Bedelia Du Maurier has a carbon-fibre leg and a new patient, and she doesn’t want either of them.
It’s not that she doesn’t want the leg, exactly. It is, indisputably, preferable to having no leg at all where there had previously been flesh and blood. But every time she hits it against something with a dull thud she feels stupid and clumsy, and every time the stump aches she remembers the way Will Graham had petted her hair tenderly back from her face as Hannibal carefully coached him through the amputation. She’d rather not think about legs, or the lack of them, at all. She’d rather not think about anything.
Having a new patient, on the other hand, is not preferable to the alternative. Bedelia had thought that Hannibal Lecter was the only person on earth who could compel her to practice psychiatry against her will. She had, apparently, been wrong.
“Why did you ask to see me?” she asks the scrawny teenager sitting across from her, and doesn’t bother disguising the irritation in her voice under a layer of professional detachment.
The kid is staring out the window. He looks like he wants to be here as little as she does, which is in a way reassuring. Perhaps this can be wrapped up quickly. “Not asked,” he says finally. “Insisted. And I insisted on seeing you because I don’t want to talk about it, but the social worker is insisting that I see a psychiatrist as a condition of my emancipation from the state. So if I have to talk about it, at least with you, I won’t have to explain.”
Bedelia runs her tongue over her teeth. They’re smooth and clean with a rough patch of building plaque on the back of one in the front, and she makes a mental note to floss more carefully there. Anything to avoid thinking about the kid across from her for a few more seconds.
Finally she says, “Hannibal killed your father.”
“No,” says the kid immediately. “Christ. Francis Dolarhyde did. That’s what the forensics report said. And then he left Lecter and Graham, because he wanted to hunt them later.”
There’s a slight flush on his face, and Bedelia raises her eyebrows. “For someone who claims to not want to talk about it, you certainly seem to have read your fair share of speculation about the incident.”
The kid just shrugs, then pulls his bare feet up onto the expensive upholstery, curling in on himself and chewing on his thumbnail.
Bedelia sighs, reaches across for the file on the table that the social worker had sent along. She hadn’t looked at it on purpose, hoping that somehow the thing would get called off, that the kid would change his mind or they’d decide that she was too unstable, too damaged, to be of value on his case. Now that he’s here, probably making her chair smell like teenage-boy foot odour, she might as well learn his name.
“Hannibal didn’t kill your father, James,” she says finally, “but he might as well have.”
“I know,” James snaps, but doesn’t elaborate.
Bedelia leans back, sinking a little further into the plush cushions of her own seat, considering. The kid doesn’t want therapy, and she doesn’t want to provide it. Bedelia could simply call the social worker and express her confidence that he’ll be just fine on his own. She glances down. He’s fourteen; his father, who raised him alone for the past ten years, was a police officer mowed down and cast aside as a mere supporting character in the grand drama of Hannibal and Will’s becoming.
He most definitely will not be fine on his own.
That doesn’t mean she isn’t going to do it.
The thought makes her suddenly want to laugh. She’s contemplating rubber-stamping a patient who is transparently coming apart at the seams. The spirit of Hannibal Lecter is truly alive and well. (The actual Hannibal Lecter is also alive and well, but that’s better not thought on at this stage.)
“What?” James asks, and Bedelia is called back to the present; surprised that he’d managed to follow some semblance of her thought process, but not really displeased. She might as well say it out loud. “When Will Graham was first referred to Hannibal Lecter for psychiatric evaluation,” she says, “Hannibal did for Will, to the FBI, what I am about to do for you to your social worker.”
James blinks and leans forward slightly, frowning. He looks interested, for the first time since he arrived. Interested despite himself, the same drive that Bedelia suspects led him to read about his father’s death on Tattlecrime.
“Graham had encephalitis,” he says. “I’m pretty sure there’s nothing wrong with my brain. Not like that, anyway.”
“No,” says Bedelia. “You’re entirely healthy.” She’s not sure if he’s supposed to believe it or not.
James pushes himself to his feet, long toes curling into the carpet. “So that’s it, then? You rubber-stamp me, and I’m free to go?” He looks around the room, eyes sweeping over the immaculate furnishings, tasteful art. “Maybe,” he says slowly, “I insisted on you because I figured you must be just like him.”
Rage. That’s the only word to describe the emotion that sweeps over her, her vision literally clouding red in a way she hadn’t even known was possible. She pushes to her feet too, unsure of whether or not she’s planning on punching him. It’s not out of the question, which in itself proves that the kid has no idea what the fuck he’s talking about. Punching him in this moment would be unforgivably inelegant.
Then she wobbles and nearly falls, her weight still landing unevenly on her new leg. James lunges forward and catches her arm, and she pulls herself up by his scrawny wrist, breathing hard.
He steps back, and there is silence. Bedelia doesn’t say thank you.
“Hannibal tried to adopt the teenage child of Will’s first victim,” she says instead, and she doesn’t even need to put any effort into it to make her voice drip with disdain.
“Abigail Hobbs,” James says, and all of Bedelia’s suspicions about his recent reading material are confirmed. She pulls away, smoothing her palms down the thighs of her slacks, feeling the way the fabric goes loose over the prosthetic.
“Why?” says James. He retreats slightly back towards his chair. “Why would a psychopath want a kid? That’s the part I don’t get.”
Bedelia sinks back down, pulling her legs up in an imitation of his casual posture from before. This no longer feels like a therapy session. And talking about Hannibal usually feels more like an interrogation, but James is after all merely another victim.
(She has never quite figured out if she wants to think of herself as Hannibal’s victim or not– but right now, in the presence of another not-quite-victim of the man, she’s leaning towards yes.)
“I believe,” she says slowly, “That first of all, he felt genuine affection for Abigail. He felt close to her because he had a hand in her father’s death, and she fascinated him for the legacy her upbringing left her with.” It feels odd, to call to mind the details of sessions she had had with Hannibal so long ago. So much had happened, since Abigail. “But more than that, I believe he wanted a family for many of the same reasons as other people,” she says. “The opportunity to guide and nurture a child, and to see and be seen by a partner.”
“He tried to convince Graham to run away with them, right?”
“He mostly succeeded, though he didn’t realize it at the time.” Bedelia wrinkles her nose, and it feels strangely good to add, “Idiot.” Hannibal did many things to her, but at least she can still call him prosaically nasty names.
James is frowning now, looking at the pile of medical bills and insurance receipts on Bedelia’s desk. She hadn’t bothered putting them away for this; she is a human, a victim, after all, same as him. He hasn’t asked about her leg yet, but he surely knew when he asked to see her exactly what had happened to her.
“He was willing to start a new life, for Will,” she says, and now she’s not certain if it’s for herself or for James. “I suppose in a way, he still did.”
“Sounds nice,” says James, and it sounds like the words are cutting him.
Bedelia doesn’t care about him. He’s not relevant to her; soon he’ll be gone, and she’ll still be here, memories rattling around in her head like marbles. Perhaps that’s why she says, “It was, for a time.”
James glances over. “What was?”
She shrugs. “Allowing him to have my mind. Being the person that he wanted me to be. It was like I was constantly fighting with myself, trying to decide if I should let myself go or not.” She winces. “Perhaps I would have achieved a better outcome had I jettisoned that part of me that insisted on remaining myself.”
“You should have.” James picks up a piece of paper. She wonders which if the prescriptions or bills or specialist referrals it is. Then he throws it down again, and returns to his chair. “You could now.”
“Could what?” she asks icily.
He shrugs. “Forget. Move. Change your name. Move to a different country. You obviously have the money. It’s what I’d do.”
Bedelia hears for a moment the whistle of air coming in through her nose, as she considers. The kid is clearly an idiot if he assumes she hasn’t thought of that before. But the past would find her in her own mind, she knows. Whenever she is in a room alone, somehow, Hannibal always creeps in. Perhaps she could pretend to be a different person if there were someone else there, someone to perform for. But he will always find her when she is alone, unguarded.
She doesn’t tell James that. Instead she shoots back, “If it’s what you would do, then why don’t you? You are in substantially the same position as me. You’ll have access to your father’s pension. It’d be enough to set you up, at least, anywhere you like.”
For the first time, the kid looks genuinely vulnerable. His throat works for a moment, then he shrugs uncomfortably, a teenage gesture if ever she’s seen one.
“I don’t know how,” he says simply. “I’ve never rented an apartment on my own, or… I don’t know, registered at school, or anything like that. I bought a bag of lettuce last week, then forgot to eat it, and it went soggy and rotten in the fridge. That never happened with my dad around. He was good at not wasting food.”
Bedelia watches his face twitch slightly, then glances back over to the file. She doesn’t want this patient– and yet, the idea of rubber-stamping him and sending this fourteen-year-old out on his own suddenly seems less than attractive. She taps her fingertips against the upholstery of her chair. It’s nearly instinctive, the urge to help, to respond to the problems set out in front of her when a patient sits down in the consulting-room. Hannibal had known that, of course, and taken advantage of it.
“You’re not an adult,” she says, and her voice comes out gentler than it has the entire session. “You’re not expected to be able to take it all on, yet.”
James sniffs. “Okay,” he says, and it comes out disbelieving and brittle.
And then something shifts and suddenly it is a therapy session, damn it, because James says, “I guess I do just wish that I could make a clean break. Be someone else. Forget any of this shit happened, and start over.”
But Bedelia is not the same person that she was before, and she is not the same therapist. Perhaps before, she would have worked to reconcile the two warring parts of the patient in front of her, believing fully that they could coexist inside the same body.
She is not so sure, any more. Because she wants it too; wants to forget that Bedelia du Maurier ever existed. And she cannot talk someone else out of a pathology– or perhaps an inspiration– that she feels herself.
“Very well,” she says instead, and her voice is shaking. “If you were to… be someone else, what would he be called?”
James tilts his head a little, considering, and she half-expects it to be something with an age-appropriate tinge of melodrama, before he shut his eyes and says, “No. I didn’t choose the name James; that’s not how being born works. You have to choose.”
So I am birthing you, in this scenario, Bedelia doesn’t say. Instead she wonders if there’s a name she could give him that he would refuse.
In the end, she doesn’t push it; nothing too ridiculous. Only a little unusual; just to make sure he’s certain. Giving him the opportunity to say no. It’s almost kind.
“Otis,” she says.
Otis opens his eyes and nods, no hesitation. “How about you?” he says.
Bedelia swallows. She’s always been fond of her name, its uncommonness and femininity. Her mother had chosen it, a reference to an old novel about a woman who kills her husbands, until she dies for one. An odd thing to gift to a newborn baby, admittedly. But she’s grown into it.
She tells herself that she doesn’t have to use whatever Otis chooses, that this is just a therapeutic exercise. It rings false, but she never was much good at being able to tell when she was lying to herself.
“Jean,” says Otis immediately, like he’d had it picked out from the moment she’d brought up the idea.
She winces, purses her lips. It feels coarse and nasty. Somewhat dated. She imagines Jean to be a tired single mother, scraping together enough of a living to keep paying the mortgage, watching rom-coms on the couch in the evening to relax.
And then she realizes how truly fucked she is, because compared to her current situation, being Jean sounds wonderful.
“Do you want to come see me again next week, Otis?” she asks, and she’ll figure out why she’s offering later.
“I don’t want therapy,” Otis says.
“Very well,” says Jean. “We can simply have a conversation.”
It almost feels like the words are coming from her.