Some elements of the story are taken from the movie(s) Hannibal, Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, the novels, and several original scripts. They do not belong to me.

AN: This is my first Hannibal fic. It isn't your "typical" Hannibal/Clarice pairing, though I think you may still find it enjoyable. Prepare yourself for excessive description and imagery, some sorely placed plot-holes, and fluctuating chapter lengths. All reviews are adored!

"Think to yourself that every day is your last. The hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise." Red Dragon

CH 1: Burn

The Bureau had given her every reason in the world to resign. In response, she sought out every initiative to do so on a daily basis. But Clarice Starling knew overall that she would never be able to escape. It was almost like a sort of constructive curse, always lingering over her. She knew she was content being a part of something that determined justice and kept it in check. She knew that her life had a greater purpose when she was researching and acting on a case. She also knew that her motivation was to help others so that she herself might one day receive a similar endorsement, freeing herself from past regret and downfall. She wanted to apprehend those who caused harm to others, ensuring the safety of those innocent. The flaw in her method, however, was being held back by the very system she wished to utilize. The FBI did not care for her - despite everything she had done for it. Her dreams of fulfillment meant nothing to the Bureau unless they were aligned with their own goals. No. Clarice could not freely walk away from the Bureau; the one thing that held her life together. But on the other hand, she could not fix the problems within the agency that tore her apart. She was stuck. This fact was emphasized even more when it came to the Bureau and their persistent placement of the Hannibal Lecter file into her hands.

Tapping halfheartedly on the steering wheel of her rusted emerald Toyota, she remembered the conversation that took place a mere week after the cannibalistic killer fled. The incident had left her shaky - not that her partners or superiors within the Behavioral Science unit cared. All that mattered to them was the case and the chaos it left behind that night. Not a bit of hype had died down as she stared stonily at Jack Crawford, who was sitting down, staring down at her rather reserved and quieted figure.

"You understand your ties to the file have now hardened into bonds, don't you Agent Starling?" were the words that finally managed to break the silence. She had given him a slight shrug, but pierced him with her steely stare. She hated being placed in the predicament, though she had no room to argue. Explaining just how the good doctor had managed to flee the house had been hard enough. She couldn't flee from her current situation with as much ease.

"I'm aware," had been her short, cut down response. He had raised his eyebrows at her briefness, placing his hands together as he leaned forward towards her from behind the expansive oak desk.

"You should be, Starling. I'll have no blood on my hands, not even Krendler's. Understand the turn this case has taken. I won't allow another agent to tarnish themselves with it either. The Hannibal case is yours, and will remain yours," he more than insisted with his forceful tone. She bit back a grimace after hearing her fate, knowing it was the worst possible position in the world for her. She watched him mutilate a man before her very eyes. He had caused her pain and anxiety unimaginable to those who worked behind the scenes at the FBI. And he was a criminal mastermind, which only confirmed her thoughts that Lecter always had a plan - and his plan was to manipulate her. She feared that manipulation could be enough to break her. She did not want to be broken, particularly by a man encased in madness.

"I'll do what I can," Clarice had finally managed to stutter out, not knowing how to reply with actual agreement to the issue she wanted nothing to do with. She was quickly cut short by her former mentor.

"That and more, Starling. For your sake, I hope you apprehend him soon. You're a talented agent... but I don't see how you'll ever progress in your field without fixing this. Take responsibility," he finished, sitting back into his chair and motioning for her to leave with a waving hand gesture towards the door. She had not replied, biting down hard on her tongue with an unavoidable frown plastered on her face. She closed the door a little harder than necessary and knew Crawford must have been staring after her through the glass covered door. She also knew he wouldn't have the nerve to say a word to her about it; he had, of course, given her a distasteful verdict. The distaste derived from forcing her to apprehend the criminal mastermind before allowing her to continue on in the agency. It was a most bitter trade off. Though not unexpected.

Clarice allowed her mind to trail back to reality, watching rain capsules slide down the windshield before being smeared away by the inevitable wipers. It was a gloomy day, one that embodied her feeling entirely as she made her way across town. It had been months sense the disappearance of Hannibal Lecter. It was as if he had vanished to nowhere and consequently she was going nowhere with her work. It was a tough job trying to track down a man as brilliant as he, one who possessed skills of trickery normal people could not fathom. It really sparked Clarice's anger as she thought of how the man was such an avid member of society, probably attending concerts, museum openings, and music halls by the day. Even now, with his face gracing the Top Ten list of the most wanted criminals in the country - nothing could be found on him. It peeved her that not one citizen would recognize him. She had considered that if he fled overseas to the countries he was so fond of his face would be even more famous there, having come from the European continent and gaining his success and education in its roots. Many people of varying nationalities there were all well aware of the cannibalistic genius. Yet, not a word of his person had been spoken even in Europe. It discouraged her.

Clarice eventually pulled into the narrow driveway that served as parking for her little automobile. She glanced with yet another frown at the rented home she would soon enter from the inside of her car, hoping the rain would let up a bit before having to run to the door. She considered the home's musty yellow color and wished the rainfall would wash it away. Yes. She'd have to repaint the thing soon, and hopefully it would lose its former gloom and appear more inviting. She knew a similar procedure would have to take place in relation to her own self being. She sighed heavily, digging through her purse in search of her house key. Once it was derived from the plum-purple bag, she counted to three silently before throwing open the car door, jumping out, and slamming it closed with a sharp snap.

She reached the front of the home within moments and threw open the rickety screen door before thrusting the small copper key into the metal knob. Another moment later, she pushed the piece of hard mahogany back and stepped inside, half soaked by the rain that came down relentlessly. Kicking the door closed with the back of her heel, she brought her hands up to wring the excess water out of her ponytail-held red hair. She let the water drip onto the smooth wooden floor, tossing her coat onto a rack as she made her way down the hallway. After working a full day that consisted of researching hotel check-in books among the most social cities around the country and the world, and nothing even coming close to any of his aliases appearing, she needed a bite to eat. She had been working through her lunch breaks at the urgency of her advisor, Crawford. It was, as he said, a task that needed to be completed before she could move on with her life. She wanted nothing more than that, and so she stayed in place and continued.

Opening the outdated refrigerator's freezer, Clarice peeked inside with little interest. There were several TV dinners as she expected. Pulling out one that contained Salisbury steak, she ripped the carton open and tossed it into the microwave. Waiting patiently for the meal to be prepared, she focused her gaze on the old-looking fridge across from her. For but only a moment, her daunting memory of fear and hate was rekindled at its sight. Then again, it happened nearly every time she looked upon it. She really needed to invest in a different refrigerator.

She remembered opening a door slowly, staring at the back of the man who had thrown a dishtowel carelessly upon his victim's head. She could feel adrenaline pulsing through her veins as she looked at him, considering where to strike. When? How hard? With what motivation? It was all dismissed when she knew her timing had to be perfect. Raising her arm and opening her eyes wide, she wielded the candlestick as a near fatal weapon above her head.

At that precise moment, the man had turned around to face her, snatching her wrist up and turning her with ease. She remembered pushing back against the one who threatened her, but she was soon subdued by his overpowering strength and pinned against the fridge. The two breathed heavily for a moment as Hannibal gave her a look that she feared. The maroon glint of his eyes came off as feral - almost predatory. Within a second, however, his look had softened as he took in her features. The red of his orbs subsided. His quiet but elegant voice rang out between them.

"If you hadn't at least tried, Clarice, I would have been surprised... But don't try again," he had warned her, letting his grip slack slightly. But she remembered her stubbornness, pushing back at him. She found herself thrown with even greater zeal back against the fridge, her ponytail caught in the door. Hannibal grasped the metal handle, broke it off, and brought it to the side of her face, caressing it lightly. He gave her a look of curiosity before speaking once more.

"I came halfway around the world to watch you run... Let me run, hmmm?" his voice laced with a crisp suavity she'd grown accustomed to hearing. Looking towards the ceiling, she ignored his comment and had tried to hold back the tears that threatened to escape. They were more than ready to fall at that very moment, she knew. She wondered if the Good Doctor could sense this. Still he persisted.

"Darling, Agent Clarice... a diamond in the rough... honey in the lion. Whenever your eyes roam freely upon your reflection, whenever you see the scar that will stay with you for a lifetime, whenever your fingers feel the quality of the stitching of your wound - you'll remember this moment," he explained to her with an eerie mixture of charm and uninvited harshness. Bringing his face even closer to her own prideful one, upturned and defiant, he smiled.

"And your lips will burn."

And at that moment, the brilliant psychotic kissed her. It was sweet, sentimental, and soft, merely a light sensation which she had convinced herself not to respond to. Within moments, it was over, and a tear cascaded down her cheek. With a forefinger, he swiped it away, and gave her another smirk before uttering an almost humorous 'ta-ta', had the situation not been so tense. Clarice immediately began to struggle to free herself as he went to leave, but by the time she'd finally released her crimson locks from their bindings, there was nothing outside but the light of an approaching helicopter hovering above her. It all went downhill from there.

Another reason why she couldn't bare the thought of dealing with the Hannibal case was that he had been right… her lips did indeed burn. From angst, hate, confusion, humility, disgrace, empathy, and another emotion she wouldn't even allow herself to consider.

She snapped back into reality when the ding of the microwave alerted her that the meal was finally prepared. Clicking the button and taking it out, she savored the smell and tore open the plastic quickly. Walking into the quiet den of her home, she settled herself in the large love-seat she owned; probably the only piece of nice furniture within the entire place. She curled up with her dinner and blanket and listened to the raindrops that continued to fall upon the rooftop. She tried to enjoy the melody they created. After finishing, she set it aside and closed her eyes in deep thought and concentration. Laying back in her comfy surroundings, she tried desperately to find sleep.

She'd hardly gained an hour back before she awoke and her reverie was cut short. The shrill sound of a modern home phone nearly ringing off the hook caught her ear. Opening her eyes and yawning, she made her way over to the wall, scuffling along the floorboards. She reached the phone and brought it to the side of her face.

"Hello?" she asked in a monotone voice, one that would clearly convey her fatigue to a listener, as well as her minor annoyance.

"Agent Starling, this is Michelle Mundy, with the Bureau," Clarice immediately recognized her by her news broadcast voice quality she always seemed to carry. "I'd like to transfer you to Jack Crawford, he has insight on your case," she explained.

"He can't have any insight, Michelle…I'm the only one working on it. If there was insight, I'd know about it," she informed her, frustrated.

"I'm transferring you now, Agent Starling," the receptionist for the department announced after ignoring her claim. Clarice rolled her eyes and looked to the ceiling impatiently. She hoped that Crawford wasn't going to bitch to her about finding a lead. She'd had enough of his intrusions over the last months, as it was bad enough he was the one in charge of making her commit to the tedious research. Her thoughts ended abruptly.

"Agent Starling, you've got a lead," he relayed immediately, with strong urge in his voice. It was one thing she was not expecting to hear.

"What do you mean, a lead? I've found nothing. Nothing at all," she displaced with her pessimism.

"Yes, Starling, we have. A… gift was delivered to your office an hour ago," he explained. Clarice's eyes widened. She remembered a letter. One that he had sent her not so long ago. One she had been judged so openly for receiving.

"What gift?" she pressed with exigency.

"Flowers, Agent Starling… a florist just dropped off an array of roses, along with a small note. I hope you realize my reading of the name tag was… simply brought on by need to catch this criminal. He's done something similar in the past, as I recalled."

"Of course, Crawford, by all means... suspend my privacy for the good of everyone else," she hissed sarcastically, but then shook her head, "And it said?" To this, there was only a short moment of silence. A gruff noise came over the receiver as he cleared his voice.

"'Clarice, my deepest sympathies go out to you. It's a shame the Bureau is working you to the bone. If you can spare the time, I'd love to lighten your spirits, Clarice. We could have some fun, given your obvious distress. Until then, Agent Starling,'" Crawford stopped and allowed for the effect to sweep over Clarice before continuing, "He could be in D.C., or at least in Washington. You need to get back here to the Bureau until we can pinpoint his location," he told her.

"I thought you insisted I have him apprehended. Shouldn't I go out looking for him instead?"

"Not yet," her mentor noted sharply, "just get back here."

She felt herself growl, "What the hell kind of contradictory instructions do you expect me to follow? I'll go now," she nearly seethed into the phone receiver. It was half due to his command, half due to the sudden realization that Hannibal Lecter was near and she had only just found out.

"Calm down, Agent Starling. You know I can't have you detain him alone," he explained before being cut off.

"Yeah. But working on the case alone, that was just fine." She leaned up against the wall, holding the hot phone against her cheek.

"Just get over here as soon as you can. We'll discuss it further…" he thought about how close Lecter was to being caught, "And Starling, this should be a happy day for you. No worries. Once he's caught, just think of your advancement; maybe an administrative position. You'll have deserved it."

She stopped short, then agreed. "Fine. Be there later tonight," she hung up the phone before waiting for an answer. She wasn't about to contemplate the perks of advancement, as he called it. Turning around in her home, she immediately felt more conscious in her simple surroundings. It was a feeling she knew would stay with her until Hannibal Lecter was behind bars once again.