“On the previous occasion I offered you wine while you were on the job, you refused,” Bedelia says as she pours two glasses. “Or are you not here in an official capacity?”

Jack Crawford looks around the room as he settles himself on a chair in her sitting-room. He doesn’t look particularly impressed by his surroundings, but then, she’d never seen him look particularly impressed by anything. Which is probably a biased view of his emotional range, since by definition, the only times she’d ever met with the man were to talk about Hannibal. It feels almost gauche, to mention the previous occasion that she’d offered him wine; on that occasion, the first time they’d met, they had both practically been whole people. Nearly untouched by him, or at least, unaware of the extent to which he was already inside of them. Jack had thought that Hannibal might be protecting Will. The memory feels quaint.

“If you’d wanted an FBI agent in an official capacity, you should have called the FBI, not my cell phone,” says Jack.

Bedelia drums her fingertips against her leg, staring at the two glasses on the drink cart. It was easy enough to pour them with one hand, using her other arm to lean on one crutch; but she has no elegant way of carrying the glasses to Jack and to her chair.

He just watches her conundrum, waiting for her to ask for help, and Bedelia wonders if he is even aware of all of the ways Hannibal has gotten inside of him.

“Would you carry these for me, please,” she says finally, and Jack rises to pick up the two glasses. Bedelia takes the other crutch from where it rests against the wall, shoves it under her arm, and crosses over to her own seat. She puts the crutches on the floor beside her, within reach, and tries once again to convince herself that she is going to do something about The Leg Situation.

It’s been two weeks since the last supper. Any sane person, Bedelia can admit, would probably have gone to the hospital the moment they’d woken up minus a limb. But Hannibal– Hannibal and Will, she supposes, since he can no longer be said to be acting alone– had left her with enough antibiotics, painkillers, and changes of gauze to get her through the healing period. She’d even found a selection of shrinker socks tucked neatly into her underwear drawer, one of which she is wearing right now. It had just been easier to stay here, where nobody would ask her what happened or why. Soon, she ought to get fitted for a prosthetic, and the thought makes her pulse speed up and her stomach clench every time she thinks of it. She has favours she can call in with medical colleagues, certainly, but “give me a new leg and don’t ask any questions about the old one” is a bit of a tall ask even for an old school friend.

So, of course, the one person she had managed to pick up the phone and call is the one person who doesn’t need to ask. Jack Crawford had shown up at her house, taken one look at her, and just said, “May I come in?”

Now, he hands her her glass of wine with the practised nonchalance of someone who has had too much experience waiting on the helpless while trying to make them feel like something other than helpless. All of this is perfectly normal, his body language says. I am only helping you because it is more convenient, that’s all. Bedelia looks at his left hand; he’s no longer wearing his ring.

They’re sitting opposite each other, like she used to do with Hannibal, and later Will. The chairs are too close together for a therapy session, though; if she were working, she would move them apart. Jack sniffs the wine before sipping it, and that reminds her of him, too.

Do you still work for the FBI?” she wonders idly, not really expecting a response. But Jack shakes his head.

“Apparently, serial killer death matches are officially frowned upon,” he says. “Got a hefty buyout once I signed the NDA, though. So in a way, you could say I still work for the FBI, and my only job is shutting the hell up about Hannibal Lecter.”

He already knows why she called him; this, then, answers the question of why he had come. She is the only person that he doesn’t need to tell anything, in order for her to know everything. It is unnecessary to ask what he fills his time with, now that he has no job. She is well aware the answer is more or less the same thing he did when he had a job, but with fewer resources and no off-hours.

“Do you plan on going to Europe?” she asks instead. “If they haven’t left the country yet, they will. And even if they don’t end up there, there are worse places to seek Hannibal’s present than in his past.”

Jack leans forward. If this is merely his sick-person demeanour, he’s very good at it– good enough that she almost doesn’t mind it. He looks interested, almost desperate. “How far into the past do you suggest I go?”

It doesn’t take very long for Bedelia to decide that doctor-patient confidentiality is only valid so long as the patient refrains from eating any nonrenewable part of the doctor’s body. “Will Graham went to Lithuania,” she offers. It’s not advice, exactly, but it’s not not advice. Will had never quite told her what exactly he’d found and done there, and she’d managed to convince herself that she didn’t want to know.

Now that Jack Crawford is sitting across from her, his eyes focused on her face and not her stump of a leg, she finds that she does want to know. Jack rises and refills both their glasses. This time, he moves to the couch, and holds Bedelia’s glass out beside him.

She gathers her crutches and limps over to sit beside him, and for a while they drink in silence. Enough time for her to start feeling the effects of the wine; she’s been off the antibiotics for a week now, but she still takes half a dose of morphine when she wakes up in the morning and sometimes to get her through the early afternoon. The last time Jack had seen her, of course, she had been much more intoxicated than she is currently. The thought makes her giggle a little, humour loosened a little bit inside her by the alcohol.

“What’s so funny?” Jack asks, sounding less like he objects to the idea of laughter and more like he is desperately searching for an excuse for it.

“Everything,” says Bedelia, and then gathers her thoughts. “You said you weren’t mad at me, you were mostly impressed.”

Jack’s mouth twitches in a feeble but willing smile. “It was quite a performance. I really thought for a while there that you were going to be the one to escape from all this unscathed.”

For a while, she had too. Faith in your own intelligence is funny like that; perhaps someday Hannibal will find that out. “Are you pleased to have been proven wrong?”

Jack looks at her then, surprised. Despite everything, he’s surprised that she would think so little of him. (Not little; it’s what Will or Hannibal would think, in his position, and whatever else she thinks of them, it is not a low esteem.) “Of course not,” he says, and he appears to be telling the truth.

She blinks and sets her glass down on the side table. “Then,” she says, “I suppose I am not pleased to have been proven wrong in my assumptions about you.”

“Which were?”

“That this was a job for you, that you would be privileged to be able to leave behind one day.”

Jack shakes his head slowly. Then he, too, sets his glass aside. “You were definitely wrong about that.”

She leans in and they kiss slowly, carefully. They kiss like two people who don’t like each other all that much, Bedelia recognizes, which is a damn sight better than kissing like two people who actively want to kill each other.

He places a hand beside her head and then one on her chest, patting at her breasts almost hesitantly, like a boy at a high-school dance. “Okay?” he mutters, and she nods, sparing a thought for the fact that the last breasts he touched were probably his dead wife’s. She should find it in herself to be a little forgiving, perhaps. She has never been all that great at that.

She thinks about his stern face, in her and Hannibal’s apartment in Italy, a little bit caring despite himself. The cognitive dissonance of seeing a damsel in distress and knowing she is anything but. But he was still drawn towards her helplessness; some vestigial instinct of care, a remnant left over of the idealism that infected anyone who aspired to his line of work in the first place, quickly burned off and replaced by violence and pragmatism and bureaucracy. But it was there, nonetheless.

“If you want to take me to bed,” she says, “You’ll have to wait for me to limp there.”

He traces a fingertip down the side of her face. He looks nervous. Hell, in his place she’d be nervous too. Bedelia will be, she’s fairly certain, his first since the love of his life. Meanwhile, he’s just her first since a serial killing cannibal. There’s really nowhere she can go but up.

“Alright,” he says, and she gathers up her crutches again.

*

Bedelia du Maurier’s bedroom is a mess.

It’s not what he’d expected. The rest of her house is immaculate; a place to be admired, to show off, or in the absence of guests, to walk through like a ghost and contemplate one’s own transience on this Earth. It gives the impression that the house, and its accoutrements, will be around longer than any occupants of it possibly could be. It’s the kind of house where everything can be covered in plastic sheeting quickly if its owner needs to disappear for a little while.

The bedroom, not so. The bed is large and covered in expensive sheets and a soft down comforter, but it is unmade. There are four mugs crowding the bedside table, and through a door, the ensuite bathroom is a chaotic melange of hair products, lotions, and medications– some old, he suspects, and some in response to the latest alteration to her person.

She throws down the crutches she was using and sits down on the edge of the bed. Jack had followed her up the stairs, adjusting his gait so that he didn’t seem to be slowing himself down as much as he really was. It’s a habit he cemented during Bella’s illness, but in truth, that period had only served to demonstrate how very much a part of his psyche it was already. He is used to being around the sick, the vulnerable, the crazy. Perhaps, if he’d been born with a little more empathy, he’d either have become a kindergarten teacher instead, or been a better FBI boss than he actually had been. As it is, he has one method and one method only of diffusing the inevitable awkwardness of the infirm: act, so far as you can, as if all of their behaviour and needs are firmly within the realm of the normal and expected, and cause you no surprise or alarm.

(Nothing really causes him surprise or alarm, any more. He suspects Bedelia is mostly the same, which is why he’s here.)

He moves to the window, his sock feet whispering over the soft carpets. Despite the mess, the room is clean, the glass of the pane clear and opening out on the house’s side garden. The house is oddly shaped, all sharp angles and unexpected curves, the kind of place you’d expect a tech bro to live in, not a retires psychiatrist. He peers down: the garden had been tended, once, but has now fallen into wildness. That implies that she used to do the gardening herself, his FBI-brain supplies; if she’d employed a gardener, there would be no reason for them to discontinue maintenance on it.

Then he winces, and reminds himself this isn’t a crime scene.

Jack turns away from the window: ah yes, he and Bedelia were about to have sex. He can see, from the outside view that hovers over his life like a frame in his mind, that this is a bizarre thing for them to end up doing. He’s never been aware of being sexually attracted to her, any more than any number of other women that he can acknowledge are sexually appealing without considering doing anything about it.

Or perhaps he’d just absorbed too well the advice of the old Bureau stalwarts, the performatively jaded old-timers who’d slapped him on the back and given him advice when they remembered he was in the room and grumbled about diversity hires when they didn’t. “Don’t stick your dick in crazy,” that had been the advice. The only thing you can really say to a statement like that as a trainee is “yes, sir,” but Jack has to admit he took it to heart.

Except the entire reason he and Bedelia are here is that Hannibal Lecter is still out there, sticking his dick in as crazy as they come. Seems to be working out fine for him.

“Help me with this?” she says, indicating the back of her dress. There’s a zipper on it that she could surely undo herself, with a bit of reaching, but the request for help is an opening– what passes for kindness, for her. He sits down on the other side of the bed and reaches across to slide the zipper down.

He rests a hand on the bare skin of her back, considering. It is, surprisingly, not difficult to become aroused, here in some other woman’s bed. Bedelia is strange and cruel and he doesn’t like her at all, and he is fairly sure she feels the same about him. That makes it easy, a completely different category from the last time he had held another human’s bare body.

They manage to get naked, get under the rumpled covers, as if the details of each others’ bodies are not of any particular interest, and that is good. It is even better when she turns her face down, tucking it into his shoulder where they cannot see each others’ faces, and reaches behind herself to pull out a pump-top bottle of lube. She places it between them and coats her hands with it, reaching for his half-hard cock.

For a moment, he just stares over her shoulder, breathing into her hair. It feels good to have someone touch him. Better than can be accounted for by touch alone; and suddenly, the idea of doing this as distant and workmanlike as possible no longer seems very appealing.

He lets her work him to hardness, and breathes into her ear, “Do you want me to eat you out?”

Her hands still, one thumb still petting at the head of his cock. “If you want to,” she says.

One of them, Jack feels, is definitely on the verge of making some sort of joke about Hannibal. He’s not sure who it is, or what the joke would be, but it lightens the mood anyway.

He considers that she might be actually getting off on how bizarre and awkward this all is. Surely, if she had had sex with Hannibal, it must have been full of strange pauses and antagonistic posturing. Surely she must have expected that, when she’d gone with him. Maybe that’s what she likes. In which case, they’re doing a bang-up job.

Probably better to not consider whether Hannibal had done this specific act before him– but he considers it anyway, as he reposition himself between her legs. Or rather, between her leg and the remnant of the other, and despite all of his attempts to pretend that the leg’s absence isn’t the elephant in the room, th facade slips without his permission. Instinctively, he tries to wrap one arm around each of her thighs, push them apart and hold a place for himself between them– but there’s not quite enough thigh to grab on the left side, and the stump of the leg drifts to press against his shoulder.

Bedelia gazes down at him. His face is practically touching her cunt, which is an odd place from which to conduct a conversation about the psychological aftermath of forced amputation and self-cannibalism,but apparently that’s what they’re doing, because she says, “They left me the crutches too, you know. They left me everything I needed.”

Jack hadn’t thought he’d wanted to talk about Will. He’s not wanted to talk about Will for years, even before Dolarhyde had dragged him back into the FBI’s orbit. Or rather, before Jack had dragged him back. But maybe he has had enough of not talking about Will.

“Sunk costs,” he says, closing his eyes and pulling away a little bit. “I knew. Or I should have known, when I brought him back– no, I knew. Deep down, I knew that Will was always going to choose him.”

“And I suppose I knew that he was always going to choose Will,” says Bedelia, and her voice is unexpectedly gentle.

“But you went anyway.”

“And you brought Will back anyway. And now here we are.” Bedelia gestures to her leg; it’s covered in some sort of compression garment clearly designed for the purpose, the only stitch of clothing still on her.

He is not going to apologize to her. He is not going to apologize because first of all, if anyone is owed an apology, it is him: she is the one that was harbouring a fugitive, who cared and cares first and only about herself, who would have been happy to see Hannibal walk (and kill, and eat) free if it had meant her freedom, too.

He is not responsible for her, Jack realizes, and it feels strange and novel. He hasn’t been around anyone that he isn’t responsible for in a long, long time.

He has no desire to share that revelation with her, so he dips his head and laps at her clitoris instead, and Bedelia lets her head fall back and moans.

Jack wonders, as he gives pleasure and she takes it, if this is why Will stays with Hannibal, despite everything. If maybe the real reason that Will and Jack had always been at odds with each other like two different grains of sandpaper trying to sand each other down was that they both felt responsible for everything and everyone around them, and Hannibal was the first person that Will has ever been completely unconcerned about hurting. If Will hurts Hannibal, it is because Hannibal deserves it.

Bedelia doesn’t deserve, not in the way her former paramour does– but she is no innocent. She is nobody that Jack needs to protect from the world. And if he wanted to, he couldn’t anyway.

He presses himself up, his mouth sticky with the taste of her. “Can I–“

“Yeah,” she mutters, and reaches down to guide his cock inside her. If it hurts her as he thrusts in, she doesn’t mention it.

They rock together, almost aimlessly. Bedelia brings her right leg up to hook over his back, and the stump of the left scratches against his side. It feels odd and lopsided, and when he comes, he rolls off her quickly.

Bedelia stares at the ceiling. “Your fingers, please,” she says, like she’s asking for another helping of salad. It’s an easy enough request to oblige. He rubs at her clit until she shudders and pulls his hand away.

The evening light slants in through the window, already orange and fading into darkness. Jack’s fingers feel slick with Bedelia’s arousal and his own semen that leaked out of her, and his softening cock is cold with her expensive lube.

“That was,” he says, and suddenly the whole thing slides an inch to the left and slots into place and is startlingly, mind-bendingly funny. He starts to shake with suppressed laughter. “Some truly terrible sex.”

Relief washes over him as a giggle escapes Bedelia’s lips, too. Her laugh sounds like broken glass, but it had probably always sounded like that. Or maybe it had once sounded clear like a crystal vase, and Hannibal had shattered it just to hear the result. “Yeah,” she says. She runs a hand over her face, some lube smearing just above her eye. “Christ, I haven’t been full of jizz in a long time. Give me a minute.”

She disappears into the bathroom, and Jack rolls over and tries not to listen to her doing whatever it is that women do in the bathroom after sex. When she comes out, he watches her limp back to the bed still nude, the crutches pulling at the delicate skin under her armpits. She stops by th edge of the bed and stares down at him, and she’s not smiling, but she looks happier than before.

Jack is good at deciphering small differences in happiness. He is used to eking out tiny improvements where he can get them, giving thanks for small mercies, appreciating what he can get.

“Do you want to stay the night?” she asks, and Jack thinks perhaps he does.