Disclaimer: All characters belong to Thomas Harris

A/N: This is my take on the Lecter/Starling romance. It's an AU, as you'll see soon enough. I've written this story in German and now I am trying my hand at the english translation. Please excuse my errors - I'm no native speaker and I still need a beta. Enjoy! Feedback / Constructive Criticism is always welcome.

Clarice Starling, 25 years old, hurried down the hall of the FBI Academy in Quantico. She was on her way to the office of Jack Crawford, head of the department of behavioral science. Crawford had summoned her, and she was surprised - he was currently stuck up to his neck in work. The grisly murders in the "Chesapeake Ripper" case left him no time to breathe.

The press pounced like vultures onto the failure of the renowned experts. Crawford, Will Graham and Alan Bloom were caught up in the crossfire of public criticism. While the more serious newspapers only attacked the approach of the FBI, the tabloids showed less restraint - the work of the whole department was dragged through the mud and Crawford's expertise was questioned publicly. The National Tattler, sensationalist as always, went one step further. In its latest article on the case, the Tattler only barely concealed its insinuation that the killer probably even was a member of the FBI team of experts. Otherwise, the tabloid concluded, it could not be explained that the investigation had proved fruitless so far.

Clarice snorted contemptuously. She too had already been suffering from the poisonous pen of Tattler columnist Freddy Lounds. Although she was not strictly part of the case, she was called to the site where the corpse of the victim was found. It was the ninth known victim of the killer. She was in Baltimore at the time, to plan a raid with the BTA. Because of her pychological training, Crawford had immediately asked her to look at the crime scene after the body was found. Crawford and his team would have taken another hour to reach Baltimore, and they could not afford to lose anymore time. In a case like that, every second counted. Starling had initially thought that this would be her big chance. The ambitious young woman, who had completed her training last year at the academy, wanted nothing more than to be able to work in the department of behavioral science.

The crime scene investigation itself was run smoothly. But Starling couldn't get the grisly scene out of her mind even now. The dead man, who had been leaning against the front door of a museum like he was sleeping, was gruelly disfigured by the Ripper. His face, half hidden by an old-fashioned hat, seemed to have been mauled. A gash ran across his left cheek, his lips were torn and his tongue was cut in half. The heavy bleeding indicated that the injuries were inflicted on the man when he was still alive. Death had occured a few hours later. Apparently, the Ripper grew tired of waiting for the man to bleed to death and cut his throat. The upper body of the man was cut open, not unlike an autopsy. It seemed as if the Ripper had taken another souvenir. Not for the first time, the team speculated about a possible medical background of the killer

As always, the Ripper left no traces at the crime scene. Of more concern to Starling, however, was the fact that the Ripper seemed to have had no difficulties in placing the body of his victim on a main road without being seen. This approach showed either the carelessness, the stupidity or the utter coolness of the killer - Clarice was sure that the last one was the case. While the young woman examined the crime scene to get a feel for the thoughts of the murderer, she was interrupted by Freddy Lounds, who wanted to get access to the site with unparalleled audacity. When Clarice stopped him from entering the crime scene and told him what she thought of people like him – slimy little rat were the words that had left her mouth – she had sealed her fate.

In the next edition of the Tattler, she was portrayed as a hysterical, zealous young agent, who threatened the investigation with her temperament. Clarice Starling, Lounds wrote, was the best evidence that jobs in the bureau should be done by men, not by women.

Starling still seethed with anger when her thoughts went back to the article. But there was no place for anger and bitterness now. She had to prepare herself for the meeting with Crawford. She feared that he had summoned her to talk about the newspaper report. She was sure that Crawford would not be pleased. "If this pseudo-reporter Lounds damaged my career," she thought spitefully, "then he won't have to wait for the Chesapeake Ripper to catch him."

As it turned out, however, Crawford had no intention to lecture her about press relations. When she entered his office, he was engrossed in a phone call. He smiled at her briefly. While she settled down on a chair, the department head ended the conversation. "Well, Will you pursue the matter further. We both know that he is our man. I'll call you back later," said Crawford, before ended the phone call without a word of farewell. He rubbed his eyes briefly and then sat behind his desk. "This man drives me insane", he whispered before he turned his attention to Starling.

„Hello, agent Starling. It's good to see you could make it this fast. You've done a good job in Baltimore, even though the director is giving me hell about the press reports", said Crawford.

Starling smiled, relieved. "Thank you, Mr. Crawford. I am very grateful that you gave me the opportunity to work on the case, " replied the young woman. "I believe there's no one in law enforcement that does not want to bring the man responsible for the killings to justice."

Crawford nodded, while he was pouring himself a cup of coffee. "Do you want one, too? Well, I need one now. I've been on duty since yesterday morning, you know. My wife is going to read me the riot act when I get home tonight, I guess, " he said with a wry smile. Crawford raised his cup of black coffee to his lips and took a big gulp. He scratched his head briefly and then quickly flipped through a file that lay before him on his desk. Clarice watched him curiously. She wondered not for the first time why he had summoned her.

Crawford sighed and slammed the file shut. "I bet you're wondering why you're here," Crawford said. "Well, it's thanks to our friend, the Chesapeake Ripper. Although you're new to the job, I'd like you to join the task force," he said as he eyed the young woman. Clarice hardly dared to breathe.

"Thank you, sir," she replied after a short pause. "I really want to help to catch him." Crawford seemed to be strangely satisfied with their response.

"Good," he said. "Are you up to date on the investigation?"

Starling collected her thoughts for a moment. She had only skimmed the file while she was on the way to the crime scene in Baltimore. „I know that the killer is responsible for at least nine murders. Every single one of the victims is male, middle-aged and heavily mutilated. The weapon of choice is a knife, a blade. Exception ist he bow hunter, who had additional arrow wounds. The murderer took his time, none of the victims died where they were found. Presumably, the culprit has killed them in a remote location, possibly even in his own home", she said. Crawford nodded and asked her to continue.

„Each of the victims was missing an organ, in three cases more than one. The precise cuts suggest anatomical knowledge, the offender probably has some kind of medical training. Evidence of sexual abuse are absent in each case, it seems the perpetrator solely is only interested in the killing itself. He's very cautious and has left no clear traces so far. The evidence indicates that the offender is an intelligent psychopath, probably white and 25-35 years. Probably a sadist, who enjoys the suffering of his victims. He knows how to wield a knife and makes no mistakes. He's educated - many of the tableaux in which he arranges his victims are full with historical allusions. The prime example of this is the archer, the wound man. He has clearly taken a liking to what he does – he's never going to stop. " Starling threw Crawford a bitter look. "And we do not have the slightest idea who he is."

Starling was surprised to see Crawfords grim smile. "Your profile is quite good, my compliments. It describes very precisely the man we are trying to catch. There's only one point you aren't aware of: We are pretty sure we already know who he is. "

"I have heard nothing of an arrest". Starling said, clearly surprised.

„That's good, we've tried to keep it out of the media fort he moment. The man's free again anyway. We can't prove anything so far", Crawford said, frustrated. „The man of whom I speak is incredibly intelligent and very charismatic. Our interrogation amused him because he knew we couldn't prove anything without a confession at the moment. He's even taken a voluntary lie detector test and passed it easily. He showed no emotion. The man is completely impenetrable. After the polygraph test, the detention judges ordered us to let him go. We can only hope that the bastard is now cautious and takes a break - but I wouldn't bet on that. "

Starling swallowed. "Why are you so sure that he is the killer, Mr. Crawford?"

Crawford crossed his arms and glanced at his desk before he looked at her. "He fits the profile. He is 41 years old and has a medical education. Two of the victims have been patients of him in the past three years - reason enough to examine him closer, we thought. As soon as we entered his office, we knew that it was him. On the wall was a picture of the wound man", said Crawford.

„He knew that we suspected him, although he stayed completely calm. He showed not the slightest hint of fear, on the contrary – he seemed to be enjoying himself when we questioned him. We asked him to come to the police station, and he immediately agreed to do so. Called it his „civic duty" and smirked at us. At the police station, he denied everything and pointed to his impeccable conduct. Nevertheless, we brought him to the custodial judge. But Judge Myers has accused us hold him for no reason and without concrete suspicion. We had to let him go again. Before he left the court, he spoke briefly with me and Graham. He wished us luck in the continuing investigation and emphasized that we would probably need it. Then he winked at us and called a cab. "

Crawford sighed briefly and ran his fingers through his hair. „If either me or Graham Stopp by again to interrogate him, he can sue us for police harassement. That's why I want you to talk to him again in his practice."

Starling raised her eyebrows, surprised. It was not often that an FBI rookie got a job like this. She did'nt need half a second to decide that she would do it. This was the chance she'd been waiting for. "And who is the suspect, Sir?"

Crawford took off his glasses and looked at her. "The psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter."