Disclaimer: I don't own Hannibal.
The first time Hannibal Lecter sees Clarice Starling, she is a freshman at UVA and he and Will are investigating a series of murders on campus. Will suspects that the killer is studying forensics or criminology-that would explain his habit of scattering false forensics around each crime scene. Hannibal, inclined to agree, suggests that they sit in on Criminology 101.
It is a class of about one hundred people, located in a cold and uncomfortable lecture hall. The vast majority of the students sit as far back as possible, while a determined minority clump at the front, intent on learning. These are the students of potential interest.
Hannibal, standing with Will near the side door, dismisses most of them immediately. A boy who looks queasy every time the professor moves to a new slide, each gorier than the last. A girl who is more intent on running her hand along her boyfriend's leg than taking notes. Another boy who takes desperate notes and looks like he might cry when the professor reminds them that finals are mere weeks away.
And then there is Clarice, though of course he doesn't yet know her name. She's not the killer, that's clear at a glance. What she is is something far rarer. Well-scrubbed, with short, unpainted nails and the kind of direct gaze most people find unnerving, she is a young woman with character.
She stays behind after class and approaches the podium, a boy, a junior or possibly a senior, trailing behind her.
"Professor," she says, her voice carrying a Southern twang, inexpertly suppressed as if she has only recently begun to try to hide it. "I have a question about the lecture."
Professor Mann gives her a harried smile that indicates this is not a rare occurrence. "Clarice. Of course. Shoot."
"You mentioned that Jack Cray was relatively easy to hunt down because he only killed people he knew," she says.
"Well, why did he go after those girls? What was it about them that intrigued him to the point that he made such a stupid mistake?"
Mann raises an eyebrow. "You tell me."
Clarice's forehead furrows. She will have lines on that smooth skin before she turns forty, Hannibal suspects. "He...desired them," she says, struggling for the right word. "He...wanted them."
"He coveted," Hannibal says, stepping forward and drawing everyone's attention. Professor Mann looks annoyed. Clarice is cautiously curious. Her shadow, the boy, shows a flash of fear. "And how do we begin to covet, Clarice-may I call you Clarice?"
She blinks. "I'm sorry, I don't believe we've met."
Courtesy in the face of surprise. He likes that. Before he can introduce himself, as is proper, Mann says, "Clarice, this is Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Agent Will Graham from the FBI. They're here investigating the recent murders."
Clarice's eyes light up when she hears the letters FBI. That is her goal then, to become slave to a bureaucratic master. Pity.
She gives Hannibal and Will a smile. "Agent Graham." She shakes Will's hand, letting go quickly as if she senses his discomfort at being touched. "Dr. Lecter." She holds out her hand.
He clasps it between both of his, holding it gently, like a captive sparrow. "A pleasure," he says, meeting her eyes.
She frowns. The boy behind her seethes.
"Now," Hannibal says, "we were discussing a killer's motivations. How do we begin to covet, Clarice?"
Again, that furrow in her brow.
"Do we seek out things to covet?" he prompts.
"No," she says, hitching her bag up her shoulder. "No, we covet the things we see every day."
His lips curve. "Very good. That is how Jack Cray was caught. It is how we usually catch killers who make the mistake of limiting their hunting grounds to a discrete area."
She nods thoughtfully. "Thank you, Doctor. You've given me a lot to think about."
His smile widens. "My pleasure. Clarice. Now if you'll excuse us, I need a word with the good Professor."
"I'll walk you home," the boy says eagerly, already reaching out to take her backpack.
"I'll walk you both home," Will interjects, taking the bag before the boy can. "Can't be too safe. Either of you could be the next target."
The boy is obviously not the next target-he doesn't fit the pattern at all. Clarice, on the other hand, fits it exactly. Intelligent, attractive but not in a flouncy way, brunette.
She also doesn't look pleased about either of them carrying her bag for her, but she doesn't protest. Hannibal approves of that, too. Feminism is all to the good, but that does not mean that chivalry must be dead.
The three depart, leaving Hannibal alone with Professor Mann. He doesn't know Mann personally, but he's read several of the man's publications and found them unusually insightful.
"Smart girl," Hannibal remarks.
"Clarice is the only one who makes this class worth teaching," Mann agrees.
"Her last name?"
Hannibal savors the sound of the word in his mind. It's a sturdy, strong name, the kind that matches the hardy folk from which the girl has obviously so recently come.
"And the boy?" he says.
Mann shrugs. "Gabriel Heller. He's a good student, not great. It would be good for him to shift his focus from Clarice to his homework every once in a while." He anticipates Hannibal's next question. "They aren't together. He follows her around and she tolerates him. I think she likes that he doesn't talk down to her."
Hannibal would wager that a great number of fools have made the mistake of assuming she is unintelligent or naive because of her accent.
He spends some time interrogating the professor about his other students, the uninteresting ones, before thanking the man for his time and going to find Will.
"I don't like that kid," Will says later that evening, over dinner.
A delectable slab of meat parts like butter under the sharp edge of Hannibal's knife. "Hmm?"
"Gabriel. The boy who was following Clarice around. He might be our guy. He fits the profile."
Hannibal loves watching Will's brain work. He could happily live out the rest of his career with no subject other than Will Graham. Although it's true that Hannibal, despite the excellent precision of his own mind, can never decide whether he wants to push on the pre-existing cracks in Will's psyche, shattering him completely, or whether he wants to coax him back to some semblance of wholeness. Perhaps both, in either order.
"What do you think?" Will says.
Hannibal dabs his mouth with his napkin. "If we are correct and the killer is in that class, Clarice Starling is most likely his...model, his inspiration."
"I agree. I gave her my card and told her to call if she thinks of anything. Do you think it's the boy?"
Hannibal has no interest in making this easy for Will. He also has no interest in ending the game too early. If Clarice Starling is truly the killer's focus, then she will know. She will have felt his eyes on her. She will have noticed the similarities the dead girls bear to her. And she is desperate enough to join the FBI that she just might try to do something about it herself.
"Hannibal?" Will says.
"We shall soon find out," Hannibal replies, taking a dainty bite.
Another girl goes missing that night. Crawford calls and threatens to make an appearance if the matter is not resolved immediately.
Will takes to stalking the boy. Hannibal, meanwhile, wanders the campus, exploring the dorms, the cafeterias, the quad. If he seeks out Clarice Starling as well, that is mere coincidence.
She doesn't seem to notice him as she runs past in the morning, pounding along the track with single-minded intensity. She gives him a nod when they pass each other outside a biology classroom. She certainly does not see him when she slips out of her dorm building at one o'clock in the morning and creeps to her car and drives off.
Will is lying on his double bed when Hannibal returns to their shared hotel suite.
"Where have you been?" Will asks as Hannibal sits on his own bed, back straight, and smoothes the wrinkles from his trousers.
"Following a lead."
"I don't think it's Gabriel," Will says morosely. "He's got all the makings of a stalker but he lacks the-the desire to kill."
"If not him, then who?" Hannibal says.
"Someone in the class," Will murmurs, closing his eyes. "Someone who admires-no, how did you put it, covets-Clarice Starling. Someone with a killer's instinct." His eyes fly open. "Oh my God."
A sharp ring splits the quiet of the hotel room. Will looks startled for a moment before he pulls out his cell phone. He stares at his screen. "I don't know this number." He answers it.
"Will Graham. Clarice? Woah, Clarice, slow down. Where are you? Who? No! Do not go inside, do you hear me?"
He springs to his feet and grabs his gun. Hannibal is already at the door, holding the car keys.
"We're on our way. Just hold tight. Clarice? Clarice!" Growling, he shoves the phone in his pocket. "She hung up."
"Where are we going?" Hannibal asks as they stride down the hall to the car. He already knows.
Will's mouth is a grim line. "Professor Mann's house. We'll call the cops on the way."
By the time they arrive it's all over. A girl huddles in the shadow of an ambulance, weeping, a thick blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Not Clarice-her hair is not quite the right shade. The house is bathed in multi-colored lights from the police cars. A body is being wheeled out on a stretcher, its face covered-too tall and broad to be Clarice. Professor Mann.
Clarice emerges from the house seconds after Hannibal and Will alive, escorted by a pair of solicitous EMTs. She is shaken but upright, pale but filled with life. From what Hannibal can tell, she is unharmed except for a bit of gunpowder that is embedded high on her cheek-the French call such a mark "beauty." A gun must have gone off right next to her face to leave beauty behind.
She sees them and pulls away from the dismayed EMTs. Her eyes shine with pride and some other, less obvious emotion. "Dr. Lecter," she says, her accent a little thicker now. "I saved her. You helped me save her."
"I did nothing," Hannibal says humbly.
"What do we covet? We covet what we see every day. You were right about that. As soon as you got me thinking in that direction I knew who the killer must be."
"It was stupid to go in there alone," Will says.
She shoots him a look. "He was about to kill her, Agent Graham. I wasn't going to sit back and let that happen."
Hannibal sets his hand on Will's arm. "I think we can save the recriminations for later, hmm? Clarice needs medical attention and some well-deserved rest."
She looks like she might protest that prescription, but he gazes steadily back and she subsides. He gestures for the EMTs to join them.
"Thank you again, Doctor," she says.
"My dear Clarice," he tells her, "you are most welcome."
They see Clarice once more before they leave UVA. The meeting is unplanned, or mostly so-they bump into her as she leaves the hospital room of the girl whose life she so heroically saved.
She greets them both, her face more at peace now than it was before she killed her professor. Will asks after the recovery of the other girl. Hannibal listens with half an ear as Clarice replies.
Clarice Starling will play some role in his future. Hannibal is certain of it-is determined to ensure that it happens, in fact. He is in no particular rush, however. She is very young, just eighteen, and still finding her footing, like a foal learning to walk. Perhaps they will not see each other again until she is an FBI agent. He is patient. He can wait.
Then? Well, then they will see. He is enjoying his time with Will, but for all the danger that Will poses to him-and if anyone catches him it will be Will Graham-Will himself is too broken to fill the position Hannibal envisions for Clarice. Will is already Hannibal's only worthy adversary. But Clarice, with her unflinching moral spine and a past Hannibal salivates at the thought of dissecting, she may yet someday be his match. His partner.
Will and Clarice have finished talking. Will says his goodbyes. Clarice turns to Hannibal and offers him her hand. This time when he takes it static electricity sings along his palm.
They visit the other girl, the victim, briefly-she does not interest Hannibal, although he can see her distinct similarities to Clarice and understand why Mann may have believed her a fitting substitute-before heading to their car for the long drive back.
"You like her," Will says, smiling slyly.
Hannibal does not pretend not to know who Will is talking about. "She is a fascinating girl," he says. "She doesn't have your empathy, but her particular gift-her drive-may prove to be just as effective a tool." And as damaging, he concludes, but not out loud.
"I'm glad you approve, since we'll be seeing a lot of her this summer."
Hannibal blinks. "Pardon?"
Will grins widely, pleased to see him so discomfited. "The FBI has a summer internship program for promising college students. Clarice was already on the short list because of her grades and her essay, but after what happened I talked to Jack and it was a done deal. She'll be interning as my assistant this summer."
Well. Won't that be interesting.
Hannibal smiles and runs his tongue along the inside of his teeth. "I'll look forward to it."