vulnerable birds

“Extreme acts of cruelty require a high degree of empathy. The next time your instinct is to help someone, you should really consider crushing them instead. You might save yourself some trouble.”

Will tilts his head slightly. He considers asking, who do you think I’m going to help next? Instead, he just says, “I’m sure I would.”

When the hour is up, Bedelia leads him to the front hallways, and Will throws an envelope full of cash on the side table almost defiantly. “You’ll be shocked to learn that my recent reinstatement to an advisory position in the BAU has not come with health insurance.”

He can see the calculations running though her head. Neither of them are particularly wedded to professional ethics any more– the time has passed for that. If Bedelia wants to tell someone about what Will says to her in his sessions, she will. But she won’t, because she is involved, inextricably. Anything she could say would implicate her too. That, and not the professional obligation of discretion that money changing hands provides, will keep them in their current uneasy balance.

The money is a little bit of an insult, perhaps– at least, that’s how Will had meant it when he’d made the withdrawal and tucked the bills carefully into a tattered envelope that had originally contained some coupons in his hotel room guest book. It had felt sleazy. It looks sleazy, sitting there on her polished metal table beside the bowl with her keys.

It would be worse for her to refuse it than to let it pass. “Is this going to be a standing appointment, then?” she asks.

The stab of loneliness hits Will like a punch to the gut. A standing appointment. The feeling of security of knowing Hannibal was waiting for him, week after week, no matter what. He misses it like he would miss a limb being cut off. What Bedelia has to offer isn’t even close.

She’s never had anything of value to offer him, he thinks viciously, and just as viciously the truth rises that that isn’t true. It feels like a lifetime ago that she had leaned in close, obscenely close really, to whisper her belief in him in his ear. It hadn’t been enough. She had admitted as much. But it wasn’t nothing.

He wonders if she regretted it. If she would tell herself to crush the wounded, caged bird instead of helping it, if she could go back to that moment.

“Do you want it to be?” he asks.

Bedelia’s lips tighten. They both know that this is for both of them: they are the only two people left who don’t have to pretend with each other about Hannibal. She won’t admit it, even if Will’s question practically forces her to.

Will decides to prod a little more. “Seems like you missed giving therapy, Dr. Du Maurier,” he says. “I can’t promise to be as interesting a patient as your previous one, but I’ll do my best.”

Bedelia steps forward and slaps him across the face with a crack that echoes over the tile of the foyer.

It hurts more than he would have thought. His face has spun slightly to the right with the force of the blow. When he looks back at her, she looks curious.

His heart pumps faster, adrenaline rising. He could hit her back, he thinks. Childhood adages about never hitting girls be damned. What’s stopping him? Who is here to judge him? Molly would never know. He’s stored away enough on this trip that he doesn’t need to burden her with to fill an entire wing of a memory palace. Why not one more thing?

Before the thought makes its way into impulse or into action, Bedelia steps forward again. She’s nearly flush against him now, inspecting him as if confirming some theory.

“What?” he says.

“I always wondered what he saw. Didn’t you?”

Will doesn’t ask what she means and instead swallows against a stab of fear that he does, in fact, know exactly what she means. Hit her, hit her. His hand twitches but doesn’t raise.

When her fingertip touches his cheek, it feels like the skin is on fire. He’s nearly backed up against the wall, and she just keeps getting closer. “Hannibal was uniquely fascinated by your pain.”


“Is,” Bedelia agrees, and slaps the other cheek.

It doesn’t hurt as much this time, though he thinks it might have been harder than the first one. It feels almost like fighting, but he isn’t going to fight back. Apparently. His skin feels too tight, constricting what’s inside him. She’s too close. He’s half-hard, and she can feel it when she presses a thigh to his groin. He could claim that it’s just a physical response, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth. It’s just a psychological response, really. Pain. Fear. Hannibal.

Will has been drinking cheap whisky and watching movies on the hotel TV at night to stop himself from thinking. He calls Molly when he feels like he can, whenever he can convince himself that he won’t infect her with what he’s seeing and doing just by talking to her on the phone. He’d nearly asked her for phone sex, the one time. It sounds nice; her talking him through it, her voice in his ear, keeping his mind where it should be. Nothing but her high little gasps to tell when she was close, when she was finished. She would exaggerate them for him a little, not quite putting on a show but aware that he was listening, and needed something to listen to.

He should have asked; perhaps it would have been a shield against the memories. But he hadn’t, and now they’re crashing over him, tidal.

Bedelia presses her advantage. She leans up towards him, her voice whisper-quiet, her lips tilted towards his. “Did you think about it, those lonely nights on your little sailboat, on your way to us?” she asks. Us. It stings as much as the slap, as it’s supposed to. “Did you imagine what he was doing to me? Was it the same as what you wanted him to do to you, or different?”

“Stop it,” Will chokes out. “I’m married.”

Bedelia actually chuckles at that. “I have no desire to defile you for your innocent wife,” she says. “Scout’s honour.” And she grabs a fold of skin on Will’s upper arm through the fabric of his shirt, pinches and twists and Will makes a bitten-off keening sound from the shock of pain.

He slumps back against the wall, dazed, turned-on, defeated. She slaps him again and this time he just feels it, the intensity of the sensation divorced from categorization. He couldn’t stop her if he tried, because then he would have to stop thinking about Hannibal, he would have to leave and step back into the world where Hannibal is in jail and Will is an FBI special agent and it’s not even about Hannibal any more, it’s about the Tooth Fairy, and–

Bedelia’s hand worms his way under his shirt. For a moment he freezes, then realizes where it’s heading. “No,” he says, and hears his own voice echoing the word without his conscious intent, no no no no no no, Will is saying, plaintively, and Bedelia was right: he can see what Hannibal sees, with dizzying clarity. His own fear and pain shimmers in front of his eyes.

Bedelia runs an ungentle finger over the smile on Will’s belly and he buckles, his knees hitting the floor hard, sliding away from her. He thinks he is still saying no. The word is more of a holy chorus for him at this point than any kind of command that he expects to be followed.

“God, please,” he says, and turns his face up towards her, and doesn’t even know what he’s asking for until she hits him again, and again, and again.

She stares down at him for a long time when she finally stops. His face burns. They are frozen in time, suspended animation, and Will has a momentary fear that they will simply stay there, staring at each other, forever, until one of them can figure out what to do about Hannibal.

Bedelia breaks the spell. “A standing appointment,” she says, the firmness of her tone not quite covering the tremor in her voice. “Next week, same time. Don’t be late.”