and after a brief detour to ask whether the senator had breastfed Catherine Martin, told her that to the best of his estimation, Buffalo Bill was a man named Louis Friend, a former lover of a former patient.

At 8:20, Senator Martin departed, accompanied by a not-insignificant number of U.S. Marshals, and the FBI were engaged to identify and locate Louis Friend. Remaining were two Baltimore PD officers, the paramedics, Bosch, and his partner, Special Deputy U.S. Marshal Donald Allan.

One of the paramedics was Gilroy Hutchins, who recalled that shortly after Senator Martin's exit, Officer Mark Raskind became ill. "Projectile vomiting" was the exact terminology he used in his report to the panel. Hutchins drew the short straw against his partner, Allison Hadley, and left to tend to Raskind.

At 8:30, as Raskind's condition was rapidly deteriorating from amusingly disgusting to medically alarming, Lecter collapsed in his holding cell, and Bosch, Allan and the remaining Officer Bill Dawson attended. Lecter was unresponsive, and Hadley was conscripted into service.

A 911 call was made at 8:34 by Hutchins, where he requested medical assistance for Raskind, who was by then showing acute symptoms of poisoning in the toilets of the hangar. There was no line of sight from the restrooms into the hangar, or the antechamber where Lecter was being held. Raskind's autopsy would later reveal sodium fluoroacetate as the cause: a rat poison essentially banned in the U.S. by the mid-90s because "its considerable efficacy against target species is offset by comparable toxicity to other mammals," according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Unaware of the calamity in the other room, Hutchins called out for assistance from Hadley.

Bosch reported that he was momentarily diverted by Hutchins' shout, and that his last memory prior to being struck unconscious was seeing Lecter seizing and being held down by Hadley and Dawson. The force of the blow would give him a depressed fracture of the skull and necessitate two surgeries to repair the damage; Bosch takes anti-seizure medications to this day to manage the long-term effects of the injury.

Medical backup arrived for Raskind at 8:45 a.m., rapid turnaround made possible by the on-site facilities at Andrews, and relieved of his duties, Hutchins returned to the main hangar. What follows are his exact words:

"I only saw one of the marshals, but he was out cold face down in a pool of blood, and one of the cops was on the ground. Officer Dawson. He was beat to hell — his whole face was a pulpy mess — and Allison was screaming at me to come over and help. I couldn't really think critically, I don't remember much more about the scene, just that I ran over and tried to render assistance. I remember we moved him to the ambulance, and we were strapping him down, and then I remember Allison shouting and nothing — it all goes black."

Records show that Allison Hadley drove the ambulance off base at 8:52 a.m. The MPs at the barrier recalled nothing particular of her demeanor, and released her off base without issue.   

It would take another 45 minutes before the marshals who had left with Senator Martin attempted to make contact to report Louis Friend was a false lead and a dead end. When neither Bosch, Allan, or either member of the Baltimore PD answered hails, MPs were finally dispatched to the hangar.

Sergeant Naya Ashraf was the first on scene. She was deployed in Iraq at the time of the Martin Commission panel, but provided video deposition under JAG supervision.

"I smelled the blood, first — it was everywhere. One of the marshals was face down in a pool of it, and when I looked up that's when I saw the other one. He was tied to the bars of the jail cell with a belt and his tie, and um. Sorry. This was. Sorry — he was tied to the bars of the jail cell with a belt and tie, and his head and arms were gone, but his coat was pulled back behind him, split in two, like wings, and I could see the steam rising from the stump of his neck and his arms, it was so cold, and he was still warm."

It was Allan, freshly killed, and Bosch and Hutchins were unconscious and bleeding at his feet. Doctors would later say it was a miracle Bosch survived his injuries, given the delay in treatment; Hutchins was the least damaged, receiving a Grade 3 concussion. A medical examiner's report would later detail how Allan had been alive when his arms had been removed. His service weapon was missing and his head was not at the scene — it would be found 10 hours later in the burnt out husk of Allison Hadley and Hutchins' ambulance, alongside the carbonized bodies of Hadley and Dawson. The vehicle's tracking system had been disabled, and the smoldering remains left on the side of a dirt track road deep inside Piscataway Creek Stream Valley Park.

Lecter was in the wind.

In writing this book, my editors always kept a highlighted "TK" at the above sentence, exhibiting some optimism that by the time we progressed through revisions, through fact checking, through proofing and perhaps even after the distribution of review copies, we might circle back and update it with additional information. Book publishing is an old, slow business. Perhaps by the time we were ready to roll out for mass production, there would be a break in the case; perhaps Lecter would already be captured and safely contained again in the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Perhaps he would be dead, and the monster slain for good.

It is perhaps understandable why those who have never crossed paths with Lecter would have been so cavalier toward him. The mythology of the man has grown so vast and sprawling that collective practicality and cynicism must trigger a need to recast his legend into something that would fit more comfortably into a human skin. But the shared trait of Lecter's handful of survivors is eternal, constant paranoia.

Bedelia du Maurier is a stunningly beautiful woman, with the icy blond demeanor of a Hitchcock femme fatale — likely necessary traits for having survived being Lecter's therapist for half a decade. Subpoenaed by prosectors, she wore a peacock blue dress and  declined to answer most of the court's questions on the basis of doctor-patient confidentiality — maintaining eye contact with Lecter for the entire testimony.

Twenty-five agonizing minutes into this, she finally broke pattern.

"You think you see Hannibal Lecter — you do not," she said. "What you see is what he allows you to see: a meticulously constructed human suit. You cannot hope to understand him, and to call him something as simplistic as 'evil' only shows the narrow parameters of your own imagination.

"Hannibal is something else, something that we do not have a word for — to presume otherwise, to ever think you have contained him is the worst sort of hubris."

— Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

Jack Gordon has a rapidly receding hairline and wild, frizzy blond curls he wears long down his neck. His shirt shares a pattern with the 1960s wallpaper of the house, and Clarice says, "I'd appreciate that, sir," when he offers to see if he can't find any forwarding information for Mrs. Lippman. He doesn't look her in the eye.

The house is grimy, the embellished doily touch of an older woman coupled with the neglect of a downmarket tenant. The furniture is a sickly pink underneath a fine layer of dust, and the house smells like old food, like accumulated dirt and cloying perfume. Clarice stands at the doorway to the kitchen, at the precipice of yellowing linoleum and watches Gordon's hands shake as he digs through one of the cheap pressboard cupboards, flicking through unopened letters and bills.

"So you're uh — with the FBI, huh?" he asks her, glancing up.

He's got circles under his eyes, some smear on his chin that's darker than the rest of his face, and Clarice keeps staring at the strange line of his mouth: dark around the edges and bloodless at the seam. There's something about it that tickles at the back of her mind, but he keeps looking back down to his hands, to the hideous color of his shirt, to the letters he's paging through, and Clarice can't focus.

"Yes, sir," she tells him, rote. "I appreciate your help, by the way."

"Oh, it's no trouble," he says, not looking up. He's looking through the same stack of letters all over again, doubling back, and something in her hind brain starts buzzing. "You know, I don't know if Mrs. Lippman can help you."

Clarice takes a step back with her left foot, crosses her arms over her chest and tucks her right hand under the hot curve of her breast until her fingertips touch the butt of her gun, until she can scrape a nail over the diamond crosshatch on the handle.

"Yeah?" she prompts, and she can hear her own syllables lengthening, stretching lazily outward to match Gordon's. "What makes you say that?"

Gordon shrugs, too much, too practiced, not a casual reflex at all.

"She was an old lady, old lady, getting too old to take care of herself, you know?" he drawled, and it's the third time he's going through the letters now. Clarice sees the same KeyBank logo, bright red and stark on the envelope flip by, and she moves her thumb enough to dig the nail into the snap clasp, shifts herself so the noise is swallowed up by the sound of fabric brushing.

She nods, humming. "She was what, in her 70s? That's gettin' up in years."

"Her son thought so, too, moved her out to live with him," Gordon picks up where she lets off, an unpracticed fabulist, and he's back to flashing her that awkward smile, so uncomfortable on his face it makes something start to tick in the back of her head, the ominous countdown of a nearby clock.

"Good son," Clarice says, and she asks, "May I have a glass of water, Mr. Gordon?"

He stares at her, and she stares right back, all of it a beat too long, before he sets down his stack of letters and mumbles, "Sure, sure," and turns to get a cup.

Clarice has her phone in her hand, typing come to lippman house asap something wrong when she sees the black flutter — a moving shadow across her eyeline, and she blinks and blinks two or three times, hearing the water running, hearing Gordon moving in the background before her vision resolves into clarity.

It's a moth: huge wings spanning 6 inches, walnut wood grain patterns stretching from head to tip — the Black Witch.

"Bugs," Gordon says suddenly, standing still at the sink, holding the water glass. "Gotta get some damn screens for the windows."

His eyes are flat, pupils dark and massive, and in the backlight of the kitchen window he looks taller now, all his angles sharpening and the room getting heavy with it, with him.

Clarice smiles at him, incandescent. "Good idea," she says, and hits SEND on her phone.

She ducks before she processes anything else because Gordon hurls the cup at her. Clarice hears it shatter behind her, against the wall, feels the chip of glass and the cool weight of water in her hair, but she stares straight ahead, at how Gordon dashes out the other side of the galley kitchen, through an avocado-colored dining room and down a hall. She launches off from bent knees, off like a sprinter, and she pulls her gun out feeling blood pounding in her head, as she's dialing 911 and shouting the address, as she chases the thunder of Gordon's footsteps through the house.

She's halfway down the cellar stairs when the lights cut out, and she whispers, "fuck," as she fumbles with her phone — gets the flashlight app on — and for lack of a third hand or a cameraphone mount on her weapon, jams it down the front of her shirt between the line of her sports bra and her tits so it beams out ahead of her.

In the cold light of the phone flash, the cellar seems cavernous: half dirt and half stone foundation, the ruins of an older house that lived here before this tired arts and crafts two story was built on top. The ceiling is low, rotting wooden beams and cables stapled into it, and she flinches at every single noise, at every shadow, trying to keep her footfalls soft as she wades into the pool of light ahead of her.

This is Buffalo Bill, she doesn't let herself think. This man killed five women.

She thinks about where she's stepping instead, letting all the reflexes Quantico's drilled into her come to the forefront. She's carrying a standard-issue Glock 23: compact and with less recoil, and a standard magazine capacity of 13 rounds. The trigger pull is 5.5 lbs, and Clarice feels like she could pull 100 right now, all the blood in her body drawn back like an eerily low tide — that paranormal hush before a tsunami, when the ocean is waiting to break over her.

There are the standard basement noises, the hum of a lived-in space, but underneath the daily inhales and exhales of a house overhead is the intermittent pitch of screaming.

Clarice keeps her back guarded, keeps the wall near, and she moves as quietly as she can, hears her breathing overloud and the darkness around her swallowing, scraping away at the edges of the phone light. There is rope down here, and broken glass. There's torn up textile, and so many doors, all deteriorating from long disuse.

The noise is louder, the deeper she winds into the basement, sound linking into words, and Clarice feels her heartbeat go thready, wonders where Gordon's gone. Maybe he's panicking. Maybe he's killing Catherine. Maybe he's waiting for her at the origin of the scream, but Clarice's feet keep carrying her forward, the thick soles of her ugly shoes traveling, and there's a buzz in her head now that must be the auditory side effect of adrenaline, spiking in her body — she feels ready to pull her trigger; Clarice knows that if he comes for her, she'll fire first, that she'll fire faster.

She sees, from the corner of her eye, something hideous melting in a bathtub, through the opened door off a corridor, in a bathroom that might once have been nice in this cellar that might once have been a mother-in-law suite. She doesn't clock it, doesn't look again. Whoever is in there is dead already, and there's still someone screaming up ahead, and Clarice thinks about Montana, about frost in the grass, the hot, heavy body of a lamb in her arms.

There's one more door, heavy and new and only mostly closed at the end of the corridor, and Clarice stops long enough in front of it to breathe — in and out, in and out — before she kicks it open and checks behind it, points her weapon around the room to find it —

To see an old well in the center of it, to hear, "IS THAT FUCKING YOU?" scream up out of it, clear finally as separate words. "I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD IF YOU TOUCH ME I WILL KILL THIS FUCKING DOG."

"Jesus," Clarice says to herself, shaking, "Jesus," and she whirls back around to the door she just came through and shuts it as quietly as she can.


There's no lock — never thought anybody would come down here — so Clarice looks for something to shove in front of it instead. She can't holster her gun, so she ends up dragging a couple of crates over one-handed, wincing at the scraping noise, because Jesus what if he hears, what if he hears? and also because it prompts:


Clarice keeps that door in her eyeline, does a circuit of the room: no windows, no other entryway. If he comes through, she'll have 13 rounds to make her point. She keeps her gun trained at the door, at the four crates she's put in front of it, and she backs up toward the well, until she's near enough to call down:

"Catherine? Catherine Martin is that you?"

From below, in the fathomless dark, comes the agonized gush of a sob, the high whimper of an animal that isn't human. The voice that had been screaming before begs now, all the anger gone out of her sails, "Oh, God, God — help me, get me out of here, please, Jesus, just get me out of here."

Clarice keeps staring at the door. She thinks she can hear something coming. Maybe that's her imagination, just her heartbeat too loud in her ears. But she's drifting into that quiet place the FBI snipers had talked about, where she dissolves into her focus.

"Catherine, I'm Clarice Starling — I'm with the FBI. I've called for backup and I've called the police, just sit tight a little longer, I'll stay here with you," she promises.

"Please, please," Catherine begs, and it's awful, it makes Clarice want to throw her cell phone down to her, but she can't, not right now.

"I just need you to be brave a little while longer, Catherine," Clarice promises. "Your momma's gonna be real glad to see you."

Down below, Catherine goes quiet for a beat, for two, before she says, "There's fingernails here, jammed in the wall, and blood."

"That's other people, all right? Not you, don't focus on that, okay?" Clarice snaps. "Tell me about the dog — is the dog Precious?"

Clarice thinks she hears the rumble of cars, fantasizes about the sound of footsteps, of SWAT backup, of Jack Crawford, of Zeller and Price. She doesn't know how long has passed since she sent her text message, how long since the 911 operator took the address from her — she'd never technically hung up, the call disconnecting as she'd gone deeper into the hellmouth of the basement.

"It's his dog — I dragged her down here," Catherine says, shaky but calmer, and the dog contributes a yip. "He would have killed me already otherwise."

She feels frozen over, like she's been down here for eons, but it must only be minutes, maybe not even five. She can't do this. She has to do this, and she brings her arms up again, putting one foot back and falling into position.

"Well, you did your job, surviving so we could find you," Clarice tells her, and this time — this time the sound is real. This time she can't be imagining it. This time, she hears footfalls through the thin door, hears the ground outside shaking. Everything's happening now — everything's happening all at once. "Don't you worry, just let us do our job from here on out."

There's a banging against the door, the crates knocked forward but holding, and Gordon sticks his fucking head through the crack — face obscured by a massive pair of night vision goggles. And Clarice doesn't hesitate: she squeezes the trigger on her exhale, through the brittle wood of the ancient door, watching the muzzle fire. She doesn't hear the firecracker noises, or feel the bruising kick of the recoil — she keeps firing.

Clarice is going to live today, and so is Catherine.

While Lecter was massacring his skeleton crew of handlers at Andrews Air Force Base,  Starling was in a basement in Ohio, putting five bullets point blank into Jame Gumb — better known as Buffalo Bill. He'd murdered five women and flayed them to make a suit of their skins, which the FBI located in a disordered sewing room next door to an old dried well where Gumb stored victims until he was ready to skin them. In her official report on the incident, Starling would say that Gumb's intended sixth victim, Senator Ruth Martin's daughter, Catherine, had survived by her own ingenuity until assistance could be rendered.

When officials emptied out his house of horrors, they found the suit of girl skins, a meticulously detailed paper pattern, Q Lazzarus's album, Edit, set to repeat the song "Goodbye Horses" in a circa 2002 CD player. They found a room covered in chicken wire and thousands of Black Witch moths. They found the owner of the Gumb's house, dead and liquified in a tub in the cellar. Whatever else they found, they redacted.

Starling — gorgeous, green, wrapped in a shock blanket and the hulking mass of Jack Crawford's protective arm — was an immediate sensation, as was the lurid story of the killer she gunned down, the girl she saved.

But while the world was focused on Belvedere, Ohio, the shockwave of Lecter's escape was leaving the more seismic effect.

Mason Verger put out a $1 million bounty for information on Lecter. All of Baltimore society hushed, a breath held in wait. Bedelia du Maurier reopened her practice. Dr. Bloom vanished, her resignation at the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane tendered via letter with no return address. She left word with a no kill shelter about her dogs, Applesauce and Winston.

Lecter could have orchestrated his escape alone; I believe he had the capacity for it.

But I believe, too, it would have been easier if he had assistance.

Based on an inventory of letters collected from his old cell, he certainly had his choice of admirers and sycophants to choose from as accomplice — including one correspondent who called himself Patroclus, and a woman who wrote to him in purple pen about running away together, to a house on a cliff, crumbling away. The Martin Commission was never able to determine how or when Raskind was poisoned. Maybe Lecter had a true believer planted on the inside. Maybe he seduced one of his captors. Maybe there was a getaway car idling while Lecter burned down the ambulance; maybe there was a prop plane hidden nearby. There are a hundred thousand maybes.

But here is what I do know: when I called the shelter to ask about Dr. Bloom's dogs, they admitted they only ever recovered one. When they reached her residence, there was no trace of Winston at all.

Bloom had inherited him from Will Graham. Maybe Winston had caught a scent.

Catherine Martin makes the cops show her Buffalo Bill's body. She stands over him, wild-haired and wobbly and clad in the triumphal armor of a shock blanket and counts the bullet holes Clarice put in him. "One, two — five," she concludes, with an animal relish, and smiles. She says, "Thanks, Lady," to Clarice, and she refuses to surrender Precious to the animal control officers who come to take him away.

"That shit-guzzling fuckstain kidnapped me, threw me in a fucking well, starved me and wanted to wear my God damn skin as a fucking jockstrap," she hollers at them. "I'm stealing his fucking shitty dog fair and fucking square."

Clarice thinks that Catherine Martin will be just fine.

Clarice is — not less fine, but reeling, rather.

Her hands are vibrating, still, from the recoil of the weapon, and her hearing is muffled through water. She's very cold, though that could just be Ohio in February. Crawford, Zeller, and three separate good old boy cops try to give her their jackets, but the cold is clarifying: the frost prick at her fingertips and nose is helping to ground her. Clarice has never killed anyone before, has never even fired her weapon in the field. She keeps remembering how the bullets splintered the door, how Bill's wild hair had shaken as he'd shaken, how he'd gone down clawing at everything he could reach to stay upright, clawing at the crates Clarice had stacked in front of it. She can't remember if he'd said anything, if he'd made a noise. Crawford tells her that he had a gun, a massive, heavy 6 inch barreled stainless steel Colt Python — a mean sumbitch of a gun he filled with .38 special lead wadcutters. Clarice wonders what she'll write in her report, and who will read it and know that she's killed a man.

Senator Martin arrives three hours into the ordeal. She flies past 100 milling law enforcement officials, body checks an EMT, and squeezes Catherine so tightly in her arms it gets Precious howling. Her hair is in disarray, as is her fabulous suit. She's not wearing any eyeliner to run, and Senator Martin looks exhausted and incandescently grateful, pressing kisses to her daughter's hair as Catherine sobs into her breast.

Clarice feels the heavy warmth of a shoulder next to her — proximity warm — and when she looks over it's to see Crawford, eyes crinkling at her.

"Didn't I tell you not to be a hero, Starling?" he asks.

"You also said we could fight about it later," she says. It comes out shivery.

"No thanks, we just zipped up the last guy you got in a fight with," Crawford says, and waves over an EMT, gets Clarice her own shock blanket.

Once it's tucked in around her shoulders, some bone deep exhaustion starts to weigh down on her as the warmth reaches her fingertips, starts to reach her toes. Her eyes are heavy now, like her arms and legs, and feels herself slumping forward, her body compressing.

Clarice can't tell if everybody's giving her a wide berth out of respect or because Crawford's paternalistic aura is just that intense. Either way, she's grateful for it, and grateful for the hot coffee Zeller brings to her, the doughnuts Price brings her — most grateful for the ride back to D.C. the senator offers in her private jet.

She's in that liminal in-between place, staring into the clouds and feeling eternal, borderless, dissolved into the sky. The last week is a jumble inside of her head: the bitter cold rain of Baltimore and the gothic loom of the BHCI, small towns in West Virginia, mourning a stranger's daughter, the Smithsonian hallways, the basement. She looks at Zeller and Price, asleep across the cabin and tucked into one another like opening and closing quotes: unintentionally sweet. She thinks about Quantico and falling asleep in Will Graham's paper — and it all feels like it happened to another person, a much-younger version of herself.

Crawford, who'd been holed up in the back, comes up the aisle grim-faced and solemn and sits next to her.

"Lecter escaped," he says without preamble, and adds, "It's nothing you need to worry about, but I thought you should know."

"Shit — how?" she asks, forgetting herself, remembering the hanger.

"They're still figuring that out," Crawford tells her, crossing his arms over his massive chest. "I'm telling you this so it won't be a shock when you land, not because it's your problem, Starling. The FBI and U.S. Marshals have people on it."

Clarice should feel the gutting dread of fear, feel scared the way everybody feels scared about Lecter, but she can't shake the memory of their goodbyes at the aircraft hangar: how she's felt reluctant charm, a sinister wonder. If she listens to her hind brain, the ancient whispering, it tells her she has nothing to fear from Hannibal Lecter, that he will not darken her door. He has of her already all he will ever want or need: her trembling childhood loss, her scream as they'd taken her lamb, her desperate eagerness.

"Where's your head at, Starling?" Crawford asks her after a long silence, kind.

She rolls her neck along the back of the jet bench, because her head's too heavy to keep upright anymore, and blinks slowly three times. He is expecting her to be frightened, but all she can think of is Ardelia's note, in Ardelia's ridiculous handwriting, Lecter already fading backward into the dark of her head.

"Sir," she manages.

He arches an eyebrow at her. "Yes, Starling?"

"I've missed a lot of class," she says suddenly, non sequitur.

The eyebrow goes higher. "Where's this going, Starling?"

"Am I going to get recycled, sir?" She thinks about getting pepper sprayed again.

Crawford's laugh is a sonic boom in the silence of the plane.

They graduate her with the rest of her class. Clarice meets Ardelia's parents and so many of Ardelia's endless relatives she doesn't have a second to feel awkward or orphaned, with nobody there to celebrate. Grandma Mapp has a smartphone from Korea with a screen the size of a small television, and she's unbelievably skilled in the art of taking attractive selfies. Clarice has been hugged and kissed and poked by maybe 600 people by the time she breaks away to answer her cell at the reception.

It's a private number, no ID, and she says, "Hello? Hello?" twice before she gets to a corner where it's quiet enough she can hear the other end of the line.

"Congratulations, Agent Starling," a man says.

She doesn't recognize the voice. "Who is this?"

"Consider me an interested party," comes a laugh. "I was impressed by your work, and catching Buffalo Bill — consider that an A+ on the practical exam."

Clarice gets suddenly, stunningly dizzy. She asks again, "Who is this?"

"You have a bright future at the Bureau, you don't need to be worrying about ghosts, or chasing them, for that matter," the voice tells her. She hears in it a familiar echo, a connective fiber reaching for its partner. "Let sleeping dogs lie."

She presses her back against the wall. She thinks about all the impossible things that have already happened. What's one more. She thinks about Louisiana boatyards and no bodies. She thinks that she doesn't know why she's more frightened now, here, safe in the heart of Quantico taking this phone call, than she'd been two feet away from Hannibal Lecter.

"That's quite a lot of cliches," she chokes out.

"Rude," the man drawls in reply. "Not surprising, exactly. He's got a type."

"I'm nobody special," Clarice says. She should tell someone to trace this call. She should ask where Lecter is: the unspoken shape their words are outlining. Instead she stares at the concrete block wall ahead of her and feels her heart race.

There's a huff on the call. "False modesty's unbecoming, Agent Starling," he chides. "I recognize given his inclination for dramatics, I'll probably have to deal with a mess of this caliber again — but I'd prefer if it didn't involve you."

Clarice shakes, she can't help it. "He should be in jail."

"From what I see, they've yet to build one that can hold him," is the fond reply.

She swallows hard and whispers, "Why are you calling me?"

"Thought I'd put a voice to that out-of-place evidence you found in your storage locker — or did you think that Gumb had evolved such a signature that early into his killing?" the voice asks her, the way a teacher might: chiding. "Do you remember how they caught him, Agent Starling?"

Clarice has to discard her shock, her demand for more details, to keep up with the Socratic questioning. She has a vague memory of Freddie Lounds on the radio, talking about Renaissance art and scorn, and she guesses, "He killed someone in Italy."

"He gutted and lashed a poet to the steps of the Baptistery of San Giovanni and arranged a putti whipping him with a bow. It had the subtlety of a car accident," he replies, tinder dry. "And he did it because he was feeling particularly effusive that day — he likes you, Starling. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"It sounds like you let him get caught," she retorts, ignoring his point, the subtle threat.

"This entire episode was a necessary inconvenience. A bit of advice: don't make ultimatums unless you have the fortitude to mete out the consequences," he counsels, and adds, "I trust you understand my meaning."

"You should turn him in, Mr. Graham," Clarice says, discarding her caution.

"Haven't you heard, Agent Starling? Will Graham is dead," he teases, and hangs up.

She stands there for a long time, clutching her phone and staring into nothing, her heart running sprints down her sternum until Ardelia comes looking for her double fisting glasses of Malbec and herds her back to the party. Until Clarice finds herself smiling a little wider, laughing a little too much. She doesn't dare think about what this means if Graham was planting moths in storage units, what Lecter's smile must have been for, in his holding cell at the BHCI, why he'd been so sanguine at Andrews Air Force Base. It's too big. It's too much. It feels far away, unreal, divorced from this room with its fresh-faced graduates, his proud families, its government-grade catering: these things, these ordinary things, are all that Clarice is meant to touch and feel and have. 

"What's up with you, Starling?" Ardelia demands, handing her a crab cake.

Clarice stares at her for a beat too long, probably, before she bursts out laughing, feeling the chill wear off, feeling the wildness in her chest recede.

"Nothing," she promises. "I'm fine — it's all fine."

"Because we just graduated, Clarice, you better be here for this," Ardelia demands, grinning, looping her arm through Clarice's.

Clarice eats the crab cake. "I promise," she says through the bite. "I'm right here."

Let us give in, for a moment, to romantic fancy and imagine the possibility that Graham did not die in that kitchen.

Lecter had near unlimited resources and the impressive will and discipline to cultivate a public persona of genial doctor while also slaughtering and eating a staggering number of people. He was the likely killer of Abigail Hobbs, the daughter and sole survivor of her own father, Minnesota Shrike Garret Jacob Hobbs. He dosed Verger industrial meat heir Mason Verger with a sufficiently motivating cocktail of psychedelics and narcotics that he ended up paralyzed with a face that's difficult to look at — despite extensive and top-of-the-line skin grafts and cosmetic reconstruction. Lecter played the theremin, was a well-regarded illustrator, wooed his way into the inner sanctum of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Behavioral Analysis Unit. Lecter was a surgeon, a sociopath, sui generis even among the select brotherhood of serial murderers.

Lecter would have found a way.

So let us imagine that Graham is not dead, that Lecter felt for him the way he sometimes looked at Graham: inarticulate tenderness, an incapacitating affection, revealed, longing. Maybe Graham is sitting in a beautiful room somewhere, docile as an odalisque. Maybe, for Graham, it's hard to know what he remembers of his old life — what he chooses to keep. Maybe the drugs that may have held him in the first days are no longer part of his life — their life — nor the hypnosis and light therapy.

Maybe one day Graham will hear the phonograph wail of the theremin, the sound of a gun, and come to some unwilled awakening — if indeed he even sleeps.

Graham, more than most, must know that you can only learn so much and live.

Ravenous, by Freddie Lounds

Chapter Text


It's enclosing dark outside, deep and peaceful, the kind of night that used to draw Will into the tall grass behind his house, to see the orange windows and feel — finally — safe.

But Hannibal's table, his kitchen, has the curious property of turning things inside out, and Will finds himself cotton-muffled, warm and curled up close to the lamplight. He is sitting in the leather armchair Hannibal leaves for his appreciative audience, that perches in the corner, and subsumed by the mood that had seized him all night, through dinner and drinks: a bruised and tender quiet that had left Alana unsettled and too closely watchful. It's the exhaustion of giving in, after so long tensed to fight. He'd eaten when Hannibal had set food in front of him, drank when his wine glass was refilled, and now he smiles — dutiful, trembling — when Alana asks about the cut on his hand.

"It was unfortunately deeper than it looked, and quite painful," Hannibal answers for Will, whose words had fled him earlier that night, flown up like a murder of crows to the second floor of the house to be with Abigail. "I took the liberty of giving Will a stitch and some rather strong pain medication I'm afraid."

Alana looks like she's biting back a comment about Hannibal helping Will mix painkillers and alcohol, and Will closes his eyes against her eyes. He feels like an overripe fig, and right now it is easiest to press his cheek to the buttery leather of the chair, to curl inward on himself, around the hot coal of awareness in his belly and listen.

He thinks he can hear Abigail's footfalls upstairs, her breathing, her heart beating too quickly even now, hours since she'd emerged like a ghost — eyes wet and mouth trembling — into the kitchen, while Will was waiting for Hannibal to return from his cellar. But Will hadn't believed it until Hannibal had come up behind them on soft feet and sighed, "I see you could wait no longer, Abigail."

She'd smiled at Will, shy and scared, and Will couldn't blame her, for they were both in the belly of a beast. "Surprise," she'd whispered, and Will had fumbled out one hand, two, until he'd touched her, felt her skin warm and living under his own icy palms. His heart had hurt, overstretched and overtaxed, and she'd draw him in for a hug, too thin in his arms. Will had closed his eyes, pressed his face to her red hair, and felt the scales tip, his indecision evaporate — it left behind only an anodyne that made him weak-kneed.

Abigail had spirited herself upstairs at the first sign of Alana's car, and Will had felt his heart follow her there. He'd still been trailing the ghost of her into the second floor when the doorbell had chimed, and he'd dropped a wine glass in shock — gone immediately to his knees with clumsy hands to pick up the pieces and cutting himself in the process.

And so now he's been forbidden from helping to clean up, arranged artistically with a tumbler of very fine scotch in the armchair. He can feel Alana, still in the room, and Hannibal, indulging and overprotective, steering the conversation away from Will's dissolving borders and to safer territory: the wine, the weather, the eternal, ethical quandary of Will and Hannibal's doctor-patient relationship.

"I'm afraid you were — as you often are — correct, Alana," Hannibal says, with a perfectly performed mimicry of ruefulness — so precisely attuned Will feels the corners of his mouth tugging up instinctively, smiling, to hear it. In so many ways, the mind is Hannibal's instrument, and Will may be the only other person who can hear to appreciate the precision of Hannibal's notes.

"Oh," Alana laughs, "this I have to hear."

Will feels something like a stone breaking the still surface of water, and he blinks his eyes open, languid, to see Hannibal reaching toward him; it's instinct, reflex, to reach back. He lets Hannibal take his hand, and thinks of the basin of warm water on the dining table the next room over, Hannibal telling him not to go inside, how he'd pressed an open-mouthed kiss to Will's split-open knuckles, after.

Now, Hannibal bends over Will's hand again, brushing a his lips across the curls of Will's fingers like a supplicant, and Will lets himself feel an animal pleasure at it. The ease of it leaves him breathless, makes him dizzy, to say yes or to say no after living so long with a stone in his throat.

"That is — not any less worthy of concern than the previous configuration of your relationship," Alana manages.

"It's clarifying," Will hears, and realizes only as the last syllable leaves that he's said it, that the low rasp is his own.

Hannibal looks delighted, eyes gleaming like polished garnets, and it makes Will turn his hand so he can press a thumb into the harsh line of Hannibal's lower lip. It's nothing at all like any other mouth Will's ever kissed: it's the origin of horrors and comforts and the maw of hell, sharp teeth gnashing and Will is utterly unafraid.

Hannibal is an elemental thing, the dark from before light started to scrape at its edges, and it has always loved Will, tried to consume him for its own. Hannibal's teeth can tear throats, crack bones like a monster from the Black Forest, and Will shivers to see Hannibal so suffused with longing, so blissful just to be close enough to the smell of Will's blood pulsing at his wrist. He feels powerful. He feels grounded. He feels present.

"It's late," Alana cuts in, ground glass in her tone. "Will — walk me to my car?"

Hannibal is lavish with one last, lingering kiss to Will's palm. "She's trying to warn you away from me, Will," he teases, not at tease at all. Hannibal would cut Alana, stem to sternum, where she stands, take heaving breaths of the hot steam of her organs as she died on the floor. Will rolls his eyes, shoves at Hannibal's face.

"Sure," he says to Alana, and trails her to Hannibal's door and out of it, into the glittering eternal winter of Baltimore at night.

She waits until they're at her car before she asks, "Are you shitting me?"

"No," Will says, more truthful than he's been able to be in weeks — months. It's bliss.

"I literally don't even know where to begin," she tells him, clutching at her keys and looking gloriously incensed. She's a vision, and Will thinks a slight step to the left, and he'd be driving home in the cold and Alana would go back inside; Hannibal has always liked beautiful things, but they don't survive him.

Will reaches out, closes his hand around her wrist. "Alana, for the first time in a long time, I'm sure about what I'm doing."

She keeps staring and staring into his face, like if she looks long and deeply enough she'll see a hidden cry for help. Maybe in another life, maybe another evening, but even now, Will's heart is back in the warm darkness of Hannibal's house, in the kitchen with the gleaming silver, up the stairs with Abigail. He's never belonged here — and he means 'here' broadly, enormously broadly — but maybe he can, maybe he will.

"I just don't want you to be hurt," she tells him finally, reaching a hand up to cup his face. Her fingertips are icy, but Will leans into the touch, knows it for the good thing it is, and he exhales away the last fleeting hesitation, sends his complicated feelings for her into the night. "Will, I just need to know that — " she stops, struggling " — I — should I trust him? With you? Do you trust him?"

No, and yes, Will thinks. "I trust him," he confesses. It's the Louisiana in him that has him adding, "God help me, I really do."

Alana squeezes her eyes shut, some mix of anger and hurt Will regrets, but can't ameliorate. There's the cold sunbeam of headlights that skip across them, one of Hannibal's absurd neighbors, who will no doubt report this to their absurd spouse, and the moment is broken. Alana nods; she steps backward, reaches for her car, toward the steadying lines of something she better understands.

"I'm leaving," she tells him. She points the car keys at him. "This isn't over, okay?"

Will laughs. "Okay," he allows, easy, because Hannibal will take care of everything — he's said his yesses, unlocked all the doors.

He waits on the street until Alana's car takes the right turn at the end of the block before he dashes back inside, the cold suddenly stark, and he shivers out of his coat and back into the kitchen. Hannibal is emptying the dishwasher, and he looks up when Will arrives, his face fond and open and warm.

"Alana was not sufficiently convincing, I see," he says.

"Well, I left my cell phone here," Will lies, but there's no weight behind it, and he closes the distance between them, lets Hannibal hand him dishes and platters, sharp-tined forks and heavy-handled knives to put away.

Hannibal makes a considering noise. "Have you thought seriously about it — the things you'll leave behind?"

There's the job, his little house on the borderland between Wolf Trap and unincorporated Virginia. There's the car, some books, his mother's piano. There's his lifetime of academic and police work. All of it, in some way, had been killing him in increments and degrees: the expectation, the enduring, that loneliness had become his least of all possible suffering. He looks at Hannibal instead, who guts rude little girls and feeds them to Will in lovingly prepared breakfasts, who is hovering over him now broad-shouldered and imploring: no matter how inhuman, Hannibal has human fears. He fears that Will will change his mind, that Will will leave him, that Will will need to die by his hand — Hannibal doesn't care if Will turns him in; it's just that now, after everything, he can't bear the thought of Will without him, that someone else might leave a mark like Hannibal has.

"I have everything I need," Will tells him honestly.

He feels a sense of weightless anticipation, of who he and Hannibal and Abigail will become, and where they will go — whoever and wherever, there will be no expectations. Hannibal is interested in every possible outcome.

And his smile is close, as enclosing as the shadows outside, looming near enough that when he speaks, it is near enough Will can feel the words on his skin. "Would you like me to tell you my plan for our departure?" Hannibal offers.

Will hears Abigail's coming down the stairs, all teenaged noises now that there's no one to hide from, and it settles hot and heavy in his belly, the knowledge he can have this, that all he needs to do is let Hannibal give it to him.

He tilts his head, tips his chin up — watches the way Hannibal's breath speeds, his pupils dilate, the way his whole body makes promises he won't articulate — and Will presses in until he can whisper, "Surprise me," into Hannibal's mouth.

"Yes, yes," Hannibal growls, all teeth and claws, like all his other words, his human trappings, have abandoned him. Will tastes in Hannibal blood from the sharp edge of a canine, the afterimage of that night's red wine — and underneath it, a hot darkness that's always been waiting for him, impatient.

It's the bliss of falling, the drift of space, and Will sighs into it — lets himself be consumed, eaten alive.